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Blu-ray Reviews: August 1, 2017

A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.


Distributor: Shout!/Scream Factory

The sleepy town of Wheelsy could be any small town in America — somewhat quaint and gentle, peopled with friendly folks who mind their own business. But just beneath the surface charm, something unnamed and evil has arrived…and is growing. Intent on devouring all life on Earth, this dark and slimy entity is infecting anyone in its path. Now it’s up to the local sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion, Firefly, Castle), and his team to stop the spread of rampant devastation – and shocking mutilation – before it’s too late. This outrageously funny horror film also stars Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect) and Gregg Henry (Body Double, Jason Bourne).

Slither came and went quickly and quietly during its theatrical debut, which is kind of a shame considering the fun it offers and its bizarre, old-fashioned premise — one that lovingly shows off its influences, but also one that still manages to come off unique and even a little daring. A sort of hodge-podge of Night of the Creeps, The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, and married to the atomic-scare films of the 1940s and ’50s, Slither was the brain child of a post-Dawn of the Dead and pre-Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn, who cut his film industry teeth working for the infamous Troma Films (founded by Lloyd Kauffman, who enjoys a quick Slither cameo as a town drunk at the local police station.

Cast with a selection of notable and beloved character actors, headlined by everyone’s favorite human being, Nathan Fillion, the entire ensemble willingly and enthusiastically dives headfirst into the utterly ridiculous premise — that of space goo turning people into mutant zombies (or zombie mutants — whichever). The unwitting villain, brought to life by an impeccable Michael Rooker, leaves not a single stick of scenery unchewed. Seeing him manically build a nest in his basement and flail around within in to get it feeling just right, only to them see him glare menacingly at the footsteps above him is the stuff of dreams.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Scream Factory debuts Slither on North American Blu-ray, being that Universal oddly chose to stick with a DVD-only release following its theatrical bow. The video image looks great, featuring bright colors and at times very good clarity. Most of the CGI, which is now more than ten years old, holds up well under high-def scrutiny, and the film (so far) doesn’t look dated. In the sound department, it shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Gunn’s style that the soundtrack selection is wonderful; a collection of quirky songs are thrown together, and weaved together by a score by composer Tyler Bates. Dialogue (I love it) is front and center, and you’re going to want to hear every word. (“That looks like something that fell off my dick during the war!”)

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The new audio commentary recorded for this release feature Gunn, Fillion, and Rooker, and it’s excellent. Mostly anecdotal in nature, Gunn, WHO IS A VERY LOUD TALKER, also shares a few visual tricks as well as points out the stuff he doesn’t like. The constant ribbing between them (everyone picks on Rooker) makes it one of the better commentaries you’ll hear for a cult title. The “Genesis of Slither” interview with Gunn repeats nearly all the same ground that he provides in the commentary, so if you’re going to listen to one or the other, stick with the commentary. Rounding out the last of the new stuff is the brief interview with Gregg Henry, probably the most undervalued member of the cast. He provides some additional insight into Slither’s making that the commentary doesn’t cover.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with writer/director James Gunn and actors Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker
  • NEW The Genesis of SLITHER – an interview with writer/director James Gunn
  • NEW The Other MacReady – an interview with actor Gregg Henry
  • Audio commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion
  •  Deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by James Gunn
  • Visual Effects: Step by Step
  • Slithery Set Tour with actor Nathan Fillion
  • The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of SLITHER
  • Brewing the Blood – How to Make Blood
  • Bringing SLITHER’s Creatures to Life
  • Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary
  • Gag Reel
  • Who is Bill Pardy? featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer

OVERALL:

With Shout Factory having nearly exhausted ’70s and ’80s-era catalog films from studios to whom they have access, newer titles are starting to see release, and Slither was a perfect place to start. Finally on North American Blu-ray, with a new helping of special features added to the pre-existing ones (which were no slouch), this release of Slither is an easy recommendation.


