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Helen (Carla Juri) has, among other things, a bug of rebellion up her ass, and she’s determined to explore it even if it kills here. A too-close shave eventually lands her in the hospital where doctors set about fixing her behind. While there she meets and falls for a male nurse who seems to understand and respect her peculiar interests, even after hearing her graphic re-tellings of past adventures.
This German film is funny, sexy, gross and fascinating, sometimes all at the same time, and it’s probably the edgiest coming-of-age tale to hit screens since But I’m a Cheerleader back in ’99. Juri is mesmerizing as a ball of teenage hormones and creativity willing to try anything when it comes to exploring her own body. Toilet seat experiments, vegetable insertions and more are the name of the game, and director David Wnendt is more than happy to share it with us in all manner of graphic glory. It’s unavoidably crass at times, but it rarely feels sophomoric thanks in part to the film’s and Juri’s dedication to Helen’s sincerity and pain. The film is honestly unlike anything else you’ve seen, and I’m not just referring to the avocado plant growing out of Helen’s vagina.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate artwork]
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Criterion)
Narcissistic fashion mogul Petra von Kant (Margit Carsensen) and her enigmatic, reclusive assistant Marlene are visited by an aspiring model, Karin, an encounter that spurs a melodramatic web of jealousy, power, and desire within Petra’s exquisitely cluttered but lonely home. This all-female chamber play (which über-prolific writer/director Rainer Werner Fassbinder adapted from his own stage production) is exquisitely realized by stellar performances by the three leads that gradually unfold the passions and insecurities of Petra like an onion, all masterfully staged within the meticulous production design of Kurt Raab and the impeccable framing and striking uses of color brought to life by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (who supervised the 4K restoration of this release).
The 1972 Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant marked Fassbinder’s first great work of melodrama as inspired by the films of Douglas Sirk, and the marriage between Fassbinder’s alienating formalism and Sirk’s emotional depth produces a strangely fitting marriage of seemingly contradictory modes: a film that is both deeply felt and stylistically cold, which emphasizes the often merciless push and pull between the triumvirate of characters at its center. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview with cinematographer and actresses; interview with Fassbinder film scholar; Role Play, a 1992 documentary on Fassbinder’s work with actresses; illustrated booklet with essay]
Episodes: The Third Season
Matt LeBlanc (Matt LeBlanc) continues to live a reckless lifestyle when it comes to matters of common sense, but his focus on work isn’t fairing any better. His show, Pucks, is limping along in the ratings, and a new network head honcho wants it gone, but where in the past he would fight the decision the possibility of a better offer has him now wanting to hurry the show’s demise along.
Sounds dramatic, and the show certainly manages the occasional serious beat, but the main focus here is comedy. LeBlanc continues to excel playing a modified version of himself, and the other characters, both lead and supporting, continue to display great delivery and timing as well. Caustic tales of Hollywood are nothing new, and aside from LeBlanc’s role this show isn’t breaking any new ground, but it remains a fast-moving, highly entertaining look into the madhouse of Hollywood.
[DVD extras: None]
Amy (Rosamund Pike) is happily married, successful and missing. Actually, only one of those things is true, and the disarray found at the home she shares with her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) seems to suggest a struggle of some kind took place. It also suggests that maybe Nick had something to do with it. What follows is the investigation into Amy’s disappearance, the drama of a husband left in the wake of the event and flashbacks that tell a story of a sad couple out of sync with each other.
Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel gets the big screen treatment courtesy of director David Fincher, and the result is a sharp, cynical exploration of a modern marriage. Mostly. Blackly comic and beautifully-shot, the film moves fast and shifts perspectives to tell a complete tale, but the script (also by Flynn) does reach a point where it thinks it’s being far smarter than it actually is, and it’s there where the shine comes off a bit. There’s also very little believable about aspects of Amy, but Pike does brilliant work with the character anyway.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: ]
Love Is Strange
George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) have been together for nearly forty years, but when they finally get married George loses his job teaching at a Catholic school for essentially breaking a morality clause. The two are forced to sell the apartment they can no longer afford and stay with relatives and friends until they can find a new place, but their time apart is stressful. Worse, Ben’s presence in his nephew’s home becomes troublesome for the family.
