Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
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Bo Wah Chuen (Aaron Kwok) is a successful businessman in modern day Hong Kong, but his journey to the top is a trip through the city’s shifting history. Born with blue eyes and abandoned by his mother, Bo grows up with a strong work ethic and a desire to achieve more than his social status would allow. He eventually joins one of the biggest British companies in the colony and sets about making a name for himself while never forgetting the value of family and the concept of giving back.
Director Yim Ho‘s film starts a bit slow as Bo’s early days as a child are explored, but once he grows into a young man (and Kwok appears on-screen) the film comes into focus as essentially the modern history of Hong Kong itself told on the intimate scale of one man’s life and family. We see the struggle of Chinese citizens dealing with their conquerors, but we also follow them out of British rule in 1997 to the destination city they inhabit now. There’s emotion and heart to be found here as family becomes the driving force, both on the personal level as well as the larger one, and it’s a valuable message complete with some gorgeous photography as well. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Pitch: They’re up all night to get Nucky…
It’s 1922, and Atlantic City is as hopping as it’s ever been. Alcohol is still illegal meaning that Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is equally as busy with his various illegal activities and business ventures covering everything from bootlegging to prostitution. But just as he has employees and compatriots in his endeavors he also has enemies happy to fight him within the law and without.
Season three of this Martin Scorsese-produced, award-winning series didn’t seem to generate as much chatter as the two that preceded it, but it remains a solidly entertaining show complete with strong acting, sudden violence and the occasional sexpot. The supporting cast is fantastic, the period detail is impeccable and Buscemi is still knocking it out of the park. HBO continues to load up their home releases with engaging extra features as well. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries]
Alyce (Jade Dornfeld) just can’t catch a break between her job and personal life, but at least she has her best friend Carroll. Well, had anyway, as a drunken night brings the girls to Alyce’s rooftop and an accident sends Carroll falling to the pavement below. Alyce lies to the police and feels guilty, but when she discovers her friend somehow survived the impact and is barely alive in the ICU, the panic and guilt grow even stronger sending Alyce down a rabbit hole from which there’s not return.
This is an issue with marketing more than the film itself, but the cover blurb promising “gory…revolting” content fails to mention that the kills and gore are saved for the film’s final fifteen minutes. Until then the movie is a darkly lit and more than a little drab descent into one woman’s depressing downward spiral. And I do mean darkly lit, like stupidly so, leaving several scenes feeling far cheaper than they should. That aside, the central character’s descent never feels earned. She simply collapses in on herself before moving on to degradation and the eventual murder. [DVD extras: Behind the scenes, interviews, trailer]
Skip it and watch American Mary instead.
Pitch: A dollar and a dream and an incredibly idealistic screenplay…
Lloyd Howard (Billy Burke) works in the small Highland Park district of Detroit where he struggles on a daily basis to keep his community and local school funded and running smoothly, but times are tough and budget cuts have led to yet another round of cutbacks and firings. Things change when Lloyd and his friends realize their weekly group-bought lottery ticket has won the big jackpot. Now this crew of blue collar workers see opportunity for the first time in a long time, but is this new found goodwill a product of the money or of their true hearts?
There’s no doubt that this is a slight film that suffers from an overblown Parker Posey and an occasionally leaky script, but there are some surprises here, too. Burke and Danny Glover both do fine work here, certainly better than Posey, and they find a way to connect with the material that feels legitimate and real. You’ll know early on where things are heading, and the script’s idealistic bent is more than a little unbelievable, but there’s enough to enjoy here for fans of the cast to sit through. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: Could have been called Seesaw: The Movie…
Benjamin Ford (Robert De Niro) lives a quiet life in the Appalachians hiding from his grown son’s attempts at bonding, but when a stranger (John Travolta) arrives feigning friendship before claiming retribution, Ford is forced to put a value on the things he holds dear. Now two men, each proud warriors from opposing sides of a past conflict, will fight to the death with bows, arrows, survival skills, grimaces and the occasional bad accent.
