Happy Wednesday, Daily Grinders! Welcome back to Daily Grindhouse’s weekly list of what’s new and interesting in the world of Blu-Ray and DVD releases. Everything that follows is available to purchase online or in stores as of yesterday. If any of the following titles catches your eye, please click through the cover icons to buy them through us — it helps keep the lights on here (literally). We start with one of my top ten movies of last year, and I’ve reprinted my entire review here in the hopes it gets any stragglers to hurry up and check it out. The rest, we’ll take on a case-by-case basis.
In the well-populated theater where I saw HER, you could have heard a pin drop. Really. I dropped like twenty pins to test it. And that sucked, because I was barefoot that day. In the theater where I saw HER, you could hear me going “OW OW OW OW OW!”
But seriously folks. HER is a movie which earns its silences. It feels like a very tender, very intimate movie, with subdued, fuzzy cinematography and warm colors in the costuming and production design, all of which have a very absorbing effect. HER is subtly innovative in its details — it takes place in the future but looks only a few believable steps away from today. The futuristic elements are convincing but not distracting. It all feels lived-in, cozy. You’re listening to Scarlett Johansson’s recognizably rich voice and a low-key Joaquin Phoenix cooing to each other through the entire movie. HER feels like lazing around in a pigeon’s nest with bedding made from chinchilla fur.
The premise of the movie is brilliant and vitally current, a love story between man and his technology. How many of us are now inseparable from our smartphones? Due to size, portability, and design, our phones are with us at our most intimate moments. I’ve fallen asleep with my phone beside me more times than I can count. I haven’t fallen love with my phone, but I have fallen in love through it once or twice before. So I get it. This movie is relevant, contemporary, prescient, beautiful, sad, all those things. But there’s something else.
Along with the sound of twenty pins dropping, in that theater you also could have heard me chuckling. This movie is wry and funny. I wonder how much of it is meant to be satire. Filmmaker Spike Jonze and his collaborators are rightfully getting rave reviews for somehow managing to make the relationship between a lonely man and a self-aware computer system so believable and so touching. But this is also a guy who, in 2013 alone, helped make BAD GRANDPA and played a comedy cameo in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. He’s a prankster at heart. What are we to make of scenes where the lead character turns down the impossibly beautiful Olivia Wilde in favor of his phone, or where he takes the phone on a picnic double-date with Chris Pratt’s character and his girlfriend? It’s thanks to the particular genius of Spike Jonze that the audience nearly forgets the absurdity of such moments in favor of their investment in the love story angle — in fact, the love story is meant to be taken as genuine, but at the same time, the joke is right there in plain sight. And at whose expense?
I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014)
Not many people know it, but this movie was meant to be part of a trilogy, where the next movies were set to be ALONE BAD and FRIEND GOOD. And if you like those Frankenstein jokes, here are several more! I don’t know about the movie, but I can do Frankenstein jokes all day if you’d rather be entertained that way. Let me know!
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (2014)
Maybe it’s awkward because only two out of the three guys pictured above got asked to be in a superhero movie. Also, four out of five of them are struggling not to make any infantile comment on the name “Imogen Poots.” As am I. (It’s a sentence!)
Shot entirely in IMAX and 3D, STALINGRAD is a Russian was movie about Russia beating the crap out of Germany in one of the decisive battles of World War II. It does seem a little gauche to use that show-off-y technology for subject matter we would all ideally take somewhat seriously, but hell, as long as they made it I wouldn’t be against watching Nazis blow up in IMAX and 3D.
SPECIAL ID (2013)
All I know about this movie is Donnie Yen. Sometimes that’s enough! It’s more than most movies have to show for themselves, that’s for sure. According to the Blu-Ray cover art, this time around Donnie Yen teams up with The Shirtless Swordsman and The Girl With The Heavy Gun.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (2014)
Starring Casper Van Dien from STARSHIP TROOPERS and directed by Casper Van Dien from STARSHIP TROOPERS, this is the Asylum’s attempt to cash in on the upcoming release of MALEFICENT. I’m not totally convinced that the people who made MALEFICENT are going to cash in on MALEFICENT, but I guess it’s good policy to cover the bases.
