‘The Battery,’ ‘The Burbs’ and ‘Eraserhead’ Are the Best New Blu-ray/DVD Releases of the Week

THE BATTERY discs

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Discs Section: Pick of the Week
THE BATTERY blu

The Battery

The zombie apocalypse has left America a wasteland of the undead with pockets of mankind struggling to survive. Two former baseball players forced by the situation to become fast friends travel the country looking for supplies and safety, but their different personalities and views on the situation lead to dramas far removed from the flesh-eating varieties.

Zombies have been ubiquitous in the horror genre for years now with three out of every five horror films focusing on them as their monster of choice. (I totally made that up, but it feels right.) The vast majority of them are pretty damn terrible, but once in a while a real gem comes along, and one of the best is this American indie that dares find the humanity in a story about the inhuman. It feels like a drama, but a lack of flesh-chewing scenes doesn’t mean it’s devoid of horror as the reality these men find themselves in is a terrifying one. Writer/director Jeremy Gardner (who also plays one of the two leads) is a refreshingly smart new voice in genre film-making.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, outtakes, featurette, trailer]

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THE BURBS blu

The ‘Burbs (UK)

Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) is a regular guy with a regular family living in a regular suburb, but lately he’s noticed something is amiss. That something is a new family next door, a family prone to some extremely peculiar behavior, behavior that just might include murder. Murder! In suburbia! Together with his friends Ray sets out to discover the newcomers’ secret.

Director Joe Dante’s oddball comedy has become a bit of a cult classic over the years, and while my initial watch of it back in the ’80s left me unimpressed my second watch (via Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray) fared slightly better. Too much of the comedy still doesn’t work for me ‐ Corey Feldman’s character serves no purpose here and manages no laughs ‐ but I had much more fun this time around with Rick Ducommun in particular delivering the goods. Even though I view the film as an average affair, Arrow’s collection of new extras make this a must buy release for fans. The feature-length making-of is fantastic, but the real joy here is Dante’s personal workprint copy featuring alternate takes and new scenes. It’s a fascinating watch for Dante lovers.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, workprint cut, featurette, alternate ending, trailer]

ERASERHEAD blu

Eraserhead (Criterion)

In turn deeply funny and nightmarishly troubling, David Lynch’s debut feature (produced on and off over years during the 1970s) is a sort-of inverted sitcom that takes place in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of someone’s fever dream. A stunningly beautiful (wonderfully rendered in Criterion’s HD transfer) and haunting film, Eraserhead freely traverses a discomfiting array of moods, tones, and elusive suggestions of meaning unlike perhaps any other American film ever made, even amongst Lynch’s own filmography. Perhaps the quintessential midnight movie, Eraserhead is both a profound portrait of desolate loneliness and a knife in the back of the American dream. Refusing to be easily categorized, Eraserhead is at once impenetrably strange and deeply meaningful. In the nearly forty years since its release, it’s hard to think of another film that exists so audaciously out of place and time, yet maintains such an essential role in subsequent American filmmaking.

Notoriously reluctant to comment on his work, Lynch’s influence is surprisingly present throughout Criterion’s release. The disc boasts an array of features that enrich your experience of the film and Lynch’s work while laudably refusing easy answers for a film that defiantly demands experience over interpretation.

[Blu-ray/DVD Extras: A 2001 documentary by Lynch on Eraserhead; six of Lynch’s short films with video introductions; new and archival interviews with cast and crew; trailer; an illustrated booklet with an excerpted interview]

GODZILLA blu

Godzilla

Humanity’s never-ending thirst for more knowledge and power leads to the creation of some monstrous creations, but when they get out of control mankind becomes dependent on their most monstrous monster of the all. A thick-necked bipedal lizard named Godzilla.

Director Gareth Edwards’ big Hollywood debut is a mixed bag in some ways, but it succeeds where it counts as a creature feature. On the downside the script is troublesome at times and the best character is killed off way too early. The human story and the ridiculous contrivances are troublesome, but… Godzilla and the other creatures are a thrill to watch and hear as they rampage across the screen. There are a few solid money shots and some fun action sequences that ‐ along with Sony’s beautiful-looking/sounding Blu-ray ‐ make the disc a must-own for monster fans.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Fictional featurettes, featurettes, ]

HANNIBAL 2 blu

Hannibal: Season Two

Will Graham finds himself in a bit of a pickle as he’s arrested and placed in an asylum as the prime suspect in a series of grisly killings that were actually committed by Dr. Hannibal Lecter. New killings begin to appear leaving the FBI confused and in constant pursuit of the truth.

NBC’s adaptation of the world of Thomas Harris’ novels (Red Dragon and beyond) was a risky venture, but it succeeded in becoming a thrilling series filled with spectacular imagery and a deliriously good score. The overarching story is retained from the books, but they’ve found new ways to stretch and deepen the relationship between the two men. Part of the fun is knowing that while the series is based on the books it clearly doesn’t feel beholden to them. Anything can happen here. The show also deserves kudos for refusing to become just another procedural of the week, instead choosing to make art out of serial killing brutality and madness.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel]

TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE blu

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

A group of young adults on a road trip across the back roads of Texas come face to face with family values gone awry. They come across some brutal cannibals with a penchant for knocking people on the head and slicing them into slabs of meat.

