New DVD Releases to Watch at Home This Week
Hi, My Name’s Rob, and I’m the Guy Who Likes Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea
Pick of the Week
By the Sea
What is it? Roland (Brad Pitt), an American novelist, and his wife Vanessa (Angelina Jolie), travel through ’70s France giving off the illusion of a couple in love. Past troubles refuse to fade, and as they wile away the days in a small seaside town the pair struggle to reconnect even as other people’s dramas accentuate their own.
Why buy it? Jolie’s third feature as director was heavily maligned on its release last year with critics calling it tedious, superficial, and devoid of emotional weight, but while I understand those comments I just don’t agree. This is slow, moody filmmaking where very little happens externally, but there’s turbulence beneath the surface as the film explores the cracks and fissures in a marriage on the rocks. Pitt is especially good here as a man filled with equal parts frustration and love. It’s a beautifully-shot film, occasionally dream-like in the soft haze that rests atop the town and its occupants, and it’s mesmerizing in the emotional discomfort accentuated by the two leads being an actual married couple off-screen. Of course, your mileage may vary.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, making of]
Blood and Black Lace [Arrow Video]
What is it? A masked killer in a fedora stalks and kills a fashion model, but when evidence comes to light the murderer starts working through the other models in search of the incriminating diary.
Why buy it? Mario Bava’s 1964 classic acted as a giallo/slasher primer of sorts for filmmakers who followed with its gloved killer, stalker-ish camerawork and colorful lighting, and bucket loads of style. Performances are heightened at times even as the characters themselves remain flat, but Bava holds our focus through the events and the way he captures them. My heart belongs to Dario Argento’s Deep Red, but Bava’s film remains both entertaining and important. Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray is gorgeous, and along with numerous special features the new commentary with Tim Lucas offers up plenty of anecdotes and insight.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, documentary, featurettes, interview]
The Family Fang
What is it? Baxter (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Nicole Kidman) are adult siblings who long ago grew tired of their parents’ shenanigans. As kids they were expected to play a part in their parents elaborate performance art pieces, but while the brother and sister grew out of it their parents never did. When the retired couple disappear their kids are left wondering if they’re really gone or if this is just another stunt.
Why rent it? Bateman’s second directorial effort sees him move beyond his comfort zone of witty asshole-cinema and into a smart, warmly-written tale of adult siblings learning to find strength from themselves and each other instead of blaming their parents and the past. He and Kidman show strong chemistry in their banter and shared expressions, and the film has some interesting observations on family relationships.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
What is it? Arnulfo is an immigrant teenager earning a living as a gun-runner between the United States and Mexico. He buys them in the US and smuggles them into his homeland for a Mexican crime boss. When he crosses paths with an ATF agent (Tim Roth) the teen takes the man hostage and brings him to his boss as an offering, but his plan doesn’t quite reach its intended outcome.
Why rent it? Roth is never less than an interesting actor, and his portrayal of an agent trapped in a situation outside of his control is an engaging one. The film brings us into this world with a methodical pace and sharp observations ‐ the teen’s actions here are believable and depressing. One scene showing a teen buy ammo only to add cigarettes on and then get ID’d is especially troubling.
[DVD extras: None]
Cabin Fever [Scream Factory]
What is it? Five friends head to a cabin in the woods for a few days of sex, drugs, and general obnoxiousness ‐ they’re pricks to each other and to the equally one-dimensional local yokels ‐ but they discover too late that a flesh-eating virus is hiding in the water.
Why skip it? There are cosmetic changes to this remake ‐ the sheriff is now a blond sex-pot, the most annoying of the friends is now a Call of Duty-loving dick, the “pancakes!” kid no longer knows karate ‐ but nothing works to elevate or fix issues from Eli Roth’s original. Body-horror films are still capable of creeping us out, but the effects and characters here offer up far too stale of an experience meaning there’s barely a cringe-worthy beat to be found. Skip it and watch Creepshow 2’s segment “The Raft.”
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
What is it? Fifty strangers awake to find themselves standing in a circle, darkness behind them all and a mysterious orb at their center. Memories as to how they arrived here slowly surface, but the immediate issue is the device which zaps and kills one of them every two minutes. Their situation worsens once they realize that it’s their majority vote that determines who dies next.
