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The Katakuris are a multi-generational family determined to find happiness and success together. They take ownership of a small motel in the rural mountains of Japan and go about making a business, but it quickly becomes a struggle as the stream of expected customers is actually barely a trickle. Things get even worse when the handful of visitors refuse to stop dying accidentally.
Takashi Miike makes films with ridiculous speed, sometimes delivering three or four per year, and that frequency sometimes results in massive misfires. But he’s also created magic more than once, and one of those memorable slices of cinematic brilliance is his remake of the fantastic Korean black comedy, The Quiet Family. He retains the premise and basic structure but amps up the experience with catchy musical numbers, animated sequences and pure Miike-flavored insanity. There’s also a surprising amount of heart on display here with a story that shows real love for family and life itself making this one of the best WTF family films you’re ever likely to have the joy of seeing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurette, booklet]
Andy (Bill Pullman) lives a quiet life in a small New England town with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and his job as a college dean maintaining most of his affection and attention. The tranquility is shattered though when a string of violent crimes strikes a handful of young women and he becomes the prime suspect. And let’s not forget about the odd tenant (Alec Baldwin) they’ve recently taken into their home who has a taste for the ladies.
Director Harold Becker’s thriller is something of an underseen gem highlighted with three stellar lead performances. The supporting cast ‐ Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft ‐ shines too. The story is wonderfully twisted with some dark and unexpected turns, and it engages through its characters too with Pullman in particular making for a strong everyman for viewers to latch themselves onto.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Strangers aboard a plane in flight realize they all share one thing and one person in common. A waitress recognizes her sole customer as a man who caused her pain years before. A driver enters into a deadly battle after surrendering to a brief moment of road rage. A man goes to war with the county office responsible for towing his car. A hit and run incident leads the driver’s father to desperate measures. A new bride discovers during the reception that her new husband has been unfaithful.
The stories in Damian Szifron’s fantastic film aren’t related in any narrative sense, but they share a thematic thread infused with mankind’s capacity for revenge and rage. Clever, funny, tension-filled and gorgeously-shot, this is a rare anthology film without a single dud. The waitress tale is “just” okay, but the overall result is two hours of beautifully crafted fun and violence. And seriously, it’s a beautiful film, something Sony’s Blu-ray highlights damn well.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Ben (Jeremy Irvine) is a young man forced by financial constraints stay behind in his small desert town and watch as his girlfriend heads off to college without him. He finds temporary distraction when an out of town businessman (Michael Douglas) hires him as a hunting guide, but when the man accidentally kills a local he turns Ben into human prey. Douglas plays old white bastard exceedingly well and brings a casual menace to his role here while Irvine convinces as someone struggling to survive. The film devotes a bit too much time to character setup ‐ usually a good thing, but the info and flashbacks are repeated too frequently to ensure we get the emotional point. Still, it’s a fine and entertaining survival film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
Robotic enforcers called Scouts are patrolling the streets, but when their creator, Deon (Dev Patel), expresses his desire to test a new A.I. program on a damaged unit the CEO (Sigourney Weaver) shuts him down. Deon persists and steals a Scout, but he and his unit fall into the hands of a trio of misfit gangsters who want the robot’s help in committing a big heist. Gifted with consciousness, the newly nicknamed Chappie begins learning from those around him, but the experiment is cut short by threats from other thugs and Deon’s jealous co-worker, Vincent (Hugh Jackman). The questionable ethics of creating human-like A.I. are the backbone of the story alongside the question of what it means to be human, but sadly the very things Chappie wants to be about ‐ intelligence and humanity ‐ are absent from the film itself. The film wants viewers to fall in love with Chappie, to see him as human as the others or at least as a hybrid of man and machine, but he never even reaches the level of endearing. He’s more harmless than obnoxious, but calling him the result of a sloppy threesome between Dobby, Poochie and an Erector Set wouldn’t be far off. His outbursts about humanity’s faults are meant to be poignant, but they arrive with no emotional support and instead hang limply in the air. The film is also being released to Blu-ray in a special 3-film edition ‐ Blomkamp3 ‐ featuring District 9 and Elysium. Both get new special features here with the latter seeing a 4K remastering too. It’s an attractive package that also includes a 64 page book filled with photos and info.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, alternate ending]
