Vince Vaughn has ‘Freaky’ fun

By Tom Von Malder | Feb 19, 2021
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment In "Freaky," Vince Vaughn tries to explain things to Millie's friends, played by Celeste O'Connor and Misha Osherovich.

Owls Head — Freaky (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 102 min.). “Freaky,” directed by Christopher Landon, who co-wrote the script with Michael Kennedy, has the strength of two worlds: it is a decent slasher film, with each death different, and it is a strong comedy of the body-swapping genre. The two leads are excellent, with veteran actor Vince Vaughn (“Wedding Crashers,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Dodgeball”) having a ball as serial killer The Butcher, whose body gets inhabited by 17-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”). Newton then gets to play a killer in a teen girl’s body.

There is antic fun as Millie as The Butcher tries to convince her besties – Celeste O’Connor (the upcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”) as Nyla Chones and Misha Osherovich (TV’s “NOS4A2,” “The Goldfinch”) as the openly-gay, outspoken Josh Detmer, who, at one point, has to explain to his mother why he has Millie tied to a chair in their living room.

The horror is bloody and graphic, starting in the prologue when a quartet of high school students are killed – one boy’s unique death involves a wine bottle – after discussing whether tales of The Butcher were an urban myth going back to 1977 or more reality from the 1990s. Curiously, the host girl’s father collects unique and historic weapons of all types. One of those weapons, it turns out, is an ancient Aztec dagger used in sacrifices. The Butcher takes the dagger and the next day tries to use it on Millie, who has been stood up by her drunk mother (Katie Finneran as Coral), after the homecoming football game, during which Millie acts as the Beaver mascot. By the way, Millie’s big sister (Dana Dron as Charlene) is a police officer.

Stabbing Millie in the shoulder, The Butcher feels the same pain and when each wakes up the next morning, they learn they have swapped bodies. Millie adapts more quickly, donning much “hotter” clothing, including her sister’s red leather jacket, which raise all kinds of looks at school. And while one may not want Millie to be a killer, what she does to her previous tormentors at school is highly satisfying, if deadly. In all, I would label three of the deaths as gross.

The teens eventually learn that the dagger, called La Dola, has Spanish written on it that reads that if the sacrifice is not completed within 24 hours, the switch will become permanent.

Director/co-writer Landon, who provides audio commentary, also directed the two “Happy Death Day” films – the first one also was a treat, filled with good humor – and wrote “Happy Death Day 2U.” He also wrote four of the five “Paranormal Activity” films, including directing the last one, “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” and wrote and directed “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.” So, one can see he has a particular brand of humor, which well serves his films.

Other extras include three deleted scenes (5:27); a look at the split personalities with the director and lead actors (2:24); crafting the kills (3:35); a look at how Landon mixes gore and humor (2:35); and how the film reframes the final girl trope (2:48). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

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

Breaking Surface (Sweden/Belgium/Norway, Music Box, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 82 min.). This intense thriller stars Moa Gammel and Madeleine Martin as half-sisters who reunite for a recreational winter dive off the remote Norwegian coast. During the dive, a rockslide traps Tuva (Martin of 2 “Easy Money” films) 33 meters underwater with a limited oxygen supply. Neither she nor Ida (Gammel) are able to move the large rock themselves, so Ida must come up with a means to both supply her sister with more oxygen and free her.

The film opens with a key flashback, a childhood incident when the two girls were diving and Ida lost track of Tuva and it was up to their mother to dive in and rescue Tuva, with very harsh criticism of Ida afterwards. Going forward to today, Tuva and their mother both live in Norway near each other, while Ida has married, moved to Sweden and had two children. The closeness of the other two women bothers Ida somewhat, and when the mishap happens, Ida flashes back to her childhood inadequacy during that diving incident.

Tuva’s situation is made worse because the landslide also has buried two spare oxygen tanks and their phones, as well as the car keys, giving Ida the additional problem of how to get into the locked car and then open the trunk to retrieve a jack for possibly moving the underwater rock.

