Including Midnight Special, The Wave, and Criterion’s release of the still-weird Fantastic Planet.
[Author’s note: Apologies on the delay of this posting. I’m in the middle of moving. It sucks. These titles were released last week on June 21st.]
Pick of the Week
Cornbread, Earl and Me
What is it? Cornbread is a high school basketball star whose success has secured him a college scholarship ‐ an accomplishment that makes both his family and his neighborhood proud ‐ but tragedy strikes one day while he’s hanging out with his friends Earl and Wilford (Laurence Fishburne). As his friends and family rally in support the police department closes ranks to coerce a new truth into existence.
Why buy it? This mid ’70s drama remains a sadly relevant cautionary tale on issues or race and police corruption, but impressively for a forty year-old movie, it approaches the ideas with far more grace and nuance than many of its contemporary peers. The dramatic story and character work is still effectively portrayed and delivered with the end result being a film that should be shared in the hopes that its message of honesty and integrity becomes more commonplace.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Fantastic Planet [Criterion Collection]
What is it? Terr was just a baby when his mother was killed by some childish Draags ‐ giant blue humanoid creatures who see Oms like Terr as little more than pests or pets ‐ but when he grows up he decides to do something about it. He escapes and joins an Om rebellion hoping to fight back against the overwhelming oppression of the planet’s superior species.
Why buy it? Rene Laloux’s classic animated tale remains as weird and powerful today as it was in 1973 when it wowed audiences and critics alike. the film’s allegorical tale makes a profound statement against the misuse and abuse of power as well as a society’s tendency to go meekly into the night. The animation is vibrant and strange but compelling in every frame, and the score follows suit with unpredictable jazz riffs that keep us attuned to the screen. Criterion’s new 2k restoration sees the color pop while the supplements offer a wealth of related material.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short films, documentary, TV episode, interview, booklet]
What is it? Prof. Walter Barrow (Sam Waterston) is dying in a stranger’s arms after what appears to have been a brutal mugging before we jump back several days to explore his life. His son (Tim Blake Nelson) and daughter-in-law are in the fearful haze of a cancer scare, and their two teenage children are dulling out the world with recreational drugs. A fellow literature lover blots out the world with heroin while his best friend (Michael K. Williams) blindly and dispassionately takes on the role of savior. A man (Corey Stoll) cheats on his wife (Gretchen Mol) with another woman. One of Barrow’s students (Kristen Stewart) burns herself with a curling iron so she can feel something, anything, other than the dull droning on of a society built on selfishness, cruelty, and insularity.
Why rent it? There are sparks of life here along with good, small performances by Stewart and Waterston, but the ensemble structure leaves little for viewers to latch onto. Nelson gives us nothing but sad people, some aware and others blissfully ignorant, while offering nothing tangible in the way of medicine or meaning. There’s nothing wrong with purely observational dramas or straightforward character pieces, but the drama we’re given here is stale and lifeless, and the characters even more so.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Brothers Grimsby
What is it? Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a goofy, fun-loving soccer fan in a small British town who wants for nothing except the return of his younger brother who was adopted by strangers nearly thirty years ago. He gets that wish and finds Sebastian (Mark Strong) only to realize he’s now a secret agent. Chaos ensues.
Why rent it? The only thing keeping me from sticking this in the “Best” section above is that there’s a good chance I only laughed so damn much because I was drinking while watching. But damn did I laugh. I’m not normally a fan of “idiot” humor, and Cohen is a mixed bag in my eyes, but everything just comes together so absurdly well here. Whatever. Don’t you judge me.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes]
The Crush [Scream Factory]
What is it? Nick (Cary Elwes) is a journalist new to town and hoping to build a successful career, but he finds trouble with the teenage daughter (Alicia Silverstone) of the family he’s renting a guest house from. She develops a crush on the man, and after being rebuffed by him ‐ after his common sense kicks in ‐ she begins manipulating those around him.
Why rent it? Silverstone’s playing a fourteen year-old here ‐ something I doubt would happen in a thriller today ‐ and that serious age discrepancy adds enormously to the film’s aura of danger. That said, her character, Adrian, is far too smart and accomplished to feel real and instead comes across more like a movie threat. Still, Nick’s predicament is terrifying on its face for what he almost does and what he’s accused of doing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews]
Enemy Mine [Eureka Classics]
What is it? Two astronauts crash land on an uninhabited planet. One is human (Dennis Quaid), and the other is Drac (Louis Gossett Jr.), and after a brief attempt at killing each other the pair realize they’ll need to work together if they want to survive.
Why skip it? Something about Wolfgang Petersen’s space-set drama never really sat right with me as a kid, but while I think I was just bored then now I see a whole different problem. It’s still pretty uninteresting, but I think the reason why is the blandly simplistic way in which it tries to convey its message. The performances are fine, but neither make the film all that compelling. Skip it and watch Alien Nation instead. (This is a UK title requiring an all-region player to view in the US.)
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene, booklet]
A Home of Our Own
What is it? Frances (Kathy Bates) already has it rough as the single mother of six kids, but when she’s fired from her factory job she decides the family’s best bet is to pick up stakes and leave the city. They settle in Idaho ‐ she seriously loves potatoes ‐ where new challenges await including buying and restoring a home of their own.
Why rent it? There’s a simplicity to here, and you get exactly what you expect from an early ’90s drama. That’s not a knock ‐ the film is fine, the performances are fine, it’s all fine. Maybe that is a knock.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
I’ll Take Sweden
What is it? Bob (Bob Hope) is an oil company exec whose slick professional skills have no power over his daughter, JoJo (Tuesday Weld). She’s fallen madly in love with a motorcycle-riding, guitar-playing young man named Kenny (Frankie Avalon), so Bob understandably accepts a job in Sweden, packs up his daughter, and leaves the country. Unfortunately for Bob, Kenny follows and brings his party-loving attitude with him.
