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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, June 19, 2012

Posted Jun 29, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 29, 2012 at 07:58 PM

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

Exit Humanity
Genre: Horror/Western
Directed by: John Geddes
Run time: 114 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: DVD

The Lowdown: Surprises for horror fans come in all shapes and titles.

Sometimes, it’s a performance in an otherwise forgettable B-movie that really stands out. Or incredibly resourceful special effects on a seemingly low budget. Or a script that’s so smart, it deserves better than the young actors trying desperately to do it justice.

Sometimes, it’s an entire film, like “Exit Humanity,” which is – in a nutshell – the “Dances With Wolves” of zombie films.

The latest title in the ‘Bloody Disgusting Selects’ series gets right back on track with the best the franchise has offered so far, and exceeds the prior titles in every way.

Set just after the Civil War, “Exit Humanity” is a sweeping epic, deftly mixing history and animation and live-action in a heady, intoxicating brew that, more than any other B-movie in recent memory, save “The Grey,” seems as much, if not more, concerned with character development as action.

Is it a perfect film? No, but the flaws that do appear over its nearly two-hour run time are slight, and forgivable, and they don’t detract from the genuine emotion and surprisingly top-notch acting that elevate a really good screenplay to near greatness in moments when it really counts.

“Exit Humanity” tells the story of Edward Young, a military soldier who sees his first taste of the undead on the battlefield. Upon returning home, the horror of war is replaced with simply horror, as the undead scourge claims both his wife, and young son.

Young finds himself at a crossroads, left with nothing but loss, his own humanity ripped from his chest. He makes a pact to live long enough to carry his son’s ashes to a special place far from home, a pristine waterfall that he had promised to one day take his boy.

On his journey, Young becomes an undead killing machine, consumed with rage. When he finally meets another survivor, he confesses to the emptiness in his soul, even as the man, another former soldier, asks for help rescuing his sister from a rogue military outfit who are hellbent on finding a cure for the zombie affliction by forcing uninfected settlers to be bitten to see if they are immune.

Bill Moseley plays the general leading those troops, and here, in “Exit Humanity,” he finds a role meaty enough to flex his true abilities, the ones he displayed so memorably in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” and “The Devil’s Rejects.” Moseley is always a hoot to watch, but he rarely gets offered the chance to do more than be Crazy Bill.

I fell madly, deeply under the spell of this film, its story, the complex human process at its core. Like I said, it’s not without its flaws. But rare is the zombie movie, or any direct-to-DVD horror movie, with this much heart, with so much to say.

One of the most surprising things about “Exit Humanity” are the people behind the scenes. Writer-director John Geddes is also a producer and actor, who most recently appeared in and produced the God-awful “Monster Brawl,” a low-budget miscue that confounded and frustrated instead of offering up gory, deathmatch monster awesomeness.

I savaged “Monster Brawl” a week ago, and yet here I am now, telling you that Geddes had greatness in store. He’s one to watch in the future. But until then, his fine Civil War zombie epic is one to watch right now.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Another horror film that positions its creatures in the grey area, neither absolute monster nor misunderstood mistake.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
On the Web – http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/selects/

Wanderlust (Universal, 98 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Some comedies, the really smart ones, sneak up on you with unsuspecting glee. Everything about “Wanderlust,” from its television marketing to its low-fi advertising materials, left me feeling lukewarm.

Not even director David Wain, who also shot the hysterical “Role Models” and the cult classic masterpiece “Wet Hot American Summer,” seemed capable of rescuing what looked like on the surface to be a generic, mid-level comedy starring actors (Paul Rudd, Jennifer Anniston) who probably signed on for an altogether different experience.

How wonderful is to report that “Wanderlust” stands up there with some of the best subversive comedies of the past several decades, movies like “Funny Farm” and “Groundhog Day” and “Step Brothers” that take ordinary situations, infuse them with absurd twists and wholly formed supporting characters, and then allow their leads to truly shine.

“Wanderlust” is both topical and irreverent in telling the story of George and Linda, the prototypical, uptight New York couple hit hard by the economic recession who are thrust into a foreign environment and suddenly find themselves switching roles, only to discover their true selves.

Rudd really goes for broke with George, masterfully using all of his best attributes to create a whole person. He plays dumb and sweet and naïve, jealous and resentful and brooding and manically unhinged to perfection, culminating with two standout scenes that manage to be both uproariously raunchy and real without ever pandering to the Adam Sandler school of gross and juvenile.

Cat Run (Universal, 106 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): As an actor, John Stockwell was a rising young star who seemed to be on track to become a household name. But his star appeal inexplicably went dim after a great turn in “Christine,” the John Carpenter adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel, that few fans remember when name checking Carpenter’s best films.

Stockwell turned to directing, but since he began working steadily behind the camera in 2001, he has failed to find a voice or a project to show if he actually has any talent.

With “Cat Run,” a mess of an action-comedy-coming of age thriller, he seems to left all of his common sense buried deep in the water-logged sets of “Into the Blue.”

Not even Janet McTeer, fresh off of an Oscar nomination for “Albert Nobbes,” playing a frumpy British assassin, in the kind of role that only exists in Hollywood, can help save “Cat Run” from becoming a loud, unfunny, boring slog.

In one of the strangest decisions I’ve seen by a director in some time, Stockwell seems more interested in announcing every single character with a freeze-frame cue card, complete with silly factoids, the type of amateur effect over-utilized in cheap, throwaway movies produced solely for the tax write-off.

It’s repetitive and dumb and totally annoying.

Project X (Warner Bros., 88 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Produced by Todd Phillips, the director behind some of the best R-rated comedies in the past 12 years, “Project X” turns the found-footage genre into a sizzle reel for “Girls Gone Wild,” presenting an over-the-top high school party that gets so out of control an entire neighborhood is nearly burned to the ground.

There is gratuitous nudity, gratuitous drug use, inhumane treatment of animals and inhumane treatment of dwarfs, but none of it is really that funny.

That’s a big problem.

What’s worse is that not a single cliché – from the trite boy releases his best girl friend is actually the love of his life love story to the epic quest by quick-witted nerds to score with hot chicks to the stern parental warning – is overlooked or ruled out. They’re all major plot points in a movie that just grows increasingly louder and more ridiculous to the point that 88 minutes becomes an insufferable life sentence in a third-world hellhole of a jail for a crime that you didn’t commit. The crime is being perpetrated on you, the viewer.

