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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week – Trespass Against Us, Rules Don’t Apply and more

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Rules Don’t Apply – It’s a shame that Rules Don’t Apply fared so poorly at the box office because it’s not a bad movie at all. Warren Beatty has been quiet in recent years but he’s still one of the all-time great actors and filmmakers. And here, he directs (and co-stars with) young Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins, all while playing Howard Hughes, one of the most enigmatic celebrities of the last century. Sure, the film isn’t as great as some of Beatty’s early masterpieces, but I’ve always been fascinated by Hughes and this film is an interesting look into one part of his life and how it affected the people around him. It’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy, but it’s a solid drama with a light touch. I liked it.

Trespass Against Us – Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in a crime thriller together? Sign me up! In this tonally uneven film, Fassbender plays a criminal (who doesn’t necessarily want to be a criminal) under the thumb of his crime boss father after a heist goes wrong. Not surprisingly, both Fassbender and Gleeson are terrific in their roles. Unfortunately, the movie – while punctuated by effective scenes – isn’t all that great. It’s not bad, either, it’s just one of those films that is kind of watchable while also being unexceptional. Worth a watch if you’re a fan of the actors involved, but if not, don’t go out of your way for it.

Colors – Making its Blu-ray debut, Colors is one of those films that everyone’s heard of, some people have seen, and a number of people really like. Robert Duvall is in top form as a seasoned cop who’s learned how to survive on the gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles. Sean Penn plays his hotshot young partner who thinks he’s got all the answers. Together they investigate a gang murder and end up caught in a full-on gang war. As directed by the late Dennis Hopper, Colors is a terrific cop thriller that features both great performances by Hopper and Penn and some effective action scenes. If you’ve never seen this film before – and a lot of people haven’t – definitely track it down.

Incarnate – Aaron Eckhart makes a rare horror appearance in Incarnate, the latest flick from producers of Insidious. It also stars Carise Van Houten (an acclaimed international actress who I like very much) and Joseph Mazouz (who plays young Bruce Wayne on TV’s Gotham.) It’s an interesting enough film that sees a scientist using science instead of religion to try and exorcise a young boy who’s been possessed by a demon. Now, it’s a little by-the-numbers in places, but Eckhart and Van Houten as well as young Mazouz turn in good performances that elevate the film above pure schlock, so it’s a fine diversion if not a classic.

The Lesson – So here we have a new horror film that falls under the heading of “great concept, so-so execution.” Robert Hands plays a teacher who decides he’s had it with a couple of borderline troublemaking kids so he decides to teach them – dun dun DUNNNN – a lesson. The lesson being, you’ll definitely pay more attention when being tied to your desk and threatened with torture. So that’s a great set-up for a horror film, but the problem is that the movie is awfully slow. It’s a lot of set-up with very little pay-off. The performances are solid enough for a horror film and I’ve seen worse, but it’s really nothing special overall.

