DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 1/29: "You Can't Escape This Nightmare Without Me"
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/30/14 11:06:21
Among the selections in this roundup of newly available titles, you will find several current Oscar nominees (including the most surprising of this year's crop), one high-flying pop princess, a few reimaginings of classic horror titles (one brilliant, the others somewhat less so) and the debut feature of one of the best American directors working today. Enjoy.
NEW AND NOTABLEARGENTO'S DRACULA 3-D (MPI Media Group. $29.95): The idea of the legendary Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento tackling the Bram Stoker classic is undeniably tantalizing but even the director's most loyal fans will have to admit that this is one of his weakest efforts--a misconceived and painfully miscast botch that is almost shockingly amateurish at times. To be fair, some of the visual flourishes are pretty nifty and Rutger Hauer and Asia Argento bring some needed energy to their scenes, though they aren't in it nearly enough to rescue the whole thing from terminal mediocrity.
BAD GRANDPA (Paramount Home Video. $29.95): In this variation on the "Jackass" format, a crusty old man (Johnny Knoxville under an Oscar-nominated makeup job) is forced to take his grandson on a road trip that allows for any number of grotesque hidden-camera stunts ranging from the painful to the scatological. Inevitably, the whole thing is kind of a mixed bag--and those not predisposed to the whole "Jackass" concept are not going to have their minds changed here--but I must admit that when it is funny, it is really, really funny. Not quite as funny as the idea of this film getting more Oscar nominations than "Blue is the Warmest Color," but still pretty funny.
BLUE JASMINE (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Although it received largely rapturous reviews, I must confess to being of two minds about Woody Allen's comedy-drama about a once-wealthy and eternally self-pitying woman (Cate Blanchett) struggling to cope with her newly reduced circumstances after her financier husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested for perpetrating a Madoff-like scam. On the one hand, the story is kind of thin and repetitive and Allen's view of the working class--represented by the heroine's sister (Sally Hawkins) and her boyfriend (Bobby Canavale)--seems to have been inspired by a road company production of "Guys and Dolls." On the other, the Oscar-nominated performances from Blanchett and Hawkins are impressive and as Hawkins' ex-husband with a very specific ax to grind against his former sister-in-law, Andrew Dice Clay--yes, Andrew Dice Clay--more than holds his own with a legitimately excellent performance that suggests real possibilities for a new career as a dramatic actor.
CARRIE (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99): Unlike most of the current spate of remakes/reimaginings of horror classics, this version of the best-selling Stephen King novel, previously brought to the screen via Brian De Palma's 1976 masterpiece and a lame 2000 TV movie, actually sounded like a good idea on the surface--casting Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in the roles that earned Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie seemed sound and putting it in the hands of director Kimberley Peirce suggested a potentially interesting feminist take on the material. Alas, it was an enormous botch that offered viewers nothing they hadn't seen before except for towels in the locker room scene. There are ways of redoing horror films to make them play for a new generation while retaining what made them so good in the first place but this is not one of them.
CAT PEOPLE (Shout! Factory. $29.98): Now this[/i} remake, on the other hand, is all that and much more. Forty years after the release of Jacques Tourner's 1942 classic about a beautiful young woman who is convinced that feeling any form of romantic passion will cause her to transform into a deadly panther, Paul Schrader took that film's subtle psychosexual underpinnings and made them explicit in a lurid and decidedly adult horror fantasy that is both dazzling and disturbing in equal measures. When this was released in 1982, it was trashed by critics and ignored by audiences but it has gained a cult following over the years thanks to its stunning visuals, the hit theme song by David Bowie and the overwhelmingly erotic presence of Nastassia Kinski, captured at precisely the moment when she was the biggest sex symbol in the world. All in all, an absolute masterpiece and one that looks better than ever in this Blu-ray special edition that also features new interviews with Schrader, Kinski, co-stars Malcolm McDowell, John Heard and Annette O'Toole and composer Giorgio Moroder.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): In this sequel to the hit animated adaptation of the classic children's book, inventor Flint Lockwood discovers that his machine that turned water into food before running amok is now creating food-animal hybrids (shrimpanzees, tacodiles and the like) and he must stop it before they overrun the world. As it is bright, colorful and silly, little kids will love it but a high tolerance for terrible puns will be required for older viewers. Personally, I found it to be one of the better animated films of last year but that says more about the sad state of contemporary animation than anything else.
ENOUGH SAID (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In the latest comedy-drama from Nicole Holofcener, recently single Julia Louis-Dreyfus unexpectedly strikes up a relationship with fellow divorcee James Gandolfini only to discover that he is the ex-husband that her new friend (Catherine Keener) keeps lambasting in their conversations. The plot may sound like a sitcom contrivance but this was actually one of the most perceptive American comedies of last year thanks to smart writing and direction from Holofcener and wonderful performances from Louis-Dreyfus, who truly deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and Gandolfini, who flat-out deserved to win the Supporting Actor award for one of the best turns of his sadly abbreviated career.
MACHETE KILLS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Despite the fact that Robert Rodriguez's faux-grindhouse epic about a badass former federale mowing down the bad guys failed to inspire much enthusiasm when it came out in 2010, the franchise soldiered on with this installment which our hero (the always charismatic Danny Trejo) tries to save the world while encountering an eclectic supporting cast that includes the likes of Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Demian Bachir, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Charlie Sheen (as the President), Lady Gaga and Mel Gibson as the megalomaniacal maniac. There are a couple of bright spots here and there and Gibson is clearly having a blast as the bad guy but once again, Rodriguez goes through his ideas so quickly that the whole thing runs out of steam after about 30 minutes and simply devolves into a Tex-Mex James Bond knockoff--that wouldn't be so bad if the Bond movie being knocked off wasn't "Moonraker."
