If any actors should have been able to interest audiences in the concept of artificial intelligence forwarded in “Transcendence,” it was Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman. Depp has made us fall in love with some of the cinema’s most unlikely characters, while Freeman is on top of every casting director’s list when the role of God or president comes up. Truth is, though, even their estimable presence couldn’t save “Transcendence” from stinking up the box office. For a nation of people who still can’t understand why the government forced them to throw away their analog television sets, the notion of a movie about a scientist who has his consciousness uploaded to a supercomputer must have seemed unfathomable. Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, the world’s foremost researcher in the field of AI. Before an anti-technology extremist leaves him critically wounded in an assassination attempt, Caster was working to create a sentient machine that would combine the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. The closer he comes to death, the more desperate Caster is to complete the transcendence experiment. Caster’s shocking digital re-emergence caused me to wonder if first-time director Wally Pfister and freshman writer Jack Paglen had been inspired by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Caster’s wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and best friend, Max (Paul Bettany), react in the same way as, we’re told, Christ’s apostles and Mary Magdalene did to their savior’s return. If only the filmmakers had stuck with the New Testament, instead of going all Syfy Channel on us, they might have hooked more viewers. Instead, when Caster’s hunger for knowledge begins to threaten the ability of the Internet’s broadband capabilities, the powers-that-be decide to eliminate the computer laboratory built by his disciples. (Wouldn’t want to choke the flow of porn and cute Facebook kittens.) It borders on the pathetic to watch soldiers armed with mortars and machine guns attempt to obliterate an entity that theoretically could program every computer at the Pentagon to protect it from destruction. If they didn’t work against Godzilla, there’s no reason to think they could kill off Caster. “Transcendence” isn’t without a few truly magical moments, though, especially as Caster’s plans for domination become apparent. For $100 million, you’d expect nothing less. The movie should find a more appreciative audience on DVD/Blu-ray than those drawn to theaters based on a marketing campaign that promised more than it could deliver. The feature package is limited to short featurettes of the EPK variety. – Gary Dretzka
Blue Ruin: Blu-ray
Although this crackling low-budget thriller received something resembling a limited release in U.S. theaters, it might as well have gone straight-to-DVD for all the attention it attracted. Those critics who were fortunate enough to catch “Blue Ruin” on the festival circuit gave Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature the kind of reviews that open doors in Hollywood. It opens as a disheveled bum, Dwight (Macon Blair), goes about his daily routine in an oceanside town in Virginia: dumpster diving, begging for food and money, and scaring kids. Early on, Dwight is stopped by a cop, who, we suspect, is about to take him to jail for one or more of his petty crimes. (His scraggly beard would turn a Taliban fighter green with envy.) Instead, she informs him that the man who killed his father is getting out of prison on parole and warns him against doing anything crazy. Dwight doesn’t look as if he has the strength to seek revenge, even if he wanted to, or the wherewithal to afford even a bus ticket. His passion for vengeance runs deep, however, and he makes it to the prison in time to see the punk climb into the limousine rented by his friends. So far, so routine, for a low-budget genre picture. What differentiates “Blue Ruin” from most other thrillers, though, is Saulnier’s willingness to tweak the genre convention that requires a protagonist to be sufficiently qualified to get the first killing done right, at least. But nooooo. His inability to execute a clean kill sets off a chain of events that would be darkly comic if they weren’t so darned sinister. An exceedingly violent movie, “Blue Ruin” walks the thin line between being credible and absurd. And, for the most part, it succeeds brilliantly. More than anything else, Saulnier’s film reminds me of recent Australian crime thrillers that refuse to pull punches, while taking full advantage of the foreboding natural settings and ugliest quirks of the characters. “Blue Ruin” is the kind of movie that will stick with you like a bad dream, and that’s a good thing. – Gary Dretzka
Next Goal Wins
