Welcome back to This Week In Discs! We were off last week for the holiday, so today we’re looking at the new releases for 12/30/14 and 1/6/15.
If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.
David Collins (Dan Stevens) is a recent discharge from the Army who arrives on a grieving family’s doorstep with a kind words about their deceased military son. They take him in, and soon he’s working his way into their lives with kind words and a helping hand. Something is a bit off with David though, and soon the family’s most suspicious and cynical member, Anna (Maika Monroe) discovers the truth behind David’s presence.
The guys behind You’re Next (Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett) return, but instead of toying around with a home invasion this time around they’ve set their playful sights on the action genre. The result is some solid fun, both of the comedic and violent varieties, anchored by a fantastically unexpected turn from Stevens. The Downton Abbey alum is convincing throughout, and he finds a great foil in young Monroe. Capping it all off with a strong visual style and a killer soundtrack/score, Wingard and Barrett have delivered their most purely enjoyable romp yet, and I’m only mildly embarrassed to admit that it took me a second viewing to really appreciate it. Now if only someone can convince them to make their next film a sequel to both The Guest *and* You’re Next. David versus Erin. Boom. Please. Thank you.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, Q&A, commentary]
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is like most boys in his desire to play, explore and contemplate the world beyond his reach, and over the next twelve years we watch as he grows from five to eighteen years old. He lives with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and sister (Lorelei Linklater), enjoys visits with dad (Ethan Hawke) and finds the experiences around him shaping him towards adulthood.
Richard Linklater’s latest is beloved for many reasons, but first among them is the ridiculously ambitious way in which he made the film. Shot in pieces over twelve years, the film is able to feature a cast ‐ both adults and kids ‐ who actually age and grow throughout. It’s a gimmick of sorts that could potentially overshadow the rest of the film, but there’s no denying the powerful affect it has on the story being told. More than that though, the film works beautifully as a way of immersing viewers into their own memories and lives. Even if your own specific life details don’t match you can’t help but feel a kinship to Mason’s journey. That journey moves him through the lives of others too, and it’s through them that we see him best. There are issues, mostly dealing with Mason himself, but they’re minor when placed against what works so well here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, Q&A]
Peter Larson and a team of researchers discovered the most complete T-Rex skeleton yet, and after many months of prep work getting it ready for display in a museum the U.S. government stepped in and confiscated it. The reasons given boiled down to land rights involving the original rancher, Native American tribes and others, and the battle for ownership of those bones turned into a decade-long legal struggle.
There are two halves to Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary, and both are equally fascinating and engaging. On the one hand the legal battle is a frustrating and suspenseful affair reminiscent of tales of eminent domain and government over-stepping its bounds. The struggles the team endures, including further harassment by vengeful authorities is crazy. More than that though, and what makes the movie even more enjoyable is the pure joy and delight evident in the faces and behaviors of people we normally see as bookish and nerdy. It’s a trait the film shares with last year’s Particle Fever, and it’s a great reminder about the power of enthusiasm.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, short film]
Irene (Jasmine Trinca) has friends, family and a boyfriend and a job none of them know about. When they think she’s taking off to spend time at class or meeting with her professor she’s actually working an illegal but humane job. She smuggles animal barbituates into the country and helps terminally ill people end their lives. Her latest client subverts some of her rules leading to an unlikely friendship, and soon Irene is questioning how much longer she can continue as an angel of mercy.
Valeria Golina’s directorial debut is more character piece than narrative tale, but that doesn’t stop it from being an engaging and affecting experience. The entire film is gorgeously shot, and the scenes with Irene and her “clients” are sequences of such simple beauty that we find ourselves in the moment with Irene, sharing someone’s final seconds on Earth. Trinca is mesmerizing ‐ and not just because she’s as beautiful and heartfelt as the film itself.
[DVD extras: None]
Five friends in an RV head into rural America in search of the best haunted house attractions and film themselves along the way. What could possibly go wrong? A lot it seems as they soon catch word of an ultimate haunt, one that’s off the books and off the beaten path, but as they get closer to their goal it becomes clear that someone else may be along for the ride.
