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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

death spaDeath Spa

The hottest health spa in in town uses a state-of-the-art computer to help its clientele get the most out of their workouts, but the business is threatened when people start dying on the premises in wonderfully gory ways. Well, it would be threatened if the customers cared more about their safety than they do their bodies. It seems the owner’s wife, a woman who burned to death under mysterious circumstances, has returned for some supernatural vengeance.

I won’t pretend that this late ’80s horror flick is a “good” movie per se, but there’s definitely a lot to enjoy here from the bloody gore effects to the decade-glorifying production design to its unabashed love of nudity to dialogue that delivers unintentional laughs. It’s a fun little movie that also earns points for finding a different angle on the haunted house tale. Gorgon Video’s new Blu-ray offers a solid HD transfer alongside new and entertaining extras, and while it’s not the best new release this week (and it’s more than a little over-priced) it’s a joy to finally see this somewhat forgotten gem find new life.

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

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bob newhart complete seriesThe Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series

Dr. Robert Hartley (Bob Newhart) is a psychologist surrounded by some of the nuttiest people Chicago has to offer. His patients are rarely the most unusual ones he sees each day thanks to a bevy of friends and co-workers who each come with their own peculiar peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies.

Newhart is a comedy legend for a reason, and if you don’t know what that reason is you only need watch a few episodes of this show (or even his follow-up series). His dry wit and perfected straight man routine are never less than hilarious, and they found a perfect home in a world created by some of the Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s top writers. The supporting cast play off him with equal brilliance making for a show that continually offers laughs all the way through its sixth season. Shout! Factory’s new box-set collects all 142 episodes across 19 dvds including one for special features… the only thing missing here is the final episode of his second sitcom, Newhart.

[DVD extras: Interview, unaired pilot, anniversary special, commentaries, gag reel, booklet]

CHEAP THRILLS blurayCheap Thrills

Craig (Pat Healy) is having one hell of a bad day. He’s lost his job, he’s just gotten an eviction notice and his wife and newborn need to eat. His fortunes change when he meets an old friend (Ethan Embry) at a bar and the two find themselves entertained by a bored, wealthy couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) willing to pay money to have their whims catered to. They’re not looking for simple stimulations though, and soon the two men are engaged in an often bloody battle for number one.

Director E.L. Katz‘s film mixes Craig’s desperation with increasing disturbing and dangerous offers resulting in some laughs and great lead performances from Healy and Embry in particular. The film grew on me with repeated watches, and while I didn’t (and still don’t) find it as funny as the film thinks it is I’ve come to appreciate the darker edges far more. There’s subtext here if you want it — the economy, the male ego — but at its core there’s also a simple tale of one man’s sad journey towards victory.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, featurette, trailers, booklet]

cimarron strip completeCimarron Strip: The Complete Series

Kansas in the ’80s was rough and tumble place, but it was even tougher a century earlier. The frontier between the state line and the wilds of Indian Territory attracts all manner of rogues and criminals, and Marshall Jim Crown (Stuart Whitman) is there to keep them all in line.

I had never heard of this show, and it’s no surprise seeing as it only ran for one season in the late ’60s. What is a surprise though is how solid of a show it actually is. This set includes all 23 episodes, each of them running ninety minutes or so, and while the stories all fall comfortably into the expected “western” canon the mix of characters and morality are a refreshing change of pace from the genre norm on TV. Whitman makes for a compelling lead too carrying both the good and the grey in equal measure.

[DVD extras: Interview]

how to train your dragonHow to Train Your Dragon

Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies, and everybody knows it. But that doesn’t mean young Hiccup has to accept it, so when he meets and befriends a young dragon the two become emissaries into a new world of peaceful co-existence. There are forces at work though that threaten this new alliance.

DreamWorks has found commercial success with their animated films, but that hasn’t exactly translated into critical acclaim. Their films are usually too loud and busy, often swapping out worthwhile characters and story for pure noise. This film is a visual thrill, but more than that the characters and script find some depth and humanity between the expected gags and action beats. The TV series that followed doesn’t live up to that same quality, and it’s too soon to comment on the upcoming sequel (the reason for this reissue), but this is a wonderful animated adventure.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: TV show episode, featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]

journey to the westJourney to the West: Conquering the Demons

Demons are the scourge of the land, and the business of demon hunting is a competitive one. There are impostors on the hunt for an easy buck and professionals on the prowl for actual monsters, and somewhere in between is Xuan Zang. He’s pure of heart and attracts the attention of another hunter (Shu Qi) on his journey that eventually leads them to the most dangerous demon of all, the Monkey King.

Stephen Chow‘s latest mix of comedy and big fantasy is his best film yet thanks to its kinetic action sequences, a script that delivers legitimate laughs and the one two punch of Qi and Chrissie Chou. It’s a rare case where the incredibly obvious CGI doesn’t get in the way of the sheer entertainment value.

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

Scream Factory

Scream Factory

Sleepaway Camp

Angela lost her father and brother in a tragic boating accident as a young girl, and now years later she’s reminded of the trauma during a summer spent at summer camp. The cruelty of other kids and a rash of grisly murders threatens her sanity, but is she a killer or at risk of becoming a victim?

Robert Hiltzik‘s nutty slasher is most remembered for its ending, but there’s a lot more to it than that visual shocker. The kills are creative and gory, the script and performances deliver a series of over-the-top moments and there’s a legitimate attempt to do something beyond the expected with the story. It spawned some rather generic sequels, but this is a fresh take on summer camp slashers guaranteed to appeal to genre fans. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray features a sharp new transfer and several new extras.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews, scrap book, short film, trailer]

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24 Exposures

A photographer (Adam Wingard) whose shtick is photos of girls pretending to be dead becomes a suspect when one of his models ends up murdered, but the cop (Simon Barrett) working the case has some questionable fetishes of his own. Joe Swanberg has made some strides in the past two years and delivered some great films in the process (Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas) but this oddly amateurish murder mystery feels like a step backwards. The cast (namely Helen Rogers and Sophia Takal) make it watchable, but it’s difficult to have anything resembling an emotional response to the film.

