‘The Dog,’ ‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’ and ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ Are Three Kinds of Fantastic
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A dapper snowman (voiced by Burl Ives) shares a tale about a Christmas that almost wasn’t and the plucky little reindeer who saved the day. Sounds simple, but the adventure that brings Rudolph from his beleaguered youth through his adventures with misfit toys, a bumbling snow monster, an elf with dental aspirations and a surly ginger named Yukon Cornelius. Also, love. He has an adventure featuring love.
Sure, Halloween just ended and we’re still a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, but does that mean we can’t start seeking out Christmas specials? Okay, yes, it does, but that hasn’t stopped the onslaught of holiday-themed releases from hitting DVD today. While most of them are easily ignored this 1964 classic deserves far more respect. This Rankin/Bass production is 52 minutes of pure stop-motion, sing-along joy, and I’m not just saying that because people felt for the longest time that I resembled Hermey the dentally-inclined elf. The bumble cave sequence, the time spent on the Island of Misfit Toys, the opportunity for Rudolph to step up and save Christmas ‐ these are magical sequences, and even at half a century old their power remains.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
August 22nd, 1972 was just another hot summer day in New York City, at least until two men walked into a Brooklyn branch of Chase bank and made a somewhat incompetent attempt to rob it. John “The Dog” Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale were the two would-be robbers, and while you probably don’t recognize their names you’re most likely familiar with their exploits that day. The event ‐ and the botched robbery most definitely became an event complete with hostages, intense media coverage and crowds of cops and civilians ‐ inspired the Al Pacino-led film Dog Day Afternoon just a few years later. Here’s what led to the robbery and all that followed it.
Co-directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren followed Wojtowicz for a decade, speaking with him ‐ or more accurately, letting him talk ‐ and those in his life in an attempt to capture the truth and character of the man. There’s an abundance of the latter in The Dog, but it’s anyone’s guess how much of the former is on display. Wojtowicz enjoys not only the sound of his own voice but also the effect his words have on those around him, and veracity seems far less important to him than his efforts to stretch fifteen minutes of fame across a lifetime. The result is an entertaining and engaging character piece. It fills some gaps in a pop culture story, gaps we didn’t even know needed filling, but its main effect is to shine a light on a man who fears the darkness. My full review is here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, booklet]
A PhD student (Michelle Ang) sets out to make her thesis film about an elderly woman diagnosed with Alzheimers, but what she discovers goes well beyond a simple yet painful illness. Deborah (Jill Larson) is in the early stages of the disease, struggling with details big and small, and along with her daughter is hoping the project can both help them financially. The crew settles in to the house, installing cameras in the rooms and hallways and soon discovers Deborah’s case might be a bit different from the norm. Strange events are witnessed, and as Deborah’s behavior becomes increasingly violent Sarah and the others race to discover what could be causing her descent into ghostly madness.
Director Adam Robitel handles the found footage aspect better than most of his contemporaries in several ways, but first among them is in the story’s setup and execution. We’re given valid reasons for the cameras’ existence and characters supported with depth and strong performances. The things we see make sense, and the only real found footage-related issue becomes an over-reliance on the camera’s image quality. It cuts in and out at times, most notably in the third act, and it’s cheap. But that’s a small price to pay for what the movie achieves. It’s exceedingly creepy thanks to sharp editing and imagery, and the topic adds to the overall unnerving nature of it all. Alzheimer’s is a devastating existence for the person afflicted and for their loved ones, and the film takes a surprisingly sincere look at it all while slowly letting the evil creep in along the way.
[DVD extras: Making of]
An anatomy professor (Timothy Dalton) in Victorian London struggles for a way to acquire fresh corpses for his classes, and his efforts bring him into contact with grave robbers. Things get more complicated when they start seeking out even fresher bodies. This is a grimy and occasionally fun little period piece most notable for its cast which also includes Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Rea, Patrick Stewart, Julian Sands and Twiggy. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray looks and sounds better than previous releases of the film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews]
A Mexican (Michael Peña) crossing the border illegally is witness to an accident that leads to death and incarceration, a woman (Eva Longoria) falls victim to an unscrupulous “coyote” and an American (Ed Harris) searches for justice for his dead wife. This multi-threaded drama brings all the stories together under the unspoken alternate title, “People Are Assholes.” Mexican, Americans… the majority are assholes with only a handful of truly good people. (But when they’re good, they’re really, really good.) A lot of this feels a bit too sincere and obvious in its commentary, but the cast delivers the goods and the ending manages to be uplifting (and only a little bit too easy).
