On DVD & Blu-Ray: November 29, 2016


Don't Breathe, the new horror/thriller from director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead re-make), opens with a distant shot of what looks to be a deserted street. Only later do we find out this is one of the more run down sections of Detroit where time and humanity have left everything behind that might have once thrived there. As the camera gets closer to the street we can see there is someone walking down the middle of it. The camera continues to zoom in slowly-we can tell that someone is dragging something down the road behind them. A little closer. They are dragging another person. A little closer. It's a girl who is either dead or unconscious-it's difficult to tell and we will remain unsure as the screen then cuts to black. It's a killer opening shot that clearly points to a moment that is to come later in the film, but with its placement at the beginning Alvarez has already enticed his audience to how we might get to this point and whether that shot indicates the end of the line or not. It's a trick that has been used before and will certainly be used again, but every now and then it feels especially inherent to the story being told and Don't Breathe feels like an instance where this isn't only a tool to lure the unsuspecting (or suspecting if you bought a ticket, I mean c'mon) audience member into the intrigue of what exactly is going on, but instead this is a choice that lets those audience members (suspecting or not) know up front that Alvarez means to make you question things, to make you pull your knees up to your chin and grit your teeth because you feel so tense. This isn't simply a hook, but an indication of the type of terror the characters we'll come to know are capable of and this is all accomplished in the first thirty or so seconds so one can only imagine what sitting through ninety minutes of such adept perception of what makes people uncomfortable and afraid might be like. In only his second feature film the Uruguay-born director delivers a horror film that, much like his previous movie, contains itself to an isolated location, but only continues to raise the stakes and use that space in inventive and chilling ways. Save for something of a lackluster middle section where, for a moment, the film feels as if it runs out of both steam and ideas for where exactly to take the story and its characters, the film is a tightly scripted and well-performed fright night that finds its footing well enough to redeem itself and pull the cautious viewers back to the side of rooting for whoever gains the most of their sympathy. Video review here. Full review here. B-

I saw the 1977 version of Pete's Dragon numerous times throughout my childhood. I still own a DVD copy of it that sits alongside the likes of Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks on my shelf, but do I recall much of it? No, not really. I can't put my finger on why exactly nothing other than the character design of Elliot, the hand-drawn dragon comes to mind, but it doesn't. Not so far as story goes anyway or what the underlying lessons of the picture might have been attempting to teach children of that generation. And so, while I have memories surrounding the original film on which this new, 2016 version directed and written by David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) is based I don't recall the specifics of the actual movie-leaving me to wonder what about this story was worth re-telling. What, if anything, might make it relevant now? On the surface it would seem that this new, updated version of Pete's Dragon is here for no other reason than for the studio to continue operating on brand recognition; remaking their older classics into new, live-action spectacles enhanced by today's digital effects. It could also be that every generation more or less needs its evil corporation cautionary tale and what better way to do that here then by positioning the adults as not necessarily bad guys, but people simply caught-up in their own agendas who happen to work for timber companies? Immediately this version of Pete's Dragon feels different than this though, there seems no hidden agenda, no sense of obligation to re-make this specific material because Disney deemed it necessary, but rather one can sense a desire to convey this story for reasons bigger than any financial gain or profit it might earn. Rather, Lowery has crafted a film that desires to get at the heart of what makes the innocence of childhood so hard to grasp, so difficult to define, and how depressing it can be that we don't understand the preciousness of that time as we're experiencing it or more harshly-when it is taken away from us and all we have to remember it by are those rose-tinted glasses that distort it in favor of the pleasantries. The 2016 Pete's Dragon is something of a love letter to those pleasant moments. To how strong the ability to believe in something greater is at an age when we don't fully understand the scope or nature of the world or the human race. The best part is that none of these ideas are overtly telegraphed in the film. The film is very much the story of what happens when a town discovers a boy living in the woods with his pet dragon, but through this it makes one feel all of the aforementioned emotions and it is in those elicited emotions the movie transcends whatever it might have originally been intended to be. Full review here. B+

The latest from director Steven Spielberg is an odd little film. It is a project that seems all too good to be true. A feature length version of a classic Roald Dahl story, set to the music of John Williams, and directed by one of the greatest living filmmakers. What could possibly go wrong? The truth is, there isn't much wrong with The BFG if you're looking for a charming little think piece to show your children and teach them patience, but as far as the entertainment factor goes you might have the kiddos clawing at your feet five minutes in. Some children will no doubt find this story of a young girl who is kidnapped by an exceptionally nice giant and taken to his home in Giant Country to be completely mesmerizing and there are certainly plenty of reasons to be struck with this reaction, but as the film played out and as it became more and more apparent there was no driving narrative to the piece I became less enchanted with the product as a whole. More, the film is essentially Spielberg creating a handful of the type of drawn-out sequences he seems to have enjoyed crafting more and more in the latter part of his career. Extended scenes of discussions documented by richly creative camera movements with just as much inventiveness being poured into the setting and the performances. While such techniques give The BFG a sense of that Spielbergian touch that has been glimpsed in many a sequences in the auteur's other films there is nothing else to support such scenes here. On one hand, it is admirable that Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Indian in the Cupboard) have created a film that doesn't care to hue close to the typical conventions of a children's movie or most movies for that matter as much of the first hour of the film is focused on developing the relationship between the titular giant (as played by Bridge of Spies Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance) and Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) as they come to figure out one another in ways that subtly explore their similarities and differences enough that we see how well different types of people, never mind different types of species, can complement each other. At two hours though, there simply isn't enough content to justify the running time. The BFG may have made a truly enchanting short, but as a feature film this feels more like an escape for a specific niche of an audience rather than the broadly appealing summer family film it has been positioned to be. Full review here. C

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