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A strange sequel that’s half “Alien” rehash and half “Prometheus” follow-up – albeit with none of the latter’s “bigger questions” actually being addressed – Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT (**½, 123 mins., 2017, R) serves up a serviceable but ultimately unsatisfying ride over narrative terrain we’ve covered many times over by now.
This latest Scott-helmed affair sends a colony ship into deep space, where its crew comes across another radio signal (sound familiar?) that leads to crazy robot David (Michael Fassbender), now the sole inhabitant on the Planet of The Engineers along with some creepy crawly creatures he’s as fond of as his new human guests.
After a promising start establishing the Covenant and its crew – from Katherine Waterston’s sympathetic heroine to Billy Crudup’s weak captain – Scott then turns the picture into the Michael Fassbender Show, with all the other characters taking a backseat to sequences of two Fassbenders talking and the true mystery of whatever happened to the Prometheus survivors — including Noomi Rapace — solved at long last. Err, sort of.
Reasonably effective with some bloody special effects, “Covenant” nevertheless manages to be ultimately less than the sum of its parts. There’s not enough of the Engineers and their world here — in fact, their planet is so sparsely decorated that you feel like you’re watching a ’60s Star Trek episode, with David functioning as the Squire of Gothos. The “Prometheus” element aside, the movie is laid out like a typical “Alien” film, with the requisite shocks you expect, but it’s all been done before — at this point, what can anyone do to make the Alien and its friends interesting, beyond perhaps introducing musical numbers? What’s worse, the ending serves up a downbeat twist (telegraphed from miles away), cynically intended to lead into another sequel like any other cheapjack horror movie from decades past.
It makes you wonder what Scott’s endgame is with all of this — beyond just making more stacks of money — but there is, at least, a delicious irony in watching a movie open and close with the very same Jerry Goldsmith theme that the director mostly threw away in 1979!
New From Kino Lorber
Future “Independence Day” and “Stargate” auteur Roland Emmerich began his career with MAKING CONTACT (*½, 79 mins., 1986, PG), an unsettling German-made hodgepodge of “Poltergeist,” “E.T.,” and “Close Encounters” that Kino Lorber brings to Blu-Ray this month as part of their brilliant Studio Classics series. The movie isn’t so unsettling because of its actual story, but rather because the movie so blatantly “borrows” from Steven Spielberg’s fantasies that it’s jarring to see the kind of same widescreen imagery being used with a second-rate story and foreign cast.
“Joey” (the movie’s overseas title) is a precocious nine-year old who unwittingly unleashes a supernatural force that he first meets by communicating with his freaky wooden ventriloquist dummy. Turns out the “other side” (read: an evil magician) has its designs on poor Joey, who tries to get in contact with his recently-deceased father but ultimately ends up opening up a gateway to lots of lighting and blue-screen effects.
I remember first renting a VHS tape of “Making Contact” when I was in elementary school, thinking how cool the movie looked – after all, there are dozens of shots literally lifted from Spielberg films. However, after seeing just a few minutes of its bad dubbing and tepid music score, I knew I wasn’t watching “Poltergeist” and turned the tape off.
It turns out that New World Pictures, the movie’s U.S. distributor, didn’t do the film any favors by cutting out many minutes of material, adding an overwrought soundtrack by Paul Gilreath, and doing a horrendous job on the dubbing side. On the other hand, watching the original German version (with a different – and even worse – electronic score by Hubert Bartholome), it’s safe to say that no version of “Making Contact” is worth making contact with. The film is noteworthy because of Emmerich’s participation, but it would take a few years for the director to effectively mix various genre elements with his own directorial style. “Making Contact” is simply a Euro-rehash of ’80s American fantasies, and never really clicks.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of “Making Contact” includes only the U.S. New World cut of the film, though the label apparently tried hard – to no avail – to offer the German cut as well. In any event, it’s no great loss (fans can track down the out-of-print Anchor Bay DVD if they must), and the 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded transfer is detailed, colorful and quite satisfying; even in this early work, Emmerich displays a strong command of the anamorphic frame. It’s also amusing to see how the New World trailer tries to build the film up as the next “E.T.” (a German trailer is also on-hand).
ADIOS, SABATA Blu-Ray (**½, 104 mins., 1971, PG-13)
RETURN OF SABATA Blu-Ray (**, 100 mins., 1972, PG): Spaghetti western fans can celebrate with Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray editions of the second and third entries in the essentially unconnected “Sabata” series, which gallop onto Blu-Ray this month.
