The first and finest of the Ryan series remains – unquestionably – John McTiernan’s 1990 blockbuster THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (***½, 135 mins., PG), starring Sean Connery as Russian submarine captain Marko Ramius, an aging soldier wanting to defect to American waters and Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, the analyst who understands Ramius’ motives and works to prevent a nuclear catastrophe from occurring once his superiors (as well as Ramius’ Russian counterparts) conclude that the “Red October” has actually been sent to attack the U.S.
An amazing supporting cast (Tim Curry, Peter Firth, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Jeffrey Jones, Sam Neill, Joss Ackland, Stellan Skarsgard, and Richard Jordan) ably supports Connery (in one of his finest roles) and Baldwin, who fills the shoes of Clancy’s hero more appropriately than his successors (the too-old Harrison Ford and overly bland Ben Affleck/Chris Pine) in the subsequent Ryan adventures.
Graced with scope cinematography from Jan DeBont and a stirring Basil Poledouris score, “The Hunt For Red October” is taut and enormously entertaining studio filmmaking, and Paramount’s HDR/Dolby Vision 4K UHD presentation is a pleasing upgrade on the studio’s earlier high-def transfers. Since much of the film was shot in tight, dark confines, the cinematography has always proven difficult to adapt to the home video medium — making this higher contrast HDR transfer superior in terms of translating DeBont and McTiernan’s visuals. The 4K resolution uptick is also occasionally notable, with superior compression making the entire presentation more detailed. On the audio side, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is a reprisal of the Blu-Ray mix and remains a marvel. Beautifully mastered with spectacular sound effects and a broad stage for Poledouris’ music, the soundtrack is magnificent and still rates as the disc’s strongest asset. Meanwhile, extras retained on the Blu-Ray side include a commentary from McTiernan (also on the 4K disc), the theatrical trailer in HD, cast interviews and the “Beneath the Surface” retrospective featurette.
A variety of issues circumvented Baldwin from continuing on as Jack Ryan, but Paramount did manage to land Harrison Ford to carry on the role in two glossy, Phillip Noyce-directed sequels: 1992’s PATRIOT GAMES (***, 116 mins., R) and 1994’s CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (**½, 141 mins., PG-13).
I admit that I’m in the minority on the Ford films, finding the atmospheric and suspenseful “Patriot Games” superior to the longer and less effective “Clear and Present Danger,” though one could attribute the latter’s stronger box-office gross (the highest of the series) to its PG-13 rating, whereas “Patriot Games” was saddled with an R (mainly due to Polly Walker’s nude scene).
“Patriot Games”’ more straightforward story and manageable running time makes it the superior of the Ford films for me at least, finding Ryan an international hero after thwarting a terrorist attack on a member of Britain’s Royal Family. After returning home to the U.S., though, with wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) in tow, Ryan finds himself being hunted by the same IRA splinter group, led by Patrick Bergin, whose brother died in the film’s opening moments.
Top notch action scenes (including an ending that was re-shot late in the game) make this sequel to “Red October” a flawed but still entertaining ride, while the bigger-isn’t-always-better “Clear and Present Danger” feels like the work of too many cooks in the kitchen by comparison.
Marred by some tough-to-swallow plot developments and uneven writing (the script is attributed to Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian and John Milius, each seeming to offer their own political bent and the film deviating from Clancy’s original story significantly) make “Clear and Present” a sometimes-preachy affair, particularly whenever Ryan combats a fuddy-duddy President, played with a heavy hand by Donald Moffat.
Both pictures fare well in their 4K UHD debuts, boasting superb Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, even with James Horner filling in for Poledouris somewhat unevenly — his dreary, if atmospheric, score for “Patriot Games” heavily recycles “Aliens” while the thematically stronger “Clear and Present Danger” is a stark departure from its predecessor. The HVEC encoded 4K UHDs again offer higher contrast transfers than their Blu-Ray counterparts and are highly satisfying, particularly “Patriot Games” with Donald McAlpine’s top-notch cinematography looking better than ever now with Dolby Vision/HDR enhancement. Once again, Blu-Ray extras on the two discs include HD trailers and a pair of retrospective featurettes, which mostly skirt the off-camera issues that occurred on both movies.
