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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

The Story of Film: An Odyssey DVDThe Story of Film: An Odyssey

There have been many documentaries about movies, but all of them can pretty much give up and go home now. This British production was six years in the making, filmed across four continents, covers eleven decades and nearly one thousand films in its quest to offer as complete as possible a look at and into the world of cinema. Film historian Mark Cousins begins his journey in the late 1800s and through fifteen hour-long episodes explores the innovators and the ways they helped the art form grow and transform into the films we have today.

Filled with film clips, anecdotes, interviews and a deep knowledge of film history, this is a fascinating look at all aspects of cinema. The only criticism I can muster, and it’s a minor one, is that Cousins’ voice may not be the ideal choice for fifteen hours of narration. [Extras: Booklet]

Discs Section: Buy

Heavyweights

Pitch: Celebrate the big bones in all of us…

Why Buy? Gerry (Aaron Schwartz) is a fun-loving kid carrying a few extra pounds, and when his parents send him to fat camp he expects to hate it. He’s surprised to find new friends and fun times, but when a new owner (Ben Stiller) takes over the camp turns into an exercise in abuse and frustration forcing Gerry and friends to fight back. Judd Apatow co-wrote/produced this Disney flick, and there are plenty of real laughs to be found.

Stiller plays a character he’s touched on before, but he excels as the sporty dick and adds a lot of mean-spirited but very funny humor. Warning though, the movie will make you hungry for food and a long overdue viewing of Meatballs. [Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary, making of, interviews, featurettes]

Miami Connection Blu-rayMiami Connection

Pitch: Best movie about friendship and ninjas ever made…

Why Buy? A gang of drug-pushing, motorcycle-riding ninjas have southern Florida under their shuriken-throwing thumbs, and only one group is brave enough to stand up to them. Dragon Sound is a martial arts-loving singing group who fight crime and cry about their daddies in their spare time, and they’re saying no to drugs with their fists. Drafthouse Films picked up this lost classic, and they’re giving it the release it deserves with a ton of fantastic special features that are almost as fun as the film itself.

Also available on DVD. [Extras: Making of, commentary, deleted scenes, trailer, reunion concert, promos] Like ninjas and taekwondo-centric rock bands? Leave a comment below saying so for a chance to win your own copy of Miami Connection on DVD! (Winner should be in the continental US and have a valid email address.)

Discs Section: Rent

Black Like Me DVDBlack Like Me

Pitch: Imagine the cojones on this guy…

Why Rent? A black man walks off a bus in the South and experiences near instant racism, but what neither the blacks nor the whites around him know is that he’s actually a white man. John Howard Griffin was a journalist in 1959 who darkened his skin through various means to pass as a black man and investigate firsthand what was happening in America’s less enlightened half.

His true story came to the screen five years later with James Whitmore as Griffin, and while it’s not nearly as shocking as it was upon its original release it remains an eye opening look at the country we were not too long ago. The hour long documentary about Griffin is pretty interesting as well. [Extras: Teasers, documentary about John Howard Griffin]

The Bourne Legacy Blu-rayThe Bourne Legacy

Pitch: There will be only one…

Why Rent? Jason Bourne’s antics have led to an effort by secretive government agencies to cover their tracks by any means necessary, and that includes killing other agents. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is one of those agents, but he’s not about to be erased, so he sets off to find those responsible and save his life.

To be clear, this is a terrible Bourne film, both for its lack of Bourne as well as an unfortunate ending. As a stand alone action film though there are some exciting and fairly thrilling sequences within making it worth a watch for those who can separate it from the far superior trilogy. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]

Death Valley Blu-rayDeath Valley

Pitch: He’ll shoot more than your eye out…

Why Rent? A young boy (Peter Billingsley) takes a road trip to Death Valley with his mom (Catherine Hicks) and her new beau (Paul Le Mat), but their vacation is cut short when a serial killer targets him.

This early eighties slasher pic reveals the killer fairly early, but it has fun with the child protagonist and old west setting. Le Mat does a pretty terrible job during scenes of duress, almost like he was drunk during filming, but Stephen McHattie offers an intriguing balance. It’s a fun movie, and like The Island below, it’s great seeing Scream Factory bring it to Blu-ray. [Extras: Commentary]

Dick Tracy Blu-rayDick Tracy

Pitch: Ugh, Madonna…

Why Rent? The classic comic strip comes to life to tell the story a gangster kingpin (Al Pacino) whose stranglehold on the city is challenged by a fashion-challenged police dick named Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty).

A strong cast including Dustin Hoffman and Seymour Cassell (but tempered by the unfortunate presence of Madonna) and a strong style make for a watchable film, and while I’m not really a fan of it as a whole it’s one of the first to tackle a comic with boldly literal visuals in the makeup and cinematography. The result is a bright and energetic look that fills the screen with life and looks pretty spectacular in it Blu-ray debut. [Extras: None]

Doomsday Book Blu-rayDoomsday Book

Pitch: It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Why Rent? Three stories look at the end of humanity through a mix of humor, pathos and beautiful imagery. Korean directors Yim Pil-sung and Kim Jee-woon bring the apocalypse by way of an anthology film, and the result is the expected mixed bag common to the format.

The first story is the weakest but still manages some zombie fun, the second is the most serious with some weighty commentary on corporations and consciousness, and the third is the most creative. Collectively they offer interesting ideas, fascinating visuals and a real sense of imagination although the parts are often greater than the whole. Also available on DVD. [Extras: None]

Dreams of a Life DVDDreams of a Life

Pitch: Will make you immediately reach out to family and friends…

Why Rent? Joyce Vincent died alone and surrounded by Christmas presents in her London flat in 2003, but her body wasn’t discovered until 2006. Her television was still on when the authorities arrived.

