‘The Den,’ ‘The Big Chill’ and ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ Are the Best Blu-ray/DVD Releases of the Week

IFC Midnight

IFC Midnight

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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

The-Den-DVDThe Den

Liz (Melanie Papalia) has received a grant to study The Den, a popular online video-chat service (like ChatRoulette) that matches up strangers for conversations, interactions and dick pics. After being pranked a few times by bored kids she witnesses what she believes to be a real murder and calls the police. Nothing comes of it, but she’s thereafter harassed by a particular user capable of infiltrating and controlling her laptop. Soon her friends and family are targeted by the unknown assailant and Liz is forced into an online fight with real-world consequences.

You have every right and reason to be leery. This horror flick is composed entirely of footage captured on webcams, cell phones, GoPros and more. Even less promising, the images are displayed as video windows on a computer screen. I know. It sounds terrible. But here’s the thing. The Den is a fantastic slice of A/V horror that handily avoids most of the issues the “found footage” format is saddled with again and again. It’s also legitimately scary, creative and features a heroine who grows on you like a sexy, spunky, grad school fungus. [My full review.]

[DVD extras: Commentary, behind the scenes, trailer]


big chillThe Big Chill (Criterion)

Lawrence Kasdan’s celebrated ensemble finds a group of boomer-generation former college circle coming together after a friend’s suicide and dealing with the inevitability of going square in the ‘80s, forever in the shadows of their ‘60s pseudo-revolutionary heyday. The Big Chill features in incredible cast (Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Jeff Goldblum, the entrancing Meg Tilly, and more) striking a perfect balance of sly humor, palpable chemistry, and genuine drama. It’s the type of movie that features the cast singing and dancing to a Motown song in a kitchen but won’t have you rolling your eyes, accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack that only comes across as cliché in 2014 because it was so influential in 1983.

Beyond a brief new interview with Kasdan and an essay by Lena Dunham that might literally bring you to tears (as it did for me), Criterion doesn’t exactly bring a great deal of new material to this already widely available and popularly celebrated film (the package’s deleted scenes unfortunately keep the much-discussed but little-seen flashback scene apocryphal). But The Big Chill truly was one of the best and most resonant dramas of the 1980s, and you won’t find a better way to see this essential piece of Americana than Criterion’s 4K transfer. – Landon Palmer

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview with Kasdan; Footage from a 30th anniversary cast reunion; 1998 documentary on the film’s making; Deleted scenes; Trailer; Illustrated booklet with essays]

vivianFinding Vivian Maier

John Maloof was looking only for old, black & white photographs when he bid on and won a box of negatives at a public auction in 2007. He had never heard of the photographer, Vivian Maier, and neither had anyone else. He found it odd if only because the photos showed an eye for both the beauty and tragedy of humanity. A Google search came up equally empty at first, but as time passed he bought additional boxes of her property (eventually amassing over 100,000 negatives, rolls of undeveloped film and more) before discovering an obituary notice in 2009. Maier had died at the age 83 in the same obscurity in which she had lived.

Like Searching for Sugar Man or A Band Called Death, Maloof’s film (co-directed by Charlie Siskel) introduces us to an artist who never found the success they probably deserved earlier in life. There are two major differences though. She’s no longer alive to enjoy any long overdue success, and it’s not a story of someone trying and failing to find success with their art — she never tried at all. The question as to why she never really shared her photos is one left mostly unanswered by the film, but we do get a fascinating and revealing glimpse into who this enigma of an artist was. [My full review.]

[DVD extras: Super 8 footage, audio recordings of Vivian Maier, photo gallery, trailer]

ong bakThe Ong Bak Trilogy

Ting (Tony Jaa) just wants to relax and practice his religion in peace, but when some ignorant thugs come and steal an icon of great importance to his village Ting is forced to head to the big city to get it back. The second film moves several hundred years into the past — because why not — and sets Jaa as a man named Tien who is forced into a life of sin after his parents are murdered but then gets a chance at revenge. Finally, the third movie sees Tien at death’s door but healed through the power of meditation, faith and karmic massage.

