This Week in Home Video
The Fits Is One of the Year’s Best and Most Original Films
Pick of the Week
What is it? Toni (Royalty Hightower) is a pre-teen tomboy who focuses on building muscle and speed with the boys while the other girls work on more feminine activities. They’re part of a dance squad, and their competitive routines are team efforts as girls move, sway, and shake in often aggressive unison. Toni can only ignore their pull for so long and soon attends tryouts, cautiously, but as she excels at the muscular moves and flounders at the more graceful ones her desire to succeed grows. And then an odd affliction begins. One girl suffers a fit of convulsions, followed a day later by another, then another. The cause seems elusive, the concern seems low, and some girls are even looking forward to experiencing it.
Why buy it? Director/co-writer Anna Rose Holmer’s feature debut is a beautiful, hauntingly precarious coming of age film that uses mystery and an at times dream-like atmosphere to create a mesmerizing tale. Are the girls faking it for attention? Is something unnatural happening to them? Is it something to fear or appreciate? Holmer lets the questions hang in the air, unanswered, but answered all the same. There’s meaning here for viewers to decipher, and it adds an undercurrent of unease and wonder to the film culminating in a subtly, powerfully mesmerizing final five minutes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None?]
The Fits [Blu-ray]
Captain America: Civil War
What is it? Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads an Avengers-lite team into Nigeria in pursuit of Crossbones (Frank Grillo), but the ensuing scuffle results in collateral damage including several dead locals. Called to task by world governments tired of seeing their civilians pay the ultimate price, the Avengers are “asked” to sign an international accord putting them under the control of a committee who would determine which missions they can or cannot undertake. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees. Rogers refuses. The accord moves forward, but when a devastating attack leaves carnage in its wake with evidence pointing to the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as the culprit the Avengers’ differing ideologies turns to all out war between them.
Why buy it? Mark Millar’s popular Civil War comic from 2007 serves as more of an inspiration here than a template as writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely readjust that epic conflict with a more intimate focus on themes of guilt, grief, and revenge. We still get a beautifully-constructed face-off between a dozen heroes, but the character work afforded Captain America and Iron Man across seven earlier movies comes to an explosive head that imbues the action with more than simple entertainment. The former’s inflexible integrity, the latter’s unquenchable ego, and their begrudging relationship are doused with the guilt of fallen friends and strangers alike and set ablaze by the fiery insistence of their convictions.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes, commentary, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Marvel's Captain America: Civil War [Blu-ray]
The Conjuring 2
What is it? Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga) have just tackled their most infamous case, Amityville, opening them to immense media attention, but more troubling than the spotlight is a premonition she saw during their investigation. She suggests they quit direct confrontations with the supernatural and focus on educating the public, but when word reaches them about a terrified family across the Atlantic Ed convinces her that they have to help. The Hodgson family are living a nightmare in north London’s Enfield borough. Young Janet has become the unwilling target of a malevolent spirit who claims the family is trespassing in his home, and his violent outbursts are growing more intense. Local media has already whipped up comparisons to Amityville, and the Warrens arrive in search of evidence to satisfy the Catholic church (who require it before consenting to an exorcism) but are surprised to find none. Is this a hoax? Or is something more devious and diabolical at play.
Why buy it? Director James Wan returns to horror after his successful (commercially anyway) venture into the world of the Fast & Furious, and it’s immediately clear that his genre chops are intact resulting in a film that once again balances big, beautiful scares with satisfying emotional beats. It’s familiar ‐ sometimes overly so ‐ but the chills and thrills remain. One of Wan’s greatest strengths remains his eye for shadow and forced perspectives. Horror films typically rely on terrors popping into the frame to startle a character, but Wan’s camera is constantly gliding, tilting, and surveying the surroundings for potentially unsettling sights. We scan across a room or glance down a hallway, and then we do it again, but on the second (or even third) look something has changed for the worse. One scene involving a painting of a demonic nun offers a masterclass to genre film makers hoping to create suspense and terror through shadow, light, and patience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Conjuring 2 (Blu-ray + Digital HD)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
What is it? Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is a pop sensation who broke away from his popular boy band to become a chart-busting solo act, but as the days countdown to the release of his second solo album the pressure for continued success grows.
