Welcome back to This Week In Discs! Sure it’s a few days late, but it’s still technically the same week…
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
This Must Be the Place
Cheyenne (Sean Penn) was a rock star many years ago, but these days he lives a quiet life in a big house with a wife (Frances McDormand), two dogs and an empty swimming pool. He’s a bit slow in his mobility and speech, and his appearance is still modeled on The Cure’s Robert Smith. When his father falls ill Cheyenne heads to NYC to reconcile with the old man, but instead he finds himself on a quest for revenge against a Nazi. Obviously.
Paolo Sorrentino‘s film is more than a little odd. Between Penn’s performance and the script’s insistence on couching a traditional narrative in strange, character-filled trappings it’s guaranteed to turn off many viewers, and I really wouldn’t blame them walking away. But I found the story’s take on the need for (and power of) forgiveness a compelling reason to watch, and Penn’s performance may have taken a bit to grow on me but it eventually added to the film’s charm. It’s damn funny at times and lands an emotionally satisfying ending too, but be warned… most of you will apparently hate it. It’s the new I Melt With You in that regard. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Pitch: It took Luis Buñuel to make Catherine Deneuve attractive…
What’s It About? Tristana is a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) entrusted to Don Lope (Fernando Rey) after her mother dies, but what starts as an innocent guardianship quickly leads to physical desires triggered by a casual glimpse at her breasts. A see-saw relationships develops between the lusty old man and the sweetly optimistic teen, but as time passes emotions and loyalties shift in dramatic fashion until the couple they are and the couple they were bear little resemblance.
Why Buy? Director/co-writer Luis Buñuel has crafted this uncomfortable romance with a side of his usual commentary. He manages some digs at the Church, Spain’s troubled government and society’s puritanical nature, but the core of the story remains grounded in the tragic relationship between Tristana and Don Lope. Deneuve is especially impressive playing a woman who begins wide-eyed and warm at age nineteen but becomes someone brittle and broken, the life and spirit draining from her face before our eyes.[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, alternate ending, ]
Curandero: Dawn of the Demon
Pitch: It’s Spanish for “low budget but interesting enough…”
What’s It About? Magdalena is a federal agent in need of some very specific help. It seems the local police station has been cursed, and as a result the cops refuse to even enter the building. She calls upon a curandero named Carlos to cleanse the place, but while that goes fine the pair soon find themselves targeted by a satanic cult intent on bringing forth a demon.
Why Rent? Robert Rodriguez “presents” this Mexican horror film which, knowing Miramax, probably means his name was simply slapped on after the film was acquired. Regardless of his involvement though the movie turns out to be a pretty entertaining little flick. It starts a bit slow, but there are some fun bits throughout leading to a surprisingly solid ending. [DVD extras: Commentary]
Foyle’s War: The Homefront Files
Pitch: Not even the Nazis can stop human nature…
What’s It About? Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is a detective chief superintendent in the rural English town of Hastings during WWII. His job is to keep the peace and uphold the law, but just because a war is raging doesn’t mean there aren’t murders and other serious crimes being committed right there at home.
Why Rent? Acorn Media’s new box set collects all six series (aka seasons) of this successful British series that ran between 2001 and 2009. The historical setting is a unique one, and many of the 22 mysteries here take good advantage of it. The structure of each one is different from the norm, but it grows more familiar and natural as the show continues. The only real downside is Acorn’s continued insistence on putting their box sets in these standard, bulky cases instead of slimming the whole thing down with better packaging. [DVD extras: Interviews, making of, production notes, galleries]
Pitch: There’s no snooze button on her sexual awakening…
What’s It About? Hemel (Hannah Hoekstra) is a young woman with seemingly one thing on her mind, but that one thing comes in a multitude of flavors and positions. It’s sex. I’m talking about sex. She changes men like underwear, something she rarely wears, but slowly she comes to discover that the driving force behind her actions is more about being lonely than horny.
Why Rent? Artsploitation Films continues to roll out the obscure foreign releases packaged with quality extras, and their latest (#5!) is a rewarding and dramatic look at the things we do to fill our hearts and souls (and apparently vaginas). Hoekstra gives a fine performance while managing to be both sexy and sad throughout. Granted, the girl needs to eat a sandwich or two, but one problem at a time I guess. The movie doesn’t have a high replay value thanks to its pacing and tone, so a rental is advised. [DVD extras: Interviews, booklet, trailer]
Pitch: Well, a slice of Hitchcock anyway…
What’s It About? Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) North By Northwest has taken the country by storm, but when it comes time for his next film the master of suspense decides to go darker and smaller by adapting Robert Bloch’s Psycho. This film charts that film’s production in regards to censorship issues, Hitchcock’s perverted desires and his wife Alma’s (Helen Mirren) concerns.
