Welcome back to This Week In DVD! After a couple of sparse weeks we’re rewarded with a bevy of worthwhile DVD releases suitable for your viewing pleasure including a Criterion edition of Being John Malkovich, the teen super power adventure Chronicle, Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Woody Harrelson playing bad cop/worse cop in Rampart, and Liam Neeson going head to head with wolves in The Grey.
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Michael works at an insurance firm, he hangs out with co-workers, he visits his mom and sister… and he has a ten year-old boy captive in his basement. The boy isn’t in chains, in fact he’s treated quite well aside from the captivity and occasional diddling. This calmly mesmerizing little Austrian drama about a few months in the life of a pedophile isn’t a thriller in the conventional sense, but goddamn are the final fifteen minutes suspenseful as hell. It’s a methodical and beautifully acted film that gets under your skin with its normality and subtle unpredictability.
Being John Malkovich (Criterion)
Pitch: Single greatest story idea ever brought to the screen? Possibly…
Why Buy? A quirky puppeteer (John Cusack) discovers a doorway that leads directly into John Malkovich’s brain and fifteen minutes later dumps visitors on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener come along for the ride, each with their own agendas and results, and it should go without saying that none of this sits very well with Mr. Malkovich. Spike Jonze directs from a Charlie Kaufman script, and the result is a special breed of madness layered with wit, black humor and smart observations about the things we let control us.
Pitch: First the trees took his wife, now the wolves have come for him…
Why Buy? A group of Alaskan oil workers heading back to civilization crash land in the wilderness, and the survivors quickly find themselves fighting for their lives against the elements, each other and a pack of territorial wolves. Liam Neeson stars as a man at the end of his rope, who begins the film preparing to blow his own head off, and who must now find the will to fight back against nature itself. Director Joe Carnahan delivers his best film with this thrilling adventure that packs action, suspense and a true emotional wallop. There are one or two scenes of sloppy effects work, but the film’s heart and incredibly engaging core power right through it. Action adventures are rarely this affecting.
Pitch: It’s Unbreakable with teen angst and action instead of character development and drama…
Why Rent? Three high school acquaintances get drunk and discover a strange hole in the ground with an even stranger oddity within. Soon they’re exhibiting telekinetic powers that eventually get fine tuned enough to give them the ability to fly, and that’s about when ego and immaturity begin to lead the three down some dark roads as one chooses to use his powers for evil and the others fight to stop him. It could have used another script rewrite to enhance the characters, but this is a fun little action thriller (of sorts) with some solid effects and exciting sequences.
Crime or Punishment (UK)
Pitch: More WTF moments (of the PG variety) in the first thirty minutes than most movies have from beginning to end…
Why Rent? Ayame is a young magazine model who finds herself sentenced to public service for a rage-induced act of shoplifting, but her assignment is to play police chief for a day for PR purposes. Things get complicated though with the arrival of a police officer/ex-boyfriend/serial killer, a trio of inept robbers, a fellow model who’s found far more success and other oddballs. This Japanese black comedy is definitely an odd bird, and it may take patience to get through but it’s worth it if you can handle the seemingly random jumps and character bits to reach the wit and soul beneath. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which require either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Pitch: George Clooney discovers his wife had an affair before she became a zombie…
Why Rent? A worldwide virus has killed most of the population and zombified many more, and now a handful of survivors struggle to avoid being eaten or killed. The discovery of certain children immune to the virus complicates matters. This low budget Chilean movie opens and closes with some of the most beautiful imagery you’ve ever seen in a zombie movie, even if it does get bogged down in confusing time jumps throughout the film’s main body. Still, it’s an interesting take on the genre and well worth watching for the child-like magic of that final scene.
Flashpoint: The Fourth Season
Pitch: “It’s no Rookie Blue, but it’s not bad for a Canadian import!” – Merrill Barr…
Why Rent? The Strategic Response Unit is Canada’s answer to SWAT, and this occasionally interesting show does a fine job showcasing the various adventures and dramas visited upon those who dedicate their lives to law enforcement in Toronto. Like most police procedurals this show is hit and miss, and the result is exactly okay. There are occasional glimpses of emotion and heart, usually when Bruce Willis-lite is offscreen, and the stories are rarely boring. Fans of the genre should definitely check it out on DVD as odds are they’ve never heard of the channel that’s supposedly airing it here in the States. Seriously, Ion? No clue.
