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DVD Column: The Wolverine, Linsanity, Sanitarium, Big Ass Spider!

Posted by bsimon On January - 9 - 2014 0 Comment

Hugh Jackman is not only a talented actor, but also one of the world’s top movie stars. Effortlessly charismatic, he can sing, dance, dramatically emote and, of course, kick ass — as he’s done in five (or six, I guess) movies now as adamantium-clawed X-Man mutant Wolverine, after first picking up the part when Dougray Scott got hung up during “Mission: Impossible II”‘s extended production. It’s a shame, then, that his latest incarnation of the character, “The Wolverine” — the stand-alone follow-up to the disappointing but by comparison lively “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” — slots as so distressingly irrelevant.

Inspired by a Marvel comic book arc (uh-oh), the film follows Jackman’s gruff, unkillable lone wolf Logan to Japan, where he hasn’t been since World War II, and into a shadowy realm of yakuza and samurai. Invited to see Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), an officer he saved many years ago, Logan soon finds himself on the run with a beautiful and mysterious heiress (Tao Okamoto), and confronting the prospect of true mortality.

Originally slated to be directed by Darren Aronofsky, who left over creative differences, “The Wolverine” is helmed by James Mangold, a very competent and, dare I say, accomplished peddler of genre entertainment. Here, though, he’s saddled with a story that’s a complete non-starter. The bare bones plot, centering around a political power play, is weighed down by often insipid dialogue. Clearly, the intent is to re-imagine Logan in a fresh guise, as a Ronin, or master-less samurai warrior. But despite Jackman’s considerable gifts, Wolverine and the setting for “The Wolverine” don’t synch up; it feels more like a desperate flavor-spiking than an inspired match. The metaphorical connection to Wolverine’s Jean Grey arc (glimpsed here in flashbacks) feels played-out, and the whole movie doesn’t advance the character in any interesting way. Sure, composer Marco Beltrami’s score has thin, interwoven echoes of his more interesting work for Mangold’s “3:10 to Yuma,” but even it can’t get one’s blood truly pumping.

Coming to home video on a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with an additional digital HD UV code, “The Wolverine” is stored in an attractive cardboard slipcase with artwork that stands out from a lot of its superhero brethren. Bonus features consist of trailers, a 90-second alternate ending, a very cool three-minute tour of the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” set and a second-screen app that synchs up to concept artwork and pre-visualization materials. The only other bonus feature is a great one — a hefty, comprehensive, 55-minute making-of featurette, entitled “The Path of a Ronin.” Cast and crew interviews, stunt and special effects work, a look at the production and art design — it’s all here, nicely divvied up into discrete packages.

The US Festival (supposedly an acronym for “United Us in Song,” according to research) was a sprawling, California-set, Memorial Day celebration that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak personally underwrote in 1983, to the tune of around $10 million. A follow-up to some scattered Labor Day events of a year earlier, the festival was intended to be a celebration of evolving technologies — a marriage of music, computers, television and, of course, people.

The new “’83 US Festival” DVD release spotlights the musical aspect of this sociological curiosity, along with all the bad hair and fashions it entailed. It would hardly be of note if it weren’t for the quality of acts associated with the festival — U2, the Clash, INXS, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Stray Cats, Men at Work, Steve Nicks, Missing Persons and more. The DVD itself, truth be told, comes off as a little shoddy in its construction. Erstwhile MTV veejay Mark Goodman (who resembles a cousin of Dennis Quaid) is on hand to offer up his recollections of the event, and ostensibly situate the musical clips. But “’83 US Festival” doesn’t pick a tack and stick to it; while most of the musical highlights offer songs in full, some of the tunes are clipped.

INXS delivers a strong couple tunes, and the DiVinyls show up, peddling the more rock-oriented “The Boy in Town,” which sounds a lot different than what most people know them for — their big Stateside hit “I Touch Myself.” The concert represents the Clash’s final performance with Mick Jones, which is certainly of note. But the real highlight are two songs from U2, including “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” during which a mulleted Bono climbs from the stage up into its rafters, 40 to 50 feet in the air, singing to the crowd. It’s a great, show-stopping moment. Non-musical bits open and close each of the partitioned segments spotlighting the three different days of the festival (in one of the more interesting segments, we see a satellite uplink with Russia, so Eastern Bloc bands can get some native publicity), and there are some participant interviews as well (well, hello there Colin Hay, of Men at Work), but this is basically a concert document.

