Editor’s Notes: Goodnight Mommy and The Hunting Ground are out on their respective formats December 1st. While Eight Men Out and Hit The Deck are available now.
Goodnight Mommy (Anchor Bay) is a hair-raising thriller about nine-year-old identical twins Lukas and Elias, who live in an isolated home deep in the Austrian countryside. As the film opens, they are awaiting the return of their mother from the hospital. When she comes home with her face obscured by bandages, nothing is like it was before. Her behavior is strange and she seems constantly mean. Before long, the boys start to doubt whether this woman is actually who she says she is.
Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala summon a steady sense of dread and keep the viewer guessing. Because the house is miles away from any possibility of help, the young boys must deal with their escalating horror entirely by themselves. Who would believe the claims of two nine-year-olds that their mother is not their mother? Reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers without the science fiction slant, Goodnight Mommy bases its horror on those closest to us becoming cold and distant. It’s a fear children may have but adults can identify with, as well.
Making the protagonists a pair of kids heightens the tension. We tend to be more concerned for children in peril in movies than adults. The twins are not cut from the mold of typically dim horror flick characters who exist only to follow every cliche and wind up brutally slaughtered. Their suspicions mount because the behavior of the woman who calls herself their mother is so far from what they recognize. Their reactions are not contrived or neatly convenient; we see them behave and react to a situation that first puzzles, then upsets, then terrifies them. Their growing apprehension and dread occur believably.
The only special feature on the widescreen Blu-ray release is a conversation with the directors.
The Hunting Ground
The Hunting Ground (Anchor Bay) is a documentary that addresses rape on college campuses. Director Kirby Dick, who dealt with sexual assault in the military in 2012’s The Invisible War, presents a variety of campus crimes as described by their victims. All victims are named as are some of the suspects and perpetrators. A common pattern that emerges is: a girl is asked to a party and is gotten drunk, isolated from friends, and raped, and the guy responsible acts as if nothing happened.
Dick focuses most closely on Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, University of North Carolina students who bonded over their shared experiences of rape and have devoted years to fighting for victims’ rights. Clark was raped in her freshman year before classes even began. In 2013, they filed a Title IX lawsuit against the university. The two women calmly recount their stories. When they reported the incidents, they met resistance from administrators, who were more concerned with maintaining the school’s reputation and not scaring away applicants and alumni donors. The school’s treatment of these women was at least as horrific as the rapes.
The film begins with YouTube videos of young applicants receiving college letters and e-mails, each individual shaking with anticipation before discovering whether they’ve been accepted or rejected. Next is footage of trusting teenagers arriving on campus as college officials make promises of a great academic experience and personal protection, followed by a number of disturbing statistics about enrollees who’ve experienced a sexual assault, including that 88% of the victims never report the crime. The reasons are explored: embarrassment, a foggy recollection of events, self-blame, and fear of repercussions from the school.
This is a disturbing film that spotlights how widespread a problem college rape is. Director Dick puts faces on the victims, shows common predatory patterns among rapists, and condemns administrators who put school image before justice. Special features on The Hunting Ground, available in Blu-ray and DVD formats, include additional stories and a Q & A with Annie Clark and Andrea Pino.
Eight Men Out
Eight Men Out (Olive Films), based on the book by Eliot Asinof, is the story of the gambling conspiracy by members of the Chicago White Sox to lose the 1919 World Series in exchange for a few thousand dollars to each man participating. The man behind the conspiracy is the gangster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner), portrayed as a high-stakes gambler and ruthless capitalist. Known as the Black Sox Scandal, the case is ironic because the consequences were so severe in comparison with the paltry rewards.
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney), the team’s powerhouse hitter, is portrayed as too naive to grasp the full implications of the scheme. Gordon Clapp is “Cracker” Schalk, the catcher who fights the fix. John Cusack is “Buck” Weaver, the third baseman who agrees to the fix but so loves baseball that it’s hard for him to play less than his best. Also starring are Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, and Bill Irwin.
Director John Sayles (Matewan, Baby, It’s You) sets the story against labor struggles in which money men are shown to be the impetus to the fix. Players in the early part of the 20th century earned nowhere near the astronomical sums commanded by players today. Sayles attributes the scandal to the exploitation of labor. Before free agency, players had no choice but to accept the salaries they were offered. In the case of the White Sox’s owner, Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), his players were among the lowest-paid in Major League baseball and team morale was low. Ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) joined in the conspiracy because Comiskey cheated him out of a promised bonus. Sympathy lies with the players who feel they have a right to eke out a decent income any way they could manage it.
Only four of the eight participants are depicted as entirely willing. The other four display varying degrees of ambivalence, and their moral turmoil contributes most of the movie’s dramatic conflict. The courtroom sequence that ends the film is rather long but explains exactly what happened to the involved players.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include feature commentary with director John Sayles, retrospective documentary, and theatrical trailer.
Hit the Deck
Hit the Deck (Warner Archive) is based on the 1927 musical play, which itself was based on a 1922 play called “Shore Leave.” R-K-O made an earlier film version in 1930. This version, made in 1955 in color and widescreen CinemaScope, came at the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age of the Musical. Costs were rising, public tastes were changing, TV was becoming more and more a competitive force, and studios were letting their stars’ contracts lapse.
Three sailors, Danny Smith (Russ Tamblyn, West Side Story) and Rico Ferrari (Vic Damone, Kismet) and their superior officer William Clark (Tony Martin, Easy to Love) stationed in Alaska join forces to find a way out of an ice swimming detail. Finally, they score a 48-hour leave in San Francisco, where each gob sets his sights on a girl. William has Ginger (Ann Miller, Easter Parade), who wants a wedding ring; Danny is enchanted by Carol (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain), a young actress starring in the film’s musical-within-a-musical; and Rico has eyes for Susan (Jane Powell, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), Danny’s sister.
If the plot reminds you of On the Town, you’re right. But it’s worth watching for Ann Miller’s incredible tapping in “Keeping Myself for You” and the climactic number, “Hallelujah,” Powell’s renditions of “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “Lucky Bird,” and Tamblyn’s athletic dancing in “A Kiss or Two.” Though “Hit the Deck” doesn’t come up to the level of M-G-M classics like “An American in Paris” or “Singin’ in the Rain,” it’s a chance to see the Hollywood musical in its last, lavish hurrah. There are no bonus features on this unrated Blu-ray release.