Category: Blu-ray

Apr 15 2015

Videophiled: ‘Big Eyes’

Anchor Bay

Big Eyes (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is Tim Burton’s second foray into strange but true stories of American termite art culture. Where Ed Wood was a valentine to artistic oddballs and eccentrics on the fringes told with an optimism that was certainly not mirrored in Wood’s real life, this is a story about the pain behind the façade of happiness and success.

Amy Adams is Margaret Keane, who painted thousands of portraits of sad-eyed waifs, and Christoph Waltz is Walter Keane, the born salesman who promoted her paintings into a pop culture phenomenon in the sixties and seventies while taking credit for painting them. Waltz plays the part like he’s perpetually on the hustle and Adams’ Margaret falls not so much for his charm as for his confidence, a dimension that becomes demanding, bullying, and threatening as he basks in the success of her work. Burton and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who also wrote Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt) empathize with Margaret and her ordeal and Adams gives a nuanced performance as Margaret, a single mother who escapes one bad marriage for another even worse, too timid to challenge the dominating Walter until she finds herself. For Walter it’s about money and attention and the adoration of fans (even if the art establishment finds the paintings commercial abominations). For Margaret, it’s a matter of honesty and identity. The paintings reflected her soul, not his.

Burton is also fascinated with the way her art was dismissed as kitsch while it was embraced by the public: Are the Keane big eyes paintings art, kitsch, both, or something else? The cross section of art and commerce is fascinating but not all that well explored. And while his instinct for visual excess is largely in check, he can’t help but give so many scenes over to Waltz’s exuberant hustle. The film works thanks to Burton’s affection for both the art and the artist, Adams’ resilient performance, and a story that is too fascinating to be fiction.

On Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “The Making of Big Eyes.” The Blu-ray also features highlights from screening Q&As with director Tim Burton, actors Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, and Jason Schwartzman, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the real-life Margaret Keane, and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on VOD from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Xbox, on Cable On Demand, and Digital HD purchase.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 14 2015

Videophiled: ‘The Babadook’

Scream Factory

The Babadook (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD), one of the best and most original horror films in years, raises goosebumps with old-fashioned scares, relatable characters, and a provocative psychological foundation. Amelia (Essie Kent) is a single mother who is still in mourning for her dead husband—she barely seems to be able to rouse herself to face the world—and is unable to cope with her overactive son Sam (Noah Wiseman), who is both terribly sweet and terrifyingly unpredictable. Clearly the loss has left them both scarred. Amelia has cocooned herself in an emotional shroud while Sam arms himself—quite literally, with improvised weapons that could easily maim a fellow schoolkid—to fight the imaginary monsters that may in fact be real. While the stress shows in Amelia’s increasingly haggard face and exhausted movements, Sam gets more wide-eyed and manic, a devil child who really just wants to be an angel and protect his mommy.

The title is an anagram for “a bad book,” which here is a pop-up children’s storybook that suddenly appears on Sam’s bookshelf and releases a smudgy nightmare creature that apparently jumps out of the pages and into the shadows. The book and the Babadook (Dook! Dook! Dook!)—which lurks in shadows, creeps in the corner of their eyes, and roams at night like a ghost in a haunted house (which their creepily still home has become)—both refuse to be evicted. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to wonder how much of the Babadook is external demon invading a fraught home and how much is the guilt and resentment and darkest emotional fears let loose in the hallucinations of a troubled, sleepless mother.

Jennifer Kent, an Australian director making her feature debut, blurs the borders between the real and imaginary. She’s an experienced actress and draws tremendous performances from both Kent and Wiseman, filling the film with their anxieties and runaway emotions, but she also masterfully applies the less-is-more aesthetic to create unsettling images and terrifying suggestions. The Babadook, a charcoal sketch of an ogre with Nosferatu talons and bared fangs, remains two-dimensional even when haunting the human world, which makes it all the more scary and unreal, and Kent shrouds the house in shadow even in the bright light of day.

