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Four stories of everyday people caught up in the maelstrom that is modern day China. Violence infects their lives, sometimes as victims, sometimes as perpetrators, and none of them will ever be the same again.
Zhangke Jia’s film made my list of 2013’s best foreign language films, and it marks a rare instance where Landon Palmer and I agreed on that assessment. In his own ‘best of’ list he wrote, “A work of national cinema meant primarily for an audience outside of its home nation, A Touch of Sin is a disturbing mosaic of contemporary global China, depicting the excesses and injustices of a country growing through an unprecedented combination of organized labor and capitalist exploitation. A potent combination of genre play and political commentary, Zhangke Jia’s episodic film is as much a masterwork of a tightly controlled, discomfiting tonal range as it is a revealing micro-examination of uniquely 21st-century forms of economic injustice. I believe we’ll be talking about this molotov cocktail of a film for years to come.”
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Pitch: “The True Story of the Most Beautiful Woman in the World”
Glenn Milstead grew up in Baltimore as an overweight little boy who enjoyed dressing up in his mom’s clothing. It should surprise no one that he was a bully magnet at school, but all the beatings he endured couldn’t knock the personality out of him. He eventually hooked up creatively with John Waters and others, and the transformation to Divine was complete. This documentary explores his life and success through clips and new interviews with those who knew and loved him.
If all you know about Divine is that he was a flamboyant drag queen this doc will open your eyes to the man beneath the eye shadow. It’s not about revelations or the sleaze his characters were sometimes associated with, but instead it’s a celebration of a beloved performer who lived life his way. Waters, Tab Hunter, Ricki Lake, and others are the talking heads, and their affection is clear,
[DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, trailer]
A family is drawn back together when their patriarch goes missing, and the dramas of the past are dredged up in verbally explosive fashion. Little known fact, but the original title of Tracy Letts’ play was People Screaming at Each Other. The film is ostensibly about the female family members including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Margo Martindale, but the men (Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, and others) have the far more interesting parts.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, making of, featurette]
Frank Vega (Danny Trejo) fought to clean up his neighborhood last time, but after a young man he mentors turns up dead his need for revenge gets personal. Danny Glover had nothing else happening so he goes along for the ride. This creatively titled sequel is a bit more fun than its predecessor, but that’s saying very little. It’s really for fans of the two Dannys only.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
After a pilot is buzzed by a flying saucer and grounded for thinking it’s alien in nature he’s brought aboard a secret government mission to explore a similar claim in rural China. The team sets out to discover the truth while dodging Communist soldiers. A UFO is at the center of this ’60s flick, but the focus is really on relations between a US team and a Russian team, working together while avoiding the Chinese. A young James Hong is one of the highlights.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A man attempts to discover the truth behind his brother-in-law’s death, but the deeper he digs the more disturbing and distressing his world becomes. Claire Denis’ latest film tells a dark tale, but it does so in an intentionally obtuse way. The final revelations aren’t nearly as shocking as the film thinks they are, but worse, the lazily incoherent narrative means you just won’t care. Skip it and watch Tell No One instead.
[DVD extras: Trailer]
Four friends head to Las Vegas to celebrate Claire’s impending nuptials, and their raucous adventure is all captured on video for our viewing pleasure. Sadly, this attempt at an all-girls Hangover is an unfunny mess. Meaning I guess it’s more of an all-girls Hangover 2? The dialogue and gags are stale, the video camera POV is unnecessary and the selective censoring of some nudity but not all of it is just weird. Skip it and watch Bachelorette instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, featurette, trailer]
18th century England is a messy place, and in the middle of it is a giant of a man named Black Jack who escapes hanging, kidnaps a child, and leads a pair of kids on an adventure. Ken Loach’s 1979 film gets a fine restoration from Cohen Film Collection and tells a grimy children’s tale the likes of which we don’t often see anymore. Its age and low budget means it resembles a TV production more than a theatrical, but it’s a fun, mild adventure for all ages.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, essay]
Four friends in Los Angeles navigate the dating scene with all the subtlety of a Cro-Magnon man clubbing the object of his affection. Skylar Astin continues to pick subpar projects (Pitch Perfect excepted), but he also continues to be oddly appealing. It helps that he’s the only one with worthwhile dialogue here. But would an aspiring screenwriter really not recognize the cliche that is looking for love when your true love is your best friend (Camilla Belle) who’s been there all along?
