Seeking Justice (2012, Roger Donaldson) – Direct to DVD in Canada after only the most token of US theatrical releases, the Nicolas Cage thriller Seeking Justice doesn’t showcase the eccentric actor or it’s journeyman director at their best, but rather it ends up being a really goofy, but undeniably entertaining potboiler even without an over the top performance or anything even remotely unexpected. In short, by direct to video standards with this kind of pedigree, it’s a minor treat.
Will (Cage), a New Orleans high school teacher grows morally conflicted when approached by a shifty character named Simon (Guy Pearce) in a hospital waiting room following the rape and beating of his wife (January Jones). Simon promises justice that a shadowy group of vigilantes can provide in exchange for paying it back by killing another at large perpetrator at a future date. Not only does Will not want to go through with it after going ahead with the deal and being called up, but when he finally mans up he ends up killing a journalist that was getting too close to the truth about the group and that he was part of an elaborate set-up.
It’s not terribly original in any way and it’s extremely cheesy (including a plot point involving sending a piece of mail to Santa Claus at exactly 4:15pm and a climactic meet-up between Cage and Pearce that takes place at the Superdome during a monster truck rally where our hero orders the villain to order a hot dog), but there’s something endearing about just how straight Cage is playing things here. He doesn’t have any actual outbursts, which could signify boredom or an attempt at a real performance. At this point in his career it’s hard to tell. Donaldson does what he can with such trite material thanks in part to just having the necessary experience to deliver within genre expectations. At his best (No Way Out, Dante’s Peak, The Bank Job) and his worst (Cocktail, The Getaway remake, Species), he’s never put in a half assed effort in spite of his material.
The Canadian Blu-ray boasts a slightly sketchy picture quality at the start and during some action sequences, but it’s not too distracting. The sound mix holds it’s own, and there aren’t any special features. The American Blu-ray that came out a few weeks ago, however, from Anchor Bay allegedly has a better picture quality and a brief making-of featurette if those kinds of things matter to you.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2012, Morgan Spurlock) – While far from an obvious choice to helm a documentary about the allure of the San Diego Comic Convention, humorist shit disturber Morgan Spurlock does a better than admirable job of capturing the spirit of the summertime dork juggernaut while never once looking down upon or ever poking fun at the people involved. In his latest film, the somewhat awkwardly titled Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, the Super Size Me and Greatest Movie Ever Sold director doesn’t even appear on screen. Instead, he allows the lives, hopes, and criticisms of several convention goers tell their stories for themselves. It’s an unabashed love letter to people willing to stand in line for hours for several brief moments of happiness.
Spurlock follows a handful of con attendees as they navigate the waters of the 2010 nerd mecca. There’s a pair of aspiring comic artists (one a bartender and the other a soldier with a family), a group of Mass Effect 2 cosplayers and costume designers looking to knock ‘em dead at the annual masquerade, an older gentleman trying to peddle his once-great comic collection to an increasingly apathetic crowd, a toy collector who literally sprints to get his one big must-have item, and a boy looking to propose to his year-long girlfriend at Kevin Smith’s panel. Interspersed with these threads are interviews with such nerdy luminaries as Joss Whedon, Seth Rogen, Todd McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Grant Morrison, and Guillermo del Toro (who gets one of the film’s biggest laughs because of how he seemingly wants to make Hellboy creator Mike Mignola jealous of his comic collection).
Unlike his more critical films, Spurlock does away with any smirking cynicism or overt satire. Through these stories, he gives a giant hug to the types of people who toast to Harvey Pekar over shots of Jagermeister or know the value of a Red Raven #1. At the same time, despite aiming at a core demographic, he also has to appease viewers who have no clue what any of this means and only know the convention because of the hype it has gotten in recent years.
Spurlock shows real growth as a filmmaker here, following the stories of multiple people the audience wants to see succeed without resorting to any sort of grandstanding. The people being profiled pretty much create their own spotlights regardless of how well they fare by the end of it all. It probably doesn’t hurt that the film comes co-produced by Whedon, Stan Lee, and Harry Knowles, all of whom know this scene far too well, but Spurlock’s take on nerd-vana has a real sweetness to it that’s easy to gravitate to. As with anything involving a somewhat touchy subject, there’s bound to be criticism and push-back from the more ardent members of the community who might just see the whole fluffy affair as just a commercial to go to the convention. But even they can probably tell that Spurlock goes for entertainment over expose here. If anything, they can take heed that he probably won’t make any prequels to this one to tell us where parts one through three went or re-cut the movie several times with added digital effects.
