PSYCHO II (**½, 113 mins., 1983, R) is certainly the more “straight-laced” of the sequels: a proper, though somewhat dry, thriller written by Tom Holland (“Fright Night”) and directed by Australian genre veteran Richard Franklin, making his U.S. debut. Holland’s original script – which has nothing to do with Robert Bloch’s irreverent “Psycho II” follow-up book – finds Norman released from a mental institution and trying to integrate back into society. Unfortunately, fate has other plans, with poor Norman tormented both by general gossip amongst the locals and a series of murders that Bates himself may or may not be the perpetrator of. Is “Mother” responsible? Or is it Marion Crane’s sister (Vera Miles, reprising her role from the original “Psycho”)? And how does a young waitress (Meg Tilly) who befriends Norman fit into the puzzle?
“Psycho II” is grounded by a strong performance from Perkins – alternately creepy and sympathetic, though Holland and Franklin keep the accent on the latter, at least for most of the film’s duration. As a follow-up to the original classic, this is a respectable sequel that’s good for a single viewing, though the mystery unfolds in such a leisurely manner – and the production values are so vanilla – that there are times the movie resembles an R-rated episode of “Columbo” or any other network TV mystery of the era.
The film’s origins explain the latter: Anthony Perkins’ asking price was initially too high for Universal’s taste, which sent the studio scrambling for possible replacements (Christopher Walken’s name was thrown around in the press) while the studio opted to produce “Psycho II” with Oak Industries, not for theaters but rather the fledgling cable TV industry.
After Perkins signed on and the project started attracting media attention during shooting, “Psycho II” became a theatrical release, but outside of bringing in Jerry Goldsmith to score the movie, the thrifty production scale is obvious from the get-go: claustrophobic, set-bound surroundings dominate the movie’s visuals (the most expensive element of the soundstage used for the diner Norman works at had to be the “Ms. Pac-Man” machine), with cinematographer Dean Cundey doing what he can given the limited scope of the production to add character to the lighting and visual design. For that reason, “Psycho II” is a bit of a slow-going and uninspired looking film, but there are sufficient thrills – and a bizarre ending – to make it worthwhile, especially for first-time viewers.
The movie’s strong showing lead to another sequel in 1986, though lightning didn’t strike twice for Norman at the box-office. In spite of its hum-drum commercial performance, though, PSYCHO III (***, 93 mins., 1986, R) is a superior sequel: bloodier and eccentric, with an even more unhinged performance from Perkins as Norman is clearly off his rocker again, this time from the sequel’s opening frames. The reason for Bates’ psychological unrest – in addition to the lingering after-effects of “Psycho II”’s ending – is the arrival of a troubled nun (Diana Scarwid) who bears a physical resemblance to Marion Crane and checks in at the Bates Motel after causing a tragic accident. She’s nearly as nutty as Norman himself, and watching the two engage in a blossoming relationship of sorts is good fun while the body count is ratcheted up in a framework nearly resembling an ‘80s slasher film.
Anthony Perkins directed “Psycho III” and reportedly blamed the film’s failure on his inexperience behind the camera. Though the movie is certainly rough around the edges in places (and Perkins’ dialogue is almost entirely looped), the actor’s directorial debut is nevertheless a good deal more cinematic and energetic than “Psycho II,” thanks to effective macabre humor served up in the screenplay by writer Charles Edward Pogue. Pogue – who found more commercial success in ‘86 with his script for the remake of “The Fly” – shakes off the quasi-romantic elements of “Psycho II” and turns Norman into a less sympathetic, far more unstable character here, and Perkins’ directorial touches – such as homages to the original film and “Vertigo,” not to mention a number of bloody kills – are effective in lending a more ragged, eclectic tone to the sequel.
Although it’s quite different than its immediate predecessor, “Psycho III” is still a direct sequel to “Psycho II” and should engage fans of the earlier pictures. Bruce Surtees’ moody cinematography adds to the atmosphere, as does Carter Burwell’s score. Burwell, hired by Perkins because of the star’s fondness for “Blood Simple,” contributes an uneven outing that’s a stark departure from Goldsmith, never mind Bernard Herrmann, with its haunting main theme and occasionally synthesized passages, some of which are decidedly overwrought. There’s also an early performance from Jeff Fahey as an aspiring musician/drifter who picks the wrong time to start working at the Bates Motel.
Despite a re-shot coda that undercuts the primary intention of the film’s ending, this is an underrated and entertaining sequel whose positive attributes seem to have increased over time.
Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray releases of “Psycho II” and “Psycho III” ought to provide hours of entertainment for fans this Halloween. “Psycho II” offers an enjoyable commentary with Tom Holland, who goes over the movie’s humble beginnings and surprising (at least to the studio) box-office reception; a series of vintage audio interviews; a half-hour of archival promo material (some of which suffers from audio dropouts); and trailers. “Psycho III,” meanwhile, includes a commentary with Charles Edward Pogue, new interviews with Jeff Fahey, Katt Shea, Brinke Stevens and makeup artist Michael Westmore; and the trailer.
