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John Allman

If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.

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New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012

Posted Feb 25, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Mar 1, 2012 at 12:38 AM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Genre: Thriller
Directed by: Sean Durkin
Run time: 102 minutes
Rating: R
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: The best directors always make a great first impression, even if their first film isn’t a huge, commercial hit.

Spielberg did “Dual” before “Jaws,” and showed us that impeccable sense of story and structure. Fincher took the “Alien” franchise to its darkest point, turning sci-fi horror into an unsettling morality tale, and eschewing the big-budget bombast of James Cameron’s earlier epic.

And Sean Durkin made “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” one of the most subtle, ingenious films you’re likely ever to see about the impact and ramifications of being swallowed up by a cult.

Now none of the films I mentioned would have been as impressive if not for spot-on casting. “Dual” becomes just a made-for-TV movie without Dennis Weaver’s pitch-perfect performance as a businessman driven to extremes he didn’t believe possible. “Alien 3” falls apart without Sigourney Weaver’s brave leap of faith, and shaved head, deconstructing her iconic and beloved character, Ripley.

And “Martha Marcy May Marlene” doesn’t even register on our collective radar without the incomparable John Hawkes, a character actor without peer, and the unbelievably talented Elizabeth Olsen, showing a range and a discipline for her craft that many actresses twice her age and experience could not pull off.

Seriously, if Michael Shannon was robbed in being denied a Best Actor nod in this year’s Oscar race, then Olsen was mugged as well. She is revelatory in this film. It’s one of the best performances, male or female, in all of 2011. She not only deserved a nomination, she deserved to be thick in the hunt to actually win.

Olsen, the younger sister of Ashley and Mary-Kate, is the one with the talent. Make no mistake. This girl is going to be talked about for years.

The control she exhibits, maintaining a tightrope balance between scarred victim and naïve, willing participant, is mesmerizing. Her speech, her body language, her eyes, barely registering direct contact, belong to an actor with years of experience under her belt.

Durkin’s film deftly moves along two tracks, showing us Martha’s escape from an upper-New York State commune, led by the seductively smooth Hawkes, and her struggle assimilating back into normal society at her older sister’s husband’s lake house.

Durkin and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes use a number of subtle, but highly impressive, tricks to slide between the two tracks. Some scenes start in one timeline and suddenly, unexpectedly continue in the other. A swimming scene, for example, might shift the narrative at the moment a body breaks the surface. The switches, for the most part, are seamless.

Durkin also favors long tracking shots, using a dolley to slowly pull back or hone in on a particular moment. This creates a dreamlike atmosphere, a feeling of omniscience, that is both exhilarating and disconcerting. Such moments sneak up on you with their simplicity, and make you work to try to understand the significance of each shot.

Durkin reveals very little about how the cult came to be, or even what its particular ideology is founded upon.

Hawkes’ Patrick is building a “family” of young men, using a gaggle of subservient sister wives to procreate, while lording over a caste syociety where the men eat first, have sex with who they want and enjoy the spoils.

Patrick’s gift is his ability to pick up on each woman’s insecurities in order to convince them that they desire to be the vessel for his spawn, even as he feels the need to drug and rape them.

What Durkin does show of the cult’s practices comes in snippets, a series of increasingly unsettling sequences – Martha, who is renamed Marcy May by Patrick, being drugged and raped, and then convinced she just had the most special night of her life. Then, later, Marcy May guiding another new female member through the same process, preparing the syringe to drug the girl, and quietly instructing her to just lie there and enjoy the gift she is about to receive.

Back in real time, Martha struggles to slip the communal ways she has lived under for two years. She does all the housework like a slave. She tries to find comfort sneaking into her sister’s bed while her sister is having sex, just to lay there, close to body heat, in order to sleep. She picks apart the wealthy, affluent lifestyle that her sister enjoys, surrounded by unnecessary belongings.

Martha refuses to divulge where she has been, or what she has experienced. Her sister and brother-in-law grow increasingly agitated. And Martha’s grip – on knowing the difference between a memory of her past life and the reality of her current surroundings – blurs to the point that she believes the cult, and Patrick, have tracked her more than three hours away at her sister’s home.

Durkin allows the anxiety to grow organically. Martha has a series of outbursts, each one escalating further. She finally tries to explain to her sister the danger, but is it too late?

“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the Marlene is a reference to the name that all of Patrick’s women use when they answer the lone phone at the commune, is one of those films that ends suddenly, unexpectedly, right at a moment where most mainstream thrillers would just be taking off.

Durkin refuses to provide answers. He purposely keeps certain images blurry and out of focus, demanding that the audience do some work and continue the story in their own heads, taking it in whatever direction they choose to imagine.

It’s a bold choice, but not a cop-out. The ending works, in my opinion, because of that unknown aspect. I know how I think the story ends. I suspect you will too.

It’s not about how it ends, though. The really scary part comes with realizing much of what you’ve seen is likely real, and exists, and is happening right now, possibly closer to where you live than you care to know.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes, surprisingly abundant.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – A mysterious cult that ensnares young women and convinces them they have a role to play in a totalitarian commune.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Sean Durkin’s short film, “Mary Last Scene,” which serves as a kind of prequel; five featurettes, including a short making-of documentary, an interview with Elizabeth Olsen, an interview with Durkin and the film’s producers and a discussion about real cults and how they operate; John Hawkes’ music video; trailers.
On the Web – http://www.foxsearchlight.com/marthamarcymaymarlene/

London Boulevard (Sony, 103 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The directorial debut of writer William Monahan, the guy who wrote “The Departed,” doesn’t stray too far from what worked for him in the past.

