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Pick of the Week
Horror Express [Arrow Video]
What is it? Riders on a train find terror as an unticketed passenger wreaks bloody havoc.
Why see it? I’m not sure why this one has eluded me over the years but having finally watched the damn thing I am in love. Monsters, zombies, a speeding train, and another pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee? This is a fantastically fun concoction blending atmosphere, suspense, and some dark laughs along the way into a spooky ride through a frozen landscape. Arrow’s new Blu-ray cleans up the picture and adds some informative and entertaining extras exploring the film’s production and history.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, appreciation, interviews, introduction]
At Eternity’s Gate
What is it? Vincent Van Gogh’s final days come to life.
Why see it? Rather than go the traditional biopic route this beautiful drama from the director of The Diving Bell & the Butterfly takes a more intimate and interesting route. We see at times through Van Gogh’s eyes and watch him experience the world. Willem Dafoe’s performance is among his very best and brings the man and artist to glorious life with both beauty and sadness, and while there’s tragedy here there’s also an acknowledged wonder. It’s less about the narrative and more about the experience, but it’s one worth having.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
What is it? A lonely man makes the mistake of connecting with a far lonelier woman.
Why see it? Takashi Miike’s filmography is filled with dark oddities, but few connect as well emotionally as they do viscerally like his 1999 masterpiece Audition. The adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel shifts from drama to romance to horror with perverse precision delivering smart turns and memorable visuals along the way. The film is a must-pwn for fans of cinematic brilliance, genre or otherwise, and Arrow’s beautiful new Blu-ray is the way to go. Interviews and two commentary tracks offer plenty of insight and anecdotes into the film’s production and lasting charms.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentaries, introduction, interviews, appreciation]
Four Weddings and a Funeral [Shout Select]
What is it? A group of friends experience the highs and lows of wedding season.
Why see it? Mike Newell’s still funny ensemble romantic comedy is a rarity in that while everything else about it is aces the main character storyline is abysmal. Hugh Grant is fantastic, of course, but his character’s attraction to Andie MacDowell’s is inexplicable. She’s terrible and irredeemable! That aside, though, Grant and the others manage plenty of laughs and some sweet moments of heart and emotion. Joy and sadness are both palpable and effective. Shout Factory’s new Blu is the definitive release of the film and perfect for fans with its restored picture and extras both new and old.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan, interview, commentary, featurettes]
The Haunted Castle / The Finances of the Grand Duke
What is it? A gathering tries catch a suspected killer, a dictator tries to save his country.
Why see it? F.W. Murnau is best known for films like Nosferatu (1922) and Sunrise (1927), but the arrival of two of his lesser known films to Blu-ray is something worth celebrating. The Haunted Castle is a thriller about a group of people at a castle gathering who turn on a visitor they believe to be a murderer. The story turns bring a blend of drama and suspense with a tinge of terror, and Murnau makes fantastic use of shadows throughout the castle’s halls and rooms. The Finances of the Grand Duke is a comedy of sorts — not something often associated with the filmmaker — and it manages some madcap sequences that work despite their “silent” nature. Fans of silent cinema in general and Murnau in particular should make this double feature a priority.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
What is it? An unlikely family welcomes a new member but risk it all in the process.
Why see it? Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film introduces us to a ragtag “family” of unmoored adults and an unwanted young boy as they steal in an elaborately coordinated effort, and while it’s clear they’re lawbreakers it’s equally clear they’re still good people. It’s their immediate bond and affection that see us falling in line with them. Their journey is one of warmth, laughter, and heartbreak, and it’s one guaranteed to leave you crying with both joy and sadness.
[DVD extras: None]
Summer Lovers [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A couple on vacation in Greece find a friend.
Why see it? This light drama from the early 80s has grown on me in unexpected ways. As a teen looking for sexy late-night fare the film more than fit the bill as Peter Gallagher shared the sun dappled screen with Daryl Hannah and Valerie Quennessen and all three spend their time enjoying the sun, water, and each other. What more could a horny teen want? Watching it as an adult, though, reveals character detail, drama, and nuance to go along with the naughty bits.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurette]
What is it? Someone vandalized cars with dicks, and two teens are on the case.
Why see it? Netflix has become a new home for true crime series and have delivered some of the best we’ve seen in recent years, but they also gifted the world with one of the best true crime spoofs you’ve ever seen in this playfully serious investigation into who drew the dicks. The tropes are spot on, the red herrings are numerous, and the laughs are big all the way through to the shocking reveal. Season two is also quite good, but you’ll want to get in on the ground floor here.
[DVD extras: Extended scenes]
What is it? Queen is formed, finds success, breaks up, and reunites for one hell of a concert.
