By Harley Lond - 09/25/12 at 01:31 AM CT
This week's highlights:
"The Avengers": I'm not a big fan of movies based on comic books (my rationale for watching the first two "Spider-Mans" mainly was to see Kirsten Dunst ... particularly wet) and I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to my DVD player to watch this amalgam of super heroes teaming up to save the world from destruction. But once I got past the somewhat corny opening (I can just imagine the studio execs wondering about the film's first scenes: You're kidding, right? This blue glowing thingie, this Tesseract, which has been sitting in the S.H.I.E.L.D. labs since WWII, is stolen by a cast-out Norse god, Loki, to use as a gateway to summon a super army to conquer the Earth?) I was knocked out. Yes, I'd seen "Thor" and "Captain America" and "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," but I didn't think that these characters would work together as a coherent whole ... but do they ever (and you can't go wrong throwing in Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow). Kudos to Joss Whedon and crew for creating an Avengers movie that -- once you give in to it -- just keeps getting more and more exciting and involving. And the final battle has to be one of the most spectacular action sequences ever put on film. No wonder this sucker is the third-highest grossing film of all time. Watch this with your speakers turned up.
Enjoying Whit Stillman's films is an acquired taste: In "Metropolitan" and "The Last Days of Disco," the emphasis is on stilted talk among boorish twenysomethings who are bored and distracted with life. Not so "Damsels in Distress," a light-hearted comedy about a quartet of beautiful girls who set out to revolutionize life at a grungy American university by spearheading a volunteer group that seeks to help severely depressed students with a program of good hygiene and musical dance numbers. The girls become romantically entangled with a series of men who threaten their friendship and sanity. Stars Greta Gerwig, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Hugo Becker, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, Ryan Metcalf and Billy Magnussen.
The queen of television variety shows comes to DVD this week. Time Life will release several different configurations of sets of "The Carol Burnett Show" with episodes selected by Burnett: The highlights are "The Carol Burnett Show Ultimate Collection," an overstuffed 22-DVD set housed in a collectible box featuring a replica curtain from the show opening, 50 hand-picked episodes, an exclusive 20-page memory book and more than 20 hours of new, never-before-seen bonus features; "The Carol Burnett Show -- Carol's Favorites," a six-DVD set boasting 17 complete, unedited episodes featuring the most popular and hilarious sketches and characters from the series; and "The Best of the Carol Burnett Show," a two-DVD set with seven classic episodes.
I'm a big fan of Scandinavian mysteries and police thrillers ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and the "Wallander" series) and "The Man From Beijing" (2011 -- Sweden) fills the bill for more exciting Northern fare. The gruesome discovery of 19 dead bodies in a small town in northern Sweden, a local judge who learns she's related to a number of the victims, and a mysterious diary entry from the distant past are all part of this gripping mystery-thriller film based on the bestseller by internationally renowned crime novelist Henning Mankell (who also penned the Wallander series). The two-part, three-hour film stars Suzanna von Borsody, Michael Nyqvist, Claudia Michelse, Amy Cheng and James Taenaka. From Music Box Films.
"Wallander 3" (2011) includes three feature-length BBC Masterpiece episodes based on the Swedish novels by Mankell that follow the adventures of existential detective Kurt Wallander. Kenneth Branagh stars as the eponymous crime fighter and in his hands Wallander is a bit more aloof and laid back than his Swedish counterpart, Krister Henriksson, who plays Wallander in the Swedish TV series (which are actually original teleplays based on Mankell's work). Filmed in Sweden in English. The three episodes -- not as quirky and dark as the Swedish "Wallanders" but each harrowing in their own way -- are "An Event in Autumn," "The Dogs of Riga" and "Before the Frost." From BBC/Warner.
This week's Criterion Collection releases: "Eating Raoul" (1982), a bawdy, gleefully amoral tale of conspicuous consumption. Warhol superstar Mary Woronov and cult legend Paul Bartel (who also directed) portray a prudish married couple feeling put upon by the swingers who live in their apartment building; one night, by accident, they discover a way to simultaneously realize their dream of opening a little restaurant and ridding, themselves of the "perverts" down the hall. In a new, restored digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Gary Thieltges, on DVD and Blu-ray. In "The Game" (1997), enormously wealthy and emotionally remote investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) receives a strange gift from his ne'er-do-well younger brother (Sean Penn) on his 48th birthday: a voucher for a game that, if he agrees to play it, will change his life. Thus begins a trip down a rabbit hole that is puzzling, terrifying, and exhilarating for Nicholas and viewer alike. In a new, restored digital transfer, supervised by director David Fincher and director of photography Harris Savides, with original theatrical 5.1 surround theatrical soundtrack, in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition.