And there’s no early release from watching for good behavior.

The FP (Image Entertainment, 83 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Anyone who knows the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX, knows those guys have a serious soft spot. They worship great films. They champion awesomely bad movies. They commission amazing original posters to present their favorite flicks in museum-quality art.

And now they’re making their own features.

One of the first is “The FP,” a hilariously earnest homage to the long-lost genre staple of the 1980s – the redemption epic.

You know the kind of movie I’m describing. It’s everything from “The Last Starfighter” to “The Karate Kid” to “Tuff Turf” and “Vison Quest.” It’s the quintessential story of an outsider who has to overcome all the odds to right a wrong, avenge a death, get the girl. It’s training montages and epic battles and silly back and forth dialogue about the capacity of the human spirit to endure and excel and become the best one can be.

Only here, in the warped universe dreamed up by a bunch of movie geeks so smart they get gold stars just for sharing their vision with us, it’s about being the best videogame “Beat-Beat-Revolution” dancer that you can be to finally vanquish the local punks and escape the one-horse, one stoplight, end of the world small town that only exists in the movies.

Did I mention there’s not one, but two training montages? And all the actors speak in a what-the-hell mishmash of urban speak so ridiculous and politically incorrect that they somehow manage to keep straight faces while calling each other by their “Beat-Beat-Revolution” gamer names, JTRO and BTRO and KCDC?

“The FP” really must be seen to be appreciated. A guaranteed cult classic.

Seeking Justice (Anchor Bay, 105 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Another week, another Nicolas Cage direct-to-DVD release.

The good news is that “Chasing Justice” is better than “Trespass” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” The bad news, it’s still not a great flick.

In fact, I liked “Chasing Justice” much better three years ago when it came packaged as the wickedly underappreciated Kevin Bacon vigilante thriller, “Death Sentence.”

Cage plays a school teacher whose wife, played by the immeasurably hot January Jones, is raped by a sex offender. Before the cops have even had time to try to figure out who perpetrated the crime, Cage is approached by Guy Pearce in the hospital offering to ‘take care of’ the man who committed the brutal rape and beating.

Cage agrees – otherwise there would be no movie – and suddenly he’s being asked to return the favor by killing another sex offender, this one allegedly a child pederast.

Very little makes sense in “Chasing Justice,” and the big twist, the identity of the person who provided Pearce with Cage’s circumstance, is done pretty poorly.

There’s a lot of back and forth angst, a few good scenes of Cage agonizing over his decision and a neat and tidy denouement that completely removes any responsibility or police involvement.

“Chasing Justice” is entertaining, but it’s yet another sign that Cage is basically taking any role he is offered in order to continue paying off his massive IRS debt.

The Sarah Silverman Program: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, 850 minutes, Unrated, DVD): For three seasons, starting in 2010, Comedy Central took a chance on an edgy, absurd, completely incorrect sitcom starring Silverman, the queen of uncomfortable, overtly racist, WASP-y humor.

The show was ahead of its time and uproariously funny. And no major network would ever have given the greenlight to this kind of humor.

Silverman plays an over-the-top version of herself, basically the most self-centered, selfish, unlikable lead character ever to take center stage. And she nails it.

The show deftly mixed situation comedy, fantasy sequences and random bursts of original song, and in doing so, basically dared people to complain.

Don’t believe me? Check out the synopsis for Episode 3 of the first season, which found Sarah waking up with a case of the Blahs. To cheer herself up, she decides to go get an HIV test, but discovers upon sitting down to have blood drawn that she has basically hit every risk factor associated with the terrible disease.

Then she goes to meet her sister and friends, completely upstaging her sister’s plans to throw a birthday party for her boyfriend, by announcing that she has AIDS and is near death. In a matter of a few hours, while waiting for her results, Sarah empties out her sister’s bank account to pay to set up an AIDS Awareness charity that basically promotes Sarah as the poster child for HIV.

AIDS is a tricky topic to mine for laughs, but the humor here is genuine and real because it’s so outrageous and so perfectly played.

“The Sarah Silverman Program” never achieved the kind of mass market acceptance that would have guaranteed long-term success, but it still stands as one of the brightest and most subversive half-hour comedies to ever air.

Also Available:

A Bag of Hammers – Low-key comedy about a pair of brothers who steal cars through a fake valet parking service. It’s quirky and entertaining despite an awful title that might keep many people from checking it out.

Newsies – Christian Bale, singing. Huh?

Evita – Don’t cry for Madonna. She’s still rich.

Reel Love

Web Therapy: The Complete First Season – Lisa Kudrow, we love you.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home – Jason Segel, doing his funny slacker thing.

Power Rangers Samurai: The Team Unites and Power Rangers Samurai: A New Enemy – Go on, watch, we won’t tell.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea – Kris Kristofferson in an edgy, dark slice of 1970s cinema that would never be released today.

Down for the Count – More MMA mayhem.

Big Miracle – It’s the movie about whales with Drew Barrymore. Yeah, me either.

The Legend of Hell’s Gate

John Mellencamp: It’s About You – Portrait of the artist as an angry middle-aged poet for his generation.

The Hidden Blade

Franklin and Bash: The Complete First Season

Radio Rebel

Louie: The Complete Second Season – The best comedy on TV that you aren’t currently watching.

Wilfred: The Complete First Season

House of Payne: Volume 9 – It’s amazing how much I loathe Tyler Perry.

Not to be Overlooked:

Red Scorpion (Synapse Films, 106 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): This cult classic 1989 testosterone-fest is way better than you might think.

Featuring a post-“Rocky IV,” pre-“Masters of the Universe” Dolph Lundgren, and directed by Joseph Zito, the genre director responsible for everything from “Missing in Action,” “The Prowler,” and “Friday the 13th The Final Chapter,” there’s so much to enjoy here that it’s crazy to me that “Red Scorpion” is just now getting a proper Blu-Ray release.

Lundgren plays a Russian soldier who parachutes into war-torn Africa to extract a militia leader. Mayhem ensues, including some pretty spectacular stuntwork that Lundgren did mostly on his own.

The amazing thing about “Red Scorpion,” besides how good it has held up over the years (seriously, this thing rivals “Rambo: First Blood Part II” for carnage), is what a great job Lundgren did in the title role and how his potential action superstar status was sadly undermined by a string of poor choices (“The Punisher,” anyone?) that weren’t entirely his fault.