Both movies look natural in their 1080p AVC encoded (1.78) transfers, and 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA soundtracks heighten the drama with the contrasting musical styles of Goldsmith and Burwell on full display. Standard DVDs are also included in the combo packages along with good looking slipcovers reproducing each film’s original theatrical art.
The Perkins “Psycho” sequels proved, if nothing else, that it was possible to follow Hitchcock and, at the least, not embarrass yourself in the process – something that Gus Van Sant failed to do with his misguided 1998 remake of “Psycho,” a veritable shot-for-shot experiment that did so poorly star Vince Vaughn has essentially appeared in nothing but comedies since.
A better idea would’ve been for Van Sant to try what the producers of the current A&E series BATES MOTEL (aprx. 7 hours, 2013; Universal) have accomplished, and that’s take the original concept of Norman Bates, the legendary old house on the top of the hill, and the Bates Motel itself, and then remix them into a standalone, contemporary “reimagining” that’s shockingly good.
The 2013 “Bates Motel,” which recently concluded its first season on A&E to strong critical notices and solid ratings, envisions Norman (Freddie Highmore, splendid here) as a mostly cordial and sympathetic teen, saddled with an overbearing mother (the terrific Vera Fermiga) and a checkered past involving the death of his father. The duo pack up and leave their old life behind – even investing in a lonely roadside motel – only to find murder and all kinds of salacious crimes following them in White Pine Bay.
“Bates Motel” is a hard show to classify: it’s suspenseful and tense, but it also has strong character development. It’s a coming-of-age piece involving a kid with major psychological issues (to put it mildly), but it also has moments of horror and mounting terror. I always roll my eyes when someone says “there’s nothing on TV like it,” but in this case, that description is accurate: the series, co-produced by Carlton Cuse, is offbeat, occasionally funny, and even intermittently moving, while still fitting within the basic parameters of a “Psycho” prequel.
If you bypassed “Bates Motel” out of concerns that this was just going to be a cheap remake or cash-in on “Psycho,” be sure to check out Universal’s Blu-Ray set, which includes 1080p transfers, DTS MA soundtracks, deleted scenes, a Paley Center panel discussion, and an Ultraviolet streaming copy. Highly recommended!
More September Spooks
A handful of other genre releases are due to haunt viewers this Halloween season from Shout’s Scream Factory label. Here’s a round-up:
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (**, 102 mins., 1987, R; Shout! Factory): After the failure of the big-budget studio fantasy “Big Trouble in Little China,” John Carpenter opted to go back to his roots, signing a deal with Alive Films to direct two low-budget genre stories where the director would have total creative control.
The first film produced out of the agreement was “Prince of Darkness,” a silly – if atmospheric – tale of grad students (a moustached Jameson Parker among them), scientists and a Catholic priest (Donald Pleasance) dissecting an “evil can of green goo” that houses actual contained evil. Recalling Carpenter’s earlier – and much better – “Assault on Precinct 13″ with a supernatural flavor, “Prince of Darkness” lumbers along with some gross-out gore and formulaic “horror” elements utilized to spice up an intriguing premise that’s regrettably not developed as much as it should’ve been in Carpenter’s script (written under the pseudonym “Martin Quatermass”). Pleasance is fun in a relatively subdued performance while “Big Trouble” alumni Victor Wong and Dennis Dun co-star with Lisa Blount and Alice Cooper in a film that produces a wide range of opinions among fans: some love it, while others think it’s the start of a decided downward trend in Carpenter’s work. While “Prince of Darkness” is certainly watchable due to Carpenter’s love of the widescreen frame and a few effective moments, I’m afraid I fall into the latter camp.
Shout’s Blu-Ray includes a new 10-minute talk with Carpenter, an interview with Alice Cooper, a conversation with Alan Howarth, an interview with visual effects artist Robert Grasmore, trailers, the alternate opening from the TV version, and another fun “Horror’s Haunted Grounds” location featurette with Sean Clark. The 1080p transfer is impressive and the 5.1/2.0 DTS MA audio is just fine – but the Carpenter/Peter Jason commentary, recorded in 2001 for Studio Canal’s European DVD, has been pitch corrected, resulting in both speakers sounding groggier than usual.
