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.
Members of a college physics class take on an extra credit project after a local priest (Donald Pleasance) hips them to the presence of a strange, glowing container in the basement of an abandoned church. The students make some extraordinary discoveries including the fact that the goo inside may actually be a physical representation of Satan! Or something.
John Carpenter‘s last great film was 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness, but seven years earlier he delivered this equally fun horror flick pitting several semi-familiar faces (including a Simon brother!) against a possessed mob of homeless people. One by one the grad students fall victim to the devil’s whims, and Carpenter embraces the silliness of it all while still managing to deliver some thrills including one of his best endings ever. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray offers a beautiful new transfer, and while the extras are slim it’s still a must own for genre fans. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews]
Pitch: Finally, a movie starring Isabella Rossellini and directed by Ingmar Bergman…
Under the shadow of the tabloid scandal, it makes sense that, at least in a US context, these films by a renowned European filmmaker became obscured by the stories of their making. Criterion’s masterfully assembled set exhibits comprehensively the results of that artistic and romantic collaboration, and makes a case for Rossellini and Bergman as one of the strongest – and most overlooked – director/actor pairings in postwar cinema.
It may seem strange for a filmmaker known for his documentary techniques to collaborate with a movie star, but Rossellini uses Bergman’s stardom and acting chops to remarkable ends in each film. Stromboli uses Bergman’s fame and recognizibility to portray a Lithuanian woman deeply out of step with the community she marries into. Europe ’51 is Rossellini’s modern iteration of a story of Catholic sainthood through a relentless portrayal of thankless service and charity in the face of tragedy. But the treasure of this collection is the long-unavailable Journey to Italy, which stands alongside Brief Encounter and Before Midnight as one of the truly great, bracingly honest, decidedly unromantic portrayals of married life. While Bergman is no doubt each film’s centerpiece, Rossellini fills the world of each film with a rich tapestry of supporting characters and walk-ons, often portrayed by non-actors in the Neorealist fashion. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentaries, interviews, commentaries, and short films, as well as an illustrated booklet full of essays]
Pitch: Michael Myers is 50 years old…
Michael Myers was only a child when he stabbed his trampy sister to death and was sent away to an institution, and now 15 years later he’s heading home. Not that he’s been released of course. He escapes, kills some folks, and returns to Haddonfield, IL on Halloween night in search of closure. What he finds are more tramps and a spunky young babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) who isn’t going down without a fight. Or at all. Because she’s a good girl and doesn’t do that kind of thing.
John Carpenter‘s “slasher” classic is a must own, period, and while it’s seen multiple releases over the years the latest one from Anchor Bay actually ups the ante by offering a brand new HD restoration, new 7.1 channel sound mix, and perhaps best of all, a new commentary with Carpenter and Curtis. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, booklet]
Pitch: A superhero movie from the writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Yes please…
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is at the height of his celebrity after helping the Avengers save New York City, but there’s one thing he’s keeping from the press and even from Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He’s suffering from PTSD. When an international terrorist know as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins terrorizing internationally Stark inadvertently brings the fight to his own doorstep by taunting the bad guy on television. Stark’s whole world collapses on top of him, and he’s soon forced to regroup and take charge without the aid of all of his fancy gear.
Writer/director Shane Black‘s stab at blockbuster territory is a bit of an odd duck, but in retrospect it’s exactly what we should have expected from the man. The film is quite funny, easily the most humorous in the Marvel film universe, but the story heads to some surprising places. That’s both good and bad as the twists and overall tale are good, but too many of the details are executed in generic ways. Happily though the film’s strengths remain on re-watch while the negatives seem less important. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, short, featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Pitch: It’s marketing 101 Norman. Change the name of your damn motel…
Twenty two years after killing some visitors and being outed as a man with severe mother issues, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is being released from prison. The family motel has been in decline since the killings, for obvious reasons, so Norman takes a side job at a diner while working to whip the place back into shape. And then the screaming starts.
Robert Bloch, author of the original source novel for Psycho, penned his own sequel that took the action away from the motel and managed some fantastic twists and suspense. The film follows a different path by sticking with the familiar, but it still finds surprises along the way thanks to a sharp script by Tom Holland that keeps viewers guessing. It’s a daunting task making a sequel to an Alfred Hitchcock film, but this one succeeds, and not for nothing, but Meg Tilly is my favorite kind of Tilly. Scream Factory’s new Blu does it justice as well. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]
Pitch: Super V/H/S…
A man gets an experimental eye implant that puts him in contact with the other side. Another man sets off on a forest bike ride only to see a good deed get severely punished. A news crew investigating a possible cult discover a far more terrifying truth. A slumber party takes a deadly turn when uninvited guests arrive.
The directors of You’re Next, The Blair Witch Project, The Raid, and Hobo With a Shotgun, join forces (in that order) on a sequel that follows the original’s format while upping the quality in dramatic fashion. There’s not a bad segment to be found here (aside from the framing device), and there’s at least one brilliant segment as well. The scares are few and far between, but the shorts are constantly impressive on the visual front (thanks GoPro!) and often incredibly entertaining. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, galleries, commentary, trailers]
Pitch: Sometimes I wonder about you America…
Max (Kat Dennings) and Caroline (Beth Behrs) are friends, roommates, co-workers, and business partners. They also think they’re really funny.
Ugh. It’s not easy to produce a sitcom that produces fewer laughs per minute than Two & a Half Men, but this Fox endeavor takes the cupcake. The shame here is that Dennings is actually a funny lady capable of delivering big laughs with fantastic timing. The scripts here offer her zero material to work with though, and as is too often the case with “comedic” garbage the masses have embraced it. The jokes are jokes in name only, and no one feels like they’re actually trying. Of course why bother when you have a laugh track (of sorts) to prove it’s funny. [DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Skip it and watch New Girl instead.