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New Releases for Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Posted Jun 16, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 16, 2012 at 07:10 PM

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

Monster Brawl
Genre: Action/Horror/Comedy
Directed by: Jesse T. Cook
Run time: 89 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: There’s a fine line between ridiculous camp and awesome drive-in cheese, and it’s apparently a really, really fine line that often can’t be traversed.

Troma Films for years has practically written the manual on how to produce unbelievably stupid movies that can’t help but entertain because they still resemble real movies with an actual plot and some semblance of structure. Really, how else could a flick like “The Toxic Avenger,” about a 90-pound weakling transformed into a grotesque but lovable vigilante, become a cult classic and spawn multiple sequels?

“Monster Brawl,” the second feature to be written and directed by Jesse T. Cook, starts off promising, at least through the opening credits. Then it all goes to hell.
But the initial promise is so tantalizing, the idea that someone has gathered together eight of the world’s greatest monsters to compete in a battle to the death for supremacy, that you can’t help but keep watching – for 30 minutes or so until it just becomes too much to endure.

The problem here is that Cook squanders a completely great premise by failing to come up with a good story to wrap around the bloody battle carnage between the monsters.

Cook obviously is enamored with professional wrestling, and he frames his epic battle within the structure of a pay-per-view event akin to Wrestlemania. That means we get extended back stories conceived as vignette packages about each fighter, which tell how each monster was picked to compete.

The actual fights are entertaining enough but not so over the top that they really thrill. This is a battle to the death! There should be mega violence instead of a few high suplexes and neck breakers.

Worse, the first two fights utilize the same finishing move. Epic fail.

The death knell of “Monster Brawl,” though, is the incredibly long, draggy stretches between bouts. Poor Dave Foley, so great in The Kids in the Hall, is stranded on an island surrounded by piranha and the stilted, generic announcer-speak he’s given to recite sounds like the dying words of a man about to swim out into the abyss to become dinner.

Seriously, I hate to repeat myself, but a movie about monsters fighting to the death should be anything but boring.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – You will experience the gore first hand when you claw your eyes out watching this train wreck.
Drug use – You should take drugs in order to make this more enjoyable.
Bad Guys/Killers – They’re all killers, the monsters gathered here, but the true death is the 89 minutes you lose watching this mess.
Buy/Rent – Neither.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Commentary, Featurette, Outtakes of Jimmy Hart being, well, Jimmy Hart, the Mouth of the South, which was much funnier when you were in eighth grade and still thought pro wrestling was real.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Sony, 96 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Take heart, Ghost Rider fans. There is some good news to be found in this sequel to the 2007 abomination that was the original film.

“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is a better Ghost Rider movie.

The bad news is that it’s just not a very good movie overall.

Co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have never been accused of being overly mature in their approach to filmmaking. Anyone who has watched either of their “Crank” films can attest to that.

However, Neveldine and Taylor also appear to have no internal governor, so anything that fancies and delights their inner-8-year-old is likely to make the leap from drunken idea to cinematic recreation. That’s the only way to explain or justify having to watch Nicolas Cage, as Ghost Rider, pee fire.

Thankfully, the directing duo managed to fix most of the truly offensive elements from the first go-round, namely the appearance of Ghost Rider and his voice.

Sadly, they forgot to draft a compelling story to plop the fiery one into.

And by the third act, the wheels have long come off with established character rules and abilities being broken repeatedly to satisfy the action on display.

Suffice to say, much like the Hulk, Marvel has yet to find a proper vehicle to introduce one of its darker superheroes to the masses, and after two failed tries, it’s doubtful there will be a third, unless the success of “The Avengers” prompts some studio executive to order a big-screen adaptation of “The Champions,” a second-tier team anchored by Black Widow, Ghost Rider and Hercules.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros., 129 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Like a never-ending Thanksgiving feast, Guy Ritchie’s two “Sherlock Holmes” movies are so chocked full of action, disguises and twists that you can’t help but feel overstuffed well before dessert and coffee.

“A Game of Shadows,” the second adventure starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as his trusty companion Dr. Watson, is basically more of the same from the first film. If you liked “Sherlock Holmes,” you will probably be satisfied with this chapter.

But for people who didn’t like the first film, myself included, Round Two will push you further to the fringe, especially whenever Ritchie utilizes his love of slow-motion (which is often) or whenever he telegraphs each fight scene by having Holmes envision what he’s going to do before he does it, thereby forcing you to watch each punch twice.

Also Available:

Spider Man 1, 2, 3 – Just in time for the reboot, relive Sam Raimi’s take on the first three big-screen adventures of everybody’s favorite neighborhood web-slinging, web-swinging superhero.

Meatballs – Classic comedy from Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray that will leave you cheering, “It just doesn’t matter!”

Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels: Season 6 Part 1 and Part 2 – The Demon weds the Playmate.

Pawn Stars: Season Four – Totally addictive show, not for the personalities but the incredible artifacts brought in by customers hoping to make some coin. Spoiler alert: No one ever gets paid as much as they want.

In Darkness – Award-winning World War II drama.

Demoted – Workplace comedy featuring the always subversive David Cross.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Season Five – The final season of this fun “Doctor Who” spin-off, thankfully completed prior to star Elizabeth Sladen’s untimely death.

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death and Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks
– Early adventures with the second and fifth Doctor, Patrick Troughton and Peter Davison.

Scandal: The Complete First Season – Will somebody tackle Shonda Rhimes and make her stop creating new shows? Please!

Episodes: The Complete First Season – Matt LeBlanc won an Emmy for playing himself. Here’s your chance to see why.

Top Gear: The Complete Season 18 – The best show about cars ever, designed both for gearheads and people like me who just like to drive.

Eros School: Feels So Good and Zoom Up – Two more titles in The Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection, these soft-core manga adaptations skirt Japan’s censorship laws, offering titillation and controversial subject matter,

Accident – Hong Kong import thriller about an “accident” artist who is really a hitman who stages his murders to look like ordinary acts of unfortunate circumstance.

Thin Ice – If this black comedy crime caper makes you think of “Fargo,” it’s fair to say the filmmakers succeeded in their efforts.