The film, written and directed by Joachim Heden, is truly suspenseful. The brilliant underwater cinematography is by Eric Borjeson, while the topside cinematography is by Anna Patarakina. As always, I am struck by the beauty of icy, remote Norway, with hills right up against the sea. The film has 289 visual effects shots, the layering of which is illustrated in one of the bonus features (2:33). Another extra shows time-lapse construction of the underwater tank in Brussels (1:30). Other pieces have the two actresses talk about their training and approach to the film, and highlights the diving coordinator and Borjeson’s work (3:10); the two actresses are asked five questions about diving (1:03); a look at filming the early propeller sequence (50 secs.); and a look at the food (sprouts) and filming in Brussels (39 secs.). There also is an image gallery of 18 shots. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 1.75 stars

The Swordsman (South Korea, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 100 min.). By its end, I was wondering if this film might be an origin story for Zatoichi, hero of “Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman” and some two-dozen other films, as well as a 100-episode TV series, as the lead character was never really named in the subtitles. However, according to IMDB.com the character played by Jang Hyuk (veteran of several Korean TV series) is called Tae-yul. Nonetheless, he is an exceptional swordsman and he is going blind.

The film, the feature debut of writer-director Jae-Hoon Choi, is based on true historical events. It begins on March 12, 1623, when the Joseon Dynasty’s 15th king, Gwanghae, has fled the palace to escape his foes, after he supposedly murdered his siblings and ordered his generals to surrender to the invading Qing. We then see a very fast swordfight between Min Seong-ho (Man-sik Jeong) and Tae-yul, the king’s defender. The swordfight – the first of 10 in the film – is very well shot, with some extreme closeups. Although it was not clear at the time, this apparently was when Tae-yul’s eyes were damaged.

The film jumps forward several years with Tae-yul now living up in the mountains with his teenage daughter, Tae-ok (Hyeon-soo Kim). The girl is tired of their isolation and talks Tae-yul into a trip down into the village, where she hopes to buy herbs that will help his eyesight. Apparently, the Qing has a force known as the Hwangbang within it and they serve as executioners and take women and young girls as prisoners to be sold. Heading the Hwangbang, which has just arrived in the village, is Lord Gurutai (Joe Taslim of “Fast & Furious 6,” “Star Trek Beyond”), who is destined to have the climatic swordfight with Tae-yul, with the fate of Tae-ok hanging in the balance.

Tae-ok does not have enough money or items in trade for the herbs her father needs, so the Trading Post Lady choses her to care for Lord Lee’s ailing mother and become his foster child. The rest of the film deals with Tae-yul’s attempts to track down his daughter. Along the way, he has some epic fights in which he is greatly outnumbered but still prevails, including against a dozen-plus riflemen and a couple dozen ninjas. The fights are exciting, albeit a bit exhausting, especially for Tae-yul, whose hearing has become quite acute. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Versus (Japan, 2000, Arrow Video, 2 Blu-rays, NR, 120 + 130 min.). The film, which led to a new wave of appreciation for Asian extreme cinema, comes in three versions, two of which are presented here. Disc one has Ryûhei Kitamura’s 120-minute director’s cut and disc two has the 130-minute “Ultimate Versus” edition, reviewed here, which had additional fight scenes filmed in 2003. Star Tak Sakaguchi served as fight choreographer for the additional scenes.

The independent film, which meshes swordplay with zombies, was originally intended as a sequel to Kitamura’s “Down to Hell,” but developed into a stand-alone film, co-written by Kitamura and Yudai Yamaguchi. The fantasy setting is that there are 666 portals that connect our world to the other side and portal 444 is located in the Forest of Resurrection in Japan. Thus, the forest has zombies – ones that can wield weapons and are extremely hard to actually kill – and the film could be shot with absolutely no sets, as it all was shot in a forest.

Sakaguchi (“Yakuza Weapon”) plays Prisoner KSC2-303, one of two prison escapees who end up in the forest and meet a team of not-too-bright gangsters who are supposed to drive them to freedom. Playing The Other Prisoner is Motonari Komiya. The “rescuers” are listed as Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver (Yuichiro Arai), Crazy yakuza with amulet (Minoru Matsumoto), Yakuza with glasses (Kazuhito Ohba) and Yakuza leader with butterfly knife (Kenji Matsuda). After an encounter with sword-wielding zombies, the meeting with the gangsters gets out of hand, and Prisoner KSC2-303 shots one, who immediately turns into a zombie. The gangsters have brought along a female hostage (Chieko Misaka), whom Prisoner KSC2-303 takes to defending.

Basically, the film is almost all non-stop fighting, including the usual-stupid scene of two combatants dropping their guns so they can fistfight. In addition to using swords, the zombies can fire guns. About 75 minutes in, the viewer gets the first explanation; apparently, the big bad guy (Hideo Sakaki as The Man) needs two human-based keys to open the portal and he has been waiting 500 years for one of the keys to reincarnate.

