DVD reviews: 'The Babadook,' 'Big Eyes' and 'Maps to the Stars'
“The Babadook” (2014, NR, 93 min., $14.93) Aussie Jennifer Kent will be long known as the filmmaker who terrified moviegoers in 2014. Kent made her feature-length debut as a writer and director with “The Babadook,” a psychological horror film that will have viewers sleeping with the lights on. Smart and stylish, “The Babadook” stands as one of the best horror movies of the past decade. Guided by strong leading performances — Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman — the well-paced story carries an uncomfortable presence from the start. The picture follows a single mother named Amelia (Davis) who is struggling through life with a young son named Samuel (Wiseman). When a weird children's book is found at their house, Amelia reads it to Samuel. The book immediately releases a sort-of boogeyman known as the Babadook. Feeding on fear from Amelia and Samuel, the Babadook entrenches itself in the house, establishing a horrific presence that shows no signs of leaving the terrified family alone. Available in three packages — special edition Blu-ray, Blu-ray and standard DVD, “The Babadook” delivers some stellar extras across each set. Entertaining making-of featurettes, including interviews with cast and crew, are available. 3.5 Stars.
“Big Eyes” (2014, PG-13, 106 min., $29.98) Filmmaker Tim Burton takes a detour from the quirky goth stuff to take a look at the life of Margaret (Amy Adams) and Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) in a biopic set in the 1950s and ‘60s. Based on a true story, “Big Eyes” has Margaret leaving the suburbs and her controlling husband for San Francisco, where she plans on pursuing a life as an artist. It's there where she meets Walter, an aspiring painter with connections in the art world. After a short courtship, they get married. A short time later, Margaret's work takes off, but Walter takes credit. He's a great salesman, and Margaret lets him get away with it until he becomes increasingly demanding of her. This is good work from Burton, stepping away from his wheelhouse. The drama tells a remarkable story, and performances from Adams and Waltz are, as usual, solid. The one thing missing from “Big Eyes” is character development, especially in the case of Margaret. It would've been nice to understand her actions a bit more, especially in the context of the story. A good making-of featurette — exploring the production of “Big Eyes” — is available in standard DVD and Blu-ray packages. Exclusive to Blu-ray is a Q&A with cast and crew members. 2 Stars.
“Maps to the Stars” (2014, R, 111 min., $19.98) Filmmaker David Cronenberg serves up a satirical look at life in Tinseltown in “Maps to the Stars,” an outrageous picture that meets somewhere between a comedy and a drama. It's an addictive watch, and that means it's hard to look away from these characters, most of whom are absolutely dreadful. Credit for that goes to a chilling script from Bruce Wagner and bittersweet performances from Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Bird and John Cusack. The dark picture did well on the festival circuit in 2014, but lost its way in a short theatrical release. It's unfortunate, because Cronenberg gives some of his best work in “Maps to the Stars.” The main protagonist here is Havana (Moore), a twisted actress who'll do anything to find movie success again. She's tied to the fame-seeking family of Benjie (Bird) — a teen sensation trying to get his acting career back on track — when she hires his sister (Wasikowska), who's been banished from the family. Each character strives for something better in Hollywood, but dark secrets and turbulent behavior sabotage their chances. Extras on Blu-ray and standard DVD include commentary and some interviews with cast and crew.
“Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” (2015, R, 95 min., $19.99) A noteworthy cast — Anthony Hopkins, Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington and Ryan Kwanten — stars in this crime drama based on a real story. In 1983, a group of friends teamed to pull off the brazen kidnapping of one of the richest men in the world, the heir to the Heineken beer empire.
“The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death” (2014, PG-13, 98 min., $29.98) A sequel to the 2012 film, director Tom Harper's horror picture is based on the novel of the same name from Martyn Waites. Set in the British countryside during World War II, a band of people looking for shelter arrive at a boarding school that is haunted by an evil spirit.
“The Man with the Iron Fists 2” (2015, R, 90 min., $29.98) A sequel to the 2012 film, “The Man with the Iron Fists 2,” set in a 19th century Chinese mining town, follows a man named Thaddeus, who's found badly wounded by a miner. Thaddeus is brought back to good health by the miner, while also bringing in danger from an evil master.
“Enter the Dangerous Mind” (2013, NR, 88 min., $24.98) Youssef Delara and Victor Teran combine to direct this thriller about an introvert named Jim (Jake Hoffman) who prefers to stay in his apartment and listen to music. His brother (Thomas Dekker) is adamant about setting him up with a woman, and when he does, Jim becomes obsessed.
“Echoes” (2014, NR, 93 min., $22.98) A struggling writer named Anna (Kate French) retreats to a secluded house in the desert with her boyfriend (Steven Brand), hoping to find some inspiration for her work and escape the sleep-paralysis induced visions haunting her. Despite her calm surroundings, Anna's visions only get worse in the desert.
“From the Dark” (2014, NR, 90 min., $24.98) Traveling through a rural part of Ireland, Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) experience car trouble. Out in the middle of nowhere, the couple heads out on foot to find help. They come across a cabin, only to find a wounded man. It's there where Sarah and Mark find deadly trouble.
“Whitney” (2015, NR, 88 min., $14.98) Actress Angela Bassett moves over to the director's chair for this biopic about pop star Whitney Houston. Mostly, the feature film, which originally aired on Lifetime, focuses on the troubled relationship between Houston and husband Bobby Brown. Yaya DaCosta assumes the lead role of Houston.
“Manny” (2014, PG-13, 84 min., $22.98) Dropping on video at the perfect time — weeks before boxer Manny Pacquiao's anticipated bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. — this documentary from Leon Gast and Ryan Moore explores the career of the Filipino fighter. Interviews with Mark Wahlberg, Jimmy Kimmel and Oscar De La Hoya are included.
NEW ON BLU-RAY
“Imitation of Life: 2-Movie Collection” (1934 and 1959, NR, 11 min., and 125 min., $14.98)
“Double Feature: That Man From Rio and Up to His Ears” (1964 and 1965, NR, 112 min., and 104 min., $39.98)
TV ON DVD
“The Missing” (two discs, eight episodes, $44.98)
“Little House on the Prairie: Season 5” (five discs, 24 episodes, $21.98)
“The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Stingers and Zingers” (eight discs, 24 roasts, $59.95)
“The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Hall of Famers” (one disc, 176 min., $12.95)
“Walker: Texas Ranger, Flashback” (one disc, 91 min., $14.99)