This Week in Home Video
Bring Mel Gibson Home With His New Movie Blood Father
Pick of the Week
What is it? John Link (Mel Gibson) is an alcoholic ex-con who’s two years and counting into both freedom and sobriety. He lives on the outskirts of nowhere in a small desert community that sees him attending AA meetings and working as a tattoo artist. His daughter ran away from Link’s ex-wife years ago, but a frantic call from her sees father and daughter reunited for a brief spell before the trouble she’s involved in comes knocking on his trailer door.
Why buy it? Director Jean-Francois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13 reboot) takes basic thrills and turns them into a series of hard-hitting, smartly-crafted, practical action sequences, and cinematographer Robert Gantz captures it all it against the desert’s stark yellows and reds. Shootouts, a motorcycle chase, and other physical antics keep the energy and entertainment up, but the key to the film’s success rests heavily on Gibson’s weathered and tattooed shoulders. Thankfully for those of us who’ve missed him onscreen he’s as cantankerous, captivating, and capable as he ever was. Odds are the world will never let him back into big movies where he belongs, but as a fan I’ll take solid, gritty little action films like this as a consolation.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Blood Father [Blu-ray + Digital HD]
Carrie [Scream Factory]
What is it? Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a sheltered teen with a severely religious mother, and when the kids at school mock her fear over her first period the powers inside here break free. She’s capable of moving things with her mind, and it’s bad news for cruel bullies and oppressive mother alike.
Why see it? Stephen King’s first novel became his first film adaptation, and it remains a strong indictment of bullying as well as a sad but satisfying tale of revenge. It’s not a film I revisit often as I think the oppression/revenge ratio is tilted too heavily towards the former to make it consistent entertainment, but there’s no denying the power of that final 25 minutes. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray brings a handful of new extras along with an even more exciting and new 4k remastering that is almost guaranteed to make this a must-own for horror fans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurettes]
Carrie [Collector's Edition] [Blu-ray]
The Chase [Twilight Time]
What is it? A prison break sends a small town’s bastard child (Robert Redford) heading home, but rather than await him with open arms some of the people take up arms. A mob mentality grows intent on his capture or death, and it takes down anyone and anything in its path including the convict’s ex-lover (Jane Fonda), the new sheriff (Marlon Brando), and any semblance of racial equality and peace.
Why see it? Arthur Penn directs this tense, simmering drama that uses Redford’s prisoner as both a narrative red herring and a match to start the film’s core narrative. The real story here is the limitations of small towns when it comes to shifting viewpoints and expanding awareness, and the suspense builds even as the characters come further into focus. It’s a strong film as pure entertainment, but as a commentary on small town America it’s spot on.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Chase, The (Blu-ray)
Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte [Twilight Time]
What is it? Charlotte (Bette Davis) was witness to a horrific murder as a young woman, and now decades later she’s every bit as nutty as you’d expect. As the world encroaches on her home a relative (Olivia de Havilland) comes calling with the promise of looking after her. Of course, Charlotte knows better than anyone that the folks in their family aren’t to be trusted.
Why see it? Director Robert Aldrich reunites with Davis after collaborating on the hit What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and the result is another gothic shocker. The film blends thrills, some surprising violence, and a lot of shrieking into a garishly entertaining concoction. It runs a bit too long, but it’s rarely dull and instead keeps things moving with a clash of madness and intentional deceit.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurette, interviews]
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Blu-ray)
The Hills Have Eyes [Arrow Video]
What is it? An extended family on a road trip through the desert runs into trouble when they crash and wind up stranded. The day’s heat and the night’s cold are the least of their worries though as another family is waiting nearby with violent intentions.
