Joseph Gordon Levitt in MYSTERIOUS SKIN

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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

Mysterious SkinMysterious Skin

Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) played Little League together when they were kids, but they were never really friends. They drifted even further apart as they grew up, and a decade later they’re complete strangers. The two do share a secret though, one that has shaped them into the troubled young men they’ve become.

I’ve meant to watch Gregg Araki‘s acclaimed film for years now, and now that I finally have I’m happy to say my expectations have been exceeded. It’s a haunting tale of innocence lost that delivers a powerful emotional punch as their two stories unfold. It’s not a matter of mystery as to what exactly transpires, but seeing the two deal with their past in such varied and self-damaging ways is frequently heartbreaking.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, gallery, commentary, deleted scenes, audition tapes, trailer]

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American HustleAmerican Hustle

Pitch: No, you’re an over-rated Oscar nominee…

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a bit of a scam artist, but when he and his partner in crime (Amy Adams) are pinched by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) looking to make a splash, they agree to help him ensnare some much bigger fish. Their efforts drag a NJ politician (Jeremy Renner) and Rosenfeld’s wacky wife (Jennifer Lawrence) into the mix as well.

David O’ Russell’s follow up to Silver Linings Playbook is fantastically fun, occasionally messy, and constantly entertaining as it tells a fictionalized version of the Abscam take-down in the ’70s. They’re pretty much all criminals, but there’s a humanity beneath their caricatured features that makes them compelling and frequently goofy antiheroes. This was never the best film of the year, but the intense backlash that hit it once an actual Martin Scorsese film hit theaters was highly undeserved.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes]

A Brief History of TimeA Brief History of Time (Criterion)

Pitch: “Because you have to wait five more days until the next episode of Cosmos…”

Errol Morris’s 1991 portrait of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is an enthralling a trek down the rabbit hole of a brilliant thinker’s mind. At once a detailed biography of a gifted mind’s triumph against the limitations of the imperfect human body and an accessible overview of the flooring ideas that such a mind has brought to light, A Brief History of Time is not so much an adaptation of Hawking’s work as it is an investigation of the ways that a person’s life takes a decisive role in the work they ultimately make.

The complex ideas presented here are made pointed and accessible, complemented by various interludes and illustrations brought to life by the hypnotic music of Philip Glass. Yet Morris is interested less in knowledge and intellect itself than he is in how that knowledge comes into being. Thus, A Brief History of Time is a rich portrait of a fascinating mind and a reminder that nobody makes interesting people quite as interesting as Errol Morris does.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K transfer, new interviews with Errol Morris and cinematographer John Bailey, an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by David Sterritt and excerpts from Hawking’s writings]

FrozenFrozen

Pitch: Yeah, let’s not make a big deal out of the fact that she can create living creatures with her ice powers…

Two sisters grow apart after the death of their parents, but when the one with magical powers accidentally terrorizes the town with a powdery snowfall the younger, more socially adept one heads off towards her ice castle to smooth everything over.

I poke fun with that synopsis, but lets not pretend the story is the main draw with this sloppily-written Disney flick. Instead, it’s the songs, the characters, and the laughs. Happily the film excels in all three of those areas and delivers near non-stop parade of fun. I say “nearly” because those goddamn rock trolls stop the comedy and heart dead in their tracks. Thankfully they’re only in one scene, and the rest of the film finds big laughs with the snowman’s “Summer” song and other bits alongside some stellar set-pieces.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, music videos, short, trailer]

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Almost Sharkproof

Two brothers invent a wetsuit they expect to make them millions, but before they can get their product out there they find themselves in the crosshairs of some Russian thugs. Romance, laughs and thrills theoretically ensue, but things don’t always work out the way you plan. Skip it and watch Deep Blue Sea instead.

[DVD extras: None]

Cybergeddon

Cyberterrorists have brought the modern world to the edge of collapse, and a lovely FBI agent has been accused of the crime. She’s innocent though and is forced to elude the authorities while searching for the real culprit. This feels like a TV movie, which makes sense of course, but while that lessens the film’s overall effect it isn’t enough to ruin it. There are some fun sequences, but the end product isn’t all that memorable.