Anyone not yet conversant with YouTube and its one-thing-leads-to-another appeal probably hasn’t heard of “Propaganda,” a documentary that not only became an Internet sensation but also something of an international mystery. The less one knows about various conspiracy theories and speculation surrounding the film’s murky origins, the more you’re likely to enjoy and profit from it. So, first, here’s the company line. Two years ago, a group of New Zealand-based filmmakers distributed on YouTube a documentary purported to have been smuggled out of North Korea, where it was an integral part of the military government’s anti-capitalist propaganda machine. Most of what we know about North Korea comes either from the loony ravings of “supreme leader,” Kim Jong Un,” or hysterical speculation on WMDs filtered through the mainstream media. All we really know is that North Korea is not a country most Americans would consider for a retirement haven, unless one doesn’t mind the occasional famine. So, going into “Propaganda,” I had no idea what to expect from it. Using footage freely available to anyone with a television or cellphone camera, the documentary examines western society with a tight focus on consumer culture and dog-eat-dog capitalist imperatives. It would be difficult for any American or European citizen to have gone through life without being made aware of the discrepancy between the haves and have-nots in all of the western democracies. Since the economic collapse of 2008, the discrepancy has only gotten more pronounced. Today, 1 percent of all Americans reaps the bounty once reserved for anyone able to work and expect annual raises. That’s no longer the case. And, yet, the media continues to paint a portrait of a country so blissfully unconcerned about their tenuous hold on financial security that it is united in its admiration for the Kardashians and the fate of Honey Boo Boo. “Propaganda” argues persuasively that we’re as enslaved by false expectations and corrupt legislators as the stagnating masses in North Korea are purported to be. Only, our chains are far more comfortable. Watch the movie and decide for yourself if the North Korean propaganda machine – known more for spitting out misinformation – could be capable of creating a film that so neatly sums up everything the Occupy movement tried and failed to sell to the American public a few years ago.
If the producers of “Propaganda” had lacked for ammunition, they could have added material on the enslavement of American consumers by the agribusiness moguls and the politicians who consider their lobbyists to be the next best thing to ATMs. No one knows for sure if genetically modified organisms someday could cause a plague of biblical proportions or if they merely will make the food we eat taste even duller than the chemically treated produce available today. Either way, the public isn’t likely to have much of a say in the future of what is served on tables around the world. As described in Jeremy Seifert’s alarming “GMO OMG,” such agribusiness conglomerates as Monsanto have spent tens of millions of dollars twisting the arguments of environmentalists and intimating legislators from passing laws limiting the spread of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto has even threatened to sue states that allow truth-in-labelling referendums to be put in front of voters. Moreover, the companies insist that planters who do agree to use their products purchase new quantities annually, instead recycling seeds from the previous year, as usual. It explains why impoverished farmers in Haiti burned the seeds sent to them, rather than becoming economically addicted to them. So far, the Haitians have raised more of a stink over being treated like guinea pigs than almost anyone in America.
Damon Ristau’s delightful documentary, “The Bus,” tells the story of how a post-war German notion evolved into something that became as synonymous with the American counterculture as the Grateful Dead and hitchhiking. At first designed as a highly versatile and extremely practical utility vehicle for use in Europe’s economic recovery, it’s since come to symbolize the freedom of the open road and ability to have a roof over one’s head wherever they go. Here, Ristau goes to great lengths to introduce viewers to a cross-section of VW owners, many of whom began their love affair with the Bus in the 1960s and continue to drive them today. Of course, we visit full-time and part-times hippies whose lives have revolved around their vehicles for decades. We also meet owners who overhaul the vans for competition or commemorate past glories by turning rusted-out bodies into works of art or chicken coops. Not surprisingly, the doc ends at Burning Man, where radically customized vehicles compete for attention with all of the free-spirits and semi-pro nudists.
