Editor’s Notes: The 5th Wave, Easy Rider, A Kiss Before Dying, Emelie & Hyena Road will be released on their respective formats on May 3rd.
The 5th Wave
The 5th Wave (Sony Home Entertainment) is a disaster flick in which Earth is invaded by aliens who hover their enormous spacecraft over the planet and methodically begin to exterminate its human population. Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moritz) has to avoid being killed while desperately searching for her missing brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur).
The cleverest aspect of the screenplay is the several stages of the invasion. Initially, an electromagnetic wave shuts down the power. Then earthquakes and tidal waves destroy cities, a deadly virus kills many of the survivors, snipers pick off others, and eventually — a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers — aliens inhabit human bodies to make themselves indistinguishable from normal humans.
The early scenes set the viewer up for quite an adventure to follow, with impressive special effects. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t live up to its spectacular beginning. The 5th Wave becomes a Divergent series wannabe, with teen agers attempting to save the world. Director J. Blakeson resorts to many doomsday cliches and never allows the characters to emerge as more than “types.” Since we don’t know a lot about them, we have little invested in their survival. A romantic-triangle subplot is completely unnecessary and merely gets in the way of the main plot.
Ms. Moritz does an effective job as a courageous young woman forced to deal with an extraordinary situation and the CGI effects deliver some neat visual moments, but these are not enough to shore up a derivative film that relies on elements of successful franchises.
The Blu-ray release contains deleted scenes, the featurettes “The 5th Wave Survival Guide” and “Training Squad 53: Creating a New World,” cast gag reel, commentary with director J. Blakeson and Chloe Grace Moritz, and a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary.
Easy Rider (The Criterion Collection) is a movie that captured the counterculture atmosphere of the 1960s. Produced during the decline of the studio system, Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper, was made on a small budget and is today regarded as a cinematic milestone, ushering in the New Hollywood movement.
Bikers Wyatt/Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), with money in their pockets from smuggling cocaine across the border, head from Los Angeles to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. En route, they are temporarily sidetracked by a commune of free spirits and later arrested for parading without a permit. In jail, they meet drunken lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), who agrees to join them on their road trip.
The movie is constructed episodically. One scene takes place at a roadside cafe where the trio is denied service. Another depicts a bad LSD trip in a cemetery, and yet another has the three guys smoking pot around a campfire and revealing more of their backgrounds. Though Wyatt and Billy are drug dealers hoping to live a life unanswerable to the establishment, they are portrayed as attractive characters bucking the system and — for a time — getting away with it.
Easy Rider didn’t look or sound like any movie made in America up to that point. It was clearly groundbreaking for the film industry, but also had a dramatic effect on society in general, with baby boomers coming of age questioning the values, rules, and policies of the older generation. The movie is still powerful and still resonates as a commentary on a divided America and generational conflict.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray Special Edition include two audio commentaries with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, two documentaries about the making and history of the film, TV excerpts showing Hopper and Fonda at the Cannes Film Festival, and theatrical trailers.
A Kiss Before Dying
A Kiss Before Dying (Kino Lorber) was a change-of-pace role for Robert Wagner. Known for playing the clean cut, all-American guy, he defied that stereotype as Bud Corliss, a young man so obsessed with money that he’d do anything to get it, in this gripping thriller. When college boy Corliss discovers that his girlfriend Dorothy (Joanne Woodward) is pregnant and her pregnancy will threaten his chances of being accepted by her wealthy family, he murders her. Dorothy’s sister Ellen (Virginia Leith) refuses to believe the police report that the death was a suicide and does some investigating on her own.
Wagner is creepily chilling as Corliss, a Jekyll/Hyde character whose attractive facade conceals a cold-blooded, methodical killer. Cinematic murderers up to this time were gangsters, maniacs, career criminals, or vile sociopaths. Corliss defies that image. He is the most unlikely suspect and is canny about covering up his crime.
The actual murder of Dorothy is shocking, as it is completely unexpected, but its very emotionless execution reveals at the outset that Corliss is not the man he appears. Four years later, Alfred Hitchcock would depict his own boy-next-door with dark secrets in Psycho.
There are no bonus features on the unrated Blu-ray release.
Emelie (Dark Sky Films) begins with the unsettling scene of a young woman walking down a lonely suburban street on an overcast day, chatting on her cellphone. Her conversation reveals that she’s annoyed about missing a social function because she has to babysit. A driver passing by asks her for directions. As she moves toward the car to respond, she is attacked from behind and shoved into the car, which drives off.
Later, we see babysitter Anna (Sarah Bolger) arrive at the Thompson home. She’s a last-minute replacement sitter. The parents, Joyce (Susan Pourer) and Dan (Chris Beetem), are off to their anniversary dinner, content that their three kids, ranging in age from 4 to 11, are in good hands.
The kids like Anna because she seems pretty lenient, letting them do things their parents would never permit. Soon, however, she becomes unpredictable and even sinister in her control and the kids realize that their babysitter may not be who she claims to be. It’s up to big brother Jacob (Joshua Rush) to protect his siblings from the increasingly dangerous intentions of a very disturbed young woman.
The movie produces squirms when Anna begins to play bizarre “games” with the kids, such as leaving their father’s loaded gun where they can find it or showing them a porn video for “movie time.” These scenes make the film much darker than The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which is also about an obsessed caretaker. Director/co-writer Michael Thelin creates and sustains a palpable sense of suspense, and Ms. Bolger turns in a creepy performance that ranges from sunnily upbeat to darkly malevolent.
Bonus extras on the unrated, widescreen Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette and theatrical trailer.
Hyena Road (Sony Home Entertainment) takes place in Kandahar Province during the war in Afghanistan. Canadian forces have been building the road of the title deep in Taliban territory, creating a new dirt track that can be driven only in armed convoys protected by snipers. The road is strategically crucial to defeating the Taliban.
The combat scenes are technically detailed, with considerable use of military lingo and profanity. The challenges facing both sides in the conflict are raised. Some scenes are reminiscent of American Sniper, though smaller in scale. The cast of mostly unknown actors contributes to the realistic depiction of men in war. These are men sent to do a job, and that’s what director Paul Gross focuses on.
Though the movie works as an exciting action picture, it never goes beyond to explore the mentality of warfare and/or its political ramifications. An unnecessary romantic subplot is tacked on to relieve the high testosterone level a bit. Voiceover narration attempts to clarify the motivations of characters, but is repetitive. Action and dialogue should do this job.
Special features on the widescreen, R-rated DVD release include four featurettes on stories that inspired the movie, the role of military advisors, special effects, and construction of the movie’s sets.