Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
News of a local priest involved in a child molestation scandal prompts the investigative team at the Boston Globe to dig a little deeper, and what they find shocks the world. Blocked at every turn by the Catholic Church and members of Boston’s movers and shakers the team explores unchecked avenues and finds previously missed connections that reveal a real-life conspiracy involving hundreds of people across several decades.
Far from the year’s flashiest film, Thomas McCarthy’s latest is a rare piece of dramatic near-perfection. Every element ‐ from the superb ensemble cast (including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, and more) to the sharp cinematography (from Masanobu Takayanagi) to the constantly engaging script (by McCarthy and Josh Singer) ‐ works in flawless unison to make a familiar tale and a known outcome feel genuinely suspenseful and exciting. It’s also a celebratory battle cry for the power of investigative journalism (and journalism in general), and as the end credits reveal the scope of the issue nationally and worldwide that cry echoes louder and farther.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
American Horror Project: Vol. 1 (Arrow Video)
Some unlucky visitors to a small carnival discover too late that the truly frightening freaks only come out at night in Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood. A woman emotionally and mentally scarred by childhood sexual abuse finds her fantasies of violence becoming a reality in The Witch Who Came From the Sea. An adopted child enters into a nightmare when her psychotic birth mother returns in The Premonition.
All three films collected here are lesser known genre entries for various reasons, but all three are good in their own ways. Production quality varies, but their individual strengths are notable ‐ Malatesta is a low-budget creeper, Witch is a sad tale about serial murder and psychosis, and Premonition pairs visceral scenes with the supernatural. They’re enjoyable enough movies, but what makes the set a must-own for genre fans is Arrow Video’s clear love for the obscure and forgotten. This is a beautifully-produced package from the slipcase to the included booklet, and each film comes loaded with special features, reversible sleeves, and 2k restorations. Arrow’s doing important work here people, and we should all be paying attention.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Introductions, commentaries, interviews, outtakes, short films]
Fargo: Year Two
Violence strikes a Waffle Hut in wintry, rural North Dakota when a young punk panics and leaves three dead bodies in his wake. Fate strikes back when he’s hit by a passing car driven by a flighty housewife (Kirsten Dunst), and the entire incident triggers an escalation in death, mayhem, and bad behavior.
This is where I admit that I’m the one person who was less than blown away by Fargo’s first season. I enjoyed the performances and black comedy, but the writing played up the dumb cop angle far too much and traded character for cheap laughs. Season two, by contrast, keeps the terrific performances (Bokeem Woodbine, Patrick Wilson, Jean Smart, Jeffrey Donovan, Ted Danson), sharp violence, and dark laughs, but also does good by the protagonists and features some smartly competent police officers. It’s just fantastic television, each and every episode, with score, script, and cinematography working together in perfect unison.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
It’s 1985, and for three boys living in Palo Alto, CA it might just be the last year they spend as kids. There’s a mountain lion wandering suburbia, but the wild predator is the least of their concerns. Chris, his younger brother, and his father (James Franco, who also produced) go hiking in Yosemite National Park. There’s beauty here, but there’s also lessons about the birds and the bees, the sight of a burning skeleton, and the very real fear of being lost. Back in town, Joe is dealing with a recent loss he doesn’t quite understand, and in the process he’s finding himself in all kinds of trouble. Shoplifting and classroom fights see him lectured by teachers, but the kindness of a stranger ‐ a man who invites him to his place for comics and soda ‐ offers Joe something of a sanctuary. Ted has been picking fights with Joe at school, but it’s due more to uncertainty than any degree of real malice. He doesn’t understand Joe’s struggle and along with others knows only how to antagonize, but when he finds himself in possession of a gun the opportunity to reassert their friendship rears its misguided head.
Gabrielle Demeestere’s film (reportedly inspired by Franco’s book A California Childhood) is less of a narrative than a look into a time and place populated by young boys approaching the end of innocence. Where Stand By Me pressed its characters’ faces into the stink of mortality, the boys here have yet to even hear the news about a dead body down by the train tracks. Life’s darker turns are ahead, but these three move ever forward, blissfully unaware of the dangers and impending knowledge crouched just outside their peripheral vision. A fly-on-the-wall authenticity is aided by three young actors who never appear to be trying too hard to “act.” This is a first feature for each of them, but they give natural, unobtrusive performances.