Neither lead has been a valued lead in years, so a film like this is going to live and die on the strength of its script and action. Unfortunately it fails to generate much excitement in either one of those areas. The two characters go back and forth in their advantage over the other ad nauseum, as each man again and again forgets to secure the other or looks away or decides to start talking , etc. And while there are some impressive practical effects the film resorts to CGI too frequently in small, obvious ways including putting their faces on smaller/younger bodies or making it look like they’re on a cliff or in a river. Worse, the narrative lacks even the slightest excitement. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Skip it and watch Grumpy Old Men instead.
Pitch: Spoiler: the title lies…
Emma (Adelaide Clemens) and her boyfriend (Luke Evans) are enjoying a relaxing drive through the back roads of who know’s where when they’re attacked by a group of redneck ruffians. He’s left for dead, and she’s abducted, but as they settle in with their evil selves they get a surprise. The boyfriend returns for vengeance, but his efforts are fueled by something far darker than his love for Emma.
Director Ryuhei Kitamura follows up his Clive Barker adaptation (The Midnight Meat Train) from four years ago with a gory thriller that plays at least a little bit with the genre’s conventions. The setup is actually pretty cool, but unfortunately the execution lacks style or a worthwhile payoff. The gore and deaths are creative enough to warrant a watch though for fans of the red stuff. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Pitch: After Darkness, Meh…
Juan lives in the Mexican countryside with his wife and two young children, but while the rural community around them is comprised of poor, drug addicted, mentally unstable mountain folk Juan’s newly built house stands as a testament to his wealth. Not that money has brought him happiness, though, as evidenced by his violent rages, his children’s fear, and his wife’s unhappiness. Oh, and there’s a bright red devil walking through the house at night, too.
Writer/director Carlos Reygadas‘ fourth feature is light on narrative and heavy on imagery and inferences, but while that may not make it pretentious, it definitely doesn’t make it interesting either. There is some visual beauty including the opening with Reygadas’ actual daughter wandering in a field and the follow-up appearance of the demon mentioned above, but the remainder of the film fails to engage as it moves between disjointed scenes of the past, present and future. Movies don’t need to stick to standard structures, but they should ideally have some element to draw and hold the mind. This one does so for the first ten minutes at best. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Upstream Color instead.
Pitch: Strange seeing so many funny people hold back…
Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) are a young couple in love who find themselves stuck in mankind’s last days after the rapture pulls all of the good people up into Heaven. The pair try to make due with their new reality, but when the devil (Craig Robinson) on Earth sets his sights on Lindsey as his new main squeeze she and Ben are forced to try and beat the prince of darkness at his own game.
This year saw three apocalypse-themed comedies (This Is the End and It’s a Disaster) hit screens, and while this was the lowest profile it’s probably because it’s also the least consistently entertaining. The problem most certainly isn’t the cast as in addition to the names above it also stars Rob Corddry, Thomas Lennon, Rob Huebel, Ken Jeong, Paul Scheer, Tyler Labine, John Michael Higgins and more. But for some reason the first two acts feel like little more than an extended sketch that misses as often as it hits. The final thirty minutes though sees it all come together and deliver some big, big laughs. So that’s something at least. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Two for the price of one! But one sucks so maybe it’s not a great deal after all…
X-Ray sees Barbi Benton enter a hospital for routine surgery only to be stalked by a mad man dressed as a doctor. The killer systematically works his way through the hospital’s staff and visitors alike, but as if that’s not evil enough he’s also been switching out her x-rays to make it look like she needs a doctor! Schizoid meanwhile follows a therapist (Klaus Kinski) whose patients are being systematically murdered by a scissors-wielding maniac.
The beauty of double feature releases is that a disc has two chances to win over viewers, and that’s a good thing in this case. X-Ray is an absolute dog in every regard but one. It’s absolutely moronic on every level from the killer’s motivations on through his actions. The only thing worthwhile element here is Benton’s twin talents. Schizoid by contrast is fairly generic but still manages some fun thrills and enough of a whodunnit to satisfy mystery fans too. Multiple red herrings and a crazy Kinski performance (redundant I know) make for an entertaining enough watch. [Blu-ray: Interviews, trailer]
Pitch: Maybe another Scrubs actor should consider a Kickstarter for what remains of his career…
Ken (Donald Faison) is the master prankster when it comes to his friends’ bachelor parties, but while he views his past exploits as genius, they see things a bit differently. They’ve suffered major embarrassments, faced legal actions and lost time with their wives because of his actions, but they’re still friends. Now that it’s time for Ken to get married they’ve planned a stag party that has him terrified of retribution.
