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Blu-ray Reviews for November 28, 2017

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: Steve Buscemi’s directorial effort Animal Factory; the staggering music documentary The Defiant Ones; the whimsical French comedy Lost in Paris; the stellar Stephen King adaptation Misery; and the Peter Dinklage sci-fi murder mystery Rememory. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Arrow Video

Troubled youth Ron Decker (Edward Furlong, American History X) is sentenced to a ten-year stint in the notorious San Quentin State Prison for a drug-dealing conviction. Inexperienced in the ways of prison life, he’s taken under the wing of Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe, To Live and Die in LA), an experienced con with the entire prison in the palm of his hand – inmates and guards alike. But as Ron grows increasingly cocky in his privileged role as Earl’s confidant, is he in danger of biting off more than he can chew with some of the jail’s more volatile inhabitants?

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Eddie Bunker (Reservoir Dogs), Animal Factory was Steve Buscemi (Lonesome Jim, Interview)’s second stint in the director’s chair and sees him marshaling a formidable ensemble cast, including Bunker, Danny Trejo (Machete) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), for a powerful and sincere account of the men caught up in the penal system and the deals they cut with each other, and themselves, in order to survive.

The prison environment has long made for interesting storytelling, especially when delving into the actual culture of what it’s like to be there. Notable examples are the HBO series Oz, along with The Shawshank Redemption. Recently, HBO got back into the game with the limited murder-mystery series The Night Of. In these stories, you see the social order inherent within prison systems, you see the awful and at times deadly instances in which a prisoner can find himself, but you also see the bonding and friendships that can occur. Animal Factory manages to take all of those and present one compelling, gritty, and even hopeful story.

Steve Buscemi hasn’t gone behind the camera that often, but Animal Factory isn’t just his best film as a director by default. It’s well made — not too flashy, but showing off a reasonable amount of directorial flair — and more interested in highlighting individualism and the necessities for survival. Without ever having been to prison (I’d commit suicide on the bus ride over), Animal Factory offers enough nuance and detail to feel genuine and realistic, and since its author Eddie Bunker, who played Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs, has actually spent time behind bars, that should come as no surprise. Animal Factory offers a very impressive and eclectic cast, even featuring a cameo by singer Antony Hegarty (now known as Anohni) of Antony and the Johnsons as a (you guessed it) prisoner singer. In every scene, an actor makes an appearance who should be instantly recognizable. (Cult director Larry Fessenden even has a role! And he doesn’t die this time!) Of especial note is a small but extremely effective appearance by the recently departed John Heard playing the father of Furlong’s character. His work here is a sad reminder of not only that he’s gone, but that he wasn’t given nearly as many dramatic roles in the later part of his career as he deserved.

Animal Factory is one of those forgotten titles of the early 2000s; it enjoyed some minor theater exhibition before ushering quietly onto video. Hopefully this reissue by Arrow Video introduces it to new viewers.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Not gonna lie — Arrow has done better work. To be clear, Animal Factory on Blu-ray looks far better than it did on DVD, but it seems sourced from a DVD-era master. While there’s not a huge amount of print damage, speckling, marks, and other wear are constant from beginning to end. Clarity won’t knock your socks off, either — the image looks soft in too many places. On the plus side, the image itself is stable without too much jumping around. The prison atmosphere can be bleak and overbearing at times — that scene where Dafoe fakes sick in isolation will haunt you forever — and for better or worse, the high-def image presents that fully. Audio is not very showy. Dialogue is the most important aspect here, which sounds fine and without issue. Musical score by John Lurie doesn’t quite work, but for what it’s worth, it sounds fine; it’s quiet and basic nature never overwhelms any other aspect of the audio.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Interview with critic Barry Forshaw covering Eddie Bunker’s varied career
  • Audio commentary by novelist/co-writer/actor Eddie Bunker and co-producer/actor Danny Trejo
  • New bonus features TBC
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Glenn Kenny


Distributor: Universal Studios / HBO

Director Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) has made an unquestionably bold film about the unlikely but unbreakable bond of  trust and friendship between Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, two street-smart men from different worlds who have shaped many of  the most exciting and extreme moments in recent pop culture. Set amid many of  the defining societal and cultural events of  the past four decades, The Defiant Ones tells the stories of  two men from different tough neighborhoods and their improbable partnership and surprising leading roles in a series of  transformative events in contemporary culture. This revealing, compelling and often-gritty story takes place in recording studios, in humble homes, in criminal courts and in the highest corridors of  corporate power.

