This Week in Discs – January 21st, 2013

By  · Published on January 21st, 2013

The One Where I Tell You to Buy the New ‘Universal Soldier’ and Offer Fourteen More Questionable Recommendations

Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.

Hard Romanticker

The streets of Tokyo are awash in blood and attitude in this tale of warring thugs battling for supremacy and revenge. An old woman is killed during a burglary, and her hoodlum grandson mistakenly believes Gu (Shota Matsuda) was behind the murder. Gu finds himself targeted, but he’s far too cool to run and instead finds time to cause some carnage of his own.

This is a hard and brutal film that finds both cruelty and black humor in the lives of these punks. No one escapes unscathed, and women fare extremely poorly, but the film makes an effort to take the romance out of these junior yakuza’s lifestyles. Artsploitation Films is still a young label, but their third (and best) release continues to get everything right. In addition to the fantastic film they’ve included a booklet featuring two in depth essays on the film. Also, while this may only matter to nerdy collectors like myself, they’re also wisely numbering their releases on the spine a la Criterion and Drafthouse Films. [Extras: Trailer, collector’s booklet]

The Imposter

Pitch: Truth really is stranger than fiction. No, seriously, this is nuts…

Why Buy? A young Texan boy went missing in 1994, and while his family never gave up hope the authorities eventually came to believe the boy was dead. But when a call comes in over three years later from Spain it appears a miracle has occurred. An incredibly strange and ridiculously hard to believe miracle.

This documentary uses interviews with family and authorities to tell an amazing story of a boy lost and a somewhat different boy found. It will have you shaking your head in disbelief almost every step of the way. Try to avoid reading anything more about the story. It’s pretty damn crazy. [Extras: Making of, trailer, government case files]

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Pitch: There were never just two…

Why Buy? When John’s (Scott Adkins) wife and child are murdered he sets off on a path of revenge that leads him to an insane man (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and a small army of super soldiers. Dolph Lundgren also makes a return appearance.

Expectations were fairly non-existent for this entry in the series, but director John Hyams goes for broke with some crazy good action sequences, some real wacky turns of events and at least one stellar fight scene. He’s replaced the usual generic feel of these films with a real sense of enthusiasm for the material. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurettes, commentary]

Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story

Pitch: Two points for you if you didn’t say Wayne who…

Why Rent? Wayne White is an artist in the true sense of the word. He paints, draws, sculpts, designs and plays music, and on top of it all he’s a funny guy. He moved to NYC from Tennessee to become a cartoonist but found success as one of the main artists, puppeteers and voice artists on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

Neil Berkeley’s doc is part biography and part exploration of what it means to be an artist in the modern day. White is a very funny man who seems to have a common sense perspective on life and work. We see his artistic process in creating his sculptures and re-purposed paintings, and his anti-establishment agenda is both entertaining and inspiring. Now someone go find me a print of “Fuck You Invasion.” [Extras: Commentary, art slide show, one man show, performances, deleted scenes]

Dead Sushi

Pitch: Forget the mercury, these fish carry razor blades…

Why Rent? When a disgruntled pharmaceutical employee injects some raw fish with a mysterious serum the sushi finds the will to not only live but to kill as well. A young woman named Keiko thought she left the harsh world of sushi preparation behind, but now she’ll have to return to the fishy trenches if she wants to survive.

Director Noboru Iguchi struck exploitation gold a few years back with Machine Girl, but much of his output since then has been too sophomoric and far from entertaining. You’d think a movie about killer sushi would be more of the same, but Iguchi surprises with a film that actually manages to be pretty damn funny. There’s also some solid (-enough) martial arts on display alongside some fun and creative practical effects. Also available on Blu-ray. [Extras: Making of, premiere footage, trailer, sushi eating contest, interview]

Deadly Blessing

Pitch: The star of Battlestar Galactica! The star of Fall Guy! The star of Knot’s Landing! And that woman who spread her legs in Basic Instinct

Why Rent? A young couple trying to make it as farmers in Amish country run afoul of the local Hittite community headed up by Ernest Borgnine. The locals view the wife as an incubus, and when the husband dies in a mysterious accident things begin to get weird for all involved. And by weird I mean people start dying in violent ways.

