This week’s home video releases include two small horror films, but the main attraction is a big-budget superhero sequel.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, digital download and on demand
In this second installment of director Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is struggling with a promise he made to Capt. George Stacy in the original film. Realizing that Spider-Man (Peter’s crime-fighting alter ego) would draw dangerous enemies, a fatally wounded Capt. Stacy begged the young hero to steer clear of his daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone). Peter agreed, but he and Gwen are desperately in love, and their separation leaves him torn and depressed.
As Peter swims through personal problems, his city faces a series of new threats, the most serious being an attack by Electro (Jamie Foxx), a supervillain capable of absorbing electricity and using it as a weapon. “Spider-Man 2” deliver’s Electro’s backstory while laying the groundwork for the appearance of two more Spidey villans: the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti).
This new Spider-Man franchise is interesting because Webb seems determined to make it more comic-book-like than Sam Raimi’s 2002-2007 movies. Fans of the genre may enjoy this approach, but there are pitfalls. Rushed emotional transitions and oversimplified character motivations are plentiful in all but the best graphic novels, and “Spider-Man 2” is written in a similar manner. Because the movie is attempting to balance Peter’s and Gwen’s personal struggles with the emergence of three new villains, Webb is forced to use shorthand, and this makes the film less emotionally engaging than it should be.
Fortunately, Webb’s flair for visual storytelling coupled with terrific performances from all actors largely mitigates the flaws. Spidey has never looked better in action, and as good as Tobey Maguire was in Raimi’s movies, Andrew Garfield seems better suited to the role of Peter Parker. Stone is winning in every movie she appears in, and she and Garfield have terrific chemistry. In fact, that chemistry helps make up for the missing screen time that should have been devoted to Peter’s and Gwen’s romance.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is by no means a perfect superhero movie. In fact, it feels flat when compared to greats, like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Nevertheless, there is a place for a movie like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Despite the problems, it’s bright, adventurous, and consistently fun. In other words, it is a live-action comic book, and it arrives with all the pleasures and annoyances that have become hallmarks of that medium.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a filmmaker’s commentary, Alicia Keys’ “It’s On Again” music video and four deleted scenes with commentary.
The Quiet Ones
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, sexual content, thematic material, language and smoking throughout
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
With “The Quiet Ones,” writer-director John Pogue delivers a standard-order thriller about demonic possession. Supposedly, the film is based on actual events, but that doesn’t matter because it follows an identical formula to most previous works in the genre.
The focus is on Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris), an Oxford professor determined to prove that supernatural phenomena have a scientific explanation. His latest experiment involves curing a young woman named Jane (Olivia Cooke). She is supposedly harboring a demon, and Coupland sets out to disprove this with the help of three students: Krissi (Erin Richards), Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and Brian (Sam Claflin). Much of the movie is seen from Brian’s perspective because he has been charged with documenting the experiment.
As with most films about demonic possession, Pogue introduces his characters then subjects them to increasing amounts of paranormal weirdness. Coupland, of course, plays the skeptic, continually reassuring his students that there is a rational explanation for the bizarre happenings.
The biggest problem with “The Quiet Ones” is that it’s not scary. In fact, the creepiest thing in the film is Coupland’s devotion to his project. No matter how bad things get, he presses on, unapologetically subjecting Jane and his students to horrors. Obviously, Pogue and his co-writers are commenting on the potential for scientific overreach, but the formulaic plotting dilutes their message.
The presentation of Jane’s possession isn’t nearly as frightening as in better movies, like “The Exorcist,” and – aside from Jane – Brian is the only character likely to draw empathy from the audience. Coupland, Krissi and Harry are presented as shallow and self-interested, so the trials they face aren’t likely to trouble anyone. Brian and Jane are likable enough, but even they are poorly fleshed out. This leaves viewers with nothing more than a batch of dull characters and 98 minutes of horror clichés.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and an audio commentary with Pogue and producer Tobin Armbrust.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Rated R for brief nudity
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Of all the monsters in fiction, vampires may have the most dramatic potential. They are generally depicted as highly intelligent, near-immortal creatures, and this alone makes them fascinating. They get even better when an author addresses the conundrums these creatures face. Vampires are predators by nature, meaning fledging bloodsuckers are forced to adjust their entire sense of being, acknowledging that the human beings they used to identify with are now a food source. The possibilities for fiction are many, yet most storytellers insist on standard-order clichés that grew old decades ago. Fortunately for movie lovers, Jim Jarmusch is different.
