The Blu-ray/DVD Column: ‘The Burning,’ ‘The ABCs of Death,’ ‘Beautiful Creatures,’ ‘The Last Stand’ and More

discs murderer lives

Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

disc murderer livesThe Murderer Lives at 21 (UK release)

A murderer is stalking the streets of Paris, and his only calling card is a literal calling card bearing the name “Monsieur Durand.” The police are getting nowhere fast, but when a petty criminal offers evidence that the killer resides in a local boarding house a top detective goes in undercover to ferret the murderer out for arrest. Hilarity ensues.

I’m not kidding about it being hilarious either. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot would go on to make Wages of Fear, Diabolique and others, but his debut film shows an assured hand with both the visual style and a fantastic tonal balance between the mystery and the laughs. The dialogue moves at a ’40s screwball comedy pace, and it’s loaded with wit, smarts and innuendo. Even more impressive is the film’s final shot… especially knowing it was shot during the Nazi occupation of France. [UK DVD extras: Interview]

Discs Section: Buy

disc burningThe Burning

Pitch: A man is burned by punk kids. He gets understandably angry…

What’s It About? Cropsy is the oft-abused caretaker at a summer camp, but when a prank goes awry and results in him suffering severe burns the kids go on with their lives. Cropsy doesn’t forget though, and years later he returns to camp to square off against the now grown punks who did him wrong. Graphically violent murders ensue.

Why Buy? This is a rare ’80s slasher that actually deserves more recognition than it’s received. It could easily have gone the Friday the 13th route if its creators (including the Weinsteins!) had handled it better. It plays out as expected plot-wise, but the stream of recognizable faces (Fisher Stevens! Jason Alexander! Holly Hunter!) and fantastic gore effects from Tom Savini help make it an entertaining watch. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, interviews, trailer]

disc ultimate gangsters clasUltimate Gangsters Collection: Classics

Pitch: Bad guys and girls who love their guys bad…

What’s It About? Warner Bros. is the self-proclaimed “studio that defined the genre” when it comes to gangster movies, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. The first of two new collections hitting streets today features four true classics from the ’30s and ’40s including Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, The Petrified Forest and White Heat.

Why Buy? Of the four films only The Petrified Forest was new to me, but it fits in well with the other three more recognizable titles. It lacks the driving, charismatic lead of a James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson (although it does feature Humphrey Bogart in an important supporting role), but it finds real drama in its story of people trapped in their circumstances. The contemporary films below unsurprisingly add far more depth and style, but these classics have held up for a reason. [Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes]

disc ultimate gangsters conUltimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary

Pitch: Includes four fantastic movies, plus Mean Streets

What’s It About? Warner Bros. ode to gangsters continues with this collection of five modern films from recognized directors. The set includes Martin Scorsese‘s Mean Streets, Goodfellas and The Departed alongside Brian De Palma‘s The Unouchables and Michael Mann‘s Heat.

Why Buy? This is pretty much a no-brainer at less than $10 per movie, especially since each film retains their previous special features too. All five are considered modern classics, but I’d be lying if I said they were all equal. Scorsese’s Mean Streets is simply an okay character piece while the other four remain deserving of praise. [Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes, trailer, deleted scenes]

disc vacationVacation

Pitch: “This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy…”

What’s It About? Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his wife (Beverly D’Angelo) are looking toward a relaxing road trip with their two kids, but everything that can go wrong does as their efforts are thwarted by family, nature, unforeseen park closures and a sexy and seductive model (Christie Brinkley). But if there’s one thing about Clark it’s that he’s extremely unlucky. And if there’s another it’s that he has no intention of giving up on his family.

Why Buy? This remains (along with Animal House) the reason why people used to attribute National Lampoon movies with actual hilarity. Director Harold Ramis and writer John Hughes deliver a comedy with staying power, and while it spawned less effective sequels, the original remains a fantastic roadtrip into comedic mayhem. John Candy even gets a chance to shine and does so wonderfully. [Blu-ray extras: Featurette, commentary, trailer]

Discs Section: Rent

disc abcs of deathThe ABCs of Death

Pitch: All letters are not created equal…

What’s It About? Drafthouse Films orchestrated this unique anthology featuring 26 different shorts from 26 different writer/directors including Nacho Vigalondo, Angela Bettis, Noboru Iguchi, Ti West, Simon Rumley, Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener and more.

