Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
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Leon (Aaron Poole) has returned to his estranged mother’s (Vanessa Redgrave) home for the first time in years, but it’s her death that brought him back. Charged with going through her belongings before selling off the property he discovers that before she passed away his mother had developed an odd fascination with angels. The discoveries continue as strange events begin happening that lead him to believe his mother may be trying to communicate with him from beyond.
Haunted house movies, both the good ones and the bad, usually share little more than a desire to entertain and scare, but the rare ones try to do a little more than that and make audiences feel or think as well. Writer/director Rodrigo Gudiño‘s debut feature belongs in that latter category as its creepy and atmospheric tale is accompanied by an examination of love, grief, and faith lost and found. There are scares here, but they’re subtle and disarming instead of loud and jump-worthy. If you enjoyed The Conjuring and you don’t have A.D.D. be sure to give this one a chance. [DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, photo gallery, short film]
Pitch: Italian crime films? Good luck getting those to catch on…
Three of director Fernando Di Leo‘s violent crime thrillers come together in RaroVideo’s second collection of the man’s work. In Naked Violence, the brutal assault and murder of a teacher leaves police investigating her teenage students. Shoot First, Die Later follows a hotshot but corrupt detective whose life grows somewhat complicated when his cop father discovers his son’s transgressions. Kidnap Syndicate sees a blue collar worker racing against time to rescue his son who’s been kidnapped alongside the child of a wealthy businessman.
Di Leo’s heyday was the late ’60s on through the ’70s, and these films offer a solid sampling of the genre he trafficked in best. All three movies bring hard-edged thrills to the screen thanks to some fierce characters and sharply-staged action, and while they lack something in the area of charisma they remain engaging flicks. Naked Violence in particular is a gritty winner. The new HD transfers look fantastic and crisp, and the included docs offer up substantial background on each of the movies. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentaries, booklet]
Pitch: “Mrs. Kobritz? Mrs. Kobritz!” Poor Mrs. Kobritz…
The small, ocean-side town of Antonio Bay is celebrating its 100th year, but someone from the past is crashing the party. Several someones actually as sins of the past have come due, and as a self-powered fog bank rolls into town shadowy figures begin to exact their vengeance. Caught in the nightmare are locals including a radio DJ (Adrienne Barbeau), a politician (Janet Leigh), a local hunk (Tom Atkins), a spunky hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the secretive Father Malone (Hal Holbrook).
Director John Carpenter‘s old-school horror film remains a favorite among his output thanks to some beautiful cinematography (courtesy of Dean Cundey), Carpenter’s best score and some wonderfully suspenseful sequences. The lighthouse bit alone shows a mastery of suspenseful editing, and the final shot offers up one of my favorite music cues. Scream Factory’s HD restoration is gorgeous, and the extra features are plentiful, but one of the highlights is a new interview with Curtis where she speaks incredibly freely about her thoughts on the film. Also good fun is the Horror’s Hallowed Grounds featurette. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interview, featurettes, outtakes, trailers, photo gallery]
Pitch: You know it’s good when not even Whoopi Goldberg can drag it down…
Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the Enterprise crew continue their journey through the final frontier starting with the captain’s escape from his Borg abduction that ended season three.
When Paramount and CBS announced that the first season of Next Generation would be coming to Blu-ray the show’s fans were understandably elated, but no one expected the episodes to look so damn good. The care given to upgrading the picture to HD was immense, and aside from a small glitch in season two’s release the following seasons have continued that trend. As for the episodes themselves the fourth season is pretty much the series’ sweet spot as the characters are allowed to really stretch their legs and many of the stories move beyond the expected to explore some interesting ideas. [Blu-ray extras: Documentary, featurette, commentary, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Pitch: Keep driving…
Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) is an ex-con with a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that includes a robbery gone awry that ends with him assuming the identity of a small town sheriff who dies in a shootout. He’s surprised to learn that the woman (Ivana Milicevic) involved in the robbery that sent him away is now living in the same town with a husband and children. Lucas settles in to his new, stolen life, but his past and present collide leading to a bumpy, violent and sometimes sexy ride.
This Cinemax original series is being marketed as action-packed, late night excitement, but its aim exceeds its grasp. The opening bus stunt for example, billed as something special, is deflated of any tension or wow factor by bad CGI. Later action fares slightly better as it goes for smaller scale thrills, but it’s not enough to warrant a watch when everything that surrounds it is just so mediocre. The characters seem overdone or flat with little in between, and the story never quite engages. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Skip it and watch Strike Back instead.
Pitch: Most laughable nude scene since, well, ever…
Sarah (Kate Bosworth) has planned the perfect reunion weekend with her two friends, Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell), and she won’t let the fact that the two of them hate each other now ruin that. The three head to a remote island they used to explore as kids, but when they come across a trio of hunters a drunken conversation leads to an act of violence and the soon the three women are being stalked as prey.
Aselton does triple duty here as she also co-wrote (along with her husband Mark) and directed the film, and while she’s most familiar to comedy fans she shows she’s quite capable with the darker material as well. The dialogue is smart and all three leads deliver strong performances, but the area that suffers is the one needed most in a thriller. There really aren’t any thrills. As good as the script is when characters are conversing it’s not nearly as successful at setting up and paying off the various set pieces. At 82 minutes it’s a harmless enough watch. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, trailer]
Pitch: You’d have better luck at a rest stop…
Bo (Don Murray) is a young but successful rodeo rider who’s decided it’s time to find himself an angel. He’ll know her when he sees her, and he knows it when he sees Cherie (Marilyn Monroe). She’s not all that convinced though so he sets out to prove his love with words and a lasso.
