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DVD/Blu-ray Reviews For 1/12: "Just Looking At You Hurts More."
by Peter Sobczynski

Although the home video industry is still in the midst of its traditional post-holiday rut, fans of offbeat cinema will find a few of the selections listed below to be to their liking--a long-lost spaghetti western masterpiece, a couple of slabs of Eurosleaze and two late-period offerings from one of the world's greatest filmmakers among them. Enjoy.


THE ACT OF KILLING (New Video. $27.95): One of the most acclaimed films of 2013 was this jaw-dropping documentary in which filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer convinces one of the ringleaders of the death squads in Indonesia that killed over 50,000 rebels to recruit some of his former colleagues and film recreations of their atrocities in the style of the Hollywood films that they revere so highly. The results are literally indescribable at times but as a whole, watching these monsters cheerfully reenact their past brutality offers viewers a far more penetrating look into the heart of absolute madness than a normal talking-head documentary could ever hope to achieve. Not exactly a film to kick back with on a Saturday night but I guarantee that if you do watch it, you will never forget it.

THE BIG GUNDOWN (Grindhouse Releasing. $39.95): Fans of the classic spaghetti westerns of the Sixties who are under the impression that they have seen all of the highlights of the genre will want to check out this stunningly effective 1967 obscurity from Sergio Sollima, in which Lee Van Cleef plays a bounty hunter hot in pursuit of a bandit (Tomas Milian) accused of the murder of a young girl. Featuring lots of beautifully staged action, a screenplay co-written by Sergio Donati, one of the writers of "Once Upon a Time in the West" and a driving score by Ennio Morricone, this film is a cult classic in the making that all buffs of the genre should seek out immediately. Having never been commercially available on home video in the U.S. before, it makes up for lost time with a 4-disc package that includes a Blu-ray and DVD of the expanded version of the original English-language version, a Blu-ray of the Italian-language director's cut that contains different material from the domestic release and a CD of Morricone's soundtrack.

BRUTALIZATION (One 7 Movies. $24.95): In this dark slice of Dutch-made cinematic sleaze from 1973, a dedicated cop is hot on the trail of a group of rich punks break into homes and rape the women right in front of their husbands but soon discovers that bringing them to justice is not as easy as it seems. Although perhaps a little too rough and unpleasant for most viewers, those with a fondness for exceptionally bleak exploitation films will find it to be a reasonably well-made example and there is also an appearance by the then-unknown starlet Sylvia Kristel from a couple of years before she became an international sex symbol after the release of "Emmanuelle." Fans of this type of filmmaking may also enjoy "Erotic Blackmail" (One 7 Movies. $24.95), another mid-Seventies obscurity that--well, the title pretty much says it all.

CLOSED CIRCUIT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Ambitious lawyer Eric Bana agrees to defend the chief suspect in a terrorist bombing of central London and quickly finds himself trapped in a web of conspiracy with secrets that could threaten people in the highest echelons of power. If you thought that sentence was boring and predictable, you should try sitting through this lame would-be thriller that squanders an intriguing premise and a strong cast (that also includes Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent and Julia Stiles) on a storyline that contains all of the dramatic invention and tension of a "Mama's Family" marathon.

HAIL MARY/FOR EVER MOZART (Cohen Media Group. $29.98 each): Two of the more notable late-period works from the legendary Jean-Luc Godard make their long-awaited Blu-ray debuts. The former, his enormously controversial 1985 modern-day reimagining of the story of Mary, Joseph and the birth of Christ seen through the eyes of an ordinary teenage girl (Myriem Roussel), has perhaps lost a bit of its luster over the years but is nevertheless still a powerful viewing experience containing some of the director's most sumptuous visuals and a genuinely reverent tone that was somehow missed at the time of its release by its detractors, mostly because they never bothered to actually see it. The latter, a more obscure work from 1996, is a more oblique but no less intriguing multi-story drama dealing in large part with the struggle of the artist to create, depicted here via a group of young actors trying to stage a play amidst the chaos of war-torn Sarajaveo and of an aging filmmaker trying finish up his latest work. Both discs are filled with fascinating extras--"Hail Mary" includes "The Book of Mary," a short film from Godard's longtime collaborator Anne-Marie Mieville designed to serve as a companion piece, several featurettes and a commentary track from Museum of the Moving Image curator David Schwartz and director Hal Hartley and "For Ever Mozart" includes four featurettes, a commentary by critic James Quandt and a print interview with Godard conducted by Hartley. If that isn't enough Godard for you, there is also "Far From Vietnam" (Icarus Films. $29.98), a long-unseen six-part 1967 documentary protesting the Vietnam War that he made in collaboration with Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Claude Lelouch, William Klein and Joris Ivens.

