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Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) left her small town behind and joined the U.S. Army, but her first assignment isn’t quite the heroic, globe-spanning endeavor she imagined. She’s assigned to a guard position at Guantanamo Bay where she comes face to face with the enemy, but some of the men she sees before her seem far removed from the bloodthirsty Muslim terrorists they’re supposed to be. Cole strikes up a friendship with one man in particular, Ali (Peyman Moaadi), and over the course of a year the two discover the world of grey between them in this supposedly black and white conflict.
Writer/director Peter Sattler’s film walks a fine line in allowing its characters to tread both sides of the moral divide without claiming a political stance. Cole is naive and easily manipulated, but her innocence also opens the door to communication and ideas that her fellow soldiers are prone to ignore. Ali meanwhile offers a glimpse into the mind of a man whose guilt is uncertain but whose need for connection is clear. Everyone is flawed, but the film judges none of them. Both lead performances are fantastic here and deserving of praise, but Stewart in particular delivers with a precision and depth that should find her new fans beyond the YA watering hole.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Fort Apache sees a clashing of ideals and honor when an upstart Lt. Col. (Henry Fonda) arrives at a new posting with attitudes running contrary to the current Captin’s (John Wayne). In The Searchers, a set in his ways Civil War vet (Wayne) sets out across the Midwest in search of a niece abducted by Indians, but as the months and years pass his rage towards the natives grows to include the child. Rio Bravo pits a small band of heroes against a determined and powerful adversary. Wayne leads a group of thieves in The Train Robbers in an effort to steal some already stolen gold. Cahill: United States Marshal sees Wayne as a tough as nails lawman at odds with his own children.
Warner Bros. collects five of Wayne’s films onto five Blu-rays ‐ two for the first time (The Train Robbers and Cahill: U.S. Marshal) ‐ and packs them with plenty of special features too. They’re something of a mixed bag with the two new additions being the weakest of the bunch, but fans of the Duke will still be more than pleased by the set. Honestly, it’s worth the price of admission for The Searchers and Rio Bravo alone. Both are fantastic ‐ the former is a beautiful goddamn western with some brutal things to say about the reasons we treat others the way we do, and the latter is as close to a perfect, eminently re-watchable film as you can get.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentaries, featurettes, commentaries]
A group of thieves escape into the sky with their stolen millions, but when one of them exits the plane with their bounty the others parachute after him intent on getting it all back. They land within a large farm, the landscape dotted with scarecrows surrounding a dilapidated old house at its center, and as the manhunt begins they soon discover that they’re actually all the prey.
Scarecrows, like clowns, are inherently creepy, but many of the films that try to capitalize on their scary nature fail to deliver. William Wesley’s late ’80s horror flick succeeds with some creative touches, fantastic gore effects and effective sequences. It does wonders with its low budget and night-time setting by crafting an eerie atmosphere and fun horror beats. It’s a favorite of mine that I used to subject friends to on laser disc, and Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray offers it a face lift alongside some solid extras.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews]
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is lost and alone after the death of his mother and a violent incident in a bar so he heads to Italy on a whim in search of distraction and adventure. He finds both in a small coastal town when he meets an enigmatic young woman named Louise. She captures his mind and his heart, but their time together is challenged by a secret she’s hiding from her own past.
The creators of 2012’s indie horror hit Resolution follow up that introspective tale with a film filled with beauty, romance and something truly monstrous. The film takes its time allowing viewers to experience an unfolding love story against a stunning Italian backdrop before slowly teasing what’s rippling just beneath Louise’s skin. It’s a refreshing tale, one that evolves from the expected into something stunning with grace and tentacles in equal measure. Take note though, this Blu-ray is a Best Buy exclusive until August 11th.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
The streets of Baltimore, like many of America’s big cities, are awash with drugs and and the associated pains that follow. Families and communities are destroyed, dealers rake in the profits while their underlings pay the price and the police grow ever tired of a revolving door justice system. The series follows a grand over-arching story from the perspectives of both sides and from the battlefields of the streets, the schools, the media and hallways of political power.
HBO is no stranger to critical acclaim for their series, but this raw, honest and utterly compelling portrait of modern day America remains their high point. The entire series is incredible, but season four in particular is easily the best season of any TV show ever made. It’s pure magic filled with charismatic, morally flexible characters, incredibly engaging story lines, sequences of suspense, humanity and utter brilliance, and the other seasons aren’t far behind. Few TV shows can claim to be as thought-provoking or as consistently challenging. This new Blu-ray release remasters the series into HD widescreen for the first time, and while some people see that as ringing false to the show’s original intentions the results speak for themselves.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentaries, commentaries, featurette]
A priest and his young granddaughter roam the land performing exorcisms on those possessed by a very powerful demonic force, but as the cases increase they also hint at an evil event on the horizon. Even worse, a devilish cult is hot on their trail too. The traditional exorcism story line is modified into something bigger and better here as the pair do their best to avoid an earthly conflagration, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The performances and visuals struggle to hold attention and create drama, but they’re not nearly as compelling as the story they’re attempting to support. It doesn’t help that the three trailers preceding the feature are all for pretty fantastic horror movies.
