Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.
Better Call Saul: Season One
Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) made his bones as New Mexico’s preeminent criminal defense attorney, but before he crossed paths with the region’s legendary high school teacher turned meth manufacturer he was simply a down on his luck lawyer named Jimmy McGill. Here is the story how he transformed from loser to winner, how he met ex-cop turned hard-ass sidekick Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), and how he discovered when to listen to his conscience and when to ignore it.
TV show spin-offs are nothing new ‐ hell, both Maude and The Jeffersons began life on All In the Family ‐ but for every successful Melrose Place there are a dozen Fish or Caprica. It’s early, but Better Call Saul looks to be one of the rarities that overcomes the odds and delivers a show worthy of its source material (Breaking Bad). Odenkirk surprises by delivering a lead character who’s far more than just a series of punchlines or one-off conversations ‐ he’s a fully-rounded man with strengths, weaknesses, and a desire to succeed. The writing is equally strong and effortlessly keeps us engaged with style, wit, and frequent depth. Add in a rare dramatic supporting turn from Michael McKean, and you have a show that’s fun, surprising, and highly entertaining even as it hits some unexpected emotional notes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Uncensored episodes, commentaries, featurettes, gag reel, music video, deleted scenes]
Amy (Amy Schumer) has a reliable job writing for a magazine and an active sex life, but the one thing she’s missing is a stable relationship. It’s by choice though as her father taught both of his daughters that monogamy is unnatural. Her sister (Brie Larson) ignored good old dad, but Amy took the lesson to heart. She gets a wake-up call when she meets a guy (Bill Hader) who makes monogamy a tempting reality, but can she change her ways before he says goodbye?
Judd Apatow’s latest fits a lot of his usual themes, but it shifts that narrative from a male screw-up to a female one with both the comedy and heart intact. Schumer’s presence as the lead and as co-writer adds a fresh voice to the proceedings though, and while some of her banter feels like stand-up at times she still delivers an engagingly empathetic character. It’s still overly long of course ‐ Apatow! ‐ but there’s enough fun being had onscreen to make it an easy watch. John Cena and LeBron James are even unexpected highlights.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Unrated/theatrical cuts, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, behind the scenes, commentary with Judd Apatow & Amy Schumer]
Bound to Vengeance (Scream Factory)
Eve awakes in a dark, metallic room chained atop on a dirty mattress, and it’s clear she’s been there for some time. A man named Phil enters talking about the delicious food he made for her, but as he sits nearby she springs up to knock him on the head with a brick. She snags the keys to her freedom and secures him with his own manacle, but when she realizes the house is in the middle of nowhere and he has other girls in other locations she decides to risk her recently acquired freedom to save them. Tina Ivlev is the sole bright spot outside of the solid setup, and it’s not just because she looks like a dirtied-up Jennifer Lawrence. She invests the role with real energy and emotion and makes for a convincing ass-kicker when need be, but she’s let down by a character and story just not worth the effort. That opening narrative choice is appreciated, but at no point are we given a convincing reason as to why Eve wouldn’t simply contact the police. There is a reason ‐ a contrived one that carries far less emotional and dramatic weight than the film believes ‐ but it’s held until late in the film leaving far too much time for viewers to feel frustrated at Eve’s idiocy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Code Unknown (Criterion)
A disagreement on the streets of Paris sends ripples throughout the lives of those involved, even tangentially, affecting their views on race, privilege, and home. The trigger is a young man, upset with his own lot in life, who disrespects an immigrant beggar and is called out on it by a passerby who happens to be black. No one, it seems, sees the whole picture, and as the various stories unfurl the constant remains how little we know ‐ by intention or circumstance ‐ about each other’s lives and struggles. Michael Haneke’s look at humanity’s increasingly (and unnecessarily) complicated interactions offers a fragmented glimpse into equally fragmented lives, and while it doesn’t pretend to offer any answers it does revel in the reasons for the questions. Criterion’s new 2K remaster captures the everyday and the immediate, but the disc’s greatest strength is in the supplements that offer a detailed discussion on the film. Interviews and a making-of documentary from 2001 are paired with a brand new interview with the writer/director.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 2K restoration, interviews, making of, booklet]
Three rambunctious teenage girls in their twenties spend their days on the family farm playing around and watching their parents bone, but all that sex on the brain leads them to a new activity ‐ tying up the farmhand, having their collective way with him, and then peeing all over his writhing, panicky body. Karma is a bitch though, and when three escaped convicts show up the girls and their parents are subjected to all manner of sexual abuse and manipulations. This ’70s porn fills the screen with plenty of hardcore sex, but for better or worse it’s the water sports, gun play, and presence of Spalding Gray as one of the rapey criminals that makes the film stand apart from a crowded marketplace. It’s not a visually appealing adult film, but for fans of hairy, messy, ugly sex this is the comically violent classic you’ve been waiting for.
