Let the Right One In (R, 2008, Magnet)
You always remember your first crush — especially if, like the object of Oskar’s (Kåre Hedebrant) affection, she (Lina Leandersson) only comes out at night and her arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders and unexplainable disappearances. Fortunately for 12-year-old vampire Eli, Oskar is too busy taking lumps from a flock of local bullies to jump to any conclusions on his own, and a completely strange friendship is born. The duel plights, to say nothing of the sweet “boy likes vampire, vampire likes boy” angle, sets the table for a most unusual story about a creature of the night. “Let the Right One in” doesn’t flinch at the opportunity, simultaneously respecting traditions and conventions from two very different kinds of films while achieving a precious and unsettling tone that’s uniquely its own. That places “LTROI” far outside the typical horror film bounds, and those who hold it to those standards might find themselves turned off by the deliberate pace and very gradual burn that defines the film’s early going. But it all pays off — not only with a back half that cashes in everything the first half sets up, but with a magnificent conclusion that pays better respect to the genre than most of those other movies put together. In Swedish with English subtitles, but a pretty good English dub is available.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, photo/poster galleries.
I’ve Loved You so Long (PG-13, 2008, Sony Pictures Classics)
Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) are sisters, and all we really know beyond that, as “I’ve Loved You so Long” gets going, is that the two haven’t seen each other in an unconventionally long time. “Long” naturally delves into what made things the way they are, and even hinting at the cause of that separation would spoil a great deal of the discovery. Unfortunately, hiding those spoilers also makes it hard to avoid generic praise when commending what “Long” does with the scenario and where, outside of a few trite and predictable junctures, it goes from there. More than a setup to a climax, “Long” is a comedown and a deconstruction — a surprising early revelation that gives way to some ugly, uncomfortable but completely necessary human fallout. That isn’t a storytelling technique everyone will appreciate, but it is one “Long” does especially well. In French with English subtitles, but a less-than-spectacular English dub (featuring Thomas’ voice) also is available.
Extra: Deleted scenes (with commentary).
The Village Barbershop (NR, 2007, Monterey Video)
Small-time Reno barber Art Leroldi (John Ratzenberger) isn’t exactly a pro when it comes to facing loss head-on, so he has quite the hill to climb when his business partner and best friend passes away and leaves him wading alone through a sea of bills and past-due notices. On the other side of the story coin sits Gloria (Shelly Cole), an increasingly desperate single mom-to-be who needs some kind of financial stability as soon as possible. If you can put two and two together, you likely can guess how these two figure into each other’s lives. That goes as well for a few of “The Village Barbershop’s” other faces, pieces and instances, which pop up at somewhat predictable times and take well-traveled roads to destinations that won’t exactly blow anybody’s mind. Problem? Maybe, maybe not. As simple-minded as “Barbershop” frequently portends to be, it’s an extremely pleasant kind of simple-mindedness that’s mindful of the details. Art’s story isn’t bursting with shock in intrigue, but the mannerisms that tell the story make him worth watching. That goes triple for Cole, whose amusing demeanor would steal the movie outright if the script didn’t delegate so effectively between the two. Amo Glick, George McRae and Cindy Pickett also star.
Extras: Feature on Reno, director Q&A, barbering history and trivia, actor bios.
Head Case: Season 1 (NR, 2007, Starz/Anchor Bay)
Dr. Elizabeth Goode (Alexandra Wentworth) has, in spite of herself, built a plush career for herself as a therapist to Hollywood’s rich and famous. How — or perhaps why — isn’t so clear. Goode’s maddening insecurity propels her to find a way to insert her own insatiable concerns in the middle of her clients’ equally incurable neuroses, and both parties seem too oblivious to arrive at that rather obviously problematic conclusion and do anything to fix it. But that’s their problem. Ours rests entirely on whether “Head Case,” which employs the same unscripted comedic stylings of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Christopher Guest’s filmography, can make us laugh the same way those gems do. Alas, “Case” rarely rises to that level, and there are times, depending on who is guest-starring on Goode’s couch, where the show falls absolutely on its face. Most of the time, though, “Case” rides somewhere in the middle — rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious, but consistently amusing enough to merit recommendation. The mile-long list of recognizable guest stars (David Alan Grier, James Denton, Lea Thompson, Richard Kind, Christopher Lloyd, Ahmet Zappa and quite a few more) doesn’t hurt, either. Michelle Arthur, Steve Landesberg, Rob Benedict, Aris Alvarado and Channon Roe join Wentworth in the main cast.
Contents: Eight episodes, plus bonus shorts, bloopers and a making-of feature.
Punisher: War Zone: 2-Disc Special Edition (R, 2008, Lions Gate)
If at first you don’t succeed (1989), and if you fail again after that (2004), try again. “Punisher: War Zone” marks the third attempt in two decades to accomplish the presumably brainless task of converting a comic book about a violent but benevolent vigilante on a vengeance-filled warpath, and for serious fans who crave a faithful tribute to the comic, it marks the third failure. For the rest of us, the results will vary a little more. If, for instance, you crave a smart deconstruction of Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) and the means of and methods to his contained madness, you probably should wait another few years and see if someone gives this a fourth try. If, however, you enjoy movies that are so bad as to be good, “War Zone” probably isn’t to be missed. Stevenson is the best fit yet for Castle’s cinematic shoes, but the script he’s given is another matter entirely, chock full of hilariously campy dialogue and choice excerpts from the big book of Hollywood clichés. Meanwhile, a cast of really good actors (Doug Hutchison, Wayne Knight, Colin Salmon, Dash Mihok) have a blast collecting easy paychecks, and Dominic West outdoes himself with the goofiest Italian accent since Bob Hoskins took on Super Mario. Throw in some hysterically over-the-top violence, and “War Zone” emerges as a must-see for your next group movie night — a complete failure of the very best kind.
Extras: Director/crew commentary, five behind-the-scenes features, digital copy.