“Ultimate Versus” comes with audio commentary by the director, cast and crew in Japanese with optional English subtitles and an archival piece on the filming of the extra scenes in 2003, with Sakaguchi prominent both in the action and behind the scenes (18:22). The latter is both interesting and amusing.

The director’s cut version comes with two audio commentaries: one in Japanese by the director, cast and crew; and one in heavily-accented English by the director and producer Keishiro Shin. There also is a version of the film reduced to a mere 20 minutes, and a new video essay on the director’s career by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp (16:04). An archival feature talks about the genesis of the film (9:39), while another looks at actor Sakaguchi’s journey to the 2001 Japan Film Festival in Hamburg, Germany (14:25). There also are deleted scenes with audio commentary (21:30; most have been added to the ultimate version); a brief piece on the Napalm Film office (1:05); and two French interview featurettes, in English, one with the cast and crew and the other with editor Shuichi Kakesu (24:43 and 12:33). An archival behind-the-scenes feature comes in two parts (26:40 and 46:06), as does a look at festival screenings (2:06 and 3:07). Side stories, featuring some of the same characters in short films, include “Nervous” (6:11), “Nervous 2” (15:58) and the making of “Nervous 2” (1:17). Finally, there are four image galleries. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 4 stars

Archenemy (RLJE, Blu-ray and standard DVD, NR, 90 min.). The film asks whether a superhero can be a vagabond and a drunkard who claims he is from another version of our planet. Written and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (“Daniel Isn’t Real,” “Some Kind of Hate”), the answer seems to be yes. Joe Manganielo (HBO’s “True Blood”) stars as the derelict Joe Fist, who claims to be a superhero from the city of Chromium on an alternate Earth, which he fell through a wormhole from, as his archenemy Cleo Vantrik (Amy Seimetz) used a Void Machine to remove the element in his blood that gave him superpowers.

Joe will tell his story to anyone, as long as they buy him drinks. One admirer is teenager Hamster (Skylan Brooks of “The Darkest Minds”), who goes around the neighborhood videotaping people and their stories. Hamster hopes to work for Trenible, an online magazine. It is Hamster who bestowed the name Joe Fist on our “hero,” as one afternoon he saw him trying to punch a hole in a wall. Hamster concentrates his Trenible efforts on Joe Fist, something the website’s manager likes.

Meanwhile, Hamster’s older sister (Zolee Griggs of “Bride Wars,” “Wu-tang: An American Saga” as Indigo) is working for a drug dealer called The Manager (Glenn Howerton of TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) because she wants to pay for Hamster to go to college, even though he is a high school dropout. When she is sent to pick up $300,000 in cash owed to The Manager by Krieg (comedian Paul Scheer, rapping and just wearing a red Speedos), things go horribly wrong, and suddenly she and Hamster are on the run and Joe decides to help them, to prove he can still be a superhero.

The film opens with an animated sequence, narrated by Joe, that tells of his previous life and fall. Five times later in the film, there is more animation to tell of Joe’s previous adventures. The only extra is a brief making-of featurette (6:53). Grade: film 2 stars; extra ½ star

San Francisco (1936, Warner Archive, Blu-ray, NR, 115 min.). The 1906 earthquake itself takes up less than three minutes of screen time in this black-and-white classic that pairs Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald as on-and-off-again lovers, but along with its one devasting aftershock and the resulting fires that leveled most of the city, it makes “San Francisco” one of the most iconic disaster films in history. However, it also is a love story between a rakish Barbary Coast kingpin and nightclub owner (Gable as Blackie Norton) and the new songbird in town (MacDonald as Mary Blake), who is content to sing in Blackie’s nightclub but has aspirations of a career in opera. Thus, the film also has a lot of music in it – arguably too much music, as it takes a long time to get to the destruction.

MacDonald, of course, is known for her pairing with Nelson Eddy in eight films. Here, she sings “San Francisco,” later adapted as one of the city’s two official songs; “Would You,” later sung by Debbie Reynolds in “Singin’ in the Rain”; “The Holy City”; and excerpts from Charles Gounod’s “Faust” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” MacDonald was coming off appearing in “The Merry Widow” and “Naughty Marietta,” her first film with Eddy.

Gable had made “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Call of the Wild” the previous year, but it would be three more years before he made “Gone with the Wind,” cementing his legacy in film. Their co-star was Spencer Tracy, who was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, his first of nine Oscar nominations, for his role as Father Tim Mullin, Blackie’s childhood friend whom Blackie still secretly helps by such acts as donating a new organ for his church. Gable and Tracy would later be paired in “Test Pilot” (1938) and “Boom Town” (1940). Tracy won the Best Actor Oscar the next two years for his work in “Captains Courageous” and “Boys Town.”

