Welcome to this week in home video! Click the title to buy a Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon and help support FSR in the process!
Pick of the Week
What is it? A woman used to coddling her husband and sons finds her own calling.
Why see it? Kelly MacDonald in a lead role is always worth celebrating, and it’s even better when it’s a great role in a terrific film. That’s the case here as she plays a woman who discovers a talent for fast puzzle solving, and as a competition looms she finds it’s a new friend who supports her instead of her family. It’s a sweet film about independence and self-identity, and while it teases a romance the film wisely knows better. MacDonald is a stunner in every way.
[DVD extras: Alternate ending, featurette, commentary]
What is it? An ex-soldier fights terrorists in a soccer stadium.
Why see it? It’s not the first Die Hard riff to trade a high-rise building for a sporting arena, but it is the first since Jean-Claude Van Damme skated across some bad guys’ faces in 1995’s Sudden Death. It’s also a ton of fun and unabashedly ridiculous despite its serious tone, and unlike the typical soccer/football match it features more than a few winning points. Dave Bautista is the main ingredient here, and he delivers both on the charm offensive and with sheer brute force. His dry comic delivery is well-suited for a rough and tumble “uncle” trying to do right by the family of a man who thinks he failed, and it’s great fun seeing him banter flatly without blue makeup covering his face. Unsurprisingly, he also kicks ass when it comes to kicking ass.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
What is it? A Vietnam vet runs afoul of the law in the Pacific Northwest.
Why see it? When most people think of “Rambo” they think of the later films that pitch him as a killing machine murdering dozens (or more in the most recent entry), but the movie that started it all is actually a terrific drama with solid action beats. Stallone acts — it’s true! — and makes for a compelling hero misunderstood by the America he lost his soul fighting for. Brian Dennehy shines too as his main threat and a man fighting his own kind of war. It’s just a great movie. The new 4K upgrade brings the lush forest into focus like never before making this a must-own for fans.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, outtake, deleted scene, commentaries]
What is it? A single mother struggles raising two teenage daughters in New Mexico.
Why see it? Allison Anders’ adaptation of Richard Peck’s acclaimed novel for young adults (Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt) is a heartfelt and warm family drama that sees its intimate story come to life with beautiful cinematography and stellar performances. Brooke Adams does good work as the mother, but the powerhouse duo of Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk turn their teens into flesh and blood people who captivate. Arrow’s new Blu-ray offers some detailed extras in addition to a restored image.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, documentary]
What is it? A shady man tries to go straight on Christmas Eve by stealing money from his even shadier boss.
Why see it? John Cusack’s been relegated to the direct to video bin for the past near-decade, but this blackly comedic drama from 2005 shows he deserves far better. He’s always made for a great underdog, and here he’s up against mobsters, his own past behavior, and the ticking clock. It’s a darkly fun night that sees him joined by Connie Nielsen, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, and Randy Quaid. Harold Ramis is missed.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, alternate endings, outtake, featurettes]
What is it? A couple splits up just as the woman starts a friendship with the man’s pop star obsession.
Why see it? Nick Hornby’s script isn’t based on one of his novels, but the feelings, characters, and tone feel very much his style. There’s a sweet romance at play here, but the real focus is on a young woman (Rose Byrne) finding herself so she can trust herself. Byrne is phenomenal, as always, and captures both the heart and comic sensibilities of her character beautifully. Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd do good supporting work as well. It’s an honest rom-com that knows romance isn’t always in the cards even as laughs are.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? The infamous count makes one last stab at evil.
Why see it? This was the last Hammer Dracula film with Christopher Lee as the vampire and Peter Cushing as the eternal hunter, and while that makes its “modern day” setting an odd choice it pays off. The count’s trying to infect the world with the bubonic plague — odd as he’d then be out of food, but honest as he’s maybe tired of living — but Van Helsing is onto him after a satanic temple with high profile members gets busted. We get plenty of bloodletting, a surprising amount of T&A, and a satisfying conclusion.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? A new roommate begins acting suspiciously.