Also available on iTunes, “’83 US Festival” arrives on DVD in a regular plastic Amaray case, with a Dolby 2.0 audio track that is passable but hardly dynamic. Its menu, divided up by the three different days of the festival, is rather hard to navigate, honestly. There aren’t any additional bonus features, but little pop-up-style trivia bits are included here and there during the DVD’s playback, noting, for instance, that the actual concert stage now serves as the Fantasyland stage at Disneyland.

Movies that include an exclamation point in their titles are notoriously sketchy affairs (witness most recently Pedro Almodovar’s “I’m So Excited!”), but “Big Ass Spider!” is big, dumb, anarchic fun of the sort that captured the matinee imaginations of so many filmmakers (and genre fans) long ago. Opening under slow-motion mayhem and a cover version of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?,” director Mike Mendez’s squirmy, schlocky flick is the rare movie that seems made by a “fan” first and foremost, but also made competently, and with considerable slickness and amusement.

Less a throwback to Corman-style creature-feature shenanigans than an action/sci-fi/comedy hybrid with its tongue planted firmly and gloriously in its cheek, the movie centers on a Los Angeles exterminator, Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg), who teams up with security guard Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar) to save the day when Major Braxton C. Tanner (Ray Wise) can’t otherwise contain the rampaging, King Kong-sized title insect. Visual effects supervisor Asif Iqbal oversees a CGI-enabled package that is much better than one might expect, and Mendez also serves as his own editor, making intuitive decisions that give the material lots of fun pop.

“Big Ass Spider!” comes to DVD in a regular plastic Amaray case, presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. Under a motion menu, it comes divided into seven chapter stops; bonus features include TV spots and different trailers (there’s an international version which is notably different). The DVD’s back cover bills the inclusion of cast interviews, but 80-plus seconds of Grunberg and Boyar intercut with clips from the movie is a throwaway, and nothing more. Best, though, is a five-minute featurette from the movie’s March midnight SXSW Festival premiere, which chats up folks in line for the movie and also includes footage from a Mendez’s introduction and a post-screening Q&A with some of the filmmakers and cast.

Significant amounts of augmented, mostly large breasts are put on display in the forthrightly titled “Porn Shoot Massacre,” a 2008 indie slasher flick of the low-grade variety just recently making its way to DVD. A group of women (including Kasey Poteet, Naomi Cruise and Cassandra St. James) who think they’re booked for a regular adult film shoot get a rude awakening when it turns out that a psychotic director (R.E. Ambrose) is actually shooting a snuff film. Composer Marco Nuovo lays down some funky grooves, and director Corbin Timbrook both knows where the steam machine is and how to deploy lurking, peeping-Tom-style camerawork, but a halfway decent opening gives way to much awfulness. The super-cramped setting of this video-shot offering is the main culprit, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) poor acting and a jumbled tone (hey, a dwarf gets spanked… ha!) don’t help matters either. This premise could work nicely for a sleazy, down-and-dirty sexploitation flick, but “Porn Shoot Massacre” is a movie of half-measures and little imagination, with execution that only occasionally touches competence.

Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with one of those unreliable center-snap buttons, “Porn Shoot Massacre” comes to DVD on a region-free disc, letterboxed in 1.87:1 widescreen and with a wan LPCM 2.0 audio track. Apart from its 18 chapter stops, there are no supplemental features — which is perhaps a blessing, considering the risible level of special effects gore herein. For more information, however, visit www.PSMTheMovie.com and/or www.LostEmpireFilms.com.

Also on the horror front is anthology “Sanitarium,” which offers up showcases for a few familiar genre faces, but little more. Holding dominion over a collection of most unusual inmates is Dr. Henry Stenson (Malcolm McDowell), who recounts the stories of three of his patients. “Figuratively Speaking,” the first and best entry, centers on a demented model maker (John Glover) being systematically taken advantage of by his agent (Robert Englund). In Bryan Ortiz’s “Monsters Are Real,” a teacher (Lacey Chabert) tries to help a kid (David Mazouz) escape from his abusive father (Chris Mulkey), with less than happy-endings-for-all results. In “Up to the Last Man,” meanwhile, Lou Diamond Phillips stars as a college professor who becomes obsessed with what he believes to be the coming Mayan apocalypse. These are slow-burn tales rather than bloody, gory special effects vehicles, but as with many anthologies, the level of quality varies to such a degree that one wishes they could purchase them a la carte.

