The Blu-ray/DVD Column Where ‘Race With the Devil’ Beats ‘Identity Thief’ and ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’
Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
It’s a Disaster
Four couples get together for their monthly brunch, but today’s gathering includes a few surprises. Tracy (Julia Stiles) has brought along a new boyfriend (David Cross), one of the couples is heading towards a separation, and a mysterious incident in the city has left them trapped in the house with little in the way of reliable information. A lack of certainty, loyalty and sanity quickly overcomes the group leading to even more trouble.
Writer/director Todd Berger’s ensemble comedy is easily the funniest disaster film in ages. Most of the cast are (fairly) fresh faces, but in addition to the two names above America Ferrera gets to show a decidedly different side of herself. It’s a simple film, essentially set in a single location, but sharp writing and a lively cast collectively imbued with fantastic comic timing make it a hilarious and energetic romp. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, behind the scenes, Comic Con panel, viral videos, trailer]
Action Packed Double Feature: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry / Race With the Devil
Pitch: Peter Fonda, Vic Morrow, Warren Oates. Just imagine the hi-jinx on these sets…
What’s It About? Dirty Mary Crazy Larry stars Peter Fonda as a race car driver who along with a mechanic and a hot blonde (Susan George) is looking for a quick score, but their supermarket takedown runs into complications when the fuzz shows up hot on their tail. Race With the Devil sees Fonda return as one-fourth of two couples taking an RV trip through the American Midwest. It’s all good fun until they witness a devilish sacrifice and find themselves chased by satan’s minions.
Why Buy? Both films have their strengths, but while the latter one is easily the better of the two they collectively make this worth a Buy. The former film features some solid car stunts and the gorgeous George in a halter top, but it’s the ending that makes it so memorable. The same could be said for the latter film, but at least that finale is visible from a mile away. Shout! Factory presents both films in very nice looking HD alongside some enlightening extras. [Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, interviews, trailers]
Adventure Time: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: Like a cotton candy wet dream…
What’s It About? Finn the Human and his best friend Jake the Dog live in the magical Land of OOO where strange happenings are everyday occurrences. Together the face crazy challenges through Finn’s acts of heroism, Jake’s extremely flexible body and dumb luck.
Why Buy? This show skirts the line of being absolutely crazy as possible while still being coherent and entertaining, but I’m fully aware that not everyone would agree. Personally I find its warped and chaotic imagination to be a joyride I rarely want to end, while at the same time acknowledging that the episodes average around eleven minutes a piece for a good reason. You will go into shock if you try and marathon a whole season. Or maybe even a diabetic coma. The complete first season is also being released today too. [DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews]
Mad Max Trilogy
Pitch: Makes the Fast & Furious films look even less believable…
What’s It About? Max (Mel Gibson) is a police officer in the Australian countryside tasked with keeping street gangs in check, but when his wife and child are killed he becomes a force of vengeance. He returns as a mysterious scavenger turned hero some years later after a slow apocalypse has settled across the land turning gasoline into the world’s most valuable commodity. He returns yet again even more years later when he wins tickets to a Tina Turner concert.
Why Buy? Unless you’re really into tins this is really only a Buy for those of use who don’t already have Mad Max and The Road Warrior on Blu-ray. The discs and extras appear to be identical to earlier releases, and while the set also includes the justifiably maligned Beyond Thunderdome that can be picked up separately starting today as well. The movies look and sound stellar, and with recent car-related action films often deferring to CGI it’s always nice to see a movie that surpasses them in thrills and does it all with real cars and crazy-ass drivers. [Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurette, trailers]
Pitch: It’s not the most successful comedy in Argentinian history for nothing…
What’s It About? Two couples that have been friends for years reach a crossroads when one of the women confides in the other that her and her husband are swingers. Slowly but surely they convince the second couple to join in the fun, but work, their son and a basic shyness prevent them from rushing in too quickly. Once they cave though all bets off along with their clothes. And that’s about the time the other shoe drops.
