Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
The Telephone Book
Alice is a young lady in the Big Apple whose libido is constantly on the lookout for the next arousing adventure, and she finds it when an obscene caller targets her for an erotic tongue-lashing. She becomes obsessed with finding the man behind the voice and sets out on a journey that brings her in contact with some truly eccentric characters and ultimately in touch with herself.
This 1971 film was apparently thought lost for some time to the point that most people have probably never heard of it before. Vinegar Syndrome is still a very young label (this is only their seventh release), but they’ve more than proven their worth here by resurrecting it onto blu-ray. While described as an erotic cult classic I found the movie to actually be surprisingly funny too. Sarah Kennedy does her best “young Goldie Hawn” combining an adorable goofiness with a real sexiness, and the film as a whole is just the right kind of absurd. It’s a strange time-capsule back into the early seventies and manages to display a wit and intelligence unheard of in the softcore genre. Blu-ray extras: Commentary, trailers, still gallery
The Great Escape
Pitch: Not since Fonzie jumped a tub of sharks has a motorcycle stunt seemed so impressive…
What’s It About? Stalag Luft III was a POW camp opened by the Germans in 1943 with the goal of crafting a prison that was impossible to escape. Silly Germans. The challenge was accepted by several soldiers, and this film captures the true story behind their efforts and successes.
Why Buy? The cast of men’s men alone makes this a must buy with names like Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Garner and Steve McQueen, but thankfully it’s also fantastically good film. The action and character drama are top notch with strong direction from The Magnificent Seven’s John Sturges. And it also includes the most famous motorcycle jump in cinema history. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Pitch: He’s short on patience…
What’s It About? A sniper kills five people on a sunny day, and an overflow of evidence leads the police to the culprit by the next morning. His only words are to ask for Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), and what comes next will be a surprise to everyone involved. Especially to the real shooter.
Why Buy? This first adaptation of one of Lee Child’s bestselling novels gets everything right. Yeah yeah, Cruise isn’t tall enough blah blah give it a rest. There’s far more to Reacher than just his body type. Cruise brings star power and quality control to this (hopeful) franchise starter, and director Christopher McQuarrie’s script is a smart, funny and sharp delight. Audiences seemed unhappy that this wasn’t Cruise’s usual “big action,” but there should be room for solidly entertaining mid-level thrillers at the multiplex too. Check your preconceptions at the door, and just enjoy the hell out of this charismatic and fun action picture. Plus Werner Herzog as a bad guy! [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
Pitch: You’ll never look at pork rinds the same way again…
What’s It About? Two strangers (Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth) come together unaware of each other’s similarly damaged past, but as their love grows they’re forced to confront their memories, the unknown and a pig farmer obsessed with sound. So yeah, pretty straight forward.
Why Buy? The easy descriptor is to call this a difficult or challenging film, but ultimately it’s exactly as rewarding as you want it to be. In addition to co-starring, Carruth also wrote and directed this follow-up to his debut Primer. While that film was dialogue-heavy his latest relies as much on gorgeous and mysterious visuals as it does on the viewers themselves to follow, interpret and digest the story. The actual narrative is fairly clear if you pay attention, but the elements you’ll retain, remember and adore after the film ends seem to vary greatly from person to person. I hate that the disc is free of special features, but the movie is just so damned good that it remains worth a buy. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Pitch: I was guilty of having never seen this one, but now I’ve been acquitted…
What’s It About? An ambulance-chasing lawyer (Paul Newman) lucks into a case with a guaranteed slam-dunk of a settlement, but the more he learns about the incident the less sure of himself he becomes. His conscience grows too big to ignore forcing him to avoid the easy out and take the case to court. No one is pleased with his decision.
Why Buy? Newman’s cache in front of the camera is enough to make any film watchable, but add in a smart, adult script by David Mamet and assured direction from the legendary Sidney Lumet and the film easily becomes a classic. This is exciting drama, nominated for five Academy Awards, and most definitely not the kind of movie we see that often these days. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary]
The Assassin’s Blade
Pitch: It’s like Just One Of the Guys but with more death and swordplay…
What’s It About? A young woman of privilege disguises her femininity in order to attend the country’s best martial arts academy, but even the protection and guidance of another student can’t prevent a tragedy. Revenge becomes the order of the day, and it will be both bloody and beautiful.
Why Rent? Director Jingle Ma continues his interest in hot women dressed as men (last seen in his live-action Mulan), but he steps up the action element considerably in the process. This is one of the more attractive films to come out of Hong Kong in recent years, and even with an abundance of wire work on display the action still impresses. The drama and characters work as often as not too leading to an affecting action adventure. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer]
Pitch: The original Undercover Boss…
What’s It About? Tom Murton (Robert Redford) is starting a new job soon as warden of an Arkansas prison, but before he does he’s planned a minor detour. He enters the prison as an inmate to get an inside glimpse at the employees and happenings within, and when he reveals his identity all hell breaks loose.
Why Rent? Redford delivers a performance filled with integrity and passion here, and the film remains a well-regarded classic. It’s also a true story that led to major changes in the state’s penitentiary system. Some folks will want to buy this for the cleaned-up picture, but the lack of extras and limited re-watchability factor make it a rental for me. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer]
Pitch: Rosebud was dead all along…
What’s It About? William Randolph Hearst’s media empire was a long time in the making and appears to be destined to go for a long time to come. This doc explores the Hearst Corporation from its creation through its standing today, and it does through through archival photos and interviews with family, friends and business acquaintances.
