It racked up lots of buzz on the film festival circuit, and now Cheap Thrills (Drafthouse Films) makes it to DVD for those who missed its theatrical run earlier this year. This exceedingly dark comedy follows two old pals (played by Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) who find themselves pushed by economic circumstances into accepting increasingly dangerous and degrading bets and dares from an eccentric rich couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) over the course of one unforgettable night.
In one sense, the film is a close cousin to that episode of “Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected” that inspired the Quentin Tarantino segment of Four Rooms, but Cheap Thrills definitely has chutzpah, constantly upping its own sleazy ante and leaving us wondering if there’s anything our heroes won’t do for a few bucks — or anything those rich creeps won’t demand of them. Both unsetting and funny, it’s a movie you won’t soon forget.
Also available: On the heels of her compelling documentary about returning to Vietnam with combat nurses and her fellow USO entertainers, actress Connie Stevens makes her narrative directorial debut with the acclaimed drama Saving Grace B. Jones (Arc Entertainment); if you’re unlucky to live in a town with no LGBT film festival this summer, Frameline Presents: Fun in Boys Shorts (Frameline) offers up a compilation of some of 2013’s best queer short subjects.
True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten plays a guy who meets the girl of his dreams — on the day she’s about to marry the guy of her dreams — in the rom-com The Right Kind of Wrong (Magnolia Home Entertainment); McCanick (Well Go USA) features Glee star Cory Monteith in one of his final roles; and yes, Virginia, there really is a movie called Buttwhistle (Breaking Glass Pictures).
A hit at Cannes and in U.S. art houses, the French thriller Stranger by the Lake (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) features director Alain Guiraudie operating very much in Hitchcock/Polanski mode, letting long takes and silence add to the suspense. At a lakeside cruising spot in the French countryside, Franck falls in love with handsome newcomer Michel who, at first, seems involved with someone else.
The two get together, but then the discovery of a corpse sets off an investigation that leaves everyone wondering what’s happening next. This DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film include an interview with Guiraudie, an alternate ending, deleted scenes and two of the director’s short films.
Also available: Generation War (Music Box Films) — produced as a miniseries for German TV but released theatrically here — examines the rise and fall of the Third Reich through the eyes of five friends whose relationship is torn asunder by WWII; RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman returns for Easy Money: Life Deluxe (Cinedigm), the final installment of the popular Swedish crime trilogy; Fedor Bondarchuk’s epic 3D IMAX war saga Stalingrad (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) broke box office records in Russia and was the country’s official submission to the Academy Awards; the great Lumenita Gheorghiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) gives a performance for the ages in the powerful Child’s Pose (Zeitgeist Films).
One of the most talked-about films from Sundance 2013 finally makes it to DVD: Roger Ross Williams’ God Loves Uganda (First Run Features) gives a fly-on-the-wall look at antigay U.S. evangelicals who have exported their bigoted brand of brimstone overseas. Mostly mocked and ignored by the U.S. media, these “experts” find themselves welcome in Uganda, where they are invited to address the parliament and speak on television.
Williams counters the hate-spreading missionaries with dedicated Ugandan clergy who try to preach universal love and understanding, even when that message leads to excommunication and even exile for those who dare to share it. It’s a chilling (and, occasionally, ruefully funny) look at the Americans who helped the country pass legislation that would execute men and women solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Also available: The producer of 1977’s Pumping Iron returns to the world of bodybuilding with Generation Iron (Starz Digital), narrated by Mickey Rourke; Breaking Through (Breaking Glass Pictures) profiles LGBT elected officials from local politics to the halls of the U.S. Senate; the rise of the Third Reich gets an in-depth and absorbing exploration in Hitler and the Nazis (Cinedigm).
Say what you will about the latest American attempt: I like my Godzillas Japanese. And here comes Kraken Releasing to scratch my itch with gorgeous new Blu-ray releases of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (Godzilla vs. Hedorah), Godzilla on Monster Island (Godzilla vs. Gigan) and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (Ebirah – Horror of the Deep). The ecologically themed Smog Monster gives us social messages and psychedelic go-go teens in equal measure, but it doesn’t stint on giving us the Big G doing his thing.
All three include trailers as well as the choice of English- or Japanese-language soundtracks, and they’re fun for buffs to rediscover or for young fans to enjoy for the first time. Now if we could just get Destroy All Monsters back in print and on Blu-ray, I wouldn’t feel like stomping all over Tokyo.
Also available: Blue Movie (Raro Video) is a real piece of work, even by 1970s Italian genre standards, and this new release rescues a genuinely fascinating and unsettling film from undeserved obscurity; it’s Phone Booth in a concert hall when assassin John Cusack threatens to kill pianist Elijah Wood should he play even one wrong note on his Grand Piano (Magnolia Home Entertainment); make extra popcorn for the Martial Arts Movie Marathon (Shout Factory), a two-disc set featuring The Skyhawk, Manchu Boxer, The Dragon Tamers and The Association.
