By Christopher Campbell | Spout December 20, 2011 at 1:21PM
Looking for something to rent this week? Here's what we had to say about the films out on DVD/Blu-ray today. Titles include "Saint Nick," "Burke and Hare" and "Blackthorn." Also: Docs on DVD highlights and new VOD release "Moneyball."
I'm one of a few movie writers, if not the last, who hasn't yet seen Woody Allen's latest, "Midnight in Paris." I guess I still just can't trust that it's going to be worth my time. I haven't really liked a Woody movie since "Sweet and Lowdown." Still, now that it's on home video I'm more than likely going to finally give it a shot. The same goes for the other popular films hitting DVD and Blu-ray today, "Margin Call" and "Warrior." Feel free to encourage or pressure me into seeing them sooner or later if you're curious what I think.
As for new releases we have seen, two of them are decidedly underrated and under-seen horror comedies, and we recommend that you finally check them out while I'm checking out the neglected titles above. First is a perfect movie for the holidays, as it's one of a handful of recent Christmas-themed flicks in which Santa (or a variation of him) is evil and murderous rather than jolly and giving. Dick Mass' "Saint Nick" (previoulsy known as just "Saint") offers a portrayal of the titular Bishop, who comes back every thirty years so, whenever there's a full moon on December 5th, to kidnap and slaughter children. Here is part of Daniel Walber's review from the Tribeca Film Festival this year, originally posted April 23:
Quite the thriller. It’s a fast-paced slasher flick with a distinctly Northern European penchant for the ridiculous, and it disappoints in neither its romping absurdity nor well-timed suspense. And while the cultural distance between our understanding of Santa Claus and the distinctly Dutch and Flemish Sinterklaas creates the occasional block from getting 100% out of the movie’s wit, there’s something terribly universal about a 500-year-old zombie on horseback with a mission to kill.
Next is John Landis's latest, "Burke and Hare," an entertaining black comedy that I'm well aware is not loved by many critics. But it's a movie I think will find an appreciative audience on home video. Also, I really do think people need to recognize the talents of Andy Serkis beyond his motion capture work and he is brilliantly funny here as one of the infamous Victorian gravediggers-turned-killer. I also love Simon Pegg, Tim Curry and Tom Wilkinson, all of whom are terrific as usual, and especially enjoy the reunion of Pegg and his "Spaced" costar Jessica Hynes, who really needs to work more. Funnier than all of them, though, is the scene-stealing Ronnie Corbett.
I never wrote a full review of the film, which I found to be a great satire of changing times, but I think I showed it some positive favor in my report on Landis's appearance at a screening held in March by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. There I wrote, "perhaps, even though "Burke and Hare" isn't getting stellar reviews, it too will be considered a classic in time, or at least have its own devoted fans." I'm a fan, and I'm certain more will come now that more Americans have a chance to see it. It's just a silly buddy comedy on par with Landis's "Spies Like Us" and "Three Amigos!" It's no "Trading Places" or "Blues Brothers," but what is. Too many people wanted something on the classic horror comedy level of "An American Werewolf in London."
Another under-seen film is Gil Mateo's "Blackthorn," a western that imagines the later years of Butch Cassidy, had he survived the true downfall depicted at the end of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Daniel Walber named the film one of his favorites of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, and this is what he wrote for our roundup, which was posted April 19:
Bolivia, late 1920s. Butch Cassidy, as it turns out, was not killed in a gunfight at San Vicente in 1908 but spent the next few decades peacefully living on a ranch in the countryside. Director Mateo Gil (writer of "The Sea Inside" and "Open Your Eyes") focuses in on the cowboy’s last great adventure, a tumultuous ride through the gorgeous Bolivian landscape on the run from bandits and thugs hired by wealthy local mining families. The stoic yet articulate Cassidy is played artfully by Sam Shepard, reluctantly accompanied by the always compelling Eduardo Noriega. Much like its clear inspiration, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Blackthorn” takes an impassioned look at the twilight of the Western. It’s a poetic postscript to a postscript, set to some of the most beautiful landscapes in this year’s festival line-up.
Also check out my weekly report on new documentaries on DVD over at DOC Channel Blog. Titles this week are "Journey from Zanskar: A Monk's Vow to Children," "Full Signal: The Hidden Cost of Cell Phones" and "Beyond the Chair."
Finally, on VOD starting this week (as of December 22) is Bennett Miller's smart, successful and wholly enjoyable baseball movie "Moneyball," one of the many titles this year that inadvertently seems linked to the Occupy movement. Damn those Yankees and their high budget. Here's part of my review from the Toronto Film Festival, originally posted to Movies.com on September 14:
In league with [screenwriter Aaron] Sorkin’s previous work, The Social Network. It’s nerds versus jocks, brains versus bank, algorithms versus experience. Revolutionary thinking is always a challenge, yet not inevitably a dramatic one, it seems. While there are arguments and some bats thrown about, Moneyball is very lacking in tension and crisis.[...] Moneyball is a feel good movie of the highest order, upbeat and positive, more of a really well done yet piece-of-cake puff profile than a great film. But I do think it’s mostly hopeful and happy for viewers who are only casual fans of baseball, like myself, who do not follow stats and rankings and enjoy a single game on its own now and again (just enjoy the show).