‘Boardwalk Empire,’ ‘Parks and Recreation’ and Two Criterion Titles are the Best New DVDs of the Week
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Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was a massive cross-Atlantic hit in the early 1990s, helping to launch the global career of Antonio Banderas. Following an obsessive but charming former mental patient (Banderas) as he captures a porn star (Victor Abril) so that she learns to fall in love with him, the dark comedy was the import of the season on summer movie screens 24 years ago, accompanyingWomen on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown as the one-two punch that made Almodovar an arthouse fixture. While Almodovar has gone through various stylistic phases since, Tie Me Up remains a prime example of his unique propensity for comic chaos that plunges unabashedly into the trenches of sexual id.
The film’s success can be credited in part to its massive controversy: its sexual content threatened its US release with an X rating, which began a lawsuit that resulted in the creation of the NC-17 rating. The story behind the film is thus as much a part of it as the film itself, and Criterion justly adorns this set with a collection of new special features that illustrate how the film changed the career of those in front of and behind the camera, with Almodovar thankfully present across all of them. Hopefully this first release of Almodovar’s work promises many Criterion treatments of the Spanish auteur to come. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: A new documentary on the film featuring Almodovar and Banderas; new interview with Almodovar and the copresident of Sony Pictures Classics; 2003 conversation between Almodovar and Banderas; footage from the premiere; an illustrated booklet with essays, including a conversation with Wes Anderson]
It’s 1924, and Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is alternating between standing tall and licking his wounds after the events of eight months prior. His grip is shaken further by conflicts with new enemies and old friends. His brother Eli threatens to become a problem too, one that just might require drastic measures to fix.
HBO’s ‘20s-set drama took a bit of a dip in quality last season ‐ nothing major, but the stories didn’t feel as compelling or character-driven ‐ but happily season four is a step back in the right direction. That’s good news as the fifth season will be its last. There’s a fine mix of characters old and new this time around, and many on both sides don’t survive to the end as the world of drink, drugs and prostitution continues to be a terrifically violent and dangerous one. Some of you may be happy to know that HBO’s mandate that all of their dramas feature copious female nudity remains intact, but if you can look past the boobs and butts there are some fascinating dynamics at play here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries]
John Cassavetes made Love Streams after being diagnosed with lung cancer and given six months to live. While it technically wasn’t his final film (that would be the lamentable Big Trouble), Love Streams breathes with the aura of a filmmaker creating his final testament while face-to-face with his mortal end.
About an aging alcoholic socialite (Cassavetes) reuniting with his estranged sister (Gena Rowlands), Love Streams is both a pure example of and a slight departure for Cassavetes. It is as heartfelt as any film he’s ever made, and bears the affecting results of his innovative and inimitable collaborative style. On the other hand, his style is more reserved, with his camera often stationary, seeing through the broken characters before it with tight close-ups. Love Streams is a film that values small instances as much as big revelations, a film unapologetic for the sincerity and depth of its naked emotional engagement. It’s arguably the perfect summation of a filmmaker devoted to forcing real feelings and moments of lived life onscreen. Essential. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary; video essay on Rowlands; new interviews with cast and crew; 2008 interview with Seymour Cassel; a 60-minute documentary on the making of the film; trailer; illustrated booklet with essays]
The merger between Pawnee and Eagleton is complete, but that doesn’t mean anyone is all that happy with the arrangement. Well, no one but Councilwoman Knope (Amy Poehler) that is. The rest of the office have their own full lives to attend to. April (Aubrey Plaza) is on her own while Andy (Chris Pratt) is off filming Guardians of the Galaxy in London, Ron (Nick Offerman) is becoming far more domesticated than he expected as a husband and step-father and there’s a baby on the way for Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe).
The penultimate season of Parks and Rec deals with some familiar beats, but it never feels tired or overly familiar. Instead the writing and cast keep each episode constantly loose and wonderfully entertaining. That would be enough to make it a winner, but the show is also one of the rare sitcoms capable of finding a sincerity and heart in its characters, something that allows us to invest more than just our funny bones into the series.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel]
Ace Wonder fancies himself a mystery novelist and mystery solver, so when a real-life mystery lands in the ten year old’s lap he’s excited to put his deductive skills to use. This is a family film ‐ both in its offense-free presence and the fact that it’s a family affair in front of and behind the camera ‐ but expectations should be kept in check. The low budget hurts on the casting front as much as it does the visuals as evidenced by an over-reliance on narration and action told via comic book pages. The recent Antboy does a lot of this better.
