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Love & Mercy
Brian Wilson was a driving force behind the Beach Boys’ success and creative vision, but he was also a troubled man. Emotional and mental issues took their toll forcing an eventual split between him and the band, but as the years passed his urge to create music remained. The film moves back and forth between his early years (where he’s played by Paul Dano) and later days (John Cusack) charting both his mental descent and rise.
I’ve never been much of a Beach Boys fan ‐ Pet Sounds aside, obviously, I’m not a complete heathen ‐ but Bill Pohlad’s film finds an emotional truth in Wilson’s story that moves well beyond their frequently terrible “sun, surf, and sand” music. The soundtrack choices help, but the film’s biggest strength is its two lead performances. Both actors do great work, and Cusack even gets a role that finally lets him wear colors other than black. The weak spot here is Paul Giamatti who really goes full Giamatti as a shady therapist, but he’s not enough to tank what amounts to a somewhat beautiful and engaging look at one man’s struggle with himself.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Blind Chance (Criterion)
The question at the center of Blind Chance ‐ how would your life be completely different with small changes in your fate and decisions ‐ has resonated through cinema from Sliding Doors to Run Lola Run. But nowhere has this trope been more richly explored than in this landmark film in the career of Krzysztof Kieslowski, which follows a young medical student, Witek (Boguslaw Linda), reeling from his father’s death whose many possible courses of life are dependent upon catching a train to Warsaw.
Blind Chance follows Witek’s life journey in three directions: in the first, he catches the train and becomes an aspirational party member climbing up the ladder of the Communist state; in the second, he misses the train and becomes a religious anticommunist after a stint in jail; and in the third, Witek explores the possibilities of a life less centered on politics. A remarkably detailed and complicated work of national cinema made at the dusk of the Iron Curtain (and censored for years, still unavailable in a completely untouched form), Blind Chance is less a work of didactic politics and more of a deeply empathetic exploration of the possibilities of living under the limitations of the state. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews with filmmakers and critics; an overview of the film’s censorship and restoration; illustrated booklet with an essay and director interview]
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Robert Durst was a part of New York City’s elite as a young man thanks to his father’s real estate empire, but when the business was handed over to his younger brother his life entered something of a darker stage. He was still heir to a fortune and never wanting for money, but there was something dark inside that found him repeatedly associated with other people’s deaths. Three murders in as many decades left authorities suspicious of his involvement but unable to prove anything. Now, for the first time, Durst agrees to be interviewed as the subject of a documentary, and the results are stranger than fiction.
HBO’s limited-run series chronicles filmmaker Andrew Jarecki’s relationship with Durst ‐ both as professionals and friends ‐ and finds him investigating his subject with surprising results. Durst is a fascinating man, both competent and deranged, and watching him speak is to see the gears in his head constantly in motion. Jarecki puts far too much of himself in the doc, but it’s a small price to pay for the journey and epic pay off we get here. Do yourself a favor and avoid reading anything about the doc or the real-life case and simply watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) have recently arrived in Los Angeles with their young son, and while she’s starting her new job he’s getting used to being the stay at home dad. The struggle for him is that while she’s meeting people at work and engaging in conversations he’s left alone with a child and no real way to find new friends. That changes one morning when they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and his son at the park. They hit it off, as do their boys, and Kurt invites the family over to his and his wife’s home for pizza night. Best case? They’ve found some great new friends. Worst case? Well, let’s not even think about that.
Writer/director Patrick Brice’s second film (after the fantastic Creep) is a comedy on the surface ‐ an incredibly funny one capable of deftly moving between raunchy laughs and far more innocent humor ‐ and a sincere look at relationships underneath. Friends and lovers can be difficult to find and even more challenging to keep, and both need honesty if they’re going to work. And sometimes? Sometimes they also need paintings of puckered starfish.
[DVD extras: None]
Dr. No. From Russia with Love. Goldfinger. Thunderball. You Only Live Twice. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Diamonds are Forever. Live and Let Die. The Man with the Golden Gun. The Spy Who Loved Me. Moonraker. For Your Eyes Only. Octopussy. A View to a Kill. The Living Daylights. Licence to Kill. Goldeneye. Tomorrow Never Dies. The World Is Not Enough. Die Another Day. Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace. Skyfall.
All 23 (official) James Bond films are collected here along with a space for the eventual Spectre Blu-ray, and if you’re thinking it sounds familiar it’s because the entire set was previously released when Skyfall hit theaters. So is it worth a double dip? Some new featurettes are included, but it’s a couple other factors that make it a buy for me ‐ the case is streamlined into a shelf-friendly package, and the set includes digital HD copies of each film along with the Blu-rays. The films vary some in quality, obviously, but their presentations are equally top-notch.
[Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, booklet, digital HD copies]
Aquarius: The Complete First Season
Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) is an L.A. detective with little time for hippies and their ilk, but when a case brings him in contact with the soon to be notorious Charlie Manson and his “family” Hodiak is forced to pay attention. This is an odd setup for a series as we all know what it’s building towards even if Hodiak doesn’t, and that effectively means we know his efforts are doomed to failure… unless the show takes the Inglourious Basterds route and lets the detective riddle Manson with bullets. Only time will tell, but even if that’s not the case the show is well-produced and fun to watch whenever Duchovny is on screen.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Webisodes, featurette]
The Beast (Arrow Video)
A wealthy American woman arrives at a French estate as a precursor to a possible marriage, but while the man she was supposed to engage with spends his time coupling horses she gets lost in a sexual, animalistic dreamscape. Walerian Borowczyk followed up his explicit anthology film Immoral Tales with this hybrid of class commentary and dirty fairy tale. There are some fun antics littered throughout the film’s first hour ‐ once you get past the horse porn ‐ but the real money shots don’t come until the final thirty minutes featuring the beast in all his hairy, horny, and erect glory. It’s ridiculous and comical, and it knows it. The laughs are more of the WTF variety than they are legitimately funny, but it’s definitely not the kind of imagery you see every day.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New HD transfer, introduction, interview, visual essay, documentary, featurettes, commercials, short film, reversible sleeve, booklet]
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Eighth Season
These four nerds have come a long way, in theory. Creator Chuck Lorre’s second-longest running series (after the abysmal Two and a Half Men) isn’t shy about sticking with what works, and to that end season eight isn’t all that removed from earlier seasons. The characters’ traits remain intact and are simply milked and re-milked for laughs alongside new supporting characters and situations. That’s not entirely a bad thing as it still brings the laughs at times, but you can watch any single episode and know immediately if this is a show that’s worth watching any more.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel]
CSI: The Final Season
Fifteen seasons! Good god that’s a lot of dead people in Las Vegas. Team leader D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) is moving to Cyber next season, but he and his investigators go out with a bang as they face off against all manner of criminals including a serial killer who may just be hunting them. The show isn’t nearly as flashy or ground-breaking as it once was ‐ remember when Quentin Tarantino directed an episode? ‐ but procedural fans shoould find enough here in the final season to enjoy.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries]
CSI Cyber: The First Season
Not all crimes leave bodily fluids behind… some leave ones and zeroes. That should probably be a tagline of some sort, but even if it’s not it remains the truth as this spin-off tackles crimes of a more technical nature than simple murders. Patricia Arquette heads up the team (which also includes James Van Der Beek!) which exists to fight cyber crimes online and beyond (ie the dark net, which is still technically online but you get what I mean). The problem here is that too much of the show is spent staring at screens. Yes there’s still plenty of real-world action as they catch up to the criminals and such, but the tech goes too far beyond Luminol to be engaging. It’s interesting if the tech is interesting.
[DVD extras: Crossover episode with CSI, featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes, commentaries]
Empire: The Complete First Season
Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) is head of a music empire, but he’s also dying. Knowing his days are numbered he tells his three sons that one of them will soon be given the reins of the company and then lets them fight it out. Complicating matters is the arrival of his ex-wife, recently released from prison and firmly intent on getting her own piece of the pie. Lee Daniels’ series is every bit the soap opera the advertisements have promised, and like an R&B-themed Dynasty it knows and acts exactly as you’d expect from that description. It makes good use of music throughout, but the big melodrama occasionally drowns out the tunes with excessive flashbacks and noise.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, performances, commentaries]
The brother (Jason Statham) of a man the team left for dead seeks revenge on those he holds responsible, but the gang is at their strongest as a family or some shit so they fight back and stuff. Look, I love Fast Five and Furious Six as both films are fantastically ridiculous action movies that are as entertaining as they are ignorant of the laws of physics, but this one is big and dumb without the fun. An early fight scene between Statham and Dwayne Johnson is damn good, but it’s also the action highlight meaning it’s all downhill from there. The action is mostly a mix of stupidity and CG ‐ yes I know they dropped real cars from a plane but who gives a shit? ‐ that fail to impress or bring a smile to the face. Its not even trying anymore when it comes to the story either as the team spends the film taking a mission in order to be rewarded with Statham’s locale only to have him repeatedly show up along the way thus making their efforts unnecessary and I’m already giving it more thought than it deserves. It’s nonsense without the fun, and that’s a damn shame. All of that said, it is a well-crafted send-off for Walker.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Two versions, deleted scenes, featurettes, music video]
Heaven Knows What
Harley (Arielle Holmes) is a young addict living poorly on the streets of New York City with a pair of addictions in competition to see which will kill her first ‐ heroin or her love for the equally unhealthy Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). Based to some degree on Holmes’ real life, this is a relentlessly bleak look at one woman’s struggle to survive despite her own actions and circumstances. It’s a difficult watch but for all the wrong reasons.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of, music video]
Immoral Tales (Arrow Video)
