Welcome back to This Week In Discs! I’m at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX!

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

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

Damsels In Distress

A newcomer at Seven Oaks College is guided through her year by a trio of erudite girls determined show her the light of socializing, reason and dating beneath her station. It’s to defend your love Greta Gerwig when she seems to end up in fairly shitty movies more often than not, but the odds favored her starring in a true winner eventually. That time has come thanks to Whit Stillman’s smart, funny and somewhat satirical look at modern day college life. Gerwig plays the trio’s leader and the one who most believes their own brand of bull, and it’s a joy to watch her play with such loose and casually humorous dialogue. Adam Brody has a small role, but it’s enough to remind us all that he should be headlining more comedies. Also available on DVD. Check out Kate Erbland’s full review. [Extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes]

Discs Section: Buy

Arachnophobia

Pitch: Will McAvoy would have turned this into a pro-NAFTA story some time around 1992…

Why Buy? A big city doctor (Jeff Daniels) moves his family to a small town for their peace of mind, but their new home soon becomes ground zero for a deadly species of South American spider. Frank Marshall’s first, last and only great movie as director is a wonderful blend of comedy and intense arachnid creepiness. Daniels makes for a great nervous guy, and the strong supporting cast is highlighted with a great turn by John Goodman as a vigilant exterminator. It’s rare for a film this funny to also manage some incredibly tense scenes, and it holds up twenty two years later too. Touchstone brings it to Blu-ray for the first time, but while the image is solid the extras offer up nothing new. [Extras: Featurette]

Marvel’s The Avengers

Pitch: Hey, it’s that one movie…

Why Buy? Because Joss Whedon didn’t come down from the mountain and hand you this fine movie so that you could ignore it in its home video release, did he? Did he? Of course not. Marvel’s The Avengers was by far the movie of Summer 2012, and perhaps the entire year. In the film’s third act, Whedon delivers a long-cut shot that zips through the soon-to-be-destroyed streets of New York that is so technically masterful that it will make your Blu-ray player moan with ecstasy. It’s the kind of scene within the kind of movie that is the reason why we keep such a close eye on visual effects, frame rates and transfers. And in this case, it’s all top-notch. Add to that the hours of extras, many of which are devoured by the unstoppable charm of on-set Robert Downey Jr., and you’ve got yourself a winner. It’s too bad that Marvel’s Phase One box set got delayed due to legal problems, but there’s no indication that anyone will be disappointed with this set. You can even use a code found inside the four disc set to unlock digital extras, including the chance to buy some cool collectible posters. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, Hulk Smash style. – Neil Miller

Discs Section: Rent

Asylum Blackout

Pitch: The economy could never get bad enough for me to work at an asylum for the criminally insane…

Why Rent? A late shift preparing meals for the mentally deranged suddenly isn’t worth it anymore when the power goes out and the inmates begin taking over the asylum. Three kitchen workers are forced into a life and death battle to survive and escape with their organs intact. This is a low budget thriller, but it’s mostly well written and has a strong visual style that makes it an easy and often suspenseful watch. There are issues, particularly in the final few minutes, but genre fans may find some grit and grue to enjoy here. Check out my full review.

CSI: The Twelfth Season

Pitch: You’d think by this point folks would stop committing crimes in Las Vegas…

Why Rent? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and so do the criminals who think they can get away with murder. Fools. The great and undervalued William Petersen was lead on this show for several seasons, but this latest one saw an unlikely new head honcho arrive in Ted Danson. Sounds surprising, but the real shocker is that he does so well with a role well outside his usual comedic wheelhouse. Damages hinted at it, but this season confirms it. Even as the science grows wonky the show remains watchable. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries]

CSI: NY – The Eighth Season

Pitch: I remember hearing Gary Sinise was getting a TV show then blinked and it was eight seasons later…

Why Rent? Some of Las Vegas’ smarter criminals packed up and moved to New York City thinking their antics would go unpunished in a town with no forensics lab, but they didn’t count on the power of the network franchise. Fools. Gary Sinise leads the city’s team of detectives and lab geeks who use science to fight crime, and his trademarked shifty good guy performance gets lots of mileage here too. As with the other two CSI shows this one can grow occasionally similar, but the acting keeps it engaging more often than not. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]

Delicacy

Pitch: I’d like to help Audrey Tautou gain some muscle mass

Why Rent? Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) is in a loving relationship until an accident forces her to go on without the man she loves. Her life becomes a trance-like existence pining for the past, but an unlikely suitor determined to reach her heart just may be the one to finally wake her up again. Tautou is an elfin beauty who epitomizes all things delicate, and she shines here as a woman struggling to move forward in life and love. There are some laughs too courtesy of the comical mismatch that occurs, but the heart and characters carry it above the realm of the generic. Check out my full review. Also available on DVD.