[DVD extras: None]
Each year a group of filmmakers and performers converge on a rural locale outside Los Angeles to make a feature film, but what sets them apart from from every other production is the presence of dozens of actors with disabilities. Zeno Mountain Farm is a charity of sorts, but rather than giving money or food they’re fulfilling dreams with their community by producing movies with cast members in roles that are otherwise beyond them in the “normal” world of filmmaking. This doc offers a behind the scenes look at all that goes into the annual effort and the resulting film, and it’s an uplifting affair.
[DVD extras: Featurette]
The Bees (Vinegar Syndrome)
Greedy companies looking to make bank in the lucrative business of honey run afoul of nature and accidentally unleash hordes of killer bees into the United States. The buzzing terrors wreak havoc on the populace until a trio of scientists (John Saxon, John Carradine, Angel Tompkins) develop a plan to stop them. This late ’70s animal attack flick followed The Swarm into theaters but has a few fresh ideas all its own. Vinegar Syndrome’s newly restored director’s cut devotes a lot of time to scenes of random people falling prey to the bees or reacting in fear to the epic sight of them in the sky, and the ending marks it as a message movie of sorts. So far so good, but there’s a real tonal disconnect here with the relationship antics between Saxon and Tompkins that undermine the drama of it all. Still, it’s ultimately about bees bringing civilization to its knees, so the weight you put on that aspect might vary. Not up for debate is the quality of this 2k restoration which once again shows Vinegar Syndrome to be a label that’s legitimately interested in genre cinema.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, reversible cover art]
The Curse / Curse II: The Bite (Scream Factory)
A fiery ball crashes into a small rural community and infects the underground water supply with something malignant in The Curse. Snakes cause havoc in a small mid-western town in The Curse II: The Bite. The first feature is a low-budget body-horror picture that manages some gross-out moments alongside its family squabbles and poorly-choreographed action beats. The Bite meanwhile is completely unrelated to the first film ‐ it’s a sequel in marketing only ‐ but it’s an automatic improvement based solely on the upgrade from Wil Wheaton in his tighty-whities to Jill Schoelen in hers. It’s a more cohesive story too, but the downside is the sheer number of snakes being abused and killed onscreen. Get past that though and you have a solid creature feature that moves from animal attacks to some fun and bloody hand-puppet mayhem courtesy of Screaming Mad George.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
An unnamed comedian (Gregg Turkington) works a series of slightly attended and barely tolerated gigs in the hopes of securing a Hollywood deal and time with his estranged daughter. His journey brings him in contact with new acquaintances, many of whom grow to dislike him fairly quickly, but it also sees him exploring a landscape filled with remnants of an unwanted past. Fans of dry, black comedy should give this methodical look at the necessity of persona a watch. Unlike director Rick Alverson’s last feature, The Comedy, there’s something of a pressure release valve here in the main character’s time off stage. It’s still a potentially challenging film for some viewers, but the humanity we just know is around the next corner is enough to hold interest.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
A CIA agent (Bruce Willis) is captured by hostile enemies, and his son (Kellan Lutz) leaves his analyst chair behind to enter the field on a rescue mission. There are some entertaining fight scenes and competent sequences here, but the film is too frequently let down by a silly script and a personality vacuum. Gina Carano co-stars, but while she’s given some action beats in the third act earlier scenes see her cast as the damsel in distress ‐ she not only gets beat up by one skinny guy but she also calls out to Lutz’s character for help. Why even cast her in this role? She shares screen-time with Lutz, and while I’m a fan of her skills (and still love Haywire) the two of them together just creates a void of empty air.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, making of, interviews]
Adam is a man created by science ‐ mad science, actually ‐ and the world he awakens in is is far from welcoming. The scientists view him as an experiment, the outside world views him as a weirdo, and he’s left viewing himself as alone. Mary Shelley’s classic tale gets a modern redo that tells the story from the monster perspective. Adam narrates, but we still feel removed from the drama and character.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Millennium / R.O.T.O.R. (Scream Factory)
An airline safety investigator (Kris Kristofferson) meets a woman (Cheryl Ladd) who not only has knowledge of a recent plane crash but also of a far more destructive disaster ‐ the demise of humanity ‐ in Millennium. A robotic law enforcer is accidentally let loose into the world where it proceeds to catch, convict, and execute with impunity in R.O.T.O.R. Scream Factory’s latest double feature pairs two action/sci-fi hybrids together, but while they’re both goofy only the first one feels like a serious movie. The film’s time travel angle is fun, and while it gives too much weight and time to the romance the movie is still 100 minutes of entertainment. The second film doesn’t fare as well, but fans of genre cheese might still have fun with it. Its attempts to balance the action with dumb gags are D.O.A.
