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.
Blood, Violence and Babes
Most Recent Entries
- New Releases for Tuesday, June 4, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, May 28, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, May 21, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, May 14, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, May 7, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, April 30, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, April 23, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, April 16, 2013
- New releases for Tuesday, April 9, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, April 2, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, March 26, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, March 19, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, March 12, 2013
- New Releases for March 5, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013
New Releases for Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Posted Jun 10, 2013 by John Allman
Updated Jun 10, 2013 at 07:22 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Run time: 111 minutes
The Lowdown: What has become of the classic road trip movie?
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Clark Griswold accidentally killed the family pet by tying a leash to the bumper of the family truckster.
I totally believed that Jonathan Mardukas couldn’t fly due to extreme anxiety, which forced bounty hunter Jack Walsh to use every other mode of transportation to get the “Duke” to his bail bondsman’s office.
And who doesn’t hate Illinois Nazis or wouldn’t jump at the chance to run them off a bridge?
These scenarios from three of the greatest road trip movies ever made took ordinary situations and ramped them up to an uncomfortable pitch, but still stayed well in bounds of ‘you know, that could actually happen’ in order to keep audiences enthralled (and laughing hysterically).
A lot has changed in the 25 years since the last of these three flicks was released.
Today’s road trip movies have all but chucked ordinary situations out the window. Instead, they border on criminally insane, reveling in bacchanalian excesses of violence and smug depictions of mean-spirited awfulness. Characters manage to avoid arrest, prosecution or prison time and even cheat death consistently.
Case in point: “Identity Thief,” which is one of the worst, most unwatchable comedies ever released on 2,500-plus screens.
There’s so much more wrong with this movie than just the two leads, popular comedians Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy’s character is played so repugnantly for cheap laughs that Rex Reed’s controversial review that focused more on McCarthy’s appearance than the actual film seems almost understandable in that director Seth Gordon wastes no opportunity to film McCarthy in the least attractive light possible, almost always accentuating her size.
The entire crux of the film hinges on Bateman’s character’s decision not to force McCarthy’s character to create a different fake ID so he can put her on a plane to fly back to Denver to clear his name and credit. That decision forces the pair to begin a cross-country journey from Florida to Colorado that includes two specific instances (both played for laughs) where McCarthy’s character should have died – once after being hit by a speeding car and another time following a horrific crash that no one could possible survive.
There are two completely extraneous subplots that add nothing to the film other than to inflate its runtime. One involves a pair of hired guns trailing the pair and the other involves a bounty hunter who will stop at nothing to bring McCarthy’s character to justice.
There’s nothing remotely funny about any of the outlandish situations that Bateman and McCarthy find themselves in. There are zero one-liners that induce even a chuckle. The entire fiasco is as implausible as it is interminable.
Much like “Due Date” and “The Hangover Part II,” the audience is played for a chump, forced to endure a string of poorly written, illogical and insulting set pieces that tear through reality like a bushwhacker through crab grass, creating a distorted alternate reality where the normal rules of gravity, mass and common sense have no bearing.
“Identity Thief” arrives in both a rated and unrated, extended version. I always go for the extended, unrated version. Note to self – stop doing that.
“Identity Thief” also marks a major step back for director Seth Gordon. This hues far closer to his big-screen debut, “Four Christmases,” than his unexpected 2011 hit “Horrible Bosses,” which I seriously consider one of the funniest movies released in the past 10 years. And that was definitely a disc where the extended, unrated cut only added to the experience.
“Identity Thief” is so far removed from the awesome hilarity of “Horrible Bosses” that they should have just called it “Horrible Follow-Up” to maintain truth in advertising.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Anyone involved in the creative development of this film.
Buy/Rent – Neither.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – You don’t care.
A Good Day to Die Hard (Fox, 98 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): When fans look back at the “Die Hard” franchise, it will be easy to rank the films in the long-running series.
The original will always be at the top, one of the best action movies ever made, and the blueprint for scores of similar films released in the 25 years since, followed by “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “Live Free or Die Hard.”
The latest entry, the fifth overall, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” won’t be last on the list but it will likely be just above “Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” the first sequel released in 1990.
The problems with the fifth installment are easy to spot because it completely scraps what had worked so well in the past.
Instead of presenting New York Det. John McClane (Bruce Willis) as a lowly everyman who once again finds himself in the wrong place at the worst time, the film forces him to suddenly appear in Moscow for the murder trial of his son, Jack, who hadn’t appeared in the franchise since the second picture.
That’s the setup.
Where previous installments worked hard to establish a credible and seemingly unbeatable bad guy hellbent on causing mass destruction, Skip Woods’ script relies heavily on fish out of water jokes about McClane trying to speak Russian and cracking wise about being on vacation.
The villains seem plucked straight out of a direct-to-VHS 1980s generic actioner with bad accents who randomly switch from speaking Russian to English and back with no apparent rationale.
It isn’t until well into the movie that anybody bothers to even explain why the bad guys are bad guys or what exactly they hope to accomplish, and even then, the explanation is a clichéd, paper thin Cold War premise that seems designed for no other reason than to justify moving the action to Chernobyl for the third act.
Sadly, Jai Courtney as Jack McClane, who plays an unwitting sidekick to his indestructible poppa, falls shy of even Justin Long from “Live Free or Die Hard,” spending too much time brooding about past family issues and not enough time explaining how his father has no idea that he is a CIA covert agent. Courtney actually resembles a younger Willis enough that he is believable as the younger McClane, but every attempt to establish him as the logical inheritor of the franchise mantle falls flat.
