The One With ‘Rolling Thunder,’ ‘Dark Skies,’ ‘Red Widow’ and ‘The Numbers Station’

By  · Published on May 28th, 2013

Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

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


WWII has come to an end, and as the Allies work their way across Germany five orphaned children are forced out on a journey of their own. Raised by Hitler-loving parents, the kids, led by the teenage Hannalore (Saskia Rosendahl), find their beliefs a detriment as they struggle to survive an inhospitable landscape. Things grow even more complicated when a young Jewish man appears to come to their rescue.

This beautifully scored and shot drama was Austria’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it’s a winner on all counts (except for the actual Oscars of course where it failed to get nominated). Rosendahl does strong work as a teen coming of age under incredible circumstances. Director Cate Shortland’s film tells a personal story, but it also offers insight into humanity as a whole. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, deleted scenes, featurette]

Rolling Thunder

Pitch: One of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies, but don’t hold that against it…

What’s It About? William Devane stars as a Vietnam veteran recently released from years as a POW. He returns home to a wife, son and a small town that welcomes him back as a hero. He’s praised, congratulated and given a trunk full of silver dollars which immediately attract the attention of some mean-spirited and desperate ruffians whose assault leaves him and his family for dead. Amateurs. He survives, but his wife, son and right hand aren’t as lucky.

Why Buy? This 1977 film is considered somewhat of a revenge classic, but that assessment undercuts the films’ drama. Devane and Tommy Lee Jones both turn in fantastic performances as Vietnam vets struggling to fit back into society after years of imprisonment in a POW camp. The action is limited to an early assault and a spectacularly bloody finish with plenty of solid drama in between. [Blu-ray extras: Interviews, trailer]

Cleopatra: 50th Anniversary

Pitch: Some men don’t like it when their ladies are more successful than them…

What’s It About? Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) rules Egypt with power, wisdom and a charisma capable of charming other world leaders. That charm leads to something much greater when she meets Mark Antony (Richard Burton) and the pair fall into a romance for the ages.

Why Rent? This 20th Century Fox production is the kind of epic they just don’t make anymore. Part of the reason is that CGI has replaced the need for large crowds and immense sets, but it’s also the scale of the story that’s a rarity these days. It’s quite a spectacle, and in addition to the Blu looking and sounding fantastic the special features are also fairly loaded. All that said, the movie itself is a bit of a minor chore. Fans should immediately pick this one up, but it’s a rental for the rest of us. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]

Dead Mine

Pitch: Don’t claim your movie “features Joe Taslim of The Raid and Furious 6” if you’re not going to let him kick even a little ass…

What’s It About? Treasure hunters exploring deep in the Indonesian jungle find an old Japanese bunker and the possibility of WWII booty. Their spelunking efforts are interrupted by local ruffians leaving them trapped in the underground location where they soon realize threats greater than guns are roaming the hallways.

Why Rent? The film is a mix of gunplay and horror with the latter showing that the filmmakers are fans of The Descent. The action and acting are several steps above the direct to DVD norm, and there’s a solid mix of characters and bad guys to keep things interesting. The end is a bit abrupt, genre fans will probably enjoy the ride there. [DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]

Nova: Mind of a Rampage Killer

Pitch: Yet another argument for improving our mental health care system…

What’s It About? The mass shooting in Newton, CT, stirred the nation into a series of very familiar questions. Why do some people feel compelled to gun down other people? Why do some people with suicidal tendencies insist on taking others with them first? This Nova special from PBS examines the health science behind mass murderers through interviews with doctors, scientists, family members of killers and in one case, an actual killer.

