It’s an interesting week in some respects as the items worth talking about all come with their plusses and minuses, including both of the important non-catalog titles Rio and Soul Surfer. By and large, however, it’s another Tuesday of studio catalog releases taking center stage, and even with their flaws the notable ones are all movies I’d want to add to my hi-def library.
Not sure of this is truly the biggest release of the week, but it is the one that made the most money at the box office and the one most likely to sell a ton of copies so I guess it’s where we’ll start. While the animation is dazzling, and while Rio certainly a pleasant enough waste of time and a movie the kids are sure to adore, I personally still found it a tiny bit underwhelming. As I commented in my original theatrical review (read it here) back in April, “For as haphazard and as obvious as much of it could be, I was never bored watching the movie and, more importantly, I walked out of the theatre smiling. Sure it didn’t soar, but it does get off the ground, achieving a level of pleasingly infatuating romantic liftoff I can’t help but recommend other experience for themselves.” Not a rave, but certainly not a pan, and I’m sure when I get a chance to watch the Blu-ray (that only just arrived this morning) I doubt I’ll have anything different to add.
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer
By Crom I love John Milius’ take on Robert E. Howard’s classic character Conan the Barbarian! Sure it bears little resemblance to the source material, but the movie is just so big, so lumbering, so picturesque, so exquisitely brutal, so eminently quotable, so… so… so many other things I don’t have remotely enough space to talk about them all here. This film truly does represent “an age undreamed of,” Milius and screenwriter Oliver Stone delivering a pulpy sword and sorcery classic that’s as campy as it is cutthroat. Besides, along with The Terminator this is one of the movies that made the future Governator a household name, the Austrian behemoth filling the shoes of this sandaled sword-wielding warrior to perfection (and I won’t let anyone tell me different.)
As for the sequel, well, the less said on that front the better. Granted, watching Arnold battle Wilt Chamberlain to the death is pretty nifty, and a sight I bet no one back in 1984 had even let themselves imagine let alone ever thought would see the light of day.
Surprisingly strong biopic about teenage surfing sensation Bethany Hamilton and her struggles, and ultimate triumphs, after a shark rips the left arm right off her body. I admit it upfront, I avoided the press screening for this one when it was released theatrically as it just looked maudlin and mawkish based on the trailers. That was both a mistake as well as another reminder that trailers are never a good indication of a movie’s actual quality. In the case of Soul Surfer, while the finished film does have its share of melodramatic faults, overall this is a rousing and inspiring tale of resilience, strength and perseverance that had me wanting to stand up in my living room and cheer. Anchored by a sensational performance by young AnnaSophia Robb (who is even better here than she was in The Bridge to Terabithia), this is a wonderfully inspiring flick suitable for audiences of just about any age. I’ll have a full review of Sony’s excellent Blu-ray presentation up soon.
From my original theatrical review (read it here) posted back in April: “The ultimate destination Stake Land heads to isn’t exactly an upper, but unlike other projects with such a dystopian viewpoint I’m just not sure this one earns its downbeat nihilism. Some deaths feel earned and justified, others not so much and only end up frustrating instead of scaring or hitting some sort of emotional crescendo. While I appreciated the film quite a bit, and while I thoroughly enjoyed large pieces of it, the way it closed itself out left me cold and unsatisfied. It’s a mixed bag, one not without numerous merits, and as such as dispassionate as I can be towards the climax something tells me [director Jim] Mickle’s latest is one I’ll be returning to again.”
The Name of the Rose
Adapted from Umberto Eco’s best-selling novel (which is a terrific read, by the way), director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 adaptation starring Sean Connery and a quite young Christian Slater is as vexing and problematic and it is compelling and masterful. It is the type of religiously-based murder mystery that Dan Brown only wishes he could come up with, the final product filled with numerous twists, turns and surprises that are as amazing as they are justified. While the movie isn’t a total success, Annaud’s delicate and subtle handling of the material is divine, while Connery’s stubbornly dogmatic performance as Franciscan monk William of Baskerville is one of his all-time best. Even with its flaws I can’t help but recommend this film, and even though Warner Bros. sadly did not send a review copy my way I can tell you right now this is one Blu-ray I’m going to be buying sight unseen and without a single review read.