The Sound and picture quality of the film reflects the on-the-fly filmmaking style of the source material, but there are also over an hour of great extended interviews on here, including great talks with Kenneth Branagh and Stan Lee. There’s also a behind the scenes interview with Spurlock that explains just how he met up with producer Lee and his co-writer Whedon and just how huge the scope of the movie ended up being. Finally, there’s about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, most of them dealing with the toy collector, that are amusing if you enjoyed the film overall, but are easy to see why they were cut.
Some Guy Who Kills People (2011, Jack Perez) – The rightful winner of the Best Screenplay award at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the dark comedy Some Guy Who Kills People, from director Jack Perez (previously known for Direct-to-Video or Made for TV schlock like Wild Things 2 and Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus) and producer John Landis works thanks largely to a wonderful lead performance from the underrated Kevin Corrigan, a unique tone, and a surprisingly thoughtful and emotional script from longtime Scrubs production assistant Ryan Levin.
Recently released from the mental hospital, a shell shocked former graphic novel artist Ken Boyd (Corrigan) moves back home to live with his sarcastic mother (genre vet Karen Black) and her new dullard, sheriff boyfriend (an incredibly delightful Barry Bostwick) and work in a dead end job at an ice cream shop for an asshole boss. While quietly enacting a plot to knock off the group of jerks from high school that kidnapped and tortured him leading to his suicide attempt, he reconnects with the 11-year old daughter (Ariel Gade) whose life he was shut out of before his hospitalization.
Despite an extremely low budget, a twist ending that can be seen coming thanks to some fairly obvious hints, and a couple of scenes between father and daughter that border on being unnecessarily precocious, Corrigan puts in some great work here as a man full of sadness and rage who finally has something that can give him back the confidence he once lost. His chemistry with Gade also elevates the more standard elements of the script, which still has a great deal of wit and heart. Levin wants the tics and motivations of the characters to shine above the film’s brief flashes of violence, and it works very nicely. Those expecting an outright horror or slasher film should temper their expectations, and instead gear up for an intriguing and thoughtful character driven hybrid.
The DVD boasts a crisp transfer from its original digital source and a good 5.1 sound mix. There aren’t too many special features on the DVD aside from an interesting audio commentary from Perez and Levin and a brief making of featurette, but even more interesting (and something to be watched after the film to not spoil it) is a short film entitled The Fifth, which vaguely served as the inspiration for the feature. It’s almost completely different in every way (taking place among five dudes sitting around at a poker game where one of them happens to be a sick and twisted killer), but one can see the seed of an idea there. It definitely changed for the better, though.
The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim) – It’s only slightly strange that the DVD for The Hunter kicks off with an advertisement paid for by the Tasmanian tourism council, because while Nettheim showcases the grandeur of the Australian island’s natural beauty, it makes the locals in this effective and well acted drama look like backwoods hicks that would kill anyone from outside the area if they felt so threatened. But besides that odd coincidence, Nettheim’s big screen adaptation of fellow filmmaker Julia Leigh’s novel mostly works..
Martin, a big game hunter and scientist played by Willem Dafoe, has been hired by a biotech corporation to hunt down what may very well be the last remaning Tasmanian Tiger, a potentially mythical being long believed extinct, and tasked with bringing back DNA samples and destroying any evidence of the creature. While there, he’s set up living in a backwoods shack with an alcoholic mother (Frances O’Connor) and her two foulmouthed kids who want him to keep an eye out for their absentee father who never came back from the woods. On top of becoming a reluctant surrogate father figure to the kids, Martin also has to deal with locals who don’t take very kindly to his being there for a litany of reasons all tied to their mistrust of outside influencers.
While the film never fully earns any sort of emotional payoff thanks to some source material that was pretty cold and distant in tone to begin with, Dafoe and Nettheim make for a great combination. Much like what John Boorman did with Vilmos Zsigmond in 1972’s Deliverance, Nettheim and cinematographer Robert Humphreys leave plenty of blank space in the frame and mostly eschew close-ups in favour of something that allows the pristine beauty of the woods and mountains to contrast to Dafoe’s craggy, world weary face and performance. His face looks like turned Earth at times, and yet he’s still such an infinitesimally small part of the world at large, and the performance from Dafoe is stellar throughout even at the somewhat unearned conclusion.
