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DVDs In Brief: February 15, 2012


DVD round-up

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In 2011, Shotgun Stories writer-director Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon reunited for the equally intimate Take Shelter (Sony), in which Shannon plays a small-town construction worker plagued by dreams of apocalyptic storms, which he begins preparing for in the waking world, at great cost to himself, his wife (Jessica Chastain), and their daughter. It’s a deliberately ambiguous, unsettling film, but it’s beautifully shot, acted, and constructed, with the courage to be simple about emotions and complicated about all the issues that create them…

The latest documentary from Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie), The Interrupters (PBS), follows three “violence interrupters” attempting to intervene in Chicago’s South Side after a record spate of violence and murder: All three come from troubled backgrounds, and have reached an age and position in their community where they want to stop young people from making the mistakes they made. James’ story is tangled and it can be hard to tell the players apart, but it’s striking for its participants’ sincerity, for its close-up look into a world that’s suspicious of white outsiders, and for the moments of spontaneous physical and verbal violence it captures…

In one of 2011’s more curious commercial ventures, Johnny Depp more or less reprised his role in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas as a Hunter S. Thompson figure in The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict), an adaptation of Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novel about his adventures in ’60s Puerto Rico. Director Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I) carries over Fear And Loathing’s loosey-goosey storytelling with none of Terry Gilliam’s stylistic bravado, flattening what might have been an irreverent study of American imperialism and the boozy journalists who try to stand in the way of progress…

To date, the Paranormal Activity movies haven’t budged much from the camcorder minimalism of the original hit, despite adding in some tortured mythology and more major-studio effects. But damned if the films aren’t a testament to the durability of old-fashioned ghost stories and the power of suggestion—which, as Val Lewton’s career attests, can be done on the cheap. Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount), from the frightmasters who made Catfish, may be the best entry to date, if only for a camera mounted on the base of an oscillating fan… 

The sequel that meme built, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (IFC) goes bigger and grosser than the mouth-to-ass-to-mouth-to-ass creation that fired the Internet’s collective imagination. It also becomes self-aware, following a parking-deck employee (Laurence R. Harvey) who watches the first Human Centipede while masturbating with sandpaper and seeks to realize the evil doctor’s scheme in the real world—and on a much larger scale. Writer-director Tom Six has precisely one inspired idea for Full Sequence: Having Harvey lure Ashlynn Yennie, one of the actresses in the original film, into a fake audition for the next Quentin Tarantino movie. Beyond that, it’s irredeemable.