Distributor: Shout! Factory/IFC Films

Successful suburbanite commuter Howard Wakefield (Cranston) has taken a perverse detour from family life: He vanishes without a trace. Hidden in the attic of his garage, surviving by scavenging at night, he secretly observes the lives of his wife (Jennifer Garner) and children. But soon, he realizes that he has not left his family … he has left himself. Also starring Jason O’ Mara and Beverly D’Angelo, Wakefield is “one to definitely seek out” (The Hollywood News).

Wakefield‘s an odd one. A quasi-comedy/quasi-meditative character study wrapped within an absurd concept, nearly all of Wakefield unfolds like a play, propelled with narration by Cranston’s broken-down Howard Wakefield. The premise of Wakefield is difficult to navigate as it pertains to the main character. A sort of spiritual version of American Beauty, but without the (pun not intended) breaking badness of its lead disillusioned patriarch, what most threatens the audience’s ability to sympathize with Howard Wakefield is his unlikability. Wakefield never solidifies the why of Howard’s descent into the garage and subsequent abandonment of his life beyond sweeping comments about marital distress and a general blasé attitude toward his suburban home. Wakefield is obviously undergoing something beyond just a midlife crisis and is instead embarking on some kind of psychological breakdown, so right off the bat the audience should be sympathizing with him, but too often, following his musing on his isolation, or harping on all the “wrong” things he believes his wife to do, your response to him is to simply snap out of it and grow up. And that’s bad, because the entire experience of Wakefield and the audience’s takeaway depends on their ability to support him and hope he finds his way home.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Wakefield doesn’t offer the most attractive video image — a combination of Howard’s depressing garage environment, the cold and bleakness of its winter setting, along with the gray pallor draped over everything. Clarity is reasonably good, and the picture is very stable, but the lack of color and the purposeful lifeless design of the film leaves the final image a bit cold. Sound-wise, totally fine. Cranston’s dialogue receives top prominence at all times, and at times the wintry ambience, when called upon, is effective.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

No supplements are included on this release.

OVERALL: This one’s an odd duck. It’s a safe recommendation for people looking for something different, especially for fans of Bryan Cranston. For anyone else, wait for streaming.


Distributor: HBO

Executive produced by Judd Apatow and Pete Holmes, and loosely inspired by Holmes’ personal experiences in stand-up comedy, Crashing follows an aspiring comic named Pete (Holmes), who finds out his wife Jessica (Lauren Lapkus) is cheating on him, forcing a move to New York to pursue his dream of being a comedian. Thrown into the deep end in a city that’s not for the faint of heart, the formerly sheltered Pete learns some hard lessons about life and comedy, encountering all sorts of stand-up talents along the way, from cynical guru Artie Lange, to outrageous provocateur T.J. Miller, to benevolent motivator Sarah Silverman, and many more. While trying to make ends meet by crashing on other people’s couches (hence the series name), Pete finds goodness in unlikely places, evolving into someone who’s a little more okay with the messiness of life. A love letter to stand-up, Crashing is a series about discovering humor, beauty and grace in the crazy den of thieves that is the NYC comedy scene.

