Arriving on DVD as a kind of under-the-radar complement to the mega-hyped The Cabin in the Woods, this New England-set thriller is less professorial in message and more grounded in its location, never forgetting that the latter is always key to scary movies. Ti West picked a great one with the Yankee Pedler Inn, a Connecticut hotel with a history and at least one suspected paranormal resident, Madeline O'Malley. Boasting endless hallways and a dark cellar that's way less busy than the one in Woods, it's the perfect locale for two clerks, played by the sneakily charming Sara Paxton and the reliable Pat Healy, to mount a time-killing ghost-hunting escapade. As with West's last film, The House of the Devil, much emphasis is placed on anticipation; long takes stretch forever, while the relatively bustling city around the hotel lulls the viewer - and the possible victims - into a false sense of security. (When Lena Dunham is pouring your coffee, how ghostly can things really get?) What I admired most is West's considered screenplay, which bears its own cellar door of secrets. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentaries, featurette
Exactly two times this year, I've found myself exclaiming “Wow” at my TV screen. The first instance had to do with Game of Thrones, but the second happened during a home viewing of this rousing, rollicking installment of a spy series that only seems to be building steam as it ages. Writer-director Brad Bird, a cult icon since he left The Simpsons to helm the instant animated classic The Iron Giant, does with this globe-hopping adventure what his fellow Pixar alum Andrew Stanton fell flat on his face attempting: crossover into live action. Whereas Stanton's John Carter relied on CGI as a kind of bridge between the two forms, Ghost Protocol takes flight by rooting itself in practical stunts, usually performed by lead Tom Cruise himself, as the fascinating featurettes included in this disc make clear. Add to that a story that crackles with high stakes and a lively cast that includes Simon Pegg, and you have a runaway success that will warm the hearts of Bird's devotees. (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, featurettes
It's strange praise to say of a film that I was satisfied simply with the dominant presence of its lead star, but that's the driving sensation that comes from watching Freaks and Geeks graduate Linda Cardellini finally take front-and-center in a movie worthy of her considerable talents. She plays Kelli, a returning war veteran struggling to adapt to her former life of familial responsibility and workplace mundanity, but this isn't another crying-in-the-shower tale of PTSD, ennui and rage, like Brothers or the excellent Hell and Back Again. Rather, it's a low-grade simmer - Kelli didn't see much action during her war duty - that grapples with the concept of relative trauma. Cardellini's character does descend, but she's too responsible for attention-grabbing outbursts and feels she isn't as entitled to them, a form of self-loathing that only fuels her questionable decision making. Debut writer-director Liza Johnson brings a deft touch to the proceedings and teases out great performances from not just Cardellini, but also from Michael Shannon as her decent hubby and Mad Men's John Slattery as a Vietnam veteran only too happy to help Kelli along down her spiral. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, deleted scenes
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