“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: East Side Sushi, Glassland, Scherzo Diabolico, The Club, Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party and more
East Side Sushi
Every 10 years or so, the media get on their high horse about the lack of diversity in Hollywood – usually, vis a vis that season’s minority-free Oscar nominations – without also pointing out the scarcity of black, brown, red and yellow faces on magazine covers and photos attached to puff pieces in newspaper feature sections. Given the choice between another profile of Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman or George Clooney and interviewing a lesser-known actor of color, editors will always go with the overexposed money shot … as in, a publicist-approved, photo-shopped photograph that looks great on a magazine rack at CVS. Anthony Lucero’s delightful foodie dramedy East Side Sushi has everything that columnists and other opinion makers said was missing in the nominations. Sadly, like too many other critically blessed indies, it arrives in DVD virtually undistributed and barely recognized outside the festival circuit. In it, when single mom Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) finally comes to the conclusion that wheeling the family-owned fruit-vending cart around the mean streets of Oakland is a dead-end gig, she offers her considerable slicing-and-dicing skills to a local sushi restaurant advertising for help. While the premise lends itself to all sorts of potentially offensive culture-clash humor, Lucero cleverly avoids the cheap shots and other obvious stuff, in favor of a heart-warming human-interest story with plenty of laughs for a PG audience and just enough bite to keep grown-ups entertained. Neither is the narrative trajectory obvious. Having developed an interest in sushi preparation watching foodie shows on cable, Juana arrives at the Osaka Japanese Restaurant in downtown Oakland already primed to succeed. Although relegated to the kitchen behind the curtains leading to the counter, she’s a quick study, filling in for absent employees and always asking the right questions while stirring the rice. Nonetheless, while impressing her fellow chefs, Juana knows it will take more than talent to convince the owner and his wife of her value to them in a counter-chef position. And, yes, their reticence can be blamed on the fact that she’s a non-Asian woman. They run a “traditional” operation and don’t want to risk alienating any of their regular customers.
At home, Juana’s elderly father (Rodrigo Duarte Clark) becomes her unwilling guinea pig when it comes to practicing the preparation of sushi at home. He prefers his leftover fish grilled or pan-fried and accompanied by jalapeño peppers. Her daughter (Kaya Jade Aguirre) enjoys helping mom in the kitchen, but her learning curve when it comes to raw fish is fairly steep, as well. To compensate, Juana creates foods that merge Japanese and Mexican tastes, without compromising either. Still, the restaurant owner (Roji Oyama) balks at putting her out front with the male chefs. To win them over, she enters a “Top Chef”-style competition, with her fusion concepts. The contest organizers love her “green diablo roll” (with a poblano pepper substituting for seaweed), but, like her boss, are stunned to learn she’s of the female persuasion. Unwilling to risk a legal challenge, she’s pitted against three male chefs, with her dad and daughter serving as her assistants. Back at the Osaka, the televised competition is monitored by the still-skeptical boss and the chefs – one of whom (Yutaka Takeuchi) has been especially supportive — who quietly pull for Juana. It doesn’t go exactly as Hollywood clichés would demand, but everything that follows is logical and satisfying. In addition to excellent acting, Marty Rosenberg’s cinematography makes the sushi look consistently mouthwatering. East Side Sushi may not carry the weight of a potential nominee for an Oscar or a Spirit nomination, but it succeeds nicely as an entertainment that can be enjoyed by teens and adults. The blend of ethnic elements is as natural and unforced as the Juana’s prize recipes. It reminds me favorably of the underappreciated rom/com/dram The Ramen Girl, in which Brittany Murphy played a fish out of water in Tokyo. Predictably, that wonderful picture went straight-to-DVD, too. Need I mention that the casts for both pictures are predominantly non-white? TheEast Side Sushi DVD adds a pair of deleted scenes, as well as featurettes “Behind the Sushi” and “Behind the Music.”
