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DVD Reviews: Scary Movie V, Twixt, Stag, Hot Flashes and Super Eruption

The “Scary Movie” franchise, which if you’ll recall promised no sequels when it debuted in the year 2000, used to be a bit more rigorous in its genre spoofing. The first two films, directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans, could never be accused of being dignified, or even particularly middlebrow. (Reflect upon the original film’s oral sex sequence if you doubt.) But they had the wickedly delightful Anna Faris, plus actual stories, and grossed a combined $419 million. Since then, it’s been a steady slope of downward diminishing return with a new nadir reached in “Scary Movie V,” a film that PETA could justifiably protest if they found out it was being shown to animals.

Real actors air-quote slumming it (hat tip, James Woods!) was part of the series’ early, zonked-out appeal, but in this latest incarnation we get Simon Rex and Ashley Tisdale — the former of whom, playing a different character than he does in the third and fourth films in the franchise, cycles through enough cringe-inducing, exaggerated reaction shots as to make one want to punch a wall, or their own face. With the aforementioned pair playing a couple who inherit some kids, the film is loosely framed as a send-up of “Mama” and “Paranormal Activity” (this also means lots of lame sped-up security camera footage), but at this point “Scary Movie” seems to be grasping at straws, and lampooning films that are either old (“Inception”) or its core audience likely wouldn’t have seen anyway (“Black Swan”… really?). It doesn’t help to have Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan — with puffy faces, both — trading on their offscreen problems at the height (or maybe middle points, I don’t know) of their more recent breakdowns. We need a new word — “sad-tire,” perhaps? — because this doesn’t qualify as satire so much as sad satire, an exhibition-style mixture of poorly conceived riffs, malnourished comic timing and ill-timed, rib-nudging cutaway comedy.

“Scary Movie V” comes to Blu-ray and DVD in an unrated cut combo pack that isn’t really that wildly shocking, but does offer up two extra minutes beyond that of the PG-13 theatrical release. (The end credits still start at around the 71-minute mark, though, so there you have it.) Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, the Blu-ray affords the best picture and sound quality, obviously, though this isn’t really a title that reaches for nuance in atmospherics. Apart from requisite chapter stops, the only supplemental features consist of around 10 minutes of extended and deleted scenes. None of these amount to much, but if you want to see Heather Locklear (as the ballerina mother of Tisdale’s character) ram her fingers into Tisdale’s mouth in a mock-effort to make her puke, this represents your chance. Oh, and an Ultraviolet digital copy is also included.

A new Francis Ford Coppola film would seem to really mean something. The auteur’s independently financed “Twixt,” however, isn’t hitting theaters — it’s going straight to video. That’s one tip-off as to the, ahem, niche appeal of this sighing slice of Gothic horror. Basically, it just seems like evidence of the fact that Coppola saw “Sin City,” “Secret Window” and maybe “Breaking Bad” (Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” makes an appearance), and then decided to take a stab at this whole “dream-logic” thing he’d heard so much about in regards to David Lynch.

“Twixt” centers around Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), a writer on a book tour who stumbles into Swann Valley, a small, strange town with a haunted past and a bell tower that has seven clock faces. His agent (David Paymer) wants him to crank out another of his popular but lowbrow detective novels, and Hall’s peeved wife Denise (Joanne Whalley, Kilmer’s real-life ex, interestingly), with whom he communicates only via Skype, is inclined to agree. Hall, however, wants to exercise some new creative muscles, and in Swann Valley he discovers material he thinks might make a decent novel.

First, there’s the ghost of a young girl who calls herself V (Elle Fanning); she has braces, but maybe she’s a vampire ghost, too? Then there are a bunch of weirdo Goth kids and the town sheriff, Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern), who’s eagerly pitching Hall on the idea of a joint effort entitled “The Vampire Executions.” Oh, and then there’s the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin) too — had I mentioned that?

Somewhat akin to Mitch Glazer’s recent “Passion Play” (aka the movie that brought together Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox and Bill Murray), “Twixt” is a work of weird, incongruous choices up and down the line. The problem is that it has even less of a cogent or involving narrative than that disaster. Actors are let loose to chew scenery up, down, left and right, and the tragic backstory that Coppola wants to foist upon Swann Valley — this doomed mythology that colors Hall’s meandering quest — is just never really sketched out in a compelling manner. So when it’s revealed in the bonus features that Coppola fashioned a lot of the script from the recollections of an incomplete dream he woke up and dictated into a micro-cassette recorder after a too-big meal in Istanbul one night in 2009… well, that rings true and explains a lot, actually — more than anything else in this messy slice of indulgence.

“Twixt” comes to Blu-ray presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track. There are the requisite chapter stops and trailers, but there’s also a legitimately engaging and interesting 37-minute making-of featurette by Gia Coppola, the filmmaker’s granddaughter. It’s often kind of funny in its own self-effacing way (“Because I didn’t get enough cutaway shots my grandpa is making me insert shots of myself — sorry!” reads one textual overlay), and in addition to a bunch of footage of Kilmer and Coppola relaxed and jousting on set, the film’s producers also explain how they keep crew morale up (hint: food… and wine). Oh, and there’s an amusing competition where everyone chips a dollar into a shoebox, trying to guess the wrap time on the final night of shooting.

