Chronicle (2012, Josh Trank) – Quite possibly the most fully realized and surprising first person shot “found footage” film of all time, the superhero(ish) drama Chronicle tells a dark and bold story that feels painfully real and heartbreaking despite its genre trappings. While it’s undeniably excellent, the home viewing experience actually increases the intimacy of the film’s dramatic elements.
The film opens as unflinchingly as possible. Shy and emotionally damaged Seattle teenager Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) has recently bought a video camera to document attacks by his abusive, drunken father and the final days of his mother, who’s in the final stages of terminal cancer. Andrew brings the camera everywhere he goes almost as if it’s a security blanket for him to inoculate himself from the outside world. His only real “friend” is his pseudo-intellectual cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who seemingly thinks everything “cool” is beneath him. One night outside a rave where Andrew nearly gets the crap beaten out of him for accidentally filming some drunken bro’s girlfriend, Matt and the coolest kid in school/future shoe-in for class president Steve (Friday Night Lights’ Michael B. Jordan), force a worried Andrew into using his camera to document a mysterious cavern deep in the woods that houses a giant glowing crystal. After coming in contact with the crystal, the boys begin to develop telekinetic powers allowing them to move and manipulate matter. At first, they strengthen their powers with an escalating series of silly dares and childish pranks (as teenagers are naturally wont to do even without superpowers), but when the more mature Andrew begins to question his friends commitment to doing something with these powers, fissures in their close friendship quickly begin to develop leaving Steve and Matt to question Andrew’s very sanity.
First time director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of Blues Brothers director John) create a wonderful “slow burn” with their storytelling abilities, crafting a story that unfolds naturally, growing more unsettling as it goes on. It’s hard not to talk about the joys of the plotting and pacing without spoiling it, but it’s not hard to say that this film looks phenomenal, utilizing the fact that everyone has a camera nowadays making for an “as it happens” sense of immediacy to a story that could’ve very easily failed in lesser hands.
The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack includes the Director’s Cut of the film, that’s not necessarily darker in tone, but adds a couple of nice character notes missing from the theatrical release. There’s also a deleted scene that doesn’t change very much and some interesting pre-production camera tests and storyboards. (Andrew Parker)
Albert Nobbs (2011, Rodrigo Garcia) – Featuring some great performances and a mostly inspired story, Albert Nobbs still manages to be a bit of a letdown thanks to some wonky plotting and awkward pacing. Still, this awards season notable from last year featuring Glenn Close playing a closeted woman moonlighting as a 19th century male butler works better on the small screen than it did in theatres thanks to its Masterpiece Theatre styled compression.
Squirreling away all of her earnings under the floorboards of her room in the Irish hotel she’s been working at under an assumed identity for years, Nobbs finds her life thrown into flux by the arrival of a painter (Janet McTeer) harbouring the same secrets she does. After learning that she might be able to be happy by being herself, Nobbs finds herself emotionally pushed and pulled after being undercover for so long that she’s possibly forgotten how to be a woman.
Close gives a commanding performance in a role that she played on stage back in the early 80s, but she’s a bit too old for the part as its written. McTeer is the real live wire here, and positively revelatory as a woman completely comfortable with her lot in life, but wary of those around her. Unfortunately, as Nobbs starts opening up, the story collapses inward on itself, glossing over some pretty major plot points in passing including the introduction of a villainous subplot that comes across as being too half baked to make a real impact. But at home, it’s also easier to appreciate some nice supporting performances from Mia Wasikowska (as the maid Albert secretly pines for) and Brendan Gleeson as the kindly in house doctor.
The DVD contains no special features, but it looks and sounds nice. (Andrew Parker)
Rampart (2011, Oren Moverman) – Despite being the mind behind the brilliant L.A. Confidential, writer James Ellroy’s work rarely transitions well to the big screen. Much like graphic novelist Frank Miller, Ellroy needs a director who can temper his sometimes unnecessarily over the top and formulaic material into a watchable package. With Ellroy’s latest outing Rampart, director Oren Moverman show’s that he’s simply not up to the challenge leading to film that feels wholly indistinguishable from the author’s past big screen outings about dirty Los Angeles cops.
The year is 1999 and Woody Harrelson stars as police detective David Brown, a man feared by outsiders and police administrators and respected greatly by a lot of his fellow officers. Naturally, like most main characters in an Ellroy film, Brown is a bigoted, boozy, womanizing mess of a man with an innate sense of personal justice who deplores violence against women despite constantly using them as objects. Working out of the already disgraced Rampart division of the LAPD, Brown becomes a scapegoat for greater corruption following his disturbing beating of a man trying to flee the scene of a car accident. At the end of his rope and down on his luck, an increasingly desperate Brown finds himself tangentially involved in the robbery of an underground poker game that he intended to hit himself to pay for his legal defences.