The original “Sabata” offered Lee Van Cleef in the title role, which was filled by Yul Brynner in the even more lighthearted, if slow-moving, 1971 sequel “Adios, Sabata.” This Alberto Grimaldi production, also directed by Gianfranco Parolini (aka “Frank Kramer”), has a bit of a mysterious pedigree, with some claiming it was apparently shot not as a Sabata movie but rebranded as a series entry after its predecessor’s success – others claim that Brynner replaced Van Cleef due to a scheduling conflict (with, of all things, “Guns of the Magnificent Seven,” which found Van Cleef in Brynner’s role!). Either way, Brynner’s laconic turn doesn’t share much in common with Van Cleef’s performance, in a standard genre plot that finds Sabata hired by Mexican revolutionaries to steal Austrian gold. This one boasts a rousing climax but some tedious stretches before the film gets there.
Van Cleef returned in “Return of Sabata,” a more threadbare offering with Sabata working in a traveling circus when he runs into a man who owes him $5,000. Our hero subsequently opts to stay in the same dusty Texas town in order to help its oppressed residents in a decent series finale that boasts bursts of action inbetween (too frequent) stretches of tedium. Kino Lorber’s Blu-Rays of both “Sabata” sequels include satisfying 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded MGM masters with mono English audio tracks and trailers.
THE SHEIK Blu-Ray (75 mins., 1921)
THE SON OF THE SHEIK Blu-Ray (80 mins., 1926): Silent film fans should be enchanted by Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray presentations of “The Sheik” and “Son of the Sheik,” two of legendary Rudolph Valentino’s most popular efforts. “The Sheik” (1921) pairs Valentino with Agnes Ayres, playing a western woman in North Africa who spurns a marriage proposal and heads out into the desert for adventure; she eventually ends up in the hands of the dashing Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, played by Valentino with all of the charisma he can muster.
“The Sheik” was a box-office smash but Valentino’s career soon took a downward spiral. Seeking to change his fortunes, the actor later starred in the follow-up, “Son of the Sheik,” based (like its predecessor) on a novel by Edith M. Hull. Here, Valentino played not only the Sheik but his son as well, in a story involving Ahmed’s son and his relationship with a conniving dancer (Vilma Banky). Agnes Ayres reprises her role from the original in this intriguingly designed sequel by art director William Cameron Menzies, which was released shortly after Valentino’s death to strong box-office numbers.
Kino Lorber’s “Sheik” Blu-Ray was licensed through Paramount and includes a new music score by Ben Model. The 1080p (1.33) transfer preserves the movie’s color tint and is designated as being the “most complete version available.” Insightful extras include commentary by Gaylyn Studlar; archival footage of Valentino’s funeral; and the trailer of the star’s “Blood and Sand.” For “Son of the Sheik,” which fell into the public domain, Kino’s Blu-Ray is presented in an aspect ratio just shy of 1.33 due to surviving 35mm materials that were all cropped (the label opted not to trim the remaining edges to compensate). The disc boasts Alloy Orchestra’s score; a filmed introduction from Orson Welles; an eight-minute vintage Valentino documentary and the rarely-seen short “Valentino At the Beach”; newspaper headlines chronicling Valentino’s illness; and the trailer of “The Young Rajah.”
ONE, TWO, THREE Blu-Ray (***½, 109 mins., 1961): One of Billy Wilder’s finest comedies, “One, Two, Three” stars Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola salesman whose boss’s daughter (Pamela Tiffin) falls for a communist (Horst Buchholz) in early ’60s West Berlin. This Cold War-era farce, written by Diamond and collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, offers big laughs and a fast pace, plus one of its star’s finest performances. Based on a play by Ferenc Molnar, “One, Two, Threee” is a film that does belong to a particular time and place, but remains funny and entertaining due to Wilder and Diamond’s script, the director’s perfect sense of comic timing, and Cagney’s winning performance – rated by many as one of his best. Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray offers a 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded, MGM-licensed B&W transfer – a perfectly serviceable if not significant enhancement over the DVD – with DTS MA mono sound. Extras include a new commentary by historian Michael Schlesinger, archival Wilder comments with Volker Schlondorff and “Billy Wilder on Politics on ‘One, Two, Three,” plus trailers.
THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE 3D Blu-Ray (**½, 90 mins., 1953): 3D enthusiasts ought to thank Bob Furmanek and the 3D Film Archive for their tireless restorations of vintage catalog releases that, without them, would likely never see the light of day. “Those Redheads From Seattle” is a fascinating curio that was both the first 3D film musical (and there aren’t many in that genre to begin with) as well as the first widescreen release from Paramount Pictures. The story, such as it is, involves a woman (Agnes Moorehead) who journeys with her four daughters (Rhonda Fleming, Teresa Brewer, and “The Bell Sisters”) to the Yukon to be with their father during the Gold Rush. Alas, they find out he’s been murdered, leading the ladies to try and find the culprit while working for a local saloon owner (Gene Barry) and singing and dancing along the way.
“Those Redheads…” is, predictably, quaint stuff, but the 3D presentation in Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray (1.66) is terrific, layered with dimensional effects and backed by a meticulously restored, three-channel stereophonic soundtrack that offers crisp separation (the original mono track is also on-hand). Demos of both the video and audio restorations are included plus the trailer, a 2006 Fleming interview, and enlightening commentary with Furmanek, Hillary Hess, Greg Kintz and Jack Theakston. More information on the background for the film can be found over at The 3D Film Archive.
New on 4K UHD
Clint Eastwood’s masterwork UNFORGIVEN (***½, 132 mins., 1992, R) marked the star’s farewell to the western – a beautifully layered film about the sins of the past, the folly of youth, and a meditation on heroism. David Webb Peoples, who co-authored the script for “Blade Runner,” orchestrated the perfect vehicle for Eastwood’s adieu to the genre that served him so well for decades, and Eastwood the director brought onboard a peerless supporting cast to aid his efforts, including Gene Hackman as the town sheriff, Morgan Freeman as Eastwood’s partner during their outlaw days, and Richard Harris as an arrogant sniper – all trying to collect a bounty on the men who slashed the face of a prostitute in Hackman’s gun-free town. Jack N. Green’s widescreen lensing adds the perfect “autumnal” component to “Unforgiven”’s rich storyline, which ranks with some of Eastwood’s finest work.
4K Rundown: A Best Picture winner that also earned additional Oscars for Hackman, Eastwood’s direction and Joel Cox’s editing, “Unforgiven” was previously released on Blu-Ray in the format’s early days. That antiquated (though not terrible) VC-1 encoded transfer has now been upstaged by a superior 4K UHD combo pack (also sporting a remastered Blu-Ray) that offers immediate enhancements in color, clarity and overall image definition. Green’s cinematography seems to have more of a three-dimensional effect in the HDR-backed HVEC transfer, with details in the background having much more prominence and sharpness, though the muted color scheme of the film does not, in general, necessarily make this demo material for 4K enhancement. Colors do seem better balanced, and many of the movie’s dark sequences are better replicated by the 4K presentation, but it’s not a night/day upgrade — often just a subtle one. On the audio end, the 5.1 DTS MA sound affords a larger canvas for the movie’s sound design. A Digital HD copy is also included along with the remastered Blu-Ray (AVC encode and 5.1 DTS MA sound), while extras carried over from prior releases include Richard Schickel’s commentary, four documentaries, the trailer, and a classic “Maverick” episode starring Eastwood.
Mill Creek New Releases
SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE Blu-Ray (*, 90 mins., 1983, PG; Mill Creek): Not to be confused with “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn,” Ivan Reitman’s 1983 3-D sci-fi adventure stars Peter Strauss as the Spacehunter, a futuristic bounty hunter battling the evil Overdog in one of those Mad Max-like wastelands that we saw routinely at the movies in the ’80s. Molly Ringwald, a year away from her first John Hughes movie (and stardom), plays a rag-tag kid who tags along with Spacehunter as they attempt to rescue three lovely maidens from the clutches of Overdog.
You either have a soft, nostalgic place in your heart for “Spacehunter” – one of countless 3-D efforts from ’82 and ’83 – or you don’t. Honestly, I don’t, although you wouldn’t think that a film produced by Reitman and scored by Elmer Bernstein would be as cheap and pathetic as this one. Lame special FX and garish cinematography make for a tedious cinematic affair, minus the 3-D effects that were obviously the movie’s main selling point. Even Bernstein’s score is blah by his standards, though Michael Ironside steals the show (trust me, it’s not hard) as Overdog.
Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray offers a 1080p (1.78) transfer similar to what Sony provided on their DVD in the early 2000’s. While shown in theaters in 2.35 3-D, SPACEHUNTER was matted to 1.78 for non 3-D showings, so the aspect ratio present here is correct for its 2D version. The uncompressed stereo sound is fine.
A more satisfying Blu-Ray offering from Mill Creek is on-hand in the PAYBACK TIME TRIPLE FEATURE, a single-disc platter that boasts the domestic Blu-Ray debuts of three Columbia catalog offerings: Rutger Hauer in the little-seen but surprisingly well-reviewed BLIND FURY (86 mins., 1989, R), the adventures of a blind American Vietnam vet-turned-samurai from director Philip Noyce; Chuck Norris in the weird 1982 horror/action hybrid SILENT RAGE (103 mins., R) co-starring Ron Silver, Toni Kalem (“The Outsiders”), Steven Keats and Stephen Furst; and the 1975 Jonathan Kaplan-directed “good o’l boy” B-movie WHITE LINE FEVER (90 mins., PG) with Jan-Michael Vincent and Kay Lenz playing opposite veterans L.Q. Jones and Slim Pickens. Transfers are decent MPEG-2 encodes (all 1.78 widescreen) with Dolby Digital sound and the price hovering just right above/below the $10 mark (depending on where you look).
Also New & Noteworthy
XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE 4K UHD Combo Pack (**, 106 mins., 2017, PG-13; Paramount):The unlikely worldwide success of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise has open up previously closed doors for star Vin Diesel, as evidenced by belated sequels to previous box-office duds like “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “XXX: State of the Union,” a 2005 follow-up to Diesel’s 2002 “XXX” that didn’t star its leading man.
This third entry, then, in the “XXX” series finds Diesel returning to his role of spy/extreme sports guru Xander Cage, who’s living the good life after having faked his death (a plot device that also brings back Samuel L. Jackson’s character). However, Xander is quickly tracked down to save the world when a device that enables control of the world’s satellites is stolen, requiring his special slate of services along with other “gnarly” adventurers. Director D.J. Caruso’s watchable but mostly uninspired adventure feels awfully tired, even with a cast that includes Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa and the lovely Nina Dobrev. Nevertheless, “Return of Xander Cage” did well enough to turn a profit on its modest (for its genre) budget, and Diesel devotees will likely enjoy it – at least up to a point.
4K Rundown: Paramount’s 4K UHD combo release of “Cage” includes a top-notch, and really eye-popping, 4K HVEC (2.30) transfer. This is one of those situations where 4K’s color gamut and HDR enhancements pay dividends over the standard Blu-Ray release (also included), which certainly looks fine but doesn’t include the crispness that UHD can deliver. Far more than some other 4K releases I’ve seen this month (“Fifty Shades” and “Hidden Figures” among them), “Return of Xander Cage” at least offers a solid upgrade over 1080p with its colorful cinematography and outdoor sequences. Colors have a lot of pop and detail is strong throughout the UHD presentation. Dolby Atmos audio is on-tap on both discs, with special features housed on the Blu-Ray (a gag reel, four behind-the-scenes featurettes) and a Digital HD copy rounds out the package.
The box-office phenomenon of comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial feature debut GET OUT (**, 104 mins., 2017, R; Universal) is a bit hard to figure. Stripped of theatrical audience engagement, the movie plays like a pedestrian Twilight Zone episode, one that’s telegraphed so far in advance you can see precisely where the film is headed and no surprises of any kind are thrown at the viewer.
It’s a perplexing case of a movie’s premise capturing the mood of the times as Peele’s thriller is framed against the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” backdrop of a young African-American man (Daniel Kaluuya) heading to his white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) home to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener). They’re your typical, liberal suburbanites albeit with black servants who act odd — and decidedly “not black” — around Kaluuya’s hero, who quickly finds her parents and their friends to be perfectly Stepfordian in their quirkiness…and even stranger in their motivations (thinly explained as they are).
