Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Gretel (Molly Quinn) and her boyfriend have a case of the munchies and decide to bake some treats, but knowing they’ll have to wait for the goodies to be done they decide he should head out for more weed. He decides to seek out the city’s newest strain, “Black Forest,” and goes straight to the source… a little old lady (Lara Flynn Boyle) with a green thumb and witchy tendencies. When he disappears it’s up to Gretel and her brother Hansel to get to the bottom of this nasty little fairy tale.
Low expectations can never really hurt a movie (unless they cause you not to see it in the first place), but they still can’t be solely credited with my enjoyment of this horror comedy. Some of the jokes are predictably bad (cops at a donut shop!) but several more land successfully and earn real laughs. Even better, there’s actually some truly fun gore effects to be found here too. Bottom line, this isn’t destined to become your new favorite, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more entertaining Hansel & Gretel movie this year. Take that, Hawkeye. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Nothing worth buying this week! (Although Criterion’s new Shoah Blu-ray and Olive Films release of Samuel Fuller’s Shark! are probably safe bets.)
Pitch: “This film is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Mr. Elias Howe, who, in 1846, invented the sewing machine…”
What’s It About? A religious cult on the verge of making a human sacrifice discovers their intended human is lacking a singular piece of jewelry required for them to continue. A little digging around later and they discover the ring is now sitting pretty on the finger of a certain drummer. Can The Beatles escape the deadly reach of of a pratfall-prone cult and still get their latest album recorded in time?
Why Rent? One year after The Beatles made their theatrical debut in A Hard Day’s Night they followed it up with this purely comical but wholly nonsensical flick featuring several songs from the corresponding album. Much of the comedy is played incredibly broad, but there still manages to be more than a few laughs due to the dialogue and/or actions on the part of the four boys from Liverpool. It’s just a goofy movie elevated by the inclusion of fantastic music. The extras aren’t loaded, but the behind the scenes section offers some fun shenanigans as well. [Blu-ray extras: Documentary, deleted scene, featurettes, trailers]
Pitch: All the kind strangers…
What’s It About? Tom Thompson (Chris Langham) is head of the household and makes a fateful decision for his family one day by inviting a stranger home for tea. The man is conversational and seemingly normal, but when he dies at the dinner table the family finds themselves in an odd and unexpected predicament.
Why Rent? Part faux-doc and part black comedy, this UK film finds some laughs in some truly dark places. It does take a little bit to really take hold though thanks to a jagged editing style that bounces around a bit, but once you get into the groove and grow familiar with the characters the absurdity and poor decisions lead to some laughs. More than that though the story also takes on a sadness above and beyond the one man’s death. [DVD extras: Short film, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Can you believe this show ran for nine seasons? Seriously…
What’s It About? Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) survived a shooting at the end of last season, but his return to the job will see new cases sharing time with lingering repercussions. The team goes on solving crimes and bringing the bad guys and gals to justice.
Why Rent? Again, nine seasons this spinoff ran for, and I’ve only seen a handful of episodes. Still a better percentage than I had with J.A.G. though. Anyway, Sinise has always been a strong actor, and while network TV dulls even the sharpest knives he still finds the intensity needed here to play a cop on the edge. The episodes are fairly traditional, but they’re well produced and manage some interesting storylines. And you can never go wrong with crossover episodes, especially when they feature Ted Danson! [DVD extras: Featurettes, crossover episode, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Sounds a bit redundant…
What’s It About? Johnny and his religiously strict mother come to a difference of opinion when he receives a letter alerting him to a home he’s inherited. He heads to the small town and discovers secrets about his real family’s past and his own deadly future.
Why Rent? A TV-made horror movie about ghosts doesn’t exactly scream “must see,” but this Chiller flick actually surprises in a few ways. First up is a solid opening scene that sets the back story with some legitimate chills and balls before jumping into the present day. Some questionable acting threatens to derail the remainder, but director Colin Theys manages some creepy atmosphere as the story heads towards its murder-filled conclusion. This is the closest thing to a misfire to come from Scream Factory since their TerrorVision/The Video Dead double feature, but while it pales beside the actual classics they’ve been resurrecting to Blu-ray it still has a few worthwhile elements about it. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, bloopers, featurette]
Pitch: Get it? Because they’re not…
What’s It About? Mack Carter is going to jail. That itself isn’t a big deal, but unlike times past he’s going away for far more than a brief few months. His wife Lindsay (Amanda Redman) and their four children are forced to make some changes if they hope to survive without their money-making patriarch, and those changes involve going clean.
