A sequel, a reboot and terror in the sky

By Tom Von Malder | Mar 01, 2021
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment The Croods meet the Bettermans.

Owls Head — The Croods: A New Age (Universal, Blu-ray or DVD, PG, 96 min.). Seven years after the original movie, one’s second favorite Stone Age family – after “The Flintstones,” of course – meets the concept of neighbors and things do not always go smoothly, especially when the Croods eat the bananas. Yes, there is some monkey business going on in this sequel, which has a first-half geared more toward adults and an action-packed second half for the kids.

Central to the story is orphan Guy (voiced by returning Ryan Reynolds, also of the “Deadpool” films), whose backstory begins the film. Guy was sent from his family because the tar was rising and was told to search for Tomorrow, which would be located where the sky is the brightest. Jumping forward several years to when Guy is a teenager, he encounters Eep Crood (voice by Emma Stone of “La La Land,” “The Croods”). Now, father Grug Crood (voiced by a returning Nicolas Cage) wants his pack to stay together – he especially likes when they all sleep in a pile – but Guy has the idea that he and Eep should head out for Tomorrow on their own.

The Croods’ journey brings them to a walled-in garden full of fruits and vegetables … and bananas, which Grug loves. However, it turns out the garden is the domain of Hope (Leslie Mann of “George of the Jungle”) and Phil Betterman (Peter Dinklage of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). The emphasis is truly on the pun in their name, as these more advanced humans have diverted water coming down from the mountain to turn what had a desert into a garden. They live in a large treehouse that has separate bedrooms, an elevator, a shower, windows (which the Croods think of as video screens) and mirrors. The Bettermans also have a daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran of the “Star Wars” franchise), and Phil’s one rule, which is do not eat the bananas.

Guy, of course, adapts to the Bettermans’ lifestyle easier than the others and some romantic chemistry brews between him and Dawn, which devastates Eep. Guy decides to stay with the Bettermans, but Grug wants to move on. Then, of course, Grug and son Thunk (Clark Duke of TV’s “The Office”) eat all the bananas, which leads to conflict with punch monkeys (they literally communicate through punches) and wolf spiders. By the way, the other Croods are mom Ugga (Catherine Keener) and Gran (the late Cloris Leachman in one of her last performances; two more have yet to be released).

The film is very colorful and particularly noisy when it turns to the action second-half. The cleverest bits are the Bettermans’ creations and the Croods’ reactions to them. Why Phil even has a secret man cave that Hope knows nothing about.

Extras include two exclusive short films, “Dear Diary: World’s First Pranks” (2:54) and “Family Movie Night: Little Red Bronana Bread” (3:39), and the much superior DreamWorks short, “To: Gerard,” about an elderly postal worker who beguiles a small girl with coin magic (7:32). “To: Gerald” is one of the 10 films short-listed for Academy Award consideration in the animated short film category and would make a worthy finalist. There also are eight deleted scenes (23:07), most in storyboard form, with introductions by director Joel Crawford. They include two other versions of the man cave scene and some deleted parrot clams that mimic voices they hear.

Other extras include audio commentary by director Crawford, producer Mark Swift, head of story Janual Mercado and editor Jim Ryan; a gag reel (1:51); a look at the voice actors (8:24); the voice actors talking about the film and the evolution of their characters (10:17); Heidi Jo Gilbert shows how to draw eight of the characters (29:05); how to create one’s own Famileaf photo album (2:58); and how to make Stone Age snacks Fancy Fruit Leathers, Shark Milk Smoothies and Supersized Surprise (5:52). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Horizon Line (Universal, Blu-ray or PG-13, 91 min.). The film, written by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken and directed by Sweden’s Mikael Marcimain, has a very ho-hum start, but once the former couple take off for a wedding in a small plane whose pilot dies of a heart attack shortly after takeoff, the film becomes a thrilling battle for survival, even if some of the stunts seem unlikely.