Why see it? There have been numerous thrillers with similar plots — a newcomer becomes a bit too fond of someone or someplace and soon the killings start — but along with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Unlawful Entry this remains one of the sub-genre’s most well-crafted entries. Bridget Fonda makes for a spunky hero while Jennifer Jason Leigh is a legit terrifying psychopath.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, commentary]
What is it? A lawyer begins to doubt his client who confessed is actually guilty.
Why see it? Writer/director Kore-eda Hirokazu is best known for his more traditional tales of families and relationships, and while this legal thriller (of sorts) seems a different kind of dramatic story its key elements remain focused on family. The lawyer’s daughter has issues, and others find themselves with equally complicated pasts and presents in their pursuit of an elusive truth. There’s suspense here, but the film’s more interested in the slow peeling back of layers to reveal the lies, the truths, and the space in between.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? A lawyer tries to prevent the execution of a man convicted of blowing up two children decades prior.
Why see it? This is something of a middle of the road John Grisham adaptation — it’s no The Firm or Runaway Jury but it’s also no The Gingerbread Man. It’s fine. Chris O’Donnell gives his usual earnest performance while Gene Hackman does his typical strong work as a racist prick. It’s far less of a thriller than most of the other Grisham films and instead works more as a dramatic commentary on the legal system and the death penalty. Family is the key element here.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? The renowned detective faces off against a master criminal, a supernatural threat, and accusations against his own character.
Why see it? Director Tsui Hark continues his popular action/fantasy film series that shows no signs of slowing down. Dee continues to be an interesting character too as something of a Sherlock Holmes imbued with martial arts skills befitting this wuxia universe. It’s always been a wire-fu world, but recent entries — this one most especially — have also grown too comfortable with shoddy CG. Action fans may not mind, but their cartoonish quality is a bit distracting at times.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? An interpreter at the United Nations overhears plans for an assassination.
Why see it? Sydney Pollack was a fairly consistent filmmaker delivering solidly competent movies in the back half of his career that could never live up to those in the front (like Three Days of the Condor and The Yakuza). This thriller finds its greatest strength in the twin leads of Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, and it manages some entertaining exchanges and set-pieces. It devotes a lot of time to their individual characters, more than thrillers typically allow, and the wager partially pays off.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? A threat from above and below the ocean’s surface endangers everyone.
Why see it? We’re just a few weeks away from Aquaman getting his very first live action feature as headliner, and while expectations vary I’m remaining optimistic for two reasons. Director James Wan is pretty damn reliable, and, well, Aquaman has always been my favorite DC hero. Don’t judge. This animated feature is good fun and sees Aquaman shine even with the Justice League folks in attendance. It’s a vibrant and exciting adventure and looks fantastic to boot.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary, classic cartoons]
What is it? Visitors who stay late at a rodeo discover the grisly truth behind the cowboys who run it.
Why see it? A rodeo is a fantastic locale for a horror movie as violence is a daily part of its existence. The place is also filled with all manner of tools capable of causing harm too, and that element at least gets some play here through some bloody kills. None are all that memorable, though, and that’s the only thing that would have made the rest bearable. The writing is pretty bad when it comes to the people we’re supposed to be rooting for including a lead male who’s just this side of obnoxious in his weakness.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers]
What is it? A college student begins selling making and selling drugs to make ends meet.
Why see it? As familiar as the story is the lead character is anything but. We’ve seen these beats before, but having a woman — an Asian American woman at that — as the face of the student gone bad is something new. It’s even more interesting knowing the story is based on real events and written/directed by the woman who lived it. That said, the execution doesn’t quite live up to the premise. It’s a bit clunky with some rough acting at times and set-pieces that don’t quite work.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
What is it? A megalodon shark rises from the ocean’s depths to give Jason Statham shit.
