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Tim is a typical orphan, round-headed and curious about the night, but when an after-hours misstep lands him in the grip of a creature named Cat Shepherd he finds himself on a very unique adventure. His new friend becomes a guide of sort as he shares with Tim the world of Nocturna, the nighttime world the rest of us sleep through, and shows him the true faces and beings behind our tussled hair, late night noises, dew-covered trees and very dreams. It’s not all fun and games though as a dark shape is floating over the night threatening to steal the stars right out of the sky.
This Spanish film is a 2007 release, but its US debut was worth the wait for fans of animated wonder and pure imagination. The story keeps one sleepy toe in the real world even as it reveals an original and beautifully-crafted one behind the curtain of the night, and the animation follows suit as the familiar gets an inventive and enticing make-over. It’s a gorgeous dream of a film with scenes of true beauty and inventive thrills, and it deserves to be seen by more eyeballs.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette]
Batman: The Complete Television Series
Batman only ran for three seasons back in the late ’60s, but its impact on pop culture remains immense and ongoing. It entered syndication shortly after its initial run, and several generations of children have enjoyed its mix of action, morality and pure campy goodness in the decades since. The big budget movies that started hitting theaters in the ’80s have mostly avoided the show’s highly comedic and innuendo-filled tone making the series a 120-episode pop culture time capsule.
I was one of those kids who used to love watching the show on weekday afternoons after I got home from school, and while I’ve seen bits of episodes over the years I haven’t actually sat down to watch one in full since my childhood. Part of the reason may be that the show’s never been on DVD before, but there’s also the matter of me growing up and deciding the dialogue, cartoonish action and tights were beneath me. That’s no longer the case though ‐ clearly I’ve grown more self-aware and immature ‐ and now I find myself appreciating the over the top but sincere goofiness for what it was. Warner Home Video releases the series on Blu-ray/DVD, fully remastered in high definition and featuring over three hours of new featurettes and an episode guide detailing the plots and guest stars. The Blu-ray limited edition set adds Adam West’s photo scrapbook, a pack of collectible trading cards and a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile. The extras add anecdotes and a sense of fun, but the biggest thrill in either version are the beautiful new transfers.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A haunted man in a mask hands out free passes to a secret screening at an old theater in Berlin, and dozens of people show up for the evening’s entertainment. A young couple, a blind man and his assistant, two friends, a pimp with two of his employees ‐ your usual Saturday night at the movies kind of crowd ‐ and while one of the ladies of the evening scratches her face on a strange, silver mask in the lobby everyone settles in peacefully for the movie. A horror film unfolds onscreen involving demons and death, and as if on a supernatural cue the woman who was scratched turns into something evil and attacks her friend. They quickly begin infecting the rest of the theater-goers who discover the doors have all been locked and they’re trapped inside with the fast-growing demonic horde.
Director Lamberto Bava (and co-writer/producer Dario Argento) offer the barest of setups before the bloodletting begins, but it’s clear from the outset that they’re uninterested in presenting a world of logic or answers. Instead they simply throw a bunch of people into a confined space and let loose a clawed demon intent on ripping flesh into the mix. Honestly, what else do you need? And before you say “a hero riding a motorcycle inside the theater while wielding a sword” let me assure you that the movie has you covered. Synapse Films’ Blu looks and sounds fantastic.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Little Judy is on a road trip with her father and cruel step-mother when car trouble lands them near a big, creepy house and its two elderly inhabitants. The couple invites them to stay the night, and soon they’re joined by a few more travelers waylaid by weather and transportation issues. Judy notices some strange goings on with the couple’s toy collection, but the adults mostly fail to take her seriously. And then the killing starts.
