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Barry (Jay Gallagher) goes to bed a happily married man with a lovely wife and precocious daughter, but he’s woken in the middle of the night to a world that’s no longer so pleasant. Something in the air is affecting the majority of the population in a very specific way ‐ they’re turning into ravenous, murderous zombie-like creatures interested only in tearing you limb from limb. A call from his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), reveals that she somehow avoided the airborne plague, but his wife and daughter aren’t as lucky. Alone, furious at the world and unaware that Brooke has been abducted by a mad scientist and his military stooges, Barry heads out into this bloody new world in search of his sister and some answers.
There are surface elements in here that feel familiar ‐ the “monsters” have a distinct 28 Days Later-vibe to them, the energetic camerawork echoes Dead Alive-era Peter Jackson ‐ and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking movies about the zombie apocalypse have passed their saturation point, but creativity, talent and personality go a long way towards making the mundane feel fresh and exciting. This Australian import is proof of that.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, behind the scenes, deleted scenes]
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is an independent woman in a time when such things were considered to be nonsense, and as she works her way through life she draws the attention of three distinctly different men. One is a down on his luck shepherd (Matthias Schoenaerts), an older, more established farmer (Michael Sheen) and an officer (Tom Sturridge) in the army. An inheritance leaves her in control of a large farm estate, and she continues on choosing to be true to herself as she works through her feelings on the men.
Thomas Hardy’s literary classic gets a very attractive and lush adaptation, and unlike some recent period films it captures the romance not just of the characters but of the atmosphere as well. The story does feel a bit rushed at times, but we’re never lost amid the flow of drama, love and country antics. The film also points out how difficult it was for sheep in the late 19th century.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, interview]
Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) is a Navy pilot on his greatest mission yet ‐ to pilot a craft that’s been shrunk to microscopic size ‐ but when nefarious meddlers interfere Tuck and his ship end up in an unlikely place. THat’s right, they end up in Martin Short. Short plays Jack Putter, a hypochondriac goofball most definitely not suited for action, but with Tuck in his ear and the beautiful Lydia (Meg Ryan) in his eyes Jack begins the greatest adventure of his nervous little life.
Joe Dante’s output in the ’80s is untouchable ‐ The Howling, Gremlins, The ‘Burbs ‐ and this fun, exciting sci-fi comedy fits comfortably in among them. It takes great advantage of its three stars’ strengths and delivers real laughs alongside fast, frantic sci-fi-themed escapades. Short is the source of most of the film’s laughs, but it’s fun seeing Quaid and Ryan in their element too.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
John (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Danish immigrant to the American West who after years of establishing himself has finally brought his wife and young son over to join him. The family is reunited only briefly though before two scoundrels insert themselves into the mix and alter their lives forever. John gets his immediate revenge, but his actions trigger an explosive and cruel response from a local thug (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that shakes an entire town to its core.
It has to be said right off the bat that CG fire can suck a dick. There’s a bunch of it here, and it looks ridiculous every single time. That aside though, this is a deliciously dark, brutal and sharply-shot Western. There’s a Cemetery Without Crosses feel to much of it ‐ cowardly townsfolk, Eva Green as a vindictive and mute princess and a shotgun blast of indiscriminate violence across the land. You just have to ignore that damn cartoon fire.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, behind the scenes]
Great Britain’s secretive anti-terrorist organization, Section 20, faces a crisis when one of their own is killed by an ex member of their own team. Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) are dispatched to Colombia for the beginning of an assignment that will see them kicking ass and taking names from Russia to the Middle East.
This is the third season as a Cinemax series but the fourth overall, but regardless of how its listed numerically one thing remains consistent ‐ the action sequences are fantastic. More than that, the series prides itself on imbuing the action with authentic, realistic tactics that ultimately make the scenes far more entertaining and effective than even Hollywood can often achieve. Winchester remains something of a cold performer, but he acts as a good balance to Stapleton’s far more easy-going antics. Ten episodes is just the right length as it allows the story to move in fresh directions and characters to grow familiar without any of it becoming stale.
[DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Jake (Nick Kroll) is a bit of a big city ass to those around him, but when karma comes calling he’s forced to swallow his pride and take shelter with his sister’s (Rose Byrne) family in suburbia. The story beats here are pretty familiar ‐ jerk wakes up to become a better guy ‐ but Kroll and Byrne make it highly enjoyable throughout. Kroll’s character feels like a natural extension of his usual shtick (The League) though, so if you already know that’s not for you then this isn’t either. But seriously, everyone should watch everything with Byrne in it ‐ she’s an incredibly talented comic actress when given the chance, and this is one of those times.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Daisy and her brother survived a terrible ordeal only to be left in the desert with a taste for human flesh, and now years later they’ve turned from victims to killers. John Doe is just another man destined to be dinner except that he has a secret of his own ‐ okay, it’s not a secret, he’s also a killer. This might just be a match made in hell. It’s always fun seeing a film that allows its leads to exist well outside the normal protagonist confines, but there still needs to be something about them that appeals to viewers. That something is non-existent here.
[DVD extras: None]
Megan (Hailee Steinfeld) is a teenager with a secret. Since being orphaned as a young girl she’s been trained as part of a top secret organization of teenage spies and assassins. Curious about the lives led by normal kids she fakes her death on a mission, enrolls herself into a school and host family and begins experiencing what it means to be normal. Her past comes calling though when her old boss (Samuel L. Jackson) and main nemesis (Jessica Alba) find a way into her new life. There’s some fun to be had with this self-aware mash-up of James Bond and Mean Girls, but it never manages to stand out in either half. The action is just okay, the jokes mostly mediocre and the overall effect is one of slight entertainment.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, commentary]
A rogue cop and a crook hoping to make one last score become unlikely allies when a terrorist organization plans the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Taiwan’s popular television series gets a prequel film, but even those of us with no knowledge of the show will find a lot to enjoy here. It feels at times like a mash-up of Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard ‐ meaning the cop at the center of it all has a humanity about him even as the movie puts him into ridiculous, CG-heavy situations. There’s a lot of CG, and a lot of it is poorly done, but there’s also a ton of practical action including some stunts and solid fight scenes. And FYI, the original subtitle was (and still is outside of the West) The Dawn of Justice.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
A mysterious black box waits to be discovered by people in need, but at what cost? A very high cost it turns out ‐ resist and Kevin Sorbo will find you and shoot you where you stand. The story has a fun, Twilight Zone-like appeal to it in theory, but the execution leaves everything to be desired. It’s unnecessarily convoluted and surprisingly dull, and while it’s always great seeing Brad Dourif his brief turn here isn’t worth the oddly uninteresting slog around him. Curiously, one of the subplots involving a pair of strangers who meet for a suicide pact engages strongly before the box enters their tale.
[DVD extras: None]
Adam (Brendan Fraser) has lived his entire life in a bomb shelter alongside parents who believe the outside world has been destroyed, but three decades later he ventures out and discovers the truth. Armed with the mentality of someone who only knows reality through TV of the ’60s and earlier, Adam discovers his innocence has become a rare commodity. Remember Fraser? This is fun, harmless entertainment showcasing some smartly comedic observations and a strong chemistry between Fraser and Alicia Silverstone.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
A young man (Anton Yelchin) in a bad relationship is relieved when he meets the perfect girl (Alexandria Daddario) right before his bitchy girlfriend (Ashley Greene) is killed by a bus. Unfortunately though his girlfriend isn’t going to let death get in the way of making his life hell. First, the bad news. This is Joe Dante’s worst film. There is no good news. It’s a slighter version of last year’s already slight Life After Beth, and while it’s more violent than that Aubrey Plaza-led zom-com it lacks both laughs and heart. The comedy feels forced both as written and performed, and at no point do we find ourselves affected by the loss of life or the discovery of love.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The town of Pagford is idyllic, proper and a facade for the immoral and devious machinations beneath the surface. J.K. Rowling’s post-Harry Potter novel explores the evils and acts of kindness found in real people, but unlike her YA endeavor the balance is decidedly tipped towards the dark side here. Active malice is out-shined by the willingness of people to allow bad things to happen to others ‐ indifference is the true evil, and Pagford is overflowing with it. The mini-series consists of three hour-long episodes, and it moves at a fast pace. Some characters and story threads are more engaging than others, and the ending doesn’t land the emotional punch it’s so clearly aiming for, but there is some dark enjoyment to be had.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A military policeman (Tom Hardy) in Stalin-era Soviet Union begins to suspect that a serial killer is preying on the country’s children, but government higher-ups uninterested in hearing such accusations banish him to a remote outpost. The new locale doesn’t mute his determination though and soon he’s back on the case. Hardy is worth watching in just about anything, but he and the rest of the cast (Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Noomi Rapace) can’t overcome a dull pace that lacks the energy to make us care. Some moments work, but at nearly 140 minutes there aren’t nearly enough of them.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) was once a sitcom queen, but her days on top of the world are far behind her. When she lands a new sitcom deal it’s packaged with a reality show documenting her comeback. The cameras follow her around hoping to catch drama and laughs, and the reality they capture offers both at Valerie’s expense. This new DVD release collects the existing two seasons of the show ‐ the first from 2005 and the second from last year ‐ and both highlight an honest, only slightly exaggerated look at the Hollywood machine. The show is similar in tone to Ricky Gervais’ Extras and Matt LeBlanc’s Episodes as it mixes comedy with some sad truths.
