Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
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Day of the Dead
The zombie apocalypse continues to ravage the Earth, and one of the last pockets of survivors makes their home in an abandoned missile silo. The group is divided unevenly between civilians and soldiers, but as the days pass and the undead keep coming, the tension among the living rises to dangerous levels.
George Romero‘s Dead films currently number six, and while his most recent three are mostly forgettable, the original trilogy remains a classic both collectively and individually. And this is where I admit that I find Day to be the best of the bunch. Tom Savini‘s effects are the most gorily effective of the series, and while it lacks the previous films’ allegory and metaphor, it manages a self-contained story complete with good guys, bad guys, and entertaining set pieces. And hell, even John Harrison‘s score is fantastic. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray gives the film the treatment it deserves complete with original artwork, a new HD transfer, and a load of extras including a documentary almost as long as the movie itself. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, commentaries, featurettes, galleries, trailer]
Adventure Time: Jake the Dad
Pitch: It’s the circle of life by way of WTF…
When a papa dog and a unicorn/dragon hybrid fall in love they show how much they care about each other by canoodling in the dark. The results of that magical moment are captured here as the results of Jake the Dog and Lady Rainicorn’s fornicating ways are front and center in sixteen magical family-friendly episodes.
Full season releases are always the ideal when it comes to TV shows on DVD, but some rules are made to be bent. And I can think of no better show to bend it with then Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. The episodes can be watched in clumps, individually, and in any order. It’s one of the rare series that is near brilliant and yet I wouldn’t judge anyone for feeling any different. It’s a saccharine-fueled dreamscape that delivers laughter and wondrous awe in every frame. [DVD extras: Featurette, Jake hat]
Pitch: Think Crash, but better and with racism replaced by Google…
A lawyer (Jason Bateman) concerned more with his work than his family misses the signs that his son is falling into despair after suffering some humiliating online bullying. That bully’s father (Frank Grillo), a police officer, struggles with what his son’s online activities have led to. A reporter (Andrea Riseborough) gets too close to the subject of a story involving online sex sites. A couple (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) find their lives ruined when their identities are stolen, and their journey for revenge leads to some unexpected revelations.
This ensemble film in the vein of Babel and Magnolia took a bit of a critical beating earlier this year, but while it wears its heart quite visibly on its sleeve it works far more frequently than it doesn’t. Riseborough gives a typically good performance, but her storyline is also the weakest. The others stand out, though, both in their drama and humanity. It’s a good-looking film, too, with a specific shot towards the end offering a beautiful encapsulation of its theme. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, trailer]
World War Z
Pitch: I Am Zombie…
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) has left the world of politics and intrigue behind to spend more time with his family, but when a zombie plague sends the world into chaos he’s called upon to help mankind make a last stand. His journey brings him to other countries, to the edge of death, and beyond.
Marc Forster‘s epic zombie film surprised many as its troubled production resulted in massive box office returns and, more importantly, an immensely entertaining film. There are flaws to be found here, many in fact, but they fade while the film’s successes grow. The third act in particular stands out, basically from Israel on, as it features the film’s most exciting and suspenseful set pieces. Pitt does great work here in a role unlike anything he’s tackled before, and while purists and fans of Max Brooks’ source novel are rightfully perturbed, those of us who never read the book are more than pleased with the results. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Bates Motel: Season One
Pitch: Be honest. You’d be attracted to your mother if she looked like Vera Farmiga…
Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) have arrived in White Pine Bay as the new owners of a run-down hotel purchased with life insurance proceeds following Norman’s father’s death. The two have a very close bond, and while it’s not quite creepy-close yet, Norman is starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and smothered. His efforts to stretch his wings with new friends meets resistance both at home and out in this very weird little town.
A&E’s freshman series takes a few episodes to get rolling, but once it does there’s enough here of interest to continue on to the end. There’s possibly too much as the town is made to resemble a slightly more sedate Twin Peaks at times as opposed to someplace believable. The risk with prequels is in finding the unknown when we obviously know where things are already heading, but the show does a commendable job building the mystery, the characters, and the relationship destined to doom mother and son. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, interviews]
The Bling Ring
Pitch: The one where Emma Watson’s magic has fizzled…
A group of Los Angeles teenagers obsessed with fame, fashion, and felebrities discover a way to get even closer to the icons that rule their days and nights. They use the internet to find out when certain celebs are going to be out of town and what their home addresses are, and then they scale fences, open unlocked (?) doors, and proceed to steal millions in clothing, jewelry, cash and more. Their obsession doesn’t extend to loyalty though, and when the law comes calling their friendships fade away.