EASTBOUND & DOWN: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (TV) (2013)
Well, this is obviously one of the best things to happen on television in my own personal lifetime. The only reason I’m not labeling it as a pick of the week is because picking it up is a no-brainer, a reflex, an unconscious action, the way a horse casually swings its tail to swat flies away from its bottom.
** PICK OF THE WEEK **
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (TV) (2013)
This show is every bit as good as you may have heard. The milieu of women’s prisons has really only been dealt with in popular culture via exploitation films. This is different. And it’s different than OZ, the HBO serial which shared a prison setting but was really m0stly a soap opera for men. This isn’t a soap opera.
Structurally it’s more like LOST, in that each episode has a present tense interspersed with flashbacks that fill the audience in on the characters’ histories before they arrived in prison. Each episode focuses loosely around one of the many vibrant characters in the ensemble. Like LOST, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK manages to take characters you initially disliked and spin them into your favorites. The most clear case of this virtue, for me, is Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), the harsh and even mean cellmate of Piper, the show’s central character. By the time her episode is done, your heart is with her entirely.
Otherwise — if you’re interested — my favorite characters are generally easier to like from the jump: First and foremost there’s Sophia, played by Laverne Cox in a genuinely pioneering role that beautifully depicts a transgender character as more than a caricature and more than a tragic stereotype. She’s just an individualistic, generally agreeable, occasionally moody person who you could easily know and love in your own life.
I also love Aleida, Daya’s mother, just because Elizabeth Rodriguez (from 2006’s MIAMI VICE) is a boss, and I love the relentlessly upbeat Poussey (the much-needed Samira Wiley), and the temperamental runner Watson (the one who looks like rad rapper Jean Grae), and of course Nicky — Natasha Lyonne’s character — is always great too. You’ll find a new favorite every episode. Just about the only character I consistently don’t like is Larry, Piper’s dipshit fiancee, and not only because he’s played by Jason Biggs. The series overall treats its male characters with a kind of bemused benevolence; its focus is on the panoply of feminity that it conjures within (and without) the prison walls.
Most movies and TV shows struggle to come up with even one well-developed and vaguely original female character — ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK has something like fifty. I guess the final point of comparison would be THE WIRE — both shows feature a steadily advancing narrative that spins out individual character moments like moons orbiting a planet as it cycles around the sun. You can be made and unmade to love or hate a character as the story progresses, and back and again, but you will for sure see them portrayed with perfectly imbalanced humanity in the writing and seriocomic nuance in the performance. That may be high praise after only thirteen episodes, and if I turn out to be wrong you can make me take it back later, but all I know for sure is that I’ll be watching Season Two when it starts on June 6th. Catch yourself up with the Season One Blu-Ray!
To my understanding, this film was already released by Criterion a few years back — this is the Blu-Ray edition. Quite honestly I have no authority to discuss this film. OVERLORD is a British war film which incorporates actual vintage battle footage; the rest was filmed by director Stuart Cooper with the aid of Stanley Kubrick’s regular DP, John Alcott. It sounds fascinating but I haven’t seen it so I’m not going to pretend I have anything valuable to impart. Hopefully I will get the chance to watch it and can be just a little more insightful at that point. OK, one quick observation: Killer title.
TWO RODE TOGETHER (1961)
A John Ford Western I haven’t seen, written by Frank Nugent and starring Jimmy Stewart, Woody Strode, and the awesome Richard Widmark — yes, that is something I can get very excited about watching for the first time, yes indeed.
FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964)
From the summary, this film really sounds like 2012’s FLIGHT, only with Glenn Ford instead of Denzel, which in my eyes is pretty much an equal trade-off. Can’t go wrong with either of those guys.
FLYING TIGERS (1942)
God, this is one of those times I so wish a movie’s title was literal. John Wayne and flying tigers, that’s something I’d drop everything to look at.
HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949)
That is some striking cover art right there. Olive Films puts out a classy package. HOME OF THE BRAVE is a World War II film set in the South Pacific and centering around a black soldier in a white platoon. Producer Stanley Kramer later made HIGH NOON, which in fact was apparently the shooting title of this film. He was known for making films with social and political concerns of a more progressive nature, though some critics of his work would call it heavy-handed. Screenwriter Carl Foreman, who wrote both of the aforementioned films, was blacklisted in the 1950s. Reading into the history of the era, it appears Kramer and Foreman presented less than a unified front after Foreman refused to name names, and the well-known co-star of both films Lloyd Bridges dealt with political persecution too, at a somewhat lesser degree. It’s hard to judge. Things were scary back then. I am definitely very pro-Bridges family, I can say that. And I’ll never pass up any occasion to reiterate that Ronald Reagan was a Satan-fellating hell-demon. Because it’s true! Anyway, HOME OF THE BRAVE is on Blu-Ray today.
