Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
House of Cards: The Complete First Season
Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is as ambitious as they come, but his drive to succeed includes more than simply doing the best job for the American people that he can. Instead he uses every opportunity to manipulate those around him towards outcomes favorable to his career. His wife (Robin Wright) shares a similar trait in her dealings. Together and separately the pair use their influence to shape their world, and while many other people are swept into their narrative only one will meet a tragic fate.
Netflix officially entered the TV production game with this 13 episode redo of the classic UK series, and the result is a solidly entertaining, wonderfully acted look at our political animals at work. It has far less bite than its UK predecessor, and least in its first season, but the drama remains engaging. Creators David Fincher and Beau Willimon kept the original’s framework (albeit transplanted in time and space to modern day Washington D.C.), but they wisely chose not to mirror the characters instead leaving viewers with new creations and plenty of surprises. It’s a less salacious but smarter Boss for those of you familiar with Kelsey Grammer’s Starz series, and while Spacey and Wright rule the roost it boasts a spectacular supporting cast in Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Corey Stoll and others. [DVD extras: None] Check out Scott Begg’s full review here.
The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Third Season
Pitch: If I had a nickel every time I heard someone say “Oh Rob…”
What’s It About? Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) is TV writer whose home life is no less wacky than his office shenanigans. His wife (Mary Tyler Moore) is a goofy, strong-headed delight, and his co-workers including Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam are constant sources of laughter and frustration.
Why Buy? Van Dyke’s series ran for five seasons, and with this release of the one smack dab in the middle we can see a show at the height of its hilarity. The cast is legendary, and any single episode is enough to show why Moore was given her own series not long after this one concluded. All four regulars exhibit sharp delivery and exceptional comedic timing, and it’s a fantastic reminder of how smart comedies earned laughs before sexual innuendo and crass humor became the norm. [Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, episodes of other shows, interviews, rehearsal footage, Carl Reiner tribute]
Enter the Dragon: 40th Anniversary Edition
Pitch: It’s like a bloodier version of The Animalympics…
What’s It About? A villainous millionaire named Han (Kien Shih) runs a lucrative drug empire, but he also hosts an annual to-the-death fight tournament. This year’s event draws a mix of contestants with ulterior motives including John Saxon, Jim Kelly and of course, Bruce Lee. Good luck everybody not named Lee!
Why Buy? Lee’s final film (release date-wise) is arguably his greatest, and it’s only partially due to it being his only studio effort. The scope and style exceed anything he’s done before, the fight choreography is exciting, and the film is filled with visually thrilling set-pieces. Lee’s acting never had enough time to really improve, but his screen presence and intensity has never been better than it is here. Beautiful HD presentation aside, WB’s new release is loaded with extras both fascinating and impractical too. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, postcards, lenticular, embroidered patch]
Pitch: It’s the Korean remake of Dave you’ve been waiting for…
What’s It About? It’s 1616, and King Gwanghae (Lee Byung-hun) is facing internal threats during his 8th year of reign. Fearing for his life he orders his men to find him a double to be his public face. They find one in Ha-seon (also Lee Byung-hun), a comical performer, and it’s just in time too as Gwanghae quickly falls ill under suspicious circumstances. Ha-seon discovers the life of a king is a ridiculous one filled with executions, official decrees and royal bum-wipers, and he decides that maybe he can do more with his new role than simply act the part.
Why Buy? The film finds its source material in an intriguing bit of real history, but the details are no less exciting for being imagined. It’s an exciting tale that manages comedy, action and drama in near equal measure. Lee gets to show a much deeper acting range than his usual action films and thrillers allow, and he delivers on both the light and dark goods. [DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes] Check out my full review here.
Pitch: So that‘s what the cliporis looks like…
What’s It About? Jasna (Isidora Simojonivic) is typical Serbian teen (apparently) living the boring life of a high school student. Except that she isn’t really all that bored. Her free time is spent partying, doing drugs and engaging in some highly inappropriate sexual behavior. Her antics increase in frequency and intensity until they begin to threaten her very humanity.