Sophia Coppola writes and directs this true story, and unfortunately it’s the least affecting or effective film she’s made. The topic of disaffected people brushing up against fame and fortune is nothing new for her, but while she’s presented them in the past with narrative and/or commentary she does nothing of the sort here. Instead we simply get 90 minutes of ugly people (personality-wise) which is 85 more than you’d ever actually want to spend with them. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, trailer]
Skip it and watch Beverly Hills Ninja instead.
Gimme the Loot
Pitch: Banksy is rolling over in his grave. It’s okay though because it’s just an art installation…
Malcolm and Sofia are best friends who share a hobby on the streets of New York City. They’re taggers, graffiti artists, vandals, and when their work starts getting defaced they get pissed. Which is a bit hypocritical, but there you have it. Together they plan an epic tagging that would make them legends in the city, but acquiring the means to make that a reality is the first challenge of many.
Indie cinema has certain limitations that require its more creative aspects to stand out and draw the eyes away from a film’s cheapness. These are usually budget neutral elements like story, script, and level of acting. This little film has a mildly engaging tale at its core, but it loses favor with the other two. [DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, short film, deleted scene, trailer]
Skip it and watch Turk 182 instead.
The Haunting of Helena
Pitch: The scariest tooth fairy since Dwayne Johnson climbed into a tutu…
Sophia has separated from her husband and taken their daughter Helena to begin a new life in Italy. They hit a snag when the little girl loses a tooth and begins an odd descent into creepy madness. Soon she’s obsessed with her classmates’ teeth, having frightening visions, and infecting the apartment’s atmosphere with dread.
This straight to DVD horror indie offers some interesting plot setup and turns, but the execution makes it difficult to enjoy for long. The film is too damn dark for one thing with scenes seemingly lit for dramatic effect actually making it just seem cheap. Additionally, far too many of the intended scares are CGI creations which immediately neuters the effect. [DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews]
Skip it and watch The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh instead.
Hidden In the Woods
Pitch: Wasn’t hidden well enough…
Ana and Anny are two unlucky sisters in the backwoods of Chile stuck with a truly unfortunate home life. After their father kills their mother he goes on to raise his daughters by way of the occasional rape and physical abuse, but when police come calling things take yet another turn. Now on the run from both their father and some gangsters the two young women are forced to survive on their own.
The DVD uses adjectives like “controversial” and “shocking” to describe this turd, but it’s difficult to believe it’s actually either of those. It’s poorly made to be sure, from the editing to the direction, with the whole thing just feeling cheap for the sake of it. The movie does try to shock with scenes of babies dropping into bowls, rapes, blowjobs, and bloodletting, but none of it thrills or entertains. Instead it just frustrates as you question why you’re wasting your time on such pointless garbage. [DVD extras: Interview, booklet, featurette, trailers]
Skip it and watch Mama instead.
Pitch: “What does the Koran say about a woman piercing her clit…”
Indonesia’s gorgeous and alluring Sultana has been blown up, and the police are not pleased. An American (Kellan Lutz) in close proximity to the explosion and the bomber is questioned, but when his cover story falls apart it’s revealed that he’s an American agent on a mission. He joins forces with a local cop to take down a suspected terrorist (Mickey Rourke), and the city soon becomes a blood and bullet covered death trap.
Lutz has a muscled physique and a Twilight pedigree, but the guy is no action star. Luckily director Conor Allyn is able to craft exciting action sequences in spite of his lead actor as these set pieces are what makes the film worth a watch. It’s definitely not the script, as evidenced by the pitch quote above, and the fact that the story lacks anything resembling surprises or interesting content. And Rourke? Oh my. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
The Last Tycoon
Pitch: Always bring a Chow Yun-fat to a gun fight…
Du Yuesheng (played by Chow Yun-fat in the elder years) was a high level gangster in early 20th century Shanghai, but his path to the top was a convoluted and bloody one. Du is introduced to the world of crime after being unjustly incarcerated and subsequently rescued by a corrupt cop, and he quickly works his way up the ranks thanks to his smarts and willingness to kill anyone who gets in his way. His journey is complicated though by competing crime lords, the impending Japanese invasion and the love of two very different women.
At two hours long it’s odd to feel that the film should have actually run longer, but that’s exactly what we’re left with here. The story spans a large swath of time as it moves back and forth between Du’s life as a young man and a much older and wiser one, and the drama is too often lost amidst the style, action and jumps. What it lacks in dramatic power it more than makes up for with spectacular and often beautiful action set pieces. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Pitch: As if anyone would take a cross-country trip with Dan Fogler…
Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) have been friends since their youth, but recent years have seen the two part ways. They set off on a cross-country drive together hoping to renew their friendship, but circumstances, both intentional and otherwise, conspire to trap the two on a long stretch of desert road with no help in sight. Tensions bubble up into violence, and soon the two are face to face with not only the worst elements of themselves but with possible death as well.