REWIND THIS (MPI Media Group. $24.98): By allowing consumers to watch (and rewatch) classic and contemporary films whenever they wanted instead of being beholding to television or revival house schedules, the advent of videotape literally changed the way that people interacted with popular culture and this entertaining documentary chronicles the history of VHS from its humble beginnings to its heyday in the 1980s to the nostalgic status that it still holds among some enthusiasts in the age of Blu-ray and digital streaming. Besides, how many other opportunities will you get in your lifetime to see a film featuring both acclaimed auteur Atom Egoyan and schlockmeister extraordinaire Lloyd Kaufman among the talking heads? Even better, there is a special edition available that offers the film on both DVD and VHS for the true believers.
RIDDICK (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): After waiting nearly a decade for memories of the disastrous "The Chronicles of Riddick" to fade away--not that difficult a prospect since I could barely remember anything about it the morning after watching it--Vin Diesel and director David Twohy continue the futuristic adventures of intergalactic badass Riddick by dropping him on another planet containing a deadly indigenous species that is about to emerge from hiding to wreak havoc on anything it can find. In other words, it is pretty much the exact same film as the original "Pitch Black" but like that one, this is also a lean and surprisingly effective sci-fi thriller that contains some genuine with, a lot of cinematic skill (the opening 20 minutes or so, in which Riddick becomes acclimated to his new surroundings, is actually pretty brilliant) and a performance from Diesel that is strong, sure and undeniably charismatic. The whole thing may be hooey but at least it is well-made hooey.
SHORT TERM 12 (Docurama. $34.95): Unlike most heavily hyped indie dramas of late, this film, which chronicles a few days in the life of a fiercely protective counsellor at a facility for troubled and abused children, actually does deserve most of the hype and praise that it has received, largely due to the knockout central performance by Brie Larson, whom you may recall as the girl in the "21 Jump Street" movie and will never forget after seeing her here. Watching as she goes to extraordinary lengths to reach out to her charges--particularly a boy (Keith Stanfield) who is about to turn 18 and leave the system but is afraid of what is out there and a girl (Kaitlyn Dever) whose problems force Grace to confront the hard truths about her own life--she is never less than likable, compelling and deeply moving and if there is any justice in the world, this film will do for her what "Winter's Bone" did for the equally gifted Jennifer Lawrence. Unlike "Winter's Bone," however, this is not simply a one-woman show. Debuting writer-director Destin Cretton used to work in a facility like the one depicted in the film and as a result, there is a realistic, live-in feel to the proceedings that makes it far more compelling that it might have been in more professionally-minded hands. There are a couple of moments when one can feel the mechanics of the screenplay groaning a little too loudly but they never wind up overwhelming the proceedings. I realize that spending 90 minutes watching someone trying to reach out to troubled kids may not sound like the ideal way to spend a Saturday night but trust me, this is an above-average drama that features what will surely go down as one of the best and most deeply-felt performances of recent times.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Unlike most of the teen-oriented films of late--most of which are broad comedies in which the only desires of the kids are to get laid and/or throw parties of such a raucous nature that Caligula himself might have blushed at their excesses--this film by James Ponsoldt about the unlikely romance that develops between a hard-partying type (Miles Teller) and a shy, bookish classmate (Shailene Woodley) is not exactly crammed with incident--there are no artificially contrived situations, no unbelievable love triangles and the story does not conclude at prom--and it is all the better for it. The screenplay does a smart and effective job of observing two reasonably ordinary teenagers as they navigate the perils of romance and sex in ways that will strike most viewers as being frighteningly accurate. Although I am not quite as over the moon with this one as some of my colleagues--despite Teller's best efforts, I never quite found myself warming up to his character--but it is definitely worth checking out for Woodley's performance, a turn that dwarfs even her acclaimed work in "The Descendants" in terms of raw, affecting power.
THIEF (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Michael Mann made his big-screen directorial debut with this spectacular 1981 crime thriller about a safecracker (James Caan) who wants to leave the criminal life for good but finds that getting out is harder than he thought. Hypnotically filmed on the streets of Chicago and set to the pulsating strains of Tangerine Dream, this was one of the more impressive directorial debuts of the decade (though it fared poorly at the box office) and demonstrated that Mann was a filmmaker to watch. Hitting Blu-ray at long last, Criterion has issued this set featuring a new 4K transfer, the Mann/Caan commentary that was recorded back in the laserdisc days and new interviews with the two as well as Tangerine Dream member Johannes Schmoelling. A must-see.
YOU'RE NEXT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99): A family reunion at a remote summer home goes violently awry when they find themselves under siege from mysterious masked intruders intent on slaughtering them all for no apparent reason. Luckily for them, one of the sons brought a date (Sharni Vinson) who turns out to possess the kind of survival skills needed to fight back. Although this gory and occasionally goofy fusion of the mad slasher and home invasion sub-genres runs out of steam towards the end and contains one or two too many plot twists for its own good, it is slickly made and Vinson (whom you may or may not remember for "Step Up 3-D) is an undeniably arresting presence.
BUFFALO 66: 15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.95)
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)
A CHORUS LINE (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95)
DIE MONSTER DIE! (Shout! Factory. $19.97)
FRUITVALE STATION (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98)
IN A WORLD (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (The Criterion Collection. $49.95)
LA VIE DE BOHEME (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): X
PINK: THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE TOUR--LIVE FROM MELBOURNE (RCA Records. $18.98)
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
RAISE THE TITANIC (Shout! Factory. $19.97)
RIFIFI (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
ROBOCOP (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
SUNRISE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)