20th Century Fox has issued two of Monroe’s films to Blu-ray this week, and this is by far the least worthwhile. While Niagara (see below) pairs her strong and sexy performance with a tight little thriller, this film teases a mildly interesting turn by her with a dull romantic drama and an obnoxious leading man. Murray was inexplicably Oscar nominated for his performance too. To top it off the HD transfer is grainier than Daytona Beach. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer]
Skip it and watch Heart and Souls instead.
Pitch: Some say the world will end with the rings of Saturn, others say with Uranus…
Colonel Steve West (Alex Rebar) flew to Saturn to study and observe the planet’s rings, but something went terribly wrong. His fellow astronauts die quickly, but West begins to slowly disintegrate and go mad. He escapes from the hospital and begins a cannibalistic murder spree with an Air Force general and local doctor (Burr DeBenning) hot on his trail. The doctor’s name is Dr. Ted Nelson, but don’t worry if you forget. He’ll remind you.
This is more of a memorable movie than it is a good one, and that’s due largely to the numerous gore scenes and unintentionally hilarious dialogue. The film jumps almost immediately into the bloody chase allowing zero time for characterization or back story and making no attempt to create characters we care about or find interesting. (Well, Harold and Helen are an incredibly endearing old couple, but that doesn’t help them all that much.) The movie works best (and only) as a quickie genre exercise filled with messy and wet special effects. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]
Pitch: Thanks a lot Lincoln…
There are four sons in the Reno family, and the three that went off to fight in the Civil War against the North are coming home. They discover the war actually ended a couple days before they absconded with some Union cash, but rather than believe it was stealing they view it as spoilers of war. They return home and discover that not only was the family told they had died but that their youngest brother (Elvis Presley) who stayed behind has since married the oldest brother’s girl. Then the feds come looking for the loot and everything goes to hell. Luckily Elvis sings a few songs along the way.
This was Elvis’ first feature, and it’s pretty clear the studio wasn’t quite sure what to do with him yet. He’s in less than a third of the film, but the real surprise is that the film is actually better off when he’s not around. Unlike many of his later films which were actually built around him this is a full feature regardless of him. The love triangle feels fresh, at least it does until it’s essentially forgotten in favor of the dramatic action involving the cash. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Pitch: Niagara Falls is for lovers. And murderers. And murderous lovers…
Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) arrive in Niagara Falls for a belated honeymoon, but their relaxing vacation takes a dark turn thanks to a mysterious couple named Rose and George Loomis (Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten) in a nearby cabin. Rose and her lover are plotting to kill George, but the plan goes unexpectedly awry.
Monroe didn’t leave us with enough movies, especially good ones, but this little thriller from the ’50s happily lands on the right side of things. She plays to type in regard to being a sexpot, but there’s nothing dim-witted about the character. Rose is a sharp-minded and devious lady, and while the story’s turns seem tame by today’s standards it’s still a fun watch thanks to the performances, dialogue and location shooting. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer]
Pitch: It’s like a far less entertaining Back to the Future, but luckily Back to the Future is incredibly entertaining…
Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) is in her mid-forties, about to be divorced from Charlie Bodell (Nicolas Cage) and more than a little unhappy. She attends her high school reunion against her better judgement, but when she’s called up to the head of the class she faints and passes out in front of everyone. When she awakens she’s 17 years old with the chance to live life over again, but will she make all the same decisions and errors anyway?
It’s been several years since director Francis Ford Coppola has delivered a film of any note, but the ’70s and ’80s saw him as one of America’s greatest living filmmakers (for some viewers anyway). This 1986 feature is lighter fare than the movies that preceded it, but it’s an enjoyable glimpse into a “what if?” scenario from an uncommon angle. The emotional element doesn’t fully connect thanks in large part to Cage’s nasally performance, but Turner almost picks up the slack. [Blu-ray extras: None]
Pitch: Curious what Aidan Quinn and Beau Bridges did one weekend last year? Wonder no more…
Billy (Josh Henderson) and Sarah (Haley Webb) have only just met, but after hitting it off in spectacular fashion a tragedy sends them packing. She takes on the identity of her dead roommate when they discover the girl was set to inherit an estate, but their otherwise victim-less scam leads to a complicated web of lies and violence thanks to the local sheriff (Beau Bridges) and a suspect lawyer (Aidan Quinn) and a secret from the young lovers’ (obviously recent) past.
Modern noir films are apparently tougher to make work than most filmmakers think as they need more than the basic ingredients of brooding men, sultry women and a threatening undercurrent of malice. This film checks the box on those three, but it neglects to make the characters interesting or even the slightest bit nuanced. And not for nothing, but movies that flashback to scenes from earlier in that same movie are rarely good. This one does it twice to the very same scene. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette]
Skip it and watch After Dark, My Sweet instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Assault on Wall Street
The Bronte Sisters
The Devil’s Backbone (Criterion)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Under the Bed