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Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a small town priest in rural Ireland who receives an oddly unwelcome confession one morning from someone who calmly promises to murder him by the week’s end. The priest goes on with his business, trying his best to do right, but the next seven days are filled with frustration, eccentricity and an unsettling energy in those around him.
Writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s second feature is a slowburn character piece that weaves black comedy and mystery through a soulful rumination on the power of forgiveness. Gleeson is a quietly rumbling powerhouse and gives an immensely affecting lead performance, and the supporting cast is a stellar mix of aggressively engaging friends, strangers and suspects including Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, M. Emmet Walsh, Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan’s son) and Kelly Reilly. The script is filled with wisdom and wit, and it leaves you feeling drained and reflective on those who’ve passed through your own life. It’s my favorite film of the year. It’s the best film of the year. It will stay with you well into next year.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Martin barely escaped the Nazi snowbirds who crashed his ski vacation and left his friends dead, and when he awakens in the hospital he discovers he’s being accused of those murders. Even worse, the doctors mistook the Nazi zombie arm in his car as his own and have attached it to him while he slept. Now while Martin fights for good his arm acts like it has a mind of its own leading to some unplanned ‐ and frequently hilarious ‐ acts of violence.
Tommy Wirkola’s sequel to his own cult hit keeps the gore quotient high but manages to amp up the laughs, and the result is a wildly energetic and fun ride. The script goes in some fresh places beyond simply pitting survivors against the undead, but the comedy and gore stay center stage throughout. Martin Starr also co-stars as the leader of the untested but highly ambitious Zombie Squad, and he brings his dry humor to the snowy landscape. Full disclosure though in that I’m a sucker for any horror movie that takes an equal opportunity stance when it comes to victims, and this movie does just that with kids, the elderly and the wheelchair-bound all falling prey to the rampaging Nazis.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: International version, commentary, short film “Armen”, featurette, comic book, trailer]
The Brothers McMullen. The Full Monty. Boys Don’t Cry. 28 Days Later. Sideways. Napoleon Dynamite. Garden State. Little Miss Sunshine. The Last King of Scotland. Once. Juno. Slumdog Millionaire. (500) Days of Summer. Crazy Heart. 127 Hours. Black Swan. The Descendants. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Beasts of the Southern Wild. 12 Years a Slave.
Studios and distributors have never been above tooting their own horn, and Fox’s home for indie darlings is no different. One look at the 20 films listed above shows a brief history of excellence ‐ along with stuff like The Brothers McMullen, Napoleon Dynamite and Once ‐ that helps make this collection a fantastic gift idea for someone who loves or hasn’t even seen a lot of these. The percentage of winners is high, and it’s attractively packaged in an oversized hardback with each film on its own spindle and page. All of them are available as standalone Blu-rays though, so you can still cherry pick the ones you like.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary]
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth as a child and grew up as a member of an intergalactic mercenary, but when his latest scam brings him face to face with true evil (Lee Pace) he’s forced to team up with other outcasts in order to save the universe. Well, save the galaxy anyway. He’s joined by the ass-kicking Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the brute Drax (Dave Bautista), a wise-ass raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a talking tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) with a limited vocabulary.
Marvel’s latest endeavor was never going to fail, but it still seemed like something of a risk when it was first announced thanks to a limited consumer awareness of these particular characters. Surprise! Director James Gunn has delivered the funniest Marvel Universe entry that doesn’t skimp in the action department either with set pieces big and small thanks to a solid mix of spaceship action and hand to hand to root fisticuffs. It’s basically a ton of fun complimented by a fantastic retro soundtrack. Highly recommended.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel, commentary]
Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a molecular biologist primarily interested in the function, capability and evolution of the human eye. His latest project sets him on a spectacular course as he hopes to eliminate the sharpest arrow from creationists’ quiver of arguments against evolution (and for intelligent design) by mapping the various stages of human eye evolution. His lab adventure is paired with a more personal one as he sets out to find a girl he met at a Halloween party and is aided by a seemingly predestined series of numbers. Ian’s a pragmatic scientist, and she’s a believer in spirituality and fate, but after tragedy strikes those two worlds come together in unexpected fashion.
