This Week in Home Video
Morris from America Is One of the Year’s Best and Most Refreshing Coming-of-Age Films
Pick of the Week
Morris from America
What is it? Thirteen year old Morris and his father (Craig Robinson) relocate to Germany, but while dad works young Morris works harder to find his place among his new peers. They’re the only black people in town, but it’s his love of rap music that sets him further apart. Further complicating his effort to fit in are the pangs of first love as he falls for a local girl two years his senior.
Why see it? A fresh coming-of-age tale is becoming harder to find these days, but writer/director Chad Hartigan’s film manages to find an original voice with its sweet, funny, and honest tale of growing up the best you can. Robinson and young Markees Christmas deliver strong performances highlighting both vulnerability and optimism, and their relationships with others travel some very human ups and downs. It’s an entertaining and poignant tale, and it will leave you smiling.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene, making of, bloopers, featurette, commentary]
Bubba Ho-Tep [Scream Factory]
What is it? A rest home in a small East Texas town begins seeing an uptick in deaths among their residents, but while the staff is unconcerned two old geezers take it upon themselves to figure out what’s really happening. Sebastian (Bruce Campbell) says he’s actually Elvis Presley and insists the nurses address him as such even as their squeezing his penile pustule. His friend Jack (Ossie Davis) insists he’s someone famous too ‐ John F. Kennedy ‐ and together the king and the president begin investigating the deaths. A 3000 year old Egyptian mummy is sucking souls out of octogenarian assholes, and our two heroes soon find themselves in a ace against time if they want to stop its messy and murderous reign of terror.
Why see it? Writer/director Don Coscarelli’s best known for his Phantasm films, but this horror/comedy adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s short story is an absolute gem and my personal favorite. The comedy is pitch perfect, the practical effects are cool, and the two lead performances are a terrific blend of laughs and heart. The movie is fantastic and alone worth picking up on Blu-ray, but Scream Factory’s new release is loaded with fantastic special features new and old.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes, music video]
The Goodbye Girl [Warner Archive]
What is it? Paula (Marsha Mason) and her daughter have just had their hearts broken as her longtime boyfriend skips out on them for greener pastures, but what did she expect from an actor? Her pain is compounded when a young man (Richard Dreyfuss) arrives having sublet the apartment from the jerk, and now Paula’s forced to share the place with this odd stranger who also happens to be an actor.
Why see it? Neil Simon’s script and Herbert Ross’ direction guide this fast-moving, fast-talking romantic comedy, but it’s the performances of all involved who fuel its energy and charm. Dreyfuss actually won the Academy Award for his witty and playful performance here, but he and Mason are equally fantastic. It’s a rom-com, so you know where it’s heading, but the journey is a sweet and funny one all the same.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? Marcus (Logan Lerman) is a good Jewish boy who heads to a private college in the hopes of furthering his education while the Korean war rages overseas. He learns a lot, but it’s not quite the knowledge he was expecting.
Why see it? Philip Roth’s novel comes to the screen with a beautiful eye for setting, performance, and pace as it relays a story of misguided love and the cost of principles. Lerman and Sarah Gadon are fantastic, but Tracy Letts steals the film during his face-offs with the intense Marcus. Gadon’s character is a bit short-changed, but this is Marcus’ story, and both of them are its victims.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
The Initiation [Arrow Video]
What is it? Kelly (Daphne Zuniga) is rushing a sorority with some friends, and while their membership seems guaranteed there’s one last thing they have to do. The girls are tasked with an overnight theft inside Kelly’s father’s shopping mall, but once inside they discover too late that they’re not alone.
Why see it? This mid ’80s slasher doesn’t get mentioned much in discussions on the genre, but it’s a solidly crafted entry with a strong cast (Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles), some fun gory bits, and a valid twist ending. It hits all the sweet spots of the genre with its bloodletting and college girl shenanigans, but it does good work with its story and characters. Arrow’s new Blu offers up a sharp transfer along with some informative and entertaining new extras.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2k transfer, commentary, interviews, extended scene]
What is it? Frank (voice of Seth Rogen) is a sausage, and like the other franks in his package and the rest of the groceries in the store he’s hoping and praying that one day a god will choose him for a journey to the great beyond. They all think it’s heaven, but when word gets back that what awaits them is slaughter and digestion rather than freedom he leads a small party in search of the truth.
Why see it? The setup here is a terrifically nightmarish spin on the typical Pixar film ‐ inanimate objects have lives too! ‐ but while there are some laughs throughout it’s the final twenty five minutes that make it all worthwhile. Their world goes to hell in the most glorious ways. The disc’s extras feature some fun making-of bits including an interview from 2009 with Rogen and Evan Goldberg riffing about how easy it would be to pitch something called Sausage Party.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel, featurettes]
Taxi Driver ‐ 40th Anniversary Edition
What is it? Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a taxi driver in New York City who’s none too pleased with the crime and filth walking the nighttime streets. His insomnia adds to an increasing loneliness and societal frustration, but as his mental troubles grow he’s drawn to two women promising either salvation or total destruction.
