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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

HELL HOUSE bluThe Legend of Hell House

The Belasco House had seen its fair share of tragedy and carnality even before the man who had it built disappeared, but the years since have seen a continuation of death and terror. It’s known as Hell House, the Mt. Everest of haunted houses, and now a team consisting of a scientist, his wife and two mediums is going in to prove once and for all whether or not ghosts and the afterlife exist. Two of them are going to find out first hand before the week is out.

Richard Matheson’s novel (Hell House) was adapted to the screen way back in ’73, but it remains one of the best haunted house flicks out there. There are legitimate chills throughout, some PG-rated sexiness and a wonderfully intense performance from Roddy McDowall too. Even better, at least for someone like myself who favors grounded explanations, the script gives nods to both the supernatural and the scientific.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: interviews, trailer]

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QUEEN MARGOT bluQueen Margot

1572 was a pretty mediocre year all things considered, but for the Protestants visiting Paris for the wedding between their King Henry of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) and the Catholic king’s sister (Isabelle Adjani) it would become a truly terrible one. Also their last one if I’m being honest. The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was a bloody affair, but the story of Queen Margot, both before and after the slaughter, is an equally engaging one.

Calling something a “French period piece” makes it sound so dry and stuffy, but Patrice Chereau’s 1994 film — presented on Blu-ray in its 20th Anniversary Director’s Cut — is neither of those things. Sexy, bloody and deliciously meaty, this is history told with style, wit and a fair bit of copulating. The score is propulsive and fantastic at times, and the photography captures both the beauty and the grime of the events and period with equal affection.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, trailer, booklet]

WALKING DEAD 4 bluThe Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season

Sheriff Rick and his fellow survivors of the zombie apocalypse enjoy a brief respite from the outside world after making a home for themselves in an abandoned prison, but all good things come to an end. Between the undead hordes and the murderous men and women serving under the Governor their vacation is coming to an end. Soon they’re forced back onto the road, and the worst is yet to come.

Season four of AMC’s highly rated zombie drama endured quite a bit of flack from viewers, but now that I’ve finally caught up I really don’t understand why. The gore effects continue to impress, but more than that the back half of the season hits some fantastic dramatic beats. The little blond girls, the Glenn/Maggie storyline, the roadside attack scene on little Carl’s bathing suit area… there are some incredibly affecting moments here amid the carnage and walking around. The setup for next season’s “Terminus” plot line felt a bit telegraphed, but I’m still excited to see what they serve up this October.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, making of, commentaries, deleted scenes]

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Aftermath

A nuclear apocalypse leaves the country irradiated and prone to the worst elements of humanity (as if the men who launched the nukes weren’t already pretty terrible), and it also leaves nine people forcibly huddled together in a cellar. People being people and all that quickly turns this safe haven into den of bitching, moaning and stupidity. We’ve seen this kind of drama before, and it lends itself too frequently to a high degree of annoyance as characters continually act like idiots and assholes. Just gets old after a very short while.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Age of Uprising

Michael Kohlhaas (Mads Mikkelsen) is cheated by a greedy land baron and sets off to reclaim what belongs to him. The legend at the core of the film is reportedly a true story, and its Robin Hood-like qualities make for an appealing narrative. There’s an exquisite and earthy atmosphere to it all, and Mikkelsen commands the screen as a family man wronged by the powers that be. It is a bit of a haul though at two hours.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, deleted scenes, trailer]

Blended

Jim (Adam Sandler) and Lauren (Drew Barrymore) endure a disastrous date and go their separate ways, but one giant contrivance later these two single parents and their kids are on a “hilarious” safari in Africa! As someone who loves The Wedding Singer and thinks 50 First Dates isn’t bad I wasn’t automatically against this third pairing of Sandler and Barrymore. But then I started watching and my eyes started rebelling by shooting flaming feces into the air. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but damn this is not a good or enjoyable movie. Jokes fall flat, gags are dumb and gross instead of witty or funny and ignorant Americans trample their way across another country with disregard for anything resembling respect.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]

Blood Glacier

A small research team in the Austrian Alps discovers something alarming when they come across a a blood-red glacier high up in the mountains that seems to be affecting the local wildlife. Animals are blending together into hybrids, but even worse than the presence of creatures that could possibly explain the likes and legends of werewolves is the unfortunate realization that these new lifeforms are thirsty for blood. You know, like werewolves. A title like Blood Glacier comes with certain expectations. Blood and glaciers, obviously, but also horror, death and a self-awareness that chooses silliness over smarts. To that end this new Austrian film is a minor success, but while it manages to deliver on the above it suffers due to what it lacks — namely scares, engaging characters and monsters that are worth a damn.