Why skip it? There’s a pretty cool six-minute short here, but unfortunately they’ve stretched it out to eighty-six. The premise simply can’t support the length as the dialogue and characters grow increasingly annoying to fill time. They immediately give up trying to escape or fight back and instead spend the entirety of the film arguing about who should eat it first. Is it a metaphorical microcosm for humanity in general, for a species so intent on destroying each other that we’ve doomed ourselves to extinction? Sure, okay. Skip it and watch Cube instead.
[DVD extras: Commentary, making of]
Code of Honor
What is it? Robert Sikes (Steven Seagal) traded his Special Ops ID badge for a job description after tragedy strikes, and now he’s simply a super vigilante shooting, bombing, and knifing his way through the city’s criminal element.
Why skip it? As appealing as a movie featuring Seagal as a “super vigilante” must sound, it’s nowhere near as entertaining as you’re imagining. Sure he delivers his minimal dialogue with the Shakespearean elocution we’ve come to expect, but the script and action sequences are uninspired across the board. Bad dialogue, CG blood puffs, and blandness aren’t worth the time. Skip it and watch Above the Law instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? Max (Isabelle Fuhrman) and Ellie (Liana ) are friends in early ’60s America who decide a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt is in their best interest, but getting to her across the country isn’t going to be easy. They head out on a road trip where they find new friends, adventures, and truths about the world around them.
Why rent it? Entourage’s Kevin Connolly took his time between his feature directorial debut in 2007 and this softer, more broadly-appealing follow-up, and the films couldn’t be more different. This one does feel like the work of a more controlled director, but as a trade-off of sorts it’s also slighter and less memorable. The leads are fine and highlight a rare female-led road-trip film, and there’s fun to be had with the supporting cast including Jessica Alba, Josh Lucas, and Luke Wilson.
[DVD extras: Commentaries]
What is it? This simply-named anthology features eight shorts, each set on a different holiday and directed by a different filmmaker, and as is the case with virtually every anthology film, they vary somewhat in quality ‐ most are fine, but two are absolute mini-classics. Unlike some anthologies, there’s no connective tissue here tying the shorts together, and instead each simply ends with a greeting card displaying the title and writer/director’s name. That lack of narrative marrow means there’s no real cohesion, meaning for better or worse this is just a collection of short films.
Why rent it? Again, most of the shorts are perfectly passable, but it’s worth a rent for two fantastic ones in particular. The first of the film’s two absolute gems is writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s “Easter.” A little girl heads to bed the night before Easter, but her concerns about the candy-delivering bunny leave her nervous and scared. Her mom tries to explain and ends up complicating things further by mentioning Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and it’s all downhill for them both from there. McCarthy (The Pact) delivers a bizarrely frightening mash-up of myths that finds time to be scary, funny, and blasphemous ‐ and that’s my kind of holy trinity. The second, and the one I can’t get out of my head, is Anthony Scott Burns’ “Happy Father’s Day.” A young woman receives a mysterious tape from her father who she believed was long dead. His voice guides her towards a reunion in a deserted seaside town, and it’s an eerie journey that only grows more so with each step. Burns creates and maintains an incredible degree of atmosphere and foreboding through the simplicity of a woman walking while her father speaks in her ears (via headphones). It helps that it’s a hauntingly photographed and beautifully scored walk too.
[DVD extras: None?]
I Saw the Light
What is it? Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) was a bright star in the world of country music, but as is often the case with big talents who shoot to stardom he burned out far too soon. Drink, women, and a turbulent creativity drive a wedge in his relationship with his first wife (Elizabeth Olsen) as well as his future.
Why rent it? As biopics go this is definitely one of them, but it’s worth a watch for the two lead performances. Olsen is solid as the cliched woman who gets tossed aside as her husband finds success, and Hiddleston gives the tragic Williams a soulful, sorrowful air. The problem is that this story/character arc is just so damn familiar that its emotional beats fail to generate any real feeling.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentaries]
The Levenger Tapes
What is it? Police officers in a small town are called in to review video tapes related to a pair of young adults who’ve gone missing in the rural outskirts. They’re shocked to discover that a child who went missing a short while previously is glimpsed on the first tape, so they keep watching for further clues.
Why skip it? This is just idiotic. It’s a matter of life and death, but rather than fast-forward to relevant parts they sit there and watch the whole thing which is mostly just three college students chattering on idiotically. Most of the found footage issues rear their head here too ‐ the footage occasionally features music that plays across video edits, the camerawork is nonsensical for characters in danger, and the excuses for filming are never natural or believable. On the bright side the three leads aren’t bad actors. Skip it and watch The Ring instead.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Xuan is a Chinese billionaire whose every effort is one aimed at financial profit, but when his actions endanger sea life ‐ specifically a pod of mermaids ‐ the beleaguered creatures make plans for his murder. They send one of their own, a young mermaid named Shan, to arrange the assassination.