All that said, even a subpar “Die Hard” movie is better than 90 percent of the bland, pedestrian action movies coming out these days. “A Good Day to Die Hard” has several impressive set pieces, including an extended car chase through Moscow that wreaks substantial havoc with minimal consequences.
Willis inexplicably is given very little of actual substance to work with. He makes the most of the awkward father-son bonding moments, but you never feel any sense of urgency radiating off his dome-bald skull, and that wide-eyed look of ‘Holy crap, how did I just survive that?!” that made him relatable even in outlandish situations is all but gone.
At one point, McClane asks his son if there’s plan. There’s not. McClane shrugs and then matter-of-factly announces that he’s just going to go kill some mother-effers.
It’s a workmanlike response for a workmanlike action movie that seems to just be blowing up stuff in lieu of having any actual reason to do so.
Warm Bodies (Summit Entertainment, 98 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): The zom-rom-com genre that started with “Shaun of the Dead” gets a new entry with “Warm Bodies,” the feature film based on the first-person zombie tale by Issac Marion.
“Warm Bodies” poses an interesting premise for those zombie fans who have tired of all the apocalyptic thrillers stuffing the market. The film shows very little of what actually causes the world’s population to become undead brain eaters, and the basic, garden-variety zombies aren’t even the biggest threat. They are presented as empty vessels, dulled by an unseen force and consumed with an insatiable desire to eat brains that they don’t really enjoy but must ingest to survive.
The real threat are the Bonies, the stage after initial zombification, when the living corpse finally sheds its human skin and becomes a ravenous skeletal creature that will kill anything, even zombies.
The thrust of “Warm Bodies” is told from the perspective of “R,” a young male zombie who lives in a commercial airliner at the airport. He has memories, though vague, of his life before, but he can’t put the pieces together to truly recapture his human essence.
R meets a young blonde one day while he and a pack of zombies are out looking for survivors to feast upon, and he is instantly smitten. When he eats the brain of the girl’s boyfriend, he is immediately connected to her through the memories of the boyfriend that he has absorbed. He becomes protective of her, and wants to keep her safe. In doing so, his heart slowly begins to revert back to who and what he once was.
It’s a unique twist on the standard zombie thriller, and I really like the idea of zombies capturing the memories of those that they eat by devouring the brain. It gives a reason finally for why brains suddenly became the meal du jour of the undead.
I wanted to love “Warm Bodies,” but honestly, I only liked it. There’s something missing that is difficult to explain. Even as the film shrewdly shreds standard romantic comedy tropes, it also hues closely to those same familiar steps that comprise such movies.
It’s a boy meets girl, falls in love, loses girl and wins her back flick that incorporates flesh-eating ghouls but never goes far enough to truly distance itself from anything you’ve seen before.
Falling Skies: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros., 450 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Two years ago, I almost gave up on “Falling Skies,” a summer cable series on TNT. Despite an impressive pedigree that prominently promotes director Steven Spielberg’s name, I just couldn’t connect with Noah Wylie as a widowed father of three boys taking up with a ragtag militia trying to drive aliens back into space and away from Earth. But somewhere around the fourth episode, when I was all but ready to give up, “Falling Skies” hooked me, and I’m so very glad. The second season far exceeded the first in terms of scope and pacing. The characters are now clearly defined, the aliens have some actual intrigue and the special effects, while still far from Hollywood movie CGI, vastly improved. The third season starts next week. With only 10 episodes per season, there’s no reason you can’t catch up in time for the two-hour premiere.
12 Rounds 2: Reloaded (Fox, 95 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): I’m all about B-grade action movies starring unlikely actors. Want proof – one of my favorite guilty pleasures is 1991’s “Stone Cold” starring Brian Bosworth.
But “12 Rounds 2: Reloaded” has the misfortune of being a sequel to a film that few people saw the first time around, starring a professional wrestler (Randy Orton) whose in-ring charisma far exceeds his on-screen presence and featuring a plot that is much more ridiculous (EMT forced to play a devious madman’s twisted game because he saved the wrong person’s life) than the original film (police detective who gets promoted for arresting a terrorist is forced to play a twisted game because the terrorist’s girlfriend was killed accidentally during his arrest).
The original “12 Rounds” starred another professional wrestler, John Cena, and represented a low-watermark in director Renny Harlin’s career.
The Last Ride
Just Like Being There
Ice Road Truckers: Season 6
Mountain Men: Season 1
Electra Glide in Blue
Escape from Planet Earth
Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season
It’s A Disaster
Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Third Season
Adventure Time: The Complete Second Season
Rawhide: The Sixth Season, Volume 1 and 2
Ring of Fire
New Releases for Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Posted Jun 10, 2013 by John Allman
Updated Jun 10, 2013 at 07:09 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: John Flynn
Run time: 100 minutes
The Lowdown: An underappreciated director and a celebrated writer combined forces in 1977 to create a white-knuckle revenge thriller that never garnered the respect it deserved.
“Rolling Thunder” is one of those blistering, less is so much more, slow burns that bides its time before exploding in an orgy of machismo and violence.
Directed by the gifted John Flynn, who had a knack with low-budget, gritty thrillers before having to settle later in life for generic Stallone and Seagal action yarns, and written by Paul Schrader, who drafted “Taxi Driver,” “American Gigolo” and “Raging Bull,” the movie has long been a favorite of cult cinema activists like Quentin Tarantino but was next to impossible to find to own.
“Rolling Thunder” is the story of Maj. Charles Rane (William Devane) who survives years of brutality in a Vietnamese concentration camp only to return home to a changed world. His son, just born when he deployed, doesn’t know him. His wife has given him up for dead and is engaged to another man. His Texas hometown tries to show its appreciation for his service by giving him cash and a new car, which only draws the attention of a band of thugs who travel across the border from Mexico to rob him.