Not to be Overlooked:

The Aggression Scale (Starz/Anchor Bay, 85 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Most of you probably missed the gory, rough-around-the-edges low-budget zombie flick “Automaton Transfusion” back in 2006.

But thankfully, for those of us who discovered it and loved it, writer/director Steven C. Miller has continued making movies, and improving upon his craft.

Miller’s latest, “The Aggression Scale,” is a surprisingly effective slice of B-movie mayhem that avoids most of the pitfalls that plague low-budget thrillers.

Essentially a home invasion thriller, “Aggression” takes a novel approach to a tired genre, and imagines what might happen if the home invaders got much more than they bargained for during a routine smash and grab.

In this case, the “much more” comes packaged in a pint-size serial killer in training, the young son of the family being terrorized.

The boy, who never speaks, has been institutionalized for several years for fear that his homicidal tendencies might manifest full-bloom. But his father can’t live without at least trying to give his son a better life, so he takes the opportunity afforded when he comes in possession of a big bag of mob money and he buys his son’s freedom and a brand new house in a new town.

The problem is that the mob boss is about to be locked up for life, but he hatches a plan to escape to a non-extradition country, once he gets his money back, of course.

So he dispatches a foursome of fearsome killers to kill anyone whose name lands on a list of possible purloiners of his cash. The early scenes of random, innocent people getting blown away is both shocking and absorbing.

But the early kills are just a warm-up. Once the killers arrive at the last house, the house bought by the father who actually took the money, all hell breaks loose and the dad’s son goes full-blown psycho.

Granted, the kid gets a little too MacGyver at times, especially when he has to stop and create some improbably complex trap with just seconds to spare, but you roll with these few blips of inconsistency because the end results are so much bloody fun.

“The Aggression Scale” is like a long-lost drive-in thriller from the 1970s, repackaged but not slicked up, for modern audiences.

This is a definite must-see when you come across it.

The Three Stooges: Ultimate Collection (Sony, 64 hours, Unrated, DVD): There’s more Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck’s to be found in this amazing 20-disc collection than any fan of The Three Stooges will ever have time to process.
Really. It’s no joke.

For the first time, all 190 short films, two feature-length films, three cartoon adventures and 28 solo shorts from Shemp, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita are gathered together in one incredible boxed set.

A must-have for fans and collectors alike.

Hoosiers (MGM, 115 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): One of the greatest sports movies ever made. Who didn’t cry during the emotional championship game when Jimmy Chitwood drained the winning shot? C’mon, it’s OK to admit.

Missing in Action, Missing in Action II and Delta Force (Fox, 334 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Chuck Norris doesn’t need a Blu-Ray upgrade to make his films look great in high definition. But he’ll take the upgrade just so the rest of us can finally see how awesome Chuck Norris looks on an everyday basis.


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New Releases for Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Posted Jun 11, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 11, 2012 at 02:39 PM

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

The Collapsed
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Thriller
Directed by: Justin McConnell
Run time: 82 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: DVD

The Lowdown: “The Collapsed” is unlike any post-apocalyptic thriller you’ve ever seen.

Yes, those are mighty bold words.

Let me explain – Most end-of-the-world thrillers focus on the bombast, the exploding buildings, the falling bombs, the crush of humanity flooding the streets. “The Collapsed” is much smaller. Save for a few scenes early on of bodies lying in the street and flames licking out of upper-story high-rise windows, there’s very little of the actual apocalypse on display.

McConnell instead focuses almost exclusively on the Weaver family, dad Scott, mom Emily, daughter Rebecca and son Aaron, as they make their way from an unnamed city in Canada to a more rural enclave where the family’s older son lives. They hope to discover if that son has survived whatever catastrophe has happened.

“The Collapsed” is a quiet movie, filled with lots of scenes of the Weaver family trying to avoid detection from other survivors for fear they might try to pillage their meager supplies. It’s effectively quiet, and the tension ratchets up organically, especially after something terrible happens once the family moves into the woods and begins the long trek by foot to the rural enclave.

Personally, these extended scenes of basic survival, walking all day, keeping watch at night, felt much more real to me than anything depicted in “The Road,” which favored a much bleaker, ashen world to something more familiar like the still lush woods where the Weaver’s hide.

McConnell has a lot more up his sleeve, however. For those who watch and complain that the first 60 minutes is too slow, too plodding, just wait. I’d be interested to know if you too experience the same sense of disassociation that occurs when “The Collapsed” does just that, seemingly collapsing into a different film entirely.

If it feels jarring, I think that’s McConnell’s point.

Working on a low-budget, using as much of his outdoor locale as possible to save money on more expensive sets, he spends his money when it counts, and the last 20 minutes of “The Collapsed” has a go-for-broke bravado that exhilarates as much as it surprises.

I really, really, really dug this movie. I will admit, and I do so as a disclaimer for any who follow me down this road, there are several moments where a character does something that either seems completely nonsensical (like stopping to shave) or utterly ridiculous (this one involves an extended chase through the forest). The nonsensical moment is trivial. Don’t sweat it. The chase, however, is important and it will make sense.

Just wait.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Depends on your perspective.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Safe House (Universal, 115 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Let’s face it, most action movies today are completely derivative. They all cannibalize each other, plucking big explosive set pieces and specific fighting moves. Then they try to one-up the last time that move or explosion was shown on screen.

“Safe House” is enjoyable, if for no other reason, than it doesn’t try to be anything more than a hearty slice of escapist entertainment. And it’s fun, a lot more fun than I was expecting. I’m no huge fan of either Denzel Washington or Ryan Reynolds, and I personally thought Washington’s last few action flicks, “The Book of Eli” and “Unstoppable,” were below-average, at best.

But both actors do a fine job in “Safe House,” particularly Reynolds, who is tasked with seeming much more naïve than you expect him to be.

There are four exceptional set pieces, including an extended chase at a packed South African soccer stadium.

“Safe House” doesn’t reinvent the action wheel, thankfully. It just rolls along comfortable in its own skin, which often is plenty enough for a slow night at home.

John Carter (Disney, 132 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): There’s a 10-minute scene about halfway through “John Carter,” the big-budget adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantastic science-fiction series that first published in 1917, where my inner geek came rushing out.

John Carter is battling an army of Tharks, the giant, four-armed Martian species, all by himself. And as the pile of Thark bodies grows, Carter is eclipsed by the shadows of the dead, yet still he fights, slashing and ripping with his sword, even as he is overrun.

