This Week in DVD

Welcome to This Week in DVD! Lots of titles hitting shelves today, and we’re covering nineteen of them below. High profiles like Real Steel and Paranormal Activity 3 are releasing alongside indies like The Woman and Beware the Gonzo. There’s also several older titles worth checking out including Punishment Park, The Arena with Pam Grier and a Criterion release of Godzilla.

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

The Whistleblower

A female cop (Rachel Weisz) from the Midwest takes a temporary but high paid job as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia and discovers despicable crimes and criminals in her midst. Her instinct as a cop is to help people and bring the guilty to justice, but the systematic corruption may be too widespread and unbeatable. Weisz gives a strong and emotional performance, and the film pulls no punches in its exploration of the sex trafficking trade that exists in Bosnia (and around the world). It manages to be both powerful and suspenseful too while never feeling the need to glamorize or Hollywood-ize the story. This isn’t the sexiest release of the week and there are some better films below, but it’s an important and well made movie with a message worth sharing.

50/50

Pitch: And you thought there would never be a funnier movie about cancer than Terms Of Endearment

Why Buy? A young man named Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given a one in two chance of survival. Let the comedy begin! Director Jonathan Levine’s funny and affecting film features a stellar cast including Anna Kendrick in her most well rounded role yet, Seth Rogen as the far less than annoying best friend, Matt Frewer as a pot-loving cancer patient and more. Screenwriter Will Reiser based the premise on his own experience and battle with cancer, and the result is a movie that never shies away from the effects on Adam and his family/friends but also never gives up on the notion that laughter, humor and a positive attitude are amazing medicines.

Godzilla (Criterion)

Pitch: He’s so badass he taught his preteen son how to blow smoke rings…

Why Buy? This Japanese production is the granddaddy of cautionary monster tales, and while there were creature features before him there’s never been one as scaly. Unless you count the dozens of sequels, remakes and ripoffs. The film follows the exploits of a giant bipedal reptile awakened by nuclear testing who descends on Japan with a vengeance while mankind tries in vain to fight back with all kinds of model tanks, rockets and jets on wires. It remains a classic of the genre, a fact that Criterion has cemented by releasing it under their banner. Their disc includes a new transfer, new interviews with cast and crew members, two commentaries and more.

Punishment Park (UK)

Pitch: The Hippie Games…

Why Buy? This pseudo documentary sees a British film crew visit the United States to examine the government’s treatment of radicals, flag burners and draft dodgers. It alternates between a group of young men and women who’ve chosen three days in Punishment Park over a multi-year jail sentence and another group enduring the “trial” that seems predetermined to find them guilty. Writer/director Peter Watkins’ 1971 film offers up an alternate reality response to the protests and violence of late sixties America, and in the process he created a film that stands just as shocking and prescient now as it did forty years ago. What exactly separates a patriot from a threat to national security? **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**

Sherlock: Complete Series Two (UK)

Pitch: You could say that buying this set is abecedarian. You shouldn’t of course, but you could…

Why Buy? Haven’t seen this set yet, but my region-free Bluray is currently making its way across the ocean via submarine and should be in my player any day now. Series One set a very high bar, and by all accounts the show-runners behind the scenes including Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have delivered yet again. Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) return for three feature-length episodes adapting the classic stories A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hound Of the Baskervilles and The Reichenbach Falls. The character of Holmes is a big enough creation that he can happily exist through the darkly horrific Murder By Decree, the very funny Without A Clue and the blockbuster antics of Guy Ritchie’s films, but modern day audiences are missing out if they’re not also enjoying this brilliantly executed series. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**

Beware the Gonzo

Pitch: We need to talk about Gonzo…

Why Rent? Eddie ‘Gonzo’ Gilman (Ezra Miller) is a high school rebel with journalism and justice on his mind, but when he starts up his own school paper to combat the cool kids he ends up way over his radically coiffed head. This is basically a nerds vs the world movie, and it works in a lightweight and mildly entertaining way. Miller is joined by a few recognizable faces including Zoe Kravitz, Amy Sedaris and Campbell Scott (who should really be in more goddamn movies). The movie makes a misstep in its attitude toward one character’s date rape experience, but that aside it’s good, forgettable fun.

