Welcome back to This Week In DVD! Lots of titles to choose from today in all three categories including two brilliant Criterion releases, the second Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes film, a Dutch family film that stars a frequently naked lady from Game of Thrones, and a mixed bag of direct to DVD releases.
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Ho Kwok-fai (Louis Koo) is the brains behind a four-person team of assassins who specialize in making their hits look like accidents, but when one of their own is killed in an accident not of their making he suspects the team is being targeted. Johnnie To produced this dark little gem that teases a couple well choreographed action scenes but focuses instead on suspense and feelings of paranoia, loss and suspicion. It’s a sharp thriller that surprises more than once throughout its short running time, and it marks director Soi Cheang as a director unafraid to go against the usual stylized Hong Kong action grain. Some of the choreographed accidents are incredibly precise and seem to rely on an awful amount of luck, but they are professionals after all. Shout! Factory’s first foray into Asian cinema is a winner.
The Gold Rush (Criterion)
Pitch: See the film that inspired Johnny Depp’s fork dance in Benny & Joon…
Why Buy? A lone prospector (Charlie Chaplin) heads into the mountains in search of gold and comes out with adventure, love, danger and, well, gold. I’d recommend buying just about anything of Chaplin’s if you don’t already own it, and if you’re going to buy you may as well go for the best. Criterion’s release features two lovingly restored versions of the film alongside several engaging extras, but even if it was bare-bones it’d be worth owning. Chaplin does fantastic work here with props, expressions and more.
Shallow Grave (Criterion)
Pitch: Deciding who gets to cut up the corpse is never easy…
Why Buy? Three roommates take in a fourth, but when he dies leaving behind a suitcase full of cash the trio find themselves in big trouble. Sure it’s because they make a serious of incredibly bad decisions, but still. Danny Boyle’s first film remains one of my favorites from his catalog thanks to a pitch black sense of humor, creative visuals and a sharp script from John Hodge. Ewan McGregor makes his feature debut here, and he’s a bundle of wit and energy in this darkly comic thriller of crime and consequences.
Episodes: The First Season
Pitch: The best work of Matt LeBlanc’s career. Yes, even better than Ed…
Why Rent? A successful husband and wife writing team from the UK are asked to help shepherd a Hollywood remake, but as the process plays out they soon realize their classy comedy is turning into a lame and hollow American sitcom. The final straw? The casting of Matt LeBlanc in the lead role. This show is funny and smart all around, especially for fans of inside baseball Hollywood humor, but the biggest laughs come from LeBlanc playing a darker, crasser, smarter version of himself. The guy’s pretty damn hilarious, and it’s just a shame he never got the chance to star in a real sitcom.
Pitch: Who wants to see Carice van Houten keep her clothes on? Yeah, me neither, but your kids will enjoy it anyway…
Why Rent? A curious cat laps up some mysterious liquid and turns into a human woman (Carice van Houten) with feline tendencies. She hooks up with a goofy reporter who’s bad at his job, but with the help of the town’s cat population they become an unstoppable duo who are always on top of the next big story… which just might involve an evil industrialist who hates children and cats. This Dutch film is lightweight entertainment, but young kids and fans of talking pussy should find some harmless fun in the adventure.
Neon Flesh (UK)
Pitch: Fun with the illegal sex trade…
Why Rent? A young Spanish thug decides to trade in his pimping and thieving days for the glamor of a whorehouse, and he does it all in honor of his Alzheimer’s stricken mother. This violent romp has aspirations of early Guy Ritchie in its style and characters, but while it ultimately is a movie worth watching for fans of such things it has real tonal issues at the core of its story. The brothel is stocked with illegal immigrants forced into the job. It’s sex slavery, and the movie teases a brief awareness of the issue before simply ignoring it for the main storyline. It’s impossible to be sympathetic with the “likeable” trio of friends running the place because they’re ultimately evil bastards… even if the film doesn’t agree.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Pitch: The Adventure’s of Sherlock’s Dumber Brother…
Why Rent? Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) are tasked with defeating a notorious film critic named Moriarty. Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to his blockbuster reinterpretation of the Sherlock character is a lesser film, but it’s still a pretty entertaining one. Downey and Law continue to have great chemistry together, and the film’s style remains eye catching when it comes to the action and fighting sequences. Noomi Rapace’s character is a bit of a let down, but the film as a whole is mindless fun.
