‘The Brand New Testament’ Is One to Believe In (and Cherish on Blu-ray)
Plus 17 more new releases to watch at home this week on Blu-ray/DVD.
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Pick of the Week
The Brand New Testament
What is it? God is an asshole, he lives in Belgium, and his 10 year-old daughter has had enough.
Why buy it? Jaco Van Dormael’s utterly delightful modern fantasy delivers big laughs and incredibly sharp critiques on humanity’s priorities, and it does so while unfurling a whimsical yet blistering narrative about human faith. God uses a personal computer to dispatch justice and misfortune on mankind, but when his daughter sends every person on Earth the exact time of their death (before locking him out of it) people realize they no longer need a god at all. What follows is a the kind of chaos the world can always use more of, and its packaging as a smart, funny, insightful commentary on humanity makes it all the more valuable and necessary.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, interviews, featurette, TV show episode, short film, booklet]
The Brand New Testament [Blu-ray]
45 Years [Criterion]
What is it? A long-married couple preparing for their anniversary are rocked by a revelation from his past.
Why see it? Mike Leigh’s film doesn’t traffic in salacious details or shocking reveals, but the calm nature of the story turns still raises the pulse thanks to the lead performances. Charlotte Rampling in particular mesmerizes as a woman whose life is called into question, and the turmoil beneath her surface captivates. Warmth and humor are woven through the drama as well resulting in a film that succeeds in capturing a couple’s life and love over the course of a very short time.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, documentary, interview]
45 Years [Blu-ray]
What is it? Two old friends get together for a weekend away, but jealousy and madness interrupt their reunion with tragic results.
Why see it? Sophia Takal proves herself just as capable behind the camera as she typically is in front while handing acting duties over to the incredible Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald. Davis makes us feel her character’s inner pain and inadequacy to an uncomfortable degree, but she also lets us see the beauty hovering just beyond her reach.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None?]
Always Shine [Blu-ray]
What is it? The first lady grieves after witnessing her husband’s assassination.
Why see it? Pablo Larrain’s film is less interested in a narrative tale than in the experience of grief on a highly visible stage. To that end this is Natalie Portman’s film through and through as she commands the screen with her greatest performance. The experience is aided by an off-kilter score from Mica Levi and a gorgeous pairing of production design and cinematography that makes every frame feel like a work of art.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? A young woman sets out on an adventure hoping to save her people and their island.
Why see it? Disney’s second big animated film of 2016 ‐ after the Academy Award-winning Zootopia ‐ has a lot to offer starting with some amazing visuals. It’s the lesser film in direct comparison to that one, but the animation here is simply breathtaking at times as we move across, above, and below the ocean’s waves. The lack of a love story is another of the film’s strengths along with a fun sense of humor and a terrific cameo from Jemaine Clement. The songs are a mixed bag, but they’re a minor part
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short films, deleted song, featurettes, music video, deleted scenes]
What is it? It’s like Crash but with more British accents and less racism.
Why see it? This UK import follows the ensemble formula of strangers living their lives and facing conflict while only tangentially coming in contact with others near them doing the same. It smartly keeps the focus on three stories, but they’re still hit and miss as far as the engagement they create. One follows an at-risk teen finding an opportunity for a better life, another sees a couple struggling to adopt a child blindsided by a tragic accident, and the best ‐ mostly due to the performances ‐ sees an ex-rugby star (Idris Elba) spiraling out of control and losing his family in the process. The threads touch briefly towards the end, and its third act does a good job of ramping suspense through score and editing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? It’s the height of prohibition, and the job of shutting down the latest illegal speakeasy has just grown more complicated due to the presence of vampires.
Why see it? This is a fairly low budget thriller, but it’s helped by three things. There’s an enthusiastic charm to the production, they manage some cool visuals once the vamps appear, and Ice-T will never not be watchable. He’s a supporting player here though meaning we’re too often stuck with less talented, less charismatic performers. The budget hurts the production design as the world feels eternally small, and it also leaves something to be desired when it comes to some of the action. Again though, there’s an evident enthusiasm to tell a fresh tale, and that might be enough for genre fans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes, commentary]
Cold War 2
What is it? Dirty politics, greed, and acts of violence ensue when a convict escapes custody and wreaks havoc on the city.
Why see it? 2012’s Cold War is a twisty, high-energy tale of good cops, bad cops, and all those in between, and many of the same players return for this sequel. Their presence doesn’t bring the same level of satisfaction, but while it doesn’t reach its predecessor’s highs it still delivers plenty of thrills and melodramatic character beats. The story once again sees loyalties twist and turn to the tune of automatic gunfire, and while it ultimately feels less weighty it’s never dull.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? A pair of mismatched LAPD cops work the city streets as part of an aggressive anti-gang task force.