Also new from Shout this month is a double-feature pairing of SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER and SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER (100/95 mins., 1990-91, R), two sequels to David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” made in Canada without the auteur’s participation. Both pictures, however, do offer mild fun for genre buffs, with “Scanners III” the more enjoyable of the duo due to Liliana Komorowska’s performance as a “good” Scanner who turns evil after taking one of dear old dad’s experimental drugs. Each film boasts a reasonably good looking (considering their modest budgets) 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA audio, as well as a DVD version…George A. Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (101 mins., 1985, Not Rated) concluded the director’s original trilogy of zombie flicks (at least until his belated “Land of the Dead”) with a disappointingly static, claustrophobic “final” battle highlighted by ample gore effects by Tom Savini. Romero devotees will nevertheless love Shout’s Blu-Ray, which includes a new documentary, “World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead,” plus a commentary with Romero, Savini and others; a secondary commentary with Roger Avary; Savini’s archival make-up effects; photo galleries; trailers, TV spots and photo galleries; a DTS MA mono soundtrack and a 1080p AVC encoded (1.78) transfer.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (**½, 75 mins., 1996, PG-13; Shout Factory): MST3K fans will rejoice as the uneven but beloved theatrical “Mystery Science Theater” film – cut to shreds by its distributor, left for dead in limited theatrical release back in 1996 – arrives on Blu-Ray in a loving Special Edition from Shout! Factory. Truth be told, despite the show’s fervent following, the feature film is a real hit-or-miss affair, unevenly ribbing the highly respected ‘50s Universal sci-fi fantasy “This Island Earth”– and for the most part would rank as just another, possibly sub-par episode of the series on the laugh quotient. It’s still fun in fits and starts, but comes best recommended for aficionados of the show.
Shout’s Blu-Ray is crisply remastered and offers a bounty of terrific extras, with some 20 minutes of deleted scenes from the film (taken off a video cassette) shown for the first time. These run the gamut from stretches of “This Island Earth” sequences to host segments that could’ve improved the final product. A 30-minute Making Of touches upon the studio cuts to the film, while a similar half-hour featurette examines the making of “This Island Earth” offering comments from admirers Joe Dante and effects guru Robert Skotak among others. The original trailer and a vintage promo featurette round out the release.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO/MAN FRIDAY Blu-Ray/DVD Double Feature (Timeless/Shout): Shout’s recent agreement to distribute a number of films and television series from the ITV library was warmly greeted by buffs – so we’ll give the label a pass for their first Blu-Ray/DVD double-feature from the ITV library. Not that there’s anything technically wrong with the 1080p 1.78 transfers in this combo pack – more that both the 1975 TV movie “Count of Monte Cristo” with Richard Chamberlain and, especially, the 1975 “revisionist” take on Robinson Crusoe, “Man Friday,” make for an unappealing viewing combo.
The Chamberlain Dumas adaptation is at least a bit of fun, with an Allyn Ferguson score and a hammy collection of supporting turns from Tony Curtis and Donald Pleasance. Released theatrically overseas, it’s marginally entertaining, which is more than one can say for the hilariously misguided “Man Friday,” a film that turns Crusoe (an over the top Peter O’Toole) into a colonial bigot and Richard Roundtree as a more “civilized” Friday. The preachy aspects of Adrian Mitchell’s script are accentuated by a threadbare production that uneasily mixes clumsy humor with heavy-handed sentiment and a downbeat “‘70s ending” adds further insult to injury.
While there are plenty of fine films in the ITV library awaiting high-def treatment – especially “Raise the Titanic,” which would be worth seeing again for John Barry’s beautiful score and the excellent miniature effects – the selection of these two properties for the HD treatment is a bit baffling.
Finally, coming from Shout on DVD are SLUGTERRA: SLUG POWER! (110 mins., 2012), offering five episodes (Mecha Mutiny, Undertow, Mario Bravado, The New Kid Parts 1 and 2) from the animated series, a look behind the scenes, and bonus “Slugisodes”; and KAIJUDO: RISE OF THE DUEL MASTERS (110 mins., 2012-13), which includes the episodes Shaw K’Naw; The Taken; Duel Hard; Heart of Darkness; and Darkness of Heart, all in widescreen transfers and stereo audio tracks.
Also New on Blu-Ray
THE KINGS OF SUMMER Blu-Ray (**½, 95 mins., 2013, R; Sony): Occasionally hilarious coming-of-age indie from writer Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts works better as a comedy than it does a wistful, bittersweet portrait of adolescence.
Nick Robinson plays Joe a high schooler with a tense relationship with his widowed father (Nick Offerman), while his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) has an overly perfect set of parents who smother him at every turn. The duo set out to escape their domestic troubles by fleeing into the forest, scavenging for goods (including the trash at Boston Market), and creating a home in the wilderness that’s only infiltrated by one of their more eccentric classmates (Moises Arias) and the girl (Erin Moriarty) who ends up coming between them.
