‘Under the Skin,’ ‘Black Dynamite: Season One’ and ‘The Last Days’ Are the Best New Blu-ray/DVD Releases of the Week
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Marc is living in the office building he used to call his place of employment, and he’s not alone. Humanity worldwide has fallen victim to a deadly form of agoraphobia. Walk outside, and you’re dead within seconds from fear. Three months into the epidemic Mark and another survivor manage to set out via the sewers in search of Marc’s pregnant girlfriend, but their journey reveals a species on the brink of extinction.
This Spanish production tackles a familiar subject ‐ the post apocalyptic world ‐ and imbues it not only with a fresh premise but also with real heart and character. It looks good too as special effects and production design come together to create a believably devastated world, and all of it is enhanced with a script that manages to hit some familiar beats without feeling redundant. The film is solid throughout, but the final thirty minutes offer some touching and exciting turns. Fans of the underseen but fantastic Perfect Sense should most definitely give it a shot.
[DVD extras: Trailer]
Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) fights the good fight against all manner of evil whether it be of honkey or ninja origin, and he does so with a loyal team by his side.
I’m a fan of the film but hadn’t seen the Adult Swim cartoon until now, and good god is it hilarious, profane and over the top in all the best ways. The Michael Jackson episode has become my favorite thing, but each of ten eps have lots of laughs to offer. It continues the same kind of humor that originated in the film, but the episodic nature means they can move the story into some crazy directions while still maintaining a sly undertone of commentary and intelligence. The writing is so ridiculous and sharp and the animation so fluid and dynamic that it’s sometimes difficult to follow both completely, but it’s worth it to rewind once in a while as you’re guaranteed to have missed some comedic or artistic gem. This has quickly moved up the ranks to one of my favorite animated shows on TV.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, commentaries]
Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) has a lot on her plate what with evil corporations, the discovery that she’s a clone, meddling street thugs and cops, and the occasional bout of sexy time, but her immediate issue is finding her kidnapped daughter. Characters new and old come along for the ride, and while some live and others die the sisterhood remains the core of the tale.
BBC America’s sci-fi thriller series continues to be a fine example of genre television, and while the second season hits a few more bumps than the first it remains an exciting and fun series. The key to it all remains Maslany’s performances ‐ minus her misfire as a post-op transexual male clone ‐ which continue to show a mastery of subtle character traits and moments.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: The Cloneversation, featurettes, deleted scenes, behind the scenes]
It spoils nothing to say that Scarlett Johansson plays an unnamed visitor from… elsewhere, and that she’s arrived in Glasgow, Scotland with a very specific mission. Specific, but not entirely clear. After relieving a seemingly paralyzed woman of her clothes and dressing in them herself, Johansson’s character begins to prowl the streets of the city behind the wheel of a white panel van. She’s looking for men, the kind that won’t be missed anytime soon, to bring back to her ramshackle abode with the unspoken promise of sex. Instead Milly leads them hypnotically into an inky black morass that will be their doom. And then she goes out to do it all again.
The only cliche attached to Under the Skin is that it’s truly not for everyone. (It remains in my top five of the year several months after first seeing it.) Its pacing is languorous, it lacks a proper protagonist and it’s aggressive in telling you what you can do with your traditional narrative structure. But it also appeals to needs that most movies refuse to satisfy, ones a steady diet of Hollywood films may have numbed into to a vegetative state. It makes us uncomfortable, challenges us to think and forces us into the shoes and feet of discoverers in a new world. It wants to burrow beneath your epidermal layer to both tantalize and terrify. Do yourself a favor, and let it in.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Steroid-infused grain leads to a pack of rats growing to dachshund-sized proportions and then developing a taste for live flesh! Human flesh! Young and old, the rats don’t give a damn. It’s up to a college basketball coach (obviously) to stop the horde before it’s too late. This ’80s creature feature actually cast dachshunds in rat costumes to play the rats in the various running scenes, and it is a joy to behold. The movie’s never really all that scary, but it’s a ballsy flick as evidenced by a certain babysitting scene, and that has to be respected in a world of neutered PG-13 horror. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray looks great, and the new interviews form a fun, anecdote-filled making-of.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) continues his quest for vengeance in the old west, but the journey is sidelined by all that the coast to coast Union Pacific railroad has to offer. AMC’s hard-hitting western continues to be a few troughs short of HBO’s Deadwood, but it also remains a gritty and entertaining show for fans of dusty and dirty serialized television. The cast is strong, the characters are well drawn and the action is well produced.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Zebulon (James Arness) is a trapper who moves his family west as the Eastern states fall into the violent disarray of the Civil War. Season two of this three season series features fourteen episodes of handsomely produced western entertainment with narratives of both the episodic and serial variety. Hollywood’s dearth of Westerns ‐ quality or otherwise ‐ is made a bit easier to swallow with the availability of classic shows like this.