Writer/director Mike Cahill accomplishes his goal here thanks to a script that’s unafraid to embrace the occasionally obvious or cheesy moment in pursuit of a greater truth or larger emotional payoff. As the pieces begin to come together and grow increasingly pregnant with possibility, the emotional effect grows with it. Even easily predicted turns or results carry a surprising weight as events unfold. It’s rare for a film to tackle the topic of science vs religion with such intelligence, heart, and lack of bias (in either direction).
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) has made something of himself with hard work and a successful dry cleaning business, and one of the rewards is moving with his wife Louise (Isabel Sanford) and son Lionel from their small Queens apartment to a fancy Manhattan high-rise. The move brings new friends, neighbors, adventures and help in the form of a maid named Florence (Marla Gibbs). This is their story.
Norman Lear’s classic sitcom (one of many) ran from ’75 to ’85 and captured an interesting twist on the usual African American-focused show (Sanford & Son, Good Times) by moving the characters into the upper ‐ read: white ‐ class. The series, a spin-off from Lear’s All in the Family, touched on some serious subjects with race being a near constant, but its focus was comedy through and through. Its early years delivered in a big way thanks to sharp writing and an energetic Hemsely, and even though later seasons felt more and more rote it remained a reliably fun show until the end. Shout! Factory’s box set, affectionately dubbed “The Deee-luxe Edition” features all 253 episodes as well as a trio of episodes from tangentially-related shows.
[DVD extras: Featurette, booklet, episodes from All In the Family, Checking In and E/R]
Tonally located somewhere between David Lynch, The Twilight Zone, and The Stepford Wives, Todd Haynes’s atmospheric and unsettling Safe is simultaneously a richly realized character study, an engrossing slow-burn thriller for an age of epidemics and a satire for a suburbia defined by self-help industries and AIDS-related stigma. A sort of follow-up to Poison, Haynes’s breakthrough film about disease and abjection, Safe follows ’80s housewife Carol White (Julianne Moore), who goes through an extensive series of treatments after acquiring an enigmatic ailment unidentified by doctors but best described by a flyer for a New Age organization that asks, “Are you allergic to the 20thcentury?”
Though arguably overshadowed by his pop music extravaganzas and campy odes to classic Hollywood, the 1995 Safe is not only one of Haynes’s best films, but also one of Moore’s best performances. The two artists work in perfect symmetry here towards a vision of extreme crisis in a society that only offers interchangeable packages of meaning ready made for consumption. The result is a film that’s both alienating yet deeply felt as a desperate expression of longing for a physical or spiritual cure. In a mesmerizing performance, Moore both distances you and lets you in through her nuanced realization of a strange existential and physiological crisis. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Audio commentary with Haynes, Moore, and producer Christine Vachon; conversation between Haynes and Moore; an early short by Haynes; new interview with Vachon; trailer; illustrates booklet with an essay by Denis Lim]
Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden) and his motley crew of detectives continue dealing with the drama and laughs that come with territory of being New York City cops. Considered by many to be one of the best and most realistic cop shows ever, this sitcom from the ’70s deals with serious issues both personal and societal while never taking it eye off the comedy. Season six (of eight total) sees the show passed its prime (Fish and Yemana are both gone by this point), but there’s still plenty of entertainment to be found across these 22 episodes.
[DVD extras: None]
Jack Wells (William McNamara) is an adventurous archaeologist in search of the fabled Codex Stone somewhere within the musty tomb of King Neferu, but his intrusion awakens the long dead royal who immediately begins tearing his team apart. Oy, where to start. Most of the movie is POV as we’re seeing through Wells’ fancy spy glasses, and while Danny Glover is top-billed he spends his limited screen-time sitting in a chair in a video window in the bottom left of the screen. You know who has even less screen-time though? The damn mummy. And on that note too, the back of the DVD case shows a videogame-like show of dozens of mummies rushing toward us… the movie only has one mummy. Singular.
