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Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: December 19, 2014

With all the drama surrounding "The Interview," it may be tempting to head to the theaters this weekend to show solidarity for a movie industry in crisis mode after terrorist threats. However, the opposite instinct—to avoid theaters for the comfort of your couch—may also kick in. What is there to watch at home? What's new on Netflix? What's new on VOD and Blu-ray? Check out the most interesting releases in the last two weeks below and click through to buy and watch.

10 NEW TO NETFLIX

Perhaps because a lot of energy was expended on the promotion of the relatively awful "Marco Polo" or the preparation for the upcoming season of "House of Cards," it's been a relatively slight couple weeks for everyone's favorite streaming service. We had to dig a little deeper. But we did find some very interesting films, including the latest from Cristian Mungiu, a phenomenal BBC mystery series, and a great stand-up piece from "Parks and Recreation" star Nick Offerman. Oh, you can also see Martin Scorsese's latest again. You should see every Scorsese movie at least twice. Maybe three times.

"Anchorman 2"
"Beyond the Hills"
"Broadchurch"
"King of Devil's Island"
"Mystery Road"
"Nick Offerman: American Ham"
"Oculus"
"The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears"
"The Village"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

9 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"Calvary"

John Michael McDonagh's is one of the most underrated and underappreciated films of 2014, a brilliant black comedy about an Irish priest (Brendan Gleeson, giving arguably the best leading male performance of the year) who is told he will be murdered in a week. He will be the sacrifice for a church system that covered up and allowed child abuse. Why kill a bad priest? It wouldn't get any headlines any more. Now, killing a good priest, on the other hand...McDonagh and Gleeson have produced an insightful commentary on the failures of the institution of religion that still stresses the importance of faith with a powerhouse ending. It's a great film (my #8 of the year) that you probably haven't seen—a 2014 oversight that you must correct before you close the book this excellent year in cinema.

Buy it here.

Special Features
The Role Of A Good Priest
A Father & His Daughter
A Matter Of Faith
Still Gallery
Calvary: Behind The Scenes

"Dead Snow 2"

Like "Calvary," we were proud to program this film at the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival, and it likely fell under your radar in its limited theatrical release earlier this year. Admittedly, "Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead" is NOT for everyone. It is, however, for those of you who like your over-the-top gore-comedies like "Evil Dead 2" or "Dead-Alive." The saga of "Dead Snow" continues as this better, bloodier film picks up right where the last one left off, taking the story down the hill from the cabin overrun by Nazi zombies to the small town below. Here, the story is expanded upon, bringing in an hysterical trio of American zombie hunters (including the hilarious Martin Starr) and, of course, Russian zombies. It's all remarkably silly and features the kind of horror stunt work we don't see enough of these days. The Blu-ray also includes an alternate version with Norwegian instead of English in some key scenes and even some different angles. The films are essentially the same though.

Buy it here.

Special Features
Includes International Version - DOD SNO 2
Audio Commentary with Director & Writer
Short Film: Armen
VFX Featurette
Dead Snow comic book
Trailer

"Frank"

That's three Sundance 2014 movies in a row for those keeping track at home. It was an INSANE Sundance this year—one of the best in history—and a lot of the films that premiered in Park City are making their way to HD disc. This is one of the weirdest. It's a film that I totally understand not working for some people, given its truly odd premise. Frank (Michael Fassbender) is the lead singer of a Joy Division-esque band with an unpronounceable name. He also happens to wear a giant papier mache head at all times. This clever comedy dissects the intersection between creativity and insanity, and features a phenomenal physical performance by Fassbender, whose forced to convey emotion entirely through body language. The final number is an absolute killer too.

Buy it here.

Special Features
Deleted Scenes
Behind the Sounds
Behind the Mask
Meet the Band
What is the Name of the Band?
Interview with Director Lenny Abrahamson
AXS TV: A Look at 'Frank'
Commentary with Director Lenny Abrahamson, Actor Domhnall Gleeson and Music Composer Stephen Rennicks

"Guardians of the Galaxy"

So there's a little movie called "Guardians of the Galaxy"—maybe you heard of it? The #1 film of the year needs NO introduction. In all likelihood, you've seen it and are wondering if it's worth picking up as a fan of the film. It is. Disney/Marvel may charge a bit too much for their Marvel Universe mega-hits but they deliver a lot of bang for their buck. These movies look phenomenal in HD. They were designed for 1080p. And special features are typically robust, including a great commentary from director James Gunn, some really interesting deleted scenes and an hysterical gag reel. As for the movie itself, if you're one of the uninitiated, it's one of the best Marvel movie so far by far. In fact, 2014 was a good year for the company as I'd hold this and "Captain America: Winter Soldier" among the best in the series. See 'em both.

Buy it here.