[DVD extras: Trailer]

Criminal Minds: Season 9

The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit goes after the most maniacal and violent killers across the country, and sometimes, those killers go after them. It doesn’t happen often, but you know, it happens. The networks, CBS in particular, are loaded with procedurals, and most of them are damn similar. This one fits the generic bill pretty closely — eclectic ensemble of enforcers, clever killers that could only exist in fiction — but the element that helps this show stand apart from he crowd is just how devious, cruel and ridiculous the bad guys (and gals) are. They make for entertainingly twisted television.

[DVD extras: Featurette, commentaries, gag reel, deleted scenes]

Deadbeat: Season One

Kevin (Tyler Labine) is a psychic medium who makes a meager living cleansing homes of ghosts in need of one last favor. The humor here is a mix of the occasionally funny and the frequently crass, but Labine is a charming and humorous enough guy to make these ten episodes move at a harmlessly entertaining pace.

[DVD extras: Featurettes]

The Double

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a shy little man habitually being walked over in both his professional and private lives, but when a new employee named James Simon (also Eisenberg) is hired things take an even more unfortunate and surreal turn. The parable is clear as a timid man faces off against the more confident and aggressive version of himself, but there’s little here to justify an entire film. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil drops its hapless hero into a similarly absurdist world, but it does so with heavy dollops of humanity and heart. Here it’s just dry comedy and endless frustration involving characters who feel artificial and “written” instead of alive.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interview]

Elementary: The Second Season

Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) continues to solve crimes in New York City with the help of his trusty sidekick Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). This CBS series faced inevitable comparisons to the BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch-led show, but while it pales beside that British export in charisma and style there’s still some mild substance and value here. Most of that comes from Miller who inhabits the role with just enough quirk and appeal.

[DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary, gag reel, deleted scenes]

The Forbidden Girl

Toby lost his girlfriend to some supreme weirdness a few years ago, but he’s put it all behind him as he exits the asylum and begins a new job as a tutor at a big, creepy mansion. Of course the girl he’s supposed to be mentoring looks identical to his missing girlfriend, the old woman who owns the place is getting younger and the man-servant Mortimer? Well, he’s a bit off too. This is a weird flick that surprises (positively) on the visual front again and again even as the script leaves you scratching your head. Like a low-rent Winter’s Tale, the movie is wacky enough to keep watching, but unlike that absolutely mesmerizing disaster the dialogue scenes grow tiresome fast. It’s beautifully photographed throughout, and some shoddy CGI aside the special effects (including some solid practical work) impress when necessary. Fans of magical hijinx and boobies should give it a watch.

[DVD extras: None]

Heatstroke

A hyena expert (Stephen Dorff) takes his new girlfriend and his disgruntled teen daughter (Maisie Williams) on a safari, but when they run afoul of some poachers the vacation turns into a fight for survival. The film looks good and creates a world where the heat and dryness feel palpable, but it’s a barely populated one. Lead characters are hardly developed, supporting roles are one-note and the wildlife consists of a snake, a scorpion and a single damn hyena. Fans of the survival sub-genre will find some visual splendor and minor thrills, but there’s little else here to attract and hold attention.

[DVD extras: None]

Jackpot

Oscar is the only survivor of a shootout that leaves eight people dead. Oscar arises from beneath a corpse surprised both that he’s alive and that the cops are staring at him. Oh, he’s also a bit unsure as to why there’s a shotgun in his hands. The cops take him in, but Oscar’s explanation as to the events leading up to the massacre repeatedly tests the veteran detective’s bullshit detector. Even so, Oscar swears it all started with a bet on a soccer match. Part caper, part comedy, neither element fully lands resulting in a film that’s slight fun that should do in a pinch for viewers looking to quench their Norwegian crime cinema fix, but it probably won’t win Jo Nesbø any new fans.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes]

Jersey Shore Massacre

A herd of Jersey girls head to a remote rural getaway along with some oily jabronis, but their sexy fun times are interrupted by the arrival of a killer. Thankfully. On the one hand this is exactly as bad as you expect it would be — acting, script, etc — but on the other I can’t help but give the production a little bit of credit for going the practical effects route. The gore is plentiful and messy, and since every character is obnoxious and uninteresting you’ll be doubly happy to see them sliced and slashed to ribbons.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, short film]

Now and Again: The DVD Edition

Michael Wiseman was an average man, but thanks to an accident and some secret government meddling he’s turned into a spectacular one. (Still wise though.) Stronger, faster, better… he’s now a weapon fighting against threats big, small and nicknamed. This CBS series ran for a single season back in ’99-00, but I’ll be damned if I remember it. It’s pretty solid thanks to creator Glenn Gordon Caron’s guiding hand, but it could have benefited from the same kind of boost Wiseman received. Ending with just one season as it did — and on a cliffhanger to boot — means it’s an unfinished story too, so I’d put this is the rental pile.

