It’s a slow week on the home video front with only one major theatrical release making its way to DVD. Fortunately, that mainstream title is being propped up by the DVD debut of a fascinating foreign film that was nominated for an Oscar in 2008.
The Haunting in Connecticut
2 stars (out of four)
Rated and unrated cuts available. The rated version received a PG-13 for for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images.
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Peter Cornwell’s “The Haunting in Connecticut” is a mainstream ghost story supposedly based on the actual adventures — or, more appropriately, nightmares — of an everyday American family. The setup begs many questions about the origins of the tale, but all are secondary to the proverbial elephant in the room: The presence of actress Virginia Madsen in this second-rate thriller.
Madsen’s filmography has its share of B projects, but they should have been relegated to history after her 2004 supporting actress Oscar nomination for “Sideways.” No such luck.
“Haunting” is painfully run-of-the-mill, and Madsen’s role lacks the substance an actress of her caliber should be pursuing. She plays Sara Campbell, the matriarch of a family dealing with the saddest of situations. Her teen son, Matt (Kyle Gallner), is undergoing experimental treatments for an advanced cancer that could very well kill him.
Because Matt’s medical care requires frequent trips from New York to Connecticut, Sara convinces her recovering-alcoholic husband (Martin Donovan) that they should rent a house near the hospital. And … you guessed it … the house they rent is haunted.
Soon after the family moves in, they discover that the home had been used as a funeral parlor, and all sorts of disconcerting things begin happening. What’s more, Matt is particularly susceptible to the supernatural happenings because of his tenuous grip on life.
Cornwell, making his feature directing debut, shows adequate chops with special effects and the use of sound to set a tone, but he does nothing to further the haunted house genre. In fact, “Haunting” suffers from an obvious case of been-there-done-that-itis, and neither Cornwell nor Madsen prove capable of exorcising the demons.
If it weren’t for cheap scares, like unexpected reflections in a mirror hammered home by jolts of dissonant music, the movie wouldn’t really be scary at all. That’s a big problem for a mainstream horror flick, even one reportedly based in truth.
The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc unrated cut. Extra features vary.
Rated PG-13 for violent images, disturbing content, thematic material, brief sexual and drug references and smoking
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD
An ongoing frustration for film lovers is that only a handful of the Academy Award nominees for best foreign language film make it into mainstream multiplexes. Fortunately, DVD distributors take up the slack, and this week we’re rewarded with “12,” an intriguing Russian drama nominated in 2008.
The movie, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, is an adaptation of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic “12 Angry Men,” and it has been wonderfully modernized to work in a current Russian setting. Although a loose adaptation of Lumet’s film, the setup is similar, focusing on 12 jurors who must decide the fate of a Chechen boy accused of murdering his stepfather.
Initially, it seems as though the case will be closed quickly, with 11 of the 12 jurors immediately voting “guilty.” The one holdout, however, calls details into question and, slowly, other jurors begin to see things his way.
As the all-male jury deliberates, viewers learn a little about each player. One is a bigoted taxi driver, another an easily flustered television station owner, another a high-minded artist, and so on. As they argue, they offer personal stories, and most are intensely fascinating.
Because of the Russian setting, “12” takes twists that vary significantly from Lumet’s film, and this makes it feel fresh and alive. The movie’s only downside is a dialogue-heavy screenplay that runs a full 160 minutes and takes place almost entirely in a school gymnasium that has been converted to a deliberation room. The fact that the picture is shown in Russian with English subtitles also presents a challenge for American viewers. Because there are so many characters, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher who’s talking, but this is in no way a flaw of the film.
Length and language barriers aside, “12” is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys character dramas that are more interested in ideas than action.
Sadly, the DVD has no significant extra features.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Horsemen”: Dennis Quaid stars as a detective investigating a serial killing spree linked to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The movie, directed by Jonas Akerlund, also stars Ziyi Zhang and Clifton Collins Jr.
“The Edge of Love”: Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys star in this period piece that is loosely based on events in the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Despite being married to a spirited woman (Miller), Thomas (Rhys) finds himself enamored with his teen sweetheart (Knightley) and the three form an uneasy yet surprisingly tight relationship.
“Menage”: French director Bertrand Blier’s 1986 dramedy about a petty thief who insinuates himself into the lives of an unhappy married couple is receiving its DVD debut. The movie was nominated for eight Cesar Awards and the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival when released theatrically. Gerard Depardieu, Michel Blanc and Miou-Miou star.
“For All Mankind”: Director Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary considering NASA’s Apollo moon missions. The film is built on actual NASA footage and features narration by the astronauts who flew the missions.
“Mad Men” — Season 2: This AMC series, centered on the employees of a fictional, 1960s advertising firm, has won two consecutive Golden Globes for best television drama. Season three is set to begin in August, so you have plenty of time to plow through this four-disc set and get up to speed.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com