Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
A Simple Life
Roger (Andy Lau) is a movie producer who returns home to find that the woman (Deanie Ip) who worked as his family’s maid since he was a child has suffered a stroke. He decides to set aside his affairs and focus on helping her, but as he struggles to manage the role of caregiver she finds it difficult to be the one being cared for.
Lau is an international star known more for action films and rom-coms, but he does a fantastic job with the drama here. The real draw though is Ip who manages to deliver a character earns our respect, makes us laugh and breaks our hearts in equal measure.
It’s an incredibly sweet film about finding the best in each other and ourselves, and it wisely avoids melodrama in exchange for more time spent developing characters and warm exchanges. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Pitch: “Her survival instinct in the end overrides her love of dung…”
What’s It About? The makers of BBC Earth’s spectacular Life return with a focus on the African continent and the natural wonders it contains. David Attenborough narrates (surprise!) with his probably trademarked sense of delight and curiosity, but watch out when his voice takes an ominous turn. It means something is about to get eaten.
Why Buy? Thanks to the BBC, Animal Planet, National Geographic and others big, beautiful nature documentaries have become an ubiquitous sight on TV these days, and that’s a fantastic thing. While many of them are worth owning though I’ve never found myself as in awe as I am with this new release. The photography is absolutely stunning in its clarity and beauty, and the content will have you glued to the screen, eyes wide and mouth agape (but hinting towards a smile). [Blu-ray extras: Making of, interviews, outtakes, deleted scenes]
How to Survive a Plague
Pitch: Running faster than everyone else won’t work here…
What’s It About? The AIDS epidemic struck with an unrelenting fury in the early ’80s and was followed by years of inaction by the U.S. government and misinformation my leaders of the Catholic Church. David France‘s documentary uses archival footage to trace the efforts of protest action group ACT UP to fight for the attention and medication that the disease and its death toll warranted.
Why Buy? There are a lot of great documentaries each year, but the difference between this and something like Searching for Sugar Man is that this one is important. It should also be mandatory viewing in schools as a glimpse into our country’s recent history and a promise that we never have to repeat it. The film is filled with powerful moments, but Larry Kramer’s angry outburst at a roomful of quarreling ACT UP members is deafening in its implication. [DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, trailer]
Onibaba (UK – region B)
Pitch: Hell hath no fury…
What’s It About? Two women, one young and one older, lay in wait in a reedy field in feudal Japan. Their prey are wandering samurai, lost and disoriented in the tall grass, who rarely see their own demise coming. The women kill and steal in order to survive while they wait for their husband/son to return from war, but when another man returns instead with word that their beloved has died what had been a battle of the sexes becomes a battle over sex and survival.
Why Buy? This is a beautifully shot film filled with stark images and a creepy feel at times even as it mixes in black comedy, social commentary and a bit of sexiness thanks to the women’s habit for going topless and smiling mischievously. It also benefits from a score that knows when to stay silent and when to let loose with pounding drums and random horn blasts. Criterion has the US rights, but as of yet they’ve only released the film on DVD. [UK Blu-ray extras: Commentary, home video, introduction, trailer]
Phineas & Ferb: The Perry Files – Animal Agents
Pitch: Finally a reason for non-pedophiles to watch the Disney Channel…
What’s It About? Phineas and Ferb are brothers who refuse to have a bad or boring day, and to that end they’re constantly inventing, building and adventuring from morning to night. Unbeknownst to them their pet platypus, Perry, is actually a secret agent working with the government to thwart the occasionally evil and always hilarious plans of the dastardly Dr. Doofenshmirtz. This collection of episodes focuses on ones featuring Perry’s fellow animal agents.
Why Buy? Not only is this the best show on Disney, both currently and for the past several years, but it’s also one of the best kids shows period. The scripts are extremely funny with jokes designed for both children and those of us who are young at heart (fine, old), and they move at a blistering pace with jokes and gags flying left and right. The message, if you’re into that kind of thing, is also pretty fantastic as it focuses on friends, family and fun. [DVD extras: Featurette, spy kit with binoculars]
Company of Heroes
Pitch: A movie loosely adapted from a video game? What could go wrong…
What’s It About? WWII is winding down, but a late offensive by Hitler’s forces leads to the Battle of the Bulge and a company of U.S. soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. They discover plans for a German super weapon and decide to postpone their escape back to safety in order to ruin Hitler’s day.
Why Rent? This movie came damn close to being in the Avoid section thanks to an overuse of obvious CGI. That’s never a good thing, but it feels especially egregious in a period film for some reason. Luckily though the non-CGI action is pretty solid here, and most of the blood is practical. (Most, not all.) No new ground is broken, but solid WWII action films aren’t very common these days. Plus we get glorified cameos from Tom Sizemore, Neal McDonough and Jurgen Prochnow! [Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, making of, featurette]
Girls Against Boys
Pitch: I call shirts…
What’s It About? Shae (Danielle Panabaker) just wants to have fun, but the men in her life keep ruining it with their dicks and dickish attitudes. She finds a friend in Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) who gradually draws Shae into a revenge plot against as many men as possible, but the bloody shine soon wears off and Shae tries to extricate herself from this very toxic friendship.