It’s a powerful metaphor—the darkest emotions let loose by this troubled, frazzled mother—that never lands solidly on one side or the other. It’s a primal fairy tale, a psychological thriller, an uncompromising portrait of a mother on the verge of a breakdown, and a genuinely creepy horror movie about the terrors that just might be hiding under your bed. Kent brings the film to a conclusion that satisfies all dimensions of her tale.

It’s on Blu-ray and DVD with an hour of cast and crew interviews (including filmmaker Jennifer Kent and stars Essie Davis and Daniel Henshall) and five short featurettes, plus there is a Special Edition Blu-ray which features the Kent’s 2005 short film Monster, a ten-minute, black-and-white mood piece which is the basis for the feature, and deleted scenes, plus a terrific slipcover with a Babadook pop-up. The cover art is double-sided.

Also on VOD from Amazon Instant, Xbox, and Sundance Now, and it is still available on Cable On Demand.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 11 2015

Videophiled: ‘Ride the Pink Horse’

RidePinkHorse

Criterion

Ride the Pink Horse (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – It wouldn’t be fair to call this film unknown—ask any die-hard film noir fan—but outside of classic movie buffs and noir aficionados, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) simply isn’t a familiar title. The film’s debut on DVD and Blu-ray should help change things, and the Criterion imprint certainly doesn’t hurt.

Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, whose work also inspired In A Lonely Place, and directed by Robert Montgomery, this is rural noir, set in a fictional New Mexico border town created almost entirely on studio sets (with a few location shots in Santa Fe). Montgomery also stars as “Lucky” Gagin, a big-city thug who tracks a crime boss (Fred Clark) to San Pablo for a shakedown on the eve of its fiesta season. The shift from the city at night to a dusty southwestern town, where Spanish fills the streets and cantinas outside of the tourist hotel, gives this film a striking atmosphere and texture, but the themes come right out of the post-war dramas and crime movies. Montgomery is a working class thug who came home from the war disillusioned and angry and Clark, his blackmail target, is a war profiteer who hides behind the façade of big business and looks more like a middle-management functionary than a criminal tough guy. One of the oddest touches in film involves his hearing aid, which turns familiar phone call scenes upside down. (You might recalls Clark as the producer who dismisses William Holden’s baseball script in Sunset Blvd and as dyspeptic comic relief in scores of films and TV shows.) Ride the Pink Horse anticipates the connection between organized crime and corporate America that became even more prevalent in the 1950.

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Apr 10 2015

Videophiled: ‘Thunder Road’

Thunder Road

Timeless

Thunder Road (Timeless, Blu-ray+DVD), produced by star Robert Mitchum from his own original story, is an energetic little genre piece about moonshine running and a primal example of the outlaw road movie genre. Though a little old for his part, producer/star Robert Mitchum is all sleepy-eyed, surly charm as a Kentucky bootlegger who battles both local cops and mobsters trying to muscle their way into the state to protect his business. Keely Smith has little to do as his girlfriend but has a couple of great nightclub numbers and Mitchum’s son James is fine as his hero-worshipping younger brother. Mitchum also composed the theme song but his version of the song, which he recorded and released, is not in the film. You can hear repeat through the menu, however.

It’s directed by Arthur Ripley, a former silent movie gag man who largely worked in shorts, B-movies and TV but also made the cult noir item The Chase (1946). Between that and Thunder Road, Ripley’s name is secured, at least among fans of classic genre films. This is a low budget gem with attitude to burn and it gets its Blu-ray debut in this two-disc combo release. It’s a dark film—a lot of nighttime chases—but it’s sharp and clean.