The thugs, led by James Best (Roscoe P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard”), steal the money, kill Rane’s wife and son, cut off his hand with a trash disposal blade and shoot him, leaving him for dead.
But Rane has survived worse, and with a prosthetic hook for a new hand, he sets out to avenge his family’s slaughter with the help of one of the soldiers he was imprisoned with, Johnny Vohden, played by a tough as nails Tommy Lee Jones, who barely speaks but seethes with coiled rage.
By the time Rane and Vohden track the thugs to a bordello in Mexico, they no longer care about living or dying. They just want to take as many lives with them as they can on the bullet-blasted road straight to hell.
This is classic 1970s cinema that you need to see if you never have.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Gun violence.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – A gang of merciless, hardened bandits.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – A making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
Dark Skies (Anchor Bay, 97 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Director Scott Stewart has a problem. The best bits from his movies keep ending up in the trailers, leaving fans to wallow through a bunch of muck for little payoff.
This was true of “Legion,” the apocalyptic warring angels film, and “Priest,” although to be fair, “Priest” was an overwrought mess that seemed doomed from jump.
Stewart’s latest, “Dark Skies,” is an alien abduction thriller that follows in the same vein, ie if you saw the promotional marketing campaign, then you saw basically the bulk of the good stuff for free. But where Stewart’s other two films were mostly empty minus the good stuff that got shown too early, “Dark Skies” actually manages to generate some genuine suspense before completely sputtering out in the final frames.
It’s a much better film than I expected, but it’s still a very problematic picture with gaping plot holes and a complete letdown of an ending. The most surprising moments you already know – dozens of birds crashing into the windows around a terrified Keri Russell, and various characters found standing outside, heads pulled back, staring at or silent screaming toward the sky.
The sad reality is that a scary movie might actually exist somewhere inside “Dark Skies.” The one that you get to watch, however, is not very frightening at all.
Nailbiter (Lionsgate, 82 minutes, R, DVD): “Nailbiter” is one of those movies you have to make a decision on based on the DVD box art and tagline alone.
And the artwork doesn’t offer much clue as to what the film is actually about. It shows an ominous evil face masked in red.
The tagline isn’t much better: “Fear will surface.”
The third logical tool, albeit one of the most suspect advertising gimmicks around, are the critical blurbs. “Nailbiter” has two on the front and one on the back. The blurb on the back of the box offers a tantalizing tease – suggesting the movie is a mix of “The Descent” and “Rear Window.”
Personally, I loved “The Descent.” It’s one of the most original and genuinely scary horror films in the past 20 years. And “Rear Window” is a classic suspense tale.
Don’t be fooled.
“Nailbiter” is nothing like either of those movies other than a bulk of the action takes place in a subterranean basement and involves strange creatures. There’s nothing remotely resembling Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” to be found.
The actual premise is an interesting one – a recovering alcoholic, raising three children on her own, is en route to pick up her husband who is returning home from the war overseas. The family gets caught in a terrible storm and is forced to evade a giant tornado by seeking shelter in the cellar of a seemingly abandoned, very remote farmhouse. Once the storm passes, the family finds itself trapped in the cellar by the owners of the house, and being stalked by malicious creatures who are kept mostly just out of view.
Part of the charm of low-budget movies is that the acting often can veer from amateurish to unexpectedly good. Here, it’s just middle of the road bland.
Low-budget films often are forced by budgetary constraints to rely more on dialogue than practical effects. “Nailbiter” needed to be better on the effects to compensate for the draggy subplots, which involve one daughter being injured early on, a cell phone that should have run out of juice and the boozy mom being repeatedly tempted by the moonshine stored in the cellar.
“Nailbiter” isn’t so, so bad. It’s just far less than its billing would lead you to believe.
The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange: The Complete First Season
Beetlejuice: The Complete Animated Series
Teen Wolf: Season 2
Dorfman in Love
Sommore: Chandelier Status
The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents
Baby Mama’s Club
Cleopatra: 50th Anniversary Edition
Doctor Who: The Snowmen
Fascination: Coral Reef 3D
Red Widow: The Complete First Season
Suits: Season Two
Swimming to Cambodia
Priest of Evil
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – Season Two, Volume Two
New Releases for Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Posted Jun 10, 2013 by John Allman
Updated Jun 10, 2013 at 07:02 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Paul Soter
Run time: 86 minutes
The Lowdown: After Dark, the genre company that unleashed the annual 8 Films To Die For series from 2006 to 2009, returns this month after a long hiatus with its first original horror production since 2011, the surprisingly creepy, if generically titled, “Dark Circles.”
Anyone who has followed After Dark’s trajectory knows that the company’s films, particularly when released en masse, tend to underwhelm. I’ve been a harsh critic at times, picking apart the poor scripts and lackluster presentation that defined many of the titles. But there have been some undeniable winners sprinkled amid the bombs, films like “The Hamiltons,” “Mulberry Street,” “Dread” and “The Graves.”
“Dark Circles” deserves to join those ranks, and not just because it takes a well-worn premise – new couple moves into old house and weird crap immediately starts happening that would make anyone else move right the hell back out – and manages to not only goose the audience multiple times, but the story is actually good and the acting above-average.
This film really shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the two leads, Johnathon Schaech and Pell James, completely sell their characters, Alex and Penny, the unprepared parents of a newborn. You truly believe that they are sleep-deprived and fading fast, unable to get any rest while their baby cries and cries. They look the part, and it’s believable.
The scares also work, even if they come from familiar places – shadowy figures in corners, seen in brief flashes on a baby monitor screen or lurking at the top of the stairs.
