Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
2012’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT is a tragedy that will hang in the public consciousness for years to come, and as is always the case with events like this the media and the public find themselves desperate for answers as to why and how it could have happened. PBS’ continually excellent program, Frontline, takes a look at the shooter and the sole constant in his life, his mother.
The public perception of the shooter is limited to simple, catchy headlines, rumors and repeated claims of his interest in guns and videogames, but unlike the attention whores dominating the 24 hour news cycle, Frontline takes time to get to the truth of the matter. They touch upon his interests, but instead of laying blame they make a point of acknowledging that those same interests were shared by many other boys, too. The issue here is mental health and a mother in over her head, and while I’m not a fan of giving the killers additional publicity in the press (via their name) it’s worthwhile when paired with journalism done right. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: Tom Hanks plays ethnic, Hugh Grant plays evil, Halle Berry plays characters who aren’t annoying…
What’s It About? Six stories separated by time and space but joined by the common themes of humanity, this is the rare epic that didn’t come out of Hollywood. Actors play multiple roles, and the stories move (mostly) seamlessly from one to the next and back again. Acts of kindness and oppression intermingle with beauty and ugliness, and the result is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Why Buy? Of course, there’s no way in hell this movie would or could have come out of Hollywood anyway. It’s ambitious to a fault, and while that alone isn’t enough to watch a near three hour movie, the film offers plenty of other reasons as well. There’s action, sci-fi, romance, drama, comedy and more, and it’s all held together by a sense of wonder and an ethereal score. Sure there’s also some goofiness, but the good and great far outweighs the broadly ridiculous. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: Where they’re going, they just need food and water…
What’s It About? Nature and the evil of mankind come together to create an epic tragedy in this true story from one of China’s many dark days. After a devastating drought leaves millions on the edge of death, the government proves themselves incapable and unwilling when it comes to doing what must be done.
Why Rent? Director Feng Xiaogang follows up his equally powerful real-life drama Aftershock with another tale meant to dramatize some terrible happenings in our collective past, but while it’s quite good and visually impressive it doesn’t quite manage the heart and emotion of his previous film. It’s worth noting that is a bit of an international production thanks to Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins playing supporting roles alongside a talented Chinese cast. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer]
Pitch: The title is almost as unappealing as the killer’s modus operandi…
What’s It About? Four women spend the last few years of WWII serving their country as clerical workers, but while their families and friends think they’re simply filing and typing their days away the women are actually doing much more. Their real job involves applying their intelligence and puzzle-solving skills to crack enemy codes. They’re dispersed once the war ends, but a grisly series of murders in London draws them together once more to see if their abilities can stop a killer.
Why Rent? This three part UK series tells an engaging mystery with a fairly unique setup. The women come from disparate parts of society, from homemaker to wild woman to spinster to the youngest just out of her teens, and they offer a solid spectrum across post-WWII society. Some story elements feel obvious, but the narrative is never boring thanks to a fine mix of quality acting and social commentary. I can easily see the quartet returning for a follow-up adventure. [DVD extras: Interviews]
Pitch: Brion James plays as close to a human rat as you can get without actually adding whiskers…
What’s It About? A businessman hires a pair of hitmen to kill his partner, but when his wife witnesses the murder she finds herself added to the target list. She’d probably be in danger if any of these guys were in any way competent.
Why Rent? Director Sam Raimi followed his now-classic The Evil Dead with this extremely broad comedy and brought Bruce Campbell along for the ride. All of Raimi’s comedic trademarks are there, but the biggest surprise is in the opening credits when you see Ethan and Joel Coen‘s names alongside Raimi’s as the screenwriters. It’s a fun film that reminds of Johnny Dangerously as much as anything else. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, trailer, interviews]
Pitch: What’s worse than your sister catching you masturbating…
What’s It About? After six seasons of murderous shenanigans Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) secret has finally been discovered by someone important. His sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) has caught him in the act and must now live with the knowledge, but keeping her innate conscience and detective’s morals at bay won’t be easy.
