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Pick of the Week
What is it? A teenager’s first experience with love across a languid summer in Italy.
Why see it? The developing romance between the two young men is the film’s focus, but the film is a love story for the ages. From the opening credits’ photographs of Italian sculptures to ancient statues rescued from the sea to the living, breathing bodies glimpsed gliding through water or stretched out across beds, there’s an undeniable appreciation of beauty here to be reveled in and digested into our souls. It’s all paired with a love story that feels familiar despite the foreign locale, and if we’re lucky it reminds us of our own loves both lost and found. The emotions, for good or bad, come through beautifully in Timothee Chalamet’s performance as the teen whose heart is given quite the workout, and it ends with a monologue by Michael Stuhlbarg that serves as a rallying cry for loving ourselves and others.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary, music video]
What is it? A tale of romance and heartache in 19th century New York City.
Why see it? An atypical entry in Martin Scorsese’s filmography, this non-violent film brings Edith Wharton’s literary classic to sumptuous life aided by beautiful costume/production design, lush cinematography, and a trio of big names occupying an awkward love triangle. Daniel Day Lewis takes center stage as a man torn between his honor and duty with his fiancee (Winona Ryder) and his gutteral love for her cousin (Michelle Pfeiffer), and his emotional anguish is the film’s driving power (outside of its visuals of course). Criterion’s new release brings the beauty home and includes a new interview with Scorsese that adds his own thoughts to the film’s meaning and design.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4K restoration, interviews, documentary]
What is it? A movie that can’t be summarized in one sentence.
Why see it? Don’t let the GKids label fool you — while I would 100% share this with my kids accompanied by conversation, explanation, and therapy if needed — this is not an animated film for young children. At least, it’s not a traditional one. Instead it’s designed to challenge expectations, question authority, and thrill with a dark, fantastical tale pitting hope and despair in an epic battle. It touches equally on the dangers of fundamentalism, violent authority, bullying, and family dysfunction, and it does so with morbid beauty and immense imagination.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, short films]
What is it? It’s not easy being this incompetent.
Why see it? Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is a bad movie and poorly-made in nearly every regard. No one would argue this. Its creation is an oddly fascinating story, though, and James Franco brings it to the screen with a fine mix of insight and humor. His impersonation of Wiseau is its own world of joy, but the supporting players are equally entertaining as the tell an inspiring story about persistence, creativity, and the importance of believing in yourself. Even better, it’s an entertaining watch whether you’ve seen The Room or not.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel, commentary, featurettes]
What is it? The true-ish story behind one of ice skating’s most notorious events.
Why see it? Tonya Harding was never a hero despite her desire to be one, and that unfulfilled goal led to some drastic actions and very, very poor choices. The story doesn’t seem like a funny one on its surface, but the film gives the real-life shenanigans a Coen Brothers-like shine highlighting the characters and their varying displays of intelligence. It continually walks a fine line between the funny and the sad, and while Harding is front and center blaming everyone but herself the film makes her responsibility clear. Margot Robbie is terrific in the lead role and leaves viewers laughing along one minute and feeling something the next. Harding was no victim, but that doesn’t mean she’s purely a villain.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, commentary]
What is it? A king’s personal woes leave his kingdom in chaos.
Why see it? This late 60s period film is a vibrant, thrilling, and occasionally humorous epic well-deserving of its seven Oscar nominations and three wins (Score, Actress, Adapted Screenplay). Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn headline as a king and queen at odds while the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton add their fresh faces into the mix with even more familial conflict. It’s big entertainment with drama, action, and a little romance, and John Barry’s score is a gorgeous beast for the ears. Kino Lorber’s extras are a bit light, but their 4K restoration is a thing of beauty. Play it loud and enjoy being sent back to the 12th century.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interview]
What is it? A freelance samurai takes the road less traveled by.
Why see it? There’s a certain beauty to samurai films in their clash of honor, ritual, and bloodshed, and while you might not think those aspects would translate to an animated tale created using South Park-like cut-out animation… you’d be wrong. Even animated, the story at hand is powerful, thrilling, and highly respectful of the sub-genre. It’s also wonderfully bloody. Paper-based stop-motion is an already impressive style, but it’s made moreso seeing the kind of story being told with clear affection for the place, period, and people who make up these tales of wandering warriors. The disc’s making-of gives a good idea of the work that went into the film too and is well worth a watch for fans.
[Blu-ray extras: Featurette, short film]
What is it? A mute woman sees her chatterbox tickled by an amphibious humanoid.
Why see it? Guillermo del Toro’s Academy Award winner is a visual feast with cinematography, production design, and effects work that combine to create a world of its own. It fails, though, when it comes to its story. This is a minority opinion, but there’s zero effort made here to build a love between these two outcasts — it simply appears, and audiences are meant to accept it as lurical and romantic — and instead our heroine jumps immediately into the water bed with a creature who, by that point, showed no more intelligence than a dog. Yes it’s beautiful to the eyes and ears, but it’s lazy to the mind and heart. The only character here who builds an emotional response is Richard Jenkins as her neighbor, and it’s his story that deserves to be followed. All of that said, del Toro’s vision comes gorgeously to life here, and both his imagination and appreciation for monsters is worth celebrating.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? A woman seeks revenge for the accidental death of her son.
Why see it? This French thriller begins far more dramatically than it ends as a woman sets in motion a fairly elaborate vengeance against the man she holds responsible. She worms her way into his life and into the lives of his father, son, and ex-wife, and becomes a disruptor. These scenes are the film’s strength before it becomes more of a conventional Hand That Rocks the Cradle scenario. Nathalie Baye is terrific in the lead role, though, as she brings a real iciness wrapped in a deceptive layer of wamrth and concern.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? It’s the tenth film in the unlikeliest of franchises.