Despite a big name cast of heavy hitters in leading and supporting roles where all of them except for Ned Beatty (as a Great Gazoo-like cop turned informant that just pops up when needed by the story) give good performances, there’s nothing very new going on here. A maddeningly muddled final third and a bizarrely abrupt left field ending also doesn’t do the material any favours. If you’ve seen previous Ellroy adaptations like Dark Blue, Street Kings, or Cop, you know the entire story already.
The Blu-ray has a somewhat muddied picture quality during the film’s numerous bleached-out sequences, but the sound mix is clear. Special features include a commentary from Moverman that does explain some of the film’s shortcomings quite well, and a behind the scenes featurette. (Andrew Parker)
Hell on Wheels, Season One (2011-12, Joe & Tony Gayton, creators) – Using the backdrop of the U.S. Westward Expansion just after the ending of the Civil War, Joe and Tony Gayton’s tale of personal revenge and rampant greed has become one of television’s most addictive new series. Airing on AMC and shot in Calgary, the scope and vision of this series is stunning, and the scripts for individual episodes of the first season pull very few punches with gutsy performances to match.
Former rebel soldier Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) joins up with the building of the real transcontinental railroad with the express purpose of using it to track down the Union soldiers that murdered his wife and child. His journey will bring him into contact with the real life, ruthless railroad tycoon Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney), local Indian tribes who see the railroad ending life as they know it, various hustlers, freed slaves working on the cheap) (including rapper Common playing a mixed race worker who slowly starts to understand Cullen), and an assortment of hustlers and thieves aboard the titular project where people die or get murdered on a daily basis.
The Gayton’s attention to period detail raise the series to something on par with the beloved Deadwood in terms of demystifying American History. As Cullen, Mount crafts one of the most endearing anti-heroes in recent memory, and Meaney stands as one of the greatest villains. Sharp writing and impressive production design (which really can’t be cheap) elevates the show to a level of artistic integrity that few shows today outside of Mad Men can match.
The 3-disc DVD includes all ten episodes of the first season and almost two hours of special features, including character bios, a look at the show’s history, a three minute look at an intense train crash from episode nine and how they pulled it off on a meagre budget, and about 30 minutes of raw behind the scenes footage. (Andrew Parker)
Hard Core Logo 2 (2011, Bruce McDonald) – Hard Core Logo 2 may feature a title that promises franchise continuity, but that’s pretty well where the similarities between this sequel and the original end. Both are rock-mock-docs with McDonald playing a fictionalized version of himself, but while the original movie was a seriocomic slice of the punk lifestyle, the sequel is more of a meta comedy about documentary ethics. Though fans of the original needn’t worry about this sequel topping what came before, taken on its own terms Hard Core Logo 2 is still an interesting little movie. It’s never destined to become another Canuck cult classic, but it is one of the better projects that McDonald has cranked out over the last few years.
The sequel opens with McDonald recalling the death of Joe Dick, the hardcore punk front man who shot himself in the head in the closing moments of the first film (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s kind of crucial to discuss this movie). This fictionalized version of McDonald always felt somewhat guilty that the movie ended with a friend’s death, but he’s been more than compensated by the film industry success that came along with it. He’s now living in Los Angeles making a fortune directing a biblical Western series Pilgrim that’s often referred to as “the Christian Kung Fu.” Unfortunately, his success suddenly disappears when the star of the show is caught with an underage prostitute in Thailand and the religious financers pull the plug. Around the same time, Die Mannequin’s Care Failure (playing herself) contacts Bruce claming to be possessed by Joe Dick and the director with nothing else on his plate heads out to film her recording a new album with a Wiccan cinematographer. Once he gets there, he doesn’t buy the whole possession thing, but he is surprised to see Logo 1 side character Bucky Haight (Julian Richlings) producing the album. Bruce decides to force a documentary out of the situation regardless, abusing his subjects while going a we bit crazy.
The story’s about as far away from Hard Core Logo as possible. None of the main characters from the first film actually make an appearance outside of archival footage from the first movie. Only McDonald and Richlings directly connect the film and it’s a bit odd that they chose to go with the numerical title given how thin the connective tissue really is. Yes, there are musical montages and scenes of characters getting shitfaced on whatever substance they can find, but gone is the awkward comradely and broken family relationships between bandmates that defined the first movie. Instead we’ve got a collection of bitter characters who all seem to hate each other (particularly Bruce) bumping heads and screaming at the director for fostering negativity for the sake his movie, much like he did to kill Joe Dick.