A young man arrives on a small island for his father’s funeral but discovers there was more to his death than simple bad luck. Secure in the knowledge that his rational mind is correct on the subject of the supernatural he opens the crypt of a 700 year old vampire queen only to see the legends come true and the deaths continue. Vinegar Syndrome’s double feature leads with the superior Crypt ‐ a competent, occasionally bloody tale of vampires, transformations and sibling incompetence ‐ and closes out with the fairly terrible House. That latter film is sloppy and woefully cheap, and it accomplishes nothing it sets out to do.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Ed and his wife Susan seem somewhat normal on the outside, but the pair share a secret. They make snuff films for a hungry online audience. Their latest project involves the rarity of a triple header as they make plans to bring three young people to their home, film some sexy shenanigans and then brutally torture and murder them on camera. Things get quite messy, but they don’t come go according to plan. The idea behind this flick is a mix of comedic dialogue and situations set against some truly hideous and barbaric acts, but the two halves never quite mesh together. We’re meant to have fun with Ed and Susan and their murderous habits ‐ think Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers ‐ but the characters grate and the attempts at comedy are pushed too hard as the situations grow more and more dire. The film consists entirely of footage recovered from the couple’s numerous cameras installed throughout the house, but then how to explain an ending that aims to leave us hanging unnecessarily? And why in the hell are a pair of victims shown with their “naked” pelvic regions blurred? It’s utterly illogical for found footage ‐ not to mention insultingly prudish when the the film has no problem showing us women brutalized graphically in other ways ‐ and made worse by the fact that the performers’ flesh-colored underwear is clearly visible behind the digital blur. Artsploitation’s return to distribution this summer began strong with last week’s Der Samurai and has a bright future with the upcoming Cub and The Treatment, but this is a misstep best avoided.
[DVD extras: Gag reel, commentary]
Frank (Mark Duplass) and his team have been working in the hopes of finding a way to extend brain activity in order to give patients a bigger chance of survival after traumatic incidents, but their research has taken something of a detour. The four person team, which also includes Frank’s girlfriend Zoe (Olivia Wilde), has discovered a way to bring the recent (or properly preserved) dead back to life. Their first success is a dog, but when outside troubles force the gang to rush a duplication of their experiment an accident leaves Zoe dead. A distraught Frank does what any of us would do when faced with a deceased Olivia Wilde ‐ he ignores common sense and the warnings of his team and brings her back to life. Big mistake. Huge! The setup makes it immediately clear where the film’s going, and with a running time of only 83 minutes it gets there ridiculously fast. The script brings nothing new to the table and instead ends up feeling like the Flatliners/Pet Sematary/Lucy mash-up that nobody asked for. The film’s brevity leaves little time to grow familiar with (or fond of) the characters, but worse, the script waffles as to what’s actually happening. the film’s biggest sin is that it just isn’t scary. The horror on display is almost exclusively of the jump scare variety ‐ again, we don’t know these characters at all so we really don’t fear for them ‐ and of those the vast majority involve lights turning off and back on again to reveal something “spooky.”
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The staff of News Night, both above the line and below, come under fire when their use of classified government documents leads to issues of integrity, ethics and the law. The stress of the situation plays out while the network risks a hostile takeover in their weakened state, and it’s unclear which members of the team will take the ultimate fall. The third season of Aaron Sorkin’s most recent creation is a lesser version of the series’ debut as elements feel more orchestrated than organic, but there are still more than enough reasons to watch this six-episode run with the sharp dialogue and smart performers being chief among them. Jeff Daniels, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn and others continue to bring real humanity to their characters even as the scripts feel more and more contrived.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, commentary]
Chris Evans plays an unnamed Hollywood screenwriter ‐ he’s listed as Narrator in the credits ‐ whose agent has landed him a gig writing a romantic comedy, and if all goes well he’ll be hired to script an action movie set in Malaysia. Unfortunately for him, and I would assume the studio that hired him, his lack of experience with love has made him uninterested and unable to write about it. Aww. Everything changes though when he meets Her (Michelle Monaghan, again, stupidly, no character name is given). She has a boyfriend, but a few chance encounters later and the pair can’t help but be aware of their connection. Can these new stirrings in Narrator’s loins mean that he’s actually falling in love? And more importantly, will this experience help him write a fantastic screenplay? The script seems enamored with Narrator’s screenwriting trick of imagining himself as a character in a given story, but while it’s the kind of conceit that would work if what happened in those scenes was relevant in some way here they exist solely to get Evans and Monaghan in various costumes. There are moments that work, usually thanks to the cast, but it its attempt to be different and better than the seemingly hundreds of other rom-coms that hit screens each year it instead ends up as more of the same. The romantically-challenged guy and his comic relief sidekicks, the perfect girl, the big third-act run through the airport (metaphorical in this case). We’ve seen it all before.
