Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

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

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

Searching for Sonny

Elliot reluctantly heads home for his ten-year high school reunion, but instead of the expected disappointments he discovers a missing friend, a murder and a mystery. Writer/director Andrew Disney’s feature debut is an indie rarity in that it’s as funny as any big screen comedy. The laughs come in part due to Disney’s sharp and witty script, but credit should also go to the main cast of Jason Dohring, Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney. The trio has a smooth and perfectly timed chemistry together, and they help make the film a joy to watch. The lovely Minka Kelly helps in that department as well. [Extras: Commentary, additional scenes, bloopers, featurettes] Also available on Blu-ray.

Discs Section: Buy

Headhunters

Pitch: Don’t wait for Mark Wahlberg’s remake…

Why Buy? Roger (Aksel Hennie) is short on stature but grand on ideas, enthusiasm and drive. A successful corporate headhunter, he moonlights as an art thief to help keep his wife’s expensive tastes satisfied, but when her ex shows up claiming to have possession of a very expensive painting Roger’s world begins to collapse in on itself. This Norwegian adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s novel is an utterly fantastic blend of pitch black comedy and incredibly entertaining thrills. Roger’s cocksure attitude slowly gives way to something and someone far more endearing as his life becomes a darker version of After Hours with every single thing going wrong that possibly can. Also available on Blu-ray.

Homeland: The Complete First Season

Pitch: My So-Called Homegrown Terrorist…

Why Buy? Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is an eccentric CIA agent with reason to suspect a recent American soldier (Damian Lewis) rescued from Al Qaeda captivity has actually been turned into a sleeper agent for the terrorists. He’s greeted as a returning hero while she searches for proof, but she’s forced to act faster when his reputation brings him in close proximity to the American president. Twelve episodes is the near perfect length for the story, and it does a brilliant job doling out the information and suspense as to the truth. Both Danes and Lewis do fantastic work here too. [Extras: Season two prologue, deleted scenes, featurette, commentary] Also available on DVD.

Lonesome (Criterion)

Pitch: They didn’t call ‘em the roaring 20s for nothing…

Why Buy? Paul Fejos was an explorer, an anthropologist, and a doctor. He was also, at one time or another, a filmmaker who convinced Universal to spend inordinate amounts of money to make movies. Among them was a film called Broadway, which at the time was the most expensive film in the history of the studio. He never did finish that one. He never really finished Lonesome either. Both are included in this Criterion release, fully restored with painstaking attention to detail in what could be called more of a reconstruction than a restoration. Even though there remains no official script, Lonesome has been restored to tell the frantic, sad, hopeful tale of two working class kids who find each other and find love on July 4th weekend at Coney Island. Between scenes of mass partying and tender breaks in the silent film style to deliver full-sound dialogue, Fejos’ 1928 love story transcends its date of release and plays out more genuine than much of the romantic fare we see today. With three films in the set (Lonesome, Broadway and The Last Performance), this release is more of a compendium on Fejos, one of most unique voices of the silent film era. It’s a film studies expedition in a box, complete with dazzling cover art. Also available on DVD. - Neil Miller

Sons of Anarchy: Season Four

Pitch: It’s basically all the Ron Perlman any one person would need…

Why Buy? Because at this point, clearly you’re a fan of one of the best shows on television. And if you’ve even stopped long enough to glance at this entry in this week’s list, you’ve probably seen the show. If you haven’t, go back and check out season one. Don’t worry, we’ll wait. Alright, lets continue without all of the questioning, okay? Charming’s most wanted are back and fresh out of prison. And thanks to the terms of their parole, there won’t be any galavanting around Europe in this season. What there will be is the best of what Sons of Anarchy has to offer: angry looks, riding hard, double-crossin’ and some bloodshed that’s almost too gratuitous for even the edgiest cable network (in this case, FX). Where it ends… well, you’ll just have to watch and find out. The conclusion of season four wraps up in a way that is superb. Luckily with the Blu-ray, you’ll be able to watch it several times before moving on to the special features. Also featured on the set are four extended episodes, bringing you more of the baggage-heavy bike drama. For fans of SAMCRO, this is where it’s at. Also available on DVD- Neil Miller