Why see it? I’m in the minority in my preference for the remakes over Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left, but this film still manages some thrills in its own cheap, poorly written, loudly acted way. They alone aren’t enough to warrant a buy here, but thankfully Arrow’s new Blu makes up for it with a nice restoration, a host of extras, and some slick packaging. It’s the definitive release for fans, and for the rest of us it makes swallowing the film quite a bit easier.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4k transfer, commentaries, making of, interviews, alternate ending, booklet, poster, postcards]
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
She Who Must Burn
What is it? Angela provides women’s health services in a small rural community, but while she’s doing good work there are those who think she’s also doing the devil’s work. They blame her progressive ways for inviting illness into the community, and they intend on stopping her by any means necessary.
Why see it? Larry Kent’s film is a horror film through and through, and sadly much of its terror comes straight from real-world attitudes and beliefs. It’s a tough watch at times, frustrating too, and I’d be lying if I said I loved it immediately after seeing it at Fantasia Film Festival. It’s the kind of film that sits with you, eats at you, and leaves you disturbed and unsettled. So no, it’s not a fun watch, but it is a harrowing one.
[DVD extras: None]
The Thing [Scream Factory]
What is it? A shape-shifting alien invades an American research camp in the remote and icy nowhere of Antarctica, and one by one the creature searches for the perfect host. The men are in a race against time to destroy it, because if it survives the human race is doomed.
Why buy it? If you already own this movie on Blu-ray, donate that copy to an orphanage and pick up Scream Factory’s new collector’s edition. You will not be disappointed by the gorgeous picture and wealth of extras both old and new. The film itself highlights John Carpenter’s direction at its most precise and effective, and every other element falls in perfect place beside it. Ennio Morricone’s score offers a chilly minimalism, the cast (including Carpenter favorite Kurt Russell) embodies normal guys forced to confront the abnormal, and Dean Cundey’s camera captures both the mundane and the horror beautifully. The centerpiece to it all though are the masterful practical effects from Rob Bottin. He melds the familiar and the alien together to create things wholly new to our eyes, and the results are unforgettable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews, making of, outtakes, tv cut, featurettes]
The Thing [Collector's Edition] [Blu-ray]
Angels & Demons
What is it? The pope has died and the cardinals are gathered in Rome (along with tens of thousands of the faithful) to choose his successor. The Catholic Church is forced to call upon Prof. Langdon (Tom Hanks) for help when the “Illuminati” threatens to publicly kill a kidnapped cardinal every hour for four hours and then blow up the Vatican.
Why see it? This follow-up (and prequel?) to The Da Vinci Code is ridiculous and idiotic in equal measure, but it’s a far more entertaining ride too. The action is better, the humor is more present, and it cuts back on the exposition in favor of actually showing things. Again, it’s incredibly dumb, but if you’re looking for a prep before heading into the new Dan Brown film, Inferno, this is the better watch of the two.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, featurettes]
Boxcar Bertha [Twilight Time]
What is it? The purportedly true story of Boxcar Bertha (Barbara Hershey) as she spent her young adult years riding the rails, working in a whorehouse, and fighting “the man” at every turn. Her companion through some of these adventures, Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine), didn’t live to tell his version of it all.
Why see it? This is a barebones Blu-ray, but the big draw is the film’s director ‐ Martin Scorsese. The film is a Roger Corman production, but while its evident at times in the budget and sensibility Scorsese makes his artistry clear even at his young age. One action scene in particular, a shotgun shootout, is crafted with an eye for memorably kinetic entertainment. Much of the film has a rambling feel to it, but Scorsese’s direction and the two leads keep things engaging throughout.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Boyhood [Criterion Collection]
What is it? We drop into Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) life at six years old to find him in a small bit of trouble at school for letting his mind wander to the world beyond the classroom. His curious and warm eyes ‐ his only features to remain constant as his face and body age and mature around them over the twelve years to come ‐ carry that same casual inquisitiveness up into his eighteenth year when we leave him and his life just as unceremoniously as we arrived.