Something’s Gonna Live
Pitch: Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid are at it again, but this time instead of thinking about divorce they’re debating an abortion…
Why Rent? The best known filmmakers are usually the actors and directors for obvious reasons, but movies are a collaborative art form that usually involves hundreds of people. This doc takes a look at a handful of cinema’s best known art directors, storyboard artists and cinematographers whose careers began in Hollywood’s golden age of the 40s and went on to include films like To Kill a Mockingbird, North by Northwest, The Birds, Vertigo and more. More than a Hollywood story though the men profiled tell a very human story as well through their friendships, experiences and impending deaths.
Pitch: All of the boys in my 8th grade class fell through the ice once while playing on a frozen stream during recess. We tried to sneak our soaking wet selves back in to school by hiding behind the girls, but the nuns had x-ray vision…
Why Rent? A down on his luck insurance salesman (Greg Kinnear) seizes the opportunity to make a quick buck at the expense of a senile old man (Alan Arkin), but his simple plan quickly deteriorates into conspiracy and murder. This darkly comic little thriller flew under the radar last year, and it’s a shame as it’s smarter and more entertaining than many bigger films that manages to reach theaters. Parts may seem occasionally predictable, but the whole is guaranteed to surprise. And Billy Crudup kills it as an unstable security alarm installer who wants in on the action.
Pitch: Look, I’m not saying Samwise ate Merry and Pippin, but he’s got a crazy big belly and those two haven’t been seen in years…
Why Avoid? Two jerky salesmen (Sean Astin and Michael Vartan) spend their days harassing the female employees and pranking their co-worker (David Cross), but when the friendly boss dies and the target of their juvenile games gets promoted the pair find themselves knocked down to secretaries. It’s no surprise that their new lot in life helps them learn valuable lessons about how to treat other people, but rest assured they do so without any laughs. They’re cruel and idiotic for far too long here to make their redemption valid, and there’s nary a laugh in sight. Skip it and watch Office Space instead.
Don’t Go In the Woods
Pitch: Imagine if The Beatles decided to make a slasher instead of A Hard Day’s Night. This is not that awesome sounding…
Why Avoid? A struggling party band heads into the woods to avoid distraction and focus on writing a new album, but the arrival of cute girls and a serial killer put the kibosh on their plans. The killer more so than the cute girls. Did I mention everyone but the killer sings a shit ton of songs throughout the movie too? Vincent D’Onofrio directs this oddball musical horror film that succeeds with a couple catchy songs but fails as a movie in every way. Acting is mediocre, direction/editing is questionable and the story is simplistic at best. Skip it and watch Swimming with Sharks instead.
Entourage: The Complete Eighth Season
Pitch: Tuuurtle, turtle, turtle…
Why Avoid? Vince, Eric, Drama and Turtle have had some crazy adventures in Hollywood, but it’s time for all of them to move onward and upward and stop suckling at Vince’s teat. This was a fun show once upon a time with real personality, character and humor, but its last few seasons have been fairly insufferable. Vince’s career is a poorly written joke, Drama and Ari became pure caricature, Turtle lost weight along with his goofy charm and Eric… well Eric was always pretty boring. Did anyone believe Sloan would have ever given him the time of day? Please. Where was I? The show became so smug and full of itself, and it’s no coincidence that the show got worse as it began to show less and less nudity. Just an observation. Skip it and watch Entourage: The Complete First Season instead.
Pitch: Got a Mac? Make a movie…
Why Avoid? A group of brash, young pilots make millions running drugs across the border in their planes, but when their escapades catch the attention of the Feds and the cartels the “Live fast, die young” maxim they aspire towards becomes a reality. Where to start with this one… it opens with Tom Arnold getting head from Shawnee Smith in a meth lab/RV, and it goes downhill from there. The acting, script and direction could have been redeemable if the flying action impressed even slightly, but most of the shots consist of planes simply flying in straight lines. No high speed hi-jinx, no close calls, no fun. We do get some shoddy CGI though. Skip it and watch Speed instead.
Pitch: In this corner, a brilliant no-brainer of a concept. And in this corner, sheer ineptitude and a lack of talent…
Why Avoid? The pay-per-view event of the year is a battle royale of movie monsters and supernatural entities where only one monster can reign supreme.Monsters versus monsters you say? How exactly do you screw that up? You start with a script that tries to be funny but fails, direction that hopes to exciting but fails and special effects that, well, the effects are okay. Then you hire Dave Foley because he can’t say no to a goddamn thing (seriously, I do not understand this guy’s post-News Radio career) alongside Art “The Octagon” Hindle, Lance Henrikson’s voice and a handful of WWE faces. Then you film them. Skip it and watch King Kong vs Godzilla instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
GCB: The Complete First Season
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Harold and Maude (Criterion)
A Little Bit of Heaven
Missing: The Complete First Season
Scandal: The Complete First Season
Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?