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Blu-ray Reviews for November 7, 2017

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: the haunted house thriller Darkness Rising; the ultimate and true-story tale of family dysfunction The Glass Castle; Antonio Banderas’ rock ‘n’ roll action-comedy Gun Shy; John Landis’ underrated Into the Night; the brutal Australian horror/thriller Killing Ground; the gothic murder mystery  The Limehouse Golem; the abysmal Fast & Furiuous wanna-be Overdrive; and Twilight Time’s limited edition release of Walter Hill’s western Wild Bill.


Distributor: IFC Midnight/Shout! Factory

They came in search of her past. Pray it lets them escape. A house’s horrifying secrets are resurrected in the blood-drenched nightmare, Darkness Rising. For years, Madison (Tara Holt) has been tormented by her memories of a traumatic incident: the murder of her younger sister at the hands of their own mother. Joined by her fiancé (Bryce Johnson, Willow Creek) and cousin (Katrina Law, Arrow, Spartacus: War of the Damned), Madison returns to her childhood home just before it’s slated to be demolished. Seeking closure, the trio instead find themselves pursued by the same malevolent, supernatural presence that drove Madison’s mother to unthinkable violence!

Make a haunted house movie and I’m there. I can’t help it. Straight horror, horror/comedy; traditional or found footage. If it’s got ghosts, it’s got me. Put on that bed sheet, poke some holes, and scream at me. That’s all I want, and because of this I can be pretty forgiving. But the worst thing you can do — even worse than making a bad horror film — is making a boring one.

And that’s what Darkness Rising is: boring. And bland.

Even if it existed in a barren landscape void of any films about ghosts or the paranormal, Darkness Rising would still be pretty uninspired, but it’s kind of a shame that James Wan had to come along and reinvigorate the haunted house subgenre with his Insidious and The Conjuring series — films that weren’t just well made but legitimately frightening. Other lesser known filmmakers have followed in his footsteps: Mike Flanagan’s Oculus and Ouija: Origin of Evil, and André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe are two examples of many films made by filmmakers who get and respect the genre. It’s been a good era for the ghost, and as such, when a minor movement finds prominence in the horror genre, other filmmakers are eager to throw down their hand and ride those coattails.

That can only explain why Darkness Rising is now a thing.

Darkness Rising is every haunted house movie, from the creepy-eyed demons to the fantastical events that prevent our (extremely irritating) characters from leaving that stupid house. The only positive to come out of this mess is a small appearance by Ted Raimi, who even in a very small part manages to show off some decent dramatic chops, doing much of the heavy lifting with his craggy face and soulful eyes. I’m serious! Good for you, Ted Raimi!

IFC Midnight has had a good run lately with its ghost-laden acquisitions: the aforementioned Autopsy of Jane Doe, A Dark Song, and The Devil’s Candy, etc. Darkness Rising doesn’t rank in comparison and is best forgotten — and it absolutely will be before the credits even roll.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Darkness Rising is a pretty dark film — not in content but in the actual look. Dark and dim productions don’t often produce great high-def images because much of the potential for detail becomes obscured. Darkness Rising is no different. It’s not by any means an unattractive image, but in many dark scenes there’s almost a gray pallor draped over everything that looks more like manufactured post-production darkness than actual darkness. Audio is pretty excellent, however. Haunted houses are probably pretty fun soundscapes to create — lots of creaky floors, slamming doors, footsteps, the usual ethereal disembodied voice, etc.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

None.


Distributor: Lionsgate

Chronicling the adventures of an eccentric, resilient and tight-knit family, The Glass Castle is a remarkable story of unconditional love. Brie Larson brings Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir to life as a young woman who, influenced by the joyfully wild nature of her deeply dysfunctional father (Woody Harrelson), found the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

At this point, the strained parent/child relationship should be a subgenre unto itself. It’s anchored the drama genre for a while now, resulting in some truly touching films, utterly manipulative ones, and some that rank somewhere on the spectrum between those.

