This Week in Home Video
Warner Archive Delivers the Best Way to Enjoy a Bad Day at Black Rock
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Pick of the Week
Bad Day at Black Rock [Warner Archive]
What is it? A one-armed man arrives via train in a remote western town, and the populace reacts with suspicion and violence.
Why buy it? Spencer Tracy excels as the polite but mysterious stranger whose presence sets everyone on edge, and the more he probes the harder they push. The film explores threads of America’s deep-seated racism and small-town insulation, and it pairs that commentary with a steadily increasing suspense. The themes and actions here are still sadly relevant, even now, and it makes for an important watch that still manages to entertain. Tracy’s potential adversaries include Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, and more, and all of them add to the drama. Lee Child fans will also enjoy how the film’s story plays almost like the plot skeleton for every other Jack Reacher book as a stranger arrives in a small town with problems and secrets. Warner’s new Blu looks fantastic too.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary (sadly, not the John Sturges track from the Criterion Laserdisc)]
Bad Day at Black Rock [Blu-ray]
Ouija: Origin of Evil
What is it? A single mother and her two daughters find themselves targeted by evil after messing with a Ouija board.
Why see it? 2014’s Ouija is a pretty typical slice of teen-oriented studio horror ‐ ie not all that good ‐ so the announcement of a prequel left me with a dull sigh. I also worried that it would be a waste of director Mike Flanagan’s time. Happily, I was wrong on both counts as this is easily one of last year’s best and creepiest horror films. Flanagan delivers a gorgeous period thriller with strong performances and multiple scares ‐ legitimately frightening scares crafted with skill. Time is spent with the characters so that by the time things go sideways we’re truly invested in their lives, and the story makes equal effort to be more than just a simple haunting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of, featurettes, commentary]
Ouija: Origin of Evil (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Something Wild [Criterion]
What is it? A young woman is assaulted and struggles to deal with the emotional trauma that follows.
Why see it? Jack Garfein’s film is a stark and occasionally difficult look at one woman’s suffering, and the result is a film that should be far better known. Carroll Baker stuns as the woman set adrift by the attack ‐ she’s lost and left emotionally apart from her family and the life she once knew, and it’s a heartbreaking descent. The film’s third act is easy to see as controversial, but life is a complicated affair, and the film makes no effort to soften the blow or the complexity. Criterion’s new Blu includes a fascinating interview with Garfein exploring his career and thoughts on the film at hand.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 2k restoration, interviews, recording]
Something Wild (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Train to Busan
What is it? A zombie plague breaks out on-board a passenger train.
Why see it? The zombie sub-genre has grown stale in recent years, but thankfully no one told South Korea’s Yeon Sang-ho. His live-action debut is a rip-roaring, tension-filled zombie flick that injects action and emotion into the horror. We can’t help but care about some of these people, and while some of it is played a bit too heavy ‐ the bad guy in particular reaches cartoon levels ‐ the effect is achieved throughout leaving viewers on edge and worried until the end credits. The action is equally propulsive with beats big and small leaving viewers with fists clenched and big smiles. If you’re a fan be sure to seek out Yeon’s animated prequel, Seoul Station.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Train to Busan [Blu-ray]
Two for the Road [Twilight Time]
What is it? A couple’s life together, through both ups and the downs, is presented through their time spent on vacations.
Why see it? Stanley Donen’s (Singin’ In the Rain) 1967 feature blends drama and comedy into an honest romance that for some may strike too close to home. That’s one of its many strengths though, and it’s what lends the film the feeling of capturing all the heart, laughs, and wisdom of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy in the space of two hours. Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney are terrific as the couple who we follow through the course of their life together, and the film’s structure ‐ it repeatedly jumps forwards and backwards in time to tell the story of their present. It’s a mesmerizing and heartfelt experience.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, newsreel]
Two For The Road (Blu-ray)
Ali ‐ Commemorative Edition
What is it? Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali, and somewhere along the way a legend was born.
Why see it? Michael Mann’s 2001 biopic debuts on Blu-ray in a somewhat revised version. Having never seen the original cut I can’t speak to the differences (aside from an RIP postscript for Ali before the end credits), but as it stands it’s a competent film heightened by exciting boxing sequences and a strong performance from Will Smith as Ali. There’s a disjointed feel to the editing choices as it moves around in time a bit too much preventing viewers from grounding themselves in the story, but perhaps fittingly, Smith carries us through on the power of his performance and convictions.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, making of]
Come and Find Me
What is it? A man’s girlfriend disappears without a trace, and then things get weird.
Why see it? Aaron Paul plays the man who loses his love and then struggles to find the truth behind her, and the script does a good job of doling out an interesting story in pieces while allowing the mystery to build. Less successful is the film’s structure that moves between the present and past in order to reveal timely narrative bits. It interrupts the flow and hurts the dramatic momentum in part because the past is far less interesting. Still, it’s a low-key mystery that engages, and that’s often more than most.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, commentary]
The Girl on the Train
What is it? A drunk woman on a train believes she may have seen something relevant to a missing person investigation.