This is a rarity ‐ one of only three or four last year in fact ‐ in that it’s a really good found footage film. Director Bobby Rue, with help from a sharp enough script, keeps things moving with a sense of curiosity and fear. The characters approach the line of idiocy but never cross it, and the situations they get themselves into grow increasingly terrifying. The imagery here, especially in the mask/costume choices, is creepy to the extreme, and fans of the scary stuff will want to pick this one up for viewing parties next Halloween (or sooner).
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Gwen (Katharine Isabelle) “awakes” in a diner with no memory of how she got there, but as her day spins out of control she begins having flashbacks to the events that brought her to this point. Isabelle is always fun to watch, and clearly director April Mullen agrees as she devotes a lot of time to the actress’ barely clad body. That’s not a bad thing, obviously, but happily the movie also gives Isabelle a lot to do as an actress. The problem here though is a structure that messily jumps back and forth between past and present without ever engaging us in either.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Anna has her hands full with a boyfriend, classwork and a brother in the hospital, but her life grows even more out of control when a mysterious app appears on her phone. IRIS is helpful at first, but soon the malicious app is spying, sharing compromising photos and videos and manipulating the electronic world around Anna with deadly consequences. While the plot and execution is okay without ever being exceptional the character of Anna elevates the film above its equally generic peers. She’s smart and capable both intellectually and physically, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see. There’s a downloadable app ‐ of course ‐ that you activate when you start the film, and it serves to enhance the experience in minor but fun ways.
[DVD extras: None]
The small town of Banshee continues to be a haven for the violent types, often starting and ending with Sheriff Lucas Hood. Sure he’s an imposter, but that doesn’t mean he’s not gonna give the job all that he has. I’m more of a Strike Back kind of guy when it comes to Cinemax series, but even though this one continues to have something of a cheap feel to the action/effects the second season manages to be a bit more engaging and fun than the first too.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Brittany Murphy co-starred in numerous hit movies (Clueless, 8 Mile), but her attempts at leading lady status never really found traction. She moved into low budget thrillers, and while they weren’t glamorous she was never wanting for work. She died under mysterious circumstances ‐ depending on who you ask ‐ but she lived under sad ones. Lifetime’s TV movie, like all of their movies, fails in part because it thinks the idea is enough to justify its existence. Instead it exists in the netherworld where it’s neither sincere and well-made nor pure salacious fun. And not for nothing, but couldn’t they have tried to find an actress who looks even a little bit like Murphy?
[DVD extras: None]
Candyman (Tony Todd) has packed his spooky U-Haul and moved away from Chicago to the warmer climate of New Orleans, and he’s brought his vengeful, hook-laced shenanigans with him. A young woman unintentionally calls him into being while in search of the truth behind her father’s death, and she finds herself tasked with ending his new reign of bead-flinging terror. Director Bill Condon returns for this sequel, and while it lacks the power of the original the mythology that Clive Barker created remains compelling and fresh.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews]
An old man (Christopher Plummer) fed up with life finds inspiration and newfound energy in a relationship with a equally old woman (Shirley MacLaine). This is ultimately a rather slight romantic comedy, but the real joy is in seeing these two veterans light up the screen together. There are some sweet and tender moments along the way of course, but it’s Plummer and MacLaine who make it worth watching.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
McCall (Denzel Washington) leads a simple life enjoying his time between shifts at a home improvement store, but when he sees bad people causing trouble for the good he can’t help but step in to even the odds. He finds a bigger fight than he expected when he intervenes in the troubled life of a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz), and soon the bad guys are bringing the fight to him. This big screen update of the classic ’80s series works surprisingly well, and well director Antoine Fuqua deserves some credit most of the thanks have to go to Washington. He continues to convince as an action star, and his acting chops continually shore up the dramatic side of things in between gunshots and body slams. It’s slight, and we never really feel that McCall is in danger, but it’s fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A single mother moves into a new home with her young daughter only to discover that evil never moved out! There’s also a creepy doll that no parent in their right mind would let their child keep. There are some solid beats here, and the film looks better than most direct to DVD horror movies do, but it never approaches scary thanks in part to it being unsure itself if the “killer” is a doll or a child.
