This Week in DVDThis week’s DVD column only features one certified blockbuster, but happily it’s a kick ass movie worth picking up and enjoying as soon as possible. The rest of the week’s offerings are smaller fare of varying quality including the incredibly fun Detective Dee, the too grim to be good Little Deaths, the better than expected Fright Night, the enlightening but sad Circumstance, and more.

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

Apocalypse, CA

It’s the end of the world thanks to an impending impact from a very large asteroid, but where most films with that premise would focus on efforts to avert disaster this smaller budget indie has a bit more on its mind. John is using Earth’s final days trying to make up for lost time, but his attempts to right past wrongs meet with questionable results. As you’d expect those results include body swapping, Armageddon, a 100-foot tall giant and more. Obviously. Imagine Bellflower with more appealing characters, a lighter tone and far less whining, and you’ll have a good idea what to expect from writer/director Chad Peter’s film. Well, not really, but the point is it’s an interesting and creative look at gender and relationships through an apocalyptic lens that makes up for its budgetary restraints and occasionally dodgy acting (I’m looking at you “Hank”) with wit, foul language and impressive visual effects.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Pitch: This ancient Chinese secret is more concerned with ass-kickery than with laundry…

Why Buy? A banished detective (Andy Lau) is released from prison on the condition that he prevent the assassination of the woman who put him there, but he’ll need all the help he can get when he comes to realize the full extent of the threat facing her kingdom. Tsui Hark has been in a bit of a slump for a while now, but he bursts back onto the scene with this martial arts and magic filled adventure that brings Sherlock Holmes to ancient China with gloriously entertaining action sequences, a smart and witty script and fun performances from all involved. Plus Bingbing Li who is as gorgeous to look at as her name is fun to say. That’s to say, very.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Pitch: Hey Tim Burton! Hey Matthijs van Heijningen Jr! This is how you make a prequel…

Why Buy? A scientist with a crooked smile (James Franco) accidentally creates an intelligent ape while working on a cure for Alzheimers, and that fur-covered Einstein starts to create trouble in the Bay Area. It also leads to a future Earth that will eventually play host to a visit from Charlton Heston and friends. Rupert Wyatt’s prequel to the classic Apes franchise is blockbuster entertainment at its finest with stunning special effects, fantastic set pieces and thought provoking concepts. It shouldn’t have worked at all, but just about all of it works beautifully.

Action Double Feature: The Nickel Ride & 99 and 44/100% Dead

Pitch: Wonder if this John Frankenheimer fellow can film a worthwhile car chase…

Why Rent? The latest Action Double Feature from Shout! Factory features the Jason Miller-starring thriller, The Nickel Ride, and the Richard Harris action comedy, 99 and 44/100% Dead. If you’re like me you’ve never heard of either film, but both are actually somewhat pleasant surprises. The Nickel Ride stars Miller as the guy who manages multiple warehouses for the mob, but as mob-related plans are prone to do things soon start falling apart in dramatic fashion. It’s well acted but a bit slow. The terribly titled 99 and 44/100% Dead stars Harris as a glasses-wearing man for hire who gets shit done in an odd GTA-like world where crime, car chases, and gun fights are the norm. The fight choreography blows, but the car and gun action is pretty cool. It is a John Frankenheimer joint after all.

Circumstance

Pitch: Who knew Iran (ex-pats included) would become the …

Why Rent? Two teenage girls in Iran struggle to live in a world that limits expressions of personality and sexuality especially from females. Atafeh (Nikohl Booshen) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) discover truths about themselves and what they mean to each other, but Iranian society is a far from welcoming environment. Despite Lionsgate’s attempt to sell this as “an outrageously sexy movie” Circumstance is actually a frustrating and often depressing drama about young lives forced to conform to ridiculously sexist and cruel cultural standards. Both girls give strong performances filled with yearning and desire in a story that follows their diverging paths. Plus, well, there are a couple truly sexy scenes between them too.

Fright Night

Pitch: I was on set of this movie during the night club scene. So that’s cool…

Why Rent? A teenager (Anton Yelchin) with a single mom discovers their new next door neighbor is a vampire (Colin Ferrell), and with the help of his plucky girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and a Las Vegas magician (David Tennant) he sets out to stop the monster’s reign of terror. This remake of the beloved 80s film took a lot of flack and criticism that it didn’t really warrant. The movie has issues to be sure, but it’s still a fun and bloody horror comedy with solid performances and effects.

The Life and Times of Tim: The Complete Second Season

Pitch: You will not envy Tim’s life, but you will enjoy laughing at it…

Why Rent? Imagine an animated version of Demitri Martin with Ray Romano’s voice and George Costanza’s luck, and you’ll have a good idea what to expect with this very funny series on HBO. Tim is a schlub in NYC who just can’t catch a break whether it be at work, out with friends or home with a lady. But his loss is our gain as creator Steve Dildarian and friends find the humor in situations awkward and mundane. The set includes all ten episodes and serves as a good lead in to season three which starts this month.

Sledge Hammer! The Complete Series

Pitch: “I haven’t seen anything this perverted since the Webster holiday special…”

Why Rent? Detective Sledge Hammer (David Rasche) is an LA cop who’d rather shoot first then, well, do anything else. He fights crime with a giant hand gun, a sexist attitude, and a willful ignorance of Miranda rights. This sitcom-ish show from the eighties is front loaded with a variety of stupid jokes, dumb bits and broad comedy, and while it went over a lot better with my teen self than it does now it’s still fun, goofball entertainment.

Kill Katie Malone

Pitch: May be the first eBay-inspired movie. Hopefully the last…

Why Avoid? A battered and beleaguered Dean Cain auctions a mysterious wooden box online which he claims contains the ghost of a long dead servant girl, but when some crazy college kids buy it all hell breaks loose. That actually makes it sound more exciting than it is. This ghost-in-a-box tale offers little reason to care about anything that’s happening onscreen to any of the characters. On the plus side the trio of college buds aren’t annoying, but they’re also not very interesting. There are a couple mildly effective ghost effects, but the movie as a whole is scare-free and often nonsensical. Skip it and watch The Innkeepers instead.

Little Deaths

Pitch: “We all have appetites. Some of us just have different tastes…”

Why Avoid? This anthology horror film from the UK mixes sex and death in three separate tales to varied effect. Unfortunately none of those effects are all that interesting or exciting. The first story opens promisingly enough with a couple who take a young homeless girl into their home, but it flips on a dime to a fairly goofy denouement. Story two has a crazy idea at its core, but it’s excruciatingly slow and uninteresting in its execution. The final segment is the best of the bunch and features a brutal and squirm-inducing finale, but getting there is once again a dull drag. Skip it and watch season one of The Hitchhiker instead.

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

The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975
Branded to Kill (Criterion)
Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Kung Fu Panda 2
Ra.One
Tanner Hall
Tokyo Drifter (Criterion)

Read More: This Week in DVD

What are you buying on DVD this week?


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