Prior to my viewing of HBO’s Crashing, I’d never heard of Pete Holmes. At least, I wasn’t aware that I had, being that he’d played the role of Batman in Funny Or Die’s reoccurring skits featuring “the world’s greatest detective,” and where Holmes would lambaste Christian Bale’s fairly derided “Batman voice.” Compared to that, the humor in Crashing is far more subtle and restrained, although there are multiple opportunities left open for broader and more obvious comedy. Crashing exists upon a foundation of two different worlds — both of which are entertaining in their own right, but which also tend to combat each other in terms of their approaches and their realism. Crashing opens with the catalyst that will set the entire first season in motion — the unfaithfulness of his wife — which leaves the comedian fending for himself for the first time in his life. Through this, we get to witness the very bottom of the New York comedy club scene, and the hardships up-and-comers face in order to make a name for themselves. It’s in this world where Crashing is its most interesting, and which leaves room for a variety of well-known comedians (Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, T.J. Miller) playing versions of themselves — those who represent the nadir of the comedy world — and who lend guidance to this new wayward child named Pete Holmes. But its when Crashing focuses more on situational comedy having to do with Holmes’ domestic issues where the series falters — not collapses, mind you…just falters. These segments come off more scripted and traditional, which pales in comparison to the bootstraps portions, which feel rawer and more off the cuff. The series opener and closer are directed by Judd Apatow (also an executive producer and occasional co-writer), but every episode of written by Holmes, and so every episode bears his voice and his identity.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Crashing on Blu-ray offers a fairly typical presentation for both image and audio. Much of it takes place in night-set city exteriors, or inside dingy comedy clubs, so there’s not much opportunity for a vibrant high-def experience. The season closer takes place in an atypically bright and sunny exterior, however, and the picture comes alive because of it, offering bright colors and very good clarity. Audio offers a consistent experience, presenting all dialogue prominently with little emphasis on incidental musical score. Every episode ends with a soundtrack selection, including one by Bright Eyes, and all sound fine and faithful.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The major selling point for the supplements are the inclusion of Pete Holmes’ one-hour standup HBO special Faces and Sounds, which sees him showing off a different persona than the one depicted in his series. Whereas in Crashing he presents himself as a wholesome, down on his luck dude with bad luck and who always tries to do the right thing, Faces and Sounds shows off a slightly more profane and gutter-minded comic who, rightfully so, isn’t afraid to break into laughter in the middle of his own material, as he surely knows how ridiculous it all must sound.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Guest Star Fan Club – Pete Holmes talks about his experience working with comedians Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, Hannibal Buress, and Sarah Silverman, all of whom guest starred in Season 1 of Crashing.
  • Comedy Extras – Enjoy the comedy stylings of T.J. Miller, Aparna Nancherla, and Pete Holmes as they perform their hysterical scenes from Season 1.
  • About Crashing – Get the hilarious lowdown on Crashing with star Pete Holmes and executive producer Judd Apatow.
  • The Art of Crashing – Hear what it takes to make it in the comedy business from Pete Holmes and his comic cohorts in this behind-the-scenes featurette.

OVERALL: Some episodes are laugh out loud funny (the three-second Mark Wahlberg impression is my new favorite thing) while some are more ponderous and slight, but overall Crashing is an excellent new series. Between the series itself as well as Holmes’ stand-up special, the first season of Crashing is an easy recommendation.


Distributor: Lionsgate

Written and directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Azazel Jacobs, and starring three-time Academy Award nominee Debra Winger, The Lovers arrives is a refreshing, funny look at love, fidelity, and family. The critically acclaimed film features a standout ensemble cast, including Tony Award winner Tracy Letts (The Big Short, Indignation), Aidan Gillen (Sing Street, “Game of Thrones”), Melora Walters (The Butterfly Effect), Tyler Ross (Zombieland), and Jessica Sula (Split), and is Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh. A husband and wife (Tracy Letts and Debra Winger), each embroiled in a secret, extramarital affair, are sent reeling when they suddenly fall for the least likely person imaginable – one another – in this scalpel-sharp, deliciously grown-up comedy.

Many films are made about marriage and how miserable it makes those together forever, in sickness and in health. The crumbling of unions is often played for two things: drama, or comedy. Seldom are they played for both at once. And also seldom are how well they mesh together in The Lovers, a semi-dark dramedy which sees man and wife carrying on extra-marital affairs, all while remaining fiercely in love with each other. Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, as a dissatisfied husband and wife, are excellent to watch — especially the former, who excels in this kind of genre-straddling work. Not a single moment of The Lovers is played for obvious laughs — no scenes of someone hiding in a closet after someone’s wife or husband comes home from work unexpectedly. And that’s because their lives together have become absurd, and the lengths to which each is willing to go provides its own morbid kind of humor, even if it’s less obvious and much more complicated.