[DVD extras: None]
An insane asylum on lock-down draws an elite assault team in for a rescue, but they discover the cause of the disturbance is something really crazy. Meanwhile… some jokers back at the movie’s production office lay a MST3K-like track of “comedy” over the proceedings. This is an odd one. Apparently After Dark Films produced the movie only to realize it was not up to their (or Lionsgate’s) usual standards, so in an effort to fix the situation they had someone new come in to write a “comedy screenplay” adding the commentary and some additional scenes. The end result is an incomplete tale that fails as a horror movie while managing to generate a handful of laughs along the way. Oddly, for the effort they expended to “fix” the film Lionsgate’s DVD packaging still markets the movie 100% as a horror film.
[DVD extras: None]
A photojournalist (Michelle Monaghan) blinded by an Iraqi bomb settles into life as girlfriend to a wealthy man, but when two strangers come calling with questions and violence she’s forced to see the truth behind her boyfriend’s bank account. Michael Keaton plays the more eloquent of the two thugs and brings his patented brand of craziness to the situation, and it all plays out as more than simply an updated riff on Wait Until Dark. Director Joseph Ruben (and Dimension Films… welcome back to the ‘90s!) deliver a solid thriller occurring mostly in a single location, and while it doesn’t break any new ground it does the job for 85 minutes.
[DVD extras: None]
Nicky (Will Smith) is a career flim-flammer who long ago graduated from picking pockets to managing a double-digit team of hustlers who target populated tourist areas stealing watches, wallets, purses, luggage and more. He finds a new protege in Jess (Margot Robbie) after conning his way into a meal at a fancy restaurant and meeting her as she attempts a sloppy swindle of her own. They hit it off, but he soon insists they go their separate ways. The pair meet again three years later when Jess interrupts a large-scale con in Buenos Aires, but it quickly becomes clear that nothing is the least bit clear when dealing with professional liars. One of the expected aspects of movies about con men is the understanding that any of the characters can be playing anyone else at any time, and half the fun for viewers is trying to stay one step ahead ‐ or at least no more than one step behind ‐ as the scams, reverse scams and triple twists start flying. Writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa do a fine job in that regard by playing with audience expectations in smart ways, and the two leads are rarely less than captivating. That’s due more to Smith and Robbie than their characters, but it still works to keep us focused on the game and its players.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
A pandemic has swept the globe turning people into people eaters, and as the hordes grow a small group of survivors struggle to escape their undead clutches. It’s a familiar plot presented once again with a lack of originality or engaging characters. Hell, they’re not even bearable characters. The picture is washed out, the CG is over-used and it’s not long before you’re siding with the monsters.
[DVD extras: None]
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) hates her life, but everything changes when a gaggle of alien creatures attempt to kill her before being thwarted by the universe’s only hairless werewolf, Caine (Channing Tatum). It seems Jupiter is the reincarnation of a deceased galactic queen who wisely planned ahead and bequeathed a fortune to herself, and that newfound wealth includes ownership of the Earth. The Earth! Some other members of the the royal family have cried foul on the inheritance as our planet is home to a highly sought after resource with vast commercial value, and now different factions are fighting over Jupiter’s fate. Some want her property, some want her life and one just wants a shot at humping her leg. (It’s Caine. Caine is the one who wants to hump her leg.) Here’s the thing. When planning your big budget, space-set action/adventure, maybe you should choose a stronger inspiration than the likes of 1984’s Ice Pirates. (And I say this as someone who truly enjoys Ice Pirates.) Because when a movie best-remembered for featuring “space herpes” can boast the same degree of world-building competence as your $200 million, star-filled, wannabe blockbuster that’s probably a bad sign.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is being re-assigned away from Kentucky, but before he goes there’s one final case he’d like to put to bed. Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is his old friend and constant nemesis, and as the two draw together for one final confrontation it becomes clear that neither are safe. It’s been a pretty solid run for FX’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s short story ‐ 79 episodes from that one short story ‐ and while the best seasons are found in the front half of its six season run it ends with a respectable and entertaining final thirteen episodes. The highlight of course is more screen time shared by the two leads. They’ve frequently been far apart enjoying their own separate story lines, but here they intertwine tighter than they have since the show’s first few years.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
A terrorist bombing at a hotel in late ’60s Milan leaves several people dead, a killer with a conscience on the run and a populace in fear. Det. Rolandi is hot on the trail after witnessing the suspect at the scene, but his investigation soon reveals there’s more going on here than a lone bomber. Diretor Luciano Ercoli’s Italian crime thriller is as interested in police corruption and political unrest as it is in playing “cops and robbers,” and it manages to pack a lot in to its 97 minute running time. It’s never dull as it shifts between the players, but it is fairly low key throughout aside from a handful of adrenaline-friendly beats.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, booklet]