Colin Farrell, still riding a tsunami-like career resurgence, plays a hard-boiled petty criminal who is as comfortable beating someone down as putting on a Savile Row suit. Ray Winstone is the mob boss who wants Farrell to come work for him, at any cost. And Keira Knightley plays an English actress best known for prestige roles in award-winning films where she gets sexually assaulted.

Monahan has fun with some of the more irreverent plot points, such as Knightley’s choice of roles, and the relentless nature of overseas paparazzi, and everyone delivers with top-shelf, A-grade performances, particularly Farrell and David Thewlis.

The problem is that “London Boulevard” doesn’t feel quite as fresh as its snazzy editing, retro soundtrack and stylized violence would suggest.

And the ending is straight out of “Layer Cake,” “Outrage: Way of the Yakuza” and so many other tough-guy flicks of late.

We get it – even good people who get involved with bad people aren’t always safe from reprisal. There are consequences for us all. Yeah, yeah, OK.

Color me disappointed.

Retreat (Sony, 90 minutes, R, DVD): Sometimes, you see a trailer for a movie and you think, Damn, they just showed the whole movie. Why do I want to watch that now?

But then you keep reading a lot of great buzz for the film, and you see websites bloggers, who are generally vicious and would give their own mothers a middling grade just for one continuity error, raving about the film, and you think, OK, I’ll give it a try.

And every so often, but not nearly often enough, that film just hits you between the eyes and slams a Size 10 boot in your butt, and you know you were wrong to have assumed the trailer gave everything away.

Carl Tibbetts’ debut, “Retreat,” is that kind of movie.

Essentially, a three-actor show, set on an isolated island with a lone cottage, “Retreat” is that rare, special film that slowly, slowly, slowly builds and builds and builds until it moves several chess pieces in succession that you were completely unprepared for, and you can’t do anything but sit there, smiling, nodding, knowing you’ve just been taken for a ride that you did not expect.

“Retreat” is also a film that’s next to impossible to review without spoiling those genuine surprises, so I won’t even try. Suffice to say, the three leads – Jaime Bell, Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton – are all on their game, especially Bell, who just gets better and better with each new project he takes on.

Tibbetts, who co-wrote the script, should immediately launch up your always evolving list of writer/directors to watch.

And “Retreat,” for fans of intelligent, truly surprising thrillers, should rocket up into the Top 5 on your Netflix queue. Go add it. Go on, I’ll wait.

The Fades: Season One (BBC, 338 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): It must be next to impossible to launch a new show these days.

With the Internet, and leaks and spoilers, and the massive tsunami of public opinion that can be shaped and molded against a show even before it premieres, it’s a wonder that we allow any new genre efforts to catch on and succeed.

Part of the problem, at least for American audiences, is that we like everything easily identifiable. We like our hero’s to wear white, our villains to wear black, and our plots to be linear and fairly easy to follow.

The beauty of British television, which is increasingly mixing into our pop culture arena, and slowly, but noticeably, influencing our own television programming, is that it doesn’t play by the same rules.

Some BBC shows move too fast, leaping from a quick introduction right into the heart of a dense mythology, in a way that’s next to impossible to follow, or appreciate. For me, an example of this would be “Primeval,” the British precursor to “Terra Nova,” which brought dinosaurs and wormholes into modern-day society about three seasons sooner.

I loved the concept, but the pilot was so fast-moving, so uneven and setting up so many subplots in such quick order that I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, much less keep up.

“Torchwood” is an example of a show that took its time to slowly roll out its massive universe, focusing on character development early, which made a ton of difference.

“The Fades” is the best British genre show to come along since “Torchwood.” It deftly combines coming-of-age and supernatural elements while hinting at something deeper, and darker – an ominous apocalyptic cloud of doom hanging in the not-so-distant future.

The pilot episode hooks you with a sharp script, some truly creepy sequences and an incredibly likable cast. Iain De Caestecker plays Paul, a high-school student with issues you don’t often see on TV – he’s living with his mom and sister (the hysterical Lily Loveless, with an accent and comic delivery to rival Adele), he frequently wets his bed and he’s plagued by nightmarish dreams of a world covered in ash. Paul’s best friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya, nailing the sidekick) is an aspiring horror filmmaker who uses nothing but film analogies to deal with everyday life.

One night, Paul and Mac sneak into an abandoned mall to look for props for Mac’s movie, and Paul witnesses an attack by a creature. The creature is a Fade, a spirit that has died but not passed on, and it is angry for being trapped in our world. This particular Fade has figured out how to actually touch the living, and he’s hellbent on opening a rift between the land of the living and the grey world of the Fades to let more angry dead souls cross over.

Paul may be society’s last and best hope for keeping the Fades contained. But he’s also awkward and stilted, unable to talk to girls and unclear about why he feels so screwed up. It’s a nice wrinkle on a familiar genre device to have the hero struggling just to be a normal teenager in addition to realizing he holds a larger purpose.

This is one show you should set your DVR to record, as it has already moved into a second season overseas. And you need to go out and get this two-disc set so you can get caught up.

“The Fades” is more than good TV. It’s Must-See TV.

Also Available:

Borgia: Faith and Fear Season One – Remember that Showtime series that followed “The Tudors,” and starred Jeremy Irons as a ruthless religious leader in Italy back in the late 14th century? It was called “The Borgias.” Well, forget that. Tom Fontana, the twisted soul who made male prison rape must-see TV on “Oz,” and gave you “St. Elsewhere” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” has created a new show that’s very similar, right down to its title, “Borgia: Faith and Fear.” And if you’re going to watch one show about a twisted pope acting like Don Corleone, this is the one.

Tower Heist – Eddie Murphy tries to rediscover his funny, Ben Stiller stars in a rare near-misstep, and Bret Ratner directs a so-so action-comedy that is more timely than it is good.