The Glass Castle exists somewhere in this no man’s land.

On paper, it sounds like a home run: pit the dysfunctional Woody Harrelson against the combative but damaged Brie Larson, sit back, and watch them have at it. And for a good portion, that’s what The Glass Castle is. Harrelson, especially, is absolutely fantastic as the troubled, alcoholic, hard-headed, and fiercely free-thinking Rex Walls. Even as you sit down to watch, already knowing he’s an extremely troubled individual, and even as you see his questionable parenting techniques, you root for him. You want him to overcome the hurdles that are inevitably coming his way, even when you know he’s the absolute cause of them. And that’s because of Harrelson’s affability in the role. He’s the absolute best part of The Glass Castle and maintains its backbone.

As for Larson, who plays middle daughter Jeanette (and, subsequently, the author of the memoir that inspired this film), she’s the product of a childhood in which she believes she wasn’t properly cared for. She’s got the scars — figuratively and literally — to prove it, and even though she’s fully justified in maintaining this belief, her character still comes across as a shrew. It’s not exactly her fault, but much of the present has her reeling from her father, avoiding having to talk about him with strangers, ignoring him on the city streets as she passes him in a taxi. Much of her adult life is focused on her being a product of her wacky but loving parents without giving her room to breathe in any other capacity.

During its flashback sequences, The Glass Castle is at its most interesting, and seeing Harrelson father his young kids is equally touching and alarming. (The two young actresses who also play different eras of Jeanette, Chandler Head and Ella Anderson, are stunning.) But as the film switches back to the present, you can feel the air leave the room as you realize you’re going to be stuck with an adult Jeanette in her sterile New York City apartment still dealing with her father issues. These scenes rely less on Harrelson’s zany father, or on the younger iterations of her character and their childlike desire to only love their father and be loved by him, and as such, don’t feel nearly as interesting.

Fans of Harrelson should absolutely check out The Glass Castle; his performance handily carries the entire thing, with a slightly underused Naomi Watts making a strong counterpart. Even if this adaptation is fully loyal to both the memoir and real life, The Glass Castle feels too familiar and hits too many of the same beats, neutralizing some of its power.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Glass Castle is beautifully shot, and as the film details a family of squatters, it takes place in many different environments, many of which are exteriors. One sequence in particular, set at night in the desert and lit by a campfire, looks fantastic. All of this comes together and presents a very attractive high-def image. Audio is a little less showy, with a quiet musical score and indie-country soundtrack selections, but dialogue presents without issue.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • 9 Deleted Scenes
  • The Glass Castle: Memoir to Movie
  • A Conversation with Jeannette Walls
  • Making of “Summer Storm” by Joel P West
  • Scoring The Glass Castle


Distributor: Lionsgate

When vacationing in Chile, an aging and pampered rock star’s (Antonio Banderas) supermodel wife is suddenly kidnapped by renegades. Unable to navigate more than ordering a sandwich from room service, now he must take to the backstreets of Santiago in this hilarious caper that is as entertaining and it is hair-raising.

With Antonio Banderas enjoying a minor action resurgence following his manic performance as Galgo in the otherwise pretty terrible Expendables 3, I had high (but realistic) hopes for Gun Shy. Banderas had already previously excelled in the Die Hard-inspired action flick Security (which I highly recommend — it’s currently streaming on Netflix) and he’s got another coming soon called Acts of Vengeance under the director tutelage of Isaac Florentine (interview with him here) that looks quite promising. That Gun Shy is also directed by Simon West, of Con Air fame, not to mention the best installment of The Expendables series, The Expendables 2, should have ensured at least an entertaining action flick, “good” notwithstanding. Instead, Gun Shy is pretty lame, with an unfocused and meandering plot that moves from point A to point B with little thought on how it’s getting there, so long as it does.