[DVD extras: None]
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has his hands full just being a snarky teenager, but he’s kept even busier as Spider-Man thanks to an influx of angry ex-friends, nerdy engineers and Russians robbers. Unfortunately for the movie though it’s all far too busy. Villains conveniently and continuously tie back to Peter’s dad and Oscorp, we’re once again inundated with dead daddy drama and the entire thing is a tonal misfire thanks to Spider-Man’s non-stop litany of unfunny wisecracks and sarcasm even as citizens and cops are clearly being injured (if not killed). It’s a mess from beginning to end, and it’s no surprise that Sony pulled the plug on the proposed parts 3 and 4.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of, commentary, music video]
There are grown men who love My Little Pony unironically. This doc takes a look at the phenomenon, but it does so a bit haphazardly by focusing on voice actor Ashleigh Ball. Time away from her is spent with these “bronies” as they work overtime trying to explain or defend their interests. The thing is, while there’s nothing wrong with their affection for the show, they’re never all that convincing in their reasons. There’s a lot of chest-thumping ‐ I’m a mechanic! I’m a body builder! ‐ but they all work so hard to avoid simply saying they like a kid’s show. Ultimately they’re no different than the fans who fill Comic-Con with their costumed passion, but they seem a bit more disingenuous.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
Floravante (John Turturro) is a florist convinced by his longtime friend Murray (Woody Allen) to start a side business as a paid companion for the ladies. Murray takes his cut and Floravante has some fun, but their business plan is threatened when emotions enter the fray. This is a slight affair, but the cast is likable and there are some fun moments throughout. It’s also good seeing Turturro play comedy without having to go as broad as he did in the Transformers films.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]
Alicia Florrick’s (Julianna Margulies) rise up the ladder of corporate and legal success continues to rack up victories and victims. This show is a critical darling, but for me it’s the cast that makes it most appealing. Josh Charles and Alan Cumming in particular stand apart from the conniving crowd.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, music video, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Sunny left her hometown years ago for a reason, but it’s the death of her mother that brings her back only to discover a half-sister she never knew existed. Cotton (Bailee Madison) is a reason to stay, and along with a handful of other stragglers Sunny decides this is her home after all… provided they can keep the town from going extinct. I’ll be honest. The movie plays like a Lifetime Channel production in many ways, and while that may be a positive for some of you it simply isn’t for me. But I’d be lying if I said Madison wasn’t reason enough to watch. The young actor has been in a ton of things already, and she’s wonderfully legitimate.
[DVD extras: None]
Corp. Chris Merrimette and his unit are enlisted to help an Afghan woman escape the country and the Taliban who are trying to shut her down. If you’re wondering why you hadn’t heard about a sequel to the Jake Gyllenhaal war drama from ’05 don’t worry. The filmmakers behind Field of Fire haven’t either. This is a straight-up action flick devoid of the narrative and black comedy on display in Sam Mendes’ film, but if you can take it on its own terms it’s not actually that bad.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
A deep-sea mining rig comes across something alien and deadly on the ocean floor, and soon the team is fighting for their life against a monster that’s mutating, growing and killing them off one by one. One of three ocean-set “monster” movies from the late ’80s (along with Deep Star Six and The Abyss), George P. Cosmatos’ creature feature boasts a fun cast and an entertaining enough experience. The highlight of Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray though is the making-of featurette consisting of interviews with a trio of the film’s effects artists. They’re candid, entertaining and happy to share numerous smile-inducing anecdotes.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, trailer]
Nathan Miller (Will Arnett) is newly divorced, but what should be a time of freedom is ruined when his parents follow his cue and also get divorced. Mom (Margo Martindale) moves in with him, dad (Beau Bridges) wants to scope out some babes together and Nathan? Well he just wants it all to end. Solid cast of leads aside, this CBS sitcom isn’t very consistent when it comes to the laughs. It’s not terrible by any means, but the characters and gags aren’t strong enough to keep you coming back week after week.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, commentary]
Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) returns to NYC after breaking up with her cool pastor boyfriend in Haiti only to find a whole new roller coaster ride of love in the Big Apple. This is funny show, but as is often the case with sitcoms named after the lead most of the laughs come from the supporting cast and characters. Kaling is fine comedian, but she makes her character far more annoying than necessary leaving the door open for the others to shine.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel]
When Jenny visits her father in Italy she expects to fill her time with family bonding and sight seeing, but the nearby lake has other activities in mind for her. First on the list? Meeting some creepy children and discovering the mystery that ties them to the lake. There are some creepy elements at play here, but the eerie visuals aren’t always enough to make the various plot threads come together in any real fashion. It feels at times like YA horror more interested than playing games than developing real terror, but genre fans may want to give it a shot.