Why see it? Here’s the deal. If you’re a fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury — of their music more than their personalities — than you’ll find some value here. The Live Aid concert performance in particular is fantastic (even if it still pales beside the actual event), but the rest of the film? Oof. Rough writing, editing, and performances all wrapped up in uninspired and scattershot direction. It brings nothing to the table as a biopic and lives strictly off the music.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Complete Live Aid movie performance, featurettes]
Down By Love
xWhat is it? A young female inmate falls into a love affair with the male warden.
Why see it? Adèle Exarchopoulos burst onto the scene with Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), but often lost amid the film’s notorious sex scenes was the reality that she’s a fantastic and charismatic actor. Her latest once again takes full advantage of her naked appeal while still showcasing her powerfully affecting performance. Her character is a lost soul grasping for purpose who finds it in this man. The film itself doesn’t quite match up to her accomplishment — in part because it seems far too content focusing on the her body — but there are moments here that work all the same.
[DVD extras: None]
The Front Runner
What is it? Gary Hart’s run for the presidency stumbles when he trips over his own dick.
Why see it? Politicians are really no different than some regular people in that they’re prone to sexual temptation. Democrats are especially clumsy in this regard, and one of the most infamous outside of Clinton/Kennedy is Gary Hart. Jason Reitman’s latest tackles the man’s fall from grace over a sexual dalliance, and Hugh Jackman does great work making his foibles real and human. The film doesn’t really give viewers much more than that, though, beyond a recounting of the facts and a suggestion that the media and public made far more of the affair than they should have given what the country may have lost.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurette]
The Group [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Eight young women graduate college in the 1930s and find varying degrees of happiness in the decade that follows.
Why see it? The great Sidney Lumet directed this sprawling, at times melodramatic adaptation, and the result is an engaging soap opera exploring the successes and failures of eight friends heading out into a man’s world in the years leading up to World War II. Their struggle involves trying to find love, hoping to find careers, and fighting to stand by each other. Some is familiar, some is surprising, but through it all it’s the cast that holds us including Jessica Walter, Candice Bergen, Hal Holbrook, Richard Mulligan, and more.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
The Poison Ivy Collection [Scream Factory]
What is it? Young women use their bodies for sex and sometimes murders happen too.
Why see it? The first Poison Ivy film (starring Drew Barrymore and Sara Gilbert) is a slightly naughty thriller in line with the likes of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, but the next (with Alyssa Milano) is about a girl finding her sexual self surrounded by guys who want to help. The third returns to the original formula as a young woman causes chaos for a family, while the fourth involves a murderous sorority? Anyway, it’s a weird franchise filled with as many ups and downs as it is ins and outs. See what I did there? These movies do it a lot more.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
What is it? A man attempts to destroy a puppet representing the traumas of his past.
Why see it? There’s no denying that this is a creepy ass movie both in its cinematography and the puppet in question — a horrifying spider-like thing with a human head — and Sean Harris complements the tone with a rare lead performance highlighting his disturbing unease. The pacing doesn’t quite work, though, leaving viewers with a film that may have worked better as a short. Too often the same elements and themes are dragged out dulling their effectiveness. Worth a watch for genre fans though.
[DVD extras: Interviews, featurette]
The Real McCoy [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A career criminal trying to go straight is forced back into the life.
Why see it? Kim Basinger takes the lead here, but while it’s great seeing a woman in a character type typically occupied by a male she doesn’t quite convince. Her best performance was still four years away (L.A. Confidential, 1997) and she’s shined elsewhere, but she doesn’t really fit the tone here of a script that never finds a strong balance. Val Kilmer succeeds better in a supporting role that requires both a comedic touch and a hint of drama, but the damage is done.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Starsky & Hutch [Warner Archive]
What is it? The classic television show gets a big screen action/comedy adaptation.
Why see it? Both Ben Stiller and Owen WIlson are great comedic performers in the right material, but this is not that material. It’s remarkably unfunny for the talents involved, and director/co-writer Todd Phillips seems content thinking certain actors simply make things funny — they do not. Vince Vaughn actually comes closest here managing a few giggles as the heavy, but so much of the film falls flat. The action is no better. I will admit to a bias here, though, as I am a fan of the series and am no fan of Starsky being turned into an utter doofus.
[Blu-ray extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Valentine [Scream Factory]
What is it? A group of female friends are being stalked by a madman from their past.
Why see it? Jamie Blanks’ first studio film was the franchise-starting Urban Legend, and it showed his eye for slasher fun. This follow-up delivers some entertaining visuals, but he’s unfortunately working from a fairly lackluster script this time around resulting in a disappointing horror flick. It has its fans, though, and for them Scream Factory has come through with a fantastic Blu-ray release. It looks great and includes some new extras including a terrific commentary with Blanks and Don Coscarelli (Phantasm).
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, commentaries, interviews]
Also out this week:
All That Heaven Allows [Criterion Collection], The Bouncer, Channel Zero – The Complete Collection, Der Hund von Baskerville, The Key to Rebecca, Nightflyers – Season One, Nude Area, Peppermint Soda, La Verite [Criterion Collection]
Related Topics: Home Video