“Next Goal Wins” tells the kind of uplifting, against-the-odds story that fans of “60 Minutes” eat up when the investigative reporting gets too heavy and celebrity interviews too soft. Almost two years after the television newsmagazine traveled to American Samoa to ask why so many of the island’s young men end up in the National Football League, documentarians Mike Brett and Steve Jamison went there to make a film about what might have been the worst soccer team vying a spot in the 2014 World Cup. Not only had they failed to win a match in recent memory, but they also had been shut out. The squad hit rock bottom in 2001, when it lost to Australia 31–0 in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match. Because Samoans have demonstrated time and again that there’s no quit in them, it should come as no surprise to learn that the team continues to dream. Here, even the occasion of scoring on an opponent would be considered a major accomplishment. Dutch-born coach Thomas Rongen was enlisted to see what a former professional player might be able to do with the team, which includes Jaiyah Saelua, possibly “the first transgender player to compete on a World Cup stage.” The players are far from inept and work extremely hard under the tutelage of Rongen. They may not have made it to Brazil, but everyone on the island was given a reason to be proud of the squad’s accomplishments. – Gary Dretzka
Remember the framing device in Woody Allen’s wonderfully evocative comedy, “Broadway Danny Rose”? A group of comedians regularly gets together at the Carnegie Deli to reminisce, gossip, swap stories and see which rising star is the latest to be honored with a sandwich in his name. Finally, someone asks about the hapless talent agent Danny Rose (Allen), whose client list could hardly be more pitifully eccentric. Donna Kanter’s documentary, “Lunch,” is a non-fiction version of the same thing, minus the Allen. Here, the alter kockers are represented by such comedians, writers, producers and directors as Sid Caesar, Hal Kanter, Carl Reiner, Monty Hall, Arthur Marx, Arthur Hiller, Matty Simmons, Rocky Kalish, Gary Owens, Ben Starr and John Rappaport. If some of those names are unfamiliar, a visit to IMDB.com or the Paley Center for Media might provide an enlightening addendum to the film. You’ll surely recognize the shows to which they contributed. The biweekly get-togethers over deli began decades ago at the L.A. branch of the Friars Club. When that landmark closed, the lunch bunch took its act to a more public establishment. Instead of allowing the gathering to become a victim of attrition, the participants occasionally approve the addition of another show-biz legend. The foremost qualification for entry is an ability to tell stories and jokes in a loud enough voice to be heard over the routine kibitzing. “Lunch” isn’t as uproariously funny as some potential viewers might expect, given the talent involved, but there are plenty of reasons to smile. – Gary Dretzka
Anyone who can’t wait for the next addition to the “Jason Bourne” or “Mission:Impossible” series really ought to check out recent espionage thrillers from South Korea. That’s where the action is these days. North Korea and South Korea are separated by a heavily guarded, if invisible line on a map, and surrounded by water that could very well double as a highway for spies. The antagonists share the same language and families separated by a long-ago war. The damage that could be done by a single agent is immense, so the effort it takes to neutralize him is commiserate with the threat. Won Shin-yeon’s “The Suspect” is typical in that it treats the North Korean infiltrator with the same respect it gives agents representing the south. Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) had been the best field agent in North Korea, until he was abandoned during a mission and his wife and daughter were murdered. After defecting, he was required to take a job as a night driver for the CEO of a powerful corporation. The chairman is brutally murdered, but not before giving Dong-chul a pair of glasses that hold some significance to him. When South Korean agents, who still hold a grudge against Dong-chul over a botched mission in Hong Kong, learn about the glasses, they make every effort to confiscate them. This results in several long chases and exciting shootouts, and no one pulls these things off anymore quite like Korean filmmakers. Even when the plot gets bogged down in the agendas of too many secret agents, the action sequences make “The Suspect” a worthwhile experience. – Gary Dretzka