“Stag,” written and directed by Brett Heard, is unusual for what’s being billed in pretty straightforward fashion as a raucous guys’ comedy (“One stripper, six friends and a pineapple!” reads the cover box text), in that it connects on the strength of its acting and more subtle, fine-tuned moments of fraternal rapport rather than any of its macro plotting or shtick-y moments of forced outrageousness.

The story centers around a bachelor party night for Ken (Donald Faison), whose pranks throughout the years have made the lives of his friends a living hell. The most hellbent on revenge, Rory (Brendan Gall), tasks Luke (Jon Dore) with picking up the stripper (Leah Renee) for the evening’s entertainment; other attendees include the recently dumped Henry (Jefferson Brown). Expecting the worst, meanwhile, Ken enlists the assistance of the schlubby Carl (Pat Thornton), whose work as a background extra and bit player in movies (“It wasn’t his nut sack — it was his character’s nut sack,” he says of sharing a scene with Sean Penn) has just put him in contact with his movie star crush, Veronica Simpson (Eva Amurri Martino). Talky life lessons and payback ensue.

“Stag” is a low-budget indie, so it doesn’t have any notions of big set pieces, really; it’s just mostly about a bunch of guys getting together in a cruddy downstairs bar to drink. The production design is rather bare-bones and, unfortunately, Heard shoehorns in an inane subplot about two friends suddenly “realizing” that they’re gay. “Stag” works much better when it’s just working the relaxed vibe of its characters’ insecurities and foibles — like Ken’s high-strung nervousness, Rory’s manic instincts for revenge, or Luke’s awkward interactions with his niece, a waitress at the bar. Hearteningly, too, Heard shows an above-average, nice touch with his female characters; there’s a twist involving the stripper (of course), Veronica is nicely sketched out, and there’s even a funny scene where a female coworker gets to put Ken in his place. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but enough of “Stag” works to qualify it as an amusing diversion. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, “Stag” comes to DVD presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio tracks. Divided into a dozen chapter stops under static menu screens, it unfortunately includes no supplemental bonus features, apart from a trailer for the movie.

Another to-scale surprise arrives in the form of “The Hot Flashes,” starring Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Virginia Madsen, Daryl Hannah and Camryn Manheim. Telling the story of a group of middle-aged women who challenge the high school girls’ state basketball champions to a game in order to raise money for a mobile breast cancer exam screening truck to continue its service, director Susan Seidelman’s movie has the threefold benefits of, 1) an unusual story, 2) some solid joke writing, and 3) superb casting. If one ignores the consistently sloppy and terrible staging of any type of hoops action herein, the movie registers as a heartfelt dramedy with a nice array of female characters. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, “The Hot Flashes” arrives on DVD sans any flashy bonus features, alas.

Less convincing genre fare arrives in the form of “Savages Crossing,” a “Wolf Creek”-meets-“Hard Rain”-type thriller in which a group of strangers is forced to take refuge in an outback roadhouse when a flash flood swells up around them. As the water level rises, does the tension as well? Alas, not really — or not in a sustained way. Director Kevin Dobson oversees a decent technical package, but the screenplay for this Aussie import leaves a lot to be desired, and its diminishing rewards render the third act in particular all waterlogged. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a deep-set spindle that helps prevent unwanted disc drift, “Savages Crossing” comes to DVD on a region-free disc presented in 1.78:1 widescreen; in addition to chapter stops, a pair of trailers count as its only supplemental feature.

The story of those trapped Chilean miners from a couple years back — currently the source material for at least two Hollywood movies — has nothing on Esther Stermer, and one of the more remarkable untold stories of offshoot World War II history. In October of 1942, Stermer, family members and some other neighbors sought asylum in an underground cave from pursuing Nazis. This group of around 38 Ukrainian Jews then remained hidden for a year-and-a-half — the longest uninterrupted underground survival ever recorded. Their story is unearthed when, years later, explorer Chris Nicola stumbles across a scattering of remnants left behind by the cave dwellers, and then sets out — as chronicled by director Janet Tobias — to track down a few of the remaining survivors, and have them share their story.

The docu-drama “No Place on Earth,” then, has a simply amazing story at its core; while a few of the adult men would emerge to scout and scavenge for supplies (they even worked up a makeshift stove), the rest stayed underground in the cold dampness until the war’s end. Tobias overdoes some of the re-enactments a bit, but her film has insights into the outer limits of human endurance unlike few peers. Watching a group of survivors return to the cave with their descendants in tow is amazingly moving.

The film’s Blu-ray presentation has lots of added value, too. Presented in a 1080p high definition transfer and 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a DTS-HD master audio track, the disc comes with photo galleries, the film’s trailer and more than a half dozen excised scenes and little featurettes. Some offer a greater look at Nicola’s spelunking, in both the United States and Slovakia, but most further sketch out the family histories of the Stermers and others involved.

Also available this week on DVD is director Matt Cod’s “Super Eruption,” starring Richard Burgi and Juliet Aubrey. In the SyFy Channel thriller, a long-dormant super volcano under Yellowstone National Park remains dormant as a scientist and fearless park ranger look on intently. Just kidding… it actually erupts, and all that lava does damage, don’tcha know.

Categories: REVIEWS
Brent Simon: A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.