This Week in Home Video
All Aboard the Night Train to Munich
Pick of the Week
Night Train to Munich [Criterion Collection]
What is it? The world is lurching toward war, and the Nazis want a particular Czech scientist on their side. The man and his daughter are on the run finding themselves in and out of Nazi custody, but their only chance at permanent safety is in the hands of a British agent (Rex Harrison) risking it all to go undercover among the enemy.
Why see it? Carol Reed’s 1940 thriller is a terrifically entertaining ride with action both on and off a hurtling train and culminating in a wonderfully crafted and perfectly paced final set piece involving a ravine and gondolas high up in the Swiss Alps. Beyond the suspense and thrills though, the movie is also a delightfully-scripted comedy complete with rapid-fire dialogue and scathing digs at everyone’s favorite punching bags, the Nazis. Criterion’s new release is light on extras, but the film (restored in HD) is enough of a reason to pick up a copy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, booklet]
Night Train to Munich (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
A Bigger Splash
What is it? Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a famous rock star (think David Bowie-ish) taking a much-deserved vacation with her filmmaker boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) on a remote Italian island, but their dreamy getaway is interrupted by a visit from Marianne’s ex (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter (Dakota Johnson).
Why see it? This is an absolutely gorgeous film filled with beautiful cinematography and compositions, but its main appeal rests in the performances of Swinton and Fiennes. The pair are a dynamic and dangerous duo playing ex-lovers remembering their shared past with both longing and disgust. Fiennes in particular is a manic delight deserving of recognition. The intrusion of plot in the third act lessens the film overall, but it remains a sexy, alluring, and engaging sensory experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Love & Friendship
What is it? Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) has two goals in mind, and both involve hooking the right men. One is for her daughter, a young woman in need of marrying off to secure a financially secure future, and one is for herself for roughly the same reasons.
Why see it? Jane Austen’s oft-forgotten (and posthumously published) novella is brought to life by writer/director Whit Stillman, and the result is a fast-moving and caustically witty comedy about status. Beckinsale is an absolute blast here revealing a comedic sensibility we rarely get to see from her, and while the overall story is admittedly slight at times it’s never less than entertaining as Lady Susan’s schemes twist and turn their way through family and friends alike.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Love & Friendship [Blu-ray]
What is it? Ding (Sammo Hung) is a retired special agent previously assigned as protection detail for some of China’s highest ranking officials, but these days he lives a quiet life of regret over the one person he failed to protect ‐ his own granddaughter. When a neighbor (Andy Lau) gets in trouble with the mob Ding sees a second chance in protecting the man’s daughter.
Why see it? Hung remains a force of nature, but as both his age and weight have increased he’s come to rely more on editing trickery when it comes to his fight scenes. The end result is that the film’s biggest draw ‐ the action ‐ is rarely all that entertaining or impressive. It’s a long wait to reach the fights too as time is spent on generic character work and poorly structured/executed exposition.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
A Boy Named Charlie Brown
What is it? Charlie Brown can’t seem to do anything right, and while his failures and inadequacies are trademarks he strives to be a winner. Athletics aren’t his strong point, so with encouragement from Linus he takes aim on the spelling bee.
Why see it? The first Peanuts feature film remains one of the best as it embraces the strip’s key characters and characteristics well. Snoopy gets time with the Red Baron as well as a solo skating party in New York City, and Charlie gets tantalizingly close to what he sees as a big win without ever really touching the gold. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the strip thanks to its masochistic streak, but the rest of you might want to pick up the film’s Blu-ray debut.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? Det. Garza is a tough Mexican cop who doesn’t always make the best decisions. His current target, a crime lord who killed Garza’s partner, is arrested but convinces Garza to help him escape in exchange for the cop’s girlfriend’s life. The key to bringing the criminal down rests with a teenage hacker from America.
Why see it? There’s fun to be had with the Spanish/English production even as it hits plenty of generic story beats. The action sequences are generally well done, and while a pair of sadistic villains lean more comical than threatening they’re entertaining all the same. The humor is a mixed bag as some of the dialogue exchanges land while some gags (poop!) don’t. If nothing else though, there’s always a cameo from Eric Roberts.
[DVD extras: None]
CSI: Cyber ‐ The Final Season
What is it? The FBI’s Cyber Crime Division is front and center on the frontlines against digital threats, and the team is led by Agent Avery Ryan (Patricia Arquette). They tackle terrorist threats and solitary acts alike and often use the same same tools as the villains to crack, infect, and expose illegal acts.
Why see it? CBS has cancelled the show after this second season, but while we’ll get no more adventures from the crew the season still has some fun beats to offer. Arquette is joined by Ted Danson (reprising his CSI character) and James Van Der Beek), and all three are worthwhile talents outside their typical genres making for additionally entertaining moments. This was never a great show as the cyber limitation is evident in their attempts to stretch its meaning and reach, but CSI fans should enjoy catching up.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
What is it? A family trip to the American midwest saddles a suburban family with an uninvited and demonic house guest when one of them brings home some magical stones.
