Men (A24/Lionsgate, Blu-ray + DVD, R, 100 min.). Writer-director Alex Garland’s “Men” out-Cronenberg’s the early David Cronenberg with its physical transformations. Plus, the psychological thriller is unique in that actor Rory Kinnear plays nine roles, nearly every man in the film. In the pub scene, he plays caretaker Geoffrey, the bartender, a policeman and two other patrons. About the only man Kinnear does not play is the deceased husband of the main character, Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley), who rents a very large house in the English countryside from Geoffrey as she tries to come to terms with her husband’s death. She was intending to divorce him and does not know whether his death, which she witnessed, was accidental or a suicide, as he had claimed he would do.

The film, like Garland’s earlier, more science fiction efforts “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” establishes an early feeling of dread, as Harper walks through the woods and is troubled by an echo, not hers, in a tunnel. Hurrying home she comes across a naked man (Kinnear) outside a deserted house and a bit later the naked man is trying to break into where she is staying. In the accompanying making-of featurette (24:02), it is explained this naked man represents The Green Man, whose visage is seen in carvings and sculpture throughout the film. The Green Man is a legendary being, a symbol of rebirth, representing each spring’s cycle of new growth.

At one point that symbolic rebirth becomes actual, leading to my Cronenberg reference. It is at this point that the film leaves reality for the fantastic, and the earlier dread that has been building — through a surly teenager who is nasty to her (Kinnear’s face replaces the child actor’s) and the vicar who suggests she was responsible for her husband’s death for not giving him a chance to apologize after their argument and striking her — becomes outright horror. It is an indelible sequence. Also, just before this point, a gruesome injury to one of the Green Man’s forms is carried over to two others, leading to the realization that all are aspects of the same male creature.

The film also is an exploration of grief. Kudos got to Garland’s usual cinematographer, Rob Hardy, and composers, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Grade: film 3.5 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

YellowBrickRoad (2010, Lightyear, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 100 min.). This horror film shares much in common with “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), as it takes place out in the woods and features a lot of “found video” as a team tries to follow the path taken by all the inhabitants of Friar, New Hampshire in 1940, after they had watched “The Wizard of Oz.” All but one perished, with some found frozen to death and others slaughtered. This new edition has enhanced visual effects.

The 2008 expedition of seven investigators is led by Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) and includes his wife Melissa (Anessa Ramsey), sibling mapmakers Daryl (Clark Freeman) and Erin Luger (Cassidy Freeman), forester Cy Banbridge (Sam Elmore), nurse Jill (Tara Giordano) and psychiatrist Walter Myrick (Alex Draper). They are joined by local Liv (Laura Heisler). The two Freemans also served as executive producers.

The film is written and directed by Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland, who also provide an audio commentary. The film has some slow spots, but then the soundtrack, which is more effective than the visuals, kicks in with a sonic assault, teeth-and-brain-rattling, to convey the mind-altering effect of the deep woods, that forced me to constantly cover my ears.

One character seems to see portions of a yellow brick road twice and violence does erupt among the searchers, including a limb pulled off. Soon other deaths follow, but it all really adds up to little.

Extras are many though, including interviews with Mitton (6:52), Holland (7:41), the Freemans (36:52) and producer Eric Hungerford (15:43). There is a piece on creating the fake blood for the limb scene (11:07) and a behind-the-scenes look (17:09). Grade: film 2 stars; extras 3 stars

Flatliners (1990, Arrow Video, 4K Ultra HD or Blu-ray, R, 114 min.). The cast, then young and upcoming stars-to-be, is topnotch, but the story about accountability and making amends is too muddled for my taste. A group of medical students, led by Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland) decide to bring themselves beyond the brink of death and then back to life in order to see what, if anything, is seen or experienced after death. The group, which includes Kevin Bacon as atheist Dave Labraccio, Julia Roberts as Rachel Manus, William Baldwin as Joe Hurley, and Oliver Pratt as Randy Steckle, keeps upping the length of their flatline trips.

The scenes while “dead” are less than revealing, more memories than a view of the afterlife. Frankly, the Halloween party going on outside is more entertaining. It seems, though, that each flatliner connects with someone they have wronged in the past and, at least in Nelson’s case, that results in some real damage in the present.

The film excels in the cinematography of Jim de Bont and the production designs of Eugenio Zanetti. The sound effects editing earned an Oscar nomination. The director was Joel Schumacher, and the filming took place in Chicago.

New extras include audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, and interviews with screenwriter Peter Filardi (19:11), de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer (18:23; discussing the different techniques used), first assistant director John Kretchmer (14:22), Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy (10:47), composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman (11:33) and costume designer Susan Becker (6:26). There also is an image gallery and booklet writing by Amanda Reyes and Peter Tonguette. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 4 stars

White Elephant (RLJE, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 81 min.). Despite some top names, this is the usual mob hitman overkill movie. I counted 53 dead. Bruce Willis, who almost never leaves the restaurant, plays crime boss Arnold Solomon, who orders his contract killer Gabriel Tancredi (Michael Rooker) to kill Luiz Velasquez over some beef. The killing is handled by Gabriel’s new partner, Carlos (Vadhir Derbez), but Carlos is seen exiting the crime scene by two cops, including Vanessa Flynn (Olga Kurylenko). Carlos quickly kills the male cop, but Vanessa manages to escape, killing three of her attackers. The rest of the film deals with Carlos’ efforts to kill her. Trouble between Russian and Mexican mobsters spills over and adds to the body count.

Director/co-writer Jesse V. Johnson gives Gabriel more of an emotional arc than is usual, as he still misses his late wife and comes to have sympathy for Vanessa. John Malkovich plays Solomon’s attorney and Gabriel’s friend. He talks a lot of Greek history but does little else. It is all routine. Grade: film 2.5 stars

Flying Guillotine Part II aka Palace Carnage (China, 1978, 88 Films, NR, 92 min.). The gimmick of this film, part of a Shaw Brothers series, is the flying, spinning metal head-chopping-off discs that the attackers can fling around in the air on chains as it they weigh nothing. While not too believable, they are very effective. For the rest, there is plenty of sword fighting. The plot consists of several failed efforts to assassinate evil Ching Emperor Yung Jing (Feng Ku).

One of the Han rebels, Ma Teng (Lung Ti) has discovered that using a broken metal umbrella can thwart the flying guillotine, so the emperor orders a new, more deadly version. To steal plans for the new double-guillotine, Na-Lan (Szu Shih), with her female warriors, goes undercover to become part of the emperor’s guards. The film improves a lot when Na-Lan becomes the central character.

The film, co-directed by Cheng Kang and Hua Shan, ends after a climatic fight in which everyone appears to die, requiring another installment, 1978’s “Vengeful Beauty.” Extras include audio commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema and an image gallery. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

Battle of the Worlds (Italy, 1961, Film Detective, Blu-ray, NR, 81 min.). Claude Rains, then 70, plays very gruff Professor Benson, who predicts a rogue planet will enter the solar system and nearly strike the Earth. When governments try to destroy it, it launches deadly flying saucers. Eventually, the Professor himself flies to the dead planet to investigate the intelligence inside.

The film is plodding at times, but some of the photography — early color — is good and Rains is always a treat. The extras are good and include audio commentary by Justin Humphreys, Tim Lucas’ overview of director Antonio Margheriti’s career (30:38) and a 12-page, illustrated booklet with an essay by Don Stradley. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3.5 stars

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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