Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) has returned home for his high school reunion at a very confused time in his life. His long time girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) joins him on the trip as he visits with friends, strikes up a purely platonic relationship with a 15-year-old neighbor girl (Natalie Portman) and decides if he’s ready to settle down and get married.
The late Ted Demme has a few fine films to his name including The Ref and Blow, but this sweet, honest and funny movie remains his high point. Portman’s perfect encapsulation of the untouchable teen is fantastic in every regard, but to be fair her storyline is only a small part of the whole. Willie’s friends (Matt Dillon, Noah Emmerich, Max Perlich, Michael Rapaport, Rosie O’Donnell and more) run the gamut of emotional stages as some are satisfied with their lives and others are not, but all of them feel authentic. The story threads fold together so effortlessly, the performances feel so real and the Blu-ray debut is long overdue. Also, Natalie Portman. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Pitch: Glands will rise…
What’s It About? Science unchecked is a dangerous thing indeed, and this is never more true than when Jeffrey Combs is around. A scientist and his assistant (Combs) have created a new machine that parts the curtain between our world and the unseen one, and the result is death, insanity and S&M shenanigans. Barbara Crampton stars as the psychiatrist fulfilling that last bit.
Why Buy? The team behind the darkly comic, wonderfully gory classic, Re-Animator, return for a second stab at H.P. Lovecraft, and while the result isn’t as great, it remains great fun. Director Stuart Gordon returns alongside his stars in a film that ups the practical effects ante considerably but plays it a bit more serious. Combs gets to play hero while Crampton gets to cement her position as sexiest scream queen of the ’80s. Scream Factory once again delivers pure horror joy in beautiful HD glory. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, featurettes, gallery]
Pitch: Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in every role (except Abraham Lincoln)…
What’s It About? The 16th president of the United States led the country at a fractured and complicated time, and Steven Spielberg‘s film offers a look at the final four months of his life. The movie unexpectedly focuses very narrowly on Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed through a contentious Congress.
Why Buy? Spielberg films are far from guarantees when it comes to quality, witness War Horse and Always, but he’s made more than a few classics throughout his career. His biopic of Lincoln comes damn close to being another one as it eschews genre norms to create something more personal and legitimately powerful. Day-Lewis’ performance is a commanding experience well deserving of the Academy Award he won last month, the supporting cast is a never-ending list of familiar faces, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography manages to be stunning even as it pairs with the film’s essential simplicity, and not even John Williams’ obvious score can detract from the film’s effect. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes]
Star Trek Enterprise: Season One
Pitch: Oh boy…
What’s It About? The final Star Trek television series is the earliest in the timeline as it follows humanity’s first forays into outer space. The Enterprise NX-01 is Starfleet’s first ship to seek out new worlds, and it does so under the stewardship of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula). His human crew has added a Vulcan science officer by the name of T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) to help them in their bold new adventure, and the result is a near constant friction between species and fresh challenges along the way.
Why Buy? It seems like every new Trek after the original took its own share of heat from fans and critics, but this final one seemed to get more than Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager combined. Granted, the opening credits theme song deserved the hate, but the rest of the show is actually a fairly entertaining affair. Bakula’s charm and Blalock’s sexiness ensure the show is never boring, and the various adventures run the gamut of exciting, fun and goofy as hell. The series’ HD debut looks as sharp as can be expected too. [Blu-ray extras: Interviews, featurettes, commentaries]
Veep: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Never has there been so much suspense over the promise of a phone call…
What’s It About? Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) was a senator with aspirations towards the presidency, but fate had a more comical destination in mind. As Vice President of the United States her day to day life is filled with all manner of unimportant matters, but it’s not all bad. If nothing else she she gets to ensure that her staff suffers the same mundane fate she does.
Why Buy? HBO’s freshman comedy was drowned out a bit by the acclaim for Girls, Game of Thrones and
How to Make It In America, but it’s easily one of the funniest shows on TV. Louis-Dreyfus has masterful timing and a fantastically self-deprecating wit, and the supporting cast consists of funny people like Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons and best of all, Anna Chlumsky. Creator Armando Iannucci shows that In the Loop was no fluke as he continues to bring the biting political satire home. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, commentaries]
The Borgias: Season Two
Pitch: And you thought the actual pope was morally suspect…
What’s It About? Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons) fought hard to reach the papacy, but now that he’s in the big hat, the sights have been set on his own back. Drama erupts within his own family and from others thirsty for the power of Rome’s highest office. Can Alexander maintain his grasp on the job as well as troublesome adult children? Never bet against Irons.