[DVD extras: Making of, interviews]

Portlandia: Season Four

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein continue their alternate reality travelogue of Portland, OR, and it continues to be good fun. The show has also taken on a new appreciation for me since moving to Portland myself one year ago. I’m recognizing more of the locales and identifying more of the characters (caricatures?), and that can’t help but add to my personal enjoyment.

[DVD extras: ]

The Possession of Michael King

A man turns the grief over losing his wife into a search for proof that heaven, hell and all other supernatural ideas are bunk. But his quest opens the door to something very real and very dangerous. The premise here is pretty interesting — someone challenging the idea of the supernatural by facing it head on — but it’s presented too cheaply and poorly to ever really capture viewers’ interest. It doesn’t help that the narrative insists on telling the tale in pseudo documentary form via handheld and security cameras, none of which helps or enriches the film in any way. It’s unfortunate as there are a few moments of creepiness achieved in the final act, but it’s just not worth trudging through all that comes before.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

A Promise

Friedrich (Richard Madden) takes a job for a steel baron (Alan Rickman) in pre-WWI Germany, but the position is soon complicated when he falls in love with his boss’ wife, Lotte (Rebecca Hall). His affection hits another wall when he’s shipped across the ocean, and by the time world war breaks out you’d think he’d throw in the towel on any hope of a relationship. But again, Rebecca Hall. This is a somewhat slight but still lushly romantic period drama, so that alone should be enough to tell you if the movie’s for you or not. I found it engaging enough, but in case you haven’t noticed I’m a bit biased to all things Rebecca Hall.

[DVD extras: Trailer]

Sanctuary: Quite a Conundrum

An intimate gathering descends into bloody chaos when a large naked man shoots himself in the head and sullies the pristine pool water with his leaking corpse. Don’t let the awards for “Best Feature” from multiple film festivals fool you, and definitely ignore the two pull-quotes saying it’s “Clerks meets Scream” and “will forever leave a lasting mark on your mind.” There are a handful of interesting moments to be found here, but they’re buried beneath sketchy acting, rough editing and a script that thinks it’s far funnier and twistier than it is.

[DVD extras: None]

The Stream

Ernest and his friends are enjoying the summer of ’81 playing outside and pretending they’re jedis, but when an encounter with a bully leaves his light saber (well, Wiffle bat) broken the gang sets off on a trip to the mall. It’s the route they choose though that turns this trip into an adventurous journey. This is a “family film” in the sense that it’s crafted intentionally (by the Boys & Girls Club of America) for kids and viewers disinterested in any kind of real conflict or drama. That’s not a slam by the way.

[DVD extras: Featurettes, music video]

Trust Me

The world of child actors and their agents gets a darkly cynical spin in this drama starring Clark Gregg as a rep who’s seen far better days but gets a second chance when he crosses paths with a spectacular child prodigy. Gregg also wrote and directed the film, but while it features some of the darkness and compelling character work found in his directorial debut (Choke) it falls completely and utterly apart in the final ten minutes. In a word… it chokes.

[DVD extras: None]

Young & Beautiful

Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is a newly minted seventeen year old when she has sex for the first time, and she walks away from the experience unimpressed. Deciding there must be more and better out there she becomes a call girl catering to older men who can afford the hundreds that she charges, but an incident forces her to face the decisions that led her to this point. François Ozon is a fantastically prolific filmmaker, and while his films aren’t always winners they are consistently interesting in his approach to themes and ideas. There’s no topic that interests him more than women, and his latest continues that trend with its exploration of blossoming sexuality in the rare form of a woman uninterested in emotional entanglements. The only intimacy Isabelle feels is in the power she knows she wields, and the challenge presented by her affection for her favorite elderly john is made clear when tragedy strikes. Her familial relationships with her mother, stepfather, and curiously close younger brother lack that same emotional level, and the result is a refreshingly direct female character who may or may not have some severe issues.

[DVD extras: Trailer]

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:

75 Years of WWII
All That Jazz (Criterion)
Belle
Cast a Giant Shadow
Cat Run 2
The Dance of Reality
Haven: The Complete Fourth Season
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
The Love Punch
The Normal Heart
On the Beach
PMS Cop
Revenge: The Complete Third Season
Sons of Anarchy: Season 6
Vengeance Is Mine (Criterion)
What’s New Pussycat?


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