It’s a scene lifted directly from “John Carter, Warlord of Mars,” the 1977 Marvel Comics series, written and illustrated by the iconic Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane.

And in that moment of geeking out, I realized two things that distinctly colored my final opinion of “John Carter,” the movie:

1 – Director Andrew Stanton is a fan, and obviously had seen the particular issue of the comic series that featured just that moment in glorious, four-color panels.

2 – Disney didn’t have a clue what to do with Burroughs’ source material, and obviously hounded Stanton to make something closely resembling “Avatar,” which completely ruined any hope longtime fans (like me) might ever have for a proper big-screen John Carter adventure.

As it is, Stanton’s two-plus-hour epic feels overstuffed and underwhelming. There’s too much story here for one movie, almost, and I think that’s because the writers – there were three, including Stanton – decide to pull the villainous Therns from the second book in Burroughs’ series, and make them the big bad here.

The introduction does two things, neither of them good. It forces the film to give short-shrift to several key Thark storylines from the first book, A Princess of Mars, that helped frame the original story. And it introduces a practical explanation for how Carter came to be on Mars, which then becomes an unnecessary subplot that bloats the film.

In the book, John Carter wishes on a star, literally, and wakes up on Mars. In the movie, he encounters a Therns priest in a cave while trying to escape the Apache, and he kills the priest and grabs a silver disc and is instantly transported to Mars.

The Therns are given much more power on film than in the books. They essentially become the marauding American military force in “Avatar,” which Jake Sully was forced to side against.

By jumping around in time – the film opens on Barsoom, the official name for Mars, then leaps to 1880 then to 1860 then back to Barsoom then back to 1880 by the end – Stanton’s narrative feels disjointed. There are too many characters between the Tharks and the ruling family of Helium (Princess Dejah Thoris and her father and subordinates) to properly introduce them all.

And, as John Carter, young Taylor Kitsch does a decent job, but he doesn’t quite resonate the way longtime fans likely hoped their hero would. I don’t know who would have been perfect for the role, but I know it isn’t necessarily Kitsch.

But “John Carter” looks amazing. You can truly see the $250 million that was spent. The mixture of live-action and CGI blends seamlessly, and the artistic realizations of both the planet, the temple of Issus, the Thark’s village and Helium and its flying warships are jaw-dropping.

If only everyone would have gotten out of the way more.

Burroughs’ books, both John Carter and the Tarzan series, have been pillaged for decades. They are the quintessential archetype that has become stereotypical and clichéd after so many years – a stranger in a strange land, discovering new races and species, adopting a cause and fighting a battle on behalf of the people he meets.

You can pretty much track any 20th-or-21st-century origin story back to Burroughs. “Avatar” had the same tropes. “Dances with Wolves” did too. Hell, even “Conan the Barbarian” was a variation on the same themes, although Robert E. Howard distinguished himself with his visceral imagery and bloody carnage.

To call “John Carter” a ripoff, then, is not fair at all.

Better to use a word like “disappointment,” because that’s much more accurate.

Bad ##### (Fox, 90 minutes, R, DVD): God love Danny Trejo. The longtime genre star, he of the leathered skin and plethora of tattoos, who looks mean enough to scare the Devil, but actually is a nice, nice guy, has found much love of late.

Robert Rodriguez has built an entire franchise around Trejo – the should-have-been better “Machete,” and its coming-soon follow-up, “Machete Kills.”

Trejo continues to appear in films both unexpectedly good and uproariously awful.

“Bad #####” is another starring vehicle, and it’s based on the true story of a retired veteran who beat the snot out of some punk kids on a public bus, only to have the entire fight captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, thereby cementing his local celebrity status.

“Bad #####” imagines what might happen if such a viral sensation took himself very seriously and transformed into a neighborhood vigilante, going after the street thugs, drug dealers and lowlife criminals the cops rarely touch.

Trejo has never been known for his range, but he does a fine job here portraying an old guy who is capable enough with a punch and kick to level men twice his size.

And the film itself is enjoyable as a lightweight genre offering. This isn’t Trejo’s take on Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which considered a slightly similar theme, but in a much more nuanced way.

If you’re a fan already, you will enjoy cheering on the decent fights and chuckling at Trejo’s delivery, particularly when making a joke. If you’re not a diehard Trejovian, then you probably aren’t going to rent or buy this title anyway.

Also Available:

Falling Skies: The Complete First Season

Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season

Journey 2: Mysterious Island

Act of Valor

Hits So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel

Act of Vengeance

Hondo

Machine Gun Preacher

Burn Notice: The Complete Fifth Season

Catdog: Season Two, Part Two

G.I. Joe: Renegades: Season One, Volume One

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eighth Season

Thundercats: Season One, Book Two

Arn: The Knight Templar

Fairly Legal: The Complete First Season

Ransom

The Color of Money

Cocktail

Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Second Season

Rogue River

Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood

White Collar: The Complete Third Season

Not to Be Overlooked:

A Serbian Film – Uncut (Invincible Pictures, 104 minutes, Unrated, DVD): There are few films out there as truly disturbing as “A Serbian Film,” and I say that as someone who immediately respected director/co-writer Srdjan Spasojevic after seeing the uncut version last year.

Why did I respect Spasojevic, you say? Why – how – could I possibly respect a filmmaker who actually went so far as to mix gratuitous violence, hardcore sex, necrophilia and pedophilia into one big orgiastic bloodbath of debauchery and sadism?

Well, I’ll tell you. See, I don’t consider “A Serbian Film” all that much different from “A Clockwork Orange.” Now, now – hold on – I’m not comparing Spasojevic to Kubrick, per se.

But both films take a hard, decidedly dark, decidedly fetishized look at a crumbling society. “Clockwork” imagined a dystopian Britain rife with rape, murder and socio-political oppression.

“A Serbian Film” goes one further. It’s a scathing indictment on the war-torn European country’s current state and its decidedly bleak future. Spasojevic, who hails from Belgrade, depicts his homeland as a numb, ambivalent wasteland, filled with human monsters so desensitized that only the most extreme taboos can produce any type of sexual stimulation. Life no longer matters. It is a commodity, a lark, a middling distraction to be used up and discarded.

Spasojevic centers his film around Milos, his country’s greatest X-rated actor, a man capable of maintaining his performance regardless of any distraction happening around him. Milos is like John Holmes, Ron Jeremy and Peter North all rolled into one. He’s also retired, and raising a family.