Thirty years later, slasher fans are still talking about the twist ending of Sleepaway Camp (Scream Factory), now available in an anniversary Collector’s Edition Blu-ray with tons of new bonus content; director Stephen Chow, known for such martial arts comedies as Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, returns with the outrageous Journey to the West (Magnolia Home Entertainment); the chilling Vietnamese import House in the Alley (Scream Factory) has racked up a cult following overseas and now arrives to scare the bejeebies out of U.S. viewers.
Before Tom Hanks became president of Hollywood, he was “that guy in the dress on Bosom Buddies.” And somewhere in between, he starred in the raucous Bachelor Party (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), now available on Blu-ray for the film’s 30th anniversary. It’s a movie that somehow straddles the line between being completely raunchy and surprisingly sweet natured, and it’s mostly Hanks’ affable performance that makes that alchemy occur.
Hanks plays a groom-to-be whose buddies treat him to the wildest bacchanal imaginable, but it’s his character’s steadfast resolution to be true to his fiancée (Tawny Kitaen, pre-Whitesnake and prescandal) that has made this silly farce age a great deal better than many of the smarmy smutfests of the Reagan era. (Also getting a 30th anniversary Blu-ray from the studio is Revenge of the Nerds, a movie whose influence can still be felt from The Big Bang Theory to the Judd Apatow oeuvre.)
Also available: It’s best known for featuring an early appearance by Marilyn Monroe, but I for one never tire of saying aloud the title Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hay! (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives); despite the cheesecake key art, Raquel Welch does not play the title role of The Biggest Bundle of Them All (Warner Archive Collection); Forever Amber (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) gave Linda Darnell to play one of the screen’s great social-climbing connivers.
Rarely seen in this country, the German-language version of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (Scream Factory) stands alongside his English-language remake of the silent horror classic on a new Blu-ray edition; Ann-Margret as a swinging stewardess is just one of the many pleasures to be found in The Pleasure Seekers (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives); if you miss 1960s soft-core (or the 1980s cable channels that aired it), you’ll definitely want to pick up the British comedy Confessions of a Window Cleaner (Sony Pictures Choice Collection).
Steve Martin took a gamble that audiences would accept the “wild and crazy guy” in Pennies from Heaven (Warner Archive Collection), a film that’s both bleak and a musical, and over the years it’s deservedly become a cult classic; legendary Mexican comic actor Cantinflas (Around the World in 80 Days) made one of his final screen appearances in the wacky Conserje en Condominio (Sony Pictures Choice Collection); the wonderful Alice Adams (Warner Archive Collection) showcases Katharine Hepburn at her most achingly vulnerable.
Billy Wilder’s blistering Ace in the Hole (The Criterion Collection) tells uncomfortable truths about mass media exploitation of tragedy that still resonate in our 24-hour-news-cycle world; Faye Dunaway is an outré fashion photographer with visions of murder in the stylish Eyes of Laura Mars (Sony Pictures Choice Collection); Clark Gable and Myrna Loy make a potent combo in Parnell and Test Pilot (both Warner Archive Collection); Tilda Swinton and Jonathan Tucker (TV’s Hannibal) give indelible performances in the gorgeous and suspenseful The Deep End (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment).
Fans of the great sitcoms need to have The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series (Shout Factory) as part of their media libraries — or they should have their heads examined. This legendary series, featuring Newhart as therapist Dr. Robert Hartley, represents a high-water mark in the genre, and this box set pays it appropriate tribute with extras that include an anniversary special, the original unaired pilot, audio commentaries, and a 40-page booklet. Plus, with 143 episodes over 19 discs, just think of how many times you can play the “Hi, Bob” drinking game!
Also available: Speaking of sitcoms, that’s the subject of the illuminating Pioneers of Television: Season 4 (PBS); celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education with the powerful Separate but Equal (CBS/Paramount), starring Sidney Poitier; David Suchet’s legendary detective gets an all-star boost in Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 12 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn), with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Barbara Hershey, Hugh Bonneville, Toby Jones, David Morrissey and Eileen Atkins popping in as suspects.
Mullet king and baseball has-been Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) finally packs it in on the hilarious Eastbound & Down: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO Home Entertainment); those Ingalls just keep enduring on Little House on the Prairie: Season Two (Lionsgate Home Entertainment).
Acting legends Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen take you behind the footlights and reveal all about their 2009 West End production of Waiting for Godot in the fascinating Theatreland (RLJ Entertainment/Athena); Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (HBO Home Entertainment) sees one female African-American comedy legend paying tribute to another, who blazed a trail through pop culture; sharpen your shiv for the new batch of episodes by catching up with Orange Is the New Black: Season One (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); and hats off to whomever was bold enough to feature the image of Fonzie actually jumping the shark on the cover of Happy Days: The Fifth Season (CBS/Paramount).
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