Why see it? It’s easy to put your faith in the hands of director Greg McLean (Rogue, Wolf Creek) and star Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, Pitch Black), but this film is the epitome of bad studio horror. Loud noises and weak CG make up the entirety of its efforts to scare viewers, and the family reads like a bad screenwriting course come to life ‐ dad’s a cheater! mom’s a drunk! daughter is bulimic! son is autistic! You’ll care nothing about them or their predicament.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
The Dead Room [Scream Factory]
What is it? A farmhouse in the remote Australian countryside draws three visitors after reports of strange happenings. The two men are researchers into the paranormal, and the young woman is a psychic. As the days and nights pass the trio comes to believe they’re not alone.
Why see it? This is a low budget affair, but it only really suffers from it when it comes to green screen shots of the great outdoors. All three lead performances are good, and the film does good work building the haunting. The ending isn’t quite as successful, but the ride towards it is an engaging one.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? It’s the future after an unspecified event led to a restructuring of society within contained and controlled cities. Coupling and emotional expression are looked upon as weaknesses so they’ve been eradicated through pre-birth genetic manipulation, but a percentage of the population ‐ including Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) ‐ have begun showing signs that their emotions are returning.
Why see it? Writer/director Drake Doremus’ latest brings his love for sad romances into a dystopian future, and the result is an attractively-shot love story that stumbles with its world-building. It’s never made clear why they felt the need to modify their existence in this way, and their daily behaviors are equally unexplained. Thankfully the chemistry between the lead characters and actors is strong, the film is never less than beautiful to look at, and short-haired Stewart is the best Stewart.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
What is it? Max Perkins (Colin Firth) was a legendary editor whose nose for talent helped bring Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald into the public eye, but the writer who affected him most was Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). The ups and downs of their relationship, both as friends and colleagues, is the ficus here.
Why see it? This is the kind of film you see for the cast alone including Firth, Law, Guy Pearce, Laura Linney, Nicole Kidman, and Dominic West. The story being told isn’t all that captivating, but the character work ‐ and in turn the performances ‐ makes the relationships a compelling affair.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Hard Target 2
What is it? Wes “The Jailer” Baylor (Scott Adkins) is a champion MMA fighter whose career comes to an abrupt end when his friend and latest opponent dies in the ring. Disgraced, Wes becomes a fighter for hire, but his latest job offer seems too good to be true. He’s set up as the most dangerous game for a group of experienced, wealthy hunters.
Why see it? After a series of films seeing Adkins in supporting, non-action roles (Criminal, The Brothers Grimsby, Jarhead 3) he finally gets to kick ass again in this sequel in name only to the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic. The film’s neither smart nor original, but the action is solid throughout with a variety to it all including gunplay, vehicular action, and of course… Adkins doing what he does best.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Honey 3: Dare to Dance
What is it? Melea is a high school girl with music in her heart and dance in her bones, but feeling restricted by her Cape Town school’s rules she decides to express herself in another way. Together with a community in need of inspiration she sets out to stage a lively version of Romeo & Juliet.
Why see it? Like all of you, I’m a big fan of Honey starring Jessica Alba, but it’s news to me that there was an Alba-less Honey 2. That trend continues with the even more Alba-less Honey 3, and therein rests the problem. There’s energy to the dancing, but without a charismatic lead the sequences exist as the only real highlights amid a sea of generic story turns.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
Limitless ‐ Season One
What is it? Brian Finch is unsure of what he wants from life, but that changes when he’s introduced to an experimental new drug that opens up the possibilities of his mind. It transforms him into the smartest man alive, so of course he puts his new intelligence to good use helping to solve crimes. Lurking in the shadows though are truths and people who threaten his new life.
Why see it? The 2011 film of the same name is an interesting little thriller starring Bradley Cooper, and the series turns it into a procedural of sorts with crimes of the week alongside an over-arching story line. It’s maybe not all that memorable, but the episodes are frequently well-written and entertaining as Brian digs deeper into the drug, its makers, and its effect on others. Cameos from Cooper as his character from the film are a nice touch too.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a financial wiz with a high-rated but low-brow television show shepherding viewers into buying and selling stocks. The show takes a turn though when a young man (Jack O’Connell) arrives with a gun, a bomb, and a desire to make Lee pay for pushing his audience in questionable directions.
Why see it? Jodie Foster’s latest directorial effort was quickly forgotten at the box-office despite its re-teaming of Clooney and Julia Roberts. The script is fairly obvious throughout, and Clooney dances entirely too much, but the film still manages to be an entertaining watch in a generic Hollywood kind of way. The leads are charismatic and there are some fun, suspenseful beats along the way.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, music video]
Night of the Living Deb
What is it? Deb is looking for love, but when she wakes up with a potential match they discover the outside world has taken a turn for the worse ‐ zombies! Together with friends and strangers alike they set out to survive the apocalypse.