In fact, the turbulent production of “Clear and Present Danger” — in particular its constant re-writes — lead Harrison Ford to depart the series in spite of its robust financial in-take, and producer Mace Neufeld to take a few years off before oddly (at the time) “re-booting” the series with a younger Jack Ryan in the present day.
That resulting picture, 2002’s generally underrated THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (***, 123 mins., PG-13) is quite good, after you get past its strange connection with the previous films and aside from the fact that Ben Affleck’s bland Jack Ryan is the least interesting figure in the film.
Director Phil Alden Robinson’s slick adaptation still provides solid entertainment, with the Paul Attanasio-Daniel Pyne script concerning a dormant nuclear weapon being sold to a shady individual in Damascus whose clients plan on using it to lead America and Russia into a war with one another. To save the day comes CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Affleck), here just starting out under the guidance of director Cobb (Morgan Freeman). If you sound confused, you should be, as the movie is a semi-prequel with a young Jack Ryan, yet set in the present day with its own set of characters. “The Sum of all Fears” in some ways resembles past Clancy pictures, but its central story line ends up playing out like “Black Sunday” by way of “WarGames,” with both sides ultimately on the offensive until Ryan can convince them that war isn’t a game worth playing.
The film boasts a multitude of characters and events that eventually intersect, with solid performances from Freeman, James Cromwell as the President, Alan Bates and Colm Feore as the film’s antagonists (standard-issue European neo-nazis substituting for the book’s Middle Eastern bad guys — something that would have been more realistic yet not politically correct, apparently), and Liev Schrieber as a CIA operative.
Schrieber’s role — the same one Willem Dafoe essayed in “Clear and Present Danger” — and performance are so interesting, in fact, that they turn Affleck’s cardboard hero into the film’s weakest element. Just like in “Pearl Harbor,” the actor is totally out of his element here, lacking the conviction and believability this kind of material demands. While watching Affleck struggle to convey Ryan’s contrasting inexperience and heroic qualities (not to mention the complete lack of chemistry between him and Bridget Moynahan in the Anne Archer role), I kept thinking that any moment he was going to lurch into a wisecrack like he was in a Kevin Smith film.
In fact, Affleck is likely the reason why the Jack Ryan franchise didn’t immediately continue: in spite of respectable box-office receipts, the series went into another hiatus, foregoing the possibility of future sequels with its new star.
That said, nearly everything else in “The Sum of All Fears” reeks of class, from the widescreen cinematography to Jerry Goldsmith’s hauntingly elegiac score — one of the maestro’s finest late works. This is a strong score superior to many of his efforts from the era and more than substitutes for Horner’s outings from its predecessors. (There is, however, one moment when Goldsmith’s horns seem like they’re trumpeting the arrival of Rambo, and when set to slow-motion photography of Affleck running through a flame-ravaged street, come off as a bit much).
Robinson, though, deserves credit for a making a thought-provoking thriller that at least exhibits some intelligence at a time when too many studio blockbusters have nothing on their minds at all. Despite its flaws and weak central performance, “The Sum of All Fears” is worth viewing for that alone.
Paramount’s 4K release looks the best of the first four Ryan films in the format (same situation as its corresponding Blu-Ray releases), the HVEC encoded transfer appearing well-detailed and the Dolby TrueHD sound again packing an appropriate wallop when called upon. Extras include two commentary tracks (one with Robinson and Tom Clancy; another with Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley), plus two Making Of featurettes and the trailer in HD.
Certainly “The Sum of All Fears” looks even better now compared to JACK RYAN – SHADOW RECRUIT (**, 105 mins., 2014, PG-13), another (vastly inferior) attempt at “rebooting” Clancy’s character in his earliest days as a CIA analyst. Here, Chris Pine takes over the role previously occupied by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck as he’s tasked to stop a Russian tycoon (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) who tries to ignite another 9/11 and drop the value of the American dollar in the process.
