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A group of pre-teen boys (and one girl), some friends and some not, gather for a game of war in the back woods. Using sticks, a simple set of rules, and their endless imagination, the battle grows to include M-16s, grenades, bazookas, and more, but while all of those are allowed things soon take a dark turn. Jealousy and insecurity fuel one boy’s rage to the point where the war stops being a game.
This Canadian import starts off like the perfect encapsulation of a day in the life of a twelve year old boy with its mix of physical activity and imagination-fueled violence. It becomes something more though as one of the boys begins to crack, and some of the kids enter a Lord of the Flies-like scenario built on fear and peer pressure. It’s a bit rough around the edges at times, particularly with some of the child actors, but it never lets go of its sense of fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, trailer]
Pitch: “Do you ever really know the one you love?” Not even if you only love yourself…
Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is a well respected Arab surgeon living in Israel with his wife of over a decade, but his world comes crashing down when a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv leaves almost twenty people dead and his now deceased wife the prime suspect. Refusing to accept the accusation as fact he begins his own investigation into the life and death of the woman he thought he knew.
Co-writer/director Ziad Doueiri delivers a fascinating and deceptive film here as what at first glance appears to be a thriller about a terrorist attack instead becomes a wonderfully-acted drama about love, loss, and the lies we tell ourselves and our loved ones. There’s still some degree of suspense to be found here, but the core of the story is Jaafari’s journey towards the truth.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, photo gallery, trailer]
Pitch: “Never capture what you can’t control.” Especially if it outweighs you considerably…
Tilikum is a killer whale in the SeaWorld family of captive orcas, but unlike any whale in the wild and most of the others in captivity he’s also been directly associated with a handful of human fatalities. This documentary takes a look at Tilikum’s history in particular and SeaWorld’s in general, and it reaches what should be a fairly obvious conclusion.
It’s a no-brainer that orcas shouldn’t be in captivity, let alone used in entertainment shows where they’re ridden and trained to use props, but this doc goes below the surface to explore Tilikum’s life and the actions of the water park that put him and other whales through such hell. Beyond being sad and frustrating though, the film is a harrowing experience thanks to videos of several incidents.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
Pitch: This heartwarming Chaplin classic includes (to my surprise) the funniest suicide attempt ever committed to film…
By 1931, talkies had been established in Depression-era Hollywood as the exclusive way to “watch” movies. But Charlie Chaplin preferred instead to continue exploring the wide-ranging possibilities of silent comedy from exercising his signature exaggerated gestures to journeying through a profoundly humanist path to pathos without uttering a word. The result was one of Chaplin’s biggest successes and perhaps the most widely beloved achievement of his career. There’s a reason Chaplin famously referred to this film as the one that he’d most like to be known for.
City Lights centers on a love story between Chaplin’s Little Tramp and a blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) who has mistaken the Tramp for a wealthy man. This in combination with Tramp fortuitously saving the life of a millionaire sends the protagonist on a variety of serendipitous misadventures that range from a boxing match to robbery to falling in love. A touching and hilarious journey, City Lights is the “about time” title that joins Criterion’s exploratory dedication to Chaplin’s silent and sound career, taking its rightful place as the centerpiece of Chaplin’s work. Thankfully, Charlie Chaplin doesn’t have to be remembered for just one film, but that doesn’t make City Lights any less essential viewing for anyone who loves the power of movies. – Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Dual-format packaging (one of Criterion’s first), commentary, two detailed documentaries, raw archival footage of the film’s production, early Chaplin short films, theatrical trailers, and an illustrated booklet with an essay and an interview]
Pitch: “They are coming!” You’ll come for the generic tagline, but you’ll stay for the good old fashioned creature shenanigans…
The small village of Erin Island sits on Ireland’s coast, and their usual standard of excitement is about to be kicked up a few notches. Something strange and carnivorous is circling just offshore, and as the body count starts to rise two unlikely heroes may be the only chance the townspeople have of staying off the menu. Good thing it depends on them convincing everyone to get drunk off their asses.
Horror comedies are tough nuts, but they generally work if at least one half of that coin is done well. This UK import is heavier on the laughs than the scares, but the film is great fun all around. Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley show great chemistry and timing, the creatures come courtesy of solid CGI and practical effects, and the whole thing gives off an always welcome Tremors vibe.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, trailer]
Pitch: Over ninety years old and still the creepiest-looking movie vampire ever…
A vampire stalks a small town. People die.
