Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From The Dispatch:
Perry has crafted an incredibly complex comedy here, his performers conveying so much more than what is written on the page. It's a remarkable blend of razor sharp comedy and personal tragedy starring a man that's almost impossible to root for. Yet Perry makes it work to his advantage. He puts the literary intelligentsia under a microscope and comes away with a bitingly hilarious satire that has all the trappings of a incisive relationship drama. Self-delusion has never been so wickedly funny, or so deeply heartbreaking. 
Click here to read my full review.

Friday, October 17, 2014

With each new release, specialty Blu-Ray label Twilight Time has done an excellent job of carving out a niche for itself, issuing limited releases of titles in high definition that studios wouldn't have otherwise bothered with.

In some cases, it's easy to see why the studios saw no prospects for releasing the films on Blu-Ray, whether it's because of the quality of the film or the limited nature of their appeal. But in many cases, it's a great thing to see some of these films at last making their Blu-Ray debuts. This month, Twilight Time is releasing two such horror films just in time for Halloween; Audrey Rose and the 1988 remake of The Blob.

Directed by the incomparable Robert Wise, Audrey Rose (1977) came at a time when movies about demonic possession (and evil children) were all the rage. Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen all preceded it, but Audrey Rose took that familiar formula and then brought something completely different to the table.

Less horror movie and more psychological thriller, Audrey Rose focuses on reincarnation rather than possession, and a troubled child rather than an evil one. Anthony Hopkins stars as a man who believed that a little girl named Ivy is actually the reincarnation of his daughter, Audrey Rose, who was killed in a fiery car crash minutes before Ivy's birth. Her parents are resistant, even frightened at first, but when Ivy begins having violent nightmare about being trapped in a burning car, her mother (Marsha Mason) begins to wonder if she may actually be someone else, and decides to do anything she can to get to the bottom of it.

Elegantly directed and beautifully acted, Audrey Rose is a different kind of horror movie. Wise was a kind of directorial chameleon, able to adapt to any genre with ease. From musicals (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) to horror (The Haunting) to science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), Wise conquered them all. Here, he harkens back to his directorial debut, The Curse of the Cat People, using psychological horror to explore the psyche of a troubled young girl. Wise shies away from the more supernatural elements of the story, especially in the film's gripping climax, keeping the film grounded even as it searches for answers to bigger questions to answers beyond our world.

The Blob, on the other hand, is a completely different animal.  A remake of the 1958 sci-fi B-movie classic that launched the career of Steve McQueen, The Blob updated the story with bigger, gorier special effects and a darker tone.

While I'm not one of those who contend that this Blob is stronger than the original Blob, it's still a surprisingly solid remake, especially considering it's about a giant glob of alien goo that eats people alive. This time, however, director Chuck Russell (who had recently breathed new life into the Nightmare on Elm Street series with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) delves a little deeper into the origins of the monster, painting it as the product of a government experiment gone wrong.

The effects are better, the deaths are gorier, but ultimately the film lack's the original's sincere charm. While the remake embraces its B-movie roots somewhat, it's also a darker film, and falters a bit when it goes for a big action climax.

Basically, the Blob is a much more interesting character as a mindless killing machine than a sentient monster with tentacles that reach out to trap unsuspecting victims. The original is just more likable. You can't help but admire the remake, however. It makes the most out of its much larger budget and updates the concept well. It's one of the strongest horror remakes to come along, and Twilight Time's Blu-ray transfer is excellent. For fans of sci-fi horror, this is a must have, and it's clear that Twilight Time expected the popularity of this title, by expanding their limited run from the usual 3,000 to 5,000 units. As of press time, however, those copies are almost all sold out, so if you're thinking of picking this one up, don't wait. Twilight Time has really outdone themselves with their October output, and both of these discs come highly recommended.

THE BLOB - ★★★

To order, visit

Friday, October 10, 2014

Don't let the title fool you, János Szász's The Notebook (Le Grand Cahier) is no Nicholas Sparks love story. Set in Hungary during World War II, The Notebook is about as far from Sparks territory as you can get. This is the story of two twin boys whose mother drops them off with their grandmother in the countryside near the Hungarian border to escape the brunt of the war. Instead, she inadvertently dumps them right in the middle of Hell, as their grandmother turns out to be an unfeeling monster (locals refer to her as "the witch"), and the German army moves into one of her extra buildings on the farm.

