Two imports with fresh takes and surprising twists on the horror movie
With big screen horror films routinely returning to familiar paradigms, whether it be psychotic killers stalking teens or the post-"Blair Witch Project" video "reality" strain (like "Paranormal Activity 3," last week's box-office monster), it's always a treat to find filmmakers reviving old genres with new attitude and hacking their way through new territory. This week, two recent horror imports show that ingenuity and creativity are alive and well in the horror genre: "Attack the Block" (Sony) from Britain and "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope) from Finland.
"Attack the Block" (Sony), an alien invasion movie set in the gang-run projects of South London, is both far smarter than it looks on the surface, and more indebted to the drive-in horror movie culture than has been acknowledged.
While fireworks fill the sky, meteors pelt the streets, unleashing inky-black predators on an unsuspecting gang of teen thugs and a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) who they just mugged. Most monsters have eyes that glow in the dark. These inky-black furry predators are all teeth and they glow in the dark with a threat they can't ignore. Part of the pleasure of the film is the way filmmaker Joe Cornish gives these memorable creatures, smudgy "wolf-monkey" fur balls that disappear in the shadows and leap out like all-mouthy eating machines, a startling physicality. As unreal as they look, they are insistently present and threatening.
But even more impressive is the way he brings us into the social culture of the neighborhood and past the first impressions of these young gang members. John Boyega, a remarkable young actor who portrays Moses, the glaring leader of the group, is a performer to watch; the volatile mix of anger and toughened attitude he brings to the role covers a vulnerable young man beneath the pose. Plus, how can you not like a film where a dazed and confused stoner (Nick Frost) figures out how to fight these aliens because he watches a lot of natural history TV. More reviews here.
'The First Avenger' on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D - plus an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray
There is something very appealing in the gee-whiz earnestness and plucky patriotism of "Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount), a red, white and blue superhero journey wrapped up in the nostalgia of the World War II era, where American pluck and moral certainty made the battle.
MSN has an exclusive clip from the making of the film below, after the jump
As the title hints, it is something of a feature-length prologue to the upcoming superhero extravaganza "The Avengers," showing us exactly why the star-spangled Captain is the standard bearer of superhero ideals. Next to the psychotic obsession of Batman and the wisecracking, fun-loving spirit of Spiderman, Cap is the boy scout of the genre: brave, virtuous, earnest, so square he's almost hip. And the film owes all due credit to Chris Evans, who brings a convincing mix of pluck, modesty and duty to the role, embodying an icon without turning it into parody. He's the guy who steps up at every challenge, whether he's the scrawny, sickly, 4-F Brooklyn kid constantly scrapping with bullies while trying every trick to enlist or the super soldier leading a squad of howling commandos against greater numbers to take out The Red Skull, Hitler's madman of a freelance mini-Fuhrer.
But the film is also an old-fashioned piece of two-fisted comic-book heroism with a patina of nostalgia and World War II patriotism. It's a big film with sturdy production values, great forties costumes and sets and technology, terrific World War II Europe settings and Tommy Lee Jones as the flinty but dedicated American Colonel who is all about the men and the practical approach to winning the war and protecting his soldiers from reckless harm.
"It's light and bright and brisk, but never glib: It's a layer cake made of one part Indiana Jones, one part James Bond and one part "Inglourious Basterds," with the bright colors, tone and style of a four-color comic book as the icing holding it all together," writes MSN film critic James Rocchi. "With director Joe Johnston hitting the same tones of retro-styled high adventure he did in 1991's "The Rocketeer," "Captain America" is not high art, but it is so unabashedly fun -- and such well-made fun -- that it is hard to not like and admire it for so steadfastly being what it is."
While not the best superhero movie in the recent cycle of big-screen comic books, it's far from the worst and at times endearing in its sense of honor, decency and responsibility. It's more of a live-action graphic novel than a fully-realized movie, a retelling of a pulp myth or a chapter in a superhero saga rather than a stand-alone movie experience, but that in a way makes it an even more appropriate home video experience. Just file that disc alongside the other stories in the tales from the Marvel Universe.
Warner Home Video has a new trick: making "Harry Potter" disappear from DVD and Blu-ray in 2012
That doesn't mean they will all suddenly disappear -- now that would be a magic trick worthy of special credit at Hogwarts -- but that all discs will be limited to stock on hand on store shelves and stockrooms. When those are sold, there will be no more.