Sydney native Toni Collette has been impressing international audiences and critics ever since her breakthrough performance in Muriel’s Wedding, in 1994. Between then and her riveting portrayal of an alcoholic mother in the intense Irish drama Glassland, she’s appeared in such disparate entertainments as Cosi,Emma, Velvet Goldmine, 8 1/2 Women, The Sixth Sense, Shaft, The Hours, Little Miss Sunshine, The Dead Girl, Hitchcock, Fright Night,Krampus and, of course, Showtime’s The United States of Tara. In that series, Collette played a homemaker with dissociative identity disorder and a dysfunctional family. That’s tough. Irish filmmaker Gerard Barrett (Pilgrim Hill) elicits another dynamite performance from Collette as a mother, Jean, whose husband moved on after she gave birth to a child with Down syndrome. For her part, Jean rejected the boy entirely, referring to him as a monster and immediately sinking into an alcoholic stupor. The only time she shows any signs of life is when she’s in the non-blackout phase of her drunkenness. If it weren’t for her first-born son, John (Jack Reynor), Jean probably would have frozen to death in a doorway years earlier. As it is, he’s grown weary of searching for her when she’s on a bender and cleaning up after her after she gets sick or begins to destroy dishes. John makes a few pounds driving taxi cab around Dublin and, in an undernourished narrative thread, transporting the occasional Asian sex slave for a local pimp. Finally, at wit’s end, John demands that his mother enter a rehab program neither of them can afford. To help pay for it, he makes a decision he could live to regret. Although we care for Jean and pull for her recovery – Collette’s performance demands it of us – it’s John we pity. Unlike his closest friend in the housing project, the young man has enjoyed none of the benefits of growing up in any normal way. When he isn’t babysitting his mother, he’s trying to make life as easy as possible for the institutionalized brother. There’s almost nothing new or surprising in Glassland, including another exceptional performance by Collette. Rising star Reynor (Macbeth, Transformers: Age of Extinction) is also quite good in a difficult role, and their interaction, at least, is worth the price of a rental. Bonus content includes interviews with the director and actors Jack Raynor and Will Poulter; the short film, “Aïssa,” about a young Congolese women desperate to establish residence in France; and director’s statement.
This twisted little kidnap/revenge thriller from Mexico should surprise even those genre buffs who think they’ve seen everything when it comes to table-turners. If Adrián García Bogliano’s Scherzo Diabolico begins slowly, there are times when it almost careens off its tracks like a speeding locomotive. In this, the movie resembles French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan’s titular Scherzo Diabolico Op. 39 no. 3, an étude designed to burrow as insidiously into the mind of viewers as it does in that of the victim. Francisco Barreiro, who previously worked with Bogliano in Here Comes the Devil, stars as Aram, a failed pianist who has been emotionally trampled by his professional and personal life. The mild-mannered functionary finally snaps after being passed over for the promotion he deserves and his shrewish wife expected him to get. To assuage his rage and frustration, Aram methodically times and tracks his boss’ daughter as she makes her way to and from school and other appointments. His idea is to abduct the girl and keep her chained to a pole in an abandoned warehouse outside Mexico City. To maintain his anonymity, Aram wears a skull mask and maintains a safe distance from his victim (Daniela Soto Vell), even when he’s photographing her for the ransom demand. Ironically, the kidnapping does such a number on his boss’ head that he’s forced to resign and Aram is promoted to the position he felt he deserved all along. Not only does this make his life easier at home, but it also allows him to promote the woman with whom he’s been carrying on an office affair. Curiously, Aram decides to free the girl from bondage, without any exchange of money. The police are baffled by the case and the girl is so traumatized that she can barely function. In a very neat twist, Aram seals his own fate when he bumps into his former boss on the street and gives him a tape of music he believes will soothe him. Instead, it sets off a series of events almost true gruesome to watch. As awful as they are, though, the brutality is designed to press Bogliano’s crescendo of unexpected twists. Composer and sound designer Sealtiel Alatriste contributes to the tension by adding his own ideas to the titular étude. As novel as it is, Scherzo Diabolico definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. The bonus features include commentaries, interviews and a music video.