Why Rent? The format is hit or miss by its very nature, but this film leans heavily towards the bad and uninteresting. Still though, the handful of great ones are quite great indeed, and even some of the duds offer up some crazy visuals. Fans of gore, perversion and disgusting things should find at least a few to enjoy. There’s a solidly entertaining selection of special features too, making it a must buy for those of you who already know you’re a fan. [Blu-ray extras: Making ofs, deleted scenes, commentaries]

disc dark circlesAfter Dark Originals: Dark Circle

Pitch: Moving to the country is never the right idea…

What’s It About? Alex and Penny are new parents who make the mistake of heading to a home in the country for some peace and quiet. It’s not long before they each start seeing strange things, most notably the figure of a creepy ass woman roaming the house. Things deteriorate from there leading to madness, murder and a serious depreciation in their home’s value.

Why Rent? The After Dark banner has seen more than a few stinkers pass through their doors, but they’ve also released some low profile winners. This one is a bit more middle of the road with its setup working far better than its denouement, but along the way there are some wonderfully creepy sequences and scares. [DVD extras: Behind the scenes, commentary]

disc beautiful creaturesBeautiful Creatures

Pitch: Best YA adaptation of the past few years. Not saying much, but still…

What’s It About? Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is a curious and intelligent teen with personality who had the bad misfortune of being born into the close-minded little town of Gatlin, SC. The only thing he dreams about more than getting out of town is of a mysterious brunette, and when Lena (Alice Englert) arrives in town amidst a flurry of fear and rumors he quickly realizes that she’s the woman of his dreams. Even stranger? She’s part of a family of magical casters and the world is heading towards a potentially cataclysmic event on her birthday.

Why Rent? Adaptation of young adult books often leave a lot to be desired thanks to sexist stereotypes and fairly familiar tales, but this one shakes things up in some interesting ways. First it essentially tells the story from the human boy’s perspective, and second it makes both of the lovebirds interesting and charismatic people. The pair would be worth watching even without the magic and the action, and that’s something that can be said for so very few YA adaptations. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, trailer]

disc captain americaCaptain America

Pitch: Ronny Cox does his best Harrison Ford as US president…

What’s It About? Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) is a tall, skinny patriot who volunteers for a top secret program being developed to fight the Nazi hordes, and it turns him into a super soldier. Cap heads into the trenches and comes face to face with the Red Skull before winding up frozen. He thaws out four decades later to discover the villain remains a threat.

Why Rent? Make no mistake, this 1990 attempt at Marvel magic is in no way comparable to the company’s current slate of blockbusters, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun bit of retro entertainment. The action and effects are more enthusiastic than impressive, but its heart is in the right place and fans of of the good Captain will find it worthwhile. [Blu-ray extras: Featurette]

disc last kind wordsLast Kind Words

Pitch: It, it was, soap! Poisoning…

What’s It About? Eli (Spencer Daniels) has the great misfortune of moving with his parents to a ranch in rural Kentucky, but the backwoods location offers more than just loneliness and banjo music. He meets a teenage girl (Alexia Fast) who introduces him to skinny dipping, love and death. Not necessarily in that order.

Why Rent? The film is being marketed as a horror film (for purely commercial reasons), but it’s actually far more of a coming of age drama. Granted, there are dead bodies, murder and ghostly happenings, but still. It’s slow going and requires viewer attention, but fans of small, slowburns may want to give it a try. Brad Dourif co-stars as a neighbor who knows more than he’s letting on, and it’s always good to see him too. [DVD extras: None]

disc last standThe Last Stand

Pitch: He’s too old for these shenanigans…

What’s It About? A high profile and extremely dangerous criminal has made a daring escape from federal authorities, and he’s heading for the Mexican border. The only thing between him and freedom is a small town sheriff (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his tiny police department. Well, there’s also a local gun nut (Johnny Knoxville) hiding an arsenal in his barn.

