“Slay the Dragon” (2019, Magnolia Home Entertainment) The current national/global climate may have exhausted your personal bandwith for social and political anxiety, but if able, you should consider this documentary on the insidous practice and impact of gerrymandering, or reshaping voter districts to favor one party over another. The direction in which you lean on the political spectrum will undoubtedly color your opinion of Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman‘s film, which is decidedly blue-centric and details both Republican efforts to carve up various states in the favor and the rise of grass roots movements to thwart them. Regardless of your stance, “Dragon” succeeds in detailing both the fragility and the resilience of American democracy through attempts to upend and preserve it. On demand and digital platforms, and on DVD on July 7.
“Creepshow: Season 1” (RLJE Films/Shudder) Twelve jolting tales of horror from special makeup effects creator/producer/director Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”), who refashions George Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 film as a weekly anthology. As with its source material, the “Creepshow” series takes its cues from the horror comics of the 1950s, and episodes like Nicotero’s adaptation of Stephen King’s nasty “Gray Matter” and Rob Schrab‘s “Bad Wolf Down,” which pits Nazis against werewolves, do well at reproducing EC Comics’ house style of gory, gassy thrills. Other episodes, like Romero composer/producer John Harrison‘s “House of the Head” (written by “Bird Box” author Josh Malerman) lean towards more of a “Twilight Zone” approach, albeit with more bloodshed; in all cases, Nicotero and company rely on an impressive array of talent for their stories, including FX legend Tom Savini, Joe and Kasey Lansdale, David Schow, King’s son, Joe Hill. The lineup yields more hits than misses, and even the latter is made palatable by reliable casting choices (Giancarlo Esposito, Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Davison) or offbeat plotting (the bizarre “Man in the Suitcase,” which should haunt anyone who’s ever lost their luggage). RLJE’s Blu-ray includes all six episodes and bundles three hours of extras, including cast and crew interviews and commentaries, making-of featurettes, a reveal of the series’ many Easter Eggs, and even a mini comic that reproduces the interstitial comic book layouts in each episode.
“The Whistlers” (2019, Magnolia Home Entertainment) Romanian cop Vlad Ivanov is dispatched to La Gomera, a dot on the map of the Canary Islands, where he attempts to insert himself into a crime gang with plans to spring a crooked businessman (Sabin Tambrea) from prison in order to gain his knowledge about missing loot. That the gang communicates through a secret whistling language is one of many eccentricities in this exercise in noir by Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu, whose previous efforts (“12:08 East of Bucharest“) took a minimalist, almost granular approach to crime dramas. Some of his gestures here feel like just that – nice to look at but substance free – but Ivanov’s increasingly complicated interactions with various parties involved in the scheme (especially icy femme fatale Catrinel Marlon) underscore the director’s recurring interest in the baffling bureaucracy and confused morals inherent to both sides of the law. On digital and demand and on DVD July 21.
“The Postcard Killings” (2020, RLJE Entertainment) New York detective Jeffery Dean Morgan and Swedish journalist Cush Jumbo partner to find the individual (or individuals) who have been murdering newlyweds – including Morgan’s daughter – and posing them in macabre tableaux across Europe. Danis Tanovic‘s adaptation of the best-seller by James Patterson and Liza Marklund (who co-wrote the script) aims for a mix of noir and giallo, with Morgan wielding a weapons-grade weariness in regard to the various grisly deaths; it’s all been done before (and done better), but the European locations and a capable cast, which includes Famke Janssen and Denis O’Hare, make it a passable way to burn off free time. RLJE’s DVD includes a making-of featurette.
“We Summon the Darkness” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) A trio of metal-minded girls meet stupid with three hormonally charged rocker boys (a chocolate milkshake missile brings them together) in ’80s-era Indiana and indulge in a game of Never Have I Ever which turns ugly in a hurry, albeit in unexpected ways. Amusing indie psycho-thriller by Marc Meyers (the excellent “My Friend Dahmer“), who pokes fun at a variety of tropes – ’80s teen flicks, slasher pics, the “Satanic Panic” mass hysteria of the period – while also delivering four-on-the-floor mayhem and a fairly honest depiction of teenagers. A subdued Johnny Knoxville is also part of the action, but “Darkness” serves best as a showcase for lead Alexandra Daddario, who has long eclipsed her scream queen/arm candy persona. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes a making-of doc and commentary by Meyers and writer Alan Trezza (“Bury the Lead”).
“Proximity” (2020, Shout! Studios) This being 2020, the first thing JPL scientist Ryan Masson does after capturing on video what appears to be a UFO and its occupant is upload the footage to the internet, which draws the attention of a Shadowy Government Organization. Ambitious indie science fiction feature borrows liberally from other films (“WarGames,” in particular) and aims to employ them for a wide array of targets, from conspiracy thriller to introspective character study and even faith-based drama, and if it can’t quite make all those parts work together, it does offer some impressive special effects (director Eric Demeusy has handled VFX for “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones”) and better-than-expected performances by a largely unknown cast. Available on demand and digital.