New Releases for Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Howl

Genre: Horror Directed by: Paul Hyett Run time: 93 minutes Rating: Unrated Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: It’s sad when you can check off the best werewolf movies made in the last 35 years on one hand: An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps and Wolfen.

Three of those were made in the 1980s, people!

It’s with some relief then that I report that Howl, the new werewolf movie from director Paul Hyett, while not a classic in the company of those movies listed above, is actually really well done, even if the practical effects leave a little something to be desired.

The best part of Howl is actually the slow-burn setup and the fact that it takes places almost

entirely on a train.

It’s a lithe, compact character study that slowly ratchets tension before the big, bad creatures take over, and it’s a better movie for the slow unspooling of its first 45 minutes.

The narrative structure allows time to build some much-needed empathy for the main characters – a moon-eyed ticket taker/security guard, his hostess love interest and a handful of personable passengers. When the monster mayhem begins, you are invested in what happens to the people you like and those that you hope will get eaten first.

My main quibble, again, lies in the werewolf concept and its practical application. The creatures are nowhere near as detailed as Rick Baker or Rob Bottin’s creations from the 1980s, and they lack the intimidating menace of the full-body beasts employed in Neil Marshall’s “Dog Soldiers.”

But that’s a minor complaint when it comes to finally watching a werewolf movie that doesn’t make you groan in exasperation at the missed opportunities.

Temper your expectations and you should be pleasantly surprised with Howl.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes. Nudity – No. Gore – Yes. Drug use – No. Bad Guys/Killers – Werewolves, ya’ll. Buy/Rent – Rent it.

Sinister 2 (Universal, 97 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Rising director Ciaran Foy and returning creator/cowriter Scott Derrickson return for this second helping of Sinister, but what made the first film so incredibly disturbing now just feels formulaic. Essentially, Derrickson and Co. decide to focus on the kids who shoot the wonderfully awful home movies that true-crime novelist Ethan Hawke first discovered in the original. Only this time, the home movies – not Bughuul, the demonic entity that entrances the children to commit atrocious acts – take center stage. And that’s a miscalculation. The shadowy flickerings of Bughuul in the first “Sinister” are what truly terrified. The idea that once you see him, you are marked, held true weight. Bughuul makes several appearances in Sinister 2, but he’s relegated to cleanup hitter and no longer the leading batter. And don’t even get me started on the third act, which basically plays like “Children of the Corn” without He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

Contracted: Phase 2 (Shout! Factory, 78 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): A worthwhile, but noticeably less shocking, sequel to the superior first film, Contracted: Phase 2 lays out the beginnings of a deeper, richer mythology that never fails to fully materialize. It’s good but nowhere near as

unnerving as the original.

The Martian (Fox, 141 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Meh. Everyone sure seems to love The Martian. The critics have anointed director Ridley Scott’s best film in years with lots of awards-season love, but the reality is that while it’s a good movie, it’s nowhere close to the last space-based epic, “Gravity.” Maybe my problem with The Martian is that there’s very little actual tension once Matt Damon’s science officer/botanist gets stranded ON ANOTHER FREAKING PLANET with no way to contact NASA and dwindling oxygen and food resources. Damon remains a calm, cool cucumber throughout the movie, showing little of the frantic stress and dismay that most ordinary people might experience. Sure, it’s thrilling and it’s purportedly based on actual science, but come on, would someone really just pull up their bootstraps and go about their business in workmanlike fashion if they were abandoned on another planet, millions of miles from home?

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension 3D (Paramount, 88 minutes, R, 3D Blu-Ray): The tagline reads, “For the first time, you will see the activity,” and technically, yes, there is truth in advertising. But the activity on display is a gloopy glob of ectoplasmic chemtrails that occasionally rushes at the camera, revealing what looks like a prototype for the computer-generated face of a desiccated mummy. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is much more active than any of the past five franchise installments, and that’s a relief. How far we’ve come from the first film when audiences waited with baited breath for what seemed like hours just to glimpse a sheet being pulled down by unseen hands while the oblivious housemate slept. But what it gains in paranormal activity, the film loses with a convoluted story of creepy cults, the two little girls from the first three films and the spectral “Toby,” whose arrival in human form is touted throughout “The Ghost Dimension” but only shown from the ankles down when it counts. What, or better yet, who is “Toby” and why did the creepy cult spend years preparing for his arrival? Such relevant questions are never answered. Instead, once again, we get a tech-obsessed male figure installing cameras across his home yet never once taking any actual footage to authorities when it’s clear something is stalking his child. The best he does is call a priest (yawn) who offers the same mumbo-jumbo about demonic forces and tries in vain to perform a ritual to excise, or exterminate, the entity. For a franchise built on stoking viewer anxiety, and offer little reward, this freefall dive into the “ghost dimension” lacks any finesse, resulting in a blistering belly flop once the credits roll.

Mr. Robot: Season One (Universal, 483 minutes, Unrated, DVD): It’s the best new show you maybe haven’t seen, and it’s the TV equivalent of a cyberpunk version of “Fight Club” that hits you right between the eyes and keeps pummeling. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Now. You have no excuse.

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