Why Rent? This doc comes seemingly in two halves with the former being the far superior as it documents and details the Hearst family’s fortune and young William’s entry into the newspaper business. It follows him up through the immense growth of his company in times good and bad. It’s a fascinating glimpse at the kind of man we’ll most likely never see again. THe second half of the doc falters though as it hits the present day and becomes essentially an infomercial for Hearst Co. publications. It stops being a doc and becomes a sales pitch. [DVD extras: Deleted scenes, episode of America’s Castles]
Pitch: Tossing a ham sandwich at her should have been a no-brainer…
What’s It About? Two young girls disappear in the woods only to be found some time later in an abandoned cabin, but something else comes with them when they’re returned to society. Their uncle and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) take the girls in and come face to face with a maternal nightmare.
Why Rent? Guillermo del Toro produced this creature feature that adapts the effective short film of the same name, but the film shows there isn’t enough meat on its bones to justify a feature. The story is a bit sparse, and too much of the effects work suffers from CGI obviousness. That said, there are some effectively creepy scenes here that make it worth a watch for genre fans. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, original short, featurettes, commentary]
Shanghai Noon / Shanghai Knights ‐ Double Feature
Pitch: It’s Rush Hour with cowboys! Is what some executive somewhere said…
What’s It About? Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) is a Chinese Imperial Guard who heads to America’s Old West in search of a kidnapped princess, but he’s forced to team up with a bumbling gunfighter named Roy O’Bannon (Owen West) in his quest. The pair re-team for revenge in their London-set follow-up as they chase down the man who killed Wang’s father.
Why Rent? While they never approached the success of Chan’s Rush Hour films these two action/comedies still manage to offer up some fun in the form of jokes, gags and the occasional well choreographed action sequence. As with most of Chan’s American films his comedic use of props gets more exposure than his actual fighting skills. The second film actually features Donnie Yen in his second (and last) American film. Fans of Chan should pick up this double feature, but all others may want to simply give it a rent. [Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentaries, music videos]
Pitch: An example of when “unrated” means NC-17…
What’s It About? Jane (Dree Hemingway) is a leggy blond in Los Angeles whose life is filled with irresponsibility, but when she finds $10k in an object from a yard sale her guilt brings her to befriend the old lady who unknowingly sold it. She doesn’t give it back of course, but she feels bad enough to hang out with the old woman at the bingo parlor. Slowly a friendship develops, and as it does certain truths come to light about them both.
Why Rent? Co-writer/director Sean Baker’s film caused a bit of stir due to a third act surprise that narratively should have surprised no one. But even if you know what each character’s secret is it doesn’t diminish the film’s engaging nature or the way Jane’s personality grows on you. Hemingway still has room to grow as an actress, but it’s already difficult to take yours eyes away. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Witness: A World In Conflict Through a Lens
Pitch: “Press” is no longer a valid safe word…
What’s It About? This four-part series follows photo-journalists into four different but equally dangerous areas of the world. We see them deal with troubles as diverse as minor frustrations and death threats, and the one constant is the reminder that none of us would ever do their job.
Why Rent? HBO’s doc goes into rough areas of Brazil, Libya, Mexico and the South Sudan, and while all four offer interesting engagements the Mexican and Brazilian segments are the most frightening. There’s an “anything goes” element in both places that make it clear the press can be in just as much danger as anyone else. Michael Mann produced the doc, and with any luck the raw grittiness and immediate nature of it all will inform his next feature as director too. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: If only these walls could talk. Oh, wait…
What’s It About? A young woman arrives in Puerto Rico with her esteemed but elderly father to restore his standing and good name, but the truth will be revealed.
Why Avoid? I’m not entirely sure what kind of film this was supposed to be as it plays too much like a flat drama for so long with only minor teases as to a bigger story. Eventually the clues come together to reveal a history of terrible cruelty, but the journey to that discovery is a slow and bland one not really worth taking. [DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes]
Skip it and watch The Legacy instead.
Pitch: Amnesia! It’s not just for super spies anymore…
What’s It About? A woman awakens in a stream with a bag of cash and no memory of how she got there. She sets out to find answers, but discovering who she really is only brings more questions and troubles.
Why Avoid? This Danish thriller begins with a fair sense of style and mystery, but it quickly loses steam as it trips over itself in an effort to explain it all. The story becomes more and more convoluted, and an extended flashback just adds to the confusion and the drag. The lead character doesn’t help matters either as she grows more unappealing and less effective throughout. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch Tell No One instead.
Revenge for Jolly!
Pitch: This is what it looks like when actors are blackmailed…
What’s It About? Harry’s little dog, Jolly, has been murdered. Overcome with grief and fueled by rage he sets off with his cousin to find the person responsible, and if that means some people get hurt in the process, so be it.
Why Avoid? Imagine a movie that stars Adam Brody, Kevin Corrigan, Garret Dillahunt, Oscar Isaac, Gillian Jacobs, Bobby Moynihan, Ryan Phillippe, David Rasche, Amy Seimetz, Kristen Wiig and Elijah Wood. Now stop imagining and celebrate the fact that it’s real! Then watch your short-lived joy crash and burn as the movie turns out to be a failed black comedy that drags, annoys and can’t muster a single laugh or interesting character. The violence is fairly cruel and cold, and while that itself isn’t a problem the filmmakers’ belief that the deaths are in any way humorous is insulting. [DVD extras: ]
Skip it and watch Seven Psychopaths instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Band of Outsiders (Criterion)
Female Teacher Hunting
Fringe: Complete Series
Fringe: The Fifth Season
The Rabbi’s Cat