Miss Hokusai – This artsy animated Japanese film is actually NOT from Studio Ghibli, which is something of a rarity in that genre these days. This movie is instead from Production I.G., the company that brought us the original Ghost in the Shell. It’s an interesting movie about the daughter of a famous artist who wants to set out on her own. Of course, even in what seems like it might be a straightforward drama, there are spirits and dragons and over-the-top characters, which is part of why I’ve never been a fan of the Studio Ghibli-style of filmmaking (which this movie is clearly molded in.) However, they are very popular, so if you like these kinds of movies, you’ll probably want to check out Miss Hokusai.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • The Eyes of My Mother – This is a hard film to discuss in that it’s much more about mood and atmosphere than it is plot. A psychological horror film shot in black and white and with a running time of just an hour and 15 minutes, the good news is that the movie seems unique and doesn’t really look or feel like anything else I’ve seen in the horror genre lately. On the down side, it’s also a case of style over substance, and I can’t say the story did a whole lot for me. A good one for horror fans looking for something a little different.
  • Mama’s Family: The Complete Series – I was always a huge fan of the Carol Burnett Show, even when I was young, but Mama’s Family was never a show I watched as a kid. I’m not sure why, it just always seemed a little bit odd to me. Like The Carol Burnett Show crossed with Hee Haw. Or at least, that’s how I interpreted it at the time. Now, the entire series has been collected into one massive box set. So here I had the chance to go back and watch this show, effectively for the first time. Now that I’ve seen it, I realize it’s much more of a traditional sitcom than I ever thought it was. Vicki Lawrence stars as “Mama,” and the titular family is made up of her kids and grandkids, mostly. A lot of what happens in the show is your typical sitcom fare. Mama helps her family out with their personal lives and problems, and the humor in the show mostly comes from sharp writing and constant punchlines. And while some of the humor does hold up, the show’s production values do not. Honestly, it’s like watching a stage play; weakly lit, cheap-looking sets, and an overall aesthetic that screams “35 cent budget!” However, if you’re a fan, not only does this huge box set (it’s about the size of a phone book) contain every single episode, but also a slew of extra features.
  • Man Down – I know it’s de rigeur to pick on Shia LeBeouf, but when he stars in a movie with Gary Oldman, Kate Mara, Jai Courtney, and Clifton Collins Jr., it’s at least worth a watch. Man Down, unfortunately, turns out to be the latest film from Dito Montiel, a filmmaker who I really don’t like at all. He got some critical acclaim with his first movie, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, but unfortunately I didn’t like that film and I haven’t liked any film he’s made since. I’m not sure how he gets such great casts, but this bleak drama is another in a line of movies from a person who I just can’t get into as a filmmaker.
  • Officer Downe – While the title might be similar, Officer Downe couldn’t be more different from Man Down. This hyperkinetic action film is based on a graphic novel by Joe Casey and sees a super-cop being repeatedly resurrected through some very sketchy science. The film revels in stylized editing and a serious-but-not-serious tone, it stars character actor great Kim Coates in the lead role. It’s not a slam dunk, with some limitations in terms of budget and script. But overall, it’s a lot of fun.
  • Joe Bullet – You have to like a 70s movie about a kids’ soccer team hiring a man named Joe Bullet to protect them from a gangster, especially when one of the top-billed actors is named Cocky Tlholthalemaje. I kind of feel like that tells you everything you need to know about this movie, just restored and released on DVD for the first time ever thanks to Film Detective. This 1973 martial arts/action exploitation film is not going to catch the eye of more serious cinema-goers, but if you love late-night B-movies, you absolutely need to track this one down.
  • Resistance – I’m not really sure why this film is just hitting DVD now since it was released in 2011. Starring Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen, this tale of World War II presents an alternate ending where the D-Day invasion fails and Europe is still under the thumb of the Nazi regime. Based on a popular novel, the film is much more of a drama about soldiers who are mentally drained from the war, and the people in a small Welsh village who fall under their rule. It’s not an action film, so be aware of that, but it’s an interesting little flick overall. The performances are the highlight of the film.
  • Cold War 2 – I can’t say I remember the original Cold War film (although I’m pretty sure I watched it), but this second outing is a solidly decent Asian action film. With Tony Leung and Aaron Kwok joined this time around by Chow Yun Fat, the film is a fairly standard actioner, with a number of cops out to track down an escaped criminal mastermind. As with many films of this genre, I found that the action scenes from the film are pretty exciting, but the rest of the film isn’t terribly engaging. Of course, some people may not care if the story or characters aren’t always that great as long as the action is good, and it definitely is.