Director Ira Sachs and co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias have crafted a simple but engaging love story focused less on a traditional narrative arc and more on the people weaving their way though it. It avoids big, movie-like gestures in favor of love and affection visible in expressions and small acts, and both Molina and Lithgow create a couple who are believable in both their love and friendship. It’s a sweetly affecting film, and there are far too few of those out there these days.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Bad Turns Worse
Three teens make the bad decision to steal some money from the wrong people, and things get worse when the man (Mark Pellegrino) they wronged forces them to commit an even more dangerous crime. The acting, cinematography and score are all pretty great on this little thriller, but unfortunately the script makes every character idiotic and unsympathetic. There’s also a problem inherent in the film placing far more dramatic weight ‐ both for the characters and audience ‐ on an attempted rape than on the murder of a Mexican man.
[DVD extras: None]
Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) are young newlyweds who head to a remote cabin in the woods for their honeymoon, but instead of the first inklings of marital bliss they find a nightmare. Bea sleepwalks their first night there and wakes the next morning with a far more challenging demeanor. Paul struggles to help her unaware of what happened and what’s at stake. This is a solid little chiller that unfortunately tips its hand far too early ‐ as in the seven minute mark ‐ with a shot that eradicates any sense of mystery as to what’s happening. Still, both performances are top notch, and there are plenty of chill-filled sequences to make it worth a watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurettes]
House of Lies: The Third Season
Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) is a management consultant, and he’s finally set out to start his own firm. This puts him in direct competition with his old team, and that means more drama for everyone. The cast remains excellent on this Showtime comedy, but the problems remain too. The biggest of those is writing that more often than not feels utterly hollow and false. It’s a shame as there are laughs to be found here amid the fun performances, but the stories and resolutions just feel ridiculous again and again.
[DVD extras: None]
A preacher’s son (Blake Rayne) with an interest in rock music struggles to find his voice while, unbeknownst to him, his twin brother lives life as the world’s biggest rock and roll star. Loosely inspired by the idea of Elvis having a twin brother, this is meant as a tale of sacrifice and dreams, but it can’t even manage a single convincing emotion. The biggest problem is a lead actor incapable of acting ‐ although he can sing ‐ but the script does no one any favors either as the film fails to inspire or engage on any level aside from curiosity.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) returns home to her small Southern town to recover from a tragic accident, but she finds more pain and suffering is on the bayou’s horizon in the form of a violent spirit with malicious intentions. Story problems aside, the film succeeds in creating a fine, moss-laden and gothic atmosphere at times with teases of witchcraft and murder woven throughout. Most of the film’s scare’s are expected and digitally accomplished, but it manages a pair of chilling moments. The real strength of the film though is in its star as Snook gives a wide eyed and effective performance as the young woman struggling to discover what the hell is happening. She delivers real emotion and genuine fear, and that combination leaves viewers afraid for her character. That’s a rare accomplishment, and it’s just unfortunate the film around her isn’t up to those same standards.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes]
Men, Women & Children
The modern world is filled with distractions of the technological kind leaving our daily interactions just as likely to be through a phone or computer screen as they would face to face. Jason Reitman’s film follows several families and individuals as they try to live, thrive and communicate through and around these artificial barriers. This is basically the less subtle version of Disconnect ‐ and if you’ve seen that 2012 release then you know that means this film lacks anything even resembling subtlety. It’s like the social media version of Paul Haggis’ Crash, and it’s just as miserable as that sounds.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Once Upon a Time In Shanghai
A young man (Philip Ng) with immense fighting skill tries to avoid trouble and make a clean living, but his friendship with a mob boss (Andy On) forces his hand. And foot. And other hand and foot. If I had seen this one prior to the end of the year it probably would have made my Best Action Movies of 2014 list. It’s less impressive on the story front, but its action chops are front and center enough of them time, and the fight scenes are fast, tactile and impressively packaged. Sure there’s a bit too much CGI mixed in, but the brawls are great fun to watch regardless.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Revenge of the Green Dragons
’80s New York City was home to all manner of violence, and some of the most brutal perpetrators were the members of the Green Dragon gang. Two brothers are inducted into the group at a young age and grow into fierce gangsters, but one of them is forced on the road for revenge pitting him against the gang he once called family. There are some heavy hitters behind the scenes on this film including executive producer Martin Scorsese, director Andrew Lau and Ray Liotta as a cop ‐ it’s even an A24 release! ‐ but the end result is unfortunately fairly generic. It’s a quick watch, punctuated with scenes of violence, but there are far more scenes of loud, angry banter.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary, featurettes]
The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power
The Scorpion King (not Dwayne Johnson) is framed for an assassination and must fend of an army while trying to clear his name. If that’s not bad enough he also has to stop the kingdom from falling into the hands of an evil man intent on infecting the land with his evil ways. Both the front and back of this Blu-ray/DVD make a point of mentioning that it’s an “all-new movie,” but nowhere does it claim to be a good one. The movie looks cheap in everything from the locales to the costumes, and the fighting tries to power its way to being impressive but neglects solid fight choreography. Also, there was a Scorpion King 3?
