No Strings Attached
Coolest extra: “Sex Friends: Getting It Together” featurette (DVD); “Modern Love: The Do’s and Don’ts” featurette
Complex says: A fuck buddy with whom you can also talk about life and share intimate secrets—think of the possibilities. Of course it’d never be possible, with human feelings and all, but the notion of a sexual partner who’s also a commitment-free companion quite appealing. It’s the kind of premise that super-producer Judd Apatow would have a field day with; imagine Knocked Up minus all of the pregnancy business.
No Strings Attached, a friends-with-benefits dramedy directed by comedy veteran Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters), so badly wants to be an Apatow film, yet its lead, Ashton Kutcher, is no Seth Rogen, nor a Paul Rudd. And, as crazy as it sounds, Reitman today is no Apatow. Unable to see their bountiful idea through, the director and his screenwriter, Elizabeth Merriweather, start off with something admittedly entertaining but gradually pump their brakes and veer into safer thematic territory (i.e., lovelorn heartache).
The result is a potentially subversive rom-com that degenerates into something Katherine Heigl would make on one of her better days. As the female half of the cut-buddy pair, Natalie Portman is constantly outdone by her female co-stars, namely an unexpectedly humorous Lake Bell, indie stalwart Greta Gerwig, and The Office’s Mindy Kaling. Perhaps if Reitman gave one of them the lead opposite Kutcher (or someone better, for that matter), the predictable latter half of No Strings Attached could’ve been something more. Much like Portman’s individual performance, though, this mediocre chick flick conjures up little more than indifference.
Buy it now: No Strings Attached
Coolest extra: Making-of featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Going into the Academy Awards earlier this year, The King’s Speech star Colin Firth had the Best Actor statue in the bag before the first award was even handed out. Many considered his only competition to be Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network); for our money, though, the year’s best leading male performance came from Ryan Gosling in this unfairly overlooked drama.
Like the Leonardo Dicaprio/Kate Winslet heart-stomper Revolutionary Road, Blue Valentine is an unintentional argument against marriage, depicting an imploding union between Gosling and an also praiseworthy Michelle Williams. Director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance takes an unusual, non-linear approach to their story, though, giving the couple’s earlier happy days an air of bittersweet tragedy since the preceding scenes show where they’re heading, which isn’t pretty. Through it all, Gosling and Williams deliver raw and fearless performances that rip at your heart with jaws-of-life force.
To be clear, though, Blue Valentine is a total downer. That doesn’t mean it’s one to skip; with two of last year’s best acting turns and a devastating script, Cianfrance’s pic is an emotional uppercut that’s perfect to watch with your girl. Compared to the issues dealt with in the movie, her complaints about your late nights out will seem elementary.
Buy it now: Blue Valentine
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Coolest extra: Featurette in which the Biebs gets his signature hairdo cut (We’ll take what we can get from this one, folks)
Complex says: If you’re looking a multifaceted examination into Justin Bieber’s music industry takeover, find something else to search for, because Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is a marketing tool packaged as a 3D tour documentary. Those who already suffer from “Bieber Fever” have more than likely seen this one-sided pop tart flick already, not to mention they’ve probably had the DVD preordered for months now. So we could say that this is a dangerous piece of teen-brainwashing propaganda and it’d still sell like beer in Ireland.
For heads who can’t stand the little Canadian radio killer, Never Say Never will do little to convert their beliefs. It’s the kind of irresponsible documentary that can’t be bothered with the whole story, keeping the POV strictly rooted in the subject’s angle. But let’s not kid ourselves here—the word “documentary.” Docs are meant to, you know, document things for historical and/or informational purposes; Never Say Never is so shamelessly pro-Biebs that it’s ultimately a nearly two-hour commercial peppered with pointlessly 3D concert footage.
Buy it now: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Coolest extra: Behind-the-scenes featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: In addition to having the most uninviting title of 2011 so far, British director Christopher Smith’s Black Death
is one of the nearly half-over year’s more fascinating and ballsy movies. Set in 1348, when the “Black Death” plague was wiping out villages with unstoppable power, Smith’s part-horror, part-religious psychodrama flick is full of provocative ideas and God-fearing lunacy. Just don’t go in expecting a cold-hearted bloodbath.
While the amount of carnage is indeed high, Black Death is more concerned with what causes the violence, not the slaughter itself. Dario Poloni’s unpredictable script follows a group of knights (led by Game Of Thrones star Sean Bean) sent by the church to investigate a secluded village that’s said to be immune to the plague. When they arrive, Bean and his not-so-merry men are greeted by a possible necromancer (a raiser of the dead) and her creepy subordinates, leading to a final act that’s similar to that of the 1973 British horror classic The Wicker Man, only much more brutal and faith-based.