I'M SO EXCITED (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Pedro Almodovar returns to the outrageous craziness of his earlier works with this comedy about an all-gay airplane crew trying to distract their passengers from noticing that the plane is in danger of crashing (psst. . .the plane is meant to represent Spain and the passengers are its citizens) by putting the people in coach to sleep and allowing those in first-class to indulge themselves in a booze and drug-fueled orgy. Admittedly, I have never been the hugest Almodovar fan (I have only really warmed to recent works like "Volver," "Broken Embraces" and "The Skin I Live In") but even his most loyal devotees would have to admit that this is one of his weakest works and the only shocking thing about it is how limp and ineffectual the satire is this time around. Oh, those of you lured by the promise of Almodovar regulars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz should be warned that they only appear in the opening scene before disappearing for presumably greener pastures.[br]

RUNNER RUNNER (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Yes, there were worse movies that came out in 2013 but few were dumber than this would-be thriller in which a brilliant Princeton grad student and card sharp (Justin Timberlake) gets taken by an online poker scam, goes to Costa Rica to confront the mega-rich owner of the site (Ben Affleck) and winds up falling under his spell of wealth and power until it finally dawns on him that he is being set up for a big fall. This is one of those films where the characters have to remind each other of how brilliant they are because they spend most of their time acting like drooling idiots throughout by the way that they constantly fall for schemes that anyone could see coming from a mile away. A total waste of the talents of Timberlake, Affleck (who is easily the best thing even though he is clearly sleepwalking through the part) and column crush object Gemma Arterton (who plays a bit of fun who comes between the two dopes), this is a poker film that basically spends two solid hours playing with its Oreos.

THANKS FOR SHARING (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): The world of sex addiction is seen through the eyes of three members of a support group--one (Tim Robbins) is so devoted to 12-step programs that he lets it dominate his entire life, another (Mark Ruffalo) meets the perfect girl (Gwyneth Paltrow) and tries not to fall back into old habits and the third (Josh Gad) is a newcomer struggling hard to turn his life around after his addiction costs him his job. It is an interesting idea for a movie but the execution is awful. It tries to blend comedy and drama but never figures out the right tone from scene to scene and the result is just a collection of awkwardly handled moments with only the performance by Alecia Moore (better known to some of you as pop goddess Pink) as another newcomer who teams up with Gad managing to cut through the crap and get at some recognizable truths.

TIGER EYES (Freestyle Releasing. $14.99): Although it seems almost inconceivable, this adaptation of the 1981 book by Judy Blume about a 15-year-old girl (Autumn Reaser) struggling to come to terms with the violent death of her beloved father is the first of her works to make it to the big screen. Unfortunately, the film (a family affair that was written and directed by her son), unlike her books, is a well-meaning but ultimately dull and dated enterprise that feels more like a dutiful book report than anything else. There isn't anything actively wrong with it but a writer as good and influential as Blume deserves much better than this.

TOP OF THE LAKE (BBC Home Entertainment. $34.98): Although her move from the big screen to television did not receive quite the same amount of publicity as did similar shifts by the likes of fellow directors David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh, Jane Campion's seven-part miniseries about a police investigator (Elisabeth Moss) in a remote area of New Zealand who takes on the case of a pregnant 12-year-old girl who then suddenly goes missing. Although occasionally a bit too enigmatic for its own good, this is still beautifully filmed and acted and is easily the most consistent project that Campion has been involved with since her underrated production of "The Portrait of a Lady." If nothing else, it beats the superficially similar "The Killing" like a gong. Other TV-related releases of note include "Archer: Season Four" (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), "Being Human: The Complete Third Season" (eOne Entertainment. $39.98). "Burn Notice: Season Seven" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), "China Beach: Season 2" (StarVista Entertainment. $29.98), "Family Guy: Volume 12" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), "The Following: The Complete First Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.98) and "The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98).

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (eOne Entertainment. $30.99): Proving that horror remakes do not necessarily have to be atrocities like the recent versions of "Carrie" or "The Thing," director Jim Mickle (whose "Stake Land" marked him as someone to watch) transformed the acclaimed 2010 Spanish horror film about a family of modern-day cannibals into a moody, creepy and startlingly effective work that could easily play in art-houses and grindhouses alike. Thanks to several wonderful performances (especially by Bill Sage as the patriarch of the clan and Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner as the daughters now charged with continuing their twisted family tradition) and Mickle's considerable skills behind the camera, this is one of the most impressive American horror films of recent years and if you missed it in theaters, you owe it to yourself to check it out right now.


FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)

INEQUALITY FOR ALL (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.95)

THE KILLING FIELDS (Warner Home Video. $27.98)

TEQUILA SUNRISE (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

THRONE OF BLOOD (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

THE WICKER MAN: THE FINAL CUT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

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originally posted: 01/13/14 08:29:20
last updated: 01/14/14 05:45:45
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