Welcome to another week of Blu-ray and DVD releases, my physical media-loving cronies! As always, it’s an interesting mixture of old movies out on Blu-ray in fancy special editions and recent movies making their obligatory jaunt to the home market. It’s a fun mixture. This week specifically, the new releases are ones from January and February, and we all know how great those are, huh?
There’s nothing that baffles Hollywood types more than the unexpected R-rated comedy hit. They are those flicks that usually get a mid-range budget, usually have a cast of good comedic actors (but not household names), and are made by people who aren’t Judd Apatow. These are never expected to do very well, but sometimes they inexplicably do, and when they do, there’s a moment where everybody says “Uhh, okay…well, should we make a sequel?” Horrible Bosses is another recent example of this, an inexplicably successful foul-mouthed comedy that I guess warranted a sequel that was dumb and retread the same ground as before. That sequel did not do very well, and for good reason; it wasn’t good. But it’s not in isolation, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 exists and it is also stupid, despite some genuine chuckles.
Directed by Steve Pink and written by Josh Heald, both returning from the first movie, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is the kind of movie nobody really asked for, some people might be interested in, and everybody will forget almost immediately. It has funny moments, but it relies almost entirely on overplayed bits instead of actual humor. It has to be said, though, that the cast are some of the funniest people working today and they riff their way into making me laugh a few times. But, really, none of the characters are likable even if the actors are, so what exactly is it we’re rooting for here? That they succeed? I don’t want them to succeed.
So, as you can guess, I didn’t like this movie. It’s mostly just a bunch of who-gives-a-crap, though the actors, especially Clark Duke and Adam Scott, give really funny performances and there are some decent meta jokes that gave me a laugh. Still, when the most notable thing about your movie is its continued reliance on recycled ideas and puerile stupidity, it doesn’t make it destined for much else beyond a casual “Ha.”
It’s pretty rare for me to know as quickly that I hated a movie as I did with Strange Magic. It was within the first five minutes when the characters were on their third different reinterpreting of a radio hit that I said “Oh… oh no. There’s 93 more minutes of this.” And there was 93 more minutes of it. No matter how hard I tried, the time was never less than the printed running time. It wasn’t a mistake; it was actually that long. I suspect that if we removed the songs (and, yes George Lucas is loaded, but the music rights budget for this movie must have been astronomical), there’d be a half-hour short film in there. The script couldn’t have been more than 35 pages.
Time for critical due diligence. In a magical world of whatever, there’s a kingdom of fairies and elves and happy stuff right next to a kingdom in shadow ruled by The Bog King (Alan Cumming) that also has goblins and monsters. The creatures are all little, so trees are huge comparatively. You get it. On the border between the two lands grows a particular flower, which the Bog King constantly has cut down because the petals can be turned into a love potion, and he hates love. The fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to get married to the handsome and dashing Roland (Sam Palladio), who only wants to marry the naive princess for her kingdom, when the king (Alfred Molina) eventually isn’t king anymore. Marianne catches Roland making out with some other fairy on their wedding day, so she calls off the wedding and becomes jaded and sword-wielding.
Meanwhile, the elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) is in love with Marianne’s flirty younger sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) who dreams about boy fairies all day. After millions more songs, Roland, still trying to get into Marianne’s…royal chambers, convinces Sunny to go into the dark forest in order to get the trapped Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) to create a love potion for him to use on Dawn, and for Roland to use on Marianne. The Bog King has trapped the Sugar Plum Fairy because of a thing that happened which resulted in his hatred of love, even though his mother wants him to get married and be happy.
It was about this time in the movie when I realized I was actually still alive. I hadn’t died at all and was sitting in a room watching a movie with a bunch of other people. My inner monologue sounded a lot like this:
But I kept it pretty quiet and only expressed myself at each subsequent out-of-nowhere song that maybe pertains to love or whatever by throwing my head against the back of my seat. I may have dented both it and my head.
I’m a massive fan of Italian horror maestro, Mario Bava, with whom we can credit a lot of what we now know to be the style of the Giallo, or pulpy murder mysteries that often have dazzlingly grotesque visuals and plots that don’t make a whole lot of sense. The prototype for these films came from Bava himself with the third of three films he made in 1963, in Europe entitled The Girl Who Knew Too Much, though released in America through AIP as The Evil Eye. This was Bava’s attempt, as the European title suggests, to make his version of an Alfred Hitchcock mystery, but in doing so, with his final black and white production, he’d introduce the world to the giallo genre, which he’d then perfect a year later with his truly gorgeous technicolor whodunnit/slasher movie Blood and Black Lace.
The Evil Eye is about a woman (Leticia Roman) who comes to Italy to take care of her elderly aunt whom she doesn’t know very well. She’s obsessed with the yellow-tinged paperback murder mysteries one would get at a dime store. (It’s the color of the paper, yellow, which gave giallo its name.) She quickly becomes enamored by her aunt’s handsome young doctor (John Saxon). Her aunt dies that night amid a rain storm and the phones go out so she can’t call anyone. She makes a dash to the hospital but she’s mugged and her head hit against a brick wall in the town square. As she’s in a daze, she witnesses a woman screaming and staggering toward her who eventually collapses dead, a knife in her back. A man walks up and removes the knife and nobody discovers our heroine until the morning when a bum tries to give her alcohol but runs away when a cop walks up, who thinks the poor young lady’s just schnockered and has dreamed the whole thing. She has to convince the doctor that she isn’t crazy, even if she thinks everywhere she looks, she thinks the so-called Alphabet Killer is returning for her.
While I don’t LOVE this movie the way I love a lot of Bava’s work, it’s hard to deny his visual mastery or ability to bring tension to any scene. So I won’t deny it. The two cuts of the film are very different and both are included here on this Blu-ray. The American version is slightly longer than the European one, even though Samuel Z. Arkoff made cuts, because humorous scenes were added to lighten up the tone a bit, and some including Quentin Tarantino actually prefer the American cut to the International one. It’s interesting to see both movies next to each other because the effects are quite different, especially with Bava’s preferred creepy jazz score completely replaced by a jauntier, more typical orchestral score. The only special feature here is a wonderful feature commentary by film critic and Bava biographer Tim Lucas on the Girl Who Knew Too Much cut of the movie. While not as great as some of Bava’s work, it’s nevertheless an important and indelible work unto itself.
- American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s incredibly popular and Oscar-nominated war film starring Bradley Cooper. Parts of it are glorious and full of tension, though I think ultimately the jingoism and flag-waving were more troubling to me than the story of a guy who can’t get over not being at war.
- Orange is the New Black Season Two – In case you’re one of the six people in the world who don’t have Netflix and wanted to wait for DVD to watch this.
- Limelight – Charlie Chaplin’s melancholy sound picture about an aging comedian and a suicidal ballet dancer who turn to each other to see if life is worth living.
- Maya the Bee Movie – A feature-length, CG-animated update to the ’80s French cartoon about a young bee and her adventures.
- Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man – Silly action movie with Mickey Rourke as a biker and Don Johnson as his cowboy friend.
- The Osterman Weekend – Sam Peckinpah’s final film, a spy movie starring Rutger Hauer and John Hurt.