With the director noted for his one-take approach, Tracy slipped in some ad-libs, most notably: “That Rooney kid skipped Mass again.” He was referencing actor Mickey Rooney. Ironically, two years later in “Boys Town,” Tracy again played a priest, one tasked with reforming a boy played by Rooney.

The film won its Academy Award for Best Sound Recording (Douglas Shearer). Its other Oscar nominations were for Best Director (W.S. Van Dyke, who directed 3 “Thin Man” films, “Marie Antoinette,” “Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever”), Outstanding Production, Best Original Story (Robert Hopkins) and Best Assistant Director (Joseph M. Newman).

At the time, the film’s special effects were exceptional. Entire sets were built on hydraulic lifts and shakers, which were then raised and rocked violently. The aftershock splits a street and most of the city becomes a conflagration, forcing the fire department, which had run out of water, and others to dynamite buildings to create breaches the flames could not cross. There was no Oscar for special effects at the time.

The film had a political element as well as Blackie is urged to, and indeed does, run for Supervisor, so that he can help pass before fire code laws, as most of the buildings on the Barbary Coast were owned by rich people who did not live there. Many lived on Nob Hill among the wealthy. That is where Jack Burley (Jack Holt of “Cat People,” “My Pal Trigger”), the impresario of the Tivoli Opera, lives with his mother (Jessie Ralph of “David Copperfield,” “Camille,” “Captain Blood” as Mrs. Maisie Burley). During one of the periods Blackie and Mary were not dating, she agrees to marry Burley.

The extras include a very good TNT look at Gable’s life and career, “Clark Gable: Tall, Dark & Handsome,” hosted by actor Liam Neeson from the ranch house Gable called home for 21 years (1996; 46:30). It includes interviews with his daughter Judy, who only met Gable once when she was 15, and his son John, who was born six months after Gable died of a heart attack. Other extras include a Happy Harmonies cartoon, “Bottles” (10:16); two James A. FitzPatrick featurettes on San Francisco, one centering on recreating a Cavalcade of Western expansion and the other on the artwork and lights of the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition on man-made Treasure Island (8:55 and 8:06); and an alternate ending that shows a dissolve to the then-current San Francisco skyline (37 secs.). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Elizabethtown (2005, Paramount Presents, Blu-ray, PG-13, 123 min.). This is the Blu-ray debut for the Cameron Crowe-written and -directed romantic comedy that stars Orlando Bloom (“Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises) and Kirsten Dunst (“Spider-Man”). Bloom plays a hot-shot designer, Drew Baylor, whose life completely unravels when he loses his father and his job on the same day. En route to Elizabethtown to visit his family, he meets Claire (Dunst), who is beautiful, very positive and able to teach Drew what it means to live and love. The film also stars Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Judy Greer and Jessica Biel.

This is a newly remastered version from a 4K transfer supervised by Crowe (“Almost Famous,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Jerry Maguire”). Extras include a new “Filmmaker Focus” with Crowe discussing the film (6:22); and eight deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending (23:49). Previously released extras include cast and crew interviews (13:49); a look at the importance of the rock music in the film (5:32); rehearsal footage set to music (2:21); meet the crew (2:35); and a multi-part photo gallery. The disc comes in collectible packaging that includes a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments.

Lovecraft Country: The Complete First Season (HBO/Warner Bros., 3 Blu-rays or 3 DVDs, NR, 600 min.). Based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, the series follows Korean War vet Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors of “White Boy Rick,” “When We Rise”) as he joins up with his childhood friend Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett of “Birds of Prey”) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance of “Space Cowboys,” “The Hunt for Red October”) to embark on a road trip from Chicago across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father, Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams of TV’s “The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire”). Their journey turns into a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and monstrous creatures that could have been ripped from an H.P. Lovecraft paperback. It is an odd, but workable mix.

The show also stars Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee, Jamie Chung and Jada Harris, as well as recurring guest stars Jamie Neumann, Jordan Patrick Smith and Tony Goldwyn. Extras include a compendium of horrors (12:26); Orithyia Blue and the Imagination of Diana Freeman, about a character in the graphic novel written by a character in the show (11:20); crafting the show via production (28:14); eight brief actor interviews (each 1:02 long); and four slightly-longer interviews with crew members (about 7 min. total).

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