Editor’s Notes: Wish Upon, Meat, The Lure, The House, Kill, Baby…Kill!, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland, Sniper: Ultimate Kill are all out on their respective home entertainment formats October 10th.
Wish Upon (Broadgreen) stars Joey King (Independence Day, TV’s Fargo) as Clare, a lonely and unpopular 17-year-old girl who has been left in the care of her father (Ryan Phillippe, Crash, Shooter) after her mother killed herself when she was a little girl. Having witnessed her mother’s suicide firsthand, Clare is still affected by the loss and is now trying to make it through high school, where the customary teenage dramas, such as bullying by the mean girls and unfulfilled romantic dreams, unfold.
Clare’s life changes when her father gives her a mysterious Chinese music box he finds during one of his routine dumpster treasure hunts. Fascinated by this gift, Clare absentmindedly wishes for a better life. Soon after, her wish is fulfilled, but there’s a downside: for every wish she makes, someone close to her dies. Enjoying her new popularity, Clare never connects the dots and is unaware of the horrific consequences of her good fortune.
The story is a variation of W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 supernatural short story, The Monkey’s Paw, which has been adapted into movies and TV shows in different forms countless times before. This time, a decorative box serves as the object that grants wishes. We know that only bad things will occur, so the element of surprise is dulled by familiarity. Combining elements of Final Destination and Mean Girls gives the movie a contemporary feel.
Director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) keeps the plot moving briskly, though the script falls into the trap of having characters make dopey decisions, which is endlessly frustrating to serious viewers of horror flicks. With the exception of Clare, most characters are sketchy and are just on hand to contribute to the body count. It’s surprising to see Ryan Phillippe, the biggest cast name, in this picture. We’ve seen him do very good work in better pictures, but he seems wasted in this mediocre, unoriginal film.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray + DVD release include several featurettes, including a discussion with director John Leonetti and cast about developing a horror film, and background stories of previous owners of the box. Both the PG-13-rated theatrical version and the director’s unrated cut are included.
Meat (MPI) is the story about the animals we eat as told by the people from whom we rarely hear. From a solitary hunter, who believes everyone needs to be educated about his food, to the family farmer, who argues that money isn’t the primary driver, compassionate practices of food production connect their stories.
This New Zealand-made documentary focuses on three meat farmers and a hunter. It offers insight into how these people think about their jobs and the controversy they have encountered. Director David White presents a neutral look at the process, though some of the images are definitely hard to take. And that may be the point. White is asking us to think about where and how the food on our dinner plates gets there. Intelligent viewpoints are presented, ranging from the idea that caged animals do not suffer to complete rejection of global meat farming.
The subjects include South Island pig farmer Ian, sheep farmer Jill, former secondary school teacher Tony, who has taken up chicken farming, and West Coast bushman Josh James. As White follows James on his hunter gatherer expeditions into the wilderness, the mountain man speaks about the benefits of “ethical harvesting” by catching your own meat.
Director White juxtaposes the narration of the farmers with some of the film’s more graphic images, allowing the viewer to balance the film’s input and form his own conclusion about the value of meat farming. It’s neither pro carnivore nor pro vegetarian.
Bonus materials on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include commentary with writer/producer/director David White and cinematographer/editor Paul Wedel, and a trailer.
The Lure (The Criterion Collection) is a fantasy horror musical that provides a darkly feminist twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. On a moonlit night, carnivorous mermaid sisters Gold (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) emerge from the sea to the sound of a pop trio on the beach in 1980s Poland. Their tantalizing siren songs and otherworldly auras make them overnight sensations when they’re hired by the proprietor of a disco/cabaret/strip joint (Zygmunt Malanowicz) who recognizes in them a novelty act that will bring in the bucks.
The film hovers in the netherworld between fantasy and reality, mixing choreographed numbers and romance. Silver falls for the house band’s bass player (Jakub Gierszal), which threatens her relationship with her sister. Gold decides to pursue singing her siren song to attract unwitting victims so she can feast on them.