Hell On Wheels: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Am I the only one who had never heard of this series about a gang of demonic cyclists? No? Okay…
Why Rent? An ex-Confederate soldier spends his days after the Civil War searching for the Union soldiers who assaulted and killed his wife. His quest brings him to the transcontinental railroad currently being built across the nation, and one by one he will have his revenge. I seriously had no clue this was a current series airing on AMC as I’ve never seen it flicker across my screen, but now that I’ve caught up on the first season I’ll probably be tuning in for season two. It’s a dark and gritty western that manages the violence and attitude of Deadwood even as it can’t compete on the nudity and foul language fronts. Genre fans should give it a shot.
Pitch: Beatles reference or slang for a chilly tumescence? You decide…
Why Rent? A trio of college friends spend all their time together until one of them commits suicide and the remaining two go their separate ways. Years later Watanabe finds himself back in contact with the beautiful but troubled Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) Haruki Murakami’s delicate debut novel comes to the screen courtesy of director Tran Anh Hung, and the result is a beautifully crafted drama about love in the years before we know what to do with it. It’s a fine film on its own merits, but it never quite captures the novel’s intense and powerful grasp of young love and the confusion that follows.
Pitch: Hamish is strapped…
Why Rent? An LA cop (Woody Harrelson) struggles to do the job the way he knows best which involves corruption, brutality and other highly suspect behaviors, but as a city wide investigation tightens in on him he begins to fall apart. Harrelson and the supporting cast (including Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, Robin WRight and more) all give strong performances, but the film feels more like a slice of Officer Brown’s life as opposed to an actual narrative tale. Still, it’s an engaging and often exciting drama well worth a watch.
Walking Tall: The Trilogy
Pitch: Fun watching them casually ignore the transformation of Joe Don Baker into Bo Svenson, as if we wouldn’t notice…
Why Rent? Buford Pusser is an ex-Marine/ex-wrestler who returns to his Tennessee home town with his wife and two kids in tow only to find corruption and criminal antics have invaded the community. He refuses to take it laying down and chooses instead to fight the good fight. These three films follow the highs and lows of his true story and show him to be a true American hero. The movies vary in quality, but they’re never less than entertaining enough. Shout! Factory’s set features all three remastered films plus a handful of extras including a very informative documentary loaded with interviews.
Pitch: Talk about a drag…
Why Avoid? Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) works as a butler in a fancy Irish hotel in the late 1800s, and for the past three decades he’s concealed a secret from everyone around him. He’s a she working as a man to earn a living and eventually own her/his own business. Close gives a fine, understated performance, but much like Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady this is a case of great acting in search of a worthwhile film. It spends too much time on an uninteresting subplot involving Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson and not enough time on Nobbs’ own life and inner self. And not for nothing, but neither Close nor co-star Janet McTeer look even a little bit like men. Skip it and watch Panic Room instead.
One For the Money
Pitch: As bad as you’d expect for an action/comedy from the 90s. Even worse for one from just last year…
Why Avoid? A desperately unemployed woman becomes a bounty hunter and finds a lot to laugh about as the bodies pile up around her. I can’t speak to the source material, but this is a bad 90s comedy made just last year. To be clear this isn’t a case of Heigl hate, as I really liked her in My Father the Hero. But this is just an incompetent script from beginning to end. The jokes, of which there are many, are strictly amateur hour, and Heigl has zero comedic timing. Her character is stupidly unrealistic and callous too. Skip it and watch Steve McQueen’s The Hunter instead.
Victorious: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: Imagine Fame with a laugh track and kids with no talent…
Why Avoid? Tori Vega (the improbably named Victoria Justice) is a girl with a dream, and thanks to a fancy Performing Arts High School she gets to live it every day. Hurray! This Nickelodeon show continues to blaze a trail of uninteresting characters, repetitive plots and poorly written jokes. Justice is borderline competent and appears to have comic timing, but the scripts as well as her five cast mates continually fail her. Skip it and watch iCarly instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
The Devil Inside
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What are you buying on DVD this week?