More film noir on Blu-ray at Cinephiled

Apr 08 2015

Videophiled: ‘A Most Violent Year’

MostViolent

Lionsgate

A Most Violent Year (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) should have been an Oscar contender. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) and set in the crime-ridden culture of early 1980s New York City (which was the most violent year on record in the city’s history), smart, shadowy tribute to the crime dramas of the seventies and early eighties, when the culture of crime and corruption was treated as a systemic issue rather than an outlier problem solved in the final reel. Oscar Isaac plays an ambitious businessman in the oil heating market determined to succeed without mob ties and Jessica Chastain is his fierce, fearless wife, the daughter of a mobster who is convinced that he needs to mob up when his trucks and his salesmen are targeted and the assistant D.A. (David Oyelowo) is looking into his books (yes, he’s been paying off officials, which is business as usual in that culture). She’s got a bit of Lady Macbeth to her Brooklyn character but Isaac is determined to remain (relatively) honest even when his entire business teeters on collapse as he scrambles to raise money for a deal that will either make him rich or leave him broke. Isaac and Chastain are excellent (though Chastain is left to fill in what the script fails to provide in terms of dimension) and Albert Brooks is almost unrecognizable as Isaac’s pragmatic (and loyal) lawyer

Chandor expertly takes us through gray area between the culture of official corruption and the criminal underworld (organized and unorganized crime both) and favors the human drama over gangster spectacle. It is a violent world, and a shadowy one (the New York winter setting is beautifully shot by Bradford Young, who has a way of suggesting that even daylight is a shadow cast by something wicked), but the violence is all in personal, intimate terms, inflicted on real people who are not equipped for this kind of warfare. His direction is both gritty and graceful, if perhaps a little studied and removed. Though not exactly glorified, the film portrays this business battlefield as a historical set piece, seen from a distance and elevated to Shakespearean dimensions. There is a cost to every decision, including the choice not to fight criminals on their own terms. Isaac’s performance clarifies that conflict beautifully.

Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by filmmaker Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb, three featurettes, and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also feature a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on digital and cable VOD and at Redbox.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 07 2015

Videophiled: ‘The Immigrant’

Immigrant

Anchor Bay

The Immigrant (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) – Marion Cotillard earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the Dardenne Brothers’s Two Days, One Night but I think her best performance of 2014 is in this film. She plays Ewa, a Polish immigrant in 1921 New York who, turned away by relatives, is dependent on a mercenary burlesque producer and pimp (played with the cheap charm of a low-rent impresario by Joaquin Phoenix) for her freedom and for the money to get his sister out of quarantine on Ellis Island. (It is, of course, for bribes.)

If you think you know where this film is going based on that premise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The film, co-written and directed by James Gray, isn’t just about her degrading ordeal (which isn’t explicitly shown but is made awfully clear). The initially shy beauty steels herself to the hard times of life on the margins of society, disconnecting her emotions not just from her work but her every interaction in this unforgiving culture, and Cotillard invests Ewa with the fiery will to survive and save her little sister from deportation. Phoenix, meanwhile, creates a fascinating figure of the pimp Bruno, chasing the American dream in the shadows and falling in love with Ewa as she hardens with every day on the streets. Jeremy Renner co-stars as a stage magician and rival for Ewa’s affections, though his underwritten character is easily overpowered by the vivid and nuanced portraits by Cotillard and Phoenix.

One of the wonders of the film is how Gray reveals unexpected depths and dimensions of these characters throughout their journeys. And Gray and cinematographer Darius Khondji create an atmosphere as compelling as the characters, a dreamy recreation of old New York that is both beautiful and tawdry. It’s a slow, simmering film with intense characters and a drama that demands patience and rewards with a rich drama about the American experience.

Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by director James Gray and the featurette “The Visual Inspiration of The Immigrant.”

Also on Netflix and Hulu (free with ads)

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 01 2015

Videophiled: ‘Wild’ about Reese Witherspoon

Wild

Fox

Wild (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (The Dallas Buyer’s Club) and adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir by novelist Nick Hornby (who also scripted An Education), is more than a vehicle for its star / producer Reese Witherspoon. It’s an odyssey on a human scale: a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 1700 mile journey undertaken without any preparation or training. For Sheryl, pulling herself out of depression and a self-destructive detour into drugs, it’s an American walkabout cleansing by way of a dare, though the only person she has to prove anything to is herself.