F. W. Murnau‘s unauthorized take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula almost disappeared from the earth after a lawsuit ordered all copies destroyed, but thankfully that didn’t happen. Even with names changed in a bid to avoid that fate the story is recognizable though as Count Orlok leaves his castle in search of a woman pure of heart and accessible through a bedroom window. Murnau manages some striking imagery here, most notably in his use of Max Schreck as the titular bloodsucker. Kino’s disc offers a newly remastered image as well as two scoring options and more.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, film excerpts, image gallery]
Pitch: Mario and Luigi struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland…
It’s the summer of ’88, and two men have chosen to spend it isolated from society painting road lines through a lonely stretch of Texas devastated by a recent wildfire. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is uptight, Lance (Emile Hirsch) is carefree, and like oil and water, the two simply don’t mix. As the days and weeks pass, the two find both frustration and friendship along the way.
Writer/director David Gordon Green takes a much needed break from studio comedies with this ultra low-budget comedic drama, and the result is a fantastic exploration of the loneliness we create and the relationships that save us. This doesn’t mean the film is pure drama though as Rudd and Hirsch are a dynamic duo of laughs. We expect this from Rudd, but Hirsch is a real surprise. (And not just because he looks like Jack Black here.)
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene, featurettes, interviews, commentary, trailer]
Shout! Factory collects four action “classics” on two DVDs with predictably mixed results. Gary Busey kicks butt-horn ass as a cop in Bulletproof, while a professional boxer is targeted by bad guys after his buddha in Bamboo Gods & Iron Men. Disc two includes Jim Mitchum playing Ron Swanson playing a rancher who heads to Los Angeles in search of his missing sister in Trackdown, and then Connie Stevens fights crime as an undercover agent in Scorchy.
[DVD extras: None]
Dolph Lundgren has been enjoying a second (fifth?) career wind as a direct to DVD action star, but while his charisma is often enough to make these films worthwhile it doesn’t work when he’s stuck in a supporting role. He’s listed as above the line talent along with Vinnie Jones and Randy Couture, but all of them take a back seat to Daniel Bonjour‘s morally vacant lead. Unfortunately, neither Bonjour nor his character’s story are all that interesting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes]
If Donnie Darko and Seth MacFarlane’s Ted had sex they might give birth to this odd and surreal coming of age tale from Spain. Pol is seventeen, and when he’s not hanging out with his walking/talking teddy bear he’s pining for the new boy at school. Bouncing between whimsy and tragedy, the hint of death is always just around the corner. The film looks and sounds good, but the story wavers in its engagement preventing it from ever truly taking hold emotionally.
[DVD extras: Making of, short films, commentary, booklet, trailer]
Barbara Wolff (Nina Hoss) is a doctor who wants out of East Germany, but it’s 1980 so that request targets her as a possible enemy of the state. Deemed a risk she’s moved out of Berlin and into a small rural hospital, but while the authorities (aka the Stasi) keep incredibly close tabs on her she’s still making some dangerous plans for escape. This slow-burn drama’s greatest strength is its performances, but the suspense angle works better in The Lives of Others.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Vinegar Syndrome collects three films across two discs, but while the third title (Three In a Towel) fits the sexploitation label the remaining two (The Blue Hour, One Naked Night) feel more experimental than sexual. That may be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences, but unfortunately neither element works that well in any of these. Any possible drama is neutered through bad acting, writing, editing, and directing, and when it comes to the “sexy” one, while, to each their own.
[DVD extras: Trailer]
John Carpenter‘s no stranger to anthology series having directed episodes of Masters of Horror, but his only feature experience with the format (albeit a TV feature) is this 1993 pay-cable film. He directs two of the three segments and plays the Cryptkeeper-like host. All three stories offer some fun, but none manage to be all that memorable aside from the cast including Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, Debbie Harry, Sheena Easton, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, David Naughton, Roger Corman, and more.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, trailer]
There are roughly 30,000 child boxers in Thailand, but they’re not teens. These are kids as young as eight years old. They don’t wear head gear, they’re often the only thing separating their family from an even lower level of poverty, and many of them are little girls. This documentary focuses on two such girls, and that tight and narrow view has both positives and negatives. It’s occasionally harrowing, but it leaves you wanting a bigger exploration of the story.
[DVD extras: None]
Ted Knight stars a man running for senator who risks being derailed by a dalliance with a beautiful woman. Politicians embroiled in a sex scandal aren’t something you see every day, and in this forgotten drama you don’t see much of it either. The cast (including Mamie Van Doren) makes it watchable, but the story fails to go anywhere interesting.