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror film is considered a classic by many, but I’ve never really gotten on board. My main issues with it stem from its cheap feel and amateurish performances, but there’s also the fact that the damn thing just isn’t scary… in part because of those first two points. A re-watch (via Dark Sky Films’ new anniversary release) has actually improved the film in my eyes somewhat thanks to its gorgeous 4k digital transfer. It’s still not scary, but it feels far less cheap now. Even better, especially for full-on fans of the film, the release is loaded with extras including an extremely frank making-of covering the highs and lows of the production and subsequent financial issues.

Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, making of, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, bloopers, still gallery, trailers

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About a Boy: Season One

A well-established bachelor is forced by circumstance and his slowly-thawing heart into becoming friends with a young boy. Nick Hornby’s novel made for a fantastic Hugh Grant-led film, but the series isn’t quite as successful. It doesn’t help that it tries to cram the entire book/movie into the first episode ‐ losing all the heart in the process ‐ or that it thinks the old “vegetarians actually crave meat” comedy gem is worth mining for multiple jokes. The cast does solid work though making it a harmless watch.

[DVD extras: None]

Armed Response

Two friends with a failing security system business hit upon an idea to drum up business by robbing local homes. It goes pretty well until they rob a house belonging to a very dangerous man. This is a slight little thriller, but it’s still good fun thanks to a strong cast and some neat turns.

[DVD extras: Commentary, gag reel, trailer]

Arrow: The Complete Second Season

The Arrow continues his efforts to clean up Starling City and protect his loved ones, but upon his return to town he discovers that much of what he thought to be true is in fact a lie. DC Comics may have failed to get a foothold in the cinemas, but their collaborations with The CW continues to thrive. Like Smallville before it (and presumably the upcoming Gotham) this look at the early days of a known hero has its strengths and weaknesses, but there’s enough action and style to keep things entertaining for fans.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Seventh Season

Four nerdy guys and a hot female neighbor… who knew that premise would last more than seven seasons? As far as popular sitcoms go this is one of the more harmless success stories (as opposed to dreadfully unfunny garbage like Two Broke Girls), and it even manages a laugh or two per episode. These later seasons have placed too great a focus on Sheldon though as the break-out star.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel]

CSI: The Fourteenth Season

Las Vegas continues to be the nation’s most dangerous city as evidenced by the 22 episodes in the fourteenth season of CBS’ forensic mystery show. The Will Petersen years remain the series’ best, but the current cast (Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue) do good work, and there’s still some fun and inventive deaths and mysteries to be found.

[DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries]

The Dead 2

An American engineer in India finds himself in the middle of an undead epidemic and is forced to fight his way through the bloody hordes to reach his pregnant girlfriend. Brothers Howard and Jon Ford follow up their African-set original with more flesh-eating, and once again one of its greatest strengths is its unusual international locale (as well as the abundance of daytime-set scenes). It’s a bit of an action/horror hybrid, but that’s not a knock.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes]

The Fault in Our Stars

Hazel’s childhood cancer has moved into her lungs leaving her a teenager whose constant companions are an oxygen tank on wheels and a pair of tubes up her nose. She spends her days watching with wistful eyes as young couples in love live their lives around her until a chance meeting with a fellow cancer survivor named Augustus (Ansel Elgort) leads not only to her very own love story, but also to a new appreciation for metaphors. The film understands that the connections we make while alive form the memories of us once we’re gone, and it’s that celebration of life and love that makes the film more than just a simple tear-jerker. It’s a familiar message, but it’s one told well with wit and heart. And a whole truckload of metaphors.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]

Friend II: The Legacy

Joon-seok has been released from prison after nearly two decades behind bars, but his attempts to pick up where he left off are stymied by a changed world. This sequel to the hugely successful Friend complicates things a bit with its back and forth between the past and present in addition to a fairly large number of characters, but the core elements of loyalty and brutal fisticuffs come through just fine. The latter is where the film shines, albeit in limited frequency, but the drama works fine enough.

[DVD extras: Making of, featurette, interview, trailer]

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (UK)

Aliens land in a small town in search of food, but these aren’t your typical space invaders. They’re clowns! There’s no doubt this is a silly and frequently amateurishly-acted slice of comedy/horror, but damn if it isn’t good goofy fun. The biggest reason? The practical clown effects courtesy of the filmmakers, the Chiodo brothers. They look remarkable and creepy, and one hopes if a sequel is ever made they stick with this style instead of the more typical (these days) CGI effects. My love for the film would normally have put it in the “Best” section above, but Arrow’s release, while solid and attractive, only adds one featurette to MGM’s own Blu-ray from a couple years ago.

[DVD extras: Commentary, making of, featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers, trailer]

South Park: The Complete Seventeenth Season

Comedy Central’s most famous show may only feature ten episodes in its most recent season, but there are still a lot of laughs to be found. The majority of them are focused in just thirty percent of the season though as part of the Black Friday trilogy. The three eps tell a tale of factions and war over which next-gen gaming system is the best and most desired, and for the gamers among us it is hilarious.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes]

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:

Alpha House: Season One
Avalanche
Bones: The Complete Ninth Season
Castle: The Complete Sixth Season
Father Brown: Season One
Flesh + Blood
From Dusk til Dawn: Season One
The Great Train Robbery
Grimm: Season Three
Hawaii Five-O: The Fourth Season
Ilo Ilo
Meteor
The Party
Petals on the Wind
Prisoners of War: Season Two
Silent Night Deadly Night: 30th Anniversary Edition
Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season
Spartacus: The Complete Series
Think Like a Man Too

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