Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
True Detective: The Complete Second Season
A dead man is found alongside the Pacific Coast Highway, and the case draws four people together in surprising and deadly ways. Officer Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is a war vet turned motorcycle cop with secrets in his past and present that he can’t afford to let out. Ex-detective Velcoro (Colin Farrell) works security now but continues to find himself at the mercy of a dirty businessman named Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Finally, Det. Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) avoids her own past by focusing on a very ugly present. The case brings them together even as they all know it’s going to tear them apart.
I didn’t watch season two of HBO’s previously-acclaimed/currently derided series while it aired, but I sure did hear all of your bitching about it. Seeing it now though I can only surmise that you’re all a bunch of idiots. Season two is a different beast from the first so comparisons are meaningless, and taken on its own merits this season is a terrifically-acted, beautifully-shot character study coinciding with a mystery that satisfies even as it feels somewhat overstuffed. The Plot is never less than fine, but it’s also never the focus. These people are. They’re broken, each in their own way, and all but one of them see a light at the end of the tunnel. Some arcs are more satisfying than others, but all four leads shine in their dark, pained performances ‐ yes, even Kitsch and Vaughn. Farrell and McAdams meanwhile elevate themselves even higher though with a pair of intensely charismatic and compelling characters. Ignore the haters, stop comparing to the mystical wonder of season one, and just give this terrific, serialized noir a shot. I swear I’m not just saying this because of my desire to meet Bezzerides in a bar.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries]
Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime
Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are happily married and making their way through life in 1950’s London ‐ she’s addicted to mystery novels, he raises bees ‐ but their lives get a lot more interesting when the pair stumble into a new shared career as crime-solvers. First up, in The Secret Adversary, they cross paths with a young woman who subsequently disappears, and their efforts to find her land them in a world of spies. Next, in N or M?, the sleuthing couple must identify who among a handful of suspects is dealing in stolen weapons of mass destruction.
Agatha Christie’s mystery-loving married couple featured in four novels and a handful of short stories, and they’ve previously hit the small screen in a UK series from the early ’80s. The BBC’s newest series adapts them again, but while the stories are familiar they’re given new sheen and style with attractive production values and fantastic period details. This first season adapts two of Christie’s novels, each across multiple episodes, meaning the stories and characters are given room to breath.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, interview]
Broad City: Season 2
Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Abrams) are twenty-something friends in New York City fighting the good fight for young adults everywhere in their attitudes, sex lives, and poor work ethics. Their comedic adventures see them interacting with naked people, awkward social interactions, and broken air conditioners.
I’m late to the party on this Comedy Central series, but sweet jesus is it hilarious. I may or may not be crushing on Glazer, but even if I am in love with her I’m professional enough to not let those feelings corrupt my appreciation of the show. Her and Abrams are a goddamn delight as they showcase wit, personality, tremendous comedic ability, and a gung-ho/can-do spirit in regard to their sexuality. The gags come fast and furious, and far more of them hit the funny bone than miss it. The scenarios are simple, relateable, and hilarious, and the pair is never afraid to push the limits of good taste ‐ although as gross as some bits are they remain tow classy broads riding high above the messy fray.
[DVD extras: Outtakes, deleted scenes, enhanced episode, featurettes]
Brodie is a strange stranger in a strange land. Forced by familial circumstance to live with conservative cousins in suburban New Zealand, Brodie immediately stands out thanks to his love of heavy metal music. He finds a compatriot in Zakk, a fellow metal-head disinterested in the opinions of others, and along with a pair of all together different outcasts (they’re more Gary Gygax than Anthrax) the new friends form a band destined to shake the bowels of hell. Practice sessions reveal a minor gap between Brodie’s self-purported guitar skills and reality, but his discovery of an unrecorded song from the reclusive lead singer of the legendary death metal band Haxensword promises to up his game. They quickly discover why it was never recorded ‐ everyone in earshot of the music is turned into a demonic, flesh-eating hellspawn ‐ and soon the foursome, along with a perky blond love interest cum ass-kicking female warrior named Medina, are dildo-deep in a battle for their lives.
