This Week in Home Video
‘They’re Playing With Fire’ Blends Bloody Violence and T&A Thrills to Surprising Effect
Plus 13 more new releases to watch at home this week on Blu-ray/DVD.
Welcome to this week in home video! Click the title to buy a Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon and help support FSR in the process!
Pick of the Week
They’re Playing With Fire [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A sexy college professor seduces her student, and then people start dying horrible deaths.
Why see it? I’ve been a Sybil Danning fan for more years than I care to recall, but somehow this one slipped past me before now. I’m not sure what teen me would have thought, but as an adult I’m in awe of just how off the rails it gets from its very clear T&A origin. From the cover to the copy the film sells itself as just another sex flick, but while that element is here the movie shifts gears in the second act to include bloody, violent murders committed by a masked killer who talks like the creeper in Black Christmas. It’s a legitimately solid whodunit for most of its running time, and if it were more stylishly filmed you could make the case for it being an attempt at an American giallo. As it stands we’ll have to settle knowing that the killer also binds and gags a poodle to keep it quiet… Acting is rough throughout, but that’s a small price to pay for something this surprisingly satisfying. And honestly, the disc is alone worth the price for the new interview with Danning where she discusses her shift from serious Israeli films to Hollywood T&A in the ’80s with her usual candidness.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview with Sybil Danning]
They're Playing with Fire [Blu-ray]
What is it? A bunch of punks cause havoc in ’50s suburbia.
Why see it? Robert Altman’s feature debut comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films, and it opens with a warning for American adults to open their eyes. It’s an engaging little narrative that sees the “bad kids” corrupt a nice guy who’s sad about losing his girl before he finally comes to his senses. Action, suspense, and drama follow, and it’s easy to see Tom Laughlin moving from his character here into the world of Billy Jack. The film’s something of a time capsule too beyond its black & white ’50s setting, as it closes with a repeat wake-up call saying that we’re all responsible for what happens and that we should work together… and maybe start a church group… to resolve our concerns. Altman’s sensibilities came a long way after this one.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? The 1966 mass murder in Austin Texas comes to life with eye-catching animation and human insight.
Why see it? Keith Maitland’s new documentary tackles one of the country’s many dark days with a creative and powerful style that blends archival footage, talking heads, and rotoscoped animation to tell the story of the day’s survivors. It’s an immediately compelling experience on the visual front, but more than that it offers a fascinating look into human nature as people recount their own acts of bravery and cowardice and how all feel guilt about those choices.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Q&As, featurettes, deleted scene]
What is it? A group of young people tempt fate in their attempt to experience a ghostly legend.
Why see it? Horror movies based on local legends are a dime a dozen, but this recent Australian thriller deserves credit for telling more than just another generic tale. The legend involves a stretch of remote highway in rural Australia, and the film blends the alien and the supernatural to varying effect here. All of that said, the presentation is at times frustrating as so much of it relies on loud sound cues and harsh editing meant to capture flashes of nightmarish visions or shifting realities. The end result is a horror film that’s different while being neither fun nor scary.
[DVD extras: None]
Fire at Sea
What is it? A small Mediterranean island is home to locals and a temporary stop for illegal refugees making the arduous and deadly journey from Africa.
Why see it? Gianfranco Rosi’s timely and eye-opening documentary was a critical favorite last year winning major awards around the globe, and there are numerous moments throughout that sear images into your brain. The refugee crisis in general is one that ultimately affects us all, but the film’s focus on this one otherwise insignificant locale makes it all that much clearer. The film’s final act in particular presents the cost of these dangerous trips in contrast to the lives in progress on the island. That said, the pacing and time spent away from the refugees lessens the overall impact in some ways. There’s an artistic and thematic point to it, but it struggles to hold the attention at times.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Booklet, interviews, Q&A]
What is it? A woman recounts her life and the daughter who abandoned her twelve years prior.
Why see it? Pedro Almodovar’s latest is his most critically acclaimed in some time, and that may have something to do with its more subdued and character rich focus. Julieta’s confusion over her daughter’s absence forms the crux of the story, and while it’s far from a mystery her discovery of the girl’s reasoning offers no ending. The main draw here are the twin performances of Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte as Julieta at different stages of life as they both inhabit the character’s grief with affecting performances.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
A Kind of Murder
What is it? A writer trapped in a seemingly perfect marriage becomes obsessed with a man suspected of killing his own wife.
Why see it? Patricia Highsmith’s novel comes to the screen with an engaging cast including Patrick Wilson, Eddie Marsan, Haley Bennett, and Jessica Biel, and there’s minor fun to be had in the subsequent twists and turns. They’re not always all that surprising, but Wilson and Marsan sell their respective roles here with perfection.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Live By Night
What is it? An outlaw becomes a gangster against his better judgement.