The DVD boasts a crisp image and even better sound, but comes light on features save for four extremely short behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Jesus Henry Christ (2012, Dennis Lee) – Savaged by critics upon its limited release in theatres earlier this year, but a damned sight better than director Dennis Lee’s previous feature Fireflies in the Garden, Jesus Henry Christ is a passable, precocious, and fairly forgettable bit of sub-Wes Anderson fluff about quirky smart people who just can’t seem to get their acts together and are wholly self-obsessed. There have been far worse films built around such characters, but there’s not a whole lot to set this apart from the pack save for some wonky direction from the far too stylistically minded Lee.
A prodigy from the womb, young Henry Herman (Jason Spevak) has taken to asking his former feminist revolutionary mother (Toni Collette) about the identity of his test tube sperm donor father following his expulsion from Catholic School for self-publishing a manifesto that says entities like God, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny are constructs designed to keep people complacent. His father turns out to be a noted university professor (Michael Sheen) that his mother isn’t all that keen on who already has a daughter of his own (Samantha Weinstein) who currently hates him for never listening and for putting her face on a book about teenage sexuality.
The story itself is pretty innocuous stuff brought down to Earth by a capable cast that’s willing to go along with the film’s more unorthodox elements. The chemistry between the leads goes a long way especially in sequences as seemingly forced as a yellow-filtered sequence between Henry and his grandfather (Frank Moore) where they explain his conception while talking entirely in Spanish while his mother stalks them into a park while carrying a birthday cake. It’s these touches that sour the film more than they should since Lee simply seems to believe his characters aren’t strong enough. They aren’t strong enough to work in a great movie, but it could have been just slightly north of passable if not for the stylistic touches. For what it’s worth, though, it’s still a well intentioned film at heart.
The picture quality on the DVD looks great, but it’s highly advisable even on the best sound systems to watch the film with the 2.0 mix instead of the ludicrously bad 5.1 mix that has the dialogue coming from every possible channel and somewhat out of synch like you’re watching the film underwater and being shouted at. Only one special feature and that’s a 30 minute talk with the cast and crew that could be half the length since the first fifteen minutes feel like outtakes from an EPK where the cast literally explains the entire plot of the film. The second half of the featurette does offer some good insight from Lee about the genesis of the film and it’s perceived blasphemous title.
Beyond (2012, Josef Rusnak) – Another slightly fun, if altogether unnecessary direct to DVD thriller this week, the Jon Voight starring Alaskan set thriller Beyond combines stock supernatural elements to a stock story of a kidnapping being investigated by a close to retirement detective without ever trying to pretend that it’s something it isn’t. It’s a decent genre exercise, but one that will probably be lost to the sands of time for not doing anything to particularly stand out.
Grizzled Anchorage P.D. veteran John Koski (Voight) has gained nationwide acclaim for being one of the best and most ruthless detectives when it comes to tracking down missing youngsters. When the sister (Teri Polo) of his chief (Dermot Mulroney) finds her daughter abducted from their home, Koski makes the case one of his last before going out the door. Matters get complicated when local radio and television psychic Farley Connors (Julian Morris) insists he’s been having visions of the location of the missing child. Always sceptical and keeping him in mind as a suspect, Koski and Connors reluctantly team up to find the girl before their time runs out on delivering a two million dollar ransom for her safe return.
It sounds strange to say, but Voight really hasn’t had a role this good to latch onto in years and he gives a great performance in the lead and displays some great chemistry with Mulroney and Morris, but there’s not much to really stand out as being memorable here outside of some great cinematography, taut direction, and an admirable leaning towards never letting the potential goofier elements of a psychic based thriller bubble to the surface. Aside from that, the plot is farily rote, obvious, chock full of needless red herrings, and it has a pretty dull and drawn out ending in a warehouse (of course) that could be solved in two minutes instead of 15. The DVD doesn’t come with any special features, so this one might be better suited for download purchasing or Netflixing if you wanted to catch it.