This is a bloody, head-banging ball of fun, gore and soul-shaking music, and fans of films like Dead Alive and Evil Dead will find a lot to love in its embrace of splattery shenanigans and the idea that staying true to yourself might someday save the world. Writer/director Jason Lei Howden’s feature debut features wet, fun gore effects that leave viewers smiling and the townspeople resembling bipedal flesh slabs prone to being messily stabbed, sliced, ripped, gouged, burned and skewered with sex toys. This is a movie made for midnight screenings, but while its greatest strengths are the laughs and over-the-top gore-drenched action scenes some viewers will be surprised to find a considerable heart beating beneath the grue. Themes of family and friendship are woven throughout, but just as important is the importance of being who you want to be, who you need to be ‐ who you are ‐ in spite of society’s pressures. We’re all people, but that doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Or that we own the same sex toys.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, music video]
Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) designed a social/psychological experiment in the early ’60s that to this day still manages to be a topic of discussion. Two subjects, one answering questions and one shocking them when the answer is wrong ‐ except there’s no actual shocking involved. The second person is in on the experiment which is intended to study the extent to which people will hurt others at the request of authority figures. The world is surprised by the results, but instead of examining the state of humanity many turn on the messenger.
Milgram himself is the focus here, well him and his ground-breaking experiment, and the result is a fascinating look at an experiment everyone knows but few probably understand. Milgram is vilified for “lying” to his subjects but insists ‐ correctly ‐ that illusion is a necessary component. The film takes a similar tact as scenes celebrate the illusion of cinema with shots showing no interest in capturing surface reality ‐ and that’s even before the elephant in the room shows up. There’s nothing revolutionary in its observations, but it’s captivating all the same, and Sarsgaard is part of the reason why. He has a calm power about him, and he captures Milgram’s personal interests and disappointments well.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette, interview]
FBI Agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is in a constant fight with Mexican drug interests that have crossed over into the United States, but after a particularly public encounter she’s recruited by officials from other government agencies to assist in a mission across the border. She finds herself working alongside unknown quantities (played by Josh Brolin and Benicia Del Toro) and working with a minimum of information, and as she peels back the layers she discovers a truth she may not be ready to face.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) delivers 2015’s biggest and best nail-biter with a film that ups the tension, suspense, and stress from scene to scene and delivers a thriller that also doubles as a topical conversation-starter. All three leads are tremendous, and Del Toro gives the year’s best supporting performance, and each of them deliver convincing portraits of morally fractured souls. It’s also a gorgeous film thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins. Set aside a distraction-free couple of hours, turn up the volume, and settle in for a visceral cinematic experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A man returns home early to surprise his wife on their anniversary, but when he walks in on her being pleasured from behind by another man the celebration takes a sour turn. The film is purported to be based on a true story, but while it’s not hard to believe a man has caught his wife cheating before, nearly 90% of this movie exists solely in one character’s imagination. So what’s true about it? As it stands the script uses time jumps to try and manipulate viewers, but it goes to that well far too often.
[DVD extras: None]
Battle for Skylark
Earth is a ravaged wasteland after ecological disasters and the appearance of “monsters,” but while the wealthy have found safety in a spaceship above a rebellion in their midst results in the children of the upstarts being banished to Earth. Honestly, don’t worry about all this backstory. We don’t get to see any of it and instead jump straight to a bunch of kids running around a desert junkyard alongside some very human monsters. The action that follows is low-rent by even direct-to-DVD standards, and the writing and acting fare only slightly better. It’s by all accounts a sci-fi film for kids, but it does nothing really to appeal towards that demographic. Well, aside from teasing a dystopian world complete with a young hero using a bow and arrow. Unfortunately though, neither that nor the film’s lazy catering towards fans of young, female, Asian ass-kickers helps any.