Why see it? If you grew up in America the film will touch upon your own memories in surprisingly affecting ways, but the film’s unconventional nature and the magic it creates can’t shield it from conventional issues. There’s no greater narrative at work here, for better or worse, as the film is truly a slice of one boy’s life. It’s a fat slice to be sure as Mason’s life moves around him and us like the proverbial river, always shifting and offering new challenges, sights and experiences. But that constantly moving stream hints at the film’s singular issue of note. Mason, the boy whose life we’re watching unfold, is as much of a passive observer of it as we are. I haven’t seen Criterion’s disc so I can’t speak to whether or not the new extras make it worth a double dip.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, interviews]
What is it? Tara (Jaime Alexander) is enjoying a bachelorette weekend with friends when she makes the mistake of succumbing to a one night stand with an intense bartender (Wes Bentley). She immediately tries to forget it ever happened, but he’s in love, and he’s not about to let it go.
Why see it? It’s essentially a flipped gender riff on the Fatal Attraction formula, and it offers nothing new to the story. The cast is fine, but none of them really convince at various stages in the story. Bentley’s eyes sell his dark intent, but various behaviors and plot turns toss out intelligence and common sense in favor of easy thrills.
[DVD extras: None]
Bubba the Redneck Werewolf
What is it? Bubba is a good enough guy, but he’s always been one to reach for a beer instead of standing up for what’s right. He reaches his breaking point one night and makes a deal with the devil for the strength and hairline of a better man. So of course he gets turned into a werewolf. Don’t ever make a deal with the devil kids.
Why see it? If you’ve seen Wolfcop then you have a general sense of the broad comedy on display here, but it’s worth noting this character came first. The film version has also come cheaper as this is a very low budget affair. Fans of the comic and of goofy comedy should find some entertainment here. If nothing else, the devil’s sly jabs at the rural mindset provides a few laughs.
[DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes, bloopers, featurette]
The Da Vinci Code
What is it? A seemingly ritualistic murder draws in a renowned symbologist (Tom Hanks), but he quickly becomes the prime suspect of Parisian police. It’s a frame-up though and part of a much bigger conspiracy involving humanity’s past and where we go for the future.
Why see it? Ron Howard’s first Dan Brown adaptation has gotten a re-release as the third, Inferno, heads to theaters soon, but while fans ate up both the novel and the film I still don’t get the appeal. A full ninety percent of the movie is exposition as characters explain, theorize, and confirm various plot threads. The action is minimal and unexciting, and we’re left solely with the positive of a cast that includes Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno, and Paul Bettany as a mad albino monk.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, featurettes]
Feed the Beast ‐ Season One
What is it? Tommy (David Schwimmer) lost his wife to a car accident and has since retreated into a bottle even as it complicates his attempts at staying employed and being a good father to his son. Dion (Jim Sturgess) is a recently released convict with poor judgement and mad culinary skills. Together they open a restaurant.
Why see it? AMC’s freshman series feels at times like a less comedic Kitchen Confidential as it pairs tough talk with fancy cuisine, and the result is an entertaining version of Burnt. Dion is a cliched character destined to constantly screw things up, but Tommy’s heart balances things out to the point that we want to see these two succeed.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries, gag reel]
What is it? Supernatural forces are amassing in New York City, and only four women have the balls to stand up and face the ghostly threats.
Why see it? Paul Feig’s reboot of Ivan Reitman’s ’80s classic is a funny enough movie that’s worth watching for fans of the cast. Everyone gets time to shine (although the clear winners are Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, and Andy Garcia), and it’s a fun watch. It suffers though with forced cameos and a third act that gets far too big, but at no point does it threaten your appreciation of the original. If you do pick it up be sure to watch the gag reels and outtakes as they’re funnier than the film itself.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reels, deleted scenes, featurettes, commentaries, outtakes]
What is it? Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) is a government agent tasked with bringing down the biggest drug lord of the day ‐ the 1980s ‐ in Pablo Escobar. He goes undercover posing as a businessman looking to team up in bringing drugs into the U.S.