Why Rent? Like the recent Frontline special on Adam Lanza, Nova’s feature looks at possible causes well outside the usual suspects of video games and bullying. There’s actual science to be found here, but it’s not all tech talk. They speak with one of the killer’s father who offers an emotional affection for his son, and Liza Long, the blogger whose “I Am Adam Lanza’a Mother” caught the nation’s attention, shares her concerns about her own son. Definitely some interesting things discussed here. [DVD extras: None]

Red Widow: The Complete First Season

Pitch: “From the screenwriter of the Twilight series” to cancelled in eight short episodes…

What’s It About? Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) has a loving husband, three lovely kids, a goofy last name and mob problems. When her brother rips off a local mobster it’s Marta’s husband who pays the ultimate price. As in he’s murdered in the driveway. Faced with paying back his dead hubby’s debt she’s forced into the new family business.

Why Rent? While the DVD is labeled as “the complete first season” the show’s recent cancellation means it’s also the only one. The eight episodes are a quick watch, and the show finds a similar rhythm to ABC’s Revenge with writing that constantly finds new reveals and minor action scenes. It’s great seeing Mitchell in a lead role, and Clifton Collins Jr. and Lee Tergesen always add to any project. [DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes, bloopers]

Shoot First, Die Later

Pitch: Where men are men and the kittens are terrified…

What’s It About? Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda) is one of Italy’s most effective detectives, and both his superiors and cop father are constantly lathering him in praise. But Malacarne’s also a dirty cop, and when his dad discovers he’s been taking payoffs from the mob that disappointment sets in motion a deadly chain of events.

Why Rent? Fernando Di Leo’s well regarded action drama gets a fantastic presentation from RaroVideo complete with restored picture and booklet, and the film itself almost lives up to those standards. The acting is strong enough throughout, but the central character never really becomes all that appealing leaving much of the drama a bit dry. The action makes up for much of that though including some violent gunplay and a fairly impressive car chase. [DVD extras: Featurettes]

Swimming to Cambodia

Pitch: Starring Linda Hunt as Spalding Gray…

What’s It About? 1984’s The Killing Fields is an intense, real-life drama about atrocities committed by Pol Pot in Cambodia in the early ’70s, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Spalding Gray had a small role in the film, and this one-man show sees him sharing the experience of his wild and strange eight weeks of filming.

Why Rent? Jonathan Demme directs the show which, admittedly, is just a head-on shot of Gray speaking to the audience, but that simplicity doesn’t negate the entertainment. Gray’s stories are a mix of the strange and the humorous as he recalls his experience with the drugs, women and film production. The format is a bit lacking in energy, but there’s fun to be had in Gray’s tales. [DVD extras: Interview]

Dark Skies

Pitch: Aliens picks up TV signals bouncing through space, and infuriated by Felicity’s new haircut head to Earth for revenge…

What’s It About? Daniel and Lacy (Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell) along with their two sons begin experiencing strange events during the night. Intruders play around with their food and dishware before graduating to terrorizing the kids while they sleep. They lose time, develop odd bodily marks and begin to suspect strange invaders may be to blame.

Why Avoid? Uber horror producer Jason Blum has been kicking butt with scary, small-budget films like Insidious and Sinister, but this is his first move into alien terrors. I’d say hopefully it’s his last because it lacks anything resembling tension or scares, but frightening alien movies are possible. This just isn’t one of them. The characters are more annoying than engaging, the scares are neutered by poor editing and effects and they completely waste J.K. Simmons. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]

Skip it and watch Fire in the Sky instead.

The Numbers Station

Pitch: Sometimes one plus one equals two…

What’s It About? Emerson Kent (John Cusack) is a CIA hitman who gets re-assigned to an analyst babysitting job after a hit goes bad. The analyst in question (Malin Akerman) strikes a nerve in him as well, and when the secret code station they’re assigned to is attacked by unknown assailants the two are forced into survival mode.

Why Avoid? It tries to compensate for its budget and scale with recognizable faces and some minor excitement, but it never succeeds in passing the flat-line of mediocrity. The acting and script are competent enough, but the film lacks anything resembling energy. Ultimately, much like most of the math I learned in school, the movie is doomed to be quickly forgotten. [Blu-ray extras: Making of]

Skip it and watch Three Days of the Condor instead.

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:

Beetlejuice: The Complete Series
Generation Um
Life Is Sweet (Criterion)
Longmire: The Complete First Season

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.