“Sanitarium” comes to DVD housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, in turn stored in a complementary, glossy, high-quality cardboard slipcover. Its cover art is fairly striking, which — along with its name cast — will certainly help it pull more than its share of curious rentals. Its 2:1 matted widescreen presentation serves as sidekick to a strong Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio mix. Unfortunately, apart from chapter stops, there are no additional bonus features contained herein.

In Jim Breuer’s “And Laughter For All,” the ex-”Saturday Night Live” cast member delivers a 55-minute set of only sporadic amusement. A lot of the material leans on maturation and family life in particular — Breuer ponders the notion of 1980s hair metal becoming oldies music, and compares it (via Iron Maiden) to the Wiggles while winding his way through in exhaustive fashion through a story about going to a concert with his wife. This is familiar terrain, and it’s not helped by the fact that the spastic Breuer punctuates many of his punchlines with sound effects or animal noises, which becomes (only slightly) more appropriate when he transitions into a tale of confrontation with an ostrich at a New Jersey urban safari with his kids. There’s no “Goat Boy” here, alas (though he does manage to work in a Joe Pesci imitation), and so “And Laughter For All” reveals the essential limitations of Breuer’s genial shtick. The high point may be when he relates the concern of a stranger over his young daughter’s mouth-agape visage (which rings true, since Breuer basically looks like J.C. Penny version of Jason Bateman hit in the face a couple times with a shovel).

Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a deep-set spindle, “And Laughter For All” is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a Dolby digital 2.0 stereo audio track that more than adequately handles its straightforward aural demands. Under a motion menu with a quick-looped clip, it offers offers up no supplemental material, save for a dozen chapter stops.

On the sports front, director Evan Jackson Leong’s “Linsanity” is no mere hagiography. Charting not only the improbably amazing success story of its subject — basketball point guard Jeremy Lin, the first NBA player of Asian-American descent — but also serving as a multi-dimensional portrait of his off-the-court character, work ethic and religious faith, this documentary has a lot on its mind, but a solid vision of the many elements that are essential ingredients in Lin’s tale.

So named for the several weeks beginning in February 2012 when Lin — then a third-string player already waived twice within the past 14 days, and playing on a short-term contract — got a start for the stumbling, injury-ridden New York Knicks, won them a bunch of games, blew up and absolutely owned ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” “Linsanity” has the good sense to make that portion of Lin’s story the narrative spine of this hook-y rocket ride. Leong, though, also has access to the entire Lin family, as well as its extensive library of home movies. The movie, then, isn’t just the story of Lin’s wild “New York minute.” It’s the story of an American dream, and the hard work it took to accomplish it, and as such it touches both the head and the heart.

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and appropriately chapter-tabbed, “Linsanity” comes to DVD in a standard plastic Amaray case. Its bonus features consist of a look at the original Kickstarter campaign reel that was used to help fund the movie, as well as a nice little behind-the-scenes featurette. A stand-alone, on-court highlight package would have been a nice inclusion too, but one can’t get everything.

Finally, written and directed by Nathanael Coffmann, teen dramedy “Getting That Girl” provides all the expected bong hits, hormonally-charged fistfights and kisses in the rain in telling the story of a girl, recently transplanted from Washington, D.C., who gets a bunch of guys at her new Los Angeles high school all hot and bothered. As Mandy Meyers, the object of affection, Gia Mantegna (yes, daughter of Joe) acquits herself nicely; she has a nice sense of scale and a relaxed ability to play off of her costars without trying to dominate scenes in showy ways. The male characters are archetypes all the way — the charismatic stoner (Escher Holloway) and star football player (Daniel Booko) — but Coffmann, while not reinventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, obviously has a sincere desire to tap into both laughs and drama, and the very real feelings of dislocation that are so often part and parcel of adolescence. Effort and relative ambition go a long way with a movie like this.

Written by: Brent Simon

big ass spider review DVD Column: The Wolverine, Linsanity, Sanitarium, Big Ass Spider!

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