Here’s a look at what’s new on the DVD shelves

By Gary Clift

Though you might not be able to tell it by looking at a list of recent movies scheduled for release as DVDs this August, 2014 has been an interesting movie year.

Movies which should have made a lot of money have disappointed their studios. None of the projected “blockbusters” have had any “legs.” So “Divergent,” “Muppets Most Wanted,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” all sold a lot of tickets their first weekends. But then there was no continuing interest in them.

Meanwhile religious movies made money this spring. Admittedly the pick of those films was “God is For Real,” which is already on the racks at DVD rental stores. But even the evangelical “God’s Not Dead,” which will be out on home viewing media this month, sold a surprising number of ducats.

This Billy Graham-backed movie shows what happens when a student in a college philosophy class refuses to acknowledge that “God is dead.” His obviously self-tortured professor (Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo) draws the young man into an on-going debate about this issue. A concert by a Christian rock band called The Newsboys takes up much of the last reel, making the movie like a Graham “Crusade” occasion.

I have to admit that I enjoyed watching the goofy street-racing movie, “Need for Speed.” Its main story is about a rivalry between a poor mechanic and a rich driver, a rivalry that has fatal results for one of their mutual associates. But it is action-packed and features turns by Imogene Potts and Michael Keaton (as a nutty illegal race promoter who has an internet radio show). A guilty pleasure.

The horror film “Oculus,” by way of comparison, has Katee Sackhoff (from TV’s “24, Battlestar Galactica,” and “Longmire”) as an attraction. And that’s about all it has going for it. The story, which takes place in two over-lapping time frames, has to do with an evil spirit resident in an antique mirror. The spook seems to be able to alter appearances until the people in the story see only what it wants them to. So how do we know if they are fighting back or only doing the spook’s will?

 Probably “The Quiet Ones” is a better scary movie. It features the hard-working Jared Harris as an Oxford don studying “experimental psychology,” which is to say scientific measurement of apparently supernatural activities. The most interesting thing here, 70s British settings and fashions aside, is the movie’s way of weaning its audience from the horribly artificial limitations of hand-held camera work—the whole of the story is told from the point of view of a young man hired to film the professor’s experiments.

This month’s new comedies are nothing to write home about.

One of them is a send-up of scary movies. It is the second “A Haunted House” film, the produce of one of the Wayans brothers. To the extent that there is any idea here, it is that showing something usually not depicted—men on the toilet or couples engaged in intercourse—is going to produce laughs. References to race are frequent and usually seem to depend on our knowing all the ancient stereotypes. To the extent that the satire has a discernible target, I’d say it was “The Conjuring.” You remember that movie, don’t you? Sure. You and your pals were just kidding around about it last week.

The new Adam Sandler comedy “Blended,” won’t surprise anyone who has seen any of his last six or eight films. Sandler is always a little better when his co-star is Drew Barrymore. Here they play single parents of children, and their families both end up at a South African safari resort. The movie isn’t ever funny, but then it isn’t ever deathly sweet in the way Sandler’s films can sometimes be. It does stereotype black Africans, but it does so by making them jolly and, compared to the tourists they serve, a little superior.

If those offerings don’t excite you, “The Railway Man” (with Colin Firth) and “Love Punch” (with Emma Thompson) are scheduled for release on DVD this month. They didn’t show at the local twelve-plex. But then nobody went to see “Divergent” the second week it was in town, either.

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