Rob Hunter loves movies. He also loves Vicki Zhao Wei. These two joys come together in the form of cash money payments that he receives every week and immediately uses to buy more DVDs. So join us each week as he takes a look at new DVD releases and gives his highly unqualified opinion as to which titles are worth BUYing, which are better off as RENTals, and which should be AVOIDed at all costs.
Click on any of the titles below to magically head over to Amazon.com and pick up the DVD. And don’t forget to check out Neil Miller’s hilariously titled This Week In Blu-ray column for reviews on the latest high definition Blu-ray releases!
Pitch: “I’m glad I made you feel like a real woman. Very glad. I mean that…”
Why Buy? Three “classic” spaghetti westerns from Italy come together in this box set, and if you don’t currently own them individually (and are a fan of the genre) this is the way to go. Django sees a mysterious gunfighter (Franco Nero) arrive in a small, messed up frontier town where bad men spend their days killing each other. Our casket dragging hero goes all Yojimbo on their asses… kind of. Nero returns in Keoma as a highly unconvincing “half-breed” Indian who returns home to find his hometown at the mercy of an evil land baron. Gunfights, banjo playing, and Native American antics ensue. And finally, A Bullet For The General sees a blond gunslinger work his way into a gang of Mexican revolutionaries with assassination on his mind. All three films are stylish, violent, and oddly entertaining at times, and the first two even feature crazy theme songs.
Extra Features? Video introductions by a giant-handed Alex Cox, interviews, very cool reversible DVD sleeves featuring original poster art
Pitch: “You want to make love to me because I drive the Monster and wear this costume…”
Why Buy? Paul Bartel’s film is probably one of my favorite in the Roger Corman canon thanks to a near brilliant mix of comedy, vehicular action and manslaughter, and nudity. A host of charismatic drivers take to the country’s streets in a race that’s as much about points as it is destination. And how do you score points? By killing people beneath your wheels of course! So hospitals and old folks’ homes roll out their residents to allow for some bonus point splatterfests and the nation’s citizens huddle around their TVs to watch the action. David Carradine plays the antihero, Frankenstein, and Sylvester Stallone plays the mobster-themed Machine Gun Joe. A fun and incredibly non-pc flick.
Extra Features? Commentaries, interviews, featurettes, booklet
Pitch: “If you want to fight, be a man in your next life…”
Why Buy? Fans of recent action-oriented period pieces like Hero and Red Cliff should find enough to enjoy with this live-action retelling of the Mulan legend. If you’ve seen Disney’s animated version (or are Chinese) you’re most likely already familiar with the story… a decree comes down from the emperor that all families must contribute a fighter to the war, and unwilling to let her ailing and elderly father go Mulan steps up, disguises herself as a man, and reports for duty. What follows are ten plus years of her fighting and killing the enemy, climbing the ranks up to general, and concealing the truth of her vagina. Vicki Zhao Wei makes an even less convincing man than Cole Abaius does, but her beautiful and giant doe eyes combined with some solid action, romance, and comedy (courtesy of Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee) make this flick worthwhile. *Note* The Blu-ray of this release is region free and playable on US Blu-ray players.
Extra Features? Interviews, premiere footage
Pitch: Look, I’m just as surprised as you are…
Why Rent? A young woman in NYC wonders if the relationship she’s in might not be as good as the one she’ll be in next. This flick disappeared from theaters almost overnight, and that chilly reception coupled with its plot made me expect the worst. And yet… it’s actually a pretty damn good movie. Scott Porter plays boyfriend to Alexis Bledel and he also narrates the tale of romance gone wrong. His role as narrator is one of a few fresh moves the film has up its sleeve. Bryan Greenberg’s performance as the new guy is probably the film’s weakest link, but some of that fault may be due to how the character’s written. It’s an honest and occasionally painful look at love in general and fast moving, big city love in particular. Give it a chance!