Director Stuart Gordon’s best and most important film will always be Re-Animator, but he’s delivered a few other gems over the years including this well-balanced mix of light-hearted tone and bloody demises. Ed Naha’s script is fun and darkly whimsical, and the special effects ‐ a combination of stop-motion, puppets and other practical creations ‐ are an entertaining diversion from the typical monster fare. Stephen Lee steals the show as a young at heart guest, but everyone delivers exactly what their character needs.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, making of, featurette]
Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and Jeff (Joe Swanberg, who also writes and directs) are happily married and parents to an adorable little son, but the calm of their life is interrupted by Jeff’s irresponsible sibling Jenny (Anna Kendrick) who arrives in town after hitting some trouble in her personal life. She tests the more mature couple’s limits and learns something along the way, but she just might have something to offer Kelly in return.
Swanberg’s latest doesn’t quite hit the honest insights and awkward laughs of his best film (Drinking Buddies), but it’s still a wonderfully raw delight of clashes in maturity and responsibility lead to some funny and real exchanges. The cast is uniformly fine, but the film’s secret weapon is Lynskey who feels truthful in her character’s desires and fears. She’s the heart of the film and almost single-handedly turns a fun little dramedy into a heartfelt and insightful look at refusing to live a life with regrets.
[DVD extras: None]
Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars
Phineas and his half-brother Ferb are living it up on their home planet of Tatooine ignoring the squabbles between the Empire and the Rebels, but when the plans for a new Death Star land in their lap they find themselves caught up in a galaxy-spanning adventure. Always one step removed from the action we think we’re familiar with yet inexorably linked to the outcomes we know, the boys go face to face with a Stormtrooper named Candace, a villain named Darthenshmirtz and a machine capable of turning heroes into Sith Lords.
I don’t want to oversell this new special from the best animated show for kids on TV right now, but I firmly believe it’s the best Star Wars-related film following Empire Strikes Back and the original Star Wars. It’s very funny, both in the dialogue exchanges born out of the characters and the interactions particular to the Star Wars universe, and the writing moves the story flawlessly through the movie we already know and love. Plus musical numbers! I’m already stoked for the gang’s hopefully eventual take on Empire.
[DVD extras: Five additional episodes]
A high rise apartment building complete with luxury apartments, a full service gym and sketchy elevator service becomes a bloody battleground when the TVs begin showing a film about demons. As with most sequels, the premise here remains the same ‐ confined space, demonic infection ‐ but the bigger setting opens up more opportunities for fun and exciting set pieces. Lamberto Bava doesn’t really take full advantage of the space though, and ultimately the film feels smaller than the original. The bigger issue though is that minus a couple exceptions the gore and bloodletting are fairly limited for some reason. Blood is spilled, but there’s little gore to speak of as Bava apparently decided to go a somewhat different route. Puppets. Puppets are that route.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
A former race car driver (Thomas Jane) who now spends his days as a driving instructor is abducted by a bank robber (John Cusack) in need of a getaway driver. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s latest is essentially one ongoing car chase, and while that’s good news in theory the execution leaves a lot to be desired as the action is fairly bland and uninspired. On the bright side though Jane and Cusack are an absolute blast together and make this otherwise tepid action flick well worth watching.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Getting On: The Complete First Season
The Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit in Long Beach is designed to handle women who are getting up there in years and have no other recourse in their late in the game hours of need. Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf) is in charge of keeping the madhouse together as she and her staff butt heads with patients, professionals and a system that seems designed to work against those it’s supposed to be helping. HBO’s new series has manged to fly mostly under the radar, and it’s easy to see why it garners less coverage than Showtime’s far flashier Nurse Jackie, but the show is worth tuning in for thanks to its timely topics and strong performances.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel]
The House at the End of Time
After serving thirty years for a triple homicide she claims was committed by an evil spirit Dulce is returned to the home where it all happened under the restriction of house arrest. Surrounded by the walls and memories of the past she pushes forward to discover the truth about what happened three decades ago and how she can resolve the issue once and for all. This South American chiller delivers some moments of real suspense and surprise, and the script takes some interesting turns as Dulce’s past and present collide in a manner reminiscent to this year’s Oculus. It’s a definite slow burn though that doesn’t always hold the attention as established elements are run into the ground at times. Still, it’s a creative and mostly smart take on the haunted house.