There’s even a nice homage to “The Ring” with an eerie, long-haired female form unfolding out of a kitchen cabinet and crawling after a shocked guest.
The only place “Dark Circles” doesn’t stick the landing is at the end. And even then, it’s not a complete miss, more like a 7out of 10. I just wanted more – more blood, more tension, more oomph to properly cap off the substantial buildup.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Not what you expect.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Beautiful Creatures (Warner Bros., 124 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): The latest attempt to create the next YA lit-to-film franchise, “Beautiful Creatures,” based on the novel by Margaret Stohl, is filled with familiar, if very well done, visuals of witches behaving magically and maniacally, but the South Carolina locale means most of the A-list actors feel the need to speak in such thick, exaggerated Southern drawls that extended conversations border on parody.
I didn’t love it, but two viewing companions did.
The Last Stand (Lionsgate, 107 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Unfairly ignored at the box office earlier this year, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first post-elected office starring role as a small town Arizona sheriff battling a vicious Mexican drug cartel boss is not a bad action movie by any stretch. It’s uneven at points, yes, but Schwarzenegger is completely believable as an aging lawman faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. Trust me, he has starred in far worse films than this, including some bigger hits (The Expendables 2) and even more massive bombs (Batman and Robin).
“The Last Stand” also marks the English-language debut of South Korean director Kim Ji-woon, whose “I Saw the Devil” is a fantastic thriller that rivals the best that Hollywood has ever produced. This movie hues closer to Ji-woon’s 2008 western mash-up “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” which paired over-the-top action with creative camera work to create a dizzying rush of adrenaline.
“The Last Stand” bears some of those same hallmarks. There are several car chase/car crash scenes that tap into a live wire and blast off, and the final fight between the cartel boss and Schwarzenegger is impressive both for its length and its brutality.
But Ji-woon also takes his time with several scenes that offer the Governor his best (and possibly last) chance at a “Copland”-style bid to be taken seriously, a la his action colleague Sylvester Stallone. Schwarzenegger has never been known for exhibiting real emotion on film. It often seems just outside his grasp or range. But he doesn’t screw up the quiet moments with a stupid quip. And he genuinely seems to be trying instead of just barreling his way through the moment, fueled by brawn and bravado.
Parker (Sony, 119 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): I just like Jason Statham movies. I’ve finally accepted that fact.
More than any other action star working today, I can put in any film that he stars in and know that I will be entertained, even the ones like “Safe” that have no business being good.
Statham is either incredibly lucky or he’s made a deal with the devil that will ultimately cost him his soul because I can’t think of a single film of his in the last few years – and lord knows, he usually pumps out at least one or two films a year – that honestly disappointed.
He’s like the antithesis of what we expect from our action idols. Name another comparable actor – Stallone, Willis, Norris, Li, Chan, Van Damme – who didn’t topline at least a handful of God-awful, so bad you wanted to demand a refund, action films that just left you insulted and angry for the time you just wasted. You would have to go all the way back to 2007’s “War” to find a truly wretched Statham flick, which ironically also featured Jet Li.
“Parker” isn’t a great deviation from his past starring roles, but once again Statham plays it so cool, so collected that even when the film drags you still want to watch to see how he’s going to outsmart the bad guys.
Once again, Statham is working with a director who has at least a handful of iconic films to his resume, and Taylor Hackford, while a surprising choice for this type of genre, doesn’t seem uncomfortable at all staging an exceptionally brutal, surprisingly intense fight to the death about midway through the story.
I honestly only have two quibbles, and they are minor. The ending is a little anti-climatic, even if necessary to completely tie up two plot lines. And Jennifer Lopez is a complete distraction in a role that must have been better in the book on which “Parker” is based. She’s not bad, per se. She’s just Jennifer Lopez playing a character who seems too Jennifer Lopez-y. I wanted her to do something to make her character unique.
Even Nick Nolte seems to be back in old form in a minor role, an that’s really saying something as someone who recently watched “Gangster Squad.”
“Parker” isn’t up there with “The Mechanic,” but it’s better than either of the woeful entries in “The Expendables” franchise.
The Burning: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 91 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): So in 1981, Harvey Weinstein, one half of The Weinstein Company and the former Miramax Films, a guy with a fearsome reputation in Hollywood for bullying and berating, wrote a horror movie for his fledgling studio to produce. He was 29. He was obviously influenced by the glut of other slasher flicks flooding the multiplex.
His little movie idea, “The Burning,” told the tragic story of Cropsy, an abrasive summer camp employee who becomes the target of a prank by some of the young campers that goes horribly awry. Years later, a deformed and burned Cropsy returns to the camp to seek bloody revenge.
The film gained cult status over the years as a long-lost horror “classic” because of Cropsy, a lesser-tiered slasher far below the ranks of Jason, Freddy or Leatherface, because of its special effects by Tom Savini and because several of the young actors in the cast later achieved widespread fame – Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens, primarily.
Now “The Burning” is being rereleased in a deluxe high-definition package that plays off these factors to position itself as an oft-forgotten genre gem.
Is it? Not really.
“The Burning” is basically a rip-off of “Friday the 13th,” right down to the location and the motivation of its slasher, a severely deformed figure with a serious hankering for revenge.
The film tries mightily to titillate with lots of young, nubile female campers frolicking, showering and teasing the boys. The problem is that most of the male characters are written so poorly that they come off as thugs, bullying misogynists who straddle the line between getting consent and committing rape.
The kills aren’t terribly impressive but they are brutal and mean-spirited to the point of being uncomfortable at times. For a better example of Savini’s gruesome genius, watch “Maniac” instead.
