Join us each week as Rob Hunter 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.
And remember, these listings and category placements are meant as informational conversation starters only. But you can still tell Hunter how wrong he is in the comment section below. This week sees two titles worth buying, and they’re both Criterion releases. Also out and worthy of your time or dismissal are A Christmas Carol, RoboGeisha, Best Worst Movie, The Kids Are All Right, an even longer cut of Avatar, and more.
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 for reviews on the latest high definition Blu-ray releases!
Pitch: Even better than the Chevy Chase remake where the male ballerina’s crotch explodes…
Why Buy? Charlie Chaplin’s final silent film arrived roughly a decade after everyone else started making talkies, and that attitude carries over to the film’s plot. A factory worker is injured when he gets trapped in some fancy new machinery and fed through the gears and cogs. His body and mind recover only to see him mistaken for a Commie by the ever vigilant authorities and tossed in jail. These two events lead him to rebel against a society that’s moving forward but leaving the individuals behind.
Extra Features? Commentary, visual essays, featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes, short films, booklet
Pitch: Terror, a macabre sense of humor, and a madman stalking little kids? Yes please…
Why Buy? Robert Mitchum stars as a supposed preacher who comes to town and steals the heart of a young mother of two. The problem? He’s a violent madman interested more in a hidden stash of cash than in her. Don’t let his knuckle tattoos fool you either… he’s less about the Love than he is the Hate. Actor Charles Laughton’s one and only turn behind the camera resulted in this taut and grim thriller that turned Mitchum into a true monster. Suspenseful and exciting, this just may be the best “children in danger from a tattooed sociopath” movie ever made.
Extra Features? Commentary, outtakes, behind the scenes, interviews, featurettes, booklet
Pitch: You know how they say good things can come from bad? No? Well here’s a perfect example anyway…
Why Rent? Troll 2 is a terrible movie by any standard. Poorly acted, poorly written, poorly directed, poorly [fill in the blank with every other aspect of a film production]. But it’s not without merits as this beloved documentary shows. The former child star of Troll 2 decided to explore what it is about the movie that keeps a small but loyal fanbase active year after year, and in the process he helps a dentist named George Hardy rediscover his passion for attention. The story is humorous, bittersweet, and occasionally heartbreaking as when George attends a convention where no one knows who he is or why he’s there. It’s a fantastic look at bad movies and the people who love them from both sides of the lens. (Check out Adam Sweeney’s full review here.)
Extra Features? Deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes
Pitch: Robert Zemeckis’ best movie since he stopped making real ones…
Why Rent? Charles Dickens’ classic tale of Christmas, ghosts, and handicapped children finds new life (well maybe not life per se) in CGI animated form. Jim Carrey takes on the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge as well as that of the three ghosts that visit him to show the error of his ways. Disney played up the action a bit too much for it’s 3D run in theaters, but behind the shiny CGI rests a well told tale with fresh humor and energy. The animation is stellar and the presentation hits all the right notes from gloomy and frightening to joyous and redemptive. (Check out my full review here.)
Extra Features? Featurettes, deleted scenes
Pitch: Screw the GED, this is the exam that will determine the rest of your life…
Why Rent? A group of people enter a room for an assessment test in an effort to secure a job. Or not. As they ponder the test’s single “question” the group begins to succumb to pressures both internal and external, and soon blood will be spilled. Single room thrillers can be fantastic, but they’re extremely difficult to get right. This British thriller actually succeeds by keeping its story and characters tightly wound and revealing only small bits of information at a time.
Extra Features? None
Pitch: The line between gigalo and gigaho is a slim one…
Why Rent? A young man (Paul Dano) wanders aimlessly until he comes across an older man (Kevin Kline) who may be just as lost but puts up one hell of a front. Dano has basically fallen into a rut similar to the one visited by Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera before him… playing the same one-note character in every film. Eisenberg and Cera have both snapped out of it recently, and hopefully Dano will do the same soon. But it’s not happening here. Thankfully Kline is in top form as the older gentleman out to woo the ladies from their skivvies and pocketbooks. He’s a fantastic actor and comedian, and the man should be back on the big screen.
Extra Features? Commentary, deleted scenes, featurette
Pitch: And the lesbians are okay too…
Why Rent? A same-sex couple encounters some life hiccups as their two teenage children go searching for their biological father. Director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko does something amazing here in that she takes a story of a so-called “alternative” family and makes it universal. This is a comical look at family, love, relationships, and identity, and it will have you laughing and tearing up in equal measure. The acting is strong across the board, but Annette Bening in particular is absolutely incredible as the uptight half of this loving couple. Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruffalo are the other two standouts. The film has some very vocal detractors over a certain plot point, but their claims of unbelievability and offensiveness ring hollow with the knowledge that Cholodenko is herself a lesbian. (Check out my full review here.)
Extra Features? Commentary, featurettes
Pitch: Imagine Up In the Air as a Western…
Why Rent? Lee Marvin is a rough and tumble cowboy trying to make a living on the open range, but a downturn in the economy and changes in the way people work are threatening his livelihood. When you think of Westerns you usually think action, gunfights, good guys, and bad guys… but sometimes they’re interested in more than the usual. Case in point is this oft-forgotten flick from 1970. It’s more character study than action piece as it examines the life of a cowboy on the brink of extinction with sincerity and humor. Marvin is excellent and it also features a rare turn by Jack Palance as someone other than a villain.