The Club: Blu-ray
Instead of defrocking priests who’ve disgraced the Church and turning them over to the police, in its infinite and infallible wisdom the Vatican has chosen to punish them in ways that have allowed them to continue abusing children or sent them off to cushy retreats to ponder their crimes … or ignore them, as the case may be. In doing so, Church officials have spit in the eyes of aggrieved parishioners and continued to put children in harm’s way. Such blatant hypocrisy has caused otherwise devout Catholics to find other paths to worship and wonder why the commandments only apply to the unordained masses. Pablo Larraín’s theological drama, The Club, deals directly with some of the toughest questions faced by the clergy, their victims and Vatican officials, charged with separating the good priests from the bad. In it, four priests and a nun live together in a secluded house in the small Chilean fishing village of La Boca. It would be an idyllic setting, if it weren’t for the fact that the priests have been forbidden any meaningful communication with the community and the villagers can’t survey the cliffs overlooking the ocean without being reminded of the presence of the largely undisciplined inhabitants. Their crimes range from pedophilia and political corruption, to selling babies under the noses of their unwed mothers. One, who worked as chaplain in the fascist military of Augusto Pinochet, was tasked with convincing assassins, kidnappers and torturers that a timely confession would cleanse their souls of guilt and they’d be as welcome in heaven as Mother Teresa. It isn’t until a guilt-ridden priest, Father Lazcano (Jose Soza), shows up to join them that the atmosphere begins to change. Instead of being allowed to agonize in private – or not – Lazcano is followed to La Boca by a raving drifter, Sandokan (Roberto Farias), who accuses the Father of sexually molesting him. He stands outside the house loudly reciting the hideous acts for all to hear. When the other priests tire of this intrusion, Lazcano is handed a gun intended to convince the stranger to leave. Instead, he blows his brains out in the yard.
The suicide causes such a commotion with the Church that the Vatican assigns a special representative, Father Garcia (Marcel Alonso), to remind the residents of the debt they owe the Church, if not their victims, and their responsibility to repent in a far more Spartan environment than one that doesn’t include wine with home-cooked meals and training a racing greyhound for local contests. In fact, though, none of the priests or nun feel in particularly repentant moods. They’ve all figured out ways to forgive themselves and resent the implication that an outsider is capable of judging them. Nonetheless, the suicide does trigger a series of events, some darkly humorous, that implicates some of the residents in a scheme that eventually prompts the villagers to redirect their hostility to an innocent man. Because it’s so well acted, The Club compels viewers to remain with it, even after the transgressions are fully revealed. American audiences already have had their noses rubbed in the dirt of pedophilia in the priesthood, of course. By incorporating the sins of church and state into the discussions, Larraín asks questions that were raised in The Magdalene Sisters and movies about the Vatican’s alleged complicity in the Holocaust and Ratlines that allowed Nazis to escape persecutions after the war. (Feel free to add the allegations of corruption made in Godfather III.) The Club also benefits from the moody cinematography of Sergio Armstrong and empathetic compositions of Carlos Cabezas. Other Chilean films that demonstrate the country’s place in the international cinema include Larraín’s No, Tony Manero and Post Mortem, Andrés Wood’sMachuca and Loco Fever; Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light andSalvador Allende, Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, Matías Bize’s En la cama and Sebastián Silva’s The Maid and Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus. The bonus features add astute commentary by actors Alfrado Castro and Antonia Zegers; interviews with Larrain and Zegers; an excerpt from a press conference at the Berlinale festival; and a booklet featuring cast and crew interviews and an essay by Jessica Kiang
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre: Blu-ray
Helga: She Wolf of Stilberg
Sometimes, I feel as if more attention is paid to the creation of titles for Syfy exploitation flicks than to the scripts, acting, special effects, cinematography and casting. At first glance, that would appear to be the case with Jim Wynorski’s wonderfully named, if dreadfully executed Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre, which suggests genre-creep of the most egregious variety. Is it a women-in-prison picture crossed with a creature feature or something else entirely? Given that Wynorski’s been making low-budget quickies since 1984 — from Chopping Mall to the as yet unseen CobraGator – you might think he’d simply cast a couple of B-minus or C-plus actors in the lead and surround them with unknowns, reserving the bulk of the budget for effects and catering. Dominique Swain, who used up most of her 15 minutes of fame in 1997, as the nymphet in Adrian Lyne’s controversial adaptation of Lolita, easily qualifies as the former. With sexploitation stars as Traci Lords, Christine Nguyen and Cindy Lucas also on board, however, some fans of the WIP subgenre might hope for the days when the presence of a Pam Grier, Linda Blair, Sybil Danning or Barbara Steele assured them of a decent shower scene, at least. No such luck in a Syfy original, though, unless a separate version was cut for more worldly audiences overseas. As the modern environmental-disaster movies dictates, uncontrolled fracking has caused the plates under some swampy Southern wasteland to shift, allowing a prehistoric fresh-water shark to escape from the depths. With uncanny accuracy, the shark or sharks sense the presence of large-bosomed convicts forced to labor in the swamps and gulp them up almost instantly. When a shark runs out of navigable water, it is able to burrow through the muddy earth at a great speed. It becomes a landshark. The rest of the movie is spent luring the beast to explosive charges hidden around attractive targets. It would be nice to report that the shark displays greater range than the actors, but, alas, it isn’t the case. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Wynorski and actresses Cindy Lucas (Piranhaconda) and Amy Holt (Dinocroc vs. Supergator). There’s also a photo gallery.
