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Sung-soo is a successful business owner with a perfect family, a gorgeous condo and an enviable life all around. He also has memories of a step brother he essentially abandoned years ago. When he gets word that his brother has gone missing he heads to the man’s apartment and discovers a dangerous mystery.
This Korean thriller manages to be far creepier than any “typical” piece of Asian horror as psychopaths will always be scarier than long-haired ghost girls. More than that though the film is directed and edited to near perfection. Sequences thrill, excite and terrify as the story unfolds, and while the script has some major issues they’re easily ignored because everything else works so damn well. From the legitimate twists to the commentary on class warfare and fears, this is a fantastical thriller.
[DVD extras: Making of]
Amy (Emma Roberts) is a college graduate with a degree in and a passion for poetry. As such she finds herself jobless and drowning in a sea of literary magazine rejection letters. Desperate for a job she accepts a retail gig at an adult video store, and it’s through the friendships she makes there as well as the reluctant tutelage she receives from a once-famous poet (John Cusack) that she slowly comes into her own.
At first glance this film hits all kinds of familiar notes, but while it’s Wonder Boys-lite at best it delivers with engaging characters and some incredibly funny dialogue and performances. The cast is strong throughout, but both Roberts and Cusack deliver their best work in years. Well, it’s Roberts’ best performance period, and Cusack finally gets to smile in a film again and dust off the charisma and charm he once displayed on a more regular basis.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, trailer]
The great Carl Sagan did a great service to the world and its people with his 1980 television series, and even though it only ran for one season its effect can still be felt today by those of us enamored by the show as a kid. Now Neil deGrasse Tyson (and Seth MacFarlane) have resurrected the series, and they’ve done so with some impressive production values made evident in gorgeous visuals and set pieces.
This 13-episode series — it’s still unclear if it will be back for a second season– covers everything from astronomy to gravity to “The History of Fish.” The show are unafraid to dismiss religion, respectfully, in its pursuit of scientific explanation, and Tyson is a clearly excitable host whose enthusiasm is contagious. Curiously, for a man so hellbent on pointing out scientific inaccuracies in science fiction movies like Gravity he doesn’t appear to have a problem with his own show featuring sound effects as his “spaceship” flies through space.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
25th Hour is about Monty (Edward Norton), a man who’s been sentenced to a seven-year stint in jail, and he spends his final day of freedom making amends and coming to grips with the life he’s led up to this point. In He Got Game, Denzel Washington stars as a convicted felon given a furlough and the chance to reconnect with his college-age son.
Touchstone has just released the first two volumes in their Spike Lee Joint Collection, and they start things off strong with a double feature of 25th Hour and He Got Game. I haven’t even watched the Washington film yet, but the Norton-starring 25th Hour is alone worth the buy. Smartly scripted, wonderfully cast and beautifully shot, the film captures the importance of “now” with its portrait of a post-9/11 NYC. Norton is fantastic, Terence Blanchard’s score is a haunting and moody affair and the film features at least two immensely unforgettable scenes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New commentary from Spike Lee and Edward Norton, commentaries, deleted scenes, featurette, tribute]
Tim Jenison is an inventor who occupies his time working with computer graphics and tinkering with all manner of creations and ideas. His latest endeavor involves exploring how 17th century artist Johannes Vermeer managed to create such vivid paintings. Jenison plays around with the idea of the camera obscura, a theory recently proposed by others, but adds a new wrinkle in the form of a mirror. Then he spends the next 1000 days working to prove his theory.
A documentary about some guy and art history probably shouldn’t be as engaging and emotionally satisfying as this film is, but here we are. It’s a Penn & Teller film with the former producing and appearing on camera while the latter directs, and at a brisk 80 minutes it flies by quickly too. Jenison is a fascinating guy, one who had no fine art experience prior to this experience, and watching his process is an art education in itself.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, Q&A]
Louisiana detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are assigned to a murder case in 1995, and seventeen years later they’re interviewed in connection with a related homicide. Their actions in ’95 inform this new case, and as each timeline moves forward we inch closer to the dark and disturbing truth.
HBO’s freshman series received lots of attention for its casting followed by even more acclaim for its execution. There’s a mystery at its core, but while interesting it was never the best thing about the series. Instead, the characters are both equally fascinating in different ways, and the actors deliver some of their best work along the way. It’s atmospheric, smart, fantastic television, and not even an unnecessarily gratuitous nude scene can make me say otherwise.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, interviews, featurette, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) is a DJ whose efforts towards self preservation leads to a co-worker’s firing, and that in turn leads to a hostage situation where Partridge’s ego and desire for fame take precedence over that previously mentioned bent towards preservation. Coogan is a funny guy, and he proves that throughout this film. It’s no The Trip, but it’s recommended for fans of laughter.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, behind the scenes, featurette]
An SS officer tasked with controlling hygiene in Nazi camps discovers that his chemical concoctions are being used to eradicate people instead of vermin, but his efforts to bring the atrocity to the world’s attention are met with derision and disinterest. His only ally in this truth is a Jesuit priest who finds equal resistance when he tries to inform his higher-ups in the Catholic Church. Director Costas-Gavras’ film is a dramatic and powerful look at the willful ignorance that allowed the Holocaust to continue unabated for far too long.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, trailer, documentary]
Toramaru is a legendary warrior recounting seven recent fights — seven epic battles — to his master, and each one is preceded by a very specific meal themed to the opponent. This Japanese film combines some period aesthetics with a modern-day setting, and while it’s predominantly a fight film the food scenes and dialogue exchanges between Toramaru and his mentor show both personality and a sense of humor.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Marc Tourneuil is promoted to CEO of one of France’s largest banks and immediately finds himself caught up in a power struggle between board members, government interests and a powerful hedge fund manager. Costa-Gavras’ latest tells a timely tale that entertains even as it frustrates with shenanigans that are dramatic, blackly comic and sadly all too realistic. Marc makes for a frequently fascinating protagonist as he walks a fine line between anti-hero and part of the problem, and the result is a film that remains unpredictable throughout.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
The true story of three little boys murdered in Arkansas in the early ’90s comes to life in dramatic fashion, but your reaction to it will probably depend on whether or not you’ve seen the three Paradise Lost documentaries. If you have then Atom Egoyan’s film will most likely feel unnecessary and uninspired. If you haven’t then you’ll probably wonder why Egoyan decided to make a Lifetime Channel film. (It’s not a Lifetime Channel film.)
