Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
The term “crime of the century” is an overused one, and one of the more infamous examples of its application came in 1989 when a white, female jogger in NYC’s Central Park was sexually assaulted and left for dead. The culprits were identified as five black teens who were tried and convicted both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. The boys were sentenced and served out their time, but they were relieved and the world were surprised in 2002 when the real culprit confessed.
PBS golden boy Ken Burns co-directs this sad, shocking and infuriating doc that explores the case from the perspective of both the boys and the truth. Over eager police and prosecutors combined with a racially divided public led to a terrible miscarriage of justice. The film acknowledges that the blame lay equally with the authorities, the press and at times, the boys’ parents too. The NYC of more than twenty years ago seems almost unrecognizable to the city of today, but the facts speak for themselves. If only there had been someone to listen back in 1989. [DVD extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: The only thing rarer than a horror sequel being as good as the original is a horror remake doing the same thing…
What’s It About? Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) went up the mountain with some friends and found nothing but terror at the hands of a monstrous mountain man. As the sole survivor she’s been brought to the nearest hospital, but it’s not long before she realizes the terror has followed her and the nightmare begins again.
Why Buy? The original Cold Prey is a solid slasher for any country, let alone one that doesn’t exactly make a habit of producing horror films, so the odds of these Norwegian filmmakers doing it again seemed slim. But here we are with another thrilling slasher pic that sees the killer return to finish the job. If it sounds a bit like Halloween II that’s because it’s almost a carbon copy of the setup, but that doesn’t prevent it from offering up some real suspense and thrills. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: Sorry haters, it wouldn’t be any more affecting or true with less recognizable actors…
What’s It About? A family vacation to Thailand goes from magical to nightmarish in the blink of an eye when an earthquake offshore sends a monstrous tsunami smashing into the land. Separated and lost amidst a wrecked landscape of rushing water, debris and dead bodies, the mother and father (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) search in desperation for each other and their children.
Why Buy? Director J.A. Bayona‘s film is a triumph of acting, visual effects and emotion that really only loses its way in the final minutes. It’s not nearly enough to damage the effect of everything that came before though. The film is emotionally draining in the best possible way and is a genuinely incredible true story. Viewers complaining about the cast’s ethnicity not matching the real people or the fact that the film focuses on a white family while thousands of Asians died are missing the point completely. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Pitch: The original title translates to the far sexier Moon & Cherry. Fine, slightly sexier…
What’s It About? Tadokoro is a young man looking for somewhere to belong, but when he stumbles into a writers club focused on erotica he gets more than he bargained for in club hotshot Mayama. She’s hit a dry spot in her writing, but her discovery that Tadokoro’s a virgin inspires her to teach him the ways of love and document it for the club. Write what you know, and all that.
Why Rent? Writer/director Yuki Tanada is a relative rarity in that she’s a female filmmaker in Japan, and this film has a definite feminine touch to it. Don’t take that to mean it shies away from the dirty stuff, though, as the two lead characters get it on all over town. However, the film also allows time for serious implications between the two to come into play. The movie does drag a bit here and there, but it remains an interesting character piece about twenty-somethings in modern day Japan. [DVD extras: Trailers]
Pitch: I would buy this one. Honest…
What’s It About? Emily (Olesya Rulin) is a teenager who’s reached her breaking point when it comes to her parents (Matthew Modine and Kristin Chenoweth). They’ve lost sight of what a family should be and show little interest in the lives of Emily and her two brothers. So she drugs them, ties them up and holds them captive until they learn their lesson.
Why Rent? It’s not often that I’m completely and utterly wrong in my preconception of what a movie is going to be like, but this one surprised the hell out of me. Second-hand stars, the lack of any studio behind it, cover art that makes it look like a forgettable kids movie, the presence of Chenoweth… I’m not even sure why I pressed Play. But I’m glad I did because the movie is genuinely funny, surprisingly R-rated (for its frank dialogue) and just ridiculous enough. Rulin is gorgeous (and actually 27 years old), and little Joey King (Ramona and Beezus) is crazy good as a movie-obsessed child. Her “Ivy” from Taxi Driver is fantastic (and wonderfully inappropriate). [DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scene]
Pitch: Would it have been too much to ask for Warners to include the theater shootout as a deleted scene? Apparently…
What’s It About? It’s the late ’40s and gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is bringing his particularly nasty business practices to Los Angeles. An elite squad of policemen (featuring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and Michael Peña) are formed to fight him and the evils he represents.
Why Rent? Director Ruben Fleischer‘s stylish and lightweight action film has more than a few issues, but none of them overshadow the film’s entertainment value. The action is well staged and exciting, and the script is loaded with personality and humor brought to fun life by the cast. It is a cop-out on Warners’ part not to include the theater shootout though. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Pitch: A different kind of Renaissance Fair…
What’s It About? King Arthur aka Billy (Ed Harris) is the leader of a rag-tag group of medieval enthusiasts who combine jousting, swordplay and mandolin music with motorbikes as they tour the country entertaining crowds. The tight-knit group starts to show cracks though as the pressures of law enforcement, relationships and modern society begin to tear the friends apart.
