Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Like many kids in the ’70s Stephen Kessler was a fan of singer/songwriter Paul Williams‘ particular brand of sad, melodic songs that gave equal time to love and loneliness. As an adult Kessler wondered what happened to his childhood idol, and being a film/commercial director he decided to investigate and make a documentary on the 5’2″ award-winning legend.
The result is a fascinating look at a man and a talent who could never have attained such stardom in today’s physically-obsessed world, and for Williams it’s a chance to look back and publicly acknowledge his past demons. At least, that was Kessler’s plan, but he may have neglected to share the idea with the talent. Williams makes for an engaging subject, due both to his personality and his aversion to the whole process. Kessler’s own needs permeate the film, and while he threatens to take over as its focus he actually adds an interesting element to the story about fame.
[Extras: Bonus concert footage]
Pitch: Dirty politicians? Poppycock…
Why Buy? Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) is Parliament’s Chief Whip, but while he’s not the biggest public face he’s a powerful manipulator behind the scenes. Drama, intrigue and some blackly comic machinations play out across three mini-series (1990, 1993, 1995) as Urquhart identifies, targets and destroys his political enemies.
Netflix recently premiered an American series remake starring Kevin Spacey in the lead role, but even with David Fincher behind the camera it has a steep road ahead to match the original. Richardson’s portrayal is a near perfect mix of charming and slimy, both amidst his fellow characters and in his communication directly with the audience. He looks into the camera and takes viewers along through his decisions making us all accomplices in his actions. Also available on Blu-ray. [Extras: Commentary, interview, featurette]
Pitch: Keanu Reeves leads us out of the darkness once again…
Why Buy? Film is on its way out to make room for digital, and all of Quentin Tarantino’s bitching about it isn’t going to make the slightest difference. Reeves sat down with directors, cinematographers and actors including James Cameron, David Fincher, George Lucas and more to discuss both sides of the film vs digital debate. Reeves and company break down how film and digital cameras work, explore specific camera models and get into the pros and cons of the hardware and projection models.
The debate is lopsided due as much to reality as to people’s opinions but remains an impassioned and incredibly informative documentary by and for movie-lovers. Regardless of where you fall though the winner is clearly Fincher who is hilarious in his defense of digital. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Deleted scenes, additional interviews]
Pitch: Love hurts, forever…
Why Rent? Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are the greatest of friends, and the fact that they’re in the process of getting divorced shouldn’t change that. Should it? They find their relationship tested when one of them starts to move on and the other feels left behind.
This is my kind of romantic comedy. It’s funny, sweet, and brutally honest at times, and while I wouldn’t want every (or most) rom-coms to go this route it’s refreshing once in a while to see one that feels real. Celeste is the main character here, and Jones makes her a compelling, messed up and adorable woman who knows that what’s best doesn’t always match what’s right. Also available on Blu-ray. [Extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: Worth it for the opening scene alone. And no, that’s not the plane crash…
Why Rent? Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic and a drug addict, an estranged husband and father, and an airline pilot. When his latest flight encounters mechanical failure and heads dangerously back to earth Whitaker’s quick thinking saves the lives of almost everyone on board. He’s praised as a hero, but then his drug test comes back.
Director Robert Zemeckis‘ long-overdue return to live-action is visually impressive and features a stellar performance from Washington alongside a solid list of supporting ones including John Goodman and Don Cheadle. It’s a good thing too because the story gets away from its potential and drowns in a repetitive series of similar scenes over and again. Even worse, it offers up confusing messages on its morals all the way to the end credits. Still, the plane crash and the opening scene are pretty damn fantastic. [Extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: Imagine Warrior with far less drama, stock characters and someone getting clocked in the nuts…
Why Rent? Scott Voss (Kevin James) is a shitty biology teacher with a heart of gold who goes to the mat for a fellow teacher (Henry Winkler) and his students when budget cuts threaten the school’s music program. He starts fighting MMA matches in the hopes of winning enough cash before he ends up in the hospital or morgue.
