Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a young boy in flux. His mother is long gone, and his father has dropped him at an orphanage ostensibly for a few days while he gets his job and house in order. That lie hides an unforgivable truth that Cyril simply can’t accept, but through his efforts to reunite with his dad he comes under the care of a single hairdresser (Cecile de France) with struggles of her own.
This French film is a deceptively simple tale of a lost boy at risk, but it becomes one of the year’s most suspenseful experiences thanks in large part to Doret’s incredible performance. His fragile emotional state teases as much danger as local teen thugs and Cyril’s constant bike-riding do leaving viewers nervously awaiting a seemingly inevitable and terrible turn of events. But even as we worry we can’t help but fall in love with the boy and the woman, their challenging and sweet interactions, and the film’s effortless display of affection and humanity. I rarely buy Criterion titles at retail (because they’re freaking expensive!), but like Broadcast News and The Game I’ll be making an exception here. [Extras: Interviews, featurette, booklet, trailer]
Pitch: We buy the Blu-rays we think we deserve…
Why Buy? Charlie (Logan Lerman) is starting high school as a loner with no friends and hidden pains, but when he catches the eye of a small group of seniors his world opens up to new experiences and possibilities. His new friends (including Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Mae Whitman) each come with their own difficulties though.
Stephen Chbosky‘s bestselling novel gets a loving and beautiful adaptation from writer/director… Stephen Chbosky, and he proves that maybe more authors should get the chance to bring their work to the screen. (Although Stephen King proved the opposite with Maximum Overdrive, so maybe not.) I haven’t read the book, but while it took me two viewings the movie is an incredibly affecting look at the power of kindness, love and friendship that I’ll never forget. The three leads do incredible work (yes, even Lerman), but the same can be said for every one involved. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentaries, featurette, deleted scenes, dailies]
Pitch: Imagine if Christopher Nolan directed a Bond film, for both better and worse…
Why Buy? James Bond (Daniel Craig) and his new partner (Naomie Harris) are hot on the trail of a stolen list of agents, but a stray shot sends Bond hurtling into a river and presumed dead. Some months later he resurfaces when MI-6 and M (Judy Dench) come under attack.
Craig’s third Bond adventure is the franchise’s highest grossing and most critically acclaimed, and it’s easy to see why. The film looks absolutely beautiful (thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins) and moves like a beautifully choreographed rhino from beginning to end thanks to director Sam Mendes. It’s loaded with stunning action sequences and fun plot turns and revelations and is just a fantastically entertaining movie. The fact that it’s too often as stupid as a brick doesn’t diminish any of that. Also available on Blu-ray. [Extras: Commentaries, making of, trailer]
Pitch: Assistant Principal Kim Lockwood is a big part of the problem…
Why Rent? Director Lee Hirsch explores bullying in our schools and school buses through the stories of several kids currently experiencing it and the families of other kids who’ve committed suicide (at least in part) because of it. The goal is to draw attention to the abuse and find some way to prevent it going forward.
The film’s heart is in the right place, and it succeeds on most counts by turning the issue into a talking point, but there are two frustrating lapses here. One is the aforementioned AP Lockwood whose response to the issue goes beyond obliviousness to actively enabling the bullies with her idiocy. She needed to be called out on her bullshit. And second, in the rush to offer reactionary solutions no mention is made of teaching kids how to defend themselves. There are proven effective programs that give kids the tools to physically reject physical abusers, and they deserve a place in the story. [Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
Pitch: I can’t be the only one who finds it sexier in Chinese…
Why Rent? The classic French novel gets yet another adaptation, this time with two of China’s most talented and attractive faces in front of the camera. Mo (Cecilia Cheung) and Xie (Jang Dong-kun) are wealthy socialites in 1930s Shanghai who happily embroil themselves in cruel games of the heart for nothing more than laughs. The target of their latest wager is the kind-hearted Du (Ziyi Zhang), and as war looms outside the real damage is being done here.
There have been nearly a dozen adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos‘ novel including the acclaimed John Malkovich-starrer of the same name, the wonderfully wicked Cruel Intentions, and the Korean film The Scandal, and while minor story changes are common the one thing the period-set ones share is a strong sense of beauty in the cinematography and set design. This one is no different as the Shanghai of the past comes to life before our eyes. Less successful though is the handling of multiple plot threads that don’t always gel in smooth and fluid fashion. Still, Cheung and Zhang are mesmerizing beauties. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Making of, behind the scenes, trailer]
Pitch: It’s like a less comedic Throw Momma from the Train but with more murder, molestation and misdirection…
Why Rent? Amanda’s (Katie Cassidy) roommate went missing months ago, but bills need to be paid so she reluctantly brings a new roommate in named Hailey (Tracy Spiridakos). When the new girl helps Amanda fend off a pesky and violent ex, who not so coincidentally is a suspect in the earlier disappearance, Hailey asks for a return of favor in dealing with her own abusive father (Donal Logue).
The first twenty or so minutes here are generic and questionably-written enough to make you want to turn it off, but if you stick with it the movie more than makes up for the earlier fumbles. It’s not a flashy film by any means, but the story takes some unexpected turns that manage real surprise and thrills on its way to the end. [Extras: Making of]
Pitch: Because Mob Wives was already taken…
Why Rent? Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is a nurse whose private life is in cardiac arrest. An over-reliance on pain killers has become a full blown drug addiction, a workplace affair has led to the dissolution of her marriage, and the only option available to her now is rehab. Anyone who knows Jackie knows this probably won’t end well.