[DVD extras: None]
Cole (Scott Adkins) is a man on the run, but his status as a fugitive isn’t enough to deter him from helping those in need along the way. Currently it’s his niece who’s in trouble ‐ she’s been abducted by members of a Mexican cartel in response to her step-father’s poor judgement. He gets her home safe, but trouble follows both in the form of cartel thugs and a corrupt local sheriff. Trapped on the farmland with his sister and niece, Cole is forced to defend them from an armed onslaught. That’s the extent of the film, and there really are only those two locations ‐ cartel building and farmhouse ‐ with brief only excursions into the surrounding area. There’s no character depth visible on either side of the border or moral divide, and the script is so straightforward as to have you suspect it was actually little more than a treatment. In this regard it’s fairly reminiscent of action cinema from the ’80s and ’90s that cared not a damn about characterization or depth and instead just plopped its action star into a situation and let him fight his way out again, but at least those typically had fun with puffed chests and eccentricities ‐ here it’s all just so drab. Director Isaac Florentine, who helmed some of Adkins’ best action features, delivers on that front once again, but the surrounding film is his least interesting yet. We’re given onscreen text defining how samurai turned into ronin and how some went on to help others, some became outlaws, and some did both, but its meaningless posturing in regard to Cole’s adventure.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Young lovers rebelling against their parents, the man, and society in general take up residence as squatters in an abandoned building, but they’re not the only ones with the idea. It’s a dirty life, and soon it’s also a dangerous one when a viral outbreak begins turning everyone into gross homicidal maniacs. It isn’t found footage, but it’s otherwise a very [Rec]-like thriller with its single building location and contagious illness. That’s not to say it’s anywhere as good as that Spanish gem though. This one prefers gore over scares and never quite becomes all that compelling, but genre fans might enjoy the ride.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, commentary, featurette]
A child plays on the beach in home videos while the boy’s voice over tells us of his dreams for adulthood ‐ where he wants to go, what he wants to be, how he wants to marry his mother ‐ but the man recalling these images seems to have achieved none of the goals of his youth. Instead, Pierre Tardieu works menial jobs and lives at home with a father suffering from severe Alzheimer’s. He’s broke, he’s lonely and he only knows one outlet for his cycle of depression. He abducts, toys with, and ultimately kills carefully selected victims. Writer/director Eric Cherrière‘s other career is as a celebrated crime novelist, and his debut feature (as director) shows a strong voice at work in its depiction of a sociopath whose only outlet is murder. Genre elements come into play as the police enter the picture, but the majority of the film is focused on Pierre’s thoughts and behaviors. It’s an attractive downer in some ways, meaning it’s more of a dark drama than a thriller, but the look, feel and performances make for an engaging and frequently suspenseful watch. It’s intentionally paced and focused on Pierre’s sad obsession with a time he spent with his mother that exists only in his head, but viewers are never abandoned in the man’s bleak psyche.
[DVD extras: None?]
Flesh and Bone
Claire is new to New York City, but the baggage she’s carrying is far from recent. She’s running from her past towards a future as a ballerina, but the journey is fraught with stress, struggles, and sex. Lots and lots of sex. This Starz series explores the drama inherent in the world of big city ballet, and while the bitchy back and forth feels authentic the politics are equally engaging. Claire’s past traumas aren’t quite as compelling, but they’re kept as a subplot more than anything else. The nudity and sex come fast and frequent though, so heads up in case you try watching this with your dance-loving relatives.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
The Green Inferno
A group of stupid “Americans” head to Peru on a mission to save parts of the jungle and a tribe that lives along the Amazon river, but when their plane crashes they find themselves at the mercy of the natives. Eli Roth’s modern-day nod to the cannibal films of exploitation past delivers some gory goods in the second half, but goddamn is every other moment a slog. The script is terrible, and most of the cast follow suit resulting in characters who move continually between idiocy and annoyance. None of them make even the slightest effort to fight back and instead take the violations with only screams in response. The script also goes out of its way to make one character intoa villain, and not only is it excessive and ridiculous, but we’re cheated out of seeing him suffer. It’s a basic element of exploitation, but Roth completely misses the boat there. He also seems unsure what message he wants to send in regard to the characters’ intentions and morality ‐ unless the message is that everyone is an idiot and an asshole.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
The House Where Evil Dwells / Ghost Warrior (Scream Factory)
A family moves to Japan and has the misfortune of making their home in a haunted house in The House Where Evil Dwells. A centuries old samurai, long ago frozen in ice, is restored to life with deadly results in Ghost Warrior. Scream Factory’s latest double feature pairs a couple of Asian-infused American genre films from the ’80s, and each have their strengths and weaknesses. The former ‐ available here with a new HD transfer ‐ is a tale of ghosts, infidelity, and a lack of impulse control. There are some fun bits including a crab attack that manages to be both silly and effective, but the ghost effects and drama underwhelm. The latter releases an ancient man into modern society and finds the expected tragedy therein, and it has fun with the action as he chops his way through human obstacles along the way.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A group of friends vacationing in Panama take a side trip to a forbidden waterfall only to discover the reason why they were warned away in the first place. That’s right. Chupacabras. One by one the visitors are taken down by the snarling beasts, and it’s anyone’s guess if anyone will survive the night. Well, the chupacabras probably know the answer, but they’re not talking. This generic monster flick amounts to little more than a jungle-set riff on The Descent, but as is often the case with riffs it lacks most of what made that other film so damn good. The characters are uninteresting and both the suspense and scares are non-existent.