To get a feeling of the level of terrible, there’s a scene where Ken explains to his wife how he once stuck a pineapple wedge, complete with leaves, in his unconscious and naked friend’s ass crack before taking a photo and sharing it with the world. He said he did it, and we see a flashback to him physically placing the pineapple. She then asks him if he did it. He says he doesn’t remember.
There are no laughs in this movie. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Bachelor Party instead.
Pitch: The original title, Running Away, wasn’t quite as inspiring…
Two kids attending the same summer camp find themselves independently targeted by prank-loving bullies and end up stripped to the underwear and marooned on an island. Fearing the worst when they see some boats returning, the two run away and find a world of adventure awaiting them.
The anti-bullying message here is pretty straight forward, but the details leave a lot to be desired. The lesson is basically to find a new friend and run away. You can’t always count on the first part though, and the second is simply wrong. Fight back! We do see the boy show some brief spunk through violence, but it’s rewarded with a weak follow-up instead of the recognition the tactic deserved. On the bright side, Radha Mitchell and Val Kilmer make brief appearances. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch The Karate Kid instead.
Pitch: The Halloween episode where he unknowingly gives a young Stephen King ideas for his future stories…
Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his crew continue their ongoing mission as members of the first Enterprise exploring space and beyond. Their various adventures put them in near constant danger, but they also are the first to interact with new forms of alien life. Sure they’re almost all humanoids, but space blobs are boring and lack personality.
The much-maligned but actually pretty enjoyable Enterprise continues the trend it set forth in its first season with a mix of episodes that range from good to mediocre. The strength here lay in the cast though which gelled and found a sense of humor quicker than the Next Generation folks did. On the other hand this show rarely (if ever) achieved a great episode. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, interviews, commentaries]
Pitch: Don’t expect that pesky “virgin” label to be applicable for long…
Christina (Christina von Blanc) returns home to Portugal for a memorial honoring her recently deceased father, but when she arrives at the large, family home she discovers the family members waiting for her are a bit off in their heads. Strange occurrences punctuate her stay ranging from undead visitations to some sexy fun time with cousins, strangers and a large black dildo she finds on her floor. Faced with frightening revelations and a macabre yet arousing atmosphere Christina is forced into a struggle for her very soul.
Director Jess Franco is revered by some, but his films have never achieved more than a cult following for a reason. And that reason is that far too many of them are pretty damn terrible. The effort and ideas are often visible, but the talent is rarely there to bring them to life. This film, probably one of his more well known, is also one of the rare exceptions. Both his original vision and the retooled (aka zombified) version are included here, and both offer an often intriguing glimpse into a weird, dream like state of flesh and imagery. The copious nudity doesn’t hurt, but unlike too many of his other films this time it’s not the only attraction. [Blu-ray extras: Original cut (Christina, Princess of Eroticism), commentary, alternate erotic footage, interview, featurettes, photo gallery, trailers]
Pitch: Kind of surprised to see that I wasn’t blurbed on the DVD cover…
Some friends go to a cabin in the woods, but when one of them unleashes an ancient evil in the basement they start dropping like Swedish flies.
This low budget Swedish horror flick makes no bones about being inspired by Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, but they bring absolutely nothing to the table. The setup, the demonic discovery, the resulting bloody fallout, and all the rest all lack a shred of creativity or ingenuity. Even if you go into this hoping for a forgettable knock-off you’re bound to be disappointed by the incredibly cheap feel and poor special effects. Artsploitation Films remains a great and important label for importing foreign films into the US, but this is a dud that should be left untouched. [DVD extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scene, booklet]
Skip it and watch Evil Dead (2013) instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
The Big City (Criterion)
Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey
The Good Wife: The Fourth Season
NCIS: The Complete Tenth Season
NCIS – Los Angeles: The Fourth Season
No Place On Earth
Parenthood: Season Four
Revenge: The Complete Second Season