[DVD extras: Featurette, commentaries, deleted scenes]
Young Hongi is no warrior, but as the last man standing after his tribe is attacked he sets out after the enemy with revenge on his mind. He follows his prey into the Dead Lands, a dense section of the forest home to tales of a monster who eats human flesh, but he soon discovers that his best chance at survival may be an alliance with that very monster. The film finds distinction in its characters and locations ‐ Maori tribes in centuries old New Zealand ‐ and these two factors combine to deliver some unique visuals alongside the action, but unfortunately it’s a wholly generic affair in almost every other regard. There’s a lot of sizzle to be sure including pre-fight displays as the warriors demonstrate traditional expressions, dance-like moves and the art of sticking out their tongues towards their enemies, but once the actual fighting starts though the clashes are presented in the all too common jumble of fast cuts and slow-motion meaning little to none of it is exciting or impressive.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes, interview with James Cameron]
Two young girls murder an infant, but seven years later the pair are released as adults to face the world. When a toddler disappears shortly afterward the two fall under immediate suspicion, but the truth of what’s happening now rests in the truth of what happened then. Elizabeth Banks plays the detective on the case, and she does solid work outside of her normal comedic comfort zone. Equally compelling are Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald as the two young women at the center of the crime. The denouement isn’t quite as compelling as the performances supporting it, but it all works to hold the attention well enough.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Willy is an orca captured in the wild and turned into an aquarium exhibit, but when a young outcast identifies with the whale the two form a bond that no glass wall can contain. This kids classic holds up for its cheer-worthy shenanigans, and in a post-Blackfish world it’s probably an even better watch for the little ones.
[Blu-ray extras: Music video, montage,interview]
Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is a high-powered attorney who also spends time as a law school professor. Each year she selects a handful of students to assist her in actual cases, but this year the wannabe lawyers get far more than they bargained for when they get tied up in cold-blooded murder. This is a fast-moving show that finds entertainment in its various plot turns and events, but it’s also an incredibly manipulative one thanks to chronological jumps back and forth meant to amp up suspense and mystery. It doesn’t always work, especially as the writers continually try to twist every revelation multiple times. Surprises are one thing, but it goes so far out of its way to be unpredictable that it simply grows ridiculous. Still, it’s never dull.
[DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes, music video, bloopers]
Carson was a teenage girl on the road to academic success before suddenly and surprisingly nose-diving into the life of a drug addict. Her parents, hoping to fix their precious daughter, allow a reality show to fund and film an intervention, but the truths caught by the camera have little to do with drugs and everything to do with demonic possession! The film earns points for the punny title, but every other aspect of this found footage horror film leaves viewers feeling unfulfilled. It’s neither scary not engaging beyond the setup, and by the time it goes exactly where you know it’s going you’ll be toying with the idea of a drug-fueled oblivion yourself.
[DVD extras: None]
Deputy Beckett (Thomas Jane) keeps order in his not-so small corner of the Alaskan wilderness, but he finds his authority challenged when his estranged brother, Rowan (James Marsden), returns to town with bad luck in tow. A grizzly bear has begun munching on people in the woods, and when Beckett discovers his deaf wife (Piper Perabo) might be wandering in the hairy beast’s vicinity the brothers head into the forest to execute a rescue and a bear. This one’s worth watching for the fun cast alone which also includes Scott Glenn and Billy Bob Thornton as a local hunter well-practiced in catching bears by their toes, but everything beyond the performers is sadly generic and over-reliant on CG threats. The film can barely stifle a yawn thanks to the excessive CG ‐ it’s especially frustrating because we do get some solid practical effects work showcasing the bear’s handiwork. The cartoon danger is especially prevalent in the finale leaving those last set-pieces drained of suspense or thrills.
