It’s a pretty small week this week, with a lot of lesser-known or indie titles. Batman kicks things off, and there’s a few solid entries to be found.
Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two – The DC Animated Universe continues with this second half of the animated adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween. It’s based on a 13-issue miniseries by comics superstars Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and it’s an incredibly popular story in the Batman mythos. I was a little mixed on the first installment, as I found the first hour of it pretty slow, but the last half hour I thought was riveting. Luckily, this one is more even, and it held my attention throughout. Again, I want to point out the film’s incredible cinematography. Not only is the animation beautifully stylized, but the actual cinematography is just terrific. Unique camera angles, the use of shadows, camera movement… it all just looks stunning. If you watched the first half of The Long Halloween (which just came out two months ago, so it should be easy to track down), then you definitely have to finish it to find out how it all ends!
The House Next Door: Meet The Blacks 2 – I don’t really remember much about Meet The Blacks, but if this second movie is any indication, it was pretty awful. Ostensibly a sequel but seemingly not particularly related, this outing sees Mike Epps as a Carl, an author in Atlanta who gets caught up in some neighborhood drama that may or may not be vampire-related. But even that plot description is generous, as the film has almost no story. It’s simply 90 minutes of Epps and his co-stars like Katt Williams seemingly ad-libbing and trying to turn a nothing plot and script into a feature length movie, at which they most decidedly do NOT succeed. I don’t even have anything else to say about this film; just do yourself a favor and avoid it.
The Water Man – Award-winning actor David Oyelowo makes his directorial debut (and co-stars) with The Water Man, an interesting and intriguing family film that never quite finds its footing. The movie sees a young boy named Gunner whose mother is sick with Leukemia. Enlisting the help of a local neer’ do well girl named Jo, Gunner goes into the woods in search of a mythical local legend named The Water Man, who Gunner thinks can help cure his mom. When forest fires threaten the area, Gunner’s dad (played by Oyelowo) goes in search of the missing boy. For the most part, I found The Water Man enjoyable, but it really has such an uneven tone, it’s distracting. The film is rated PG and is clearly meant for families with older kids , but at times it feels like it’s venturing into horror territory, at other times it’s an adventure film, a la Stand By Me, and at other times it’s straight drama. I have no problem blending tones, but only when it’s done with intention; this movie just feels unsure of itself. That said, it’s pretty good for the most part and should find an audience.
Profile – You might remember Nightwatch, a Russian superhero/action movie that got a lot of attention and garnered a pretty big fan following back in the 2000s. The film’s director, Timur Bekmambatov, went on to direct the James McAvoy/Angelina Jolie action film Wanted, and then seemed to fall of the radar a bit. His latest film, Profile, has been sitting on shelves for a couple of years, and it finally makes its way to home video this week. The film concerns an investigative journalist who goes undercover online to try and track down islamic terrorists who are recruiting women to their cause. The film’s conceit is that it takes place entirely on computer screens, via video calling, websites, social media profiles, et al. It’s a format that was done much more effectively in 2018’s Searching. For a director as visually skilled as Bekmambatov, relegating his skills to a screen full of other screens seems like a bit of waste of time. But Star Trek Discovery’s SHazad Latin is electrifying in the film, and it does keep your interest at times. Not a slam dunk, but not a bad film, either.
A Discovery of Witches: Season Two – Based on the bestselling All Souls novels by Agatha Harkness, A Discovery of Witches is a British series starring Theresa Palmer and Matthew Goode, two actors I enjoy a great deal. So I was already intrigued, and then you tell me the show features a witch and a vampire who embrace science and try to discover the reason for a decline in magical creatures in the world and… well, I’m interested. Oh yeah, there may be a little bit of romance in there as well, which is never a bad thing. This season ups the ante over the first year, with new challenges and characters, Apparently, the show has been pretty popular, as it’s already been renewed for a third season. I dig the show, I like it’s compact season format (nine episodes per season) and I’m looking forward to more!
Secrets of the Rise of Ultraman – Mill Creek has been dutifully bringing us the entire catalog of Ultraman shows and movies over the past year, giving us terrific complete series and season collections of a show that has been running in one form or another for several decades. This week, Mill Creek brings us a special release called Secrets of the Rise of Ultraman, a Blu-ray that features nine exclusive episodes of the original Ultraman series featuring English dubs (the previous Blu-rays have given us subtitled episodes), so it’s kind of a “best-of” compilation, in English. In addition, there is a five-part bonus feature, Secrets of the Rise of Ultraman, which was produced with Marvel Comics and Starlight Runner Productions, and it explores the connection between the various series and the new Marvel Comics storyline (which explains the set’s awesome Art Adams cover art!) While most die-hard Ultraman fans who have been getting the Mill Creek sets as they come out might not need these episodes, it’s a cool little Ultraman primer for more casual fans.