Why see it? Ben Affleck stars, writes, and directs this Dennis Lehane adaptation, and it’s unfortunately his first misfire as a filmmaker. From Gone Baby Gone through Argo he’s shown a grasp of engaging tales and intriguing characters, but this movie shows neither. The only evidence of life here is found in an early car chase and a late gun fight while everything else just hangs there limply. The character work and story are endlessly dull, and while the film looks good it lacks energy and purpose.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes]
What is it? Wealth and privilege lead a woman from romance to tragedy.
Why see it? Gorgeous European locales are the backdrop for a classical tale about lives of luxury and the struggles they make for themselves. They’re struggles faced by all classes of course, but they’re elevated here by the characters themselves who feel as if they’re above the fray even as they sink deeper in. Love, lust, and misjudgments of the heart care not about your bank account. For all the drama the film is fairly dry, but it livens up when Anthony Perkins is onscreen.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Robocop 2 [Scream Factory]
What is it? A deadly drug is ravishing the population of New Detroit, and only Robocop can teach the kids to just say no.
Why see it? Paul Verhoeven’s original Robocop remains a masterpiece of action/sci-fi satire, but the only element this follow-up manages to copy is the inclusion of rough stop-motion animation effects. They were an amusing touch in the original, but here they feel egregious in their overuse. Worse, the personality of the original’s villains is absent here as human cartoons replace them. It’s goofy when it should be smart, and none of the action/effects scenes rival the awe we all felt first watching the original. Even leaving comparisons off the table this is a slight film. Happily for those of you who disagree though, Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is loaded with brand new special features.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 2k scan, commentary, featurettes]
Robocop 3 [Scream Factory]
What is it? When New Detroit brings in a mercenary squad to gentrify the streets with violence Robocop steps up to defend the people.
Why see it? Everything I said about Robocop 2 above goes double here. Dropping the film to a PG-13 rating says it all really, and the mild action, crude effects, and overdose of compassion and unity make for the worst entry in the series. It all feels so damn cheap and underwhelming, and while there’s some charm to be found in Fred Dekker’s direction it’s clear he’s torn between honoring the Robocop legacy and delivering something on a budget and away from an R-rating. The results aren’t pretty. Again though, Scream Factory comes through with a bevy of new extras including a fun new commentary from the always entertaining Dekker.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
What is it? A struggling theater owner creates a singing contest to drum up business.
Why see it? The folks behind the Minions and Despicable Me films deliver a new feature that posits a world populated by animals who are every bit as miserable as humanity. The only cure? The music in their souls. The film is heavy ‐ and I do mean heavy ‐ on the popular music cues, both in the “show” and throughout the film itself. It’s a fun movie at times, mostly due to visual gags, but it’s rarely all that funny. Happily that doesn’t get in the way of the heart though which comes to a head in the big finale which finds the characters paying off and coming into their own. It’s a small thing, but there’s also something to be said for the characters’ body sizes/shapes. Yes, I realize they’re animals, but having the lead females for example be talented, capable, and plus-sized (pig and elephant) is a good thing that the media rarely allows.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Mini-movies, music video, featurettes]
What is it? A teenager’s family is slaughtered by a ruthless serial killer while vacationing in Australia forcing her onto a path of revenge.
Why see it? Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek films are a mixed pair ‐ the first is a terrifically brutal thriller while the sequel is a garbage fire of failed comedy and tone ‐ and this series variation happily falls closer to the former. Stretching the story across multiple episodes is both a strength and a weakness though as the suspense snaps more than once knowing neither party can meet their fate yet as the season isn’t over. Still, there are real thrills to be found here in a slowburn tale of survival and revenge. I’m not sure if a second season is coming, but I’ll be watching if it does.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood
What is it? A German Shepherd moves from the poor house to the big house as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Why see it? Set in the golden age of silent cinema, this “comedy” tells a tale of fortune’s peaks and valleys as Won Ton Ton finds a home with Madeline Kahn and Bruce Dern. The laughs just aren’t there though for too much of the film leaving viewers instead with a who’s who of cameos by past stars including Henny Youngman, Art Carney, Billy Barty, Jackie Coogan, Dorothy Lamour, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and more. If nothing else it’s fun spotting the faces.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Also Out This Week:
Ali & Nino, Assassin’s Creed, Being There [Criterion], Evolution, Insecure ‐ The Complete First Season, Master of None ‐ Season One, Miss Sloane, Multiple Maniacs [Criterion]
Related Topics: Home Video