The former couple are dive school owner Jackson (Alexander Dreymon of TV’s “The Last Kingdom”) and looking-for-a-better-work-situation Sara (Allison Williams of TV’s “Girls,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events”). The pair had been dating in Mauritius until Sara got a job in London. Since she does not like goodbyes, Sara walked out of their one last beer without a word. Now she has returned for a mutual friend’s wedding. When they see each other, the sparks rekindle, leading both to be late for the wedding party’s ferry to another island.

This leads them to be the only passengers on a plane flown by Freddy Wyman (Keith David of “The Thing,” “Pitch Black”), who, conveniently had given Sara a few flying lessons back in the day. That little knowledge comes in handy when, after turning the auto pilot off and the controls over to Sara, Freddy has a heart attack and dies. Things start to get worse when the plane momentarily dives, causing a tank of oxygen to crash into the instrument control panel, damaging the GPS among other things. It seems the auto pilot will no longer take over and there is a leak in the fuel line. Sara also is not sure where they are headed, as when the plane did its dive their heading changed.

What follows is true tension and some risky actions by both as they deal with the fuel line leak and how to replace their dwindling gasoline. There also are the problems of a big electrical storm, the search for land and the fact that Sara has never landed a plane.

The only extras are three deleted scenes (5:56). One can easily understand why they were deleted, as one shows Sara stupidly causing a fire on the plane and another is an argument between the two over their breakup that shows both to be mean. In both cases, the actions go against their character in the rest of the film. Grade: film 3 stars; extras ½ star

Wrong Turn (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 110 min.). This is a reboot of the iconic franchise that brought us six films between 2003 and 2014. Each of those films dealt with various families of deformed cannibals who hunt and kill people in the mountains of West Virginia, using traps and weaponry. Well, the traps and weaponry are still present in this reboot, but the cannibals are gone. Instead, the people up on the mountain are part of The Foundation, descendants of a dozen families who took to the mountain in 1859, fearing the upcoming Civil War would destroy the country and they could then take over and restore order. Somewhere along the way, they also picked up Viking trappings, including wearing animal skulls over their heads, and a different language.

Unfortunately, as usual, the six young people who stop in town to hike the Appalachian Trail for a couple of days are not very nice – despite one working to improve people’s lives and a male gay couple among them, who barely exist as characters other than their labels – and thus this viewer did not really care whether they lived or died. The only “star power” in the film is Matthew Modine (“Full Metal Jacket,” “Vision Quest”), so he is shown right away, searching for his daughter (Charlotte Vega of “American Assassin” as Jen) in the town where he last heard from her six weeks ago. The film then jumps back six weeks to tell the story of the six, and Modine is not seen again until the 44-minute mark and does not get fully active in the story until 70 minutes in.

Jen’s boyfriend is Darius (Adain Bradley of TV’s “Riverdale”), who is black, and the gay couple are Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela). The remaining couple are hothead Adam (Dylan McTee of TV’s “Roswell, New Mexico”) and Milla (Emma Dumont of TV’s “Gifted,” “Aquarius”). Several of the six, in particular Adam, look down at the locals and expect trouble because their number include a mixed-race couple and a gay couple.

However, screenwriter Alan McElroy, who also wrote the original “Wrong Turn” in 2003, and director Mike P. Nelson (TV’s “Studio Luma”) are trying to flip things here, playing with expectations. I think they only partially succeed. Nonetheless, there is no surprise that when the six hikers go off the marked trail, as they were specifically warned not to but Darius wants to find a Civil War fort, things start to go horribly wrong, and deadly in the film’s best action sequence.

The Foundation leader is Venable (Bill Sage), who sentences lots of outsiders to “darkness,” which apparently is blinding them with a hot poker.