Why Rent? Showtime’s series follows the trend of many pay-cable shows from the past few years by including some wonderfully gratuitous nudity and sex scenes, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to recommend a rental. Thankfully the show also has the great Irons in the lead role oozing a deliriously deceptive charm, and his performance combined with some strong, dramatic writing elevate this quite a few steps above mere T&A. [Blu-ray extras: Featurette, interviews, behind the scenes]
Pitch: Because it has a better ring to it than The Not At All Funny…
What’s It About? Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is 35-year-old asshole whose wealthy father is about to die, and as the days crawl by he entertains himself with a seemingly aimless and meaningless series of interactions with others. I say “seemingly” but there is in fact a method to his madness. He craves a connection with someone, anyone, but finds all he can do is continue to push opportunities away through cruelty and malice.
Why Rent? This decidedly unfunny drama will not only divide audiences, it will divide them 90/10 against. Swanson is a terrible person who grows more boring the more obnoxious he gets, and Heidecker’s deadpan delivery fits the character perfectly. This is in the rental section, but I wouldn’t actually recommend it to anyone without knowing their tastes first. So proceed at your own risk. [DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]
Day of the Falcon
Pitch: It’s like the opening of Argo spread across two full hours! Kind of…
What’s It About? The leaders (Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong) of two rival kingdoms in the Middle East reach a treaty that involves the gifting of one’s son, but when oil is discovered in their territories, their old feud returns with a passion. Also filled with passion is the relationship between their grown children who marry hoping for peace but find only pain instead.
Why Rent? Director Jean-Jacques Annaud is no stranger to epic filmmaking, and his latest certainly fits the bill on the visual front. It’s a beautiful adventure/drama punctuated with brief bits of action, but the weight of the story itself pales by comparison. There’s a lot going on to be sure, but none of it grabs the attention as well the visuals do. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, featurettes]
Easy Money (Snabba Cash)
Pitch: Rodney Dangerfield as a Swedish gangster? Yes please…
What’s It About? JW (Joel Kinnaman) is a business student on a budget, but when he gets a charitable taste of the life of the privileged he becomes addicted to all the trappings including the love of a wealthy heiress. He enters into a life of crime to sustain his new interests and soon finds himself in a violent triangle alongside an escaped convict and the mob enforcer on his tail.
Why Rent? This is essentially the film that got director Daniel Espinosa hired for Safe House, and while his Hollywood debut is the better movie, his talents are on full display here. The handful of action scenes are well crafted, and the character work is solid. I’m sure it was intentional for the convict and enforcer to be far more interesting characters than JW. Fine, maybe not. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: Welcome to the unholy alliance between the son of a Fonda and the mother of a Paltrow…
What’s It About? The Delos theme park had some troubles a few years ago when its animatronic characters took it upon themselves to slaughter some guests and employees, but all the bugs have been worked out now. Trust us! Chuck the reporter (Peter Fonda) has been invited to the new and improved park along with a talk show host (Blythe Danner) and several other high profile guests, but they discover that all is not well behind the park walls.
Why Rent? This sequel to Westworld doesn’t hold up as well, but there’s some fun to be had regardless. Fonda has probably flipped the bird in dozens of movies, but he does it here with such enthusiasm and joy that it alone is almost enough of a reason to see the film. (The other reason of course being Danner’s seduction of Yul Brynner.) That and the sci-fi trapping aside, this plays more like a ’70s-style paranoia thriller than anything else as the journalist uncovers a deadly corporate conspiracy. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer, radio spots, gallery]
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
Pitch: To be clear, this is ’80s-style gorgeous…
What’s It About? G.L.O.W. (aka the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) was a late ’80s Saturday morning show that pitted female characters against each other in and out of the ring. They also sang songs and performed skits that wouldn’t feel out of place on Hee Haw. It was never good television, but college students and the younger crowd ate up the cheese across all 100 episodes. This doc looks at the show through footage and present day interviews with the wrestlers.
