Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is released from prison after serving 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, but his return home opens up a world of troubled complications for everyone involved. The small, Southern community is divided on the issue of his innocence as the DNA evidence seems at odds with his own confession, and those doubts are just some of the issues he now faces.
Character actor Ray McKinnon moves behind the camera here as the show’s creator, and the result is easily one of the year’s finest and most affecting shows. The story shares some thematic similarities to the brilliant Boy A, but it quickly finds its own rhythms and strengths thanks to a smart ensemble filled with heartbreaking performances and characters. It’s not needed, but the show also features some suspense and mystery surrounding Daniel’s possible guilt. It’s a short season at only six episodes, but happily Sundance Channel has ordered an additional ten for season two. [DVD extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: The only movie ballsy enough to cast the director of Grown Ups as the hero…
What’s It About? Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a newscaster following the story of her career, but a brush with near death sends her to a remote and rural community to recover in peace. Unfortunately, the retreat is actually home to an even deadlier secret involving group therapy, Slim Pickens and werewolves.
Why Buy? The first of Scream Factory’s two kick-ass releases this week is the North American debut of Joe Dante‘s werewolf classic on Blu-ray, and it is a stunner. Not only does the film look and sound better than ever, but the extras gathered here are filled with hours of additional entertainment. The movie itself remains a fun ride complete with Rob Bottin‘s still impressive transformation scene, some wonderfully dark laughs and some of the best werewolf action in cinema history. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailers]
Pitch: It’s a loose adaptation of The Emperor Has No Clothes, but Mathilda May makes it work…
What’s It About? An international team of explorers sent to explore Halley’s Comet discovers a spaceship and its crew of bat-like creatures. Nestled away at the center though are three naked, comatose humanoids who are brought back to Earth for studying and ogling. When the trio are revived they set in motion a chain of terrifying events throughout London that threaten all of humanity.
Why Buy? Director Tobe Hooper‘s film will always and forever be remembered for Mathilda May‘s near constant state of complete nudity throughout the entire film, but there’s actually a lot of non-salacious fun to be had here too. Steve Railsback gives a typically restrained performance, Patrick Stewart says “naughty” and the story quickly heads in some incredibly bonkers directions. The effects impress and entertain in near equal measure, the score soars fun will be had by all. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Theatrical and director's cuts, commentary, interviews, featurette, trailers]
Safety Last! (Criterion)
Pitch: It’s about the original, far less annoying, charmingly self-deprecating version of David Blaine…
What’s It About? Silent-era comedy icon (and writer/director) Harold Lloyd stars as a small-towner who moves to New York City with high hopes of social mobility, but ends up a lowly underling in a department store. In order to impress his girlfriend and move his way up in the world, he stages a publicity stunt that finds him unwittingly scaling a Manhattan skyscraper.
Why Buy? Safety Last! is one of silent-era Hollywood’s essential comedies, rightly belonging alongside the works of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Criterion’s crisp Blu-ray transfer allows you to see Lloyd’s physical comedic skills in all its subtlety and nuance (his reaction shots are priceless). But most importantly, his climactic act of climbing a Manhattan high rise is still an incredibly thrilling, even breathtaking feat of cinematic bravery, fully earning Lloyd his permanent (if still slightly underrated) legacy. [Blu-ray extras: feature-length documentary about Lloyd, multiple musical scores, expert commentaries, several of Lloyd’s early short films, interviews, an illustrated booklet with essays] – Landon Palmer
Pitch: Daddy issues have never been so arousing…
What’s It About? India (Mia Wasikowska) is dealing the best she can with the recent death of her father and the mind games of an emotionally abusive and unfortunately still living mother (Nicole Kidman). The situation grows more complicated when an uncle (Matthew Goode) she never knew existed appears on their doorstep bringing mystery and an uncomfortably penetrating stare with him.
Why Buy? Korean director Park Chan-wook‘s American debut is an oddly seductive mixed bag in that it’s an incredibly beautiful film from beginning to end but severely lacking in the area of narrative. The characters and visuals keep things incredibly engaging, but there’s a minor emptiness throughout as well. Still, you can’t take your eyes or ears off the film, and it succeeds in creating a mood that manages a wicked beauty unlike most anything else you’ve seen. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes] Check out my full review.
Pitch: These Canadians want to remind us that they’re Americans too. Technically…
What’s It About? Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a med student drowning in debt who discovers an unlikely source of income in the underground body modification market. Her burgeoning business takes a hit though when she finds herself targeted by some very bad men, but they probably should have picked a victim who wasn’t familiar with sharp instruments.