After hearing all the rave reviews for “Get Out,” I kept waiting for Peele’s movie to kick into another gear. Unfortunately, it never does: the movie is a prolonged slow (and I mean lethargic) burn that breaks into a clumsily executed climax that’s right out of the playbook of its producers, Blumhouse (they of the low-budget horror hits “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge”), but is so straightforward and devoid of wit that it’s stunning how absurdly praised this film was (in many quarters). Peele drops a line or two of dialogue about race relations here or there but the social commentary component of the film was blown way out of proportion — “Get Out” is basically just a simple riff on Stepford and the Body Snatchers, and Peele’s script misses one opportunity after another to engage its mostly wasted cast (Whitford and Keener, in particular, have ultimately almost nothing to do here). It’s a clunky, no more than watchable little thriller that doesn’t say nearly as much as some claim it does — except that viewers seem to be desperate to latch onto anything not “tentpole-related” at the box-office in 2017.
Universal’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes a wisely unused alternate ending with Peele’s commentary plus additional deleted scenes; a featurette; Q&A with the cast; and commentary on the film itself. The 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound are fine, and a DVD and Digital HD copy round out the disc.
HEAT Director’s Definitive Blu-Ray (***½, 170 mins., 1995, R; Fox): Overlong but superbly performed crime drama has always been notable for its teaming of Al Pacino, as a tough L.A. cop out to nab expert criminal Robert DeNiro, but in spite of the duo’s billing, the stars only share a few minutes of screen time in a sprawling story that encompasses a number of other characters. Indeed, Mann’s intricate (if slightly overplotted) script sports a marvelous supporting cast including Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Val Kilmer, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson and Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans” co-star Wes Studi in a dazzling looking and sounding film, enhanced by the outstanding visuals of Dante Spinotti and a superb Elliot Goldenthal score. Even if it’s still a little too long (with female characters that aren’t always integral to the story), “Heat” packs indelible performances and moments of great power, from a thrilling robbery sequence to DeNiro and Pacino’s few sequences together.
Previously released on Blu-Ray by Warner, “Heat” has resurfaced on Blu-Ray from Fox, which now distributes the Regency library from producer Arnon Milchan. This new two-disc set contains an AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA 5.1 audio that are both exceptionally good. While Mann did supervise “content changes” for the Warner Blu-Ray, online comparisons illustrated that the differences were mostly minor editorial tweaks that were applied because Mann didn’t have enough time to polish the picture prior to its theatrical release, and that same edit is present here. A good array of extras include deleted scenes, a Toronto Film Festival Q&A, Academy Q&A with Christopher Nolan, a three-part Making Of and supporting featurettes (mostly carried over from the earlier DVD), a Digital HD copy, and Mann’s commentary from the Warner Blu-Ray.
An exciting thriller that remains one of its director’s finest films, “Heat” packs a wallop on Blu-Ray with knockout audio and video. Highly recommended!
MAX 2: WHITE HOUSE HERO Blu-Ray Combo Pack (85 mins., 2017, PG; Warner): The moderate box-office success of the family-friendly 2015 dog flick “Max” has spun-off a loose small-screen continuation, ironically from the same team that brought us the first couple of “Beethoven” movies. Here, Max gets a new assignment working for “First Son” TJ (Zane Austin), who’s teamed with the daughter (Francesca Capaldi) of a foreign leader currently butting heads with the President. Their adventure takes them to a mostly lightweight place compared to its predecessor, but kids will likely enjoy the action from director Brian Levant, who recruited a number of his “Beethoven” collaborators to work on “Max 2,” including composer Randy Edelman. Warner’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes two featurettes, a 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, a DVD and Digital HD copy.
RESIDENT EVIL – THE FINAL CHAPTER Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**, 107 mins., 2017, R; Sony): Is it really over? The end of this supposedly final installment in Capcom’s survival horror video-game-turned-film franchise has Alice (Milla Jovovich) heading back to Raccoon City after the zombie outbreak has claimed most of the world’s residents. This time out, Alice is tasked with a supposedly ultimate challenge from the “Red Queen” to help facilitate the release of an anti-virus that would destroy the undead and give humankind once last chance at survival.
Ali Larter is back as Claire Redfield in “The Final Chapter,” which also returns series director Paul W.S. Anderson behind the lens, working with his wife Jovovich for what’s billed as the end of the line for the saga. True enough, this one – filled with the series’ typical frenetic action and CGI creatures – does come to something of an end point, but leaves the door just ajar enough for another sequel if demand warrants.