[DVD extras: Feature film Johnny Gunman]
Dexter Morgan’s (Michael C. Hall) reign of terror over Miami’s record-setting number of serial killers is finally coming to an end, but the collateral damage may include his sister Deb’s (Jennifer Carpenter) sanity and possibly her life. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that eight seasons is more than a few too many for a show about a serial killer who hunts serial killers without ever leaving town, but while its best days are behind there are still some worthwhile moments in this final season.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, behind the scenes]
Vinegar Syndrome’s drive-in double features usually go one of three ways. Some feature forgotten action films, some include weird amateur-hour dramas, and some are full-on pornos. Their latest goes that last route with two mid to late ’70s adult films from director Anthony Spinelli. The best past is that leads Mimi Morga and Linda Wong are very, very good at their craft. The worst? Googling Linda Wong and discovering she overdosed at a young age.
[DVD extras: None]
When is a sexploitation flick about gameshow models not a sexploitation flick? When it’s actually a drama about a hippie who tries to go straight and work for the man at an ad agency only to be disappointed. Vinegar Syndrome earns props for resurrecting this one as well as including the original film that was modified to sell as a skin flick. Interesting, but not very good unfortunately.
[DVD extras: Commentary, outtakes, photo gallery, original cut of feature film The Seventh Dwarf]
The legendary Ip Man has gotten the big screen treatment before, best and most notably in two Donnie Yen action films, but Herman Yau‘s effort stands apart by focusing on his final years. Anthony Wong takes on the title role, but while he’s a great character actor his strength is neither martial arts nor anchoring films.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, interviews]
Moustapha Akkad may be best known as a producer of Halloween and various ’80s action films, but he also dabbled in directing. His final effort in the director’s chair is this epic (156 minutes long) chronicling the Bedouin war against Italian colonization in pre-WWII Libya. Sure the film was co-financed by Muammar Gaddafi, but hey look it’s Oliver Reed, Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger, and John Gielgud!
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Director Zack Snyder is no stranger to making movies that pack a visual wallop while flailing limply on the narrative side of things, and it could be argued that with a singular exception (his Dawn of the Dead remake) that’s all he’s capable of. His latest effort, the mega-budgeted Superman reboot, won’t be changing that assessment. There are some fantastic moments here to be sure including an epic chase on Krypton and anything featuring Kevin Costner, but far too much of the substance just doesn’t work.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, feature length onscreen ride-along with Snyder]
Moustapha Akkad‘s second new to Blu-ray release this week is what many consider to be the best film ever made on the Islamic faith. That’s due in part to it being one of the only films take a serious look at the religion’s birth and spread throughout the world. Anthony Quinn is here to add a dash of the recognizable, but the real focus is the film’s scope and dedication to rule that Mohammad should never be seen. If nothing else, accomplishing that particular feat in a 171 minute biopic about the man is fairly audacious.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
This supposedly San Francisco-set porno manages to get a few things right including some legitimate sexiness amid the hardcore sex and a sense of humor, but it’s most definitely for fans of the adult stuff only. Points for creativity are earned though with a sex scene done through interpretive dance.
[DVD extras: None]
Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) was raised in a small, Christian town, but when a plane crash leaves her scarred both physically and emotionally her perception of the world around her shifts in some radical ways. So of course she heads to Las Vegas. Writer/director Diablo Cody makes her debut in the chair here, and the result is a mixed bag. It’s just funny enough though to make the simplistic and saccharine elements bearable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, behind the scenes, trailer]
This stalwart German anthology series continues with five more tales of teens acting like the dirty, filthy animals they are. Unlike the couple of previous installments I’ve seen though this one just feels bleak and depressing. The requisite softcore shenanigans are still here, but the darkness is a bit of a mood killer.
[DVD extras: None]
Three strangers converge in the dusty violence of the Old West, each searching for something different. David Leeds‘ oddly off-kilter 1978 Western is making its Blu-ray/DVD debut, and if it weren’t for the cast (including Christopher Walken and Margot Kidder) it wouldn’t be surprising that it took so long. Little here feels authentic, even by movie Western standards, from the action to the costumes to Walken’s anachronistic appearance. That may actually be what ultimately makes the film worth a watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate opening title sequence, trailer]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Akira (25th Anniversary Edition)
The Beach Girls
Frances Ha (Criterion)
The Guilt Trip
The Mod Squad: The Complete Collection