Why rent it? Bob Hope, obviously. The story is slight, but dropping Hope into the middle of what is essentially a carefree ’60s rom-com along the likes of Gidget offers up plenty of opportunity for laughs. Hope shoots out one-liners like a joke-filled machine gun as he takes jabs at “these kids” and their hip-shaking culture. It’s definitely good for a a few laughs.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Knight of Cups
What is it? Rick (Christian Bale) is a Hollywood screenwriter at the top of his game, but something is missing. The money, women, and late-night parties just aren’t cutting it anymore, so he sets off in a haze to find himself… amid the money, women, and late-night parties of Los Angeles.
Why skip it? I stopped about an hour into Terrence Malick’s latest only to realize it had actually only been twenty minutes. Your mileage may vary, but for me his strongest work is well behind him and his current crop (Tree of Life, To the Wonder) is just a whole lot of pretty wankering. Skip it and watch A Knight’s Tale instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
The Midnight After
What is it? A group of people on a late-night bus ride enter a tunnel and exit into an abandoned downtown. Everyone outside of the bus has vanished, but as they struggle to determine what’s happening new mysteries emerge in the form of masked figures, bloody rain, and the idea that maybe they deserve this fate.
Why skip it? Fruit Chan’s success with the “Dumplings” segment of the anthology film Three Extremes hasn’t yet been duplicated with his feature work, and this 2014 release probably won’t change that. The story grows convoluted in its telling and characters, and while it can be read as metaphor for Hong Kong’s recent history it fails to engage in its immediate actions and story beats. Skip it and watch Coherence instead.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Two men stand guard over a young boy in a motel room. Roy (Michael Shannon) and Jake (Joel Edgerton) are serious and armed, while the boy, Alton, relaxes contently beneath a blanket with a comic book, a flashlight, and goggles. Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), the leader of a religious sect and Alton’s adoptive father, sends his men out to retrieve the boy by whatever means necessary as they believe Alton and his gifts are heaven-sent and the key to their impending salvation, but they’re not the only ones looking for him. The F.B.I. suspects some kind of espionage or terrorism is at play after discovering that Alton somehow intercepted and manipulated a top secret satellite.
Why rent it? The government fears him, the cult needs him, and only Roy and Jake seem intent on trying to help him. It’s a fantastic setup that feeds viewers more than enough to grab our attention while still demanding we play catch-up with the answers. Revelations come naturally rather than through forced exposition, but as our trio hit the road with pursuers on their tail it’s a different kind of wheel-spinning that begins to deflate the experience. The boy’s actions increase in frequency and power as everyone moves to converge on a preordained location, but what’s waiting for both them and us is little more than a hollow third act. There are no real answers given, what we do get creates far more questions, and worse, it squanders the film’s affirmation on the power of family.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 2 [Arrow Video]
What is it? A chef opens a restaurant only to find danger is on the menu in Tokyo Mighty Guy. One billion yen disappears, and Jo Shishido sees a chance to make it big in Danger Pays. A hitman finds himself targeted by a hitman agency in Murder Unincorporated.
Why rent it? Arrow Video’s second volume of Diamond Guys films is another fun collection of films that work better as a set than they do as individual titles. None of the moves are bad, but they’re not exactly great either and instead exist as colorful, amusing glimpses into a ’60s Japan filled with cool guys, sharp women, and more antics than you can shake a stick at. The extras are slight, but if you were a fan of volume 1 I’d highly recommend picking up this follow-up.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, booklet, limited to 3000 copies]
What is it? A madman (Timothy Bottoms) targets the rollercoaster at a busy amusement park and leaves dead and injured people in his wake, and he isn’t done there. He promises more carnage unless his demands are met, and only one man can make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s right. George Segal.
Why rent it? This late ’70s disaster pic may seem slight compared to more epic fare like The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure, but the film still delivers sequences of suspense even on a smaller scale. Segal is great, and his co-stars ‐ including Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, and brief appearances by Helen Hunt and Steve Guttenberg ‐ are an eclectic bunch. It’s a simple but effective little thriller.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
The Unsinkable Molly Brown [Warner Archive]
What is it? Molly Brown (Debbie Reynolds) left her rural home on the current of a flood, and it won’t be her last brush with a waterlogged death. She grows into an accomplished young woman hoping to make something of herself and marry a man along the way. Also, there will be singing and dancing!
Why see it? Musical fans will enjoy the bright, lively nature of this charming enough nod to positivity and persistence, but for me the antics go on entirely too long.
[Blu-ray extras: Documentary]
What is it? The rocky canyon walls of Norway’s fjords have contributed to disaster before, but the deaths and damage caused nearly a century ago have nearly faded from the small town of Geiranger’s consciousness. Kristian is a geologist in the process of packing up his wife, teenage son, and daughter for a move to a bigger city and a more lucrative job, but he grows concerned after noticing odd results in their cliff-side sensors. His worries are brushed away at first ‐ no one ever believes the brilliant scientist before the disaster strikes ‐ but his fears come true when the shifting earth causes a rock-slide which in turn sends an enormous wave sloshing its way towards town.
Why rent it? Director Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey) ‐ I’ll pause while you take in the awesome, magical power of his name ‐ delivers Norway’s first disaster film with The Wave, and while its scale is smaller than many of Hollywood’s efforts its effect is roughly the same. Solid CG effects, mass destruction, manipulated emotional beats ‐ it’s everything you expect from a disaster film, nothing more and nothing less.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interview]
Also Out This Week:
That Cold Day in the Park, Embrace of the Serpent, Going Away, The Hollow Crown, How to Get Away with Murder: The Complete Second Season, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Related Topics: Home Video