Better Off Dead
“I want my two-dollars!” If that line does anything for you, than you’re going to want to buy this Blu-ray before you even finish reading this blurb. If it does not, than you probably want to leave well enough alone. As it is, I had a nice enough time revisiting this ‘80s cult favorite starring John Cusack and directed by Savage Steve Holland, but it certainly isn’t a film I plan on keeping in my own personal library. I’ll have a full review of this release up soon.
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season
People love this show. I am not one of said people. All the same, as popular as the Blu-ray release of Season One proved to be I imagine Season Two will be just as, if not more so, well-liked this time around. So by all means get your Kenny Powers fix; just don’t expect me to join you for any weekend all-day marathons.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
Spy Kids 3: Game Over
With a fourth film on the way in a couple of weeks (why I do not know), Lionsgate brings all three of writer, director, editor and everything else but maybe doing the makeup and designing the wardrobe Robert Rodriguez’s Spky Kids flicks to Blu-ray and results are actually kind of wonderful. While I still couldn’t care a lick for the third film (although the sight of Ricardo Montalban standing up from his wheelchair is pretty awesome), the first two are bona fide family-friendly sensations and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone from picking either of them up. Somehow they’ve retained most of their freshness and ingenuity, and I have just as much fun revisiting them at home as I did when I originally saw them in the theatre back during their initial theatrical engagements. I’ll have full reviews of each Blu-ray up soon.
Outside the Law
This Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film from Algeria came close to knocking my socks off. Directed by Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory), the film is the story of three brothers living in France and their involvement in fighting for Algerian independence. Not for the faint of heart, and according to its detractors not even remotely historically accurate (but those are detractors, and as I’m not an Algerian historian I’m not going to make claims one way or the other), this brutal retelling of the 1945 Sétif Massacre is a stupendous marvel first frame to last that had me glued to my seat. While I wish Palisades Tartan’s Blu-ray was a bit better than it actually is (I’ll have a full review up shortly) I still couldn’t recommend watching the film any more vociferously. Bouchareb’s epic is close to an instant classic, and as such the fact it is now part of my hi-def library is a fact I couldn’t be happier about.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
Everwood: The Complete Fourth Season
One of the more egregiously underrated television shows unceremoniously given the short shrift by the WB/CW network (a la “Veronica Mars,” “Popular” and “Angel”), the fourth season of “Everwood” was arguably its very best. Honest, believable and real, this program arguably showcased actor Treat Williams at his absolute best, mining his talents in a way no theatrical presentation (save maybe Sydney Lumet’s Prince in the City) ever did. I’ll have a full review up of this five-disc 22-episode set up within the next week or so; keep an eye out for it.
Garrow’s Law: Series 2
I really like “Garrow’s Law.” It is one of those BBC historical dramas that only the Brits can make, cast to perfection and featuring mesmerizing storylines that make each episode something special. This 240-minute collection of tales finds our favorite 18th century barrister William Garrow (the sublime Andrew Buchan) coining the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” while defending his clients against the state. Drawn from the archives of the Old Bailey, these four intimate and detailed episodes of the popular series couldn’t be better, and I imagine I’ll be watching all of them again sooner rather than later.
The Music Never Stopped
I sadly missed this one when it played theatrically earlier this year and was hoping Lionsgate would send over a review copy of this Roadside Attractions release but sadly none arrived. Oh well. That’s what the Netflix queue is for, right? In fact, I’m putting this title at the top of it right this very second…
My Dog Tulip
Fascinating hand-drawn animated marvel from France about an elderly man who befriends a lost German Shepherd. Quiet, introspective, free of melodrama and schmaltz, the movie is a poetic reminder of the power of companionship, and as such is a movie I think fans of films like The Illusionist and The Secret of Kells will enjoy immensely.