“The Kings of Summer” has a number of laugh-out loud lines, mostly involving Joe and Patrick’s parental units. Offerman’s comic timing is flawless and Galletta’s script likewise generates ample laughs for Megan Mullally (as Patrick’s mom) and Alison Brie as Joe’s more understanding sister. Mary Lynn Rajskub (better known as Chloe from “24″) is also splendid as a local cop investigating the boys’ disappearance from reality, but the movie is far less successful when it tries to be serious and ruminates on Joe’s melancholia after finding out the girl he’s infatuated with is more interested in his best friend. These scenes don’t so much as not ring true, but rather aren’t nearly as effectively played as the movie’s more comedic elements.
Still worth seeing for its engaging performances and laugh quotient, “The Kings of Summer” arrives on Blu-Ray just in time for the season’s waning days. Sony’s Blu-Ray of the CBS Films release boasts a perfectly balanced 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack, along with a cast/crew commentary, deleted/extended scenes and a couple of brief featurettes.
DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS Blu-Ray (**, 90 mins., 1966; Millennium): The lasting contribution of Hammer Films to the horror genre is wide-ranging. The studio broke boundaries with ample amounts of blood and sex found in many of their films, which–while tame by today’s standards–set the table for the gratuitous gore found throughout the genre once when the horror market exploded into “R-rated” territory in the late ’60s.
This 1965 entry in Hammer’s popular Dracula series is not one of the more memorable films starring the Count, yet there’s still plenty of stimulating atmosphere on-hand which made the Hammer name synonymous with genre craftsmanship, particularly in the ’50s and ’60s.
DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS marked Christopher Lee’s first follow-up appearance as the Count, although it’s actually the third film in the Hammer Dracula series. Its predecessors – 1958′s HORROR OF DRACULA and the terrific 1960 BRIDES OF DRACULA – both starred Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and are far superior to this sequel, which finds a pair of upper-crust British couples blundering into Dracula’s old mansion while honeymooning in the Carpathian mountains. An interminable amount of waiting ensues while the Count’s zombie butler finally kills one of the husbands, whose blood is used to resurrect Drac himself. Things, predictably, perk up once Lee turns up with fangs in check, though the Count doesn’t say a word in this outing, preferring instead to cast his gaze on the most repressed of the Brits, worrying wife Barbara Shelley, who is turned into a voluptuous vamp before the surviving couple discusses an appropriate course of action with Father Sandor (Andrew Keir, who does a good job substituting for Cushing’s Van Helsing). The resolution is certainly unique!
The only Hammer Dracula to be shot in a widescreen process, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS looks creepy and atmospheric, with Terence Fisher’s leisurely direction building up to the requisite scenes of the Count pursuing his victims. The problem is that the picture is awfully static for most of its running time; it takes forever to get the action going, and is standard issue material once it does. James Bernard’s terribly bombastic score wears on the ears, though Millennium’s Blu-Ray isn’t without its rewards – an audio commentary from Lee, Shelley, and co-stars Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer is filled with nostalgic anecdotes, a “World of Hammer” program boasts highlights from Lee’s tenure at the studio; and a brand-new documentary, “Back to Black,” includes comments from historians like Marcus Hearn, giving their insight into the production of the film.
There are also “restoration comparisons,” and it’s here where the Blu-Ray’s 1080p transfer most obviously comes up short: riddled with DNR, this is a flat, disappointing HD presentation of the film from Studio Canal, and is apparently the same transfer that irritated some fans overseas a year ago. The disc does boast warm colors and is, by default, superior to the older DVD editions of the film, yet the VC-1 encode isn’t nearly as detailed as it should’ve been. The trailer rounds out the release, one that’s still worth picking up in spite of the fact that it’s not as much of an enhancement as many hoped.
THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (***, 112 mins., 1965; Criterion) was one of numerous spy thrillers released in the early-mid ’60s, just when Ian Fleming’s James Bond became an international cinematic icon in addition to his popularity on the printed page.
Martin Ritt’s picture is generally regarded as housing one of Richard Burton’s finest performances. As a tired, burned-out British spy, Burton spurns a desk job and is assigned to eliminate East German agent Oskar Werner (“Fahrenheit 451″). In the process, Burton gets involved with librarian Claire Bloom at his phony day job, and ultimately finds out that any battle waged during the Cold War is a futile one.
Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper adapted John LeCarre’s bestseller, and Ritt’s film proves to be every bit as compulsively watchable as a good, page-turning paperback on a hot summer afternoon. This is a wonderfully layered, intelligent and thought-provoking film that’s depressing and bleak at every turn, with Sol Kaplan providing a sparse music score and the entire cast giving superb performances.
Making its Blu-Ray debut from Criterion, “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” boasts a superlative 1080p AVC encoded transfer that preserves Oswald Morris’ excellent cinematography. The uncompressed stereo soundtrack is surprisingly clear for a film of its vintage, with extras including an interview with Le Carre; a 2000 BBC documentary on the author’s life; a 1967 interview with Burton from the BBC series “Acting in the ‘60s”; a 1985 audio conversation with Martin Ritt and historian Patrick McGilligan; a gallery of set designs; the trailer; and liner notes from critic Michael Sragow.
AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL Blu-Ray/DVD Limited Edition Combo Pack (93 mins., 1972, Unrated; Grindhouse Releasing): One of the craziest independent films of all-time, “An American Hippie in Israel” is an incomprehensible collage of sequences involving a disillusioned American who packs up for Israel, meets like-minded traveling companions and is pursued by a pair of silent, white-faced figures who kill anything in their path. The group also runs into robots and – most memorably – sharks in a film that’s best watched with a Beverly Cinema audience audio track that brings out the movie’s crude charms and unintentional humor in this limited-edition set from Grindhouse Releasing. Offering an uncut presentation of Amos Sefer’s unrated version, “An American Hippie” includes a wealth of extras, from deleted scenes to in-depth interviews with stars Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf, still galleries, trailers, bonus featurettes, a Shefer short movie (virtually unwatchable), a DVD, and a copy of “The Hitchhiker,” the uncensored director’s cut of the film. The 1080p 1.78 transfer is as satisfying as the insane source material allows – be prepared!
New TV on DVD
HOMELAND Season 2 Blu-Ray (628 mins., 2012; Fox): Second season of Showtime’s breakout hit finds former marine Nicholas Brody (the brilliant Damian Lewis) now a U.S. Congressman but still doing the bidding of Abu Nasir. However, their dynamics have changed, while Claire Danes’ troubled CIA operative Carrie Mathison is out of recovery and trying to get back on track…only to fall again for Brody while continuing to doubt his motivations.
“Homeland” quickly became my favorite series on TV when it debuted on Showtime in 2011, and this second season – after getting off to a bit of an uneven start – eventually settles into another compelling, irresistibly entertaining groove. Lewis, Danes and especially Mandy Patinkin are just fabulous in a well-written, tense and unpredictable program that continues to be the best drama on the small screen (or basically anywhere these days).
Fox’s Season 2 Blu-Ray release of “Homeland”’s second season includes “The Border,” a prologue to the upcoming third season; deleted scenes; a Making Of for the season finale; Lewis’ Super 8 Film Diary; a featurette on filming in Israel; and 1080p AVC encoded transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Unquestionably recommended!
Also new from Fox this week is the fifth season of LEVERAGE (635 mins., 2012), the final year of the Timothy Hutton TNT drama. Season five includes guest star turns from Treat Williams, Cary Elwes and Matthew Lillard; Fox’s DVD includes commentary on all episodes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks…Finally, Season 8 of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (220 mins., 2013) is also newly available from Fox this month, in a double-disc DVD set featuring its complete eighth season – not the show’s finest, but still worthwhile for fans.
PERSON OF INTEREST: Season 2 Blu-Ray/DVD (964 mins., 2012-13; Warner): Entrepreneur Harold Finch’s Machine is back to catch another seasons worth of criminals before they strike in the second season of CBS’ high-rated prime-time thriller “Person of Interest.” The chemistry between Michael Emerson’s Finch and Jim Caviezel as former CIA op John Reese fuels the otherwise routine plots, which mostly revolve around the duo trying to keep their anonymity and work with a pair of NYPD detectives (Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman) to keep the city safe.
It’s slickly handled, however, for what it is, and fans should enjoy the collaboration between JJ Abrams and creator Jonathan Nolan, which plays out again here in 22 episodes, collected in Warner’s four-disc Blu-Ray set. In addition to 1080p transfers and DTS MA 5.1 soundtracks, Warner’s set includes “View from the Machine: 24 Hours Behind Person of Interest,” plus a commentary on the season finale, gag reel, DVD copy and Ultraviolet streaming version.
ARROW: Season 1 Blu-Ray/DVD (972 mins., 2012-13; Warner): It might’ve seemed like just another super-hero show when it was first announced, but the CW’s “Arrow” proves to be more than just another “Smallville” clone. Stephen Amell stars as Oliver Queen, the wealthy playboy who washes ashore on an island and learns how to combat evil while marooned. Back in Starling City, Queen takes up the mantle of the Green Arrow, exposing corruption while fighting to maintain his secrecy. Credit Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg for crafting a compelling new comic book adaptation with an accent on the moody and gritty, and ought to satisfy buffs with its serious tone and compelling characters. Warner’s Blu-Ray box-set of “Arrow”’s first season offers a DVD, Ultraviolet copy, 1080p transfers, 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks and extras including “Arrow Comes Alive” and “Arrow Fight School/Stunt School” featurettes; a 2013 Paleyfest featurette; unaired scenes; and a gag reel. Slow to get going but worth sticking with.