Why Rent? This comedy does a fine job in controlling its tone between the laughs and drama. The first half is often very funny and sometimes sexy, but as the expected complications arise the film moves smoothly into more of a relationship drama. It’s quite well done, and all four actors do fine work here. Also worth noting is the film’s Austin Powers-like efforts to show tons of flesh without ever actually showing nudity. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: Porn stars find themselves at risk for lockjaw thanks to all this talking…
What’s It About? Sixteen female porn stars join renowned photographer Deborah Anderson for a photo session and chat. Anderson chooses only the performers she has yet to see perform in an effort to first meet the person not the persona. Each of the women talk candidly about the careers, expectations, love lives and the treatment they sometimes get from “civilians.”
Why Rent? Viewers looking for T&A will find it here, but there’s actually some interesting revelations worth a listen to as well. The women come from varied backgrounds and family lives as opposed to the stereotypical girls with “daddy issues.” To be fair though, there is one or two of those too. There are some interesting and frank conversations here, but the focus is so clearly limited on female porn stars that you’ll know going in if it’s for you. [DVD extras: None]
Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season
Pitch: Joins Mad Men, The Sopranos and The Wire in the very short list of unanimously acclaimed shows I’ve never seen…
What’s It About? Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was a school teacher and family man until he was diagnosed with an incurable disease. His impending death set him on a course of action involving meth labs, drug dealers, violence and plenty of deaths that have yet to be his. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is his partner in crime. He may also have been one of Walter’s past students. I don’t know. I don’t watch the show.
Why Rent? Having never seen the show but planning to sometime soon I wasn’t about to jump into season five. That said, according to my Twitter feed plenty of folks loved the season and eagerly await the conclusion of the sixth and final season so this is obviously a Buy for you fans. The set also includes “Chicks ’n’ Guns” which is a brand new scene produced for the DVD/Blu-ray release. [DVD extras: Newly produced scene, uncensored episodes, deleted scenes, gag reel, behind the scenes, commentaries, featurettes]
Pitch: Screaming “King me bitches!” is frowned upon for more than one reason…
What’s It About? The kids at I.S. 318 are average students in most regards but one. Several of them are on the school’s chess team that has gone on to win more national championships than any other school in the country. Not bad for a school populated with students who live below the poverty line. This doc follows five of the students across a few years and explores how their biggest challenge comes in the form of state budget cuts to the education system.
Why Rent? The film’s first surprise is a pleasant one in that the idea of an inner city school kicking butt in chess on a national level is a fantastic revelation. It’s a rarity to see such well-rounded, smart and focused kids who remain strong in the face of such pressures. [DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Clint Eastwood: 20 Film Collection
Pitch: People will spend minutes trying to figure out the elusive algorithm that led to the selection of these particular twenty films…
What’s It About? Dirty Harry. Magnum Force. The Outlaw Josey Wales. The Gauntlet. Every Which Way But Loose. Firefox. Sudden Impact. Pale Rider. Heartbreak Ridge. Unforgiven. A Perfect World. Space Cowboys. Mystic River. Million Dollar Baby. Letters From Iwo Jima. Gran Torino. Invictus. Hereafter. J. Edgar. Trouble With the Curve.
Why Rent? This is the kind of set that for some people is going to be an automatic Buy, but with 20 films included the odds are slim that anyone will see most (let alone all) of them are must-haves. Warner Bros. aren’t stupid so they’ve ensured this set doesn’t offer all the Dirty Harry films, or all of Eastwood’s westerns, or even all of his directorial efforts. They have back-loaded it with his recent films though which leads inevitably to a decline in quality. But even with those later duds, there are several fantastic films here, and each of the twenty looks great and includes various extras. The set also adds in two documentaries on DVD, an extended version of The Eastwood Factor and a new one, Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentaries, trailers, documentaries]
Falling Skies: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: Mmmoon Bloodgood…
What’s It About? It’s a year after an alien attack left most of mankind dead, but pockets of human resistance remain. One such group, the 2nd Massachusetts, lost their leader (Noah Wyle) to the inside of an alien craft at the end of season one, but as season two starts he’s discovered back on earth right before he’s accidentally shot. Welcome home dad!