If you can get past how different Hard Core Logo 2 is from its predecessor, there’s actually quite a bit to enjoy. McDonald is pretty strong and entertaining as an asshole version of himself in the lead role, playing a selfish filmmaker with glee. Failure does more vamping for the camera more than acting, but that works well enough for her limited role and Richings is always a compelling screen presence, especially as this vindictive, creepy punk god. Though filled with way too much voiceover from the director that becomes very irritating very quickly, McDonald has an interesting little comedy yarn to spin about a documentary filmmaker spiraling out of control. What seems to be the plot in the movie (the Joe Dick possession thing) quickly vanishes into the background and the subject becomes McDonald alienating his collaborators while creating an intrusive, abusive documentary. Like a Charlie Kaufman flick, the movie is about its own making and it can be quite funny to watch this cracked version of McDonald burning his few remaining bridges. There was an abusive filmmaker/subject relationship in the original film that this sequel brings to the forefront and ties them together, it’s just too bad that this sequel came first rather than something about the actual bandmates (apparently that was supposed to be Trigger before scheduinge conflicts lead to cross-gender recasting).
Now, there is a pretty big problem in Hard Core Logo 2 that almost derails it. McDonald perhaps has a little too much fun delving into self-conscious filmmaking and disappears up his own ass just a little bit just before the credits role. The self-conscious filmmaking games become more and more excessive as the movie goes on and the comedy also starts to drain away. By the time the movie reaches a ludicrous afterlife finale, McDonald has completely gone off the rails. This sequel was never destined to be a classic, but with that ending it’s am interestingly flawed work at best. That’s real a shame because the director had plenty of clever ideas, scenes, and characters in play before the movie got away from him. Still, it’s at least an intriguing and entertaining effort from one of Canada’s most productive filmmakers. Compared to the tossed off The Movie Is Broken, it’s quite a strong Bruce McDonald joint, if not nearly as satisfying as Trigger. If you enjoy the director and the original film, it’s something definitely worth seeing with lowered expectations. Despite what the title suggests, this ain’t no Hard Core Logo, but it’s at least an interesting little flick with its own flawed oddball approach to the mock-rock-doc subgenre. (Phil Brown)
Wrestlemania XXVIII (2012) – Look guys, I just spent the past month pretty much looking at documentaries non-stop, and I needed something to blow off steam. Having missed it when it actually aired and being a not so closeted wrestling fan, I finally caught up to the latest edition of WWE’s Wrestlemania on Blu-ray. I watched this while eating a shitload of tacos I made at home to unlearn pretty much everything I had beaten into my brain for a month straight. I regret nothing, both in terms of watching most of those documentaries or watching this Pay-Per-View in HD over a full month after it happened. Also, as one of the best Wrestlemanias of the past decade or so, it’s pretty much rekindled my love of “sports entertainment.”
Headlined by the return of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the squared circle to face the equally beloved and hated John Cena in a surprisingly great match considering Cena’s limited in-ring presence and Rock’s time away, the card is stolen away, however, by a heavily hyped “Hell in a Cell” match between Triple H and The Undertaker (with Shawn Michaels as guest referee) and a WWE title match between CM Punk and Chris Jericho, seemingly for the right to call themselves the best in the world at what they do.
The rest of the card has some mixed results with a five on five tag match to determine the control of the company and the opening World Heavyweight Title match (between the usually reliable Daniel Bryan and Sheamus) getting the shortest ends of the stick, but those three are so classic that it elevates the entire package.
The Blu-ray includes looks back at the development of the Triple H/Undertaker, Cena/Rock, and Punk/Jericho rivalries for people like myself who had absolutely no free time the past several months. There’s also a second disc featuring the annual WWE Hall of Fame ceremony where Ron Simmons, Mil Mascaras, The Four Horsemen (including Ric Flair for a second time), Mike Tyson, and Edge get inducted. It’s cool to see here, because this is the unedited 3 hour version of the ceremony instead of what aired on television, and the stories and speeches are more satisfying for fans than what makes it to air. Except in the case of Mike Tyson, but his batshit crazy speech almost justifies the purchase of the Blu-ray entirely. (Andrew Parker)
Great Expectations (2011, TV, Brian Kirk) – If high culture is more your style and you can’t get enough Dickens adaptations, this 3 hour miniseries from the BBC and PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre will hold literary fans over until later this year when Mike Newell drops his retelling of the same story.
Compressed mainly to focus on the love story aspect of the orphaned Pip’s relationship to the more well to do orphan Estella and how her caretaker Miss Havisham isn’t having any of it, this production more closely resembles the modernized Ethan Hawke starring effort from 1997, but it’s helped along by some great lead performances from Douglas Booth (as Pip), Gillian Anderson (as Miss Havisham), and Ray Winstone (as the escaped convict Abel). It’s not the best telling of the story and it never really justifies existing since everything is so truncated, but it’s still a game effort on the production side of things.
The Blu-ray contains no special features. (Andrew Parker)
The Devil Inside (2012, William Brent Bell) – KILL IT WITH FUCKING FIRE. (Andrew Parker)
Also out this week: One for the Money