There’s a decidedly nasty subplot involving Milos’ brother, a cop, who secretly covets Milos’ wife, that further slams home just how depraved and immoral Serbia has become. It’s a country where not even brothers can trust one another.

The film kicks off with a mysterious benefactor calling on Milos with the opportunity of a lifetime – a payday of unrivaled proportion – if he will come out of retirement for one last film. The money is so good that the offer must be considered. Thematically, the catch also is a good one: Milos must agree to act without a script, with no knowledge of what will be happening around him or what circumstances under which he will be asked to perform.

Of course, he agrees. And that’s where “Serbian” takes off.

There’s very little of what follows that I can even discuss, and not entirely for fear of spoiling the film. This is a movie that doesn’t just earn its former “Banned!” label, it all but spits in your eye and dares you to keep watching. And trust me, some of the gags that Spasojevic concocts may make you question his sanity, his sanctity and his human goodness.

But unlike “The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence,” where director Tom Six seemed to revel in being as vile as inhumanly possible, I still go back to my contention that every awful image on display in “A Serbian Film,” every escalating act of vulgar debasement, must be framed, in part, through the lens of a social commentary. Only by depicting the most heinous acts of sexual depravity and violence can one fully understand the moral decay that has permeated this culture.

This is also an unbelievably gory horror movie, and as such, there’s certainly a swath of fans who will appreciate some of the more incredible stunts that they pull off. In all honestly, there are things depicted here that I’ve never seen on film before, much less imagined. This is not mass-market entertainment. Be forewarned. It’s entirely possible that every shred of decency in you will be offended to the point of petitioning against the distribution of the film.

Hopefully not, however. I think most fans of this kind of extreme genre experience will survive a viewing intact. They may even appreciate the technical aspects on display. Who knows, they too might even voice respect for a director who used his chosen artistic medium to so viscerally, violently rage against the dying of his country’s light.


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New Releases for May 29, 2012

Posted Jun 3, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 3, 2012 at 06:22 PM

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

True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season
Genre: Horror/TV
Created by: Alan Ball
Run time: 730 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: There are some people who didn’t appreciate the fourth season of HBO’s marvelous “True Blood,” and I think I know why.

Horror fans, particularly those who love everything vampire, weren’t thrilled with the fact that “True Blood” took a major risk in its superb fourth year.

The risk? Making vampires take a backseat to other supernatural and fantastic entities, namely witches, witch doctors, malevolent ghosts, werewolves, shapeshifters and spirit mediums.

To say “True Blood” brought the whole gang to the dance would be an understatement.

In addition to spending a good chunk of the season on creatures other than vampires, the creative minds also committed a second blasphemy, one that injected the show with some much-needed pathos: They showed vampires could be weak and vulnerable.

Look, I understand if you didn’t like the fact that the dashing Eric Northman spent a five-episode arc oblivious to his true lineage, following Sookie Stackhouse around like a little, lost fang puppy. I get it if you hated to see Pam suffer the curse of rotting flesh. I sympathize with the Bill Compton fan base who felt the undisputed King of Louisiana wasn’t given enough to do after being exposed for betraying his beloved Sookie.

Get over it.

The fourth season rocked harder than any season past. Marnie, the focal point and big bad, was a fantastic villain, a conflicted dabbler in the dark arts possessed by the spirit of a vengeful, more powerful necromancer. Marnie represented a very real, genuine danger for the show’s vampire core. 

Much like white trash loup-garou Marcus Bozeman, who presented a palpable threat to both Alcide and Sam Merlotte. Much like the returning spirit of Renee, the serial killing baby daddy from Season 1. And even recovering V-addict, and unhinged werewoman Debbie Pelt.

Every major character squared off with a formidable foe this season. The stakes, no pun intended, could not have been higher, and for me, Sunday nights couldn’t come fast enough.

This is a box set to go out and buy immediately, especially since the Fifth Season starts in just two weeks. 

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Oh yes.
Nudity – Everybody gets naked. Sookie and Eric have fairy sex throughout at least two episodes.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – Considerable.
Bad Guys/Killers – Every character is a different shade of grey.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Audio commentaries, Enhanced Viewing Modes, featurettes.
On the Web – http://www.hbo.com/true-blood/index.html

Gone (Lionsgate, 95 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): “Gone” is the worst kind of B-movie pulp, the kind of movie that you expect to be awful, but which pleasantly surprises you for about 40 minutes. Then logic, pacing and character development go completely to hell midway through and the damn thing ends up sucking even worse than you expected. Only now, you’ve wasted an hour and a half and you’re totally furious.

Amanda Seyfried needs to fire her agent, or her manager, or herself. Her big sexy Mark Rydenesque saucer eyes are only going to carry her so far, and “Gone” marks the latest in a string of high-profile dogs, coming on the heels of “Chloe,” “Red Riding Hood” and “In Time.”

It’s one thing to tackle a pure-genre thriller because it has an intelligent script, an up-and-coming director or an eclectic cast. But “Gone” has none of the above. Seyfried is reduced to uttering ridiculous quips – “Just watch me!” – and trying to play detective, tracking down a serial killer who kidnapped her a year earlier and who now has taken her sister.

The twist is that the cops never believed she was abducted, so they completely disregard her when she races into the station, claiming her sister is the latest victim. So Seyfried goes home, gets a gun and starts trying to crack the case herself.

Director Heitor Dhalia spares no opportunity to blow past logic like a drunk ignoring a stop sign. He sets up so many red herrings as the potential killer, including a police detective played by creepy waste of talent Wes Bentley, that when the reveal does happen, the killer’s identity is completely glossed over. It doesn’t matter. It’s no one you would have even suspected.

There are two moments in “Gone” that should have sent movie-loving aficionados rolling into theater aisles, doubled over with laughter. They also should serve as Exhibits 1 and 2 why movie fans need to storm Hollywood and demand better genre entertainment.

The first comes about two-thirds of the wayt hrough the film. A massive manhunt is underway for Seyfried, who has at this point brandished a gun on an unarmed civilian, blasted her way out of a police standoff, led officers on a high-speed chase and violated the terms of her release from a mental hospital by possessing a handgun.

