Welcome back to our weekly look at new DVD releases coming to a virtual shelf near you! Lots of good stuff this week worth a rental at least and possibly a buy depending on your tastes. My own interests have marked five titles as Buys including two TV shows. Merrill Barr may suspect I’m doing so strictly to spite his recent bout of ridiculousness where he claimed TV shows on DVD are pointless, but I’m not. They’re just damn good shows.
This week’s releases include In a Better World, Wrecked, Norwegian Ninja, True Adolescents, The Perfect Host, and more.
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
If a Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front
In 2005 federal and state law enforcement agents across the country conducted simultaneous arrests of past and current members of the Earth Liberation Front. The men and women were charged with a series of arsons that had occurred throughout the Pacific Northwest over the previous decade. This insightful and balanced documentary explores the case from both sides with a focus on one of the defendants, Daniel McGowan. There’s no question of guilt or innocence, but instead it’s the charge of terrorism they face that fuels the debate. Should these fires (in which not a single person was killed or injured) be comparable to 9/11 or the Oklahoma City federal building bombing? It’s thought provoking and challenging, and proves that there aren’t always easy answers when it comes to ideologies and semantics.
iCarly: The Complete Third Season
Pitch: My love for this show is due entirely to the comedy, but I can’t be the only one who notices the occasional sexual innuendos…
Why Buy? Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) is a high schooler who lives in Seattle with her older brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor). She runs a popular web show with her best friends Sam (Jennette McCurdy) and Freddie (Nathan Kress) and the occasional assistance from part-time nudist Gibby (Noah Munck). Creator and frequent writer Dan Schneider has accomplished a rarity here in that iCarly is a teen show that refuses to cater to the most obvious elements. The writing and visual gags are honestly funny, creative, and often smarter than many of their “grown up” counterparts in prime time. “iSell Penny Tees” and “iGet Pranky” are two of the best eps of the season, but feel free to skip “iParty with Victorious” which is a poorly executed crossover episode with another (lesser) Nickelodeon show.
In a Better World
Pitch: Right, wrong, and the wide expanse between…
Why Buy? Two young boys face down a schoolyard bully with violence and an unexpected outcome. A father teaches his son about turning the other cheek but questions his own morals when faced with pure evil. Director Susanne Bier’s film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film last year, and in a rare case of synchronicity it may have actually deserved the accolade. The acting is top drawer across the board, especially from the two boys, the film is surprisingly suspenseful, and it does a fantastic job of raising questions that any other revenge-type film would sweep quickly under the rug.
Murphy’s Law: Complete Collection
Pitch: What are the odds things will go wrong here…
Why Buy? An Irish cop (James Nesbitt) who lost his daughter to an IRA terrorist moves to London and begins to work undercover cases for the British police. This set collects all five seasons of the series, and it is pretty fantastic. The stories are interesting, beautifully paced, and excitingly produced. It goes to some dark places, but it also has a blackly comic streak running through it courtesy of Nesbitt’s wise cracking Irishman. The seasons are a mix of standalone episodes and season spanning story arcs, but they’re never less than entertaining.
The Perfect Host
Pitch: For the love of god, do not forget to RSVP…
Why Buy? A bank robber (Clayne Crawford) on the lam talks his way into a man’s (David Hyde Pierce) home by pretending to be someone he’s not, but the evening doesn’t quote go as planned. I’m not often surprised by plot twists in movies… that’s not bragging, it’s just that I watch a lot of movies and my mind is constantly trying to stay a step ahead… but this darkly comic thriller from writer/director Nick Tomnay got the best of my imagination more than once. Don’t read anything else about the movie (including the DVD case), and don’t watch the trailer. Just go in blind and enjoy the twists as well as Pierce’s fantastically fun performance.
BKO: Bangkok Knockout
Pitch: Five bucks to the first person who can identify the genetic marker that prevents Thai people from learning how to act…
Why Rent? The director of Born to Fight returns with another nonsensical but action-packed Thai romp. This time a group of friends/martial-artists win a contest for some stunt work in Hollywood, but it was all a ruse and instead they’re drugged and dumped in a deserted building where they’re forced to fight for their lives while rich bastards gamble. It’s like a Thai version of Death Race or The Running Man. And it’s also boring and stupid as hell for the first 45 minutes… terrible acting, lame comedy, characters you won’t care about. But if you can stick it out past that point you’ll be treated to 30+ ludicrous but entertaining minutes of fist flying, high kicking, ax swinging mayhem.