The Defiant Ones spreads its wings across four hour-long episodes, which is appropriate because it actually feels like four documentaries as opposed to just the one, even if the episodic hierarchy doesn’t necessarily enforce that. Though presented as the relationship between Iovine and Dr. Dre, really, there’s a documentary within this documentary that focuses on each of them as individual entities, their collaborations, and the culmination of their careers that led them to each other.

If you’ve seen the recent dramatization of the formation of hip-hop group N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton (and if you haven’t, you really should), parts of Dr. Dre’s background will sound familiar. But, as you might imagine, a lot more ground is covered as it relates to his beginnings both in life and music.

The Defiant Ones takes its name from a 1958 film of the same name which sees two men — one black and one white — shackled together and on the run from the law, forced to work together in order to survive. Borrowing this title wasn’t a matter of convenience; the documentary very much delves into the conversation of race, how it informed much of N.W.A.’s beginnings, and how the gangsta lifestyle Dre sometimes found himself in — intentionally or otherwise — informed his career and threatened to derail it…with Iovine refusing to succumb to studio pressures and leave his collaborator behind.

Dr. Dre is an artist who has been demanding and commanding respect for years, and seeing such an intimate portrait of his life portrayed so honestly makes it easy to see why. The Defiant Ones isn’t a puff piece — it absolutely presents an honest look at both men, neither perfect.  Iovine is presented as a workaholic; unable to put down the phone over the last 40 years, and the documentary doesn’t skirt any of the numerous times Dr. Dre scuffled with the law, including his beating of a female journalist that still haunts the both of them to this day.

Whether or not you’re interested in either man as a public figure, The Defiant Ones, with its impeccable editing and approach to its presentation, easily draws you into its story of career struggles, the terror of innovation, and the unlikelihood of ridiculous success — and yes, the doc opens and closes with Dr. Dre’s absurd 3.2 billion dollar deal for the sale of his Beats headphones brand to Apple.

The Defiant Ones is likely one of the best music-driven documentaries you could ever see; with it covering the classic rock era and hip-hop’s earliest beginnings, it covers a broad amount of musical interests — not to mention that it’s powerfully told, and, obviously, the soundtrack is incredible,

PICTURE & SOUND:

Both video and audio are astounding. Video — the clarity is staggering, and again, the impeccable editing creates a beautiful image. Audio is equally impressive. Interview subjects are presented clearly, and the many, many, many song selections, which were perfectly curated, sound incredible as well. (Hearing Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Untouchables used in every episode’s opening montage will give you chills — either that or you’re dead.)

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

None.


Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures

Filmed in Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon’s signature whimsical style, LOST IN PARIS stars the filmmakers as a small-town Canadian librarian and a strangely seductive, oddly egotistical vagabond. When Fiona’s (Gordon) orderly life is disrupted by a letter of distress from her 88-year-old Aunt Martha (delightfully portrayed by Academy Award®-nominee Emmanuelle Riva) who is living in Paris, Fiona hops on the first plane she can and arrives only to discover that Martha has disappeared. In an avalanche of spectacular disasters, she encounters Dom (Abel), the affable, but annoying tramp who just won’t leave her alone. Replete with the amazing antics and intricately choreographed slapstick that has come to define Abel and Gordon’s work, LOST IN PARIS is a wondrously fun and hectic tale of peculiar people finding love while lost in the City of Lights.