J. Edgar – Clint Eastwood takes on Hoover. Does J. Edgar feel lucky? I don’t think so.

Honey 2 – Yes, Virginia, someone really made a sequel to that Jessica Alba B-girl dance flick. Only this time, it stars Katerina Graham from “The Vampire Diaries.”

Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love and Death of a Punk Goddess – Indie documentary about Marian Anderson, punk musician, fetish model and lifestyle dominatrix who blazed a controversial path in the 1990s before her untimely death. Narrated by Henry Rollins.

Underdog: The Complete Collector’s Edition – Look, up in the sky! The classic cartoon from the 1960s gets the royal treatment with a nine-disc retrospective compiling all the adventures of Shoeshine Boy, aka Underdog, the dastardly Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff and the lovely Sweet Polly Purebred.

I Ain’t Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac – Career retrospective for the late comedian, featuring insight from many familiar, famous faces.

The Mighty Macs – It’s like “The Mighty Ducks,” but without hockey. And with Carla Gugino, one of the hottest women on the planet.

War of the Arrows – Historical Korean kung fu epic set in 1636.

Track 29 – Creepy, early Gary Oldman film from 1988 co-starring the sultry Theresa Russell and Christopher Lloyd.

Hazel: The Complete Second Season – More madcap domestic comedy with Shirley Booth.

Matlock: The Seventh Season – More courtroom drama with Andy Griffith.

The Son of No One – Al Pacino, slumming. Channing Tatum, doing his best wooden thing.

Weeds: Season Seven – The season where the action moves to New York.

Nurse Jackie: Season Three – The season where the nurse struggles with addiction. Wait, isn’t that every season?

Not to Be Overlooked:

Luther and Luther 2 – Excellent BBC procedural with darker storylines than you are used to and an incredible, award-winning turn by Idris Elba in the title role. Get both seasons, now out on DVD, to see what you’ve been missing.


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New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012

Posted Feb 25, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Feb 25, 2012 at 01:14 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Take Shelter
Genre: Thriller
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Run time: 121 minutes
Rating: R
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: When you watch the 2012 Academy Awards at the end of the month, just know this – one actor totally deserving of not only being nominated, but being a front runner to win, was completely robbed.

And that guy is Michael Shannon.

Shannon owns – and I mean OWNS – the screen from the first frame to the last second of Jeff Nichols’ absolutely astounding, completely unnerving thriller, “Take Shelter.”

Not since Billy Bob Thornton commanded the screen in “Sling Blade” has an actor so thoroughly dominated a film while saying less than 100 words, at best, for the better part of the first 60 to 70 minutes.

Shannon’s impact is rooted as much, if not more, in the way he clenches his jaw, averts his gaze and makes you feel the tight-lipped, no nonsense Midwestern influence that has molded his character, Curtis LaForche.

There are moments when you feel as if his entire face might crack open from the restraint he exerts to not show any emotion. In LaForche’s world, men don’t show much emotion. They get up, they work, they provide. He’s as salt of the Earth as a man can be.

But one day that quiet demeanor is rocked by an apocalyptic vision. And then, the dreams begin. Nightmarish, vivid dreams that linger long after he wakes with a frantic fright, his face sopping with sweat. He sees a storm coming, a storm that might literally wipe mankind off the planet. And he sees people driven mad by the storm, attacking him and his family.

The dreams intensify to the point that LaForche seeks medical help, then therapy. His family has a history of mental illness, his mother long locked away in a “home.”

After initially hiding the dreams and the treatment from his wife, the wonderful Jessica Chastain, completely an amazing acting feat having starred in four remarkable films in one year (including The Help, The Debt and The Tree of Life), he finally breaks down and shares the trouble he feels is coming.

To her credit, she doesn’t leave him. She supports him, but she demands that he show her some mutual respect and still try to assimilate in “normal” activities.

It’s at that exact moment, the most normal of community events, a pot luck supper where families sit side by side and break bread, that LaForche is literally pummeled into a corner and explodes with righteous anger.

Not since Samuel L. Jackson recited scripture in “Pulp Fiction” has a single soliloquy brought viewers to the edge of their couch, rapt with attention, unable to tear away from the power in Shannon’s voice and face.

It’s mesmerizing. Undeniably intense. And a moment of acting excellence unlike any you will see this year, or any other.

Nichols’ film might not have garnered the respect it deserved because it isn’t interested in delivering a big Hollywood explanation. The ending is terrifying in its simplicity, and confounding in its ambiguity.

But it delivers. Boy howdy, does it deliver. I sat speechless throughout the credits, listening to the ominous roll of thunder that punctuates the black screen.

Make no mistake – “Take Shelter” is one of the best films of 2011.

But it’s Michael Shannon’s movie.

And for his peers not to recognize this singular achievement is simply a crime.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes, but it’s not about that.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – None.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Commentary with director Nichols and star Shannon, Behind the Scenes featurette, Q&A with Shannon and co-star Shea Whigham, deleted scenes.
On the Web – http://www.facebook.com/takeshelter

The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence (IFC, 91 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): It’s like writer/director Tom Six set out to make the ultimate edition of Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse…and he completely, thoroughly succeeded.

That “The Human Centipede 2” succeeds as a solid B-grade horror spectacle is a testament to two factors, and neither of them has anything to do with the overflowing buckets of gore, dry-heave inducing shots of victims wallowing in human waste and sickening images of unspeakable human degradation at its most vile.

Six’s follow-up is a deconstruction of obsessive fandom, first and foremost.

Unlike the first film, which was in itself almost a parody, albeit a dirty, gory, fun parody, of a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein trying to create a twisted new life form, “Full Sequence” is shot entirely in black and white. The lack of color, or any warmth, consumes “Full Sequence,” rendering it cold and clinical, a case study in madness.