And “The Burning” suffers from a lack of plot that too often leaves its cast simply standing around or running through the forest with little dramatic tension to goose the viewer into caring.
What a lot of people often overlook is how well-constructed the original “Friday the 13th” actually was, and to a large degree its sequel. Both those films contained the same moving parts as “The Burning,” but they managed to humanize the poor doomed campers and counselors so they were relatable, even the meatheads, the cheap girls and the jerks. They also induced actual anxiety once the chase was on and they created a menacing killer, either the largely unseen Mrs. Voorhees in the first film or her lumbering, primal man-child Jason in the sequel.
Last Kind Words (Image Entertainment, 89 minutes, R, DVD): Less a horror movie than a coming-of-age/paranormal love story, genre fans who fancy themselves completionists when it comes to the back catalogs of particular actors may want to check this one out simply because it co-stars Brad Dourif.
Side Effects (Universal, 107 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): A crafty, expertly detailed thriller, “Side Effects” is another winner from director Steven Soderbergh, who seems intent to leave fans wanting if he indeed does semi-retire, following “Magic Mike,” this film and HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra.”
“Side Effects” is both a scathing indictment of major pharmaceutical companies and the doctors who shill their products for a fee, and a clever play on words. The film examines both the side effects that certain prescription meds can induce, and the side effects of the wreckage left in the wake when an honorable doctor is undone by a scheming plot.
Jude Law delivers his best performance in years, finally free from the unbearable weight that was put upon him to be the next matinee movie star, and Channing Tatum delivers another solid performance, the latest in a string of perfectly cast roles that he has enjoyed.
The ABC’s of Death (Magnet/Magnolia, 130 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Continuing the resurgence of anthology films, following last year’s “V/H/S,” this particularly nasty, exuberantly sleazy and gleefully gratuitous concoction hands over full creative control to 26 established or up-and-coming genre directors to make a short 2-to-3-minute film about death that is based on a word that begins with a letter of the alphabet.
Like most anthology films, the results are mixed with some of the respective films shining well above the others, but despite a slow start – the first three letters all fail to sufficiently kick off the proceedings with panache – “The ABC’s of Death” really hits its stride by the 12th letter, L, and barrels toward its conclusion with an orgy of excess and increasingly unhinged visions of demise.
In fact, taken as a sum of its parts, 13 of the short films really stand out:
Marcel Sarmiento (“Deadgirl”) shines with D is for Dogfight, a wicked spin on “Fight Club.”
Thomas Malling (“Norwegian Ninja”) delivers with H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, a bizarre but oddly erotic play on furries and patriotism.
Bruno Forzani & Héléne Cattet offer O is for Orgasm, a highly stylized take on ecstasy.
Simon Rumley (the masterful visionary behind “Red, White and Blue”) presents P is for Pressure, a shocking examination of exploitation that spotlights how far a mother will go for her child.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (the writing/directing duo who participated in “V/H/S”) return with Q is for Quack, a light-hearted and bloody take on creative mishaps.
Jake West (mid-80s cult classic “Razor Blade Smile”) revs it up with S is for Speed, a femme fatale drive-in homage.
Lee Hardcastle, a relative newcomer, flushes the hell out of T is for Toilet, a gory Claymation bathroom odyssey.
Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”) adds a unique perspective to U is for Unearthed, a POV exhumation tale that puts you in the grave.
Kaare Andrews (“Altitude”) does dystopian with V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby), a Robocop meets Big Brother sci-fi bloodbath.
Jon Schnepp (“Metalocalypse”) loses his head for W is for WTF, an everything plus the kitchen sink apocalyptic nightmare.
Xavier Gens (“The Divide”) sheds some pounds in X is for XXL, a scathing indictment of size acceptance and bullying.
Jason Eisener (“Hobo with a Shotgun”) shoots and kills Y is for Youngbuck, a pedophilia-themed revenge fantasy.
But the absolute best of the bunch, hands down, goes to Timo Tjahjanto, an Indonesian director about to be featured in “V/H/S 2.” His short, L is for Libido, perfectly fuses sex and violence in a shocking take on the game show from hell where contestants must outlast and outperform each other through self love while being subjected to increasingly sadistic imagery. The loser is rewarded with a terrible death. The winner is subjected to something even more vile.
“The ABC’s of Death” is a gimmick film, and there are points when that gimmick almost undermines the creativity of the filmmakers, even those who more than rally to the assignment. But the last hour is a delight, a rocket blast, a visceral stew of debauchery and deviance that keeps upping the ante right until the mind-screw conclusion.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (Shout! Factory, 90 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Released in 1976, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is a true-crime thriller that manages as many giggles as gasps. The film careens from scenes of shocking violence to light-hearted moments depicting the local and state police investigators as bumbling, backwoods but brave protectors of the peace.
The most enjoyable, and ridiculous, feature is the voiceover track that kicks off the film and reappears at various points throughout. The narrator waxes nostalgic about soldiers returning home to Texarkana after World War II, about the mundane joys of ordinary, everyday life, even about buying cars, before turning decidedly grim in describing the horror waiting to unleash on the unsuspecting townsfolk.
It’s an enjoyable who-done-it that is effectively chilling when paired with the knowledge that the killer was never caught.
True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO, 720 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): The fifth season of TV’s compelling, decidedly adult horror soap opera “True Blood” starts strong, opening immediately after Tara has seemingly been blown to Heaven by a shotgun blast to the head.
She doesn’t die, sadly. She becomes a vampire. Haters around the globe mourn.
It’s a fitting metaphor for a show that, at times, seems unable to move forward for fear of losing what worked so well in the past.