[DVD extras: None?]
Infinitely Polar Bear
Cam (Mark Ruffalo) suffers from bipolar disorder, but he refuses to let it get in the way of his being a husband and a father. Well, he tries anyway, but his wife (Zoe Saldana) isn’t so sure he’ll succeed. Writer/director Maya Forbes’ film is a heartfelt look at what it takes to make a family work with struggles both typical and extreme, and while all the performances are effective this is Ruffalo’s show. He manages to be endearing even as his actions frustrate, and even though the fighting and yelling grows old his efforts remain more than engaging.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, Q&A]
A young couple takes ownership of a remote bed & breakfast only to discover the walls contain a myriad of secrets. This chiller shows promise thanks mostly to the first two acts teasing a variety of threats. At various times we’re teased with the possibility of ghosts, mad killers, hiders in the house, and home invaders, and the possibilities work to leave viewers mildly on edge as to what’s actually coming next. Unfortunately the execution can’t support the setup, and as the actual story comes into play it’s undeniably disappointing.
[DVD extras: None?]
Five friends reunite to bury one of their own, but they soon discover his torture and murder was only the beginning. Someone, somewhere, knows what they did last summer. Okay, technically it was a few summers ago, but the either way that someone is still upset about it. This slasher follows a familiar and potentially effective formula in its setup but bungles the execution with sketchy acting and an unnecessarily convoluted script. There are some solid practical effects, but they’re not worth watching the film to see.
[DVD extras: None]
Little Dead Rotting Hood
A small rural town begins losing residents to a murderous wolf, but the sheriff soon discovers there’s an even greater evil hiding out in the forest. Magic, a girl in a cape, and a lupine cock blocker all come together in a film that feels like an R-rated Syfy movie. That’s not a compliment. Eric Balfour collects a paycheck, so that’s cool, but there’s nothing of real value here. Plus, it’s fine if you want have some pun fun with your title, but let’s limit it to just one word at a time okay?
[DVD extras: Making of, featurette, gag reel]
Memories of the Sword
Hong-yi has been training since childhood for something very special. Her parents were murdered when she was just a baby, and the blind woman who’s raised her has worked to prepare the girl for a mission of revenge. Somewhere out there are the two people responsible for making her an orphan, and when Hong-yi is ready she’ll use her finely honed fighting skills to end their lives. But how will she know when she’s ready? When she can leap over the tallest sunflower in the field, obviously. The film applies Hong Kong’s wuxia style of martial artistry to tell its slice of pseudo Korean history, and it lets you know right off the bat (via that sunflower leap) just how committed it’s going to be to the use of wire-fu. Very. ‘Very’ is how committed it’s going to be. It’s not a deal-breaker though as the action is well-choreographed, the production design is visually exciting and the story is just compelling enough.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Mitch (Scott Eastwood) is living a dead-end life until he finds purpose as part of a radicalized border patrol group. That’s what he’s told he signed up for anyway, but the truth is far simpler and based more on greed than xenophobia. Things sour quickly, and soon Mitch is fighting to return to that boring life again. Eastwood is still coming into his own, but at this stage he displays his father’s looks more than the man’s gritty charisma. The bigger issues though include a roster of characters who fail to engage in their personality or action and some peculiarly dull editing decisions.
[DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes]
Over Your Dead Body (Scream Factory)
A newly entwined couple take roles in a stage production of a legendary tale, but soon the emotional turmoil and physical violence move off the stage and into real life. Takashi Miike is an incredibly inconsistent director, but when he’s on he’s on ‐ The Mole Song, Lesson of the Evil, Happiness of the Katakuris, Visitor Q, Audition, Fudoh ‐ but this is not an example of that. The glacier-like pacing drags, and the lack of anything compelling fails to make it worthwhile. The story feels far too basic with nothing to elevate it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
An American (John Cusack) visits Japanese-controlled Shanghai in the months before Pearl Harbor to investigate the death of a friend, but the mystery he digs into reveals itself to be far bigger than the murder of one man. This 2010 film got an unceremonious burial from the Weinsteins but is finally seeing the light of day with an equally subtle release on home video. The sad thing is it’s an attractive film that would have benefited from being seen on the big screen, the cast is equally appealing (Cusack, Chow Yun-fat, Gong Li, David Morse, Ken WatanabeFranka Potente, Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and perhaps most importantly, it’s an okay film! Far worse hits theaters every week.
[DVD extras: None?]
Sleeping with Other People
Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) shared a one-night stand over a decade ago, and when they meet again they discover that they have something else in common too. Neither is able to stay in a monogamous relationship. Knowing their own proclivities, the pair make a deal to be friends without privileges, but their genitals have a different opinion. This is a sexier rom-com than most, and it manages some laughs too thanks to sharp writing and a killer cast ‐ including Adam Brody, Jason Mantzoukas, Amanda Peet, and Adam Scott ‐ but the romance part of the genre never quite shines through. Still, it’s funny.
[DVD extras: None]
Donna is happily married and expecting their first child, but an act of kindness towards a mistreated pit bull leads her physically ravaged and faced with a tragic miscarriage. Weeks later, while still recovering from the dog attack, she finds a pit bull (mix) puppy in the park that’s been beaten, set on fire, and left for dead. Still suffering nightmares from her earlier ordeal, she steps up in an effort to save the puppy’s life and find it a home. This tale is based on a true story, and the core of the film succeeds as a message movie about compassion and empathy. It’s positive attitude is commendable, but those good intentions come packaged with inconsistent acting, some clumsily-delivered proselytizing, and a distracting pair of drawn-on eyebrows. The anti-animal abuse message trumps those issues, but they do make for a less engaging watch.
[DVD extras: None]
Who hasn’t wanted to ship their kids off at one time or another for a relaxing week free of responsibility? Becca and Tyler’s mom has finally gotten that opportunity after fifteen years of being a mother. She left home nearly two decades prior without ever looking back or reconnecting with her own parents, but now they’ve reached out expressing an interest in meeting and getting to know their grandchildren. She puts budding filmmaker Becca and rapper-in-training Tyler on a train and heads off on vacation, but while she’s having fun in the sun her kids are entering something of a nightmare. Nana and Pop Pop are old, weird, and just slightly off, and soon the kids are dealing with knives, fecal matter, and ovens that refuse to clean themselves. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest does manage a couple genuinely creepy moments, but they’re overshadowed by poorly-handled found footage gibberish, terribly-written characters, and a twist you’ll see coming two states away. Both kids ‐ the characters more so than the actors ‐ are wholly obnoxious and far from convincing, the jump scares are telegraphed in advance, and not a single dramatic beat succeeds.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of]
Not only has Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) done something that many would have thought impossible, but it’s also something that will never be accomplished again. He walked a tightrope ‐ several times back and forth ‐ between the rooftops of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. Robert Zemeckis’ latest explores Petit’s obsession from his early days up through his crowning feat. 2008’s Man on Wire covered this pretty thoroughly in documentary format, and the narrative feature has nothing new to add aside from its visuals. Gordon-Levitt’s performance is somewhat annoying, his narration (from atop the Statue of Liberty) is intrusive, and it’s difficult to fully feel his dream. The third act is more engaging thanks to its heist-like shenanigans as Petit and his team set their plan in motion, but the effects continually stand out as Effects! and never manage to make the world feel real. The film does find a mournful affection for the WTC, but it’s fleeting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
Two young friends on a road trip find themselves terrorized by a trucker. It’s like Duel, but with nothing resembling suspense or engaging film-making and two flat performances standing in for Dennis Weaver. It even copies Spielberg’s film beat for beat at times, but again, without any of his skill or passion. The drive feels dragged out between scenes of mayhem, and as things wind towards its expected fiery conclusion it does so a full tank of bland predictability.
[DVD extras: None]
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, Captive, The Complete Lady Snowblood (Criterion), Crying Wolf, Fantomas, Full of Grace, Hell and Back, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, The Legend of Wasco, Luther 4, Lyfe’s Journey, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Stock Option
Related Topics: Home Video