[DVD extras: None]
Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) retired from the mystery game decades ago and now lives in the peace of a retirement spent keeping bees and searching for a senility cure. He has a bond, of sorts, with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker), but he remains a lonely man. He finds new focus when an event in the present triggers an unsolved case from the past, but can he resolve the mystery before he forgets it all? Bill Condon’s latest is a simple but engrossing tale anchored by a stellar lead performance. The narrative is less about a real mystery and more about Holmes’ recognition of events and appreciation of the people who pass through his life, but while that makes it less of a thriller it still works to enhance the growing drama.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Pay the Ghost
Mike (Nicolas Cage) is spending Halloween night with his young son enjoying a holiday-themed street fair in his New York City neighborhood, but the treats soon lead to tricks when the boy goes missing. One year later, his marriage in shambles, Mike begins seeing things suggesting the existence of a world beyond where his son still resides. Further digging reveals a pattern of child abductions in the city, and Mike is forced to confront the cause if he wants any hope of seeing his child again. Cage has long since forgotten how to say “no” to film projects, but this genre effort stands out for being something other than a crime drama or generic action picture. The story is pretty straightforward overall, but it creates a solid-enough mythology behind the disappearances. The effects are equally okay, and the film even manages at least one solidly creepy scene. It’s middle of the road, direct-to-DVD Cage.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Damian (Ben Kingsley) is an old man with immense wealth, an apartment that would make Donald Trump swoon, and a family who barely tolerates him. He’s also dying from untreatable cancer. Someone tips him off to a doctor’s (Matthew Goode) revolutionary process that, in effect, extends a person’s life, and after a brief hesitation he signs up for the top secret procedure. It’s a machine that transfers a person’s mind ‐ not their physical brain, but the memories, skills and personality ‐ into another body. Damian chooses an empty flesh husk, grown in the lab and free of defects, and he’s soon out enjoying life again. His new body (Ryan Reynolds) offers a degree of interaction and physical confidence that he hasn’t known in decades, but when he starts having hallucinations ‐ and realizes they might actually be another man’s memories ‐ he discovers that his quest for immortality has landed him in the fight of his life. Action beats are well crafted and offer up a modicum of excitement, and they’re fortunate embellishments to a script that sets up an intellectual conflict that it fails to explore. The film simply isn’t interested in exploring the idea of immortality, step-based or otherwise, and that doesn’t change even when people showing up in new bodies becomes a frequent “surprise” on the path towards the expected ending.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary with Tarsem Singh]
It’s Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, and Sin-Dee has just been released from jail after serving nearly a month for a prostitution conviction. Her joy is short-lived though when her best friend, Alexandre, says Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend has been cheating. What follows is a few hours of pure chaos as the pair go looking for trouble. Sean Baker’s latest gained raves at this year’s Sundance, and it’s easy enough to see why as the film is an energetic and unpredictable romp. What it isn’t though is a “riotous, uproarious, tremendously funny” film. There are definitely some laughs, but the overriding feeling here is one of sadness as characters fight and disappoint each other ad nauseum. It’s still entertaining along the way, but don’t expect an uplifting holiday indie comedy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Skynet’s efforts to wipe out humanity continue at a fever pitch. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) narrates sharing how he knew only a life built on fear and survival until John Connor (Jason Clarke) saved his life and trained him to resist the electronic occupation. John’s plan to destroy Skynet succeeds but not before a T-800 is sent back to 1984 on a mission to kill his mother. Kyle immediately follows expecting to find Sarah (Emilia Clarke) quivering, scared and in need of his protection. Instead, it’s Sarah who saves his life when he comes under attack by a T-1000. A change in the past has essentially turned ’84 Sarah into the battle-hardened warrior no one expected until ’91, and along with her friendly T-800 nicknamed Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) she’s preparing her own assault to prevent Skynet from ever being created. It’s clear from very early on that the filmmakers have affection for and knowledge of the earlier films, but much of it is revisited solely for the purpose of rewriting it. For every change that works to ratchet up our interest three others leave us shaking our heads. These extensive narrative shifts aren’t going to tell themselves which leaves viewers taking in a lot of exposition between explosions. There are some well-paced and exciting action sequences alongside several jokes and lighthearted moments, and together they keep the two hour film from ever growing dull. Courtney is tasked with being the emotional core of the film, and this is one of the movie’s biggest mistakes. He’s simply not up to the task ‐ a job made admittedly tougher by this script ‐ and when a character refers to him as a “human-shaped thing designed to gain our trust” we can’t help but agree. Okay, fine, that’s something Kyle says about the T-800, but it could just as easily be said about Courtney. Bottom line, this is more fun than the dour Salvation, so that’s something.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Two Men in Town
Gino (Alain Delon) is a recently released ex-con trying to go straight and make a new life as a law-abiding citizen, but people on both sides of the law aren’t making it easy. Old partners in crime are trying to pull him back into the business, and a local sheriff refuses to believe Gino has left it behind at all. This early ’70s dramatic thriller from France was recently remade with Forest Whitaker in Delon’s role, but the original is the more successful of the two. The character work here is strong, and while the plot feels familiar the players carry the story through the expected turns in an engaging manner.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K restoration, commentary]
Dodo is a college professor whose wife has recently left for the arms of another man. Depressed and confused without her, he spends his time daydreaming about her and worrying that she’s spending carnal time with his own father. Good thing he has a sexy student and dad’s clothing adverse nurse to distract him. Tinto Brass makes a very particular type of erotic cinema identifiable by a soft focus, a cast of full-figured women, and an endless series of close-ups om female derrieres. His 1994 feature is more of the same, but it adds two elements. First, the story actually has some weight to it ‐ the execution essentially neuters it, but it’s there. Second, and presumably as a way to circumvent pornography laws, many of the sex scenes feature fake phalluses. One’s even clearly carved out of wood! They’re comical and typically played straight during the scenes, but given how explicit the film gets involving female genitalia it’s an odd choice. Still, rather than distract they work in sync with the film’s already heightened sense of staged reality.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
Kwok (Louis Koo) has left the rough and tumble world of cops and killers behind and is now living the quiet life of a bar owner. The calm is shattered one night when he turns a kind eye toward a lonely female customer only to see himself marked for violence by her ex. Kwok’s less morally restrained brother gets mixed up in the conflict too leading to a face-off punctuated with danger, death, and dire consequences. Ringo Lam (Full Alert) returns to the director’s chair after a seven year hiatus, and the result is every bit as explosive and action-packed as anything his peers cooked up in his absence. There’s more in the way of CG assists though too. Still, it’s big, energetic Hong Kong action the likes of which aren’t nearly as common as they once were, so genre fans should definitely pick it up and play it loud.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, behind the scenes]
Automan: The Complete Series, Bad Boys I & II, The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Remastered Series, Manimal: The Complete Series, Nathan for You: Seasons One & Two, Queen of Blood, We’ll Never Have Paris