Welcome back to the biggest edition of This Week In DVD yet! Twenty two titles are covered below, but this isn’t just a matter of quantity. All but one of the releases are worth watching, with a whopping seven of them being solid BUY recommendations. This week’s releases run the gamut from comic book blockbusters (Captain America) to docs on Pearl Jam and Peter Gabriel (Twenty and New Blood) to a controversial black comedy (A Serbian Film) to a Finnish family holiday film (Rare Exports) to a thrilling Hong Kong action flick (Fire of Conscience) to… well, you get the idea.
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
The Ballad of Narayama (UK)
A small village in the Japanese mountains is the setting for this rumination on life, death and family that plays like the movie The Tree of Life should have been but with a narrative instead of dinosaurs. Village law dictates you head up the mountain to die at the age of seventy, and as Orin approaches that milestone she rushes around trying to set her children straight to ensure their future. The film is a harsh look at a time and place, and it uses images of animals alongside the characters to highlight our own innate nature. As cruel as it seems though the film ends up being as uplifting an ode to humanity as you could imagine or want. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Attack the Block
Pitch: It’s Gremlins meets NEDS…
Why Buy? Not every alien invasion hits the USA first as evidenced in this fun, exciting, and surprising little gem from the UK. A group of teen thugs in a London housing project (or equivalent thereof) are witness to several vicious creatures falling from the sky and terrorizing the neighborhood. Joe Cornish’s film is a throwback of the best kind and manages to be both frightening and funny throughout. If you failed to seek this one out during its limited theatrical run this summer here’s your chance to see what the blogosphere has been raving about since SXSW. Check out Brian Salisbury’s full review here.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Pitch: Best comic book movie of the year? Maybe. Definitely the most entertaining…
A scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) undergoes an experiment that turns him into a buff Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and he quickly becomes our secret weapon against a grand Nazi conspiracy. Director Joe Johnston redeems himself for the disaster that was The Wolfman with this entertaining as hell superhero film that exudes personality and charm alongside large-scale action and adventure. The story even squeezes in a degree of heart and pathos to a character that risked feeling too goody goody and bland, and that’s due as much to Evans’ performance as it is to the bittersweet love story. Check out Neil Miller’s full review here.
City of Life and Death
Pitch: It’s the least entertaining film on this list! And a definite must-see…
Why Buy? From my review last year: “The temptation to close your eyes while watching City of Life and Death is strong. War films and the depiction of atrocities committed are nothing new, but they’re most often seen as small parts of a whole. This film forgoes that kindness in favor of making the atrocities committed in Nanking, China starting in the last month of 1937 the center piece. It’s not meant to be an entertaining or easy watch and it’s extremely difficult at times to endure, but as an accurate portrayal into one of mankind’s many unfavorable chapters it’s a painfully essential viewing experience.” It’s beautiful and heart-wrenching in equal measure, and honestly it should be shown in schools. Check out my full review here.
Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy
Pitch: One of the best blockbusters of all time. And two other dinosaur movies…
Why Buy? What happens when Santa Claus (Sir Richard Attenborough) grows tired of the Christmas game and gets into the theme park business? Mother frickin dinosaurs happen, that’s what. Sam Neill and Laura Dern play paleontologists asked to check out a new island theme park populated with living breathing dinosaurs, but when bad weather, technical malfunction, and human greed join the equation the vacation weekend turns into a reptilian nightmare… and one hell of an entertaining movie. Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster is still as fun, exciting, and flat out entertaining today as it was in 1993. The DVD is jam packed with extras too both old and brand new. The two sequels are also included in this set.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Pitch: American children have it easy when it comes to what we teach them about Santa Claus. Finnish kids, not so much…
Why Buy? This odd and exciting little family adventure is about a small village that finds the legendary but very real Santa Claus during an excavation. The downside is that their dig also catches the attention of the big man’s angry, elderly, and extremely naked elves. That’s right. It’s a family film filled with copious amounts of old man dick. It’s also creative, entertaining, and a sweet load of fun. And as a side note you have until this Friday to enter to win a free copy. Check out Cole Abaius’ full review here.
Robot Chicken: Season Five
Pitch: Pop culture gets the treatment it deserves…
Why Buy? Cartoon Network’s most popular show returns for a fifth season of wildly inappropriate (and often inconsistent) stop motion sketch comedy. Some of the best bits of the season include a Smurf/Avatar mashup, a bit featuring Strawberry Shortcake and Bitch Pudding, a Muppet murder conspiracy, and a Charlie Brown/Footloose mashup. The season is hitting DVD before it begins airing on TV too, but since the discs include a metric ton of extras including deleted scenes, behind the scenes, commentaries and more it may still take a few months to get through it all.