Why see it? Dennis Hopper’s film was a lightning rod of controversy when it released back in 1988 as fears of gang violence in theaters became a reality. Watching it now the film feels far more restrained than what we’ve witnessed in the years since, and the lack of a truly compelling narrative becomes more evident, but there’s still value here in the form of Sean Penn and Robert Duvall who give strong, brash performances.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Unrated cut, interviews]
The Eyes of My Mother
What is it? A young girl raised by a death-obsessed mother grows into a young woman obsessed with death.
Why see it? There’s no doubt that Nicolas Pesce’s arthouse horror film is a gorgeously-shot, black & white descent into madness resulting in an atmospheric experience. The problem, and I wholly admit that I appear to be in the minority on this, is that both character and narrative suffer as a result. The film achieves a beautiful ick factor, but there’s nothing compelling in the story or our lead character. We know where things are headed, and while the journey’s visually appealing it’s rarely all that interesting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
What is it? A recovering alcoholic moves into a dimly lit condo building and discovers terror stalking the hallways.
Why see it? The setup here is interesting, and the film’s themes of Saw-like morality offers some engaging turns, but the execution is a bumpy one. The building is large, but we only ever see a handful of people, rooms with windows and lights are eternally under-lit, and jump scares using obnoxious sound cues are frequent. It’s still worth a watch for genre fans though for the puzzle-like creativity behind the production design and sets. Just don’t expect to actually be scared or unsettled by any of it.
[DVD extras: None?]
What is it? An unconventional exorcists incepts his way into the minds of the possessed to save their souls.
Why see it? There’s a lot of world-building here as the film sets up its own rules regarding tropes and familiar narratives regarding possessions, but while fresh takes are encouraged the film can’t quite pull it all together into an intriguing story. Aaron Eckhart is having fun though, so that’s something, and the effects work is engaging too. The interesting setup and character though are turned into a traditional tale leaving the potential somewhat wasted.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
The Lesson [Scream Factory]
What is it? A deranged teacher abducts two of his more obnoxious students for a painful and private lesson.
Why skip it? The idea of a teacher snapping against the system and his/her students is one ripe for commentary and thrills, but it’s a story that requires viewers care about either the teacher having been pushed too far *or* the students being tortured. We get neither of those options here and instead are stuck with an uninteresting professor and a pair of annoying teens who deserve the abuse. The addition of a possible love interest adds nothing but padding. Skip it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A US Marine returns home after the war to a country ravaged by a similar fate, and his survival is now fueled by a desire to find his son.
Why see it? Shia LaBeouf does good work here as a troubled soldier struggling to find his son while trying to survive a wasteland-like war zone, and there’s an important message here about our returning vets as well. There’s an unfortunate narrative choice made though that distracts somewhat from that message through both its obvious nature and its showiness. Enough of the film’s themes survive though making for a mildly compelling dramatic thriller.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
What is it? The daughter of a legendary Japanese artist is revealed to be the one behind the brush strokes.
Why see it? Essentially the tale of a young woman trying to overcome the shadow of her father and the limiting expectations of her time period, this animated tale shines brightest when it pulls back the curtain to the fantastic world of spirits and other supernatural creatures. There’s a wonder to the hand-drawn animation and the world it creates, but it leaves the “normal” drama feeling lesser by comparison.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
What is it? D-Day has failed, and the Nazis have taken control of Britain.
Why see it? Alternate history tales will never not be interesting, but this drama tests that argument a bit with a story focusing on character rather than narrative. To be clear, character is important and never a waste of time, but putting a small drama against this fictional history makes the context irrelevant. This same drama could unfold against the real history without changing more than a handful of details. I’m nitpicking perhaps, but it feels as if the premise pulls viewers in only to be essentially inconsequential. Thankfully the performances are top notch with the likes of Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen in various sized roles.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? A couple meets online despite a rash of killings stemming from online dates and head to the woods for a relaxing weekend only to be stalked by hillbillies.
Why skip it? Woof. A cheaply-produced credits sequence reveals the presence of an online killer before moving us into this new couple’s date, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the killer is in this equation. Had they skipped this and instead moved straight into the survival horror as the couple fights the inbred locals ‐ and then surprised viewers with the killer reveal ‐ that might have worked better, but instead we’re stuck watching an uninteresting and predictable tale executed poorly. And not for nothing, but the online element amounts to nothing. Skip it.
[DVD extras: None]
Trespass Against Us
What is it? A petty criminal living with family in a gypsy-like gathering decides it’s time to move on.
Why see it? Ignore the marketing copy declaring this to be a “thrilling… action-packed” experience and instead simply accept it as a mildly engaging drama headlined by a terrifically charismatic lead performance by Michael Fassbender. There are some action beats here, and they’re solid enough, but the majority of the film consists of dramatic, sometimes humorous interactions between characters.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Also Out This Week:
The Ardennes, Bad Kids of Crestview Academy, Compulsion [KL Studio Classics], Finian’s Rainbow [Warner Archive], I Am Michael, Kendra on Top ‐ The Complete Fourth & Fifth Seasons, The Legend of Chupacabra, S.O.B. [Warner Archive], Tanna
Related Topics: Home Video