[Blu-ray extras: Alternate ending]
My All American
Freddie is a little guy with a big heart and aspirations of playing on his high school football team. A chance to prove himself is all he needs, and a chance is what he gets. His performance on the field gets him noticed in more ways than one, but just as things are looking up a new challenge rears its ugly head. There are elements of the beloved Rudy here ‐ not surprising as both films are written by the same man, but the end effect isn’t quite as uplifting or entertaining. Football enthusiasts and big fans of the genre will enjoy the film and its period presentation, but there’s a lack of freshness to the story. Still, it’s an inspirational tale.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
The Discovery Channel and a handful of environmentally-minded organizations present this new doc from Louie Psihoyos that explores the very real concern that humanity is behind the next mass extinction. Sobering footage and statistics make it abundantly clear that the path we’re on ends in the destruction not just of miscellaneous animals most of us will never see in real life, but also in our very own species. Some specifics aside there’s not really any new revelations here for viewers who’ve been paying attention to the world for any time at all, but the doc finds its power in the stunning and occasionally heartbreaking footage of beauty of wildlife and cruelty of man. Wisely, the filmmakers and activists know that it’s not as simple as making something illegal ‐ people need to be given an alternative source of income if they’re being asked to stop slaughtering.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Secret In Their Eyes
Jess (Julia Roberts) is a criminal investigator rocked by the tragedy of her own daughter’s murder. Her friends and co-workers (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman) assist in the investigation, but the case falls apart and the suspect disappears. Years later Ray (Ejiofor) believes he’s found him and re-opens the case, but time has not been kind to the truth. This remake of the modern Argentinian classic hits many of the same story beats, but it feels like a slight copy. Gone is the political subtext with only a minor nod towards terrorism in its place. It’s well-acted but ultimately somewhat lifeless.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, interview, commentary]
The Serpent and the Rainbow (Scream Factory)
A science-minded anthropologist (Bill Pullman) heads to Haiti in search of a mythical drug that reportedly has the ability to make living creatures, including people, appear dead to the outside wold. The victims are still able to see and hear their surroundings though, and they don’t regain control of their own bodies until they’ve already but buried. This threat of a claustrophobic nightmare plays out against the country’s wider social and political uprisings. Wes Craven 1987 horror thriller is more culturally aware than most of his efforts, and that adds to the film’s effectiveness. A strong cast and some trippy/creepy visuals add to the experience too, but the film has always been lesser Craven to me. His skill is clear, but the topic of voodoo is just so damn boring. The Believers is another film loaded with potential that I find undone by a focus on black magic. I can’t explain it really ‐ I even love Angel Heart ‐ but there it is. I do recognize though that I’m in the minority, so for the rest of you Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is a solid release that adds new interviews and a commentary from Pullman.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, making of]
Shaun the Sheep: Season 2
Shaun the Sheep: The Movie was one of the best animated films of last year, but the fluffy troublemaker has been around well before then. This release collects the entirety of the show’s second season, all forty episodes ‐ each averaging about 5–6 minutes ‐ and fans of the film will find much to enjoy among them. The animal antics are creatively amusing, and the stop-motion animation continues to be a joy to watch.
[DVD extras: Videos, featurettes]
The Summer of Sangaile
Sangaile is a teen vacationing in Lithuania with her parents, and while they host dinner parties and romp nude through the garden Sangaile has discovered a passion for stunt planes. When a local girl named Auste secures a free ride for her in one of the flying machines Sangaile discovers a new friend, and as time passes it becomes clear that there’s an electric energy between the two girls. Auste discovers some of Sangaile’s secrets ‐ she suffers from vertigo, she’s a cutter ‐ and through affection, attention, and creativity helps move Sangaile towards higher emotional and physical realms. The film’s emotion pours from the screen through the two lead performers, and the cinematography keeps pace with stunningly photographed sequences of the girls, the trees beneath us, and the screaming maneuvering of the stunt plane. Sound design is equally affecting as a power station’s hum, first associated with an unmemorable sexual fumbling, works its way into the score. A handful of seemingly innocuous scenes suddenly take on an ominous tone leaving viewers uncertain of what’s to come. Narrative issues are undeniable, but there’s an emotional and visual current at work here that leaves feelings and images floating in your head.
[DVD extras: None]
The Girl In the Book, The Good Dinosaur, The Graduate (Criterion), I Knew Her Well (Criterion), I Smile Back, Kikijiru (UK), Moonwalkers, Pigsty / Hawks and Sparrows (UK), Spies, Woman In the Moon
Related Topics: Home Video