‘X-Men: Days of Future Past,’ ‘Mystery Road’ and ‘Chinese Puzzle’ are the Best New Blu/DVD Releases of the Week
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A group of friends head to a remote cabin for a vacation, but before they can even get settled inside they begin to notice things are not as they seem. The surrounding woods are devoid of birds and wildlife, the lake has frozen over catching a fishing boat in its center and all of the nearby cabins are empty of people as well. Food is on tables, cars are still running and they even find a bottle of warm baby milk. The situation intensifies as they start disappearing too, one by one, whenever one of them is out of sight of the rest.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this direct to DVD thriller was a slight affair not worth your time ‐ after all, the names above the title are Brian Austin Green and Mena Suvari ‐ but I’m here to say it’s actually a well acted/shot and frequently suspenseful mystery. It’s smartly constructed too with believable characters and reactions. It wobbles a bit at the end with something of a cheat, but it remains a satisfying experience. To be clear, its selection as the Pick of the Week doesn’t make it the best release of the week (that would be X-Men: Days of Future Past), but I think it’s a cool little movie deserving of a few more eyeballs.
[DVD extras: None]
Xavier (Romain Duris) is turning forty, and his life isn’t quite where he thought it would be. His wife (Kelly Reilly) has left him and moved to New York City with the kids, so he follows in order to maintain a life with his son and daughter. Relationships, friendships and immigration challenges aren’t far behind, but he trudges forward on the belief that a happy ending is something to strive towards.
Writer/director Cedric Klapisch returns to characters he’s previously shared with us in L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls, and the result is a funny, sweet and energetic look at the complications of life. Duris has rarely been more charismatic, and the fish out of water element adds to his personable mix of expressions, reactions and grin-filled tics. It’s a strong ensemble on the acting front, and the script allows their stories to mix well with Xavier’s central narrative. More De France and Tautou would have been appreciated, but that’s pretty much always the case where those two are concerned.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, making of, trailer]
Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her brother are Anglo-Israeli business people who’ve turned their father’s weapons manufacturing company into one aimed at peace, education and health care in Israel and Palestine. Their current project involves installing miles of fiber optic cables to provide internet for millions, but secrets from the past and players from various governments threaten to bring it all crashing down.
This eight episode BBC series is a brilliant slow burn of political intrigue and personal drama, and it’s anchored by some stellar performances. Gyllenhaal in particular gives a wrenching and powerful turn, but praise should also be aimed Stephen Rea’s way for his take on a tired but dedicated assistant chief of MI6. The story features all manner of twists and turns, but even the straight forward drama involving the lies, pains and ideals of the various characters captures and holds the attention.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes]
My Darling Clementine
While The Searchers is no doubt his magnum opus, I find John Ford’s collaborations with Henry Fonda to often be more interesting than his more iconic work with John Wayne. In the Fonda films, Ford stages the myth of the American civilizing process in terms of reluctant, rather than blustering, justice, and nobody played the quiet hero quite like Fonda. My Darling Clementine is arguably the strongest of their collaborations, turning the western on its head by portraying the civilizing process as primarily a matter of shrewd, deliberate politicking rather than a barrage of saloon-set gunfights.
My Darling Clementine depicts a reserved Wyatt Earp (Fonda) and a boozy Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) bringing law to a disorderly Arizona town around the events that came to be known and mythologized as the “Gunfight at the Ok Corral.” It’s one of Ford’s most delicately executed films and perhaps his first realist twist on the western, a film pregnant with meaning in moments of action and inaction, and a genre entry worthy of revisitation. In addition to Fonda, Mature and Walter Brennan give some of the best performances of their careers in this film worthy of Criterion’s expanding collection of exceptional Hollywood westerns.
[DVD extras: Includes both the theatrical and pre-release versions of the film; audio commentary by Ford biographer Joseph McBride; Interview with old west historian; video comparison of the two versions of the film; video essay by scholar Tag Gallagher; Bandit’s Wager, a silent video short involving Ford; NBC television reports about the film’s setting; 1947 radio adaptation featuring Fonda and Cathy Downs; trailer; illustrated booklet with essay by David Jenkins]
A teenage girl is found murdered outside a small, rural Australian town, and it becomes Jay Swan’s (Aaron Pedersen) first case when he returns home from detective training in the big city. He’s of aboriginal descent and viewed as an outsider by the whites who make up the rest of the local police force, but his badge makes him equally unliked by the aboriginal locals who make up much of the town. His investigation leads to push back and threats against his own daughter, but he’s determined to do his best to help his people.