It would be fair to say expectations for a James-led comedy have never been very high, especially after The Zookeeper, but his latest surprises by actually reaching the level of Okay. The story is predictable, but there are a few laughs to be found alongside some honest good will and intentions. James even cuts back on the pratfalls he’s so fond of, and that’s something that should be celebrated. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes]
Pitch: Les Copains D’abord…
Why Rent? A group of friends (including Marion Cotillard, Gilles Lellouche, Francois Cluzet) reunite each year for a long trip in the French countryside, but a pallor falls across their latest vacation when one of them (Jean Dujardin) is severely injured in an accident. His absence leads to a series of revelations that test even the strongest bonds.
This French flick from the director of Tell No One does a fantastic job of balancing the cast and their storylines to present a compelling, dramatic and often very funny tale. All of them bring their A-game and manage to find equal humanity in their acts of love and selfishness. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurette]
Pitch: L’ Etrange Couple…
Why Rent? Agathe (Isabelle Huppert) has very little patience for the people around and beneath her, but she’s never met someone as challenging and disturbing as Patrick (Benoît Poelvoorde). The single father is a mess from head to toe, and he’s also in her face on a daily basis once her husband hires him to do some remodeling around the house.
This French comedy of manners doesn’t tread any new ground, but it’s a fun mix of big and small laughs. Huppert plays stick-up-the-ass really well and manages to be as convincing as the uptight bitch as she is the begrudging and apologetic soul. Not all of the jokes and gags land, but the actors make their otherwise generic tale a light and entertaining watch all the same. [Extras: None]
Pitch: Precious gets her ass beat. Again…
Why Rent? Sweetness (Zoë Kravitz) is a teenager in distress. Her mother is having health issues, her father (Jason Clarke) is an part-time alcoholic and abuser and she’s harassed by other teens (including Gabourey Sidibe) for having mixed-race parents. Her life only gets worse from there.
Writer/director Victoria Mahoney‘s debut threatens to overwhelm with darkness, and Sweetness’ descent into bad behavior can test the nerves, but the performances (of Kravitz and Clarke in particular) pull viewers though towards the hopeful light at the end. There’s a gritty feel to some of the harsher scenes from the opening confrontation to some of Clarke’s terrible behavior, but there’s also a pleasantly entertaining appearance from Tim Blake Nelson. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Interview, featurette]
Pitch: Pete Hammond liked it, so…
Why Avoid? Detective Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is one of Detroit’s top cops, but when a sinewy hit man (Matthew Fox) comes to town Cross and his team (Ed Burns, Rachel Nichols) find themselves targeted by madness.
James Patterson‘s most popular character has reached the screen twice before (Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider) with Morgan Freeman in the lead role, and while the two movies varied in quality neither is less than good. Director Rob Cohen‘s attempt at a franchise reboot however is most assuredly bad. The script is jumpy, the characters are stupid and the action is far from exciting. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
Skip it and watch Under Suspicion instead.
Pitch: The person who found them should probably be shot…
Why Avoid? A group of filmmakers hoping to launch a reality show head into the Northern California woods for evidence that Bigfoot truly does exist. They hire an old hunter to be their guide and to show them evidence in the form of a fresh carcass. Unsurprisingly, things do not go as planned.
A found footage film about Bigfoot seems like a no-brainer, but sadly they apparently took that literally and simply made a dumb flick. It suffers from all the usual found faux-tage issues including weak acting, overly shaky camera and minimal plot. This is especially sad seeing as the film’s third act features a fairly cool and interesting shift… that they promptly drop and ignore completely. [Extras: None]
Skip it and watch Abominable instead.
Pitch: A young man goes undercover in a sorority…
Why Avoid? Molly (Miley Cyrus) is a private eye (?) working with her father when she’s recruited by an F.B.I. agent (Jeremy Piven) to infiltrate a sorority in order to help protect the daughter of a future witness against the mob. They doll her up, send her in and hilarity ensues.
Let’s be clear, Cyrus is not a good actress. The Disney “talent” machine got her to where she is, but now that she’s on her own she’s been finding it a bit rougher to make a hit. Her last two features (this and LOL) essentially went straight to DVD for a reason. No one here is making the slightest effort, from the script to the direction to the other actors, and the result is a poor-man’s remake of Sandra Bullock’s far superior Miss Congeniality. [Extras: None]
Skip it and watch Witness instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
The Ballad of Narayama (Criterion)
In Our Nature
A Perfect Ending
Toys In the Attic
Tyler Perry’s Madea Gets a Job: The Play