Discs Section: Rent

Battleground

Pitch: Of course a Canadian movie would make a Vietnam vet into the psycho…

Why Rent? Six bank robbers leave the bloody scene behind and head into the woods to hide while counting their cash, but the forest’s resident Vietnam veteran has other plans. Straight to DVD action movies more often than not suffer from poor acting, bad effects, a lazy script and/or a cheap look, but none of that applies here. Co-writer/director Neil Mackay delivers a tight little thriller where viewers get a battle between evils filled with tense cat n mouse games and running gun fights. Some very nice gore effects compliment some of the quieter moments too. [Extras: None]

Battleship

Pitch: Chris Brown beats Rihanna in Battleship whenever they play…

Why Rent? Aliens answer a call mankind sent out into space, but instead of bringing a bottle of wine they show up on our doorstep guns blazing. Luckily for all of humanity Taylor Kitsch is stationed near that very same Hawaiian doorstep. Director Peter Berg’s latest movie took a critical drubbing during its theatrical run, but speaking as a critic who bypassed it then I can say I actually had fun with it on Blu-ray. Sure it’s goofy to the extreme, but there are some legitimate laughs, action and effects to be found here. And for those who prefer their wonders more natural, Brooklyn Decker also has a small role. [Extras: Featurettes, *Blu exclusive* featurettes]

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season

Pitch: It’s true. I sound like Steve Buscemi on recordings…

Why Rent? “Nucky” Thompson (Buscemi) has a tight grip on Atlantic City, but after an election rigging scandal threatens to take him down the people beneath and around him begin angling for a piece of his kingdom. The second season of HBO’s Prohibition-era hit series is more of the same when it comes to the violence, sex, corruption and backroom shenanigans of the roaring 1920s, but in this case more of the same is a good thing. The show continues to be a wonderfully acted and interesting look at moral decay. [Extras: Featurettes, commentaries]

The Heineken Kidnapping

Pitch: You may recall the American remake, The Budweiser Takening

Why Rent? A quartet of Netherlands thugs decide to kidnap a millionaire, but they make the mistake of settling on Freddy Heineken (Rutger Hauer). Their scheme succeeds at first, but they should never have underestimated a man who’s seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. This Dutch production is loosely based on true events, and it makes for a fairly entertaining little thriller. Hauer is the highlight here as he gets to play a character with depth and real fear. [Extras: Behind the scenes, trailer] Also available on Blu-ray.

The Highest Pass

Pitch: Hippies on hogs…

Why Rent? A group of Americans join a young Indian yogi on a motorcycle ride through the Himalayas on the world’s highest “road.” The documentary’s title refers to both the physical road and the path we follow within, and the Americans put their faith in Anand as they go looking for enlightenment. There are some beautiful visuals to be found here as should be expected for a film that takes place mostly in the Himalayas, but the message is not nearly as inspiring or enlightening as it thinks it is. Way too much blind credence is given to the yogi when all he does is pout philosophical platitudes. And if he plays like a scam artist in a doc meant to make him look good, I can only imagine how much of a false prophet he seems like in person. Still… it’s a pretty movie. [Extras: Deleted scene, behind the scenes, outtakes, slide show]

Lovely Molly

Pitch: Perhaps “lovely” isn’t the best word to describe Molly…

Why Rent? Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and her new husband move into her childhood home, but it’s not long before strange happenings start haunting her day and night. A ghostly visitor that only she sees assaults her and memories of her father’s misdeeds terrorize her, and her efforts to fight back may not be enough to save her sanity or her life. Eduardo Sanchez wrote and directed this sufficiently creepy chiller that manages some strong visuals and interesting ideas. The ending is underwhelming in both punch and narrative, but the bulk of the film is unsettling enough to make up for it. [Extras: Featurettes] Also available on DVD.

