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Blu-ray Reviews for September 4, 2017

A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.


 Distributor: IFC/Shout Factory

Band Aid, the refreshingly raw, real, and hilarious feature debut from Zoe Lister-Jones, is the story of a couple, Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally), who can’t stop fighting. Advised by their therapist to try and work through their grievances unconventionally, they are reminded of their shared love of music. In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, they decide to turn all their fights into song, and with the help of their neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen), they start a band.

Did you know relationships are hard? If case you forgot, indie movies are constantly wanting to remind you of that. Between parent and child, or sibling to sibling, or domestic partners, personalities are constantly at odds, and in that latter case, it’s two disparate natures that go from triggering the spark of romance to being the thing with the potential to doom it.

Band Aid starts off like so many other films that explore similar territory: with a highlight on how something’s gone awry between two people, leading to bouts of anger, frustration, and unhappiness. But instead of he or she flinging open the door to find him/herself, usually through the arms of another person, Band Aid instead makes clear from the start that its two appealing young characters DO love each other, and they want to make it work — even seeking the help of a jaded marriage counselor. Once that fails (and she flees — the counselor, that is), the constantly bickering find a new means of therapy to massage their rocky relationship (severely damaged by a traumatic event that the film is purposely slow to reveal): music. And not just music by itself, but making it. Together. Struck by an inspiring notion to turn their most ridiculous fights (not doing the dishes, etc.) into song lyrics, the two embark on a musical project that soon becomes a trio when their sex-addict neighbor joins them as their drummer.

What sounds like the kind of typically schmaltzy and heavy-handed DNA that’s come to construct many post-Little Miss Sunshine indie films is actually handled consistently well by director Zoe Lister-Jones, keeping Band Aid — above all — consistently funny. Never feeling like a cheap or exploitative to people who normally eat up every film made under the “indie” banner (and who seem to think that “indie” is actually a genre unto itself), Band Aid will certainly appeal to those people, but also to those who enjoy a story about the human experience, the miseries in life at which we have no choice but to laugh, and why it is there are certain events in life that we simply can’t get over.

Band Aid is hysterical, but also touching, but also raw, but also deeply affecting and uncomfortable — in one of the film’s many “fight” scenes, Lister-Jones lets the camera roll, unbroken, as she engages with Pally in the film’s most uncomfortable fight, tears streaming down her face as she’s baring both her soul as well as her body, her goal being to utterly max out her character’s vulnerability. It’s extremely brave, and not commonly seen in film anymore — not just to let the camera roll as characters engage in a “real” and uncomfortable argument, but for one of them to do it without even the shield of personal comfort. It’s an audacious performance wrapped within an uncomfortable and crushing scene, and it shows that Lister-Jones packs a punch as both a director and a performer many did not expect.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Band Aid offers a standard but unremarkable high-def presentation, bringing with it solid colors, fine clarity, and stability. Audio-wise, however, Band Aid excels (as it should), boasting very crisp audio and some decent oomph during the musical numbers.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The supplements.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Music Video
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes

OVERALL:

Band Aid is often very funny, but it’s also masking a hidden pain that gives it a real emotional weight. It’s both hilarious and touching in that typical indie movie way (I believe a newish sub-genre for this kind of film has been dubbed “mumble core” – a term I absolutely despise), but never in a way that feels disingenuous.


Distributor: Shout! Factory

While Caroline Butler (Teri Garr, Tootsie) re-enters the workforce and becomes the rising star of her advertising agency, her newly unemployed husband Jack (Michael Keaton) finds himself a new job … as a stay-at-home dad! But if Jack thinks his old career in the automotive industry was tough, he has no idea what’s waiting for him at home: the ins and outs of dropping the kids off at school, soap operas, woobies, babies with chili, a clean-up on aisle seven and a vacuum cleaner named “Jaws.” Not to mention the seedy neighborhood drama! Inspired, in part, by writer John own life lessons as a clueless stay-at-home father, Mr. Mom is sure to have every parent slapping their foreheads with sympathy, as they slap their knees with laughter!

Throughout his career, John Hughes has explored the family dynamic – mostly the relationships between parents and kids. His most celebrated work, The Breakfast Club, chooses to focus entirely on the kid aspect, but which also involves the parents, who barely appear on-screen, as major influences on their kids’ lives and personalities. That theme of family is constant throughout his filmography, from the more endearing Pretty in Pink to the downright silly National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Mr. Mom was an early effort by Hughes and his first stab at a more serious minded (well, serious for him) look at gender role swapping, presenting a husband and father leaving the workforce and a wife and mother reentering it, passing off the role as primary caregiver and household caretaker to him. It’s a concept that’s become even more relevant now than when it was first introduced back in ’83, which saw a slowdown in the economy and many men losing their jobs, paving the way for women to go out and get one themselves. Michael Keaton excels as the titular mom, imbuing his character with an early prototype of the manic Keaton mannerisms we would come to worship in films like Beetlejuice and Clean & Sober. In his role he’s instantly likable, in the way that the actor has always been likable, playing (temporarily) a successful businessman who doesn’t possess an ounce of pompousness that character archetypes like his often do in Dickensian transformation stories, making his epiphany that he’s been a dick his whole life more fulfilling for the audience. Mr. Mom acknowledges that likable people lose their jobs, too, and the script is smart for taking this direction, as the audience sympathizes with Keaton from the first frame.