This is an odd one in that it feels for much of its run time like something that would have worked better as a short film. It isn’t until late in the second act that the script and characters really hit their stride and pull you into the story as a whole. Both leads deliver unexpected performances with Duhamel in particular showing some real chops. The ending will surely divide some viewers, and I’m still not sure entirely how I feel about it except to say that it works. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Pitch: And they’re calling collect…
Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) is an American of Chinese descent, but when he’s sent to China to oversea his company’s activities he discovers he’s quite the fish out of water in his parents’ homeland. He meets, clashes, and eventually falls for a relocation specialist (Eliza Coupe), but as the pressures mount both professionally and socially, he discovers what he’s really made of.
This slight rom-com is the epitome of harmless and easily digested, and while that’s nothing to strive for it’s also nothing to be ashamed of. Coupe is more restrained here than fans of Happy Endings may be expecting, but she shows a softer side that meshes well with Henney and the story. The plot proceeds as expected, but there are some laughs and some heart, and familiar faces like Bill Paxton and Alan Ruck are always fun as well. But yes, you will forget it almost immediately. [DVD extras: Behind the scenes]
Pitch: Rob Disinterested…
Simon (Brady Corbet) is out of college and out of his relationship with the only girl he’s ever loved. He heads to Paris in the hopes of putting his past behind him where the past naturally lives, and soon starts a new relationship with a young prostitute named Victoria (Mati Diop). He fares okay for a short while, but when his attempt to get her out of the business fails in spectacular fashion his mind and genitals start to wander yet again.
This is ostensibly a film about a man’s slow descent into madness, but there’s little evidence of that in the film itself. Simon is off-kilter from the very beginning, and if anything he’s more of an idiot and asshole than he is a crazy man. Corbet does some great work here with what’s available to him, but the script by writer/director Antonio Campos never commits enough to the disintegration of sanity. Ultimately we’re left with a fairly uninteresting main character on an even less engaging journey. [DVD extras: Featurettes, gallery, trailer]
Skip it and watch Clean Shaven instead.
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Pitch: Just not well enough apparently…
Max Youngman (Keith Poulson) is recently divorced, unhappy at work, and looking for love. He’ll settle for like at this point, but even that’s hard to come by it seems. Complicating things ever so slightly is a magical briefcase that contains either the secret to everything or a whimsical disco ball. His life goes on, even as he stays the same.
This is an odd one. On the face of it the cast alone should make it a fun watch. Jess Weixler and Nick Offerman are both solidly entertaining actors, but this is Poulson’s show, and he’s not quite leading man material. The writing is equally inconsistent with some jokes landing while the majority fall flat. The whole thing feels like someone watched Pulp Fiction and decided they knew what was in the suitcase. Or like someone wanted an easy way to get actresses to strip naked. [DVD extras: Q&A, commentary, interviews, trailer]
Skip it and watch Teeth instead.
Pitch: And yet so belabored…
The town of Suddenly isn’t accustomed to high profile visitors, so news of an imminent visit from the President of the United States understandably throws them into quite the tizzy. Deputy Shaw (Ray Liotta) is a has-been in many eyes, including his own, but when he discovers a plot to kill the president he springs into action.
It would be too obvious to write this off as a failure based solely on the direction of Uwe Boll, but while his direction doesn’t really add anything into the mix it’s also generic enough as to be unobtrusive. The real issue here is the script and frequently lazy performances. The whole thing reeks of by-the-numbers TV movie. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Shooter instead.
Two Men In Manhattan
Pitch: Still don’t understand how Hollywood remade this into Two and a Half Men…
It’s 1950’s Manhattan, and two men are in for a bumpy night when a French UN diplomat goes missing. Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville) is a reporter tasked with finding the man before morning, and he brings along a French photographer (Pierre Grasset) with knowledge of the city’s seedier streets and alleyways. The two men discover the truth, but their varying morals lead to a violent crossroad.
Melville also wrote and directed this jazzy noir reportedly as a love letter to New York City, and it’s easy to believe that. The film oozes a raw sensibility alongside its smoky, stylish cinematography, and together both of these aspects bring the city to life even through the limitation of black & white photography. It’s not the most well-acted movie, with Melville himself being a precursor to the Quentin Tarantino school of director/actors, but the ethical dilemma on display makes for some interesting drama. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, essay, trailer]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Dracula: Prince of Darkness
Grimm: Season Two
Hidden In the Woods
Nashville: The Complete First Season
Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven
The We and the I