Why Rent? Director Sacha Gervasi‘s film is a bit of a tonal misfire in that it’s not entirely sure what it’s going for, and when it does settle down and focus on a topic it seems most interested in exposing the man’s unpleasant side. Still, the film is sprinkled with interesting bits and characters including Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and imaginative conversations between Hitchcock and Ed Gein. The last five minutes is actually pretty great too. [Blu-ray extras: Deleted scene, featurettes, behind the scenes, commentary]
Life of Pi
Pitch: It will make you believe in Ang Lee…
What’s It About? A young Indian teenager named Pi is separated from his family when the ship they were sailing to America on sinks in the middle of the ocean. They had been transporting animals from their zoo, and a few of them have joined Pi in the sole lifeboat as the tragedy’s only survivors. But over the course of months at sea it’s Pi’s face-offs with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker that will test his survival instincts and keep him alive.
Why Rent? My review elsewhere on this site lays out a more complete look at my thoughts, but suffice to say this is an absolutely beautiful-looking movie with little worthwhile to say. It trivializes faith even as it thinks it’s doing the opposite and ignores the truly engaging elements and questions inherent in the story. That said, the film is a stunning visual achievement for director Ang Lee and well worth a watch. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: Imagine if your teacher was the guy from The Chaser and The Yellow Sea…
What’s It About? Wan-deuk is a bit of a loner thanks to a family life that includes a hunchback father, a slow uncle and an absent mother he’s never met. Life seems a bit tougher now thanks to a teacher named Dong-ju (Kim Yun-seok) who’s decided to pay special attention to Wan-deuk even if that means tough love.
Why Rent? This Korean film is a well-made mix of laughs and drama that finds a solid balance between the two. The story mines some familiar areas, but it moves beyond them when Dong-ju tells the teen that he knows where his mother is and that she’s a Filipino immigrant. Race and ethnicity can be a heavy issue in Korean cinema, but it’s far from a frequent one. The film handles it with heart and humor without letting it overwhelm the rest of the story too. [DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, liner notes, trailer]
Pitch: Nick Offerman talks dirty…
What’s It About? Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young couple who never see a dull moment. This is because they’re fun-loving people, but it’s also because they occasionally black out from drinking and therefore don’t see or remember any moments at all. She decides to take control of her sobriety after her alcoholism puts her life and career at risk, but her marriage may not survive this change in priorities.
Why Rent? Director James Ponsoldt‘s film is a solid drama populated with strong performances across the board. Nick Offerman is the supporting stand-out, and he’s joined by Megan Mullally and Octavia Spencer, but the most affecting (and surprising) performance here comes from Winstead. She draws you in with s sexy, confident playfulness only to floor viewers with serious acting chops reminiscent of Michael Keaton’s dramatic turn in Clean & Sober. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, making of, TIFF Q&A, deleted scenes]
Pitch: First month free, but you probably won’t last the day…
What’s It About? When a military plane crashes in downtown London a group of friends and strangers find themselves trapped in a giant storage facility. Being stuck there is the least of their worries though as something else is in there with them.
Why Rent? Horror/sci-fi films are tough to pull off on a low budget for various reasons, but they’re not impossible. This little British flick falls into some familiar traps with questionable CGI effects and pacing problems, but it manages to stay ahead of the curve anyway thanks to solid practical effects, some well staged (for the budget) action bits and a fun ending.[Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, photo reel, featurettes, video blogs, commentaries, teasers]
Pitch: It’s not all it’s cracked up to be…
What’s It About? A town’s water supply is polluted with dangerous chemicals that cause men to kill women in the most ridiculously violent ways imaginable. It also takes away their acting ability.
Why Rent? This is pretty much the epitome of a niche film. Maybe even a niche niche. The low budget is evident in every frame and performance, and it will never be mistaken for a “good” movie, but that never really detracts from the charms it does have. For one thing, the gore effects are fun, creative and often pretty damn impressive. For another, the not so subtle commentary on misogyny (both real and in the media) makes for an entertaining subtext. But yeah, you’ll need to work to get past the cheap stupidity to find the fun. [DVD extras: Commentary, trailer]
Pitch: A reminder of what Val Kilmer looked like before he swallowed Warwick Davis…
What’s It About? Willow (Warwick Davis) is a little person in a fairy tale land who finds an abandoned human baby destined to end the reign of a wicked queen. Protecting the child won’t be easy though so he teams up with a sarcastic swordsman named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) to help in the fight.