The Wind Will Carry Us: 15th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Insomnia: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The movies of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami move at a pace that encourages quiet contemplation and rewards the observant eye. There’s so much to be seen, heard and understood in “The Wind Will Carry Us” that viewers of the arthouse persuasion will want re-watch the picture, simply to study what they might have missed while focusing on something else. Or, simply to have the experts on the commentary track point them out to them. “The Wind Will Carry Us” is a story about contrasts and the reliability of first impressions. It’s set entirely in an isolated village in the mountains of Iranian Kurdistan, far from the teeming metropolis of Tehran. A team of engineers from city travel to Siah Dareh, where life goes on much in the same ways as it has for centuries. Apart from the occasional tractor and motor bike, no one there seems to be in any hurry to enter the 21st Century. The engineers, only one of whom we meet, have been assigned a task known only to them and of likely value only to people far away from Kurdistan. The residents endure an uneasy relationship with the Islamic Republic, but politics don’t play much of a role in “The Wind Will Carry Us.” Siah Dareh appears to be a self-sustaining entity in a region that only rewards hard work and perseverance. It reminded me of the Taos Pueblo, where newer adobe homes are built on top of existing structures and residents use ladders to make their way from rooftop to rooftop. The spectacular scenic beauty of the mountains also make the comparison apt. (I didn’t see a casino in Siah Dareh, however.) An elderly woman is dying in one of those homes and, yet, we aren’t informed of the significance her illness has to the engineer, who seems to care very much about her. He also is very much concerned with a young boy, who’s extremely curious about everything but is focused on an important test being conducted in the local school or madrasa. The women probably didn’t need modesty cop to tell them how to dress or behave, either. One of the more playful gags that Kiarostami uses to contrast the gap between the present and past is to show how the engineer reacts when he’s in the village and his cellphone rings. To get proper reception, he must hop into his SUV and rush to the highest point in the region. Even so, the calls invariably prove to be of no importance to anyone. While he’s on top of the mountain, however, he engages in conservations with a man digging a deep hole with a shovel. He’s never seen and we aren’t quite sure how the holes will be utilized, either. No matter, because life in Siah Dareh likely will go on as usual, even in the absence of the crew from Tehran. Something profound already has changed in the engineer. Like Kiarostami, he has a genuine love for poetry and Siah Dareh may be the only place he’s been where even the humblest of residents are conversant in the words of the Iran’s greatest poets. Moreover, the poems he recites speak to the region’s great physical beauty and emotional tug the land has on those who live there. The poetry rises organically from the screenplay, never feeling out of place within the context of the narrative. It’s a splendid movie, effortlessly beautiful and full of surprises. The Cohen Media Blu-ray essential commentary by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and scholar Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa; a new essay by critic Peter Tonguette; and a lengthy interview and Q&A with the director.
Even someone who’s never set foot in a classroom where film history or criticism is being taught can benefit from an intellectual exercise in which students frequently engage. Pick up the new Criterion Collection edition of Erik Skjoldbjærg and Nikolaj Frobenius’ “Insomnia,” along with the American adaptation by Christopher Nolan. Then, explain what makes one film distinctly European and the other unmistakably American, if not precisely a product of the Hollywood dream machine. Both are excellent entertainments, accessible to mainstream and arthouse audiences, alike, and true to all the right crime-movie conventions. The differences, though, almost speak for themselves. In the 1997 original, Stellan Skarsgard plays a Swedish police detective called to a city on the Arctic Circle to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. The cop, Jonas Engström, drags his past with him like a ball and chain and his burden isn’t lightened any in Norway, where ghosts, real and imagined, still manage to find him. Summer has come to the region and Engstrom finds the endless light to be tortuous. Engstrom’s clearly an emotional wreck, but the hotel places him in a room without blackout curtains or duct tape to cover the holes that allow light to stream into the room. Sleep never comes and cinematographer Erling Thurmann-Andersen expertly captures Engstrom’s feeling of being lost in a timeless fog. The landscapes are more clearly pronounced in Nolan’s version of the story, which was shot by Wally Pfister (“Transcendence”) in Alaska and B.C. Like Skarsgard, Al Pacino’s police detective finds the perpetual lightness to be completely disconcerting and irksome. They both carry lots of baggage, but of different shapes and weights. The biggest difference is the addition of a cat-and-mouse game between two high-profile Hollywood actors – Robin Williams plays the antagonist – who must maintain enough of their personal screen persona to put butts in the seats. Both movies scored equally high in the Rotten Tomatoes survey, as well. The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition features a new 4K digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack; a fresh conversation between Skjoldbjærg and Skarsgård; and a booklet with an essay by critic Jonathan Romney. – Gary Dretzka
