Bullhead. A punishing drama that explores the psyche of a man who was damaged physically in his younger years, and who continues to bear his emotional scars visibly as he travels through the underground drug scene in Europe. As difficult as it is to watch, it’s shot through with streaks of dark visual artistry by first-time feature director and writer Michael Roskam, which makes it somewhat more bearable.
Also out today on DVD and/or Blu-ray, with links to my reviews (here or at Twitch), as available:
21 Jump Street. Mostly positive reviews make me curious about this comedy from the guys who made ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.’
The Artist. A loving pastiche and tribute to the Silent Era, the Academy Award-winning film has received a healthy degree of critical backlash. While it’s not a great film on its own merits, it is affectionate and resonates pleasantly in the memory.
Deliverance. John Boorman’s haunting fable of masculinity and quiet terrors serves as an apt counterpoint to ‘Bullhead’ (see above). Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, and Ned Beatty star.
Mirror Mirror. The better of the two Snow White films this year, Tarsem’s oft-delirious visual inclinations make this a fun watch.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Described as a “Turkish Western,” and the receipient of glowing reviews, this “slow cinema” picture follows a criminal investigation, but is much more interested in painting a portrait of characters and landscapes.
Breaking Bad, Season 4. I came to the show oddly, in that the pilot felt too grungy, off-putting, and disconsolate to capture my attention, and it was only through a friend’s continued recommendation that I sampled a show or two in the midst of Season 3 — and then I realized the error of my ways, and immediately caught up. The characters and plot turns continue to zip and hum and upend as a former high school chemistry teacher / family man continues to become more and more enmeshed in the drug trade. The first three seasons are available on Netflix Instant, so if you have that service, sample the first three episodes to decide if it’s worth your time. The fourth season is rather incredible. And you still have time to catch up; the new season begins on July 15. [A]
Also out today on DVD and/or Blu-ray, with grades and links to reviews (here or at Twitch), as available:
Contagion (U.S., Region Free)
Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion considers what might happen if a highly-contagious deadly virus began to spread in today’s ultra-connected modern world. It taps into a primal fear: the unstoppable disease that can infect and kill millions, without anyone being able to stop it.
An above-average thriller, the film does for germs what Jaws did for water: make you afraid of something you never realized could contain such horror. Borrowing liberally from the 70s disaster movie template perfected by producer Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno), Contagion scatters an all-star cast across the globe as they battle and/or succumb to a mysterious new illness. The film adds some new ingredients to the mix, which makes it feel fresh and relevant.
Matt Damon and Jennifer Ehle are the stand-outs in the cast. As a husband who watches his wife quickly sicken and die from a mysterious illness, and as a father who must deal with the sudden impact of tragedy upon his children, Damon is properly anguished, angered, and empathetic. Ehle plays a tireless, pragmatic doctor with the right degree of world-weariness and dedication; she’s the real heroine of the piece.
The two-disk combo package from Warner Bros. includes copies on Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet; as well as three short supplements: “Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World,” “False Comfort Zone: The Reality of Contagion,” and “The Contagion Detectives.” According to Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver, the Blu-ray “appears decent but not stellar.” The Blu-ray capture above is from DVD Beaver.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (U.S., Region A)
Frankly, I didn’t much care for this atmospheric thriller. The creatures of the night appeared too early and often to build up tension, and it too often feels like director Troy Nixey was trying to emulate producer / guiding force Guillermo Del Toro rather than express his own personality. Still, it’s decently-made, and probably the best rental option for scare-deprived viewers this week.
The Guard (U.S., Region A)
On the trail of a gang of drug traffickers, FBI agent Don Cheadle comes to Ireland, where he is teamed up with local cop Brendan Gleeson in what reviewers have described as a very funny, character-driven comedy. Directed by John Michael McDonagh.
Shark Night (U.S., Region A)
It’s the shark-loving/dreading boy in me that demands I put this film on the list, despite the mixed-to-very negative reviews that surfaced for its theatrical release. Also, every film in which Sara Paxton appears should be seen. Directed by David Ellis.
The Slap (U.K., DVD only, Region 2)
An 8-episode Australian TV series, revolving around “the shattering repercussions of a single event upon a group of family and friends,” with Jonathan LaPaglia, Sophie Okonedo, Melissa George, Sophie Lowe, based on the best-selling book by Christos Tsiolkas. I’m including this one because, well, it’s a slow week, and also because the premise intrigues me, though probably only to the point of a rental, rather than a blind buy.
Unleashed (U.S., Region A)
Originally titled Danny the Dog, Jet Li stars as a slave who has been raised like a dog, trained only to fight in behalf of his master, a British crime boss (Bob Hoskins). After an accident leaves his boss in a coma, Danny escapes and comes into the care of blind piano tuner Morgan Freeman and his stepdaughter Kerry Condon, who help Danny discover the human inside himself. It sounds ridiculous and demeaning — and it is — but it also features ferocious fight scenes and sincerely-played performances. Written by Luc Besson and directed by Louis Leterrier.