Why see it? Martin Scorsese’s mid ’70s dramatic thriller is an at-times intense look at one man’s descent into his own personal hell. It creates a rich atmosphere detailing both the grime that Bickle sees and the real, normal world existing beyond his vision (a world populated by the likes of Albert Brooks and Cybill Shepherd). The ending’s unexpected turn feels right at home in today’s media personality-driven world. Most of the extras here are older, but the disc does include a new Q&A featuring cast and crew.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New Q&A, commentaries, featurettes, making of]
Band of Robbers
What is it? Huck Finn has been released from jail and just wants to get on with life, but his old partner in crime, Tom Sawyer, has other plans. Tom’s a cop now, but that doesn’t mean he’s not up for a treasure hunt and a robbery with his childhood pals.
Why see it? This light comedic romp is equal parts Mark Twain and Wes Anderson (more Bottle Rocket than his later films) as it re-imagines beloved literary characters as mischievous crooks. A darker tone creeps in as they move forward with an inept plan, but the film does good work balancing the zany with the deadly.
[DVD extras: None]
Into the Badlands ‐ Season One
What is it? Civilization has crumbled, and in its wake a new (yet familiar) feudal society has grown. People work the fields in service to barons who own large swaths of land along with the workers’ loyalty. There are seven barons total, each with a grip on some necessity, and each with their own army of warriors.
Why see it? There are some definite strengths to AMC’s freshman action series, and they start with Daniel Wu in the lead role as the show’s conscience and superior fighter. Those fights are the next biggest draw as the choreography and cinematography are aces making the two fights or so per ep truly spectacular. The world-building isn’t quite up there though, and while it’s interesting that this is a society without guns we never quite buy the rules this world sets forth. Still, while the dialogue is generic in its themes the action is solid and an Asian-American lead is a rarity.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? Kurt’s brother is a champion martial artist who makes the unfortunate decision to fight in an illegal bout in Thailand, and when the match leaves him dead Kurt goes looking for vengeance against the man (Dave Bautista) responsible. He’ll need help though from a master trainer (Jean-Claude Van Damme).
Why see it? This reboot of a popular Van Damme franchise lacks the two things that made his original memorable ‐ it’s free of charisma, and the fight scenes are blandly unimpressive. Van Damme spends most of his few scenes hiding behind sunglasses, and the fights lack speed and creativity.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
The Killing of America [Severin]
What is it? As the ’80s began it was already clear to many that the United States was suffering an epidemic of violence that far exceeded any other civilized country. Two filmmakers set out to explore the growing phenomenon resulting in a documentary that was immediately shelved and never given a proper release inside the very country it documented.
Why see it? Severin has dug up something of a time capsule here with this doc made amid some of America’s most violent and murderous times. The images captured here run the gamut of traditional to an episode of Cops with stops in between for graphic looks at dead bodies, killers, and soon-to-be victims. It’s easy to see why it shocked people at the time, but today it exists as more of a curiosity. It is fascinating comparing the US cut with the longer, more critical Japanese cut.
[Blu-ray extras: Extended Japanese version, commentary, interviews]
What is it? Duke (Corey Allen) and Boots (Warren Oates) walk into a coastal California town and immediately begin a subtle campaign of terror emanating beneath their smiles. They frighten a couple men along the way, but they wind up focused on a young, bored housewife (Kate Manx) in the house beside the one they’re squatting in.
Why see it? Writer/director Leslie Stevens’ (The Outer Limits) feature debut is something of a slow burn melodrama as the two criminals move toward an inevitable assault. Their relationship and motivations have a loose feel to them making for a film that balances tone with plot, and while some of the story turns feel preordained the three lead performances carry us through on the power of their varying degrees of loneliness. The movie was forgotten for decades but receives an attractive Blu-ray release from Cinelicious Pics.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4k transfer, interview, essay]
What is it? Haim-Aaron is dedicated to his faith to an impressive (or alarming, depending on your point of view) degree, but things grow more complicated when his fasting leads to his death. He’s revived forty minutes later a changed man.
Why see it? Avishai Sivan’s film is a challenging watch by design and consequence. It immerses viewers into he Hassidic lifestyle with rules and behaviors presented rather than explained, and Haim-Aaron’s shifting view ‐ he believes God is testing him, and the temptations grow too strong ‐ leads him to cross lines both religious and proper. The slow-moving tale combined with a static camera add to the challenge, but it succeeds as an otherworldly drama.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A woman with no interest in having children becomes pregnant anyway, and both she and the Bulgarian establishment are surprised to see the little girl born without a belly button. She’s championed as the country’s Baby of the Decade, but as Communism’s rise turns into its fall her larger than life existence is forced to come back to Earth as well.
Why see it? Maya Vitkova’s film works as a metaphor of sorts for a life spent under Communist rule, but its strength is in the fractured and eventually mended relationship between mother and daughter and grandmother. Vitkova presents their journey with an attractive eye, but at over two and a half hours several sequences feel as if they carry on well past the point where the point was made.
[DVD extras: None]
Also Out This Week:
The Almost Man, Daredevil ‐ The Complete First Season, Lone Wolf and Cub [Criterion]
Related Topics: Home Video