Well, it may not be the most robust week for the sheer number of titles, but there are a few standouts this go around, including one of my favorite film series of all time hitting 4K in a terrific collection as well as a current Oscar darling. Read on for the deets!
Rocky: The Knockout Collection (4K Ultra HD) – I don’t know if there are many characters from the 80’s more iconic than Rocky Balboa. (Yes, I know he debuted in the 70’s, but come on… Rocky personified the 80’s.) Anybody born in the 70’s or 80’s basically can’t help but be a Rocky fan; even if you don’t like boxing, the Rocky films weren’t just movies, they were events. I have very fond memories of my family going to the movie theaters every time a new Rocky film hit theaters. Heck, it’s even hard to pick a favorite; sure, the first film is arguably the classic of the bunch, but when I was a kid, Rocky II and III were every bit as great as the first one was, and the nostalgia factor kicks in hard with these films. And who doesn’t get chills seeing that iconic image of Rocky wrapped in the American flag? Great stuff. Now, the new Rocky: The Knockout Collection is not the most complete set of the films to date, but it does offer up some things that have never been available before. First of all, it includes the first four movies on 4K Ultra HD for the first time. Each movie has been remastered and looks and sounds better than I’ve ever seen them on home video. Then, you get an additional movie in the form of Rocky Vs. Drago, an alternate director’s cut crafted by Sly himself, which adds some 40 minutes of footage to Rocky IV and is available on home video for the first time. As an added bonus, there’s a fifth disc that includes a making-of feature about the new cut that runs about an hour and is kind of like getting a sixth film as well. Now, why weren’t Rocky V and Rocky Balboa included in this set? I’ve heard that Stallone is working on new cuts of those films as well and they’re going to be getting their own releases in the future, but I can’t officially confirm that. My biggest complaint is the missing extra features. Sure, you still get three audio commentaries and a half dozen or so featurettes, but there are some heavyweight extras that were on previously released Rocky discs that aren’t here, and that’s a let down. Still, Rocky I-IV are stone cold classics, and revisiting them in 4K is an absolute must for any cinephile.
Women Talking – This might be the hardest film to review that I have come across in a long time. There are so many different aspects of it — both positive and negative — that I really don’t know where to begin. The Oscar-nominated film tells the story (based on true events) of an Amish-like colony of religious devotees who discover that some of the men have been sedating and sexually assaulting most of the women in the colony for years. While all of the the colony’s men are off posting bail for the perpetrators, the women of the colony must decide if they are staying and fighting the men, or leaving for good. The rest of the film, then, is exactly what the title describes: women talking. Honestly, the film feels like a stage play — although it’s actually adapted from a book — because they almost never leave the barn where three families of women are debating the actions to take. The film is almost entirely dialogue-based, and that’s one of the issues with it. There are stretches where it’s — there’s no other way to say it — boring. There are also stretches where it’s riveting, and part of that comes from the uniformly excellent performances by the cast, most especially Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, and young newcomer Kate Hallett. I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure if I liked the film or disliked it; perhaps a bit of both. But there’s no denying that it’s a fascinating exercise in filmmaking that also works as an allegory for some pressing societal issues facing the genders in today’s society. Here’s what I would say, ultimately: watch the film for yourself and decide which side you fall on. If nothing else, it will make for some interesting conversations.
Alice Darling – Anna Kendrick stars in — and is the high point of — Alice Darling, a film that treads between being a drama and a thriller. In it, Alice (played by Kendrick) is off on a girls’ weekend with to of her childhood friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. However, it’s quickly revealed that Alice is in a relationship with her boyfriend Simon that is less than healthy, filled with mental abuse and poor treatment. From there, the weekend trip becomes an intervention of sorts, with the second half giving us some more familiar thriller tropes. The film itself is solidly okay; it’s a serious subject matter and there are some effective scenes, but ultimately it never elevates into something truly moving or exciting. Kendrick, however, taking on a more serious role than usual (not that she hasn’t done plenty of dramatic work before) is outstanding as you would expect, and she really shines in the role. It’s just a shame the rest of the film doesn’t live up to her performance. Still, it’s not a bad movie per se, and in the end Alice Darling is worth a watch if ultimately rather pedestrian.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- The Grand Tour – David Twohy may not be a household name, but he’s a filmmaker who makes a lot of movies I love, among them Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, Below, The Arrival, and the underrated thriller A Perfect Getaway, among others. Buried deep in his catalog is The Grand Tour (also known as Timescape when it was originally released), which hits Blu-ray for the first time this week courtesy of Unearthed Classics. Originally released in 1993, The Grand Tour is a fun little gem from early in Twohy’s career that stars Jeff Daniels as a man renovating an inn with his tween-age daughter who are visited by a strange group of tourists who insist on staying in the unfinished inn. I don’t want to give anything away — although any plot synopsis will reveal the main twist of the narrative — but suffice it to say the film veers into thriller and almost even disaster movie territory. It’s also surprisingly good, despite an obvious low budget. But Twohy’s script is solid, the premise is interesting, and Jeff Daniels’ performance (along with Ariana Richards of Jurassic Park fame as his daughter) really helps carry the film. This is one of those hidden gems that makes home video still such a powerful force, often giving us movies we can’t find on the streaming services, and The Grand Tour is definitely worth checking out.
- A Bag of Marbles – This 2017 French drama offers up a harrowing true tale of a pair of young brothers, ages 10 and 12, who must survive on their own as they make their way to safety in World War II France that is occupied by Germany. Torn away from their family and aiming to reach a safe zone, they are plagued by Nazi soldiers, mountains, and the open wilderness. The film is based on a memoir by Joseph Joffo, and while I don’t know if every event in the film is true to real life, there’s no doubt Joffo went through something harrowing nonetheless. The film finds a really nice balance, however, between the terror of Nazis, the adventure of setting out on your own, the seriousness of the situation, and the lightness that comes with boys being boys. I was honestly quite impressed with the film. So many war movies — especially ones focusing on children — can be depressing or heartbreaking, and A Bag of Marbles manages to be entertaining without underplaying the seriousness of the situation. Definitely worth a watch.
- All Eyes Off Me – When you think of countries making movies that explore raw sexuality in young people, Israel isn’t exactly the first one that comes to mind. But in the new drama, All Eyes off Me, that’s exactly what we get. This Israeli film is basically three vignettes about sexually charged young people that tie together in some fashion but operate mostly as their own stories. The film doesn’t shy away from adult topics, dealing with drugs, pregnancy, infidelity, and no small amount of emotions. The film is in Hebrew with English subtitles, and I know some people don’t go for that, but if you’re interested in seeing an edgy film focused on today’s youth with a foreign perspective — but that is universally relatable — All Eyes Off Me is worth checking out.