Why Rent? Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen in a lead role completely tanked at the box office, but there’s more than enough good here to warrant a watch. The violence and action are well staged, and the script offers a few fun quips. Korean director Kim Jee-woon has proven himself capable of far better, and while this pales beside those earlier films it’s probably as good as can be expected from his American debut. But there’s no excuse for the green screen bullshit. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, featurettes, deleted scenes]

disc nightfallNightfall

Pitch: You say victim, I say killer, potato, potahto…

What’s It About? A famed concert pianist is found brutally murdered, and Det. Lam (Simon Yam) is on the case. He’s grizzled, tired and torn in two directions by loss of his wife and his efforts at raising his teen daughter, but he’s determined to catch the killer (Nick Cheung). The more he digs though the more disturbing the truth becomes.

Why Rent? The director of Aaron Kwok’s dark and crazy Murderer returns with a slightly more straightforward tale that still manages to paint the walls red. We know who the killer is from early on, but the mystery comes in his motivation. It’s grueling stuff at times, but the film is stylish, slick and entertaining too. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, trailer]

disc parkerParker

Pitch: He just wants what’s his, and what was Mel Gibson’s before him. And what was Lee Marvin’s before him

What’s It About? Parker (Jason Statham) is a criminal who lives by a strict honor code, and when he finds himself double-crossed and left for dead by his latest crew he returns for what’s owed him. Somewhere along the way Jennifer Lopez butts into the picture.

Why Rent? Donald Westlake‘s “The Hunter” has been brought to the screen twice before in Lee Marvin’s Point Blank and Mel Gibson’s Payback, and it would seem someone wanted to see it again. (This new one is technically credited to Westlake’s “Flashfire” but it sure looks identical to the others.) Statham gets some solid fight action in her most noticeably a hotel room brawl that truly impresses, but the story feels a bit too loose and unfocused. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]

disc this girl is badassThis Girl Is Badass

Pitch: It’s the Thai remake of Quicksilver you didn’t know you wanted…

What’s It About? Jeeja Yanin is a bike messenger specializing in illegal deliveries for some very shady people. Two mob bosses in particular make use of her services, but it’s not long before they’re at each others throats with her caught in the middle. Good thing she’s a badass martial artist too.

Why Rent? Yanin is an extremely talented fighter who I would love to see break away from her Thai handlers because with very rare exceptions the films are infused with terribly unfunny comedy. The dearth of laughs aside, this flick features some solidly entertaining set pieces that show off Yanin’s talents again and again. There’s still wire work to be found, but there’s more than enough pure action too. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, behind the scenes, trailer]

disc town that dreadedThe Town That Dreaded Sundown

Pitch: Curious where the Zodiac killer lived before moving to the Bay Area? Say hello to Texarkana, Arkansas…

What’s It About? The small town of Texarkana slipped into a nightmare in 1946 when a masked man began a series of attacks on couples in remote locations. Five people were murdered, three others were wounded, and the killer was never apprehended.

Why Rent? Charles B. Pierce’s film looks at the murders in a narrative format that allows for documentary-like narration at times, and while it doesn’t fully work it’s an interesting attempt. More troubling is the film’s oddly tone-deaf stabs at comedy. But those moments aside the film does manage some truly scenes thanks to the killer’s appearance and methods. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer, photo gallery, The Evictors feature film]

disc true blood5True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season

Pitch: Seriously people. Move out of this damn town…

What’s It About? The crazy world of Bon Temps, LA just keeps getting crazier. Sookie is struggling to deal with her faerie gifts and the shooting of her best friend Tara, Bill and Eric are working together under the Vampire Authority, Sam continues to shift his way through the shifty world of shifters, Alcide is taking off his shirt in a bid to fight werewolves and Jason has sex.

Why Rent? This show lost my allegiance a couple seasons ago because it’s simply ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. It’s not enough for things to be weird to make me tune in each week, I need interesting characters too. That’s not a problem on disc though, and the show is a fun one for burning through a couple episodes at a time. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer, photo gallery, The Evictors feature film]

Discs Section: Avoid

disc charlie casanovaCharlie Casanova

Pitch: You don’t know it but it already wants to waste your time…

What’s It About? Charlie (Emmett Scanlan) is doing pretty well for himself. He’s a husband, father, successful businessman, and on top of it all he’s somewhat of a prick. It’s that last personality trait that’s on the rise thanks to an accidental hit and run. He lets a deck of playing cards decide the dying woman’s fate, and his journey towards being a full blown sociopath begins.