Coming off arguably its best season, which focused far less on vampires and instead gave center stage to witches, “True Blood” once again spreads its supernatural seed over a wide swath of tilled ground to see what characters and fantastic creatures take root best.
There are subplots involving vampires (much time is spent underground at the vampiric equivalent of the White House), werewolves (Alcide once again waffles about taking over the pack), shifters (Sam turns into a pig and a fly and other creatures), witch doctors and shamans (Lafayette’s inner evil mojo surfaces) and fairies (who remain the least compelling characters, even if they have the coolest and most erotic nightclub in Bon Temps).
Angry townsfolk once again rally to play the modern equivalent of peasants with pitchforks. The delicate balance between humans and vampires is tested by the re-emergence of King Russell. Bill is tempted by the promise of higher consciousness by the vampire queen Lilith. Sookie continues her reign as the cheapest, but sweetest, waitress ever, nearly bedding Alcide. Hoyt gets a proper sendoff after a pointless and brief flirtation with becoming a vampire hunter. Jason is still struggling to find some reason for existing. Oh, and a giant fire demon from Middle Eastern lore appears to threaten Terry and Arlene.
The sixth season starts in two weeks. It will be the first without show creator Alan Ball. I’m curious to see whether this chance at fresh ideas will pump, ahem, fresh blood into the series, or if it will continue to meander, eventually falling victim to its own prophetic advertising slogan for this season’s return, “No one lives forever.”
H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air
The Royal Collection
Perception: The Complete First Season
Howl’s Moving Castle
My Neighbor Totoro
Stand Up Guys
Laverne & Shirley: The Sixth Season
A Common Man
Captain America: Collector’s Edition
American Masters Mel Brooks: Make A Noise
Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn
The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One!
Saving Hope: The Complete First Season
Not to be Overlooked:
China Beach: The Complete Series (Time Life, 3,553 minutes, Unrated, DVD): One of the most beloved dramas ever to air on television, “China Beach” gets the deluxe treatment with a special boxed set containing all 62 episodes on 21 DVDs.
The story of the Vietnam War gets told through the eyes of the doctors and nurses who treated the wounded, as well as the soldiers. The commemorative set includes the original songs – more than 300 classic hits – that aired during the broadcast, plus more than 10 hours of bonus material, including episode commentaries, interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes and highlights from the 25th anniversary cast reunion.
The collection also comes with a 32-page book and a set of dog tags.
Silver Linings Playbook (Anchor Bay, 122 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Jennifer Lawrence is this generation’s Meryl Streep.
And Bradley Cooper can act his socks off.
If you don’t walk away from “Silver Linings Playbook” feeling supremely confident in both those statements, then you’re not a true movie fan.
This is just a wonderful film, full of life and genuine soul. Nothing feels contrived here.
There are real complications, presented in all their real, messy and challenging glory. Even the dance competition at the end, which totally could have felt like one of those “only in the movies” moments soars with heart and actual tension.
I haven’t liked a David O’Russell film since “Three Kings,” but now, I am back on the bandwagon.
From the Page to the Screen to the Page:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Book 2 (Vertigo Comics, 160 pages, Mature): Stieg Larsson’s worldwide mega-hit series gets the graphic novel treatment by DC Comics’ Vertigo division, and you know what, even if you know the story, there’s still so much here to appreciate.
For one, the graphic novel – written by Denise Mina and drawn by Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti – even if you’ve seen both the Swedish and American film versions, goes deeper into the original text to provide a faithful adaptation that fleshes out journalist Mikael Blomkvist more fully and shows him to be more of a lothario than either screen iteration.
The panels crackle with urgency. Manco and Mutti do a masterful job depicting Lisbeth Salander, staying true to her goth-girl punk roots, but still making the character his own. Salander is just that rare creation who captivates regardless of the physical medium in which she’s presented.
Book 2 doesn’t shy away from the novel’s gruesome sexual depictions. It definitely nails the “graphic” in graphic novel. But it also doesn’t feel like overkill or pure perverse fetishdom presented only to titillate fanboys and fangirls.
Do yourself a favor. If you haven’t stepped foot in a comic book shop lately, make an exception for this title.
New Releases for Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Posted May 18, 2013 by John Allman
Updated May 18, 2013 at 12:29 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Texas Chainsaw 3D
Directed by: John Luessenhop
Run time: 92 minutes
The Lowdown: There is one-half of a great follow-up to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” legacy to be found in this most recent franchise continuation, but in order to get to the good stuff, fans must wade through about 40 minutes of crap, which is a shame.
I doubt many people taking the film home on Blu-Ray or DVD will have enough patience to reach the payoff.
“Texas Chainsaw” is that rare revisit to a horror classic that actually manages to surprise with a unique idea. What if the Sawyer family (Leatherface, Grandpa and the gang) were actually made out to be victims? What if their reprehensible, cannibalistic ways were misunderstood by a prejudiced populous of hateful bigots and the family, infants and all, were subjected to the same brutality that they had enacted on their unsuspecting prey? What if the family had a long-lost heir, someone who had no idea about its bloody history, and she happened to uncover the truth about what happened. How would she perceive the deaths of nearly all her relatives? How would she feel about those who killed her kin? What would she do when standing face to face with a skin-mask wearing, chainsaw wielding maniac and realized it was her cousin? Would she approve of the family way of dealing with problems?
Getting to that point of “Texas Chainsaw,” like I said, takes patience and more than a little self-restraint. The first half of the film seems designed to physically force you to turn off the TV. There’s the usual crew of hard-bodied, hard-partying young adults, including Heather, the long lost Sawyer descendant. Heather has a black boyfriend (rapper Trey Songz making his debut), a cheap and easy best friend (who inexplicably risks destroying their friendship by having an ill-timed tryst with Heather’s beau) and two tag alongs – a disposable guy interest for the skanky friend and a drifter hitchhiker the gang picks up while traveling to Texas so Heather can sign some documents and inherit the Sawyer homestead.
