Today's DVDs & Blu-rays: The Master and Nobody Gets Out Alive

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Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams star in

The Master

; Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed.

Still aglow with Oscar buzz, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is out on Blu-ray/DVD this week and that's a very good thing. For most of us, it's going to take multiple viewings to figure out exactly what the hell is going on. Critics and audiences seemed to be enthusiastic for or puzzled by The Master in equal numbers.

The film follows lost soul/WWII veteran/sex and anger addict Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as he becomes entangled with charismatic leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams). There are teasers about Dodd leading a Scientology-like movement, but that never comes to much. Quell and Dodd have a relationship heavy with homoerotic overtones that also goes nowhere.

Master has been called "a master class in acting," and Hoffman, Phoenix and Adams each rightfully got Oscar nominations for their performances, but Anderson's heavy-handed directing reduces it to mere character study. At the end of the film, Quell, Dodd and his wife are pretty much the same as at the start and the audience is left with lots of questions and a subtle sense of dissatisfaction. Anderson is hailed as a brilliant director and a visionary of his generation, and his last film, There Will Be Blood, supports that notion, but The Master suffers from the weight of its own unrealized ideas.

Extras on the Blu-ray include outtakes, additional scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailers and Let There be Light, John Huston's 1946 documentary about WWII veterans.

Shaun Paul Costello, Chelsey Garner, Matthew Nadu, Nikki Bell and Clint Howard star in

Nobody Gets Out Alive

; Jason Christopher wrote and directed.

We're tempted to say Nobody Gets Out Alive, which is being released on DVD this week, was made as an homage to horror film classics, but that might be overestimating the vision of executive producer Deven Lobascio and executive producer/director/screenwriter Jason Christopher. Our guess? They recycled every horror film cliché they had ever seen and after the film was finished, someone with marketing sense told them to call it an homage so it would look like they had done all of that on purpose. The two men are cousins in their twenties (more relatives filled the cast) and neither "ever went to college for this shit." Get Out Alive isn't great by any means, but for a first effort by a couple of guys who have no training, it's better than a lot of work we've seen by experienced film-school graduates.

The story is familiar. A group of kids head out to the woods for a camping trip and eventually cross paths with a homicidal maniac who picks them off one by one. The film is filled with one horror film cliché after another -- everything from dumb blond girls who fall down a lot to hokey blood splatter seems to constantly fill the screen. During our first viewing, we were willing to give Lobascio and Christopher the benefit of the doubt; maybe they were trying to make a camp comedy. Then we listened to the disjointed audio commentary they provide as an extra on the DVD release, and damn if they weren't trying to make an actually scary movie. (They recorded their comments in the middle of the night, something they admit wasn't "the greatest idea.")

There are a few bright spots in the film. Clint Howard makes an appearance early on as a doctor. He's earnest and plays his few minutes on screen with a great amount of commitment. We would like to have seen more of him. In another notable scene, the killer graphically hammers nails into one kid's head. It's a bit of gore that horror fans will appreciate. Lobascio and Christopher seemed to have paid a lot of attention to the music they chose for the soundtrack and a couple of tunes are worth listening to again.

Along with audio commentary by Lobascio and Christopher, extras include deleted scenes and the featurette The Making of Nobody Gets Out Alive: A Retrospective.

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