  • Bloodrunners – Okay, I’ve always been fascinated by the era of Prohibition. So give me a Prohibition-era movie starring Ice-T about a bootlegger who discovers a coven of vampires, and I’m pretty much guaranteed to be there. Now, is this a great film? No. Clearly it’s low budget, and I don’t think anyone will confuse Ice T for a great actor. That said… I had a lot of fun with this movie. It’s cheesy and has plenty of issues, but vampires and prohibition and Ice T together made for a film I just had a good time with. File under “so bad it’s good.”
  • Kendra On Top: The Complete Fourth & Fifth Seasons – The spin-off from The Girls Next Door reality show continues with Kendra on Top: Seasons 4 & 5, in which we follow the dim-witted but high energy former playmate and the aftermath of her split from her former NFL husband, Hank Baskett, all with a baby along for the ride. Guilty pleasure television at its finest, I guess.
  • Brand New Testament – So this is an interesting one. It’s a bit hard to explain, but basically it posits that god is a guy who lives in a fancy high-rise apartment and is basically a jerk. So his ten-year-old daughter – fed up with his abusive behavior – hacks his computer and leaks the death dates of everyone in the world to them via text message. And things only get stranger from there. This French comedy is wholly original, and that’s a large part of its charm. I don’t think that uber-religious people will enjoy it all that much, but if you enjoy films like Kevin Smith’s Dogma, This is the End, or other potentially-sacrilegious comedies, this one is definitely worth a watch.
  • New Life – While the main cast in this film is lesser known, there are some great supporting actors involved, including Buffy’s James Marsters, Lost’s Terry O’Quinn, One Tree Hill’s Barry Corbin, and character actor Bill Cobbs. The story is a fairly basic ooey-gooey romance that deals with a young couple facing all the adversity life can manage to throw at them. It’s a bit treacly at times and ultimately, it’s more for people who like Lifetime Channel movies or faith-based dramas.
  • Wentworth: Season Two – If you crossed Orange is the New Black with Oz, you’d get Wentworth. Set in a women’s prison, the show could draw comparisons to OITNB, but the tone is deadly serious, much more along the lines of Oz. Layered and complex, the show follows Bea Smith, an abused wife who gets convicted for attempting to murder her abusive husband. Once in prison, she finds herself caught in what is essentially a gang war between rival convicts. The show is extremely intense and well-acted, and it will draw you in from the very beginning. Be aware that it’s darker than something like OITNB, but it’s equally compelling television.
  • Robo-Dog – Although the premise of this film seems a little morbid (man recreates beloved dog as a lifelike robot, evil bad guy wants to steal dog’s super battery), the film itself is a pretty tame family film starring Patrick Muldoon, Wallace Shawn, and Olivia D’Abo. There’s nothing all that great about the film, but I can see how kids will like it and there’s nothing that will make parents groan too loudly.
  • Lonestar: Stevie Ray Vaughn 1994-1999 – I can’t say I’m a huge Stevie Ray Vaughn fan, but it’s not like I don’t like him, either. If anything, it’s more a lack of exposure to his music than that I don’t actually like it. This film doesn’t do a whole lot to expose me to his music as it’s more of a documentary about his life and career from the 70s when he debuted as a professional musician up until his untimely death in 1990. It’s got the usual mix of interviews and archival footage and photos, but of course, as an unauthorized documentary, it’s not the end-all, be-all of SRV documentaries. Still, for fans, it’s pretty enjoyable.
  • City In The Sky, Oklahoma City, Rachel Carson, The Race Underground – PBS has a number of new documentary specials out this week, starting with City in the Sky. Now this is the kind of documentary I enjoy. This film about air travel posits the idea that at any given time, there are over a million people in the air thanks to the huge number of flights happening across the world every day. How does that happen? What does it take to keep a million people in the air every day? What goes on behind the scenes of the airline industry? This three-episode, three-hour program answers all the questions you might have about planes, airports, airlines, and air travel in general. In Oklahoma City, the excellent American Experience series from PBS continues its run of thought provoking-documentaries about defining moments in American history with Oklahoma City, which focuses on the Oklahoma City Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh. Over the course of an hour and a half, the film explores what led to the bombing, how the events unfolded, and the larger impact of the event. It’s a serious film, but it’s worth watching. Rachel Carson is an extremely timely documentary about the renowned author and environmental pioneer who is credited with being a pioneering force in the efforts to preserve our planet. Far from a Greenpeace protester, Carson was a marine biologist before she became a conservationist, and her story is both interesting and important. Finally, The Race Underground explores the time in American culture when we moved from horse and carriage transportation to the next generation of people moving: the subway. It’s based on a hit book and it’s a really interesting story that reveals a lot I didn’t know about how the first subway was built.
  • Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel – This recorded-live stage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel was filmed at The Lincoln Center, so you know it’s a pretty high quality production. While the cast is largely unknown outside of theater circles, everyone in the show is terrific, and while I don’t generally love musicals, it’s hard to deny that this one is a classic.

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