The group of young adults make terrible decisions, including leaving the hitchhiker at Heather’s just-inherited, completely furnished new mansion, which he immediately begins to plunder. It’s such a ridiculous moment that you literally shout at the screen, Who Does That?!? Before long, all of Heather’s friends are being gutted and hung from hooks by the crazed man-child in the mask Leatherface found lurking in the basement.
These early kills lack any tension. The characters are completely useless. You feel your frustration hitting boiling point.
Then something happens. Suddenly, the opening scene makes sense. The would-be Sawyer executioners are shown to be running the small Texas town, still doling out backwoods justice. And Heather learns all this while seeking shelter at the police station following a particularly well-staged Leatherface attack at a local carnival. The rush of information that she absorbs quickly has a peculiar effect on Heather. It enrages her. She wants justice. She wants revenge. And suddenly Leatherface has a very hot, very angry ally, who happens to be a direct blood relative.
The ending of “Texas Chainsaw” – actually the last 25 minutes or so – is spectacular, if only because longtime fans are treated to something we’ve never seen in a TCM movie before, which is Leatherface as a brutal antihero, saving the day and gorily dispatching bad guys who are actually just as evil as him.
If only the creative team of director John Luessenhop and his trio of writers (Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms) had had more faith in their vision, or had been able to convince the corporate suits that what TCM fans didn’t want or need was the first 40 minutes of scantily clad victims running shrieking from the big guy in a butcher’s apron.
I would have been tickled pink to have seen the entire first half of the film focus exclusively on Heather and her arrival in Texas, her acceptance of her grandmother’s mansion and her slow understanding of just how malicious and mean-spirited and unforgiving the townsfolk really were.
I would have been just fine not even seeing Leatherface until the midway mark. Heather could still have had a boyfriend, someone to accompany her on the trip. Maybe the evil mayor and his deputy son and their hillbilly buddies could have shown just how racist and vile they were by attacking Heather and killing her African American boyfriend for spite. Maybe she could have escaped and stumbled upon the underground cellar and unknowingly unlocked the door keeping old Leatherhead at bay.
Just imagine the potential with that scenario, a mash-up of “I Spit On Your Gave” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” whereby the heroine actually encourages her cousin Leatherface to kill and they take the fight to the family that tried to make their own family extinct.
The potential was there. It just wasn’t fully executed.
To appreciate “Texas Chainsaw” is to accept these two disparate halves, one clichéd and well-worn, retreading all the old slasher tropes, and the far more interesting third act fueled by a bloody revenge fantasy.
The door has been left wide open for the next installment. I’m curious to see if the chainsaw will roar again.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes, Alexandra Daddario is insanely hot as Heather, and she should be a candidate for consideration if the proposed “hack/slash” film ever gets off the ground.
Nudity – Surprisingly, no.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Surprisingly, Leatherface is not the worst monster in the movie.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – There’s a bloody trove of goodies, including two commentary tracks, and a slew of featurettes like “Texas Chainsaw Legacy,” “Resurrecting the Saw,” “It’s All in the Meat” and “Leatherface 2013.”
On the Web – http://www.texaschainsaw3d.com/
Frankie Go Boom (Universal, 89 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): “Frankie Go Boom” is one of those ensemble comedies that makes you wonder if everyone else is in on the joke but you.
I found it only fleetingly funny with very few actual laugh-out-loud moments. A close friend thought it was hysterical.
I adore Ron Perlman as an actor, but I didn’t crack up watching him offer sage advice in bad drag. A close friend couldn’t stop laughing.
The only we did agree on was Charlie Hunnam’s performance, which is such a deviation from “Sons of Anarchy” and everything else he’s done that it just literally caught us both by pleasant surprise.
“Frankie Go Boom” stars a lot of actors you know and like. It’s worth a watch.
Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros., 172 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): “Cloud Atlas” is, arguably, a lot to take in.
The film from Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer jumps in time across thousands of years. All the main actors, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant, play multiple characters from various races and ethnicities, whose lives all intersect.
One moment you’re on a slave ship in the 1800s. Then you’re in Tokyo more than 1,000 years in the future. Next you’re watching Grant painted up as an aboriginal warrior slicing some poor guy’s throat open. Then you’re in the 1970s and Berry is an investigative reporter.
Buried under all the makeup and computer generated effects is a simple story about human connections and love and destiny. Maybe it’s too simple a story for such a grand canvas. It’s difficult to tell. But “Cloud Atlas” takes a long, long, looong time to really hook you, and that’s a problem.
The film looks fantastic, the visual designs are top-notch and several of the different worlds presented truly dazzle. But you need astory to hold it all together, and not just that, but a story that actually makes sense. This is the same problem the Wachowski’s ran into with their two sequels to “The Matrix.” They just didn’t have enough of a story to tell without it feeling redundant. Tykwer too has faced this criticism ever since his breakout hit, “Run Lola Run.” Nothing he has directed has had that same spark, although “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” came close.
I really had hoped the early reviews were wrong and I might discover this to be an unfairly slighted diamond. Upon multiple viewings, it might be. But usually, in order to deserve a repeat showing, a film must first hold your attention throughout during the first sitting, and “Cloud Atlas” sadly did not. If I revisit it, it will be because someone else tells me I need to give it a second chance.
