Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
A painting of a far away kingdom reveals glimpses of people, but unseen is a caste system separating the perfect Alldunns from their lessers, the incomplete Halfies and the ghostly Sketchies. The Alldunns look down on the others treating them as less than second class citizens, but a cross-caste romance threatens to upset the status quo. Three of them, one from each group, are forced on the run where they discover and pass through the edge of the painting. Only to find themselves in the painter’s shack among several other discarded creations.
International animation doesn’t get a lot of play here in the States, but thanks to the GKids label a few gems have been making their way into our Blu-ray players. Their latest is a French film cut from the same cloth as Pleasantville in its aversion to subtlety and fantastic mix of beauty and entertainment. The parable tackles racism, xenophobia, and more including the existential quest for meaning and a creator. And the final line and shot are simply masterful. If it weren’t for the fact that it was actually released in 2011 it would easily be the best animated film of the year this year. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer, making of, slide show]
A Company Man
Pitch: Workplace violence has never been so entertaining…
Hyeong-do (So Ji-sub) is employee of the month material at the company he works for, and his accomplishments have him on the fast track to a promotion. But the daily grind has started wearing him down just as the pressures at work start ramping up. Did I mention the business is contract killing? When he’s tasked with killing a younger employee he balks, setting in motion a change in his ideals and ambitions, but this isn’t exactly the kind of job you can quit.
South Korea continues to produce some of the finest action films, and this one follows in the footsteps of The Man From Nowhere with its tight story and spectacular gunplay and fight choreography. The combat here is fast, brutal and beautiful, but there’s also an unexpected bit of blackly comic commentary on workplace frustrations. It never goes full comedy, but little touches point out the absurdity of it all. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Pitch: It’s like the Brady Bunch-Tiki only less frightening…
Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) believed Polynesia was settled by South Americans, but the scientific community believes otherwise due to ocean currents and other pesky facts. With his reputation in question Thor sets out with a small group of handpicked men to make the journey on a raft built to the same specifications as sailors of the day would have used. Their trip became an adventure of a lifetime.
It’s not difficult to see why this Norwegian movie was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, and it starts with its status as a true story. Adding to that is the strong acting, stunning visuals, and real sense of adventure and drama. The sea-faring sequences that make up the majority of the movie are loaded with visually arresting scenes that rival last year’s Life of Pi (with the added bonus that these aren’t CGI creations). It’s a truly exciting story and a glimpse into a past where real adventure still existed. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Pain & Gain
Pitch: “Still a true story…”
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) believes in many things, and chief among them are fitness and the American Dream. The former is covered in his job as a personal trainer, but for the latter he enlists the aid of two other muscle-heads (Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson) to commit a series of crimes. Their efforts go awry in horribly violent and terrifically funny ways, and best (or worst) of all the entire story is true.
Michael Bay didn’t seem the obvious choice for this material, but even just a few minutes in proves that it’s actually right up his over-the-top alley. It’s big, flashy, and loud, and it’s populated with some spectacularly stupid people. Regardless of Bay’s influence though the movie works thanks mostly to a funny script and some incredibly game performers including the trio above along with Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry and Rebel Wilson. It’s utterly ridiculous at times, but the movie never lets us forget that it’s still true. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Walking Dead: The Complete Season Three
Pitch: If the Governor offers to give you head just say no…
Rick Grimes (guy from Love Actually who’s seemingly content being in love with his best friend’s wife but you just know that’s going to end in disaster or a threesome) and the rest of the survivors hole up in a prison, and do their best to make it a home. This includes killing off the zombies within and dealing with the humans as well. But even worse problems are on the horizon, and they come in the form of another group of survivors who’ve formed a nice little town for themselves under the management of the Governor (David Morrissey).
Season three of AMC’s zombified hit was a bit of a mixed bag for many, but the introduction of the Governor and his armed commandos added an interesting layer to the show’s human relationships alongside a slight Homeland Security vibe. The gore and action continues to be great fun, and the show found another somewhat fascinating character in Michonne (Danai Gurira) too. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Revoking visas one alien at a time…
Detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) works a violent beat, but nothing has prepared him for the newest bad guy to hit the streets. It seems an alien from outer space has crash landed on Earth with a second visitor hot on his trail. The former is an intergalactic drug dealer while the latter is a space cop. It’s up to Caine and his wise-cracking FBI partner (Brian Benben) to save the taxpayers from having their endorphins sucked out and imbibed.
This 1990 flick is better known under the title I Come In Peace, but whatever name you use the movie remains a fun little piece of genre entertainment. Director Craig Baxley gets a lot of bang for his buck resulting in a film filled with explosions, chase scenes and more explosions. Thanks to Benben, the buddy cop antics are funn, too. I’d recommend a double feature with Jack Sholder’s The Hidden for maximum cops and aliens enjoyment. [Blu-ray extras: Interviews, trailer]
The Fall of the House of Usher (UK)
Pitch: Candy is dandy but incest is best…
Philip Winthrop is engaged to the lovely Madeline Usher, but a visit to her family home reveals a dark and sordid history that just might impede their future together. Her brother, Roderick (Vincent Price), is not only against the marriage, he’s against her ever leaving the house again. And then she dies. (Kind of.)
Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale received this lavish and atmospheric adaptation courtesy of Roger Corman back in the ’60s, and the UK’s Arrow Video have given it a fine Blu-ray transfer and release. It’s a bit of a slow burn, unlike the titular house, but the pace picks up as the family madness makes itself known in dramatic fashion. Richard Matheson’s script is as much a melodrama as it is a horror film, but an over the top Price is always worth a watch. [DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]
The Great Gatsby
Pitch: Finally, someone brave enough to fix what Fitzgerald obviously got so wrong…
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a war vet turned stock market number cruncher whose rental bungalow sits comfortably amid some Long Island mansions. One in particular stands out as the home of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio). The two become friends, of sorts, but after Gatsby is reunited with a love from long ago (Carrie Mulligan) the past comes back to haunt their future.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel gets a fifth adaptation, this time from Romeo + Juliet director Baz Luhrmann, and the result is as opulent, extravagant and colorful as you’d expect. It’s also, inexplicably, shot in 3D. That’s worth noting as it’s clear even the regular (2D) edition where the eye-popping moments are meant to be. The artificiality in general stands out and obfuscates the character and dramatic subtleties resulting in a showy piece with no heart. Despite the visual issues, fans of the director, the source material and Dicaprio should find some things to enjoy here. If nothing else, just watch it in the mindset that Dicaprio’s Jay is actually Titanic’s Jack after surviving the sinking and re-imagining himself into the grand success he always dreamed he could be. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, ]
Pawn Shop Chronicles
Pitch: Such a ripoff of Narnia…
A lazy pawn shop in an unnamed Southern state attracts the occasional customer, and they often come with baggage in the form of their own twisted and sordid little stories. With Vincent D’Onofrio’s eponymous shop as the glue tying them together, the tales include a pair of redneck meth heads (Paul Walker and Kevin Rankin) planning a robbery, a man’s (Matt Dillon) odd quest to find his missing wife, and a sad sack Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser).
Anthology films are usually genre-themed, but the format mostly works for this wildly raucous comedy as well. For one thing the cast is almost entirely made up of recognizable faces including Elijah Wood, Norman Reedus, Chi McBride, DJ Qualls, Lukas Haas, Ashlee Simpson, and Thomas Jane. It’s plenty crass,, often fun and well worth a watch for fans of the cast. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Q the Winged Serpent
Pitch: Pretty sure it’s a metaphor for 9/11…
A dragon-like creature summoned by a bizarre cult flies above New York City feasting on the occasional sunbather or window washer, and only David Carradine can stop it. Of course he’ll need the help of a low life criminal (Michael Moriarty) to do it, but the man’s petty greed may get in the way of saving lives.
This Larry Cohen joint is a fine mix of creature feature and character piece thanks both to the stop-motion animation fun and Moriarty’s performance. The former adds a delicious cheese to the bloody proceedings while the latter simply adds entertainment value the likes of which only Moriarty’s presence can create. It’s goofy at times, but on the Cohen scale it sits somewhere between God Told Me To and The Stuff in regard to tone. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, trailer]
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Pitch: The Repentant Capitalist…
An American professor in Pakistan is kidnapped, and the CIA’s number one suspect is a local professor (Riz Ahmed) from the same school. An American journalist (Liev Schreiber) sits down with him to get his side of the story, and we discover what brought him from the ivory towers of Wall Street to the religiously motivated streets of Pakistan. And yes, the attack on the World Trade Center plays an important role.
Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson co-star here, but this is Ahmed’s show. He delivers a truly compelling performance as a man who moves from ambition and pride to anger and possible extremism. It’s an interesting arc, but the movie around it isn’t quite as fascinating. It’s well acted all around, but too much of it just feels obvious and expected. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, trailer]
Pitch: Police corruption isn’t exclusive to the USA…
The city of Seville, Spain has a bit of a drug problem. Well, it’s actually more of a violence problem, but the local police aren’t interested in nitpicking, Instead they’re focused on taking down the bad guys by any means necessary. Their tactics soon override their sense of right and wrong, and while their success grows so does their list of enemies.
Alberto Rodríguez’ crime drama eschews the style and charm of some similar genre films and instead focuses on the deterioration of character and humanity when embedded in such a morally corrupt organization. We see how easy it is for a good cop to go bad, and the film finds both drama and suspense in his journey. The handful of action scenes here fall more on the gritty side than the explosive, but that only makes the effect that much more powerful. That said, the film is a bit dry at times, a fact made more acceptable by the 95 minute running time. DVD extras: Trailer, still gallery
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Action Double Feature: The Barbarians/The Norseman
Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Ninth Season
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorfs
Sons of Anarchy: Season Five
To Be Or Not To Be (Criterion)