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

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

Your Sister’s Sister

Jack (Mark Duplass) is still suffering bouts of depression a year after the death of his brother, so when his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt), who happens to be his brother’s ex, offers up her family’s cabin for a few days of rest he jumps at the chance. Unbeknownst to both of them Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) has also holed up in the cabin after a rough breakup with her girlfriend. Hilarity and romantic complications ensue. Writer/director Lynn Shelton has moved beyond the confines of her early mumblecore career and delivered a film filled with humor, honesty and a compelling romantic triangle. The three leads are at the top of their game and form a trio I would happily marry. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Trailer, commentaries]

Discs Section: Buy

Arthur Christmas

Pitch: “They used to say it was impossible to teach women to read…”

Why Buy? Christmas is a major operation each and every year, and the multi-generational Santa Claus family is behind it all along with thousands of elves and lots and lots of technology. Once again the day ends a major success, but when young Arthur notices that one child has been missed he’s forced into action. This Sony Pictures Animation release is an absolute blast and immediately jumped onto my list of favorite Christmas movies. The animation is sharp and lively, the writing is both hilarious and heartfelt and the story is a fantastic look at the true meaning of the holiday. [Extras: Featurettes]

César et Rosalie (UK)

Pitch: Love hurts. Even when it’s in French…

Why Buy? César (Yves Montand) and Rosalie (Romy Schneider) are in love. She’s divorced with a child, and he’s more than a decade her senior, but the two of them click. But when her ex, David (Sami Frey), comes back into Rosalie’s life old feelings are rekindled and César grows jealous. Then things get complicated. This French film from 1972 moves gracefully, but painfully, from love triangle to emotional thriller as the effects of jealousy, insecurity and love itself exact a heavy toll. Fantastic performances from all three leads combine with lush visuals and a sense that anything might happen with these three. It should have ended five seconds earlier than it does, but it remains a beautiful film. Also available on UK DVD. [Extras: Featurette] *REGION B IMPORT*

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Pitch: Gonzo as Charles Dickens? Yeah, seem about right…

Why Buy? Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale of a man named Scrooge (Michael Caine) whose selfish ways are challenged by some seriously bad dreams on Christmas Eve night comes to glorious life with felt, googly eyes and songs by Paul Williams. The Muppets are a national treasure, and while their film output has been hit and miss their singular holiday movie is a joy of Dickensian proportions. Kermit and the gang bring the laughs, the music and the heart and make this one of the finest adaptations of the tale ever filmed. [Extras: Featurettes, commentaries, bloopers]

Planes Trains and Automobiles

Pitch: “Those aren’t pillows…”

Why Buy? A businessman (Steve Martin) trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving is forced to reroute during a storm, but when circumstance sees him partner with a traveling salesman (John Candy) in an attempt to drive the remaining distance home to Chicago he discovers his patience may not survive the journey. John Hughes wrote and directed this funny and emotionally touching comedy, and there isn’t a high-schooler in sight. The pairing of Martin and Candy is a delight, and movies haven’t been the same since they both left comedy behind. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scene]

Rashomon (Criterion)

Pitch: Perhaps you’ve heard of this Akira Kurosawa guy…

Why Buy? Not only did Rashomon introduce much of the world to Japanese cinema and the wonderfully eloquent work of Akira Kurosawa, it also brought to light the immense talent of Toshiro Mifune. It’s regarded, rightly so, as one of the greatest films of all-time, and it stands as a testament to the power of storytelling within storytelling. It’s effing riveting  as I found out when I took on Kurosawa as part of one of my favorite For Science projects. Brought to Blu-ray by Criterion seems a fitting next step for a film like Rashomon, as it deserves to be lovingly transferred to HD and presented with an uncompressed mono audio track. It also deserves the historian commentary, the intro from Robert Altman and an hour-long behind the scenes documentary. Right down to the cover art, this release is gorgeous, inside and out. [Extras: Booklet, featurettes, commentary, documentary] - Neil Miller

They Live

Pitch: “I’ve come to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum…”

