Droll, imaginative and one hell of a lot of fun, Troll Hunter is a Norwegian adventure romp in the guise of a documentary being shot by film students who learn the bizarre truth behind ancient myths and quickly end up in over their heads.

Smartly utilizing the “found footage” format of The Blair Witch Project,Cloverfield and the various Paranormal Activity chillers, writer-director André Øvredal drops us in the middle of his group of fictional filmmakers as they learn that the mysterious poacher they’ve been following is living a secret life right out of The X-Files.

The herky-jerky vérité camerawork effectively keeps things moving while teasing the audience with corner-of-your-eye glimpses of the film’s various creatures. All those preposterously named monsters are based on Scandinavian lore – including a big nasty who lurks under a bridge – and the ones we get a good look at are gnarly nightmare versions of the bulbous-nosed figures familiar from fairy tale illustration.

The CGI is, if not dazzling, more than adequate for the stark faux-documentary presentation, and there are even a few genuinely eye-popping moments. The cast is uniformly good; best of all is comedian Otto Jespersen as the hunter – a dryly humorous and immensely charismatic performance that keeps the human factor front and center, which is just where it belongs in this unique and quirky little entertainment.

December 7, 2011 · Posted in DVD  

Classic film buffs with a yen for building up their home libraries should appreciate this crop of August blogs devoted to movies on dvd:

Writing on the Turner Classic Movies site, film writer Glenn Erickson provides a critical overview of Akira Kurosawa’s earliest directorial efforts in an absorbing article commemorating their release on a new four-disc collection from Eclipse.

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August 25, 2010 · Posted in DVD, Legends  

So-called purists howled like mastiffs on the moors when director Guy Richie’s high-octane Sherlock Holmes hit the big screen – too violent, they said, too much action and too little cozy armchair detection – but those deerstalker-worshiping fanboys should just lower their pinkies and relax. This is one of the most entertaining and, yes, most authentic film versions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved sleuth in years.

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April 11, 2010 · Posted in DVD  

A few entertaining and absorbing links for filmlovers as we near the end of our summer vacation:

mothraCourtesy of Turner Classic Movies, Glenn Erickson provides a review and plenty of commentary on the new DVD set, Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection, featuring a trio of classic Japanese adventure fantasies that were once staples of American late-night TV.
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September 6, 2009 · Posted in DVD, Legends  

ElsewhereThe odds are good that you’ve never heard of Elsewhere. A thriller without gore, a teen drama without sex, a movie without any name stars, it’s notably lacking in all the exploitation sizzle that usually propels films of this type into public awareness.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a bad movie.

Though it begins with all the tell-tale signs of a standard-issue slasher flick, this first-time feature by writer/director Nathan Hope is actually an old-fashioned B mystery in modern dress. Most of Hope’s previous directorial experience was on series TV, and Elsewhere itself frequently has the feel of a made-for-the-tube drama both in its pacing and in its seeming adherence to broadcast-level standards in language and violence. (It’s actually rated R, but one would be hard-pressed to remember why after screening it.)

Anna Kendrick (Twilight) stars as Sarah, a star pupil and athlete in her smalltown high school. Her best friend is Jillian (Tania Raymonde, Lost), a snarky troublemaker who lives to push the envelope wherever she goes. Together they dream of ditching their dead-end jobs and hitting the road out of safe but stultifying Goshen, Indiana.

It develops that Jillian has done more than dream; she’s been reaching out online to strange men in hopes of finding a savior, a friend, a sugar daddy, anybody who’ll take her away from Goshen. Soon after Sarah finds out about this, Jillian disappears…and Sarah begins to fear that, rather than having made her escape, Jillian has gotten herself into serious trouble.

The local police and other adults can’t be bothered; Jillian, to them, is just smartmouthed trailer trash and an obvious runaway. With nowhere else to turn, Sarah reluctantly slips into the role of amateur detective, picking up a sidekick in a young computer geek (Chuck Carter) who carries a clumsily concealed torch for her. They discover that Jillian isn’t the first local girl to disappear under similar circumstances, and eventually find themselves tracking a possible serial killer.

