Features and Columns · Movies

15 New Movies to Watch at Home This Week

By  · Published on July 1st, 2015

Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.

Vanilla Sky

David Aames (Tom Cruise) is riding high on top of the world. Heir to a publishing empire, he’s wealthy, powerful and swimming in ladies, but when we first meet him he’s also incarcerated for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. As he shares his story with a psychiatrist (Kurt Russell) we follow him on a journey towards a truth he may not be ready to face.

Cameron Crowe’s dramatic thriller stymied viewers left and right, but it remains a beautiful sensory experience in the service of an emotional mystery. Cruise is fantastic here as he moves from playful to intense, but just as impressive in his much smaller role is Russell who finds real humanity in his few minutes of screen time. Regardless of where you fall on the ending it’s difficult to deny the power of some of the film’s more haunting images including the empty Times Square and Cruise behind the mask. The strong visuals and soundtrack are matched by ideas both personal and universal. The much delayed Blu-ray release adds some fun and informative new special features making it a must-own for fans and folks who just want to remind themselves that the man who made Aloha wasn’t always so lost.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel, music video]

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection

Penelope Spheeris’s name might be best known to mainstream audiences for her SNL alum features like Wayne’s World and Black Sheep, but she considers the most important work of her career to be a trilogy of documentaries about Los Angeles-based underground music scenes and subcultures that shot between the early ’80s and mid-‘90s. The first Decline of Western Civilization is an almost anthropological investigation of LA’s anarchistic punk scene, a charismatic underground circuit notorious for its music’s energy and confrontation. Part II: The Metal Years depicts the city’s far more materialistic hair metal scene years later, covering alcohol-fueled dreams of stardom. Part III is less concerned with music than the daily lives of “gutter punks,” homeless outcasts who have formed a close-knit community in a city that sees them as a nuisance.

Spheeris’s landmark documentary series both sits in awe of and deeply empathizes with its subjects, earnestly attempting to understand multiple music scenes that come across as variously enlivening, dedicated, tragic, deluded, resilient, essential, superficial, fun, threatening, and ‐ of course ‐ loud. Shout Factory has assembled the three films as a HD-transferred, features-loaded box set, the first US commercial release of the Decline trilogy on any format since VHS. ‐ Landon Palmer

[DVD/Blu-ray Extras: Numerous interviews with Spheeris; cut and never-before-seen interviews and scenes with the subjects; theatrical trailers; audio commentaries by Spheeris and others; news reports; trailers, and more…]

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) lives a lonely and quiet existence in Tokyo, but she finds motivation in the discovery that a suitcase filled with cash is waiting for her in North Dakota. Why does she suspect the money is there? Because she watched Fargo and realized that no one retrieved the case by the time the credits rolled. Secure in her knowledge she heads to the United States, but her grand dream may not be able to resist the stark pull of reality.

The Zellner brothers have crafted a film of quiet power from a ridiculous urban legend, and Kikuchi breaks your heart with nearly every frame. Don’t be fooled by the word “adventure” on the cover ‐ there’s no doubt that this is the slowest of slowburns, but for those willing to stick it out the reward is a beautiful, melancholic journey of hope and belief anchored by one hell of a central performance.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes]

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Criterion)

Puberty is difficult enough as is, but made all the more so when one is terrorized by dreamlike visions of shape-shifting vampires and a predatory priest along the way. Lying somewhere at the intersection of Suspiria, Grimm’s fairy tales, and the Czech New Wave is Jaromil Jires’s surrealist Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, a nearly plotless stream-of-consciousness yarn that follows its title character (Jaroslava Schallerová) coming of age while contending with a melee of mythical oddities, stunningly rendered by a hypnotic combination of sound and image that make the film fluidly move between authentic, evocative depictions of dreams and nightmares.

With their recent releases of Marketa Lazarova and the box set “Pearls of the Czech New Wave,” Criterion has been making a strong case that late-60s and early 70s Czech cinema was amongst the richest eras in unconventional feature filmmaking, and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is exemplary of the quality this movement produced. ‐ Landon Palmer

[DVD/Blu-ray Extras: two short films by Jires; interviews with cast and Czech film scholar Peter Hames; alternative soundtrack; illustrated booklet with essay by Jana Prikryl]

While We’re Young

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are middle-aged, married and happy, but when they meet a lively couple in their twenties they realize this youthful exuberance is the one thing they’ve been missing that they want back again. The foursome begin hanging out and growing closer, but the younger Josh and Cornelia act the more they just want to grow up.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach is more miss than hit with me, but this one finds a fantastic balance between honesty and entertainment. It’s frequently very funny, and the laughs never come at the expense of character or truths about growing old with yourself and the ones you love. The cast does strong work, again flexing both dramatic and comical muscles, and I’ll never not appreciate a Charles Grodin appearance. Plus, I’ve already quoted the “Let’s just try to remember” line a few times in real life, so that’s a win.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Danny Collins

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) was a legendary rock star in the ’70s who makes a very comfortable and gaudy living these days off the now blue-haired fans who fill the stands on tour and but his greatest hits compilations. His attitudes change though when he discovers a letter sent to him by John Lennon ‐ sent four decades ago but only just now reaching Danny’s eyeballs. Reinvigorated about the important things in life he goes about making changes he hopes are for the better. Pacino can take a lesson here too as the past decade or so of his career has been somewhat lacking in quality, so it’s great to see him deliver such an immensely charismatic and real performance here. The supporting cast is good ‐ Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer ‐ but the story itself feels fairly familiar (outside of the letter bit which is based on a true story).