Why Buy? Hard times in America leave many desperate for work, and one such man (Roddy Piper) comes to Los Angeles hoping to change his luck. His curiosity leads him to discover an underground network fighting against the 1% who in actuality are aliens bent on lulling the 99% into a trance of consumerism and culpability. So he does what any of us would which is wear his jeans way too high, pick a fight with Keith David and then save the world. John Carpenter’s prescient and underrated sci-fi thriller mixes fun action with social commentary befitting a time when the Occupy movement is a real and tangible thing. The Blu-ray from the fine folks at Scream Factory is a thing of beauty with great special features, a strong HD transfer and fantastic new cover art courtesy of The Dude Designs. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, interviews, featurette]

Discs Section: Rent

The Amazing Spider-Man

Pitch: Curious about Spider-Man’s origin? Of course you are…

Why Rent? Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is just your average high school geek with parents who are presumed dead, but when he’s bitten by a genetically altered spider he develops skills and powers of arachnid proportions. A moral lapse leads to the death of his uncle which leads to his decision to fight crime. Luckily he has Emma Stone to help him deal with any sticky situations that arise. The effects here are vibrant and impressive-enough and Garfield does a great job with the character, but to what end? Sony and director Marc Webb bring nothing new to the table beside the actors, and the result is a movie that feels repetitive and severely lacking in creativity. Still, the actors and the visuals are worth a watch. Note: this title will be released on Friday. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]

Casque d’Or

Pitch: French gangsters may seem like an oxymoron, but just because they have fancy mustaches doesn’t mean they’re pansies…

Why Rent? A group of gangsters and their working girls head to a dance hall for a night out, but when a lowly carpenter takes a liking to one of the women everyone involved is set on a path of violence, deception and revenge. This is a fairly lively little film for a black and white French movie from 1952, and it never gets bogged down in unnecessary drama. Instead we see some action, suspense and a hint of raciness in a story about drowning in a morass or misdeeds. It also deserves kudos for a very definitive ending. Also available on UK DVD. [Extras: Featurette] REGION B IMPORT

Dinostasia

Pitch: First he walked with grizzlies, then he walked with Curious George…

Why Rent? Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic era come to life through computer animation and go about their days and nights filled with mundane behaviors and life threatening events. Even better? Werner Herzog narrates. This documentary comes from the teams behind Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Grizzly Man, but it’s obviously most similar to Discovery Channel’s Walking with Dinosaurs. The film doesn’t really bring much new to the genre, but fans of imagined nature histories should find some informative entertainment here. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Deleted/extended scenes]

Fire with Fire

Pitch: Hey look, it’s yet another Bruce Willis straight to DVD flick! I wonder if 50 Cent is involved somehow…

Why Rent? An off duty fireman (Josh Duhamel) is a witness to a convenience store murder, but as the trial approaches the killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) sets out to eliminate those who would testify against him. The fireman is placed in witness protection beneath Rosario Dawson but is soon forced to fight for his life when his location is compromised. Bruce Willis also stars as a cop, but it looks like he filmed this on down time from Red. 50 Cent is one of the film’s 25 producers, and while both of those facts usually result in an unbearable film this one succeeds as a competent enough thriller led my the charming enough Duhamel. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentaries, interview, trailer]

Kiss Me

Pitch: Swedish lesbians? Okay, I’ll give it a chance…

Why Rent? Mia has a boyfriend and Frida has a girlfriend, but when the two women who meet at an engagement party uniting Mia’s father and Frida’s mother an attraction between them becomes unpredictably physical. The idea of a relationship between them faces multiple hurdles and threatens to disrupt their parents as well, but love is a powerful motivator for risk. This Swedish drama features some recognizable faces from the Wallander series and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films, but the two leads steal the show with strong performances and terrifically sexy sex scenes. [Extras: Music video]

Outpost: Black Sun

Pitch: Zombie Nazis never get old…

Why Rent? A man and a woman both arrive in modern day Eastern Europe investigating an elusive rumor about a Nazi war machine that reportedly created an army of the undead. Unfortunately for them, the rumor is true. They join forces with a NATO-led unit, but the odds of survival are slim as the zombie-like soldiers begin their assault. This fun little horror flick is apparently a sequel, but I’ve never heard of its predecessor. Thankfully that awareness isn’t necessary to find enjoyment here. The movie looks quite good for a low budget affair, and it’s well written and acted as well. The action scenes, both gunfire and zombie attack-wise, are exciting and well shot, and it sets itself up nicely for a sequel that I really want to see. My one wish is that next time the soldiers catch a clue and aim for the goddamn heads. [Extras: Featurette]