Special Features
Guide To The Galaxy With James Gunn
The Intergalactic Visual Effects For "Guardians Of The Galaxy" - Learn how Rocket and Groot went from blue screen to big screen.
Exclusive Look At Marvel's "Avengers: Age Of Ultron"
Gag Reel - Experience cosmic shenanigans and celestial goofs in this hilarious gag reel.
Deleted Scenes With Commentary By James Gunn
Audio Commentary With James Gunn

"Magic in the Moonlight"

Every other year, Woody Allen makes a movie that proves that perhaps he shouldn't make a movie every other year. Not every script needs to be shot, Woody. This is one of those films in his oeuvre that never annoys but also never really justifies its existence. It's perfectly charming and sweet--stars Colin Firth and Emma Stone do admirable work with the Allen cadence and are never anything less than charismatic--and yet it never amounts to much of anything at all. Firth plays a skeptic, a man who debunks people who claim to speak with the other side. Stone plays the psychic who rearranges his worldview and with whom he inevitably falls in love. The only interesting thing about "Magic" is the interplay between Allen's cynical worldview and the romantic who still finds some sort of undefinable power at midnight in Paris, for example. However, you could catch those themes in better Allen works, possibly even one next year.

Buy it here.

Special Features
Behind the Magic
Behind the Red Carpet: Los Angeles Film Premiere

"Safe" (Criterion)

Julianne Moore's breakthrough film also put the remarkable Todd Haynes on the map as one of independent cinema's most important voices. Twenty years later (it's been almost exactly 20 years since the film premiered at Sundance, actually), Criterion has delicately upgraded the picture quality and now allows viewers to reappraise a film that feels more current and notable even now than it did two decades ago. "Safe" is about so many things that it can be difficult to completely dissect in one viewing. And yet it never feels like a "message movie" because Moore so completely grounds it with her incredible character work. It was a daring, unique film when it was released, and it feels like it would be so were it to be at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival too. Criterion's 4k restoration is perfect and Dennis Lim's essay is phenomenal. The real catch here though may be Haynes' short film "The Suicide." One of our more interesting filmmakers, the biggest problem with Haynes is the infrequence with which he delivers new films. Until he gets around to another one, at least we have "Safe".

Buy it here.

Special Features
New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Todd Haynes, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Audio commentary featuring Haynes, actor Julianne Moore, and producer Christine Vachon
New conversation between Haynes and Moore
"The Suicide," a 1978 short film by Haynes
New interview with Vachon
Trailer
PLUS: An essay by critic Dennis Lim

"The Skeleton Twins"

This Kristen Wiig & Bill Hader dramedy is the perfect example of a film that plays just a little bit differently in the thin mountain air of Park City. Don't get me wrong. It's worth seeing at home on Blu-ray, but the balance of comedy and humor, tragedy and reconciliation, in this flick is the definition of a "Sundance Movie." When I saw it there, the response was remarkable. I'm not sure I've ever heard an audience laugh like they did to the lip-sync number in this film. It's not quite the same at home without that eager audience. And yet I still find the balance of tones here notable. It's a film that opens with a suicide and yet never feels morbid. It walks a very fine line of dark humor and believable human frailty, elevated by excellent performances Wiig, Hader and Luke Wilson. As you might expect, the gag reel is hysterical.

Buy it here.

Special Features
Gag Reel
Outtakes
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Craig Johnson
"To Whom It May Concern: Making The Skeleton Twins" Featurette
Sweet Moves
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Craig Johnson, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Craig Johnson, Co-Writer Mark Heyman and Producer/Editor Jennifer Lee

"This is Where I Leave You"

"It would be a grand mistake going through life thinking people are the sum total of what you see." It's an admirable quote. And yet Shawn Levy's TIFF disappointment (making one of the quickest turnaround from Toronto premiere to Blu-ray premiere that I've ever heard of) features some of the most shallow characterizations of the year. It's largely due to overcrowding. Everyone needs a problem to overcome or at least recognize before the final act. There's even a montage in which the characters repeat their identifying characteristics to a new character; it's nearly a spoof of these kind of overstuffed movies. And yet there are some decent, heartfelt performances buried under the cliched clutter. Jason Bateman is solid. I fully welcome the rising star status of Adam Driver. But it's Rose Byrne who steals the movie. Again.

Buy it here.

Special Features
Humanity. Warmth. Humor. Be part of the ultimate dysfunctional family with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda and others. See the wildly hilarious outtakes of Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Boner. Plus deleted and extended scenes.

"Time Bandits" (Criterion)

Terry Gilliam's fantasy adventure film is so remarkably bizarre that I often think I exaggerate its oddity in the memory of my childhood. Is it really that weird? Yes, it is. It's hard to believe this creative, strange movie was such an international hit and remains adored by so many people around the world three decades later. What I love about the movie, watching it now, is the ingenuity in its design. Yes, some of the effects are remarkably cheap in their design, but that adds to their charm. In an era of CGI bloat, it's engaging to see a filmmaker who's clearly in love with his vision, not just in love with how it looks but how it adds to his storytelling. The Criterion digital restoration is typically great, not over-polishing a film that needs to look a little grainy to retain some of that DIY charm. And there's a commentary with Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, and David Warner. Need I say more?

Buy it here. 

Special Features
New 2K digital restoration, supervised by director Terry Gilliam, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack
Audio commentary featuring Gilliam, cowriter-actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock
New piece, narrated by film writer David Morgan, featuring production designer Milly Burns and costume designer James Acheson discussing the creation of the film's various historical periods and fantasy worlds
Conversation between Gilliam and film scholar Peter von Bagh, recorded at the 1998 Midnight Sun Film Festival
Appearance by actor Shelley Duvall on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show from 1981
Gallery of rare photographs from the set
Trailer
PLUS: An essay by critic David Sterritt

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