A Screaming Man
Beautiful, poetic and powerful, this import from Chad is a minor miracle that had my heart in my throat and my chest so convulsed I thought it was going to explode. The quite tale of a sixty-something pool attendant who once was a famous champion swimming champion, the quiet marvel where strife is constant and despair lingers over everything, the final moments soaked in a tragedy and a heartbreak that had me downright stupefied. For fans of intelligent international cinema, this is a movie that should not be missed.
Streetwalkin’ (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics)
Wow. Double wow. Wow with whip cream and a cherry on top. I don’t even know what to say. This 1985 effort is a film I hardly know how to describe let alone express my reaction to it, its story of a teen runaway (Melissa Leo!!!) forced into prostitution by a corrosive yet seductive pimp (Dale Midkiff) one full of snide sensationalism and sadistic nihilism. At the same time, it is compulsively, almost hypnotically watchable, and before I knew it the film’s 84-minute running time was over and done with. One of the more interesting and debatable Roger Corman New Horizons releases, but also one of his most sickening and detestable (at times, not always) as well.
Excerpted from my original theatrical review posted in May (read it here): “YellowBrickRoad, written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, is a seriously creepy stripped-down B-grade horror movie that got under my skin and completely weirded me out. Meticulously paced, methodical in the way it delivers its information, this film isn’t so much scary as it is deeply disconcerting, everything moving towards a somewhat inevitable conclusion that had me nonetheless squirming. It is a solid genre effort that deserves to be seen, and it’s a pity that the mass audiences that made a sub par shocker like Insidious a minor hit won’t be afforded the same opportunity to do the same for this limited release.”
A few miles off Exit 33 lies Ike’s Last Chance Gas, an old, forgotten hideaway where the reclusive Ike pumps gas and practices his taxidermy skills. Though he might come across as a simple soul, Ike has a dark secret: he’s obsessed with women who have enchanting eyes; eyes he wants to keep for himself. Now, as four friends make their way to their 5-year high school reunion, they all make the mistake of taking Exit 33, and they won’t be making it back to the highway any time soon. Starring the legendary Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees of the Friday the 13th series), Exit 33 is a no holds barred gore-fest that dares viewers to look away. With its unrelenting suspense and biting humor, it’s a bloody throwback to slasher classics that will satisfy any horror fan’s bloodlust. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet join forces in this tantalizing and emotionally powerful story of trust, lust and deception. Michael (Worthington) and Joanna Reed (Knightley) appear to have it all. Young and successful, they're a married couple who share a comfortable and seemingly perfect life. But when Michael finds himself alone on a business trip with an attractive new colleague (Mendes) and Joanna encounters the other great love of her life (Canet), each is thrust into an evening of temptation. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Pie in the Sky: Series 5
Richard Griffiths (the Harry Potter series, The History Boys) returns for a final season as the long-suffering DI Henry Crabbe. The semi-retired detective would prefer to spend less time catching crooks and more time in the kitchen of Pie in the Sky, the restaurant he runs with his wife, Margaret (Maggie Steed, Shine on Harvey Moon). But as ever, Assistant Chief Constable Freddy Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair, Casino Royale) has other plans for his best officer. Fisher’s latest scheme is his new Public Duties Squad, which hires out police teams for private use. For Crabbe, the end result is the same--a balancing act between keeping Fisher happy and cooking at his beloved Pie in the Sky. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Strigoi: The Undead
Podoleni Village may seem like a typical Eastern European town, but when a young local named Vlad goes searching for his grandfather s runaway dog, he uncovers a mysterious death. As Vlad digs deeper into the possible murder mystery, his trail leads him to the Tirescus an ex-Communist couple who happen to be the richest landowners in town. Though Vlad is determined to confront the Tirescus, his quest takes a sudden detour when he learns that the two bullies may be bloodsuckers in more ways than one...
Strigoi: The Undead is a Vampire movie that defies categorization. Shedding a fantastic light on a post-Communist Romanian village, the film introduces us to an ancient myth: Strigoi, the belief that people who ve been wronged can rise again after death to seek justice and satisfy their thirst for blood. A deeply human take on an old horror story, this dark comedy explores the old world versus the new and delves into the heart of modern Romania. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
OTHER NOTABLE DVD RELEASES