[DVD extras: None]
The team behind 2009’s Cropsey returns with another documentary look, but this time they tackle more than one urban legend ranging from the killer with the hook for a hand to the fear of razor blades in Halloween apples. There’s some fun to be found here as the duo draws some interesting connections between facts and fantasy, especially as captured in horror films, but their desire for drama leads to moments that feel created and crafted instead of naturally discovered. Their penchant for exploring locales at night for no reason other than an artificially enhanced level of fear borders on the ridiculous too.
[DVD extras: None]
When Red Bovie (Robert Duvall) loses his Texas home and ranch to powers outside of his control he decides the trailer park that’s waiting for him can suck it. With the grandson he only just met in tow he heads south for the Mexican border in a spontaneous search for the freedom he craves and the absence of anyone telling him what he can or cannot do. Duvall is really the main and only reason to watch this tonal misfire of a drama/comedy as he’s having one hell of a time with the role.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A group of apparent strangers awaken in a pit in the woods with no memory of how they got there. They soon realize there are more pressing issues at hand… like the horde of zombie mouth-breathers heading their way. It offers an engaging enough mystery, and genre fans should enjoy trying to figure things out before the characters do. It’s a bit of a disappointment thanks to its bumpy plot rollout and somewhat unfulfilling third act, but there are far worse things you could find in a hole in the ground.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Blu (Jess Eisenberg) and his feathery lady friend Jewel (Anne Hathaway) head to the Amazon with their little ones, but their vacation becomes an adventure when the family faces off against friends and enemies alike. As sequels go, this is no more or less forgettable than the first film. The humor is slight, the story is generic and the animation is good enough.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scene, music video, teaser short]
Wolf (Jason Momoa) is a Native American biker traveling the Midwest with police hot on his trail. They’re after him for avenging his mother’s murder, but he’s pursuing something far greater… redemption. Momoa also directed and co-wrote this road movie that is far more of a drama than it first lets on. It’s manly impression is one of action and bravado, but there are far more moments of quiet and solitude here than you’d expect. It’s a thoughtful journey punctuated by violence.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene]
Scanners was the first US hit for Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg, and it remains one of the director’s most accessible and entertaining films despite lacking the intellectual and political heft of other early works like Videodrome and The Brood. In a world threatened by clandestine telepathic mutants called scanners, a shadowy corporation trains a nascent scanner to thwart the most dangerous of his own kind, but an effort to combat uncontainable power quickly gives way to a violent witch-hunt of an invisible stigma. Despite offering the film’s famous head explosion in a crisp 2K HD transfer, this package trails other Cronenberg releases from Criterion in one key respect: the conspicuous absence of Cronenberg himself, in either documentary or commentary form. But there are some treasures for the dedicated fan, principally a remastered release of Cronenberg’s long-unavailable first feature, Stereo, well contextualized here as a thematic precursor to Scanners. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary on the film’s make-up effects; cast interviews; a 1981 TV interview with Cronenberg; trailers and radio spots; an illustrated booklet with essay; the feature-length 1969 film Stereo]
A young couple ‐ him and a fan of recording everything they do and her a fan of having sex ‐ sneak into an abandoned hospital to record themselves having sex, but an evil entity doesn’t take kindly to the way they flaunt their corporeal fluids. I know what you’re thinking. A found footage film from the director of Candyman? It must be great! And yet, surprisingly, it is not. The highlight of the film ‐ really the only worthwhile scene ‐ actually comes in the final seconds. Sure the pixelized nudity is nonsensical, especially in a found footage film, but it’s still a few seconds of fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
A family returns to their vacation home to discover someone has been crashing there in their absence. Undeterred they settle in only to find themselves terrorized by a group of home invaders wearing animal masks. The synopsis may sound familiar (You’re Next), but the story moves in completely different directions and does so without an ounce of humor. It’s a solid enough film with some creepy imagery, but it suffers from an unnecessary ending and a reliance on artificially darkened scenes. Too frequently I couldn’t see squat and instead had to imagine what terrors were occurring onscreen. Still, a solid little creeper.
[DVD extras: None]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
100 Years of WWI
Arch of Triumph
Cedar Cove: Season One
A Day Late and a Dollar Short