Performances among the supporting cast are professional if not terribly Elsewhere2notable, though there are flashes of unexpected depth from a pair of actresses cast in otherwise stock “crazy lady” roles. The young leads register most strongly, Carter adding a winsome note to his cliched nerd role and Kendrick managing to hold center stage almost in spite of her character’s unrelenting wholesomeness. Raymonde’s Jillian is written as an off-the-rack bad girl and she frequently seems to be doing little more than posing and striking the expected attitudes – but though she vanishes from the story early on, hers remains the film’s most memorable performance.

The final product is an uneven mixture of the usual suspects and occasional moments of surprising character revelation, a sort of updated Nancy Drew if Nancy’s best chum hailed from a trailer park and dropped F-bombs for childish shock effect. Those looking for the visceral shocks of, say, Hostel, won’t find much to their liking here. But viewers in search of the kind of old-school whodunnit that you rarely find anywhere outside Turner Classic Movies these days might want to give this one a try.

(DVD extras: Audio commentary, “The Road to Elsewhere” Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Photo Gallery)

TheHungerThe cult favorite TV series The Hunger was a horror anthology that debuted on Showtime in 1997. Terence Stamp was host of the first season’s episodes, replaced by David Bowie for the second and final season. A number of horror fans – the type who have been known to grasp at straws in order to make the most tenuous connections – tend to prefer the Bowie episodes simply because he starred in a 1983 vampire film which shares a title and absolutely nothing else with this series. The truth is, however, that each season was just as good and bad as the other, and Stamp’s brittle decadence was ideal for introducing these offbeat little erotic horrors.

The complete first season has been released for home viewing in a four-disk set. Both the Blu-Ray and standard DVD sets are sharp presentations, offering little in the way of extras but plenty of entertainment for lovers of mean and dirty little fright tales.

Like a number of other pay-cable exploitation series, this one is less interested in cerebral fright than in finding ways to get its cast members to peel out of their clothes and fall into bed with each other. Classier than The Hitchhiker, edgier than Tales from the Crypt and less self-consciously cute than Perversions of Science, the Hunger episodes are notable for their arty photography and production design. At times the overall effect holds the same lurid fascination as a Eurotrash skin flick, but in the best episodes the sex and spookiness manage to combine into a truly creepy experience.

Most of the performers are less than household names, but you never know TerenceStampwhen a familiar face – some on their way up the ladder, others moving decidedly in the other direction – will make an appearance. One of the most memorable installments of the first season stars Karen Black, Lena Headey and a smoldering young Daniel Craig. Others are considerably less captivating, amounting to little more than shaggy dog stories with simulated sex and a few latex appliances…but the gems among the collection will likely make this set worth the time of dyed-in-the-wool horror fans.

(DVD Extras: “The Hunger Inside” – a behind-the-scenes look at Season 2 hosted by David Bowie)

August 1, 2009 · Posted in DVD  



For a movie that starts out all but begging you to slap it, Management slowly evolves into one of the rarest of all romantic comedies: one with a reason to exist.

That’s mostly due to the efforts of Steve Zahn, who takes the opportunity of transforming his customary lovable schlub persona into an unconventional but surprisingly sympathetic leading man.

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June 23, 2009 · Posted in DVD  



Valentino: The Last Emperor is not your off-the-rack documentary.

So many documentaries in recent years have been devoted to statements about how we’re all doomed, ripped off and essentially bound for hell in a handbasket, that director Matt Tyrnauer’s portrait of a fading legend of haute couture is a refreshing and frequently entertaining change of pace.

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June 4, 2009 · Posted in DVD  



Charming, bittersweet and surprisingly affecting, Sugar is one of those films that turns out in the final reel to be not the movie you expected, but one that’s far richer and more rewarding.

