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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

disc strike back2Strike Back: The Complete Second Season

Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) weren’t always best of friends, and while they still argue on occasion they’ve also learned that they can trust each other when the bullets start flying. Their latest adventure finds the duo along with their new commander (Rhona Mitra) running and gunning their way across Africa in search of stolen nuclear triggers.

Technically the series’ third season, this is Cinemax’s second as the producing entity, and they continue to show why no one even talks about that initial UK season any more. They also continue to show that a TV show can actually best many a lesser action movie in nearly every aspect. The acting and cast here are solid, the cinematography is theater-worthy, and the action sequences are impossibly great for a television series. They also impress with their awareness of both weaponry and tactics that add to the feeling of legitimacy. Hell, Cinemax even ensures the show maintains their high (or low?) standards when it comes to T&A. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries]

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disc lucasLucas

Pitch: Rudy! Rudy! Rudy…

Lucas (Corey Haim) is fourteen and a bit of an outcast. He’s not shy, but his appearance and interests mark him as nerd material from miles away. Never one to stay in the shadows, he sets his eyes on a new girl (Kerri Green) at school and sets out to impress her by joining (or struggling to join) the football team. He might just stand a chance if he doesn’t die in the process.

This coming of age gem doesn’t get the love of so many other ’80s comedies, but it most definitely deserves it. Haim does some of his best work here, almost on par with Lost Boys, as do the others including Winona Ryder and Charlie Sheen. More than that though the movie stands out for its honesty, particularly in the big finale on the football field. It doesn’t sugarcoat the tale and instead embraces Lucas’ life bumps and all. [Blu-ray extras: None]

disc mudMud

Pitch: McConaughey gets even dirtier than a corrupt cop with a chicken leg…

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are best of friends trying to enjoy what may be their last summer together before the tribulations of adulthood force Ellis’ parents to move him away, but when one of their small adventures opens the door on a much larger one neither boy finds it easy to step away. They discover a wanted man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and decide to help him in his misguided attempt at rekindling a romance.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols‘ latest lacks the powerful ending of Take Shelter, but it succeeds in almost every other way possible starting with some spectacular performances from all involved. McConaughey continues to impress, as does the supporting cast including Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, and Michael Shannon, but it’s Sheridan who delivers a knockout sophomore effort (after Tree of Life). The ending here is actually the weakest part by far, but it can’t damage the power of what comes before. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]

disc silver streakSilver Streak

Pitch: Like a funnier Terror Train

George (Gene Wilder) is on a cross-country train trip when he thinks he witnesses a murder. After trying and failing to convince others of what he saw he sets out to investigate the crime himself, but all he finds is trouble. Well, trouble and two new friends in Richard Pryor and Jill Clayburgh. Together they try to solve the mystery and catch the killer before they too get tossed from a moving train.

This Arthur Hiller classic was the first collaboration between Wilder and Pryor, and it remains the best. The writing is wonderfully sharp, both comedic actors are at the top of their game, and the film actually manages some legitimate suspense along the way too. The supporting cast offers a nonstop parade of familiar faces too including Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Ray Walston, Richard Kiel, Fred Willard and Scatman Crothers. Like Lucas above this is a bare-bones release, but also like Lucas above it’s worth owning for the movie alone. [Blu-ray extras: None]

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disc 5 souls5 Souls

Pitch: Where’s Julianne Moore when you need her…

Noah is a budding architect, but when he sees a news report about a deadly building collapse he passes out and goes into a coma. When he awakens he’s visited by a man who claims to be the devil and offers Noah a deal. He can either die and go to hell now, or he can kill five innocent people and wipe his misdeeds clean. He chooses the latter. Sam meanwhile is a detective who lost his wife and daughter in a similar collapse two years prior, and now he’s hot on the trail of the man he feels is responsible for both tragedies.