An immoral man convinces his teenage cousin to fellate him by the seaside. An immoral Christian woman fantasizes about a variety of sexual acts. An immoral member of royalty kills and bathes in the blood of virgins to keep her skin looking young. An immoral Pope’s daughter fornicates willy-nilly with family members. Walerian Borowczyk’s mid-’70s anthology film is concerned with sexual antics of all sorts except those fueled by love, and while it’s more artsy than pornographic it’s explicit enough to have garnered it a reputation. The connective tissue between the tales is more fragile than effective, and instead the film’s success is a mixed bag of bawdy tales for the sake of bawdiness. Like The Beast above though, Arrow Video’s presentation is spectacular on both the image and supplemental fronts.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New HD transfer, two versions, introduction, visual essays, interview, reversible sleeve, booklet]
The Legacy (Scream Factory)
An American couple (Katharine Ross, Sam Elliott) head to England for a possible job offer but discover it was simply a ruse to draw them to a vast rural estate. Other guests are there too, each hoping to inherit a certain something, but there can be only one. I’ve been a fan of this late ’70s supernatural chiller for decades now as it features a fun little tale alongside some frightening imagery. Most notable is a swimming death that will have you avoiding in-ground pools for the rest of your life. There’s a simplicity to the story making it a bit obvious at times where it’s heading, but it remains an atmospheric and engrossing chiller all the same. And let’s be real, the dulcet sound of Elliott’s soothing drawl makes everything okay. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray offers a fine-looking picture along with a pair of interviews.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New HD transfer, interviews]
Marvel’s Agent Carter: The Complete First Season
Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) gets little in the way of respect from her colleagues at the Strategic Scientific Reserve who view her as little more than a glorified secretary, but what they don’t know might hurt them. She’s an incredibly capable agent, as evidenced by her past work alongside Captain America, and now she’s continuing those efforts in the shadows alongside Howard Stark. More spy-oriented than superhero-like, this is a fun little show that survives on the strength of Atwell’s energy, charm, and ability. This first season lacked oomph, but it’s entertaining enough.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: The Complete Second Season
Following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the show’s second season sees Agent Coulson and team on their own fighting a fluid enemy with many faces. Budgetary limitations continue to hold the show back at times and make it feel smaller than its stories should, and the same goes for the series format. Big events feel less so, and action sequences continually end with the same people standing (or knocked conveniently unconscious). The introduction of the mutant-like Inhumans complicates things further as again, the limitations can’t quite present them properly. Still though, the ensemble cast of characters and the writers behind their words deliver casual entertainment on a fairly regular basis.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Peter (David Oyelowo) is a war veteran working a dead-end job and living at home with his mother, but an incident of violence leaves him confused, lonely, and on a descent into his own personal hell. This HBO feature feels at times like a play with its singular performer and location, but its commentary on communication ‐ including letters returned to sender and online videos viewed by numerous strangers ‐ make it a story more fitting to its current form. Peter’s issue is declared plainly at the very beginning, but the exclusion of other characters leaves the truth in question, at least for a little while. Oyelowo holds our attention as the sole actor with a sad and fractured performance, but it’s a difficult film to imagine watching a second time.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The town of Caldwell, WA is still in mourning over the deaths four years ago of a busload of high-schoolers, but priorities change when one of the dead girls returns home unchanged from the day she went over the cliff. Other deceased residents reappear too ‐ some are recently dead while others have been gone for decades ‐ but the explanation as to why they’ve come back remains elusive. A&E’s remake of the successful French series copies much of it beat for beat, and it manages a similarly high level of mystery and engagement. The difference is this American redo was cancelled before the season was complete meaning it ends without really ending. There are definite issues along the way in character actions and writing, but it’s incredibly compelling all the same ‐ but the DVD sleeve makes no mention of the fact that it’s unfinished. I’m a fan, but that lack of an ending is unforgivable. Seek out the French series, Les Revenants, instead.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Sisters: Seasons One & Two
The Reed sisters experience the ups and downs of life and love as adults trying to make their own way while holding on to each other. This early-’90s series follows very much in the mold of Thirtysomething with its approach to adult issues and story lines, and in that regard it found some minor moments of groundbreaking drama. It’s not nearly as compelling narratively to today’s eyes, but the four leads do strong work and create a female dynamic that still holds power thanks to their authentic performances.
[DVD extras: Interviews]
Sleepy Hollow: The Complete Second Season
Ichabod Crane’s efforts to stop the march of evil in modern day Sleepy Hollow continue, but for every successfully vanquished monster two more seem to spring up in place. Crane and his partner, Det. Abbie Mills, are forced to confront their families’ pasts if they want to save mankind’s future. This NBC show is ridiculous, but it remains a ton of fun. It’s witty and layered with a fun, fictional take on American history, and there’s rarely a dull moment across the episodes. This season is a bit heavy with mythology episodes (as opposed to monster-of-the-week ones) but the personality and visual creativity on display hold the attention all the same. Season three is reportedly cutting back on the overriding story line, but as long as they can keep the energy up it’ll be a show to watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel, commentaries]
Cinderella, Reality, Star Wars Lego: The New Yoda Chronicles
Related Topics: Home Video