Vallée favors the texture of her experience over her story and DP Yves Bélanger keep us rooted in the beauty and the isolation of the landscape. Hornby’s adaptation is remarkably empathetic to her ordeal, moreso on the trail than in the flashbacks of her spiral into self-destruction (where Laura Dern gives a sublime performance as her mother), and it keeps her voice front and center. And while there is a conventional backbone to the story, it keeps us rooted in the experience of a single woman taking on a challenge that some veteran hikers fail to complete, never forgetting the vulnerability of doing it alone. When a couple of teenage boys rib her about the “princess” treatment she gets from a park ranger (who clearly just wants to get into her tent), she doesn’t school them or remind the audience of some of the more threatening moments she’s endured. She just gets back on the trail and focuses on what matters: moving on.

On Blu-ray and DVD with commentary by director Jean-Marc Vallée with producers Bruna Papandrea and David Greenbaum, seven promotional featurettes, and a message from author Cheryl Strayed. The Blu-ray also includes three additional featurettes, an interactive map of the Pacific Crest Trail, and deleted scenes with optional director commentary, plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Mar 31 2015

Videophiled: Hard science and soft-headed people in ‘Interstellar’

Paramount

Interstellar (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD) – Christopher Nolan used his clout as the director of the hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy and cerebral caper film Inception to get this big-budget science fiction epic made on a scale that otherwise would be out of reach. It’s set in a near future where overpopulation and global climate change has been catastrophic for the food supply and the culture has become hostile to science, as if it’s the cause of the problems rather than the only hope to solve them.

Matthew McConaughey is a widower father and former astronaut turned Midwest farmer who is essentially drafted into a covert project to send a ship across the galaxy to find a planet suitable for human habitation. That means abandoning his children, one of whom grows up into a physics genius (played by Jessica Chastain) who holds onto her grudge for decades. This is a film where complex concepts of quantum physics and powerful human emotions are inextricably intertwined and ghost the haunts the farmhouse has both a scientific explanation and a sense of supernatural power.

The family drama at the center is contrived and often unconvincing but Nolan’s visualization of amazing alien worlds, black holes, quantum physics, and the echoes of time and relativity in regards to travel through deep space and gravity distortions is engaging and thrilling. He imagines what a water planet near a black hole might be like and it’s like nothing you’ve ever imagined. The design of the robot helpers is something else. Neil deGrasse Tyson gave the film top marks for its science, which is pretty impressive. Yes, love conquers physics and the smartest people in the world do stupid, thoughtless things to give the plot its complications, but there simply aren’t many science fiction films that dare to be this brainy and visionary. Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, and Topher Grace co-star.

Christopher Nolan shot Interstellar on film rather than digital cameras with a mix of CinemaScope widescreen (about 2.4:1) and IMAX full frame (the 1.78:1 of widescreen TV) aspect ratios. The Blu-ray preserves the shifting ratios and presents a strong, warm image. Paramount goes all out on the disc to make it something special and Nolan, a creator with a great track record for documenting his productions every step of the way, participates in the supplements, which are limited to the Blu-ray release, all collected on a separate Blu-ray disc. The 50-minute “The Science of Interstellar,” an expanded version of a program originally shown in TV, is the centerpiece of the bonus disc, which includes fourteen “Inside Interstellar” featurettes. The shorter pieces, which take on various aspects of the film, the story, production and special effects details (like the use of miniatures, which has become a rarity in the CGI age), range from under two minutes to just over twelve minutes. The Blu-ray set also includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.

It’s also on digital VOD and Cable On Demand, but those formats won’t look as good as Blu-ray and do not include the Blu-ray supplements, if that’s something that’s important you.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Mar 24 2015

Videophiled: Battling ‘The Hobbit’

HobbitBattle

Warner Home Video

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD), the third and final installment of Peter Jackson’s supersized take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy, opens with a spectacular dragon attack on Laketown and tops it with a battle that nearly dwarfs the Middle Earth-shattering war Lord of the Rings trilogy (pun intended). It’s Elf and Man against Dwarf, but for the Orcs it’s personal. Which, as any fan of the original novel “The Hobbit” will tell you, pretty much misses the point of the story. But then Jackson isn’t interested in a faithful interpretation of Tolkien’s novel as much as backfilling a prequel story to The Lord of the Rings, transforming the novel’s story of legacy and destiny warped into greed and hubris, a grand fantasy adventure with dragons and trolls and Shakespearean dimensions, into the initial stirrings of the evil Sauron and a war that will engulf the world and all the races.