Monsieur Lazhar

Pitch: Substitute teachers. Ugh…

Why Rent? When a beloved middle school teacher dies unexpectedly an Algerian immigrant is hired as a substitute. He’s an awkward fit at first, but his insight and genuine warmth come to help the students and fellow teachers deal with their grief and appreciation of life. This week’s other Canadian release (see Battleground) was nominated last year for Best Foreign Language Film but lost to the (admittedly superior) A Separation. This is ultimately a lightweight experience, but it’s still a positive one which makes it worth a watch. [Extras: Featurettes, interviews] Also available on Blu-ray.

The Moth Diaries

Pitch: They’re very small books…

Why Rent? Rebecca heads to private school hoping to reunite with her best friends, but the arrival of a strange transfer student threatens her friendships as well as their lives. Director Mary Harron’s latest is a well-acted, low-key endeavor that relaxes when it should be reaching higher for something more. The all too brief moments when hell breaks loose visually are just that, moments. More of them prefaced with a build up of emotion would be far better suited to the dramas unfolding in Rebecca’s teenage mind. Also available on Blu-ray.

Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season

Pitch: Does in 16.5 hours what Mirror Mirror failed to do in two…

Why Rent? The fairy tale characters we all know and like are real, but when an evil wench casts a spectacular spell they all end up in the far less magical real world, trapped in the town of Storybrooke with no memories of their former selves. Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is now a school teacher, Prince Charming is in a coma, Jiminy Cricket is now a shrink, Rumplestiltskin is a wealthy land owner and so on. The show moves between the fantasy land and Storybrooke, but while the fairy tale parts are poorly written and look incredibly cheap the modern day scenes are fun and engaging. [Featurettes, bloopers, commentaries, deleted scenes, *Blu exclusive* featurette] Also available on DVD.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Pitch: Yup. Leprosy is still funny…

Why Rent? The infamous Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) has had little success on the high seas lately, but he thinks he can turn it all around if he could only win the Pirate of the Year contest. He sets out with his ragtag crew (and loyal Dodo bird Polly) to find a booty, face down a vengeful queen and win the contest. Aardman Studios presents this fun, lively and creative stop-motion adventure comedy that deserved a far better fate in theaters. Hugh Grant in particular reminds us why we used to love him. [Extras: Commentary, *Blu exclusive* featurette, *Blu exclusive* game, *Blu exclusive* short films]

The Viral Factor

Pitch: As explosive as The O’Reilly Factor but with more than just Michelle Malkin representing the Asians…

Why Rent? The last known sample of the small pox virus is stolen and mutated by terrorists leaving special agent Kato (Jay Chou) wounded and girlfriend-less. He recovers and sets out to find the culprits, but things get complicated when he discovers the brother he never knew he had is one of the bad guys. Director Dante Lam is no stranger to action, and he shows a great familiarity with it here. Lots of gun fights, explosions and chases ensue. The movie should have lost 20-25 minutes from its bloated running time though. [Extras: Making of, interviews] Also available on DVD.

The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season

Pitch: AMC’s critically acclaimed series about zombies who work at an ad agency in the 60s continues…

Why Rent? After facing disappointment at the CDC in Atlanta (at the end of season one) a group of people forced together by viral circumstance continues their effort to stay alive in a zombified America. The first season started strong and ended with a bit of a whimper, but season two fares a bit better. There are still story arcs and scenes that test viewers’ patience here, but there’s also a lot to enjoy. The gore effects are wonderfully wet and continually creative, and at least some of the characters are worth rooting for. Team Shane! [Extras: Featurettes, webisodes, commentaries, deleted scenes] Also available on DVD.