The best part of the film is a tacked-on, changed ending that shows as the credits roll. It is discussed in the making-of featurette (27:25) with an implication that the story might be continued. The film was shot in the mountains of eastern Ohio over 26 days. There also is audio commentary by director Nelson and five deleted scenes and one extended scene (7:09 total). Grade: film and extras 2 stars

The Last Vermeer (2019, Sony, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 118 min.). Based on a true story, the film takes place in post-World War II Amsterdam, with Capt. Joseph Piller (Claes Bang of “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” in which he had to steal a rare painting from a reclusive artist) a member of the Allied Provisional Government tasked with tracking down artwork stolen by the Nazis or from whom they bought the artwork and thereby might be accused of being a collaborator. In these weeks, collaborators are being shot by firing squads in the streets.

The film is based on a novel by Charles Willeford that is based on the true story of Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce of “Memento,” “L.A. Confidential”), a Dutch artist and art dealer, who is charged with being a collaborator, specifically for selling a “lost” Vermeer painting to Hermann Goring, Adolf Hitler’s number two man. Van Meegeren’s ultimate defense was that he had actually swindled Goring by selling him an over-priced fake that he had painted himself.

Piller, who has been given a commission by the Canadian army, had been a member of the Dutch Resistance. He is investigating an art gallery that he believes was a front for a German spy ring. This leads him to van Meegeren and the “Christ and the Adulteress” painting by Vermeer. Johannes Vermeer lived from 1632 to 1675 and produced very few works – 34 have been attributed to him. Piller imprisons van Meegeren, but when the local Dutch authorities try to take over, he spirits the artist away and hides him in the attic of the art gallery, to be watched over by Esper Dekker (Roland Moller), his assistant. Van Meegeren agrees to cooperate with Piller, as long as he can paint.

Piller has a backstory that he is estranged from his wife, who gathered information while working for, and having sex with, a Nazi officer in the occupation force, while Piller was underground with the Resistance. Assisting Piller at the gallery is Minna Holmberg (Vicky Krieps), whom Piller becomes close to.

Pearce is excellent here, both witty and enigmatic, but the story has little substance, until the second half, when it centers of van Meegeren’s trial, which has the twist that he is defended by Piller, the man who initially arrested him. However, now Piller believes van Meegeren’s story that the Vermeer was a forgery. During the trial, questions are raised about authentication by experts and validation by critics, and how they have commercial aspects which actually can create conflicts of interest. There are no extras. Grade: film 2.75 stars

Redemption Day (Paramount, DVD, R, 94 min.). If ever a film could be called lazy, this is it. One guesses it is trying to establish Gary Dourdan (“Alien Resurrection,” TV’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) as an action star, but it really fails at that. And when the film gets down to the shoot-‘em-up rescue action, it more resembles a poorly-lit video game.

Dourdan plays U.S. Marine Capt. Brad Paxton, a veteran of the war in Syria with PTSD. We get numerous flashbacks to when his medical convey was attacked. He is now home in New York City, but his archaeologist wife (Serinda Swan of TV’s “Coroner,” “Inhumans” as Kate) is about to head off to Morocco as a large underground city has been discovered near where human bones that are 300,000 years old have been found. The only problem is the location is near the border with Algeria, and Morocco and Algeria are active enemy states at the moment.

On the day Kate arrives – talk about little set-up – she goes to the site and her group is immediately attacked by Algerians. She is taken hostage along with two men by a group that is trying to attract affiliation with ISIS. The other two abductees are Jean Rashidi (Brahim Rachiki) and Amir Jadid (Yassine Azzouz). The kidnappers are led by Jaafar El Hadi (Samy Naceri), who demands $10 million for Kate’s safe return, sending back Jadid with the demand. He has Rashidi beheaded.

The background is that a United Nations vote is pending on the conflict between Morocco and Algeria and, because of its oil interests, the United States wants Morocco to win. The film at first implies that U.S. Ambassador Williams (Andy Garcia of “The Godfather Part III,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve”) and the CIA’s (?) Tom Fitzgerald (Martin Donovan of “Tenet,” HBO’s “Big Little Lies”) have helped engineer the abductions so that people will turn against Algeria during the U.N. vote. At the end, when the movie seems to be setting up a sequel, it is made overt that Fitzgerald was working with a mysterious oil lobbyist (Robert Knepper of TV’s “Prison Break” looking like Col. Sanders).

