New on DVD:
Fresh from SXSW comes Emmett Malloy’s tour documentary The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, which can be summed up as a sweetly amped-up love letter to fans of the brother-sister duo. Covering a rare Canadian tour in 2007, the film follows Jack and Meg White as they travel from town to town, trying to hit cities that aren’t usually on the map for major rock tours. In between dates they play smaller, unconventional venues including bowling alleys, rec centers and even off the back of a fishing boat. The film opens with a “One-Note Show,” where the duo gets out of their car, goes on stage, plays a single note, thanks the audience and leaves. It’s a clever moment that probably left unknowing attendees slightly annoyed.
And there is the usual talk between performances. Jack White is an innovator and man-of-all-trades when it comes to music, and Meg seems as withdrawn and quiet as he is outgoing. She is so soft-spoken the film must supply subtitles whenever she speaks.
But if you aren’t a fan of The White Stripes, or of rock in general, you’ll likely not be too interested in the film. Which is a shame, because Malloy creates a visually arresting look at the Canadian landscape and handles concert footage with confidence. It’s a highly enjoyable gig, both musically and as cinema.
The Fourth Kind released in 2009 during the same two-week pre-holiday period as the delirious mystery The Box, the bombastic adventure 2012, the uber-serious drama Precious and the delightful Fantastic Mr. Fox. So it isn’t very surprising that the film was largely overlooked. Essentially an alien-abduction mystery, it utilizes a lot of “found footage” for its narrative, which follows the interview and recollection of a therapist (an uncredited Charlotte Milchard) who discovers that several of her patients are describing identical disturbing experiences. Under hypnosis, one of them flips out and later goes on a rampage in his home. The doctor is also experiencing her own trauma after losing her husband to a prowler who allegedly stabbed him while they slept.
Simultaneously, The Fourth Kind displays actress Milla Jovovich, who plays the therapist, in re-creations of the doctor’s strange experiences. They include freaked out patients, eerie owls, nighttime disturbances and several deaths. But who is causing these events to occur, and is the doctor responsible for some or all of them?
The film really only works because of three elements: first and foremost is Milchard’s gaunt, horrifically traumatized face in interview footage, which seems ready to explode in some ghastly CGI creation (it doesn’t, but still disturbs, and kudos to the actress for it). Also, there are numerous technical distortions on audio and video when alleged attacks occur, and these make for some uncomfortable manifestations of what might be happening. But overriding these are the heightened expectations created by such low-fi films as The Blair Witch Project and (more currently) Paranormal Activity, where terrible events seem to come out of nowhere in grainy, realistic video footage.
Not much happens in The Fourth Kind, or perhaps it all just seems to happen very quickly, and certainly no solid answers are provided (spoiler: you don’t actually see the culprit). But it is a sharp dose of vitamins D (disturbing) and C (creepy), and sometimes that’s all you need to keep you up at night.
The Tournament is a hit-and-run piece of splatter-action about how 30 top assassins are corralled together every seven years and forced to kill each other off while criminal bigwigs place bets. That simple. It begins with the end of one tourney, as linebacker-sized Ving Rhames proves he can slide across a bloody floor and kill a guy faster than the opponent can reload his weapon. Rhames’ killer shows up at the next event because one of the other killers has murdered someone close to him, and he wants some exposition-isn’t-necessary revenge. His new opponents include Kelly Hu as a high-kicking Asian contractor, Ian Somerhalder as a wacked-out Texan who kills anyone and then takes fingertips as souvenirs (he also kills dogs, so animal lovers beware), and Robert Carlyle as a hapless, besotted priest who accidentally gets caught up in their deadly game.
Now, logistically, how do you film a story with 30 characters who have to face off? Well, try having a third of them meet up in the same strip club, for starters. Then, try a montage of death set to a rushed version of “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” an old standard that suits the action just fine.
The Tournament ultimately hits all its marks effectively, with a nasty bit of gore here and there to liven up otherwise staid gunfights and martial arts action. Overall it is a fun little exercise with frequent excitement as well as some gallows humor to balance the seriousness of Those In Charge. A completely predictable affair, but it’s still a nice way to burn off ninety minutes.