Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
It’s Christmas time in a small town, but instead of holiday cheer the streets are filled with blood. A masked Santa Claus is roaming town, finding those who’ve been naughty and ending their lives in violent and often gory ways. Steven C. Miller‘s remake of the nasty 80s original keeps the violence and mayhem but adds both personality and humor with the result being a fun slasher that vastly improves on Silent Night, Deadly Night. Jaime King brings charm and some serious heroine chops to the proceedings, and she’s joined by Malcolm McDowell, Donal Logue and Ellen Wong. That’s right, the most underrated player in Scott Pilgrim finally got another job! Horror fans will be pleased with and surprised by this early Christmas present, so if you’ve missed its (very brief) theatrical window it’s definitely worth picking up on Blu-ray/DVD.[Extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scenes]
Pitch: “The most emotionally affecting yet utterly stupid movie of the year!” Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects…
Why Buy? Several years after he was forced into hiding by a misinformed populace, Batman (Christian Bale) returns to defend the city from a new threat. Bane (Tom Hardy) mixes rage and violence with class warfare to form an army of the displaced, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) makes an appearance and Joseph Gordon-Levitt prepares for his role in DC’s upcoming Justice League movie.
There are several fantastic scenes and set pieces, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t acknowledge the sheer stupidity inherent in the script. It’s mind-numbingly dumb again and again… and yet, seeing Batman’s struggle, his loss and his ending are powerful things. It’s far from the best of Christopher Nolan‘s trilogy, but it’s definitely the most recent. [Extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: The French should adapt more American thriller novels…
Why Buy? Alexandre Beck’s (Francois Cluzet) wife was murdered eight years ago, but when an emailed video arrives suggesting otherwise his life is thrown into chaos as the case is reopened and he’s targeted by killers. American writer Harlan Coben has written several fantastic reads, but it took French filmmakers to bring one to the screen, and even better, they’ve done a spectacular job.
The acting is top notch, the action is exhilarating and the suspense/thrills are often non-stop. The film was a critical and commercial hit, but inexplicably, there have been no other adaptations in the six years since. The new Blu-ray offers a sharp picture paired with the excitement as well as a new special feature. [Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, making of]
Pitch: Insert picture of middle finger here…
Why Rent? Ai Weiwei is a world renowned artist who also manages to find time to dabble in political activism. A strong proponent of social media, Weiwei is an avid Twitterer known for documenting his days and conflicts with authority figures in his homeland of China. Director Alison Klayman‘s film moves from appreciation of an artist to real life suspense when Weiwei disappears, a victim of a system that can see anyone vanish at any time.
The film also manages to avoid treating the man as a pure hero and instead treats him as simply a man, personal flaws and all. This is an intriguing doc and a fascinating glimpse into a country that in many ways is racing towards the future while still holding fiercely onto the past. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, interviews]
Pitch: A drunk poet’s response to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke…
Why Rent? The Bathtub is a tiny rural community on the wrong side of the New Orleans levees, and as a storm approaches the residents grow concerned that their entire world just may be flooded. Six year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) narrates the tale as she struggles with her ailing and alcoholic father, the impending arrival of ancient beasts called aurachs and the end times due to melting ice caps.
The best thing that can be said about this film is that it’s visually interesting. Anything more than that and you’re crossing into BS territory because beyond the visuals the movie fails to connect. The characters boil down to three types. The residents of the ‘Tub are the heroes even though they’re ignorant and constantly drunk, the outsiders are the enemy for wanting to help move these folks to safety and Hushpuppy is a tomboy with delusions of grandeur. Together they tell a tale that tries to mix global warming, the importance of family, post-Katrina socio-economic policies and Razorback into one film, and the result is far from inspiring or affecting.
Pitch: Something something Olivia Wilde churning my butter…
Why Rent? When the reigning butter-carving champion (Ty Burrell) is forced out of the competition a gaggle of newcomers go head to head for the title. They include his bitchy wife (Jennifer Garner), an agenda-driven stripper (Olivia Wilde) and a precious foster child (belonging to Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry).
