OLD SCHOOL CHILLS — The horror explosion of the last decade has become played out in the last year or two with an endless barrage of remakes, reboots and subpar indies. But once in awhile a creepy gem sparkles through the haze of mediocrity, and Insidious is one of them. From the SAW team of director James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Wannell comes this terror tale about a family whose boy is under the control of supernatural forces and slips into a coma made more treacherous by the demonic forces swirling about him. It has a slow start but generates great goosebumps soon after. The filmmakers eschew CGI overkill in favor of simply creepy, disturbing imagery thanks to monstrous make-up, ghoulish faces and inspired performances, particularly Lin Shaye as the paranormal expert offering spiritual assistance and resistance. This is essentially a modern updating of Poltergeist with some different twists, and it’s damn good. I saw it at a multiplex with yappy teenage girls who shrieked at least three times during the movie and soon shut up. You know a horror movie has got its mojo going when that happens.
IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN (OR OTHER COLORS) — Family-friendly animated movies have become a dime a dozen, no matter how good they look. But not Rango. It shines. Johnny Depp plays the daydreaming titular chameleon, who finds freedom from his terrarium on a family road trip. He then arrives in a rough southwestern town where the townspeople (towns reptiles?) are suffering from a drought, and the local sheriff does little to ease their plight. But more is going on than meets the eye, and the brave Rango, who tells tall tales of his alleged badass past, corrals the locals against bandit water siphoners, a ginormous rattlesnake gunman and other threats. What’s great about this film is that it has intense moments and adult humor clearly not meant for young kids. It’s nice to experience a smart animated film.
GET TWISTED AGAIN — Over the last few decade New York rock legends Twisted Sister have unearthed a plethora of archival material on CD and DVD. The latest is a two-disc compilation called Double Live that showcases the group at the end of their club days in 1982 and at their reunion show in 2001, coupled with recollections from all five band members about their significance. The first disc, “North Stage ’82,” finds them rocking hundreds and hundreds of fans in Glen Cove, New York, at the height of their club days power before they headed to England to record Under The Blade. Despite being shot with only two cameras, the quintet’s raw power and exuberance shine through. They were a dynamic, well-oiled machine by this point, and the tape can barely contain their thunderous audio. “New York Steel ’01” captures the group playing their first full show in 14 years as part of Eddie Trunk’s benefit event for the families of 9/11 victims. If they were rusty, Twisted barely showed it, barreling through a fist-pumping set sans their usual glam make-up, keeping the audience at the Hammerstein Ballroom enthralled. This is definitely a must for true SMFs. (And if you don’t know what means…)
DUBIOUS DISTINCTION — Some movies are just plain bad, and you wonder why you wasted your time watching them. Then some are train wrecks that you feel compelled to watch anyway. Depending upon your allegiance to Marvel Comics icon Captain America, you’ll feel one way or the other about director Albert Pyun’s low budget 1990 attempt to bring the star-spangled superhero (played by Matt Salinger) and his nemesis The Red Skull to the big screen. (Even though it basically arrived on video and cable.) The trailer has been viewed over a million times on YouTube, so there’s clearly interest, which is why Fox has released it through their MOD (manufacturing on demand) program days prior to the arrival of Captain America: The First Avenger in cinemas everywhere. It is rumored that extra footage has been included. Will that make it better? Who knows, but after years of only seeing subpar video on YouTube, it might be interesting to see how this bomb looks all spruced up. Be on the lookout for Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Bill Mumy, Melinda Dillon and Michael Nouri. Yup, they’re all in there.
BYRNE IN BLOOM — After recording his second collaborative effort with Brian Eno back in 2008 (Everything That Happens Will Happen Today), David Byrne hit the road (without the elusive Eno) to perform the moody songs from that album as well as quirky, more upbeat Talking Heads tunes they collaborated on three decades earlier. One side result of this endeavor is the new Ride, Rise, Roar DVD that documents the tour and intercuts black and white interview with Byrne, his bandmates and the modern dance troupe that were an interactive part of the concert experience. It was a wise choice to alternate between each song and behind-the-scenes footage chronicling the making of the album and tour. It draws us in a bit more as we get to see Byrne’s home studio, observe rehearsals and even hear a story about Byrne verbally bitchslapping a security guard for stopping photography he had explicitly authorized. This is a fun, smart concert movie that strives for a higher purpose.
For years I was contemplating buying an all-region DVD player, and I recently snagged an upconverting Toshiba player at Kim’s Video in NYC for only $100. (I believe all-region Blu-ray players are in the $400 range.) While CDs can be played the world over, consumer DVDs have been divided into 6 regions, which has been done to control pricing, release dates and various copyrights. From a business standpoint it’s somewhat understandable, but it’s also pretty damn irritating for consumers. What if a movie you love gets released in Europe but never in the U.S.? What if a different or better cut, or a version with better extras, exists elsewhere? Unless you have an all-region player, you’ll never get to see it. Your PC’s DVD player actually is region free—some allege that it only acts so for a few plays, then it reverts to region 1—but I hate looking at movies or TV shows on a smaller computer monitor. I’d rather watch them on my 40″ HD TV with superior sound. It’s a matter of preference. All-region players are gray market, meaning they are legal to buy but have no domestic warranty, so once you purchase one, test it out to make sure it works properly. (One side note: many all-region players are just domestic players that have been hacked, and on mine, the time counter does not display. Not an issue for me.) If you are a collector who wants to amass some imports, getting an inexpensive all-region player is a great way to go.