Why see it? Stephen King’s original short story is a simple enough one, but somehow it’s found life across ten films now. Part of its longevity is attributed to the simple fact that most of these movies tell the exact same story… kids start killing adults. Here we’re meant to connect with a woman who escaped the original slaughter thirteen years prior with a baby in her belly, but despite the decade-plus she’s had to get away she’s still hanging around rural America like a fool. The expected follows, kind of, along with the build up to the most obvious twist you’ve seen in years, but while the generic nature of it all would be fine if it was thrilling, gory, or fun the film never accomplishes any of the above. Director John Gulager (Feast) occasionally shows an intriguing flourish, but too much of this feels familiar and meh.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? A folk singer is charged with inciting a man’s suicide.
Why see it? This Indian feature is a dramatic comedy of sorts as its initial setup devolves into an absurdist nightmare for the singer and his support team. The court piles delays, apathy, and direct intervention into the quest for justice, and it’s worsened by their reliance on ancient dictates from colonial days. There’s a natural flow and feel to the film, and the result will vary with viewers as some will find it sublime while others feel a bit more of a drag. Whichever side you fall on, though, it’s an engaging look into a society torn between cultures and times.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? Zombies continue to be a problem.
Why see it? As someone who continues to find fun with The Walking Dead — namely the gory goods — while others grow increasingly annoyed by it, I’m wholly on board for more of the same. This pseudo spin-off started off far more civilized, but it’s descended towards chaos since accompanied by the messy zombie fun I adore. The characters have yet to become all that appealing, though, meaning attachment is limited. It’s getting better with each season, so I’m sticking with it with hpoes of something truly special.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentaries]
What is it? A pacifist bull works hard to avoid entering the arena.
Why see it? Fox may not be Pixar when it comes to animated films, but their output (Ice Age, Rio) is typically pretty okay. Their latest continues that trend with a harmless and occasionally fun comedic adventure with a wide variety of talking animals coming together in a tale of friendship. John Cena voices the title bull, and while he’s fitting for the large, muscular animal it’s clear he works best as a performer in live-action comedies. He’s flat but fine. The film itself is a mix of the too-goofy and the almost heartfelt, but it builds to an affecting-enough finale.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? The Joker isn’t the biggest problem facing Metropolis’ fastest resident.
Why see it? The big screen Lego Batman movie sets a high bar for brick-based movies featuring DC super heroes, and while there’s some fun to be had here this direct to DVD adventure can’t quite measure up. There’s action and jokes, and we get a good sampling of Justice League members including Batman, Superman, and more, but it’s not necessarily all that memorable. Still, young DC fans will be more than pleased as it’s a fun-enough time-filler until the next theatrical outing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? Six heroes must unite to save the world.
Why see it? This movie is a mess. DC’s rushed attempts to keep pace with their rival once again results in a film that speeds towards end goals without putting in the work to get there. New heroes are introduced quickly — all of them with parental issues — and with little understanding of their powers. (Aquaman’s land-based abilities are only slightly more outrageous than the scene where the “ocean’s greatest protector” litters by smashing a glass bottle into the sea.) The villain is generic, the action is an endless mess of CG and green screen backdrops, and the dialogue is a blend of gibberish, jokes, and empty rhetoric. The Flash at least brings some personality and humor, and he leaves us excited for a solo film. Those hoping for an extended look at Zack Snyder’s footage will be disappointed as the disc only includes just over a minute of deleted scenes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? A kickboxer who previously sought vengeance is now the target of retaliation.
Why see it? Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer has seen more sequel action in the past few years than it has in decades, and the results are predictably underwhelming. Still, this latest entry steps things up some by improving the franchise’s focus — action — with strong choreography and talented fighters. Van Damme’s presence is still mostly for show, but those actually getting their hands dirty bring the goods with athletic and acrobatic prowess.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? Two ex-pats in Portugal have a brief but intense fling.
Why see it? One of Anton Yelchin’s final films comes to home video, and it’s a bittersweet farewell. His character looks so much older here at times, and it’s made sadder by the realization that Yelchin himself will never be older. As for the film, the attractive cinematography holds the eye even if the story and characters aren’t quite able to do the same for the heart. Obnoxiusness and anger are misconstrued as eccentricity and loneliness, and while we understand his physical draw to her — the camera loves her naked body — there’s no other spark to be found.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, outtakes, documentary, featurette]
What is it? A making-of documentary on 1989’s Pet Sematary.
Why see it? Paramount already produced traditional EPK (electronic press kit) featurettes for Maray Lambert’s fantastic Stephen King adaptation, but this fan-made/feature-quality documentary is far more detailed and filled with fun production anecdotes. In addition to behind the scenes footage the film features new interviews with all but one of the big names (well, Fred Gwynne obviously isn’t available either) as only King is unavailable. Lambert, Denise Crosby, Dale Midkiff, Miko Hughes, and more all share their memories and walk us through the production. Fans of King’s most unsettling feature will want to dig in to see how it was came together.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, interview, featurettes]
Also out this week:
The Ambulance [Scream Factory], Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies, The Crazies [Arrow Video], Downfall [Shout Select], Frank Serpico, The Handmaid’s Tale – Season One, Into the Badlands – The Complete Second Season, Knightfall – Season One, Major Crimes – The Sixth and Final Season, Pastor Paul, Season of the Witch [Arrow Video], Suspiria [Synapse Films], There’s Always Vanilla [Arrow Video], When the Starlight Ends