Apparently, “Helga, la louve de Stilberg” (a.k.a., Helga, She Wolf of Spilberg) is making its first appearance on our shores, since being released in Europe in 1977. It was, of course, the French response to the series of “Ilsa” S&M epics, which began three years earlier with Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and ended withIlsa, The Tigress of Siberia, with the formidable Dyanne Thorne reprising her role in the various sequels and spinoffs. Unlike Ilsa, Malisa Longo’s Helga is the sadistic enforcer for a generic collection of fascists residing in a castle in an anonymous country somewhere in South America. The dungeon houses a dozen or so female political prisoners, all whom are routinely whipped and forced to provide sexual favors at Helga’s whim. Her most valuable catch and potentially greatest threat to her reign arrives in the form of the rebel leader’s daughter, Elisabeth (Patrizia Gori). What the story lacks in production values, acting and writing is more than compensated for in full-frontal nudity and other sexploitation essentials. The DVD isn’t in very good shape, but I’ve seen worse.
Mojin: The Lost Legend: Blu-ray
Chinese filmmakers have no need to borrow action characters from American movies, but it’s difficult not to speculate on the resemblance to Indiana Jones and Lara Croft in the tomb-raiding adventure, Mojin: The Lost Legend. Based on a best-selling series of Internet novels, which last year spawned two unrelated cinematic adventures, it stars Shu Qi, Chen Kun, Angelababy and Huang Bo as a team of modern grave robbers laying low in New York’s Chinatown to avoid laws that frown on such widespread practices. An offer from a mysterious stranger tempts them into one last heist, involving an ancient Mongolian pendant said to have supernatural powers, as well as the protection of ancient spirits. The degree of difficulty attached to the heist is confirmed by the many skeletons of Japanese soldiers who died attempting to steal it. It isn’t an impossible quest, really, but the spirits have to be in a generous mood. Even so, the team is required to overcome several difficult obstacles, including zombies. If one doesn’t allow references to Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution to slow down the proceedings, “Mojin” can be a lot of fun. If some of the effects look as if they’d be nice to experience in 3D, it’s only because that’s how the movie was shown in China. It must have helped Wuershan’s fantasy-adventure gross $1.6 billion in mainland theaters in less than a month. The Blu-ray extras include a making-of and behind-the-scenes featurette.