But don't panic. This is clearly timed to make the most of the holiday season and encourage anyone thinking of picking up a "Harry Potter" movie for a gift or complete their DVD library to take the lunge now.
And don't expect this to last forever. Disney has for decades taken their animated classics out of circulation and then, after a break of a few years, re-released them in theaters and on home video in new editions for a new generation.
And according to the press release, the film will still be available through video on demand and digital delivery.
Here's the full text of the press release, after the jump:
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
"Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount) is, as the title hints, something of a prologue to the upcoming superhero extravaganza "The Avenger," but it's also an old-fashioned piece of two-fisted comic-book heroism with a patina of nostalgia and World War II patriotism. And the film owes all due credit to Chris Evans, who brings a convincing mix of pluck, modesty and duty to the role, embodying an icon without turning it into parody. While not the best superhero movie in the recent cycle of big-screen comic books, it's far from the worst and at times endearing in its sense of honor, decency and responsibility. Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. Videodrone's review is here.
"Winnie the Pooh" (Disney) is the new animated feature starring the silly old bear of A.A. Milne's children's stories, and Disney's first hand-drawn animated feature in some time.
The lead-up to Halloween also brings a few choice titles out for the season, the most choice being "Attack the Block" (Sony), a British invasion-in-the-hood thriller with both a palpable social subtext and a great B-movie energy. And from Finland comes the twisted Santa Claus tale "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope). Videodrone reviews them here.
Kevin Spacey is "Father of Invention" (Anchor Bay), an inventor and TV pitchman on hard times, Jenna Fischer needs "A Little Help" (Image) in this comedy and "The People Vs. George Lucas" (Lionsgate) explores the complicated relationship between "Star Wars" fans and the film's creator.
From China comes "City of Life and Death" (Kino Lorber), an epic recreation of the Rape of Nanking in 1937, plus the costume action thriller "Shaolin" (Well Go) with Andy Lau, both on DVD and Blu-ray. "Fire of Conscience" (Vivendi) is a contemporary Hong Kong crime thriller.
TV on DVD:
"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory) collects all eight seasons of the iconic seventies sitcom -- 168 episodes altogether -- plus complete half-season of the spin-off "Fish" in a hefty 25-disc box set. Set entirely in the precinct house, it's still considered the most realistic portrayal of cops on television by real-life law officers. The set is also packed with supplements: commentary tracks, cast interviews and the original pilot. Videodrone's review is here.
The Emmy-winning 1977 holiday drama "The Gathering" (Warner) stars Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton.
With the new feature film set for release, the original 1980 British TV mini-series "Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy" (Acorn), starring Sir Alec Guinness is George Smiley, is back out on DVD. More from Videodrone here. Also from Britain comes "Luther 2" (BBC), the second round of the dark Idris Elba crime series, plus "Justice" (BFS) with Robert Pugh and "A Passionate Woman" (BFS), a romantic drama with Billie Piper.
"Nazi Hunters" (MVD) is an award-winning Canadian nonfiction series about the missions to hunt down some of the most wanted men in the 20th Century. Also new: "Thunder Cats: Season One, Book One" (Warner) with the first episodes of the new incarnation of the animated series, and "Robot Chicken: Season 5" (Warner) from the Cartoon Network.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"Are we not men?" That's the question at the heart of "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion), the first adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel starring Charles Laughton as a heartless scientist who plays God in his jungle laboratory. Though not as famous as the original "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," this early-thirties horror is one of the greats and makes its long-awaited debut on DVD and Blu-ray. Just in time for Halloween. Videodrone's review is here.
And speaking of horror, two Lucio Fulci films arrive this week in new editions for DVD and Blu-ray: "Zombie: 2-Disc Ultimate Edition" (Blue Underground) and "House By the Cemetery" (Blue Underground) both add new supplements to newly-remastered editions of the grotesque Italian horrors. More from Videodrone here.
"Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection" (Vivendi) is an impressive ten-disc set featuring newly-remastered editions of ten features and dozens of shorts from their Hal Roach period, from their first sound short to "A Chump at Oxford" and "Saps at Sea" in 1940. A whole disc of supplements plus alternate versions of some shorts and feature films. "Nine Nation Animation" (New Yorker) showcases new animated shorts from around the world.
"Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy" (Universal) brings all three of Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur adventures to Blu-ray in box set filled with old and new supplements. And, of course, lots of prehistoric predators. Videodrone's review is here.
