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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: White Noise, Neil LaBute 4-Film Collection, Richard Pryor Double Feature, Persian Lessons, Cracked and more

Michael Keaton in White Noise

It’s kind of a weird week this week. Not only is it an oddly small slate to begin with, but of the one or two semi-major titles out this week, I haven’t actually received my review copies yet at the time of writing this. So what you’ll find this week is a small sampling of more niche, foreign, and catalog titles. Still, there might be the odd gem for the more adventurous viewer. Next week should see things return back to normal.

Director’s Spotlight: Neil LaBute 4-Film Collection

The Movie(s): Neil Labute is not a household name, but his career has definitely landed him on movie fans’ radars. He’s made some critically acclaimed films, some commercially ignored films, and some films that have courted controversy. This week, Mill Creek gives us a budget-priced collection of four of the director’s films in one release with the Director’s Spotlight: Neil LaBute 4-Film Collection. Collecting Nurse BettyThe Shape of ThingsPossession, and Your Friends and Neighbors, this DVD-only release doesn’t include some of Labute’s best known films, such as In The Company of Men or The Wicker Man remake, but you do get some of the smaller films that helped the director gain a following. Nurse Betty stars Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman and is sort of an oddball crime comedy, and it’s not one of the better films in the set. The Shape of Things, however, stars Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd and is probably one of the least known films in either actor’s filmography, but I really like it. It’s a romantic drama with a twist, but the less you know about it going in, the better. Possession stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart and is another romantic drama, this one tied up in a historical literary subtext. It’s a solidly decent film, definitely watchable but nothing special. Finally, Your Friends and Neighbors is an ensemble piece about couples thriving and failing with a great cast that includes Catherine Keener, Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller, Amy Brenneman, and Nastassia Kinski. You can see Labute still focusing his young filmmaker energy here, and it’s a pretty good film.
The Special Features: It’s nice that the special features from the original releases are carried over here. So Nurse Betty gives you two director’s commentaries and deleted scenes; Your Friends & Neighbors has a director’s commentary; and The Shape of Things has a commentary, an introduction by Labute, and a featurette. Possession, sadly, does not include any extras.
The Wrap-Up: This isn’t a comprehensive collection of Labute’s works, but if you want to dive into his more relationship-based earlier works – before he moved into genre projects and television directing – this is a nice, inexpensive way to do it.

White Noise Double Feature: White Noise & White Noise 2

The Movie(s): Also from Mill Creek this week is a fun new horror double feature on Blu-ray of White Noise and White Noise 2White Noise is an effectively creepy thriller from 2002 starring Michael Keaton (at a point in his career where he wasn’t getting the best offers, sadly) about a man who becomes obsessed with communicating with his deceased wife, and he begins utilizing EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) to try and reach her. Of course, when you connect with the afterlife, you can’t always control what’s coming through. It’s not a horror classic, but Keaton’s performance is great – what else would you expect from one of our greatest actors? – and it’s a fun, tense watch. Now, usually I brush off direct-to-video sequels that have little to do with the original films, but White Noise 2 stars none other than Nathan Fillion, one of my favorites, so it’s a little better than the usual DTV fare. Fillion plays a man who attempts suicide after the death of his family, but when he’s revived he realizes that he can see people who are about to die. He begins trying to save them, but anyone who’s ever seen a Final Destination movie knows that there are consequences for actions like that. It’s a surprisingly entertaining film for a direct-to-video sequel that really just shares a name with the original more than any real connective tissue.
The Special FeaturesWhite Noise includes a commentary track with Michael Keaton and the film’s director plus deleted scenes and three featurettes, while White Noise 2 includes three featurettes and deleted scenes. Not bad!
The Wrap-Up: Once again, Mill Creek provides a budget-priced collection of highly watchable movies on Blu-ray. The White Noise films aren’t game changers, but they’re entertaining flicks with actors we love to watch.

Persian Lessons

The Movie: This interesting and intense World War II drama takes a different tack to a lot of war-related movies. This 2020 film is directed by Vadam Perelman, best known for his acclaimed movie The House of Sand and Fog. In the film, a young man named Reza who is a French Jew gets captured by Nazis and sent off to a concentration camp. About to be executed, he is saved when a he claims to be Persian instead of Jewish. It turns out the camp’s chef dreams of opening a restaurant in Iran after the war, so he agrees to spare Reza’s life in exchange for Reza teaching him Farsi. The problem is that Reza doesn’t speak Farsi, so he has to make up a language to try and keep the officer fooled and keep himself alive. It’s a balancing act that results in no small amount of tension throughout the film. Said tension, along with some great performances, really carry the film, although there are moments where things start to drag, largely due to director Perelman’s continual focus on other people outside of the driving narrative. I understand the need to capture life in a concentration camp, but it’s too much and it takes away from the main driving force of the film.
The Special Features: There are no bonus features on the disc.
The Wrap-Up: Despite its flaws, Persian Lessons is an engaging and tense film that will have you wondering where it’s all going to end. Worth a watch for people who like foreign fare or a different take on wartime movies.