Absolute credit goes to screenwriters Toby Davies and Mark Haskell Smith for concocting a unique premise and leaning more on the comedy aspect than having a full-blown action experience, but that’s all the praise they really deserve. The screenplay takes this unique premise and squanders it on half-baked humor, with far too much time spent on the kidnapping side of the equation (meaning, Turk’s supermodel wife played by Olga Kurylenko). The problem with this is twofold: one, her character isn’t interesting, nor are the kidnappers who have her, and two: the more time we spend with her/them, the less time we’re spending with Banderas, who is quite literally the only reason to watch this mess. Banderas, as he was in Security and Black Butterfly, entirely commits himself to the premise and his performance; he’s honestly one of the strongest performers of someone who thrives in this genre and he absolutely deserves to be in more high-profile films. Without Banderas, Gun Shy would be one of the most lifeless action-comedies you’ve ever seen. With him, Gun Shy is still petty terrible, but he’s an absolute joy to watch. In fact, he hasn’t been this fun since Desperado. Sadly, there’s no other reason to do this to yourself.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Gun Shy presents a pretty standard video and audio presentation. Everything looks good, mind you, and fine clarity and detail are on display, but perhaps in the hands of a more skilled director, the different environments in which Gun Shy takes place could have come off a bit more interesting. Audio fares a bit better, highlighting a handful of admittedly amusing hard rock songs that made Turk’s band, Metal Assassin, infamous, with one of these songs being called “Teenage Ass Patrol.”

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “The Rock Star, the Pirate, and the Cast of Gun Shy” Featurette
  • “Just Who I Can Be” Music Montage


Distributor: Shout! Factory

From John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), comes the perilous – and hilarious — tale of Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park), an insomniac who discovers that his wife has been having an affair. Unhappily married, unsatisfyingly employed and unsurprisingly depressed, aerospace engineer and insomniac Ed Okin needs to get away. But getting away proves to be no easy feat when Ed drives to the airport and a gorgeous smuggler, Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), leaps his car, pursued by four murderous killers! Chased across Los Angeles, Ed and Diana will encounter an endless array of intriguing nocturnal characters (played by a bevy of famous directors) and a charming English hitman (David Bowie). But will they escape their relentless pursuers? The only way to find out is by diving Into The Night!

John Landis comedies are like no other. If you’ve ever seen an interview with him, he was likely exuberant, enthusiastic, energetic, and entirely happy to be there. He is absolutely the kind of director who presents his comedies as something he’d be likely to go see, and laugh uproariously at, in theaters. Even though he’s tackled many different concepts throughout his career, the films always carried that goofy, fun, slightly outdated vaudevillian/slapstick humor. John Landis comedies are detectable by this.

Following on the heels of Warner Archives’ release of Innocent Blood last month, Shout! Factory releases another unheralded gem in Landis’ long-running career, and like Innocent Blood, Into the Night is an underrated delight. Landis’ take on a noirish screwball comedy, Into the Night is It Happened One Night as directed by…well, John Landis. For once, Goldblum plays the straight man — perhaps the straightest man of his career; instead of going for quirky and campy, he’s merely the reactor. As the events surrounding him and Diana (Pfeiffer) boom out of control, his performance keeps the nutso aspects grounded and  the danger feeling real (well, as real as it can be considering Landis plays one of the sometimes pantsless “murderous killers” who never says a word, but who loves smashing nice looking shit). Pfeiffer excels as the femme fatale of sorts — the dame who gets Goldblum’s Ed Okin into all this trouble in the first place.

And like Landis’ other films (at least the horror), there’s a definite hard edge in the form of sudden graphic violence married in with the comedy, giving the whole thing an off kilter and unique tone.

For a man who has directed some bonafide classics like The Blues Brothers, Animal House, and An American Werewolf, it was inevitable that some of his titles fall by the wayside. Into the Night is one of them. Granted, it’s not nearly as magical or special as those other titles, but it’s still absolutely worthy of praise, and for some collectors, worthy of a first-time evaluation. Plus David Cronenberg has a cameo — what more could you want?