The movie didn’t end up making much coin in the U.S. but turned a profit thanks to overseas numbers, and comes recommended for, obviously, series fans. Sony’s Blu-ray includes two featurettes, a “Retailiation Mode” and exclusive Blu-Ray format featurette, and sneak peek at “Resident Evil: Vendetta,” the upcoming CGI movie. The 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer is fine and 7.1 DTS MA audio throbs with Paul Haslinger’s score. A Digital HD copy is also on tap.
Arrow New Releases
JACQUES RIVETTE COLLECTION Blu-Ray/DVD Limited Edition (Arrow Video): The eclectic career of French filmmaker Jacques Rivette is celebrated in a Limited Edition Blu-Ray/DVD package from Arrow Video. Rivette’s initial concept was meant to comprise a four-film cycle that would connect a quartet of otherwise disparate genres (a love story, western, fantasy-thriller and musical comedy) – ultimately, only two of the films were completed, starting with “Duelle,” a fantasy starring Bulle Ogier and Juliet Berto as Queens who search for a diamond in the present day. It was complimented by “Noroit,” a pirate tale with Geraldine Chaplin. Rivette had to abandon production on “Marie et Julien,” the third film in the would-be cycle featuring Albert Finney and Leslie Caron, but was ultimately able to rework elements from the first two pictures in “Merry-Go-Round” starring Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneider.
All three pictures have been treated to new 2K restorations with uncompressed PCM mono soundtracks in Arrow’s Blu/DVD box. An archive interview with the director is one of the highlights of Arrow’s customary extensive extras, along with interviews with Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz on “Duelle”; a talk with Jonathan Rosenbaum, who was on-set for the production of both “Duelle” and “Noroit”; limited-edition artwork and an elaborate booklet sporting several pieces on the first two pictures.
Dallesandro, star of the Andy Warhol-presented “Flesh For Frankenstein” and “Blood For Dracula,” also lead THE CLIMBER (113 mins., 1975, Not Rated), a film that also bows on Blu-Ray/DVD this month from Arrow. This mid ‘70s gangster outing has Dallesandro essaying Aldo, a small-time crook who tries to exact revenge on a local crime boss after he’s caught trying to skim profits for himself. Pasquale Squitieri wrote and directed “The Climber,” an Italian favorite brought to Blu-Ray in a new 4K restoration by Arrow. Italian (subtitled) and dubbed English soundtracks adorn Arrow’s combo pack along with a new Dallesandro interview covering his work overseas in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Sonny Chiba netted one of the weirdest roles of his career in WOLF GUY (86 mins., 1975), the Manga adaptation that finds Chiba playing a werewolf who works to uncover the force responsible for a series of bloody killings. Weirdness abounds with martial arts action, horror and family drama intertwined in this Toei concoction directed by B-movie favorite Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. Arrow’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack boasts a new high-def transfer (1080p, 2.35), uncompressed Japanese PCM audio, new interviews with Chiba and Yamaguchi, and the original trailer.
Arrow has also dusted off BRAIN DAMAGE (86 mins., 1988, Not Rated), “Basket Case” auteur Frank Henenlotter’s wacky follow-up about a parasite (voiced by TV horror host Zacherle!) who’s able to induce special trips for its hosts – of course, at a price that involves the consumption of human brains! If you enjoyed Henenlotter’s prior work, you’re the right audience for this tasteless, if enthusiastic, horror comedy which Arrow has packaged in a Special Edition sporting a 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfer, mono and 5.1 DTS MA audio, an isolated score, new commentary by the director; a new documentary on the film; FX featurettes; extensive interviews, Q&A sessions, Harry Chaskin’s “Bygone Behemoth” featuring a final onscreen appearance by Zacherle, a limited edition “O Card,” Collector’s Booklet and accompanying DVD.
Finally, Kinji Fukasaku’s COPS VS. THUGS (101 mins., 1975) completes Arrow’s May slate – a 1975 reunion between Fukasaku and his “Battles Without Honor” and “Humanity” collaborators (composer Toshiaki Tsushima, writer Kazuo Kasahara, stars Bunta Sugawara and Hiroki Matsukata) set in southern Japan circa the early ‘60s. There, a hard-boiled detective forces a standoff between warring gangs with various friendships and alliances quickly put to the test. Arrow’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes uncompressed Japanese mono audio, a video appreciation of the film by the director’s biographer Sadao Yamane, Tom Mes’ overview of Fukasaku’s genre highlights, and a Toei-licensed 1080p (2.35) HD transfer.
