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The Final Girls
Max (Taissa Farmiga) lost her mom Nancy (Malin Akerman) three years ago, and while she’s moving on with her life the memory is still fresh in her mind. Nancy was a struggling actress whose most high profile role was in an ’80s slasher called Camp Bloodbath, and while it’s a cult favorite the film interfered with her career aspirations until the day she died. An unexpected series of events at an anniversary screening leaves Max and her friends looking for an emergency exit out of the theater, but when they slice their way through the movie screen to escape they awaken in the woods… and in Camp Bloodbath. The movie is now happening around them ‐ the sexy shenanigans, the kills, the endless genre cliches ‐ and reunited with her mom, or at least the character her mom plays who’s destined to die at the end of the killer’s blade, Max, her friends and the movie’s unwitting camp counselors have to rally together to find a new ending where they all survive.
This is more than just a brilliant, high-concept setup ‐ it’s also an incredibly fun homage to ’80s slasher films and their tropes as well as a surprisingly sweet look at grief, moving forward and the things we sacrifice for those we love. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s feature debut shows genuine affection for the genre and its characters, and he brings that heart along with a gleeful sense of humor and real creativity.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes]
Best of Enemies
1968 was a tumultuous year for the United States, and both the Republican and Democratic conventions promised partisan solutions and the politicizing of America’s growing issues of race, income disparity, and police brutality. In an attempt to stand apart from the network crowd ‐ a crowd of three at the time ‐ ABC took a chance and instead of simply covering all speakers at all times the devoted airtime to debates between two dueling representatives from the right and the left. It helped of course that William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal absolutely hated each other.
This doc looks at both men by way of their own words, remembrances from friends and family, and footage from the actual debates, and it succeeds in capturing what drove them to be the ideologues the were for their chosen parties. Their banter onscreen and off moves from funny to cruel to sad at lightning speed, and it set the stage for the adversarial news shows/formats that followed. The difference being that where these two were intelligent in their battles today’s talking heads are simply loud. It’s a fascinating look at the men and the time.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Digging for Fire
Tim (Jake Johnson, who co-wrote with director Joe Swanberg) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are happily married parents who get a minor break from life when one of her wealthy yoga clients invites the family to house-sit their Hollywood Hills home. They discover a gun and a possibly human bone buried in the backyard, but while Tim wants to dig deeper Lee would rather he focus on getting their taxes done. The two part ways for the weekend ‐ she heads out to visit her parents and friends, and he invites his own friends over to help him excavate. Neither of them find what they’re looking for exactly, but there’s a chance they might just find exactly what they need.
The gun and bone tease something far more dangerous and exciting than what Swanberg is ultimately interested in, and instead their worth is almost entirely relegated to the realm of setup and metaphor. That’s okay though as it’s the characters who compel our attention as they navigate realizations and opportunities like minefields. It’s a lazy river kind of journey to be sure, but while it occasionally diverts in a less rewarding direction it never fails to correct course and keep moving forward. Did I mention the supporting cast includes Mike Birbiglia, Orlando Bloom, Sam Elliott, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Messina, Chris Messina’s penis, Sam Rockwell and Jenny Slate?
[DVD extras: None]
Riley is eleven years old and immensely happy, but when she and her parents move away from home to the smelly urban landscape of San Francisco she begins to feel things a bit differently. One look inside her head reveals why as we meet the five core emotions driving her days and nights. Joy is the mainstay struggling to keep the girl afloat, but Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness all want a piece of the action too. When an accident in the control room leaves Joy and Sadness banished Riley’s life becomes an emotional journey no one could have expected. Well, no one who hasn’t had to grow up themselves anyway.
Pixar’s latest features a lot of the usual kids movie elements like goofy action beats and unfunny gags, but it also tackles some legitimately serious and deep topics along the way. Ideas of depression and maturity are presented in simplified manners that work to make them more than just abstract concepts, and while I think the effort is more respectable than the execution here the film is undeniably impressive in its intentions.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short films, featurettes]
Hank (writer/director Noel Marshall) is a scientist working with the big cats of Africa in an effort to prove that man can survive alongside these beasts without having to kill them. He’s excited to learn that his family ‐ real life (at the time) wife Tippi Hedren, daughter Melanie Griffth, and sons John and Jerry ‐ are coming to visit, but local politics and slapstick antics prevent him from meeting them at the airport. They arrive at his house while he’s away only to discover that his big cats are roaming the land and the house freely. Let the stalking and shenanigans begin.