Buzzin' the 'B's:
A small town pastor moves to the big city and achieves success as a televangelist, only to face inner and outer spiritual demons in "The Holy Roller" (2010), starring Angus Benfield, Victoria Abbott, Jeremy Brennan and Mark Hadlow. From Image Entertainment ... "Klown" (2010 -- Denmark) is based on the wildly popular six-season Danish TV show of the same name about debauchery in which two wildly inappropriate friends run amok through the Danish countryside plowing through social taboos and absurd sexual encounters. On DVD and Blu-ray from Drafthouse Films/Image Entertainment ... "The Letter" (2011), starring Winona Ryder, Josh Hamilton, James Franco, Marin Ireland and Katherine Waterston, is a mind-bending thriller about a playwright who begins to mentally unravel and cannot decide if she is the center of a manipulative plot or simply losing her grip on reality. From Lionsgate ... Italian genre film legend Gianni Garko stars in "Night of the Devils" (1972), a terrifying masterpiece of the macabre, based on Tolstoy's story "The Wurdulak," in which a nameless mentally ill man is found wandering in the woods, his mind lost in fever dreams of gruesome, sexual imagery. On DVD and Blu-ray from Rarovideo/Entertainment One ... "Resident Evil: Degeneration" (2011) is the CGI-animated next chapter in the smash hit "Resident Evil" saga. From Sony ... In "The Samaritan" (2011), starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ruth Negga, Luke Kirby, Tom Wilkinson, Deborah Kara Unger and Gil Bellows, a mournful con man (Jackson), finished with the grifter's life, gets sucked into an ingenious plan for a score involving his ex-partner's son. From IFC Entertainment ... In "Sleepless Night" (2011 -- France), a cop with a connection to the criminal underworld finds his secret life exposed when he and his partner are caught stealing cocaine from a powerful drug dealer, a move that puts his son's life in jeopardy. From Tribeca Film/Cinedigm ... While protecting a crime boss's home in the Carpathian Mountains, a contract killer and his old friend get into a dangerous situation when the boss's wife is accidentally killed in the Tarantino-esque thriller "Snowman's Land" (2010 -- Germany), starring Jurgen Rissmann, Thomas Wodianka, Reiner Schone, Eva-Katrin Hermann and Walera Kanischtscheff. From Music Box Films ... In "Strippers vs. Werewolves" (2012), the stage is set for a war between strippers and werewolves when a member of a bloodthirsty pack of lycans is murdered; the girls have until the next full moon before the wolf pack shows up to hunt down the killer and seek retribution. Stars Robert Englund, Billy Murray, Steven Berkoff, Alan Ford, Lee Asquith-Coe, Sarah Douglas and Lysette Anthony. On DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA ... In an isolated, slowly dying mining town, children are vanishing without a trace -- abducted, the townsfolk whisper, by a mysterious entity known locally as "The Tall Man" (2012), starring Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Samantha Ferris and Stephen McHattie. On DVD and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment ... A faceless voyeur terrorizes a seemingly happy suburban couple in "388 Arletta Avenue" (2011), starring Nick Stahl, Mia Kirshner, Devon Sawa and Aaron Abrams. From Tribeca Film/Cinedigm ... When his grandfather from Transylvania dies and sends him his dog, Fang, a young boy soon discovers that his gramps' best friend is a 600-year-old, English-speaking "Vampire Dog" (2012), starring Collin MacKechnie, Julia Sarah Stone, Amy Matysio, Ron Pederson and the voice of Norm MacDonald. From Entertainment One.
On the Indie Front:
A neurotic writer working on his new film gets into a tricky situation when an A-list actress shows interest in the role intended for his girlfriend in "She Wants Me" (2012), starring Josh Gad, Hilary Duff, Kristen Ruhlin and Johnny Messner. From Grand Entertainment ... A Vietnam veteran, one-time poet and now a staggering drunk, decides to get his life together and returns to his family home in suburban Chicago, where he helps his teenage nephew with the youngster's dream of buying a boat and sailing from Lake Michigan to the Atlantic and beyond in "Drunkboat" (2010), starring John Malkovich, Jacob Zachar, Dana Delany and John Goodman. From Virgil Films ... Christopher Plummer takes the role of Shakespeare's exiled royal Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan turned sorcerer, in this version of "The Tempest" (2010), performed at the prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival. From Entertainment One.