Why skip it? Stephen Chow’s directorial efforts include such action/comedy gems as Kung Fu Hustle and Journey to the West, but his latest is a disjointed, cheaply-made bust. Yeah yeah, I know it’s the highest-grossing film ever in China, but it features some of the worst CG effects of the past decade. Seriously, it is laughably bad throughout. It’s a shame as there are a couple fun sequences ‐ one featuring police sketch artists and the other involving Shen’s octopus friend ‐ but they’re not enough to warrant a watch. Skip it and watch The Lure instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette, music video]
The Pack [Scream Factory]
What is it? A family living in a remote part of the Australian Outback ‐ redundant, I know ‐ runs into trouble when a pack of wild dogs descends on their home in search of food.
Why rent it? The beasts are super smart and crafty until they actually lay siege to the family’s home at which point they all become morons. Lucky for them the humans are just as dumb. Those frustrating script elements are salvaged though by some well-staged attack scenes, good performances, and moments of suspense. A limited cast means a limited number of possible kills, but the tension is maintained through some solid setups and executions. It’s no Savage Harvest, but it’ll do until that film gets its long-overdue Blu-ray release.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
What is it? Nardo (Thomas Middleditch) is on the verge of getting married when his well-meaning buddies Evan (Adam Pally) and Jason (TJ Miller) completely screw it up. When Nardo’s distraught almost-wife heads to Mexico he follows in a bid to get her back, but it’s not long before both his car and his clothes are stolen. Best friends to the rescue?
Why rent it? Director/co-writer Scot Armstrong has spent a lot of time chasing the success of his first screenplay, Road Trip, but the majority of what followed (The Hangover Part II, The Heartbreak Kid) often felt like pale imitations. His latest effort got the smallest release, but it’s actually his funniest feature in years. Credit goes in large part to the cast as the lead trio kills it alongside some fun supporting players (Alison Brie, Jason Mantzoukas, Krysten Ritter, JB Smoove). Just go with it, enjoy some laughs, and move on.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Suture [Arrow Video]
What is it? Clay (Dennis Haysbert) arrives in Los Angeles to unite with the nearly identical brother he never knew he had. Vincent (Michael Harris) first met Clay at their father’s funeral, but he’s not looking for brotherly love. Instead, he sets up Clay with his clothes, car, and identification and then blows him up. Clay survives, but he’s lost his memory.
Why rent it? This is an intriguing little thriller from the co-directors of What Maisie Knew that explores identity and perception through attractive black & white photography and some brilliant casting ‐ namely a black man and a white man as the two brothers we’re told look nearly identical. The idea of perception is played out in the film, but the audience is an equal participant as we watch. It’s in many ways a simple thriller, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting of an experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, short film]
The Swinging Cheerleaders [Arrow Video]
What is it? Kate is no fan of “the man,” but she’s even less of a fan when it comes to sports culture. Determined to out them for their idiotic ways she joins the cheerleading squad only to discover that these girls are okay and at least one of the football players is great in the sack. Then she uncovers a gambling scheme!
Why rent it? Jack Hill’s ode to short skirts, pom-poms, and fornication is an odd entry in the cheerleader exploitation subgenre. There’s sex and nudity, but we don’t get an abundance of the sexy times. We do get far more plot and character work than you’d probably expect though. It’s also an interesting turn of events in that the jocks/cheerleaders are the good guys while the campus journalist is the local prick. Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray offers a 2k restoration and numerous new extras.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, Q&A]
What is it? The Vigilante is a vigilante who found fame cleaning up the city one dead bad guy at a time, but when he disappears a team comes together in the hopes of rescuing him.
Why skip it? This movie actually began life (I think?) as a web series, and its oddly episodic nature combined with an overly goofy tone make for a surprisingly silly feature. Nothing here is played seriously, and the action is slight, but a surprising number of laughs slip through the cracks. Sadly, they’re not enough to overcome the presence of Jason Mewes. Skip it and watch Falling Down instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Also Out This Week:
The Adderall Diaries, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, Endgame, House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season, The In-Laws [Criterion Collection], Joseph and Mary, Only Yesterday, Term Life
Related Topics: Home Video