Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.
Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) has made a series of poor decisions of late with the most recent one seeing her sentenced to several months of house arrest in the home where she grew up, and the prospect of living beneath the same roof as her mom is more terrifying than jail. The two clash almost immediately, but their battle of wills is interrupted by the realization that the house may be haunted by the restless spirit of a teenage girl who was murdered there before Kylie’s mom bought the place. With the help of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a security guard with a belief in the supernatural, she sets out to identify the murderer and set the trapped spirit free. It should surprise no one that this may not be a wise decision.
I’m not sure what New Zealand has been pumping into their water supplies, but this makes the second film from the country this year to deliver an immensely entertaining mix of horror and comedy. The other one, What We Do In the Shadows, puts a much heavier focus on the laughs than it does the thrills, but Housebound is still a frequently funny film that also happens to feature plenty of scares and overall creepiness. The pair will make for a damn fine double feature once they’re both available, but for now fans of high energy scares with personality should definitely give this one a spin. [My full review.]
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]
22 Jump Street
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent undercover to infiltrate a drug dealer and find the supplier on a school campus, but their friendship is tested when only one of them gets in with the cool kids leaving the other to twist in the wind. They’re forced to get past their individual hang-ups over what school was like for them the first time, rediscover what it was that made them such good friends in the first place and then bring down the bad guys through a combination of teamwork and irresponsible shenanigans. Yeah, it’s a sequel.
Laughs and structural criticism aside Lord and Miller continue to prove themselves as expert practitioners of all things energetic and fun, and they’ve once again found highly capable collaborators in Hill, Tatum and the rest of the cast. All of the returning players do great work here, but the highlight (among 110 minutes of highlights) is newcomer Jillian Bell as Maya’s straight-faced roommate constantly knocking Schmidt’s non-youthful appearance. Her delivery is perfection. The film also holds attention and focus even as it runs close to two hours thanks to the directors’ trademarked momentum and electric pacing. The biggest complaint I have about this Blu-ray release is that there appears to be no gag reel. [My full review.]
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary, no goddamn gag reel]
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The annual summer fair was in town, and one of the newest features was a man named Caligari and his “friend” Cesare the Somnambulist. It seems Cesare has been asleep for 23 years, but Caligari is able to wake him into alertness during which the mysterious man can answer any question about the future or the past. The night of their first performance also sees the the town clerk murdered, but it isn’t until the following evening that people start to grow suspicious.
Silent films can be something of a mixed for modern audiences as the incessant score and lack of dialogue can make it difficult to hold the attention, but The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, much like Nosferatu, avoids that problem through its tone, atmosphere and at times mesmerizing visuals. It’s very much a dream that we’re made privy too, one that engages our senses and on a couple occasions maybe even raises the hairs on our necks, and while we’ll never replicate the effect that audiences must have felt back in 1920 it remains a memorable experience. Kino’s remastered Blu is a marvel to behold too as evidenced by the included featurette offering a glimpse at the process. [My full review.]
Blu-ray/DVD extras: Booklet essay, documentary, additional music score, image gallery
It Happened One Night (Criterion)
I’m going to be (ahem) frank here ‐ I rarely enjoy the films of Frank Capra. Sure, It’s a Wonderful Life is entrancing around Christmastime and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a stirring portrait of what politics might look like in an ideal world, but the sentimentality that characterizes his work creates a vaguely nostalgic fiction not unlike a Norman Rockwell painting, an ultimately a naïve refusal to deal with the complexity of human nature.
Eschewing grand nationalist or humanist themes, It Happened One Night finds Capra humbly doing what he did best but also all too rarely: delivering graceful entertainment. Featuring performances by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert that define “star turn,” the film stages a romantic tango of wits between two self-assured figures on the other side of a class fence: a populist journalist and a privileged socialite. A reminder that romantic comedies once represented the smartest, most elegant filmmaking that Hollywood had to offer, It Happened One Night is a masterpiece of the classic studio style, packed with iconic laugh-out-loud set pieces that are timeless for a reason. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: A conversation between Molly Haskell and Philip Lopate about screwball comedies; interview with Frank Capra, Jr.; feature documentary about Capra’s career; Capra’s first film; AFI’s tribute to Capra; an illustrated booklet with essay]
As the Lights Go Out
The members of a Hong Kong fire department face off against a large, unpredictable fire in a power station, but the danger is magnified by the personal troubles between them. This is a star-studded affair with Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue, Andy On and others going toe to toe with each other and the flames, and the fire-filled scenes work thanks to suspenseful staging and top notch effects. Less successful are the interpersonal dramatic beats ‐ a la Backdraft ‐ that see the men constantly arguing over inconsequential things while the fire and explosions blast nearby.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
It’s the future, and Antonio Banderas plays an insurance investigator tasked with looking into cases where robots supposedly disobeyed one or both of their protocols. They can’t harm life or allow harm to come to any life, and they can’t repair or modify themselves. His latest investigation reveals a flaw in the system that just might mean the end of life as we know it. The setup and premise here are actually interesting and well crafted, but as the plot unfurls it becomes less engaging. The ideas are sound, but the execution is not resulting in a film that grows more cumbersome when it should be building towards something exciting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Joao de Santo Cristo was just a boy when he watched his father be murdered by a corrupt, racist cop, but when he came of age he took justice into his own hands. Now years later he sets off to a new town for a new life, but his attraction to violence continues and soon he’s involved with a beautiful woman, selling drugs and being targeted by murderous thugs. The film is well-acted and shot, but the story feels far too rote to be truly compelling. Still, sometimes style and performances are enough.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
An expectant couple find themselves trapped in an odd town cut off from the outside world by a plastic bubble and populated by people who act like automatons incapable of actual interaction or variety. They work to find a way out and discover some kind of presence in the sky that seems to be in control. It feels very much like an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, but while it has a suitably mysterious premise it’s not quite enough to justify its feature length. There’s a lot of downtime where Mark and Cathy are hiding out or driving around, and we’re given multiple, repeated examples of the townspeople’s odd behavior without adding anything new to the mystery. The script also falters with its characters a bit in that the trio’s reactions to what is clearly a very messed up situation never ring remotely true. [My full review.]
