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Today's DVDs & Blu-rays: Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse, Clive Owen in Intruders and Mel Gibson's Latest Disaster

The Turin Horse stars Janos Derzsi, Erika Bok and Risci; Béla Tarr directs.

Our feature DVD/Blu-ray release this week is Hungarian director Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse. Bleak, weighty and solemn, The Turin Horse isn't great entertainment. There aren't any belly laughs, no car chases, no über-sexy vampires. It is, however, wonderful cinema.

Tarr has said this, his ninth film, is his last. It's completely understandable that the filmmaker thinks he's done everything he could hope to, given his body of work. His 1977 debut, Családi tűzfészek (Family Nest), was a spectacular start. His later work included the highly regarded 1988 Kárhozat / Damnation and 2000's Werckmeister harmóniák / Werckmeister Harmonies.

The film takes its title from the story about Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw a horse being beaten by its owner in Turin, Italy, in 1889. The German philosopher was so upset by what he saw, he threw himself on the animal's neck, weeping in despair. It led to a mental breakdown from which Nietzsche never recovered.

The animal in The Turin Horse isn't the same one from Nietzsche's story, but its fate is just as bleak.

Tarr starts the film off with a long tracking shot of a man (played by Janos Derzsi) in a horse-drawn cart crossing a barren landscape. It is beautiful and poetic -- and painful to watch. The almost two-and-a-half-hour film is composed of some 30 similar black-and-white shots.

The man lives with his daughter (Erika Bok) in a small farmhouse. Their daily rituals, the difficulty of their lives play out with almost no dialogue. In fact, when a neighbor drops by and a wagon full of gypsies rolls past the hut, their talking seems intrusive, out of place.

Very little happens in The Turin Horse, and yet Tarr's story is transfixing, mesmerizing. If this is indeed Tarr's last film, it's a brilliant ending to an illustrious career.

Intruders stars Clive Owen and Ella Purnell; Juan Carlos Fresnadillo directs.

We like Intruders just enough to mention it here. We like Clive Owen as John, a happily married family man. We love his daughter Mia (the talented Ella Purnell), a young girl with an active imagination who is writing a story about Hollow Face, a faceless monster who lurks in the shadowy corners of her bedroom. We like director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's efforts to seemingly reinvent the horror genre.

The story goes back and forth between two children, Mia in the present day and Juan in the recent past. Both are plagued by Hollow Face. But is Mia making up the story as she writes in her notebook, or is she recording what's actually happening to her? John seems to be the only other person who sees Hollow Face. Is he participating in his daughter's delusion? Or is Hollow Face real?

We even like the ending (which, we admit, has a nice twist). But we're not sure if Fresnadillo does enough to warrant our wholehearted approval -- or our DVD dollars, for that matter. While we were watching Intruders the first time around, it kept our attention, thanks in large part to Owen's and Purnell's ability to command the screen. But after the credits rolled, we were left a bit flat. And it's unlikely we'll watch it a second time.

 

Get the Gringo stars Mel Gibson; Adrian Grunberg directs.

Is anybody else embarrassed by Mel Gibson's latest DVD/Blu-ray release, Get the Gringo? The film went straight to VOD after a very, very limited release last April -- a one-night run in a handful of theaters. The $20 million project was financed by Gibson, who stars, co-wrote and produced. It's a crime drama set in a Mexican prison. Gibson is an American criminal, a driver who gets in trouble with the Mexican police and is sent to a vile prison south of the border. The plot gets muddled from there. There's something about an organ transplant, a lot of violence and a host of other random plot threads that end up in a tangle.

The fact that the film was previously released under the title How I Spent My Summer Vacation is one indication as to how unfocused this project was from the start.

Adding to the weirdness of the release is the fact that the digital download costs more than the DVD. It's $14.99 for the digital download, and just $12.99 for the DVD. Wait a minute; surely packaging and shipping should push the DVD price a little higher than the Amazon instant video, don't you think? Hold on, sorry, nix that. We forgot we were talking about Get the Gringo; why should anything about it make sense?


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