Appleseed: Alpha: Blu-ray
World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies
For lovers of manga and animated science-fiction from Japan, simply knowing that “Appleseed: Alpha” was created by the same man who gave them “Ghost in the Shell” and, in 1985, the original version of “Appleseed,” will mean more than the opinions of a thousand critics. What may even confuse them, however, is where the new addition fits within the canon of works by writer/illustrator Masamune Shirow (a.k.a., Masanori Ota) and writer Marianne Krawczyk (“God of War”). “Appleseed: Alpha” is a prequel to the 2004 “Appleseed” and 2007 “Appleseed Ex Machina,” which were based on Shirow’s original series, released between 1985 and 1989, and other cross-platform products. The “Ghost in the Shell” franchise was birthed not long thereafter. Fans of both series tend to be extremely loyal and highly protective of the conceits set forth in the source manga. Here, two mercenary soldiers, Deunan and her cyborg partner Briareos – survivors of a terrible war – leave the dystopian ruins of New York City, in search of the utopian city of Olympus. On the way, they meet two Olympian citizens, Iris and Olson, who let them in on a plan to save the world from the ruthless Talos and warlord Two Horns. Like nearly all post-apocalyptic visions that spring from the brow of ambitious young screenwriters, “Appleseed: Alpha” sounds pretty absurd, at least in the abstract. In the distance between one’s sofa and video monitor, though, such a world looks a lot more interesting. Credit for that belongs to a creative team that appears to have a personal affinity with the project and wants to heighten the story’s appeal with top-shelf CGI and hi-def polish. The Blu-ray bonus package adds commentary with director Shinji Aramaki, producer Joseph Chouand, and Sony Pictures’ Shigeki Ishizuka; and “The Making of Appleseed,” an 11-part featurette that covers every aspect of the film’s production. – Gary Dretzka
Unlike most other genres and sub-genres, the one encompassing apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and dystopian movies is only as old as such landmark titles as “The Road Warrior,” “Escape From New York” and “The Terminator.” Today, according to “World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies,” it’s grown to include over 800 movies and more than a few television series. David J. Moore’s encyclopedic overview of the species accounts for all but the newest of pictures. (It does include three of the “Appleseed” entries, but not “Alpha.”) Divided alphabetically by reviews, interviews, essays and marketing material, the 400-plus-page book is a hundred times more entertaining than the majority of films mentioned. With the amount of studio money being poured into such movies as “The Hunger Games,” “I Am Legend,” “Oblivion” and “World War Z,” however, “World Gone Wild” could hardly be more timely. I’m of the opinion that no zombie movie should cost more than $10 million or $20 million to make, but that threshold has been breached many times in the last few years. Why should I care, anyway? The best thing about Moore’s tome, perhaps, is that it contains many different entry points. It can perused front-to-back in the usual fashion or by jumping from title-to-title, regardless of alphabetical precision. Some of the material is best considered during lulls in the action in the movies being watched on DVD, while other chapters are better sampled when in a contemplative mood … in the privacy of one’s bathroom, perhaps. It’s an easy book to recommend to buffs and beginners, alike. (Schiffer Publishing, $34.99)– Gary Dretzka
Box of Rock ’n’ Roll: Triple Feature
The titles included in the “Box of Rock ’n’ Roll: Triple Feature” truly run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. Released in 1956, when the music was in its infancy and Hollywood hadn’t the faintest clue how to make it look interesting as a plot device, “Rock, Rock, Rock” is distinguished by performances by such all-time greats as Chuck Berry, the Moonglows, the Flamingos, the Johnny Burnette Trio, La Vern Baker and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. On the flip side, “The Beatniks” is a no-budget pot-boiler that has absolutely nothing to do with beatniks, bongos, beards or berets, while “Wild Guitar” fails miserably as a parody of Elvis Presley’s relationship with Colonel Tom Parker … or, at least, that’s what I got out of it. None of the three qualifies as being completely unwatchable, but the latter two titles serve best as comic reminders of a time when teenagers and young adults were beginning to take over the country and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone over 30 could do about it. “Rock, Rock, Rock” attempts to build a narrative around a spoiled high school girl’s inability to afford a dress for the prom. Although first-timer Tuesday Weld exudes genuine star quality as the unfortunate teen, Connie Francis was asked to supply the voice for her songs. She does look great, however. The real stars of the movie are the musicians who were brought to the production by the legendary deejay Alan Freed and inorganically inserted into the narrative. (Freed attempts to sing, as well, but it’s a fool’s errand.)