Carol Morley‘s haunting documentary examines a life forgotten through imagined re-enactments and interviews with Joyce’s friends who lost touch with her before her death. They share their memories as well as their thoughts on what they imagined her life was like in their absence. Sad and heartbreaking, the film highlights the importance of relationships and keeping in contact with the people around us. Extra points for the perfect final shot too. [Extras: Making of]

Futurama Volume 7 DVDFuturama: Volume 7

Pitch: Never make a butterfly angry…

Why Rent? Fry the delivery boy, Bender the robot, Leela the mutant pilot, Amy the Asian, The Professor the professor and the rest of the Futurama gang have a rollicking time facing fatherhood, ancient prophecies, fox hunting, sausage making and more.

Thirteen episodes from season six are collected here for our viewing pleasure, and there’s plenty of laughs to be found among them. I’m not a fan of Fox’s decision to collect the episodes in non-season sets, but they avoid my full wrath by not calling it “Season Six, Part One” like some of the networks do with their older shows. Also available on Blu-ray. [Extras: Commentaries, alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes]

Girls: The Complete First Season Blu-rayGirls: The Complete First Season

Pitch: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em…

Why Rent? Hannah (Lena Dunham) has led a very cocooned life, but when her parents cut off her financial support a couple years out of college she’s forced to face the real world for the first time. Luckily she has three good friends in Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna to help make things better… and worse.

This HBO series takes a few annoying episodes to really gel, but the honesty and personalities soon shine through alongside some smart and funny dialogue. Dunham makes herself an easy target thanks in part to Hannah’s frustrating actions, but her friends and pseudo boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) are a near constant source of entertainment. Plus, Brian Williams’ hot daughter! [Extras: Interviews, making of, deleted scenes, gag reel, auditions, featurettes, commentaries]

The Island Blu-rayThe Island

Pitch: Puts Michael Bay’s remake in a whole new perspective…

Why Rent? A journalist (Michael Caine) looking for a story takes his son to southern Florida and the Caribbean to investigate a series of unexplained disappearances out on the water. They find the answer in a group of anachronistic pirates raiding and pillaging their way through any tourists unlucky enough to cross their paths.

Michael Ritchie‘s film is based on a novel by Peter Benchley, and while it’s no Jaws it still manages some fine action and thrills including the various attacks on unsuspecting mariners and even a Coast Guard cutter. And you can never go wrong with young David Warner. [Extras: None]

Discs Section: Avoid

Bigfoot County DVDBigfoot County

Pitch: Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Why Avoid? A trio of documentary filmmakers head into a backwoods county famous for reports of Bigfoot sightings, but what they find is something far more terrifying.

Sure sure, it’s the same exact plot as the recent Bigfoot: The Lost Coast tapes, but this one has the distinct advantage of not actually featuring Bigfoot. Okay, a mild exaggeration, but the film does go off track a bit with its stereotypical portrayals of ignorant, ass-raping hicks. No scares and nothing of interest to see here. And don’t get me started on the ending. [Extras: None]

Skip it and watch Abominable instead.

Kill Em All Blu-rayKill ‘em All

Pitch: Or just bore them to tears…

Why Avoid? A gaggle of rough and tumble killers are drugged, kidnapped and dropped into a legendary killing chamber with the plan being to have them face each other in a series of death matches.

The concept is as generic as they come, but strong choreography, action and characters are more than enough to make it exciting. Unfortunately, this mixed martial arts cheapie has none of that. The characters all lack personality, the film is flat and the fight scenes feature weak choreography. It’s too bad because the performers show some real physical talent, but it’s clear they’re performing planned moves against targets waiting for the hit. Also available on DVD. [Extras: None]

Skip it and watch The Tournament instead.

Ted Blu-rayTed

Pitch: It’s The Family Guy movie nobody wanted…

Why Avoid? A little boy’s wish comes true causing his teddy bear to come life, but years later as a grown man (Mark Wahlberg) his relationship with Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) begins to cause complications. Mila Kunis has the thankless role of the girlfriend with legitimate concerns who gets overridden by her dumb ass boyfriend and his asshole bear.

The laughs are forced yet still non-existent, and complaints that MacFarlane simply re-constituted Family Guy‘s Brian voice with Peter’s personality are well warranted. Inexplicably, and sadly, the film made half a billion dollars at the worldwide box-office so I don’t think it needs any more of our money. The only laughs here are found in the Blu’s special features, but it’s your call if that’s enough to warrant a rental. [Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel, commentary]

Skip it and watch Small Soldiers instead.

Why Stop Now Blu-rayWhy Stop Now

Pitch: Better to not start at all…

Why Avoid? Eli Bloom (Jesse Eisenberg) has a very important piano recital that may determine the course of his life, but before he can get to it he’s stuck dealing with his irresponsible drug addicted mother (Melissa Leo) and her dealer (Tracy Morgan).

The cast is fantastic and deliver some fine enough performances, but the film’s mix of drama and comedy flounders in a sea of predictability and frustration. Writers/directors Philip Dorling and Ron Nyswaner have expanded their own short, and while I haven’t seen it I can only assume it’s a better format for the story. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Interview, featurette]

Skip it and watch Tokyo Sonata instead.

Discs Section: Also

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

Age of the Hobbits
Baron Blood
Beloved
Chiller: The Complete Television Series
Collision Earth
Following (Criterion)
Gayby
Ice Age: Continental Drift
JAG: The Complete Series
Mission: Impossible – The Complete Series
The Qatsi Trilogy (Criterion)


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