Dance Academy: Season 1 and Season 2
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swann III
Doctor Who: The Visitation
Top Gear: Season 19
Dexter: The Seventh Season
Saban’s Power Rangers Samurai: The Sixth Ranger
Liz & Dick
Back to 1942
Fraggle Rock: Meet the Fraggles
Tomorrow You’re Gone
New Releases for Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Posted May 11, 2013 by John Allman
Updated May 11, 2013 at 01:48 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Run time: 130 minutes
The Lowdown: “Jack Reacher” may well be the best worst movie Tom Cruise has ever made.
At more than two hours long, I would wager that half – if not more – of the screen time is filler, pure and simple.
The problems with “Jack Reacher” have nothing to do with Cruise, who capably steps up to play a character that no other diminutive actor would even dare. Lee Child’s action hero is a towering man mountain on the page. As played by Cruise, he is unflappable but totally human, except when forced to utter a warning, much like asking one possible target if he wants to see the inside of an ambulance.
Cruise’s commitment to the role makes these moments fun, and funny, but not campy. Those of us who like Cruise as an actor, and I’m in that group, can totally appreciate him as a badass, regardless if it’s true.
The problems with “Jack Reacher” can be traced to two sources: Child’s book, “One Shot,” the Reacher novel picked to kick off this wannabe franchise, and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie.
McQuarrie’s legacy now seems doomed to two projects – the Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Usual Suspects,” and his first directing gig, the criminally-underappreciated “Way of the Gun.” Both “Suspects” and “Gun” crackled with intensity and a rat-a-tat verbal barrage of bone-bruising tough guy dialogue.
Where’s that guy? He didn’t show up for “Jack Reacher.”
Instead, McQuarrie appears to lift whole passages of Child’s novel and plop them on the screen. Instead of conversations, you have dissertations. Characters deliver long-winded soliloquies that are broken up only by another character asking obvious springboard questions – Why? How do you know that? What happens next? – simply to further the exposition.
A perfect example is when Reacher (Cruise) asks the female defense attorney (played by Rosamund Pike with two expressions – eyes wide open and eyes really wide open) what she learned by speaking to the families of each of the victims, and Pike’s character literally launches into a 15 minute speech that is punctuated on screen by flashbacks that you later learn mean absolutely nothing.
Much of “Jack Reacher” plays out like that, like a hardboiled gumshoe flick from the 1940s, back when directors and writers had to fill films with nothing but words because special effects were so limited. Only here, those words just ring hollow. There’s no zip, no pow. Entire scenes could be diagrammed with a straight line from A to B to C.
That brings me to the other, bigger problem with “Jack Reacher” – the novel on which it was based.
I haven’t read “One Shot,” and I surely won’t be visiting the text anytime soon. Why? There’s zero story, apparently.
Having watched “Jack Reacher,” I honestly could not tell you why someone would even care. There’s a sniper who kills a bunch of people. One of those people may be important. There’s a shadowy, ominous foreign guy who goes by a nickname that means “Prisoner.” Who is he? Why is he important? I have no idea. There’s also another sniper. Who does he work for? I have no idea. Yet somehow, these two incredibly poorly fleshed out characters have an entire cadre of men willing to do whatever they say, including high-ranking police officials. Why? Who knows. The film doesn’t do a good job explaining their importance, and I suspect that’s because the book doesn’t either.
“Jack Reacher” has exactly one moment that marks it as a good, fun action movie. It’s an extended car chase that McQuarrie stages like something out of “Bullitt.” It’s a thrilling surprise, if only because up until that point, very little that would qualify as action has happened.
“Jack Reacher” is surprisingly, laughingly bad. It’s almost fun just to watch to hoot and holler at the screen.
Cruise walks away unscathed simply because he fully commits to the character. He deserves a better story than the one he got. But his quips and menacing threats are enough to make “Jack Reacher” watchable.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – I used to think Rosamund Pike was hot. Now I’m not so sure.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – I’m not entirely sure who they were or why they existed.
Buy/Rent – Rent it, if you must.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Multiple commentaries, including one by Tom Cruise; multiple featurettes;
On the Web – http://www.jackreachermovie.com/
Mama (Universal, 100 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): “Mama,” the early 2013 hit horror film produced by Guillermo del Toro, works best when it keeps you guessing as to what’s really going on.
The first 45-50 minutes of the film, which slowly unspool the story of two little girls found abandoned in a rundown cabin in the woods, is genuinely chilling when it teases the titular supernatural entity of its title.
Director Andrés Muschietti, expanding on his own short film, wisely frames some of those shots for maximum impact, such as having a bedroom door only cracked open enough to show one of the little girls playing chase in her room. One moment, the girl is running across the floor. The next, she is being whisked high up in the air by unseen hands, her body visible only above the door frame.
Though it’s much, much better than del Toro’s last production, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” “Mama” fails to maintain its sense of dread and urgency and the ending, while spectacularly shot, relies too heavily on computer-generated effects to be truly terrifying.
This isn’t one to avoid. There’s much here to appreciate. I just wish “Mama” had lived up to the promise of its early teasers and delivered a more thoroughly and consistently scary experience.
K9: The Complete Series
Flashpoint: The Fifth Season
Gunsmoke: The Eighth Season, Vol. One and Two
Have Gun Will Travel: The Sixth Season, Vol. One and Two
James A. Michener’s Texas
Felicity: Season Three
Felicity: Season Four
Witness: A World in Conflict Through A Lens
The Assassin’s Blade
Revenge for Jolly
30 Rock: Season 7
WWII from Space
Bunohan: Return to Murder
The Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection: Female Teacher Hunting and She Cat
Shanghai Noon/Shanghai Knights 2-Movie Collection
Rookie Blue: The Complete Third Season