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
Anyone who sees the Wolfe Video logo on the DVD package for Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party and expects it to be a story primarily of interest to gay viewers, is going to be surprised … not disappointed necessarily, but curious as to how it came to be. Structurally, at least, it resembles Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s The Anniversary Party, in that a large group of friends gather at a lovely house with a large swimming pool to mark a milestone in their hosts’ marriage. As the guests grow drunker and higher, secrets and yearnings come to the fore. Chicago filmmaker/actor Stephen Cone’s film is populated with young characters who continue to struggle with the ramifications of coming of age physically and adults for whom the transition to middle age is bringing unexpected challenges. Sobriety, or lack thereof, is employed as a comic device, more than anything else. Cole Doman couldn’t have been a better choice to play Henry, the birthday boy and son of an evangelical minister, whose wife has recently experienced a moral crisis. Most of the teenagers are friends from school, church or summer bible camp. They represent a large cross-section of suburban Christian youth, ranging from conservative to laissez-faire. The same applies to the parents. Not surprisingly, perhaps, we sense Henry’s sexual orientation before he’s willing to commit to it. Cone is in no hurry to force anything on him or open doors that weren’t already cracked. Neither is the angst reserved for Henry and his parents. Being half-naked in and around a swimming pool does wonders not only for the libido, but also for framing the escalating degrees of melodrama. And, what would a party be without a few laughs. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Partyhas plenty of them. What I liked most is Cone’s natural pacing and taking the characters’ beliefs and quandaries at face value. If the picture has an agenda, it’s to demonstrate that not all evangelicals are cut from the same cloth and having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ doesn’t preclude having a good time outside church or being gay. Pat Healy (Magnolia) and Elizabeth Laidlaw (“Boss”) are especially good as Henry’s parents.
Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records: Blu-ray
The electrified blues may one of Chicago’s greatest gifts to American culture, but, like so many other endangered species, it’s had to struggle to survive. If the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and the original Fleetwood Mac hadn’t championed the hochie-coochie music from Chicago’s south and west sides, American bands might not have found the roots of their musical heritage. Nor would such amazing musicians as Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy have gained inroads into predominantly white concerts halls, campus theaters and nightclubs, sometimes even collecting royalties from the Brits who borrowed from their songbooks. After the first and second waves of the British invasion turned to foam on the shores of Lake Michigan, it became incumbent on small record labels and nightclubs dedicated specifically to the blues to keep the flames burning. Among the first was Bob Koester’s Delmark, which specialized in jazz and blues, and Bruce Iglauer’s Alligator Records, both of which are still in business and represented in Robert Mugge’s Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records, newly re-released in Blu-ray. (Arhoolie Records of El Cerrito, California, focused more on down-home roots music.) “Pride and Joy” was made in 1992, a year after he completed Deep Blues, about the blues traditions of Mississippi. In celebration of the label turning 20, Iglauer had organized an anniversary tour starring Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine, Elvin Bishop, Katie Webster, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials and the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band. Pride and Joy presents musical highlights from one of the four-plus-hour concerts, as well as interviews with Iglauer, Koester and the artists. The documentary has been transferred to high-definition from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored. It adds interviews and additional concert material.
Top Gun: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition: Blu-ray
The caveat that applies to Paramount’s new “Top Gun: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition” is that the only thing truly different here is the Steelbook packaging. So, it’s primarily of interest to completists and first-time buyers. I hadn’t watched Top Gun from start to finish for quite a while before putting the new release on my player. It holds up very well after three decades, both as entertainment and as a technical achievement. As a production team, Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson were about to embark on an unprecedented roll of success with mega-budget hits that, while not exactly formulaic, fit a certain template. The mix of action, adventure, romance, humor, tragedy, male bonding and rock music would work again and again in such films blockbusters asBeverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder, Bad Boys, Crimson Tide and The Rock. (Simpson died in 1996, of heart failure). Tom Cruise, of course, had something to do with Top Gun’s success. The bonus features picked up from previous Blu-ray editions include commentary by Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, co-screenwriter Jack Epps Jr. and naval experts; the featurettes “Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun,” “Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun,” “Survival Training,” “Behind the Scenes”; interviews with Cruise; multi-angle storyboards with optional commentary by Scott; and music videos of “Danger Zone,” “Take My Breath Away,” “Heaven in Your Eyes” and “Top Gun Anthem.”