In almost no time, Paxton is sneaking into Algeria, with only Younes Laalej (Brice Bexter of “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears”) to assist him. Paxton had saved Laalej’s life during the flashbacks attack. They seem to have little trouble in the rescue attempt, despite lots of shooting going on. Again, the rescue scenes are boring, routine, dark and sometimes improperly framed.

An underused Ernie Hudson (the “Ghostbusters” franchise) plays Ed, Paxton’s father, who stays at home to care for his granddaughter Clair (Lilia Hajji). Hicham Hajji, a Morocco native, co-wrote the film and this is his first time directing. The only extra is a behind-the-scenes look that deals mostly with the plot and the characters (10:13). Grade: film 1.5 stars; extra 1/2 star

Deep in Vogue (2019, MVD Visual, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 62 min.). This documentary looks at the Northern Vogue scene in England and specifically in Manchester. This will be especially of interest in those who like the TV series “Pose.”

The piece centers on four “houses,” the quasi-families that bond together under a “mother” or “father” and construct costumes and dance routines for the Vogue shows and battles. The documentary centers on four houses: House of Decay, which is more punkish; House of Cards; House of Suarez: and House of Ghetto, which consists of six females. Many of the participants are gay, although some are transgendered and others straight. The interview bits are often confessional, as some of the participants talk about being outcasts. It all leads up to the Manchester Icons Vogue Ball and the film’s only full performance, one by House of Ghetto.

The film opens with a brief history of voguing, which started in the late 1970s in New York City, but was preceded by Waacking street dance of the Los Angeles LGBT club community, done with rotating arm movement to disco music in the 1970s. One man sums up voguing as appropriating the worlds one is not allowed into, such as that of movie stars, supermodels and so on.

There is audio commentary by producer-directors Amy Watson and Dennis Keighron-Foster and Vogue Ambassador Darren Pritchard, plus additional interviews (18:28). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

Shogun’s Joy of Torture (Japan, 1968, Arrow Video, Blu-ray, NR, 96 min.). Directed by Teruo Ishii just after his series of 10 prison-set films, this is the first of his eight ero-guro series, which blends eroticism and the grotesque as a subgenre of film. “Shogun’s Joy of Torture” consists of three stories, with the connection being the official Lord Nambera, who orders the torture, and one of his assistants who keep asking whether he already has administered enough pain.

The first segment is about Shinzu, who is hurt by a hit to the head while working. His sister Mitsu, 18, takes care of him, but in order to pay the medical bills, she is supposed to be “nice” to the merchant who covers the cost. He, of course, simply wants to bed her. Things get complicated when Shinzu professes his physical love for Mitsu, with incest being a punishable offense. Her penalty is to be crucified upside-down next to the water, so that she will eventually drown when the tide comes in.

The second segment has a new abbess, Mother Reiho, arrive at the Juko Temple in 1666, with her assistant and apparent lover Rintoku, who becomes dangerously jealous when she thinks Reiho is interested in priest Shunkai from the monastery next door. Although fraternization is forbidden, he has been having secret meetings with one of the nuns for sex. The punishment includes a woman placed naked in a tub, with leeches then dumped in repeatedly. At the end, five nuns are crucified and Shunkai loses his head.

The third segment involves tattoo artist Horicho, who is trying to create a masterpiece that shows a woman being tortured. He selects his models by observing women bathing and, when he finds the “perfect skin,” he abducts the woman who, once tattooed, has nowhere to go. The ending is quite over the top, as Horicho attends Nambera’s torture session as he completes his tattoo. The film, while beautifully shot at times, is obviously not for everyone with its violence and nudity.

Extras include audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes; an image gallery; a look at the ero-guro torture subgenre of film by Jasper Sharp (25:16); and a look at Ishii’s career with writer Patrick Macias, who points out the three tales were based on real events recounted in so-called Buddhist hell rolls from the Tokugawa shogunate (13:23). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

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