Writer/director Ivan Sen’s latest is a slowburn mystery set against a gorgeous yet desolate Australian Outback, and the beauty of the landscape conflicts moment by moment with the ugliness on display by its people. Pedersen gives a strong but humane performance, but Hugo Weaving grabs the attention as a fellow cop working with his own questionable motives. The film is heavy on dialogue and atmosphere, but when it comes time for the inevitable action the scene hits hard with some well crafted gunplay.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, interviews, trailer]
A businessman on a road trip is stalked by an ominous semi-truck and its faceless driver. A young couple hijacks a cop car with the cop still in it and becomes media sensations in the process. A Great White shark terrorizes a small coastal town. A Californian town dissolves into panic when they think a Japanese sub is planning an attack. An alien left behind on Earth befriends a young boy. A man hangs on after death to help his widow move on. A theme park with live dinosaurs runs into trouble. Then it runs into trouble again.
This collection culled from Steven Spielberg’s long and varied career looks to be an odd mix, and I think if a fan or critic were to pick eight of his films they most likely wouldn’t have been these. That said though, the set is currently a must own for the simple reason that four of the films are making their Blu-ray debuts. Duel, The Sugarland Express, 1941 and Always will see individual release down the road, but for now this is the only way to get them. Always is still a pretty bland film, but the rest, including the misfire that is 1941, are great additions to your HD library. The set also comes with a color booklet filled with photos and facts on the films as well as an essay about Spielberg’s career. The discs come housed in sleeves ‐ so fair warning to those who’ve had bad experiences with that style.
[Blu extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
The world is on the edge of destruction as robots known as sentinels hunt and destroy mutants leaving the planet a battle scarred and crumbling mess. The last remaining X-Men struggle to stay a step ahead of their pursuers by sending individual consciousnesses back short distances in time, but they realize to win the war they’ll have to send someone back much further. Wolverine is the only one built to handle the physical stresses, and soon he’s walking the streets of ’70s America trying to reunite two old friends ‐ Professor X and Magneto.
Bryan Singer returns to helm this latest installment in the franchise, and the result is the possibly the best in the series. The time travel element is put to great use as a setup for both the story and some fun gags, but the meat of the tale comes from the relationship dramas between the various main players. There’s a real risk of loss here, of more than just life, and it makes for a more heartfelt superhero film than we normally get. The action and effects are top notch too with the much talked about Quicksilver scene being ridiculously fun and cool.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel, trailer]
Max (Kat Dennings) and Caroline (Beth Behrs) continue to work as waitresses, struggle with their new cupcake business and deliver unfunny and forced punchlines. Seriously, I don’t get the draw of this show.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel]
A group of friends head to a remote cabin for a vacat ‐ — wait, come back! This one’s a bit different too, I swear. A nearby train derailment sends a toxic cloud into the sky killing everyone caught outside, and now the friends inside are forced to work together to stay alive. And then someone lets some of the fumes into the house. The acting hurts the drama, but the story is a refreshing change of pace from zombies and such.
[DVD extras: Commentaries, making of, outtakes, trailer]
Courage is a bit of a puss, but before anyone rushes to judge his cowardly ways they should try quaking a day in his shoes. His days aren’t the sedate and normal experiences of most dogs as he instead lives a life filled with nightmare fuel. This Cartoon Network show succeeds more on its imagery and ideas than its laughs, which for me at least are fairly non-existent. It’s creative, but it’s just not a lot of fun.
[DVD extras: None]
The town of Burning Bush receives a new visitor looking for more than just a relaxing time in the old west. Horror westerns are a niche sub-genre, unfortunately, but even though I welcome every example this is not a good flick. It’s cheaply produced, and while that’s no guarantee of a bad movie it comes through constantly in the acting and look of the film. It’s impossible to take any of it seriously. Scenes that should be threatening or atmospheric are instead amateurish and bland.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, outtakes, trailer]
Lester (Martin Freeman) is sick of his wife, and when a chance meeting with a sociopathic mob enforcer (Billy Bob Thornton) leads to murder ‐ including that of his wife ‐ Lester finds himself caught up in a story far more exciting than his everyday humdrum life had prepared him for. This FX series takes the tone and darkly comic stylings from the Coen brothers’ film in the service of a new story only tangentially connected to the movie. The show looks and sounds fantastic, and while there’s some major stupidity on display when it comes to the police behavior the rest of the characters are sharply written and frequently surprising.
[Blu/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) was once on top of the bowling world, but one bad decision leaves his sporting hand mangled and his spirits crushed. Years later he gets a second chance when an Amish bowling savant (Randy Quaid) enter his life. The Farrelly Brothers’ second feature is an unfunny dud of desperate proportions and only made watchable by Bill Murray’s caustically funny turn as an evil bowling alley nemesis. His hair is legendary.