That “The Beatniks” is more about juvenile delinquency than rock ’n’ roll shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the period. Why the producers decided on the title is a mystery, considering both the absence of hipsters in the movie and the fact that the only true beatnik left in the U.S. in 1960 was the fictional Maynard G. Krebs. After robbing a liquor store, a gang of hoodlums stops at a roadhouse, where they terrorize the owner and patrons. One of the punks is encouraged to sing along to a selection on the jukebox, which he does to great effect. It just so happens that one of the customers is an agent on his way back to Hollywood and he cares more about signing the kid to a record contract than turning him in to the police for busting up his car. The rest of the movie becomes a tug-of-war between the forces of evil (the juvenile delinquents) and the forces of good (the agent who stands by the singer and his buxom blond secretary). “Wild Guitar” tells the age-old story of a clueless, if talented rube who arrives in Hollywood with only 15 cents and a guitar. After he’s “discovered” in the most unlikely of circumstances, the white-haired rocker turns his back on the cute go-go dancer who paid for his meal and found him the gig on a variety show. Not possessing even an ounce of show-biz savvy, he allows himself to be seduced by the shadiest of show-business weasels and blocked from dating the dancer. The singer is played by Arch Hall Jr., a silly-looking chap whose father, Arch Sr., wrote the screenplay. This one has to be seen to be believed. Considering their age, though, the movies are in pretty good condition. – Gary Dretzka
Ginger Snaps: Collector’s Edition: Bluray
The Perfect House
100 Tears: Director’s Cut
Blood Suckers From Outer Space: 30th Anniversary Edition
Made in 2010 and released briefly in Canada a year later, “Cell 213” is one of those genre flicks that demonstrate just how thin the line is between irredeemably bad and almost good. That may sound like a distinction without a difference, but, in the overcrowded world of low-budget horror, such things matter. Stephen Kay and Maninder Chana’s prison thriller borrows freely from several obvious sources, including “The Devil’s Advocate,” but stops short of being a rip-off or genre cliché. That’s because of the performances turned in by Eric Balfour and Michael Rooker, who’ve made a career out of playing archetypal characters. Like Keanu Reeves in “Devil’s Advocate,” Balfour (“Haven”) plays a defense attorney whose many courtroom victories suggest that he’s made a bargain with Satan. While visiting his onerous client in prison, Gray involuntary contributes to his suicide by making the mistake of allowing his pen to come within his grasp. Inexplicably, the lawyer is convicted of the fiend’s murder and placed in the same cell as his former client. It means that Gray will be under the constant surveillance of a sadistic prison guard, Ray Clement, played with great intensity by Michael Rooker (“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”). Clement hates lawyers, especially those who find ways to free obvious criminals. The give-and-take between the two characters – one meek and afraid, the other brutish and vindictive – is sufficient reason to check out the “Cell 213.” (Clement even manages to get Gray assigned to the prison morgue, where the lawyer is forced to perform autopsies.) Bruce Greenwood plays the warden, who’d rather not know that his prison has been possessed by the devil, while Deborah Valente is a do-gooder assigned to check out the high number of injuries and suicides committed inside the facility. Neither role is fully developed, beyond certain expository necessities.
