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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Geostorm, Jigsaw, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Cloverfield and more

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Geostorm – You don’t have to do much to get me to watch a disaster film. But when you throw in futuristic weather-controlling technology, a plot involving the president, and Abbie Cornish, well, I’m definitely there. There were few movies I was looking forward to more last year, simply because I love these kinds of movies so much. Now, it’s not as fun as San Andreas or even as nail-biting as Into the Storm, but it sure is a lot of fun. Gerard Butler continues to prove that you can give up on acting and still nab lead roles, and the story is pretty gonzo, but the special effects are sharp and the action/disaster scenes are pretty damn cool. It’s not great filmmaking, but it’s a great way to kill a couple of hours.

Jigsaw – I’ll be honest, I had next to no interest in watching Jigsaw. I’ve never really been a fan of the Saw movies, and the trailer for this film convinced me it was pretty much more of the same. But then I found out the Spierig Brothers directed it, and I’ve really enjoyed two of their previous films (Daybreakers and the excellent-but-little-seen Undead). And while they add a little cinematic flair to the proceedings, ultimately, they’re hampered by the Saw universe, which requires elaborate traps, grisly deaths, and just a sheer amount of blood and guts. Sigh. I was really hoping for something more interesting from two typically very interesting directors. In addition to Blu-ray & DVD, the film is also out on 4K Ultra HD, which makes said blood-and-guts look even more vivid and colorful, so that’s something.

Thank You for Your Service – Miles Teller stars in this action/drama film about soldiers coming home and trying to adjust to life in the regular world again. While the trailer sells it pretty hard as a war/action film, the action happens mostly in flashbacks while the real meat of the film is about the psychological and emotional issues the soldiers are suffering from. As usual, Teller is excellent in the lead role, but the supporting cast of mostly unknowns is also quite impressive. This is one of those films that is solidly good, but not great. Worth a watch, but not a movie that’s going to change your world.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Director Yorgos Lanthimos specializes in making dark, complex, challenging films (such as Dogtooth, and – to a lesser extent – The Lobster.) He returns to familiar ground (and reunites with his Lobster leading man Colin Farrell) with this hard drama starring Farrell and Nicole Kidman. The film has horror overtones, but really it’s more of a psychological-thriller-cum-character-drama. As usual, the film is cold and clinical, and the performances are subdued until, well, they’re not. It’s odd and uncomfortable, which seems to be Lanthimos’s stock in trade. Personally, it’s not my kind of filmmaking, but I know there’s an audience out there that will appreciate it.

Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane – In 2008, JJ Abrams pulled off a marketing coup by releasing a shrouded-in-secrecy big monster found footage flick that became a smash hit. I like Cloverfield, but I hate found footage movies and it was just a bit too much for me. What could have been a great movie was just so-so for me, thanks to its unrelenting shaky camera work and lack of capturing the action on screen. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a much more successful film for my money. Is 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel to Cloverfield or is it not? The answer is both. What it is more than anything is a tale of captivity, paranoia, and suspense, and it’s a pretty good little film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is terrific in the lead role, John Goodman is also fantastic, and newer actor John Gallagher Jr. is also quite good. There’s also a really surprising moment that happens about two-thirds of the way through the movie that really caught me off guard, and that rarely happens in movies like this. Both films now make their 4K Ultra HD debuts, and they offer up the best versions of both films, although it’s harder to notice in the original film, because the cinematography is still so chaotic. Still, there’s a marked improvement in the surround sound and both films’ color saturation, so there is a noticeable value to the upgrade, especially if you don’t already own the films.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • My Entire High School Sinking into The Sea – Jason Schwartzman, Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, and Maya Rudolph lend their voices to this unusual and unique animated film. The movie is about a California high school that slides into the sea, and the students then have to survive the catastrophe, but this is no cliched disaster movie. There’s a crude-yet-charming animation style here, and the film is predicated more on the dialogue and characters than the disaster-film trappings. There were parts of this film I really liked and parts I was less enamored with, but I give it major points for its originality.
  • Dario Argento’s Opera – Dario Argento is easily one of the most famous names in horror, but I’d be lying if I said I had any real appreciation of his catalogue, largely because I can count on one hand the number of films I’ve seen by him. If this later-period Argento film (it’s from 1987) is any indication, he might not quite be my cup of tea. Sort of an (extremely) twisted version of Phantom of the Opera (except the phantom tortures and murders people instead of romancing them), the film has a fair share of gore, brutal kills, and – for good measure – some heavy metal soundtrack moments. I can see why horror fans gravitate toward Argento, but this film alone was not quite to my tastes.
  • Chasing the Dragon – Two of the biggest Asian action stars team up in Chasing the Dragon, a 1970s-set film which sees Andy Lau and Donnie Yen on opposite sides of the law. With one of the greatest character names in film history – there’s actually a crime boss named Crippled Ho (and no, I’m not making that up) – I knew this had to be worth watching, and overall it is. I can’t say it blew me away, but as far as crime thrillers go, it’s solidly, well… solid. I like Andy Lau a lot, but I’ve never quite warmed up to Donnie Yen, despite the fact that he’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Still, based on a true story that I was completely unfamiliar with, I found it at least enjoyable enough to stick with to the end.
  • The Sword and the Claw – And on the other side of the action spectrum, we have The Sword and the Claw, which comes from the same Turkish filmmakers who brought us Turkish Star Wars. And no, I’m not making THAT up, either. This 1975 action cheese fest is every bit as weird, wacky, and wild as you’d expect about a man out for revenge whose hands are replaced with razor-sharp lion claws. This new Blu-ray from AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) includes a bonus film as well, 1981’s Brawl Busters. For a certain kind of movie fan, this is a treasure trove of schlocky goodness.
  • Jawbone – Can Ian McShane and Ray Winstone star in the same film without the sheer gruffness and testosterone of the two causing the universe to implode? I was convinced it couldn’t happen, but Jawbone – which sees them both in supporting roles – seems to make a case for it. Unfortunately, it’s not really the pairing most of their fans would want to see, as the film focuses on a retired boxer who gets roped into participating in illegal fights. Which, frankly, I’ve seen a million times before. It’s a decent film for what it is, but with McShane and Winstone along for the ride, I was hoping for something more interesting.
  • Red Trees – We can learn about the present by studying the past, and never is that more evident than in this new film by Marina Willer, which explores the effects of fascism and the resultant refugee crises that arise as a result. Here, she traces her families journey from being one of just twelve Jewish families that lived through the Nazi occupation of Prague during World War II. The family then migrated to South America, and the film traces their rise to prominence there. It’s a tightly crafted exploration, running just 80 minutes, which never allows the film to meander or lose focus. It’s an interesting rumination on a lot of big issues; heavy, but worthwhile.
  • In Search of Fellini – What an interesting film, both in the story and the origins behind it. The movie is based on the real-life experiences of Nancy Cartwright, who also wrote and produced it. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s been in your living room every week for the past 20 years as the voice of Bart Simpson. The film follows a young woman who’s led a sheltered life who falls in love with the films of Federico Fellini and goes off in search of him in Italy. It’s a cross between a coming-of-age film and a wanderlust tale, and I have to say that it has a unique charm that I appreciated. Worth tracking down if you don’t mind some heavy moments, but also filled with excellent performances from Knesia Solo (Orphan Black), Maria Bello, and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
  • A Dog and Pony Show – I’m not quite sure how Mira Sorvino (an Oscar winner), Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid himself!) and Mae Whitman (a definite up-and-coming film star) got roped into starring in this live action family movie. Maybe the producers have some blackmail material on them? The film sees a star circus dog getting left behind and ending up on a farm, leading a group of fellow talking animals, and trying to escape dognappers from a competing show. Sure, I get that kids movies are for kids, but this one relies an awful lot on potty humor, and there’s just very little that most families will really enjoy. Sorry, this one’s a fail, despite some good talent involved.
  • American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park, American Experience: Into the Amazon, American Masters: This Is Bob Hope…, Havana Time Machine, and Nature’s Miniature Miracles – PBS offers up five new documentary releases this week, all of which have something to offer fans of the network’s output. First up is American Experience: The Secret of Tuxedo Park tells the story of a clandestine World War II mission ordered by Winston Churchill to get a machine component to a Wall Street tycoon. Why? So he could develop one of the most important tools in defeating the Axis powers, of course. I love stories like these that I don’t know anything about, and this one is a great watch. American Experience: Into the Amazon is a great film for anyone who finds adventure and exploration exciting. It tells the story of American President Theodore Roosevelt’s famed journey into the South American rainforest, alongside Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon. At two hours long it’s a bit more than we need, but it’s a largely engaging tale that deserves in-depth exploration. American Masters: This Is Bob Hope is also two hours long, but in this case it’s completely warranted. Taking the revered entertainer’s life and career over some eighty-plus years and boiling it down to just the essentials is no mean feat, and this excellent biography is a real treat. Havana Time Machine is a combination travel/music narrative, exploring the streets of Havana, Cuba and the musical scene that infuses it. It’s not my favorite release of the week, but at an hour, it’s a pretty tight look at a fascinating culture. Finally, Nature’s Miniature Miracles focuses on some of the smallest animals in the world, from lizards to shrews to crabs to spiders, and while the animals themselves are quite interesting, it’s the camerawork – and the way it captures these near-microscopic worlds – that really takes your breath away. Cool stuff.

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