The police captain calls all hands on-deck, and Bentley’s detective is noticeably missing. A-Ha, you think. They’ve totallygiven it away that he’s somehow connected to the killer, if not the killer. The captain asks the lead detective where Bentley is, and I kid you not, the lead detective says that Bentley had to leave to take his sick mother some soup. That’s right! Soup! Sick mother! Massive manhunt! Nowhere to be found. All the detectives shrug their shoulders and seem to accept that this behavior is somehow acceptable. What…the…Hell?

The second best moment comes about 25 minutes later, after Seyfried has saved the day, defeated the big bad guy, vanquished her personal demon, yadda yadda whatever. She returns home to a squadron of copcars surrounding her house. The detectives, including Bentley, who really was apparently taking his sick mother some soup – WTF? – gather around Seyfried to ask questions. And she claims it was all in her imagination, and closes her front door, ostensibly closing the book on the whole ordeal. Click. Good night.

Wait a minute…wasn’t she in violation for carrying a loaded gun? Oh, that’s right, she said she never had a gun. Wait a minute…didn’t she cause a high-speed pursuit, followed by a standoff at a local hardware store? Yeah, well, nobody was really injured, so…Wait a minute…didn’t she at least file a false police report if the kidnapper/killer she claimed took her sister she now says never really existed? Ow. My head.  I think something snapped. My brain just attempted a Triple Lindy and crashed into the second diving board because “Gone” doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Oscilloscope Pictures, 112 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The latest release from Oscilloscope Pictures will likely divide viewers. It might even cause conflicting emotions in those who find a resonating note buried deep within director Lynne Ramsay’s blunt, emotionally bruising examination of sacrifice, regret, motherhood and evil.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” adapted from the book of the same name, looks at the internal and personal destruction that tears apart a typical American family following a shocking act of violence. Ramsay doesn’t shy away from the most difficult aspects of the narrative, namely whether it’s wrong for a mother to instinctively dislike a child with something bordering on hate. It further complicates the question when the child in question is Kevin, who might just be evil incarnate, but who also forced his mother to abandon her dreams and become domestically comatose.

That’s not an easy question to put out there, and it doesn’t make for two hours of happiness and light. But there’s nobody better to play the mother in question than Tilda Swinton, an uncommonly striking yet inexplicably plain woman with almost alienesque features. Swinton immerses herself in these complex, complicated roles, and through her eyes we follow a literal road to hell.

In one early scene, when confronted by a stranger at a strip mall, Swinton receives a vicious slap across the face, and the brutal, unexpected force of the blow seems to leap off the screen and across your own mouth.

“Kevin” may not be a defining work, but it gets major props for not backing away from some seriously intense themes that are rarely depicted on film, much less discussed.

Also Available:

Man on a Ledge – Sam Worthington continues his trend of following an A-list blockbuster with a B-grade genre thriller, this time stepping out onto a ledge without a net.

The Aggression Scale – Home invasion thriller featuring a host of genre favorites.

Maverick: The Complete First Season – James Garner owned the role. He just lent it to Mel Gibson.

Memorial Day – The story behind the war behind the holiday.

Goon – Surprisingly homophobic hockey story about a guy who’s better with his fists than his skates.

Rookie Blue: The Complete Second Season – ABC police procedural’s second season.

Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Third Season – Popular cable serial about reincarnation and making amends for one’s superficial decisions in life.

The Queen’s Palaces and The Diamond Queen – More British monarchy than most can handle.

Coriolanus – Ralph Fiennes directs this adaptation of the Bard.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies – The sequel to the musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

Telling Lies in America/Traveler – A two-fer of tales about con men making a living in America.

A Necessary Death – Gripping documentary about suicide that follows one young man’s decision to take his own life.

Not To Be Overlooked:

The Devil Inside (Paramount, 83 minutes, R, DVD): Decidedly better than his 2006 video-game horror show “Stay Alive,” writer/director William Brent Bell goes the ‘found footage’ route for “The Devil Inside,” but the genre format traps him in a corner and ultimately undermines all the good moments that lead up to one of the most What-The-Hell endings in recent memory.

The best bits of this “Devil” come from a handful of surprisingly creepy exorcism scenes, which are broadcast by a series of handheld and surveillance camera monitors. The crackling bones and unnerving contortions on display by the possessed are cringe-worthy for all the right reasons. “Devil” delivers much more effective jolts than several recent big-screen iterations, specifically “The Last Exorcism” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

And the story about a young woman, who is trying to understand her family’s history, specifically why and how her mother was convicted of murdering three church members during an exorcism, and who travels to visit her mother in a hospital in Rome for the first time in many years, sets up a good excuse for the cameras to always be rolling.

But Bell’s film tips its hand too early, within the first 20 minutes, during a classroom lecture in Rome where young theologians and ordained priests are studying the art of exorcism and the various phenomenon of possession. As soon as you hear the professor toss a one-off definition of a particularly nasty demon trait, you know what’s coming later on.

That’s not necessarily bad.

What is bad is that just when Bell kicks things into high gear, and the blood starts flowing, he paints himself into a box that he can’t escape from without abandoning the found footage format. As a result, he simply ends the film and offers a single sentence coda directing viewers to a website to see more footage.

That’s unacceptable, in my opinion, and it’s one of the reasons why the Found Footage genre continues to frustrate more than thrill. Sure, there are standouts – “Chronicle,” for example, and “Cloverfield” – but for every unexpected success, there are four or five other films, like “The Devil Inside,” that inexplicably offend viewers by trying to stay true to an inflexible medium that constrains and confines more than it elevates.

“The Devil Inside” is a fun film – for 78 minutes. But the last five minutes completely color you against all that you enjoyed.


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New Releases for Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Posted Jun 3, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 3, 2012 at 06:15 PM

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

This Means War
Genre: Action/Comedy/Romance
Directed by: McG
Run time: 97 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: “This Means War” was touted as a BIG film, a high-concept, action-rom-com that would satisfy nearly every demographic.

The problem, of course, is that in trying to satisfy so many varied interests, you risk disappointing them all.

And therein lies the crippling flaw of director McG’s return to blow-em-up action and ribald comedy that defined his one true surprise hit, “Charlie’s Angels.”

So much veers off course in “This Means War” that you become frustrated, then angry, then perplexed.

Nothing makes sense.