That pretty much sidelines Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the ostensible hero of the tale, while redirecting the focus to characters who never appeared in the original novel or in Tolkien’s universe at all, namely the above-mentioned Orcs with a grudge against Thorin (Richard Armitage), the Dwarf who would be king. The final half of the film, which is already the third film in the telling, is an enormous battle and, yes, it is impressive as a physical thing. It’s also exhausting and overdone, with two Orc villains who prove comically unkillable. These guys are fiercer than the next generation Orc-Goblin hybrids that Sauroman breeds in Lord of the Rings.

Those caveats aside, it’s an exciting film with a grand sense of scale and sweep and a sure sense of weaving together multiple stories in the climactic battle. Jackson is quite adept at these things and he keeps the stories straight and the momentum up. What he misses is the heart of Tolkien’s tale. For that, we just may need to wait for someone to edit this story down rather than expand it even more.

It’s released in multiple formats. All of the disc editions offer five short featurettes, all 12-minutes or under: “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth Part 3,” “Recruiting the Five Armies,” “Completing Middle-earth: A Six-Part Saga,” “Completing Middle-earth: A Seventeen-Year Journey,” and “The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes,” plus a music video. This is the same version that played in the theaters but come Christmas you can count on an even longer version from Jackson, with commentary and feature-length documentaries.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Mar 19 2015

Videophiled TVD: A revolutionary ‘Turn’

TurnS1

Anchor Bay

Turn: Washington’s Spies – The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) – The Revolutionary War was launched with a declaration of independence and fought for the ideal of self-determination and democratic representation. By any measure it was unprecedented and it gave birth to the first sustained democracy in the world (despite D.W. Griffith’s insistence that the Civil War as the Birth of the Nation), yet there are fewer dramatic portraits of the war in movies or on TV than practically any other American conflict, and fewer still that stand as significant productions in their own right: John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk, the HBO miniseries John Adams, and… I’m sure there are others, but none jump to mind.

Turn from AMC (the cable network of Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad) doesn’t quite jump to the top of the list, at least based on the initial season, but it is an intelligent show with a novel approach: it’s built around the civilian spy network supplying intelligence to the revolutionaries under the noses of the occupying British soldiers. This is historical drama, not documentary, but it is based on the true story of the Abraham Woodhull, the head of the real-life Culper Spy Ring in New York City and Long Island. Jamie Bell plays Woodhull, a farmer in Setauket, New York, who sells his produce on the black market to both sides while committing to neither until he’s recruited by an old friend, Continental Army officer Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich), to use his smuggling routes to pass messages. The one-time favor turns into a full-time commitment and puts him on the opposite side of the conflict from his father (Kevin McNally), the town magistrate and a committed law-and-order British loyalist, and in partnership with his childhood sweetheart Anna Strong (Heather Lind), whose husband was sentenced to certain death aboard a British slave ship for a crime he didn’t commit.

In a TV culture of anti-heroes and compromised protagonists, this is a fairly straightforward conflict: there are a few honorable Brits (notably Major Hewlett, the garrison commandeer played by Burn Gorman) but far more of them are brutal and sadistic, while the rebel sympathizers may be conflicted but are ultimately on the side of their neighbors. The show has its share of romantic and dramatic complications, especially as Woodhull contrives to carry information through British territory to the rebel forces while posing publically as a loyalist, and it’s light on action and spectacle. It takes some time for the story to get any traction, but when, about halfway through the season, George Washington arrives to discuss the fledgling spy network with Talmadge, the show offers a crash course in state of the art spycraft, circa 1776. That’s a fascinating history lesson that gives scope to the personal drama and illustrates just how novel a civilian espionage circle was in warfare. As the season develops, it also takes on the issue of slavery, though while it shows the hypocrisy of the British (who free the slaves only to make them indentured soldiers in their fight) it’s frustratingly quiet when it comes to exploring the colonists’ relationship to the reality of slavery and shies away from seeing the war through the eyes of the blacks who, in the event of American victory, would remain enslaved.