This blackly comic story manages some suspense and heart, but it kills it with the laughs. Wilde in particular is an absolute delight with her sexiness taking a backseat to some truly hilarious and adult dialogue. [Extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Poor Frank Abagnale. Imagine being told Leonardo DiCaprio was going to play you in the story of your life…
Why Rent? Frank Abagnale Jr (Leonardo DiCaprio) has watched the world beat his father down and decides the same won’t happen to him. Using his brain, his wits and his will he cons his way in and out of numerous situations from being an airline pilot to being a doctor. Along the way he scams his way into piles of cash and plenty of ladies’ beds, but pursuing him doggedly is an FBI agent (Tom Hanks) intent on stopping his antics for good.
Steven Spielberg‘s film is a lively and energetic caper with both sides playing both the good and the bad. The fact that it’s a true story is incredible, and even more impressive is John Williams’ score that keeps things hopping without ever becoming rote. DiCaprio is fantastic here using his youthful appearance and charm to accentuate the character’s assets, and Christopher Walken turns in an affecting supporting performance too. Paramount’s new Blu-ray presents the film with a crisp, bright image and numerous making-of special features. [Extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: If rude and disgusting were attractive traits Kenny Powers would be swimming in trim…
Why Rent? Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) returns from Mexico and finds success with a minor team in Myrtle Beach, but when April dumps their kid on him and bolts he’s forced to juggle his career with his newfound family. The third season of HBO’s crass little comedy continues its characters’ trends, for better or worse, and the result is either a show you enjoy or don’t.
I continue to find the most laughs when Will Ferrell‘s evil blonde car dealership/plantation owner is onscreen, but Stevie (Steve Little) is a close second. McBride still does very little for me, but there’s enough going on each episode to keep you either laughing or interested in where it can go next. [Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, commentaries]
Pitch: There’s a movie in this franchise…
Why Rent? Mankind has been at war with itself for years, but the civil insurrection that rips swaths of death across humanity is nothing compared to the hell of an alien invasion. Cadet Lasky has major doubts about his family’s past war glory and his future ones, but when the aliens attack the planet wiping out most of his classmates he’s forced to step up and fight back. Thankfully he has Master Chief by his side as well. This low budget sci-fi action flick is actually fun for fans of the Halo game series, mostly for being able to watch MC in action, but non fans will most likely find it low rent and bland. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurettes, vignettes, commentaries, easter eggs]
Pitch: Who knew masturbation could lead to such fanciful adventures…
Why Rent? Neil Grimsley is a slacker who winds up in the world of Legend of Zelda after a vigorous session of auto-erotic masturbation goes awry. Trapped in this new land Neil is forced on an adventure involving magic, faeries, monsters and more. Except there’s also foul language, sexual shenanigans and more. This web series originally aired on Comedy Central online, and as such the episodes are only a few minutes long each. The writing is a mix of the obvious, the foul and the truly funny though so fans of shows like The Guild may want to give it a watch. [Extras: Music video, gag reels, galleries, behind the scenes, featurettes, commentaries]
Pitch: Even Australian cowboys need love…
Why Rent? Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first musical is possibly the most popular cowboy romance in history and tells the story of a range rider named Curly (Hugh Jackman) and the lovely lady he takes a shine to named Laurey. Long a staple of Broadway this is London’s Royal National Theatre production and considered to be among the best ever performed. The show is not one of my favorites as I’m more of a Wicked man myself, but as we wait for Les Miserables to hit theaters this month it’s a nice reminder of Jackman’s singing and dancing talents. [Extras: Music video, gag reels, galleries, behind the scenes, featurettes, commentaries]
Pitch: No, I don’t know why they’re airing the 23rd season but they’re only up to the 15th on DVD…
Why Rent? Fans of TV’s longest running primetime cartoon have lamented the declining quality of the series for years, but even when the show drops from greatness it’s still often funnier than most anything else on FOX. Season 15 aired in 2003/2004 and featured guest appearances by Glenn Close, Michael Moore, J.K. Rowling, Mr. T, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Charles Napier (!), and as with just about every season there are high points and lows.
What’s not up for debate though is the quality of extras that FOX continually adds to these releases. They add a lot more content beyond just the episodes themselves, and they often point out gags and jokes you may have missed on first viewing. [Extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, commercials]
Pitch: But seriously, Rose could have made room for Jack…
Why Rent? Three years before the Titanic’s maiden voyage saw her sink to the bottom of the ocean an Irish shipyard was handed the contract to build the unsinkable behemoth. This fairly epic mini-series (10.5 hours!) follows the lives of those involved in the ship’s creation from the blue collar factory workers up to the designers and executives.