PICTURE & SOUND:

Shout! touts a “new restored master” for this release. What the source was for the master they use isn’t known, but if I’m being honest, the words “new” and “restored” seem to promise something that this video presentation doesn’t deliver. Though the transfer is stable and pretty free of any major damage, it’s not the kind of hi-def presentation we’ve come to expect from Shout! or really any distributor this late in the Blu-ray game. Audio is a hair better, but doesn’t offer a very immersive experience. Dialogue is fine, as is Landis’ typically eclectic but always perfectly curated soundtrack selections, with some of the film’s bigger moments coming alive.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The new interview with John Landis is pretty great, but then again, every interview with Landis is pretty great. He talks at length about the film, including how Goldblum and Pfeiffer weren’t his first choices for either role. One anecdote involves him meeting with Jack Nicholson about the Ed Okin role recently after having seen The Shining, and in conditions straight out of the Overlook Hotel, and it’s pretty hysterical.

The new interview with Jeff Goldbum sees the actor being very philosophical, a little bit rambly, but typically Goldblum. He talks about his original approach to his character and how that approach would have differed had he been playing it thirty years later. He seems humbled to have been part of a film so cult-favored during the early part of his career.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW Restored Master
  • NEW John Landis: “Back Into The Night”
  • NEW Jeff Goldblum: “Requiem For An Insomniac”
  • Award-Winning Documentary B.B. King Into The Night
  • Original Theatrical Trailer


Distributor: IFC Midnight/Shout! Factory

An unassuming couple’s vacation becomes a desperate fight for survival in the ultra-raw, unhinged thrill ride Killing Ground. In need of a break from the pressures of city life, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) head to a remote beach for a romantic weekend camping trip. When they stumble upon an abandoned campsite, they’re concerned. When they discover a lone, traumatized child nearby, they’re scared. And when they encounter two sadistic sociopaths (Aaron Glenane, Aaron Pederson), they’re in for one hell of a getaway. Weaving with unexpected twists and turns, Killing Ground delivers both nerve-shredding suspense and gut-punching realism.

Australian horror doesn’t hold back — the Wolf Creek series can attest to that — and Killing Ground is no different. Playing out almost like Australia’s version of Last House on the Left, Killing Ground is brutal, bleak, and unrelenting. Even in Wes Craven’s sometimes reviled film, which is infamous for its very long and grim rape sequence, scenes of bumbling cops and backwoods toothless chicken women were weaved throughout to lessen at least some of the hopeless tone.

Killing Ground isn’t interested in this whatsoever. Instead, it wants to wear down its audience to such a degree that we begin hoping our agonized characters are put out of their misery just so their pain and degradation can finally cease.

Director Damien Power wrenches a lot of angst by utilizing a series of long takes — one involving a very young character in the far back of an unbroken tracking shot — as someone in the foreground unknowingly walks further and further away from this person in need. It’s just one heartbreaking moment in a film filled with ugly ones — but it’s not the only one, nor is it the most wrenching.

Killing Ground is emotionally taxing, and I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to watch it more than once, but for what it sets out to do, it is admittedly effective. It’s well made, well acted, and by its ending, contemplative. If you’re a fan of extreme (but mainstream) horror, this is one of the better titles you could hope for. For everyone else, maybe have a drink before watching it.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The ugliness is pretty in this high-def presentation. Nearly everything takes place in the  Australian wilderness, with only a handful of scenes set in dingy, indoor spaces. Clarity is very good with fine detail on display. The audio presentation is a little less showy — there’s less emphasis on music here, with scenes of brutality playing out with little to no accompaniment. Dialogue, thick accents aside, is prominent and mostly understandable.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

None.