Why see it? All of the pieces are in place for this to be a fun shark flick along the lines of Deep Blue Sea, but it’s unfortunately all of the stupid with very little of the fun. Statham is the highlight, but even his antics aren’t enough to make this more than a quickly forgettable diversion. More time is spent appeasing Chinese investors than actually crafting fun set-pieces, snappy dialogue, or engaging characters. We have to wait until the third act for the shark to threaten the populated beach locale, and even there it plays everything safe and meh.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? An elite military unit tries to transfer a witness past enemy lines.
Why see it? Ugh. This really should have been a slam dunk. Director Peter Berg knows how to deliver kick-ass action — see The Rundown and The Kingdom for proof of that — but he completely shits the bed here. Even if his direction is on the money the editing tears it all to shreds, and as bad as it is in general it’s especially egregious knowing the immensely talented Iko Uwais plays the witness and features in plenty of the action. Set the camera up and film him, that’s it, but nope… his fights here are garbage thanks to the editing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? John Rambo gets word American POWs are still alive in Vietnam.
Why see it? 1980s action means Sylvester Stallone, and for a while there his Rambo movies were king. This first sequel leaves the drama and character beats behind and goes full 80s action as Rambo tears through Vietnamese soldiers to rescue his brothers in arms. It’s big, filled with death and explosions, and satisfying for action fans who know exactly what they’re getting. The new 4K upgrade pops and brings the jungle and the carnage into even sharper clarity.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, interviews, commentary]
What is it? John Rambo gets word that his beloved commanding officer has been captured in Afghanistan.
Why see it? Vietnam may be over, but thankfully for John Rambo and action-loving audiences, there’s always a war somewhere in the world. This entry’s a bit more topical (and prescient) as Americans find battle in Afghanistan not as supporters of the Russians but as enemies. The landscape’s different, but Rambo still shoots and blows up dozens of baddies building to a fairly thrilling helicopter fight featuring one of those big, deadly Russian choppers. The 4K upgrade once again sharpens the action albeit to less notably crisp degrees.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, interview, commentary]
What is it? Tarzan must chase down some murderous thieves!
Why see it? Bo Derek may argue with the title, but this is an oddly engaging Tarzan adventure that sees our hero a perfectly literate jungle dweller chatting up people in English while he protects the landscape. Sean Connery as one of the baddies is a highlight as are the African filming locales, but Tarzan definitely feels removed from the world he’s supposed to be protecting. Still, it’s a solid adventure with some minor thrills making for a satisfying entry in the Tarzan canon.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? A man with experience seeing ghosts sees more ghosts!
Why see it? The last Topper film may be the weakest, but there’s still fun to be had with an unfolding murder mystery paired alongside some engaging and witty banter. It lacks someone as utterly charismatic as Cary Grant (who starred in the first film), but again, it’s an amusing diversion. This new Blu-ray lacks extras (aside from trailers for the series) but it features a restored image that will appeal to fans.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? A couple suspects a magician may be more murderous than magical.
Why see it? Herschell Gordon Lewis is well known as one of the original gore-hounds, and this is another example why. Chainsaws, knives, spikes, and more tear into human flesh with abandon, and while the story comes down to a simple act of hypnotism the payoff comes courtesy of the gore and a double twist ending. It’s no Two Thousand Maniacs — my favorite Lewis for its wit — but there’s fun to be had. The bonus picture is something all together different as a scientist builds a sexy robot for some shenanigans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Bonus film How to Make a Doll, commentary, interviews]
Also out this week:
Bloodlust [Mondo Macabro], The Blue Dahlia [Shout Select], A Christmas Story Live, The Crown – The Complete Second Season, Ed Wood’s Take It Out In Trade [AGFA], Elementary – Season Six, Ernie Kovacs: The Centennial Edition, Heavy Trip, The Last Movie [Arbelos Films], Naked Vengeance / Vendetta [Scream Factory], Narcos 3, Perversion Story [Mondo Macabro], School Daze – 30th Anniversary