There’s no denying that the trilogy — filmed over seven years — is an example of steadily decreasing quality, but even the weakest film features some spectacular action set pieces and fight sequences. Jaa’s latest (see way below) is over-run with CGI and wire work, but these films (for the most part) highlight a physical talent that repeatedly leaves jaws on floors both in awe and because he’s knocked them the f*ck out of bad guys’ faces.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, live performance, music video, trailer, alternate cut (Ong Bak 2), interviews]


Adventure Time: Princess Day

What’s better than sixteen episodes of Adventure Time? How about sixteen episodes focused on princesses! I’m of the opinion that TV on DVD releases should be done in complete seasons only, but it’s hard to fault Cartoon Network for finding themes populous enough to warrant a release. They’ve done the same with “Regular Show,” and while my advice remains the same (wait for the full season release) these stop-gaps can be good fun.

[DVD extras: Featurette]

Amber Alert: Terror on the Highway

Larsan (Tom Berenger) is not in the best mental state right now. Recently released from prison, he’s found the outside world an inhospitable place and his ex-wife’s home even chillier. So he takes the most logical course of action and kidnaps two teenage girls for a road trip towards Mexico. This is a better thriller than last year’s abysmal Amber Alert, but that’s like saying an irreversible coma is better than death. It’s still a movie you’re better off skipping. Berenger just seems sad as he hasn’t quite mastered the art of simply sleepwalking through direct to DVD fare like Eric Roberts or Michael Madsen do.

[DVD extras: None]

At War With the Army

Alvin (Jerry Lewis) and Vic (Dean Martin) were best friends once upon a time, but that all changed once the duo entered the Army. Now Vic is a Sergeant and Alvin is a Private, and their paths only seem to cross when the latter’s in trouble. This is lesser Martin/Lewis, perhaps one of the reasons why it was allowed to enter the public domain, but there are more than a few laughs to be found for fans of the duo. They sing, they do voices and the film is at its best when the pair are bantering back and forth.

[DVD extras: None]

Cuban Fury

As a young boy, Bruce (Nick Frost) was in love with the art of salsa dancing, but an encounter with sparkle-hating bullies led him to denounce his gift and the allure of the dance floor. Years later, the now adult Bruce discovers a reason to reignite the Latin fire within when his new boss (Rashida Jones) mentions a similar interest. But can his twin desires stand up to a threat from his bad boy co-worker (Chris O’Dowd)? Frost is a super amiable performer, and his presence in the lead makes for a nice, sweet little rom-com. The laughs though come mainly from O’Dowd.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, Q&A]


A group of actresses come together for an unusual audition process at the director’s (John Vernon) secluded home, but one by one the fall victim to a masked killer. This early ’80s Canadian thriller is primarily remembered for the scene of the creepy-ass masked madman skating across the ice in slow motion, and having finally seen the entire film it remains the visual highlight. The story is a bit half-baked and the style seems highly inconsistent, but other elements including a doll sequence and Vernon make for a mildly entertaining watch. Better though is the new making of featurette included on this new disc from Synapse Films as it explores a fascinating series of decisions and failures that led to the film’s creation. The new Blu-ray also looks incredibly sharp and most likely the best the film has appeared in its entire existence.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, vintage doc, commentary, interviews, trailer]


It’s the near future, or an alternate one anyway, and the Devil’s Cauldron is a city filled with evildoers. Mozart and Julius have been friends since they were kids, but now as adults they find themselves at violent odds over the love of the same woman. This Thai flick is a sad affair in the script, acting, plot and production design departments, but the fights and action scenes are entertaining enough to warrant a watch. Damn thing really doesn’t need to be two hours long though.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

It Felt Like Love

Lila is fourteen years old and struggling to keep up with her slightly older, far more sexually experienced best friend Chiara. With no mother at home and the kind but casual authority of her father holding no sway at all, Lila maneuvers herself into a relationship that is no relationship at all. Writer/director Eliza Hittman’s film is a dreamy, smartly shot look at a girl whose looming sexuality is beating her brain to the punch when it comes to growing up and becoming a woman. It’s a difficult watch at times as it leaves you feeling like something of a pervy voyeur, but aside from a scene late in the film the intrusive feeling stems from non-explicit material. That makes it no less icky.