Why buy it? The Lonely Island trio of Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone delivered laughs through their Saturday Night Live videos and individual projects (MacGruber, The Watch), but Popstar is their biggest triumph yet. (In quality I mean, not box-office, as audiences let the movie die a fast death in theaters.) It’s ridiculous, crass, and occasionally stupid, but it’s also a somewhat brilliant skewering of pop star features from the likes of Justin Bieber and others. The laughs are plentiful, some easily missed as you’re still giggling over gags that came before, and Conner’s songs are pretty damn catchy too. The film is highly re-watchable, and the Blu offers a lot of equally funny extras.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, music videos, outtakes, featurettes, commentary]
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Tenebrae [Synapse Films]
What is it? A popular American author of grisly thrillers heads to Italy on a promotional tour, but his arrival triggers a series of brutal murders associated somehow with his novel.
Why buy it? This bloody thriller is one of Dario Argento’s best ‐ it’s top four alongside Deep Red, Suspiria, and Phenomena in my opinion ‐ and it succeeds through a terrifically twisted script that knows well how to use red herrings. Argento’s never been shy about gore or nudity, but this is heavier on both than many of his early films which adds to the film’s gratuitous themes and thrills. Synapse Films’ new Blu features a gorgeous new transfer as well as a fantastic feature-length doc on giallo film history.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, documentary
All Things Must Pass
What is it? Tower Records was once a giant in the retail world with hundreds of stores around the world and billions of dollars ringing in at the cash register, but just five years after reaching the peak of their nearly half-decade existence they declared bankruptcy. This documentary explores the company’s path from small-town shop to industry giant to distant memory.
Why see it? Colin Hanks’ doc offers a fun and surprisingly affecting peek behind the curtain into Tower Records’ history through interviews with founder Russ Solomon, numerous past employees (including ex-clerk Dave Grohl), and fans including Elton John who states unequivocally that he spent more in their stores than anyone else. Those of us who’ve worked retail, particularly back in the ’80s, will find more to enjoy with glimpses of the retail life including backroom shenanigans.
[DVD extras: None]
Back in Time
What is it? The Back to the Future trilogy ‐ the first film in particular ‐ has solidified its place in popular film history, and this documentary offers a look into its production and impact on pop culture.
Why see it? Fans of the film and the talent involved ‐ Michael J. Fox, Robert Zemeckis, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Steven Spielberg ‐ should find much to enjoy here amid the entertaining anecdotes and tidbits of information they provide through numerous interviews. You’d be hard-pressed to find much new information here really, and it’s very much a talking-heads doc, but these particular heads are engaging folks and usually worth a listen.
[DVD extras: None]
Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs Mutants
What is it? The city of Gotham has faced massive threats before, but few have been as large as the giants marching through the streets now. Bane, Clayface, and Killer Croc have all been magnified to become behemoths, and it’s going to take new tricks for Batman and Green Arrow to knock them down to size.
Why see it? This feature-length Batman adventure is of what I call the “old school” variety in that none of it feels the least bit grounded. Darker, more “realistic” tales are the focus of DC’s live-action films, but their cartoon division remains content telling far more fantastical and goofy stories. This one finds fun in the banter and cartoony action and will appeal to fans of DC/WB’s recent animated releases (outside of The Killing Joke I mean).
[DVD extras: Bonus cartoon]
The Big Bang Theory ‐ The Complete Ninth Season
What is it? Leonard and Penny are married and now exist as one of the three couples experimenting with the science of love. Poor Raj has yet to find the special one, but being single has some perks as he discovers. It’s not all romance and dirty talk though as science, games, friendship, and geekery remain the themes of the day.
Why see it? On the bright side, nine seasons of this aren’t nearly as insulting to comic taste as the numerous years we got/have gotten of dreck like Two and a Half Men or Two Broke Girls. But on the other hand, this still is far from a consistently funny or engaging sitcom as any single minute of Togetherness trumps any episode (or hell, any season) of this. The cast and characters are likable though making it a harmless diversion.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Comic-Con panel, featurettes, gag reel]
What is it? Jack is a bit of a dick. He’s also a teenager stuck in a town going nowhere surrounded by people entertained by beating others (particularly him) down for laughs. His aggressive attitude is put in check when he’s tasked with looking after his young cousin and finds himself forced to put someone else’s needs before his own.