[DVD extras: None]
Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is a bad man who’s spent his life working for an even worse one, mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Jimmy’s apple seed fell far from the tree as his estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), is an honest family man, but when Mike finds himself in real trouble his only hope is the father he’d rather forget. Neeson’s third collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra is far better than Unknown but not quite as much fun as Non-Stop. It opens unnecessarily at the ending and moves somewhat predictably, but some well-crafted action and solid acting elevate it above the fray. The father/son dynamic is seen from multiple sides too as Shawn’s son is also a part of the tale. Common, Nick Nolte and Vincent D’Onofrio co-star.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Willy Clark (Walter Matthau) was once one half of vaudeville’s top-rated duo, but after decades of success he parted ways with his comedy partner, Al Lewis (George Burns). Clark’s nephew (Richard Benjamin) books the duo a gig on an ABC variety special, but the only thing more impossible than getting the former friends back onstage together is getting them in the same room. Herbert Ross’s adaptation of Neil Simon’s hit play offers up a near non-stop parade of banter and wit from three nimble-tongued comedy greats. The actual vaudeville may not be funny ‐ it’s not, vaudeville isn’t ‐ but these performers live and breathe funny. WB’s disc also includes a commentary track from Benjamin filled with fun anecdotes and memories.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurette, screen test]
The ocean-side town of Ocean Beach heads into the summer season with expectations of tourist dollars dancing in their eyes, but a giant octopus has other plans in the multi-limbed, star-filled Jaws knockoff, Tentacles. The tail of a prehistoric reptilian beast is discovered below the earth, but when it’s brought in for further study it regenerates into a complete creature capable of destroying buildings and the people within in the early ’60s Danish flick, Reptilicus. The octopus film has a ridiculous roster of name talents for an octopus film including John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Claude Akins and Henry Fonda, and some of them seem vaguely unaware that they’re even in an octopus film. It’s a straightforward knockoff and has its moments, but it never aims too high. The Danish movie by contrast is a more traditional creature feature with military forces converging on the stop-motion monster with mixed effect. Both films are entertaining enough for genre fans of old-school creature thrills.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Three friends discover their neighbor has been spying on them, but more importantly he’s been doing so with a special camera that takes pictures 24 hours into the future. They decide to use its unique ability for financial and personal gain, but that goes predictably poorly. There’s a fun morality tale at the heart of the film, and while things get a bit muddled by the end the core Twilight Zone-like effect remains. Time-related sci-fi films can be tough as the various threads grow to require more and more scrutiny, but fine work from the three leads works well to keep our focus from pulling at those loose ends.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Alice (Kristen Wiig) is an odd bird who gets by on the combined powers of therapy, delusion and prescription medications, but when she wins big on a Powerball-like jackpot she drops two of those and fully embraces the other. She pays a local TV station to create a talk show for her with the sole topic each episode being her. Success or failure is coming up next, but whichever way it goes it’s sure to be spectacular. Wiig is the heart of this simple tale, and there are definitely moments that connect ‐ Alice’s interactions with friends both new and old show a warmth and vulnerability amid the laughs ‐ but too much of it also feels somewhat loose and disconnected from the real world. Wiig is fine, but she’s in something of a rut playing these emotionally stunted women. The supporting cast is solid ‐ James Marsden, Joan Cusack, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Jennifer Jason Leigh ‐ but they’re given far too little to do here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Also out this week but review material was unavailable:
3 Films (Criterion), The Boys In the Band, Bravetown, The Cat Returns, An Eye for an Eye, Hero and the Terror, The Land That Time Forgot, A Master Builder (Criterion), My Dinner With Andre (Criterion), Nashville Girl, The Onion Field, Spirited Away, Survivor’s Remorse: The Complete First Season, Unfinished Business, Wrecking Crew
Related Topics: Home Video