[DVD extras: None]
Winter, the tail-less dolphin who got a tail in Dolphin Tale returns for a new piece of tail in the sequel. That sounds like a joke, but it’s true! Winter’s stay at the aquarium is threatened when his mom dies and the rules stating that dolphins can only exist in pairs means he has to leave or find a new partner. And that new partner just might be a sleek lady dolphin named Hope. This is harmless family fodder that moves beyond the general goofiness of fare like Free Willy and Flipper to deliver a perfectly okay piece of all-ages entertainment. Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr. return too, for whatever that’s worth.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, bloopers]
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) fancies himself a keyboardist destined for stardom, but the one thing he lacks is talent. He finds a shortcut when an opening appears for a keyboardist in an odd local band, but his desire for success and their quirky nature might not be the best combination. The first clue probably should have been the lead singer Frank’s penchant for never removing the giant head he wears. This is almost the off-kilter comedy it’s advertised as, but it’s actually far more of a mildly comical look at mental illness. That’s not a bad thing, but just make sure you keep your expectations in check on that front. It’s also worth noting that unlike something like the recent Begin Again the songs here are not actually meant to be even remotely catchy. Or good.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, commentary]
Jonathan (Robert Wagner) and Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers) are happy, wealthy and married, but their hobby is murder! Well, solving murders anyway. Along with their butler/driver/chef Max the pair find themselves caught up in mysteries and crimes on a daily basis ‐ and yet we never got a crossover episode with Jessica Fletcher. This is light-hearted fluff to be sure, but it’s a time capsule into a time when hour-long suspense/comedies were all the rage and succeeded without the need to push real boundaries. Think Remington Steele or MacGyver. It’s slight fun, and sometimes that’s all you really want.
[DVD extras: None]
Jingle Bell Rocks!
Christmas music gets a twist in this documentary about holiday tunes that don’t get much in the way of radio rotation and the people who love them. John Waters, Joseph Simmons and others discuss their offbeat favorites, and the film mixes in plenty of performances and archival clips to keep it from becoming nothing but talking heads. Fans of the talent involved and of lesser known holiday music will enjoy this, but the niche for a doc on such things has to be catered to an even smaller market than the songs themselves.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, interviews]
Nick Kroll brings his comedic stylings to sketch comedy with a series of recurring characters who exist in a world powered by pop culture. So, yeah, our world. Kroll is a funny guy, but he’s someone who works best in small doses like on The League. Here though he’s in every scene, always in some kind of broad character, and it can grow tiring.
[DVD extras: Karaoke, music videos, interview, commentaries]
Marius spends his days working in his father’s (Daniel Auteuil, who also directs) while alternating between staring longingly at the sea and lovingly towards a local girl named Fanny. He’s drawn to the young woman, but the allure of the ocean is just as strong. He ultimately chooses the latter, a job aboard a sailing ship, but his departure coincides with Fanny’s realization that she’s pregnant with his child. The story flows across two films, the first focused more on Marius’ actions and desires while the second follows Fanny’s efforts to avoid the embarrassment of having a bastard child, and while they’re remakes of a classic French trilogy (Auteuil’s part three is presumably on its way) the biggest draw here is the beautiful locales and photography. The acting is fine too with Auteuil in particular standing out with a wise and witty performance, but much of it plays with an air of melodrama. Neither film is dull, a fact helped by their moderate running times, but neither is all that exciting either.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Wilbur (Alan Taylor) and his wife have moved into the house of their dreams, complete with barn out back, but the new homestead comes with something unexpected in the form of a talking horse named Mister Ed. Of course, he only talks to Wilbur, a predicament that leads to all manner of hijinx and misunderstandings. I’m not gonna lie, and I know it was a different time back then, but I can’t fathom how this show lasted for six seasons and 143 episodes. It’s not insulting to human intelligence and taste like the long-running Two and a Half Men, it’s just simplistic and one note. It’s also not all that funny. But again, different time and different strokes and all that. For those of you who do love it though this is the first appearance of the sixth season on DVD so enjoy!