[Blu extras: Commentary, featurette, trailer]
A young family on the way home with a Christmas tree is involved in an odd accident that leaves the daughter in a coma. Blame, guilt and past transgressions lead to the couple’s split, but when he starts believing his daughter is communicating with him from her unconscious state they’re forced to work together to solve the mystery and hopefully save their daughter’s life. You can never go wrong with Eliza Dushku in my eyes, but she’s only a supporting player here, and the remainder isn’t as engaging as it thinks.
[DVD extras: None]
Tore, a teenager newly inducted into the fold of a Christian youth group, attempts to be true to god by showing patience for the patriarch of a friendly family, but the man’s poking and prodding, both literal and otherwise, threatens a troubling conclusion. This German drama has an interesting setup, and in its defense is based on a true story (to some degree), but the direction the narrative takes is more obvious than satisfying. There’s no real dramatic shift in Tore’s character making him a flat, frustrating individual who annoys more than he challenges or interests. The strong first act and pounding score help make it a bearable watch though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Conversation, interview, booklet, trailer]
London during Victorian times is a dangerous place, and few know this better than Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton). His daughter Mina has been kidnapped, and along with a mystical beauty (Eva Green) and an American gunslinger (Josh Hartnett) he’s on a quest to bring her home. Along the way they come across more than a few well known characters from literature including Dorian Gray, Dr. Frankenstein (and his monster) and others. The show is attractive and does well in its efforts to immerse viewers in the period, and there’s no shortage of horrific and sexy visuals, but there’s also a surprising amount of dullness for a tale like this. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it dry, but there are stretches that add little to the characters or story and instead feel like filler. All of that said, the idea of a shared gothic universe has a lot of potential.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A bill taking a fairly benign stand on religious faiths is challenged by the nation’s top church leader, John Luther (James Remar), and his opposition marks him as an enemy of the government. For some reason. This low budget “thriller” sits comfortably in the paranoid Christian sub-genre, and while there’s probably a suspenseful conspiracy drama to be made around those specific fears this is most definitely not it. The black and white story/characters are laughable in their lack of depth or smarts, and the thrills are flatly comical as a result.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, behind the scenes, interviews]
An idealistic lawyer goes head to head with the mob. This is generic a thriller as they come, but its biggest drawback (or strength to some I guess?) is the ubiquitous direct to DVD presence of Danny Trejo, Vinnie Jones and Luke Goss. These are not charismatic or multi-faceted performers, and that’s never a plus.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, trailer]
What happens when a boy (aka half a man) leaves a show called Two and a Half Men? They bring in a woman (Amber Tamblyn) of course! Because a woman is the equivalent of a teenage boy apparently. As with 2 Broke Girls above I have never been able to figure out the appeal of this show. Of course people have different tastes in comedy, but man, this is some obvious, crass and unfunny dialogue here. And America has kept it on the air for eleven seasons!
[DVD extras: “Hilarious gag reel!”]
A theatre director (Mathieu Amalric) auditions an actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) for a sexually complicated character, but as the evening wears on the two find their own roles taking unexpected turns. Well, he’s surprised anyway. Roman Polanski’s latest is based on David Ives’ play, and he brings the single locale to life through the lighting, staging and performances. The narrative path feels a bit obvious in its conclusion, but the journey is an engaging one.
[DVD extras: Interviews, trailer]
A woman from the city retreats to her childhood home in the backwoods of Arkansas, but what was meant as a relaxing break from it all becomes a fight for her life when a werewolf starts stalking the area. There really aren’t enough werewolf movies being made these days, in part because the effects are more labor/skill intensive than a vampire or zombie requires, so that alone is a reason to give this one a shot. There’s an interesting take on the creature here, but unfortunately it has some hefty issues in the script, acting and visual departments too.
[DVD extras: None]
A group of imposter street performers rob a jewelry store and take off in a getaway car, but their efforts to escape the authorities land them in hot water with a small coven of witches in the countryside. Director Alex de la Iglesia is no stranger to kinetic sequences, but he outdoes himself with a few of the scenes here including the opening heist (that sees poor SpongeBob Squarepants riddled with bullets in the street) and some nutty interactions with the witchy locals. There are some big laughs here too, but at nearly two hours there’s drag between high points.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, trailer]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
The Death Kiss
Dracula: Season 1
The Equation of Life
The Last Supper
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
My Darling Clementine (Criterion)
When Santa Fell to Earth
Whitey: United States of America v James J. Bulger
You and the Night
Related Topics: Home Video