This early effort from Wes Craven manages some decent scares and creepy scenes as well as an ending that would be stolen by Sam Raimi years later (but don’t hold that against it). This is the film’s US Blu-ray debut, and Shout! Factory has added some new extras in the form of interviews and a commentary from Craven. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]

End of Watch

Pitch: I can’t be the only one unable to change the channel when Street Kings comes on TV…

Why Rent? Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña) are best friends on and off the job, and their job is as Los Angeles police officers. The partners bust a gang member, but when they begin to pull at some very dangerous threads it leads to a horrific discovery and a target on their backs.

Writer/director David Ayer continues his obsession with L.A.’s boys in blue but mixes things up a bit by presenting much of the film via the POV’s of various characters, dashboard and surveillance cameras and more. It’s not exactly found footage, but it’s an interesting spin on the genre. Both lead performances are solid (although Peña is the standout as usual) and the story presents multiple opportunities for some tense action scenes. The third act gets a bit silly and more than a little improbable, but it’s never less than engaging. [Extras: Deleted scenes, featuretts, commentary]

Fat Kid Rules the World

Pitch: Well “world” is a bit of a stretch. Call of Asheron maybe…

Why Rent? Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is a fat kid in a motherless household. He lives with his ex-Marine father (Billy Campbell) and younger brother, both of whom are more traditionally sized, but leads a fairly solitary existence at school and afterward. An awkward suicide attempt leads to an even more awkward friendship with an older boy. It’s not long after that Troy becomes a drummer in a punk band.

Director Matthew Lillard (yes that Matthew Lillard) has delivered a fine little film here that handles the “fat kid” drama far better than the recent (and inexplicably praised) Terri did. It acknowledges the elephant in the room without dwelling on bullying or depression and instead manages a real story. The biggest and most appreciated aspect is Campbell’s character. He teases a stereotypical disappointed father but instead finds a real human. [Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]

The Men Who Built America

Pitch: While the women were off doing whatever it is women used to do…

Why Rent? Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt are some of the country’s wealthiest families for a reason, and that reason is American prosperity. These men didn’t just gain from capitalism though, they embraced it and used it to craft a nation to their exact specifications. This series follows stories both well known and obscure to bring the men to life before our eyes.

What’s that? You forgot that the History Channel sometimes has actual history-based programming in addition to American Pickers, Pawn Stars and that other shit? It’s true! And this is a truly well done example of what they do best. It’s engaging history unlike the stuff you got in dry textbooks. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Additional scenes]

Officer Down

Pitch: And he can’t get up…

Why Rent? Detective Callahan (Stephen Dorff) is a dirty cop with a dirtier past, but when a stranger’s act of kindness draws Callahan into an even more dangerous and deadly web of lies he finds he may be nearing an early retirement.

It would be easy to write this one off, and there are more than a few problems with the story, but the poorly named Callahan actually makes for an interesting character. He’s a bad cop trying to stop but continually pushed into taking just one more step in the wrong direction. The other reason to watch is the supporting cast which includes Walton Goggins, James Woods, Stephen Lang, David Boreanaz and Dominic Purcell. It’s not a movie you’ll watch a second time, but fans of dirty cops whould give it a chance. Also available on DVD. [Extras: None]

Searching for Sugar Man

Pitch: Wonder if they checked the couch cushions…

Why Rent? Rodriguez was a hopeful folk/rock artist in the ’70s, but his two albums disappeared into obscurity and he followed suit. It was a different story in South Africa though where bootlegs of his records led to huge sales, a dedicated fan-base and the revelation that Rodriguez had killed himself onstage in the late ’70s. Decades later two fans go looking for the more info and discover some startling truths. They even surprise Rodriguez himself.