Why Rent? The GLOW series was so goofy that it made regular WWF wrestling seem sincere and legit by comparison, but that was part of its charm. It was also nice seeing an all-female cast allowed to show off both their comedic and athletic sides on a weekly basis. This doc finds interesting elements in the show’s success, but it’s at its best when spending time with the women. A reunion towards the end even manages to tug at the heartstrings. [DVD extras: Commentary with Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins(?), interviews, deleted scenes, GLOW skits and raps, select matches, Q&A, featurettes]
Killing Them Softly
Pitch: A period crime drama set in 2008…
What’s It About? Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is a mob enforcer who gets called in to identify and dispatch a trio of low level criminals who’ve made the grave mistake of robbing a mob-backed game, but nothing is as simple as it sounds. Well, it is pretty simple actually, but there will be some verbal bumps along the way.
Why Rent? In addition to Pitt the film stars Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn and Sam Shepard, and that roster alone is all the reason you need to give this film a watch. Happily it’s also a surprisingly funny and somewhat interesting commentary on the American dream. Pitt is really at his best when he’s allowed to stretch his comedic muscles a bit, and writer/director Andrew Dominik allows him the opportunity here. [DVD extras: None]
What’s It About? Mike (James Le Gros) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) once faced an evil known only as the Tall Man whose army of jawa-like henchmen ferried human souls between dimensions for some reason or another, and now, after seven years in an asylum, Mike and the bald man are taking the fight to him.
Why Rent? Writer/director Don Coscarelli has crafted a handful of genre films for our enjoyment, but his legacy appears to be the Phantasm series. The films offer some cool effects and fun amidst the sheer, nonsensical narratives, but they’ve never been all that particularly engaging. This first sequel is no different in that the parts are greater than the sum. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailer]
A Royal Affair
Pitch: Something is sexy in the state of Denmark…
What’s It About? King Christian VII is a madman, and that insanity is killing his country. Queen Caroline’s marriage was a political decision that has left her heart empty, but when she strikes up a relationship with the king’s private physician (Mads Mikkelsen) the two discover more than a love for each other. They discover a shared loved for their country as well.
Why Rent? This Danish flick made the short list last year and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s easy to see why too as the movie is a sumptuous visual treat filled with romance and fantastic performances. Mikkelsen gets to play a softer character than he’s usually tasked with, but it only goes to show he’s both a lover and a fighter. [Blu-ray extras: Interviews, biographies, royal family tree, trailer] *NOTE: Image is from Canadian cover.*
To the Arctic
Pitch: They sent Meryl Streep to the North Pole and all we got was this mediocre nature doc…
What’s It About? Global warming is shrinking the polar ice caps, and the many animals who call the Arctic home are running short of food and living space. This IMAX doc takes a brief look at the situation with a minor focus on a mother polar bear and her two cubs.
Why Rent? There’s no denying this WB production features some spectacular photography, but it’s only enough to warrant a rental because it gets too much else wrong. The length hurts it for one thing, and yes it’s a product of this being an IMAX film but it means there’s very little meat here. The narration is more pushy than informative, there are too many people onscreen and/or talking and the inclusion of Paul McCartney songs feels overdone and out of place. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, trailer]
Pitch: They killed his family. Now he’s going to kick them…
What’s It About? As a boy, Manit (John Foo) watched his parents murdered before being shot in the head, but twenty years later he’s the one dishing out the pain against his attackers. His head injury left him incapable of feeling emotion, and there will be no sympathy for his targets.
Why Avoid? As a huge fan of martial arts films and revenge movies this Thai/French production comes as a major disappointment. Fight films are unique in that they really only need to do one thing well. The story and acting can be suspect, but as long as the fights are well choreographed and fun, the movie gets a pass. But this flick can’t even get that right — instead leaving viewers with the least charismatic hero and most boring fight scenes. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Skip it and watch Bangkok Revenge instead. (I’m of course referring to the Kevin Bacon/Djimon Hounsou one, aka Elephant White.)
