discs graceland

Welcome back to a slightly revamped version of This Week In Discs!

As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

disc gracelandGraceland

Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is chauffeur to Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a salaciously corrupt politician in the Philippines who expects obedience and loyalty regardless of his actions. The two men have daughters the same age, and one day while Marlon drives the girls to school they’re stopped in an attempt to kidnap the politician’s daughter. Things go terribly awry, and the confused kidnappers take Marlon’s daughter instead having mistaken her for Chango’s child. Now Marlon’s only hope is for the politician to pay the ransom in the belief that his daughter is in peril, but maintaining the lie may lead to an even bigger tragedy.

Writer/director Ron Morales‘ fast-moving and vicious little film is a fantastically economical thriller that wastes no time diving into a sleazy world where children are little more than a commodity and money beats morals nearly every time. It’s a dark and nasty world indeed, but one of the joys of the film is seeing Marlon act as well as we can expect given the situation. He never frustrates or annoys even as his self dug grave gets deeper and deeper. Read my full review here. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes, booklet]

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disc new worldNew World

Pitch: Colin Farrell’s dedication to method acting is intense…

The Goldmoon syndicate is one of the most powerful and feared crime organizations in South Korea, and their leader has died. Now a trio of underlings maneuver for the role of boss, but there will be no civilized promotion process here. The role of syndicate head will be filled by way of double-crosses and bloodshed. Complicating things further is the fact that one of the men, Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae), is actually a long undercover cop desperate to return to his old life. Unfortunately for him his police chief handler (Choi Min-sik) isn’t through with him yet.

Writer/director Park Hoon-jung burst onto the scene three years ago with the script for Kim Ji-woon’s brilliantly twisted I Saw the Devil, but while his own directorial effort (his second) lacks that film’s psychological brutality it’s no stranger to the more traditional violence. One of the finest gangster film’s in recent years, the movie is awash in style and punctuated with some outstanding action set-pieces. Between this and Nameless Gangster it’s good to have Choi back onscreen again too. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, photo gallery, trailer]

disc silenceThe Silence

Pitch: Silent but deadly…

A young girl is raped and murdered in 1986, and the two men responsible go their separate ways and fade into history. Twenty three years later another girl has gone missing from the same exact spot setting in motion a slow, painful race to avoid a similar outcome. As the investigation unfolds the crimes of the past and present collide and the people involved find their lives altered once more.

Writer/director Baran bo Odar‘s German crime thriller fills the screen with humanity and beauty, just not always at the same time. It’s a procedural of sorts as opposed to a straight mystery, but the real focus here is on the people. Victims, perpetrators, families of both, we follow each of them through the pain and the guilt to destinations both devastating and unexpected. The gorgeous cinematography sometimes feels at odds with the suffering and sadness, but the stark contrast comes to inform the tale and increase its power. While it’s not in the same league as Memories of Murder and Zodiac, The Silence deserves mention in the same breath as those two classics all the same thanks to its visually stunning and emotionally affecting look at the people caught up in a maelstrom of violence and loss. Read my full review here. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short films, interviews, trailer]

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disc babettes feastBabette’s Feast (Criterion)

Pitch: In case you were wondering what Julia and Julia would look like in the setting of The While Ribbon

One of the most financially successful foreign language films to grace US screens during the 1980s, Babette’s Feast tells the story of a family residing in a small village in Denmark whose life of routine and piety is interrupted by a French housemaid who brings some spark and good luck with the presentation of an exceptional, luscious meal. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign language film in 1988.

Filmmaker Gabriel Axel adapts Isak Dinesen’s short story with incredible detail, particularly in his detailed realization of the film’s 19th century setting and his immersive representation of an incredibly delectable meal.  You can almost taste the gorgeous smorgasbord watching this in Criterion’s crisp HD transfer. While Babette’s Feast has been subsequently criticized for amounting to little more than a DanishMasterpiece Theatre, I was surprised to find the film briskly paced and starkly comic in its tone. It’s a breeze to watch, rewarding the viewer with a sumptuous feast for the eyes (literally) after its survey of quotidian village life. It’s like a Bergman film, except instead of existential despair you get yummy French food. While incredibly enjoyable, with stakes this remarkably low, Babette’s Feast is ultimately a relatively forgettable film for Criterion. This makes Babette’s Feast a perfect one-time outing, like a great meal that perfectly sates you to the degree that you don’t need to go back anytime soon. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: interviews, documentary about the author, visual essay from Michael Almereyda, theatrical trailer, illustrated booklet featuring an essay and the original short story] – Landon Palmer

disc ginger rosaGinger & Rosa

Pitch: Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall are in this, and that should be enough to warrant a watch…

Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) are best friends and have been since being born in the same hospital on the same night. They spend their days hanging out together, talking and occasionally hitching a ride from strangers, but their friendship begins to fracture as the pressures of a world on the brink of war and more intimate challenges of navigating relationships become too much for the teenagers.

Writer/director Sally Potter‘s film explores the power of friendships and family in a very unique time as the formalities of post-war England clash with the sexual and cultural revolutions of the ’60s. Ginger is the focus, and Fanning gives a surprisingly strong performance (British accent included) as a girl forced to accept the sad fact that no relationship is immune to decay. The film’s ending is a bit of a letdown, but it doesn’t detract from the fine ensemble cast and the marvelous period feel. [DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, interviews, featurette]

disc pietaPieta

Pitch: Tell your mother you love her with this gift from Drafthouse Films…

Gang-do (Lee Jeong-jin) is a low level loan shark whose preferred method of dealing with deadbeats who don’t pay up is to handicap them in some way, shape or form. He’s good at his job even if he doesn’t particularly enjoy it, but his steady world of violence and cash-counting is thrown into disarray when a woman appears claiming to be the mother who abandoned him at birth. He disregards her at first, but her persistence and willingness to face his abuse eventually calms his anger and leads to a tentative, albeit odd, mother and son relationship. And then things go sideways.

