Editor’s Notes: The Assassin, Jesse Stone: Lost In Paradise, and The New Girl Friend will be released on their respective formats on January 26th. While The Visit is available now.
The Assassin (Well Go USA), set in ninth-century China, centers on Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), a killer sent to eliminate key figures in the Tang Dynasty, including Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), her former lover, who is now governor of Weribo province.
Though the film may sound like yet another action flick, the action isn’t non-stop, but comes in short, dramatic bursts. Nie Yinniang is a princess raised by her aunt to become a martial-arts master. In several elaborately choreographed sequences, the black-clad princess dodges and twists with dancer-like gracefulness when attacked, and prevails over the ferocious, better-armed swordsmen.
Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien focuses on the tranquility of nature with the able help of cinematographer Ping Bin Lee. There are lovely compositions throughout — mists rising toward mountain peaks, a forest of silver birches, rustling trees. Indoors, many shots are filmed through sheer materials that billow in the foreground, giving the movie an otherworldly feel.
The Assassin is a very different kind of martial arts movie. Slower-paced and more attentive to exquisite photography than is common with this type of film, it combines a deadly mission of revenge, a first-rate performance by Shu Qi, and a mythological plot. Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes featurette and theatrical trailer. The film is in Mandarin, with English and French subtitles.
Jesse Stone: Lost In Paradise
Jesse Stone: Lost In Paradise (Sony Home Entertainment) is adapted from characters created by the late Robert B. Parker. This ninth installment of the TV franchise is co-written and executive produced by its star, Tom Selleck, as the well-liked cop who helps the Massachusetts State Homicide Division track down a serial killer. A respected law enforcement officer, Stone has a complicated life because of his dependence on alcohol and a shaky relationship with his ex-wife.
With things running smoothly in Paradise, Massachusetts, Police Chief Stone agrees to serve as a consultant on an unsolved murder case in Boston. Local police believe “The Boston Ripper” (Luke Perry), a killer already behind bars, is the prime suspect in the murder of the Ripper’s fourth victim. Stone thinks the murderer is closer to home, setting him off on a dangerous investigation filled with surprises.
The Jesse Stone series is reminiscent of vintage TV cop dramas, and Selleck is a perfect fit for the hard-boiled, flawed cop. There are elements of Columbo, Kojak, Jim Rockford, and even Joe Friday (Dragnet) in Stone, which makes him continually fascinating as he attempts to solve crimes while dealing with his personal demons.
The unrated DVD does not contain any bonus features.
The New Girl Friend
The New Girl Friend (Cohen Media Group), based on a short story by the late British crime writer Ruth Rendell, uses a cross-dressing male as its primary plot element in this tale of modern confused sexuality. Claire (Anais Demoustier) has been best friends with Laura (Isild Le Besco) since elementary school. Both women are now in their 20s and married. Shortly after giving birth, Laura passes away. Distraught and consumed with sorrow, Claire vows to look after Laura’s baby, Lucie, and Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris). David takes to wearing his deceased wife’s clothing and perfume to calm their screaming baby daughter, who responds better to him when he dresses like her mother. When Claire turns up at David’s house one day and sees him in female garb, she is at first horrified but on reflection concludes that David’s choice makes sense.
Neither a Mrs. Doubtfire nor a Three’s Company, The New Girl Friend goes a different route to explore gender roles, with several surprises along the way. Director Francois Ozon throws in some humorous bits, such as a scene involving lower-back waxing and another in which David forgets he’s wearing lipstick in front of his mother-in-law, but these seem out of place in a drama about friendship and the way gender often interferes with it.
With the TV series Transparent, the film The Danish Girl, and the headlines about Caitlyn Jenner, The New Girl Friend seems very much of the moment.
The Blu-ray release contains a making-of featurette, ten deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
The Visit (Universal Home Entertainment), a thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan, uses the “found footage” approach to tell the story of aspiring teenage filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her twelve-year-old brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who are about to spend a week with grandparents they have never met. This is because their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had a fight with them when she was 19 and hasn’t spoken to them since. Through some online detective work, the parents have found her and are eager to get to know their grandchildren.
Becca and Tyler are enthusiastic about the idea, figuring they may be able to mend fences between their mother and her parents, and readily agree to a week-long visit at their remote farmhouse. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are very strange in their ways and demand that the kids not leave their room after 9:30 P.M. Naturally, this rule will be broken. When Becca sneaks downstairs for a snack, she sees Nana walking across the room, vomiting every few steps. Later, Becca discovers that Pop Pop has his own bizarre set of stomach-turning habits.
As their stay progresses, things become increasingly odd. The kids regard a lot of what they witness as either dementia or, worse, mental illness, but decide to stick it out, with only a few Skype communications home. Their mom seems more dismissive of her parents’ behavior than a concerned parent should be. The sister and brother do foolish things and go where they shouldn’t, moving the story forward at the expense of the characters’ IQs. Still, the film is pretty scary, with Ms. Dunagan chewing up the scenery in a role that’s impossible to overplay.
Shyamalan uses an excessive amount of shaky camerawork to suggest a novice filmmaker’s footage, though one would think an early lesson in effective camera technique would be keeping it steady. There are a number of shocks, both the quick, sudden kind and those created with suspenseful build-up. The director provides an appropriately creepy milieu and a pair of relatives that could easily be close kin of Norman Bates’ mother. Though The Visit doesn’t come up to the level of The Sixth Sense or Signs, it is nonetheless a textbook example of audience manipulation. Known for his secret twists, Shyamalan doesn’t disappoint in this Hansel-and-Gretel-inspired scare flick.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, alternate ending, and Becca’s photos. A digital HD copy is enclosed.