Digital Week – October 23rd

Blu-rays of the Week

Arizona (RLJ Entertainment)

In this pitch-black comedy that swings for the fences but falls short, Danny McBride is a frustrated homeowner who’s been foreclosed on and who takes it out on the real estate agency that sold him the house—as he makes more lunatic decisions, he leaves a trail of blood and bodies. McBride is fiendishly funny as the crazed nutcase and Rosemarie Dewitt is a persuasively resourceful hostage, but Luke del Tredici’s script and Jonathan Watson’s bumpily alternate trenchant dark humor about people at the end of their rope with crass violence that undermines, rather than underlines, their point. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Bad Ronald (Warner Archive)

This unnerving 1974 TV movie has a basic premise—teenage mama’s boy accidentally kills girl, mom hides him in a secret room of their house, she dies, the house is sold, he starts to terrorize the new family, especially the teenage daughter—and director Buzz Kulik keeps it simple and straightforward, making it that much more plausible and effective. Scott Jacoby is frightfully credible as the bad seed Ronald, while Kim Hunter brings a smothering creepiness to Ronald’s mom. The hi-def transfer is crisp and clear.

City Slickers / Get Shorty (Shout Select)

The latest Shout Select releases are two ’90s films that pleased a lot of people, and even (in the case of the former) garnered Jack Palance his only Oscar. 1991’s City Slickers has an amusing premise and entertaining support from Palance, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby, but it all depends on one’s tolerance for Billy Crystal (I have little). Likewise, 1995’s Get Shorty is a decent Hollywood takedown—though not as nasty as Altman’s The Player—with wonderfully weird work from Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini, although again I find John Travolta and Rene Russo to be wet blankets. Both films have solid new hi-def transfers and vintage extras like featurettes, interviews and commentaries.

Down a Dark Hall (Lionsgate)

Based on Lois Duncan’s 1974 young-adult novel, this stylishly convoluted gothic horror set in a foreboding old house that’s currently a convent for wayward young women has moments of suspense and even an occasional fright, but is mostly pretty tame. Director Rodrigo Cortés makes everything look right, including his protagonists—AnnaSophia Robb as the young heroine and Uma Thurman as the eccentric schoolmarm—but it remains empty and dull at times. There’s a great-looking hi-def transfer; extras are a making-of and deleted scene.

Shampoo (Criterion)

Warren Beatty and Robert Towne wrote a scathing script about disaffected Hollywood types, circa 1968—when a loathsome Nixon was elected—but Hal Ashby’s scattershot 1975 satire doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. Despite terrific acting by Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Oscar winner Lee Grant, Tony Bill and Jack Warden, and with Beatty’s hairdresser hopping in and out of various beds, the movie feels unfinished, its humor and observations topical but superficial. Criterion’s release does the film no favors; there’s a top-notch hi-def transfer, but contextualizing extras are needed for such a divisive and controversial film; instead, we get 10 minutes of a 1998 Beatty profile and a 30-minute talk between critics Frank Rich and Bob Harris.

Trauma (Artsploitation)

When a movie opens showing forced intercourse between a teenager and his mother—whose brains are blown out while he is still thrusting—you know you’re in for something particularly and peculiarly demented. And that’s what Chilean director Lucio Rojas’ grotesquely horrific drama is. The boy grows up to be a madman who tortures a quartet of young women, all subjected to endless moments of nasty and even nauseating violence that end up making those opening moments seem relatively docile. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer that catches all the minutiae of Rojas’ gorefest.

Whitney (Lionsgate)

Kevin Macdonald’s documentary about the short, sad life of Whitney Houston (who drowned in a bathtub at age 48 in 2012) makes some strange directorial choices—like all of the “current-events” archival footage during some song performances—but it still paints an illuminatingly ugly portrait of a brilliant singer who lost her way because of family, friends, fame, money, and, worst of all, marriage to Bobby Brown. Interviews with some of the main people in Whitney’s life, like her brothers, former husband, mother and even Kevin Costner—with whom she famously starred in the smash The Bodyguard—present a cautionary tale that’s all too familiar but still depressing. The film looks fine on Blu-ray; lone extra is a Macdonald commentary.

DVD of the Week

Generation Wealth (Lionsgate)

Lauren Greenfield returns to the scene of many of her photographs and her previous film The Queen of Versailles: the ultra-rich whose conspicuous consumption—from plastic surgery on themselves and their pets to flying a teenage son to Amsterdam to lose his virginity to a prostitute—is the ultimate in American exceptionalism. This parade of grossly self-centered narcissists makes Donald Trump seem modest, but Greenfield also shows that this is the world we’ve created, and it could actually get worse: soon, we might pine for the halcyon days of Kardashians and Trumps.