Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon

What do horror movie slashers do in their downtime? How do they get ready for their next big kill? These questions, and more, are at the center of Scott Glosserman‘s clever horror-comedy Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Leslie Vernon (a very funny, very game Nathan Baesel) is a possibly undead but surprisingly good-natured would-be-serial-killer. He’s preparing to slaughter a new group of horny teens, and he’s allowed a documentary crew, lead by Taylor (Angela Goethals), to follow him around as he gets ready for the big night.

Behind the Mask is set in a world where the events of films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street really happened, and half the fun of the film is watching the ways the characters treat these slasher movie classics as real-life study guides. The faux documentary angle doesn’t always work, and at one point, director Glosserman abandons it entirely to tell a traditional narrative. Still, minor flaws aside, Behind the Mask is a delight for horror movie fans. It’s also loaded with cameos, including Friday the 13th‘s Kane Hodder and A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Robert Englund, playing a slasher hunter a la Donald Pleasence in Halloween.

Special Features To Note:

This is a surprisingly light Blu-ray from the good folks at Scream Factory, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Often, Scream/Shout will pack their Blus with meandering interviews. Behind the Mask, in contrast, is pretty cut and dry. We get a series of interviews with actors Angela Goethals and Ben Pace, and co-writer/co-producer David Stieve discussing the production. Stieve talks about how, before he wrote the film, he was insecure about his choice to move to Hollywood to be a screenwriter. One night, while wallowing in self-doubt, Halloween was on TV, and Stieve thought: “I wonder if Michael Myers ever doubted his career choices?” From there, the idea began to take shape, and eventually formed the basis for the script.

Stieve also says he occasionally wanted the film to be to be darker and more serious than it ultimately became, but director Scott Glosserman convinced him things would work better with more comedy. One side-note about the interviews: they sound as if they were recorded at a convention, with a gaggle of people talking in the background. It can be a bit distracting.

Special Features Include:

  • NEW HD Master From The 2K Intermediate
  • NEW Joys And Curses – Interviews With Actors Angela Goethals, Ben Pace, And Co-writer/Co-producer David Stieve
  • NEW Before The Mask: The Comic Book – An Interview With Comic Book Artist Nathan Thomas Milliner
  • Audio Commentary With Co-writer/Director Scott Glosserman, Moderated By Filmmakers Adam Green And Joe Lynch
  • Audio Commentary With Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Britain Spelling, And Ben Pace
  • The Making Of Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon Featurette
  • The Casting Of Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon Featurette
  • Deleted And Extended Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 

Friends and colleagues had repeatedly told me that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the sequel/reboot to 1995’s Jumanji, was surprisingly good. I refused to believe them. “There’s no way that movie is good,” I stubbornly declared. Then I watched it on Blu-ray. And guess what? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good, folks. As far as big, dumb comedies go, Welcome to the Jungle is full of clever ideas, frequently funny jokes, and well-acted scenes. It’s about 30 minutes too long, but other than that, I was shocked at how much I liked this.

A group of four high school misfits get sucked into a video game and find themselves transformed into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan. Hilarity and adventure follows. Everyone is very good here, but it’s Black who steals the show. Black’s video avatar character has a superficial teen girl stuck inside, and Jumanji racks up a surprisingly amount of laughs from having Black run around acting like a teen girl. There’s a legnthy sequence where Black tries to teach Gillan’s shy, awkward character how to flirt, and it’s so damn funny that it had me in stitches.

Special Features To Note:

Not a whole lot to write home about here. The special features on the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Blu-ray are a bit boiler-plate, with interviews with the cast effusively praising one another. A making-of featurette covers the bare bones of the production – sets, costumes, casting, special effects. One interesting takeaway from this behind-the-scenes featurette: you might think that in a movie starring The Rock, The Rock would be the one who ended up having the most stunts, right? Incorrect! It turns out Karen Gillan ended up with the most stunt work in the film, and nailed it all. You go, girl.