Set in the now-imminent future of 2018, ROLLERBALL takes us to a corporate-dominated dystopia where professional sports are increasingly brutal and their practitioners increasingly indicative of the state of the society. Shot by RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, starring James Caan, then on a hot streak fueled by THE GODFATHER, and somewhat surprisingly directed by Norman Jewison, ROLLERBALL is an odd concoction — part sports movie, part semi-prescient science fiction. It fits neatly on a continuum between 1974’s THE LONGEST YARD and 1976’s NETWORK and maybe that’s the best way to make sense of it. There was a remake in 2002 which could have been interesting but wasn’t; as it so often happens, you’re better off sticking with the original.
FINAL EXAM (1981)
One of the very many slasher films that flooded theaters in the wake of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, FINAL EXAM moves the killer’s prowling ground from suburban houses to campus frathouses and the favored prey from high school babysitters to college co-eds. This flick has a following and the fact that Scream Factory chose to release it automatically makes it worth a look. (They’re something like twenty for twenty by now.) Here’s the great Paul Freitag-Fey with a full review of the movie and the new Blu-Ray!
Wow. I had no idea this movie even existed. In a rare starring role for über-freak Clint Howard, an unpopular teenager uses his computer skills to invoke a murderous Satanic cult. One of American cinema’s most unheralded badasses, R.G. Armstrong, plays a role I can’t quite figure out from the synopsis, but one thing I can tell is that he isn’t the movie’s supernatural villain. That job falls to eventual sitcom star Richard Moll. This movie sounds odd as shit, and I am officially fascinated. I’m not going to read anything else until I get a chance to watch EVILSPEAK first, but here’s a writer I really enjoy, Jacob Knight, with a look at the movie and the new Scream Factory DVD! We’ll also have a review coming up.
THE GODFATHER: PART III (1990)
The first two movies have been out individually on the Blu-Ray format for a while, but the third one has until now only been available as a package deal with the first pair. I’m assuming don’t have to educate anyone on the history of this series. THE GODFATHER and its sequel are two of the most highly-regarded American movies ever made, and that’s no exaggeration, whereas the third entry is by contrast one of the most maligned sequels of all time. Again, no exaggeration. Before there were STAR WARS prequels there was THE GODFATHER: PART III. Regardless, the desire to see this film is surely understandable — I’m just not sure if there’s anyone on the planet who’d buy the third without the first and the second attached. But if you want to, now you can! Weirdo.
OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) & OCEAN’S TWELVE (2004) & OCEAN’S THIRTEEN (2007)
There’s not too much to say, really. These three movies are fun, fizzy trifles — they’re not the Soderbergh crimes pictures I prefer to return to. That’s not a dig; it takes incredible skill to marshal some of the world’s biggest movie stars and come up with a trio of films that feel so effortless, weightless, and smooth. And yes, I enjoyed all three of them. (Some people like to dump on the middle entry but come on, if for Vincent Cassel’s awesomeness alone, it’s worthwhile.) But the pleasures of these films don’t linger, they’re not meant to leave the theater with you, and I only really thought about them while I was watching them and stopped promptly thereafter. To me, each one is like drinking a Shirley Temple: a deliberately temporary diversion, enjoyable all the way through but only one at a time will do. This collection will look great on a shelf, and it comes with an exclusive disc of original bonus material, so if you’re a more enthusiastic fan than I, this is a solid buy.
HATCHET / NO ONE LIVES / A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE / THE ALPHABET KILLER
So now we’re in the lightning round! Okay.
Don’t like HATCHET.
Think NO ONE LIVES has an interesting set-up but it devolves into gore where ideas would have been preferable.
Haven’t seen the other two. But A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is from the same crew as YOU’RE NEXT, which means I want to.