The premise here is a somewhat interesting one as I’m a sucker for deals-with-the-devil type stories, but too little is done with it here. Neither Noah nor the devil are all that interesting, and the story proceeds in ways that the weak attempts at characterization can’t support. Not only that, but the cop storyline never really gels in any meaningful way leaving it instead a distraction from what should have been the main and only tale. [DVD extras: None]

Skip it and watch Heart and Souls instead.

disc absenceAbsence

Pitch: Just because you have opposable thumbs doesn’t mean you should use them to make a found footage film…

Liz has been pregnant for nearly nine months, but one morning she woke up to find the fetus had vacated the premises of her womb. Her husband, friends and doctors are understandably confused, but not even Liz knows for sure what happened. The couple decide to head to their cabin in the woods with Rick’s brother Evan who films the trip for no good reason, but instead of the relaxing vacation they wanted they discover the truth behind their unborn baby’s disappearance.

There are bound to be worse found footage films that inexplicably receive a DVD release, but for right now the title belongs to this painfully bad movie. All of the worst elements are here from the poor logic to the annoying as hell cameraman to the dull, boring slog towards the end, but while some films make up for that with scares and/or a killer finale this manages neither. It’s absolutely without scares having replaced them with near constant obnoxiousness, and the end is so obvious you’re left wanting much much more. Seriously, this makes Amber Alert look mildly competent. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Skip it and watch literally any other found footage movie instead.

disc aftershockAftershock

Pitch: Funnier than Earthquake

“Gringo” (Eli Roth) is in Chile visiting his friends Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolás Martinez), and while he’s missing his son back home he’s having a fantastic time hitting up nightclubs and chatting up the ladies. But when their latest club excursion is interrupted by an earthquake that collapses buildings and sends the city of Valparaiso into chaos the friends and a trio of female tourists find themselves on the run from both nature and the evils of mankind.

It’d be easy to dismiss this bloody and violent romp as forgettable exploitation filmmaking, but that would be a mistake as it’s actually a funny and fairly smart disaster pic. The first half does well with the character introductions and interactions providing plenty of laughs along the way, but when the quake strikes it becomes a series of surprises and unexpected outcomes. It plays well with conventions and leaves viewers feeling that none of the characters are safe. And not for nothing but Roth actually gives a good and engaging performance too. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]

disc antiviralAntiviral

Pitch: The apple-shaped body horror doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works at a highly specialized clinic that works to satisfy a new level of celebrity culture. People pay to be infected with the diseases their idols are currently carrying from the harmless to the painful, the generic to the sexually transmitted. Syd transports the cells in his own body, but when his latest celebrity acquisition dies from her illness he finds himself targeted by rival collectors and suffering some strange side effects.

Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg‘s debut is definitely its own creation, but any belief that it would stand fully apart from his father’s work is a fallacy. This is body horror done with a clean, clinical, sci-fi feel, but it’s not afraid to get messy when necessary. The horror aspect isn’t the only thing he borrows from his dad though as the film also moves at an occasionally laborious pace, and that’s the only real area where Brandon’s filmmaking needs to improve. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of]

disc community4Community: The Complete Fourth Season

Pitch: Something feels amiss here…

Community college has rarely been funnier than it is here (unless you count the first three seasons), and as school winds down these seven friends see their relationships tested in new ways both on and off campus. Jeff (Joel McHale), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Abed (Danny Pudi), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), Annie (Alison Brie), Troy (Donald Glover) and Pierce (Chevy Chase) are once again joined by Chang (Ken Jeong) and Dean Pelton (Jim Rash).

It’s no secret that show creator Dan Harmon was absent from the show’s fourth season, but even if you didn’t know that beforehand you’d know it fairly quick just by watching. It’s almost like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario where we recognize the faces, but they’re all acting just slightly left of center. The new showrunners never seem to get these characters down, and the result is a cast going through the motions and an over reliance on Chang and the dean. There are still laughs to be found thanks in large part to the cast dynamics, but the season is a pale imitation of what came before. [DVD extras: Commentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes, featurettes]

disc eddieEddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal

Pitch: You should definitely try and wake him up…

Lars (Thure Lindhardt) was hot stuff in the art world a while back, but he’s currently suffering a bit of a block when it comes to inspiration. That all changes when he meets a special needs man named Eddie (Dylan Smith) with an equally special condition. Eddie sleepwalks, but while others may visit the fridge in the middle of the night Eddie goes in search of fresher food sources. Like people. Lars discovers this and finds that the resulting carnage brings new energy to his paintings. What’s a true artist to do?