Weekend (Criterion)

Pitch: All the emotional depth you thought you’d get from Brokeback Mountain, sans mumbling…

Why Avoid? It would be tough to make a broad-spectrum recommend of Andrew Haigh’s breakout feature, as it’s story won’t quite play with everyone. Two young men in the English Midlands meet and have a one night stand, only to find themselves wrapped up in each other for an entire weekend. Speaking frankly about their experience as gay men in the modern world, they bond (and do other, well-documented things with their clothes off) and inadvertently test the limits of their own rules of engagement. It’s an incredibly honest, naturalistic story shot with great intimacy that is simply put, a painful, heartfelt story of a love affair. Whether you’re gay or straight, the themes explored in the romance between these two men (both powered by excellent performances from Tom Cullen and Chris New) are relevant to any kind of contemporary relationship. It’s no surprise that Weekend has earned itself a Criterion release, complete with the requisite special feature assortment, beautifully styled menus and carefully designed cover art. It’s a one-of-a-kind treatment for a one-of-a-kind movie. Also available on DVD. - Neil Miller

Discs Section: Avoid

Blood Money

Pitch: Only slightly less ominous than Monopoly Money…

Why Avoid? A young man’s parents are killed and his sister kidnapped so he does the reasonable thing and becomes a hitman for the Triads. His loyalty is tossed aside though when warring factions decide he’s their common threat and he’s forced fight both sides to survive. Zheng Liu is an impressive talent, no doubt, but the film’s bold claim of “Real action, real fighting, real contact… done without stuntmen or CGI” is diminished by the CGI explosions and sheer volume of wire work. [Extras: None] Also available on DVD.

Darling Companion

Pitch: I’d watch the version where Diane Keaton gets lost in the woods for the whole movie…

Why Avoid? Beth (Keaton) has just watched her 2nd of two daughters move away and get married, but before empty nest syndrome sets in she finds an abandoned dog and brings it home. Her husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) is easily distracted by his job and loses the dog on a hike setting in motion a search that will bring people together in unlikely ways. Lawrence Kasdan was a good to great director once upon a time, but an alien burst from his ass in 2003 and he hasn’t been the same since. Kline is strong as ever, but Keaton and the movie itself lack any degree of charm or wit. [Extras: Commentary, behind the scenes, premiere] Also available on DVD.

The Lucky One

Pitch: How much Nicholas Sparks is too much? This much…

Why Avoid? Zac Efron stars as a marine who comes home after three tours in Iraq to find the girl of his dreams, whose photograph he believes to have been the good luck charm that kept him alive while serving overseas. It’s like the awkward scene at the end of The Hurt Locker where Jeremy Renner’s character really doesn’t know how to exist in normal first world life, but without all the bomb-diffusing, death defying build up. In this case, the confusion on the face of the former High School Musical star is more of a “what is this crap that I signed up for?” look than anything else. Despite his boyish good looks and his tender dialogue delivery, it’s hard to buy ZEfron as a returning man of war, and that’s not even the most ridiculous thing happening here. The pacing is terrible, the script is an explosion of platitudes and it’s clear that Nicholas Sparks has done run out of whatever talent he had when he wrote The Notebook. Every frame of this film is trying too hard to be that same schmaltzy, quintessential Sparks romance. And every frame of this film makes even less sense than the last. From top to bottom, it’s a near-impressive failure. - Neil Miller

Penumbra

Pitch: The rental market is killer in Argentina…

Why Avoid? A selfish woman trying to unload her family’s apartment in Buenos Aires takes a too good to be true offer from an odd man named Jorge, but as the afternoon wears on and a solar eclipse approaches things start to take a turn for the nutty. This possibly comedic thriller comes from the makers of Cold Sweat, a fact that becomes obvious when the lead character has baby oil smeared on her cleavage for absolutely no reason. The other clue is that they have no idea how to handle tone. The movie aims for unfunny laughs as it tries to thrill, but it drops the ball on both sides. It’s also clear extremely early on what Jorge is up to so by the time it happens we’re left wanting it to be something completely different. [Extras: Trailer]

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:

Apartment 143
Citizen Gangster
Dead Trees
Jersey Shore Shark Attack
The Living Dead Girl
Quadrophenia (Criterion)
Starship Troopers: Invasion
Think Like a Man
Two Orphan Vampires


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