Wide variety of offbeat movies on Blu-ray, DVD this week
Posted August 9
A surprising number of offbeat and downright strange new movies are on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
“The American Side” (Sony, 2016, not rated/probable PG-13). Wisecracking private eye Charlie Paczynski (well-played by Greg Stuhr, who also co-wrote the script) is on the skids, reduced to blackmailing cheating husbands. But during a stakeout he’s suddenly thrust into a convoluted mystery with a variety of colorful characters in search of secret plans for an invention linked to electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla.
The result is a surprisingly engaging low-budget whodunit that gets a lift from location filming in Buffalo, New York, and Niagara Falls. A bit plot heavy (and occasionally confusing), the film seems to be set in the modern day but is bereft of technology (Charlie uses pay phones). The plot has echoes of “Chinatown.”
Generally, though, it plays like a 1940s/50s film noir (think “The Big Sleep”), but with mid-level stars in support (Matthew Broderick, Robert Forster, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Vaughn) that give it a ’60s vibe (“Harper”) and action scenes that pay homage to classic thrillers (“North By Northwest,” “Last Embrace”).
“April and the Extraordinary World” (GKids/Universal, 2016, PG, in French with English subtitles or dubbed in English, featurette, trailers). April is a Parisian chemist in an alternate reality where the Industrial Age has stalled in the mid-20th century. She is secretly carrying on the work of her parents, who vanished a decade earlier, along with major innovators all over the world. But when April and her talking cat Darwin learn her parents may be alive, she heads out to find them and unravels a conspiracy.
Dazzling hand-drawn animation depicts a fantasy world where everything is driven by coal, giving the film a dingy steampunk look but overflowing with visual ideas — bicycle-driven dirigibles, twin Eiffel Towers and other wonders. Marion Cotillard and Jean Rochefort star on the French soundtrack; Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti and J.K. Simmons are on the English track.
“Mother’s Day” (Universal, 2016, PG-13, deleted scenes, bloopers). "Mother's Day" is a hit-and-miss ensemble romantic comedy, the third in a holiday trilogy after “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve.” Intertwining plots include Jennifer Aniston as a klutzy divorcée whose ex (Timothy Olyphant) marries a much younger woman; Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke as sisters with bigoted parents; and Julia Roberts as a celebrity writer confronted by a daughter she gave up years earlier. This is director Garry Marshall's final film; he died last week at age 81.
“Humpback Whales” (Shout!, 2014, not rated/probable G, featurette, trailers). This stunningly photographed 40-minute documentary, narrated by Ewan McGregor, is an examination of the title mammals filmed in the waters of Alaska, Hawaii and remote islands of Tonga. A 3-D version of the IMAX film is included for those with 3-D televisions.
“Saving Mr. Wu” (Well Go, 2016, not rated/probable PG-13, in Mandarin with English subtitles, deleted scenes, featurette). Crooks disguised as cops and looking for a random kidnapping-for-ransom manage to strike gold when their prey turns out to be a movie star (Andy Lau). "Saving Mr. Wu" is based on a true story. It has a shuffled timeline that can be annoying, but tension builds as the movie star engages in a battle of wits with his primary kidnapper.
“Gibby” (Shout! Kids, 2016, not rated/probable PG, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers, music video). After the death of her mother, a depressed young teen girl (Shelby Lyon) can’t get her life going again until she is chosen to care for her science teacher’s pet monkey over the summer. "Gibby" is a broad comedy aimed at children. Crystal, the mischievous capuchin monkey from the “Night at the Museum” movies plays Gibby. Vivica A. Fox co-stars.
“The Adventures of Panda Warrior” (Lionsgate, 2016, PG, featurette, “Miniscule” episodes, trailers). A peaceful soldier in ancient China is magically transported to Merryland where he morphs into a panda and joins forces with a flying pig, a goat and a lion to overpower an evil nine-headed snake. Any resemblance to “Kung Fu Panda” is probably intentional. The voice cast includes Rob Schneider, Haylie Duff and Norm Macdonald.
“The Lobster” (Lionsgate, 2016; R for sex, language, violence; featurette). This very dark, dry dystopian satire is an ultra-weird tale of a society where people must find a romantic partner in 45 days or be turned into the animal of their choice. Colin Farrell chooses the title crustacean. Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw round out the cast.
“The Trust” (Lionsgate, 2016; R for violence, language, sex, nudity, drugs; audio commentary, featurettes). This dark comedy/heist-thriller provides the odd-couple pairing of the week: Nicolas Cage, in crazy mode, and Elijah Wood as his straight man. They play Las Vegas cops who spend each day logging in evidence until out of boredom they impulsively decide to break into a drug dealer’s safe. Jerry Lewis — yes, that Jerry Lewis — plays Cage’s father.
“Manhattan Night” (Lionsgate, 2016; R for sex, nudity, violence, language; deleted/extended scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, trailers). Adrien Brody is a crime columnist for a New York tabloid with a doctor-wife (Jennifer Beals) and a couple of kids who is asked by a sexy widow (Yvonne Strahovski) to solve her husband’s murder. Yes, he’s the sap and she’s the femme fatale in this grimy updated film noir. Campbell Scott and Linda Lavin co-star.
“Chosen” (Lionsgate, 2016, R for violence). Sonson, a Hungarian lawyer (Luke Mably in flashbacks and Harvey Keitel as the elderly version relating the story), leads an anti-Nazi resistance during World War II, saving thousands of his comrades in the process. "Chosen" is based on a true story.
“Puerto Ricans in Paris” (Universal, 2016, R for language). Edgar Garcia and veteran character actor Luis Guzman are the title characters, two NYPD cops hired to capture a crook for a big bounty in this broad farce, which boasts some laughs and attractive scenery. Rosario Dawson and Rosie Perez also join the cast.
“Traded” (Cinedigm, 2016, not rated/probable R for violence and language, deleted scenes, featurette). "Traded" is a brutal Western set in the 1880s that lifts its plot from Liam Neeson’s “Taken.” A retired gunslinger (Michael Paré) is now a ranching family man, but he saddles up when his 17-year-old daughter is kidnapped and sold to a ring of sex traffickers. Kris Kristofferson and country singer Trace Adkins also make appearances.
“Summer Camp” (Lionsgate, 2016, R for violence and language). With that title you know it’s either a raunchy comedy or a horror flick. It’s not a comedy. Four counselors in a European children’s summer camp have to deal with a virus that sends the kids into a violent rage.
“Viral” (Weinstein/Anchor Bay, 2016, R for violence and language). Here’s another horror movie about a virus turning people into monsters, this one focusing on two small-town teenage sisters whose circle of friends is being infected. Soon, one of the sisters starts to show symptoms.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.