Blu Tuesday: Funny Money, Haunted Inns and More

Last Tuesday’s Blu-ray selection wasn’t quite as poor as it has been these last few weeks – with such notable titles as “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Shame” on the schedule – but I didn’t receive any review copies in time for my column. Thankfully, things are finally starting to pick up again, which is great news for Blu-ray collectors. Although there really isn’t a standout title among this week’s releases, there’s still a good variety to choose from, including this trio of very diverse movies.

“Contraband”

Mark Wahlberg’s latest action thriller isn’t a terrible movie by any means, but it is an incredibly unmemorable one that, although it likely earned the actor a nice paycheck and the opportunity to work with guys like Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons and Giovanni Ribisi, isn’t up to par with what his fans have come to expect. A big part of the problem is that director Baltasar Kormakur vastly overcomplicates the film’s simplistic setup by making the actual heist so unnecessarily complex that not even Danny Ocean and his crew could pull it off. Worse yet, the story is so predictable that you can see every twist and turn before it happens. There’s hardly a single original idea to be found, which is ironic considering it’s about counterfeiting, and though Kormakur was presumably given the directing gig because he was familiar with the source material (having played Wahlberg’s role in the Icelandic film that it’s based on), he fails to demonstrate what made that movie so special that it deserved a remake.

Blu-ray Highlight: I’m a sucker for a good making-of featurette, and the one included here is better than most, covering a range of topics including the differences between the Icelandic original and the remake, casting and filming on location in New Orleans.

“The Innkeepers”

I saw Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” two years ago at South by Southwest, and whether it was because “Insidious” had just given me a mini panic attack the night before, or because I was simply expecting more from the film, I didn’t find it to be particularly scary. Though West’s slow-burn approach is pretty effective in the opening half, there’s very little payoff, to the point that when the horror elements finally do kick in, they’re not as terrifying as you’d expect. Instead, the movie spends most of the time camped out at the front desk where its two leads banter back and forth and play tricks on one another. It’s amusing at times, but never enough to hold your interest, despite the fact that Sara Paxton and Pat Healy have good chemistry. If there’s one redeeming quality, it’s the fantastic score by Jeff Grace, which at least makes the movie more watchable. Unfortunately, “The Innkeepers” is a mediocre horror film at best, and that’s a shame, because while it had the potential to revitalize the genre, it falls short.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not much to choose from on the single-disc release, but fans of Ti West will certainly enjoy the director’s pair of audio commentaries – one with producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick, and another, much livelier affair with stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy.

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5 Questions with Sara Paxton of “The Innkeepers”

Sara Paxton is best known for roles in horror flicks like the 2009 remake of “Last House on the Left” and “Shark Night 3D,” as well as comedies such as the teen romance “Sydney White” with Amanda Bynes and “Aquamarine,” in which she starred as a mermaid. The critics have largely been kind, and the admitted fan of Goldie Hawn and distant cousin of star Bill Paxton, whom she has never met, has earned comparisons to Reese Witherspoon. Even so, it was her down to earth, low-key goofiness which drew the attention of writer-director Ti West for “The Innkeepers,” a surprisingly scary blend of classic ghost story horror and contemporary indie comedy. (It opens in select theaters nationwide this Friday after a month-plus run on VOD.)

It turns out that the 23-year-old Ms. Paxton was born to play the world’s cutest nerd/slacker-cum-asthmatic ghost hunter, and she does it extremely well. What attracted West was the very unglam, slightly geeky and goofy nature she exhibits in real life, which somehow seems to fit with the reality that she is, at 23, a highly experienced professional actress whose earliest gigs included contributing child voices to “SpongeBob SquarePants.” (She is also one of the child “singers” of the long-running Nickelodeon cartoon’s theme.)

And so we bring you five questions with every nerd’s dream girl: Sara Paxton.

1. There was apparently a bit of weirdness [probably not actually ghost related] happening around the set of “The Innkeepers” and the movie was somewhat inspired by creepy things that happened on Ti West’s prior film, “The House of the Devil.” What really scares you?

Sara Paxton: I’m a big baby. Ghosts scare me. If I go see a movie with killers who break into your house, that doesn’t scare me. In the moment, I am scared [because] of the suspense in the movie, but when I go home I don’t think about it. I’m not thinking, “That killer’s going to come in.” But after a ghost movie, I’m like [in a scary voice], “The ghosts are everywhere.” People think I’m ridiculous. I kinda am.

2. So you were perfectly cast for this movie! Now, you’ve done a few horror films. You’ve done some, like this and “Shark Night 3D,” that were more in the fun or even silly category. You’ve also done the kind of horror film where, if the audience isn’t actually traumatized when they walk out the door, they don’t feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Would something like “The Innkeepers” actually scare you more than “Last House on the Left”?

SP: Yeah, “The Innkeepers” scared me. I watched it at South by Southwest [SXSW] in the huge theater with everyone else. That was the first time I saw it because Ti wouldn’t let me see anything, which I’m fine with. Yeah, it scared me. It scared me because it’s unlike any scary movie that I’ve ever seen. Normally, when I see a scary movie, even though it does scare me because I’m a big pansy, I know when it’s coming. I’m ready. I wasn’t ready for this, so it really scared me. I wasn’t prepared [even though I was there when it was shot]. The way he puts it together afterwards makes it scary.

3. Both of your parents work in dentistry. [Paxton's mother is a dentist and her father manages the practice.] Can you talk about the importance of teeth in the performing arts?

SP: When I was a little kid, and I would do commercials and stuff, when I started losing my baby teeth, my mother would make me a little fake tooth. I wouldn’t get parts because of it, because casting directors would be mad. “We want real kids with [real teeth].” I never understood that. “I don’t wany to show my gap tooth.” Teeth are important, I guess you need good teeth, although sometimes they want the real deal — gritty characters with gnarly teeth.

4. You’ve said that Claire from “The Innkeepers” is probably the closest character you’ve ever played to yourself. Ti West describes you as “a charming goofball.” Is that easier or harder than playing somebody who’s very different from yourself?

SP: It’s easier. It is, because I don’t have to control it. You know what I think is the hardest thing? Playing sexy. Doing sexy roles and sex scenes — that terrifies me. Because I’m so nervous about it and so self-conscious about it that makes me not-sexy. Because I’m like [does an adorably bad quasi-Mae West impression], “This is me being sexy,” you know what I mean? I’m like “Oh, let’s do it!”…I have problems playing the [bad sexy English accent] “Come hither into my boudoir” kind of scenes. When I get those auditions, I panic.

5. You’ve been working fairly successfully as an actress since you were six. Do you ever fantasize about having a low-pressure, dead-end job like Claire in “The Innkeepers”?

SP: I wouldn’t say I fantasize about it, but some people think my job is a lot more glamorous than it is. I’m not like this big, famous movie star. Not that that’s what my goal is. At times you feel like, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Should I do something else?” Obviously, I don’t because I love what I do, but it’s a hard industry to work in. It’s easy to get discouraged. You feel trampled on sometimes. When you’ve had three auditions, and you waited for them for an hour just to be treated like garbage or something, it gets too sad sometimes. But I think that it’s worth it if you love it, and I do. Just gotta keep pushing forward.

  

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