LET ME IN / THE CRAZIES / APOLLO 18 / PANDORUM
LET ME IN is surprisingly excellent, THE CRAZIES is surprisingly decent, APOLLO 18 is found-footage horror so I ain’t going near that shit if I don’t have to, and look at that, PANDORUM makes it four.
THE KILLING MACHINE / ONE IN THE CHAMBER / FORCE OF EXECUTION / AMBUSHED
I’ve seen THE KILLING MACHINE! Dolph Lundgren directed it! It’s not terrible! Dolph is great!
ONE IN THE CHAMBER sounds like bathroom language.
FORCE OF EXECUTION matches Steven Seagal against a couple guys who can actually act, Ving Rhames and Danny Trejo. As I am contractually obligated to see every movie that Danny Trejo appears in, I will give you my full thoughts as soon as I get around to it.
AMBUSHED matches Dolph Lundgren against Vinnie Jones and Randy Couture, two guys who were famous for other things before they became movie tough guys. The director also made BLOOD OF REDEMPTION with Dolph, and that one I have seen. It isn’t too much good but I was diverted. While I’m not contractually bound to watch Dolph’s movies the way I am Danny Trejo’s, I will still reserve the time if I can find it.
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES / OPERATION: ENDGAME / BREATHLESS /
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES is terrible, unfortunately. Almost unwatchable, though I made it through somehow.
OPERATION: ENDGAME has a phenomenal cast, including Ellen Barkin, Maggie Q, Bob Odenkirk, and several other people who would not normally be in a movie together, but I’ve heard bad things. So far I’ve not gotten to see for myself.
This is the first I’m hearing about BREATHLESS but since it stars Val Kilmer, Gina Gershon, and Ray Liotta it’s now got to be on the radar.
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER has a great premise, like a blue-collar BUFFY, but somewhere in the execution it put me to sleep.
ULTIMATE GANGSTERS COLLECTION:
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA / BLACK RAIN / INTERNAL AFFAIRS / THE TOWN
Hey look, it’s four movies which have absolutely nothing in common besides having people in them who say words, sometimes carry guns, and are subject to the laws of gravity.
TO THE ARCTIC (2011) / BORN TO BE WILD (2012)
At the risk of surrendering whatever tough-guy credibility I have, I will tell you I saw BORN TO BE WILD in the theater. It’s nice! I mean, it’s occasionally infuriating, because some of these films address poaching and all the other awful things people do to our fellow animals, but the photography was beautiful and I think anything that gets kids interested in conservation is a good thing for all of us.
DIO: LIVE IN LONDON (1993)
“CROCODILE” DUNDEE (1986) & “CROCODILE” DUNDEE II (1988)
Both films have cinematography by Russell Boyd as highlights, but only the second has Luis Guzmán and an Iggy Pop song to offer. Either way I’ve never really gotten the appeal of these movies, though I sure sat in front of the TV with a blank expression while they both ran on cable on a loop. I’m not a fan of the quotation marks. What’s with the quotation marks? To me it indicates a lack of commitment to “Crocodile” as a first name. That isn’t punk. That’s not a knife.
THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO (1966) & THUNDERBIRD 6 (1968)
Speaking of inexplicable popularity…
I have loved cartoons and I have loved puppets and I have loved action figures, but I cannot for the fuck of me understand why this uneasy cocktail of the three is so beloved by so many people. Admittedly, peak popularity for this property occurred a generation or two ahead of mine, but still, I don’t get it. It’s creepy. To me watching THUNDERBIRDS is like watching grown-ups play with your action figures. They get the voices wrong and the stories aren’t as cool. Plus these are more marionettes than puppets, and marionettes are as eerie as puppets are hilarious. That’s why everyone loves the Muppets while Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was always a little creepy, long before Pee-Wee got in any trouble. But again, as I always say, if you want these THUNDERBIRDS movies they are now available to you, and I’m sorry if I bagged too hard on your childhood faves. I guess marionettes don’t always necessitate the presence of evil. Sometimes they can even be sincere expressions of wooden love.
Okay, well except for me crying laughing at the end there, this column was relatively painless. If you were here last week you can see why I’m breathing a little easier today. Next week brings a hefty stack again, so I’m gonna go load up on fiber and nutrients and other healthy-sounding stuff to get my stamina up. See you then!
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