Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
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Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his days writing personal letters for customers to give to their lovers, families and friends, but in his own life there’s no one truly special. Still heartbroken and lonely after a recent break-up he pines for a romance he no longer thinks is possible. That negativity changes when he gets a new OS named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) that personalizes itself to the user. She’s witty, sweet and constantly learning about the world around her, and it’s not long before the two are in love.
Spike Jonze’s latest is gorgeous, glorious cinema from top to bottom. It’s beautifully shot and scored, marvelously acted and interested in substantive ideas that most Hollywood films willfully ignore in favor of empty flash. This could easily have gone the Electric Dreams route, but it avoids anything resembling cheesiness through its sincerity, production design and honest lead performances.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short film, featurettes]
Stuart Cooper’s Overlord is truly unlike any war film you’ll ever see. In the 1970s, Cooper perused the mountain of archival 8mm and 16mm WWII footage from London’s Imperial War Museum and then constructed a harrowing original story of a young recruit’s experience from training to the front lines. He then integrated his original 35mm footage with the museum’s archival footage, thus resulting in a film that is not quite a narrative yet not quite a documentary.
Both in its making and in its presentation, Overlord is an incredibly inventive account of the relationship between past and present, and the fluidity between individual memory and public memory. The archival footage serves as the protagonist’s dreamscape and the newsreels of a blitz’d Britain. It is both an account of action-packed narrative events and a solemn interlude that illustrates the horrors of war on a macro scale. As both a record of history and a cinematic experiment, Overlord is a striking and unmatched accomplishment. – Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Director and actor commentary; documentary about the Imperial War Museum; photo essay; an early short film by Cooper; 2 WWII Ministry of Information propaganda films; audio diaries by D-Day soldiers; an illustrated booklet with an essay by film critic Kent Jones]
Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in 2009 by an anti-choice wacko acting on behalf of god. Murdering the doctor in a church just added to the confusion. Tiller’s death left the number of doctors able and willing to perform late-term abortions at four. This documentary spends time with each of them to explore why they do what they do in light of the threatening atmosphere that surrounds them
The doc doesn’t go out of its way to condemn those opposed to abortion, but it’s clear their actions and pathetic little protests outside the clinics are more about the protesters than what they’re protesting. The four doctors, two men and two women, inspire with their selfless dedication towards helping others. It’s more a story of people and less a tale of action.
[DVD extras: Interviews, Q&A]
A university professor (Andrew Lincoln) teaches students about the fraud of psychic phenomena, mediums in particular, but then he meets the real thing.
Season one of this UK series follows the prof’s journey from skeptic to believer as he also deals with the previous loss of his own son. The episodic stories are good and rarely concerned with traditionally happy endings, and the through narrative offers equally dramatic turns. It’s good stuff.
[DVD extras: Commentary]
An Australian guy travels to NYC and has wacky adventures! It’s followed by a sequel that sees the same guy return to Australia and have more wacky adventures!
Remember Paul Hogan? It seems nuts in retrospect, but his feature debut was the second highest grossing film of 1986 (right behind Top Gun). It’s not a bad movie by any means, but while it’s an incredibly innocuous comedy that clearly appeals to the masses it remains lightweight and fairly dated. The sequel however, is a bad movie.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Kuzya (John Malkovich) is a wise old Russian on the wrong side of the law in ’80s Russia, and the film moves back and forth between him training his young grandson in the family ways and the boy’s grown up adventures a decade later.
This straight to DVD crime picture has some solid moments of both action and drama, but it’s pretty forgettable overall. Still, Malkovich puts his Russian accent skills to good use.
[DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) has finally found success, but it’s far from the dream he pursued for so long. Instead of being a star in the major leagues he’s living in the suburbs with his wife and kids. He gets one last chance at destiny though when he’s convinced by an ex-teammate to try his hand at baseball once again.
HBO’s popular comedy comes to an end this season, and while I’ve never been its biggest fan this is most definitely the best the show’s ever been. Previous seasons managed plenty of laughs, but Kenny’s antics always left me immune to his obvious suffering. He’s a dick. He’s still a dick in these final episodes, but there’s also an odd amount of heart that makes events more affecting than usual.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, commentaries]
Three men deal with the repercussions of their past actions. One searches for his missing sister, another goes undercover hoping to infiltrate a crime boss and the third decides to make one last score before retiring to an island paradise. Things don’t quite go according to plan for any of them.
The Swedish crime saga concludes with what’s reportedly the final part of the trilogy, and like its predecessors it’s a mix of drama, action and morally empty antics. There’s a lot to engage with here, but at over two hours the film occasionally loses itself bouncing between characters and back and forth in time repeatedly.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, behind the scenes]
A young military academy cadet (Clint Howard) suffers abuse at the hands of his fellow students, but when he discovers an ancient evil he gains powers that help him strike a bloody revenge.