This Canadian production begins as an odd, little comedy before the red stuff begins pouring, but even as people start dropping dead it retains its sense of humor. It grows substantially darker as the film progresses, but humor remains the focus. It works too as there are some real laughs to be found in what becomes a bloody comedy of errors and manners. Whether or not there are enough to justify the feature length is another story, but at 83 minutes it’s a quick enough watch regardless. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, short film, trailer]

disc king of the streetsThe King of the Streets

Pitch: Court jester maybe…

Yue Feng (Yue Song) likes to fight, so it’s a good thing he’s also pretty good at it. When one of his brawls goes too far and leaves his opponent dead he’s sent to jail where he becomes a changed man. He no longer feels the fighting spirit, but while he tries to resist the pull of the street eventually becomes too much thanks to violence visited upon his loved ones. You know what comes next.

Effort is always appreciated when it comes to scripts in action movies, but even a simple and/or generic story can be forgiven if the action kicks ass. The Raid is a fine example of an incredibly basic story elevated by ridiculously awesome fight sequences. The King of the Streets is not. The movie looks low-rent, the story is uninteresting, and the fight scenes fail to impress on even the most basic level. It’s difficult to blame the fighters on that front as the bigger issue is the weak choreography and terribly limiting editing. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Skip it and watch Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li instead.

disc oblivionOblivion

Pitch: Like a stew of sci-fi leftovers…

Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last two people on Earth after an alien attack left most of the planet inhabitable. The pair work to secure water resources until the time they can join the rest of mankind’s survivors on a space station orbiting the planet and eventually their new home on one of Saturn’s moons. Things change though when he discovers there’s more to his daily routine than he could have imagined.

Let’s be clear here and acknowledge that there isn’t an original bone in this entire movie, but if you can accept that then you’ll discover that the movie still has much in the way of visuals and entertainment to offer. Director Joseph Kosinski has delivered a gorgeous film in both its visuals and score, and Cruise is more than capable in the hero role. Add in Olga Kurylenko and you’ve got a movie that plays extremely well on a big TV with the sound turned up high. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]

disc on the roadOn the Road

Pitch: Kristen Stewart makes a very un-Twilight-like entrance…

Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is a young writer on an adventure to explore all that late ’40s America has to offer. He gets by well enough on his own, but his life really takes off when he hooks up with the free-spirited Dean (Garrett Hedlund) and Dean’s girlfriend Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Their journey brings them in contact with an eclectic mix of the country’s citizens, and through it all they learn unexpected truths about themselves and each other.

Director Walter Salles‘ film is as faithful and loving and adaptation anyone could have hoped for of the classic Jack Kerouac novel, but its success with viewers may wholly depend on whether or not they’re fans of the book. As someone who’s not (in part because I haven’t read it) I found the characters to be a bit tiring. The atmosphere and period recreations are top notch though so it’s rarely dull, and hey, it’s a hell of a lot better than Howl. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, trailer]

disc political animalsPolitical Animals: The Complete Series

Pitch: See? Politicians are just like us…

Elaine Hammond (Sigourney Weaver) is the former first lady and current Secretary of State, and as she tries to navigate the job and her family she struggles to decide if a presidential run is in her immediate future. Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) meanwhile is a reporter trying to make her mark by covering the story from any angle possible. Hammond’s family offers plenty to talk about too between her Bill Clinton-like ex-husband, her soon to be married son, her gay son, and others.

Shows based on politicians and their ilk have been around for some time, but recent years have seen a series of highly acclaimed looks at this particular world including Boss and House of Cards. Point being that you’ve got to bring something special if you want to get noticed. Greg Berlanti’s six episode show chooses instead to bring caricatures and generic setups, and the result is comedy and drama that feels consistently forced and ultimately dull. [DVD extras: Unaired scenes]

Skip it and watch House of Cards (original or remake) instead.

disc quicksilverQuicksilver

Pitch: Oooh, ooh, there’s a character named Gabe Kaplan. I’m not kidding…

Jack Casey (Kevin Bacon) is a hotshot stock broker and he has the stache to prove it, but when he loses it all (including his parents’ life savings) in a bad transaction he crashes and burns out of the market. He finds a new life as a NYC bike messenger, but his past comes calling when his talents are required to help out a friend. There’s also a very rude drug dealer causing trouble.