Why Rent? This six-episode UK series comes to DVD from Acorn, purveyors of all things British, and offers up a fun, fast moving family dramedy. The entire family is well versed in the art of devious deception meaning their efforts to leave crime behind become a struggle for each and every one of them. The acting is good across the board with the cast benefiting greatly from some sharp and witty writing. [DVD extras: Production notes, text interviews, photo gallery]
Pitch: It’s more believable than Now You See Me, but surprisingly less funny…
What’s It About? Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have been a magical team for decades, but their biggest trick is fooling the public into believing that the two are still friends. The fighting finally grows too hard to hide, and when combined with competition from a popular street magician (Jim Carrey) the duo crumbles. The two discover their individual successes pale beside what they accomplished together, but moving past ego and pride may be an impossible feat.
Why Rent? This is not a great movie and instead feels like the beginning of something far better, but the cast is hard to resist. Most of them play one note characters, and while Carell wears that label to the least effect both Buscemi and Carrey find the laughs in their idiots. Olivia Wilde is in too small of a supporting role here, but she does fine with it and even hints at a wit that’s been hidden behind “sexy” roles way too often. (Check out Butter and the upcoming Drinking Buddies to see what she’s capable of.) [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Pitch: You don’t want to cross this dick…
What’s It About? Jack Taylor (Iain Glen) was once a detective with the Guards, but his poor manners and lack of respect for superiors saw him booted off the force. He pays the bills now working as a rare Irish private detective specializing in finding things that have gone missing whether they be people, alibis or things more nebulous. He tackles three cases here involving a serial killer, a group of vigilantes and a wicked nun.
Why Rent? Irish author Ken Bruen‘s dark procedurals come to life here and work more often than not to create a strong character and gritty atmosphere. Glen does a fine job with the title character’s mix of smarts and doggedness, and while the scripts occasionally lose focus the end result remains entertaining enough stories. Acorn’s DVD collects the first three (The Guards, The Pikemen, The Magdalene Martyrs) of the five mysteries adapted so far, and with any luck we’ll see the remaining ones soon.[DVD extras: Photo galleries]
Pitch: No means no, Mr. Pinochet…
What’s It About? Augusto Pinochet ran roughshod over his country of Chile for fifteen years before bowed to international pressure and allowed a public vote as to whether he would get to rule the country for another eight years. Part of the arrangement included granting the opposition air time to convince the voters to choose “no.” Gael Garcia Bernal plays a real-life advertising executive tasked with crafting the campaign even as his actions threaten his job and freedom.
Why Rent? Director Pablo Larrain‘s film was nominated for Best Foreign Language film last year, and it’s easy to see why it would have made a short list. No, not because of little Bernal, but because it manages to entertain and engage even as it educates. Even knowing the outcome there are moments of real tension and disbelief, and it’s fascinating to see the effect of marketing when it’s used for good. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, Q&A]
Pitch: Ben Affleck is the bomb in Phantoms yo…
What’s It About? In the middle of the Cold War a Russian nuclear submarine disappeared somewhere in the Pacific ocean. This is fact. What came next though is open to conjecture, but the story here is as good a guess as any other. Ed Harris plays a decorated sub captain nearing retirement, and David Duchovny is a mysterious KGB agent assigned to the sub for unknown purposes. Tensions rise as the two men go head to head to take control of the sub and the fate of the world.
Why Rent? Think of this as an extremely low-key Crimson Tide, and you won’t be off by too much. It lacks the energy of Tony Scott’s underrated thriller and instead focuses more on the drama and characters at play. That approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but fans of the twin leads will find enough to capture their interest here even if the ending is a bit out of left-field. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, music video, commentary]
Pitch: Why yes, this is a doc about hunger in a country that keeps getting fatter…
What’s It About? One in four children don’t know where their next meal is coming from, but before you think that’s a global stat be aware that it’s actually specific to the United States. These kids are all across America in both urban and rural locales, but the film focuses on just three following them through their days and nights and putting viewers in their little shoes. The film also devotes time to offering up possible answers to the problem,
Why Rent? Maybe the folks who are tipping the scales in favor of making the United States an increasingly obese country should be forced to share some of those calories. Two birds one stone right? But barring that I guess it makes sense to go the legislative route to make changes in our agricultural policies as well as realigning the subsidy programs that benefit bad foods far more than the good. The past few years have seen a rash of solid exposes on the damage caused by corporations and our government, and while this is far from the best it still has some interesting and upsetting things to say. [Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes, commentary, trailer]
Pitch: “From the director of Drive” is a bit misleading but hey whatever works for you…
What’s It About? Frank (Richard Coyle) is a drug dealer with a bit of a problem. Well, several problems actually, but the most pressing is the mob boss whose drugs he lost while trying to evade the police. The man wants $55k in a few days time, and now Frank has to work all the angles to find the cash to save his skin.