Algenis Perez Soto stars as Miguel Santos, aka “Sugar,” a young man in the Dominican Republic who dreams of supporting his widowed mother by making it big in American major league baseball. Like many young men on that island nation, it’s an aspiration to which he’s been groomed for most of his short life, and his days are spent at a live-in training facility where he hones his skills and hopes to catch the eye of a talent scout from the U.S.

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May 28, 2009 · Posted in DVD  



Crossing Over

The drama Crossing Over is a great Melting Pot of a movie, populated by characters and stories that seem to have immigrated from everywhere – here a brooding character study, there a soap opera, in this corner a study of social injustice and even, from out of left field, an unexpected murder mystery.

Harrison Ford stars as Max Brogan, an immigration officer who takes flack from his coworkers for caring too much about the illegals he rounds up in the course of his job. Stung by criticism once too often, he turns his back on a young woman (Alice Braga) who’s terrified that her deportation will result in her little boy ending up on the street.

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May 7, 2009 · Posted in DVD  



Gangster movies, even those that romanticize their ugly subjects, have traditionally kept viewers at arm’s length, creating a safety zone across which we’ve been allowed to observe the actions of murderous Godfathers and Scarfaces at no more personal cost than spectators at a football game.

With Gomorrah there’s no such comfort zone. In relating his seductively matter-of-fact portrait of organized crime in modern-day Naples, director Matteo Garrone makes you a fly on the wall in a corner of hell.

Based on a nonfiction book by Roberto Saviano, the movie focuses on a handful of parallel stories revolving around a real-life criminal organization called the Camorra. As the various plotlines weave back and forth, we observe how the syndicate brutally controls virtually all aspects of life in their region, from gunrunning, numbers and other obvious criminal enterprises to supposedly legitimate businesses like waste disposal and the garment business.

There’s clearly money being made hand over fist here, but hardly anyone seems to enjoy it. Lives are blighted and more than a few are snuffed out, 2008_gomorrah_006not so much for profit but simply to maintain power. Acts of kindness that don’t benefit the Camorra must be carried out covertly, quiet little rebellions that could cost the benefactors dearly. Young people aspire to join the ranks because there’s nowhere else to go but a different circle of hell.

Much of the story revolves around a neighborhood that looks more like a crumbling bunker than a space designed for normal human habitation. Small wonder, in this suffocating environment, that a young boy eagerly opts to undergo a brutal initiation rite in order to become an errand boy for criminals; even the chance of rising through the ranks of amoral scum offers more hope than the bleak and aimless life that he’s been living.

Perhaps the most memorable plotline involves two aimless teenage boys (Ciro Petrone and Marco Macor) who pit themselves against the local bosses. Typically clueless and testosterone-driven young men, they’re obsessed with the image of Al Pacino’s Scarface and determined to become the new lords of the underworld.

There are two things they don’t know – 1) they are a pair of exceedingly dumb yahoos who can’t see that their survival to date has been a matter of luck and not skill; and 2) the real-life underworld is far more ruthless and deadly than anything Hollywood can cobble up as entertainment. Having made off with a gangster’s cache of automatic weapons, they celebrate by prancing along the beach in their underwear and shooting up the landscape indiscriminately. It’s an emblematic scene, arguably the film’s central moment, illustrating the pointlessness of life as lived under the Camorra’s domination. It’s also an ironic foreshadowing of the education they’ll ultimately receive when the real-life Scarfaces of Naples tire of their loose-cannon antics.

Though the film is punctuated by quick flashes of violence throughout, there’s no attempt to turn its determinedly realist approach into the stuff of a standard thriller. What makes Gomorrah stand out is its expertly-rendered picture of how dreary and sordid life can be when lived under the thumb of a remorseless criminal class – and our horrified fascination at the fact that all of these sad and ugly scenes are based on events taking place in the real world, even as we watch the film unspool.


Rating: Unrated Running Time: 137 minutes

April 20, 2009 · Posted in DVD  

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