It’s that time of year again, when studios start rereleasing films that have gotten Academy Awards in the past, only this time with shiny new packaging. So yes, if you hit up your local store, you’ll find “new” editions of movies like The Blind Side, Gone With the Wind, L.A. Confidential, and The Wizard of Oz. For the most part, however, these releases simply rehash bonus material previously available, and aside from the golden packaging, there isn’t much to differentiate them from earlier releases, so we won’t be covering them here. Then there are a lot of other films that are seeing new editions hit the shelves, but again with little to offer as far as actual new content; movies like Ever After, A Walk in the Clouds, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, and Doctor Zhivago. So we won’t be covering those either. Instead, we’ll focus on the brand new releases that’ll be coming to video stores this week. Take a look and see what’s on offer!
By now, you’ve probably heard the story about the inception of Machete, how it began as one of the faux trailers sandwiched between Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s individual feature-length contributions to 2008’s Grindhouse, and how Rodriguez eventually decided to make it into an actual movie. What you may not have realized is that what began as a whimsical idea has become a Certified Fresh homage to cheeky, over-the-top B-movies filled with hot babes, invincible heroes, and tons of ridiculous action. It’s very easy to go wrong when attempting a movie of this style, but Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis have their fingers so firmly on the pulse of this niche genre that they manage to get most things right. Danny Trejo is the titular badass, a former Federale who’s hired to take out a corrupt Texas senator (Robert De Niro). When he’s double crossed by the man who hired him (Jeff Fahey), Machete launches a vengeful assault with the help of some friends (Michelle Rodriguez and Cheech Marin), all while being tailed by an Immigration agent (Jessica Alba). The story isn’t new, but it offers a nice backdrop of some ridiculous action and a ton of notable cameos (Steen Seagal, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson). If you know what you’re getting into, you might just have a lot of fun with this.
Given that it stars Steve Carrell as a loveable idiot and Paul Rudd as his put-upon foil, Dinner for Schmucks seems like a sure-fire comedic proposition. Unfortunately, critics were largely unimpressed with Schmucks, a remake of the French farce The Dinner Game with moments of hilarity spread thin over its runtime. Rudd stars as an ambitious financial analyst who’s given a mean-spirited assignment: if he wants a promotion, he must bring the most hilarious fool to the boss’s dinner party. He finds Carell, a clueless savant who makes (kinda impressive) models featuring stuffed mice. Naturally, Carell ends up being more trouble than he’s worth, and everybody learns important life lessons. The pundits found Schmucks too bland to gin up much comic momentum, despite a couple funny moments. The Blu-ray features deleted scenes, some exclusive clips, and a look at the mouse dioramas.
The faux documentary, or “mockumentary,” style has done wonders for horror in the past, with titles like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity generating a fair amount of buzz, as well as critical acclaim. The latest fright flick to take advantage of the format is 2010’s The Last Exorcism, which follows a charismatic reverend, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), on one last exorcism expedition (hence the title), mainly because he’s had a change of heart after suckering countless believers into buying his fake exorcisms of the past. Marcus invites a crew to film his exploits, as this is intended to be a confession of sorts, but all goes terribly wrong when it turns out the little girl (Ashley Bell) he visits actually is, in fact, possessed. Critics were intrigued by the premise, and though they largely felt the movie could have had a little more bite, they also credited it for being surprisingly clever and thrilling. It’s earned a 72% on the Tomatometer, which isn’t bad at all, particularly for a film in this genre, so if you’re looking for something to pass a dark, stormy night, this could do the trick for you.
As a showcase for James Franco’s skills, Howl is terrific. As an ambitious attempt to put Allen Ginsberg’s titular poem into the context of American pop culture by employing a part fictional, part documentary approach, the film only sporadically success. Franco stars as the beatnik legend, whose epic Howl influenced generations of writers and landed its author in a courtroom on obscenity charges. Critics praised Franco’s performance (and took the opportunity to revel in the poem’s hallucinatory effect), but felt that filmmakers Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein couldn’t quite tame their multi-layered narrative. The DVD contains audio commentaries, a making-of featurette, interviews with some of the particulars, and footage of Ginsberg reading Howl.
We’ve already profiled one well-received horror flick, so how about one that didn’t quite impress the critics so much? It’s too bad Case 39 turned out the way it did, considering its star power in Renee Zellwegger, Bradley Cooper, and Ian McShane. Zellwegger plays social worker Emily Jenkins, who’s asked to look into the family of young Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland). After Lilith’s parents inexplicably attempt to murder Lilith, Emily takes her into her own care, and strange, dark events begin to surround Emily, until she realizes that Lilith is the cause of all the trouble and, like Lilith’s parents before her, attempts to rid herself of the evil child. Critics felt that Case 39 relied too much on typical horror movie clichés, rendering the film unfrightening as a whole, despite some stylish flourishes by director Christian Alvart (Pandorum). Rating a meager 22% on the Tomatometer, this probably won’t be your first choice in horror, but it’ll be available tomorrow for anyone curious.
Before Catfish officially opened, the makers of the film urged those who were able to catch preview screenings of it not to spoil any of the mystery for those who hadn’t yet seen it. This mystery, along with the ominous red-on-black design of the marketing materials, hinted at the dark nature of the true story captured in the documentary. When all was said and done, there was even controversy over whether or not the film was an earnest documentary, or a cleverly staged hoax. As it is, the story revolves around a New York photographer named Nev Schulman who one day receives a painting of one of his photos from a young girl named Abby in Michigan. Nev decides to keep in touch with Abby, and as the two get to know each other better, he’s introduced to the other members of Abby’s family, including her attractive older sister Megan. Over time, Nev develops a long distance relationship with Megan, and his siblings Ariel and Henry decide to capture the budding romance on film; when Nev begins suspecting that Megan and Abby have not been entirely truthful with him, the Schulmans decide to visit Michigan and confront the family, leading to a surprising conclusion. Critics felt that the film toed the line of exploitation a little too closely at times, but its timely subject matter and well-presented mystery held up enough to warrant a Certified Fresh 82% Tomatometer. Though it may not pack quite the finishing wallop of a fictional Hollywood mystery, Catfish still presents an interesting story that’s engrossing and may make for a lively discussion afterwards.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Tim Ryan