John Dies at the End (R, 2012, Magnet)
Some movies have that blink-and-it’s-gone moment you wish you immediately could see again just to reconcile what was seen with what actually happened, to say nothing of what it means. “John Dies at the End” is what happens when those moments arrive in force and encircle the entirety of the movie they create. Told mostly through the recollections of John’s friend Dave (Chase Williamson) as told to a journalist (Paul Giamatti), “End” is the story of a drug, called soy sauce (no relation to the condiment), that, for lack of a better concise description, is effectively sentient. It’s a wonder drug that takes rather than is taken, and those it doesn’t kill are given heightened senses that, again, defy concise description. “End’s” universe is so defiantly unique that the movie’s unfolding of it initially looks like nothing more than random insanity for the sake of it. Some of it certainly is that and nothing more. But there’s a thread running through the torrent of weirdness, and when that thread reveals itself in detail, it’s enough to make one wish “End” was just beginning instead of three-quarters over. Whether all that early insanity is the perfect buildup or a bunch of wasted time is the tip of “End’s” polarizing iceberg, which extends all the way down to whether the movie itself is genius, a disaster or just a wild ride that’s as fallible as it is fun. Just keep the remote handy: Theatergoers couldn’t stop time and review, but that luxury — along with the opportunity to just watch the whole thing a second time with completely new eyes — is now available, and there’s no shame in taking complete advantage. Rob Mayes stars as John. Does he die at the end? Figure that out yourself.
Extras: Williamson/Mayes/filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, Giamatti interview, two behind-the-scenes features, casting sessions.
Knuckleball! (NR, 2012, FilmBuff)
Decades into its existence, the knuckleball remains baseball’s most misunderstood pitch. It’s a wonder tool that extends careers half-decades past their usual expectancy and gives athletically deficient pitchers the means to dominate the world’s best hitters with a pitch that wouldn’t exceed the speed limit on most expressways. But it’s also a dangerously fallible weapon, wherein the slightest delivery misstep produces a wild pitch, a batting practice lob destined for the bleachers or — baseball gods forbid — a broken fingernail that ruins an otherwise healthy knuckleballer’s delivery and knocks him out of the game. So rare is the pitcher who can master the temperamental pitch that when one appears, the fraternity of active and retired knuckleballers springs forth with a welcome wagon and support system like no other in professional sports. Set primarily across the 2011 season, “Knuckleball!” is a lively story about two pitchers — one, Tim Wakefield, a limp infielder-turned-Red Sox icon who is chasing his 200th win in his 20th season, and the other, R.A. Dickey, a quintessential journeyman who has finally secured steady Major League work years after others would have given up. It’s also a story about the history and art of the knuckler and the pitchers who made it famous before Wakefield and Dickey made it their last resort. But more enjoyable than anything is when “Knuckleball” shows the knuckleball cavalry coming together — Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro and even Wakefield, who technically is the opposition — to support Dickey as he struggles to keep the knuckleball’s flame burning while Wakefield contemplates his baseball mortality. Baseball is about nothing if not teamwork and tradition, but the torch-passing that happens here is something special nonetheless. (Worth noting: “Knuckleball” doesn’t extend into the 2012 season. If you somehow have an interest in this but don’t know what happened during that season, resist the urge to look it up beforehand.)
Extras: Two hours’ worth of additional/extended interviews and footage.
The Kick (PG-13, 2011, Lions Gate)
If ever there was a tae kwon do demonstration equivalent of the Partridge family, Moon (Cho Jae Hyun) and his family might be it. Unfortunately, with Moon still harboring disappointment over an Olympic defeat 20 years prior and taking it out on a son (Taejoo) who would rather be a dancer than the martial artist his father so badly wants him to be, things aren’t quite as cheerful here as they are with the Partridges. The familial angst purportedly is secondary to why we’re here: “The Kick’s” main storyline concerns a $30 million artifact, the high-flying thieves who attempt to steal it before the family thwarts them practically out of happenstance, and the act of retribution that sets up the family and thieves for a rematch. But that wrinkle itself serves better as an excuse for why we’re here than as the actual reason, because who cares about artifacts when we have a complete family unit of fighters that includes an adorable kid and a zoo’s worth of troublemaking animals? “The Kick’s” story is decent enough to set up some great action scenes, but it’s the family dynamic that makes the movie so much fun — and occasionally melodramatic because of that father/son subplot, but mostly just fun — and gives those action scenes the flavor they need to stand apart from the martial arts movie pack. In Korean with English subtitles, but a tolerable English dub is available as an option. No extras.