Why Rent? This is a tough one to recommend for a couple different reasons, and yet I’m recommending it all the same. It’s a difficult watch as Jasna’s journey is one of degradation and sadness, but the bigger issue here is that Simojonivic actually turned 15 years old during the film’s production. The nudity and (very explicit) sex acts are accomplished via body double and prosthetics, but the young actress still shows a lot of skin and willingness to act like an adult. She gives a very strong performance, and the story is a universal one, but her actual age gives a legitimate reason to pause before giving this one a spin. [DVD extras: Interview, trailers, booklet]
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Pitch: It’s no Snow White & the Huntsman, but at least it’s not Mirror Mirror either…
What’s It About? Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) were abandoned in the woods as children, but after killing the witch who took them captive they embark on a career offing kiddie-snatching witches across the land. Their latest assignment brings them face to face with an extra powerful enemy (Famke Janssen) and a surprising revelation about their past.
Why Rent? Director Tommy Wirkola‘s English-language debut is not a very good movie thanks to a mismatched tone, some shoddy effects work and a real lack of charisma among the characters. That said, there are a few scenes/set-pieces that entertain and occasionally impress. Some of the fights are fun, and the character of Edward the troll is a fantastic blend of actor (Derek Mears) and animatronic prosthetics. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Unrated/theatrical cuts, featurettes] Check out Christopher Campbell’s full review here.
A Labor of Love
Pitch: So apparently Dove liquid detergent makes a fine money-shot substitute in a pinch…
What’s It About? An independent filmmaker in 1974 Chicago sets out to make a movie, but when the investors insist the film feature some hardcore sex scenes the film heads in some unpredictable directions. This documentary follows the production behind the scenes and through interviews with the director, crew and reluctant cast.
Why Rent? Vinegar Syndrome continues to bring these odd gems from the past back to life, and we should all be thankful for it. This could just as easily be a look at the trials and tribulations of making any kind of independent film, but the addition of porn adds an additional layer of entertainment as the various personalities express their concerns, desires and occasionally cocky attitudes. [DVD extras: Interview, trailer]
The Newsroom: The Complete First Season
Pitch: The best commentary two years of hindsight can provide…
What’s It About? Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is one of America’s top newscasters, but a verbal clash with a university student has left his public perception and his perception of the public wanting. A new producer (Emily Mortimer) is brought in to shake things up, but the fact that she’s his ex-girlfriend brings its own share of troubles.
Why Rent? Aaron Sorkin‘s fourth TV series features many of his usual calling cards including an ensemble cast, fast talking liberals and a workplace environment filled with inappropriate behavior, but as his first show on pay cable (HBO) it also allows him to use some less delicate verbage. The show has gotten its fair share of criticism for a perceived holier-than-thou attitude its characters take on real world issues/actions the rest of the world got wrong, but that’s actually part of its charm. The old school, lightning-paced banter is thrilling, the acting is top notch, the laughs are plentiful and Olivia Munn reinvents herself as fantastically talented comedic actress. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Ninja III: The Domination
Pitch: Possibly the best ‘aerobics instructor turned possessed ninja’ movie you’ll ever see…
What’s It About? Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey) is a telephone repair woman who teaches aerobics on the side, but as if she wasn’t already busy enough a dying ninja possesses her soul and sends her out to kill the policemen who gunned him down. Now it’s up to her indomitable spirit, her cop boyfriend (who’s also on the ninja’s hit list!) and a mystical ninja master dude (Sho Kosugi) to save her soul and end the nightmare.
Why Rent? The description above should make it pretty clear why this Cannon Group classic from 1984 deserves a watch, but just in case I’ll go ahead and repeat some key words. Ninja. Aerobics instructor. Ninja. Sho Kosugi. Ninja. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, trailer]
Oz the Great & Powerful
Pitch: Pay no attention to the douche behind the curtain…
What’s It About? Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a selfish, womanizing prestidigitator for a small traveling circus, but when his wicked ways catch up to him in the form of a pissed-off strongman, Oz steals a hot air balloon and escapes into the sky. Of course he doesn’t get very far before a tornado catches the balloon in its swirling grip, tosses it about and drops it unceremoniously into a vibrant landscape of unnatural wonders. It’s also home to three beautiful women of varying degrees of mental and moral stability.
Why Rent? It was always clear that Sam Raimi‘s big budget prequel to The Wizard of Oz was going to be closer in spirit to Tim Burton’s mega blockbuster Alice In Wonderland than anything good, but thankfully Raimi manages to find a few worthwhile elements to make the movie worth a watch. The characters and story are equally half-baked, but the non-Franco performances are often entertaining and some of the CGI work impresses. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, bloopers] Check out my full review here.