Why see it? There’s a soft familiarity to the story and characters here as we know where things are heading even as we don’t believe they’d turn out as they do, but none of that hurts the film’s appeal. Young Charlie Plummer does strong work as Jack highlighting the boy’s battle between stubborn pride, utter stupidity, and honest suffering. Outcomes feel somewhat slight, but the bullying itself is presented with a pained and accurate portrayal.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? A rogue government agent has left a trail of dead bodies in his wake, and the only chance at bringing him down rests with a group of convicted ladies. Trained by one of the agent’s exes ‐ and a woman he though he killed ‐ the female warriors strike out against the enemy.
Why see it? Slasher Video (via Olive Films) brings this late ’80s direct-to-dvd action flick to Blu-ray, and while it’s far from a gem there are solid beats and fun, cheesy bits here. Plot is almost non-existent, and it never quite becomes the T&A experience you’d expect, but it’s a fast, occasionally fun watch.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? A highly-trained team of bank robbers commits a near flawless crime leaving one dead body on the floor. A second bank is it by the same group, and once again a single person is killed in the process. The FBI team in charge of the investigation (Christopher Meloni, Dave Bautista, Adrian Grenier) see a pattern developing and begin to suspect the bank’s president (Bruce Willis) is somehow involved.
Why see it? Director Steven C. Miller has quickly made a name for himself with a steadily increasing roster of (mostly) direct-to-dvd action/genre pictures, and his returning casts suggest he’s doing at least something right. (Willis, Grenier, and Johnathon Schaech all worked with him on previous or upcoming films.) This cops n robbers tale is easily his best feature so far (although I’m still most partial to Silent Night) as it delivers some dense plotting and solid action sequences as well as a leading role for Meloni. That last bit alone is worthy of praise.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, interviews]
Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn [Scream Factory]
What is it? A tough ranger on the planet of Lemuria faces off against an evil ruler and his henchman in an effort to save a young woman and her father, but it’s not going to be an easy mission. Lasers, flying ships, mutants, and worse await.
Why see it? Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray offers cleaned up versions of the film in both 2D and 3D, and while it doesn’t hold up as while as some early ’80s sci-fi/fantasy features there’s still some B-movie fun to be had here with the bad optical effects and creative practical work. The vehicular action is where it’s at though with some cool chases and stunt work.
[Blu-ray extras: 2D/3D, featurette]
The Monster of Piedras Blancas
What is it? Piedras Blancas is a small town with a big problem. A bipedal creature lives just offshore, and its trips onto land to satisfy its murderous urges are slowly decreasing the town’s population.
Why see it? This late ’50s creature feature borrows liberally at times from films like Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it finds its own rhythm thanks to an eclectic cast of characters and a bit of progressive attitude in a female lead unafraid to skinny dip or tease her dad about her liaisons.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Quantico ‐ The Complete First Season
What is it? The FBI welcomes a new class of recruits including Alex Parrish, and when a terrorist attack decimates part of New York City the veil of suspicion falls on her. She knows she’s innocent, but as evidence begins pointing in her direction she’s forced into hiding as she sets out to identify the real guilty parties.
Why see it? The television landscape is filled with procedural series of all stripes, and ABC’s freshman show is one of the more memorable. There’s an immediacy and topicality to the plot, and the show moves back and forth in time to introduce characters and move things forward with momentum. Priyanka Chopra does good, charismatic work as our main guide through the story. It’s a bit too Grey’s Anatomy at times with detours into romantic endeavors that feel out of place given the situations, but ABC is no stranger to embracing what works for them.
[DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes]
Raising Cain ‐ Collector’s Edition [Scream Factory]
What is it? Carter Nix (John Lithgow) is a nice guy, a considerate husband, and a terrific father, but none of that stops his wife from cheating on him with an old flame. Her infidelity coincides with Carter experiencing a slight manic breakdown that splits him into a handful of personalities, and at least one of them has murder on his mind.