Nikita: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Why yes, I am a fan of Maggie Q&A…
Why Rent? The fourth incarnation of Luc Besson’s 1990 creation is easily the best of the three remakes, and it definitely has the most attractive lead. Maggie Q plays Nikita, a woman who has escaped from a secret government agency that creates assassins out of lost souls, and now she’s dedicated her life to bringing the agency down. The CW series is filled with twists, turns, and stellar action sequences, and while it occasionally strains credibility it’s never less than entertaining. Honestly, the worst thing I can say about the show is that Merrill Barr likes it too.
Pitch: The Swedish chef better watch his ass…
Why Rent? From it’s UK release earlier this year: I’m not usually a fan of historical films because they’re often incredibly bland and lacking in truthiness, but this absurdly entertaining movie from Norway deftly avoids that trap. The true story of Arne Treholt involves him being convicted of spying in the eighties and sentenced to two decades behind bars, but the even truer story is that he was actually the leader of Norway’s secret defense force made up entirely of ninjas. Yes, really. They fought the good fight through the use of mad ninja skills, their love for animals, high tech gear, and a camp “protected by feng shui.” The film is lovably low-budget as evidenced by the excellent use of miniatures and occasionally amateurish acting, but it’s so humorous in its integrity and charm that you just might enjoy the hell out of it. All with the added bonus of learning some Norwegian history!
Pitch: “Aw shit, hippies. Stay close…”
Why Rent? Sam (Mark Duplass) is a thirty something slacker who’s made a fine art of irresponsibility, but when circumstances lead him to take his teen nephew and the kid’s friend on a weekend camping trip he learns that there may just be hope for him yet. I’ve yet to care about a single Duplass-related film, and my expectations were suitably low here, but the script from writer/director Craig Johnson is warm and witty. Duplass even delivers a performance that skirts annoyance to become something both endearing and heartbreaking.
Pitch: No, this isn’t actually the story of Adrian Brody’s career…
Why Rent? A man (Adrian Brody) awakens in a car that has crashed through a guardrail and gone flying through the trees of a remote forest. He has no memory of who he is or how he got there, and his legs are pinned beneath the crumpled dash. This is a rare example of a (mostly) one-man show set in (mostly) one location that actually manages to thrill and surprise as the story unfolds. Parts of it tease contrivance, but more often than not it engages in its revelations. Check out my full review here.
Pitch: Marks the g-spot…
Why Rent? Two prostitutes, one on her way out of the business and one brand new to it, cross paths on what should have been a night of very profitable sex. Instead the pair find themselves targeted by a madman who chases them through the Sydney streets with murder on his mind. This Australian thriller is dark and occasionally sexy, but it risks being a bit too bleak at times and pauses the action more than once for a depressing dip into the duo’s sad little lives. Check out my full review here.
Pitch: Zzzzz in any language still means zzzzz…
Why Avoid? A Romanian police officer assigned to follow and arrest a young man for drug offenses slowly grows a conscience and decides the teen deserves a better fate. The keyword in that last sentence is “slowly” because everything in this movie is slow as hell. That in and of itself is not a bad thing… there are plenty of examples of fantastic slow burns throughout cinema… but this film drags with no end reward. The journey isn’t even worth it as long stretches of nothing offer little in the way of anything interesting. Hell, Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control feels like a Jerry Bruckheimer production by comparison.
Pitch: Not all British detectives are built the same. Some are annoying as hell for example…
Why Avoid? DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn) is a no bullshit policewoman who works to solve crimes in the Northumberland area of England. This set collects the entire four episode run of the show with each one being a feature length, self contained mystery. It seems my affection for UK procedurals was bound to hit a snag eventually… not every show titled with the lead character’s name can be a winner like Sherlock, Wallander, or Murphy’s Law. The problem with Vera is two-fold. The scripts are way too cluttered and busy resulting in episodes that just can’t hold the attention. And then there’s Vera herself. These characters don’t have to be likeable in the traditional sense, but they need to be engaging and interesting. Vera is neither and instead fills the screen with a lack of personality and an excess of bitchiness.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
Children of the Corn: Genesis
Forks Over Knives
House MD: Season Seven
The King and the Clown
Madea’s Big Happy Family
Orpheus (Criterion) Prom
Running Wilde: Season One
Strike: Remastered Edition
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?