Director Agnieszka Smoczynska has crafted a one-of-a-kind motion picture. What starts as a fairy tale transforms into a rock musical horror flick, with things getting gruesome and bloody. The over-the-top audacity of the movie makes it worth seeing. A coming-of-age fairy tale with a catchy synthesizer-laced soundtrack, wild song-and-dance numbers, and gritty settings, it explores themes of emerging sexuality, exploitation, and the compromises of adulthood. It’s not a cinematic classic by any means, but it is so bizarre, and so out there, that it has to be seen to be believed.
Bonus materials on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include a making-of-featurette containing interviews with director Agnieszka Smoczynska, actors Marta Mazurek and Michelin Olszanska, screenwriter Robert Bolesto and other crew members; deleted scenes; Aria Diva (2007) and Viva Maria! (2010), short films by Smoczynska; trailer; and a critical essay. The film is in Polish, with English subtitles.
The House (Warner Home Video) stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as Scott and Kate Johansen. Though the couple live in a large suburban home, they can’t get a bank loan to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. Their solution: teaming up with a neighbor who has a gambling addiction (Jason Mantzoukas) to open an illegal Las Vegas-style casino in their home. This gets them involved with a corrupt city councilman (Nick Kroll) and a mobster (Jeremy Renner) who both want a piece of the action.
The combination of Ferrell and Poehler suggests that The House would provide a reasonable share of laughs. The premise is far fetched, but that’s not the problem. The writing is weak, with so-called jokes falling flat and other attempts to push the comedy envelope squirm-inducing. The idea offers possibilities for sharp parody, but it never materializes. What’s on screen should have been an early draft, sent back to the writers to punch up the comedy. Making matters worse, the film has the feel of improvised schtick, with the cast going off on their own tangents, veering from what’s on the page. This sabotages the film, with director Andrew Jay Cohen failing to keep his stars in check. Lacking wit and satirical insight, the movie is simply not fun.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital release include deleted scenes, extended and alternate scenes, gag reel, and 2 behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Kill, Baby…Kill! (Kino Lorber) takes place in 1907 in a remote Carpathian Mountain village. The new century seems to have bypassed this remote village, which is steeped in ignorance, poverty and superstition. The film opens with a young woman committing suicide by impaling herself on an iron gate. The burgomaster sends for a coroner in order to stop the gossip that’s started to circulate. The dead woman was a servant at the Villa Graps, whose only occupant is an elderly eccentric baroness. But many of the townsfolk are convinced there’s a curse on the town that originates with the Graps family. This tragic death is followed by a spate of apparent suicides, each under different but unusual circumstances.
Director Mario Bava (Black Sunday) defies traditions of the horror genre with a slow pace, allowing the viewer to soak in the atmosphere he’s established through carefully composed shots, creative use of color, deep shadows, and gradually escalating suspense. At the heart of the film is a murder mystery, but Bava introduces folklore, superstition and the supernatural to give the movie a genuine aura of eerieness.
There are memorable, creepy touches, including a sullen child with a bouncing ball, spiral staircases bathed in green and purple light, wall sconces made of arms and hands, winding streets disappearing into the mist, and staring eyes through windowpanes. The film is both a Gothic horror film and commentary on the clash of old beliefs with scientific method. The townspeople cling to their ignorant fears while the detective and coroner assigned to solve the murders rely on modern techniques.
Bonus materials on the unrated, widescreen Blu-ray release include Kill, Bava, Kill, a 2007 documentary revealing the location where the film was shot; audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark; interview with actress Erika Blanc; international theatrical trailer; and 3 American TV spots. The film is in Italian, with English subtitles. There is also an English language track.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (Sony Home Entertainment), based on the 1971 children’s book by Russell and Lillian Hoban, was adapted into a one-hour holiday TV special in December, 1977 by Jim Henson and company. The special features a special appearance by Kermit the Frog as the narrator. In later airings, Kermit’s narration was edited out, but this fully remastered version includes the restored scenes with Henson’s iconic character.