It should come as no surprise that Kim Ki-duk‘s latest film goes down a very dark and often violent path, but he does mix it up a bit from his usual by actually managing some restraint. That’s not to say there isn’t cruelty and brutality to be found here, because there most certainly is, but there’s a more frequent softness as well. The film suffers a little in the third act where we’re meant to be surprised by events that really shouldn’t be for anyone paying attention from the beginning. Fans of Kim’s will be happy to see his return to form, and while this doesn’t reach 3-Iron or Samaritan Girl levels of good it’s a fine and hard film all the same. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, featurettes, trailers, booklet]

disc tranceTrance

Pitch: Its audacious disregard for even the pretense of giving a shit is what makes it so compulsively watchable…

Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer in over his head after a robbery leaves some very violent men very upset with him. Tasked with revealing information he no longer has Simon begins seeing a therapist (Rosario Dawson) in the hopes that hypnotherapy will help him remember the whereabouts of a very expensive painting. But hypnosis is never more dangerous than when it’s in the hands of a screenwriter.

There’s no question that Danny Boyle‘s latest looks spectacular and moves like a stylistic bullet fired from a crooked gun, but goddamn is it dumb. The script by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge takes each twist and turn as a challenge to follow it with something even more ridiculous, and don’t doubt for a minute that they can do it either. It gives the occasional impression of being a hard-edged thriller, but the movie is actually a light-hearted romp. Or maybe it’s the other way around, I don’t know, the damn thing just keeps testing the limits to see which will break first, your jaw or the floor. Is it fun? Sure, once you realize that you shouldn’t be taking any of it the least bit seriously. And hey, Vincent Cassell manages to come out of it looking the best, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish so kudos to all involved for that. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, short film]

disc twixtTwixt

Pitch: I might believe it if you told me this was directed by the head of American Zoetrope’s mailroom…

Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is a horror novelist on a fast slide down from the bestseller lists, and while he’s still writing books there aren’t a lot of people reading them anymore. His most recent book tour brings him to a small town with a secret, but while he disregards it at first he soon comes to see it as an opportunity to reinvigorate his stalled career. Unfortunately for him though there’s a good chance he’s about to become just another chapter in the town’s own story.

Good god what is the deal here? Most directors are inconsistent, even (and especially) the great ones, but there’s a good chance writer/director Francis Ford Coppola had a stroke during production on this one and nobody noticed. At least nobody noticed until the dailies started coming in bearing the distinct visual style of a pc game cut scene from the ’90s. Laughable cinematography aside, the script is a ridiculous series of exchanges with all the emotional weight of a Tag Away infomercial. The handful of recognizable faces here, including Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Joanne Whalley (as Kilmer’s wife), Ben Chaplin and David Paymer, are all out-acted by Elle Fanning as a young ghost. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]

Skip it and watch 1408 instead.

disc vanishing wavesVanishing Waves

Pitch: As much nudity as Lifeforce but with five times the smarts…

Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is part of a scientific experiment attempting to explore a coma patient’s unconscious mind and if possible make contact as well. The process succeeds beyond expectations, but as he begins to form a rich bond with Aurora’s (Jurga Jutaite) subconscious he neglects to share his experiences with the other scientists for fear he’ll lose the opportunity to see her again and again. They meet in dream worlds filled with beauty and sexual escapades, but the experiment has an expiration date.

This Lithuanian film is a hybrid of science fiction, drama and bare ass naked shenanigans, but it’s also that rare piece of thought provoking cinema aimed at adults with attention spans. Co-writer/director Kristina Buozyte‘s film pairs intense, dreamlike visuals with real emotion, and she’s unafraid of pushing audiences with a protagonist who’s far from a typical or likable lead. The film runs a bit too long though and finds itself repeating and/or stressing some of its observations and conclusions too much, but fans of smart sci-fi and unusual dramas should give it a try. [DVD extras: Additional feature film, interview, making of, booklet]

disc vehicle 19Vehicle 19

Pitch: We all agree that Paul Walker’s best performance remains his small role in Pleasantville right? Right…

Michael Woods (Paul Walker) arrives in South Africa with one thing on his mind. No, not the fact that he broke parole to leave the United States and fly here, but instead his singular focus is to meet up with his estranged wife to make things right again. That distraction prevents him from making a stink when the rental agency gives him the wrong car, but when he discovers a cell phone, a gun and an unconscious and bound woman in the trunk he’s forced to rethink his priorities. Trapped between the need to see his wife and the threatening voice on the other end of the phone his day goes from bad to ridiculously crappy in record time.

There’s at least one element of writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil‘s film that deserves positive mention, and that’s the locale of Johannesburg. It’s not a common setting, and even though the film is mostly seen from inside the car the scenery is an interesting change of pace from the norm. But other than that this supposed fast-paced thriller is little more than a stalled story on the side of the road. The story requires too many contrivances and acts of stupidity to keep going, and Walker isn’t an accomplished enough actor to distract from the head-shaking plot turns. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Skip it and watch Phone Booth instead.

Discs Section: Also

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

Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger
Detention of the Dead
Fangoria Presents – Sin Reaper
The Gangster
Glove
House Party: Tonight’s the Night
The Ice Storm (Criterion)
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
Kiss of the Damned
Love and Honor
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVII
Starbuck
Superjail! Season Three
The Wedding Chapel
Welcome to the Punch


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