Richard Pryor Double Feature: Which Way Is Up? & The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings

The Movie(s): Yet another budget release from Mill Creek, this Blu-ray double feature includes two Richard Pryor films that are, perhaps, lesser entries in the late comedian’s career. Which Way is Up is a comedy about an orange picker named Leroy Jones who accidentally gets mixed up with the union and finds his life turned upside down. Pryor plays three roles; the main character, his sex-obsessed father, and a reverend named Lenox Thomas. It’s an interesting conceit (and obviously an influence on Eddie Murphy’s roles in Coming to America) but I can’t say the film blew me away. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, meanwhile, sees Pryor in a supporting role, backing up Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones. This sports film sees a ragtag team of African-American baseball players in the 1930s breaking off and creating a traveling roadshow-style baseball event in order to try and gain attention and break into the big leagues. It’s part sports film, part wild comedy, part social commentary on racism in the early baseball world, all married with Harlem Globetrotters-like comedy. Bingo Long is a film I’d heard of but never seen before, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. 
The Special Features: There are no extra features, but considering the age of the movies, I can’t say that’s really surprising. Mill Creek doesn’t usually create new extras, they just carry over existing ones, and there were no existing ones for these two movies.
The Wrap-Up: The films are a bit uneven, as I enjoyed The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings much more than I did Which Way is Up, but two movies on Blu-ray for one low price means it’s still a great pick-up for fans of Richard Pryor or comedies in general.


The MovieCracked is a new Thai horror film that treads familiar ground but does so with enough style to at least stand out a little bit. In the film, mother Ruja and her young daughter Rachael return to Thailand to deal with Ruja’s deceased father’s estate. She inherits a set of paintings that are very valuable but also damaged, so Ruja hires an art restorer to restore the paintings, However, the paintings hold supernatural secrets that drive the suspense and horror of the rest of the film. Now, there’s nothing particularly new here in terms of plot, but the film does have a distinct visual style and some impressive cinematography that gives the film it’s own identity and does keep you watching even after you’ve started to realize the story is nothing special. The film also features K-pop superstar Nichkhun as art restorer Tim; I don’t really know who he is, but I’m sure K-pop devotees are excited to see him in the movie.
The Special Features: There are none, unfortunately
The Wrap-UpCracked is one of those horror movies that isn’t bad but it’s not great, either. Honestly, it’s better than some of what tries to pass as horror these days, largely due to the visual flair the film brings and a solid cast. It’s an enjoyable enough movie to watch if you like horror and don’t mind subtitles.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

The Movie: The interesting thing about foreign cinema for someone like me is that I really only pay attention to it when I’m reviewing it. So, for example, when a film like Are You Lonesome Tonight? gets nominated for a Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is named an Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, that completely escapes me. However, now that it’s been released in the US on DVD, it’s on my radar, and what an interesting film to discover. This drama/mystery/noir is too complicated to try and explain in a sentence or two, so here’s the official synopsis: “AC repairman Wang hits a pedestrian with his van, panics and flees the scene. Tormented by the accident and desperate to escape his feelings of guilt, he approaches the widow, Mrs. Liang and strikes up a relationship. Meanwhile, her husband’s body is discovered — riddled with bullets. Though he’s determined to piece together the complete events of that fateful night, Wang is also being stalked by a shadowy killer who spotted his van at the site of the hit-and-run. To complicate matters further, the detective in charge of the investigation, Chen, becomes obsessed with the case. Years later, the trio remain trapped in a tangled web of memories and lies, desperately searching for a truth that refuses to be revealed.” So you can see, this is no simple movie, and that what makes it so intriguing. The film works in classic noir styles and keeps you guessing throughout, and I found it quite engrossing.
The Special Features: You get a bonus 27-minute short film by director Wen Shipei.
The Wrap-Up: I like movies that surprise me, and Are You Lonesome Tonight does a great job of keeping viewers on their toes. Check it out if you want an intriguing and engaging film.

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