THE MENTALIST: Season 5 DVD (932 mins., 2012-13; Warner): Season five of the still popular CBS crime drama picks up with the various charges against CBI consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) having been dropped and life going back to usual – which means another assortment of 22 episodes devoted to our protagonist helping to solve a series of baffling homicides. All the while, Jane continues his pursuit of Red John and the serial killer’s actual identity. Warner’s DVD of “The Mentalist”’s fifth season includes all 22 episodes in 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Extras include “The Artistry of Action: From Script to Screen,” with producers Bruno Heller and Chris Long taking viewers behind the scenes in their choreographing of stunt pieces; and “Arresting Excitement: Keeping It Real With the CBI,” where police advisor Karl Sonnenberg puts Tim Kang and Owain Yeoman through the paces of real investigative techniques.
GRIMM Season 2 Blu-Ray (aprx. 16 hours, 2012-13; Universal): The colorful, entertaining NBC series returns with 22 episodes, once again following detective Nick Burkhardt and his identity as a “Grimm” while he confronts crimes of the supernatural kind. Universal’s Blu-Ray boasts good looking 1080p transfers, DTS MA soundtracks, a BD exclusive “Grimm Guide” and extended episode, plus all the features from the DVD (deleted scenes, gag reel, four featurettes) and an Ultraviolet streaming copy.
HAWAII FIVE 0: Season 3 Blu-Ray (aprx. 17 hours, 2012-13; CBS): In the third season of the rebooted, new “Hawaii Five 0,” McGarrett has to contend with the return of his mom; Kono dating the son of a Yakuza boss; Chin Ho trying to grapple with his past; and Danny fighting to keep his daughter in Hawaii. All 24 third-season episodes – including a two-parter directed by Joe Dante and another helmed by Peter Weller – are included in CBS’ Blu-Ray box set, which offers spectacularly attractive 1080p transfers (the show’s location filming is easily its strongest element) and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Extras include the featurettes “Shore Lines; Season 3″; “Aloha Action! Season 3″; “Script to Screen”; “Hawaii Five-Over The Whole Wide World”; “Hookman,” an episode from the older show that was remade in the third season; deleted scenes; a gag reel; and cast commentaries on selected episodes. A nice package for fans.
ADVENTURE TIME: JAKE THE DAD DVD (176 mins., 2013; Warner): Another motley assortment of craziness from the Cartoon Network series hits DVD. Warner’s box-set includes a Jake hat suitable for wearing out in public (if you dare) plus 16 episodes from the series – Jake the Dad, Burning Low, Gotcha!, Sons of Mars, BMO Noire, The Hard Easy, I Remember You, All the Little People, Mystery Dungeon, All Your Fault, Five More Short Graybles, Vault of Bones, Simon and Marcy, Puhoy, One Last Job and BMO Lost – along with the special feature “Little Did You Know.”
SINBAD Season 1 Blu-Ray (540 mins., 2012; BBC): Elliot Knight stars in this tepid BBC production as the courageous sailor, who heads out to sea in 8th century Arabia, encountering beasts, stock characters and silly plot predicaments that make “Hercules” or “Xena” look like comparative genius by comparison. Knight’s uncertain lead performance is also part of the problem, though kids still might take to the Malta-shot production co-starring Naveen Andrews (wasted) from “Lost” and guest star appearances from Sophie Okonedo, Timothy Spall and Dougray Scott among others. BBC’s 1080p Blu-Ray package includes 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks and three featurettes looking at the production and its Malta location filming.
WILD THINGS WITH DOMINIC MONAGHAN: DEADLIEST CRITTERS and CREEPY CRALWERS DVD (180/135 mins., 2013; BBC): The “Lost” and “Lord of the Rings” star applies his wildlife interest to this colorful series with Monaghan traveling the globe, coming across some of the largest insects and dangerous creatures on the planet. Monaghan’s good natured humor makes for an entertaining series suitable for all ages; BBC’s two compilations offer multiple hours of episodes on each platter in 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks.
Also New on Video
UNFINISHED SONG DVD (94 mins., 2013, PG-13; Anchor Bay): Charming character drama starring Terence Stamp as a cranky old man who’s introduced to a young leader of a singing group (Gemma Arterton) and joins a chorale specializing in performing covers of contemporary tunes. Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Eccleston co-star in a predictable yet undeniably entertaining picture that doesn’t overstay its welcome and offers appealing performances from a fine cast; credit writer-director Paul Andrew Williams for treading over familiar terrain with a positive message that’s hard to resist. Anchor Bay’s DVD includes deleted scenes and outtakes, plus a fine 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
SISTERS & BROTHERS Blu-Ray (86 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): The late Cory Montieth from “Glee” stars in this Canadian-lensed ensemble drama-edy about a series of siblings and their diverse relationships with one another. Jay Breazeau’s “creative collection” is an improvised piece that enables the cast (which also includes Amanda Crew, Dustin Milligan and Camille Sullivan) to open up in director Carl Bessai’s follow-up to his previous “Mothers & Daughters” and “Fathers & Sons.” Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray boasts a 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, and should receive some interest from viewers in the wake of Montieth’s untimely passing.