Six creates a completely Meta world where his main character, the despicable man-child Martin, watches “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” every day on his laptop computer while at work, longingly sketching in a book about the most minute details of Six’s fictional surgical nightmare. Martin even goes so far as to contact the star of Six’s first film, Ashlynn Yennie, and fools her publicist into booking Yennie for a fake audition for a Quentin Tarantino movie shooting in London.

Martin keeps a pet centipede in the squalid flat he shares with his mother, who blames Martin for reporting his father for sexually abusing him as a child. His mother speaks openly about wishing they both were dead, and even tries to kill her son one night. She forces her son to see a therapist who himself is a pederast, and instead of trying to help Martin, he keeps making unwanted, traumatizing advances. And she tries to provoke a skinhead neighbor into killing her son, constantly banging on the neighbor’s wall and blaming her son.

Such scenes typically would prompt some measure of sympathy. Not this time.

Martin responds to all these conflicting, overwhelming stimuli in a way that would send the PMRC marching down the street shouting “We told you so!” He goes on a vicious, brutal spree of attacking and kidnapping some victims and savagely executing others, like his mother. The ones he spares include Yennie, who spends a brief, unknowingly ironic sequence describing her fascination and disgust at having “played” a character kidnapped by a madman and surgically experimented on because she is a germaphobe.

Yennie and the others are taken to a warehouse where Martin, devoid of medical training, attempts to replicate the atrocities he has watched countless times in the movie “The Human Centipede.”

And that’s where Six really sticks it to the outspoken proponents and opponents of his first film, gleefully showing all the horrors he simply described the first time around. Those who complained he showed too much, really get more than they wanted. And those who complained he didn’t show enough, well, let’s say they get what they deserve too. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of poop flowing, and this time the camera does not turn away.

It’s pretty wretched and vile, and unlike even the most cringe-inducing torture porn, “Full Sequence” will truly test your ability to continue watching such evil acts unfold.

The second reason Six’s film works is the actor who plays Martin, Laurence R. Harvey, in his first and only screen role. Harvey never speaks throughout the entire film, other than a few unsettling giggles and a handful of frustrated or angry No No No’s uttered when a victim dies from his surgical efforts.

Harvey is like Peter Lorre and Rodney Dangerfield mashed together and shrunk down to a grossly obese five foot package of little more than bulging belly and bulging bug eyes and raspy asthmatic cough and greasy wisps of hair.

Harvey goes all in for his director, Six. He bares his body with zero shame, even going full frontal in two sequences that viewers will be unable to scrub from their memory banks.

It’s a fantastic performance, a creation of pure evil unlike any screen villain in recent memory. Martin is terrifying because there likely are real people like him in the real world, abused and stunted boys who grow up to be hen-pecked, shallow men susceptible to violent fantasies inspired by a campy horror film that was never meant to be taken seriously.

The Devil’s Rock (IFC, 86 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Paul Campion’s Nazi paranormal thriller “The Devil’s Rock” owes as much to “Hellboy” as “Judgment at Nuremberg.” It’s heavy on exposition, rife with grisly imagery and prone to long stretches of back and forth dialogue more fitting a somber examination of the Fuhrer’s very real fascination with the occult than a B movie about conjuring a succubi from Hell. Yet, it works.  The effects by Weta Workshop are top notch. The detail given to the various body parts that litter an isolated German stronghold on the eve of D-Day is meticulous. And the demon, when she fully manifests, is as alluring as she is evil. This one should rocket up your must-see list. It’s really good.

Paranormal Activity 3: Unrated Director’s Cut (Paramount, 94 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): The third found footage installment of the new Halloween franchise should not be nearly as good as it is, but somehow Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the writing/directing duo who made “Catfish,” create a terrifyingly claustrophobic world where any turn of the camera could reveal something that makes you leap out of your seat. Joost and Schulman utilize some of the most simple setups – a crawlspace alcove door, an oscillating fan, a Teddy Ruxpin doll, a bed sheet – to achieve maximum scares. The first “Paranormal Activity” was wildly successful but minimally scary. Most of the wow moments came at the end. The same was true for “Paranormal Activity 2,” which shifted the focus from Katie to her sister Kristi. The third installment, which is a prequel, and creates its own mythology through a box of old VHS cassette tapes, recorded when the sisters were very young, stretches the limits of believability by asking fans to accept that both girls would forget a harrowing, horrifying experience with a full-body poltergeist. But it also manages to be the creepiest film yet in the franchise – so creepy that I could hardly stand to watch the unrated Blu-Ray with added footage alone, and in the dark, because I wasn’t sure what more had been added that I had yet to see. Even the Blu-Ray extras, which include a series of home movies called Scare Montage, where one character tries to find clever ways to scare the other, was unsettling.  This one is a definite rental for occasional fans, and a must-buy for serious fans.

The Dead (Anchor Bay, 105 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Hailed as one of the best zombie films to be released recently, and the first to be shot entirely in Africa, the advance buzz for “The Dead,” the debut horror film by the Ford Brothers (Howard and Jonathan), was pretty exciting.  Unfortunately, the finished film relies too heavily on atmosphere and forgets to pour on the scares. It’s an OK zombie film, admirable for sticking to the blueprint established in the early works of George Romero – slow-shuffling flesh suits who overwhelm the surviving humans simply through sheer numbers – but it fails to generate much anxiety or unease. Part of the problem is the main characters’ reactions to the zombies, which range from indifference to annoyance. And part of the problem is that the Ford brothers don’t come up with anything too original to add to the genre. “The Dead” does a lot on a very small budget, and the added bonus of filming in such a foreign locale, one filled with its own inherent dangers, some more terrifying than zombies, at least to the filmmakers, adds artistic heft to the movie. Zombie fans will definitely want to check it out, just don’t expect to be blown away with action or innovation.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (New Video, 116 minutes, R, DVD): The sequel to the wildly successful South American action film, “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within” reunites many of the same performers for a second helping, this time telling tale ripe with corruption and behind the scenes intrigue. Director José Padilha is an expert at capturing close quarters combat, and he ratchets up the claustrophobia once his squad begins systematically eliminating the gangs that rule the slums. The team discovers that the most vicious criminals aren’t the ones running the streets, they’re the ones sitting in comfortable offices, either elected by popular vote or appointed through back-room deals.