[DVD extras: None]
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have been lovers and best friends for a long time ‐ like, multiple centuries long ‐ but the calm and bliss they’ve secured over time is now threatened by Eve’s violently carefree little sister (Mia Wasikowska). Writer/director Jim Jarmusch maintains his penchant for molasses-like pacing but fills the screen with gorgeous visuals and sounds. The two leads are equally engaging, far more than the story and situations around them, and subsequently become the main reasons to watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes, music video]
A college professor intent on debunking the supernatural and curing illness in one fell swoop sets off on an experiment with two students and a cameraman in tow. Their subject, a young woman reportedly suffering from a demon/ghost having taken up residence within her, is the key. Hammer Films continues to try and stage a comeback, but while they’ve had a couple solid titles (Wake Wood, Let Me In, The Woman in Black) this one skews closer to the duds unfortunately. The story isn’t all that engaging, but worse, it’s one of those horror films where every single scare is announced through its obnoxiously loud sound mix.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes]
The death of a child sends the girl’s mother into a dramatic tailspin than lands her on the doorstep of another woman who’s seen her own share of loss. But compassion comes with strings attached, and soon the violence of the past will be revisited in the present. There’s a simplicity to this low-key drama that deserves respect, but it stumbles when it comes to action sequences it has no real grasp on.
[DVD extras: None]
The world is still struggling to regain its footing more than fifteen years after a mysterious event effectively killed all electronics around the globe. Scattered groups of survivors roam North America ‐ some trying to protect a secret and others hoping to control it. The problem with narrative-based series like this one is the risk that the show will be cancelled before the story has been completed. Which leads me to mention that Revolution was not picked up for a third season. It’s unfortunate too as the show is actually an exciting and engaging adventure with some solid characters and plot turns.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, Comic-Con Q&A, deleted scenes, gag reel]
A young married couple move to Paris for the husband’s job, and while things seem fine at first ‐ aside from a mugging attempt and other sketchy moments ‐ Rosemary (Zoe Saldana) begins to suspect something is amiss in the gorgeous new apartment building in which they live. Ira Levin’s novel was already brought to the screen, but it seems someone thought the story needed more than the 136 minutes Roman Polanski’s film gave it back in ’68. It really didn’t.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette]
A pair of Vice journalists head to a remote location in search of a friend’s sister reportedly being held by a cult. Their arrival is met with kindness and a glimpse of a peaceful community, but it quickly becomes apparent that the man in charge ‐ known only as “The Father” ‐ has dark plans for his children. The Sacrament is worth a watch for fans of Ti West, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Seimetz, but its lack of purpose or anything to say limits its staying power dramatically. Some say the world will end with guns and Kool-Aid, others say with sacrifices to the gods, but both work best when we don’t know that they’re coming ninety minutes in advance.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
A gaggle of high school jocks and cheerleaders head to an abandoned house for a post-game party on Halloween, but their fun evening is interrupted by a killer! There are some fun kills along the way, but the characters, script and performances are the expected mixed bag for a direct to DVD horror flick.
[DVD extras: None]
Tarek is a boy without a home. One of thousands of refugees forced to leave Palestine in 1967, he longs to return to the only world he knew and find his father there waiting for him. There’s hard drama to be found here, but there’s more than enough sweetness and hope to keep things entertaining and positive even as moments and intonations of sadness abound. It’s an attractive film too as Tarek moves across a shifting landscape.
DVD extras: Still gallery
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
The Empty Hours
The Girl in a Swing
Like Water for Chocolate
Martial Arts Movie Marathon 2
Once Upon a Time: The Complete Third Season
Parenthood: Season 5
Rampage: Capital Punishment
Toy Story of Terror
Y tu mama tambien (Criterion)