This is a quintessential ’80s movie for many reasons, from the synthesizer score to the supporting cast (including Jami Gertz and Paul Rodriguez), and there’s definite fun to be had there, but the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. What starts as a drama about finding your way and making amends is interrupted by a poorly conceived suspense/action subplot. Those elements are the film’s weakest and detract from the simple pleasures of the rest of the movie. Bacon’s hair survives it all though. [Blu-ray extras: None]

disc sapphiresThe Sapphires

Pitch: That’s not an Aboriginal singing group, this is an Aboriginal singing group…

1968 Australia wasn’t a kind place for Aboriginals, but it was an improvement over the years of severe segregation and kidnapping that came before. Out of this came a quartet of three sisters and their cousin who sang together for fun as kids but now rejoin to take a gamble on stardom entertaining American troops in Vietnam. They’re led towards the front lines by a washed up performer/promoter named Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) who sees possibility in the group and maybe himself too.

This pleasant enough little movie is based on a true story and does a pretty good job of balancing the drama, comedy and music. It also tries a bit too hard to hit the right notes on the first of those with some fairly artificial-feeling dramatic beats. Also artificial is the film’s singular battle scene as it lacks even the slightest bit of conviction. But this isn’t a war movie, it’s a story of determination and relationships in troubled times, and on that count at least it’s an entertaining ninety minutes. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interview]

disc storm surfersStorm Surfers

Pitch: Vaya con Dios, brah…

Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones are big wave surfers constantly on the lookout for new adventures either off the coast of their home, Australia, or elsewhere in the world including Hawaii and the coast of South Africa. This doc sees them joined by surf forecaster Ben Matson as they put their skills and lives to the test.

Surfing documentaries have been around for a while, and they almost always feature some impressive footage of people riding gigantic walls of rushing water. The difference here is two fold. First, the two men are charismatic and contagious in their enthusiasm, and second, the camera tech being used here puts viewers right there with the guys on the boards. Riding with them through the tunnels is as close as most of us will ever get, and for some of us that’s just fine. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]

disc swamp thingSwamp Thing

Pitch: He’s all plant where it counts…

Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is a top scientist searching for a cure to world hunger through specialized food production, and with Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) by his side he’s finally cracked it. Before he can share his discovery with the world though his lab is sabotaged by the evil Arcane (Louis Jourdan), and Holland is fertilized with his own serum. Left for dead he soon returns a changed man.

The ’80s saw a handful of comic book adaptations, but in addition to the DC or Marvel name they frequently shared a goofy sensibility. Director Wes Craven‘s contribution to the genre is no different, but he makes it work while also keeping things fun and exciting. The whole thing is somewhat campy, especially the wonderful Jourdan, but it never goes too far over the top to the point of stupidity. Plus a topless Barbeau in a PG movie! Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray offers probably the best image this film’s going to get alongside some truly fun extras too. It’s good, goofy fun, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interview, trailer, photo galleries]

disc twilight zone4The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season

Pitch: The episodes are twice as fat this season…

Rod Serling‘s brain child saw its fourth season mutate a bit thanks to its appearance as a mid season replacement on the network’s 1962 schedule and resulted in half as many episodes as normal at twice the running time. The format change didn’t affect the talent involved though as episodes still came from the pens of writers like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and Serling himself.

While the talent remained top notch the hour long format is no friend to what makes The Twilight Zone so special. The series’ stories always seemed best designed for the shorter run time as their effect and power came from their lean nature, but some of these hour long ones feel like they’ve been unnecessarily padded. But fewer outright classics doesn’t mean the season is a waste as episodes like “Death Ship” and “Printer’s Devil” remain stand outs today. [DVD extras: None]

Discs Section: Also

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

The Borgias: The Third Season
A Boy and His Dog
Disney’s Oliver & Company: 25th Anniversary
Disney’s Robin Hood: 40th Anniversary
Disney’s The Sword In the Stone: 50th Anniversary
The Earrings of Madame de… (Criterion)
Freaked
Magic Magic
My Amityville Horror
The Pick-Up Artist
The Place Beyond the Pines
A Resurrection
Smash: Season Two
The Thick of It: Seasons 1-4
To the Wonder
West of Memphis


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