[DVD extras: Short film, trailer, image gallery]


A reptilian creature the size of a small bus is roaming the Chinese countryside, and only Travis Preston (Scott Adkins) can find it. Look, I love Adkins almost as much as I love bus-sized monsters, but this is a sad little adventure. The opening line — about how every biologist in the world  believes there are no new animal species left to discover — sets the film on a ludicrously dumb path from which it never recovers. Add to that some hideous CGI and a severe lack of Adkins spin-kicks, and you have a movie that should really appeal to no one. 

[DVD extras: Interviews, making of]


Jonathan (Garrett Hedlund) has returned home to a family he’s intentionally estranged from, and the reason is far from celebratory. His father (Richard Jenkins) is dying from inoperable cancer, and unwilling to wait out the inevitable he’s decided to make an executive decision with his life’s duration. This is a fine little drama about family in all its dynamics, all its ups and downs and all its rewards and pains. Hedlund has never been a particularly charismatic actor, but here he holds his own against far more seasoned (and interested) actors. Funny, sweet and sad, the film hits especially hard for those of us with father issues.

[DVD extras: None]


It’s the story of a man, a boat and a whole lot of confused morality. You already know the story, but you’ve never seen it told like this before. There are some spectacular visuals and impressive, Lord of the Rings-like battle sequences, but all the effects in the world can’t hide a dumb narrative. Highlights include: When they roofied all the animals. When the bad guys pulled out their rocket launchers. When Anthony Hopkins fingered Hermione to magically grant her ovaries. When Ham eyeballs his infant nieces knowing in a few years he’ll be making one of them his wife. Here endith the highlights.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]

On My Way

Bettie (Catherine Deneuve) has already led a full life by the time her boyfriend cheats and sends her tumbling toward despair at the pain in both her heart and her wallet. She sets out for a quick drive, but it soon turns into something far more necessary as she meets people old and new on her way to discovering the importance of being true to herself. The drama and humor here, but the key to the film’s charm and appeal is entirely in Deneuve’s performance.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, interview]

The Other Woman

Carly (Cameron Diaz) is a successful corporate lawyer who may have finally found “the one,” but a surprise visit to his home reveals a disturbing secret. There’s a woman in a bathrobe there. Worse, it’s Mark’s wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). The two become unlikely friends, and when they discover a third woman (Kate Upton) who’s been spending time in Mark’s pants the three join forces to teach him a lesson about hell, fury and scorned women. This will be perceived by some as empowering towards the fairer sex in its message of women sticking together against a common enemy, but anything more than a cursory glance at the film reveals that to be a load of wishful b.s. Paper-thin characters, a simplistic script and sloppy attempts at physical comedy weigh the already weak film down, and instead it’s Mann who single-handedly struggles to keep the film afloat with her humorous and heartfelt performance.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel]

The Protector 2

The Protector 2 begins similarly to its predecessor with Kham (Tony Jaa) living a bachelor’s life in rural Thailand with his pet elephant Khon. Trouble starts when the pachyderm is abducted by some ruthless thugs for nefarious purposes forcing Kham to once again leave home to rescue Khon and kick some ass along the way. A repetitive plot is bad enough, but while the first film was loaded with fantastic fight sequences and visibly impressive stunts the sequel limps along under the weight of action “assisted” by ridiculously obvious wire work and abysmal CGI.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, trailer]

Discs Section: Also

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

The Complete Blind Dead Saga
Duel at Diablo
Five Dances
Grace Kelly Collection
Herzog: The Collection
Paris Blues
Separate Tables
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery

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

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