Pitch: Stretches the whole “Inspired by true events” tag a bit…
What’s It About? John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) runs a successful construction company and is happily married to his second wife, but when his teen son from a previous marriage gets in trouble with the law Matthews finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. See what I did there? Keep reading. The only option left to save his son is to ensnare some bigger fish up the drug cartel food chain, but his efforts may lead to even greater tragedy.
Why Rent? Johnson delivers somewhat of a different character here from his usual highly capable fighting machines, and it actually suits him fairly well. The character gets to flex his brain and heart far more frequently than his biceps in his quest to save his son, and while the plot specifics don’t quite feel like a true story they still manage some excitement. One of the other highlights here is Barry Pepper’s bearded portrayal of a hardcore DEA agent. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, commentary, deleted scenes, trailer]
Pitch: If loving your dog this much is wrong then I don’t want to be right…
What’s It About? Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) has lost his dog Paul. He sets off on an escalating series of bizarre adventures in his quest to find the pup including interactions with an oddball detective, a chatty pizza delivery employee, and a pony-tailed guru named Master Chang (William Fichtner).
Why Rent? Writer/director Quentin Dupieux‘s first feature film, Rubber, is a wonderfully ridiculous tale about a tire named Robert that uses telekinesis to blow up people’s heads. It was awesome for obvious reasons, but it also managed to weave in a commentary on film and audiences. This new film is equally ridiculous, but while it has some laughs it lacks anything of note on a deeper level. Still, you really shouldn’t miss anything starring Fichtner. [DVD extras: Making of, behind the scenes, featurette, trailers, booklet] Check out my full review here.
Pitch: “Wanna know what FBI stands for? Fumble Bumble Incompetent…”
What’s It About? FBI Agent John Nelson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) races to protect an informant on Australia’s Gold Coast, but he arrives too late and sees the man shot dead. He reports the incident to the man’s wife in NYC only to learn she buried her husband two years prior. Mystery! Nelson and the woman team up back in Australia to find out why he was still alive and what he was doing halfway around the world.
Why Avoid? Cheap-looking CGI blood or cheapest-looking CGI blood? It’s a valid question, and it’s far from the only one here. Why are the greenscreen driving scenes so terrible? Why did they use CGI bullet holes, let alone such cartoonish-looking ones? What’s wrong with Emmanuelle Vaugier‘s eyebrows? What did Gooding Jr. ever do to deserve this fate? How did no one realize the twist ending here is the most obvious thing in the world? [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Restraint instead.
Ring of Fire
Pitch: You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Syfy production if it weren’t for the fact that no RoboWereSharks come flying out of the volcanoes…
What’s It About? Corporate greed personified by Terry O’Quinn leads to an oil spill in a small town, but that’s only the start of nature’s troubles. The accident ignites a series of volcanoes (obviously) sending the world to the brink of destruction, and only the quick thinking and heroic actions of “two selfless activists” can save mankind.
Why Avoid? Disaster flicks need to check a few boxes if they’re going to be successful, but this Reelz Channel production misses the boat on all of them. The special effects are a mixed bag of okay and chintzy, the emotional value is nil leaving viewers unconcerned with the deaths of named and unnamed characters, and the set-pieces are absent any real thrills. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Skip it and watch Dante’s Peak instead.
Pitch: Starring the biggest Baldwin brother yet…
What’s It About? Sarah has just escaped a bad marriage and is looking to start fresh in a new apartment, but her arrival is interrupted by a little dead boy. The tiny ghost shows signs of abuse, but is he a threat or someone in need of assistance?
Why Avoid? Great ghost stories can be tough for even talented actors and filmmakers to create, but the task grows exponentially more difficult for those less gifted. The trouble starts immediately as an amateur cast delivers awkward mouthfuls of dull and lifeless dialogue. And then Daniel Baldwin shows up and things get even worse. The only aspect resembling a highlight here is the occasional humor in Tony Giordano‘s script which adds some intentional laughs to an otherwise generic thriller. It’s not enough to make the movie worth watching though. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch The Unborn instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Abduction of Eden
The House of Seven Corpses
House on Straw Hill
The Philadelphia Experiment
The Taste of Money
Wild Strawberries (Criterion)