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Pick of the Week
A Face In the Crowd [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A charismatic man becomes a dark star on television.
Why see it? Elia Kazan’s prophetic tale of the unholy union between television and politics is as timely as ever, but even beyond its apparent ability to predict elements of the present the film remains just an utterly fantastic and brilliant piece of cinema. Andy Griffith’s atypical turn as a self-obsessed entertainer whose words hold sway over the audience is something of a revelation and helps power the film towards masterpiece status. I wrote about a single aspect of the film here, but it’s own rife with themes, ideas, and conversation starters if you’re interested — if not, you’re still in for one hell of a motion picture. Criterion’s new Blu-ray offers up a beautiful picture alongside some informative extras.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, featurettes, booklet]
What is it? An investigation into a competitive tickling site online opens up an even stranger story.
Why see it? The focus of this documentary isn’t some sweeping true story or searing indictment of the human condition, but it is a bonkers tale that grows increasingly insane by the minute. The idea of video sites catering to tickle fetishists is odd enough, but some simple questions open a Pandora’s box of threatening replies, ominous lawsuits, and secret millionaires. It’s a crazy ride that feels far too elaborate and absurd to be true, and yet…
[DVD extras: None]
The Witch – 4K UltraHD
What is it? A family of homesteaders find terror on the prairie.
Why see it? Robert Eggers’ debut feature is a hauntingly gorgeous tale of the power we give to the things that terrify us, but even beyond the metaphor it delivers a frightening story given power through its performances and photography. It’s a beautiful film, and its stark visual appeal — it’s in color but feels at times like a stunning work of black & white — makes it an ideal candidate for a 4K upgrade. It may not be action heavy, but what’s here is captured with real awe and sharp eyes. 4K’s ability to pull incredible contrast from a film’s dark blacks goes into overdrive here with stellar results.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary]
What is it? Six strangers sign up for a game that winds up being a death trap.
Why see it? Escape rooms are fun times, but what this entertaining thriller suggests is that sometimes they’re also deadly. The fun here comes in creative room design and engaging puzzles, but the real highlight is an ending that leaves you ready for the follow-up. Director Adam Robitel delivered one of the millennium’s most effective horror films with The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), and he chased it with two studio horror efforts that bring the goods. Insidious: The Last Key (2018) is a solid entry in that franchise, and his latest is the beginning of a franchise of its own.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? A young woman struggles with her own dark possibilities.
Why see it? Comparisons to The Witch and November seem inevitable, but this German film is content being its own thing. It’s less narrative-focused than those other films and instead works as an evocative character piece following one woman’s journey from troubled childhood to more troubling adulthood. Her world is one fearful of witches, and her lineage marks her as one the others suspect. A lonely life complicated by a crying infant of her own sees her mind play tricks — or reveal her truth. It’s a visual stunner, and the industrial-style score adds to the atmosphere pairing well with its grim mood and intentional pacing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Select commentary, short film, music video, deleted scene]
The House of the Seven Gables [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Two brothers clash over the dead father’s fortune.
Why see it? Nathaniel Hawthorne is best known for The Scarlet Letter, but he was far from a one-hit wonder. This novel was published the year later, and the adaptation captures its family dynamics and shifting character interests well. George Sanders and Vincent Price play the siblings and take things well beyond a mere feud. Murder, deception, and competing family interests enter the fray, and both suspense and drama follow. It’s a fast and engaging watch.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Land Unknown [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Four people flying over Antarctica crash land in a prehistoric land.
Why see it? Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic works of adventure fiction (like the one adapted for The Land That Time Forgot, 1974) aren’t directly related to this film, but they’re a clear inspiration. Our heroes find dinosaurs and other monstrous threats in addition to a human trapped there long ago. It’s generic fun but fun all the same thanks in part to the creature effects/costumes. Less cool, though, is the sequence featuring real lizards in the role of giant beasts — they fight fairly brutally leading to one killing the other, and as a fight stoked just for the film it’s fairly gross.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Noir Archive – 9 Film Collection
What is it? A collection of nine noirs from the 40s and 50s.
Why see it? The films include 711 Ocean Drive, Address Unknown, Assignment Paris, The Black Book, Escape in the Fog, The Guilt of Janet Ames, Johnny Allegro, The Killer That Stalked New York, and The Miami Story. They might not be considered classics, but the set offers a solid selection of solid films with Address Unknown and The Guilt of Janet Ames being two of the best. The films are spread across three discs and are no-frills, but it’s a good price for the selection.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Scared Stiff [Arrow Video]
What is it? A couple’s move into a new house results in the discovery of something evil.
Why see it? Andrew Stevens and Mary Page Keller play the couple in question, and they highlight an already fragile pairing made more fractured by the arrival of evil. Some side plotting involving her singing career falls a bit flat, but otherwise it’s an engaging enough tale of mansion-set horror if you’re in the right mood. It’s not all that memorable, though, and not even some mild creativity in the practical effects-heavy finale can really help there. Fans will love Arrow’s new Blu-ray though.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, documentary, interview]
Scream and Scream Again [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A killer roams the streets of London.
Why see it? Any movie that gathers the combined talents of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing is one worth watching, and this groovy 1970 thriller is no different (despite the latter being here only for a cameo). The movie is a bit bonkers and disjointed combining various threads that take much (most?) of the film to actually come together, but if you’re on its wavelength it’s some good fun.
[Blu-ray extras: US and UK versions, commentary]
The Strange Door [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A wealthy bastard tries to torture those around him.
Why see it? Charles Laughton may be batting 100 when it comes to directing, but his acting roles aren’t all winners. Happily, this solid little thriller is one of the good ones as he portrays the mean old man at the center of the conflict. The great Boris Karloff takes a supporting role too as a servant, but much of the main action focuses on a young woman and the thug who Laughton’s nobleman forces on her. Deceit, deception, and the threat of death follow.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
What Men Want
What is it? A successful businesswoman gains the ability to read men’s minds.
Why see it? This redo of the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt hit romantic comedy works well enough on both counts — the romance and the comedy — but neither element delivers all that strongly. The former feels too frequently like an afterthought, and the latter is often played too broadly to be effective. Luckily Taraji P. Henson sits at the center of it all as she’s a charismatic delight throughout. Tracy Morgan is along for the ride too and provides a few laughs of his own.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes, featurettes]
Also out this week:
Death Is a Number, Destroyer, Farinelli, The Gospel According to Andre, I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu, The Informer [Kino Classics], Paradise Alley [Shout Select], Shameless – The Complete Ninth Season, Shooting Stars [Kino Classics], Soviet Zombie Invasion, Torment, Underground [Kino Classics]
Related Topics: Home Video