The personal story here is a pretty amazing one, but the revelations aren’t limited to Rodriguez’ still beating heart. Conditions in South Africa related to Apartheid and censorship kept communication with the outside world to a minimum so people there assumed Rodriguez was as big as The Beatles elsewhere too. It’s pretty crazy stuff, and the heart of it all is a singer/songwriter who deserved to have been as big as Paul Simon or Jim Croce. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, interview, making of]

Tai Chi Zero

Pitch: Monorail, monorail…

Why Rent? Lu Chen arrives in a small mountain village intent on learning a very special form of Tai Chi, but the townsfolk aren’t too keen on outsiders and instead beat his ass. Repeatedly. They change their mind though when an evil corporate stooge comes to town with plans to run a railroad straight through it.

The trailers for this flick promised a visually spectacular action fest, but it really only delivers on the first part. The special effects and set pieces are a lot of fun, but the action feels slight and relegated to the film’s opening and closing. It’s cool when it happens, but there just isn’t enough of it. The film’s sequel, shot simultaneously, appears to feature the majority of the flying fisticuffs. Well, according to the trailer anyway. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Behind the scenes, music video, trailers]

Death Race 3: Inferno

Pitch: Makes Death Race 2 look like Death Race

Why Avoid? Carl Lucas (Luke Goss), aka Frankenstein, is one victory away from being granted a release from prison, but when a new boss takes over the prison the rules are changed and his freedom is threatened. Clearly this will not stand, so Lucas and friends put a plan in motion to secure their future.

Remember when the original film weaved some blackly comic social commentary between the carnage? Yeah, neither do the filmmakers behind this dud. In addition to dumping the point of Death Race 2000 they’ve also continued to bastardize the action sequences so it becomes difficult to tell what exactly is happening and even tougher to enjoy. Ving Rhames and Danny Trejo essentially play themselves here while Goss does his best to capture the essence of dull wallpaper. [Extras: Alternate opening, featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]

Skip it and play Autoduel instead.

Hari-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Pitch: Who ordered the slowburn samurai film? And why…

Why Avoid? When a samurai approaches his lord and requests an honorable demise the lord instead regales him with a story. Yes, a story that is far more punishing than a simple blade to the gut.

Takashi Miike found his biggest success, both critically and commercially with his 12 Assassins remake, so it’s no surprise that he would return to a similar well. What is a surprise though is this film’s slow pace and dull story. The end payoff doesn’t satisfy in its action or narrative wrap-up, and that’s kind of essential for a slowburn film to work. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Discussion]

Skip it and watch Harry and the Hendersons instead.

The Paperboy

Pitch: All of you who praised Precious are to blame for this…

Why Avoid? A journalist (Matthew McConaughey) in the ’60s returns to his hometown in south Florida to investigate a possible wrongfully-convicted murderer (John Cusack), but he discovers along with his partner (David Oyelowo), his brother (Zac Efron) and a woman with a leaky bladder (Nicole Kidman) that sometimes the truth can leave you bound, gagged and sodomized on a motel room floor.

So many talented, sweaty people (and Efron) doing such terrible work. There’s a certain train-wreck appeal to director Lee Daniels’ latest mess of a movie, but unlike Precious which somehow fooled people into thinking it had value, this one just hangs there all sweaty and limp with nothing to show for its awfulness aside from Kidman peeing on Efron’s face and chest. There’s just nothing engaging in the characters or story, and Daniels’ direction is just sloppy all around. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurettes, interviews]

Skip it and watch The Mean Season instead.

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:

Birders: The Central Park Effect
End of Animal
For a Good Time Call
Guns: The Evolution of Firearms
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Slayers
Hold Your Breath
Ivan’s Childhood (Criterion)
Keep the Lights On
Nature Calls
Nobody Walks
Pina (Criterion)
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
The Sex Thief
A Thousand Cuts
Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.