Pitch: Would make for a fun episode of Hoarders…
What’s It About? Arkin escaped from a madman once, but he’s not free for long before a very wealthy man insists he enter the lion’s den once more. It seems the man’s teen daughter has been taken captive by the same killer after a nightclub massacre that saw her as the only survivor. Now Arkin and a team of mercenaries willingly enter the killer’s house of traps in search of poor Elena.
Why Avoid? Director Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector was a creative little horror flick that mixed Home Alone and Saw with fun results, but his follow-up lacks any of that film’s charm or originality. The premise is silly, the “elite” mercenaries are morons and the script leaves a lot to be desired. The only thing the film has going for it are a couple wonderfully bloody scenes including a fairly spectacular one in the nightclub, so if that’s all you crave then give the film a shot. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, alternate scenes, trailer]
Skip it and watch The Collector instead.
Pitch: If only the film were as cool as the lenticular DVD cover…
What’s It About? Professor John Venkenheim has been laughed out of university thanks to his theory that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was actually a true story. Intent on proving the world wrong he brings a documentary crew to the Arctic to search for the legendary beast, but as is wont to happen when documentary crews go looking for monsters, they find one.
Why Avoid? The premise here is an interesting twist on the norm in its inclusion of the Frankenstein monster as opposed to Bigfoot, ghosts or even aliens, but that alone isn’t enough to make the film work. It suffers from the same elements that drag down most found-footage movies including an abundance of uninteresting dialogue, limited exposure to the real threat and inexplicably bad camera work. Not only are there some questionable camera POVs but we also get instances of the Cloverfield classic… monster over there? Great! We’ll point the camera at the people reacting instead! [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Troll Hunter instead.
Men at Work: Season One
Pitch: From creator Breckin Meyer…
What’s It About? This TBS comedy follows the lives of four friends who work together at a magazine during the day and hang out at bars and diners at night. Milo (Danny Masterson), Neal (Adam Busch), Gibbs (James Lesure) and Tyler (Michael Cassidy) all have their ups and downs with women, but together they learn that bros before hos is the best way to live.
Why Avoid? All anyone can ask from a sitcom is that the show be funny, and in that regard this new series is a dud. Far too many jokes feel flat and obvious, and none of the characters are all that interesting. The actors are fine enough, but only Busch approaches anything resembling a consistently comedic personality. Plus, how do you open your series with Amy Smart only to drop her from subsequent episodes? [DVD extras: Outtakes, deleted scenes]
Skip it and watch Men Of a Certain Age instead.
Pitch: Director Andy Fickman. Where comedy goes to die…
What’s It About? Artie (Billy Crystal) and Diane (Bette Midler) are grandparents in name only as their daughter (Marisa Tomei) isn’t too keen on exposing them to her own children, but she’s forced to reconsider when she and her husband take a business trip. Wackiness ensues as the out of touch retirees try to rein in a trio of rambunctious kids. Crazy!
Why Avoid? If you’ve ever wondered what a comedy-free comedy looked like, wonder no more. The jokes and gags are all so tired, as if Crystal were simply reciting an old vaudeville routine, but none of the cast fares all that well. The comedic bits with the kids are forced and obvious and play out exactly as you expect. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurette]
Skip it and watch About a Boy instead.
Pitch: The original title was Whole Lotta Sole. This is not a joke…
What’s It About? Joe McGuire (Brendan Fraser) is an ex-pat shop owner in Ireland who enjoys the quiet, small town life. His routine is interrupted one day by a low-level crook who takes McGuire hostage in his shop with both the police and mob on his tail. Now the duo, along with a few surprise guests, have to devise a plan to stay alive.
Why Avoid? Hostage stories are always ripe for good character work and exciting suspense, and it doesn’t take much to create a passable variation at the very least. So why does director Terry George’s latest film suck so bad? The guy made Hotel Rwanda for Christ’s sake! But while that film had Don Cheadle, this one has Fraser, who even in his prime was just okay, and the result is a a lead who only knows how to act goofy heading up a tonally confused film that lacks suspense of any kind. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Hostage instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Continuum: Season One
A Man Escaped (Criterion)
Monsieur Verdoux (Criterion)
Sexsquatch: The Legend of Blood Stool Creek