Coolest extra: “Insidious Entities” featurette, in which director James Wan and writer/co-star Leigh Whannell break down the inspiration behind all of the movie’s ghouls and demons (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: In some ways, Insidious is actually done a disservice by home movie formats. More so than any 3D movie, director James Wan’s bonkers supernatural flick is designed as a pure movie theater experience; it’s a cinematic funhouse, best seen for the first time in a crowded room full of excitable patrons looking to have the piss scared out of them. And that’s exactly what Insidious, our favorite movie of 2011’s first half, did during its hugely successful theatrical run in April, eliciting tons of screams, shouts, and gleeful applause on its way to becoming the year’s most profitable film so far.
Which isn’t to say that Insidious, written by Wan’s Saw-creating partner Leigh Whannell, won’t play well at home—the opposite is true. Unlike most horror films, which initially shock but lose both appeal and intensity upon subsequent viewings, this taut flick holds up incredibly well. That’s a testament to Wan’s surplus of disturbing imagery, dreamed up in Whannell’s mind and delivered through his director-pal’s eyes: a lipstick-faced demon that looks like Darth Maul’s long lost satanic brother, a freaky specter in a black wedding gown that resembles a decrepit old woman but is actually played by a dude, a midget dressed as a ’20s-era newsie who dances to folk music, and ghouls inspired by the off-kilter 1962 macabre cult classic Carnival Of Souls.
Amidst all of the heebie-jeebies, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a suburban couple trying to figure out why their young son is in an abnormal coma; the answer, as Whannell’s clever script reveals, is that he’s stuck inside an alternate dimension called The Further, where malevolent souls feed off of the living. Just how Wan builds the story’s dread up through genuinely effective jump scares and nightmarish visuals, leading up to the film’s refreshingly unpleasant ending, is best left unspoiled. Experience it for yourselves; a small screen is fine.
Buy it now: Insidious
Rango (Available starting 7/15)
Coolest extra: “Real Creatures Of Dirt” featurette, which discusses the inspiration behind each of the movie’s animals (DVD); “Breaking The Rules” Making Animation History” featurette, which shows the step-by-step process used by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic to create their first-ever animated movie
Complex says: On the surface, everything about Rango makes it seem like a kids’ movie. It’s animated, for starters, and all of the characters are talking animals partial to hijinx. But it doesn’t take long for director Gore Verbinski’s quirky, spaghetti western-inspired flick to reveal itself as pure grown-up entertainment; youngsters should be able to pull a few chuckles from Johnny Depp’s goofy voiceover work as the titular chameleon, but, overall, Rango’s humor is far too eccentric, and its references to Sergio Leone films much too adult, for the kiddies to completely understand.
And that’s a positive. With its off-center energy and stark 2D animation, Rango is a refreshing change of pace from the Pixar universe, which, although still reliably high-caliber, has become slightly predictable. For the company’s first animated movie, Industrial Light & Magic, founded by George Lucas, chose the unique tale of a domesticated chameleon that unwittingly ends up in the unlawful town of Dirt, where Rango, who’s always dreamed of being a hero, gets anointed sheriff.
He’s in way over his head, of course, but, in the end, Rango emerges as a legitimate badass; the movie itself, meanwhile, ranks as one of the year’s best to date. Depp gives his funniest performance in years, albeit only through his voice; Rango singlehandedly spares Depp from any additional shots we’d fire as a result of Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Buy it now: Rango
The Lincoln Lawyer
Coolest extra: “One On One With McConaughey and Connelly” featurette, pairing the star with the original novel’s author (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: The Lincoln Lawyer is easily one of 2011’s biggest surprises, if not the biggest yet. Before we actually saw the movie, thoughts of straight-to-DVD snoozers starring notable actors permeated in our minds; starring two once-in-demand guys who’ve fallen off hardcore (Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe), director Brad Furman’s legal thriller seemed destined for box office evaporation, followed by cable TV anonymity. But then we checked it out, and, much to our own shock, we dug the hell out of it. And now that it’s available for domestic viewings, The Lincoln Lawyer is a worthy addition to anyone’s DVD/Blu-ray library. Somewhere, McConaughey is laughing at us with that airhead-y, “Alright, alright” tone of his.
Based on a novel by popular crime writer Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer is a paint-by-numbers legal exercise. McConaughey plays a slick-talking defendant whose latest client, a millionaire playboy (Phillippe), has been accused of rape and attempted murder. It doesn’t take long for the legal eagle to realize that his boy is in fact guilty, as well as an arrogant prick, and the guilty conscience and moral dilemmas that ensue provide for some well-executed plot twists and the best acting that McConaughey has delivered since 2002’s slept-on psychological horror pic Frailty.