Distributor: RLJ Entertainment

The city of London is gripped with fear as a serial killer – dubbed The Limehouse Golem – is on the loose and leaving cryptic messages written in his victim’s blood.  With few leads and increasing public pressure, Scotland Yard assigns the case to Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) – a seasoned detective with a troubled past and a sneaking suspicion he’s being set up to fail.  Faced with a long list of suspects, including music hall star Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), Kildare must get help from a witness who has legal troubles of her own (Olivia Cooke), so he can stop the murders and bring the killer to justice.

As the machinations of the plot slowly come together, and then deviate into strange, unexpected directions, it becomes more and more clear that The Limehouse Golem isn’t your typical murder mystery. Based on the novel by Peter Ackroyd, The Limehouse Golem packs an awful lot into its running time, blending fact with fiction, and taking its inspirations from a pretty wide variety of real life murderous crimes. As for a time period, all we know is it takes place somewhere in the 1870s, years before Jack the Ripper would terrorize Whitechapel, London, even if the murders being committed bare the same viciousness and dramatic depictions of the crime bare the same infamous Jack the Ripper silhouette. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Cree is on trial for the poisoning her husband, and between her curly mop-top hair and her high-necked extravagant dresses, she bares an uncanny resemblance to another Elizabeth — Lizzie Borden — the extremely suspected but never convicted murderer from 1800s Massachusetts.

Caught in this murder investigation are very real people from London’s past: entertainer Dan Leno, novelist George Gissing, and even Karl Marx. And in the middle of this are love triangles, sexual domination, depictions of gender identity, conversations of feminism vs. femininity, and much more. Screenwriter Jane Goldman packs as much of the novel in her screenplay as she can in an effort to muddy the waters and conceal any obvious signs as to the killer’s identity, but the eventual reveal doesn’t pack any particular surprise. Still, it’s an engaging watch, anchored by a series of confident performances. Bill Nighy (replacing an ailing Alan Rickman) excels in an understated role as Inspector Kildare, with Olivia Cookie playing the beleaguered Lizzy Cree as someone both very strong and very weak. Douglas Booth plays cross-dressing entertainer Dan Leno but also serves as somewhat of a narrator for the film itself. Interestingly, he seems to be borrowing Michael Caine’s frog-voiced cockney accent, and if you know your film history, and know that one of Caine’s most well known roles is that of the cross-dressing murderer in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, it makes Booth’s presentation even more cleverly rendered. (Or maybe I’m just reaching.)

The Limehouse Golem is gorgeously directed by Juan Carlos Medina, and the green screen skylines of 1800s London create a dreamy environment in which a real nightmare is walking the streets and mutilating the innocent. In addition, the costumes and the production design are extremely authentic; the attention paid to details like these help to transport the audience directly into this world, even if it’s one where not everyone makes it out alive.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The video presentation on hand is excellent, offering a truly stunning high-def image. As previously mentioned, The Limehouse Golem  is beautifully executed, featuring constant beautiful production design with lots of detail. Complementing all this is the lush, gothic musical score by Johan Söderqvist. That cockney accent can be a little tough to decipher at times, but otherwise the dialogue is clearly and prominently presented.    

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
    • The Cast
    • Locations
    • The Period Look


Distributor: Paramount

Scott Eastwood (The Fate of the Furious) and Freddie Thorp (To Dream) star as legendary car thieves who are caught in the act of stealing from notorious crime boss Jacomo Morier.  In order to win back their freedom they’re put to the ultimate test – the theft of a priceless car from Morier’s sworn enemy.  While putting together a crew to pull off the daring heist they’re joined by two beautiful women (Ana de Armas & Gaia Weiss) who are more dangerous than they look.  The team has one week to put the plan in motion, steal the car, and make their escape or lose everything, including their lives.

Vroom.

Vroooooom.

VROOOOOOOOOM!

VROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!

Absolutely terrible.

