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Pick of the Week
Isn’t It Romantic
What is it? A woman wakes after an injury to find she’s trapped in a romantic comedy.
Why see it? The meta premise here is a smart one, and the film delivers more often than not in deconstructing the genre through wit, laughs, and gags. It’s lightweight in its approach, but it earns points for walking the fine line between both critiquing rom-coms and actually being one. Rebel Wilson has never been better, and her supporting cast — Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, and Liam Hemsworth — are all in for the fun. It name drops better rom-coms (ie Notting Hill), but it stands on its own as a sweetly entertaining experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette]
What is it? Romance and drama unfolds in a post-Civil War Boston.
Why see it? Henry James’ classic novel gets the Merchant Ivory treatment, and the result is a beautifully crafted love story. Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Tandy headline a period tale filled with romantic leanings, unrequited feelings, and real heart, and it’s all set against a backdrop with historical significance. Women’s suffrage is a developing theme that in turn informs the relationships in ways both direct and tangentially, and the end result is a striking glimpse into history.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K restoration, interviews]
Earthquake [Shout Select]
What is it? The big one hits Los Angeles.
Why see it? Roland Emmerich’s filmography might feature better visual effects, but the 1970s remain the highpoint for disaster movies in general. This 1974 release shakes the city of Angels with an epic earthquake, and after nearly an hour of setup and character introduction it hits with some strong model work, stunts, and a grimacing Charlton Heston. It’s a solid ensemble piece brought to life by George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree, and others, and various subplots weave throughout until the quake shakes out the survivors. All that plus a wacky cameo by Walter Matthau!
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scans of both the theatrical and TV event versions, featurettes, audio interviews]
What is it? A 5000 year-old body was found frozen atop a mountain in 1991, and this is the story of how he got there.
Why see it? Okay, it’s a dramatized theory of how he could have gotten there, but the result is a pretty great tale of revenge as this Neolithic man comes home from a hunt to find his village and family slaughtered. The film follows his quest for vengeance, and in addition to a thrilling and cathartic tale the movie delivers with some stunning landscapes. Dialogue is kept to a minimum — what little we get isn’t even subtitled — but the emotional narrative is clear all the same.
[DVD extras: Featurette]
Von Richthofen and Brown [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The legendary Red Baron finds competition in a Canadian pilot.
Why see it? Roger Corman’s rightfully thought of as the king of the B movies with a heavy focus on genre efforts including horror, sci-fi, and pure exploitation. This directorial effort from the man himself is pure historical action, and while the character drama at its core is fine the dog-fighting action is pretty fantastic. The air combat comes to life through terrific wide shots and POV action, and it makes for a thrilling watch.
[Blu-ray extras: Interview]
What is it? A young mother reunites with her estranged husband who’s newly released from jail.
Why see it? This mid 60s drama tells a sad tale about a woman whose hope for reconciliation falls on deaf ears. Her husband’s indifference towards her and their child is never less than present, and the chasm between their respective intentions grows ever wider. Lee Remick and Steve McQueen do strong work as wife and husband with the latter delivering an energetic and angry performance, and their collective sadness is both compelling and draining.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? A military veteran takes a job teaching high school.
Why see it? Donnie Yen riffing on Dead Poet’s Society and Dangerous Minds probably seems like a great idea in theory, but in execution the film is a mixed and jumbled bag of fun action beats, mild heart, and a shit ton of preaching about the evils of smoking, Ritalin, and parents who don’t show equal love to their children. Yen’s sincerity is the glue holding it all together — he absolutely believes every lesson here to be important and true — but like his countryman Jackie Chan’s more patriotic endeavors it’s a cringe-worthy watch at times.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Bitter Moon [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A young couple meet another couple aboard a cruise and talk about sex.
Why see it? Sure it’s directed by Roman Polanski, but there are plus sides to the talent roster too in the form of Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas, Peter Coyote, and Emmanuelle Seigner. It’s a sexy little tale of obsession and cruelty in the guise of love, and while half of it plays out in flashbacks — Coyote is narrating his love affair with Seigner — the other half follows the increasingly uncomfortable interactions between the four on board the boat. The end doesn’t quite work, but it’s a saucy ride getting there.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interview]
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
What is it? A boy and his dragon must fend off one last threat.
Why see it? This animated trilogy has been a big success for Dreamworks having grossed $1.6 billion worldwide and spawned its own TV series, and this third (and final?) film highlights why. The characters have matured and grown over the films with this latest seeing the boy (young man) and his dragon a pairing of true friendship. We get heroism, strong relationships, and plenty of action as well. The animation style is its own, more rounded than realistic, and fans of the first two films will find it goes out on a high.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short films, deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Midas Run [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A retired secret agent and a disgruntled American plan a gold heist.