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, featurette]

Forbidden Empire

Jonathan Green is an English cartographer on a self-appointed mission to chart previously unexplored regions of Transylvania, and it’s not long before he hears about a mysterious village with a secret. A young priest standing witness over a dead girl’s body in the town’s church barely escaped with his life when the girl rose from the dead. It seems she’s a witch controlling a revolving door into the bowels of hell, and while most men would turn the other way Jonathan sees this as an opportunity. He arrives in the village to find a community living in terror. A horned creature roams the woods, evil seeps from the church walls and not everyone is being truthful with the new visitor. CG and practical effects are used throughout to bring all manner of creatures to life, and the creative variety is staggering when compared to Hollywood’s plague of digital sameness. The highlight here is a dinner scene where Jonathan witnesses the diners transform into hellish beasts of fresh originality and razor-toothed menace. Unfortunately that highlight is where the film peaks ‐ and it comes in the first half. At over two hours the movie runs far too long for the story it’s telling.

[DVD extras: None]

Get Hard

A convicted white collar criminal (Will Ferrell) heading to San Quentin hires the only black man (Kevin Hart) he knows to teach him how to survive prison and avoid the all the raping. Both Ferrell and, to a lesser extent, Hart, have proven themselves to be funny people in the past, but their team-up here is anything but. The gay panic jokes and lazy racism will offend some, but the real issue is how terribly unfunny the movie is from beginning to end. Sequences go on too long, punchlines land with the subtlety of a flatulent elephant and it goes again and again for the easiest gags.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel]

Ghosthouse / Witchery

A gaggle of strangers, friends, lovers and hobos converge on a long-abandoned house only to discover it’s not nearly as empty as they assumed, in Ghosthouse. A completely different gaggle (including Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff) find themselves trapped by a storm at a mysterious resort, in Witchery. The latest Scream Factory double feature is a mixed bag ‐ the acting is sketchy across the board, but the first film brings the gory goods alongside some creepily engaging visuals. The latter selection is something of a slog at times, but it has a handful of highlights in the back half. Extras are limited only to the trailers, but the pair make for an entertaining romp in late ’80s horror.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

The Gunman

Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) spent years as a private contractor in the Middle East working jobs as diverse as drilling, protection and assassination, but one hit sends him reeling. Years later that job returns to haunt him when he finds himself the target of his own assassination, and as he runs across Europe searching for answers the body count rises. Pierre Morel tries to recreate his Taken magic ‐ older dramatic actor rejiggered into an action star ‐ but this one forgets the number one rule of that Liam Neeson hit. Simplicity. The plot layers shift and multiply here, and too much of it amounts to too little. The action beats are sound though with Penn giving a very convincing portrayal of a capable killer. He’s far more believable than Neeson, thanks in part to his ridiculously in-shape physique for a guy his age. The film is ultimately forgettable, but I’d hope Penn gets another crack at action.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Hard to Be a God

Don Rumata is a scientist sent from Earth to observe life on the planet of Arkanar. Human society is stuck in their own variation on our Middle Ages, but while the hope was to witness a Renaissance similar to our own that intellectual evolution never arrives. Rumata has blended in, perceived as related to the gods by the locals, but as the ignorance continues ad nauseum he grows impatient and distraught. The key word in those three sentences is “nauseum” as this is the most foul of foul films. Its greatest success is in crafting a believable world that we not only see but also smell, taste and feel as well. Filth covers everyone and everything, odors waft visibly from the screen and you’ll be tempted to pause every ten minutes or so for a quick shower. (At just under three hours though that’s a hell of a lot of showers.) The film has been acclaimed as a masterpiece by some, but for me by the time it comes to an end I found myself respecting it more than appreciating it. The core idea fascinates, but it’s the world that engages as opposed to the characters or story.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, booklet]

Last Knights

Raiden (Clive Owen) is leader of a special squad of knights, but when a cruel tyrant takes control of the land Raiden disbands the gang and settles into a life of drink and debauchery. He hasn’t given up though, he’s just biding his time. There were no forks in medieval times, hence there are no forks at Medieval Times. Would you like another Pepsi? I digress because this is a slog and a half of a movie. It looks good at times, and the multi-racial cast is a refreshing change for such a period piece, but it’s just so dreadfully dull whenever the swords aren’t slashing.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, interviews]

Pit Stop

Rick Bowman is a punk with a predilection for fast cars, but after he’s busted for one of his street races a legit promoter bails him out and offers him a job. He’ll take his skills behind the wheel to the dangerous, fast-moving arena of a figure-eight race track, but he’ll also find his greatest challenge in a champion (Sid Haig) not used to losing. Jack Hill’s (Spider Baby) energetic and crash-happy film captivates with its race action as cars zip past and into each other at wholly unsafe speeds. The story and characters aren’t nearly as memorable, but Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray helps make up for those lapses with a fantastic selection of extras.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, interviews, featurette, booklet]


Tom Carver (Aidan Gillen) is trying to move on with his life after the recent accidental death of his son, but relationship issues and addiction aren’t making the grief any easier to handle. The situation worsens when he crosses paths with some punk teenagers, and he quickly finds himself at war. Gillen is the reason to watch, but it’s a bit of a challenge at times due to the pacing and low budget feel. The build up is slow-going, but Gillen ‐ always a deviously fascinating actor ‐ delivers a compelling onscreen descent.

[DVD extras: Interviews, deleted scenes]

Also out this week but review material was unavailable and/or I haven’t seen it:

1990: The Bronx Warriors
Escape From the Bronx
Five Easy Pieces (Criterion)
I Am Evel Knievel
The New Barbarians
Soldate Jeanette

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.