September 29, 2010


Highlight of the Week 

Frozen (Anchor Bay) Three skiers stranded on a chairlift might seem like a blasé concept, but when it comes to gruelling suspense, Frozen delivers big. No stranger to over-the-top gore (see the far less impressive Hatchet), writer/director Adam Green for the most part holds back on the red stuff, offering it in calculated, if still very intense, doses. Unlike today’s flavourless horror, this is a surprisingly crafty slow-freeze that bears a likeness to Open Water in terms of plausibility, swelling tension and lo-fi flair. The result is not without its flaws, but it’s damn-near the most enthralling indie shocker to come along this year. The cinematic experience was a claustrophobic hoot, but Blu-ray is a fine-looking compromise. Extras satisfy: we get two cast and crew commentaries, four making-ofs and a few deleted scenes. 

Also Available

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Criterion, eOne) Nagisa Oshima’s behind-barbed-wire tearjerker sees Let’s Dance–era David Bowie as a British POW in the Far East during WWII, where he becomes the fixation of the camp’s commander, played by fellow rocker Ryuichi Sakamoto. The film is an odd duck that features rarely explored undercurrents of homosexuality with a bizarre third act that has Bowie buried in a sand pit from the neck down. Unavailable since the glory days of VHS, this was at TIFF Cinematheque’s most recent Oshima retrospective. Criterion has put together superbly restored standard and high-def editions that come packed with extras like vintage docs and new interviews discussing the screenplay, location and music. 

Party Down: Season Two (Anchor Bay) Recent news of Starz pulling the plug on this stellar series after two faultless seasons is a major downer for the handful of us who watched and adored it — EYE WEEKLY columnist Joshua Ostroff rightly deemed it “the best comedy currently on television.” This party may have been broken up early, but raged to the bitter end — never once did it compromise its unique sensibility in favour of broader appeal. (I’m looking at you, season three of Arrested Development.) As an act of solidarity, I implore fans to pick up both seasons and spread the good word of what could have been a long-running contender. Extras: gag reel. 

Iron Man 2 (Paramount) If Jon Favreau’s superhero sequel proves anything, it’s that faster and dumber isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it can be more fun than the sober approach, moreover providing a faithfully brisk, comic booky feel. Actor/screenwriter Justin Theroux’s decidedly lightweight script doesn’t aim to astonish, probably for the better. Glossy CGI and tedious plotting plays second fiddle to the scuzzy allure of Robert Downey Jr.’s flawed ’n’ boozie billionaire Tony Stark, while Mickey Rourke’s grudgeful Ruskie makes for an amusing opponent. Extras: Favreau commentary, featurettes bonanza, deleted scenes, more. 

The Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms (Alliance) Chang Cheh’s late-’70s Shaw Brothers classic is one of the most memorable of its ilk, even besting predecessor The 5 Deadly Venoms. More fittingly referred to as Crippled Avengers, the film traces the rise and revenge of four men disabled by a local tyrant and his son, who wields a pair of iron fists that shoot projectiles. The victims (one blind, one a deaf-mute, one sans legs and one rendered mentally inept) join forces and (cue obligatory training montage) turn their handicaps into superpowers. Excellent stuff! Extras are non-existent, but we do get the choice between original Mandarin and highly entertaining English dub.