The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
(Cohen Film Collection Blu-ray)
The performances burn themselves into memory. Vanessa Redgrave reached beyond her zone as Miss Amelia, the dominant force in a Depression-era Southern town as moonshiner, mistress of a low-end planation (no white manors) and owner of the town’s only restaurant. She is in a fraught relationship with her husband, played by Keith Carradine as a cruel nihilist (and a good blues guitarist), and her cousin, a rascally hunchback who performs magic tricks.
Based on a novel by Carson McCullers, this Merchant Ivory production also goes beyond Ismail Merchant’s usual zone while retaining his concern with getting the look of the past just right. Every tin can and kerosene lamp looks authentic. Merchant and director Simon Callow conjure a fully realized world of poverty and despair where fields are worked by singing Black tenants and the Klan meets at night under fiery crosses; the whites are dirty and downtrodden once they remove their hoods and sheets.
Rod Steiger is also memorable in this 1991 film as the preacher who promises rest in the next world from the aching backs and sickness of his toil-weary congregants. The story leaves no hope for the world as it is. (David Luhrssen)
Creature from Black Lake
(MVD Visual Blu-ray)
It’s the ’70s: the music hints at the Jimmy Carter era, as does the clunky fonts through the credits. And the plot was ripped from the headlines of the National Enquirer: Big Foot prowls the bayou around a Louisiana town.
This 1976 monster movie brings humor to the tale of a pair of university students—think “Dukes of Hazzard” kids gone to college—who arrive to investigate rumors. Their professor encourages them with true stories of the “extinct” fish found off the African coast, the fossils of unexpected hominids, but the townsfolk are wary of the outsiders and the sheriff delivers a stern warning against “going around and scaring people.” This enjoyable midnight movie is released for the first time on Blu-ray. (David Luhrssen)
The Devil Conspiracy
(In Theaters January 13)
Director Nathan Frankowski’s film, from a script by Ed Alan, blends science fiction and horror. We meet Father Marconi (Joe Doyle) as he conducts a private tour for art historian Laura (Alice Orr-Ewing), of a secure facility that houses precious religious artifacts.
While she marvels over the Shroud of Turin, the pair is attacked by Liz (Eveline Hall), leader of a Satanic cabal. She means to take the Shroud, which contains traces of both Lucifer and Christ’s DNA, because a biotech company has developed cloning that requires only miniscule fragments of DNA. Laura is kidnapped, while Father Marconi is mortally wounded. The priest offers his body to Archangel Michael (who previously defeated Satan and cast him into Hell). Michael accepts Marconi’s invitation in order to fight Lucifer’s Earthly clone (Joe Anderson). Both entities possess supernatural powers that provide a whiz-bang excuse to depict special-effects-laden battles. The R-Rated result was filmed in Turin, Italy, and in the Czech Republic where religiously themed horror movies are a popular genre. Story flaws aside, the film’s artistic cinematography is a vision to hold. (Lisa Miller)
(In Theaters January 13)
This remake of the 1990 film reuses the concept of throwing an illicit party, then changes everything else, despite the original film being chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry. Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole appear as house cleaners and best buds Kevin and Damon. Put on notice this will be their final house cleaning job, the friends are stunned to discover themselves cleaning the home of LeBron James. Learning the NBA legend is traveling overseas, the friends seek to capitalize by using James’s home (his actual mansion) to throw an epic pay-to-attend party that will bankroll their dream of becoming club promoters. Seeking a famous DJ to spin tracks, the duo winds up hiring time-traveling, DC Young Fly. The first feature film from music video director, Calmatic, the film depicts a party gone wildly out-of-control, placing both James’ Lamborghini, and his championship ring, in peril. James, who produces, gamely skewers himself, featuring his holographic image spouting pre-recorded, positive affirmations to bolster the NBA star’s confidence. (Lisa Miller)
A Man Called Otto
(In Theaters January 13)
Marc Forster live A Man Called Ottoa PG-13 remake of the Swedish movie A Man Called Ove. This version casts Tom Hanks as the neighborhood grump, Otto. On the strength of flashbacks, where Otto is played by Tom’s son Truman Hanks, we suspect there’s another Otto that his outward behavior protects. In the present day, Otto is mad at virtually everyone virtually all the time. Despite his reputation, Otto is sought out by new neighbors Marisol (Mariana Trevino) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia Rulfo). Marisol ignores Otto’s cantankerous persona, bringing him food and asking for favors that he reluctantly performs. Hanks makes a persuasive grump while Trevino’s exuberance provides the yang to his yin. It’s shades of “Doc Martin,” when Otto is chosen for adoption by a stray cat that threatens to steal Hanks’ limelight. (Lisa Miller)
(In Theaters and Streaming on VUDU, January 13)
It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire when commercial airline pilot Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) is forced to crash land on a remote Philippine island. Before long, the terrorist faction that controls the island captures most all of the plane’s passengers, killing several. To save those remaining, the terrorists demand a huge ransom—and the clock is ticking. Cast as a US official, Tony Goldwyn’s character confides to Torrance that neither help nor the ransom will arrive within the required timeframe. To save his passengers, Torrance teams up with accused killer Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a frightening fellow being extradited to the US Lionsgate and the film’s director Jean-Francois Richet, promised a “white knuckle” actioner, while those hankering for warmer climes may appreciate Puerto Rico’s lush tropical jungles, standing in for the Philippines. (Lisa Miller)