Why see it? The trend of bestselling books with “Girl” in the title being turned into big Hollywood productions continues with this Emily Blunt-starring thriller, but either the original novel isn’t all that good (I haven’t read it) or something got lost in translation. Blunt is fine, but her character is an uninteresting mess and the plot twists are equally lifeless. It’s a fine supporting cast ‐ Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez ‐ but the real standout is Haley Bennett who gives a terrific performance filled with both sexy vitality and overwhelming pathos. She’s ultimately the biggest reason to watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming
What is it? The IT department at Reynholm Industries finds themselves in a bit of trouble when a video surfaces of them acting like themselves.
Why see it? This series finale of the hit UK show finally arrives in the US, and it comes packed with laughs (and what sounds suspiciously like a laugh track). It runs under an hour, so it’s hard to argue the DVD should be bought unless you’re a big fan, but there are plenty of great bits here for fans of Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, and ‐ my personal favorite ‐ Matt Berry. The subtitle, “The Internet Is Coming,” is fitting as their troubles explode on social media, and the laughs follow suit.
[DVD extras: Commentary, featurette]
What is it? A Mayan village at the base of a volcano and at the edge of the world is home to a people and a way of life that may be nearing extinction.
Why see it? Jayro Bustamante’s feature debut is a beautifully-shot, fly on the wall-like look at real people that most of us will never meet. The community sees many of its people working a coffee plantation to make ends meet in the modern world, but the future’s not looking too bright. Traditions clash with burgeoning relationships and personal/familial needs, and the world they live in is no longer the same as their ancestors’. As stated above, it’s a beautiful film, but the mild narrative struggles to hold attention. Instead it works best as a travelogue of a people and a place that may not exist in the decades to come.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Essay, making of]
Long Way North
What is it? A young girl turns from an arranged marriage and chooses adventure instead.
Why see it? The French studio behind gems like Ernest & Celestine and The Painting delivers another beautifully animated film. The Arctic locale adds an unusual setting, and it’s always a good thing seeing a female take the lead in an adventure. The film’s back half in particular offers some exciting sequences as the ships’s crew deals with falling ice, polar bears, and worse. The story feels a bit abrupt in its ending which lessens the emotional effect some, but it remains an empowering tale about trusting your instincts and following your heart.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short film, featurette, interview]
The Mad Magician [Twilight Time]
What is it? A magician goes mad when he loses his tricks and his wife to the competition.
Why see it? Vincent Price is killer here as a man driven to extremes, and while it’s clear he’s crossing lines Price’s empathetic performance leaves viewers tempted to side with his clearly nutty behaviors. The kills are fun, and they incorporate the magician’s tricks in creative ways. Twilight Time’s new Blu offers the film in both 2d and 3D and includes a pair of Three Stooges shorts.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurette, shorts, 2D/3D versions]
Revenge of the Blood Beast
What is it? A British couple visiting Transylvania encounters a deadly curse.
Why see it? Barbara Steele plays the wife who finds herself transformed after a near-death experience into a murderous creature, but after she changes the focus shifts between bloody killings and some goofy police activity. The balance doesn’t always work ‐ the comedy doesn’t land ‐ but it’s still a fun slice of Euro horror. Raro Video’s new Blu offers a restored HD image (but curiously the back cover says the film is black & white while it’s actually color.)
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, booklet]
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050
What is it? It’s the future, and people are still violence-loving assholes.
Why see it? 1975’s Death Race 2000 is a fun action romp that blends some social commentary into its ridiculous and violent premise, and while the subsequent remakes went the more serious route to become straightforward action films this latest entry tries to recapture the magic of Paul Bartel’s original. It does not succeed. It somehow manages to feel even cheaper than that four decade old cult classic thanks to terrible CG effects, but it even fails to land its non-stop attempts at humor. The action sequences ‐ if they can even be called action ‐ are a sad collection of weakly choreographed, frequently sped-up, horribly-shot movements.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes, deleted scenes]
The Whole Truth
What is it? A lawyer defends a young man accused of patricide, but the truth isn’t always what it seems.
Why see it? Keanu Reeves is at his best in films like John Wick and Man of Tai Chi, but he’s still fun to watch in more traditional roles like this one here. The story itself isn’t quite as entertaining as we watch the case unfold and shift between testimony and flashbacks to what happened. The idea seems to be that what we see is the truth while what we hear is filled with lies, but it doesn’t always work in practice. Worse, there’s a predictability to the unfolding narrative. We know well in advance who did what, or at least those who pay attention do.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Also Out This Week:
12 Monkeys ‐ Season Two, Fox and His Friends [Criterion], The Hollow Point, Keeping Up With the Joneses, Slumber Party Massacre II & III [Scream Factory], Surf’s Up 2: Wavemania
Related Topics: Home Video