There’s also a shockingly unfunny gag reel here. Gag reels can either be hilarious or a waste of time, and sadly, the one here falls in the latter category. It’s the type of gag reel that consists of characters accidentally overstepping their marks; it’s a bit of a bummer.

The real draw of this Blu-ray is the film itself, which is shockingly entertaining.

Special Features Include:

  • Gag Reel
  • “Jumanji, Jumanji” Music Video by Jack Black and Nick Jonas
    • Five Featurettes:
    • “Journey Through The Jungle: The Making of Jumanji”
    • “Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast”
    • “Attack of the Rhinos!”
    • “Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts!”
    • “Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating The Legacy of Jumanji”

The Shape of Water

There’s been a bit of a backlash against Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water ever since it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Nuts to that, I say. This film is an utter delight – a weird, gorgeous celebration of otherness. A monster movie, a romance, a period piece, a borderline musical, and so much more. Simply put, I adore this film.

Sally Hawkins is a mute custodian in the early 1960s. She works at a top secret government facility, and soon befriends – and falls in love with – a humanoid river monster that looks like a super sexy version of the Creature of the Black Lagoon. One of The Shape of Water‘s strengths is the way it plays the romance between Hawkins and the Fish Man (played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones) perfectly straight. There’s never a moment where a side character comments on how strange it is that Hawkins is having a romantic affair with a river creature. It’s just accepted as-is. It’s wonderful.

Every character in The Shape of Water has an arc –  Hawkins’ co-worker, played by Octavia Spencer; Hawkins’ neighbor, played by Richard Jenkins; the film’s antagonist, played by Michael Shannon; a secret Russian spy, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. In a lesser film, most of these characters would recede into the background. But del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor find ways to give all of them moments in the spotlight.

The Shape of Water may very well be Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece. As I said in my theatrical review, “The Shape of Water unfolds with a dreamy grace, full of moments that will have you uttering blissful sighs of content. Alexandre Desplat’s score is lush and romantic, perfectly underscoring the film’s tone, and the cinematography courtesy of Dan Laustsen recalls the look of films from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Del Toro creates one gorgeous moment after the next, including a show-stopping scene that turns into something out of a classic musical. It’s the type of thing only del Toro could create.”

Special Features To Note:

First thing’s first: I want to say it’s utter bullshit that this Blu-ray doesn’t come with a Guillermo del Toro commentary track. Anyone who has listened to one of del Toro’s commentary tracks for his other films can confirm that they’re always wonderful, without question. Guillermo del Toro is a filmmaker with a world of film knowledge rattling around his brain, and his commentary tracks are like mini film schools, where he covers nearly ever facet of the production. The Shape of Water is a dream project of del Toro’s, so I assumed he’d be providing a commentary track for the Blu-ray. Alas, it’s not to be.

What we do get, however, are a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and crew talking about all the work that went into crafting the film. Here, del Toro talks about being inspired by Beauty and the Beast, and discusses how the three main characters – Hawkins, Spencer and Jenkins – are really supposed to be the same character. “They’re invisible people,” del Toro says. He also talks about how in a  “normal” movie, Michael Shannon’s would be the hero, fighting the monster.

Beyond this, there’s a segment devoted to the creation of the film’s Fish Man, and how much work went into making the character look, well, sexy. “He’s handsome in a fish-like way,” says Doug Jones. Other features include two different “Anatomy of a Scene” sequences, that show how two specific scenes were created. There’s also a “Guillermo del Toro Master Class”, where del Toro and the cast take questions from an audience at a screening.

All of this is fine, but I still can’t get over the fact that there’s no commentary track. Maybe one day the Criterion Collection will talk del Toro into doing it. For now, we’ll have to be content with what we have.

Special Features Include:

  • A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue
  • Anatomy of a Scene: The Dance
  • Shaping the Waves: A Conversation with James Jean
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Master Class
  • Theatrical Trailers

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