Pitch: Remember when Jackie Chan used to star in good movies? He still does, you just have to know where to look…
Why Buy? Andy Lau plays a ruthless and murderous Chinese warlord who’s betrayed by his underlings in an attack that leaves his child dead. He retreats in shame and sorrow to the safety of a monastery where he learns to be a better man from the monks and the cook (Jackie Chan). Director Benny Chan’s film features a strong central story, fantastic action scenes, and real heart in Lau’s relationship with his distraught wife. Check out my full review here.
Pitch: Atrocious title. Good movie…
Why Rent? A family heads to an old mansion in Sitges and soon discovers all is not right in the backyard garden maze. This found footage horror film from Spain isn’t up to the high standards of its sister films Rec and Rec 2, but it still has its fair share of scares. Most of the film follows the usual path of the genre, but the third act takes some fresh and creative turns with a resolution that surprises and thrills. But seriously, the title is atrocious. Check out my full review here.
Fire of Conscience
Pitch: It burns…
Why Rent? Dante Lam directs this twisted action thriller about a cop out to solve a murder, and by ‘twisted’ I mean convoluted. But if the storyline is occasionally easy to get lost in the fantastic action scenes and visual style more than makes up for it. What is clear is that the story revolves around two cops, a killer, and a high degree of police corruption. Lam is on a pretty solid roll here with his recent films including The Stool Pigeon, The Sniper, and The Beast Stalker, and this string of hits should make action fans excited for his upcoming film, The Viral Factor. Check out Adam Charles’ full review here.
Lethal Ladies (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics)
Pitch: It’s a three-fer of high-kicking mayhem…
Why Rent? Three movies make up this collection of New World Pictures classics including Firecracker, TNT Jackson, and Too Hot to Handle. The first sees a female martial artist head to the Philippines to look for her missing sister, and it features two hilarious stripteases (of sorts) as well as a ton of fun (albeit poorly choreographed) fights scenes. The next sees a female martial artist head to the Hong Kong to look for her missing brother, but sadly there’s only one humorously nude fight scene. The final film is the weakest of the three and not really worth the watch. It’s not fun or entertaining and suffers from a terribly uncharismatic lead.
A Little Help
Pitch: The secret life of Pam from The Office…
Why Rent? Jenna Fischer plays a frustrated wife and mother of one who discovers her husband (Chris O’Donnell) is cheating on her. And then he dies. Her son, in a confused and desperate bid for attention, claims his dad died in 9/11 instead of coitus, and the ramifications place a heavy stress on the characters. The film as a whole has some issues, but Fischer’s funny and heartfelt performance makes it worth a watch. Check out my full review here.
Pitch: You can always use more Idris Elba in your life…
Why Rent? Idris Elba returns for a second season of this British cop drama as Detective Inspector John Luther, a highly unconventional officer of the law who often finds himself in sticky situations. Season two isn’t as good as the first, the events don’t quite pack the same surprising and powerful punch, but it’s still a lot of fun and anchored by another stellar performance from Elba. It picks up shortly after the cliffhanger ending of last season but lacks as dramatic an overarching storyline of its own.
A Man Vanishes (UK)
Pitch: It’s like a far less funny This Is Spinal Tap without music, British accents, or a dial that goes all the way to eleven…
Why Rent? This 1967 film from the director of the oddly magical Warm Water Under a Red Bridge begins as a straight-forward documentary about a missing salesman but slowly transforms into something else entirely. It’s played quite straight and seemingly flat as the details amount to a messy but otherwise normal life for the missing man, but the tone starts to shift along with the relationships onscreen and soon the film’s true intent comes clear. It’s an interesting precursor to more familiar faux documentaries and deserves a watch. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Pearl Jam Twenty
Pitch: D’you know that the human head weighs twenty pounds…
Why Rent? There aren’t very many bands whose public history can be traced through the memories of my own life, but Pearl Jam is one of them for me. I wasn’t in on the Green River love, but my awareness of Mother Love Bone gave me an early heads-up into Pearl Jam’s arrival on the scene, and I’ve been a fan since. Cameron Crowe’s doc is an intimate, electric and often fascinating look at their twenty year history filled with interviews and backstage footage, and it hits the band’s major highlights including their foray into music videos, their fight with Ticketmaster, and more. But it’s the unexpected bits that really showcase the raw power behind their music (and music in general). The best moment sees front-man Eddie Vedder strumming the opening chords of Better Man to a stadium-sized crowd, but just as he starts to sing the audience joins in and he lets the crowd of thousands finish it in unison.