[DVD extras: None]
A former SS officer (Dirk Borgarde) and a concentration camp survivor (Charlotte Rampling) reignite a relationship intertwined by sex and power after the war when they meet at a Vienna hotel. Liliana Cavani’s controversial film explores the lasting affects of war and history’s capacity to repeat the past. For acquired tastes only and ‐ to use S&M terms ‐ a film best experienced only by open and willing participants, this fearlessly provocative film is representative of a brief time in the 1970s in which Italian filmmakers (like Cavani’s contemporaries Lina Wertmuller and Pier Paolo Pasolini) explored themes of violence and sexuality around WWII with unmatched complexity. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New interview with Cavani; Women of the Resistance, a documentary by Cavani; illustrated booklet with an essay by scholar Gaetana Marrone and and an interview with Cavani]
A sanitarium for disturbed, troubled and mildly hysterical women becomes home to murder when an unknown assailant begins stabbing the frequently nude clientele with more than just the gardener’s manly penis. Director Fernando di Leo’s entry into the pseudo-giallo genre is more interested in ogling the ladies than turning up the suspense or creativity, but there’s enough to here to warrant a watch for fans of di Leo, Klaus Kinski and shenanigans that mix the sex and savage in equal measure. The sex is lathered on pretty heavily at times, and while that’s not a bad thing it sometimes last long enough to make you forget there’s even a killer roaming the halls.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, deleted scenes, booklet, trailer]
Chester’s Mill remains trapped beneath a mysterious dome, and the dangers within continue to grow. Struggles over control and food sources splinter the survivors, but even more troubling is the presence of a stranger and the apparent escape of a local. ABC’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel was supposed to last a single summer, but they’ve managed to stretch the mystery out for two and counting thanks to an interested audience. The characters alternate between being interesting and being annoying, and it has yet to capture what made Lost such an addictive and compelling narrative. It’s best suited as filler TV when all of your “must watch” shows have ended.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) led the De La Salle High School Spartans through a 151 game winning streak, but high spirits plummet when they lose a game and personal tragedy strikes down one of their own. This trues story aims to be a heavy hitting crowd-pleaser with an uplifting theme and positive message, and it delivers on that front well enough. It’s well acted throughout as well, but there’s not a lot here to help it stand apart from the crowded subgenre of uplifting sports yarns. I’m more of a Lucas man myself, and this leans closer to Rudy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Nono is the son of Netherlands’ greatest police inspectors, but his aspirations to follow in his dad’s footsteps collide with his over-active imagination on a daily basis. One stunt too many sees him shipped off to his boring uncle, but before he gets there he falls into an adventure involving a master criminal and the mystery of Nono’s dead mother. It’s foreign films like this that makes it clear how badly Hollywood is failing our own children. The story plays a bit like a kid’s version of a European mystery as Nono travels from Denmark to Nice and elsewhere, and it never feels phony. Instead it finds a seriousness in the third act that earns real emotion. It helps too that the cast is rock solid from young Thomas Simon in the lead role to recognizable pros like Isabella Rossellini and Burghart Klaussner. They all play it sincerely but with an obvious sense of fun as well, and the result is a film that’s allowed to be carefree and loose while approaching some serious topics. It’s a fun adventure more than anything else, and it succeeds wonderfully.
[DVD extras: None]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Avenging Force, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Season, Marius & Fanny, The Missouri Breaks, Mork & Mindy: The Complete Series, Running Scared, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Time Bandits (Criterion), You Can’t Kill Stephen King
Related Topics: Home Video