There’s the clichéd way that the CIA is portrayed, from the har-har hijinks of Chris Pine and Tom Hardy’s overly cute-named special agents, FDR and Tuck, who have zero regard for national security or resources, utilizing a cadre of agents to spy on the woman they both fancy.

There’s the subpar romantic comedy of errors with both Hardy and Pine cooking up ridiculously clichéd “super dates” to woo Witherspoon, who never seems geeky or quirky enough not to have a boyfriend.

And the even more ridiculous battle of wills, and deployment of national resources, that Pine and Hardy use to undermine each other’s romantic advances. Really. Really? For example, FDR somehow commandeers an unmanned surveillance drone to follow Tuck on one date, and Tuck blows it up with a single shot, which his date somehow doesn’t notice, and they get away with this with zero repercussions. Doesn’t anybody in the CIA take notice of those type things? They also violate so many privacy laws by wiretapping and spying on Witherspoon that you ultimately wish neither of them would get the girl.

And, of course, there is the big reveal – surprise, the two suitors know each other – and then they beat hell out of each other in a very public setting, again with no repercussions or law enforcement involvement. And the expected big chase where Witherspoon and her best friend, played by Chelsea Handler as a boozing, bawdy mom who is too quick with increasingly off-color quips, get kidnapped by the bad guys and have to be rescued by Pine and Hardy, who must put aside their differences to maximize their abilities.

It’s one long mess of a movie that is punctuated by moments that you actually enjoy, which only serves to make the experience of enduring “This Means War” that much more frustrating.

Everyone involved deserved better, most of all the audience.

And poor McG, who last left the “Terminator” franchise in tatters, is looking more and more like a one-hit, one-trick pony with a ridiculously pretentious moniker and not the young director we expected to want to watch.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Reese Witherspoon, girl next door hot.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – A bunch of foreign bad guys who are forgettable.
Buy/Rent – Rent it, but only if desperate.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Not one, but two alternate endings, which just goes to show that nobody involved knew exactly what they wanted this film to be; commentary; deleted scenes; uncensored gag reel; a few featurettes.

The Woman in Black (Sony, 95 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Hammer Films returns to its gothic roots with a dark, dank supernatural haunting of a tale that tries too hard to play off its leading man, Daniel Radcliffe, in his first, post-Harry Potter, starring role.

Anyone familiar with Hammer’s heyday should champion the British company’s decision to go back to what used to work so well in the 1960s and early 1970s.

But “The Woman in Black” is so consistently dour, so devoid of any of the unintentional camp that made earlier Hammer films so much fun, that the story of a malevolent spirit who takes revenge and kills children in a small, remote coastal village, never really finds its groove.

Radcliffe, as a widower dispatched to the village to tie up the affairs of a valuable estate, seems so stoic, so earnest, hell, he rarely ever cracks a smile, that he becomes a difficult hero to root for.

And the few ambitious set pieces, full of shadowy jump scares and creepy antique toys and the title creature, the ominous shrieking Woman in Black, feel too slight. They lack a sense of true menace, or any urgency.

Had this been a sequel to “Sleepy Hollow,” with a game Johnny Depp playing a slightly befuddled Victorian-era detective, trying to solve the mystery of the curse afflicting the townsfolk, then, and only then, might “The Woman in Black” have been fun.

As it is, the film lurches along, with Radcliffe refusing to acknowledge any of the multiple warnings he receives, returning time and again to a haunted mansion with little acknowledgment that he might be swimming out too far in the deep end of the pool.

Also Available:

Lethal Weapon Collection – Warner Bros. has put together a nice package of all four Lethal Weapon movies, showcasing one of the 1980s best buddy-cop series that, sadly, lost its way amid formulaic retreads and recurring characters by the time the fourth sequel arrived in the 1990s.

“Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2” remain two of the genres best examples of the explosive, often go-for-broke action showcases that marked the decade’s best popcorn entertainment. As time went on, though, “Lethal Weapon” began to stale where other franchises, namely “Die Hard,” found fresh variations on the same story.

There’s not much that tops the first film, however,

“Lethal Weapon” is still one of the darkest mass-market slices of shoot-em-up to ever gain wide appeal, featuring a suicidal sociopath as a dashing leading man. And “Lethal Weapon 2” is still one of my all-time favorite sequels, taking the best of what worked so well the first time, adding effective layers of character development, introducing much needed comic relief and concluding with a rousing finale that truly satisfied.

The two subsequent sequels coasted along on familiarity, trusting that audiences had grown so fond of the characters that they would pardon the increasing detachment from reality simply because they liked detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh and wanted to see them prevail, regardless of the ridiculous scenarios that the producers cooked up.

Perfect Sense – Ewan McGregor and the red-hot Eva Green co-star in a apocalyptic love story.

Beyond – Jon Voight toplines this thriller.

Black Cobra – So many jokes come to mind. None of them printable.

Swat: The Final Season – Robert Urich’s S.W.A.T. swan song.

95 Miles to Go – What do Ray Romano and Jerry Seinfeld have in common? I don’t find either of them funny.

Carol Channing: Larger than Life – It’s sad to think how many young people today have no idea who Carol Channing is.

Worried About the Boy – BBC original chronicling the rise of Culture Club frontman Boy George.

Mutant Girls Squad – You either give in to these preposterous Japanese sci-fi orgies of severed limbs, gushing blood and mechanical-organic hybrids, or you don’t get the popcorn munching point. Me? When done well, like “The Machine Girl” or “Termanatrix,” they can be a hoot.

Route 66: The Complete Series – “Route 66,” which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964, pioneered classic TV serials that we love today. It also made expert use of the Guest Starring appearance, either showcasing some of the best actors working in that era, or giving a break to some up-and-coming soon-to-be-superstars like Robert Redford.

All 116 episodes of the cross-country narrative, which focused as much on America’s love for the automobile as its need for dramatic entertainment, are collected here – a whopping 6,000 minutes of classic television.

The Secret World of Arrietty – Disney keeps its street cred intact by putting out this old-school style animated delight.

My Babysitter’s a Vampire: The Complete First Season – Canadian teen vamps picked up by The Disney Channel. “The Vampire Diaries,” it ain’t.

Sherlock: Season Two – Lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch nabbed a super-secret role in the new “Star Trek.”

Teen Wolf: Season One – MTV recast the classic Michael J. Fox comedy as a “Twilight”-style teen soap. Lots of people supported the change, earning the series a second season.


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