[DVD extras: None]
I Am Ali
Muhammad Ali’s life is explored through interviews with those who knew him, archival footage from his public and private life and audio recordings he himself made of various phone calls over the years. His very public achievements and spectacles are covered, but rather than view them through journalists, scholars or historians we experience them through those he knew best. It’s an engaging format and works well for a topic and person like Ali.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews]
Donnie Yen stars as a palace guard frozen during the Ming Dynasty and defrosted in the modern world only to be hunted by three other microwave dinner-like time travelers. Yen remains at 50 years old a talented martial artist, but each new release from the man just disappoints in the one area where they should excel ‐ the action. The problem here is a common one these days and that’s the excessive use of CGI and wire-fu. You can see glimpses of Yen’s ability here, but so much of it is obfuscated by the obvious trickery making it both unimpressive and ugly.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
In the Land of the Cannibals
A team of mercenaries ‐ well, people with guns anyway ‐ travel into the jungle in search of a missing white woman, but when they find her in the grips of a bloodthirsty tribe they’re forced to fight their way back to civilization. Bruno Mattei’s film gets a release from InnerVision, but while it’s clearly aimed at the Cannibal Holocaust crowd I’ll be damned if I can see why it needed an uncut/uncensored release. It’s ridiculously tame in the gore/sex departments, and seeing as every other aspect ‐ acting, writing, production design, directing ‐ is a laughable mess the carnage really would have been the only reason to watch. Meaning there’s no reason to watch.
[DVD extras: None]
James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge
James Cameron is a man with dreams, but more than that, he’s a man who makes those dreams come true for himself. (We’re all residents in his sandbox it seems.) His desire to explore the Earth’s oceans has long been established, and over the years he’s built up quite a resume as both an inventor and an adventurer. As National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence (yes, that’s a thing) he set out to visit the depths of the Mariana Trench, seven miles down, by himself, and this doc captures that journey from concept through execution. Cameron’s never uninteresting, and while his delivery as a speaker leaves much to be desired his passion is still felt through the cold, mechanical speech. Combine that with some impressive underwater photography and you get an engaging doc for the explorer in all of us.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons didn’t spontaneously appear one day in the ‘60s… they came from Broadway. This adaptation of the hit stage musical explores the band’s origin and early struggles on the streets of New Jersey, and it does so against a backdrop of songs familiar to anyone who listens to oldie stations on the radio. Clint Eastwood directs, but aside from that curiosity factor there’s little here to attract the eye or hold the attention. Bigger fans of the music may feel different, but the actual narrative and performances on display just aren’t all that appealing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A group of cruel, fame-hungry and unscrupulous journalists descend into the jungle to document ‐ and in many cases manipulate ‐ the local tribes-people into committing horrendous acts of violence. Basically, it’s about ethics in journalism. This is the second of two Bruno Mattei releases from InnerVision, and it’s by far the more grisly and graphic. It jumps right into things with a graphic disembowelment of a pregnant woman by her fellow ladies of the tribe, and the gross-outs continue throughout. It’s still poorly shot, horribly written and terribly acted, but at least viewers looking for the grue won’t be disappointed.