SHANGHAI CALLING DVD (101 mins., 2013, PG-13; Anchor Bay): Cute comedy with rom-com elements follows a New York-bred Chinese-American attorney (Daniel Henney) who’s sent to Shanghai by his bosses without knowing anything about the local culture – thankfully a relocation specialist (Eliza Coupe) is there to help him out in a Chinese-produced picture offering supporting appearances from Alan Ruck and Bill Paxton. Klaus Badelt and Christopher Carmichael’s score is nice and “Shanghai Calling” ranks as a solid rental candidate on DVD. Anchor Bay’s disc includes a behind the scenes featurette on Daniel Hsia’s film plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
FILL THE VOID DVD (90 mins., 2012, PG; Sony): Superbly acted Israeli import focuses on an 18-year old named Shira, an Orthodox Jew, who has to choose between the man she’s set to marry and her brother-in-law after her sister tragically dies in childibirth, leaving him to find another wife that could possibly lead him – and his child – out of the country. Rama Burshtein wrote and directed this sharply observed, well-told character drama with natural humor and likeable characters; Sony’s DVD, available September 24th, includes a commentary with star Hadad Yaron and Burshtein, along with a “Writer’s Block Q&A” with the director, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
BREAKOUT DVD (89 mins., 2013, R; Sony): Brendan Fraser’s star has dimmed considerably in recent years, and his “intense” performance as a protester-dad stuck in prison whose kids are pursued by criminals after witnessing a murder provides the entertainment in “Breakout” – though not in a good way. Fraser mutters his way through this Canadian production before breaking out, screaming and going after his kids in the wilderness while taking on unstable cons Dominic Purcell and Ethan Suplee. Something is definitely “off” in director Damian Lee’s film, though curious onlookers might generate a few chuckles out of it. Sony’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
E One New Releases: Dolph Lundgren and Vinnie Jones top line Giorgio Serafini’s BLOOD OF REDEMPTION (85 mins., 2013, Not Rated; E One), a direct-to-vid actioner co-starring Billy Zane as a criminal seeking revenge for the death of his posse and who hires his former henchman (Lundgren) to track down those responsible. Gianni Capaldi (who also produced the film) and Robert Davi co-star in this VMI production brought to Blu-Ray this month from E One boasting a Making Of featurette, 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.
Virgil Films New Releases: Bruce Greenwood plays a modern day “Mad Man” – a top advertising executive – who ends up hospitalized and can only speak using marketing slogans in AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR (87 mins., 2013). Parker Posey co-stars as a hospital charity worker who agrees to bring him home in an amusing comedy from writer Michael Hamilton-Wright and director Zack Bernbaum, with highly enjoyable performances from Greenwood and Posey. Virgil’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and stereo soundtrack…Director Michel Gondry goes from “The Green Hornet” to the eclectic THE WE AND THE I (103 mins., 2013, Not Rated), an experimental, pseudo-documentary look at Bronx high school students on a bus ride during the last day of school. Reportedly improvised, this is overstuffed with characters and plots that are difficult to keep track of, though the cumulative effect is an interesting cinematic experiment if nothing else. Virgil’s DVD offers just a 16:9 transfer and stereo soundtrack.
JAVA HEAT Blu-Ray (104 mins., 2013, R; IFC/MPI): Kellen Lutz stars as an American guy who finds himself embroiled in the Indonesian conflict between the West and Islam in this thriller from director Conor Allyn, who co-wrote “Java Heat” with his brother Rob. Mickey Rourke co-stars as a terrorist with Ario Bayu as a Muslim detective who forms an uneasy alliance with Lutz’s protagonist. “Java Heat” offers plenty of action sequences for its modest scale, and the timely subject matter adds some depth to the material. IFC’s Blu-Ray includes an attractive 1080p transfer, 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack, a Making Of featurette and the trailer.
New From Magnolia: The life and times of Morton Downey Jr. and his abrasive, yet groundbreaking. talk show are given a full dissection in the entertaining EVOCATEUR: THE MORTON DOWNEY JR. MOVIE (90 mins., R) from directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray includes memorable moments from the series, the trailer, commentary and other extras, plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA audio track…HAMMER OF THE GODS (99 mins., 2013, R) stars Charlie Bewley as a Viking warrior in 871 AD Britain, trying to find his brother in a grimy low-budget actioner from Vertigo Films. Magnolia’s BD, in addition to a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack, also includes interviews, a Making Of featurette, visual effects profile and other goodies.