This film is almost Terry Gilliam-esque in its troubles and tribulations on the road to completion, but the end result is something truly magical. Like an accidental gem of suspense and absurdity the film mixes animal attack thriller and family comedy into something that is truly one of a kind. No animals were harmed here, but dozens of cast and crew members were resulting in a scalped Jan de Bont, the need for facial plastic surgery for Griffith, and more. There’s an undeniable tension throughout as these characters ‐ these real people ‐ interact up close and personal with multiple lions, tigers, cougars, and more, sometimes in rooms crammed with dozens of the hairy beasts at a time. Through it all though the film maintains a jaunty, goofy sensibility. It’s honestly amazing. Watch the movie, listen to the commentary, and watch the surprisingly sad making of, and then share this madness with friends.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, Q&A, essay, commentary]
Bloodsucking Bastards (Scream Factory)
Evan (Fran Kranz) works his butt off at an office job with no discernible future and some serious lighting issues. When an old enemy gets the promotion Evan was after he considers throwing in the towel before noticing something peculiar ‐ the office is being overrun by vampires. Now Evan, the girl he likes, and his slacker friend are all that stands between job satisfaction and a bloody corporate takeover. This comedic horror romp is being billed as a cross between Office Space and Shaun of the Dead, and that’s partly true tone-wise. The problem is the damn thing just isn’t nearly as funny as it should be with the cast and premise.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Outtakes, commentary]
A group of friends go camping in rural Australia and decide to spend the night on a plot of land rumored to have hosted a series of violent murders some years prior. Great idea! I kid of course, as it is not a great idea. You know what happens next, but did you know Tara Reid is in it? Bet you didn’t! Or Kane Hodder? Eh? Anyway. It’s as generic as the come, and while it’s shot a bit better than many similar slashers and features some solid gore effects neither of those is enough of a reason to watch.
[DVD extras: None]
The Golden Cane Warrior
A master martial artist is betrayed and sent packing to the netherworld, and now opposing factions among her former pupils are left to restore the clan to glory and unlock the power of the master’s magical cane. Fans of period action films will be satisfied b this Indonesian entry as it fills the screen with the genre’s expected elements including mystical moments, wire-fu, melodrama, and costumes both ragged and elaborate. It doesn’t stand out in a crowded field though (aside from its Indonesian origin) and is therefore most suited for viewers who just can’t get enough slow-motion leaps through the air.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Immortal Story (UK)
A rich merchant (Orson Welles) in 19th century Macao hears a tale that piques his interest involving a man who paid a sailor to impregnate his wife. Having no wife of his own the merchant sets about hiring one in order to reenact the story for his own satisfaction. Welles’ second to last film as director is based on a book by Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa), but never quite feels like a full story. The minimal setup is partly to blame, but the running time of just over an hour doesn’t help matters. Still, it’s a sumptuously told and photographed film at times, and Welles’ work is always worth at least a watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A volcano erupts in Santa Monica spewing lava into the air and across downtown, but it’s what’s in the lava that’s the most worrisome. Spiders! In the lava! The’re big, fire-breathing bastards too, and the only hope is former action hero Colton West (Steve Guttenberg), a has-been who just walked off his latest film because it’s about bugs. And Colton hates bugs. Look, this is a Syfy production, and if the massive success of Sharknado taught them anything it’s that audiences care less about quality than the do fun word mash-ups in the title. So yes, in a way, this is your fault. The minor bonus here is something of a Police Academy reunion as Guttenberg is joined by Michael Winslow, Leslie Easterbrook, and Marion Ramsey on his extermination adventure. I did say “minor.”