This Showtime series has walked a fine line since its premiere with a lead character who’s both entertaining as hell and often equally unlikeable. Credit smart writing and Falco’s performance though for making Jackie someone we just hate to love. The strong supporting cast continues to shine as well with more fantastic work from Merritt Wever, Peter Facinelli and others. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentaries, featurettes, gag reel]
Pitch: Leave it to Peter Sarsgaard to sound perverted even when he’s just voicing a robot…
Why Rent? Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired thief whose days of B&Es are far behind him as his mind slowly slips away, but when his son (James Marsden) brings him a robot to help him get through the day his old instincts are reawakened. What begins with a cantankerous old man resistant to change becomes a tale of finding friends and relationships in unexpected places.
This is a sweet little movie that uses a mild science fiction element to tell a very human story. The robot represents a future that doesn’t appeal to Frank, but between a son who has no time for him, a daughter (Liv Tyler) who’s always traveling around the world and a local librarian (Susan Sarandon) who’s unknowingly caught his eye Frank finds a friend in the machine and a reason to get up each morning. It’s lightweight to be sure, but fans of the cast will want to give it their time. [Extras: Commentary, poster gallery]
Pitch: By this point we shouldn’t be surprised if Helen Hunt‘s next film sees her fucking a charismatic avocado…
Why Rent? Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) has lived most of his 38 years immobile from the neck down and living in an iron lung, and while he’s overcome multiple obstacles already the one he sets next for himself comes as a bit of a surprise. He wants to lose his virginity, and if that means inviting a sex surrogate (Hunt) into his bed then so be it.
The film is based on O’Brien’s true story, and rather than being sad or oppressive and asking for pity the movie is a triumph of humor and positivity. Hawkes does a fantastic job essentially acting solely with his face, and Hunt gives her all in a role that feels like a continuation of her character in 1992’s The Waterdance. The biggest joys though are found in O’Brien’s talks with a sympathetic priest (William H. Macy) and a caretaker (Moon Bloodgood). Also available on DVD. [Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
Pitch: Say hello to ?? 14…
Why Rent? Two groups of thieves come together to steal a $20 million diamond from inside a heavily protected casino, but history has a bad way of messing with the present and soon old conflicts are opening new wounds between them.
The director Tazza: The High Rollers and Woochi returns with another fun and exciting adventure, and for at least the film’s first half Choi Dong-hoon delivers on the promise of his past films. Somewhere around the hour mark though things take a turn both in the tone and the narrative resulting in diminished fun and increased confusion. There’s simply too much going at times that distracts from the joy. Still, there’s more than enough fun to be had for fans of Korean cinema and/or Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 films. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Making of, featurette, trailer]
Pitch: Worth it for Richard Hammond‘s ride in their homemade Lotus submarine/car alone…
Why Rent? Top Gear is a UK-based show that finds the fun in the details of automobiles on and off the road, and timed to James Bond’s half century anniversary in cinemas they’ve put together this look at the films’ iconic cars. They work through the various makes and models used throughout the films from the legendary Aston Martin to the AMC Hornet while also taking a stab at creating their own invisibility auto cloak and underwater car.
This is a pretty fascinating glimpse into Bond’s autos, and I actually wish it was longer than an hour. Hammond shows immense knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject and isn’t above making his opinion known when it comes to manufacturers he doesn’t approve of… I’m looking at you Chevy and BMW. His bits with their two science projects are especially entertaining. [Extras: None]
Pitch: This is not the documentary you’re looking for…
Why Avoid? The Star Wars universe is arguably home to the largest fandom in history filled with people whose love for George Lucas’ creation goes beyond the norm. This doc explores that world through fans who collect merchandise, build life-size models, dress up as characters, tattoo their body with Star Wars imagery and dress like Slave Leia (even when they probably shouldn’t).
Here’s the thing. Video footage of real people does not a documentary make. This thing is essentially a strung together series of interviews and events featuring people who live and breathe Star Wars. There’s no apparent structure to it, the video is amateurish, nothing new or relevant is discovered about fandom or these fans in particular, and not even brief interviews with Olivia Munn can save it. [Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes]
Skip it and watch Fanboys instead.
Pitch: Don’t worry, the say and define the word in the movie…
Why Avoid? A group of strangers cross paths at a horror convention and receive invites to an exclusive after party out in the boonies, but when they wake up the next morning in different clothes and no memory of passing out there they suspect foul play. It’s only after the zombies attack that they begin to realize they’re living George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
In all honesty this direct to DVD horror film almost found a home in the RENT section above, but the bad and indifferent parts outnumber the good by too big of a margin. None of the characters are all that engaging or interesting, the story’s intriguing setup falls apart in the third act and the horror/gore isn’t nearly as consistent as it should be. Still, the premise is pretty cool, and there are a few moments here and there that delight. (Just not enough of them.) Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary]
Skip it and watch Pleasantville instead.
Pitch: You don’t make a movie this shitty by accident…
Why Avoid? Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) just wants to do well in school and be accepted by her college classmates, but when she’s introduced to chat roulette her world takes a dark turn. No, it’s worse than dick pics. It’s a serial killer who magically appears behind the person you’re chatting with and kills them when you type “I did it for the lulz” three times. Oh no.
Last year saw a movie (Cabin in the Woods) that mixed intelligence, humor and a love of the genre into a fantastically brilliant genre cocktail, and before that you’d have to go back more than ten years to Scream for another example. This film thinks it’s in the same league as those two, but not only does director Michael Gallagher have seemingly no grasp on how to manufacture scares but the script is so full of itself that it’s oblivious to its own idiocy. [Extras: Outtakes, gag reel, commentary]
Skip it and watch Candyman instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Bigfoot’s Wild Weekend
Die Screaming Marianne
Dracula vs Frankenstein
House of Whipcord
In Like Flint
A Liar’s Autobiography
The Man With the Iron Fists
Rise of the Zombies
Silent Hill: Revelation