Happy Happy

Pitch: I think at least one of those happys is meant to be ironic…

Why Rent? Kaja leads an unhappy life with a distant husband and a prickish son, but when a new couple and their adopted son move in next door her life takes some decidedly unexpected turns. While the four adults engage in relationship drama the two preteen boys develop an odd back and forth of their own involving a slave and his owner. It’s a mix of black comedy and real emotional suffering and may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you enjoy strong acting, interesting characters and interludes featuring a four man barbershop quartet singing in English then give it a chance.

Hell and Back Again

Pitch: You’ll never look at Wal-Mart greeters the same way again…

Why Rent? Like many other young men and women, US Marine Sergeant Nathan Harris returned from his tour of duty in Afghanistan a broken and damaged survivor. This often quiet and occasionally jarring documentary offers a visceral and intimate look into one soldier’s life. The filmmakers were embedded with Harris’ unit and they capture some intense firefights alongside the more humdrum side of daily patrols, but as the movie moves between the war and Harris’ efforts to settle in back home his true suffering comes clear. He zones out, gets angry over small things, has nightmares and grows overly attached to two handguns. The scene that flashes between combat footage and Harris playing a first-person war shooter is a bit obvious and on the nose but it’s still some very telling commentary.

Lethal Ladies Collection 2 – The Arena, Cover Girl Models, Fly Me

Pitch: “I want to hear your ass bumping good and hard on the floor…”

Why Rent? Roger Corman and Shout! Factory strike again with this trio of exploitation flicks with naked ladies kicking ass, posing for photos and serving drinks. The Arena is a flesh and violence-filled romp that sees Pam Grier and some white chicks enslaved by the Roman Empire and forced to fight as gladiators. Cover Girl Models finds a group of models caught up in espionage and kung fu in Hong Kong, and yes, they do get naked along the way. And finally, Fly Me sees kung fu terrorists foiled by sexy stewardesses. It’s almost not at all like United 93.

Paranormal Activity 3

Pitch: You sheet in my bed I keel you…

Why Rent? The ghostly box office behemoth continues with a second sequel that moves the story back a couple decades in the form of a prequel. The two sisters whose adult lives have been turned upside down in parts one and two are seen here as young girls, and we’re shown the story behind the origin of their family’s haunted curse. Like its predecessors this found footage film relies on a handful of spooky as hell scenes set amidst a lot of bland exposition and chit chat. The answers, explanation and ending may not suit every taste, but it deserves credit for offering a bit more than the first two. And seriously, the sheet in the kitchen scene? Crazy creepy.

Punished

Pitch: Only a fool would kill Anthony Wong’s daughter and expect to get away with it…

Why Rent? A business tycoon’s (Anthony Wong) bitchy daughter is kidnapped for an enormous ransom, but when the bad guys leave her for dead after getting their payoff the businessman decides to get his hands dirty. This Hong Kong flick is produced (but not directed) by Johnny To and it lacks his signature visual style, but it still manages to engage through plotting, structure and character. It’s Wong’s right-hand man who does the heavy lifting while his boss stews in anger and sadness, and the dynamic is an interesting one. Also interesting? The DVD cover’s double reference to Mel Gibson films! “First the ransom. Then the payback.” Indeed.

Real Steel

Pitch: More emotionally satisfying than The Fighter? Yeah, I said it…

Why Rent? A down on his luck robot-boxing manager (Hugh Jackman) takes his estranged son on the road with him as they try to find success with a new bot named Atom. Director Shawn Levy injects the movie with a lot of shmaltz, no doubt about it, but he also makes room for entertaining fight action and real heart. Oh, and several shots featuring Evangeline Lilly’s deliriously sexy shoulders. The effects used to bring the robots to life are top notch, the kid transcends his early annoyance factor to become mildly appealing and Jackman proves once again that Dr. Cox’s hatred of the man is unfounded.

Revenge of the Electric Car

Pitch: “It would be a good time for a little humility…”

Why Rent? The makers of Who Killed the Electric Car? return to explore the resurgence of electric and hybrid vehicles in the US and abroad with the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and more. Tim Robbins narrates, and while we all know the overall story it’s the smaller character studies that truly engage. Tesla founder Elon Musk, GM’s VP Bob Lutz and Greg “Gadget” Abbott are fascinating characters and offer real insight into the motivations and personalities needed for this revolution to succeed. The film ends on a high note, but consumers are a fickle breed and all it will take is a major drop in gas prices for people to fall back into their own ways.