Traditionally, immigrants to North America have found it difficult to carve niches in societies likely to treat them like outsiders, no matter how much their sweat, blood and tears have contributed to the common good of their adopted homes. Why should they be treated with any more kindness and dignity than that reserved for the Aboriginal people of the United States and Canada? That changed in the 1970s, when the immigrant class began to include potentates of the international drug and oil cartels, wealthy refugees from Ayatollah Khomeini’s fundamentalist regime and Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan. They were required to sail past the Statue of Liberty before seeking ways to protect their nesteggs and families from being usurped by the newly capitalist PRC. Today, Saudi Arabian princes drag race through the streets of Beverly Hills and shop ’til they drop on Rodeo Drive and in Las Vegas. As far as the law is concerned, they’re untouchable. Meanwhile, Donald Trump wants to build a wall along our border with Mexico, ostensibly to keep out Spanish-speaking men and women who happily accept jobs Americans refuse to perform. Baharak Saeid Monir’s Ambrosia tells the story of an Iranian-Canadian couple, Ali and Leila, who dream of an exciting future in Vancouver. Ali (Camyar Chai) owns a pizza shop he hopes to expand into a franchise, while Leila wants to succeed as a designer of haute couture. We’re not supposed to think of Bravo’s “Shahs of Sunset” while watching Ambrosia, but’s difficult not to contrast the “reality” of the show to the unreal conceits of the movie. I’m sure, for instance, that there are transplanted Iranians who are struggling to make a go of things slinging pies for a living, I doubt that any of their wives resemble Sahar Biniaz, who represented Canada in the 2012 Miss Universe competition. Her character’s designs fit Biniaz’ 5-foot-8 frame like gloves worn to gala. Her thick raven hair practically defies description.
And, yet, Leila is condemned to balance her schoolwork with duties at the pizzeria. That is, until her teacher offers her a job at the high-end salon she runs with her lesbian lover. Both women (Heather Doerksen, Pauline Egan) could have given Biniaz a run for her money in the beauty contest. In the next 60-some minutes, Leila will be confronted with two moral dilemmas we needn’t dwell on here and Ali will have to decide if he can ask her to live in a motor home, at least until the economy picks up steam. The conceit here is to imagine Leila and, to a lesser degree, Ali, trapped in a cultural vice between traditional Islamic values and new-world decadence. Monir doesn’t require the protagonist to wear a headscarf while out in public and no one is required to disrobe, but Leila’s beliefs are sorely challenged. While this isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, such dilemmas are usually reserved for prime-time soaps and telenovelas. Ambrosia was shown at a couple of Iranian film festivals, where it paled compared to other representatives of the country’s excellent cinema. I don’t know where it will end up, certainly not Skinemax or whatever its equivalent might be in the Muslim world. To find a home in Bollywood, which supplies the same uptight countries with movies to exhibit, Ambrosia would require a dozen new production numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the actors in future projects, even those with fewer moral scruples. I can’t imagine it playing anywhere else, however, unless it’s on TV screen in the background of “Shahs of Sunset.”
Among the many rites of passage for new parents is the hiring of a babysitter and handing over responsibility for their children’s well-being, in some cases, to a stranger. In the movies, babysitters have been portrayed as heroes and villains, protagonists and antagonists. The tough part is predicting exactly when the distinction between good and evil is made abundantly clear and viewers are forced to take sides. In their first feature, Emelie, director Michael Thelin and writer Richard Raymond Harry Herbeck, leave the question hanging for a short time, before revealing that substitute babysitter, Emelie (Sarah Bolger), isn’t the benevolent guardian she appears to be. Our curiosity is piqued when Emelie wins over the youngest children by allowing them to draw on the walls and play crazy pretend games. The sullen older boy senses that things are completely out of whack when Emelie treats the kids to a cassette of their parents mimicking porn actors. Even so, her motivations remain cloudy for most of the movie’s brisk 80-minute length. Thelin does a nice job balancing the forces at work here, allowing big brother, Jacob (Joshua Rush), ample opportunity to take control of the situation, before Emelie rebounds in her effort to do … what, exactly? The parents aren’t given much to do, except being blissfully unaware of what’s going on at home. The spotlight belongs to Bolger (“The Tudors”) and Rush (“The Lion Guard”), whose dangerous game of cat-and-mouse rarely gets tiresome. If Emeliewon’t make anyone forget the scene in Curtis Hanson’s The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, in which the nanny played by Rebecca De Mornay begins breast-feeding the couple’s newborn child in an effort to make it her own, what could? The making-of featurette adds interviews with Thelin, Herbeck, the principal adult cast and several of the film’s producers.