What I find most interesting is the portrait of conflicted loyalties among the Americans. Friends, neighbors, even family members cannot necessarily be trusted, but that doesn’t make them enemies. Woodhull secretly defies his father’s allegiances but never his father, who he loves and protects through the conflict, and he keeps his activities secret from his wife (Meegan Warner), who suspects something is going on but isn’t sure what. That’s the real human story of the show, not the personal conflicts between Woodhull and sneering, sadistic British officer Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) or Talmadge and Scot mercenary Robert Rogers (Angus Macfadyen) or the renewed passions between Woodhull and Anna Strong, flamed by the danger of their missions.

There are also fun bits of history woven through here, like the crossing of the Delaware from the point of view of a soldier at the back of the makeshift armada (Washington is never seen) and a rousing rendition of a British drinking song over dinner with British officers, which became the tune to The Star Spangled Banner. These are dropped in without comment, nudging the viewer to dig into their American history (Wikipedia should get a workout while watching the episodes).

10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with two very brief featurettes that are really no more than promotional pieces and about 25 minutes of deleted scenes. This season will also be available on Netflix later this month.

The second season begins in April.

Mar 18 2015

Videophiled: Chris Rock’s ‘Top Five’

TopFive

Paramount

Top Five (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is Chris Rock’s third film as a writer / director and his most personal. He plays a comedian named Andre Allen, once branded “the funniest man alive” for his electric stand-up act, who made a fortune in lowbrow comedies, bottomed out in alcohol, and wants to remake himself as a serious actor in his sobriety, which is hard to do when his upcoming marriage is little more than a reality TV stunt as far as his fiancée (Gabrielle Union) is concerned. It all plays out in an eventful 24 hours in NYC as a reporter (Rosario Dawson) tags along his errands and interviews on the opening day of his new film, a stiff of a well-meaning historical drama called “Uprize!,” and the day before his wedding, an affair more stage-managed than planned.

It’s very funny—Rock channels the uncensored language and subject matter of his stand-up act, which lands the film in decidedly R-rated territory—with a serious undercurrent. He’s a recovering alcoholic who’s afraid he’s no longer funny sober, with a career on life support and a marriage he now seems to dread. Dawson, one of the most underappreciated actresses around, matches Rock with confidence and intelligence as the journalist who pushes the comedian to be honest with her—and ultimately with himself.

It’s got an episodic structure, dotted with flashbacks (Cedric the Entertainer takes a starring role in “the lowest moment of his life”) and meetings with old friends (among them Sherri Shepherd, Jay Pharoah, Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan) and comedy colleagues. Rock lets these moments reveal different dimensions of the man behind the persona, while generously letting them show off their chops. It’s a familiar structure that Rock juggles well and fills with sharp, smart, and often hilarious take on the mid-life crisis of an artist caught between public expectations, private ambitions and anxieties, and professional compromises and commitments. There’s a complex understanding of the business of entertainment and celebrity behind the comedy, and a smart character portrait behind the performance.

On DVD and Blu-ray, but only the Blu-ray comes with extras: commentary by Rock and co-star JB Smoove, the featurettes “It’s Never Just a Movie: Chris Rock and Top Five” and “The Making of Top Five,” the “Top Five” stand-up outtakes and “Moments You Didn’t See in the Film,” plus deleted scenes and bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.

Also on Cable On Demand and VOD from Amazon Instant, Vudu, and Xbox.