THE HOLLOW CROWN DVD (aprx. 9 hours, 2013; Universal): Ben Whisaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston star in producer Sam Mendes’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II (starring Wishaw), Henry IV (with Jeremy Irons) and Henry V (with Hiddleston), with a marvelous supporting cast backing the leads (Patrick Stewart, John Hurt, Julie Walters, David Suchet, Geraldine Chaplin, Iain Glen, Richard Griffiths, James Purefoy and Lambert Wilson among them). Universal’s DVD offers the complete “Hollow Crown” in 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks with extras including a Making Of as well as featurettes examining the production.
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS DVD (130 mins., 2013, R; Universal): Alex Gibney’s documentary chronicles the creation of the controversial Wikileaks website, the motives of its guru Julian Assange, and the leaking of classified documents by Bradley Manning, in a two-hour plus feature that’s suspenseful and well-executed. Universal’s DVD includes deleted scenes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
THE SMURFS: THE LEGEND OF SMURFY HOLLOW DVD (25 mins., 2013; Sony): The recent “Smurfs” sequel didn’t perform nearly as well as its predecessor at the box-office, though with a gross around $70 million domestically, it seems there are still ample young fans of Peyo’s little blue characters out there. This Halloween affair is mostly hand-drawn in nature with just a dash of CGI, but kids shouldn’t mind – adults, however, might, seeing as “Legend of Smurfy Hollow” runs less than half an hour in duration. Sony’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
DELETE DVD (175 mins., 2012; Gaiam Vivendi): An artificial intelligence has spiraled out of control, gaining the ability to generate disasters, in this TV mini-series starring Erin Karpluk as an intrepid reporter and Keir Gilchrist as her hacker pal. Guest stars Seth Green, Gil Bellows and Matt Frewer appear in this Canadian production arriving on DVD this month from Gaiam. Extras include cast and crew interviews with veteran director Steve Barron, Green, Karpluk, Gilchrist, Frewer and others; a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
BARABBAS Blu-Ray (188 mins., 2012; Gaiam Vivendi): Billy Zane steps into the shoes of the thief whose life was spared while Jesus was crucified in this lengthy mini-series adaptation of Par Lagerkvist’s novel. Cristiana Capotondi leads the supporting cast in an Italian production from RAI that was directed by Roger Young; Gaiam Vivendi’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.
Mill Creek New Releases
Mill Creek, purveyors of the inexpensive DVD anthology box-set, have gone back to the well for a series of new 12-movie sets. Among their new releases this month are:
DAWN OF THE IMMORTALS boasts a swords-and-sandals line-up of Colossus and the Amazon Queen (1960); Duel of Champions (1961); The Conqueror of the Orient (1962); Last of the Vikings (1961); Damon and Pythias (1962); Fury of Hercules (1962); Queen of the Amazons (1947); Vengeance of Ursus (1961); Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops (1961); Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules (1962); The White Warrior (1959) and Triumph of the Son of Hercules (1961).
BEST OF THE WORST boasts such Z-grade classics as Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966); Track of the Moon Beast (1976); The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961); Eegah (1962); The Ape Man (1943); The Amazing Transparent Man (1960); The Atomic Brain (164); Dementia 13 (1963); Unknown World (1951); The Terror (1963); Mesa of Lost Women (1953); and The Incredible Petrified World (1957).
ZOMBIES UNBRAINED includes a varied assortment of terrors from Mutant (1984) to Night of the Living Dead (1968); Oasis of the Zombies (1981); The Snake People (1968); Teenage Zombies (1959); White Zombie (1932); The Last Man on Earth (1960); King of the Zombies (1941); House of the Living Dead (1973); Horror of the Zombies (1974); Dead Men Walk (1943); and Carnival of Souls (1962).
TABOO TALES’ 12 films include Reefer Madness (1936); Delinquent Daughters (1944); The Cocaine Fiends (1936); Chained for Life (1951); The Terror of Tiny Town (1938); The Wild and Wicked (1956); Test Tube Babies (1948); Mad Youth (1940); Marijuana Menace (1937); Sex Madness (1938); Gambling with Souls (1936) and Se Shoulda’ Said “No!” (1940).
More horror is on tap in AMERICAN HORROR STORIES, including Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980); Point of Terror (1971), House on Haunted Hill (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), Horror Express (1972), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Nightmare Castle (1965), Silent Night Bloody Night (1974), Bloody Pit of Horror (1965), The Driller Killer (1979), Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) and Drive-in Massacre (1974).
Finally, FREAKSHOW CINEMA includes a more recent assortment of B-grade chillers including Tales of the Dead: Grim Stories of Curses, Horror and Gore (2010); Zombie Genocide (2012); The Curse of Blanchard Hill (2006), Idol of Evil (2009); Below Ground (2012); Order of One (2011); Cold Creepy Feeling (2011); Indemnity (2011); Glitter Goddess (1991); Dark Measures (2012); By The Devils Hands (2011); and Tuck Bushman and the Legend of Piddledown Dale (2009).
NEXT TIME: WORLD WAR Z and more! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!