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of, gag reel,commentary]
Sex World is a theme park for adults with sexual hangups, issues or problems, and it’s probably the only such place where the rides ride you back. Sex robots cater to any and every whim with the intention of identifying the guest’s particular problem and then fixing it. With sex. This is a hardcore film striving to think and act outside the box ‐ ahem ‐ and it touches on some surprisingly progressive personal characteristics along the way. There are a few laughs alongside some fun sci-fi elements, but it never forgets its true purpose as a porno. Vinegar Syndrome continues to prove their love and respect for obscure films of old by giving this X-rated feature a sharp 4K restoration.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, alternate soft cut, soundtrack cd]
A medical ship on roaming mission through space receives a cry for help from across the galaxy, but when they jump to the destination they find that they’re the ones in imminent need of assistance. The crew ‐ including James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster and Lou Diamond Phillips ‐ discover that the man they came to rescue has something else in mind. The cast is great, obviously, and there’s a surprising amount of nudity on display for a space-set horror thriller, but none of that can alleviate the film’s dull look and pacing. It all just feels so drab, and the handful of cool ideas/visuals are quickly pushed aside in favor of more dark corridors and flat conversations.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, deleted scenes]
The Twilight Saga: Extended Editions
She’s just a girl, standing in front of two boys, asking them to bite her. The blockbuster Twilight films gets a new release collecting the first three films in their extended versions, and if that sounds like good fun for you then this is your lucky day. The films are still pretty bad ‐ Twilight especially fails to gain anything from its longer cut ‐ but at least they’re unintentionally amusing at times. The problem here though is that it seems silly to package just the first three films together and leave out the two remaining (Breaking Dawn 1 and 2).
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Two Faces of January
A couple (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst) traveling through Europe find themselves on the run when a man from their past appears and winds up dead. A local travel guide (Oscar Isaac) with shifty morals helps them for his own reasons, but the threesome heads toward an implosion fueled by mistrust and misdeeds. It’s nice to see an old-school dramatic thriller for adults, and the film delivers with some gorgeous scenery and strong acting from Mortensen and Isaac, but the journey is a bland one that works toward an inevitable and fairly unexciting conclusion.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, featurettes]
A Walk Among the Tombstones
Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) was a cop once upon a time, but these days he makes a living as an unlicensed private eye. His latest job involves a drug dealer (Dan Stevens) hungry for revenge against the unknown assailants who kidnapped and murdered his wife, but as Scudder works the case he finds himself heading down a dark and dangerous road. There’s a lot to like about this thriller ‐ it looks terrific and has a solid cast on all sides of the moral compass ‐ but the script feels compelled to portray Scudder as far dumber than he is. It’s also a bit too Hollywood with the inclusion of a precocious, homeless teen as Scudder’s new friend and sidekick.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
21 Years: Richard Linklater, Alien Abduction, Bird People, Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season,The Bridge: The Complete Second Season, The Facts of Life: The Complete Series, The Falcon & the Snowman, Foxes, Hypatia Lee’s Ribald Tales of Canterbury, Jimi: All Is By My Side, Middle of Nowhere, My Left Foot, River’ s Edge, The Skin, Viktor, Wetlands, Young Ones, Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse
Related Topics: Home Video