Warner Archive New Releases
THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST Blu-Ray (**½, 121 mins., 1988, PG). THE MOVIE: Lawrence Kasdan’s 1988 adaptation of Anne Tyler’s book just feels a little “off.” Backed by an outstanding cast, “The Accidental Tourist” mostly comes off as a flaccid ‘80s studio tearjerker, telling the story of a travel author (William Hurt) who finds out his wife (Kathleen Turner, second-billed for a performance that barely comprises a half-hour of screen time) is leaving him, following the death of their teenage son. A relationship with a kooky dog trainer/single mom (Geena Davis, in her Oscar winning role) nearly breaks him out of his funk in a movie that’s beautifully shot in widescreen by John Bailey and sensitively acted – it’s the awkward script by Kasdan and Frank Galati that doesn’t really work, making one feel Tyler’s prose better suited her characters than Kasdan’s stilted brand of cinematic “quirkiness.” What’s more, characters seem to shift their mood or motivations from scene to scene, dictated by the mechanics of the plot but without those shifts having been believably laid out ahead of time. Thankfully, John Williams’ gloriously moving, often understated score – which I have even more respect for after having sat through the film again – instills a beating heart to the drama, making one wonder how ineffective this picture would’ve been without it. ARCHIVE SPECS: Warner’s 1080p (2.41) AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA stereo soundtracks are both superb on the Archive’s Blu-Ray – beautifully detailed and perfectly replicating Bailey’s cinematography, while the 2-channel Dolby Stereo soundtrack has good separation and pep as well. Additional features include Kasdan’s introduction, Davis’ scene-specific commentary, a featurette, “lifted scenes,” and the trailer. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “The Accidental Tourist” certainly comes across as the kind of movie that critics overpraised at the time of its original release, but it does have a gorgeous Williams score that makes it impossible to turn away from.
SEVEN DAYS IN MAY Blu-Ray (***, 118 mins., 1964). THE MOVIE: Nail-biting, tense John Frankenheimer-directed adaptation of the bestselling book posits what might happen if a military coup, led by a popular general (Burt Lancaster), tried to topple the regime of a weary, pacifist president (Fredric March). Kirk Douglas is the colonel who finds out – just in the nick of time – in Rod Serling’s potent screen version of “Seven Days In May,” which is a finely acted and suspenseful entertainment backed by Frankenheimer’s trademark direction and themes that are still relevant today. ARCHIVE SPECS: Making its Blu-Ray debut from the Archive, “Seven Days In May” boasts a crisp 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA mono sound sporting an early Jerry Goldsmith score. Frankenhimer’s DVD commentary has been ported over along with the trailer. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Douglas, Lancaster and March lead a fine cast in one of the top political thrillers of its era. Strongly recommended.
THE LOVED ONE Blu-Ray (**, 121 mins., 1965). THE MOVIE: Tony Richardson’s weird adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel functions like a time-capsule of its era, starring Robert Morse as the poet nephew of a Brit (John Gielgud) working in Hollywood. Circumstances eventually lead Morse to get involved with another kind of American industry – the funeral business – in a script by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood that was meant to be provocative if not downright offensive to viewers back in the mid ‘60s. Today, though, it’s mostly just a bust, filled with endless star cameos (looking for Liberace? Roddy McDowall? Dana Andrews? Milton Berle? You’ve got ‘em!) and the occasional chuckle generated by Morse or Jonathan Winters’ comic exuberance. At a full two hours, though, you’re likely going to have to be familiar with (and fond of) the source material to make it through this strange cinematic concoction from MGM and producer Martin Ransohoff. ARCHIVE SPECS: Fans of “The Loved One” should be thrilled with the Archive’s superb 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer, dominated by pinpoint detail that captures Haskell Wexler’s cinematography in all its B&W glory. The trailer and a featurette have been ported over from the DVD. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “The Loved One” has never been a movie that’s been widely embraced, mostly alienating viewers over the years since its original release. Worth a look for the curious, or those wanting to check out the incredible cast – but that’s about it.
New DC Releases From Warner
The looming release of “Wonder Woman” in a couple of weeks has brought a trio of titles from Warner Home Video for viewers of all ages.
