The New Release Rack: Sundance and Independent Spirit Award Winner 'Pariah'
Plus "Return," "The Wicker Tree," "The Innkeepers" and more
"Contraband" (Universal) stars Mark Wahlberg as a legendary smuggler in a familiar "one last score" story, this one taking him from New Orleans to Panama and back while a psycho drug dealer terrorizes his family. Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and On Demand. Videodrone's review is here.
"Let the Bullets Fly" (Well Go), highest-grossing Chinese film of all time and a wild mix of Hong Kong action and spaghetti western in twenties-era China, leads off the foreign releases of the week. Videodrone reviews it here.
"Pariah" (Universal) – "Written and directed by Dee Rees, "Pariah" is a great example of how the edge in indie film can, too often, become a middle in and of itself -- and how new voices can push that new middle through quality and sincerity into something exceptional," recommends MSN film critic James Rocchi. Adepero Oduye stars as 17-year-old Alike, a creative young woman struggling to come to terms with her identity as a lesbian in a family where difference is met hostility. Rocchi praises the way the film, "thanks to exemplary camerawork, disciplined yet heartfelt writing and direction, and finely tuned performances, somehow moves above and beyond the mere bones and sinew of that essential plotline to be fully fleshed as something new and different." The film won awards at Sundance and the Independent Spirit Awards. Blu-ray and DVD, with three featurettes. Also available On Demand
"Return" (eOne) stars Linda Cardellini as a soldier struggling to come to terms with civilian life after coming home from a tour of duty in Iraq. Michael Shannon and John Slattery co-star in the film directed and written by Liza Johnson. "Johnson's feel for the rhythms of reconnection are steady, and she and her fine actors make Return one of only a handful of films to honestly address what to many is heartbreaking reality," writes New York Daily News film critic Joe Neumaier. DVD only, with director commentary and deleted scenes.
"The Wicker Tree" (Anchor Bay), Robin Hardy's follow-up to "The Wicker Man," isn't exactly a sequel, though it is set in the same pagan culture of ancient ritual and sacrifice. Almost forty years after the original, the ritual continues with the Laird and Lady of the land (Graham McTavish and Jacqueline Leonard) inviting a Born Again Texas couple (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett) as the guests of honor at the Mayday festival on their Scottish estate. Most people wouldn't call this a horror film, which is part of what makes it so interesting. While the script neither as ominous nor resonant as Anthony Schaeffer's original screenplay but it is ambitious and intelligent, qualities rare enough in modern films. On Blu-ray and DVD with a short featurette and deleted scene. More reviews here.
"The Innkeepers" (Dark Sky), directed by Ti West (of "House of the Devil"), is a somewhat more traditional horror film, a haunted inn tale where the two employees (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) turned ghost hunter in the final days before it closes for good. "Ghost movies like this, depending on imagination and craft, are much more entertaining than movies that scare you by throwing a cat at the camera," writes Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert in his thumbs-up review. As a side note, the film was inspired by the director's experience while staying in a supposedly haunted inn while he was making "House of the Devil." Blu-ray and DVD, with two commentary tracks and a featurette.
"The Theatre Bizarre" (Image) is an anthology of seven short horror films directed by Richard Stanley, Tom Savini, and other veterans of the genre. DVD only, with commentary, interviews, and behind the scenes footage. More reviews here.
"The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater" (Docurama) looks back on the life and legacy of Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America who encouraged Jewish immigrant artists to continue their cultural traditions in an American vein. DVD only, with bonus performances, interviews, and featurettes.
"Crime After Crime" (Virgil), presented by OWN Documentary club, profiles the struggle of Debbie Peagler to clear her name after being in prison for 25 years for her connection to the murder of a man who abused her. Features an introduction by Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O'Donnell, a featurette, extended scenes and other supplements.
"Of Dolls & Murder" (MVD) looks at the dollhouse-sized dioramas of murder scenes created in the thirties and forties as investigation tools by a crime-fighting grandmother. John Waters (of course!) narrates. No supplements.
"Dark Tide" (Lionsgate), a surf-and-sharks thriller with Halle Berry and Olivier Martinez and directed by John Stockwell, debuted On Demand before its limited theatrical release to overwhelmingly bad reviews, such as this one from New York Times film critic Stephen Holden: "Long before it ends Dark Tide capsizes and sinks with a sickening glug." Blu-ray and DVD, no supplements.
"Some Days Are Better Than Others" (Palisades Tartan) is a romantic comedy starring Carrie Brownstein (of "Portlandia" and Wild Flag) as an aspiring reality TV star and James Mercer (of The Shins) as an office temp who meet one quirky day in Portland. Blu-ray and DVD, with a bonus short film and deleted scenes. Reviews here.
"Reuniting the Rubins" (Monterey) – "What happens when you put a rabbi, a Buddhist monk, a high-strung capitalist, and a lesbian humanitarian together in the same room?" asks Village Voice film critic Eric Hynes. "Not comedy, it turns out." Timothy Spall, James Callis, and Rhona Mitra star.
"Thor at the Bus Stop" (VCI/Indie Go!), an indie fantasy comedy, follows the Norse God of Thunder (not the Marvel Comics version) as wanders suburbia before heading off to save the world. The disc, the first from VCI's Indie Go! line, is packed with supplements: commentary, featurettes, a bonus short and music videos from the filmmakers.
"A Mother's Love" (Magnolia) is a faith-based family drama from director Tim Alexander.