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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

discs all is lostAll Is Lost

Robert Redford stars as a man sailing solo who encounters trouble out at sea. He awakens to the impact of his sailboat colliding with a derelict shipping container and quickly sets about trying to fix the damage before catastrophe occurs. His experience grows increasingly precarious, and soon he’s fighting against nature and circumstance for his very life.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor‘s follow-up to the excellent Wall Street drama Margin Call is even more engaging, but it accomplishes the feat through an opposite degree of dialogue. While that film was filled with fast-talk and lots of it, Redford’s character is the only one onscreen here leaving him no one to talk to but himself. (Sure, that didn’t stop Sandra Bullock from being a lonely chatterbox in Gravity, but this is a smarter movie.) The drama and suspense build naturally here as we work alongside the sailor in his efforts, and the script treats viewers as intelligent enough to follow along without needing every detail spelled out. This is a beautiful film about strength, resiliency, and the will to survive.

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

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discs the americans 1The Americans: The Complete First Season

Pitch: “All’s fair in love and cold war.”

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are a happily married couple living a content life with their two young children in 1980′s Washington D.C., except actually, they’re not. They’re a couple of Russian K.G.B. sleeper agents following orders and fighting the good fight for Mother Russia, but as the dangers of the spy life increase so do their differing opinions on their adopted home.

This FX series starts a bit rough, but the story moves in some smart directions and manages some thrilling moments along the way. The show finds obvious suspense and drama in its main narrative, but the show also finds ways to show the conflicts that wouldn’t be out of place in any marriage. The addition of Noah Emmerich as an F.B.I. agent working counter intelligence who coincidentally moves in across the street from the Jennings’ is another bonus. He’s always been a reliable character actor, and it’s great to see him in a more involved role where he gets the chance to bring even more depth to the proceedings.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary, gag reel, featurettes]

discs the armstrong lieThe Armstrong Lie

Pitch: “I didn’t live a lot of lies. But I lived one big one.”

Renowned documentarian Alex Gibney began a film in 2009 about Lance Armstrong‘s attempted comeback into the world of cycling and the Tour de France. It was interrupted by renewed doping accusations against Armstrong, and it led to Gibney shelving the project. He picked it up again in 2013 when Armstrong made an appearance on a little show called Oprah.

Gibney’s resume reads like a what’s what of critically acclaimed documentaries including films like Mea Maxima Culpa, Client 9, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. His latest narrows the focus to a single man, but it has a lot to say about the sport of cycling, other riders, and the organizations. Armstrong reveals his true colors throughout, and the result is a fascinating look at ego in freefall.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, Q&A, deleted scenes]

discs the jungle bookThe Jungle Book

Pitch: “The jungle is jumpin’!”

Mowgli is an orphaned human who’s left by circumstance alone in the Indian jungle. Instead of making a meal of him though, the inhabitants raise him as one of their own. His (mostly) carefree life reaches a crossroad when a fierce, man-eating tiger named Shere Kahn arrives on the scene. Fearing for the boy’s safety, his wolf family sends him back to his people.

Walt Disney’s 1967 classic remains one of the studio’s best animated releases, and continues to entertain nearly half a century later with its adventurous narrative, exciting animation, and lively musical numbers. It’s just a fun movie that will bring smiles to kids and adults alike. Its Blu-ray debut is loaded with extras, some more worthwhile than others, but the true value here is in the film’s fantastic picture and sound. Play it loud, and play it often.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, sing-along, alternate ending]

discs masqueradeMasquerade

Pitch: “The King Of Facade”

It’s 1616, and King Gwanghae (Lee Byung-hun) is facing internal threats during his 8th year of reign. Fearing for his life he orders his men to find him a double to be his public face. They find one in Ha-seon (also Lee Byung-hun), a comical performer, and it’s just in time too as Gwanghae quickly falls ill under suspicious circumstances. Ha-seon discovers the life of a king is a ridiculous one filled with executions, official decrees and royal bum-wipers, and he decides that maybe he can do more with his new role than simply act it out.

Key to the film’s success, in addition to the story itself and its sumptuous visuals, is Lee’s central dual performance. He brings the cruel and paranoid king to life as more than just a simple cookie-cutter bad guy, but it’s his portrayal of the comic Ha-seon that sells the film and makes it an affecting experience. The film has a gentle simplicity about it in that viewers have a hopeful understanding as to what this accidental tourist in the world of the powerful and elite can actually accomplish. There are laughs to be found here, both crass and subtle, but it’s the film’s heart and awareness that will stick with viewers after the credits roll.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

discs on the jobOn the Job

Pitch: “One cop. Two killers. No proof.”