[DVD extras: None]
Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four are on the run from Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her thug army hellbent on eliminating anyone capable of multi-tasking in this sequel to Divergent. This series continues to be the most idiotic, dull and least entertaining of the YA franchises ‐ the action is consistently CG-heavy, and the premise is the dumbest dystopian world yet. People break into one of five mandated factions based on their specific skill sets ‐ sorry plumbers, you’re out of a job ‐ but chaos erupts when it’s discovered that some people are capable of doing more than one thing. Madness! The world building here is negligible, and the only interesting element at play is the very end tease of what’s to come in the next film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, commentary]
Greed leads to the creation and release of some formidable reptiles near a small lake, and as local law enforcement struggles to rein in the threat a group of sorority sisters are eaten. Both Lake Placid and Anaconda are fun films that drop talented casts into the fray with creatures brought to life via practical and digital means, but their subsequent sequels quickly deteriorated into cheap, CG-filled, no-name romps that failed to deliver anything resembling entertainment. This unlikely and unrelated crossover continues that trend as cartoon animals share the screen with immediately forgettable characters.
[DVD extras: None]
Sabine (Kate Winslet) is a renowned landscape designer in a time when most women could only dream to attain such professional heights, but there are still numerous limitations for her. Working on King Louis XIV’s (Alan Rickman) raises her up further, but she’s forced to fight for the respect and equalities that come so naturally to the opposite gender. Of course, none of that is as challenging as navigating the minefield of love. Boom! As period pieces go this is definitely one of them. Winslet is always great, and the lush estate and countryside offer grand and beautiful visuals, but the tale being told never truly engages beyond the “plucky woman” setup.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A young woman (Mia Wasikowska), bored with her proper life, sets out on a series of improper excursions with men that most definitely aren’t her husband. Her experiences open her up to new world of luxuries, but as her tastes grow more extravagant her grasp on stability loosens with tragic results. Gustave Flaubert’s literary classic gets a sumptuous adaptation with a talented cast, but it somehow ends up feeling a bit flat. The emotional weight just isn’t there ‐ the necessary elements are, but we just don’t feel the passion beneath the surface.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his older brother Beckett (Luke Kleintank) run small scams to keep their household afloat, but they’re forced to up their game when their father lands in real trouble. Literary inspirations, from William Shakespeare to comic books, worm their way through this light but engaging tale of familial chicanery from writer/director Antonia Bogdanovich, and the brotherly bond is allowed to stay front and center without ever feeling secondary to the plot machinations. That’s a plus, but it also means the characters are more fulfilling than the story.
[DVD extras: None]
A killer captures the sister of his previous victim and subjects her to all manner of terrible, horrible, very bad days. Tobe Hooper’s 2004 “original” is no classic, but it’s Silence of the Lambs compared to this grimy, dimly-lit dud. There’s no attempt at creating character or personality for either killer or victim, there’s nothing resembling suspense or tension, and the whole thing is just incredibly ugly ‐ not in tone, but in actual crappy production design.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill) is a disgraced New York Times writer struggling to find someone willing to take a chance on him again, and he finds opportunity in an unlikely place ‐ a man accused of murder and using the name Mike Finkel. The accused’s name is actually Christian Longo (James Franco), and he’s been charged with killing his wife and three daughters. The two men form a bond on their way to a book deal, but as the truth comes out the friendship begins to crumble. Hill is the reason to watch (along with a supporting turn from Felicity Jones) as he delivers another compelling and dramatic performance, but Franco doesn’t reach the same heights as he always feels a half second away from a smirk. The story itself lacks much in the way of momentum even as it moves towards the end of Longo’s trial because there’s no real suspense over his guilt or fate.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Three cops (Nick Cheung, Lau Ching-wan, Louis Koo) face their most difficult case when a Thai drug lord forces an impossible decision upon them. One of the friends is killed so the others may live, but five years later the two survivors are racked by guilt and still struggling to bring the villain down. Their mission hits a minor snag when their past comes back to haunt them. Director Benny Chan milks the story for every ounce of drama and angst, and he’s helped by three of Hong Kong’s best leads. The film runs a little long (134 minutes), but solid action beats help keep things moving while the characters keep things engaging.
[DVD extras: None]
The Affair: Season One, Always Watching, Any Day, Brother’s Keeper, The Casual Vacancy, Do You Believe?, Night and the City (Criterion), The Nightmare, Orphan Black: Season Three, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal
Related Topics: Home Video