Long in development, this “Jack Ryan” bears scant resemblance to the more intricate and believable Clancy novels that preceded it, to say nothing of the previous films in the series. Branagh brings a cool visual eye to the material, but the Adam Cozao-David Koepp script feels more like Bond and Bourne, with Ryan quickly becoming a CIA super-hero as he races to stop another catastrophe. It’s push-button moviemaking, with a number of uncertain performances – particularly from Kiera Knightley, boasting a none-too-convincing American accent – failing to enhance the standard-issue storytelling.
A box-office disappointment, “Shadow Recruit” does boast an impressive HDR/Dolby Vision enhanced 4K transfer with 7.1 DTS MA sound, and Blu-Ray extras featuring deleted and extended scenes; commentary from Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura; and Making Of featurettes. A Digital HD copy is also included as well for each film in Paramount’s currently-available box-set (note the titles are unavailable for purchase separately stateside).
DEADPOOL 2 4K UHD Combo Pack (***, 119 mins., 2018, R; Fox): Engagingly disarming sequel offers “more of the same” — which here is a very good thing, as Ryan Reynolds’ R-rated Marvel outsider again satirizes the increasingly stale super-hero genre with a raunchy, often very funny sequel. The plot finds Deadpool trying to steer a young mutant onto the right path, which of course results in catastrophe and a visit from a time-traveling badass named Cable (Josh Brolin). Appearances from minor characters in the X-Men stable pop up, as does a heaping of self-deprecating comedy that extends all the way down to the funniest choral chanting in a film underscore ever.
The secret of this film — which is fun, funny, and more entertaining than anything Marvel itself has turned out in years — is that Reynolds (who co-wrote this outing with a returning Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) keeps the film grounded with the right tone from start to finish: like its predecessor, “Deadpool” is acerbic and often outright hilarious. I haven’t laughed at any film as much as I did with this in recent memory, and yet while there is a story and a bit of heart, there are no tonal shifts for “the boring parts” to derail the fun. In the hands of another director (say Matthew Vaughn), it would’ve been easy for “Deadpool” to lose its way with its violent sections or turn heavy-handed with plot — but Reynolds and director David Leitch (coming over from the original “John Wick”) never lose the light touch and the humor. The result is a fourth-wall breaking adventure that gives adult viewers the comic book action they might crave from the genre — but also the tongue-in-cheek grilling it deserves at the same time.
Fresh off a strong box-office showing, Fox’s 4K UHD of “Deadpool 2” not only looks great (with its HDR enhanced HVEC transfer) and sounds great (Dolby Atmos audio) but also offers an unrated, extended cut of the film. This edition is strictly for fans, as it adds 15 minutes of material (as well as some alterations in the soundtrack), but also bloats the movie’s otherwise satisfying pace. Extras are in abundance, as you’d expect, including commentary from Reynolds, Leitch and the writers (theatrical version), featurettes, a gag reel, deleted/extended scenes and a Digital copy.
TRANSPORTER 3 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (**, 104 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate): Jason Statham returns as Frank Martin for the final time in this formulaic, yet still watchable, third installment in the moderately popular action franchise, directed here by the aptly-named “Olivier Megaton.” Lionsgate’s 4K UHD of “Transporter 3″ boasts another decent Lionsgate catalog 4K transfer, complete with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound. Extras housed on both the 4K and standard Blu-Ray versions include commentary from Megaton (I keep writing Megatron, I can’t help it!), a Making Of featurette, other assorted behind-the-scenes material including storyboards, and a Digital HD copy…Also new from Lionsgate on 4K UHD is NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VAN WILDER (94 mins., 2002, Unrated), a modest box-office success that allowed star Ryan Reynolds to exude snarkiness as a college student on the 7-year-plan whose father pulls the plug on his tuition just as a campus reporter (Tara Reid) looks to profile his shenanigans. Mild laughs follow but Reynolds is in good form, at least, in this amiable affair that generated several improbable sequels without him. Lionsgate’s 4K UHD transfer is typical of the label, offering Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos capability, plus the standard Blu-Ray, a Digital HD copy and most of the extras from its earlier releases.