Why see it? Brian De Palma had a terrific run in the ’70s and ’80s, but the ’90s through today have been hit or miss for the director. One of his misses is this thriller about split personalities and sexual misbehaving, and while Lithgow is having a ton of undeniable fun with his character(s) his enthusiasm doesn’t carry over for the viewers. The tone is inconsistent, the story leaves a lot to be desired, and De Palma appears to be making fun of his own reputation while pretending to play it straight. The big draw with Scream Factory’s new Blu though is the inclusion of a fan-made director’s cut with De Palma’s approval. It uses all of the same footage, but its re-edit makes for a surprisingly more appealing film.
[Blu-ray extras: Theatrical/”director’s cut, interviews, featurette]
Take Me to the River
What is it? Ryder (Logan Miller) is a laid-back teen from California, but when he joins his family for a trip to Nebraska to spend time with relatives he unwittingly walks into a world of trouble. His young niece takes a liking to him and the two spend time together, but a confluence of events leads the family to suspect Ryder’s crossed the line in his interactions with the child.
Why see it? False accusations are unsettling by their very nature, but being accused of something truly heinous is the stuff of nightmares. Ryder gives a terrific performance here as suspicion falls upon him from all corners, and the film unspools the truth at a slow and steady rate ensuring both drama and suspense. The build-up is better than the end execution at times though as we’e not left wholly satisfied, but it remains an affecting piece of work.
[DVD extras: None?]
Transformers: The Movie
What is it? The war between the Autobots and the Decepticons has raged for centuries with neither side gaining the upper hand for long, but the arrival of a new threat forces a severe change in tactics. Unicron (a large transformer, voiced by Orson Welles) is heading towards the transformers’ home planet of Cybertron intent on their destruction.
Why see it? Long before Michael Bay brought the transforming alien/car hybrids into live action they found life in toys and cartoons, and this feature from the ’80s was the peak of its popularity. My parents insisted on encouraging an appreciation for off-brand products, so I was more of GoBot kid, but I recall my friends being fans. It’s an action-heavy feature complete with recognizable voice talents and rock songs, and there’s rarely a dull moment throughout. Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray gives the picture a 4K face-lift and includes a thorough documentary exploring the film’s production and popularity.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, commentary, featurettes]
Vaxxed: From Cover Up to Catastrophe
What is it? The Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine causes autism! Here’s the totally circumstantial proof!
Why see it? The science seems pretty clear on the subject ‐ as in, no, the MMR vaccine does not cause autism ‐ but people have opinions. Scratch that… people have fears and a desire to point the finger away from themselves, their god, or blind chance. So yes, the thesis here feels like bunk, but the doc itself has some interesting elements. For one thing, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the main face of the movement, comes across as a far more rational man than his demonization would suggest. There are loonies here (including one Australian mother who keeps referring to autistic people as “damaged”), but he doesn’t appear to be one of them. The unfortunate thing is that he makes some interesting and relevant points ‐ vaccines should endure the same rigorous testing as other drugs, vaccines should be a not-for-profit venture, etc ‐ but they’re lost amid the hysteria whipped up by understandably emotional parents looking to blame someone for their child’s suffering.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, Q&As, featurettes]
Yours, Mine and Ours
What is it? Frank Beardsley (Henry Fonda) is a widower, and Helen North (Lucille Ball) is a widow, and they have eighteen children between them. Conveniently enough the two fall in love and decide to give a combined family a go. Messy hilarity ensues.
Why see it? Fans of Cheaper By the Dozen and/or The Brady Bunch will find much to enjoy here ‐ this is the biggest family of any of them ‐ as the descent into comedy as they juggle the army of kids offers some levity as the two deal with single life. The narration isn’t helping anyone though as it gives something of a flat feel to too much of the film. Still, Fonda and Ball are both having great fun with the material.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Also Out This Week:
Aliens: 30th Anniversary Edition, De Palma, Empire ‐ The Complete Second Season, Longmire ‐ The Complete Fourth Season, The Measure of a Man, Standing Tall, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum [Criterion Collection], Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman [Criterion Collection]
Related Topics: Home Video