Hank’s Recommendations 10/23/12


MAD MEN SEASON FIVE — The mystery of Don Draper returns in still yet unexpected ways. This most acclaimed and, at Best Video, awaited series—a multi-Globe and Emmy winner of the last four years—came out last week. Nonpareill art direction and period detail along with compellingly ambitious characters recreate the Madison Avenue world of the 60s, limning issues of misogyny, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, the glass ceiling and consumer materialism that resonate today. The first two linked episodes serve as both a reprise of what went before and a pilot of what’s to come. It’s a model of sophisticated writing and structured story telling: a fulfillment of everything promised.


THE WALKING DEAD — This edge-of-the seat horror drama is my choice for this year’s Halloween fare. The flight-and-pursuit story of a sheriff and a small group of people trying navigate zombie apocalypse—staying ahead of the dead that relentlessly stalk them while seeking solace in the hope of a refuge that may (or may not) lie ahead—focuses equally on the survivalist conflicts and rivalries within the group. Full of surprises and suspense and, above all, characters you can relate to, this is a show that has single-handedly reanimated the over-populated zombie genre. I’m trying to get my wife to watch it by comparing it to Friday Night Lights. Good luck to that.

Halloween is once a year but horror lives forever: a good horror film survives the designated Day of the Dead, remaining eternal in reminding ourselves of our dark side and how titillating it is to temporarily burrow in. With that in mind, we’ve created a BEST HORROR FILMS SECTION near cult and horror—in tall shelving that will tower over you like Frankenstein’s monster. Here is a sampling of our recommended horror films (two to watch with your kids; the other just for you) that will be good for any time of the year.

THE CHANGELING — Here, along with the following title (both rated PG), is the answer to a parent’s perennial plea: for a film that is “scary but not gory.”  Both are ghost stories that are among the best of their kind.

George C. Scott, putting in the inevitable strong performance, plays a music composer who witnesses the death of his wife and young son in a freak truck accident. Months later, he has taken refuge in an old, isolated Victorian house: all he wants is to be alone where he can immerse himself in his work. Instead, what he comes up against (or perhaps it’s the other way around) is the ghost of a murdered boy who seeks to use Scott as the instrument of his own vengeance. Scott’s at first reluctant and then dogged determination to carry out the boy’s mission puts him through some scarifying paces and winds up enabling him to exorcise his own demons along the way.

Octogenarian Melvyn Douglas, as a devious old man whose money and social prominence hides the answer to an ancient puzzle, adds a gem of a performance to a long distinguished career. If your idea of a horror thriller is to be moved as well as scared, then allow this ghost-thriller, complete with supernatural manifestations, séances and nocturnal grave diggings, to manifest itself on your TV screen.


LADY IN WHITE — Here’s a superb New England ghost story that’s also a Hitchcockian mystery thriller, great for both older kids and adults.

Twelve-year old Frankie, still in costume from a class Halloween party, is lured back into school by two mischievous friends and locked in the cloakroom overnight. Being alone, however, is not going to be his biggest fright. A man in a black face mask breaks into the cloakroom looking for something, encounters Frankie, and tries to strangle him. In the twilight between life and death, Frankie sees the apparition of a little girl, who, he realizes, is a former victim of his own assailant. Following his survival, he uses that vision as a clue to try to uncover the identity of the murderer, who, it turns out, has left nine other victims in the town.

This film is cleverly suspenseful and scary, but not gory. There is one possibly shocking moment when someone is shot in a car, and a suggested molestation motif, but the story is as sensitively told as it is beautifully photographed. If you’ve survived the rigors of that well-crafted, hoary chestnut, A CHRISTMAS STORY, but are in the mood for something spooky and horrific instead of hilarious, then allow this spirited film about one boy’s singularly determined quest into your own family den.

THE HUNGER — Vampire films (THE TWILIGHT SAGA, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, TRUE BLOOD) have been all the rage lately, targeted to the unrequited hormonal yearnings of teen girls. Here is a highly stylized cult film with an A cast whose leanings are decidedly more toward sexual fulfillment and whose target audience is clearly adult.

Catherine Deneuve is an ageless, wealthy vampire whose successive lovers all too quickly age and die. Current lover David Bowie (an intriguing actor, as in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and the Criterion edition of MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE) is on the way out (the scenes of this boy-man’s rapid aging are fascinating) and Susan Sarandon, the head of a rejuvenation clinic to which Bowie has sought help, is on the way in. How she gets the “hunger” from Deneuve and how she fights it is what the story’s about. Directed by Tony Scott (TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3, DOMINO, MAN ON FIRE, CRIMSON TIDE, TRUE ROMANCE, DAYS OF THUNDER), the film plays like a slick fashion spread where the blood is real. The story offers a dream of a cast in a film that itself is like a dream, yet goes straight for the jugular.

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