Ranking the 10 New DVD Films Released in July
July wasn’t a particularly good month for the release of new movies on DVD. There were only 10 major releases to begin with. The top three I would readily recommend. Four through six are serviceable if you need something new to watch, six through nine will work if you’re incredibly desperate for something akin to entertainment, and the last one shouldn’t be watched under any circumstances whatsoever.
1. 13 Assassins: 13 Assassins isn’t another hideous glimpse into the darkness of the human condition from Miike. It doesn’t have the same nihilistic lunacy of some of his films. Instead, it’s an intelligent, thoughtful historical musing … for the first hour (interspersed with some genuinely horrific imagery), followed by a spectacularly inventive, wonderfully violent climax that still doesn’t distract from its sharp-eyed buildup. It’s a history lesson, a political thought piece, a Seven Samurai homage, and an orgy of swords and blood, all wrapped in one thunderous and satisfying package.
2. Rango: Scrub away all of your doubts about the ability of the omnipresent Johnny Depp (whose cinematic output has been — let’s face it — less than impressive lately) to carry a leading voice role without overpowering an entire film. Dismiss all preconceived notions about director Gore Verbinski’s first stab at an animated picture, for this final product is much smarter than any of that Pirates of the Caribbean garbage. Yet, at the same time, Rango is still as much of a rip-roaring ride as it effortlessly blends genres and their archetypes into an Old West setting. The story by Verbinski and his screenwriter, John Logan (The Aviator), initially covers some familiar ground by exploring the well-treaded “fish out of water” motif, but that’s the limit of any genericism. Here, Depp plays a lizard who dreams big and generally amuses himself by acting within his own plays and pauses only to reflect, “Our story needs an ironic, unexpected event that will propel our hero into conflict.” Well, that unexpected event quickly takes place, but the true irony here is that there’s precious little irony to be found within Rango.
3. The Lincoln Lawyer: You knew Matthew McConaughey had it in him. After suffering a decade plus of mostly terrible high-concept flicks, McConaughey returns to the type of role that made him a star in the first place, a sleazy, cocksure defense attorney with a gooey center of humanity. The gritty shots, the handheld cameras, and the seedy surroundings are ideal for McConaughey — they are brutal on everyone else in this film (Marisa Tomei, included), but the sweaty close-ups that reveal pores and forehead veins are perfect for McConaughey — it’s his natural surroundings. They highlight both the man’s strengths and his actorly vulnerabilities. It’s like home, and Matthew McConaughey has finally returned to it.
4. Source Code: With Moon, first-time director Duncan Jones set a high bar for himself, providing a stylized and thoughtful sci-fi flick that was as much a character drama and exploration of identity and self as a techy, genre film. With Source Code, Jones continues to look at some of those same themes and play with science fiction in a way which remains refreshing in the wake of the typically rote and thoughtless sci-fi offered to the masses. That said, the film is better in concept than it is on screen, though that is more the fault of the Ben Ripley’s script than it is of Jones, who wrote his own Moon screenplay.
5. Insidious : Insidious is the jump-scare movie of the decade, and while jump-scares are a cheap, manipulative means to elicit Flanders’ screams out of grown men, it’s at least fair to say that James Wans’ Insidious masters the art of cheap manipulation. He may be a hack, but he’s a skilled hack. And it’s not one of those slow, atmospheric films punctuated periodically by jump-scares — it’s a goddamn Disneyland theme ride of machine-gun paced jump-scares. James Wan will beat you over the head with them, exhaust you, puncture your eardrums, and murder your senses, quick-cutting creepy images (all familiar from Dead Silence) with crushing Argento chords and booming bass.
6. Limitless: Limitless has no idea what it’s supposed to be. There’s no action, so it can’t be an action movie. There are no thrills, so that rules out thriller. Bradley Cooper doesn’t wear a cape, so it’s not a superhero movie. There’s no romance, no masked killers, and no psychological games, ruling out those genres, as well. It’s not much of anything, really. It’s about a guy who takes a pill; he gets smart; he uses that intelligence to avoid the consequences of taking a pill to get smart; then Robert DeNiro scowls, the end. Maybe Cooper has started an entire new subgenre of pointlessness, the cinematic sister-cousin to emo. Let’s call it: Emu.
7. Hobo with a Shotgun: Hobo With A Shotgun is the most accurate movie title I’ve come across in many years. It’s a film about a hobo with a shotgun, dispatching criminal elements with his trusty shotgun, in the faux grindhouse style we’ve become accustomed to. It’s hard to deny the sheer bloodsplody fun of the film, and as I’ve been telling people asking if they should see it, “If you’re excited to see a hobo kill people with a shotgun, then you’ll get what you want.” The only thing that really bothers me is that once more we’re subject to the ironic seventies style grindhouse motif. I really wished that writer/director Jason Eisener had eschewed the winking and just made a real B-movie. Rutger Hauer’s performance is so earnest and hilarious, I kinda wish they weren’t just making a disposable bloodfest. B-movies can be cheesy, hyper-violent, corny, zany, without having to pretend to be bad on purpose. Will you enjoy it? Of course you will. But I’m disappointed at what it could have been.
8. Trust: It’s bold to make a film about a teen statutory rape where the girl seems to be a willing participant, without turning it into some sort of running away together. It’s bold to make a film without a safe ending. It does a damn fine job of demonstrating the potential dangers of the internet culture. I don’t think it will, or should, start a slew of parents confiscating cell phones and blocking internet chats. Because the problem is that the target audience needs to be the children themselves. Most teenagers know the fact that they could get raped by a stranger, but they suffer that feeling of indestructible invincibility that puts morgue pages in yearbooks. So I’m not sure how effective it will be in the long run, but it’s still a pretty fierce film, despite it denigrating into Lifetime worthy pablum by the finale.
9. Take Me Home Tonight: For all that’s wrong with Take Me Home Tonight, it does have a certain charm. After all, the 80’s soundtrack isn’t a remake, and a few of those songs do have the power to conjure that nostalgia, assuming you were around in 1986 to hear them the first time around. But that’s another problem with this movie: It doesn’t have an identifiable audience. People that grew up in the 80s would probably prefer to revisit Hughes, while those that grew up in the late 90s/Aughts probably wouldn’t understand the appeal. They’d probably think it was just a badly made cheesy movie with old people songs. It’s a movie made to be watched on TBS in 1991, not one made to be seen on the big screen in 2011.
10. Dylan Dog: After the excreble Superman Returns, Routh’s been kind of bobbing aimlessly adrift, popping up in “Chuck” or the occasional interesting bit part in films like Zack and Miri Make a Porno or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He’s not a bad actor, but you wouldn’t know it from watching his latest project, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, a shameful attempt at capitalizing on a European comic book craze and vampire mania. Routh makes Keanu Reeves look like Robin Williams in his Bolivian marching powder days, giving a dull, listless turn as a supernatural private eye reluctantly chasing down an apocalyptic artifact in New Orleans, the official home of the undead.
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