More New Releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Mar 13 2015

Videophiled TVD: ‘Sons of Anarchy’ ends

SonsAnarchyFinalSons of Anarchy: The Final Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) and Sons of Anarchy: The Complete Series (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) – This drama of family ties, brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, and honor in an outlaw motorcycle gang that practically runs the (fictional) Central California desert town of Charming grew from cult show to surprise hit for the FX network over the course of its seven season run.

The crime drama had taken on almost Shakespearean dimensions, from a “Hamlet”-like conflict between club heir apparent Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) and his step-father Clay (Ron Perlman), while offering a kind of leather jacket soap opera and an idealized portrait of underworld brotherhood under fire. Jax was the well-meaning warrior prince determined to deliver Camelot to his brothers but constantly beset by blowback from his alliance and criminal activities. By the time the final season roared out in the fall of 2014, the club had left enough victims in the wake of their criminal activities and territorial battles to fill a small graveyard, including Clay and his own wife, murdered by his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal), the ferocious den mother of this wolf pack. As likable as this scruffy but loyal brotherhood could be, it was hard to overlook the violence of their business, the bodies dropped in misguided acts of vengeance (either by impulse or spurred by the lies of betrayals or cover-ups), and the innocents killed in the crossfire.

Those reservations aside, I remained a fan of the show to the end if only for creator Kurt Sutter’s commitment to the whole twisted idea of brotherhood and the fantasy that they are the protectors of their town. The bad boy romance of their world is a façade, but Sutter sure knows how to work that fantasy into brutal, bloodsoaked melodrama of retribution and redemption. The individual members of the club (at least those who survived to season seven) have all become distinctive, integral characters with their own issues and Gemma a broken, doomed figure spinning stories to delay the inevitable revelation and retribution. Jax’s young son (who knows what Gemma did) takes on the look of a zombie, haunted by the knowledge that his grandmother killed his mother and acting out with acts of violence at school. The hypocrisy he sees in the adult world is poisoning his soul, a truly innocent victim of the violent life of his father.

Annabeth Gish joins the show as the new sheriff of Charming, a veteran who understands that a certain amount of accommodation to the outlaw elements is necessary to keep things from blowing up on the streets, and Jimmy Smits is back as Nero, club ally and conscience to Jax, the compassionate and honorable father figure he lacked in Clay, and there are return visits from some familiar faces, notably Hal Holbrook as Gemma’s infirm father and Walton Goggins as Venus, a tough yet tender transsexual dominatrix with whom club hothead Tig (Kim Coates) falls in love in one of the most touching stories weaving through the series.

Guest stars include Marilyn Manson as a white supremacist taking care of business for the club in prison, Courtney Love as a pre-school teacher who tries to help Jax’s troubled son, Lea Michelle as a truck stop waitress who befriends Gemma, and small roles from Robert Patrick and Michael Chiklis (star of Kurt Sutter’s previous series, The Shield).

Charlie Hunnam and Marilyn Manson

As far as the idea of justice is concerned, the show follows its own tunnel-vision code. These guys sell guns to California gangs and run a brothel and a porn business (which, oddly enough, are managed by women and accommodating to the employees—you gotta love a socially progressive gangster) and routinely murder obstructions and threats, but Jax draws the line at drugs and the IRA pipeline that Clay established. In their world, that’s a moral stand, and while the show flirts with the collateral damage and unintended consequences of their business, it tends to overlook the bigger picture and ask up to look beyond the criminal code. But then that’s part of the outlaw romance of the series. And while there is a fatalism to much of it, Sutter also offers redemptive stories, rewarding longtime fans with a happy ending for a few deserving characters.

13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, The final season expands each episode to 90 minutes (a little over 60 minutes without commercials), giving the stories more space to play out (it’s like getting an extra six episodes). The disc sets feature hour-long documentary “Carpe Diem: The Final Season of Sons of Anarchy” and featurettes on the legacy of violence, the motorcycles, the stories of the tattoos, and the guest stars of the final season.

Fox also releases the entire series in a box set on Blu-ray and DVD, a bargain way to get the complete show.

More TV on Disc at Cinephiled

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