Why Rent? This TNT action/sci-fi/drama from executive producer Steven Spielberg isn’t that much of a high profile series, but it clearly has its fans. Season three starts later this week, and at only ten eps per season it’s an easy show to get into and through. Quality-wise it’s pretty good with strong acting and fairly impressive budgets, but it still feels like a cross between the original V series and The Walking Dead. That’s not a bad thing. [DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries]
12 Rounds 2: Reloaded
Pitch: You can’t fake acting ability…
What’s It About? Nick Mallow (Randy Orton) is a paramedic out with his girlfriend one night when they come across a two-car accident. He helps and saves the lives of all but one of the crash victims. Months later his life is thrown into chaos when a mysterious madman creates an elaborate obstacle course of actions for him to accomplish or people are going to die.
Why Avoid? Renny Harlin’s 2009 12 Rounds was a modest hit for the budget, and while this new film is far from a sequel it is pretty much a mirror image. The difference comes in the quality though as everything in this direct to DVD follow-up pales beside the already low budget original. The action and stunts are less effective, and they’ve replaced John Cena with a WWE wrestler with even less charisma. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary]
Skip it and watch They Live instead.
A Good Day to Die Hard
Pitch: Welcome to part five of John McClane and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day…
What’s It About? John McClane (Bruce Willis) has a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the first time he’s taking his bad luck overseas. He heads to Moscow after discovering that his son Jack (Jai Courtney) is in prison, but his arrival coincides with a spectacular prison break and lands McClane in the crosshairs of some very bad men.
Why Avoid? Much of what’s wrong about this latest installment of the McClane saga can be found in the opening thirty minutes. From the character’s bland intro to a massively destructive car chase that shows McClane as a real prick oblivious to the civilian death/injury count around his actions, nothing about this first act feels like a Die Hard. It’s a shame too as the chase is pretty impressive on a practical stunt level. The remainder of the film goes downhill along with the level of stunts which quickly begin to suffer from an abundance of CGI/greenscreen work. It’s not just a disappointing entry in the Die Hard canon, it’s a bad movie period. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailer]
Skip it and watch Die Hard With a Vengeance instead.
Pitch: It’s not hyperbole to say that actual identity theft is funnier than this movie*…
What’s It About? Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is about to have a very bad day, and it’s almost entirely due to a woman named Diana (Melissa McCarthy). It seems she’s an accomplished con-artist and identity thief, and for now she’s targeting Patterson. As his job and family life fall down around him he’s forced into a road trip to bring Diana to justice and clear his own name.
Why Avoid? The conceit here, and the thing that makes it unfunny in addition to the fact that it’s painfully unfunny, is that McCarthy’s character is someone we’re supposed to identify with even though she’s done and is doing terrible things. She’s a bad, obnoxious person, and while Bateman plays his typical straight man he needs a funny counterpart for the balance to work. The gags, nut shots included, are far more obvious than entertaining. Don’t let the film’s enormous box-office fool you. It’s a terribly unfunny movie. *That is in fact hyperbole. [Blu-ray extras: Gag reel, making of, alternate takes, featurettes]
Skip it and watch Housesitter instead.
Pitch: Imagine a ghost with long black hair. Now imagine it in 3D! Now imagine pressing stop and putting in a better movie…
What’s It About? The legacy of The Ring continues as the cursed videotape has morphed into a deadly viral video that leads viewers to commit suicide. Can these attractive, young Japanese twenty-somethings stop the evil spirit before it’s too late? Will they learn that the ghost girl’s hair is in her eyes and she totally can’t see where she’s going?
Why Avoid? There was a time when these Japanese horror films felt fresh and thrilling, but that time only lasted a few months and it was well over a decade ago. In addition to not being scary and repeating the usual visual tricks, this installment in the Ring saga also suffers from a cheap-looking digital style, poor acting and a stunningly inept take on suspense and terror.[Blu-ray extras: None]
Skip it and watch Gore Verbinksi’s The Ring remake instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
The Big Bad
Chupacabra vs the Alamo
Electra Glide in Blue
Escape From Planet Earth
Home Sweet Home
The Last Ride
Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Third Season