Editor’s Notes: The Conjuring 2, King Jack, All Things Must Pass, Back In Time, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, & Quantico: The Complete First Season are out on their respective home entertainment formats September 13th.
The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring 2 (Warner Home Video) is a sequel to the 2013 box office hit. This time, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) look into England’s Enfield haunting, a notorious 1977 case involving single mother Penny Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), her four children, and an entity that targets her 11-year-old daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe). The previous owner of their home, 72-year-old Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), died in his favorite chair and his spirit refuses to leave, repeating again and again, “This is my home!”
Like the first film, the sequel intelligently and methodically tracks the Warrens as they carry out an investigation. Scientific and level-headed, they go about their work seriously, knowing their very presence can escalate danger to their clients and themselves. A horror film is helped considerably when its protagonists are not hormone-driven teenagers or people who do exactly the opposite of what rational human beings would do when encountering peril. Though horror fans might become impatient with scenes underscoring the affection between Ed and Lorraine, they do provide some depth of characterization so that the audience regards them as real people and not merely the means to elicit scares.
Director James Wan provides plenty of jump scares as well as suspenseful, eerie moments that create tension as the couple pursue their investigation. The cinematography features several sweeping wide-angle establishing shots and uninterrupted takes during the demonic possession scenes, which give the sense that we, the viewers, are participants. The movie leaves us wondering whether the events are real or an elaborate hoax, leaving open to interpretation why the Warrens have taken on such an unorthodox pursuit.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes and the featurettes “The Enfield Poltergeist: Living the Horror” and “Crafting The Conjuring 2.”
“King Jack” (Well Go USA) finds Jack (Charlie Plummer), a 15-year-old from a small, run-down town, with more problems than he can handle— an ongoing feud with a violent older bully, a crush on a neighborhood girl, and having to go to summer school again. When his younger cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) comes to stay for the weekend, the last thing Jack wants to do is look after him.
This coming-of-age film, the first by writer-director Felix Thompson, offers an unsentimental look at a kid from a low-income family navigating his way not only through through adolescence, but through life in general. Jack is low man on the totem pole, family-wise, and doesn’t get a lot of attention from his busy single mom (Erin Davie). Older brother Tom (Christian Madsen) picks on him endlessly, and Jack spends his days getting into trouble spray-painting the garage door of his enemy’s father and stealing.
When he reluctantly takes on the responsibility to look after Ben, Jack rises to the occasion, embracing the new power he’s been given and eventually bonding with his cousin when he sees they’re not all that different, despite the age disparity.
Through the film is pleasant, it relies on cliches and well worn plot devices. However, it has some good moments, and Charlie Plummer’s strong performance in the title role makes it possible to overlook some of the movie’s structural flaws.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release.
All Things Must Pass
All Things Must Pass (MVD Visual) is a documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records, the retail music chain that once was the coolest place to buy records and later CDs. The film traces the gradual growth of Tower from its founding by Russ Solomon in a Sacramento drugstore in the 1960s through its expansion to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and beyond, attracting not only fans but artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Elton John as loyal customers.
Director Colin Hanks, in his feature film directorial debut, provides a nostalgic look at the heyday of Tower Records, when it was a home-away-from-home for many young music lovers. Interviews with former employees are often funny and surprising and always reflect a fond wistfulness for a time and place that was special.
With sales dwindling as alternative music sources, such as iTunes, dominated the industry, Tower began to close stores. Its last store in America bit the dust in 2006. Tower still thrives in Japan, however, where it is hugely successful.
The documentary is especially moving for those who were a part of the Tower experience — looking through bins at new releases, asking knowledgeable employees to recommend music, and making weekly forays, cash in hand, to the local Tower store.
There are no bonus features on the unrated DVD release.
Back In Time
Back In Time (MVD Visual) is a documentary about the real impact the Back to the Future movies have had on our culture. The film is many things: a history of the production of the films, a look at the loyal fan base and their nostalgic conventions, and a commentary on the influence of the movies through the years.
Back to the Future director Robert Zemekis, co-writer Bob Gale, producer Steven Spielberg, and stars Michael J, Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson offer their reminiscences on the making of the movie and the aftermath, when it turned out to be a smash hit. An interesting highlight is footage of the original Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz. There is also film of an annual car show dedicated to DeLoreans and interviews with several people who have spent thousands of dollars to make their DeLoreans look like Doc Brown’s in the movie.
The documentary isn’t well organized. The segments jump around and never settle into a straightforward narrative. For die-hard fans, this might be OK, but for the average viewer, this scattered approach can be frustrating.
Very few films have attracted a massive, ongoing fan following. Two prime examples would be the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. Back to the Future joins them. It got everything right — perfect cast, dynamite soundtrack, sharp, clever comedy, and one of the most unforgettable movie props ever devised.
There are no bonus features on the unrated DVD release.
Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler
Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (Kino Lorber), directed by Fritz Lang, was made in 1922 at the height of German expressionism in cinema. Based on a character created by Norbert Jacques, the film was originally released in two parts. At 270 minutes, the Kino edition — the most complete one on home video formats — combines the two.
The film opens with Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) using his talents for disguise and hypnotism to carry out a plan to manipulate the stock market. Next, he targets Hull (Paul Richter), a playboy and gambler, for his access to an exclusive club, where Mabuse uses hypnosis to cheat and win at cards. Police Inspector von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke) becomes intrigued with Hull’s case and an involved, methodical investigation and match-up of wits follow.
Though the film often rambles, it has some stand-out moments and features an early template for such villains as the title character in The Mask of Fu Manchu, Agent Smith of The Matrix, The Joker in Batman, and various James Bond bad guys. Mabuse hides behind the veneer of a respected psychoanalyst, but secretly is a master criminal, who’s no match for the slow, outdated methods of the local police. He targets whatever milieu offers rewards, whether lurid gambling dens, seedy hangouts, or the world of international finance.
Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler is populated with henchmen, heroes, and femmes fatales, interwoven with action sequences, and set against a backdrop of Weimar Republic decadence. The film is often considered the first film noir, long before that genre’s American heyday in the 1940s and 1950s.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include The Story of Dr. Mabuse, a 3-part documentary on the musical score, the career of novelist Norbert Jacques, and an analysis of the film (featuring archival footage of director Fritz Lang). The film is in German, with optional English subtitles.
Quantico: The Complete First Season
Quantico: The Complete First Season (Walt Disney Studios) is a continuing ABC-TV mystery drama. Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), a trainee at the FBI Academy at Quantico in Virginia, is suspected of having masterminded the most lethal attack on New York City since 9/11. Now a fugitive from the law, Alex races against time in her search for the truth, looking at others in her training class as possible suspects and betraying her closest friends and colleagues when necessary to identify the real culprit and prevent further acts of terror.
Structurally, the story arc resembles that of The Fugitive, in which an innocent individual accused of murder eludes the authorities to search for the real killer. Flashbacks tell Alex’s story and the stories of her fellow recruits at Quantico.
Casting a woman of Indian ethnicity as the star of a primetime drama is unusual for the networks, but TV has been more encompassing of minority talent than movies. Ms. Chopra parlayed her Miss World 2000 crown into a career an actress and singer. She had an extensive, successful career in Bollywood movies.
The 5-disc DVD set contains all 22 widescreen episodes of the show’s first season. Bonus features include audio commentary by Priyanka Chopra, bloopers, deleted scenes, and several making-of featurettes.