Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Denial

The new “Blair Witch” is also fresh to Blu-Ray this week.  

Deborah Lipstadt. I love this woman. Such a great protagonist. She’s brassy, brazen, fearless, outspoken, and, as portrayed by Rachel Weisz in “Denial,” a force of nature unto herself that demands to be reckoned with.

Not to say that she’s perfect. When challenged early on in the movie that not debating people who deny the holocaust is cowardly, she brushes the accusation aside with jokes and light humor. It doesn’t change the fact that the challenger has a point. What is she afraid of, if she’s so confident in her position? There’s also the moment that she meets her barrister, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), at the ruins of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Rampton asks their guide/holocaust expert (Mark Gatiss) many probing questions. Lipstadt takes it as an affront to the suffering that occurred there and finds it rude. In truth, he was asking those questions so he can be prepare properly for her case. Then there’s the judge (Hilton McRae) whom she decides may be racist because things may not go her way. No—he is doing his duty as a fair and impartial administrator of justice.

Lipstadt’s reckoning comes in the form of David Irving (Timothy Spall), a noted historian who professes strong doubt that the mass extermination of the Jews took place during the second World War. Lipstsadt calls him out for this in no uncertain terms in a book, and for that, he sues her in British court for libel.

The fact that the movie takes place within the British court system is one of the more fascinating aspects, at least for an American (and Lipstadt is from Atlanta). They have a similar system of justice in the UK, but it is different enough to provide unique challenges and give us a variation on the norm. For instance, the American presumption of innocence until proven guilty goes right out the door when dealing with the British court.

Lipstadt’s outspoken behavior, which so often served as a great asset, is a liability for her in her trial. It’s interesting that the title of the movie, “Denial,” takes on a dual meaning in this context. Not only does it refer to the denial Irving puts forth of the holocaust, it also refers to Lipstadt’s self-denial to stay silent—not talk to the press, not testify, and most difficult, not push too hard to have other holocaust survivors testify. This, it turns out, is a wise move and the reasons given are sound.

“Denial” offers up a very compelling courtroom drama. It’s a playful twist to see it all play out amidst the British justice system. The formalities, such as the wigs and the robes, give the proceedings a look far different from, say, an adaptation of a John Grisham novel. Yet the opposing viewpoints, cross-examinations, and seeking to prove that your side has a stronger case than your opponent’s are very much there.

The movie also serves its subject matter well. We never lose sight of the historical horrors being discussed, yet we are not browbeaten by them either. What we essentially have in “Denial” is a big, polarizing topic—the holocaust—in which all of the most minute details about Lipstadt and Irving’s arguments are held to the utmost scrutiny. It’s a fascinating watch about what people believe, what they can prove, and what lengths they will go to in order to justify their position on a subject. Buy it on Amazon: Denial (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD).

Also New This Week

Blair Witch

“Blair Witch” is basically a cheap rehash of the much better “The Blair Witch Project” from 1999. The only real difference is that the people in this more modern movie use digital video cameras rather than camcorders or 8 mm film.

This means that we don’t just get to see annoying morons bicker and get lost in the woods in any ol’ quality. Oh no—we get to see it in HD. Please hold me down before I burst with joy from not being able to hold in all of my enthusiasm.

The impetus behind this one is that a guy named James (James Allen McCune) sees a video on youtube and thinks that a figure seen in a brief glimpse on it may be his sister Heather—as in Heather (Heather Donahue) from the first movie. It’s a stretch, but there you go—take it or leave it.

James gathers up some companions and goes off into the woods searching for his long lost sister. The people in this movie are insipid, vapid, and annoying—and I’m being kind. This could actually work in a horror movie’s favor, since seeing them get picked off could offer some catharsis. No such luck with “Blair Witch.” With the exception of one admittedly super cool kill, none of the low budget shaky cam photography gives us anything shocking or entertaining. What you get is mostly motion sickness and lot of sound effects of the things happening off screen that you don’t see. When a horror movie sets out to make people sick, it shouldn’t be like this.

Then there’s the story, which is infuriating in that it raises more questions than it answers. By that I mean it answers no existing questions and just raises a bunch more—none of which are answered. **MINI SPOLIER WARNING** The movie even goes so far as to suggest—through quick looks at the “witch” and visual cues of light shining through window slats—that this may all be the work of aliens. I kid you not: Aliens. It doesn’t go all the way with this notion (the movie is far too vague for that), but the hints are clearly there. **END SPOILER WARNING**

At the end of the day, “Blair Witch” is a wasted opportunity. The myth and legend of the Blair witch could have been expanded upon and explored. Instead we get a half-baked retread that doesn’t have the novelty nor the suspense of the original. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life,” comedy about rebellious tweens who seek to purposely break every rule in their middle school; “The Hollow,” about a team of FBI Agents sent to investigate the mysterious death of a congressman’s daughter, starring William Sadler, William Forsythe, and Jeff Fahey; “Sea of Love,” with Al Pacino investigating Ellen Barkin—a woman he thinks might be a serial killer; and “Glitter,” a movie that only the most extreme die-hard Mariah Carey fans would want to own on Blu-ray.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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