It’s been a while since I’ve had this many new releases to choose from, but it looks like things are beginning to really pick up as we head into summer, which is great news. Though I didn’t have time to check out all of the week’s Blu-rays, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t limit yourself to the ones featured below. Criterion’s release of “Being John Malkovich” would be an excellent addition to any cinephile’s collection, while Western fans will probably enjoy the first season of the AMC drama “Hell on Wheels.”
With the exception of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield,” the whole found-footage craze has generally failed to impress me as a viable storytelling device, usually because most of the movies in the subgenre are plagued by terrible scripts and bad acting. But director Josh Trank’s debut feature doesn’t run into any of those problems, and it’s exactly because the script and acting are so good that he’s able to utilize the low-budget gimmick to his benefit, delivering a fresh take on found-footage and superhero movies in the process. Additionally, the idea to tell the superhero origin story from the villain’s point of view is pretty ingenious, particularly because his fall from grace is a lot more complex than the typical hero’s tale. Though the format does yield a few nagging questions – like, for instance, why anyone would still bother recording any of this after all hell has broken loose – the cameras are integrated so cleverly into the story that it helps the movie a lot more than it hurts it.
Blu-ray Highlight: I didn’t receive a copy in time for review, but I’m curious to check out the proposed director’s cut to see if any cool stuff was left on the cutting room floor.
The trailers for Joe Carnahan’s survival thriller may have promised one thing (namely, a showdown between Liam Neeson and a big bad wolf) and delivered something else entirely, but it’s still a solid adventure film with plenty of action. Though you pretty much know how it’s going to end as soon as the first few guys succumb to the deadly triumvirate of the punishing weather, dangerous terrain and hungry predators, Carnahan manages to hold your interest by taking the time to develop his characters, humanizing them beyond simple wolf fodder. Neeson and character actor Frank Grillo, in particular, deliver some really strong performances, with the latter even managing to outshine his co-star. “The Grey” can get a bit too philosophical at times when you’d rather just watch Neeson punch a wolf in the face, but while that would have certainly delivered the kind of instant adrenaline rush we all expected, it’s the bleak realism of the movie that stays with you long after it’s finished.
Blu-ray Highlight: Though Joe Carnahan has a tendency to be a bit of a tool when it comes to talking about his movies, the director’s commentary with editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellmann is nonetheless an engaging discussion about making the film that covers a range of topics like the cast, special effects and shooting in the Arctic.
For as much abuse as January receives for being a bad movie magnet, February isn’t any better, especially when you factor in the bombardment of cheesy chick flicks being unloaded in time for Valentine’s Day. In fact, with the exception of maybe one or two releases, there isn’t anything even worth getting excited about – unless you’re a really big “Star Wars” fan, in which case, keep reading. January was by no means a great month for moviegoers, but it was a heckuva lot better than what February has in store.
“THE WOMAN IN BLACK”
Who: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds and Emma Shorey What: A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals. When: February 3rd Why: There’s no way in hell that I’m going to see this movie – not because it doesn’t look like it might be good, but rather because there are few things that scare me as unconditionally as creepy old ghost women from horror movies. (Despite really enjoying last year’s “Insidious,” I couldn’t sleep for weeks afterwards.) And that’s a shame, because “The Woman in Black” looks like it might actually rise above the typical horror trash that populates this time of year (see: “The Devil Inside”). Adapted from Susan Hill’s novel of the same name (which was also turned into a successful stage play), the script was written by Matthew Vaughn’s go-to scribe Jane Goldman and stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role. The actor undoubtedly had plenty of offers on the table, so the fact that he chose this Hammer horror film certainly speaks of its potential.
Who: Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Dane DeHaan and Michael Kelly What: Three friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery, only for their friendship to be tested when one of them embraces his dark side. When: February 3rd Why: I didn’t even know about this movie until a few months ago when a friend sent me a link to the trailer, but consider me cautiously intrigued. Though I’m just as sick of the whole found footage fad as everyone else, “Chronicle” is set up in a way that it doesn’t have to adhere to the normal rules of the genre. For starters, since the main characters have superpowers (namely, telekinesis), they can put the camera pretty much anywhere they want, allowing for a more dynamic range of shots beyond the trademark shaky cam. The trailer also seems to suggest that there will be a healthy dose of action, so as long as the story isn’t a complete mess and director Josh Trank can keep the movie’s mystery a secret, this superhero “Cloverfield” could be the first surprise hit of the year.