Working day in and day out to earn their meager food, often not being allowed to sleep inside, the boys try to build up an immunity to pain, hitting and slapping each other until they are numb. But the pain the must endure isn't just physical. As the war progresses, the evils they must face become more intense. The war will change them, shape them, redefine them, but it can only reinforce their unusual bond, as all they have left of themselves is each other.

Left to right: László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker
Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The Notebook is reminiscent of Rene Clement's war-through-the-eyes-of-a-child classic, Forbidden Games, although with a much bleaker outlook. It is a handsomely mounted film, but it is unrelentingly dark, which is appropriate for a film about the horrors of war. The problem is, rather than find transcendence through the darkness, the film wallows in it. There is no hope, no redemption to be found here, just unrelenting ugliness. That's certainly a legitimate approach, but it's a deeply unpleasant one. The film's episodic structure also enforces this; it is just one ghastly horror after another, with no end in sight. Szász sets out to illustrate the ugliness of war - but in the process he made a film that is as oppressive as the darkness he seeks to illuminate. There is a lot to be explored about the toll of war on the human spirit, unfortunately The Notebook would rather dwell on its misery than explore it in any meaningful way.

Films do not need to be upbeat or even hopeful to be effective, but there are few redeeming qualities about this film. The sheer never-ending level of atrocity and degradation depicted in The Notebook becomes almost laughable by the end, it's a litany of woe and misfortunate that would make even Job's jaw drop. That's what makes it ultimately ineffective, like the twin boys who are our guides through the war, we become desensitized to the horror. It just no longer affects us after a while. It deadens us, numbs us under its constant assault. It certainly paints a grim picture, but if war is hell, so is this film.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

THE NOTEBOOK | Directed by János Szász | Stars László Gyémánt, András Gyémánt, Piroska Molnár, Ulrich Thomsen | Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language | In Hungarian w/English subtitles | Now playing in select cities. Opens today at the Ballantyne in Charlotte, NC.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Sleeping Beauty has long been my favorite Disney film, in no small part thanks to its iconic villain, Maleficent. It should come as no surprise, then, that Disney chose to release it on Diamond Edition Blu-Ray to coincide with the upcoming home video release of its summer hit, Maleficent, coming up in November.

Interestingly, Sleeping Beauty has already been released on Blu-Ray once before, in a 2009 50th anniversary Platinum Edition, but has long been locked away in the Disney vault. Anyone who already had that Blu-Ray in their collection shouldn't bother upgrading, as there's no real difference in image quality and, surprisingly, many of that release's special features are conspicuously absent.

Still though, anyone who doesn't already have Sleeping Beauty in their Blu-Ray collection is highly encouraged to pick this up.

That's because Sleeping Beauty is arguably the most beautifully animated of all of Disney's classic films. The detail in each frame is breathtaking, and the Blu-Ray really enhances their beauty in ways we've never seen before. The story may be one of their most straightforward and simple - a beautiful princess falls under the curse of an evil fairy and can only be woken by true love's kiss (who, naturally, she just met the day before). It is, in many ways, the quintessential Disney princess movie, and many of its tropes have since been parodied in Disney's more recent films like Frozen and Maleficent. But in its simplicity lies its charm. Its gender politics may seem outdated by today's standards (Aurora is the very definition of the passive heroine), but Sleeping Beauty retains its timeless feeling nevertheless. It consistently has the aura of an old fairy tale, lovingly told, and the ingenious use of Tchaikovsky's ballet as the film's score reinforces its timelessness.

The runaway success of Maleficent is a testament to the film's enduring power, even if the story was drastically changed to correspond with more modern social mores. I just wish that the Diamond Edition had included some of the special features from the first Blu-Ray release. You would think that something labeled "Diamond Edition" would be the ultimate release of a film, but the Platinum Edition's features far outpace the new release. There are a few deleted scenes that will be of interest to fans of the film, and a piece that focuses on the enduring legacy of Disney villains, but there is a wealth of material missing here - documentaries and featurettes focusing on Tchaikovsky's ballet that appealed to perhaps an older audience of collectors have been left by the wayside. It feels like a rush job to cash in on Maleficent, far below the standards of its previous Diamond Edition releases. It's a shame, because I really do believe this is Walt Disney's crowning achievement, but anytime this classic is released from the Disney vault is a cause for celebration, even if this is strictly for those who don't already have the excellent 2009 Platinum Edition.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)