[DVD extras: None]

The Flesh and Blood Show

A group of actors are hired to rehearse an upcoming play in the deserted remains of an old pier-set theater, but their thespian shenanigans are interrupted by an overly critical murderer. Pete Walker’s first foray into horror is loaded with grue and naked ladies, all restored in glorious HD.

[Blu-ray extras: Interview, 3D sequence, trailers]

Flu

Human traffickers unknowingly smuggle a container full of flu-ridden immigrants into South Korea, and soon a pandemic is sweeping through a city outside Seoul. A female doctor and an EMT work to save lives. There are some thrills here, but in the grand tradition of melodramatic Korean disaster pics every ounce of legit and manufactured suspense and drama is squeezed out of the material. It would be a lot better though if the doctor’s selfishness wasn’t constantly getting other people killed. Constantly.

[DVD extras: Making of, art, deleted scenes]

Frightmare

An elderly couple is released from the madhouse after being cured of their murderous desires and her cannibalistic tendencies. Maybe “cured” is a bit too strong of a word. Pete Walker’s infamous horror film gets the HD treatment, and fans of homicidal grannies couldn’t be happier.

[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, commentary, trailers]

Here Comes the Devil

Two kids go missing on a mountainside, but when they’re found they come back a bit different. Now the parents are left trying to discover what’s gotten into them and how to get it back out. This is an ugly movie, not in the thematic sense, but in the way its shot and presented. Add in some terrifically bad performances and you have a movie worth avoiding. Skip it and watch The Other instead.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Extended scene, featurettes, commentary]

The Horror at 37,000 Feet

A jumbo jet crossing the Atlantic Ocean becomes a nightmare flight when an ancient evil awakens in the cargo hold. It’s up to a ragtag group of passengers (including William Shatner, Buddy Ebsen, and Chuck Connors) to stop the malevolent force before they land. The horror element is lightweight in this early ’70s shocker, but the entertainment value of the cast’s over-acting can’t be ignored.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Reasonable Doubt

A district attorney is involved in a hit and run and then finds himself prosecuting a man (Samuel L. Jackson) charged with the crime. Some terribly weak and obvious script turns follow. Skip it and watch Law Abiding Citizen instead.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, deleted scenes]

Return to Nuke ‘em High: Volume 1

An organic food company delivers foodstuffs to a local school that turns the student body into real cretins. It’s a Troma production, so you can’t go in expecting much, but I’ve never seen a film work so hard to be funny and offensive and yet fail so miserably at both. Skip it and watch The China Syndrome instead.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, making of, featurettes, trailer for Volume 2]

Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) spends decades trying to convince a cantankerous writer (Emma Thompson) to let him adapt her childrens books into a movie. Common wisdom says this biopic (of sorts) of P.L. Travers’ life features two award-worthy lead performances, but it’s actually a mediocre film worth a watch mostly for a trio of supporting performances. Paul Giamatti, B.J. Novak, and Jason Schwartzman are those performances.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]

The Slumber Party Massacre

Members of the girls’ high school basketball team get together for a sleepover complete with topless shenanigans and typical girl chatter, but the boys peeking in the windows aren’t the only uninvited guests crashing the party. There’s also an escaped lunatic with an inexplicably powerful portable drill! There are some odd choices made here for a film written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, but it all adds up to good fun for slasher fans.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, trailer]

Swerve

Colin’s driving through the Outback on his way towards a job interview, and he’s about to cross paths with some shifty characters. He witnesses an accident that leaves a dead man with a brief case filled with cash, a woman on the run from her abusive husband, and the husband himself… a small town sheriff. This is a pretty fun and frequently twisty little thriller that benefits from Jason Clarke‘s turn as the aggressively malicious bad cop.

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

Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales

Tom Holland tries his hand at playing Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, or the Cryptkeeper, and he fails miserably as host of these nine tales. His screen presence is non-existent, his intros are weak, and the stories themselves? Not good. The best thing they have going for them are the recognizable faces somehow roped into this no-budget, no-thrill production. Skip it and watch Trick ‘r’ Treat instead.

[DVD extras: None]

Discs Section: Also

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

20 Ft. Below
Atlantis: Season One
The Black Stallion
Buck Wild
Contracted
Kill Your Darlings
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Outpost: Rise of the Spetznaz
The Wrath of Vajra


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