The Best Blu-ray & DVD Releases of the Week ‐ ‘Stories We Tell,’ ‘A Bay of Blood,’ ‘Cockneys vs Zombies’ and More
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Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley, best known for her work both in front of and behind the camera for feature films, turns her eye onto her own family in documentary form as she explores a part of their history from varying perspectives. Through interviews and home videos she goes back in time to explore her parents lives, her own childhood, and a secret they all think they know. What starts as a focus on a mystery becomes something more as stories, recollections, and memories differ from person to person.
In a year filled with fantastic and powerful documentaries, Polley’s film remains the warmest and most wondrous thanks both to the content and the film’s structure. She’s on this journey with us, equally unsure of her own motivations and delighted by the results. It’s a personal story, even her family members wonder why anyone else would care, yet it speaks to a universal truth about how we share our stories and make them our own. Each person has their own tale as well as a piece of everyone else’s, and it’s amazing to see them play out onscreen. Plus, the stinger here puts Marvel films to shame. [DVD extras: Trailer]
A Bay of Blood
Pitch: Aka the far more exquisite Twitch of the Death Nerve…
The Countess Federica has been murdered, and so has her murderer. From there we’re introduced to several people, many of them vying for the old woman’s estate, and all capable of doing whatever it takes to get it. Cue the slashing, stabbing, strangling, shooting, and more as the visitors to this peaceful little waterside locale all end up as food and fodder for the octopus. And no, that shouldn’t be taken literally. For the most part.
Mario Bava’s seminal slasher is at the beginning of the genre’s lineage with direct links to a few films including Friday the 13th, and it remains better than most of them. It’s a twisty whodunnit populated with scantily clad ladies, creative deaths and a dark sense of humor. It also has Bava’s second best ending after Kidnapped. It’s ultimately a fun and visually inventive thriller that rarely feels less than playful. Kino Classics’ new Blu-ray release, part of their Mario Bava Collection, offers a fantastic picture alongside an informative commentary from Tim Lucas. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, alternate release, trailer]
Cockneys vs Zombies
Pitch: Funny, gory, and very, very British…
A group of bored twenty-somethings decide to rob a bank. A group of even more bored octogenarians decide it’s time they bust out of their retirement home for some real fun. A much, much larger group of undead Brits decide it’s time to eat the living and multiply.
It’s so rare to find a horror comedy that manages some real laughs while maintaining a dark and deadly situation complete with plentiful bloodletting, but this unassuming British flick hits all the right notes. The setups for each of the character groups is strong, the laughs are frequent, and the gore is bloody good fun. Co-writer James Moran is no stranger to comedic tales of terror, and his script’s tone is captured perfectly by Matthius Hoene’s direction. The end result sits comfortably above Zombieland and below Return of the Living Dead, but that’s a pretty enviable and empty place to land. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, behind the scenes, deleted scenes, trailer]
Regular Show: Fright Pack
Pitch: You will believe a Blue Jay named Mordecai has the best Halloween costume ever…
Mordecai and Rigby the racoon are employed as park groundskeepers, but most of their day consists of slacking off to play videogames and hang out with friends, neighbors and employers including Muscle Man, Skips, Hi-Five Ghost, Pops, and Benson the gumball machine. This horror-themed collection gathers sixteen episodes tinged with nightmares, scary stories and murder.
I’m unapologetic in my love for Cartoon Network’s Regular Show and creator J.G. Quintel, and the series is constantly jostling with Adventure Time for the top spot in my affections. It’s the more plot-oriented of the two, but it’s equally hilarious in its punchlines, gags and non-sequiturs. It’s not for everyone, but the best stuff never is. [DVD extras: Gallery]
Pitch: Looks like someone saw The Artist…
Carmen is daughter to a famous bull fighter, but when he’s injured in the ring the young girl ends up in the care of a vicious stepmother intent on making her life a living hell. She eventually grows up and runs away with a gaggle of little people by her side, and fate brings her into the ring herself where she finds her own success. But the wicked stepmother is lurking, and soon Carmen is tempted like Snow White of old by a tainted fruit.
