Welcome back to This Week In DVD and the last day of February! Well, what should be the last day but is instead actually the 2nd to last thanks to the shenanigans of the evil and gilled Leap Dave Williams. Only one big title hits shelves this week, but it’s an Academy Award winner! Other titles that aren’t named Hugo include a few fantastic and exciting foreign films (The Front Line, Rabies, The Yellow Sea), a few less exciting foreign films (The Conformist, Tomorrow When the War Began, Mandrill) and more!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Four old college friends (Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay, Jeremy Piven) get together annually for a drug-fueled weekend, but their latest reunion finds each of them at the lowest point of their lives. All four leads do a fantastic job in this energetic but terribly depressing movie that examines the ideas of failure, depression and expectations at the mid-point of a man’s life. Things tease the point of over-doing it, but the lasting effect is a powerful one as the men face the lives and mistakes they’ve made. Plus Carla Gugino, Arielle Kebbel, and Sasha Grey! Director Mark Pellington has a couple solid films under his belt (Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies), but his main career focus seems to be music videos so it’s fitting that his latest film matches the stylish visuals, heavy emotional toll and powerful writing of his most famous video (Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy”).
Pitch: “Soldiers die when they’re told to…”
Why Buy? As the end of the Korean war draws near, or at least the official cease fire, both sides spend their final days of the conflict trying to take and hold the strategic Aerok Hills. Director Hun Jang’s film follows a South Korean Lieutenant sent to the front line to investigate the recent point blank death of the squad’s commander, but the answers he finds may haunt him forever. This is a fantastic and powerful mix of spectacular battle scenes and nerve-shredding drama that highlights the unfortunate and unique situation that is the Korean conflict. Friendship, loss, nationalism and a confused sense of identity all come into play in harrowing detail. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Pitch: It’s not the raccoons you need to fear…
Why Buy? A national park in Israel has a busy day as a pair of siblings come in contact with a potential serial killer before a quartet of tennis players, a park ranger and a pair of cops join the woodland fun. Billed as the first Israeli slasher film this could just as easily be dubbed the country’s first blackly comic horror film. The setup is initially familiar, but events play out in a fresh, exciting and humorous fashion. Co-writers/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have done their homeland proud with a movie that works both as a smart thriller and a commentary on Israel’s state of mind. Check out my full review here.
Pitch: Machetes and feet seem to be the weapons of choice in Korea…
Why Buy? A down on his luck North Korean cab driver heads south of the DMZ in search of his wife who left months earlier, but his trip is burdened further when he’s asked to kill a man in exchange for wiping out his sizable gambling debt. Not surprisingly, the hit and his quest go horribly awry, and he’s left fighting for his life and a way back home. This brutal action thriller from the director of the equally awesome The Chaser features a strong central story and some incredibly well done fight scenes. Things do get a bit confusing at times, but it’s all worth it especially when you get to the near thirty minute chase/fight scene towards the end. Spectacular stuff.
Pitch: “The Japanese girls, they made his head explode, and it was not my fault…”
Why Rent? A young priest (Steve Little) is sent on a forced sabbatical to find his calling, so he plans a canoeing trip with the high school classmate (Robert Longstreet) he most admired. What starts as an odd but casual river trip turns into something far more ridiculous. Little is probably best known as Stevie Janowski from Eastbound & Down, and while his character here is a bit more competent he’s still a complete and utter goof. He’s the lead here, but he’s far from the strangest element on display. Fans of the playfully bizarre should give it a chance as it’s filled with bizarre laughs and visuals.
Pitch: Mamma mia, that’s a spicy fascist…
Why Rent? A young man in pre-WWII Italy falls under Mussolini’s spell and takes on an assignment to kill a past professor of his who resisted the fascists rise to power. His journey exposes him as a man willing to bend whichever way the wind blows, but the consequences and causes of conformity aren’t always predictable. Bernardo Bertolucci’s early classic is a powerful indictment of fascism by way of the people who allow it to happen. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Pitch: Forget name calling, Pol Pot just flat out killed the kettle…
Why Rent? Most people’s exposure to the Khmer Rouge’s killing spree throughout Cambodia in the 1970s is due to the excellent film, The Killing Fields, but there’s more to the story than that one story managed to tell. Documentarian Thet Sambath dedicated a decade of his life to research, interviews, and relentless digging for the truth behind the massacre and the men who committed it. The stories he finds are intimate and personal ones set against a grand and devastating scale. The resulting doc is neither flashy nor slick, but it is a powerful indictment of a time and a place that hopefully never sees the light of day again.