A powerful criminal is gunned down in the middle of the street, and Sergeant Acosta is tasked with solving the crime. Unfortunately, the evidence is in as short supply as the list of suspects. What he doesn’t know is that the killers aren’t actually walking the street. They’re currently serving time for past crimes and are being released temporarily for the sole purpose of committing the murder. And then it happens again.

This Filipino action/thriller is an exciting watch thanks in part to its refreshing setup, and thankfully it remains a well executed affair all the way through. There are some fantastic and frequently bloody action sequences, some fine twists to the tale, and strong acting by all parties. It’s the kind of movie that stands apart from the typically generic action/thrillers churned out by Hollywood, meaning it’s one destined for a generic U.S. remake. See the original before that happens.

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

discs pussy riotPussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Pitch: “aka Pokazatelnyy protsess: Istoriya Pussy Riot”

Pussy Riot is a punk “band” consisting of balaclava-wearing young women who stage illegal and impromptu concerts to protest Vladimir Putin’s government. They were formed on the day his third term was made official, but while they could have gone on making small disturbances here and there the group’s decision to stage a protest in Moscow’s most famous Orthodox cathedral altered history. Namely, their “punk prayer” lasting less than a minute led to global attention, a media circus of a trial, and two-year sentences for the trio.

This doc follows the story from the months leading up to the protest all the way through the sentencing, and it makes it clear that church and state are intensely entwined in Russia. There are some frightening quotes from the ignorant masses and leaders calling for the trio’s incarceration and damnation, but they’re balanced by the wisdom and love on display from everyone else. There are lots of important issues being bandied about here including a feminist rallying cry, but in that vein it needs to be said that one of the girls, Nadia, is absolutely gorgeous.

[DVD extras: Skype Q&A, trailer]

discs sherlock 3Sherlock: Season Three

Pitch: “A new sleuth for the 21st century”

Moriarty’s out of the picture, and as far as John Watson (Martin Freeman) knows it coincided with the death of Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). So he’s a little surprised when Sherlock shows up alive and well. Cue three new adventures!

The BBC’s blockbuster series continues to show American television that size doesn’t matter. These three-episode seasons are perfect portions that allow for better quality control than a typical 20-24 episode run. It helps that each one of these are feature length, but that in turn makes for far more engaging and compelling television. This third season remains a sharply written and visually captivating affair, and while some of the tropes grow a bit tiresome the mysteries and performances are never less than entertaining.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]

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22 Bullets

Charly (Jean Reno) is an ex-gangster who’s moved on with his life to focus on family and enjoying his retirement in style, but old friends and enemies aren’t as content with his plans. They come calling and leave him for dead, his body riddled with, wait for it, 22 bullets, and while it’s easy to blame them for not finishing the job you can see why they made the assumption. Reno is years beyond his “professional” prime, but he’s still a cool character. His presence combined with competent action make for a fun enough watch.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, video commentary]

The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box

A teenage boy finds himself all alone after his family is taken from him, but to fill their void comes a wealth of secrets and an adventure suitable for kids of all ages. That plus some recognizable faces including Michael Sheen, Sam Neill, and Lena Headey are exactly what we get as viewers too. It’s not entirely clear what age group will enjoy it most as the story grows a bit dense while the action remains mild at best.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]

Austenland

Jane (Keri Russell) wishes she lived in Jane Austen’s time, so she jumps at the chance when she discovers a resort (of sorts) that claims to offer that very experience. Will she find her own love story? This is a movie, so yes, that is a rhetorical question. There’s definitely some charm to be found here, but not enough of the comedy clicks to make it a fully worthwhile experience.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, Q&A, featurette]

The Best Man Holiday

The friends from The Best Man reunite for the holidays! Even if you haven’t seen the first film this one catches viewers up quickly on what and who went down the first time around, and it stands on its own as an occasionally humorous comedy.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel, commentary]