Nude Nuns with Big Guns (Anchor Bay, 92 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): With a title like “Nude Nuns with Big Guns,” you either deliver on the promise with a literal representation, or you throw the audience such an unexpected curve ball that they totally forget they were expecting to see naked women shooting stuff.

“Nude Nuns” doesn’t have any curve balls up its sleeve, and while it has some nudity and does show some nuns running around shooting people, it’s a fairly flat attempt at making a vintage drive-in classic.

The biggest problem is the filmmaker’s decision to keep using certain film techniques, quick color dissolves with bold lettering to announce specific characters. It becomes distracting, and annoying.

There might have been an awesome B-movie to be made here. “Nude Nuns” is more oddity, than awesome. It’s perfectly enjoyable, it’s just not what you would expect to see given its title.

The Rum Diary (Sony, 120 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Confession time, I love Hunter S. Thompson. The man was fearless and reckless and unenviable for all his faults but still a bold, brazen original voice unlike any other in the past 50 years of slowly shrinking journalistic voices. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” remains one of my top-two favorite books of all time, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with “The Stand.” So, naturally, I love Johnny Depp playing Thompson, especially in the wonderful screwball acid trip of am adaptation directed by Terry Gilliam (sadly, his last good movie – Gilliam, not Depp).

It stands to reason that I would love Depp playing a character based on Thompson in “The Rum Diary,” which was Hunter’s first attempt at fiction, or complete fiction, albeit based on his very real true-life experience as a fledgling reporter in Puerto Rico.

And I did, mostly. “The Rum Diary” has moments of “Fear and Loathing” brilliance. Depp seems liberated, freed from the shackles of Captain Jack’s hair extensions and gold teeth, and he flits across the screen with manic energy, his voice affecting his Thompson tone from “Fear and Loathing,” but somehow not quite there, as if his vocal chords were babes yet to be drenched in booze and ravaged by smoke and ether and LSD.

The only quibble is that “The Rum Diary” feels like a series of moments looking for a better narrative thread to tie it all together. The film trips along on its own, internal groove, and it doesn’t seem terribly concerned if the audience comes along for the ride. That’s not to say that it doesn’t respect its viewers. It’s not some damn the torpedoes abomination like the “Twilight” films that openly mocks its fans by shilling out a crappy product and reveling in the knowledge that butts will be in seats regardless if it’s good or not.

No, “The Rum Diary,” much like its author, the late and great and gonzo one, just is, and in being so, it basically thumbs its nose at modern film conventions and just goes at its own pace. You either like it, or you don’t, which is very fitting for the source material, and the man.

Also Available:

The Debt – The original, 2007 Israeli film about a trio of Mossad agents hunting a German war criminal that inspired last year’s remake with Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington.

Mama, I Want to Sing – The second film, and first in five years, to star pop singer Cierra.

VIPS – The real-life, Brazilian “Catch Me If You Can.”

Jem and the Holograms: Season Two – Fresh off the complete series being released late last year, Shout! Factory is putting nice, deluxe volumes of each individual season.

Storage Wars, Volume 2 – This show is insanely addictive, if only because you want one of the main characters to find something truly startling, like a storage locker with a preserved body or something equally gruesome.

All Things Fall Apart – Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson goes method, mimics Christian Bale in “The Machinist.”

The Mortician – Method Man, of the Wu-Tang Clan, headlines this horror film about a mortician, duh, who suddenly has a corpse come to life.

Dr. Who: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe – The 2011 BBC Christmas special featuring Doctor Who, which has become a regular tradition since 2005, plays off C. S. Lewis’s classic children’s fantasy, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It’s not the best Doctor Who Christmas special ever, but it’s very well done.

Dr. Who:  The Sensorites – Very, very early adventure featuring William Hartnell as the very first Doctor.

Dr. Who: The Caves of Androzani – Classic Who featuring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor.

All Quiet On The Western Front – Winner of two Oscars, and widely considered one of the best movies ever made, especially about war, this 1930 classic gets the deluxe, hardbook-bound treatment by Universal Studios as part of the company’s 100th Anniversary promotion.


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New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012

Posted Feb 11, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Feb 11, 2012 at 01:00 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Stormhouse
Genre: Paranormal Horror
Directed by: Dan Turner
Run time: 88 minutes
Rating: R
Format: DVD

The Lowdown: “Stormhouse” is a surprisingly effective British paranormal thriller that is worth your time to seek out. The filmmakers will be glad you did, even though they and the creative marketing team tried their best to discourage you from watching their little ghost movie.

You wouldn’t know that “Stormhouse” is a seriously creepy spook story by looking at the ridiculous DVD box cover art, which does absolutely nothing to whet viewer appetites by putting two unknown actors’ faces on the cover with a shadow figure standing behind them.

The back art is even worse. Someone actually took the time to insert a tornado funnel cloud onto an image pulled from the film where the military and scientific crew is standing inside a tunnel grate looking out at a fenced containment area.

This person obviously had not watched “Stormhouse” because the damn movie has nothing to do with the weather! It’s about a secret British, underground military facility named Stormhouse where a government team has managed to capture a paranormal entity.