HIGHER POWER 4K UHD Combo Pack (93 mins., 2018, R; Magnolia): Lorenzo Di Bonaventura has produced a number of big Hollywood blockbusters, making his participation with this decidedly lower-budget affair an unusual choice for the studio veteran. Ron Eldard stars as a normal guy, estranged from his two daughters, who’s tapped to save the world by a mad doctor (Colm Feore) who grants him electromagnetic powers. Effects veteran Matthew Charles Santoro helmed this unremarkable project, which boasts an impressive climax – shot for a reported half-million – but little in the way of compelling dramatic engagement. Magnolia’s attractive 4K UHD transfer, with HDR and Dolby Vision, looks impressive enough during the FX sequences, at least, and includes Dolby Atmos sound.
TV on Disc
THE FLASH – The Complete Fourth Season Blu-Ray (1096 mins., 2017-18; Warner): Barry Allen is back in Central City, pledging to stop more metahuman threats. Alas, he has to rely on both his friends and the S.T.A.R. labs gang to pick up the slack after he’s trapped in the “Speed Force.” The Thinker is also on-hand to raise hell in this fourth season of the CW series, one which started out on the right foot but has gotten wrapped up in increasingly silly plotlines with an endless amount of supporting players taking the stage at various times. Still worthwhile for fans, Season 4 of “The Flash” is new on Blu-Ray from Warner. In addition to attractive 1080p (1.78) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks, Warner’s package also includes five brand-new featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, all four crossover episodes from fellow DC superhero CW series (Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow), plus a Digital HD copy.
LUCIFER – The Complete Third Season DVD (1140 mins. 2017-18; Warner): Lucifer Morningstar and LAPD detective Chloe Decker continue to make for an offbeat pair in this third season of the TV series, based on a DC Vertigo graphic novel. This steadily improving Fox crime procedural, which is more than reminiscent of “Sleepy Hollow,” mixes wackiness and humor in a way that made it fan-friendly but not always viewer-friendly – hence the show’s cancelation at the end of this third season. The good news is the series was picked up by Netflix for another go-around, making Warner’s new DVD edition thankfully not its final one. Three new featurettes, a gag reel, deleted scenes, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 sound adorn the now-available DVD.
SUPERNATURAL – The Complete 13th Season Blu-Ray (999 mins., 2017-18; Warner): Every year I find it remarkable that this WB/CW warhorse is still going – and here is the unlucky 13th season of “Supernaural” on Blu-Ray, out ahead of its 14th season premiere this fall. Admittedly, even fans had issues with the series this year – but can you blame them after this many episodes? Here, the Winchester brothers face a conundrum when they are forced to deal with Lucifer’s little son Jack, while Mary is trapped in the underworld with Lucifer himself. 23 episodes are included in Warner’s Blu-Ray package, which includes a pair of commentaries, unaired scenes, a gag reel, and five featurettes (a Comic Con panel among those). Quality 1080p (1.78) transfers, 5.1 DTS MA sound and Digital HD copies round out the release.
YOUNG SHELDON: The Complete First Season DVD (436 mins., 2017-18; Warner): “The Big Bang Theory” spawned this prequel series, centering on the young alter-ego of Jim Parsons’ character. Nine-year-old Sheldon Cooper is seen here trying to grow up as a math and science whiz in an East Texas town where football and church are revered; his trials and tribulations are underscored in a mostly upbeat manner, with Sheldon’s (mostly) supportive family including his mother, older brother and twin sister. This half-hour single-camera comedy is more aligned at times with “The Wonder Years” than its predecessor, but nevertheless performed well in the ratings and comes to DVD September 4th from Warner. Two behind-the-scenes featurettes, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks comprise the multi-disc set.