After Life – What do you get when you mix metaphysical sci-fi with documentary? Well, you might just get After Life, the acclaimed directorial debut of critically-celebrated Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, which is released as part of the Criterion Collection this week. The film sees people arriving to the afterlife, where they are given one week to choose their happiest memory, at which point a film will be made of the memory and all their other memories will be erased. They will then move on to their eternity, which they will spend reliving their happiest memory. Kore-eda filmed interviews with hundreds of real life Japanese citizens and intertwined them with the fictional ones created for the film, giving it a realistic-yet-surreal feel. The film could easily veer into cheesy territory, but instead it’s rather beautiful. It’s a simple story, but there are some plot elements that are a little more in-depth, and the end result is quite amazing. As with all Criterion Collection releases, this 1998 film has been restored and remastered and comes with a nice collection of extra features.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Chariots of the Gods – One of the most infamous/famous treatises on alien life is Erich von Daniken’s tome Chariots of the Gods, which posited that aliens visited earth in ancient times and were responsible for — among other things — the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, and Easter Island. If you’ve ever heard the term “ancient astronauts,” it’s von Daniken who coined the phrase. The book came out in 1968, and then in 1970, a film documentary was made that even got nominated for an Academy Award. While the original film was, like, four hours long, an edited version was released, and it’s that 90 minute edit that’s rereleased on DVD this week in a new, remastered edition. Personally, I’ve always found this film really interesting; I remember watching it as a kid and being utterly fascinated by it. This DVD also includes a bonus feature film that serves as a more recent follow up to the original film, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
- My Heart Cant Beat Unless You Tell It To – There’s no denying that My Heart Can’t Beat is a vampire film; that much is very clear. However, if you come to it expecting a traditional vampire movie, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This is a low-budget, non-flashy family drama disguised as a vampire film, and it lacks the usual vampire trappings. In the film, Almost Famous’s Patrick Fugit plays the de facto lead of a small family unit of siblings, the youngest of whom happens to be a vampire. Unwilling to let young Thomas leave the house, older brother Dwight procures Thomas’s blood by killing homeless people and the like and draining their blood, while sister Jessie acts as Thomas’s mother and teacher. The film is less about vampirism and more about this bleak existence and how it’s tearing this family apart. I applaud the film for its new approach, but it is awfully dark and depressing, and while I’m sure it will have its fans, I can’t say the film as a whole did a lot for me.
- Little Q – I’ll admit, about 95% of the Asian films I get for review are action movies, with the other 5% usually made up of family dramas. So Little Q was a welcome diversion from the norm. This film follows a freshly trained guide dog for the blind being sent to help a celebrity chef who has recently gone blind and is extremely cranky about it. And I do?’t think I’m venturing into spoiler territory when I say that despite his reluctance to the dog, a wonderful friendship eventually forms. The film alternates between being truly warm and sweet and being a little cheesy, but for the most part it’s an enjoyable film that fans of movies like Hachi and Marley and Me will enjoy.
- Finding Your Roots: Season 7 – The popular PBS show hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. returns, and as always it sees a number of popular celebrities researching their family trees and coming up with some genuinely interesting results. This season has Glenn Close, Jim Gaffigan, John Lithgow, Jane Lynch, Pharell Williams, and a ton of other famous faces, and it’s fascinating stuff. Admittedly I find genealogy very interesting, but this show also has some emotional moments and some “detective” work that’s a lot of fun to watch. This three-disc set gives you almost nine hours of content, and if you haven’t watched this show before now, definitely give it a try.
- Through The Shadow – This Brazilian supernatural drama is based on Henry James’s classic novel The Turn Of The Screw, which I’ll admit, I never knew had a ghostly element to it. Made in 2015, this latest version comes from Brazil, and sees a young teacher hired to teach two young orphans on a coffee farm. However, spiritual presences make Laura suspect that there may be forces out to harm the children or herself. Obviously, this isn’t a story I’m particularly familiar with, but I found this film to be a solid ghost story. It eschews a lot of jump scares or special effects, instead going for a more ambiguous presentation of the specters at work, It’s not a horror movie per se, rather, it’s a drama with some horror elements to it. It’s not great, it’s not bad; it lands somewhere just a touch above average territory.
- Indie/Foreign Spotlight – Wrapping up the week, we have a number of indie releases out this week, all of which happen to be foreign films. First up Stone Time Touch, one of the more artsy releases I’ve come across in recent months. Created by Armenian-Canadian experimental filmmaker Gariné Torossian, the film is part travelogue of Armenia, part art collage, part dream territory, and very little narrative story. There are some folk stories told throughout the film, but it’s not driven by a plot. The film looks dreamy and artistic, and if you like less linear filmmaking than the norm, this might be your cup of tea. Next up is the misleadingly-titled You Will Die At Twenty, which sounds like a horror movie but is actually a coming-of-age drama from Sudan. The film follows a young man who was cursed on his birth to die at age 20. Now, he’s 19, and he’s lived his life under the oppression of a family that’s mourned him more than loved him. The film explores the emotional impact as well as the freedom that comes with a sort of expectation of one’s own death, even if it might be more just superstition than anything real. The movie is interesting; I can’t say I loved it, but I did like it. It’s a touch long, but it’s well acted and presents a storyline we haven’t seen often before, so it’s worth a look if you like foreign films. Following that we have Lust, a Norwegian film about a crime writer who is brutally attacked by one of her fans, who then begins to retreat from her life and suspect that everyone is out to get her. The film blurs the lines between what is real and what is imagined, and I suspect that that’s the film’s power. It’s part revenge thriller and part surreal drama, and again, I can’t say I loved it but I didn’t dislike it either. It isn’t really my kind of movie, but it’s hard to argue that it’s well made. Next up is The Real Thing, a film from Japan based on a popular Manga. The film follows a young man who lives a life of boredom, until one day he rescues a woman who throws his life into chaos. My understanding is that the film was originally a ten-episode series, which explains it’s near-four-hour running time. I’m not sure if the show was cut down to make it into a film or if this includes the entirety of the show, but between the overly long running time, the largely unlikable characters, and the cramming of too many events into the film, it really didn’t do much for me. Fans of the original manga may have a different take on it. Finally this week, we have Nakom, which I guess isn’t officially a foreign film. It’s written and directed by Kelly Daniela Norris and T.W. Pittman, but the film is set in Ghana and features a heavy use of the local Kusaal language. The film follows a young man in medical school in the big city who is called back to his farming community when his father dies. Cue the usual big-city-versus-small-town sensibilities and the family drama that comes along with it. The film moves a little slowly for my tastes, although the performances are quite good. Might be worth a watch for fans of the genre.