Why Rent? The improbably-named Austin Chick wrote and directed this slice of exploitation-lite, and while it pulls a few too many punches it remains a fun enough watch for fans of girls behaving badly. Panabaker has legs that reach the sky, but she also makes for an effective innocent tarnished by experience. You buy her both as the abused and the abuser. The script doesn’t have full faith in what it’s trying to say though, allowing the film to meander a bit to a less than ideal conclusion. Still, Panabaker. Legs. Woman in control. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Pitch: For folks who think the only think missing from Eva Mendes is a naked little French man by her side…
What’s It About? Excellent question! Oscar (Denis Lavant) begins his day being driven around town in a limousine like an average businessman, but his work day is a bit different. He makes costume changes in the car before being dropped off for a series of assignments. He’s an old lady beggar, a motion capture artist for the movies, a deviant who kidnaps Mendes and disappears into the sewers… and that’s his day.
Why Rent? Critics and serious movie fans found a lot to love with this beautifully filmed and admittedly interesting French film, but its pacing leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the “characters” work better than others, and the overall theme is fun in theory but too obvious in its execution. That said, there are some great images here, and the accordion intermission is easily one of the most delightful scenes in recent memory. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, interview, trailers] *UK cover is pictured as I can’t find a suitable US cover*
Pitch: You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Dolph Lundgren‘s U2 cover band…
What’s It About? A car thief (Lundgren) is wrongfully convicted of killing a cop, but when some corrupt officers attempt to take him out he escapes and sets out to clear his name and collect the money owed to him. He kidnaps an off-duty cop (Kristian Alfonso) in a half-shirt as cover and finds himself on the run from police both honest and corrupt.
Why Rent? Vic Armstrong of James Bond fame directs this action flick and unsurprisingly finds the most success in the action scenes. A car chase between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini and the numerous gunfights are standouts, but the real gem here is the scene where Lundgren rubs the fruit of a Joshua Tree all over Alfonso’s torso. The rest of the movie can not live up to that. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, alternate ending, interviews, trailer]
Pitch: Three Oscar nominations for acting can’t be wrong! Right? Hmm…
What’s It About? Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a WWII vet wandering the country with a rage in his heart, but when he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) he finds himself challenged to be a calmer and more refined man. Dodd is the head of a minor cult with very dedicated followers, and his own quest for perfection soon collides with Quell’s.
Why Rent? Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson returns with a beautifully photographed and mostly well-acted look at a clash of two fiercely distinct personalities. Similarities to Scientology are there if you want them, but knowledge or opinion of L. Ron Hubbard’s religion aren’t necessary here. Hoffman and Amy Adams, who plays his wife, both do phenomenal work, but Phoenix’s collection of ticks is far from an achievement in acting. The movie is worth a watch for Hoffman and the photography. [Blu-ray extras: Outtakes, additional scenes, short, behind the scenes, trailer]
Pitch: Sometimes the problem isn’t the source material…
What’s It About? Chris Mankowski (Billy Burke) is a cop turned ex-cop in ’70s Los Angeles who gets mixed up in shenanigans involving a long-legged blonde (Sabina Gadecki), the eccentric and rich Woody (Crispin Glover), a filmmaker/bomb-loving criminal (Christian Slater) and other oddballs. What starts with a rape allegation ends with murder, extortion and generally ill-advised behavior.
Why Avoid? The B-movie cast is rounded out with recognizable faces like Michael Jai White, Bill Duke and Andy Dick, but very few of the players here seem to have a grasp on how to deliver the dialogue in writer/director Charles Matthau‘s adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel. It should be a no-brainer, but the movie as a whole just feels flat. It’s Leonard-lite and quirky for the sake of it without any of the zip and wicked sense of humor those familiar with his work expect. [DVD extras: Making of]
Skip it and watch Get Shorty instead.
Nobody Gets Out Alive
Pitch: Because they’ll choose suicide over sitting through this…
What’s It About? When a girl is killed by a young drunk driver the dead child’s father disappears and becomes the basis of a local legend. Supposedly he lives in Braiden Woods now and murders all those who enter the forest. So naturally a group of “teenagers” decide to go camping overnight.
Why Avoid? Originality is appreciated in horror films, but it’s far from necessary to make a movie worthwhile. But if you’re going to make a movie that follows so many genre conventions you need to make sure to excel in other areas. Make it scary. Fill it with engaging characters or performers. Show some creative gore effects. Or, like these filmmakers, you can do none of that. It’s a shame too as director Jason Christopher shows a good eye, but it’s just not enough to make up for everything else. [DVD extras: Commentary, making of, outtakes]
Skip it and watch Pumpkinhead instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
500 Mph Storm
Chicken With Plums
Chronicle of a Summer (Criterion)
Oasis of the Zombies
Sansho the Bailiff (Criterion)