The Counselor

A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) gets in over his head with drug runners and human windshield wipers. Some great and/or fun performances here (plus Cameron Diaz), but the film is little more than a second act devoid of both setup and denouement. Ridley Scott shoots an attractive movie, as is to be expected, but let’s please never let Cormac McCarthy write another screenplay. His plot structure is for shit, and the dialogue, aside from that spoken by the title character, is other-worldly, poetically-minded blather. It attempts to layer meaning across the proceedings but results only in a sticky sheen that slowly fades away as the credits roll.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Unrated and theatrical cuts, featurettes]

Diana

The last two years in Princess Diana’s life are brought to life with varying degrees of success. Naomi Watts does a solid job in the lead role, but the focus on the princess’ romantic life would feel more at home on Lifetime than on the movie screen. And not for nothing, but don’t pretend you’re making a serious movie only to include a booklet with the Blu-ray focusing on Diana’s fashion choices.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, fashion booklet]

Ender’s Game

A young boy may be the key to humanity’s struggle against alien invaders. Orson Scott Card‘s bestselling and beloved novel comes to visually impressive life, but while the effects are truly eye-catching the drama falls by the wayside.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]

Haunter

A teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) and her family were murdered in the ’80s, but the details of their death have left them trapped in their own home ever since, doomed to repeat their final days. Now a new family has moved in, and the ghostly girl must try to prevent the same thing from happening to another family. There are some fun and fresh ideas here, but the execution isn’t always up to the same level. Still, Vincenzo Natali has an eye that captures images worth seeing.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, storyboards, trailer]

How I Live Now

An American girl (Saoirse Ronan) is sent to stay with some British relatives but becomes trapped when a terrorist attack on London sets the world on edge. She finds comfort in the loins of her cousin and purpose in protecting those around her. This YA adaptation makes me wonder what exactly is in these books our teens are gobbling up as it includes casually accepted incest, rape squads, and the message that sex is more powerful than nuclear attacks. Okay, that last one is true, but still.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes, trailer]

Nikkatsu: Sex Hunter 1980

Mika is a young ballet dancer who is cajoled and coerced into joining an elite academy, but her arrival reveals there’s more to this school than meets the labia. There’s Coca-Cola bottles for one thing, and yes, you can take that literally. This entry in Nikkatsu’s roman porno canon borrows liberally from Dario Argento’s Suspiria, but the supernatural shenanigans are replaced with S&M, writhing lesbians, and some lovingly incestuous loving. It’s low on the “rapey” scale, but that’s not saying much.

[DVD extras: Trailer]

Reel Zombies

A group of friends set out to make a zombie movie and decide to take advantage of the fact that there’s been a recent zombie apocalypse. This low budget horror comedy comes from some filmmakers who’ve already made a few more straightforward zombie flicks, and in essence they’re able to play themselves here. It’s a fun conceit, and even though the actual comedy isn’t quite as fun there are still some memorable moments to be found for fans of the genre.

[DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailer]

The Summit

August 2008 was one of the deadliest times in K2′s modern history as 11 climbers met their death atop the mountain. This doc tries to examine what happened on that trip and why people would subject themselves to such an endeavor. It succeeds in part thanks to some compelling footage and cinematography, but the film’s scripted sequences and unannounced recreations are deserving of scrutiny.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Trailer]

Unidentified

A group of friends take a trip to Las Vegas and encounter something deadly. Luckily one of them brought a camera so we get to watch their found footage. This is pretty much a what-not-to-do when it comes to found footage films. The “funny” guy is far from funny, the scares are telegraphed and weak, the camera loses functions when the ostensibly cool stuff happens, and you just won’t care about a single thing.

[DVD extras: Commentary, YouTube videos, featurette, trailer]

Young Detective Dee

Detective Dee wasn’t always Andy Lau, and Tsui Hark‘s prequel aims to show how he got his start in the realm of solving supernatural crimes for the kingdom. This one lacks the emotion and star power Lau brought to the table, but fans of CGI action will appreciate the ramped up visuals and set pieces.

[Blu-ray/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 Artist and the Model
Chicago
Dallas: The Complete Second Season
Grace Unplugged
Hindenberg: The Last Flight
Khumba
Killing Kennedy
Life of a King
Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth
Nikkatsu: Nurse Girl Dorm – Sticky Fingers
Peekarama: Deep Roots / Starlet Nights
Reaching for the Moon
Regular Show: Mordecai & Margaret
The Returned: The Complete First Season
The Reverend
Rocky: Heavyweight Collection
Wadjda


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