Why Avoid? There are some fantastic, darkly comic movies focused on bad people we can’t help but be drawn towards, but even though this flick’s DVD case name checks a few of them, the film within pales by comparison. Performances are fine throughout, but the script feels forced far too often. The film also doesn’t handle its ultra low budget very well resulting in a movie that’s sometimes difficult to watch for all the wrong reasons. [DVD extras: Making of, interview, trailer, gag reel, commentary]

Skip it and watch Roger Dodger instead.

disc common manA Common Man

Pitch: Hmm, Ben Kingsley as a terrorist? Sounds fishy…

What’s It About? A man (Ben Kingsley) places five bombs around the city before notifying the police with his demands. He wants several incarcerated terrorists freed, boarded onto a plane and flown to a designated location or he’ll set off the bombs. The officer in charge (Ben Cross) races to stop him and discover his motivation.

Why Avoid? The two leads are fine enough actors, but the film simply meanders its way through a somewhat obvious storyline with no real surprises or thrills. There’s drama that becomes evident, but it’s essentially weightless and something we’ve seen before. [Blu-ray extras: None]

Skip it and watch Iron Man 3 instead.

disc ecstasyIrvine Welsh’s Ecstasy

Pitch:Ecstasy is to ecstasy what Trainspotting was to heroin,” say the wordsmiths at The Toronto Star…

What’s It About? Lloyd is a happy-go-lucky guy living it up amidst Scotland’s drug-filled dance scene where’s he’s content having fun, trafficking narcotics in his bum and shagging an 18 year old. But when he meets a girl with class (Kristin Kreuk) he decides to leave it all behind… at least until some big players drag him back into the game and threaten everything he’s now decided is important.

Why Avoid? Irvine Welsh’s novel has been brought to the screen by folks who really, really want to create the next Trainspotting (also from Welsh). Despite director Rob Heydon’s best attempts at funky editing and scenes set to techno though the movie just never comes together. We don’t care about Lloyd or his plight, the story and characters lack their predecessor’s social commentary and the gangster storyline just feels generic. [DVD extras: None]

Skip it and watch Trainspotting instead.

disc stand up guysStand Up Guys

Pitch: No, seriously guys, do you need help standing up? We’re losing the light…

What’s It About? Val (Al Pacino) has just gotten out of jail after nearly thirty years behind bars, and waiting for him outside is his long-time friend Doc (Christopher Walken). As much as the pair would love to settle into the normal swing of things, escaping the crime world isn’t all that easy. Forced into a corner, they team up with Hirsch (Alan Arkin) and set out for one last adventure.

Why Avoid? It’s hard to argue with a trio of headliners like Pacino, Walken and Arkin, but the film that finally brought them together is hardly worth the effort. The fault isn’t with the actors as they all deliver fine, but the film is just so lifeless. And while casting younger women against older men is a Hollywood staple it gets more than a little ridiculous here. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]

Skip it and watch Going in Style instead.

disc struck by lightningStruck By Lightning

Pitch: He was a special kid. Unfortunately, he knew it…

What’s It About? Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer) didn’t expect to be struck by lightning in the school parking lot, but it’s happened and he’s dead. Looking back on his life reveals a teen who’s a bit too mature for his age, and definitely well beyond his peers. While he tries to build interest in the school paper and creative writing his classmates continually prove their interests lay elsewhere. The last few weeks of his life are going to be killer.

Why Avoid? The cast is chock full of familiar faces including Rebel Wilson, Allison Janney, Dermot Mulroney, Christina Hendricks and the older daughter from Modern Family, but the script (by Colfer) fails them all in its obvious, generic nature. It also thinks the film and lead character are far smarter than they actually are. Jokes fall flat and ultimately Colfer isn’t lead material. [Blu-ray extras: Behind the scenes, interviews, bloopers, deleted scenes]

Skip it and watch Powder instead.

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:

Cold Eyes of Fear
Last Kind Words
Love Sick Love
Medium Cool (Criterion)
Ooga Booga
Open Road
Penny Pinchers
Picture Day
Robert Mitchum Is Dead
The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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