It’s social commentary and historical context, but strangely, the Titanic is barely a bit player. That’s not a bad thing as we all already know that story. Also available on Blu-ray. [Extras: Featurette, making of]
Pitch: The penalty for not rewinding is a stiff one…
Why Rent? A group of complete and utter assholes break into a house in search of an elusive VHS tape, but as they watch through the cassettes and tales of horror unfold before them they unwittingly become part of their own horror story. This anthology horror flick is an unsurprisingly mixed bag with the connective tissue being the weakest element.
Story one is predictable but features some fun effects and thrills, story two is mildly suspenseful, story three is an absolute and utter turd in every way, story four is legitimately scary and story five is an absolute blast of scares, excitement and special effects. It’s essentially a haunted house come to life. Seriously, the movie is worth it for the last two segments alone. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Alternate ending, additional footage, interviews, featurettes, commentary]
Pitch: Well, someone can be, just not these five…
Why Rent? Every year Australians vote to pick the Australian of the Year, and this faux-doc follows five of the nominees on the road to the announcement. A housewife, an Asian PhD student, an ex-policeman, a popular teen girl, and a twin from the hicks are the five, and comedian Chris Lilley brings each of them to life.
This comedy series from down under got a run on HBO (along with Lilly’s Angry Boys), and it earns a spot on your rental list thanks to a mix of laughs both subtle and broad as well as its occasionally sharp critique of people who willingly put themselves under the televised microscope. [Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, behind the scenes, extended episodes, performance]
Pitch: No willies will be freed today…
Why Rent? A small bay along the coast of British Columbia becomes home to a lost Orca whale when it gets separated from its pod. The area also becomes home to controversy as people find themselves divided over how the whale should be treated. Some people befriend the creature (and name her Luna) and encourage folks to pet and befriend her, but others call them out for the danger that behavior poses to the whale and to the people. Ryan Reynolds narrates a doc that offers fair time to both sides and offers a discussion with no easy answers or obvious right side. It doesn’t have the affect of The Cove,but animal lovers should give it a look. [Extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, interviews, music videos]
Pitch: Spoiler alert. There is an end…
Why Rent? Two great nations stand on the brink of a 100-year war, and if that isn’t bad enough a deadly and devastating plague is working its way across Europe. This near seven hour mini-series is a sequel to Ken Follett‘s best-selling The Pillars of the Earth, and it continues the adventures and dramas of people trapped at the tail end of one of history’s most foul periods, The Dark Ages. As someone unfamiliar with Pillars I still found this to be enjoyable and often sumptuous entertainment. If never reaches Game of Thrones levels of medieval awesome, but fans of the period will want to give it a watch. [Extras: Making of]
Pitch: Like a less funny and less entertaining Armour of God…
Why Rent? Wu Deng mountain is home to as many dangers as it is rumors, and when one of the latter involves immense treasures the former becomes a lot more palatable. An Asian-American professor and his adult (and very capable) daughter arrive in search of the legendary fortunes, but they’re not alone in their quest. Cue all kinds of action, both grounded and wired, as everyone fights for their piece of the golden pie. This period martial arts film is a bit bland in the character department, but the action is great fun for wire-fu fans. Corey Yuen is in charge of the fight choreography, and that’s never a bad thing either. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Behind the scenes]
Pitch: Almost worth watching to see Tommy Lee Jones’ face mid-blowjob…
Why Avoid? Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for thirty years, and the spark is long gone. The two head to a marriage counselor (Steve Carell) in the hopes of reigniting things, and along the way they hope to rediscover the pleasure of each other’s company and the joys of their flesh. Yeah, eww is right.
The talent here is undeniable, but the resulting film is in all honesty barely worth it for the scene mentioned above. Jones’ smile is a thing of joy to behold, but it’s ten seconds in a 100 minute movie. The laughs fail and the drama feels stale, the end. [Extras: Gag reel, alternate takes, featurettes, commentary]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
The Adventures of Mark Twain
Finding Nemo 3D
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Purple Noon (Criterion)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Two