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette]
A group of people working at a small film production office find themselves targeted by a ghost intent on killing each of them in bloody, painful ways. There’s fun to be had here with the cast — Billy Zane, Lacey Chabert, Danielle Harris, Richard Tyson — but the horror just doesn’t work. Terribly cheap CGI is part of the problem, but just as bad is the film’s dependence on forced “scares” via sound cues and weak editing.
[DVD extras: None]
A family moves into a house with a deadly history, and strange things begin happening. No one is surprised. This fairly generic horror pic benefits from a surprisingly strong cast (for a fairly generic horror pic) including Jacki Weaver and Ione Skye, but it still can’t overcome its over-reliance on digital effects and sound effect jump scares.
[DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, behind the scenes, featurettes, trailer]
A piece of space debris crashes to Earth and brings a deadly virus with it, but rather than simply kill the populace it turns them into zombies. D’oh! This Dutch film so badly wants to be Shaun of the Dead that it never finds its own personality. There are worse films to try and ape obviously, but its relentless energy and desire to mimic Wright leave little room for interesting characters and actually funny gags/jokes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Los Angeles’ Major Crimes Unit is kept busy by all manner of bad guys and gals. Good thing they’re good at their job. Ensemble TV procedurals like this are ubiquitous, and it takes something special to stand apart from the pack. As I mention below regarding Rizzoli & Isles, a cop show needs to be engagingly written or exceedingly well cast if it’s to work week after week. This one… not so much of either.
[DVD extras: Featurette, behind the scenes, deleted scenes]
Liam Neeson stars as a U.S. Air Marshall who finds himself caught up in mid-air mix of murder, robbery and mayhem when someone on board his flight threatens to kill passengers and crew if their demands aren’t met. This airborne thriller falls somewhere between the action-filled highs of Taken and the pure ridiculousness of Unknown, and that’s not so bad at all. It’s goofy fun from beginning to end, and it holds the official record (unofficially) for the most red herrings in a film ever.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A young Palestinian man walks a risky line between his interests as he spends his days and nights hanging out with friends and his girlfriend while tempting the authorities with highly illegal activities. A shooting leads to his arrest and eventual release as an informant, but as his loyalties are pulled in opposite directions his life moves closer to a premature end date. Part political commentary and part thriller, this is an excitingly shot film that offers a look at a life none of us will ever experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) is a fixer for wealthy clients in need, but his biggest challenge comes in his private life when his ex-con father (Jon Voight) is released early from jail and returns to wreak havoc all around him. This Showtime series is at its best when the focus is on Ray and his antics, but his family life doesn’t engage nearly as well. Schreiber is unsurprisingly great as a lead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Boston criminals continue to meet their match in Det. Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and Medical Examiner Isles (Sasha Alexander) through sixteen more episodes of procedural fun. Cop shows work for one of two reasons (or a mix of both). Either they’re incredibly well written and interesting or they’re well cast with actors we enjoy watching interact. This TNT show belongs to the latter.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Summer of Sam features a community and city on edge during the Son of Sam’s bloody rampage through NYC in the summer of ’77. The killings are little more than a backdrop that allows this commentary on human behavior to play out, and Lee does a fine job creating a sense of place, time and paranoia. Miracle at St. Anna tells the true story of an all-black infantry division trapped behind of enemy lines during WWII. Both films feature newly recorded commentaries from Lee.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
British direct-to-video star Danny Dyer plays Jimmy Vickers, a Special Forces interrogator who comes home after serving in Afghanistan to discover that his parents have been burned alive by street thugs. Jimmy is none too pleased by this and in the face of incompetent police work he sets out to exact his own form of incredibly brutal vengeance. Dyer is known more for quantity over quality, but this riff on Death Wish/Death Sentence is a solid piece of violent revenge exploitation. It even sets itself up quite heavily for a sequel… and I would watch the hell out of it.
[DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scene, trailer]
Director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass collaborate for the fourth time on a project pairing moving images with stirring music, but what worked in Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi doesn’t quite gel as well here. The imagery is sharp and the score is fantastic, and yet the effect feels empty and manipulative. Your mileage may vary, but this one left me feeling unmoved.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, interviews, making of, trailer]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
All That Heaven Allows (Criterion)
Bigfoot vs DB Cooper
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Missing Picture
Patrick: Evil Awakens
Perry Mason Movie Collections
Resurrection: The Complete First Season
A Short History of Decay