Meanwhile, it’s Teri Garr who goes back to work, but by comparison, plays more of the straight character. She’s not offered much opportunity to show off her comedic side (aside from the weird dream sequence); instead, she more ends up in situations that are off the wall rather than exhibiting any memorable bits. Performance wise, she’s just fine and equally likable, but much of the humor (and screen time) derives from Keaton.

Mr. Mom is approaching its 35th birthday, so while its theme of gender roles is still relevant, its ending (minor spoiler coming up) which sees Mom not cutting it in the workplace thanks to a misogynistic boss and returning to the homestead while Dad gets his old job back might seem downright offensive to the legion of internet social justice warriors. Despite that (and seriously – relax, people), Mr. Mom is a charming and otherwise inoffensive screwball comedy which mines a lot of laughs from Dad being so clueless at first in his new role before slowly transitioning to a “housewife” who becomes obsessed with soap operas and gossiping with the stay-at-home moms of the neighborhood. (Again, relax – it’s all in good fun.)

PICTURE & SOUND:

We can blame its age, but Mr. Mom’s appearance in high-def isn’t what one would call striking. Colors are fairly muted (not uncommon for this era), but the picture looks even more so than usual, coming off a little bit faded. Clarity is intermittently present, with grain also being present but never overwhelming. The picture, however, is very stable, exhibiting very few signs of telecine tremor. On the audio side, everything sounds just fine, exhibiting no instances of issues with sibilant dialogue.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

No one major comes back to discuss all things Mr. Mom on this new featurette (the only supplement on this release), but it still manages a half hour of entertaining content, collecting input from fair number of bit role actors (two of the “kids” now very grown up) and the producer. Of interest are the comments from the actors who played the two young boys under Keaton’s care, and the things they remarkably remember so many years later, and from such a young age.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • A Look Back At Mr. Mom with Producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Co-stars Ann Jillian, Miriam Flynn, Frederick Koehler and Taliesin Jaffe
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

OVERALL:

This isn’t one of Shout’s more packed releases, and PQ and AQ won’t knock your socks off, but what’s present here should provide a decent helping of entertainment for fans of the film, allowing them to finally throw out their snapcase full-screen DVDs.


Distributor: IFC Midnight/Shout! Factory

Grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) despairs over the tragic loss of her murdered son. Desperate to somehow make contact with the boy she has lost, Sophia believes her prayers are answered when she crosses paths with the reclusive Joseph (Steve Oram). An expert in the occult, Joseph reluctantly agrees to aid Sophia through a series of dark and forbidden rituals in order to bring her child back to the world of the living. Pushed to their physical and psychological breaking points, Sophia and Joseph make a disturbing descent into the most depraved corners of black magic.

At some point after 2002’s The Ring, ghosts made a spirited (haw!) return to cinema, regaining their stature as one of the world’s first on-screen horror villains. Whether it was the pillaging of J-horror creepy wet ghost girls, or remakes of much more high-profile Hollywood films (The Haunting, for example), those undead, wispy/willowy, ectoplasm hurling specters were intent on scaring the dickens out of audiences. (I used the word “dickens,” so you know I mean it.) Sometimes it was a parapsychologist searching for emotional retribution, sometimes it was a bunch of hapless kids seeking the truth, and sometimes it was just a person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hardly ever was it someone going out of their way; risking personal health, comfort, safety, and even pride; paying a ridiculous amount of money, and dedicating MONTHS of shut-in living not just to see a ghost but to conjure one using dark magic. But that’s what A Dark Song presents, taking the well-worn concept of a big creepy house and a one creepy ghost but reinventing the “how” in an eerie, disturbing, and icky way.

A Dark Song introduces itself as a slow-burn, Polanski, Repulsion-like thriller, taking its time establishing the rules and mood of this universe. And as the ghostliness begins to unfold, all the trials and tribulations our poor Sophia has endured weighs heavily on our minds, leaving us to wonder if what she’s experiencing is real, or if she’s finally cracked under the pressure. Relying very little on bloodletting (there’s really only a goblet-sized amount – literally) and more on tension and intensity, A Dark Song has a very specific way it wants to tell its story, and it’s intent on not scaring its audience using cheap means.

A Dark Song only falters in its familiarity – the ghostly figure passing by unseen in the far background, the footsteps in the house, the bad omens that present once the rituals have begun – but it handles this familiarity well, teasing them rather than leaning on them. And it builds to a nutso finale that takes inspiration from the Hellraiser series, Jacob’s Ladder, and even Michael Winner’s little seen oddity The Sentinel – your personal diet of horror consumption will determine how unnerving this sequence is.

PICTURE & SOUND:

A Dark Song presents a fairly solid high-def experience, more in terms of stability and clarity and the presentation of the environment in which the film takes place – a dim, bleak, dreary mansion in the middle of nowhere. Not much for color, although any sequence relying on candlelight in a dark room (there are lots of these) look very striking. Audio presentation is a hair better, making full use of ambience and ghostly sounds to unnerve the viewer. Dialogue (thick accents aside) receives top prominence and, for the most part, is easily understandable.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Interviews with director Liam Gavin, actors Steve Oram and Catherine Walker, and director of photography Cathal Watters
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Storyboards

OVERALL:

Those looking for Conjuring-type scares may not find much to grasp onto until the finale, which for most of these viewers may be too late. But for those with the patience to see it through, A Dark Song promises a new twist on an old classic and packs somewhat of a punch by its end.


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Written by

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.