"Dazed and Confused" (Criterion), the "American Graffiti" for the other end of the baby boom generation, gets its Criterion Blu-ray release mere months after its Universal Blu-ray release. Needless to say, the supplements are impressive. Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" (Lionsgate) debuts on Blu with new supplements and "Tom and Jerry: Golden Collection, Volume One" (Warner) presents 37 classic cartoons remastered for DVD and Blu-ray.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
CinemaScope, SuperScope and Dana Andrews in the fifties
Fritz Lang arrived in Hollywood as an artist in exile and, as the creator of some of Germany's most famous and most successful films, accorded all due respect. Unlike a lot of artist refugees from Hitler's Germany, he was offered prestige assignments, "important" subjects and major stars. At least at first. Without major hits or awards to his credit, and with a reputation for autocratic methods (there's nothing a studio hates more than a "difficult" director), he very slowly slipped down the ladder into smaller budgets and increasingly turned to independent productions.
Fritz Lang's final three American productions were released through the Warner Archive Collection this year. And while they never reach the heights of his greatest American films -- "You Only Live Once" (1937), "Man Hunt" (1941), "Scarlet Street" (1945), "The Big Heat" (1953) -- they have their pleasures and rewards.
"Moonfleet" (1955) was Lang's last film for one of the Hollywood majors. The budget-minded MGM production set in 18th century England, it's like "Great Expectations" by way of a gothic film noir, in this case a world of smugglers, knaves and decadent, corrupt gentry on the rocky, foggy British coast. Jon Whitely is the film's answer to Pip, a plucky young orphan sent to live with the dark criminal aristocrat Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), a brigand with money and status torn between his mercenary instincts and his growing sense of responsibility for the innocent and unfailingly loyal boy, the son of the woman he loved and in many ways the symbol of the road not taken.
Lang shot in CinemaScope entirely in the studio and still creates a claustrophobic world of craggy moors and bleak architecture. Even the stony church is a bleak sanctuary where cold statues seem to judge, if not outright threaten, the parishioners. Visually it anticipates the look of the Hammer Gothic horrors and Corman's Poe films, with its studio moors and gloomy sets of stone gray and rough wood and costumes of royal purple and soldier crimson, all shrouded in fog and mist like a perpetual purgatory. Granger delivers a perfectly sardonic and arrogant performance while George Sanders purrs pure aristocratic decadence and moral bankruptcy, relishing his easy corruption with wry looks and cheerfully greedy behavior. "You're cheating," accuses one man at a card game. He fixes a weary smirk and replies: "Even if I were, I'd consider it grossly impolite to say so in my own house." Sure, there's a redemption in the offing, but the brigands are a lot more fun.
After this low-end studio assignment, Lang ended his Hollywood career at RKO, once a major studio slowly withering under the capricious command of Howard Hughes, working with falling stars and budget-starved productions in black and white that he did his best to turn into an asset.
"While the City Sleeps" (1956) is less an all-star cast than a veteran line-up of studio pros: Dana Andrews as the ostensible lead, a TV newscaster in a multi-media news company that encompasses a metropolitan daily paper and a wire service, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price and Ida Lupino as the newspaper columnist whose nose for office politics is her greatest survival skill. Ostensibly a thriller about a serial killer (John Drew Barrymore) and the media circus around the investigation, there isn't much tension or crime movie thriller energy, but it does offer a thoroughly corrupt portrait of life: while a psychotic leatherboy kills girls and blames his mom, the staff of a new organization plays politics to maneuver themselves into a promotion when the playboy son (Vincent Price) of the deceased owner takes over and essentially pits his employees against one another to vie from promotion.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
Arrrgh! Johnny Depp and the 'Pirates' are Back 'On Stranger Tides'!