As Christmas approaches Frogtown Hollow, Emmet Otter and his Ma can only dream of buying each other gifts with the little money they make from Ma doing laundry and Emmet doing odd jobs. So, when a Christmas Eve talent contest is announced, Emmet joins a jug band and Ma decides to sing a song. But Emmet will have to put a hole in Ma’s washtub to make a bass. And Ma will have to hock Emmet’s tool chest to buy herself a costume.
Reminiscent of O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, the project involved building the largest stage ever for a Muppet production and, for the first time, some of the Muppets were powered by remote control.
The program features seven original songs by Paul Williams that include novelty tunes (The Bathing Suit Your Grandma Otter Wore), upbeat numbers (Bar-B-Que), and lilting ballads (When the River Meets the Sea). The songs have a folksy bluegrass quality and are a perfect fit for the story. Interestingly, for a Christmas special, there are no Christmas-themed songs.
Bonus materials on the unrated DVD release include deleted alternate scenes; outtakes; the lost song “Born in a Trunk;” and the featurette “Behind the Scenes in Frogtown Hollow.”
Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland
Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland ((Lionsgate) focuses on the last few years in the life of the pop singer. Though his eccentricities are portrayed, the film is essentially a sympathetic portrait of the superstar. The focus is on Bill Whitfield (Chad L. Coleman, The Wire), who, along with Javon Beard (Sam Adegoke), becomes Jackson’s bodyguard, companion, protector and all-purpose assistant. Bill narrates, framing and tying together the episodes depicted.
Jackson is portrayed by Navi, whose website refers to him as the Number 1 Michael Jackson tribute artist who has worked as a Jackson impersonator for 20 years. He was born in Trinidad and raised in the United Kingdom. The resemblance is quite amazing, and Navi has mastered the singer’s mannerisms and gestures as well. But he hasn’t appeared in a dramatic project before this. He lost 20 pounds and underwent rigorous voice and acting training. Navi eerily captures the essence of the singer’s persona — his child-like innocence, shyness, vulnerability, and loneliness.
The Lifetime original movie is based on Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days by Whitfield and Beard. The movie portrays Jackson as a devoted father who lives as a virtual hermit, wary of paparazzi and the unfair way he’s been treated by the press and the public after his child molestation trial. Despite his health, he’s shown to have problems paying his bills, yet at one point has a briefcase with him containing $200,000 in cash and passports. Because the bodyguards are forbidden to reveal who they work for and are essentially at the beck and whim of Jackson, their private lives are impacted when they miss holidays with their families.
Celebrity biopics are fascinating because they take us into the private world of the famous. Fans of Michael Jackson will undoubtedly savor this movie for its respectful portrayal of the singer struggling through tough times. This humanization brings him into the same sphere as average folks. His talent, fame and money aren’t always enough to exorcise the bad times.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release.
Sniper: Ultimate Kill
Sniper: Ultimate Kill (Sony Home Entertainment) is the seventh installment of the military action-adventure franchise. Drug kingpin Jesus Morales is looking to take control of the drug smuggling network between Colombia and the United States. To accomplish this, he hires one of the deadliest snipers in the world, codename “The Devil.” One by one, Morales’ competitors die, leaving him in complete control of the drug trade. U.S. authorities send their best sniper, USMC Special Ops sniper Brandon Beckett (Chad Michael Collins), to deal with The Devil, who has access to advanced weaponry, including something called the “impossible bullet.” Beckett is joined by Sgt. Thomas Beckett (Tom Berenger) and Richard Miller (Billy Zane). Along with federal agent Kate Estrada (Danay Garcia), they navigate through Colombia’s deadly criminal world to hunt down their target.
The game of cat-and-mouse is at the core of this latest Sniper… movie. Both hunter and hunted are expert marksmen, highly trained to seek out the enemy without detection to deliver a lethal shot. Action films are more interesting when the adversary is powerful and poses a real danger to the good guy(s). The plot is similar to the one in American Sniper; both pictures feature a climactic confrontation and contain lots of action. The story here isn’t that original. We’ve had lots of films dealing with drug cartels lately. But director Claudio Fah keeps the pace brisk and offers a few plot twists to keep things interesting. Ms. Garcia’s Estrada does her part to keep up with the guys when bullets start to fly.
There are no bonus features on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release.