Pick Of The Week: New
Seven Psychopaths (Sony)
Martin McDonagh’s hugely entertaining follow-up to In Bruges won the Audience Award for the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness section, but it had a mysteriously difficult time gaining traction in general release. (So did In Bruges, for that matter.) A notably lame marketing campaign didn’t help matters, but perhaps Seven Psychopaths will win a new audience on video, where it’s relentlessly clever meta-comedy can have more time to be appreciated. Of particular value here is Sam Rockwell’s brilliant performance as the deranged friend of a screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who’s trying to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths, but finds real life intervening on (and informing) his material. The special features on the disc are not so special: A smattering of tiny featurettes, no longer than two-and-and-half minutes apiece, with a couple of interviews and a trailer called “Seven Psychocats” where felines stand in for the lead characters.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
The Duellists (Shout! Factory)
Before the one-two punch of 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott cut his teeth on 1977’s superb, overlooked debut feature The Duellists, which showed his facility for balancing action and thought-provoking ideas. Based on Joseph Conrad’s story “The Duel,” the film follows two officers in Napoleon’s army, played by Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine, who gets in a series of duels that recur, off and on, over a 30-year period. It’s a surreal story of justice and madness, done with the impeccable craftsmanship that Scott would display throughout his career. The Blu-ray includes separate commentary tracks with Scott and composer Howard Blake, a featurette with Scott and Kevin Reynolds, and a new interview with Carradine.
Don’t Break The Seal
Noobz (Big Air)
A raunchy, (nearly) straight-to-DVD video-game comedy starring Jason Mewes and featuring Casper Van Dien as himself? What could possibly go wrong? A ghastly throwback to gaming movies like The Wizard—and the spate of bawdy late-night-cable comedies with crass jokes and modest T&A (though nothing explicit here for some reason)—Noobz follows Mewes (who works as a clerk, naturally) and his three loser buddies to California, where they’ll compete together in the Cyberbowl Video Game Championship. Special features include interviews with Mewes and co-writer/director Blake Freeman and easy, one-click turn-off-ability.
Hotel Transylvania (Sony)
In an up-and-down year for animation, Hotel Transylvania was one of the few runaway hits (nearly $150 million domestic), but there’s no telling why its mild comedy about a “five-stake” resort run by Count Dracula struck such a chord. The A.V. Club’s Tasha Robinson appreciated its “visual dynamism,” but couldn’t get over the “wretched script.”
Paranormal Activity 4 (Paramount)
After ruling Halloween for three years straight, the Paranormal Activity series finally started its inevitable decline with Paranormal Activity 4, and for good reason: The minimalist tactics of its haunted house scares are still effective but predictable, and the witchy mythology surrounding Katie Featherston and friends has grown absurdly larded over so many sequels. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman—a.k.a. “the Catfish guys”—try to incorporate webcams to chilling effect, but there’s only so much they can do.
Cold Light Of Day (Summit)
Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver take turns napping their way through this generic, barely released thriller about an American businessman (Henry Cavill) whose latent spy skills are tested when his entire family—save for CIA operative Willis—is kidnapped while on vacation in Spain. The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin calls it “a cold, mercenary endeavor” that is “the antithesis of a labor of love.”
The Awakening (Universal)
Telling an upscale scare story in the vein of The Others, The Orphanage, and The Devil’s Backbone—albeit not as well as any of those—The Awakening takes place in 1921 England, a country still reeling from the twin devastations of World War I and the flu pandemic. A fine Rebecca Hall stars as a professional debunker of spiritualist hogwash who investigates the death of a student allegedly caused by the spirit of a murdered boy. She soon finds this phenomenon is hard to explain away.
Citadel (New Video Group)
Beginning in the suffocating mode of thrillers like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, the underappreciated horror gem Citadel stars Aneurin Barnard as an agoraphobic father who walls himself up in his apartment to keep his daughter safe from a spate of kidnappings. But circumstances require him to face his fears and summon the courage to act. The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray calls it “an inventive combination of tense realism and more over-the-top horror.”
Hello I Must Be Going (Oscilloscope)
Though she hasn’t been granted the career of her Heavenly Creatures partner, Kate Winslet, New Zealand-born Melanie Lynskey has grown into a tremendously versatile character actress. Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going offers Lynskey a rare and welcome lead role as a 35-year-old who gets divorced, sinks into depression, and moves back in with her mother (Blythe Danner).
30 For 30: Benji (ESPN)
Before he was gunned down the day before his senior season was to start in 1984, Ben “Benji” Wilson was the pride of Chicago, a high-school basketball prodigy who carried the hopes of many on his shoulders. This ESPN doc doesn’t dig too deep as a personal profile, but side issues like gang violence and tragic lapses in the health care system give the film some depth.