Why Rent? Twin directors Jen & Sylvia Soska‘s second feature is an entertaining look at some very dark subject matter, but they manage to lighten the tone with a twisted and macabre sense of humor. The first half is the strongest with impressive acting from Isabelle and Tristan Risk as a woman in the middle of a series of questionable plastic surgeries along with its initial exploration of the lifestyle. The back half loses some steam as the story narrows its genre focus and begins pulling punches. [DVD extras: Making of, commentary] Check out my full review.
The Brass Teapot
Pitch: Like a funnier Monkey’s Paw…
What’s It About? John (Michael Angarano) and Alice (Juno Temple) are young, in love and broke as hell. Some of that changes when they find a magical teapot that dispenses cash to the owner, but the catch is a painful one as it requires actual pain in nearby proximity to trigger the supernatural ATM. The newlyweds think they’re on easy street, but their addiction and reliance on the cash and the pain threatens to destroy them both.
Why Rent? The premise here is a fun one, and it finds great success through its two charismatic leads. Angarano in particular deserves to be bigger than he is. The script goes a bit off topic, and the third act in particular sees Alice become a bit too unlikeable, but there’s still some charming interactions along the way. [Blu-ray extras: Alternate scenes, deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, commentary, trailer] Check out my full review.
Come Out and Play
Pitch: Could have used more warriors…
What’s It About? Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and Beth (Vinessa Shaw) are celebrating the impending birth of the first child with a trip to Mexico, but their decision to take a boat trip to a remote island leads to unexpected trouble at the hands of other people’s children. Trapped in a small town seemingly run by vicious little tykes the couple are forced into a fight or flight situation.
Why Rent? This remake of Who Can Kill a Child? cleans up the original’s grimy nature, but it does little or nothing to make the story its own. Masked director Makinov shows a competent hand, but he’s a better cinematographer as evidenced by sun-dappled images barely containing the menace and nightmares around the corner. Tom Shankland’s The Children is exponentially better, but thriller fans may find some minor enjoyment here. Because they’re kids. [Blu-ray extras: Featurette, interviews, deleted scenes] Check out my full review.
The Ghastly Love of Johnny X
Pitch: Because what else would you use the very last roll of Kodak’s black-and-white Plus-X film stock for…
What’s It About? Jonathan Xavier (Will Keenan) and his gang of ghoulish ruffians are banished from their home planet and exiled to the planet Earth, but instead of suffering they thrive in the rough and tumble 1950s. When Johnny’s ex-girlfriend steals his power Glove he sets off after her, and no amount of sci-fi/horror/musical numbers are going to get in his way.
Why Rent? This oddball little indie won’t be for everyone, but fans of goofy sensibilities with genre influences will have some fun here. The songs are a mixed bag, but a few of them are catchy enough, and the script (co-written by director Paul Bunnell) features more than a few laughs as well. [DVD extras: Trailer, featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes]
Marketa Lazarova (Criterion)
Pitch: It’s like Andrei Rublev, only at a faster pace (if that’s even possible)…
What’s It About? Good question! Taking place in Czechoslovakia during the Middle Ages, Marketa Lazarova depicts an ongoing religious rivalry between two medieval clans. But it’s hardly as straightforward as all that, as the film eschews direct plotting in favor of the myriad details of medieval life and the inner lives of its mosaic of characters.
Why Rent? Frankisek Vlacil’s Marketa Lazarova is one of the most celebrated Czech films ever made, but up until now it has had virtually no reputation in the United States. This likely has to do, in part, with the film’s cultural specificity and its dense, difficult narrative. That said, if you’re okay with letting go of being able to discern every plot detail or character interaction as they come by, it’s easy to get lost in this exquisitely photographed, hauntingly scored, altogether dreamlike and immersive journey into the difficult life of bloody religious hysteria during the Dark Ages, beautifully restored by Criterion. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for the curious, Marketa Lazarova is a rare and essential find. [Blu-ray extras: cast and crew interviews, journalist/academic interviews, restoration demonstration, documentary about the filmmaker, storyboards, trailer, a illustrated booklet of in-depth essays] – Landon Palmer
Springhill: Series One
Pitch: Like a lighter Twin Peaks, but with British accents in place of pie and midgets…
What’s It About? Jack and Liz Freeman live in a modest Liverpool home with their five children, but their normal lives run into some unexpected friction thanks to two events. The first is the death of her father, the family’s patriarch. And the second is the return of a woman named Eva Morgan whose sole purpose seems to be making Liz’s life a living hell.