Being the government, they think they can possibly use the entity as a weapon against Muslim extremists. Oh, this is a key plot point because the film is set in 2002 just weeks prior to the start of U.S. invasion of Iraq. And, supposedly, “Stormhouse” is based, in part, on actual events.

Once you actually start watching the film, you still have to overcome a few other obstacles before you can comfortably sit back and enjoy the show.

For one, the would-be “ghost whisperer” that the military brings in to coax its ghost into activity looks and dresses like a hippie college student who would rather be baking marijuana brownies. It’s near impossible to take her seriously for the first 20 minutes or so because the film offers no introduction, no set-up to her arrival at Stormhouse.

Once the ghost whisperer makes it down below, nine levels underground, the film course-corrects and starts taking itself seriously. And the scenes inside the fenced containment area are effectively creepy as hell, with solid use of light and shadow to create ominous imagery.

You can tell “Stormhouse” was produced on a low budget. Each shot is framed just so to maximize its surroundings, whether inside the cafeteria mess hall, the cramped living areas or the main control room. It looks like the crew took over a high school and transformed it into an underground facility. Somehow, it works. The containment area, with its 10-foot fences and loops of razor wire, is particularly well-done.

So as not to oversell “Stormhouse,” I will remind you, again, that this is a low-budget, indie production, but one done with thought and actual concern for the craft of filmmaking.

There are some decent, gory effects employed. A few scenes that actually make the hairs on the back of your neck prick up. And a really nice twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.

Check it out.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – One, yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes, a couple of effective scenes
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Duh, the military, man, who else.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas: Extra Dope Edition (Warner Bros., 96 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Many people have tried over the years to craft the perfect stoner movie experience. Many have failed. Only a handful – “Half Baked,” “Pineapple Express,” maybe “How High” – really registered a mild to mellow to excellent buzz.

Back in 2004, with the release of “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” stoner-movie champions banged loud and long on their bongs, proclaiming the film to be the top tier of wacky weed hysterics.

I didn’t like it. At all. In fact, I won’t even watch it in reruns on cable. I didn’t get the humor, it felt forced and even the odd but awesome against-type, stunt casting of Neil Patrick Harris didn’t salvage the film for me.

Four years later, the pothead pals returned with “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.” I never saw it. Still haven’t.

How weird it is then to find myself about to write the following words: “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas,” at least the ‘Extra Dope’ extended version I watched, complete with claymation shout-out to the old Christmas specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” another hysterical star turn by NPH, a seriously funny sequence inside a crime lord’s teenage daughter’s holiday soiree, with beer pong and sexual innuendos aplenty, is a fantastically funny, uproariously enjoyable romp that, indeed, qualifies to become regaled as a stoner comedy classic.

Puff, puff, but don’t pass this one by.

Yakuza Weapon (Well Go USA, 106 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): “Yakuza Weapon” is like a big, bloody comic book filled with absurd panels that come together to form some insane patchwork quilt of carnage. You will love it if you have ever turned on a movie like “Robo-Geisha” and found it impossible to turn off. Be warned, though – “Yakuza” isn’t as good, in my opinion, as “Versus,” which was an unexpected rare gem of a find when it first appeared. A lot of the same people involved helped helm both movies, but “Versus” actually was a little more linear, as nutty as it is to say. But if you like spurting geysers of blood, hacked off limbs, odd inanimate weapons inserted into bloody stumps and ridiculous plot twists, then this is a flick you need to see. 

Also Available:

3 – The director of “Run Lola Run” turns to an erotic comedy in this take on Ménage à trios.

Metal Shifters – Low-budget Syfy Channel take on “Transformers.”

Anonymous – Roland Emmerich does not blow up the Earth, just history and the Bard.

Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season – Tom Bosley, as a priest detective. Hey, you believed Fonzi was a teenager.

Project Nim – Real-life Planet of the Apes.

C.S.I.: Grave Danger – Quentin Tarantino’s two-part “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation” episode where he buried George Eads alive. It was good then, it’s good now.

Fireflies in the Garden – Julia Roberts and Ryan Reynolds in a direct-to-DVD dramedy.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Season Two – The continuing adventures of Rocko, Spunky and Heffer. You’re welcome.

Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred – I’m all for Internet sensations, but I don’t get this whole character created by Lucas Cruikshank. WWE fans will be happy to know John Cena is in the house, though.

The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall – It’s the 25th anniversary celebration concert.

Lady and the Tramp – One of Disney’s all-time classics makes it first appearance on Blu-Ray. Hooray!

The Hour – This crackling good BBC miniseries is as good as “State of Play,” and now it’s in high definition.

Ocean Heaven – Remember when Sylvester Stallone decided to try something other than action movies, and he made “Rhinestone” with Dolly Parton? This is nowhere near the trainwreck that Stallone singing country music was, but it is Jet Li’s first time acting without kicking the snot out of people, and some fans may feel light-headed and confused.

Police Woman: The Second Season – I’ll let Tori Amos take this one away: “But now I’m wishing/For my best impression/Of my best Angie Dickinson/But now I’ve got to worry
Cause boy you still look pretty/When you’re putting the damage on.”

The Rebound – Justin Bartha stars in a movie where he doesn’t get locked on a roof and miss huge chunks of screen time. And he gets to rub up on Catherine Zeta-Jones.


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New Releases for Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012

Posted Feb 4, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Feb 4, 2012 at 01:25 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Dead Hooker in a Trunk
Genre: Grindhouse/Independent
Directed by: The Soska Sisters
Run time: 89 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: DVD

The Lowdown: Here’s the deal, genre fans. When a shoestring-budget, DIY-production comes along, and it’s written and directed by two hot twin sisters and it’s filled with gore and gags and it’s called “Dead Hooker in a Trunk,” we are practically obligated to champion the movie.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be honest, too.