The most obvious tie-in comes with the “Commemorative Edition” of WONDER WOMAN (74 mins., PG-13), the 2009 DC animated movie that retells Princess Diana’s (voiced by Keri Russell) origin, life on the island of Themsycira, and how her life changes when she meets fighter pilot Steve Trevor (the pipes of Nathan Fillion). This DC production boasts one of the bigger star-rosters of voice talent around, between Russell and Fillion plus Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger and Virginia Madsen. Adapted by writer Michael Jelenic, “Wonder Woman” is generally considered one of the better DC small-screen offerings, and has been reissued here on Blu-Ray with a 1080p (1.78) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, a new featurette (“What Makes a Wonder Woman”), a DVD, Digital HD copy, and extras carried over from the prior release (commentary, additional featurettes).
A brand-new DC animated production, VIXEN (75 mins., 2016), looks at the female African super-hero (voiced by Megalyn Echikunwake) who can channel the powers of animals – gorillas, cheetahs – via her slain family’s Anasi Totem. Vixen’s origin is recounted in this 75-minute effort from executive producer Greg Berlanti, who supervises most of the CW’s live-action DC series. Accordingly, “Vixen” offers guest appearances from those show’s respective casts, including Stephen Amell (Arrow), Grant Gustin (The Flash), and a smattering of characters from DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow.” Warner’s Blu-Ray boasts a documentary on the heroine, bonus Justice League Unlimited episodes, a 1080p (1.78) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and a Digital HD copy.
Finally, DC SUPERHERO GIRLS: INTERGALACTIC GAMES (76 mins., 2017) is a kid-centric adventure with Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl taking on the Korugar Academy and the “Female Furies” in a battle to determine which high-school team is the galaxy’s finest – though one of them carries a motive beyond just bringing home a trophy. A music video and seven featurettes are included in Warner’s DVD, which carries a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound when it streets – along with “Vixen” – on May 23rd.
Lionsgate New Releases: Our three year-old enjoyed the few moments I showed him of ROCK DOG (90 mins., 2017, PG), a family-friendly animated adventure starring Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson), a Tibetan Mastiff who dreams of becoming a music star after a radio falls from the sky, into his hands. His quest leads him to a rock legend (voiced by Eddie Izzard) before he’s charged with taking on a wolf (Lewis Black) threatening his father’s (J.K. Simmons) village. Bouncy music and fun for the little ones, with a pleasing 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer. A DVD, Digital HD copy, 5.1 DTS MA sound, four featurettes and a music video are also included…Also new on Blu-Ray from Lionsgate, THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (95 mins., 2016, R) is an unsettling horror film with Emma Roberts as a young woman heading towards an all-girls prep school where two girls (Lucy Boynton, Kiernan Shipka) are stranded after their parents fail to pick them up for winter vacation. How these storylines intersect in Osgood Perkins’ dense, downbeat supernatural thriller is the big mystery in “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” which should be of interest for horror buffs with its atmospheric tone and slow build-up. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray looks great, sports a 1080p AVC encoded transfer with 5.1 DTS MA sound, a commentary from Perkins, Making Of featurette, plus a DVD and Digital HD copy.
On DVD from Lionsgate, SHAQUILLE O’NEAL PRESENTS ALL-STAR COMEDY JAM: LIVE FROM SIN CITY (91 mins., 2017) is the newest entry in the comedy concert series. Here, stand-up comic Lavell Crawford joins K-Dubb, Cocoa Brown, Donnell Rawlings and Earthquake for a night of laughs recorded live at Las Vegas’ Penn & Teller theater. The Lionsgate disc includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
INSIDE AMY SCHUMER Season 4 DVD (191 mins., 2016; Paramount): Amy Schumer’s sketch comedy series returns to DVD with its complete 2016 season, satirizing a bevy of topics with the comedienne’s trademark raunchy humor. Outtakes and a Writer’s Room featurette are included in Paramount’s two-disc DVD set, now available with 16:9 transfers and stereo sound.
XX Blu-Ray (81 mins., 2017, R; Magnolia): Yet another horror anthology gains distinction from its roster of all-female directors: Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark and Yovanka Vuckovic, who spin a quartet of supernatural tales starring Natalie Brown and Melanie Lynskey among others. Offbeat and at least intriguing enough to draw the attention of horror buffs, “XX” hits Blu-Ray May 23rd with ample extras (all kinds of behind-the-scenes featuettes and interviews on the respective segments), a 1080p (2.39) transfer, and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
NEXT TIME: More May catalog releases from Kino Lorber and the latest releases. 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!