Why Rent? Director George Romero made this odd, occasionally humorous drama between Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow, and it remains a unique feature on his resume. It’s too long by a good 30 minutes, but it’s fun seeing a very young Harris (already balding!), a trashy Stephen King and Tom Savini in more than a cameo role. The drama is solid, if unexceptional, but the character work, stunts and personality make for an entertaining film. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, booklet, reversible artwork] *This is a UK release and requires a region-free player.*
Pitch: With great power comes all kind of angst and drama apparently…
What’s It About? The Inhumans are a race of mutants who live in seclusion in the hopes of avoiding the strife of the outside world. Each member has their own unique power, but unlike heroes of days past, the Inhumans actually willingly undergo an act that grants them their new ability. Years of peace come to an end though when trouble comes knocking at their door while bigger issues overflow within.
Why Rent? The Marvel Knights releases from Shout! Factory use a very specific animation style that brings it as close to the comic page as a series can get (unless someone just filmed the pages of a comic book being turned slowly). Still frames come to life with visual and sound effects, framing changes and dramatic voice work. This particular tale and its characters are serious and fascinating in their actions and a clear departure from the norm. [DVD extras: Interviews]
Pitch: It’s a fact that every direct-to-DVD cop thriller released in the past two years stars Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta and/or 50 Cent…
What’s It About? When a beat cop (Forest Whitaker) unknowingly walks into a late-night diner mid-robbery all hell breaks loose for everyone involved. What starts as a simple wrong place wrong time situation though soon escalates into a twisty tale of truth and consequences.
Why Rent? The cast here is a veritable who’s who of recognizable, B-grade faces including Whitaker, Ray Liotta, Stephen Lang, Nikki Reed and Common, and while none of them will blow you away here they do well in the service of a competent and only slightly convoluted thriller. Okay, maybe it’s more than slightly convoluted, but the story’s movements forward, backward and sideways in time keep things interesting as new revelations come to light. It may be ultimately forgettable, but it’s a fun enough watch on the way to the end credits. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Pitch: A Norwegian tale with bite…
What’s It About? Leo and Elvis are a clean-up crew who specialize in crime scenes, but their latest gig has at least one surprise in store for them. A hidden room reveals a beautiful, naked woman with a tail. Their instinct is to help, but what if she was in captivity for a reason?
Why Rent? This week’s second Norwegian film is less straight horror than a mix of the darkly comedic and the terrifying. The story is based on local folklore and offers an interesting glimpse into a fantastical culture built on fairy tales and legend. At under 80 minutes the movie doesn’t pack a big punch, but you can do far worse than a movie with a sexy leading lady, several laughs and some solidly entertaining effects. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Pitch: Youth. Can’t live with them, can’t drug, assault and dump ’em on the beach…
What’s It About? Darren (Oliver Ackland) lives in the shadow of his much cooler step brother Zack (Alex Russell), but the two come to blows when Darren’s friend and potential girlfriend Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens) is raped and left for dead. What happened and who knew about it become the focus of Darren’s daily life, but his search for the truth will have devastating consequences.
Why Rent? This little Australian flick is a straight up thriller at times and a solid drama at other times, but all of it serves as a cautionary tale about groupthink, responsibility and the dangerously pervasive nature of tech in the hands of our children. It gets a little goofy towards the end, but the script does a fine job at avoiding the obvious and keeping viewers on their toes. The acting is also good, with Clemens (who looks like a young Michelle Williams) being the real stand out. [DVD extras: None] *Image is from the UK cover, but this is a US release.*
Pitch: They’ve already green-lit a sequel, so it must be great! Sadly, this is not a joke…
What’s It About? A couple (Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins) move into their new home but soon realize a supernatural presence has already taken up residence. To make matters worse the entity isn’t haunting the house, it’s haunting the woman! Oh snap!
Why Avoid? You saw the “Wayans” name above right? The only time that shouldn’t strike fear into your heart these days is when you’re watching ABC’s Happy Endings. (What do you mean you’re not watching ABC’s Happy Endings?) This “spoof” replaces anything resembling humor with loud yelling and raunchy gags resulting in less than 90 minutes of unfunny comedy. It finds inspiration from films like Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism, but somehow those horror flicks still manage to be far funnier. [Blu-ray extras: Featurette]
Skip it and watch ABC’s Happy Endings instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Any Day Now
Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie
City That Never Sleeps
Grapes of Death
It’s In the Blood
Jurassic Park 3D
Mistress of the Apes
Pierre Etaix (Criterion)
Richard III (Criterion)
Sloppy the Psychotic