[DVD extras: None]
Mexico is a place of violence and terror, and that identity has remained the same from its ancient days of ghosts and monsters to a present filled with drug-fueled murders and abductions. If nothing else, this Mexican horror anthology features the noisiest, messiest cunnilingus ever captured on film this side of a sloppy porno, but happily there’s actually more to it than just that highlight. The eight shorts run the gamut of serial killer thrillers to ghostly tales of revenge ‐ there’s even one where a girl is tasked with draining her sister’s vagina of blood lest she have her soul sucked out through her anus. I’ll give you a second to picture that one. Like just about every anthology this one is a mixed bag, but while there are a couple good segments there’s a distinct lack of any great ones. Some of the visuals are accomplished, some feel homemade, and that spread goes for the writing and performances as well. The stated idea here is that the stories all reflect elements, tales, and legends of the land, but too many of them feel as if they could just as easily occur anywhere. That in and of itself isn’t a criticism, but a stronger theme might have strengthened the otherwise underwhelming whole.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes]
A 911 operator (Mischa Barton) discovers on the job that her daughter has been abducted, and the man responsible is threatening to orchestrate chaos in the street. Forced to remain at her desk she coordinates with her soon-to-be ex-husband (Luke Goss), a police officer, to track down their daughter and stop the bad guy (Ving Rhames). Michael Paré makes an appearance too, but surprisingly it’s only Goss who appears to be taking the film seriously, and while his acting chops aren’t much to look at he’s at least making an effort. The rest of the film ‐ writing, direction, story, action ‐ is far too generic to be even remotely memorable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Some Kind of Hate
Lincoln is victimized by bullies at school on a daily basis, but when he finally decides to fight back his efforts are rewarded with relocation to a remote “school” for troubled teens. Bullying begins anew, but this time his rage and frustration are met with similar feelings from a supernatural source. Moira is long dead, but fueled by Lincoln’s pain she’s back for vengeance. The core idea here is a good one, and the impetus of bullies and the cycle of violence they can sometimes create is potentially important, but sweet jesus does this not work. Acting is sketchy, dialogue is silly, and Lincoln is not a character we can get behind, but the biggest issue is Moira. Rather than be a threatening and scary force of malicious evil she comes across as a whiny, annoying teen stuck in a goth phase. There’s nothing frightening here, and we’re left with characters living and dead who fail to engage our interest or concern.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentaries]
Stung (Scream Factory)
A garden party at a big estate in the boonies commits the ultimate social faux pas when invited guests begin dropping dead. The culprits are large wasps that erupt from the earth intent on stinging and infecting human hosts in order to birth even larger wasps. Clearly this is a job for the caterers, Paul and Julia. The script here is perhaps a bit troublesome as it fumbles around and tries too hard to be funny ‐ to be fair, it sometimes is, but it’s also forced at times ‐ but thankfully the giant bugs serve as a fantastic distraction. The effects work, both CG wasps and practical creatures, is incredibly strong here, and when combined with a cast that includes Clifton Collins Jr., Lance Henriksen, and Matt O’Leary the script issues become a minor irritant at best. It’s ultimately a fun monster little flick.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, videos]
David Kressen (Mark Webber) is a reclusive and renowned scientist specializing in robotics and A.I., and his latest creation is about to be unveiled to a tech reporter named Joy. She’s amazed to discover his robot, Adam, acts and looks just like a human being, and yes that should have been her first clue to get the hell out of there. This very much plays like Ex Machina on a drastically reduced budget, but it manages some interesting elements all the same. It saves the thrills for far later in the film and lands an intriguing twist along the way, but while the bulk of the film spends time on some minor philosophical ideas there’s not a lot of energy behind it. Basically, it’s a film about artificial life that too frequently lacks a life of its own.
[DVD extras: None]
Rusty Griswald (Ed Helms) is all grown up now with a family of his own, but he shares his father’s desire to make the ultimate memories for them all. Together with his wife (Christina Applegate) and two sons they set off across the country on their way to Wally World. I sure hope the trip goes as planned! More reboot than sequel, this is a mostly unnecessary film that tries too hard to hit some of the same beats. It does land a handful of chuckles along the way, but the big gags too frequently fall flat in their execution.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
A.D. The Bible Continues, Black Sails: The Complete Second Season, Crumbs, The End of the Tour, Getting On: The Complete Second Season, Krampus: The Christmas Devil, Krampus: The Reckoning, A LEGO Brickumentary, Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, Paulo Coelho’s Best Story, Seymour: An Introduction, She’s Funny That Way, Toy Story That Time Forgot, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet