|Films I Neglected To Review: "Now What Are You, And Who Are You Doin' Here?"
|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of "The Pack" and "Southbound" and a look at three new Blu-Ray releases, including a Best Picture nominee and two classics—one acknowledged and one of sorts.
"The Pack" is an Australian horror thriller about a family living in a remote farmhouse who struggle to stay alive over the course of one long night when they are suddenly and inexplicably attacked by a pack of uncommonly smart and ferocious wild dogs that have been ravaging the countryside and anyone or anything unlucky to come across their path. As someone who is generally terrified of all canine forms - yes, even your loyal companion who wouldn't hurt a fly - a film like this should be the epitome of nightmare fuel and yet I came away from it more bored than anything else. The slow burn approach that has been employed means that it takes forever for things to kick into high gear so as to make room for largely uninteresting stuff involving mild family tensions and the imminent foreclosure of the farm, the family members (Jack Campbell, Anna Lise Phillips, Katie Moore and Hamish Phillips) and the contrivances that screenwriter Evan Randall Green offers up to keep them split up and vulnerable and to put additional victims into harm's way in order to keep the gore quotient up get ridiculous after a while.The film does deserve some credit for utilizing a quartet of well-trained dogs to play the attackers instead of resorting to puppets or CGI creatures but unless you are a nature-goes-wild completist, you would be better off putting "The Pack" aside and firing up your DVD of "Cujo" again.
As horror anthology films - a genre that runs the artistic gamut from the highs of "Creepshow" to the lows of any number of efforts that failed to live up even to the accomplishments of "Creepshow 2" - "Southbound", which comprises a series of five short tales of terror set in and around a particularly desolate stretch of highway, has a better batting average than usual. Of the five stories, there is one pretty spectacular one, a gory black comedy in which an inattentive motorist hits a woman walking in the middle of the road and is forced to attempt to perform life-saving surgery on her in a deserted hospital while listening to the instructions of the 911 operator and an EMT over his Bluetooth, and only one real dog, a listless endeavor involving a man who turns up to rescue his long-missing sister from sinister forces only to discover that she really doesn't care to be rescued. The other three (a couple of guys on the run from a malevolent force find themselves trapped in some kind of time loop, an all-female rock band still rattled from the recent death of a member is waylaid by car trouble and rescued by a too-perfect couple with less than noble intentions and a family celebrating their last vacation before the daughter goes off to college have their hotel room invaded by a trio of masked attackers) are sometimes uneven but their good points certainly outnumber the bad. It may not be the classic that some observers have been claiming it to be but it still works well enough to earn a recommendation and I wouldn't be surprised if it developed at least a minor cult following before too long.
Although Steven Spielberg's latest film, "Bridge of Spies" (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $39.95) did receive one of the nominations for this year's Best Picture Oscar, it does not really have a chance of taking home the prize. This is a shame since the film, recounting the story of a Cold War-era American lawyer (Tom Hanks) who successfully defends a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court and is then employed by the government a couple of years later to arrange an exchange with the USSR to trade the spy for downed American pilot Francis Gary Powers, is his best film since his criminally underrated "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" and arguably the best of his recent string of historical-based works. Much of this is due to the screenplay by Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen that miraculously manages to mine the material for suspense and more sardonic laughs than one might expect. Perhaps inspired by the material, Spielberg relaxes the stultifying style that has hampered his recent efforts for a more blessedly loose take on the material that is further bolstered by strong performances from Hanks and Rylance - it may run for 141 minutes but they go by so quickly that you will hardly begin to notice. Although Spielberg continues to refuse to do any commentaries for the Blu-Rays of his films, this edition does contain a number of featurettes discussing both the making of the film and the real-life incidents that inspired it.
In between its brief heyday in the 1950s and its current incarnation, 3-D filmmaking had a brief and bizarre revival in the 1980s that included the deathless likes of "Friday the 13th Part 3-D," "Jaws 3-D" and "Amityville 3-D." This comeback was inspired by the surprise success of "Comin at Ya!" (MVD Visual. $24.95), a sleazy spaghetti Western that became an unexpected novelty hit in the summer of 1981. By all normal critical standards, the film is undeniably terrible - the story (after he is left for dead and his bride-to-be (Victoria Abril in one of her first roles) kidnapped by white slavers, H,H, Hart (Tony Anthony) goes on a rampage of revenge against those that wronged him) is nonsense, the characters are paper-thin, the dialogue is practically non-existent (I think someone clocked it to contain roughly 8 minutes of dialogue in its 91-minute running time) and the whole enterprise is as foul, violent and scuzzy as can be - but it is hard not to have some kind of lingering affection for it, especially if you were lucky enough to see it back in the day as a young lad exploiting his parents and their inattentiveness regarding the "R" rating. It may be trashy but it at least wears its trashiness on its sleeve and the sheer amount of things being hurled towards the camera in order to properly exploit the 3-D gimmick. Now finally on Blu-Ray, the disc sadly lacks any sort of supplementary materials (other than its dual presentations in both 2-D and 3-D) that would properly contextualize its place in the histories of 3-D filmmaking and spaghetti westerns but is still enough fun on its own to warrant a look.
While everyone has their own favorite Disney animated film (mine would be Dumbo in a heartbeat), my guess is that the 1937 masterpiece "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.95) is probably near the top of every such list. Whether you are looking at this particular film from a perspective that focuses on the historical (it was one of the first full-length animated films ever produced and certainly the most elaborate for its time), technical (the intricate animation design is still something to behold) or psychological (one could have a field day dealing with the complexities at the heart of this seemingly simple adaptation of the famous fairy tale) or if you are just a little kid ready to be enchanted, there is sure to be something amongst the enormous array of special features collected here, including storyboards, making-of documentaries, featurettes for the kids and the voice of Walt Disney himself captured in recordings of production meetings. From a visual standpoint, this version is not that different from its previous Blu-Ray incarnation and if you own that edition, a double-dip may not be that necessary. However, if you do not already own a copy of this film, then a purchase is not only necessary but mandatory for all true film fans.
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originally posted: 02/05/16 12:57:15
last updated: 02/05/16 13:11:56