In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” the writer-director mines rarely explored vampire territory, introducing a pair of ancient creatures who treat blood as a necessity rather than a reason for being. Tom Hiddleston stars as Adam, a remarkable, centuries-old musician who records original music, yet keeps a low profile in the interest of self-preservation. He also collects classic guitars and expresses a fondness for subjects ranging from science to literature. Even with his many interests, he lives mostly in misery, disgusted by what human beings (zombies he calls them) are doing to the planet. Sensing Adam’s increasing unhappiness, his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), attempts to soothe him.
The best thing about “Only Lovers Left Alive” is that Jarmusch defies horror stereotypes by depicting vampires as superior to humans in most every way. In fiction, the creatures are always shown as physically powerful, but Adam and Eve are also intellectually remarkable. They embrace science in a manner that humans do not dare, they revel in great art and they are surprisingly empathetic to all beings.
Swinton and Hiddleston are perfectly cast as the otherworldly creatures because of their acting chops and physical appearance. Both actors are beautiful but not necessarily glamorous, and this works in their favor because Adam and Eve parade through scene after scene with unkempt hair and casual clothing. These creatures needn’t bother with vanity because they are alpha predators, and Jarmusch, Swinton and Hiddleston make this clear without a line of dialogue.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” doesn’t need conflict to generate interest, but Jarmusch delivers some anyway. When Eve’s wild younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) pays a visit, she turns Adam’s and Eve’s world upside down, adding pizzazz to the plot while making the point that vampires – like humans – have vastly different personalities.
As strange as it may sound, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a thinking-person’s vampire film. Like all horror movies, it has fangs and blood and death, but these are secondary to the intellectualism of the characters.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes, a music video by Yasmine Hamdan and a behind-the-scenes feature about Jarmusch’s filmmaking process.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Rosemary’s Baby”: Viewers who missed NBC’s miniseries adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel can now catch it on video. Zoe Saldana stars as Rosemary Woodhouse, a young woman who becomes suspicious that her husband and neighbors have malevolent plans for her unborn baby.
“The Millers” – The First Season: First 23 episodes of the CBS sitcom about a newly divorced TV reporter (Will Arnett) whose mother (Margo Martindale) moves in with him after his parents split up. Beau Bridges and Jayma Mays also star.
“Boardwalk Empire” – The Complete Fourth Season: Twelve episodes of HBO’s hit drama about corruption and politics in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era. Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald and Michael Shannon star.
“Revolution” – The Complete Second and Final Season: This science-fiction drama about life on Earth after a mysterious electrical blackout deserved a longer television run. Nevertheless, fans can relive the final 22 episodes included in this set. Billy Burke, Tracy Spiridakos, Giancarlo Esposito, David Lyons and Zak Orth star.
“Once Upon a Time” – Season Three: The fourth season of this ABC fairytale drama will bow in late September. That leaves viewers with about a month to catch up with the 22 episodes in this set.
“Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”: The Criterion Collection delivers a fresh restoration of writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s 1989 comedy about an ex-mental patient (Antonio Banderas) who kidnaps a former porn star (Victoria Abril) in hopes of winning her heart.
“Parks and Recreation” – Season Six: The seventh season of this NBC comedy is slated to be the last, so fans will want to savor the 22 episodes on this release. Amy Poehler, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe star.
“Y Tu Mamá También”: Deluxe, Criterion Collection release of director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2001 drama about two teens (Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal) who take a road trip with a sensual older woman (Maribel Verdú).
“The Mindy Project” – Season Two: Twenty-two episodes of the Fox romantic comedy starring Mindy Kaling as a doctor trying to balance her personal life with professional obligations.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.