Following a tragic accident, a young woman is widowed and her life comes crashing down around her in "Delicacy" (2012 -- France). But when an unexpected romance rekindles her zest for life, she fights self-doubts and a host of other obstacles. Stars Audrey Tautou and Francois Damiens. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Cohen Media group.
"Adventures In Plymptoons!" (2012) is a documentary on independent animator Bill Plympton, whose illustrations have been featured in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Penthouse, and National Lampoon. Plympton has directed and animated over 60 animation shorts, live action features, music videos, commercials and documentaries, and earned two Academy Award-nominations for his films "Your Face" in 1987 and for "Guard Dog" in 2005. From Cinema Libre ... "Just Around the Corner" (2011) is a music documentary about music promoter and manager Bob Benjamin's battle against Parkinson's Disease. Featuring performances by Joe D'Urso, Joe Grushecky, Ed Kowalczyk (former front man of the band Live), Jesse Malin, Willie Nile, Bruce Springsteen and others. From Virgil Films ... "To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey" (2010) is a documentary on Nancy Kwan, who was discovered in London's Royal Ballet School by producer Ray Stark and went on to star in "The World of Suzie Wong" and "Flower Drum Song" but -- at the height of her career -- returned to Hong Kong to care for her ailing father. From Virgil Films ..."Pink Ribbons, Inc." (2011): Pink ribbons ... they're everywhere: T-shirts, hats, yogurt cups, KFC buckets, car ads, NFL stadiums ... the list goes on and on. They make us feel good, as if we're all engaged in a successful battle against breast cancer. But who is really benefiting? This documentary goes inside the story to reveal those who have co-opted what marketing experts have labeled a "dream cause." From First Run Features ... "Surviving Progress" (2011) is a provocative documentary that explores the concept of progress in our modern world, guiding us through the major "progress traps" facing our civilization in the arenas of technology, economics, consumption and the environment. Featuring Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, Craig Venter, Robert Wright, David Suzuki, Michael Hudson, Ronald Wright and more. From First Run Features.
From TV to Video:
"American Horror Story: The Complete First Season" (2011) is a four-disc set with 12 episodes from Fox ... "Charlie's Angels: The Complete Series" (1976-1981) is a 27-disc box set that includes the never-before-released-on-DVD fifth and final season, $65.99 from Sony ... "The Crimson Petal and the White" (2012) is a British miniseries based on Michel Faber's international bestseller that follows the fortunes of an ambitious prostitute as she navigates the dark underbelly of Victorian London in pursuit of a better life. $39.99 from Acorn Media ... "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Twelfth Season" (2011-12) is a six-disc set with 22 episodes, $68.99 from CBS/Paramount ... "CSI: New York: The Eighth Season" (2011-12) is a five-disc set with 18 episodes, $64.99 from CBS/Paramount ... CSI: Miami: The Final Season (2011-12) is a five-disc set with 19 episodes, $64.99 from CBS/Paramount ... "Family Guy: Volume Ten" (2011-12) is a three-disc set with 14 episodes, $39.98 from Fox ..."G.I. Joe: Renegades Season One, Volume Two" (2011) from Shout! Factory ... "Gossip Girl: The Complete Fifth Season" (2011-12) is a five-disc set with 24 episodes, $59.98 from Warner ... "Key & Peele: Season One" (2012) is a two-disc set with eight episodes of the Comedy Central sketch series, from Comedy Central ... "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit -- The Thirteenth Year " (2011-12) is a five-disc set with 23 episodes, from Universal ... "Midsomer Murders: Mayhem & Mystery Files" (2006-08) is a collector's set that features the next 15 stand-alone mysteries (episodes from Series 10 and 11) in broadcast order of the best-selling U.K. series, in a 15-disc set, $149.99, from Acorn Media ... "New Tricks, Season 8" (2011) is a three-disc set with 10 episodes of the BBC series about a team of semi-retired and somewhat curmudgeonly detectives investigating cold cases, $39.99 from Acorn Media ... "Portlandia Season Two" (2012) is a two-disc set with 10 episodes, $19.95 from Video Services Corp. ... "Rescue Me: The Complete Series" (2004-11) is a 26-disc box set that includes all seven seasons, from Sony ... "Special Branch, Set 1" (1969) is a four-disc set with 13 episodes of the British series that focuses on the Special Branch of London's Metropolitan Police dedicated to stopping terrorist activities in the nation's capital, $59.99 from Acorn Media ... "Touched By an Angel: The Sixth Season" (1999-2000) is a seven-disc set with 26 episodes, $56.99 from Paramount.
Check out other new September 25 DVD releases at OnVideo.