It’s in no way groundbreaking, but The Lincoln Lawyer is nevertheless a solid piece of glossy filmmaking—fast-paced, tightly plotted, and complete with likeable performances. There’s nothing straight-to-DVD about that.
Buy it now: The Lincoln Lawyer
Arthur (Available starting 7/15)
Coolest extra: Additional scenes (DVD); “Arthur Unsupervised” featurette, featuring bits deemed “too wild” for theaters (Blu-ray)
Complex says: Here’s a cold, hard truth that all character actors should learn: Not every scene-stealer is built for leading man duties. Take Russell Brand, for example. As a co-star in the Judd Apatow-produced comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek, the flamboyant English actor/comedian complemented his castmates perfectly, adding his quick-tongued accent and unique sensibilities into mixes that featured vastly different performers like Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, and Diddy (or whatever he’s calling himself these days). Both movies were hits, and Brand was credited as a standout in each.
Thus, his first big look as a top-billed star was bound to happen; unfortunately for Brand and his unsuspecting fans, though, it came in the form of Arthur, a painfully unfunny remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore flick. Brand certainly gives it all here, playing an obnoxious rich guy who’s never worked a day in his life, but whose hard-partying ways force his mother to give him a choice: marry her snobbish corporate protégé (Jennifer Garner), or give up his financially diesel inheritance. The decision is made all the more difficult after Arthur meets a meager cutie (Greta Gerwig) who’s the opposite of everything Mommy Money-Bags wants for her slacker son.
Save for a few snappy one-liners from an out-of-place Helen Mirren (as Arthur’s longtime nanny), Arthur, directed by Modern Family co-executive producer Jason Winer, never inspires more than a half-assed smirk. Brand, overcompensating for the script’s awfulness by amplifying his already-manic ways tenfold, is one-note, Gerwig (an indie favorite sadly trying her hand at mainstream fare here) looks totally lost, and that ever-important thing known as “comedy” is on permanent vacation throughout. As a test for Brand’s potential leading man chops, Arthur isn’t nearly as bad as, say, Carrot Top’s Chairman Of The Board, yet the fact that Mr. Top’s 1998 travesty can so seamlessly be woven into an Arthur discussion is a bad enough sign.
Buy it now: Arthur
Coolest extra: “A Walkthrough Of The Set” featurette (DVD)
Complex says: Back in 2007, a year before the surprisingly good American remake, Quarantine, earned solid profits at the box office, the Spanish found-footage horror flick [REC] scared the piss out of festival audiences worldwide, earning a notorious reputation. And, much to the delight of horror purists, directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s lean and mean pseudo-zombie movie (think 28 Days Later…, not Night Of The Living Dead) more than lived up to the hype. So when a sequel was announced, the initial feeling was one of skepticism; after all, horror follow-ups haven’t been the most reliable of films.
To keep the comparison going, [REC] 2 is on par with 28 Weeks Later; meaning, it’s a total knockout. Picking up seconds after the action in [REC] ends, it swiftly continues the central story; that of a demonic outbreak inside a Barcelona apartment building that turns infected residents into supercharged, red-eyed killing machines. But the magic of [REC] 2 comes in the ways it deviates from its predecessor. By [REC]’s insane ending, Balaguero and Plaza had introduced a subtle dose of Satanism that worked like charm; here, the filmmakers expand upon Lucifer’s influence, classifying [REC] 2 as more of a possession movie than a zombie flick. It’s also the best horror sequel to come out in years, though we’d recommend you watch [REC] prior to checking this one out, for continuity’s sake.
Buy it now: [REC] 2
Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season
Coolest extra: “The Shades Of Sasha Grey” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Is anyone really upset to see HBO’s Entourage begin its final season on July 24? Probably, yet we can’t totally understand why. Once a witty look at a lavish Hollywood life (sex, parties, groupies, and thick bank accounts) that none of us peons know anything about, the Mark Wahlberg-produced show has succumbed to lazy writing and non-existent character development in recent years; seasons three through six might as well be one run, since virtually the same thing happens on a per-episode basis.
There’s a reason why Entourage’s most ardent fans are so jazzed about the impending eighth season, however: The show’s seventh season, which aired last summer, took a few steps in the right direction towards improvement. The producers and writers finally inserted some much-needed dramatic weight into the typically fluffy show, giving Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) a moodier and drug-addled disposition, Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) a failure’s sadness, and Eric (Kevin Connolly) a foil in triumphant guest star Scott Caan.
For once, Entourage felt like a show that actually cares about forward movement, making this two-disc set (which includes all ten episodes, as well as various commentaries and a featurette dedicated to detailing guest star Sasha Grey’s porn career) essential viewing for anyone who’s even marginally curious about the show’s endgame.