Another Canadian export, “Ginger Snaps,” fared much better than “Cell 213,” even if financial success had to wait until its video afterlife. As conceived by John Fawcett and Karen Walton, the 2000 gore-fest is a teenage-werewolf movie with a sharp feminist edge. By that, I mean that the action is driven by 15-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) and her sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), who’s nearly 16. The Goth girls enjoy a strong sisterly bond that allows them to get past the trite bullshit encountered by outcasts in suburban high schools. One night, Ginger is attacked by the same large beast that’s killing pet dogs in the neighborhood. When the wounds heal with unusual speed, Brigitte comes to believe that Ginger has become possessed with the curse of the lycanthrope. That it coincides with the older sister’s first period – an event their mother (Mimi Rogers) considers worthy of celebration – was thought by some critics to be too obvious a metaphor to be taken seriously. Given the amount of blood shed in “Ginger Snaps,” viewers with delicate stomachs can ignore that conceit and not miss anything important. It was the shocking nature of the murders, as well as much supernatural hocus-pocus, that would finally ensure its cult status. A hard sell from the get-go, “Ginger Snaps” also would be required to overcome by parallels made to massacres at Columbine and W. R. Myers High School, in Taber, Alberta. A pair of sequels, filmed back-to-back in 2003, wouldn’t do nearly as well in theaters and video. The Blu-ray package includes new interviews with Fawcett, Walton, Perkins, Moss, producer Steve Hoban, make-up-effects artist Paul Jones, composer Mike Shields and editor Brett Sullivan; commentary by the filmmakers; rehearsals and auditions; footage from a “Women in Horror” panel discussion; making-of featurettes; and deleted scenes.
Kris Hulbert and Randy Kent’s horror anthology, “The Perfect House,” tells the story of a haunted domicile through the eyes of an unsuspecting family of potential buyers. The world’s sexiest real-estate agent (Monique Parent) struggles mightily to keep the home’s many ghosts from spoiling the deal, but even a cursory inspection reveals some troubling quirks. The film is divided into three segments – a la “The House That Dripped Blood,” which had four — all of them as gory as they are disturbing: “The Storm,” “Chic-ken” and “Dinner Guest.” Each is built on a familiar horror trope, with more than smidgen of torture-porn added for those sadists out there. Buffs will recognize Felissa Rose and Jonathan Thiersten, of “Sleepaway Camp”; John Philbin, from “The Return of the Living Dead”; and Parent, from a thousand Skinemax movies. The most noteworthy thing about “Perfect House,” perhaps, is its distinction of being the first independent feature film to be released and distributed on Facebook’s Flicklaunch, before moving to its permanent home on the Milyoni’s Social Theater and, now, DVD.
Movies with killer clowns and demented little people hold a special place in the hearts of horror fans. Joe Davison’s mostly pitiful “100 Tears” has both of those elements going for it, but precious little else. Here, the scuzzy Gurdy the Clown (Jack Amos) is accused of crimes he did not commit and, to prove he’s not a bad guy, goes on a killing spree with a giant meat cleaver. A pair of tabloid journalists on the trail of the Tear Drop Killer require the assistance of the porn-addicted Drago the Midget to find Gurdy, who knows the whole story. “100 Tears,” made in 2007, is a grisly piece of work and, therefore, not for the majority of viewers, even those who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of micro-budget trash. Only eye-candy Georgia Chris and Raine Brown stand out from the crowd and that’s because they not only know how to act but also how to play the genre game.