Why Rent? Director Ron Howard‘s film is based on a story by George Lucas, but even with such heavy hitters behind the camera the only magic visible here is made visible through dated special effects. It’s no fantasy masterpiece, not even close, but fans of the genre and the talents involved will want to take a look anyway. Kilmer is actually the best thing here, and if nothing else it reminds people why he used to be a lead actor. [Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, making of, featurettes]
Pitch: Halfway to the meh-nger zone…
What’s It About? Tae-hun (Rain!) is a maverick pilot in the Korean air force, but his goose is cooked when one stunt too many lands him in serious trouble. His punishment grounds him temporarily, but when an international incident results in a missing friend and fellow pilot he’s sent back into the sky to save the day.
Why Avoid? Rain may be a pop sensation in his native South Korea, but his acting attempts have been pretty lackluster. Remember Ninja Assassin? While his Hollywood career ended almost as soon as it began he’s still popular enough at home to warrant “big” movies like this one. Acting and script issues abound, but while solid action could have redeemed it too much of the air combat here is cartoonish CGI nonsense. [DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews, trailers]
Skip it and watch Behind Enemy Lines instead.
The Devil’s in the Details
Pitch: Too bad he didn’t bring a better screenwriter with him…
What’s It About? Thomas Conrad is an ex-soldier looking forward to some family time, but when he’s kidnapped by members of a drug cartel and forced to help them with a big score. His only hope is an ex-Navy SEAL (Ray Liotta) hot on the trail of the bad guys.
Why Avoid? There’s a brief scene at the end of this movie where one of the characters gets into a fight and gun battle with some baddies, and it’s an exciting, well choreographed bit. Unfortunately there’s 90 minutes of stupidity and boredom before that. Conrad is abducted early on, and for a long period the film’s action is relayed almost exclusively over the phone. We hear things happening. It’s ridiculous. [Blu-ray extras: Behind the scenes]
Skip it and watch Traffic instead.
The First Time
Pitch: As expected, it isn’t all that memorable…
What’s It About? Dave (Dylan O’Brien) loves Jane (Victoria Justice), but as the most popular girl in school she’s only interested in being his friend. Aubrey (Britt Robertson) goes to a nearby school, but after crossing paths with Dave the two start down the road of teen attraction.
Why Avoid? Writer/director Jon Kasdan‘s second film feels like a first in that it fails pretty much across the board. Starting with an opening scene that lacks anything even remotely interesting, the film proceeds to play out pretty much the same way. The performances are free of charisma, the script is absent engaging characters or events and the narrative as a whole just lays there like a lifeless pelican. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Can’t Hardly Wait instead.
Grave Encounters 2
Pitch: Remember how the first one surprised by actually being pretty good? Yeah, well, prepare to not be surprised…
What’s It About? Fans of the first film refuse to accept that it’s only a movie, so they head out to the actual hospital featured in the original film. They probably won’t live long enough to tell the doubters “I told you so!”
Why Avoid? Grave Encounters managed to entertain thanks to some fun scenes and creative writing, but the sequel has neither. The one good bit it does feature is spoiled on the box art, and even that feels ripped off from the superior [Rec]. This one fails in two ways. First, the scares rely too much on digital work and familiar shots. And second, there’s not a single character who who is either interesting or entertaining. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
Skip it and watch Grave Encounters instead.
Pitch: And that’s about as creative as it gets here…
What’s It About? A Soviet space station is destroyed by meteorites, and remnants of science experiments that were conducted there come crashing down to Earth. The experiments involved weaponized spiders, and now the murderous beasts are growing and killing all over New York City. It’s up to a transit authority employee and his estranged health inspector wife to save their family and maybe the world.
Why Avoid? By “all over New York City” I mean a one block stretch of a studio back lot where this was filmed. This film is an odd creation in that it takes a menace, spiders, that are so inherently scary and completely neuters their fright factor though incredibly poor CGI. When a Disney movie starring John Goodman is more frightening and creepy than your straight-faced horror/sci-fi film you know there’s a problem. [Blu-ray extras: 3D/2D, featurettes, interviews]
Skip it and watch Arachnophobia instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
The Blob (Criterion)
Fairy In a Cage
Female Teacher: In Front of the Students
In Their Skin
Ministry of Fear (Criterion)
Rise of the Guardians
This Is Not a Film