Pitch: It’s an Academy Award winner! Sure, in the technical categories only…
Why Rent? A young orphan (Asa Butterfield) in early 20th century Paris tries to complete his late father’s work but stumbles into a story about the magic of cinema as he interacts with memories, dreams and the legendary Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Martin Scorsese’s ode to the importance of film history and preservation has a terrible first act but settles into a sweet, whimsical and effects-filled adventure. The supporting cast includes Chloe Moretz, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee and more.
Pitch: Don’t let the presence of Seven of Nine on the DVD cover confuse you…
Why Rent? An ER nurse gets electrocuted (don’t ask) while trying to save a stabbing victim and soon begins experiencing the dead woman’s memories. Can she solve the murder before she gets herself killed (or incarcerated in a mental hospital)? Natalie Zea is best (only?) known from FX’s Justified, but she makes for a capable lead here. Less successful is Sean Patric Flanery who plays Det. Generic and could do so in his sleep at this point. This was headed towards the Avoid section, but it manages to some unexpected things with the premise and even though it remains around the mediocre mark the originality deserves some recognition.
Pitch: If only all family reunions were this exciting…
Why Rent? A triad boss is arrested and executed for his role in the theft of counterfeit money plates, and his followers are left behind to fight for supremacy. Simon Yam and Andy On are the two most recognizable faces here, but star power isn’t the film’s biggest draw. Instead it’s the high quality fight choreography (and attractive players) on display that will keep the attention and interest. Jiang Luxia in particular stands out as an unassuming spitfire, small in stature but big in power and speed. She has a couple fight scenes early on that are greater than the whole of Mandrill (see below).
Pitch: It’s like Bigfoot, but hairier…
Why Rent? Several teens make sleepover party plans for the last night of summer before school starts, and the result is an evening filled with fun, heartache and puppy love. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s film is a slice of life character drama that reminds us of the awkward, wonderful and curious days and nights before things began to make sense. The film takes a bit to get going and draw viewers in though as it starts out with all the promise of a poorly acted, sex-free porn film before finding and showing its heart.
Pitch: “Wombats!” (Feel free to substitute your own favorite vicious marsupial…)
Why Rent? A group of teenagers head into the hills for a camping trip, but soon notice the sounds of jets screaming overhead and gunfire from town below. It seems they’ve been invaded by an unnamed (but probably Chinese) military force, and now they’re all that stands between their families’ freedom and the opposite of freedom. This Australian action film is based on the first book in a series by John Marsden, and in case you were wondering, yes… it is a massively obvious ripoff of Red Dawn. Even so, it’s an entertaining enough little adventure with some solid gun battles and teen rebel shenanigans.
Pitch: Makes Crash look worthy of an Academy Award for Best Picture…
Why Avoid? A young girl goes missing and only horndog Dane Cook can find her. Well, never mind, his story is unrelated, but maybe Barbara Hershey can? No? Julie Benz? Erik Palladino? The theme of this ensemble drama is the way in which we can affect the lives of those around us through both our good and bad decisions and actions. Pretty deep stuff, and in better hands it could have turned into something worth more than a Crash-related punchline. But as it stands the characters are mostly uninteresting, the drama is far from compelling and the dialogue is miles away from profound.
Pitch: Stick to exporting cranberries Chile, stick to cranberries…
Why Avoid? A young boy sees his parents murdered and grows up to be an ass-kicking bounty hunter intent on one day finding their killer. But just as he gets close to the truth he discovers a surprising secret. The story is generic, but that wouldn’t be a problem if the action was cool. Sadly, the fight choreography feels sluggish and a bit too rehearsed. Marko Zaror made a big splash at Fantastic Fest with this high kicking action film, and yes, his flip kick is fairly impressive. But the effect lessens when it’s the only damn move the guy uses here, and it just here that’s the problem. He can fight well, but apparently it’s only in movies where he isn’t the lead. Skip it and watch Undisputed III: Redemption instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
Beneath the Darkness
Boys on the Run
Daesepo Naughty Girls
Johnny English Reborn
Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The Complete First Season
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What are you buying on DVD this week?