Why see it? Zombie comedies are a fairly common mash-up, but while there have been some winners (Shaun of the Dead, Deadman Inferno) far too many of them fail in either the horror or comedy (or both). Kyle Rankin’s film is light on the former but falls short mostly on the latter as the laughs too often feel forced. Some still succeed though, and you can never go wrong with Ray Wise, so genre fans should give it a chance.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, bloopers, featurette]
Now You See Me 2
What is it? The Four Horsemen have returned! Well, three plus a new Horsewoman anyway. They resurface in order to expose a corporate fraud, but their appearance is hijacked by someone adept at playing their own game of illusion and misdirection.
Why see it? Full disclosure, I hate the first film. Don’t get me wrong, I love heist movies with the parts where the “how” is explained being among my favorite, but Now You See Me is nothing more than a series of elaborate situations resolved via CG. Forget smart, twisty writing ‐ forget magic and illusion ‐ as the film just paints characters into a corner and then lets them escape through CG trickery. The sequel is an even worse offender on that front, and while it pretends to explain the how it’s with the laziest, most improbable explanations you could imagine. There’s absolutely no weight in this world, no characters worth caring about, nothing cool about their achievements, and nothing that leaves you impressed or smiling. (Lizzy Caplan comes close on the latter though.) In-movie audience reactions are as false as the magic, and the script’s efforts to surprise sees it tripping over itself again and again. Guess who’s back! Guess who’s good now! This is a garbage movie.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
The Ones Below
What is it? Kate and Justin are happy with their marriage, their careers, and their London flat, and thanks to a tiny British bun in the oven they’re hoping to soon be happy with their new child as well. There are things to be nervous about of course, but they’re competent and confident people, so what could go wrong? Cut to new neighbors moving in to the flat beneath them, and the answer becomes clear. Jon and Theresa are equally pregnant but far more uptight and mysterious, and those traits bubble into anger and accusation after a tragic accident ends Theresa’s pregnancy. They leave town, Kate gives birth, and her new life settles into a routine of sorts that’s soon interrupted by the downstairs couple’s return.
Why see it? It’s no spoiler to say that Kate is cracking beneath pressure being applied by someone around her as it’s clear early on in the film. Instead the two questions at play here are who’s responsible and what is his or her end game? Unfortunately for the film (and for audiences), the answers to both questions are sadly obvious. It feels in some ways like a ’90s thriller à la The Hand that Rocks the Cradle or Arlington Road, but it lacks either of those films’ thrills. Instead it’s a well-acted, attractively-shot drama that ends exactly where you expect.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Feaurettes]
Snoopy, Come Home
What is it? Snoopy gets a letter from a sick little girl asking for his company, and the beagle finds it hard to resist. She was his original owner after all. Charlie Brown and the gang throw the dog a farewell party as he reluctantly sets off for his new home.
Why see it? The kids all make appearances here, but this is mostly Snoopy’s tale as he explores the city and struggles with deciding who he belongs with. The little girl adds an emotional element into the mix which brings weight, but it does serve to lighten the casual humor as well. It’s also the first on-screen appearance of Woodstock.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Supernatural ‐ The Complete Eleventh Season
What is it? Sean and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles) have seen a lot over the years ‐ monsters, murders, death, resurrection ‐ but their latest adventures have them facing even bigger stakes. Something called The Darkness is moving to envelop life as we know it, and only the monster-unting brothers can stop it. Well, with a little help from the supernatural of course.
Why see it? This CW headliner is the longest-running fantasy/horror series in television history, and while length doesn’t always guarantee quality ‐ Two and a Half Men anyone? ‐ this remains a fun, creative, and frequently thrilling show. Sure death is meaningless, but the episodes still find suspense on smaller scales with battles, creatures, and engaging story turns. There’s a repetitive nature to some of it, but humorous writing makes a lot of it palatable all the same.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Therapy for a Vampire
What is it? Marriage can be tough, but at least you know it’ll end when you die. Count von Kozsnom doesn’t have that luxury though as a vampire, and after half a century of marriage he’s looking for help from Dr. Sigmund Freud.
Why see it? Move over Tony Soprano… therapists and mobsters are over, and now it’s time for supernatural creations to get some time on the couch. This Austrian comedy finds laughs in the exchanges between vampire and doctor, but its best moments come in the romantic banter and screwball shenanigans arising from the Count’s growing interest in another man’s girlfriend. It’s low-key comedy, but it’s amusing.
[DVD extras: Feturette,, outtakes]
What is it? A group of friends looking to getaway from their easy lives head to a remote island paradise for some fun, forgettable debauchery. One of their stops is a new club promising a unique experience with a drug called Urge. The only rule is that you only get one dose, but after loving the experience the friends go in for seconds and their world crumbles before them.
Why see it? You watch a movie like this for one reason ‐ Pierce Brosnan as the sleazy, unsettling club owner. He brings his typical poshness to a character whose motivations are worse than suspect, and it adds an air of style to the proceedings. Beyond his too-brief appearance the film is a slickly-produced little thriller that holds attention through to the end without much in the way of surprises.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Also Out This Week:
American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson, Centerstage: On Pointe, The Flash ‐ The Complete Second Season, The Iron Giant, The Meddler, Neon Bull, Nina, Rectify ‐ The Complete Third Season, Road House [Shout Select], South Park ‐ The Complete Nineteenth Season
Related Topics: Home Video