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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Liar Liar, The Dry, Only The Animals, Escape From Mogadishu and more

Liar Liar

Well, it’s another small week in the post-holiday sales frame, but for those of you who lean towards less mainstream fare, there are some good options today!

Liar Liar: 25th Anniversary Edition

Shout Factory reminds us all that we’re older than we’d like to be by releasing the Liar Liar: 25th Anniversary Edition this week. Wow, 25 years? Unbelievable! I was never a big Jim Carrey fan, especially in his early career. I really liked him in The Mask, but then movies like Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, and The Cable Guy didn’t do much for me. Liar Liar was the first of his big major hit films that I truly enjoyed. While he still does all his signature rubber-faced Jim Carrey-isms, it’s toned down quite a bit compared to his previous films, and the film is actually well written and acted, rather than just relying on Carrey using his butt as a puppet (see: Ace Ventura). So it was a lot of fun to go back and revisit the film on this new Blu-ray from Shout Factory, which includes a nice library of extra features. You get two new making-of featurettes, plus some original extras like an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and outtakes. A great release for fans of the film.

The Dry

Eric Bana stars in this new mystery about a federal agent returning to his drought-stricken hometown for a funeral, only to end up investigating two crimes that happened years apart but may be related. I don’t want to go too much further into plot details, because it’s a mystery and most of the film’s enjoyment comes from following the path to the resolution. But I will say that I’ve always liked Eric Bana and I’m not sure why he’s kind of faded to the background over the last decade or so. He has the lead role here and most of the film is on his shoulders, and that’s okay, because he’s up to the task. The film is intense and atmospheric; you can feel the drought and its effects on the town in almost every scene. It will also keep you guessing up until the end, which is always a good thing for a mystery film. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is an engaging film that I think most people will enjoy.

Escape From Mogadishu

A huge hit in its native South Korea, Escape From Mogadishu chronicles the plight of Korean diplomats trying to escape the violence in war-torn Somalia as civil war broke out in the early 1990s. The film is a bit of a mixed bag; there are parts of the film that seem a little overly earnest or cliched, but then there are moments of action that are like a pure shot of adrenaline. It’s those moments that keep the film moving, and they are fantastic. Director Seung-wan Ryoo clearly knows his way around an action scene. But the in-between moments lack the power of those action scenes, and the characters never quite feel real enough to get totally invested in. That said, it’s still a tense and sometimes harrowing film, and worth a watch overall.

Only The Animals

For several years, I was supplied a steady stream of French-made thrillers to review, and I learned that France is, for whatever reason, quite exceptional at crafting thrillers. The last few years haven’t seen as many of these movies come across my desk, but when they do, I always am excited to see them. Only The Animals is a new thriller from director Dominik Moll (who also helmed the extremely successful With A Friend Like Harry.) Discussing the plot really takes away from the power of the film, but I’ll just say that when a woman disappears, there are links to a group of seemingly unrelated people that may or may not lead to clues about her whereabouts. From there, I can’t say much without spoiling the fun, but I can say that watching the events unravel and slowly piecing together what connections (if any) there are between these people is fascinating. This is the kind of suspense film I love to see from France, and once again the country delivers another excellent film in the genre. Definitely worth tracking down!

Also Available This Week on Home Video: 
  • Expresso Bongo – Cohen Films brings a new Blu-ray version of this 1950s British film by director Val Guest, a critique on the entertainment industry that is surprisingly good. The film follows a get-rich-quick music promoter who discovers a singer/bongo player and helps launch him to stardom, riding his coattails all the way. Starring Laurence Harvey and Cliff Richard, the film is entertaining and goes a little deeper than the usual rock ’n’ roll movies of the time. This newly restored Blu-ray includes the original theatrical cut from 1959. Apparently, the version that most people have seen on home video is the 1962 recut, which deleted a few songs from the film. I haven’t seen that shorter version, but I have to imagine the theatrical cut is the better one. A nice classic film release.
  • Historical Drama 5-Film Collection – Corinth Films has a new film collection out on DVD this week, with the five-disc Historical Drama 5-Film Collection. This new set takes five of the studio’s most popular period dramas and packages them together for a nice chunk of foreign drama. The films included are Within the Whirlwind (Germany), Calm at Sea (France), The Chronicles of Melanie (Latvia), Remembrance (Germany), and Habermann (Germany). While most of the films feature actors unknown to American audiences, Emily Watson does star in Within the Whirlwind, which is nice. Now, these are pretty serious films, almost entirely dealing with fascism, military occupation, and imprisonment, and they’re all in other languages, so this isn’t exactly Friday night popcorn fare. But if you want something a little more serious and thought-provoking, this set gives you five well-made films in one set that all work together thematically. Foreign film fans will definitely appreciate this one.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows – Next time you’re playing trivia and the question comes up, “Which movie stars both Dabney Coleman and musician Dave Matthews?”, well, now you know the answer! It’s Where the Red Fern Grows, the 2003 film adaptation of the classic book which is still found in most elementary schools.  The story takes place in the Ozarks during the great depression and follows young farm boy Billy, who wants his own hunting dog. But finances are tight, and it takes a lot of work and discipline to get what he wants, all of which leads to some major events including a tragedy and a contest. This film is pretty all-ages friendly, there are a few sad moments but it’s pretty PG-rated and can be watched by most age groups. It’s a solid film; I don’t know that it’s the definitive adaptation of the book, but it’s worth a watch if you’re looking for something along those lines.
  • Indie Spotlight – There are a wide range of new indie releases this week. Kicking things off is Abba Forever, a short documentary about the popular Swedish pop band. This 51-minute film gives you a nice overview of the band’s most prolific years. There are some musical clips and interviews with the members of ABBA, so this isn’t one of those unauthorized films that has no music and only has interviews with, like, the roadie’s third cousin, but the short format means it only glosses over most of the band’s biggest moments. It’s not super in-depth, but it’s fun for fans. Next up we have a pair of romantic dramas that wouldn’t feel out of place on the Hallmark Channel. Calling For Love and A Wedding to Remember both are pretty formulaic romance movies with no big name stars in them, but if you love Hallmark Christmas movies and the like, these will be right up your alley. Calling for Love stars Karissa Lee Staples and Tajh Bellow as a podcaster who might be falling for someone who calls in to a show for people trying to reunite with lost loves. A Wedding to Remember, meanwhile, sees two business rivals end up as the Best Man and Maid of Honor at the same wedding, which of course leads to conflict… and sparks. Both films are cute and super predictable (in the way you would want them to be), and they’ll scratch a very particular itch. Switching gears, next we have Memory House, a Brazilian film about an indigenous Brazilian man who faces no small amount of racism and bigotry. Along the way, the film takes a slightly surreal turn when he moves into a house that is filled with objects from his past, but that’s just a detour from the story of this man’s rage at his abject treatment by society. It’s a dark, slow film, and while it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, people looking for more socially-conscious, artsier fare might take to it. Finally this week, we have The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which stars Hume Cronyn, Theodore Bikel, and Judith Anderson. While this classic story has been adapted into several films, this particular version is from a 1958 CBS Showcase TV series, so it’s a standalone episode from that series. I’ve heard of the story many times but never really knew what it was about, so I found the plot (about a monk investigating a rope bridge collapse, and much more) quite interesting. The production values aren’t motion picture quality, but the cast is terrific.

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