Welcome back to This Week In DVD! This is actually the third anniversary of my stewardship of the column, and I want to thank all of you for stopping by each and every Tuesday to check out the week’s best and worst DVD releases. I’ve discovered countless fantastic films over the last three years, and I hope some of you can claim the same. Or even just one of you.
This week’s releases include an utterly terrible biopic (with great makeup!) of Margaret Thatcher, Werner Herzog’s best documentary from 2011, a bland alien invasion flick set in Moscow, a powerful boys-in-prison drama from Norway and more!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Burt Lancaster plays a retired American living in Rome whose quiet life is interrupted by a quartet of rude and rambunctious neighbors. They talk their way into renting his upstairs apartment, and over the course of the months that follow they worm their way into his life with interruptions, destruction, seduction and endless conversation. Luchino Visconti’s film is a beautifully shot tale of clashing ideals and intellects unafraid to mix political discussion with homoerotic undertones and black comedy with a sexy teenage seductress. Raro Video has done a fantastic job with the film’s first widescreen, English language release in the US, and while the link here is for their new Blu-ray transfer a DVD version is also available.
Nothing worth buying this week!
Pitch: And the award for shortest bully goes to…
Why Rent? A group of friends and strangers take a surfing trip off the coast of Australia, but as the days and nights wear on the mood begins to change. Some blame it on the presence of an unexpected and sexy female, but it’s most likely due to the type-A asshole with the attitude and anger issues. He snaps and soon the others are choosing sides and fighting for their lives. This Australian thriller looks good and works more often than it doesn’t as it aims for a Dead Calm-like atmosphere, but the actions of its characters are a lot more frustrating than they should be.
Pitch: Who knew French politicians could be this interesting…
Why Rent? This timely French film finds the perfect balance between drama and too good to be true black comedy in the story of the country’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the trials and tribulations behind his rise to power. Smart dialogue and strong performances help bring the back room political machinations to life. The movie is heavy on conversation and occasionally easy to get lost in some of the side characters, but Denis Podalydes keeps it all in focus with his lead performance.
Into the Abyss
Pitch: Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat are on death row for triple homicide…
Why Rent? Werner Herzog tells the story of a triple murder in Texas and the two young men behind it. One is interviewed just eight days before his execution, and the other is behind bars for another four decades, but the real story here is with the suffering their actions left behind. Herzog makes his stance on the death penalty clear, but he wisely moves beyond the issue by instead focusing on a culture of ignorance and poverty that breeds addiction and violence. Check out Landon Palmer’s full review.
King of Devil’s Island
Pitch: Few actors do Norwegian evil as well as Stellan Skarsgard…
Why Rent? This Norwegian drama looks at the true story of an uprising that occurred at a boys correctional facility. A teenager named Erling is sent to the island and almost immediately runs afoul of the men who run the camp. His efforts to escape soon lead to a revolution against the evils that men do, and the events that follow made history. Skarsgard is fantastic here, but the standouts are some of the boys who give fiercely heart-wrenching performances. The ending is a small let down, but you can’t argue with reality. Check out my full review.
The Darkest Hour
Pitch: Last one out turns off Emile Hirsch’s career…
Why Avoid? A quartet of young Americans chilling in Moscow (?) unite when illuminated alien invaders begin turning every living thing to dust. The four discover the creatures’ weakness and try to make their way to safety. The problem here is two fold. One, you won’t care about any of the leads. Won’t care if they get hurt, die, never see their family again, etc. And B, the aliens are balls of light and therefore completely uninteresting to watch. The dusting effect is kind of cool the first twenty times you see it though. Skip it and watch Killer Klowns From Outer Space instead.
The Iron Lady
Pitch: It deserves the Academy Award for makeup anyway…
Why Avoid? Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) is the subject of this biopic that traces her youth, entry into politics and history-making turn as England’s Prime Minister throughout the eighties. Streep is okay here, even if she is in Julia Child mode, and the makeup-work is fairly brilliant, but neither of those are reasons enough to subject yourself to watching the film. It’s dreadfully boring, ridiculously disjointed and bypasses the interesting parts of Thatcher’s career with montages. Check out my full review. Skip it and watch The Iron Giant instead.
Pitch: Emily Browning is attractive when she sleeps naked, I’ll give them that…
Why Avoid? A young woman bored with life and seemingly in need of cash answers an ad for a lingerie waitress, but she’s soon drawn deeper into this world of perverted wealth and given a new assignment. She allows herself to be drugged, sleeps through a client’s use and abuse of her unconscious form, and then wakes up with no memory of the incident and a fat deposit in her bank account. Browning looks quite nice in the buff, but her performance and character are ridiculously flat and uninteresting. She’s a passive character with no motivation, reaction or consequence. Check out my full review. Skip it and watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series
Logan’s Run: The Complete Series
One Tree Hill: The Complete Ninth Season
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?