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An otherwise quiet lake in New England becomes a hub of bloody activity when a giant crocodile makes itself known by biting a diver in half. The local sheriff (Brendan Gleeson) calls in wildlife officials including Bill Pullman, and the pair are soon joined by academics Bridget Fonda and Oliver Platt. Together they work to capture or kill the beast, but the croc has other ideas.
Steve Miner’s film belongs on the same shelf as Tremors as a terrific horror comedy that balances the laughs and the monster mayhem to near perfection. The cast is stellar across the board with spectacularly fun performances from Platt and Gleeson in particular. Betty White’s foul-mouthed turn is still a lot of fun too. The effects, a mix of practical and CGI, work like gangbusters to bring the croc to life, and the end result is an all-around fun as hell flick. Just make sure you avoid the progressively crappy sequels. (All three of them.)
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurette, trailer]
Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is in the process of pissing people off. It’s more of a bonus than a direct plan though as his real goal is simply to participate in and dominate the national spelling bee. He’s taken advantage of a loophole allowing him to compete against the kids, and he’s not about to let anyone — adult or child — stop him.
Bateman also directed this slight but very funny and affecting comedy, and the result is a smart and deliciously cruel flick in the vein of Bad Santa. Kathryn Hahn joins the fun as a reporter along for the ride and in pursuit of the truth behind his quest, and the two form a fun and caustic pair. Bateman also teams up with a young Indian boy, and it’s there where the film finds its heart. There’s some predictability in the simple plot, but the laughs and deliriously unhinged Bateman make it a fantastic and fast watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurette]
Laura Dekker was only 14 years old when she set set sail, alone, for a nearly two-year trip around the world. Her journey covered 27,000 nautical miles and lasted 519 days, and she currently holds the unofficial record for youngest person to accomplish such a feat. Maidentrip documents Dekker’s incredibly impressive adventure mostly through footage she took herself while sailing apart from friends, family and strangers alike.
Director Jillian Schlesinger’s film is unavoidably inspirational by its very nature and topic, but Laura’s charm, enthusiasm and familiar frustrations makes her a standout personality. She grows up on camera, and through the ups and downs her spirit for adventure remains acting like a reminder for the rest of us to get our asses off the couch and go out and experience the world. Dekker reportedly takes issue with some of the narrative choices made via editing, but while I understand her concerns the issue is muted by the honesty on display.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, extended scenes, time lapse sequences, photo gallery]
Rama (Iko Uwais) has just defeated an entire apartment building full of killers, but his duty as a police officer calls again requiring an even bigger sacrifice. He has to go undercover in a prison — by actually committing a crime and being sentenced — so he can befriend a bad guy and eventually infiltrate the man’s criminal enterprise on the outside. The plan leads to a series of brawls and close calls as he works his way up the food chain. Sure he was sent in to arrest these guys, but killing them saves the taxpayers money!
Gareth Evans’ third feature is an action epic unlike any other. Yes it’s perhaps a bit too long and the plot unnecessarily complicated, but sweet jesus the action is the stuff of legend. Nearly twenty different fight scenes, each one suitable to end a more traditional action movie, are spread throughout using different styles, settings and accessories. And don’t get me started on Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Boy. It’s a visual delight that entertains with a steady stream of gasp-worthy moments.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, Q&A, deleted scene]
Widely credited as one of the best westerns ever made, Howard Hawks’ first foray into the genre saw John Wayne playing one of the most complicated roles of his career as an arrogant, tyrannical, mad-at-the-world cowboy attempting to balance his ego against the incredible task of driving cattle along the Chisholm Trail. Brushing up against him are his quietly assertive adoptive son (played with a stoic brilliance by Montgomery Clift in one of his first roles) and a pragmatic elder (played by charismatic Hawks mainstay Walter Brennan).
The result is a wildly engrossing battle between different ideas of masculinity, rife with economically choreographed action set-pieces, deeply realized characters and plenty of sexual tension (particularly in Clift’s correspondence between women and men). Not only a great entry into the genre’s pantheon, the film uses the past to set the stage for the entrenched differences that would divide the United States along generational lines after WWII. Red River is an essential example of art meeting entertainment during the studio era.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Two versions of the film; interviews with filmmakers, scholars, and Hawks himself; a complete radio adaptation of the film from 1948; illustrated booklet featuring an essay an interview; the complete original novel]
Louisiana swamps, 1973, and a National Guard unit is on training maneuvers. None of the men are all that pleased to be there, but the promise of hookers at the end of the line keep them moving forward. At least until they get lost, piss off the locals and are besieged by panic when the locals piss back. Soon the men are running and fighting for their lives against an enemy far more familiar with the terrain, and no manner of modern training is going to make a difference.