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 3-D and 2-D versions, essay, screenplay excerpts, alternate opening]
Harry was just a young boy when he watched his mother do dirty things with Santa Claus, but now as an adult he’s working to make the holiday a time of goodness and purity once again. He works at a toy factory, makes note of which boys and girls have been good or bad and maybe, just maybe doling out some coal in the form of murder. The title and marketing imply far more of a slasher vibe than the film actually delivers, but what we do get is a dark, violence-tinged exploration of depression and madness. It’s actually good stuff, and Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray presents it all with a fantastic new 4K restoration and extras including a commentary track from John Waters.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, screen tests, storyboards]
The Dark Half
Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) writes literature, but he’s also the author behind a series of best-selling pulp novels. When his identity is revealed he makes a big deal of letting his pseudonym die, but “George Stark” (still Hutton) has other plans. Soon everyone associated with the situation is being murdered, and all of the evidence points to Thad. Stephen King’s novel gets a solid adaptation from George Romero delivering a lot of good thrills along the way, and a supporting turn from Michael Rooker is always a safe bet too.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, behind the scenes, storyboards]
If I Stay
Mia’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) on top of the world ‐ she’s a musical prodigy with interest from an exclusive academy, the finest boy in all of Portland is obsessed with her, and her family is absolutely adorable ‐ until a car crash takes it all away. Well, it takes away the family, but the other stuff is totally still there, and now Mia has to decide if she wants to follow her parents into the afterlife or if she’ll stay on Earth where success and true love awaits. I wonder if she’ll stay. The performances here are good, but the movie is a bust.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary, music video]
Into the Storm
The town of Silverton becomes ground zero to a series of monumental storms that drop multiple tornadoes onto the populace below, and it’s all captured on security cams and handheld cameras operated by storm chasers and high school kids. That’s not true. Much of the film is presented via the found footage format, but it abandons the idea several times throughout. The bigger issue though is the script that fails to make any of the characters or situations compelling or interesting. There are some solid effects set-pieces for those of you really into storms and their subsequent destruction though, so that’s something.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Allan Mann is struck by a truck and left paralyzed from the neck down, and his recovery process is long and arduous. It’s made somewhat easier with the aid of a helper monkey trained to assist in his needs, but what he doesn’t know is that the little simian has been receiving special treatment from a mad-ish scientist that turns the animal into a murderous beast. George Romero delivers some legitimate suspense with the premise, and the effects team do great work with the monkey too.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, alternate ending, deleted scenes, behind the scenes]
Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings
The legendary demon returns for vengeance once again, but this time he’s fueled by the death and soul of a murdered teen. Luckily, the town’s mayor (Roger Clinton) is on the case. I kid, he’s just a bit player here, but he remains a humorous highlight. Andrew Robinson and Ami Dolenz are the father/daughter leads here, but they’re notable to help the film in any real way. The title creature remains a cool creation, but the film lacks the raw heart of the original. It does still have a gaggle of dim-witted “teenagers” playing the roles of victims though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
A Norwegian archaeologist obsessed with the legend of Ragnarok ‐ the end of the world ‐ struggles to understand a series of clues he thinks will lead him to the answer. With colleagues and children in tow, he sets off into a remote part of the country and discovers that some answers are protected by large, unforgiving beasts hungry for human flesh. This is a fun-enough little adventure, like an edgier Journey to the Center of the Earth, and it delivers a healthy dose of action and thrills. The script feels short-changed at times in preparation for the next big set-piece, but Pål Sverre Hagen is a great actor deserving of big movies and recognition so I’m not complaining.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
An American couple (Ryan Phillippe and Rachelle Lefevre) incapable of having children of their own adopt a young girl orphaned in a Haitian earthquake, but while waiting in Puerto Rico for the paper work to be completed the child goes missing. Could John Cusack and Jacki Weaver have something to do with the disappearance?! The onscreen text at the end would have you believe this is some kind of anti-human trafficking effort, but it’s actually just a competently-made thriller. It’s mildly entertaining and immediately forgettable, but it’s always interesting yet sad watching Cusack’s strange career continue to twist in the wind.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, behind the scenes, interviews, music video]
Robot Chicken: Christmas Specials
It’s an hour’s worth of stop-motion holiday madness, and you’re either on-board or you’re not. Gags and jokes come flying fast and furious, and every other one or so lands making for a fun time. The humor is consistently inappropriate, obviously, but there are enough laughs here to warrant a rental.
[DVD extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes]
The Wind Rises
Jiro has dreamed about flying since he was a child, and now as an adult he finds inspiration in his imagination to fuel his designs as an aeronautical engineer. His focus on crafting machines capable of soaring through the sky blinds him to the ultimate purpose behind his creations, and the Japanese Zero is born leading to untold carnage and death in the organized mayhem of WWII. Hayao Miyazaki’s latest (and probably last) film is far more grounded than his previous fare, but the wonder of the man’s artistic vision remains. It’s a visual marvel complemented by fantastic sound design, but as impressive as it all is on a sensory level the narrative and emotional content falls short.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
20,000 Days on Earth
And So It Goes
The Dirt Bike Kid
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (UK)
Legends of the Knight
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Related Topics: Home Video