By G. Michael Dobbs
A great documentary and a truly scary -- in a good way -- horror film are the subjects of this week's look at new DVDs.
I'm not much a game player, so if I can't finish a game of Monopoly one can see that I would never be able to immerse myself in video games or in the game featured in this documentary, Dungeons & Dragons.
There are a lot of people out there, who do plunge into playing a game and it becomes more than a recreation, but a lifestyle for them. This new film looks at three people who devoted a substantial part of their lives not just playing the game but being a game master and organizing a game.
While fictional movies and documentaries about fanboys and their pursuits is nothing new -- "Trekkies" probably invented the genre -- director Kevin McAlester manages to avoid clich s. He doesn't laugh at his subjects. He presents their lifestyles and allows the audience to react.
McAlester follows three very different people: Richard, a married sanitation worker and member of the Air Force Reserve; Scott, a married apartment building manager and struggling writer; and Elizabeth, a single woman trying to find employment.
McAlester shows that in each case the role of game master gives these people a sense of control over some part of their lives. Scott is clearly very smart, but he seems incapable of applying himself to anything meaningful. Elizabeth is searching for a solid relationship as well as a job. Richard, who seems to have a very full life, obviously yearns for something dramatic.
While these three people may dress in costume and talk about elves, trolls and dragons, at the core they are no different than anyone else who is a fan of something. Is the person who regularly wears shirts showing his or her allegiance to a sports team and can reel off facts, stats and analysis of the latest game no less a geek than these three?
Considering that I have spent much time with fanboys -- I'm one myself -- I think this film is an insightful look at how people can give into a hobby to the point of near obsession.
The extras include some great outtakes and a series of "not outtakes, exactly," that have some interviews with folks who make our three subjects look pretty normal -- whatever that means.
At last, a DVD horror film release that isn't some lame low budget vampire film. "Don't Look Up" is a genuinely creepy film with some good shocks.
Reshad Strik stars as a film director named Marcus. He's going through some personal and professional hard times -- his girl friend is dying of cancer and he walked off the set of his second movie -- when he receives an offer to film a script based on a lost movie.
A Hungarian director -- look for director Eli Roth in a cameo -- disappeared in 1928 when he attempted to shoot a film based on a medieval legend about a village doomed by a supernatural spirit. Marcus wants to make his version of the same story in the very studio his counterpart used more than 80 years ago.
Anyone who has seen any horror movies knows this can't be a good idea. For Marcus, the extra wrinkle in the story is that he has psychic abilities and can "see" the events that took place years previous.
It's not too long before the spirit makes herself known and members of the crew start dropping and she has some plans for Marcus.
The shocks include far more than the standard gory deaths. Director Fruit Chan, a Hong Kong filmmaker known for a horror film called "Gaau ji (Dumplings)," makes sure not only are his actors allowed to build a characterization, but also to vary the chills.
One of the most disturbing moments in the film for me was a scene in which the director and his producer -- played with an oily charm by Henry Thomas -- watch the dailies from the first day. Their footage contains that shot 80 years earlier, long thought lost. It's a subtle but effective moment.
This is the kind of horror film I like: original, unpredictable and free of dumb vampires!
The extras include the standard interviews and behind the scenes footage.
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