Why see it? This true story is also recounted in the Netflix series Narcos, and for a story like this the TV version actually succeeds better thanks to its ability to go deeper into the dense tale. The film is solid enough though due mostly to Cranston and John Leguizamo as Mazur’s partner. It’s ultimately a bit too familiar and forgettable, but they make it passable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes]
The Legend of Tarzan
What is it? John Clayton III, the Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) is trying to settle into a proper Victorian existence after leaving his life as Tarzan behind, but a diplomatic opportunity brings him back to the jungle. It’s all a ruse though and Tarzan is forced to once again fight for the survival of the place and creatures he calls home.
Why see it? Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous character didn’t need yet another onscreen rendition, but if you can get past the film’s absolutely unnecessary existence it’s a fun, energetic watch. It all has a light feel to it between the humor and action, and both Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz act exactly as you’d expect.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Len & Company
What is it? Len (Rhys Ifans) is a rock star on a downward spiral, and after his personal issues take on a public face he decides to retreat away from the lime light. His friends and family follow.
Why see it? As with The Infiltrator above this feels like a very familiar tale buoyed by the performers bringing it all to life. It goes beyond mere watchability though and finds entertainment and heart along the way. Ifans is fantastic, and while the beats he hits are predictable it’s a journey offering laughs and raw observations.
[DVD extras: None]
McCabe & Mrs. Miller [Criterion Collection]
What is it? John McCabe (Warren Beatty) arrives in the lush and wet Pacific Northwest in search of a business opportunity, and he finds it in the creation of a whore house for local miners. He also finds a business partner in one Constance Miller (Julie Christie), and together they find great success until someone else decides to take it all over.
Why see it? Robert Altman’s early ’70s western builds into something engaging, but for too much of its running time the film just rambles. I know, most of you disagree, and that’s okay. Altman’s meandering style works sometimes far better than others ‐ I love Short Cuts for example ‐ but here too much of the film just sits still. There’s a visual appeal to the cinematography and its capture of rural Oregon, and that third act finds plot and character work for those of us who need it. Criterion’s new Blu looks fantastic while still allowing for the soft imagery Altman was after.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4k transfer, commentary, making of, interview, featurettes]
Phantom of the Theatre
What is it? Years ago a fire tore through a popular theater leaving death and destruction in its wake. It now sits empty, of human life at least, and waits for new owners to light up the stage once more. That time comes, but the upcoming performances are marred by murder, mystery, and the ghosts of the past.
Why see it? Raymond Yip’s latest pairs a Phantom of the Opera-like storyline involving his show’s leading lady with a supernatural tale of restless spirits looking for company, but it’s difficult to immerse yourself in the action as the CG is both constant and poor. Dramatic and frightening beats are muted considerably by weak effects, and it’s a shame as the film’s actual production design works well to create real atmosphere.
[DVD extras: None]
Runaway Train [Twilight Time]
What is it? Two convicts (Jon Voight, Eric Roberts) escape from a remote, snowbound prison and hop onto a freight train heading for freedom, but their luck runs out the second they step aboard. The engineer has a heart attack with the train in motion, and stopping it won’t be easy.
Why see it? I’m going to be honest here and say that this Academy Award nominated movie that everyone seems to love is not good. The landscape is beautiful at times, but the script is goofy, the performances are cartoonish, and there’s not a soul here I give a single shite about. The first act in the prison reminds me of Tango & Cash ‐ a movie that understands its place and excels because of it ‐ but its efforts to be serious are undercut by its amateurish execution.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Train [Twilight Time]
What is it? World War II is winding down, but the Nazis want to ensure one more victory. The art treasures they’ve stolen from French museums and collections has been loaded onto a train and scheduled for departure to Germany. Only one man stands a chance of stopping it ‐ a French trainman (Burt Lancaster).
Why see it? John Frankenheimer’s thriller is a mix of setup and suspense beats played out across a very patient script. It builds to an exciting sequence and tense standoff, but it comes after a lot of pieces are made to fall into place. It’s good.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries]
Also Out This Week:
Approaching the Unknown, Astro Zombies, Hillary’s America, Ice Age: Collision Course, It’s a Wonderful Life ‐ Platinum Anniversary Edition
Related Topics: Home Video