Pick Of The Week: New
Sleep Tight (Dark Sky)
2012 was distressingly thin on quality horror films—the studios completely whiffed and indies didn’t do much better—but Jaume Balugueró’s Sleep Tight proved a nasty little exception. Balugueró made his name directing the first two entries (the first with Paco Plaza) of the terrifying found-footage series [REC], but he loses nothing in shifting to a more conventional, insinuating style this time around. Playing tricks with viewer identification, Balugueró casts Luis Tosar as a misanthropic, suicidal apartment-complex handyman who sets about tormenting his tenants—sometimes subtly (like leaving rotten fruit in the back of a refrigerator), sometimes in more overtly threatening ways. The special features on the new disc are highlighted by a making-of documentary (César’s World) that’s actually slightly longer than the film itself.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
Two-Lane Blacktop (Criterion) (Blu-ray)
Criterion released Two-Lane Blacktop previously on DVD, but the Blu-ray edition may be worth the upgrade. Monte Hellman’s existential race through the American southwest may be the apotheosis of the road movie genre, and the Blu-ray puts on meticulous polish on the original Techniscope camera negative. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson star as The Driver and The Mechanic, two gearheads who meet Warren Oates’ G.T.O. at a gas station and accept a challenge to race to Washington D.C. for pink slips. The Blu-ray includes two commentary tracks, interviews and screen tests, and a massive booklet with appreciations by Kent Jones, Richard Linklater, and Tom Waits, among others.
Don’t Break The Seal
Game Change (HBO)
Director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong won Emmys for the 2005 political comedy Recount and they won more Emmys for Game Change, their adaptation of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s insipid account of the 2008 Presidential election. Both films were overrated, but Game Change is the more egregiously shallow of the two, an “inside” look at the McCain campaign that mistakes conventional wisdom and widely circulated zingers for political insight. Julianne Moore and Ed Harris both do fine imitations of Sarah Palin and McCain, respectively, and Woody Harrelson is better still as Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign adviser who pushed Palin in a desperate, ill-fated effort to boost flagging poll numbers. But this is still a movie by the pundit class. Features include a making-of documentary and “Creating A Candidate,” in which experts discuss the combination of elements that make one crazy enough to run for president.
Compliance’s Ann Dowd has been bankrolling her own Oscar campaign for Supporting Actress, and she fully deserves the recognition. As a fast-food manager who aids a phony police investigator (Pat Healy) in conducting an invasive examination of an employee (Dreama Walker) accused of stealing, Dowd pulls off the difficult task of making an absurd scenario plausible.
Whores’ Glory (Kino)
The last of a “globalization trilogy” by the brilliant Austrian documentary filmmaker Michael Glawogger—the others are 1998’s Megacities and 2005’s Workingman’s Death—Whores’ Glory brings his gorgeous, formally rigorous style to bear on three different prostitution spots around the world. Starting with “The Fish Tank” in Bangkok, Thailand, continuing to the fetid red-light district of Faridpur, Bangladesh, and ending in “The Zone” in cartel-infested Mexico, the film gets progressively grimmer as it goes along.
Critics were reasonably kind to this latest adaptation of the pulpy science-fiction comic previously fitted for Sylvester Stallone, but those kind critics did not include The A.V. Club’s Keith Phipps, who was turned off by its grim vision of a “judge” (Karl Urban) patrolling a post-apocalyptic East Coast megalopolis. According to Mr. Phipps, the film’s “nearly humorless bit of ultraviolence [is] distinguished largely by a fondness for spurting CGI blood.”
In yet another case where critics were reasonably kind but The A.V. Club was not, Tim Burton’s expansion of his groundbreaking 30-minute live-action short from 1984 did not impress our own Tasha Robinson. Though Ms. Robinson appreciated Burton’s hat tips to horror classics from Karloff to Gamera, she feels the film’s “curated tour through horror’s past doesn’t add much to its present.”
Enlightened: The Complete First Season (HBO)
Screenwriter Mike White (School Of Rock, Chuck & Buck) co-created this HBO series with Laura Dern, who stars as a screw-up who returns to her California home with a fresh perspective after spending time in a holistic treatment facility. Her attempts to keep a sunny perspective in the face of a corrupt corporate environment and a skeptical group of friends and family form the basis for an HBO dramedy that got deeper and more satisfying as its 10-episode season rolled along.
At a time when the entire industry is retreating to digital, director Ron Fricke (Baraka) went big again with his 70mm documentary Samara, a global journey four years in the making. The experience of seeing Fricke’s magnificent images may be muted by seeing it at home, but it may also be enhanced at home by a certain prescription favored by glaucoma-sufferers.
Smash: Season One (Universal)
NBC’s answer to Glee was a show that critics and viewers seemed to delight in watching, even if most of them were guilty of schadenfreude. Most of the fun seemed to rest on the chasm of talent separating Broadway hopefuls played by Megan Hilty and American Idol runner-up Katherine McPhee.
Back in 1997, Nicolas Cage and director Simon West came together for Con Air, a star-packed, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action juggernaut that made $100 million-plus at the box office. Now they’ve reunited for Stolen, a ransom thriller that made less than $200,000 on opening weekend.
House At The End Of The Street (Relativity)
In a breakout year for Jennifer Lawrence, bookended by The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook, this mostly lame PG-13 horror movie was quickly forgotten, borrowing heavily from a genre classic (just giving the name would give away the big twist) without much distinction of its own.
Hit & Run (Universal)
The world needs more movies like Hit & Run, writer/co-director/star Dax Shepard’s action-packed road comedy in the Smokey And The Bandit mode. But they may not need Hit & Run specifically, which The A.V. Club’s Keith Phipps says “plods along from point A to point Z, keeping [it] from transcending agreeability and becoming memorable.”
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