Genre specialist Steven C. Miller (Automaton Transfusion) tries his best with writer Scott Milam’s claustrophobic closed-room thriller – here, a stretch limousine full of millennial scum at the bottom of a canal – that wastes far too much time outside the vehicle, explaining how the disco dogs and dollies ended up in such a predicament. The explanation takes longer to unfold than the time it takes for the limo to sink, leaving precious little time for viewers to feel claustrophobic. In the obviously titled Submerged, the car is being chased by a team of masked ninjas, intent on kidnapping Jesse (Talulah Riley), the daughter of a corrupt corporate mogul (Tim Daley). Jonathan Bennett (“Awkward”) plays a former Army Ranger, hired by the businessman to protect Jesse from creeps looking for ransom bait. All too conveniently, though, the limo has been tricked out to withstand all manner of attacks and prevent it from filling up with water too quickly and drowning the insufferable passengers. Submerged also stars Cody Christian (“Teen Wolf”), Rosa Salazar (“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”) Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City).
Based on allegedly real events, which apparently set certain quarters of the Internet atwitter, The Mirror dives into the deep end of found-footage flicks and almost fails to return to the surface. Three friends purchase a supposedly haunted mirror on eBay, with the intention of capturing proof of the paranormal on camera and winning a large financial prize from a vague online competition. The first sign of trouble occurs when one of the tenants begins to sleepwalk around the apartment, eventually grabbing a butcher’s knife and stalking a lone woman outside. The Mirror stars Jemma Dallender (I Spit on Your Grave 2), Joshua Dickinson and Nate Fallows.
PBS: 10 That Changed America
Fox Kids: Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation: The Complete Series
Nickelodeon: Let’s Learn: S.T.E.M. Vol. 2
PBS Kids: Wild Kratts: Wild Animal Babies
This enticing compilation of episodes from PBS’ “10 That Changed America” series argues convincingly that all of what’s good in our country’s towns, parks, homes, churches office buildings can be traced to the genius of a few dozen architects, designers and visionaries. Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis H. Sullivan, Frank Gehry, Charles and Henry Greene, Charles and Ray Eames, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frederick Law Olmsted and Thomas Jefferson are appreciated, sometimes more than once. So, too, are the anonymous builders of the centuries-old Taos Pueblo and city of St. Augustine, Florida. Hosted by Geoffrey Baer, the tours are more of a whirlwind than a stroll in a park, but all of them should inspire family road trips and architecture tours. Some are a bit far out of the way. Others are a bus ride away. Don’t worry, you won’t be tested afterward.
Under the tutelage of Master Splinter, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo spent their formative years fighting their nemesis, Shredder, and his evil army, in the sewers of New York. In the 26-episode “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation: The Complete Series” the world inhabited by the live-action turtles is about to change. If you thought Shredder was bad, wait until you meet the newest TMNT foe: Dragon Lord. It will take all the power of the turtles to combat this new villain. This time around, though, they will have help from a female turtle named Venus De Milo. If fans can’t find it in the usual places, they might try Walmart. Bonus material includes the special “Power Rangers in Space” crossover episodes and a music video.
Nick’s “Let’s Learn: S.T.E.M. Vol 2” contains more than 140 minutes of S.T.E.M.-themed adventures with Blaze and the Monster Machines. The show is the first preschool series to comprehensively cover all areas of S.T.E.M. – science, tech, engineering, math — in every episode, as well as fan-favorites “Dora and Friends: Into the City,” “PAW Patrol” and “Team Umizoomi.” In addition to expanding imaginations and developing inquisitive minds, the DVD also comes with a themed worksheet to reinforce some of the lessons learned throughout the collection.
“Wild Kratts: Wild Animal Babies” allows pre-schoolers to explore nature, discover amazing animals and meet wild animal babies. Join Martin Kratt and Chris Kratt as they learn about the unique ways young animals are raised and protected by their parents. In select adventures on this DVD, the crew helps an adorable (and destructive) baby elephant stay out of trouble, wrangle some playful lion cubs and more.