Why see it? Fred Astaire and Richard Crenna play the unlikely pair headlining the film and the heist, and they’re joined by legends like Roddy McDowall and Cesar Romero. The back half is where the fun is, but it’s a bit of a dry ride getting there. Still, seeing this cast involved in heist shenanigans is never a bad thing.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
What is it? A ship becomes the focus of attention on both sides during World War II.
Why see it? Like a low-key, old-school Hunt for Red October, the film puts contrasting morals aboard a German ship with some towing the party line while a handful of others secretly plan to hand it over to the Allies. Marlon Brando is a German who’s left his country behind before being pressed into service trying to secure the ship, and he’s ultimately the main reason to watch. It’s a layered performance as he shifts between different characters and interactions while the tensions rise. It’s a solid little maritime drama/thriller.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Ruben Brandt, Collector
What is it? A man plans to steal 13 paintings to help his mental state.
Why see it? There’s always room for more animated films aimed at adults, and this little thriller offers plenty of visual appeal and style. Our hero (of sorts) bounds between famous museums and intricate adventures while authorities and mobsters alike are hot on his tail, but there’s really not much else to it story-wise. It feels like the makings of a short stretched to feature length. Still, the animation is lively and includes eye-catching interpretations of well-known art.
[DVD extras: None]
The Seduction [Scream Factory]
What is it? A female newscaster is stalked by a psycho.
Why see it? This early 80s thriller was among the first to identify the danger of violent fans posing a real threat to their celebrity crushes, and while it makes no pretense of it the real world has only gone on to prove it right. Of course, it’s still a steamy thriller through and through, and Morgan Fairchild headlines as a strong character. The end gets a bit wonky, but the cast — which also includes Andrew Stevens and Michael Sarrazin — and the vibrant visuals make for an entertaining thriller.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, commentary, featurettes]
Shaft In Africa [Warner Archive]
What is it? Shaft takes a case involving slaves in Africa.
Why see it? The third and final Shaft film featuring Richard Roundtree goes out swinging with the ballsy move of taking the NYC private eye off the streets and into the heat of a whole other continent. We (and Shaft) still get plenty of action — involving both guns and some pretty ladies — and the story gains some extra weight through its focus on the modern day slave trade. These movies are still better than the reboots that have followed.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Shaft’s Big Score! [Warner Archive]
What is it? Shaft fights his way between the police and the mob.
Why see it? Richard Roundtree’s second go as Shaft also sees the return of director Gordon Parks, and while not as groundbreaking as the original it delivers plenty of 70s fun. Shaft is forced to deal with bad dudes on both sides of the law while also balancing some ladies, and it makes for another exciting blend of street drama and action. Plus they blow up a helicopter, and that never gets old.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
She-Devils on Wheels [Arrow Video]
What is it? A female biker gang terrorizes everyone they come across.
Why see it? Herschell Gordon Lewis’ best-known (and best, period) films are of the splatter variety, but he dabbled while beyond the horror genre. The two films included here tackle the popular biker flicks of the day with a gender swap and plenty of tough-talking hog-riders. It’s exactly what you’re expecting, but while there’s minor fun to be had it can’t hold a candle to Ed Wood’s girl gang classic The Violent Years.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Bonus feature Just for the Hell of It, introductions, commentary, interviews]
What is it? A father and son racing team have a falling out.
Why see it? John Travolta’s career choices of late have left a lot to be desired, and while he manages a winner on occasion — seriously, seek out In a Valley of Violence — the majority lean more actively bad. Gotti and Speed Kills are both atrocious pieces of cinema, and his latest is a little better. It helps that the story feels smaller, but its familiarity and lack of ambition ultimately hold it back. It’s nice seeing Shania Twain though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A bond is formed between two people on opposite sides of life.
Why see it? This remake of the French hit Intouchables manages most of the same beats in English just fine, and both Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart do solid enough work as the leads. If there’s a downside (no shame) to the film it’s that Hart tries a little too hard on the comedic front. It feels less natural than would be ideal, but the character still works overall. Nicole Kidman is also a joy in a supporting role and manages to be the film’s real heart.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes]
What is it? A woman is imprisoned by a government out of control.
Why see it? Like a slightly more expansive Closet Land, the film drops a woman into the middle of a nightmare she doesn’t understand. Civil war, coup attempts, martial law, and more turn the streets to violence while she sits locked in a high-tech prison cell under constant interrogation. The story moves in some engaging places, and leads Shauna Macdonald and Oded Fehr do compelling work.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Also out this week:
13 Reasons Why – Season 2, Black Moon Rising [KL Studio Classics], A Dark Place, The Hunter [Scream Factory], Let the Sunshine In [Criterion Collection], Nixon [KL Studio Classics], Ring of Bright Water [KL Studio Classics], RKO Classic Adventures, RKO Classic Romances, Robbery [KL Studio Classics]