Editor’s Notes: Becoming Bulletproof, Secret in Their Eyes, My All American, & American Horror Project: Volume 1 will be released on their respective formats on February 23rd.
Becoming Bulletproof (Virgil Films) is a documentary about a group of disabled adults who work together to make a Hollywood-style film. The film showcases the Zeno Mountain Farm, a nonprofit organization that gathers both disabled and able-bodied actors to produce movies. The group’s first foray into the Western genre, the costume drama Bulletproof, is chronicled as we watch the film-within-the film take shape.
This dedicated group meets annually at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont to write, produce, and star in original short films. Founded by two brothers and their wives, Zeno Mountain’s philosophy is to create an inclusive community that builds genuine friendships and transcends stigma and stereotypes. For them, their films aren’t about making a statement. As one participant says, “It’s all about making awesome movies.”
Though the community is high-functioning, their disabilities aren’t minor, including cerebral palsy and speech impairment. The young star of Bulletproof, Jeremy Vest, is afflicted with Williams syndrome, in which learning disabilities and development delays are balanced by highly social personalities, good verbal abilities and musical talent. Each disabled actor is paired with an abled one, and bonds have formed as the same groups return year after year. Though Zeno had shot several unreleased short films, the goal this time around was to produce “a real bona-fide movie” to enter into film festivals. The resulting Western is stylish and is framed with modern-day segments.
All participants are treated professionally and are expected to perform assigned tasks on crew or as actors. There is no condescending whatsoever, which makes this documentary an homage to the ability of the group rather than to its shortcomings. A major drawback is the piecemeal way in which we see the Western. It would have been great to see the complete short film. The documentary switches back and forth between the making-of section and the movie being shot. Group members are interviewed, speaking about their disabilities but more enthusiastic about their contribution to Bulletproof.
There are no bonus extras on the widescreen DVD release.
Secret in Their Eyes
Secret in Their Eyes (Universal Home Entertainment) stars three Academy award winners: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Nicole Kidman (The Hours), and Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich). A team of investigators — Ray (Ejiofor), Jess (Roberts) and their supervisor Claire (Kidman) — is torn apart when they discover that Jess’ teenage daughter has been brutally and inexplicably murdered.
After obsessively searching for the elusive killer every day for 13 years, Ray finally uncovers a new lead that he’s certain will resolve the case, nail the murderer, and bring long-desired closure to his team. But other officials stand in the way of Ray’s being able to arrest him.
A remake of Juan Jose Campanella’s Oscar-winning Argentinian thriller El secret de sus ojos, Secret in Their Eyes is set in Los Angeles and flashes back and forth between 2002 and 2015. A subplot involves Ray’s one-time attraction to Claire and its rekindling when they meet again after many years apart.
While not as effective as the original, the film works as a solid crime thriller, distinguished mostly by its high-profile cast. The original film was inspired in part by anger over the terroristic Argentine military government in the 1970s. The new Secret… follows its predecessor fairly closely but sets it in a post-9/11 world. A few plot points reflect sloppy writing, such as Ray’s claim that he checked close to 2,000 mug shots every night for 13 years in his quest for the murder suspect. This seems not only unlikely, but impossible.
Of the three leads, Ejiofor makes the best impression, even as he delivers less-than-sparkling dialogue. His energy and commitment to the role drive the story forward and keep us involved. Roberts has done much better work in previous films and too often overplays here. Kidman doesn’t really etch a memorable impression. A few surprises along the way prevent the picture from being just another police procedural.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack include Julia Roberts discussing the role of Jess, a featurette about adapting the story to film, and audio commentary with director/screenwriter/producer Mark Johnson.
My All American
My All American (Universal Home Entertainment) is based on the true story of Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock, TV’s American Horror Story), a Colorado high school football star who compensated for his small size by playing harder than practically anyone. He won a scholarship to University of Texas, Austin, where he helped lead the Longhorns to the championship in 1969.
Freddie is a good kid brought up in a traditional two-parent household who attends Catholic mass and strives to improve his grades in school. His story is bookended by Darrel Royal (Aaron Eckhart), who presided over the team throughout the 60s and most of the 70s. In heavy old-age make-up, Eckhart’s Royal is giving a post-career interview to a young journalist. Through flashbacks, we see how talent and a driving desire to win spurred Freddie to succeed despite being undersized. This caught the attention of Royal who offered the high school senior a full scholarship to the University.
Director Angelo Pizzo is no stranger to sports-themed movies. He also directed Hoosiers and Rudy. My All American follows a similar dramatic arc to that in Rudy, so there’s a sense that we’ve seen this story before. There is more to Freddie than football, and his personal off-the-field story is supposedly the film’s dramatic hook. However, the film’s focus is skewed toward the scenes of him on the field, showing his resolve and dedication. Less of this, and more of his personal story would have improved the picture and involved us more. Freddie is characterized by mostly by movie cliches and his story never achieves the emotional impact intended. Football lovers will undoubtedly appreciate the recreated game moments, but general audiences will find My All American rather flat and sappy.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include background on the real Freddie Steinmark and a behind-the-scenes, making-of featurette.
American Horror Project: Volume 1
American Horror Project: Volume 1 (Arrow Video) contains, according to press materials, “three tales of violence and madness from the 1970s.” The first, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973), is set at an atmosphere-rich, run-down fairground. Vena Norris (Janine Carazo) and her parents get jobs at Mr. Malatesta’s carnival running a midway game booth. But this is no ordinary carny. Its manager, Mr. Blood, is a vampire who needs a constant supply of blood from visitors. Also on hand is a family of cannibals. And in an underground chamber, Malatesta himself performs deranged experiments and runs old horror films. Herve Villechaize makes an appearance five years before taking on the role of Mr. Roarke’s assistant Tattoo on TV’s Fantasy Island.
The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976) stars Millie Perkins (The Diary of Ann Frank) as Molly, a young woman who experiences bizarre and violent fantasies. Abused as a child by her alcoholic father, Molly is now a dysfunctional waitress in a local seaside bar off the coast of California who casually picks up muscle men from Venice Beach and takes them home to bed… only to mutilate them in an attempt to reconcile the sexual abuse she suffered. Director Matt Cimber combines gruesome images with a dreamlike portrait of a woman spiraling deeper and deeper into psychosis via flashbacks, distorted sound, slow motion, and flash cuts. These touches give the film an art house feel and Perkins’ intense performance is much more effective than one would expect in an exploitation flick.
The Premonotion (1976) is a tale of psychic terror. After she’s released from a mental institution, unstable Andrea (Ellen Barber) is determined to locate the daughter she gave up for adoption years earlier. An old friend shows Andrea a picture he’s taken of a local child, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Andrea. Fixating on the girl, Andrea becomes obsessed with reclaiming the child, using whatever means possible. The film relies heavily on ESP and the paranormal rather than traditional straightforward narrative. The horror element arises from a crazed mother resorting to extreme measures to reclaim her child.
Bonus materials on the 6-disc set include three short films by Robert Allen Schnitzer; interview with actor Richard Lynch; brand new interviews with Dean Cundey and John Goff; audio commentary with director/producer Robert Allen Schnitzer, director Matt Cimber, and actress Millie Perkins; production stills gallery; reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork; and a limited edition 60-page booklet containing new articles on the films.