TV on DVD:
'V' Leaves the Skies. Or at Least the Network Schedule
TV on DVD Channel Guide: Margaret Thatcher and J.K. Rowling via TV Movies
The Cool and the Collectible:
Cult Watch: 'Batman: Year One'
'Willy Wonka' and the Ultimate Collector's Edition – with an exclusive clip
Coming up next week:
"Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount)
"Winnie the Pooh" (Disney)
"Attack the Block" (Sony)
"Father of Invention" (Anchor Bay)
"The People Vs. George Lucas" (Lionsgate)
"City of Life and Death" (Kino Lorber)
"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (Oscilloscope)
"Identification of a Woman" (Criterion)
"Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion)
"Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection" (Vivendi)
"Zombie: 2-Disc Ultimate Edition" (Blue Underground)
"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory)
"Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy" (Blu-ray) (Universal)
"Dazed and Confused" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"The Conversation" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
|Tags:||Week in review|
Plus Felini's 'I Clowns' and Martin Scorsese's 'Cape Fear' remake
"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray+DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner) is quite the deluxe edition of the fantasy classic. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Crow" (Lionsgate), a perennial cult favorite among the dark comic-book movies, finally arrives on Blu-ray after (and only months after the inferior sequel was released). Brandon Lee (who died in a production accident while making the film) makes a simmering hellion of a hero, a lean, ruthless dark angel with furious moves and an intensity that strikes terror in his victims before he kills them in often grotesque ways, his form of poetic justice. It's essentially a sadistic revenge fantasy, a humorless Dr. Phibes with a demonic twist set in some vague Goth-noir city of perpetual night, buy style monkey Alex Proyas sets a striking look and tone: unreal nightmare fantasy with a flamboyant style, exaggerated art direction, and a thundering pace. A real live action comic book, right down to its pulp characters. The disc features a new commentary track by director Alex Proyas plus supplements from previous editions: a behind-the-scenes featurette, a profile of “The Crow” comic strip creator James O’Barr, extended scenes and deleted footage among the supplements, plus a bonus digital copy.
"The Guns of Navarone" (Sony) helped kick off the fashion for muscular World War II mission thrillers. Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven are part of the covert Allied saboteurs charged with infiltrating a Nazi stronghold on a rocky Greek island and destroying the heavily-protected guns hidden in the craggy caves. J. Lee Thompson’s WWII high tension adventure, adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel by blacklisted writer Carl Foreman, is a cracking good cliffhanger of grit and grease, loyalty and suspicion, and heroism under fire. Features separate commentary tracks by director J. Lee Thompson and film historian Stephen J. Rubin and 11 featurettes (the disc says three documentaries and eight featurettes, but as the longest is under 30 minutes I don't think they qualify as features, only featurettes), including "Ironic Epic of Heroism" hosted by Sir Christopher Frayling and the 1999 "Memories of Navarone" with J. Lee Thompson and stars Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and James Darren. Notes on the restoration from archivist Robert Harris here.
Raro Video released Federico Fellini's "I Clowns" on DVD earlier this year. It now makes the Blu-ray debut for both the film and the company. Originally made for Italian television, the production is a first-person exploration/appreciation of the art and culture of clowns made with the usual indulgence of its director. Reviewing the film in 1971, Roger Ebert wrote of this mix of fact and fancy: "This is artful and sometimes very amusing, but it doesn't work as fiction because Fellini is tied to facts, and it doesn't work as documentary because Fellini will not (cannot?) abandon his gift of giving the raw material an artistic shape." Like the DVD, the Blu-ray features Fellini's 1953 short "La Agenzia Matrimoniale" (made for the anthology film "Love in the City"/"L'amore in citta") and Adriano Arpa’s 45-minute visual essay "Fellini’s Circus." The disc is in a paperboard holder in a slipsleeve and accompanied by a handsome 50-page booklet. Gary Tooze reports that it is a marked improvement over the flawed DVD release, with none of the edge-enhancement issues that plagued the earlier release, at his essential site DVD Beaver.
The Blu-ray debut of "Cape Fear (1991)" (Universal) arrives for the 20th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s remake of the 1962 thriller. Nick Nolte stars as the lawyer that sadistic ex-con Robert DeNiro hunts along with the counsellor’s wife (Jessica Lange) and daughter (Juliette Lewis) in his violent campaign of revenge. It’s Scorsese’s ugliest film in human terms, with a compromised lawyer who reneges on his duty to a vicious client to put him behind bars, his splintered family living a life of lies and mistrust, and an inhuman killer preaching revenge like a righteous angel of vengeance. Illeana Douglas and Joe Don Baker co-star, and original stars Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, and Martin Balsam all make cameos. Includes all the supplements of the previous DVD special edition: the 80-minute documentary "The Making of Cape Fear," two short behind-the-scenes segments, nine minutes of deleted scenes (including one very nice moment between mother and daughter), a featurette about the Saul and Elaine Bass opening credits sequence, a montage of matte effects shots and more, plus the usual BD-Live supplements.
Also new on Blu-ray: "Darkness Falls" (Image), Jonathan Liebesman’s 2003 supernatural horror movie about a demonic spirit that returns to a sleepy seaside town (in the guise of the famous midnight spirit who trades loose teeth for hard cash) to take revenge on a lynching from 150 years ago. No supplements.