Peter Gabriel: New Blood – Live In London
Pitch: One question. Do you need… a concert film or do you need this one? Forget it, I don’t really care…
Why Rent? Haven’t seen this one yet, but as a big Peter Gabriel fan and someone who’s seen him in concert a few times it’s one I’m looking forward to. The New Blood album sees a reinterpretation of several of Gabriel’s past songs including Red Rain, Wallflower, and In Your Eyes done without guitar or drums. The songs are recorded with a 46-piece orchestra and sometimes manage to sound even more impressive. A complete track list and song sampler can be found at Gabriel’s official site here.
Revenge of the Cheerleaders (UK)
Pitch: Kind of like saying Revenge of the White Males isn’t it? Cheerleaders get everything…
Why Rent? A group of multi-ethnic cheerleaders from Aloha High battle with the students of rival school Lincoln High, the threat of a new morality code at school, and their constant need for sexual gratification. thankfully for us they lose their fight against that last one. This raunchy flick from the seventies is cheap, but it manages something few films in the genre can… it’s actually funny and sexy. Plus, if nothing else, it features a young David Hasselhoff showing off his acting skills, dance moves, and dong as Boner. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
A Serbian Film
Pitch: I don’t think that counts as an orifice…
Why Rent? A retired porn star gets an offer for a very lucrative and unusual gig, but he discovers too late that the price may outweigh the payday. This is probably the most controversial film of the past few years, and it’s easy to see why once you’ve seen it… unless you’ve only watched this cut version. It heavily edits two key scenes, making one unintelligible and the other a bit more subtle, but it retains most of the other blackly comic, over the top extremes. Even cut, this version features some hardcore violence meshed deeply with explicit sex acts, so beware. Check out Landon Palmer’s full review here.
Pitch: Call me crazy, but I think Gary Oldman would make a fantastic George Smiley…
Why Rent? Haven’t seen this one yet, but it’s John Le Carré’s followup to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and both the BBC and Alec Guiness have returned for a second go round. George Smiley is called to action yet again when an old Russian informant is murdered shortly after getting Smiley a message. It seems the most elusive Soviet spy of Smiley’s career is back as well. This miniseries comes three years after its predecessor and features an early appearance by Patrick Stewart.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Pitch: See the miniseries before you see the movie! But after you read the book…
Why Rent? George Smiley(Alec Guiness), an aging British agent unceremoniously sacked a few years prior, is called back to action when the British Secret Intelligence Service suspects a mole has infiltrated the highest levels of their office. Smiley is tasked with rooting out the double agent, but his investigation takes some dangerous and surprising turns. This BBC miniseries from 1979 offers John Le Carré’s novel a broad and expansive canvas to tell its densely intricate story, and Guiness anchors it all with a performance that exudes authority and pathos in equal measure.
Tokyo Decadence (UK)
Pitch: “What a trip! I saw a vision of my dead mother and I fucked her good. She was great…”
Why Rent? A young woman goes about her perfectly normal day before heading to an appointment at a hotel… where she proceeds to be humiliated by her client for three straight hours. The session ends with the man telling her that she should never doubt her talents. Ryu Murakami’s film makes minor detours, but the main focus is on her sessions as an S&M play thing. The film is quite graphic visually and even more so in its dialogue, but it has a certain seedy appeal for fans of lifestyles they’ll never get to experience first hand. I’m not really a fan but I do have an ex-girlfriend in the business, so I’m fascinated for completely different reasons. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
The Devil’s Kiss (UK)
Pitch: Boobs, bush and bodies do not a good movie make…
Why Avoid? A woman sets out for revenge against the people she believes drove her husband to suicide, but things get complicated by the arrival of a tall dwarf, a Frankenstein-like creation, and lots of nudity. Okay, the nudity doesn’t so much complicate things as spice it up a bit. But it’s not nearly enough to make this messy and unconvincing horror film a shot. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
Barney Miller: The Complete Series
Faces In the Crowd
Father Of Invention
The House By the Cemetery
Identification Of a Woman (Criterion)
Island Of Lost Souls (Criterion)
It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series
The People vs George Lucas
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?