And, so, here’s the honest truth: “Dead Hooker in a Trunk,”  the debut feature from Jen and Sylvia Soska, is a lot like “Machete” and not enough like “Death Proof,” and at moments when you want it to boldly launch into the rarified air of “Army of Darkness,” it mostly hits just above “Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds,” which is not a slam by any means.

What does that mean? That means it has moments of goodness but overall it’s not the movie you want and hope it’s going to be. “Dead Hooker” is a fun movie, but it’s not a great movie. And that’s OK. This is their first try, let’s give them a little time and see what follows. Even John Carpenter gave us “Assault on Precinct 13” before “Halloween,” and I really like “Precinct 13.”

The Soska sisters try to do too much, which is a commendable criticism because it shows their eagerness and enthusiasm. It’s like running your first marathon. After training forever, you often forget to pace yourself and you just burst out of the gate, giving it all you’ve got, forgetting the miles to go before the finish line.

“Dead Hooker” feels like a sprint at times. It’s disjointed, uneven and wildly erratic – like a first feature often is. Ideas are introduced – one of the sisters’ arms bursts into flame upon entering a church – but not followed up on in a way that makes much sense. Major characters endure vicious injuries that should incapacitate them, but they manage to walk away with little more than a band-aid solution.

Some of this is intentional, of course. The sisters are mining the Drive-In genre, after all. There are no established rules for life, death and personal injury. Just look at a Roger Corman picture. 

These moments of inspired lunacy are meant to be regarded as cool and subversive, not fact-based and realistic.

But there should be a more cohesive story backing up the action, and honestly, it’s pretty difficult to follow. There are these guys, and they hurt people, and they end up following the sisters and their friends, hurting them and tormenting them until the tables get turned.

Where the girls get major props is in the creatively department. They accomplish a lot with a little when it comes to special effects, and they manage to hit upon several Holy Crap! moments that completely catch you off guard, which is awesome.

This is a disc that you need to go out and buy immediately for two reasons: We need to support and champion filmmakers like Jen and Sylvia Soska. These women are the future of genre films. Not just them, of course, but creative folks like them. Filmmakers who have the guts to take the chance and put themselves out there and say here’s my art, deal with it.

Secondly, years from now, I predict that “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” will be regarded as a gory, fun entry in a long list of well-regarded and revered films, an early harbinger of the types of projects that would define a career.

And you can say, I knew them when and I’ve been a fan all along.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Hoodie-wearing, baseball bat-wielding hoodlums who like to inflict pain.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
On the Web – http://www.deadhookerinatrunk.com/

Drive (Sony, 100 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): That there are people out there who fully and vocally loathe Nicolas Winding Refn’s amazing deconstruction of tough guy action movies is simply shocking to me.

“Drive” is the definition of square-jawed cool. It’s a 5-hour energy shot of testosterone. It’s a masterpiece of precision filmmaking where every frame, every line of dialogue, every musical cue means something.

So what if we never learn anything about Ryan Gosling’s character, not even his name. He says more by just twirling a matchstick between his teeth than most actors says with an extended soliloquy. And when he erupts, he goes off like you always imagined you would go off if put in a movie-like situation where you had one chance to be the badass you always envisioned yourself to be.

This is one of the best films of 2011, an instant genre classic, and a film that years from now will be revered as a masterpiece, in my humble opinion.

In Time (Fox, 109 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): I hate to consider it, but it’s looking more and more like writer/director Andrew Niccol may forever be a two-hit wonder, having scripted the wonderful “The Truman Show” and written and directed the delightful slice of sci-fi, “Gattaca.”

I sincerely doubt that his selection as the helmer of the Next Big Thing from author Stephanie Meyer, aka “The Host,” is going to be anything too special. Meyer is responsible for the Twilight series, after all, and seems to know little about actual story craft. Hell, her damn book basically exposed all the things that you wish you could forgive about Catherine Hardwicke’s style but can never now overlook.

“In Time” is a perfect example. Niccol’s latest film, which has to have one of the best looking casts in ages – Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde and Matt Bomer – is a mess. A big, loud, time-sucking mess. The irony of course is that Niccol’s film is all about the precious nature of time, and how it should not be taken for granted or wasted. And he basically blows two hours on a project that completely jumps the shark midway through.

It’s a shame too. Timberlake is good here, better than he was in “Bad Teacher,” and Seyfried is unbelievably sexy with her straight bangs and pouty lips. The real star is Bomer, who just smolders during his brief screen time. Someone give that guy a chance to top-line an action movie or thriller. Even Murphy is better than he should be in the type of clichéd role that usually goes to someone like Willem Dafoe.

Niccol has an interesting idea, but he fails to develop it fully, and before long, he boxes himself into a straight B-grade action corner where logic goes bye-bye and he has to completely ignore, and not explain, how two people in a convertible could survive a horrendous, off a cliff, flipping car crash and not be dead.

That moment comes about 45 minutes in, and that’s exactly where I checked out.

The Thing (Universal, 103 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): As a prequel to John Carpenter’s far superior, nay classic, remake of the Howard Hawks-produced original, “The Thing” does nothing to distinguish itself or establish its own universe to populate with original ideas or even creative explorations of the rules that were established in his 1982 movie. As a remake of Carpenter’s film, the 2011 version is completely unnecessary. 

Dream House (Universal, 92 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Eleven years after “What Lies Beneath” gave away the store in its theatrical trailer, “Dream House” went and did the same thing, throwing the only legitimate surprise in its bag out for all to see, and spoiling the most interesting aspect of an otherwise forgettable thriller. Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz looks lost, Oscar-winning director Jim Sheridan forgets everything he ever learned about pacing and the story just meanders along with no tether to keep us invested. It’s not the worst movie ever made. Just one of the least memorable.