Patton

Pitch: Francis Ford Coppola won an Academy Award for this film’s screenplay. Yeah, I didn’t know that either…

Why Rent? General George S Patton is brought to roaring life by George C Scott in this historical drama that looks at the legendary military man’s last hurrah in stomping out the Nazi threat during World War II. It’s a long film but rather than present a traditional biopic that explores the man’s early life in detail it drops us right into WWII as Patton is brought on to lead a new front. The performances are strong, the production value is high and the film is old school Hollywood entertainment. Its length and occasional dryness makes it one I probably wouldn’t watch again, but your military mileage may vary. [Extras: Introduction, commentary, featurettes, trailer]

[Rec]3

Pitch: Nice day for a white red wedding…

Why Rent? Clara and Koldo are in love and getting married, but as friends and family document their reception on video one of the guests begins to exhibit some strange behavior. Namely, he bites a chunk out of his wife’s throat. Panic sets in, the newlyweds are separated and a desperate effort on both their parts begins to reunite til death do them part. Paco Plaza was one half the directing duo on the first two films but goes solo here, and the result is a far different and far less intense beast. Gone are the tension and scares that made the others so memorable, and in their place are humor and more character work. I was disappointed when I first saw the film because of my expectations, but watching it again recently showed it to be an entertaining enough zombie flick. [Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes]

RVBX: Ten Years of Red vs Blue

Pitch: Machinima has yet to birth anything finer…

Why Rent? Soldiers on two sides of a never-ending war trade victories, losses and insults across the universe in this animated series created from the Halo game engine. Over nine years in the making, this set collects all ten seasons of the web series alongside numerous extras to tell an intergalactic tale of clusterf*cks, screw ups and conquest. Elijah Wood lends his voice to the latest season, but the majority of the performers remain the same loveable amateurs from seasons past. The biggest negative regarding this set, and it’s one that prevents me from recommending it as a buy, is the very unfortunate packaging. It’s unnecessarily bulky and feels terribly cheap in its build. [Extras: Booklet, additional videos, miniseries, interviews, featurettes]

Universal 100th Anniversary Collection

Pitch: So many great films! Plus Mamma Mia

Why Rent? Universal celebrates it’s 100th anniversary as a studio with this deluxe box set featuring twenty five of their most well known films on Blu-ray. Classics like All Quiet on the Western Front, Dracula, The Sting and To Kill a Mockingbird are included alongside modern day gems like Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, The Breakfast Club and Jaws. But we also inexplicably get Mamma Mia, The Fast & the Furious and Despicable Me… so there’s that. This is a buy for some folks and would make a fantastic gift this holiday season, but the inclusion of those last few titles adds an understandable bit of hesitation. [Extras: Booklet, soundtrack cd, commentaries, featurettes, trailers, deleted scenes and much much more]

Discs Section: Avoid

Supernatural Activity

Pitch: Makes Friedberg/Seltzer look competent by comparison…

Why Avoid? A team of paranormal investigators who host a TV show and know it’s all fake head out to film their season finale, but the spirit world won’t be mocked for long. Good god this is terrible. It spoofs Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch Project, Criss Angel and more but can’t manage a single laugh. On the bright side, no one gets hit by a bus out of the blue (a la Friedberg/Seltzer), but instead the film finds the most obvious jokes in any given situation and then milks them dry. [Extras: None] Skip it and watch The Legend of Hell House instead.

Maximum Conviction

Pitch: “Goddamn which one of you motherfuckers killed my future ex-wife…”

Why Avoid? Steele (Steven Seagal) and Manning (Steve Austin) are ex-Special Forces who now work private security, but when they move two assets to a partially abandoned prison while they await extraction they find the compound under assault from professional bad guys. Austin has a couple impressive knife kills early on, but the action soon deteriorates into generic gun battles and ridiculously edited hand to hand combat scenes with Seagal’s stunt-double taking down the killers. And does anyone know when exactly Seagal started talking like his impression of a Black man? [Extras: Commentary, featurettes, interviews] Skip it and watch Above the Law instead.

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:

360
Entourage: The Complete Series
Wolf Lake: The Complete Series


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