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A young girl is found dead, brutally murdered and grotesquely displayed, and she’s not the first. The police have their suspect, but an over zealous cop crosses the line and the possibly murderous pedophile is set free. The cop decides to act on his own to bring the man to justice, but he’s beat to the punch by the little girl’s grieving, revenge-minded father, and soon the two are working together to get their prisoner to confess to his suspected evil deeds.
This wonderfully twisted Israeli thriller is the gorgeously shot and scored follow-up to writers/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado‘s underseen black comedy Rabies, but while it’s an even darker affair it’s also a more accessible one thanks to its high degree of suspense and strong sense of humor. It plays with convention and tone in fresh ways, keeps viewers on edge as to the truth and closes with a fantastic final shot.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette, trailer]
Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) is a WWII death camp survivor who runs a pawnshop deep in Harlem amid what he views as the dregs of society. For him these people are living proof of the worthlessness of life, and he despises their existence even as his misery feeds on their presence. He lost everything but his life in that camp, and he’s been barely clinging to life ever since. Surrounded by criminals and the downtrodden, the only burst of positive energy in his vicinity is his idealistic assistant Ortiz (Jamie Sanchez).
Sidney Lumet‘s film is nothing less than a devastating condemnation of humanity, and it should be prescribed to people who think too highly of their fellow man. Sol’s flashbacks to happier times are drowned out by memories of what followed, and those horrific images haunt his daily life. The film has absolutely no interest in softening the blow or making viewers feel better, and instead we’re left with a starkly realized look at the hell that is life. Olive Films’ Blu-ray shows off the black & white photography to gorgeous effect, and combined with Quincy Jones’ exciting and energetic score it makes for an affecting experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Jay (Scott Speedman) is a lovable asshole-type who scams everyone in his life into thinking he’s different and/or better than he actually is, but when an attractive imbecile (Evan Rachel Wood) follows him out of an asylum he decides to take her on a cross country trip. Chaos, hijinks and love ensue! Director Andrew Fleming previously made some fun films, but he’s saddled here with a script that finds “humor” in Wood’s simpleton, comes loaded with cliche and lacks a single believable element.
[DVD extras: None]
The infamous Bettie Page gets a revealing, affectionate and intimate documentary told with her very own words. She narrates the film via interviews she completed before her death in 2008, and her voice plays alongside archival photos and video that slowly reveal a tragic story, a personal triumph and an iconic figure behind the sexual revolution. It’s an engaging doc with a fascinating figure at its core.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, additional footage, music video, gallery]
Alex Fitch (Robert Downey Jr.) is a college grad looking for a career when he begins having flashbacks to his past life as a happily married man named Louie (Christopher McDonald) who died the day he was born twenty three years ago. The memories begin when he crosses paths with Louie’s still-grieving wife (Cybill Shepherd) and are complicated by his attraction both to her and her daughter (Mary Stuart Masterson). And by her daughter I mean Louie’s daughter. And by Louie I mean Alex. Complicated? A little. Creepy? Most definitely. And yet, the cast (which also includes Ryan O’Neal) is game for the perversion and romance, so you’re allowed to have fun with it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Lars von Trier‘s documentary sees him challenging filmmaker Jorgen Leth to remake his own 1967 short film five times, each with a handful of “obstructions” to make it more difficult and entertaining. Von Trier has been accused of maliciousness towards his female performers, but this film makes it clear it’s people in general he enjoys toying with. It’s an engaging experience complete with some laughs, some interesting observations on film and life and Leth’s shorts that only feel worthwhile in the context of the feature.
[DVD extras: Short film, commentary, trailer]
Hapkido features an oft-told tale of rival schools vying for authority and superiority, and Lady Whirlwind is a straight-up story of revenge. Angela Mao Ying stars in these two martial arts flicks from the early ’70s, and while neither is a classic there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Sammo Hung co-stars in both, and Jackie Chan cameos in one as well.
[DVD extras: Trailers, interviews]
Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) has been squinting and bumbling his way in and out of trouble since 1949, and this set brings together all 53 of his theatrical cartoons plus his singular feature film. It’s interesting seeing the character’s initial appearance change over the course of several shorts, both physically and behavior-wise, but the biggest shift is that he grows more humorous. He’s still incredibly far from bringing the laughs like Bugs Bunny, but he earns some laughs along the way.
[DVD extras: Making of, interviews, commentaries, photo gallery]
In the 1950s American prisons saw themselves besieged by planned riots in response to deplorable conditions and cruel prisoner treatment. In 1954, director Don Siegel (later of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry fame) and producer (and former inmate) Walter Wanger collaborated on this briskly-paced social realist drama addressing the difficulty of prison reform. While it’s very much a product of a ’50s liberalism of shared social responsibility, the film’s themes about how to imbue humanity within incarceration resonate with today’s expanding prison-industrial complex. Riot on Cell Block 11 is a serious piece of American film history and social history well worth preserving. – Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Performed excerpts from Siegel biographies and autobiographies; commentary by film scholar Matthew H. Bernstein; excerpts from a radio documentary about prison reform; an illustrated booklet featuring essays and interviews]
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai gets a Hong Kong remake courtesy of Sammo Hung, and the result is a lightweight action romp that lacks the dramatic intensity of its Japanese precursor but adds some zip and martial arts action instead. It’s a fair trade, and while the humor veers occasionally into the goofy it remains a solid enough action film throughout.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A man (Mekhi Phifer) is picked up by the police in a small rural community as a suspect in a recent bank robbery, but what follows is a twisty series of events, explanations and asides. Writer/director Stuart Connelly‘s film features an interesting setup that’s quickly extinguished through convoluted storytelling, ignorance and an obsession with flashbacks. Phifer, Sterling K. Brown and William Sadler all give strong performances, but they’re in the service of an idiotic script that thinks it’s far better and smarter than it actually is. It’s fairly terrible, but I need more people to see it so I can share the experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, extended scenes, commentaries, trailer]
How does a documentary filmmaker make a film about a documentary filmmaker, especially a documentary filmmaker who himself has made many documentaries about filmmakers? Emiko Omori, former collaborator to the late film essayist, approaches her subject in a way that admiringly imitates his work: this is a film less about Chris Marker and more about the documentarian’s (and other talking heads’) relationship to him and his work. While perhaps less evocative of Marker’s own psyche than his own films, To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter provides a touching portrait of one of non-fiction cinema’s greatest and most enigmatic experimenters.
[DVD extras: Trailers]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Fannie Fourie’s Lobola
The Good Witch’s Garden
Harold’s Going Stiff
The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger
The Lost Empire
Madea’s Neighbors from Hell: The Play
The Trials of Muhammad Ali