The Other F Word (Oscilloscope Pictures, 98 minutes, Unrated, DVD): A wonderful, touching, highly enjoyable documentary about aging punk rockers who have been forced to re-evaluate their lives once they had children. “The Other F Word” is filled with genuinely funny moments as some of the biggest names in punk and post-punk, from Jim Lindberg of Pennywise, Mark Hoppus of blink-182 and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers share insight into their lives and how their own fathers shaped the kind of Dads they wanted to be. The film tackles challenging issues – like how a guy who screamed screw authority for years from stage might have to conform to meet the expectations of a society he raged against in order to provide the best life possible for his baby girl or boy. Unlike many documentaries, director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins finds a narrative thread that helps to keep the film chugging along. She follows Lindberg on tour for the last time with Pennywise, as he struggles with his obligations to his band and the responsibility he feels he is neglecting at home. It’s a touching story and it provides exactly the right moral compass for the film.

Outrage: Way of the Yakuza (Magnet/Magnolia, 109 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Director Takeshi Kitano returns with a vicious, bloody, brutal allegory about loyalty, tradition, honor and corruption. Kitano contrasts the ways of the old-guard yakuza with the less disciplined rising generation, managing to show that no matter what side one falls on, life as a gangster is fated to end painfully and suddenly in a blistering hail of bullets or with the savage thrust of a blade.

Spiderhole (IFC, 82 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Writer/director Daniel Simpson clearly appreciates the aesthetic and the shock value of films like “Hostel” and “Saw,” but he fails to find anything fresh to contribute to the genre with “Spiderhole,” an exercise in tedium about four friends who decide to squat in a supposedly abandoned house that, naturally, is still populated by a madman with a secret medical laboratory.

Texas Killing Fields (Anchor Bay, 105 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): At first, you wonder why a film starring such popular acting heavyweights as Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain and Chloë Grace Moretz went straight to DVD. Then you get about 30 minutes into “Texas Killing Fields” and it makes sense. This would-be gritty, Texas-tinged slice of serial killing goodness wants to be “Se7en” or “Zodiac,” but it keeps tripping over its best intentions, creating a muddy mess of red herrings and ominous overtures that go nowhere and are never fully fleshed out.

Night Train Murders (Blue Underground, 94 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): It’s time, once again, to credit Blue Underground with dusting off another long lost genre classic and upgrading it to high-definition to remind older fans how films used to model themselves after one another but still managed to make an indelible impression all their own.

“Night Train Murders,” the once-banned Italian shocker, also known as “Last Stop on the Night Train,” and unofficially as the sequel to Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left,” is a delicious slice of sadistic sexual subversion, rape and revenge.

Director Aldo Lado’s 1975 flick, which features a beguiling score by Ennio Morricone, nicely builds tension and toys with society’s acceptance of overtly sexual behavior and quasi-closeted fetishism until it climaxes in an unnerving, unforgiving orgy of violence and depravity.

And that’s just the first two acts.

“Night Train,” honestly, is better than Craven’s “Last House.” Technically, it’s a better made film, for sure. The acting is more consistent, the story hues to many of the same themes but explores them in different ways and the sexual assaults are more unsettling, if that’s even possible.

If you haven’t ever seen it, or even heard of it, like me, then you owe it to yourself to seek it out.

Also Available:

Spork – Think Napoleon Dynamite as a 13-year-old girl.

To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition – A gorgeous hardbacked Digibook with photos, essays and more to commemorate one of the all-time great films. 

The Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection – Finally, the full collection of short films by some of Britain’s best and most inventive comics comes together in a nine-disc boxed set. If you loved “The Young Ones” or “Absolutely Fabulous,” you won’t want to miss this chance to see some of the same stars making early, edgy steps toward comedic greatness.

Monsignor – A guilty pleasure from 1983 that ranks as one of the late Christopher Reeves’ best cheesy roles, right up there with “Somewhere in Time.”

Chalet Girl – Why is Bill Nighy in this movie? Seriously.

The Double – Another entry into the Give Away the Whole Movie in the Trailer genre.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Next Level – It’s dubbed “A Taste of TNG in High Definition,” and that’s exactly what this three-episode teaser is, a taste of what fans can expect later this year when the entire series rolls out on Blu-Ray.

Thunder Soul – A funky documentary about a high school music teacher who inspired his students to greatness.

Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Cold Mountain, The Piano, Frida – Beloved classics get the high-definition upgrade.

Hey Dude: Season 2 – Second season of the popular Nickelodeon series.

The Big Year – It’s really saying something when a new comedy starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson falls flat, but this one sure does.

Annie Hall, Manhattan, Notorious, Rebecca, Spellbound, The Apartment – MGM rolls out some of the best films by icons Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Billy Wilder.

Not to Be Overlooked:

Undocumented (IFC, 96 minutes, Unrated, DVD): There’s half of “Undocumented” that really works well as a contemporary thriller that plays off the timeliness of America’s ongoing debate about illegal immigration. Filmed in a documentary, handheld style, the first 30 minutes or so are intense, unsettling and claustrophobic.

But director Chris Peckover gets a little too ambitious when he introduces a Tea Party-esque band of domestic Patriots who have fun capturing border-crossing Mexicans and subjecting them to unspeakable torture, death and indentured servitude.

Peckover has the right intentions, though. He nails several scenes, particularly a chilling history test where an undocumented illegal who doesn’t speak English is asked a series of questions from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Self-Test. For each correct answer, the man’s wife will have a limb unlocked from a torture rack. Every wrong answer means the rack will be tightened to the point of possibly ripping her apart.

Such moments sprinkled throughout make “Undocumented” an interesting watch, even if it coasts along for too long on images and ideas we’ve seen before.


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