FREEDOM FIGHTERS: THE RAY Blu-Ray (73 mins., 2018; Warner): In an alternate world dubbed Earth-X, the Nazis won WWII, leading a group of super-heroes, the Freedom Fighters, to take up the fight against tyranny and oppression. When one hero, The Ray, has to leave Earth-X in order to save his life, he passes his abilities along to an unsuspecting human, Ray Terrill. Ray is quickly thrown into the fire and tutored by The Flash and Green Arrow as he prepares to head back to Earth-X in this solid DC Animated Movie. Warner’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes a 1080p (1.78) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, the DVD, and Digital HD copy. Bonus features include an interview with Russell Tovey, “voice of The Ray.”
LAUGH-IN – The Complete Sixth Season DVD (1972-73, Time-Life): The long-running, influential Rowan and Martin series came to an end on March 12, 1973 after premiering as a one-shot NBC special on September 9th, 1967. At that time, viewers had scarcely seen such a rapid-fire comic anthology on TV before, and the hour-long program was the right show at the right time in the turbulent late ‘60s. “Laugh-In” was timely, motivated by generation-gap/culture-clash jokes, the hippie movement, and provided the right tonic for audiences looking to laugh while the country was embroiled in numerous struggles socially, politically and militarily. Ratings for the initial special were strong, leading to a weekly series that aired on Mondays at 8pm starting in January of ‘68 – a time slot the series would occupy until it signed off, finally, in May of 1973. Time-Life’s six-disc DVD, out September 4th, of the series’ sixth season includes unedited episodes of a year that bid adieu to its groundbreaking comic format.
THE BLACKLIST – The Complete Fifth Season Blu-Ray (944 mins., 2017-18; Sony): The fifth season of the NBC series finds Liz Keen (Megan Boone) attempting to help Raymond Reddington (James Spader) rebuild his criminal empire after the death of Mr. Kaplan. Doing so requires Liz to play both sides – including her work as an FBI agent – in 22 episodes from the fifth season of “The Blacklist,” now on Blu-Ray from Sony. This multi-disc set includes the format-exclusive featurette “Like Father, Like Daughter,” which hits upon the major story arc of its 2017-18 season, along with deleted scenes, episode commentary tracks, a gag reel, and a celebration of the series’ 100th episode. Though far from the series’ heyday (there’s a certain level of repetition involved by now, requiring a larger suspension of disbelief), it’s still enjoyable to see Spader at work here, even if “The Blacklist”’s Season 5 is going to be best appreciated by longtime fans of the show.
ADVENTURE TIME – THE FINAL SEASONS DVD (627 mins., 2018; Warner): It’s been a lengthy journey to the finish line for this fan-favorite Cartoon Network series. Warner’s DVD edition of “The Final Seasons” of “Adventure Time” include the show’s final three seasons, which include a trip to an island where Finn’s family secrets are revealed. Meanwhile, elemental mutants overrun Ooo, Flame Princess engages in a freestyle rap battle, and the future of Candy Kingdom is up in the air in an epic final battle. A behind-the-scenes featurette, character art gallery, song demos, 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks adorn Warner’s DVD, out on September 4th.
CBS New Releases: CBS’ releases include a round of brand-new DVDs of fan-favorite series returning to the airwaves this fall.