[DVD extras: Featurette]
James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) wasn’t born the Godfather of Soul, but he put himself on the fast track early on. Director Tate Taylor’s film is pretty standard biopic fare for the most part, but it stands apart from the crowd thanks to Boseman’s ridiculously electrifying performance. He’s the definition of energetic ‐ fitting for the man he’s playing ‐ and he brings the songs and story to life.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, song performances, featurettes, commentary]
Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) and her friends (Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke) continue to experience the highs and lows of relationships, jobs and friendships in their mid-twenties. This continues to be a frequently funny and engaging series, and while it’s rarely worth the online brouhaha that erupts each season there’s real value in a modern day Sex & the City. Oddly, for a show with this title and intent, the “boys” continue to be the most interestingly written characters in regard to their dialogue and antics.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries]
Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is suspected of murdering his long-time girlfriend (Juno Temple), but his claims of innocence fall on deaf ears. His luck changes, kind of, when he wakes one morning with devilish horns growing out of his forehead and a handful of darkly-tinged new abilities. Director Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s bestseller had promise, but the film is just a tonal mess. Broad attempts at comedy fall flat, Ig’s powers are constantly shifting depending on the script’s needs, the romance (seen in flashback) is ludicrously unconvincing and the real killer is obvious frame their first appearance onscreen. Ugh.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) is an airline pilot excited for his imminent flight to London where he’ll get to attend a U2 concert with a sexy flight attendant, and he has no intention of letting his wife and daughter ruin the occasion. Chloe has returned home from college for his birthday, but when Ray chooses Hattie the stewardess over his recently born-again wife Chloe realizes this is “the saddest day of her life” even though she did get to chat with a famed TV journalist named Buck Williams. And then the Rapture hits! [Sad trombone.] There’s a fun and exciting movie to be made from the story of the rapture and the folks left behind to struggle and scrape to survive against evil forces, but this is not that movie. Regardless of your religious leaning (or lack thereof) there’s simply nothing here to entertain or enlighten. Hell, it’s almost enough to make you a believer just to avoid the humdrum doldrums that so many of us apparently have to look forward to.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Katherine (Dawn Olivieri) is a single mother separated from her cheating husband and trying to stay afloat both financially and emotionally for the sake of her son Kesley. Her attempt to help the boy practice some football basics is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Mormon missionaries out spreading the word, and though she turns the proselytizing white shirts away at first she relents on their presence when they prove to be far better than her with a football. Unfortunately one of them is also a sociopath. Mormon talking point aside, the film deserves attention simply for being a solidly-crafted thriller with strong performances, a (mostly) smart, slow-burn of a script and some sharp direction by Anthony DiBlasi.
[DVD extras: None]
Colin (Idris Elba) is an escaped convict having car trouble, and when he stops at a nearby house for “help” he enters the life of a woman (Taraji P. Henson) home alone with her kids. A cat and mouse game ensues. This is an efficient and tight little thriller anchored by two strong lead performances, but it loses some intellectual steam as the action ramps up in the third act. It’s one thing to surprise a smart killer with a sucker punch, but to do it three more times the exact same way is excessive and dumb. Still, script flaws aren’t enough to sink the fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A mysterious self-help book climbs the bestseller charts and finds fans in celebrities and normal folks alike, and as people start changing their lives based on its principles and ideas they discover new stories and relationships. Writer/director John Herzfeld aims for a Crash-like experience ‐ the racism one, not the car sex one ‐ but he really should have aimed higher. He has an eclectic cast in place including Tom Berenger, Kevin Connolly, Cary Elwes, Kelsey Grammar, Thomas Jane, Sylvester Stallone and more, but the script drowns them all in unrealistic dialogue and story lines that never feel compelling.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A podcaster (Justin Long) heads to Canada in search of a fun story and finds one in a strange want ad. It seems a man is offering lodging, free of charge ‐ well, free of cash charge anyway. You see, he’s been working on this life-like walrus costume, and he’d like his new lodger to wear it. Kevin Smith’s latest is still a comedy, but its core element is one of surreal terror. The attempt is admirable, but Smith misses the mark tone-wise resulting in comedy that isn’t funny and horror that’s far too goofy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, smodcast, commentary]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Archer: The Complete Fifth Season
Atlas Shrugged: Part III
Black Sails: The Complete First Season
The Bridge: The Complete Season 2
Looking: The Complete First Season
Not Another Happy Ending
Shameless: The Complete Fourth Season
Stephen King’s A Good Marriage
The Sword of Doom (Criterion)
Related Topics: Home Video