Extra Features? None
Pitch: She’s part Ginsu and part Hoover…
Why Rent? Two young women are recruited into a rich man’s enclave where they’re trained to be combat assassins who pose as geishas. As if that wasn’t diabolical enough they’re also being fitted with robotic enhancements to make them even deadlier. One girl rebels against her master when she discovers his plan to bomb innocent civilians. Don’t let the plot get in the way here though… director Noboru Iguchi certainly doesn’t. Instead he finds every excuse to toss exorbitant amounts of inappropriate CGI onscreen as the girls fight bad guys and each other with projectiles, chainsaws, transformer tanks, seafood, acidic breast milk, and blades that protrude from their ass. Need more reasons to watch? Here’s two more… the buildings bleed, and the acrobatic Tengu twins are hot as hell.
Extra Features? Short film, trailers
Pitch: Say hello to the sixth deadly venom…
Why Rent? The Shaw Brothers strike again with this tale of love, loyalty, and lies. And kung-fu, obviously. A man goes undercover in a competing clan to acquire information for his emperor… if he fails his own family will be punished. His presence is discovered but his relationship with one of the royal granddaughters keeps him safe as long as he stays within the confines of his new family. You can understand his dilemma. And soon fights galore break out in spectacular fashion. This one is a little slower than most Shaw Bros. films, but the second half is worth the wait for fans of old school fight flicks.
Extra Features? None
Pitch: Hell hath no fury like an aging French pop idol scorned…
Why Rent? A family is killed in Hong Kong, but the assassins forgot one thing. Grandpa is a fancy Parisian chef. Now Johnny Hallyday is out for revenge and he’s recruiting a hit team of competing bad guys to help him fight back. Johnnie To is a prolific and varied filmmaker with the majority of his work falling into one of two categories… super stylish or stylish and good. This one leans closer to the former type with an excess of beautifully shot scenes, brilliantly shot gun battles, and slow-mo ballets of violence. But there’s a real lack of logic and smarts. And Hallyday is an abysmal actor. But damn is it stylish.
Extra Features? None
Pitch: Hell hath no fury like four female Mexican burglars scorned…
Why Rent? Four friends work together as thieves, but when one of them gets nabbed, beaten, and imprisoned the remaining three bide their time with elaborate planning and prostitution. Then one of them dies. Now three friends must put their bodies, hearts, and lives on the line to avenge the one who was killed. Diego Luna stars as a gangster whose loyalty may not be as secured as the mob boss believes. This is a solid thriller that seems pretty pat on the surface but that manages to surprise more than once with the directions it goes. The ending devolves into some stupid decision making, but on the whole it’s an unpredictable drama punctuated with well shot violence. The three oral sex scenes in the first twenty minutes don’t hurt either.
Extra Features? Interview
Pitch: As if anyone would believe a government would sell out a handful of soldiers for billions of dollars in profit…
Why Avoid? The British Prime Minister reveals the location of an elite squad of soldiers in exchange for a huge military deal guaranteed to make the UK large sums of cash. The soldiers are subsequently attacked and now one of the squad’s sister begins an investigation into what happened. One small end twist aside this is an extremely generic thriller that plays out exactly as you’d expect it to. It’s dry and uninteresting for the most part, and fails to find a creative spark to engage the viewer beyond the opening credits. And John Rhys-Davies spends the entire time acting like he’s still in his dwarf makeup from Lord Of the Rings.
Extra Features? None
Pitch: If I wanted to see blue creatures boinking I’d watch some Smurf hentai…
Why Avoid? A paraplegic marine is given a second chance at mobility when he’s entered into a program that combines humans with an alien race called the Na’vi. Once inside one of the giant blue creatures he decides to fight back and leads a rebellion against the human oppressors. I’m a big fan of director James Cameron’s previous films, but Avatar is a beautiful turd. The standard edition is well worth a rental for the stunning visuals, and this extended cut may be too for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, but I’m placing in the Avoid section because that’s what I’ll be doing. More of a pretty-looking bad movie is still just more of a bad movie. (Check out Neil Miller’s ridiculously wrong full review of the theatrical cut here.)
Extra Features? Theatrical/extended cuts, documentary, deleted scenes
Pitch: Like a South American afterschool special. With dicks…
Why Avoid? This true story about the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic during the middle of the last century follows three sisters who stood against the tyranny and paid with their lives. Michelle Rodriguez stars, but even her mighty thespian skills can’t keep this movie from playing like a history lesson produced for use in schools. Well, the graphic torture scenes involving dangling genitalia would probably be cut for the kiddies, but the rest of it is so generic and flavorless as to almost be boring.
Extra Features? None
In the interest of full disclosure, I received review copies of the following DVDs for this week’s column:
The Extra Man
Rains Of Injustice
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore
Don’t Look Back
The Last Airbender
A Lure: Teen Fight Club
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?