This Week in DVD

There’s an unusual trend in this week’s releases in that they’re genre heavy with a high percentage of horror films for some reason. I love horror movies, but sadly only two of the six genre titles covered below are really worth your time and money.

As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.

The Innkeepers

The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing its doors for good, and only two employees remain for its last few days of very light occupancy. Claire (the ridiculously adorable Sara Paxton) and Luke (the equally adorable but in a totally different way Pat Healy) wile away the late night hours hunting for the Inn’s supposed resident ghost, but what begins with a pair of overactive imaginations soon becomes a terrifying reality. Ti West’s second feature shows a deft hand at pacing, humor and scares and delivers beautifully on all three counts. Best of all, this is a rarity among genre films in that it manages to make you care for the characters and fear for their safety. And did I mention Paxton is freaking adorable?

Lifeboat

Pitch: And yaw…

Why Buy? Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 war thriller focuses exclusively on a group of survivors in a lifeboat after a German submarine sinks a British luxury liner. The strangers struggle to work together, a task made all the more difficult when another survivor is  is revealed to be a German from the offending sub, and the result is a microcosm of humanity (and more than a little wartime propaganda). Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema release is (not surprisingly) a thing of beauty and includes the film on Blu-ray and DVD as well as two of Hitchcock’s short films and more. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD/regionB Blu-ray which require either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**

Cinema Verite

Pitch: Back when ‘reality TV’ was actually real. Kind of…

Why Rent? In the 1970s PBS offered up a boldly original piece of programming called An American Family. The show featured a camera crew essentially moving in with the Loud family and documenting the minutiae of their every day lives. So yes, we have public television to blame for The Kardashians. HBO’s original movie features some solid performances from Tim Robbins, Diane Lane, James Gandolfini, Patrick Fugit and more. It’s not as funny as Albert Brooks’ Real Life, but it’s entertaining enough and sincerely affecting when it comes to the family’s and the filmmakers’ dramatic conflicts.

Contraband

Pitch: It turns out Marky Mark was in fact smuggling something in his shorts all those years ago…

Why Rent? Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is a hard-working husband and father, but when his past comes calling he’s forced to make one last return to the smuggling career he thought he left behind. He heads off to Panama, but even the best laid plans are bound to be effed up when Giovanni Ribisi is involved. Which he is. Ben Foster, Lukas Haas and Kate Beckinsale are all along for the ride in this casually loose and entertaining action/heist thriller. But while the movie is a fun watch, it’s definitely the kind of movie that requires you check your brains at the door. Seriously, it just may be the least plausible film in Wahlberg’s oeuvre, and yes I am including Planet of the Apes and The Happening.

The Fields

Pitch: “This is my corn. You people are guests in my corn…”

Why Rent? A young boy (Joshua Ormond) is sent to live with his grandparents on their farm while his own parents “work things out” but what should have been a relaxing visit turns into a nightmare as he discovers some dark mysteries out past the corn fields. I’ll be honest. I was ready to prejudge this based solely on it being a horror thriller headlined by Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid, but directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni manage some real creepiness as little Steven lets his curiosity lead him into some dangerous places. Ormond actually does a stellar job here too and manages to avoid acting like a child actor. It’s not always entirely clear where the movie’s heading, but give it a chance.

Of Dolls & Murder

Pitch: Grandma’s fighting crime again…

Why Rent? John Waters narrates this documentary about Frances Glessner Lee and the meticulous dollhouses she reconstructed from crime scenes that served to assist police officers in the early days of forensics. They became known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, and they’re a creepy crossroad between childhood playthings and adult tragedy. Lee and her creations are fascinating topics, and when the doc focuses on them it maintains interest. But too frequently it strays to other forensic-related topics including a repeated and uninteresting focus on the show CSI. The doc is apparently extended from a previous incarnation, and it feels it. Still, the dollhouses are an enlightening look into old-school police work.

11-11-11

Pitch: Makes The Number 23 look like Seven

Why Avoid? An author whose wife and son were killed in a fire heads to Spain to be with his brother and ill father, but strange events revolving around the number eleven begin to haunt his days and nights. The number is joined by actual visions and specters as well, and soon the atheist is forced to confront an unholy revelation. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman manages one highly creepy scene here involving a burned child coming up the stairs, but like the rest of the movie it quickly devolves into a mess of poor editing. Bousman seems content aiming for scares based solely on audio cues and characters/creatures capable of sneaking up behind the author only to have him turn and ‘BAM’ have the shit scared out of him (and presumably us viewers as well). Skip it and watch The Exorcist III instead.

Dark Tide

Pitch: Poop floats…

Why Avoid? Kate (Halle Berry) is a professional shark diver, but after a friend is killed she hangs up her flippers out of fear and retires to the coast of South Africa near a spot called shark alley. Of course. Overdue bills, a convincing husband (Olivier Martinez) and pure ego drive her back beneath the sea and into danger’s den. Director John Stockwell has done well by ocean adventure before with Into the Blue and Blue Crush, but the third time is quite clearly not the charm. (Maybe if it was called Blue Tide?) The pacing is terribly dull, and none of the events ever feel urgent, exciting or suspenseful. Berry’s character is a mess too as her idiotic pride is responsible for the tragedies that open and close the film even as the script tries to point the blame elsewhere. Skip it and watch any other shark-related thriller instead.

Night Wolf

Pitch: Because Noontime Kitty sounded stupid…

Why Avoid? Sarah returns to her hometown for some bonding time with family and old friends, but the evening’s festivities take a turn for the unfortunate when they all start getting mauled by a ferocious creature. The DVD cover art boldly proclaims this is from “A Producer of Dog Soldiers” so that’s something (meaningless) I guess, but it doesn’t help. Some of the gore is nice and the last few minutes are interesting, but getting there is a slog of unlikeable characters, sloppy editing and annoying monster-POVs. They hold the reveal so long that most of the kills occur outside of the frame,a nd what’s the fun in that? Skip it and watch Dog Soldiers.

The Wicker Tree

Pitch: They remembered the fertilizer but forgot the seeds…

Why Avoid? A young American couple head to a small village in rural UK to spread the word of god, but they find deadly secrets await them. They also find bad acting, poor production values and an utterly nonsensical script. Writer/director Robin Hardy returns after a twenty four year hiatus, and the result shows a strong argument that filmmaking is not like riding a bike. The terror, eroticism and engaging uncertainty he showed in the original The Wicker Man are absent here and replaced with incompetence and several sad attempts at humor. Even Nicolas Cage’s ridiculous remake is a better and far more entertaining film than this official sequel, and that’s truly saying something. Skip it and watch Wake Wood instead.

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey (Criterion)
Karate Girl
Let the Bullets Fly
The Organizer (Criterion)
Pariah
Return
The Theatre Bizarre

Read More: This Week in DVD

What are you buying on DVD this week?


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