Shut Up Little Man!: An Audio Misadventure

Pitch: The profanity here gives Casino a run for its money…

Why Rent? Two college grads come to San Francisco in 1987 and discover their neighbors are a couple of loud, abusive and occasionally hilarious older men. They record the verbal battles, share them with friends and years later discover the recordings have become a viral sensation eventually becoming comic books, recreations and even a play. This documentary starts as a simple look at some humorous recordings but quickly becomes a fascinating exploration of friendship, curiosity and even avarice.

Today’s Special

Pitch: I enjoy eating Indian food. I just don’t like looking at it…

Why Rent? A sous chef (Aasif Mandvi) in NYC thinks he’s in line for a chef position, but when he’s passed over he quits in frustration and plans a trip to Paris. Those plans are interrupted though when his father falls ill and he’s forced to take over the family’s rundown Indian restaurant. Mandvi does a fine job with his first lead role and maintains a good balance between the comedic persona he’s known for and a more dramatic sensibility. Jess Weixler injects some white into the otherwise ethnic proceedings, but the entire ensemble works well together to tell an American tale with real flavor.

Two-Lane Blacktop (UK) (Blu-ray)

Pitch: Features the only lead performances from James Taylor and Brian Wilson. You’ll understand why once you’ve watched it…

Why Rent? Two young men (James Taylor, Brian Wilson) driving without a destination cross paths with a free-spirited young woman (Laurie Bird) and a thirty-something guy (Warren Oates) undergoing a midlife crisis. Their universal aimlessness stands in for the country’s own uncertainty just as their attempt at a singular focus (racing) serves as a much needed distraction. I poke fun at Taylor and Wilson’s performances because they’re clearly not actors, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exhibit a certain degree of charisma. It’s a dated piece of cinema and a fascinating time capsule of the people, cars and attitudes of our past. **NOTE – This is a region B Blu-ray which requires a region-free player.**

The Confession

Pitch: Kiefer Sutherland stopped saving the world one day a year so he could do this? For shame…

Why Avoid? A hitman (Kiefer Sutherland) enters a confessional booth and begins sharing his sins with a priest (John Hurt), but soon his real plans are revealed… and they just may be exactly what you expected. This film originated as a webisode series online, and as such the budget and scope are pretty limited. Most of the movie is spent in the confessional with the two leads, and while they both give fine performances the story is too obvious and uninteresting to really maintain viewers’ interest.

Essential Killing

Pitch: It’s basically the opening to a cool action movie but stretched to 85 minutes…

Why Avoid? A Taliban fighter (Vincent Gallo) is captured in Afghanistan, tortured and moved to an undisclosed location, but an accident en route leads to his escape and run for his life. Director/co-writer Jerzy Skolimowski executes some solid action sequences early on, but once Gallo’s unnamed and silent terrorist escapes it becomes an odd, seemingly pointless exercise in moral obfuscation. It opens with him killing two Americans, and his actions that follow don’t earn him any additional sympathy. It’s unclear what the point of it all is exactly… is he the bad guy? Is the US government the aggressor? Is the fat lady who unwillingly breastfeeds Gallo the true mastermind? I don’t know, and sadly, I also don’t care.

The Woman

Pitch: She is woman, hear her growl…

Why Avoid? A supposedly normal family man who runs a tight ship at home finds a feral woman in the woods, captures her and chains her up in the barn. All in the name of helping her to become a good woman. The film has plenty of fans so consider my dissent to be the minority opinion, but it simply never worked for me. It’s neither frightening nor shocking, and while it teases black comedy at times it becomes far too frustrating. Character behaviors are nonsensical and stupid, there’s no one worth caring about and the point, that civilized people can be the truly animalistic and cruel ones, is obvious and uninteresting. The ending has a couple small joys but it’s too little too late.

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

The Moment of Truth (Criterion)
Restless
Time Traveler: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Read More: This Week in DVD

What are you buying on DVD this week?


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