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A dwarf named Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) sits in a pub on the cusp of trouble when a grey-bearded wizard named Gandalf (Ian McKellen) joins him. Twelve months later, per onscreen text (and a wink from director Peter Jackson showing viewers that he can make expeditious cinema when he sets his mind to it), we rejoin Thorin, Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a handful of unimportant dwarves right where we left them at the end of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Free of having to provide much in the way of setup, the second Hobbit film spends more time immersing Bilbo and friends into action set-pieces. Better than the sheer frequency is the increased quality including a nightmarish stretch involving a creepy clutter of Buick-sized spiders, a sequence seeing Smaug and Bilbo play cat and mouse (respectively) and the film’s centerpiece which sees the dwarves and their burglar friend escaping captivity and a squad of orcs by way of empty barrels and a fast-moving river. It’s easily the most exciting and energetic scene that Jackson has delivered in the last decade thanks to sharp effects, edge-of-your-seat thrills and some tension-relieving laughs. But it’s not all good news. My full review is here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) just wants to be left alone in her kingdom, but when a neighboring army threatens to invade she curses the king’s baby daughter along the familiar lines of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Her mood changes though as she grows fond of the young girl, but the date of the curse’s execution approaches threatening their friendship and the tranquility across the land. As rape/revenge fantasies go, this is probably the most Disney-like. (This makes more sense once you’ve seen it.) Their big re-imagining is a visually attractive affair and Jolie lands a few solid line deliveries, but the new angles on the classic story actually hurt the simplicity of the original tale.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
The 9/11 attacks were planned from the beautiful, immigrant-friendly city of Hamburg, and Germany swore afterwards that it would never happen again. In addition to tightening security for those coming into the country, part of their efforts to stop terrorist cells from operating so freely within their borders included the creation of a small intelligence unit whose sole purpose is prevention. Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) heads up the team, but his latest mission challenges more than his skill-set and determination. It shakes his drive, moral compass, and dedication to “making the world a safer place.” The film has things to say about the world of spies, the actions of certain government agencies, and the very human toll the war on terror has wrought, but it’s not making its case in the most effective manner. There are moments of brilliance and devastation here, but they’re too few and far between. My full review is here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette]
Turmoil and drama continues behind the scenes at ACN from the network head (Jane Fonda) on down through the anchor (Jeff Daniels), producers and others as the team deals with political events and a possible military cover-up. Creator Aaron Sorkin’s latest series finds a surer footing in its second season thanks in part to stronger subplots involving supporting players like Olivia Munn and Alison Pill, and while it still gets a bit show-boaty on occasion the intelligence and laughs make it compelling television.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes]
They say bartenders make great therapists, but does that still apply long after the bar has been sold and the bartender has moved on? Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) would probably say no after their couples therapist (Ted Danson) sends them on a very strange weekend retreat. The married couple arrives at the prescribed destination to find that the grounds ‐ including a main house, guest house and numerous gardens ‐ are theirs and theirs alone for the weekend. Well, kind of. It seems that part of the good doctor’s plan to help the couple work towards becoming better versions of themselves, and in the process become a better couple, involves a very unique way of facing and experiencing those better selves. The film deals with these issues with the benefit of sharply written dialogue and a pair of immensely talented and likable leads, and the narrative element brings new challenges and ramifications to the process. Sophie and Ethan aren’t quite balanced as well as they ideally should be leading to Sophie receiving more development and understanding, and while it doesn’t hurt the overall effect of the film and narrative, the goings-on at the retreat are left extremely vague. My full review is here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, effects reel]
A teenager wakes up for the best day of his life only to see everything go wrong. Luckily gets another shot at it when he wakes up the next day and it’s the same day again and again and again. Yes, the filmmakers have seen Groundhog Day. Unfortunately seeing a film and understanding what makes it great are two different things as this movie is an unfunny and malicious turd.
[DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, behind the scenes, alternate ending]
Reno, Nevada is a hellish place, probably, and exactly the kind of small city where a show like Cops would have thrived. This Comedy Central series does that concept one step better by letting some of the strangest, most incompetent and wholly ridiculous officers loose on the streets. There are a lot of laughs to be found here across the six seasons, but there are plenty of gags and jokes that fall a bit flat too. The inconsistency makes it a difficult show to marathon, but this set offers plenty of diversions in the form of bonus features. The biggest downside here is the case design as the weight of the disc pages easily breaks the small plastic nubs.
[DVD extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes]
The dance battle apocalypse has begun, and the center of the storm is Las Vegas. For obvious reasons. Look, you’re either into watching people compete with ridiculous and acrobatic dance moves or you’re not, and if you’re part of the former camp then this is more of exactly what you crave. The film was shot in 3D (inexplicably), but the Blu-ray doesn’t care.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes]
The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell
The title pretty much says it all in regard to the TV movie’s intent, but the end product is surprisingly and excessively tame. This is especially odd seeing as Dustin “Screech” Diamond is the executive producer, and it’s his character who tells the story. His post-show life has been filled with revelations about the cast’s (supposed) behavior, but aside from a few mentions of hook-ups we’re given none of that. Instead the movie is just a basic, behind the scenes look, and honestly that’s pretty damn boring.
[DVD extras: None]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
A Belle for Christmas
The Christmas Gift
A Five Star Life
Garfield: Holiday Collection
Holiday Family Classics: The Thanksgiving Treasure & The House Without a Christmas Tree
The Leopard (Criterion)
Little House on the Prairie: A Merry Ingalls Christmas
Perry Mason Movie Collections 7–9
Planes: Fire & Rescue
The Sopranos: The Complete Series
Related Topics: Home Video