Very much an allegory for the United States’ involvement in Vietnam (even though the writers swear the thought never entered their mind), this is a finely crafted adventure about survival in what amounts to a foreign land. Director Walter Hill delivers the goods, but the greatness here comes in the fantastic pairing of Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe. They both do great work, and it’s a delight seeing Boothe in one of his rare “good guy” roles.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer, still gallery]
The Class of ’92
For the soccer fan in all of you, this documentary looks at six players who helped bring Manchester United to the heights they now enjoy. For the rest of us it’s about David Beckham and five other guys. Some sports docs are captivating for fans and non-fans alike, but this is not one of those docs. Recommended for soccer fans only.
[DVD extras: Making of]
A CIA agent (Luke Goss) is thrown out of a moving airplane and lives to talk about it! Well, he would talk about it except he can’t remember what happened or who tossed him out, so instead he heads to Mexico to find the man he’s pretty sure did it. This is a generic action flick that hits all the check boxes required of generic action flicks. Competent gunplay, an overblown villain and a remarkably flat hero.
[DVD extras: Trailer, photo gallery]
The beautiful and wondrous world of micro-photography gets a work-out here as low-riding creatures are shown up close and personal. There is some fantastic photography here, but the production’s forced and artificial format grows more uninspired and unimpressive by the second. Shots mix perspectives and effects in an attempt to create “striking” visuals, but they simply feel phony instead. On the other hand, there is a slow-motion sequence of mouse trying to dodge a meteor shower of elephant shit.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A group of young people go looking for Bigfoot, and they document their adventure. This is the footage discovered after their deaths! Found footage and Bigfoot go together like two things that have quickly become overdone, but even beyond the specific familiarity the film suffers from most of the usual found-footage problems. There are worse Bigfoot movies than this, but skip it anyway and go watch Willow Creek instead.
[DVD extras: None]
Nate Norman was a shlubby pizza delivery boy before he entered the illegal weed import business, but his meteoric rise to wealth and popularity comes to an abrupt end when rival dealers and the law came calling. John Stockwell directs this true story, but while it looks and moves well the lead actor and script leave a lot to be desired.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a nymphomaniac, but while that sounds like a lot of fun to the lay person (ahem) it leads to a world of trouble from her teenage years on up through her adulthood. If Lars von Trier can’t make explicit sex worth watching it’s probably time I throw in the towel on ever really enjoying or liking one of his films. Despite the all star cast (Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgard, Connie Nielsen and Shia LaBeouf) the film never comes alive or feels natural. The characters are artificial constructs, and they have little of value to offer viewers.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, trailers]
A once famous actor moves into a new apartment building unaware of its very haunted special features. Juno Mak’s ode to old-school Hong Kong vampire films melds all manner of supernatural creations into this story of guilt and fear, but while there are some interesting elements at play the relentlessly dark cinematography leads to muted results and reactions even as we know creepy shenanigans are occurring just beyond the reach of the light. The entwined tales are a mixed bag too, but the standout is the woman trying to bring her husband back from the dead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Trailer]
“After discovering a woman buried alive, two Death Valley worm farmers are kidnapped by an all-female cult of gun runners who, after making the men into their sex slaves, force them to assist in a plan to steal a suitcase full of platinum from the mafia.” That description, while technically true, is the best thing about this movie. It’s not actually as bad as its budget would have you assume, and there are several legitimate laughs throughout, but it’s not a film for the unwary. It’s super low budget. It’s odd too in that, unlike typical exploitation films, it goes out of its way to cut away from nudity, sex and acts of violence/gore. Happily, Vinegar Syndrome has included scenes shot special for its VHS release in the ’80s by someone thinking they could just slip in some gratuitous nudity and no one would notice the different look and bodies.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, alternate scenes]
Cedric the Entertainer plays a Las Vegas singer who moves back home to become a preacher. Hilarity ensues! To clarify, hilarity ensues for fans of Cedric’s comedic stylings anyway. The rest of us will be bored by the lack of actual laughs. This is a spin-off from Hot in Cleveland which is apparently a TV show.
[DVD extras: Interviews, music video]
Camilla wants nothing more than to be a Broadway star like her dear, dead mother, but her big break at a musical theater summer camp hits a bump when a maniacal killer starts offing her fellow campers. Self-billed as a Glee-styled slasher Jerome Sable’s feature debut is a somewhat entertaining horror comedy. There are inspired moments throughout, but the film can’t quite hit the high notes when it comes to producing something truly memorable. The killer’s identity is obvious, the dialogue can’t maintain the peppy pace and style it tries to set and the songs disappear when they should be becoming more frequent and ferocious. Still, good fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes, featurettes, sing-along, interview, commentary]
Weichung is a happily married father, but family pressures and a chance encounter with an old friend reignite old feelings in him that he struggles to control. This Taiwanese film is light-hearted fun and tells a sweet tale through fine performances, a smart script and playful visual touches.
[DVD extras: Short film]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
42nd Street Forever: Peep Show Collection Vol.3
Bad Grandpa .5
How It All Began
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Criterion)
Wings: Sky Force Heroes