A murder victim is found stuffed inside a dead cow in a small town in rural France, and the pair of local cops tasked with solving the crime are at a loss. Elsewhere in town a young boy named Quinquin whose days exist solely for goofing around and harassing those around him. Director Bruno Dumont’s nearly 3 1/2 hour film (it originally aired in four parts on French TV) is something of a genre mash-up with mystery, drama and comedy all vying for time, but it’s the comedy ‐ frequently absurd, dark or weird comedy ‐ that quickly becomes the focus. It doesn’t always work though as the weight of certain dramatic beats is lost amid the goofiness or Dumont’s apparent disinterest. Despite its dramatic failings the film takes hold with gorgeous cinematography and an unpredictable sensibility. I would have liked an explanation as to why most of the town’s male inhabitants are physically or mentally malformed though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
It’s been a decade since the events of Monsters, and the creatures have spread to other parts of the world. They’ve made a particular mess of the already messy Middle East requiring a full assault from the U.S. military, but as the soldiers struggle to stay sane amid the daily doldrums one man realizes the real monsters are closer than they appear. Here’s the problem. The film is a commentary on military involvement in the Middle East and elsewhere, which is fine, but that is the majority of what we get here. The monsters of the title are glimpsed frequently, but they’re nothing more than background noise bearing no impact or weight on the story or characters. Worse, the character drama filling the running time is never all that interesting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
A group of rambunctious teens party hard in some spooky woods, but when Paige returns home she quickly realizes she’s brought something back with her. So much for leaving only your footprints and taking only your memories. An evil spirit begins causing havoc at home, and as she digs into its history and desires she moves ever closer to falling victim to his blade. The film earns points for adding more depth to the typical teens vs ghost thriller, but it feels far too cheap throughout from the acting to the effects to the cinematography. That amateur feel neuters any hope of suspense or scares too.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scenes, outtakes]
Michael is a recovering alcoholic working on his second novel, but the frustrations of writer’s block are nothing compared to the oddly harassing phone calls he begins receiving late at night. A voice repeats “Remember me?” before hanging up, and as the strange events continue to grow Michael grows closer to a truth he might not want to believe. Judd Nelson and Tom Sizemore appear here in small supporting roles, but they’re not enough of a reason to watch. The reveal is fairly uninteresting and executed with a severe lack of suspense, and the journey to that point is more frustratingly dull than anything else.
[DVD extras: None]
Daniel Holden was released from prison after nineteen years when DNA evidence forces the overturning of his conviction, but barely tastes freedom before being beaten into a coma by men in masks. Season two picks up with Daniel still unconscious in the hospital, but when he wakes the dramas begin anew with his family and the townspeople divided as to whether or not he’s an innocent or guilty man. The drama is still strong,, but it doesn’t feel as powerful as it did in season one. It’s not for lack of performances as the cast still does tremendous work here, but the season does grow to be more story-focused this time around. One of the first season’s strengths was that it avoided the expected narrative and instead thrived on the emotional currents. Here though the “mystery” is given more time than the humanity. It’s still entertaining and compelling television though that far exceeds what the networks are delivering.
[DVD extras: Featurette]
Rural China in the ’40s is a rugged and dangerous place due both to the country’s ongoing civil war and the roving bands of bandits who pillage and destroy with impunity. A captain in the People’s Liberation Army decides enough is enough, and with the support of his small but talented squad he decides the time has come to bring the fight to the villains’ own doorstep. Unfortunately, it’s a highly precarious doorstep as the bad guys operate out of a remote and precariously-located mountain lair. The cast of characters is immense on both side of the moral divide, but only a few of them are given emotional beats. Instead the focus is on the heroic antics of the captain’s team with the spy, Yang, coming off like a dashingly acrobatic Indiana Jones-type as he works his way into the enemy before having to fight his way out. There’s all manner of gunplay, explosions and energetic fights, and it’s there where the film and director Tsui Hark find their strongest footing ‐ provided you can swallow some occasionally sketchy CG.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Falling Skies: The Complete Fourth Season, Free the Nipple, Killing Jesus, The Legend of Longwood, McFarland USA, New Worlds, Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Fifth Sason, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Wish You Well
Related Topics: Home Video