If Wes Anderson didn’t consistently fall victim to his own sense of self-importance following The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Paris could fit nicely into his filmography. It shows off the same kind of quirky characters and colors and conflicts, but without surrendering to overbearing style (or a preponderance of ‘60s and ‘70s-era sad rock). In fact, and to be even more specific, Lost in Paris plays like a re-imagining of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie as if Anderson himself had directed it.

Above all, and this comes across the further we delve into the film, Lost in Paris freely embraces cornball schmaltz just in an effort to make its audience feel good. Its many influences (let’s throw ‘20s and ‘30s French musicals and Woody Allen into the mix as well) come together to create a pastiche of humor, romance, screwballism, and a touch of drama that entertains and delights where it intends, but without going too far over the rails — like Fiona manages to do several times during the film.

Presented half in English and half in French, Lost in Paris doesn’t really have an agenda beyond allowing its audience to leave the theater feeling better than they did on their way in. It’s clear right off the bat that it’s not afraid to look silly (and purposely cheap) to meet its goals; many interior sets look like a live-action version of a cartoon, with heightened colors and designs, right down to the obviously artificial snow which blows into Fiona’s office during the film’s opening (and I seriously laughed so hard at everyone’s exaggerated reaction to the blustery wind every time someone opened the door).

“Sweet” perfectly describes Lost in Paris. Almost vaudevillian in its presentation, it’s the kind of feel-good and romantic film that the earlier mentioned Anderson and Jeunet haven’t made in quite a while; for fans of those filmmakers, this one is an easy recommendation.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Beautiful — but then again, anything shot in Paris would be. Bright colors, a stable and clear picture, and excellent clarity. Audio fares the same, offering a whimsical soundtrack comprised of classical pieces and a cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s The Swimming Song.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Paris pieds nus de Abel & Gordon – on-set interview from Belgium TV
  • Abel & Gordon and the Quest for Burlesque – a video essay by Variety film critic Peter Debruge
  • Walking on the Wild Side, The Tent – two short films by Abel & Gordon
  • Theatrical trailer


Distributor: Shout! Factory

As Paul (James Caan) recuperates from his injuries in the secluded cabin of his benefactor Annie (Kathy Bates), he begins to discover that beneath the seemingly kind and naive exterior of his self-described “number one fan” lurks a mind that is cunning, unhinged, and bent on keeping her favorite writer as her personal prisoner for the rest of his “cock-a-doodie” life … and Sheldon must engage his savior-turned-captor in a battle of wills that will push them both to the brink.

Misery is probably in the top five of all-time best Stephen King adaptations. Directed by Rob Reiner, who found similar acclaim with his adaptation of King’s “The Body” as Stand By Me, it’s an absolute classic and an astounding example of what the horror genre can do. King’s novel, written from the point of view of an author known very much for one style of writing and the fears of how his fan base will react should he ever venture into new territory, was obviously a personal work, but Reiner took great care of that concept and transplanted it into an adaptation that honors that fear but ushers it into a remarkable finish with little hints of gallows humor.

Kathy Bates won the Oscar for her portrayal of the deranged Annie Wilkes, and rightfully so, because she’s astounding to watch. Every line of hers is quotable, and impeccably and specifically delivered; her ability to propel from sweet and aloof to manically unhinged is an absolute marvel. James Caan, too, excels with the material, managing to overcome being confined to a bed for 90% of his performance, and even after having seen Misery a dozen times, his final fight scene with the murderous Annie Wilkes is still nerve racking.

Bates would go on to star in another King adaptation, Dolores Claiborne — one every bit as good as Misery but not nearly as celebrated — but while her take on another murderous madam was just as powerful, it was still no Annie Wilkes.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Shout! Boasts a new 4k master for this release, and yes, it looks very good, but it’s also not a hugely detectable improvement over MGM’s previous release, which was no slouch. Clarity remains very good, and the print is very clean and stable with no signs of speckling or damage at all. Audio is similarly good. Dialogue presents well and without issue, and Marc Shaiman’s excellent score, along with a handful of soundtrack selections, work well together.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