Four feature films deep into his career, Smith is quietly amassing one of the most diverse resumes in the moviemaking game; though Black Death isn’t actually his best film to date (that honor goes to 2009’s time travelling mindfuck Triangle), it’s nevertheless a heavy piece of work that should lead to some intellectual post-viewing debates.
Buy it now: Black Death
Coolest extra: Deleted scenes that go deeper into the investigation (DVD)
Complex says: Not many documentaries can double as full-fledged horror movies, but that’s the fine line that Cropsey tiptoes to an incredibly disconcerting effect. Staten Island natives Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio take the Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock approach, serving as both directors and on-camera commentators; fascinated by the story’s central villain since they were kids, the filmmaking pair put their all into the film’s exhaustive reporting.
And about that villain—he’s a real-life monster. Hence, Cropsey’s horror quotient. In the late 1980’s, Staten Island became a borough full of straight-up shook ones, with rumors of an escaped mental patients who abducted and murdered little kids. The mumblings graduated to actual facts in 1987, when a handicapped girl vanished, which led to more missing children, a chief suspect, and an examination into an abandoned looney bin, the Willowbrook Mental Institution.
The scariest bits in Cropsey all revolve around newsreel footage and press clippings of the madman’s victims. There’s a section about an old Geraldo Rivera special on Willowbrook that’s especially upsetting, showing the decrepit conditions in which the emaciated and dirt-covered patients ate, slept, and breathed. Zeman and Brancaccio are smart enough to know the story’s inherent muscle, steering clear away from any flashy visual cues or slick editing. Cropsey purely lays out the facts and lets Staten Island’s dark history do all of the heavy lifting.
And you know what’s really scary? There’s no resolution. Don’t expect to see us visiting Shaolin any time soon.
Buy it now: Cropsey
Coolest extra: “Hammertime: Featurette with Destroy All Movies! author Zack Carlson” (DVD)
Complex says: Movies like Sledgehammer aren’t for everyone…just people like us. Because there’s no denying that this shot-on-tape, cheapo slasher from 1983 hasn’t aged very well, though we’re not so sure that it was anything write home about back in ’83, either. It’s about a guy who wears a clear smiley face mask (one you could find at any Duane Reade in October) and bashes heads in with his titular sledgehammer. The acting is exceptionally bad, the dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, and it looks like director David A. Prior shot the whole thing around his neighborhood on a $500 budget.
Furthermore, there’s an unwarranted amount of pointless slow-motion shots, tons of hideous ’80s’ clothing, and moments where you can see the boom mic’s shadow reflected on the wall. And it’s a total blast! Sledgehammer is a pure “call up your friends, grab some beers, and watch it while hammered” experience, one that gets progressively worse as the clock ticks and your alcohol intake increases.
In an effort to present Sledgehammer in VHS quality, Mondo Video and Intervision Picture Group have put together a pretty nifty DVD package. It’s all about the presentation; driving home the disc’s nostalgia factor, the FBI warning and menu screens that preface the actual movie resemble those of old worn-down VHS tapes. The box art, which you can see to the left, is the poster used back in 1983. And the movie’s transfer, while maintaining the grainy, camcorder-esque quality, is rather crisp.
In all, Sledgehammer’s DVD release is one strictly for those who can appreciate shitty horror movies for all of their dated, though also endearing, awfulness.
Buy it now: Sledgehammer
Dahmer vs. Gacy
Coolest extra: None available
Complex says: Check out that DVD cover art—looks pretty hardcore, right? You’re probably thinking, “This Dahmer vs. Gacy shit must be sick.” Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong there, but, unfortunately, this straight-to-DVD horror airball isn’t the serial-killer-deathmatch our sick minds were hoping for; it’s an oddball comedy that’s about as funny as, say, Vampires Suck. Which is a subtler way of saying Dahmer vs. Gacy just sucks.
The plot would actually make for a pretty badass comic book: The government has launched a secret military initiative through which the most notorious mass murderers are cloned and used as soldiers. Duplicates of cannibalistic Jeffrey Dahmer and clown-makeup-wearing, homicidal rapist John Wayne Gacy escape the lab and start killing everyone in sight; again, that’d be a cool set-up if the filmmakers didn’t fancy themselves as John Waters-esque purveyors of gross-out comedy.
Director Ford Austin (who also plays Dahmer) and writer Andrew J. Rausch have more in common with the yahoos who write and direct those Epic Movie/Disaster Movie testers of patience. In Dahmer vs. Gacy, comedy, or lack thereof, comes from the voice of God (supplied by Harland Williams, who must be praying for a Half Baked sequel at this point) repeatedly saying the F-word, a homeless guy fishing a live rat out of a dumpster and eating it, and the sight of a midget cursing up a storm. If any of those things sound funny to you, then Dahmer vs. Gacy might not have a future as a weed plate in your household. And that shouldn’t be a source of pride.