PICTURE & SOUND:

If you liked this movie for some reason, you’ll be very happy. Watching Scott Eastwood act like Clint Eastwood and the typically chaotic car crash sounds married to lower tier party music couldn’t look and sound better.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Three Behind the Scenes Featurettes

Distributor: Twilight Time (limited to 3,000 copies)

The sublime writer-director Walter Hill’s Wild Bill (1995) focuses on the last days of mythic gunfighter, Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Bridges), consorting in Deadwood with Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin), observed by a longtime friend (John Hurt), and haunted by the ghosts of his past, from an old flame (Diane Lane) to a young man (David Arquette) who announces his intention to kill Bill.

Director Walter Hill once lamented that he hadn’t made nearly as many westerns in his career as he’d hoped, and this is coming from someone who’s made an awful lot of them. Even when he wasn’t making an out-and-out western (you know: the 1800s time period, the dusty and unpaved roads, the horses and ten gallon hats), he was still letting the DNA of the western infuse his more modern productions. The Warriors and Southern Comfort are two prime examples, along with the urban-oriented Trespass, which literally saw two groups of men engaging in shootouts over buried treasure. And then there was Streets of Fire, about a hired gunman rescuing a kidnapped rock ‘n roll singer from Willem Defoe’s street gang. Following The Long Riders and the modernized Extreme Prejudice, Hill shot Wild Bill in 1995 and it remains a minor footnote both for a director and the western genre.

Parts of Wild Bill feel like a perfect companion piece to the more well known and celebrated western Tombstone, which, like Wild Bill, was superbly casted and made with a certain emphasis on the idea of legend. But while Tombstone was linear and traditionally told, Wild Bill’s first act subsists on a series of vignettes that solidify Wild Bill Hickok’s reputation as a total bad ass. None of them have much to do with the main plot, but serve more as little character pieces that establish the rationale behind why Hickok’s legend grew.

Jeff Bridges as the titular lawman is stellar to watch and he absolutely carries the film, although Wild Bill isn’t exactly a slouch in that department: John Hurt narrates and appears as Charlie Prince, Bill’s longtime friend and partner in drinking while Ellen Barkin rip-roars as Calamity Jane. The only weak part of the cast is David Arquette as Jack McCall, Wild Bill’s would-be assassin. In his role, Arquette is mousy and small with pipsqueak mannerisms; if his character was supposed to be irritating, credit goes to Hill for the perfect casting. Otherwise, Arquette detracts from an otherwise solid ensemble, which includes a kind of useless role for Christina Applegate as a prostitute named Lurline, who only exists to provide Arquette’s McCall with a sounding board so the audience can delve more deeply into his character.

Where Wild Bill falters is its sense of pacing, which suffers the most during Hill’s black and white flashback sequences detailing the relationship between Hickok and Susannah (Diane Lane). These sequences go on for a bit too long each time, and the blown out footage becomes overbearing after a while.

Wild Bill has enough on display to warrant a first-time watch, with much of this being due to Bridge’s typically great performance, the excellent supporting cast, and Hill’s rough-and-tumble bar room brawl scenes. If you can stick with the film’s slower moments, Wild Bill offers enough to be a respectable addition to the western genre.

PICTURE & SOUND:

As usual, Twilight Time has done solid work in presenting a faithful, clean, and stable high-def image. Wild Bill is attractively shot and beautifully lit. For once, the dimmer sequences inside bars or bathhouses is when Wild Bill looks the most presentable. Clarity is very fine, offering great detail. (The black and white flashback sequences, which may have been shot in 16mm — don’t quote me on that, though — don’t survive the leap to high def as much, with some edges looking slightly pixelated.) Conversely, the very bright shootout sequence between Bridges and Bruce Dern opens up the screen (and world) and looks very dynamic. The musical score by Van Dyke Parks is a bit harder than you’d expect for a period western, but it matches Hill’s penchant for staging fun bar room brawls and shootouts. Dialogue is cleanly presented without issue.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Isolated Score Track Featuring Music by Composer Van Dyke Parks
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

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J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.