If nothing else, can we all just appreciate that the adult Carmen is played by an actress named Macarena Garcia? Luckily there is more to this though, and a large part of it is the magnificent and near constant score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. Both it and the sharp yet lush b&w photography craft a beautiful cinematic spell. Unfortunately the tale itself doesn’t quite live up to the presentation as the Sleeping Beauty homage feels forced and mismatched to the material. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, introduction, live concert, booklet]
Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Of all the pay-cable period pieces filled with copious amounts of nudity and CGI this is definitely one of them…
Leonardo Da Vinci (Tom Riley) is a man with a singular vision, and while it rarely lines up with what the Catholic Church and government would prefer they can’t argue with the results. His mind is constantly churning with ideas, designs and theories, but they’re never allowed to get in the way of a good snort or a snog. His latest assignment, a mechanical bird, lands him square in the middle of a conspiracy with deadly ramifications.
“From David S. Goyer” isn’t actually much of a selling point aside from the recognizable name, but as with the man’s feature scripts the episodes here are brought to impressive life by other artists far more talented. There’s a style here too that comes into play when Da Vinci’s mind begins to picture some of his creations, and the effects are often exciting and impressive to behold. Character and storywise, the show is more than a bit reminiscent of of others like The Borgias or The Tudors, but a bit of wit here and there keep it entertaining all the same. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Because New York wouldn’t have made any sense…
Chris Potamitis (Liam Hemsworth) wants to make his ex-cop father proud, but when he fails to get into the police academy he settles for a job as a night security guard for a local armored car company. The temptation and the ease of access leads Chris and his entirely untrustworthy best friend Eddie (Michael Angarano) into a world of poorly planned thefts, lowlevel thugs, and a burly police detective (Dwayne Johnson).
Based on a true story, the film carries some interesting elements about it, but none of them are enough to make anything here all that interesting. Hemsworth gives a fine-enough performance which bodes well for his future provided he can find some better material, but the normally rock solid Angarano drowns in a character/performance that channels Edward Norton in Rounders times ten. That’s no excuse for bumping him from the DVD cover though and replacing him with Emma Roberts who has roughly ten minutes of inconsequential screentime. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, behind the scenes, featurette]
Skip it and watch The Town instead.
The English Teacher
Pitch: If you can only watch one Michael Angarano movie this week for the love of god don’t make it Empire State…
Linda (Julianne Moore) is a high school English teacher destined for life as a spinster. It’s not that she hasn’t tried to meet a man, she has, but her efforts have so far gone unrewarded to put it mildly. Her bland, predictable life gets a jolt with the arrival of a past student (Michael Angarano) whose recently written play touches Linda in ways she hasn’t felt in years. Soon he’s touching her in other ways too, and as they go about staging the play with the students Linda’s simple life becomes very complicated indeed.
This is a harmless little comedy with a great cast, the kind of movie that will entertain just enough to keep you from bailing early but will be mostly forgotten by the next morning. Greg Kinnear and Nathan Lane are also along for the ride, and all four manage some laughs. The script is a bit uneven though in its attempt to balance comedy with drama resulting in some tonal missteps, and a gimmick involving the narrator doesn’t quite land as smartly as intended. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, deleted scene]
Five Dolls For an August Moon
Pitch: And then there was belly dancing…
Friends and friends of friends have come to an island retreat for a party-filled weekend, and among them is a scientist sitting on a money-making bombshell. He has a very special formula, but after refusing to part with it for cold cash bodies start turning up even colder. One by one the guests are being murdered, the bodies stacked in the meat locker, and a killer grows ever closer to becoming a millionaire.
Italian director Mario Bava is best known for his horror efforts, including the slasher classic above, but he tried his hand at several genres during his career. This swinging mystery is far less bloody than those other films thanks to deaths occurring offscreen, but it also lacks anything resembling thrills or suspense. Still, the movie is a visual joy thanks to its set design and cinematography, and it also features a lively score and lots of bikini models. Bava completists will definitely want to give it a look. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, trailers]
From Up On Poppy Hill
Pitch: For the first time ever, Christina Hendricks in 2D…
It’s 1963, and the Japanese city of Yokohama is still recovering from the effects of WWII that left the country ravaged and defeated. The bright spot on the horizon is Tokyo’s plans to host the upcoming Olympics, and as a newfound pride begins to move through Japan two high school students come together as well. Young love seems as inevitable as the Olympics, but a shared event from their past soon rears its ugly head threatening their relationship before it even had a chance to breathe.