Pitch: Some day producers will realize casting Vinnie Jones in your movie is in no way a good thing…
Axel (Dolph Lundgren) is an enforcer for a powerful crime family, and as the film opens he’s shot dead. That doesn’t stop him from narrating the tale though as he recounts the dirty dealings that led to a kingpin’s murder and the crime lord’ son’s (Billy Zane) quest for revenge.
There are certain actors whose presence in a movie often gives fair warning as to its quality, and Vinnie Jones is one of those actors. He’s not a major player here, but he still hurts it. Crazy Zane keeps things light for a bit, but he can’t make up for the lightweight action, CGI blood, and silly plotting. He is the only one who looks like he’s never aged though. That said, Lundgren remains a charismatic guy at times offering a hint of humor and awareness on his face. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Skip it and watch Showdown In Little Tokyo instead.
Pitch: Teaching Bates Motel a thing or two about doing a serial killer prequel TV show…
FBI Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) has a reputation for finding and catching serial killers using his unique brand of empathy that enables him to feel and see what the victims and killers felt and saw. Those same abilities have also led to issues of mental stability, so when a new case comes along he’s instructed to work with a renowned psychiatrist named Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen). So that should end well for them both.
Prequels are a tough game, and when word first hit that NBC would be trying their hand at a series set before Thomas Harris’ classic novel Red Dragon it was presumed an automatic failure. But the damn thing is anything but. Not only are there weekly dealings with killers and their gruesome acts, but the mind games between Graham and Lector offer some fantastic acting and dialogue. It’s unclear how long they can drag this out, and in fact I’m hoping they intentionally plan to have Lector captured by the end of season two, but I know I’ll be watching either way. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes, storyboards]
Pitch: The Iron Chef says the secret ingredient is death…
As beautiful as the Hawaiian Islands are the people who inhabit them are just as capable as mainlanders of bad deeds. The big island’s elite police unit, Five-O, are tasked with cleaning up the garbage stinking up paradise. The four-person team fights crime while battling their own personal issues as well. One is dating the son of a Yakuza boss, another is facing life after the murder of his wife, another is struggling to keep custody of his daughter, and the team leader is having mommy issues.
CBS’ hit show, a remake of the long-running original, is a series that continually challenges me. Not in a dramatic way obviously, but in its adherence to jamming as much product placement as possible into each episode. Thankfully they’ve kept some of the characters interesting enough that I return week after week and simply ignore their attempts to get me to buy a Chevy or a Windows tablet. Having Grace Park around doesn’t hurt either of course. Now if only they would kill off McGarrett’s annoying as hell mother. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Pitch: Norman’s never been creepier, and the series has never been sleazier…
After dodging a bullet with the events of Psycho II Norman has settled back into the carefree life of a motel caretaker, but when a young, short-haired ex-nun arrives he’s reminded of a similarly coiffed beauty from decades prior. You know, the one he visited in the shower. Add in a shifty drifter (Jeff Fahey), a nosy reporter, and a busload of visitors in town for a reunion, and Norman suddenly finds himself overwhelmed. Luckily mother offers to lend a hand.
Anthony Perkins took on directing duties with this installment, but the results aren’t all that pretty. Worse, the film is a lurid, sleazy affair that fits in with horror sequels in general but feels worlds apart from the first films. The suspense and mystery are lessened as well leaving little wonder as to who’s doing what. It’s worth picking up for Scream Factory completists, but don’t go in expecting the Psycho (or Psycho II) you love. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, trailer, gallery]
Pitch: Also known as Hummingbird, also known as Crazy Joe…
Joe (Jason Statham) came home from a tour in Afghanistan a broken man, and he soon found himself living on the streets of London. His life takes an unexpected turn when, after a run in with some thugs, he takes shelter in a ritzy apartment belonging to a man who’s out of town for the next few months. He transitions into a gig as a mob enforcer, but soon his conscience, the love of a good nun, and his desire for revenge against a bad man put his new life in jeopardy.
This British flick is the rare Statham vehicle to essentially bypass theaters here in the US, and that’s a damn shame. It still features some of Statham’s fun to watch ass kickery, but the movie is actually as much of a drama and character piece. (Granted, that’s probably why it bypassed theaters…) Statham does good work here, and the story touches on some dark and diverse tangents. That said, I hate the final 15 minutes. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes]
Pitch: People see what they want to see and now you can see too…
Stanley Kubrick‘s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King‘s The Shining is considered a classic horror film by many (even if it is a poor adaptation), but some people see more to it than that. Rodney Ascher‘s new documentary examines the film through varied lenses using clips, footage, and voiceover to present a range of theories as to the secret messages hidden in Kubrick’s film. Some see Kubrick’s confession that he filmed the fake moon landing we all think is real. Some see a commentary on the white man’s destruction of Native Americans. Another sees relevance in playing the film forwards and backwards simultaneously. And then there are the crazy theories.
This doc offers an occasionally interesting look at a film we all know well, but it also suffers from occasionally not being interesting at all. The narrators aren’t exactly energetic speakers, and some of the theories wear out their welcome quicker than others. Still, there are enough thought provoking elements here that fans of The Shining and/or conspiracies should give it a chance. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, making of, trailer]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Call Me Kuchu
The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Fill the Void
I Spit On Your Grave 2
In the House
The Kings of Summer
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – The 14th Year
Modern Family: The Complete Fourth Season
The Neighbors: The Complete First Season
South Park: The Complete Sixteenth Season
Two and a Half Men: The Complete 10th Season