By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 5, 2014 at 2:17PM
Today's big release on Blu-Ray is one of director Brian De Palma's best and weirdest movies, the glam rock musical "Phantom of the Paradise" by Shout! Factory. A riff on"The Phantom of the Opera" (with more than a few dashes of "Faust" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray"), the film is a slap against the music industry that wronged the film's composer, Paul Williams, and, by proxy, the film industry that meddled with De Palma's "Get to Know Your Rabbit." As an added bonus, it features the single funniest reference to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" in film history. Special features include three hours of interviews (including one moderated by Guillermo Del Toro), two commentaries, and a making-of documentary.
On the new releases front, the best option is most likely Mike Flanagan's horror film "Oculus," a creepy chamber drama about a woman who tries to convince her brother that their parents' deaths were caused by a haunted mirror. If horror's not your genre, you could always see what the fuss is over the latest YA novel adaptation "Divergent," or see if the Aaron Paul-starring video game adaptation "Need for Speed" is better than the reviews suggested. They're both better bets than the latest Christian panic film "God's Not Dead," or the poorly received comedy "Ping Pong Summer." And while Richie Mehta directed our first Sleeper of the Week, "Siddharth," his other film this year, "I'll Follow You Down" (starring Haley Joel Osment and Gillian Anderson), found mostly lousy reviews as well.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
In recent years, few American genre films have managed the extreme spookiness found in many of their overseas brethren. Even while "Oculus" plays by the book in individual moments, it manages to invent a shrewder context for the events in question. It’s not the scenes that matter so much as the way they do (and don’t) fit together. It uses subjectivity like a weapon. By contrast, last year’s generally well-liked haunted house effort "The Conjuring" capably grappled with issues of faith, but failed to unite its bigger ideas with the rudimentary process for freaking us out.
Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune
At one point Tris zip-lines down from atop the John Hancock Center. This scene is fun. Berger manages one lovely and surprising image: that of a hallucinating Tris floating in a reclining medical exam chair in an open field. The generic bulk of "Divergent" hits its marks and moves on. Woodley — excellent in "The Descendants" and "The Spectacular Now," where she played the bitchiest and the nicest young women on the planet, respectively — has the stuff it takes to anchor one of these dystopian jobbies. Here's hoping the second movie, scheduled to be released a year from now, rebels against the establishment in more ways than one.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
All movies borrow, but everything about “Need For Speed” embraces clichés and it’s shameless narrative feels like a stolen patch-work of deeply familiar narrative tropes; the race against time motif is ripped from “Speed” and a zillion other action with momentous forward motion. The initially chafing, but then growing-on-each other dynamic between Paul and Imogen Poots—as his British love interest—is about as unimaginative as trapped-together-against-their-will romances get. Paul’s bros—played by the multicultural collection of Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi (aka rapper Kid Cudi)—are employed as stock comic relief caricatures, but otherwise are about as essential as the references to twerking (Cudi is particularly clownish and doing a routine dangerously close to goofy minstrelsy). Read more.
Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club
As in "Magnolia," the way these storylines come together is meant to provoke contemplation of a central thesis. But the frog shower in "Magnolia" provided more compelling proof of God’s existence than anything in "God’s Not Dead." The movie’s deck-stacking arguments could be refuted in a matter of seconds by a pro-atheist subreddit. Sorbo leavens the film from time to time, but director Harold Cronk has absolutely no idea how to frame shots or pace scenes, and too many of them stretch on interminably and indifferently. Christian films are often done in by their need to follow a literal come-to-Jesus storyline, but at least movies like the Kirk Cameron vehicle "Fireproof" offer up an earnest intensity that makes them somewhat watchable. "God’s Not Dead" reduces all of its characters to props in an object lesson. Read more.