The Lovers offers an experience atypical from this usual kind of film. It’s as complicated a concept as people are, and as marriage is, and by film’s end you’re not quite sure how conflicted you should feel about the resolution of a marriage. But you’ll remember that love is complicated, and often can’t be rationalized, but, as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants, and sometimes the brain simply can’t follow.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Lovers presents very well on Blu-ray, showing off a bright and clean image in a handful of attractive city exteriors and interiors. Clarity is very good — the ages of the actors in a series of intimate scenes are bravely shown in all of their glory — and the picture is very stable. The audio presentation is just as good as its image, although the very unusual musical score — can become too dominating at times, never overwhelming dialogue, but definitely overwhelming the overall tone at times.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer and Director Azazel Jacobs
  • “The Music of Romance” Scoring The Lovers” Featurette
  • “A Complicated Passion: Making The Lovers” Featurette

OVERALL: The Lovers offers an experience atypical from this usual kind of film. It’s as complicated a concept as people are, and as marriage is, and by film’s end you’re not quite sure how conflicted you should feel about the resolution of a marriage. But you’ll remember that love is complicated, and often can’t be rationalized, but, as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants, and sometimes the brain simply can’t follow.


Distributor: Twilight Time (limited to 3,000 units)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) is writer-director-actor Woody Allen’s hilarious 1972 sketch-comedy “adaptation” of Dr. David Reuben’s best-selling self-help book; it features a superb cast – including Gene Wilder, Burt Reynolds, Lynn Redgrave, John Carradine, Tony Randall, Louise Lasser, and Allen himself – in highly amusing if often embarrassing segments designed to answer such questions as “Do aphrodisiacs work?” Note particularly the immortal Wilder in the tragic “What Is Sodomy?”

The first time I saw Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), I was WAY too young, but the blossoming horror fiend in me was captivated by one of the stories in the anthology film which saw a gigantic breast rolling around the countryside squirting milk at people and killing them before being captured and “taken to the local orphanage.” I didn’t know what a “Woody Allen” was, or what a Woody Allen film looked like. All I knew at that moment was I had probably just watched a film I shouldn’t have, because I had no idea what to think.

Cut to cough-cough-ahem years later, my “adult” brain is able to process the visuals and the taboos more clearly, but the part of myself that never fully matured is still absolutely delighted with the daringness of Allen to go off-script from Dr. David Reuben’s still-humorous but not-nearly-as-aloof non-fiction book from 1969. Presented in seven different stories, with such titles as “What is Sodomy?” and “What are Sex Perverts?,” Sex presents the same kind of inconsistent experience that most anthology films do, being that some segments will land better than others. (But seriously, Gene Wilder’s dead-pan performance as a doctor falling in love and lust with a sheep is one of the greatest things you will ever see.) Allen appears in some, but not all, of the skits, with the opener seeing him playing a court jester basically date-raping his Queen. His usual nervous anecdotes are on display, which can sometimes fall short with audiences not used to his comedy, but there’s no denying the immature humor found in him falling down suddenly, looking sadly into the camera, and saying, “I fell on my bells…”

PICTURE & SOUND:

Twilight Time presents Sex (ha!) on Blu-ray with a mostly pleasing high-definition image, offering a fair amount of stability and a clean, tight image. There is occasional softness found throughout, but is leaps and bounds sharper compared to its previous DVD presentation by MGM. Every segment offers its own aesthetic, from the more colorful opener “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” to “Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching an Orgasm?,” Allen’s ode to Italian filmmaking. Audio ranks about the same, though Sex is mostly dialogue-driven, taking place in Allen’s usual low-key environments.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

  • Isolated Music Track
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

OVERALL: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) is Woody Allen’s most offbeat and out-there film as a director. It preserves his ’70s voice as pioneer embarking on experimental material to wonderful results. Twilight Time thankfully continues its Woody Allen output, presenting it with excellent PQ and AQ, and with the usual lack of supplements that Allen seems to prefer for his home video releases. Very highly recommended.


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J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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