Richard Curtis’s Pirate Radio (Universal), a tribute to the pirate radio stations that broadcast rock and roll from the ships off the British coast when rock music (and, in fact, all pre-recorded music) was restricted on BBC stations in the mid-sixties, is a perfectly enjoyable comedy that never strays beyond its playlist of colorful personalities and comic antics.
There’s no political meat in its satire of the British government or any real story in the episodic succession of events, and its portrait of the (pop) culture of the time is really just a movie fantasy. But the cast (which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost and Bill Nighy, who proves himself once again the funniest deadpan on Earth) is good company, the film has a killer soundtrack (the British title of the film is “The Boat that Rocked,” and it does) and you get to hear Kenneth Branagh (as the ultimate petty bureaucrat determined not to let anyone have any fun) say “Twatt” and “Clitt” (the unfortunate names of his immediate subordinates) repeatedly. As I wrote above, it’s episodic and there’s another 45 minutes of deleted episodes (not just cut scenes but complete sequences) in the supplements. The Blu-ray has a bunch of inconsequential bonus featurettes as well. I review it for MSN here.
The comedy troupe Broken Lizard has been working hard to match the success of their hilarious breakthrough film Super Troopers. The Slammin’ Salmon (Anchor Bay), which received a limited theatrical release, shows that they’re not trying hard enough. Defendor (Sony), with Woody Harrelson as a somewhat unbalanced civilian who makes himself over into a Batman-like hero, arrives the same week that Kick-Ass hits theaters, which may get it initial attention but ultimately just shows it up as a mess of awkward black comedy, tangled themes and screwed-up characters looking for a story. (Click on the title links for my MSN reviews).
Given the missed opportunities and forced efforts on DVD this week, The Missing Person (Strand) looks all the better, a low-key private-eye pastiche with a disaffected detective and a running stream of hard-boiled narration winding his way through a missing persons case that resonates with the losses and anxieties of 9/11. Michael Shannon (late of The Runaways) is the alcoholic PI with old-school attitude in the modern world and director Noah Buschell uses the off-kilter presence of Shannon to great effect: so often a menacing brute or a borderline psycho, here he’s affable, vulnerable, damaged, yet still concerned enough to do what’s right rather than what’s convenient. If the film’s reach exceeds its grasp, and tone wavers through the running time, they are forgivable slights given the director’s light touch with the cast and affection for the genre. The increasingly complicated case is no deadly conspiracy, merely the efforts of other parties who have something to gain by keeping this case unresolved, but our tarnished knight is finally roused from the bottle to do the right thing by the folks at the center of the emotionally complicated situation, not the interfering parties at the margins. Amy Ryan is marvelous in a small role as the unruffled Miss Charley, who slowly warms to his humor and his code. And it’s got a very cool soundtrack, featuring jazz recordings by Bud Powell, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk and others.
Nightmare on Elm Street Collection (New Line) – As the inevitable reboot nears release (with Jackie Earl Haley wearing the razor glove), all eight films from the original run of Freddie Krueger’s Nightmare attacks on unsuspecting teens are collected in this no-frills box set. John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, and Heather Langenkamp star in the Nightmare that started it all and launched a horror movie franchise but Robert Englund (under layers of latex sculpted to resemble burned flesh) steals the film as the deceased child killer who returns from the dead as a demon and delivers one-liners while he murders teenagers in their dreams, where they are most vulnerable. It’s ingenious exploitation that plays on primal fears and subconscious anxieties and actually makes irrational behavior of almost every movie teenager hunted by homicidal maniacs a defining and expressive part of the experience: they become primal elements of their nightmares. What is more evocative than constantly fleeing down, down, down into the hellish depths of danger to face your demons? The root of modern horror films are nightmare scenarios that seem to emerge from subconscious anxieties and fears and this film simply goes to the source. Johnny Depp has an early role as part of the body count (his high-concept death involves a waterbed).
The nightmares continued in five sequels (some more inspired than others) without Craven until Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), which reimagines the entire series as a meta-movie years before Scream. Former English professor Craven makes a case for the cultural importance of stories by making a decidedly grim fairy tale, a modern twist on an ancient tradition, and winds up with an imaginative take on society’s fascination with horror. While none of the films beyond Craven’s ever really stand out of the usual grind of horror sequels, it did give a number of up and coming directors a chance to flex their creative muscles: Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), Renny Harlin (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) and Stephen Hopkins (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child) all leapt from this series directly into big budget action cinema. The set is completed with the disappointing one-off Freddy Vs. Jason (2003), a horror movie smackdown between two archaic icons anonymously directed by Ronnie Yu, once an inventive fantasist just marking time here. It was the last appearance of either horror icon until their inevitable rebirths.
There first seven discs are identical to those in the (long out of print) 1999 box set (but without the bonus “Nightmare Encyclopedia” disc), while Freddy Vs. Jason is simply first disc in the film’s two-disc “Platinum Series” release. There’s commentary on the original Nightmare by director Wes Craven with stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon and director of photography Jacques Haitkin, on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare by Craven and on Freddy Vs. Jason by director Ronny Yu and stars Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger. That’s pretty much it for supplements, though all the discs include “Jump to a Nightmare” for instant access to the money shots. Eight discs in a compact case with four tightly-packed hinged trays. The original A Nightmare on Elm Street also gets a Blu-ray debut this week, featuring all the supplements from the earlier DVD “Infinifilm Special Edition” release (two commentary tracks, alternate endings, three documentary featurettes), plus the Blu-ray exclusive interactive “Focus Points” mode, which allows instant access to alternate takes and behind the scenes footage while watching the film.
Also released this week: Tenure (Genius) with Luke Wilson, Tenderness (Lionsgate) with Russell Crowe, the Chinese historical epic Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (Lionsgate), the documentary Blessed Is The Match (Docurama), and I would be remiss if I did not draw your attention to the latest from the happily notorious Uwe Boll: the crime thriller Stoic (Vivendi), a rare Boll not based on a video game.