[DVD extras: Commentary, photo gallery, trailer]

Blue Movie

Silvia is attacked but escapes with the aid of a photographer named Claudio. Life with him isn’t much better though as her life soon becomes lost amid her memories, fears and somewhat sado-masochistic shenanigans. Oh, and someone likes eating poop too. This Italian film from the early ’70s is a rough watch at times, but it’s fairly interesting all the same.

[DVD extras: Additional scenes, intro, booklet]

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dan Curtis, the creator of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, takes a stab at the most popular vampire of all with this classy British television movie. Jack Palance is a bit of an odd choice for the titular blood-sucker, but the script by the legendary Richard Matheson elevates things high enough that it doesn’t matter. The story sticks close to the original but adds in more than a few touches to keep things fresh.

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

The Color of Lies

A young girl is found raped and murdered in the woods outside a small town, and her piano teacher becomes the prime suspect. He has other dramas enveloping him as well including a wife with a wandering eye. Claude Chabrol‘s film is a murder mystery second and a dramatic look at the truths we keep and the lies we share. It’s a bit of a slowburn as the characters are more of a focus than the plot, but the performances keep things engaging.

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

Eastern Bandits

China in 1942 was no place for the Chinese as Japanese invaders made their lives a living hell. Gao (Zhang Yi) is out for revenge against the foreign marauders pillaging his homeland, and he sets in motion an elaborate plan that begins when he witnesses a local gang in action. Director/co-writer Yang Shupeng‘s third feature is an action/western with heart that surprisingly succeeds best in its quieter moments.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Eden and After

A professor offers his students something called “fear powder” leading to some surreal and potentially disturbing visions. Writer/director Alain Robbe-Grillet film is a ’60s art project that remains somewhat engaging even as it fails to connect on a narrative level. It’s visually arresting though.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Completely alternate cut of film, interview, trailers, promo short]

Endless Love

Jade is “beautiful,” David is “charismatic” and together they’re the most romantic couple in the world. But can their love withstand the real world? We’ll never know of course as this vague remake exists in a world far removed from our own, but the bigger issue beyond the obvious Hollywood fantasy at play here is Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to make Alex Pettyfer a star. They’re pretty persistent.

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

House in the Alley

A young couple loses their baby during the delivery, but the understandably traumatic event has unexpected repercussions when a seemingly supernatural force invades their home. The dead baby’s casket sitting at the end of their bed isn’t helping matters either. This Vietnamese ghost story offers up a fair share of the expected along with a few fresh cultural angles, but the majority of the attempted scares are accomplished more with editing than mood.

[DVD extras: None]

Independence Daysaster

It seems the aliens didn’t learn last time they tried invading our air space on Independence Day, and now some new ones are attacking from the skies above and thinking maybe this time humanity will just roll over and take it. Big mistake alien balls, big mistake. This Syfy Original is goofy fun at times, but the typically poor CGI and highly inconsistent script hold it back more than a little.

[DVD extras: None]

The Man Who Lies

A man arrives in  a small French town claiming to have barely escaped the Germans and is welcomed in as a hero, but his lies about knowing one of the village’s own backfires when the man himself arrives soon after. When people say French films are pretentious this is the kind of film they’re talking about. The premise, which feels a bit like The Return of Martin Guerre, never satisfies on a narrative level so you’re left it being more of an experience. For fans of Alain Robbe-Grillet only.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, trailers, promo short]

The Max Linder Collection

Max Linder isn’t a household name, but the fact that Charlie Chaplin called him “the great master” should speak to the quality of the man’s silent film work. Kino Classics collects four of his films, three hour-long features and one short, and each of them display Linder’s comic talents, charm and exuberance.

[DVD extras: None]

Run & Jump

Dr. Ted Fielding (Will Forte) is documenting a man’s post-stroke recovery by essentially moving in with the man’s family for a couple months, but falling in love with the man’s wife (Maxine Peak) wasn’t meant to be a part of the research. This is a light and affecting romantic drama with warmth and laughs sprinkled throughout. Forte shows once again that he’s more than a simply a comic.

[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, featurette, trailer]

Tapped Out

Michael is a brawler whose antics leave him doing community service for some more disciplined fighters, but just as he’s learning how to control his pent up rage he comes face to face with the guy who killed his family. Uh oh! This is a pretty generic low budget action/drama in all respects, but it might appeal to fans of MMA fighting.

[DVD extras: Interviews]

The Universe: Season 7

The History Channel has fallen on hard times quality-wise what with their roster of decidedly non-historical shows like Mountain Men, Big Rig Bounty Hunters, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Swamp People, Down East Dickering, Top Gear, American Restoration, Ax Men, Counting Cars, etc. But they haven’t left actual history slide completely as evidenced by this series that uses astronomy and mankind’s knowledge of it to answer questions about the past. The show educates and entertains with sharp CGI and a quick clip.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Discs Section: Also

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

A Birder’s Guide to Everything
The Bridge: Season 1
Child’s Pose
Covert Affairs: Season Four
Dragons Defenders of Berk: Part 2
Gambit
Ghostquake
Hitler and the Nazis
Jack Irish: Set 2
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Criterion)
Longmire: The Complete First and Second Seasons
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Series 2
Red River (Criterion)
Saving Grace B. Jones
Suits: Season Three
The Trials of Cate McCall
Wallander 3


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