Season 9 of NCIS: LOS ANGELES (17 hours, 2017-18) brings back “G” (Chris O’Donnell) and Sam (LL Cool J) along with their stalwart crew (Daniela Rush, Eric Christian Olsen, Barrett Foa and Renee Felice Smith) for their ninth tour of duty. This year’s stories include Operations Manager Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt) going to missing while the crew deals with the additions of Assistant Director Shay Mosley (Nia Long) and Special Agent Harley Hidoko (Andrea Bordeaux). CBS’ six-disc set includes 23 episodes with a handful of featurettes, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks…Michael Weathley returns as BULL (16 hours, 2017-18) in the Second Season of the well-received CBS series. The founder of a trial consulting firm that “leverages” the judicial playing field via his personal prolifing abilities, Bull is back for 22 episodes that are mostly compelling in and out of the courtroom, with guest stars Dana Delany, Brad Garrett and Minka Kelly popping in for the action. CBS’ DVD set offers deleted scenes, a gag reel, several featurettes, 16:9 transfers, 5.1 sound and pilot episodes of “SEAL Team” and “The Good Fight”…Finally, HAWAII FIVE-O (18 hours, 2017-18) taps new team members Meaghan Rath and Beluah Koale for its eighth season of adventure, with cases involving a deadly arsonist (Randy Couture) and a cunning hacker (Joey Lawrence). All 25 episodes from the Five-O revival’s eighth season are included with 16:9 transfers, 5.1 sound, deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel, and a host of featurettes including a look at star Alex O’Loughlin doing double-duty by helming an episode as well.
THE GOOD KARMA HOSPITAL Series 2 Blu-Ray (288 mins., 2018; Acorn/RLJ Entertainment): Amrita Acharia returns as Dr. Ruby Walker with Amanda Redman as her boss, Dr. Lydia Fonseca – workers at the financially strapped Good Karma Hospital in rural India – in Season 2 of the Acorn TV series. This colorful and acclaimed program balances a mix of storylines along with strong location shooting – perfect for Blu-Ray, as it turns out. Acorn’s attractive Blu-Ray edition is out this week including 1080p transfers, 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks and a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette.
ONCE UPON A TIME: Season 7 [Final Season] DVD (943 mins., 2017-18; Disney): It’s unlikely, years from now, that fans of “Once Upon a Time” will look back fondly on the series’ seventh season – a strange attempt at rebooting the franchise from the prism of an older (recast) Henry Mills, who leaves home and runs into “remixed” elements from the series’ first (and far superior) six seasons. Given that “Once Upon a Time” pretty much came to a satisfying close with its Season 6 finale, it was surprising from the get-go that ABC opted to continue the program – minus most of its returning cast at that. The result was banished to Friday nights where the once highly-rated series struggled to gain traction, eventually concluding with a whimper after 22 episodes. Those final shows have been collected here in a good-looking Blu-Ray from Disney, featuring a format-exclusive commentary track and deleted scenes, featurettes, and additional deleted scenes and commentaries. The 1080p (1.78) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are all superb…Also new from ABC Studios this week is the concluding season of another, once highly-rated primetime staple: SCANDAL (2016-18), Shonda Rhimes’ soaper starring Kerry Washington. Increasingly hysterical story lines derailed what was a promising start for the series, but die-hard “Scandal” fans should still appreciate ABC’s bundle of the series’ 6th and 7th seasons, collected in a single DVD compilation dubbed “The Final Two Seasons.” Deleted scenes and two extended episodes (one from each season) are included in the box-set plus 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
S.W.A.T. Season One DVD (944 mins., 2017-18; Sony): The legendary ‘70s series is revived as a fairly typical CBS prime-time procedural. Shemar Moore heads the new S.W.A.T. as ex-Marine “Hondo” Harrelson, an L.A. native now fronting the LAPD’s last-resort for law enforcement. Harrelson’s roots at times clash with – but mostly provide an asset to – his duties on the tactical unit that saves the day just in the nick of time. Slickly produced albeit routine (as was its predecessor, of course), Sony brings S.W.A.T’s first season (2017-18) to DVD this week. Deleted scenes and a gag reel are included in the multi-disc set along with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
Warner Archive New Releases
A pair of Cinemascope releases from MGM debut in high-definition this month from Warner Archive, each boasting big stars, powerful scores, beautiful 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded transfers and full stereo soundtracks.