If nothing else, Shout! Factory at least rights one wrong from MGM’s previous release of this title on Blu-ray: by taking its previously produced supplements and putting it on the actual Blu-ray disc. (In a cost-cutting move, MGM began re-releasing their deluxe DVD edition titles on Blu-ray but including only the film: a DVD copy of the previous deluxe edition was sometimes included to carry over the special features.)
There’s not a ton of new stuff in this release, but what is new is pretty good. If you listen to the commentary, watch the new interview with Rob Reiner, and then watch the vintage making-of featurette, you will hear Reiner tell multiple stories three times (and sometimes with minor discrepancies in the details, i.e., a hardcover of Misery vs. a paperback that got the adaptation rolling in the first place). After a while, it’s exhausting. Honestly, among the new stuff, it’s the interview with Greg Nicotero that’s the most interesting. He admits that Misery doesn’t have a huge emphasis on special effects, but what was created absolutely stands the test of time. (Oddly, during the interview, there’s an appearance of a revised screenplay that a caption incorrectly dates as being from “November, 1979” — about eight years before King would actually write and release the novel. Also, composer Marc Shaiman is credited as “Mark” during interview credits. This kind of lack of quality control has never been Shout!’s strong suit. There’s a typo or misspelled name on way too many of their releases.)

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW 4K Restoration From The Original Film Elements
  • NEW Interview With Director Rob Reiner
  • NEW Interview With Special Makeup Effects Artist Greg Nicotero
  • Audio Commentary With Rob Reiner
  • Audio Commentary With Screenwriter William Goldman
  • “Misery Loves Company” Featurette
  • “Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour” Featurette
  • “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes” Featurette
  • “Advice For The Stalked” Featurette
  • “Profile Of A Stalker” Featurette
  • “Celebrity Stalkers” Featurette
  • “Anti-Stalking Laws” Featurette
  • Trailers


Distributor: Lionsgate

The film explores the unexplained death of Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan), a visionary scientific pioneer whose body is found shortly after the unveiling of his newest work: a device able to extract, record and play a person’s memories. Gordon’s wife, Carolyn (Julia Ormond), retreats into her house and cuts off contact with the outside world when a mysterious man (Peter Dinklage) shows up. After stealing the machine, he uses it to try and solve the mystery, beginning an investigation of memories that lead him to unexpected and dangerous places.

The biggest irony about Rememory is that it barely lingers in your mind soon after it’s over. On paper, it’s an interesting idea for a murder mystery — no one can accuse it of being derivative — but the final product seems so enamored with its own idea that it seems to forget to take that idea and turn it into an actual plot.

After the first act tragedy, which you can see telegraphed a mile off, Peter Dinklage settles into his forlorn role as someone in mourning, and even if the material is beneath him, he totally commits to his performance. It’s nice to see him tackle a dramatic leading role, especially without his work being semi-stunted by a not-that-convincing British (sorry, Westerosi) accent. Quite frankly, Dinklage and the strong work by actors Julia Ormond and Anton Yelchin (in a small role — I guess this thing sat around for a while) are the only reason to watch.

Other films in the past have used the idea of memory to delve into the human psyche (most notably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I’ll throw a hat tip to Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days), and to its credit, Rememory tries to do that. It wants to do that. But along the way it forgets how. (Puns!)

PICTURE & SOUND:

At least it looks very good. The production design excels at creating somewhat sterile, lifeless environments, suiting the film’s moody tone. Clarity is excellent, as is the audio. The very pretty and melancholy score by Gregory Tripi nicely complements the tone without going overboard. Dialogue sounds clear and is presented prominently.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Mark Palansky and Actor Peter Dinklage
  • “The Memories We Keep” Featurette


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: Lionsgate

Golden Globe® nominee Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a haunted young woman spiraling in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug. Immersive, spellbinding, and sublime, Woodshock transcends genre to become a singularly thrilling cinematic experience that marks the arrival of Kate and Laura Mulleavy as major new voices in film.

Special Features:

“Making Woodshock: A Mental Landscape” Featurette


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Written by

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.