Stitches (R, 2012, Dark Sky Films)
According to clown lore as dreamt up by “Stiches,” no clown can rest in peace if he or she dies during a show that goes unfinished. Such is the fate of Stitches (Ross Noble), a rather scummy clown who meets his match at a birthday party crawling with extremely rotten kids whose bad behavior inadvertently and violently gets him killed. Six years later, that party’s now-teenaged birthday boy (Tommy Knight as Tom), despite being restlessly haunted by visions of killer clowns that exist only in his head, is throwing another, larger party. In attendance: every single participant from that birthday party — including Stitches, who has returned from the dead just in time to stumble into a stray invitation and do some party crashing. “Stitches” sets quite a precedent by showing its hand — gruesomely killing its namesake almost immediately, shedding buckets of blood in Tom’s visions just because — before the bad guy even gets a turn. That hand, turns out, is a combination of incredibly disgusting and slapstick that’s juvenile and borderline cheeky. And when Stitches finally gets his chance to play it, the movie bearing his name is cult horror of the finest kind — the kind where the line between laughing at what happened and recoiling in total squeamish horror may so thin as to not even exist. The special effects are laughably low-rent, but not so much that those lacking iron stomachs aren’t warned three times over to think twice about watching this one. (That goes double for those who already fear clowns. “Stitches” has a good time with violence, but it isn’t messing around when it comes to clown mythology.)
Extras: Noble/writer/director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.
Bob’s New Suit (NR, 2011, Breaking Glass Pictures)
Bob’s (Hunter Bodine) new suit isn’t just any suit. It’s his first suit, it’s the suit he plans to marry Jenny (Hayley DuMond) in, and it’s also — sometimes — the narrator of “Bob’s New Suit.” But lots of time passes between the moment Bob meets his suit and the moment he presumably would wear it, and during that time, our narrating suit just kind of disappears. “Suit” is a story about Bob and Jenny’s engagement, but it arguably is more a story about Bob’s sister Stephanie (Shay Astar), who announces her plans to change to Steve via gender reassignment therapy. It’s also a story about Bob’s dad (John Bennett Perry), who is hiding a secret that apparently is hot enough to trigger a miniature explanation of the Patriot Act, and Jenny’s mother (Robyn Peterson), who has a drinking problem and whom Jenny resents to a toxic degree. Exponentially more peripheral is the pointless story of cousin George (Charlie Babcock), who is selling plants he acquired under dubious circumstances. All this before “Suit” is even halfway wrapped, and yes, there’s more — and no, “Suit” doesn’t satisfactorily chew every bite it takes. Because most of the characters are likable and the movie clearly means well, the temptation’s there to go easy on the shortcomings — some awkward acting, the occasional stab at humor that falls flat, jarring detours into on-the-nose preaching — that regularly arise. But even then, it’s hard to ignore when storylines get stuck in first gear and those shortcomings pile up and get in their own way. What begins as a charming comedy — narrated by a suit, no less — gradually erodes into melodrama atop melodrama with no comic relief to balance it out, and good intentions alone can’t bail “Suit” out of its descent.
13 Eerie (NR, 2013, Entertainment One)
Six forensic students are trucked out to an island for a scientific expedition that will land one of them a trainee position with the FBI, and the scariest thing about “13 Eerie” is the notion that these are the six best candidates the bureau could round up. The island was once employed as a means to illegally use dangerous criminals as biological testing subjects, and when one of the cadavers provided by the program takes a breath and sits up, things go awry. Actually, they kind of don’t, because there’s nothing on “Eerie’s” island of terror that isn’t on loan from countless other horror movies that precede it. The students are chased one at a time. Everybody is unbelievably careless — doubly so given their implied intelligence — and nearly everyone is about as likable as the corpses that chase them. “Eerie” marches to the same old beat, and while it’s credibly gross and initially buoyed by the added grossness that accompanies forensic science even on a good day, it never remotely shakes its also-ran status (and, for that matter, doesn’t necessarily seem interested in doing so).
Extras: Director/producer commentary, four behind-the-scenes features, photo gallery.