GI Joe Renegades: Season One

Pitch: I’m holding out for a GI JOE BABIES series…

Why Rent? Five fresh faced members of GI Joe are sent undercover into the COBRA Corporation on the suspicion that nefarious deeds are afoot, but they’re soon framed for a crime and forced on the run where they must struggle to clear their name and expose COBRA for the dirty birds they really are. This new series from the HUB network has a hit or miss animation style, but the writing and voice talents are good enough to keep viewers engaged throughout. It’s essentially The A-Team with recognizable GI Joe characters instead, and it’s good fun for Joe fans. [Extras: Featurette, trailer]

Klown

Pitch: I’m over dick shots for comedic purposes, but at least the one here is a short one…

Why Rent? Two friends take a canoe trip with the explicit purpose of scoring some fine lady fjords, but their plans go mildly awry thanks to one of them being a clueless idiot, the other being an amoral horndog and the presence of a young pre-teen boy who’s tagging along on the adventure. The film is based on a popular Danish television show known for its risque humor and awkward social situations, and the movie follows in kind. The comedy, sometimes very funny but usually squirm-inducing, is an acquired taste, so imagine a dirty Curb Your Enthusiasm and you’ll know if this is for you. The Alamo’s Drafthouse Films picked it up for distribution, and it’s already being readied for an American remake with Danny McBride. So plan accordingly. Check out Landon Palmer’s full review. Also available on DVD.

The Man From Beijing

Pitch: Hint: he’s probably Chinese…

Why Rent? When multiple murder victims are found throughout a tiny Swedish village the investigation moves beyond psychotic madman to global conspiracy in this globe-hopping thriller from Sweden. At three hours long this is no energetic thrill ride, but fans of history, snow and character-based dramas may find something of value here. It’s a long way to go for the pay off, but it features enough good performances and interesting ideas to make a watch worthwhile. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fans will recognize Michael Nyqvist as the male lead. That may or may not be a good thing. [Extras: Making of]

Man of Vendetta

Pitch: Time to hire a new translator maybe…

Why Rent? A little girl is abducted, and both she and her kidnapper disappear after a bungled ransom drop attempt. Her pastor father loses faith in everything, and eight years later he’s a divorced, angry ex-pastor totally unprepared for a phone call and the voice on the other end of the line offering a second chance at getting his daughter back. This Korean thriller manages some real suspense and spectacular set pieces (including a second ransom drop in an ice rink), but it does suffer from a bit of meandering in its second act. Still, a solid thriller worth your time.

Portlandia: Season Two

Pitch: Put a bird on it…

Why Rent? Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are co-creators and lead actors in this often hilarious skewering of the denizens of Portland, Oregon. The key to its success is that the jokes are never mean spirited and instead are made with love for the wonderfully weird people and their oddly endearing quirks. Season two consists of ten episodes featuring some returning characters from season one and lots of new ones. As with any sketch comedy (including Armisen’s SNL) there are hits and misses, but when they’re on target here they truly deliver the laughs. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scene, commentaries]

The Samaritan

Pitch: Looks like someone saw Oldboy

Why Rent? A convicted felon (Samuel L Jackson) gets out on parole and tries to lead a good life, but his past catches up to him along with old acquaintances who force him back into his grifting ways. This is in many ways a fairly straight forward thriller about an ex-con struggling with his new found freedom, but there are a couple surprises within. Probably the biggest one is seeing Jackson actually acting again. Seems like it’s been forever since he showed off his chops in anything more than cameos or riffs on his Pulp Fiction persona. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Trailer]