Plus the 'Trancers' Chronicles, classic Hong Kong action and more Kevin Smith
"Batman: Year One" (Warner), based on the Frank Miller-scripted graphic novel about the early years of Batman and Jim Gordon (before he was Commissioner), is to date the best of the DC Universe Original Animated features. Videodrone's review is here. "Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys: Eclipse Series 29" (Criterion) chronicles the amazing collaboration between Finland's eccentric rockers and legendary minimalist absurdist director. Videodrone's review is here.
Kaneto Shindo's "Kuroneko" (Criterion) is both an eerie ghost story and a ferocious horror tale of righteous revenge. Set in feudal Japan, in a bamboo forest perpetually shrouded in fog and shadow as ethereal as the ghosts that seem to float through it, the film chronicles the spirits of two women, raped and murdered by scruffy samurai who are more like feral bandits, driven to revenge themselves on all samurai, which they lure to their ghost house, itself a spirit that moves through the forest like a supernatural creature. It's one of the greatest of Japanese ghost stories, a horror film of elemental drive, feminist rage and visual grace. Read Michael Atkinson's review, from the 2010 revival, at The Village Voice here.
Criterion releases the film, fresh from a 2010 theatrical revival, on DVD and Blu-ray, with an archival interview with director Kindo Shindo and a new video interview with film critic Tadao Sato, plus a booklet with a new essay by film critic and horror film expert Maitland McDonagh. (You can read here essay on the Criterion website here.)
Back in the early days of home video, the most reliable direct-to-video label was Full Moon, the creation of Charles Band, a Roger Corman wannabe who found his niche in oddball movies series produced mostly in Europe. By reliable I don't mean they were all good – most were pretty trashy but some were actually a lot of fun – but you knew what you were getting: low budget style, funky effects and at best some strange creatures. "Trancers: The Ultimate Deth Collection" (Flatiron) was the best of his franchises, with Tim Thomerson as time-travelling (sort of) bounty hunter who ends up in present day Los Angeles. The 1985 "Trancers," which co-starred young Helen Hunt (who also shows up in the 1991 sequel "Trancers II"), actually hit theaters but the rest went straight to VHS rental racks. All five films on five discs in a standard case with hinged trays. Also from the Band factory is the oddball vampire twist "subspecies: The Complete Chronicles" (Flatiron), also five films (including pseudo-sequel "Vampire Journals") on five discs.
Cashing in on the red, white and blue icon a week before his new incarnation hits home video, "Captain America (1979) / Captain America II: Death Too Soon" (Shout! Factory) offers a sorry double feature of dull TV movies starring Reb Brown as an uninspiring stand-in for the Marvel hero. Best wait until next week.
Timed to arrive the same week of his new film "Red State" is "Kevin Smith: Too Fat for 40" (Shout! Factory), essentially a Kevin Smith stand-up comedy gig performed in his hometown on his 40th birthday. The DVD and Blu-ray both feature hours of bonus material. "Smodimations: The SModcast Cartoon Show Season One" (Shout! Factory) collects the animated "Smodcast" shorts of from Kevin Smith's website (animated by Steven Stark to conversations between Smith and Scot Mosier) and edits them into a short feature. For the Smith obsessive, you can get both in "Kevin Smith: Too Fat for 40 / Smodimations Box Set" (Shout! Factory), a website exclusive that includes a bonus disc with a live video SModcast of a "Hollywood Babble-On" program with Smith and Ralph Garman, recorded on May 22, 2011. That's a little too much Kevin Smith for me.
Four more martial arts classics of Hong Kong cinema, including two early films from the great Chang Cheh. Cheng Pei Pei and Jimmy Wang Yu star in "Golden Swallow" (Arc Entertainment), the 1968 film that (in the words of historian Ric Meyers) "cemented Chang Cheh's stardom), and David Chiang and Ti Lung headline the 1973 "Blood Brothers" (Arc Entertainment), where friendship is tested by betrayal and, of course, bloody battle. Also new this week: "Killer Clans" (Arc Entertainment) and "The Avenging Eagle" (Arc Entertainment)
"You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South" (Milestone), the 1985 documentary of grass roots activism in the south, arrives with two new pop culture documentaries: "The Captains" (eOne), directed by William Shatner, and "More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead" (CAV). Details at the True Stories documentary roundup.