Why Rent? The seventh season lost some fans, but I’d argue it’s a solid balance of new thrills and old. Deb’s new knowledge is handled well by Carpenter’s acting abilities and the writers, and the various supporting characters brought some interesting storylines as well including a love interest (Yvonne Strahovski) for Dex and a fantastic turn by Ray Stevenson as a ruthless Russian mobster. Next season is meant to be the last, and this one does a fine job of setting up the final narrative lap. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Pitch: It’s like Centurion but with a teenage girl playing the Michael Fassbender role…
What’s It About? The Black Plague has ravaged the continent leaving a populace scarred and shaken by death, and in order to avoid the dreary masses (and the stench of death) some families head to the countryside for a new life. Disease isn’t the only thing worth fearing though, and one family meets their end at the hands of a group of thugs. The daughter is taken alive though, and as her fate begins to come clear she makes a daring escape leading to a chase across an unforgiving landscape.
Why Rent? The awesomely named Roar Uthaug, best known for the fantastic Norwegian slasher Cold Prey, directs this beautifully-shot adventure pitting a teenage girl against ruthless killers. It’s an exciting watch filled with some fun set-pieces, and it’s a nice change of pace seeing the ruffians led by an equally vicious woman too. The blond on the Blu-ray cover to the right? She’s the bad guy.[Blu-ray extras: Bloopers, deleted scenes, featurette]
Pitch: Movie go bust…
What’s It About? Frank (Charlie Hunnam) just wants to live a normal life, but his older brother Bruce (Chris O’Dowd) has ensured that will never happen. The older, less responsible sibling tapes Frank’s latest sexual encounter complete with some embarrassing hiccups and puts it online, but when they discover the woman (Lizzay Caplan) is the daughter of a violent and unstable porn producer (Chris Noth) things get complicated.
Why Avoid? Like the recent Revenge for Jolly, this film proves that a fantastic cast is no guarantee for even a good movie. In addition to the players above Ron Perlman and Nora Dunn join the fray, but the laughs are conspicuously absent. Some of the blame lies with the script, but having a charisma-free lead actor doesn’t help matters. [Blu-ray extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scenes, featurette, trailer]
Skip it and watch A Fish Called Wanda instead.
Pitch: Can’t get enough of Charlie Sheen playing himself? Have I got a movie for you…
What’s It About? Charles Swan (Charlie Sheen) is a self-made man whose success led to a life filled with copious amounts of women, but when he loses the one that really mattered he turns to his family and friends for advice on how to move forward.
Why Avoid? Writer/director Roman Coppola’s film is a stylized comedy that could very well be found in the dictionary under “acquired taste.” The cast is impressive with Sheen being joined onscreen by Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman Aubrey Plaza, Patricia Arquette and others, but the excessive quirk and unfunny comedy makes it hard to enjoy. [DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Skip it and watch Rushmore instead.
Pitch: What happens in Vegas gets shipped out of town in an ice chest…
What’s It About? A group of friends head to Las Vegas for a birthday celebration, but when seek out some professional ladies willing to give up the fleshy goods they get far more than they bargained for. The women lure them out to a remote house, shake their moneymakers and then start stealing organs.
Why Avoid? The plot here is nothing we haven’t seen already in Hostel, Hostel II and Hostel III (not to mention dozens of films not called Hostel), and Stripped adds nothing new to the genre. It tries to stand apart by making the majority of the movie found footage, but that’s never a good idea. The characters are far from memorable, the kills are bland and the Hooker M.D.s aren’t even all that sexy. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and go listen to Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration instead.
Pitch: Because “Massacre” is a bit of a spoiler apparently…
What’s It About? Decades after the slaughter documented in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 thriller The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the story continues when the world’s youngest forty-year-old woman inherits an old house from a relative she never knew existed. Heather (Alexandra Daddario) and her friends head to the small town to investigate the inheritance, but they discover a terrible secret still lives and breathes in the basement.
Why Avoid? This umpteenth incarnation of the very familiar tale earns some good will for going the direct sequel route and featuring some bloody good gore effects, but there’s little else here. Characters act just as you’d expect, both victims and redneck townspeople, and the only real surprise comes with the ending. That’s not to imply it works though, just that it takes an untraditional turn. Still, that’s not enough to warrant a watch or lift this above the several other remakes/sequels. [Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes, alternate opening]
Skip it and watch Frailty instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
3:10 to Yuma (Criterion)
Fangoria Presents: Germ Z
The Unbelievable Truth