If Helen of Troy possessed a face capable of launching a thousand ships, “Blood Suckers From Outer Space” single-handedly launched a thousand jokes about sci-fi exploitation flick. Ed Wood started the trend with the enigmatic “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Besides, “Blood Sucker” the “outer space” visitors now include “Morons From Outer Space,” “Grave Robbers …,” “Killer Klowns …,” “Teenagers …,” “Night Caller” and “Blood Beasts.” Potentially, the list could be endless. Even 30 years removed from its last billing at the tail end of a drive-in triple feature, the mere thought of watching “Blood Suckers From Outer Space” raises a smile. As a parody of its namesake “Plan 9,” as well as such venerable thrillers as “Psycho,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Night of the Living Dead” and one scene, at least, from “Dr. Strangelove,” Glen Coburn’s send-up was released at exactly the right time to exploit the excesses of the emerging slasher and splatter sub-genres, as well. It also appears to have been inspired by then-current tabloid reports of alien attacks on the dairy industry. The DVD adds a cast-reunion featurette.
If Ron Jeremy ever were to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to go with the stars on the various Porn Walks of Fame, it won’t be for his work in “Haunted Trailer.” Like everything and everyone else in Chuck Norfolk’s debut feature, Jeremy’s performance stinks … literally. He plays a demonic genie – or, perhaps, the corporeal spirit of Montezuma’s Revenge – whose magic lantern just happens to be in the toilet of a trailer home, occupied by a no-count family of hicks. Unless brothers Elvis and Aaron, sister Prissy and their Momma can exorcise the demon from their shit-stained trailer, the Mayan prediction of global disaster will soon come true. A comically drawn TV evangelist named Reverend Wiggems stands between them and the devil. – Gary Dretzka
PBS: My Wild Affair
The titles of family-oriented shows on PBS tend to avoid titillation whenever possible, so I was a bit taken aback by “My Wild Affair,” which has pictures of humans and animal babies on the jacket. Talk about forbidden fruit. Once I got my mind out of the gutter, I discovered that the network’s new mini-series describes what happens when wild animals join the households of otherwise normal adults. Celebrities, drug kingpins, publishing magnates and other potentates have been known to keep the occasional lion, monkey, zebra or peacock around the mansion to remind visitors of their financial standing in the world. What’s far less common are stories about people who raise wounded or abandoned animals in their homes and develop a bond that ultimately isn’t very healthy for either party. The four hour-long episodes included in the DVD are, “The Elephant Who Found a Mom,” “The Ape Who Went to College,” “The Rhino Who Joined the Family” and “The Seal Who Came Home.” The filmmakers, who worked from home movies and interviews with family members, naturally emphasize how cool it is to have baby around the house. What they don’t do is sugarcoat the hazards of becoming so close to an animal that the borders separating the natural tendencies of wildlife and human beings vanish. For every triumph in “My Wild Affair,” there’s a tragedy waiting to happen. Still, these are important lessons to learn. – Gary Dretzka
Within the first 10 or 15 minutes of the execrable comedy “Pawnz,” a homeless man denied the use of a pawn shop’s facilities takes an on-screen dump outside the store. Although clearly not the highlight of Nicholas Naylor’s film, sadly it’s the sole image that viewers will take away from it. As we’ve learned from “Tosh 1.0,” some sights simply are impossible to un-see. There are so many things wrong with this story about a dysfunctional pawn shop and its romantically challenged owner that it seems only fair to begin this review with the deal-breaker up-front. Just for the record, though, most of “Pawnz” is set in a pawn shop that looks more like a Radio Shack store preparing for a going-out-of-business sale. The salesmen openly insult potential customers, some of whom bring in items so filthy they might be toxic. Lido Capogrosso plays the shop’s owner, Will, a hapless young man obsessed with maintaining a relationship with his skank girlfriend, Vanessa (Gabriela Ortiz), even after catching her in bed with another man. This would make some narrative sense if Vanessa had something to offer him that was nearly as good as the smart and pretty Melissa (Lauren Leech) who visits him at the shop and communicates in body language a blind person could read. Besides Leech, “Pawnz” displays no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The DVD adds deleted scenes, interviews and a making-of piece.