Japan’s Studio Ghibli is revered as one of the last big animation houses to eschew CGI in favor of hand drawn frames, but time and again their efforts pay off with some incredibly gorgeous animation. While past films like Spirited Away invited viewers into a world of magic and mythical creatures their latest keeps its narrative feet firmly on the ground. It makes for a less fantastical watch, but the story, complete with Ghibli’s patented unhurried pacing, still manages to find its heart along the way. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Original Japanese and English dubbed versions, storyboards, featurettes, interviews, trailers, booklet]
Pitch: He doesn’t tell a single victim-to-be to “Freeze!”…
Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is big, serious and not in the mood for any of your shit. He’s not against killing as punishment for seemingly trivial offenses, but when a local mobster (Ray Liotta) brings him into the family he takes his skills into the workplace as a hitman. The true story of a beloved husband, loving father, and good friend who just happened to be the number one hitman in a tri-state area comes to life in all its squib-filled glory.
The core of the film, and the essential reason to give it a watch, is unsurprisingly Shannon’s performance. He nails the cold, merciless killer and turns what could have been a facade of a family man into someone who wants to care but is simply incapable. That said, the movie itself is more than a little generic with only Chris Evans livening things up any as a hitman who uses an ice cream truck as his home base. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, behind the scenes]
The Lords of Salem
Pitch: Why not the goat really…
Heidi LaRoc (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a DJ in modern day Salem, but her lifestyle takes a turn for the weird when a record arrives at the station addressed to her from “the Lords.” The tracks set in motion a series of events designed to bring about a bit of a minor apocalypse involving witches both past and present, a mysterious room down the hall, and a waddling turkey demon that will not be ignored.
Writer/director Rob Zombie’s latest is not only his strangest effort yet but also his most entertaining. There are issues to be sure, the biggest being the lead actress, but there’s also a loose, playful vibe running alongside the grotesque absurdities. It has a distinct visual style too that adds to an already loopy atmosphere. Less of a horror movie than a horror/comedy, it’s a new direction that I hope Zombie continues to explore. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Spartacus: War of the Damned
Pitch: Hard to tell sometimes where the CGI ends and the naked flesh begins…
Spartacus’ (Liam McIntyre) war with the Roman Empire is coming to a head as the slaves’ continued revolt causes constant headaches for the military and government. A new player is brought in to combat the uppity gladiators, one who respects Spartacus enough to give the Empire the chance it needs to quell the uprising.
The Starz series comes to a conclusion with this fourth entry (after Blood & Sand, Gods of the Arena, and Vengeance), and it manages some of the best drama and action since the initial season that starred Andy Whitfield. None of the follow-ups managed the same level of heart that Whitfield brought to season one, but the show succeeds on bloody, naked flesh, and slow motion shenanigans all the same. If you enjoyed previous seasons you’ll enjoy this one. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, extended episodes]
Pitch: Just try to say no to a Baldwin and that girl from the monkey movie…
Emily Moore (Estella Warren) is an actress with some intense fans, but she’s pushed over the edge when one of them kidnaps, rapes, and dry-cleans her before leaving her to die in a coffin. Understandably upset by the experience she heads to an Italian getaway with her psychiatrist husband, Robert (Billy Baldwin), to try and take hold of her life back. The arrival of a scared, bloody, and soaking wet “teen” on their doorstep puts a kink into those plans though.
Look. There was a time when a non-Alec Baldwin could carry a picture, and Warren made for some appealing eye candy in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes redo, but those days are long gone. Neither of the leads is showing that much range, and the mystery is less of a suspense piece than an obvious stab at sexy thriller. It fails on the thrills all the way up through its fairly obvious conclusion, but it does manage a wee bit of the sexiness for those who like their direct to DVD mysteries in the Cinemax mold. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Suspicion instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: The Complete Season 8
The League: Season Four
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
Now You See Me
The Office: Season Nine
Parks and Recreation: Season Five
Person of Interest: The Complete Second Season
Revolution: The Complete First Season
Scandal: The Complete Second Season
Sinbad: The Complete First Season
Slightly Single In L.A.
The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fifth Season