Why Rent? Nicolas Winding Refn‘s 1996 film (the first in a trilogy) already saw a Hindi remake in 2010, but this UK redo actually sees him attached as a producer. The story is essentially the same, for better and worse, but at under 90 minutes it’s a quick watch that entertains enough to make it worthwhile. Coyle has a slightly comical bent about him that prevents him from ever achieving real dramatic depth, but he does fine otherwise. [Blu-ray extras: Q&A, making of]
Pitch: Easily one of the best films about movie editors ever made…
What’s It About? Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl (Tarik Lowe) are co-editors and friends hired to work on a comedy that just isn’t clicking with test audiences. They work their magic in the cutting room and do some additional ADR to improve the picture, but their biggest challenges are happening in their private lives. Friction grows between Nick and his fiance (Sophia Takal) as he starts spending time with the film’s star (Arielle Kebbel), and Darryl sees trouble on his home front too. Can they salvage their relationships and the film?
Why Rent? Lowe actually co-wrote the film with director Daniel Schecter, and the result is a movie with lightly comic touches and mild drama. The laughs actually work noticeably better than the serious stuff with the single exception of Takal’s work here. The other three find their groove with the more casual elements, but she nails the anger, frustration and sadness with little more than her glance. [DVD extras: Interview]
Pitch: The call is coming from inside the hairdo…
What’s It About? Jordan (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator in Los Angeles whose efforts to help a young girl result in her death. Shaken, she’s pulled from desk duty, but when an incident forces her back on with another teen (Abigail Breslin) in trouble she realizes the girl’s abductor is the same man who killed the previous victim. Now she has to use all of her 911 training up to and including channeling William Shatner if she hopes to save a life.
Why Avoid? The opening scene here is a tightly-paced and suspenseful bit of filmmaking, and it’s enough to make you think director Brad Anderson has survived his jump into slightly bigger studio fare. That feeling quickly fades though thanks to a laughable script that drains events of both smarts and intensity. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate ending]
Skip it and watch When a Stranger Calls instead.
Pitch: Would love to see what Dylan McDermott could do with this material…
What’s It About? The Rambler (Dermot Mulroney) is a chain smoking, sunglasses-wearing man of few words who’s released from prison into a strange and dusty Midwest landscape. He accepts an offer from his brother to come work on the man’s Oregon farm, but getting there presents a few challenges in the form of strange women, mad scientists, lizard people and excessive vomiting.
Why Avoid? Writer/director Calvin Lee Reeder‘s second film is not interested in your ideas on narrative, linear or otherwise, and that in and of itself is not a bad thing. What is a problem though is the film’s disinterest in grounding the insanity with a lead character who’s even the slightest bit engaging. Mulroney simply meanders through the film’s increasingly absurd set pieces, and even as things are happening nothing is really happening. There’s some creativity here, but it’s ultimately without purpose. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Skip it and watch The Reflecting Skin instead.
Pitch: I’m going to need a ruling from Neil deGrasse Tyson on this film’s science…
What’s It About? Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kristen Dunst) have been friends since childhood even though they live on different planets. They’re on twinned worlds, each with their own gravity, that exist just a few thousand feet apart. The two friends are able to visit my climbing their respective highest peaks and tossing a rope between them. It’s complicated. The upper world is hoity toity, and the lower one is working class, but class distinctions are just one of the obstacles these lovebirds face.
Why Avoid? First, this is an occasionally impressive film on the visual front. The effects are quite good at times, so if you’re a fan of visuals or the cast then give it a watch. But, and this is a big but, just because your film is set in an alternate universe doesn’t exclude you from a need to explain away some gaping holes in your own logic. The biggest (but far from only) issue involves the explanation of the twin planets. They each have their own gravity, but the fact that the same spots are always facing each other kind of precludes the globes from spinning. As does the giant office building that connects to both planets. And how do the surfaces get sunlight when they’re only thousands of feet apart? And how is there a lower and higher designation in space? And what’s up with things bursting into flame when materials from the two worlds are in contact for too long? And don’t get me started on Sturgess’ hair. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, deleted scenes, storyboards]
Skip it and watch Another Earth instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Borgen: Season 2
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series
In the Family
Into the White
MADtv: The Complete Third Season
New Tricks: Season Nine
Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The Complete Second Season
The Wizards Return: Alex vs Alex