Sleepless Night

Pitch: He tried counting sheep, but they all ended up dead…

Why Rent? An otherwise good cop (Tomer Sisley) gives in to temptation on what should have been a sure thing, but events spiral out of control and soon he’s in a race to save his son’s life from some very bad men. This French thriller is one of several from that country in the past few years that have succeeded in injecting fresh blood and high energy into the criminal thriller genre. Sisley gives a wonderfully harried and frenetic performance that helps draw you into his situation even though it’s entirely of his own making, and the film does a fine job ratcheting up the tension throughout. [Extras: Interview]

Snowman’s Land

Pitch: I’m no criminal, but even I know to keep my hands off the boss’ wife…

Why Rent? Two affable thugs are assigned the unenviable task of watching over their boss’ mountain retreat in the dead of winter, but the boring assignment becomes anything but when the man’s wife appears to cause trouble and die. What follows is a good example of the world’s (apparently) recent discovery of the Coen Brothers films as black comedy and violence come together for our entertainment. The film is slower than most others in the genre, but it’s still an enjoyable trip through a series of unfortunate events and incredibly poor decisions. [Extras: Making of, trailer]

The Tall Man

Pitch: Points for trying (and failing) to uglify Jessica Biel…

Why Rent? A young mother (Jessica Biel) in a small, rural community sees her son kidnapped by a shrouded figure, and she’s forced to consider the local legend of a faceless child snatcher is responsible. Pascal Laugier made a fierce and intense imprint on the horror genre with his film Martyrs, so expectations for an American debut were high. The end result is a film that ultimately infuriated many with an unexpected (and some say unworthy) turn in the narrative. I’m actually a big fan of the attempt and only slightly less so of the result. It almost works, and while Biel is easy on the eyes she also gives a better than usual performance here which is important to sell the story and character. Watch it with an open mind. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurette, deleted scene, trailer]

Discs Section: Avoid

CSI: Miami – The Final Season

Pitch: Meooooooooooooooww…

Why Avoid? Miami isn’t just for Cuban criminals anymore apparently as bad guys and gals of all stripes head to sunny Florida to commit heinous acts of criminality thinking the geriatric cops can do little to stop them. Fools. Little do they know Miami has its own forensics lab and a ginger lead detective to fight crime and remove their sunglasses in annoying ways. This season marks the last for Horatio Caine (David Caruso) and friends, and for me at least it’s come about eight years too late. Caruso is clearly unable to play a likeable or interesting character, and that bled over into the rest of the roles as well. No one here is memorable, and that makes the cases suffer as well. Easily the least engaging of the three CSI shows. [Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]

The Letter

Pitch: Winona Ryder steals every scene…

Why Avoid? Martine (Winona Ryder) is a playwright with a fragile grasp on her social existence, but when Tyrone (James Franco) enters her life her grip on sanity threatens to loosen completely. Writer/director Jay Anania apparently decided he could make a better Black Swan and recruited one of that film’s supporting players to try and prove it. He fails, but worse, he fails in spectacularly boring fashion. Neither Ryder nor Franco are electrifying screen presences anyway, but they mumblewalk their way through the film with an annoying frequency. It feels like a play, and while that’s never a guaranteed negative it works against the film’s ambitions and waning interest level.

Strippers vs Werewolves

Pitch: If you’re going to give a movie this kind of title, you’ve at least got to come through on two things…

Why Avoid? Lets just say that this one doesn’t live up to its name. A lack of aspirations beyond having a provocative title can be a crippling sort of thing, even for the most ridiculous of concepts. As soon as we realize that Strippers vs. Werewolves leaves out the positive qualities of both its titular clans. There’s nothing engaging about the strippers, for all the reasons why strippers would fail to prove interesting (they’re just not well-rounded characters) and the werewolves are stupid from design to execution. It’s all very cheap, not at all interesting and by the time they begin actually versusing each other, all hope is lost for the fun promised on the DVD cover. And by fun, I mean breasts. Obviously. – Neil Miller

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:

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Bond 50
Charlie’s Angels: The Complete Series
Desperate Housewives: The Complete Collection
Eating Raoul (Criterion)
FDR American Badass
Law & Order SVU: The Thirteenth Year
The Night of the Devils
Rescue Me: The Complete Series
Resident Evil: Damnation
Soldiers of Fortune

Wallander 3

 


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