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Like last year’s Narco Cultura, this documentary takes a cold yet stylish look at a specific time and geographical area where drug culture tore through with destructive power. While that film focused on present day Mexico/California border, this one explores Miami in the ’80s. The film pairs new interviews with archival footage to tell the story of not just an industry but of Miami itself, and it’s a pretty fascinating tale. This new edition adds over an hour of additional footage.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Rocky (Dick Powell) has just gotten out of prison for a robbery he didn’t commit, and he’s interested in finding the people who set him up and the money he allegedly stole. His search brings him in contact with low-life criminals, femme fatales, and everyone in between. Olive Films’ newly restored Blu brings this semi-forgotten noir back into the public eye. Attractively-shot and well-acted, this is a solid piece of early ’50s cinema.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A killer is stalking and murdering young nurses… could the madman be the popular doctor/instructor that the ladies are swooning over? Homer becomes part of a time travel experiment that sends him hopping through time with the apparent purpose of witnessing legendary figures engaging in historical nookie. Vinegar Syndrome once again digs deep to find films forgotten in time in order to clean them up and present them to new audiences. Neither of these will lead to any great re-evaluation of director Eric Jeffrey Haims’ work, but they offer a fun glimpse into early ’70s narrative-style porn.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Blu-ray limited edition includes rare X-rated cut of A Clockwork Blue, available for order here]
Deserters attempt to flee a battle raging on the fields of 17th century England, but the hell they find is far worse than the one they left behind. Ben Wheatley’s latest film eschews narrative structure for a more dream-like experience, but while there are laughs and shocks amid the hallucinogenic atmosphere the overall effect is more trying than fulfilling.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interview, featurettes, trailer, booklet]
Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone play old rivals who’ve never let their grudge rest, and when a wily promoter (Kevin Hart) convinces them to settle their disagreement in the ring hilarity ensues (in theory). Beyond the fact that the two men, while comparably old, are not even close to being physical rivals, the jokes land even more infrequently than their punches. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s definitely lightweight material.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, alternate opening/endings]
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and a whole bunch of whiny dwarves are on a journey to reclaim a homeland and defeat an enormous dragon. Part two of the trilogy Peter Jackson’s making out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 300 page book, this installment is a step up from An Unexpected Journey but still lacks the power of a stand alone film. Still, the film is worth it for Evangeline Lilly and the river scene.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Adam Green and Joe Lynch play the male half of a two couples who live in a horror-themed world. This FearNet sitcom comes from a good place, and both Green and Lynch are likable guys, but it’s a stretch to call this a comedy. The writing is just not funny. There are some fun bits for horror fans though, from the references to the guest stars, they’re just not the laugh out loud kind of fun. Skip it and watch Twin Peaks instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel, behind the scenes, Christmas episode]
A young woman convinces a troubled veteran to help her investigate a remote and highly creepy “church” in the hopes of finding her missing sister. Things do not go according to plan. The pair manage to mix things up a bit from the usual thrillers involving cults, but the resulting story is a bit dry when it comes to the drama and intensity.
[DVD extras: None]
Gillian Kaites is a cop on the run. Why? It’s unclear, but it had something to do with a sting gone bad and the death of her partner/lover. She takes off on an afternoon drive where she stumbles into a scheme involving phony arrests, snuff films, and women in prison shenanigans. This is a hot mess of a movie that at times feels like two different movies, but it works as a goofy and immediately forgettable slice of exploitation. It’s one of the less vintage Vinegar Syndrome titles and their first Troma acquisition.
[DVD extras: Commentary, interview, trailer]
A senator agrees to impregnate a CIA agent, but when their illicit meeting at the Watergate Hotel ends in his failure to perform he discovers erectile dysfunction is the least of his concerns. A two-hour pornographic comedy(?) from the ’70s about dirty politicians and their even dirtier deeds? Of course it’s a Vinegar Syndrome release.
[DVD extras: Commentary, trailer]
Danni (Katrina Bowden) is a new nurse hoping to make a name for herself, but when she catches the attention of head nurse Abby (Paz de la Huerta) the priority becomes simply trying to stay alive. The premise, the trailer, the lead actress… this should have been a far sleazier affair than it is. The bloodletting, nudity, and bonus appearance of Judd Nelson make it worth a watch though for fans of such things.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, commentary, featurette]
A teen uses a video camera to spy on his downstairs neighbor, but after she dies weird occurrences draw him into the abandoned apartment. This is pretty much a sideways sequel to the franchise reportedly aimed at the Latino market. But motivations aside, it’s not a bad movie. It takes some appreciated turns away from the franchise while still layering in some narrative touches that tie them all together. Like the others the scares are limited to one or two creepy scenes, but unlike the others there’s a bit more meat on the bones throughout the rest of it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
The 400 Blows (Criterion)
Ben 10 Omniverse
The Dog Who Saved Easter
Guardian of the Highlands
Justin Bieber’s Believe
Lizzy Borden Took an Ax
Power Rangers Megaforce