[DVD extras: Trailer]
Colin (Romain Duris) is single and wealthy and spends his days crafting otherworldly creations, but when he meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou) the two fall madly in love. They set off on a surreal adventure in a surreal world, but their stop-motion happiness is threatened when she grows ill from an incurable plant-based disease. I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but Science of Sleep left me cold ‐ sadly this is an even more extreme example of the latter. It’s simply too quirky and surreal, non-stop in both cases, and its very nature completely deflates the emotion behind both the love and the drama unfolding before us as they get buried in the whimsy and animation styles.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Theatrical and extended cuts, behind the scenes, featurettes, deleted scenes, booklet]
Patema lives in a subterranean world that has encompassed all she knows, but when she accidentally slips through a crack and ends up on the surface of the planet she discovers there’s far more to life then the underground had prepared her for. For one thing there’s a world where gravity is a slippery beast that sends the unaware ‐ thought to be the sinners ‐ falling up into the sky, and for another there’s a boy who she might just be in love with. This animated tale from Japan bears some similarity to the recent film, Upside Down, but it has a much higher degree of fantasy and a stronger commentary on social behaviors as well.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Japanese/English audio, commentary, interviews, featurette]
Star Wars: Clone Wars ‐ The Lost Missions
Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and other familiar faces continue their adventures in the grand space opera that is the Star Wars universe. This release collects thirteen episodes of the popular animated series and fans already know they’re going to love it, but as someone with only a mild attraction to the narrative I find myself turned off by the aesthetics of the animation style. This is far from the only show to use it, but the CGI animation used to bring the tales to life just feels too false and angular to me ‐ it’s a personal taste issue.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Summer of Blood
Erik (Onur Tukel, who also writes and directs) is enjoying a dinner out ‐ well, enjoying isn’t the right word as the salad has bread beneath the greens and he was trying to eat healthy but whatever ‐ but his girlfriend Jody has an ulterior motive. She proposes to him, and he immediately and awkwardly shoots her down. It’s the last straw for Jody as she finally realizes how much of a selfish and commitment-phobe slacker he truly is. They split, but when a late night stroll ends with Erik attacked by a vampire he awakes the next day with some strange cravings. Sure he needs blood and burns in the sunlight, but he also has the power to compel and becomes a fanged dynamo in bed. But yeah, he’s still an asshole. The character isn’t compelling on his own, and the story that Tukel plops himself into is ultimately a one note creation, but he has a natural way about his performance that leads to multiple jokes creeping up on you unexpectedly. One moment he’s listing his fears (including Michael Douglas, “Have you seen him lately?”) and the next he’s discussing the weather with a fellow vampire as they take turns slurping some poor guy’s neck. It’s all low-key fun.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary, behind the scenes]
Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) is having a pretty bad day. Her car is totaled in a hit and run incident with a deer, she’s fired from her job at a fast food joint and she comes home early to find her husband is cheating on her with a neighbor so she decides to hit the road. It’s a difficult choice to commit to when you don’t have a car, so she reluctantly takes her liquor-loving grandma (Susan Sarandon) along for the ride, but trouble hits almost immediately forcing Tammy to face her history of bad decisions head-on. For all the messiness that keeps Tammy from moving beyond merely “okay” there are some moments that show promise. Mark Duplass plays an underwritten (surprise!) love interest, and it’s an incredibly refreshing change of pace in a world that inundates us with fat, funny guys coupling with traditionally attractive women. The reverse dynamic is long overdue, because get this, in the real world people of all shapes and sizes are attracted to each other. I know, weird right? This will find favor with McCarthy’s fans, but it probably won’t earn her new ones. Okay movies don’t have a tendency to do that.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
True Blood: The Complete Seventh Season
The town of Bon Temps, Louisiana has seen some hairy predicament over the years as vampires rose in prominence to battle humans along with all manner of other creatures of the night, but now their sexy nightmare is coming to an end. This final season turns the town into an all-out battleground, and it kills off a handful of main characters in the process. The show lost me around season four as it reached for goofier and goofier heights (depths?), and judging by this final season it stayed on that path right through to the end. Because seriously… ninjas?
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, commentaries]
Welcome to the Space Show
Amane and Natsuki are enjoying their summer break when they discover a stray dog in distress ‐ except it’s not a dog and he’s not in distress. Boom! Just like that the pair are zipped into space and onto a grand adventure filled with alien life forms, danger and lots and lots of colors. The animation is solid here with some moments that absolutely dazzle, but I wasn’t able to get on with the story or characters all that well. There is possibly too much going on, visually-speaking, and when paired with cartoonish (pun not intended) characters the effect is slight and forgettable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Japanese/English audio, making of, featurette]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Ancient Aliens: The Complete Seasons 1–6
Batman: Assault on Arkham
A Cookie Cutter Christmas
How to Train Your Dragon 2
I Am Santa Claus
I Am Yours
Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story
Let’s Be Cops
The Nine Lives of Christmas
Two Films by Monte Hellman (Criterion)
Weird Al Yankovic: The Compleat Al