The film takes its time leading up to the horror, but it’s a fun enough ride. And the pigs eating a naked lady is a pretty striking image as well. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray features the unrated cut.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]
Exam week at Lanier College is winding down with only a handful of students left on campus, but their stress over grades soon takes a backseat to the nightmare of being hunted by a sadistic killer.
The acting is a bit rough at times, and with no mystery to solve as to who’s behind the killings we’re left with a somewhat plodding affair. There’s fun to be had though particularly in the film’s incredibly non-pc take on campus violence and student murders.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]
Jim Gordon (John Wayne) is captain of the Flying Tigers, a group of ace American pilots stationed in China during WWII and tasked with battling the Japanese in the air above. His job is made tougher by the arrival of a good friend whose lovable antics threaten the lives of the other men.
Action in the skies and drama on the ground are the mainstays of this Oscar nominated film, but the script by Kenneth Gamut and Barry Trivers is its biggest strength. The dialogue is fast-moving, crisp and humorous, and it confronts the drama head-on. It’s unsurprisingly jingoistic at times, and there’s an odd disconnect between seeing Japanese soldiers die spitting up blood while American deaths are blood-free, but its heart is in the right place throughout.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) wanders the world fighting demons as a way to kill time and take out his aggression, but the war has brought him no closer to truly understanding who or what he is. That all changes in modern day London where the demons step up their game with the help of a sexy scientist (Yvonne Strahovski). Now only Adam (aka the monster) and the gargoyles stand between mankind and a hellish eternity.
Eckhart is more than a little miscast here, but that’s the least of the film’s problems. The script just doesn’t care enough to even try and remain cohesive, and instead it fills characters’ mouths with lame dialogue and excess exposition. CGI shenanigans are the films priority as it tries to ape the Underworld films with their mix of supernatural action and stylish costumes. It even features Bill Nighy. Skip it and watch Young Frankenstein instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes]
Piper Chapman is a model citizen and engaged to be married, but when she’s found guilty of a long ago crime and sentenced to a federal prison she discovers a whole new side of life.
This Netflix original series is a rare example of comedy and drama working well together more often than not. There are legitimate laughs throughout mixed with moments of real poignancy, but while it earns points there the effort makes the tonal mishaps even more obvious and unfortunate. Plus, Jason Biggs is rarely a positive.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, commentaries]
Joe is a meek and nervous young man afraid of everyone around him, but when his older brother is killed by some street thugs his rage takes him in some violent directions. One of those being into the path a man called Piggy who teaches Joe the bloody art of revenge.
This UK flick is a dark, street-level affair that drops viewers into a the decidedly non-touristy side of the London experience. You feel unsafe just watching it. The story is decidedly pedestrian though, unrelentingly bleak when it should be ramping up the drama and engagement.
[DVD extras: None]
Treasure hunters exploring beneath the ocean unknowingly release a monster that’s “half dinosaur, half sea monster, all trouble.”
In truth, the monster is “all cheap CGI.” Skip it and watch a double feature of Jurassic Park and Jaws instead.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, trailer]
Detective Chen (Donnie Yen) is working undercover amid the triads, but when the groups go to war he’s forced to fight his way out only to return to take them down once and for all.
Yen’s first modern-day action film in over six years comes with a lot of anticipation and excitement, and the action sequences almost live up to it. Yen engages in some solid fights, and the film features some pretty stellar car stunt work too. But damn is the script a chore to endure, and don’t get me started on the CGI and obvious wire-work.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
The city of Stalingrad is falling to thousands of German soldiers, but a small squad of Russians are determined to hold it as long as possible against the onslaught.
This Russian film was a big box-office hit in its native country, and it’s easy to see why. It’s highly patriotic in its tale of heroes and homeland, and the action is presented against an epic tapestry of battle scenes and large scale destruction. The effects are top of the line and bring the war to life in big and exciting ways. The story does get a bit convoluted at times though, and like some of South Korea’s war epics the emotional elements feel more broad than subtle.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Three twentysomethings (Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan) in NYC make a pact to stay single, but the plan is almost immediately challenged by three attractive ladies. Seems like an obvious problem with the plan in retrospect.
All three lead actors do good work here, and there are more than a few gags that result in a laugh, but the film as a whole doesn’t manage nearly enough of them. The script also delivers its dramatic narrative riddled with contrivances, obvious turns and oddly unlikable lead characters.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, behind the scenes, gag reel]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
The Godfather Part III
Home of the Brave
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
Longmire: The Complete Second Season
Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume 2
Stranger By the Lake
Wolverine Weapon X