Extra Features? Commentary
Pitch: It’s no Hurt Locker, but you can do far worse when it comes to Iraq/Afghanistan movies…
Why Rent? It’s Iraq, 2003, and the search is on for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Chief Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) discovers a possible cover-up and seeks out the truth with the help of a reporter and a CIA agent. Expectations were high for this flick that features both the star and director of (two of) the Bourne films, but some folks couldn’t get past their disappointment when it didn’t turn out to be as similar as they had hoped. Instead Paul Greengrass, Damon, and writer Brian Helgeland have given us two films in one. Unfortunately, only one of them truly works… the action and intrigue on display here is fantastic, but the heavy-handed message becomes a distraction. Definitely worth a watch.
Extra Features? Commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes
Pitch: It’s a double entendre see…
Why Rent? Thomas Jane stars as a divorced father of two rotund teens who finds himself in a financial pickle. With the help of a former one-night stand who takes on the job of pimp he becomes a male prostitute servicing lonely ladies in need of company. Which is where an all together different pickle comes up. This is probably HBO’s most low-key series, but the performances are fantastic and the mix of humor and pathos works beautifully more often than not. Catch up now before season two starts this summer.
Extra Features? Commentaries, featurettes
Pitch: It’s no surprise I’d like a a movie about two Japanese girls who fall in love…
Why Rent? What is a surprise is that the movie is neither sexy nor dirty (which is usually how I like my Asian lesbian movies). Instead, the film is a sweetly personal and intimate look at love. Haru is a shy college student in a relationship with a dick who’s only around when he wants sex, and there’s also the problem of his ongoing relationship with an ex… her quiet world is turned inside out though when a woman approaches her in a cafe and wipes off her cocoa mustache. It’s sweet and the two form an oddly romantic and awkward relationship that allows Haru to grow and become more aware of her worth and her wants. Things slow down a bit in the second half, but it’s still a sharply honest and beautifully shot drama with more than a few laughs.
Extra Features? Interview, premiere footage
Pitch: All Na’vi Go To Heaven…
Why Rent? Characters from various sci-fi TV series die and are reborn in a lush world overseen by blue aliens. Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica) is our average guy stand-in who dies and then awakes in a this foreign land. Together with Mark Twain, Pizarro, and other characters both historical and fictional, he sets out to discover the secret of this purgatory-like planet and of the warring factions of blue “gods” who watch over it all. There’s more action than character development spread across the mini-series, and while I wish the story was shorter and buoyed by a bigger budget, it’s still interesting enough for sci-fi fans.
Extra Features? Featurette
Pitch: A variation on Hollywood’s belief that audiences will buy fat slobs with beautiful women…
Why Rent? At least this flick acknowledges up front that the pairing of a scrawny Jay Baruchel and an attractive, blond, and toothy Alice Eve would be highly unlikely. The unbelievability factor is what drives the plot here when a TSA agent finds himself falling for an event planner who begins to fall for him too. It’s a light-hearted comedy that aims middle of the road and succeeds. There are no big laughs to be found, but you should get a steady stream of smiles and chuckles mostly from the banter between Baruchel’s group of friends.
Extra Features? Commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers, featurette
Pitch: Eleven men plus one woman equals twelve poorly choreographed fighters…
Why Avoid? The pitch pretty much sums up why this is an Avoid. Twelve fighters come together for a contest that will leave one man standing while a room filled with gamblers wagers on their success. We’ve seen it before and we’ve seen it better. The entire production screams low budget and the acting is pretty bad, but neither of those things are irredeemable as long as the action can make up for it… but it fails just as miserably. The fights are choreographed and performed so slowly that you can easily see each fighter pausing and waiting for the next blow. None of it seems natural or alive. Attempts to give the fighters personalities and back stories fails too leaving us with people we don’t care about boring us with their acrobatics.
Extra Features? Deleted scenes, behind the scenes, interviews, featurettes
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen it and review material was unavailable: Close-Up (Criterion), The Last Station, The Maid, Red Desert (Criterion), Remember Me, A Star Is Born, Timer, Wolf Moon
In the interest of full disclosure, I received review copies of the following films for this week’s column: Cult Spaghetti Westerns, The Good Guy, Kakera, Mulan, Riverworld, She’s Out Of My League, Twelve
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?