10/1/13: 100 Bloody Acres, In the House, This is the End, Disconnect, The East

100 Bloody Acres (NR, 2013, Doppelgänger releasing)
Sure, there’s a dead body in the back of Reg Morgan’s (Damon Herriman) truck. But don’t worry! As “100 Bloody Acres” makes evident straight away, it isn’t as terrible as it seems. Now, Reg’s decision to pick up three tourists (Anna McGahan, Oliver Ackland, Jamie Kristian) and give them a ride to a festival despite the contents of his truck? That idea absolutely is as terrible as it appears, because good luck convincing three strangers that the dead body is there for what, all things considered and for grave lack of a much better term, are pretty wholesome reasons. “Acres” has no appetite for deceiving viewers and keeping those reasons hidden or twisted. But it’s best to let the movie unveil them itself anyway, because the unassuming way in which it does so is so much more impossibly charming when you go in blind. Bad behavior runs temperately rampant, but it’s the darkly funny misunderstandings that truly wreak havoc, and no one — from Reg to his brother-slash-business partner (Angus Sampson) to his passengers and the little dog who may be the film’s only unconflicted character — is immune from dishing and taking mixed messages in equal volume. Presiding over it all is Reg, who at once is the master of ceremonies, the biggest dupe in the room and the kind of character who is nearly impossible not to love despite having so few reasonable reasons to actually do so.
Extras: Short film “Celestial Avenue,” Morgan Brothers television commercials, cast/crew interviews, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, storyboard gallery.

In the House (R, 2012, Cohen Media Group)
Behind a closed door but hardly in a manner that suggests fear of being overheard, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) remarks to her husband (Denis Ménochet) that even though it’s nice their son Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) finally has a friend to bring around the house, the kid’s too weird and shouldn’t be allowed back. Had we met Claude (Ernst Umhauer) when she had, it’d be easy to believe it’s that simple. And even with what we do know by the time Esther delivers her verdict, there’s still an air of merit to her conclusion. By this point, though, Claude is neither wholly responsible for, nor wholly honest about, his odd behavior. Rather, he’s using his gift as a budding writer to study what he perceives to be a banal middle class family and report his findings, in story form, to a disillusioned high school teacher (Fabrice Luchini) who has seized this could-be talent like a loose pearl in a relentless tide of students who cannot write, cannot think and do not care. Sixteen-year-old kids are trouble all by themselves. Brilliant 16-year-olds prodded to abuse their talent by a frustrated adult whose dissipated dreams are now reforming for reasons not totally clear? That’s just dangerous, and though “In the House” resists the urge to illustrate that danger in all the cheaply overt ways available to it, the broken glass on the road cuts just as sharply. Why play the cheap hand, anyway, when there are enough covert themes in play — multiple comings of age, reality-distortion fields, the potential cruelty of ambition and the tendency for ambition to turn on those who wield it carelessly, to name a sample — to make your head spin? “House” doesn’t appear to know, and the multi-layered parallel realities it weaves together so smartly, while keeping both feet on the ground, suggest it doesn’t really care. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, premiere footage, poster gallery.

This is the End (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
Watching a group of friends put on a show like “This is the End” is akin to watching a dog and a baby play together onscreen: They may be taking direction, but only so far as it serves their pleasure, and they aren’t necessarily acting at all while doing so. Sometimes that kind of fun is so joyous as to become contagious. Sometimes it’s so insular as to alienate anyone who is reduced to witnessing a party in which they cannot participate. In “End” — a grand imagining of how James Franco, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride, all playing what we can only pray are alternate-dimension versions of themselves, would compose themselves the day the apocalypse comes to Hollywood — both outcomes so fiercely battle and wear each other down that the laziest form of criticism is all that’s left standing in the end. So here’s the deal. At this point, you likely know how your body reacts to the combining of Rogens, Francos and Robinsons. If it’s laughter, “End” — which includes extremely literal callbacks to the group’s past collaborations among its unapologetically A-to-B references — will likely produce more. If not, this parody of and ode to previous movies you already do not like is the ultimate non-starter (even if Michael Cera’s brief but spectacular interpretation of Michael Cera is something everyone, love or hate him, should eventually see).
Extras: Rogen/director commentary, deleted scenes, eight behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, alternate takes.

Disconnect (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
It was inevitable that movies like “Disconnect” would start popping up before long, and it probably was inevitable that before one comes along and gets it right, this would happen first. “Disconnect” presents a trio of separate but slightly crisscrossing stories that collectively concern themselves with our new rules of engagement in chat rooms, social networks and online communities. None of these stories completely falls flat, and each has more going on than some insulting fable about the scary dangers of trusting people who turn out to be crazed monsters in person. But even with an intelligent touch, “Disconnect’s” themes — bullying, identity theft and assuming too much (good or bad) sight unseen — comprise a what’s what of what someone expects from a movie tasked with too much timely ground to cover and only 115 minutes during which to cover it. Time is by far “Disconnect’s” biggest enemy, forcing it to tell stories that are good for some drama but have a tendency to flinch and let another story tag in just when things appear to get really interesting. The bullying story is particularly frustrating as it navigates through some seriously tricky terrain before parlaying it into the drama you expected all along. Had that story, or perhaps any of them, received “Disconnect’s” undivided attention and courage, we might be talking about one of 2013’s most provocative dramas. Instead, it’s a polished, thoughtful, entertaining but mostly toothless also-ran in a race that has not yet ended, much less been won. Jason Bateman, Andrea Riseborough, Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård, among others, comprise a strong ensemble cast.
Extras: Director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

The East (PG-13, 2013, Fox Searchlight)
Fittingly caught between the manifesto that ignites it and the unsettlingly pat conclusion that sends it home is “The East,” which spends most of its time similarly wedged between accessibility and conviction in a manner that’s bound to dissatisfy more than not. In “The East,” a group of (circle one!) activists/eco-terrorists, also named The East, are bent on punishing three separate corporations by turning their toxic product back on them. New to their ranks is Sarah (Brit Marling), and though her introduction makes it clear something isn’t normal about her affiliation with the group, details beyond that remain fuzzy. And that’s fine, because “The East’s” early going is so drenched in message (the aforementioned manifesto, set atop some truly stomach-turning images from the Gulf Coast oil spill, sets the stage), the vague prospect of conflict is a crucial coup in the film’s desire to entertain first and proselytize to the converted second. Then, as if emboldened, that desire to entertain takes partially though not completely over, leaving in its wake a conflicted movie that seems to want to take a stand but doesn’t quite know how to express its convictions with actual conviction. Whether one agrees with the messaging or not, “The East’s” roaring start teased the beginnings of a story where punishment is carried out without concern for how it looks or how uncomfortable it gets for the audience watching along. There’s still some of that, there’s considerable thought invested into the characters we get close to, and there’s one scene wherein “The East” beautifully threads a potentially disastrous needle in illustrating (and possibly justifying) the wavering of conviction. But along with all that is way too much time spent on Sarah, the flatly stock upshot of her affiliation, and the toxic effect her muddied mindset has on a film that should, results be damned, have no such mud in its veins. Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, six behind-the-scenes features.