Why Rent? This UK series from the mid to late nineties features a somewhat impressive pedigree including Doctor Who writer Russell T. Davies and the creator of Shameless. The show is a strange hybrid of drama, comedy and supernatural shenanigans that finds a fascinating rhythm between the normal and the bizarre. Happily the family’s more traditional struggles are just as interesting as the one’s that hint towards (and sometimes state plainly) otherworldly events. [DVD extras: None]
Wilfred: The Complete Season 2
Pitch: Finally, cosplay I can understand…
What’s It About? Ryan Newman (Elijah Wood) was on the verge of suicide when a dog named Wilfred came into his life. Of course while everyone else sees Wilfred as just that, a dog, Ryan sees him as a man (Jason Gann) in a dog suit. The two became friends and necessary parts of each others lives, but that doesn’t mean either of them is always happy about the arrangement.
Why Rent? This FX series enters into its third season this month which will be one more than the Australian series it’s based on ever saw, and that alone is impressive. Even better, the show is actually deserving of the success too. It’s billed as a comedy, and it does have its fair share of laughs, but they’re often of the darker variety. Ryan’s initial inclination towards suicide was there for a reason, and the show never forgets it. [Blu-ray extras: Exclusive short, deleted scenes, bloopers, featurettes]
21 & Over
Pitch: Jeff Chang…
What’s It About? The day before Jeff Chang is due at the most important job interview of his post-college life his two best friends (Miles Teller, Skylar Astin) arrive intent on showing him a fantastic time for his 21st birthday. He resists, and his stereotypically strict Asian father makes it very clear how important this interview is, but his friends decide a night of debauchery is more important than Chang’s life.
Why Avoid? The writers of The Hangover attempted to go back to well a bit too often here with a tale that feels far too familiar and not nearly funny enough. Humor is replaced with cruelty again and again, and it’s impossible to find characteristics among the trio that are the slightest bit appealing. A late in the game attempt to add drama to a couple of the characters rings false and empty too. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel] Check out my full review.
Skip it and watch Superbad instead.
The Amazing Adventures of the Living Corpse
Pitch: Turns out CGI brains are just as unconvincing as CGI blood…
What’s It About? John Romero comes back from the dead and finds one of first acts the bloody murder of his wife and daughter. His second act though is to feel remorse. Determined to set things as right as possible he sets out to protect his still-living son from all of the other evils of the world.
Why Avoid? Animated horror films are a rarity, but this one’s somewhat unique nature isn’t nearly enough to make it worth a watch. The film is an adaptation of an apparently successful graphic novel, but while I can’t speak to that one of the biggest issues here is in the animation. The CGI resembles nothing as much as a video game cut scene from more than a decade ago, and the story, while starting from an interesting premise, never really goes anywhere all that interesting. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Skip it and watch Return of the Living Dead instead.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Pitch: Fee fi fo fum, I smell a movie that’s pretty damn dumb…
What’s It About? Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is an easily distracted lad whose irresponsibility leads in a rather convoluted way to a giant beanstalk growing up through his home and into the clouds. He and others head up and find an adventure of immense proportions! Because there are giants living up there.
Why Avoid? Director Bryan Singer‘s big-budget fantasy is a misstep in almost every way. On the plus side, Ewan McGregor is having fun and there are a couple early scenes that tease thrills and awe, but just about everything else feels ho-hum. It rarely achieves any sense of real excitement, the special effects are inconsistent and the lead romance is flatter than the soldiers who fall off the beanstalk to their doom. And the ending? Oh my. [Blu-ray extras: Featurette, deleted scenes, gag reel] Check out Jack Giroux’s full review.
Skip it and watch The Princess Bride instead.
The Last Exorcism: Part II
Pitch: If you thought the last exorcism was crazy just wait until you see the last one…
What’s It About? Nell “Tay Ina Win” Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is the only survivor of an exorcism gone wrong, and after the disturbed teenager is found in the woods she’s placed in a home for disturbed teenagers. (This is the only sensible thing to happen in this movie.) Her efforts to fit back in to society are interrupted by the return of the same devilish demon who was previously inside of her.
Why Avoid? It’s tough not to be cynical about a sequel to a film called The Last Exorcism, but even leaving that aside this movie has issues. Most damning is the simple fact that horror films should be scary or unsettling, and this one is neither. Depending on who you ask Bell gives either a fantastic performance or an incredibly annoying one, but regardless she never makes Nell into a character we really give a damn about. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary] Check out Luke Mullen’s full review.
Skip it and watch Small Town Murder Songs instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Blood for Irina
Body of Proof: The Complete Third Season
DCU: Superman Unbound
The Dragon Pearl
The Evil Clergyman
Glastonbury The Movie: In Flashback
Jackie Chan: Beginnings
The Jungle Book: Adventures of Mowgli – The Complete Collection
The Source Family
Things to Come (Criterion)
Workaholics: Season Three