HOME FROM THE HILL (150 mins., 1959) stars Robert Mitchum as a Southern patriarch with a frigid wife (Eleanor Parker), a son (George Hamilton) who’s about to inherit his land and an illegitimate offspring (George Peppard) also vying for his affections. Their relationships are chronicled in a sprawling widescreen soaper from director Vincente Minnelli that’s marked by the always articulated characters of Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch, who adapted William Humphrey’s novel for this 1960 MGM production. Superbly scored by Bronislou Kaper, “Home From the Hill” received strong reviews but has never quite attained “classic” status – it’s possible the Archive’s superlative Blu-Ray transfer will help enhance its reputation, with the 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound likewise adding to the colorful big-screen drama.
Frank Sinatra, meanwhile, starred in MGM’s 1959 WWII adventure NEVER SO FEW (124 mins.), the story of American soldiers supporting guerilla fighters in Burma. O’l Blue Eyes nabs top billing – and romances Gina Lollobrigida in unnecessary scenes that bog John Sturges’ film down – but it’s the supporting cast that makes the film interesting – Steve McQueen (in a role designated for Sammy Davis Jr.) essentially launched himself into super-stardom with his performance here, while Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Brian Donlevy, Richard Johnson and Dean Jones acquit themselves well in support. It’s a formulaic but watchable picture again augmented in its overall entertainment value thanks to Warner’s dependable, detailed 1080p (2.35) transfer with 5.1 DTS MA sound, the latter offering a Hugo Friedhofer score.
New on DVD From Warner Archive: An early multi-media pioneer, Phillips Lord was a New Englander who created a successful character named Seth Parker that generated success in both print and the early days of radio. Lord’s Parker was an elderly man from the backwoods of Maine who was also the star of both a revue show as well as an RKO picture named WAY BACK HOME (81 mins.). This feature spin-off offers Lord as Parker, paired opposite Frank Albertson and Bette Davis, essaying star-crossed lovers who end up being sheltered by the “Sage of Sunday Evening.” An interesting if dated product from Lord (who was later involved with the long-running radio series “Gangbusters”), Warner Archive brings “Way Back Home” to DVD this month featuring a B&W 1.33 transfer and mono sound.
Also New & Noteworthy
New From Scream Factory: Nobody seems to miss the short-lived genre of “evil video game/interactive computer villains” first seen in “The Lawnmower Man.” Similarly themed “cutting edge” ‘90s thrillers included the likes of “Virtuosity” and “Hideaway,” while the dopeyBRAINSCAN (96 mins., 1994) featured Edward Furlong as a teen who runs afoul of a CD-ROM creep named “The Trickster” (T. Ryder Smith). Frank Langella is the cop who thinks Furlong has serious issues in this Spring ’94 box-office fizzle from director John Flynn, notable today for offering a script by future “Seven” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker. Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray, out this week, includes a handful of extras: new interviews with Walker, Smith, composer George S. Clinton, and various make-up artists, along with a commentary from Tara Georges Flynn talking about the film. A deleted scene, behind the scenes footage, trailers, a 1080p (1.78) transfer and 2.0 DTS MA audio comprise Shout’s Sony-licensed Blu-Ray edition…Brooke Adams plays a woman who’s forced to try invitro-fertilization to have children in THE UNBORN (83 mins., 1991), a feeble Roger Corman/New Horizons production that attempts to update the schlocky Larry Cohen thrills served up by the “It’s Alive” series. Unfortunately for Adams, her doctor is a nefarious type played by James Karen who’s really trying to create a super-human fetus – it all goes where you’d expect in “The Unborn,” which counts early performances from the likes of Lisa Kudrow and Kathy Griffin in its slender 83-minute running time. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes a new commentary from director Rodman Flender and filmmaker Adam Simon, the trailer, a 1080p (1.85) transfer and 2.0 stereo DTS MA sound.
A decent supernatural thriller making its Blu-Ray debut from Scream this September, THE SEVENTH SIGN (97 mins., 1988, R) stars Demi Moore as a woman who finds out she and her unborn child have something to do with the end of the world – a prophecy foretold by a mysterious drifter (Jurgen Prochnow) who just rented Moore and her husband’s (Michael Biehn) studio apartment. Nicely shot in scope by Juan Ruiz Anchia, “The Seventh Sign” isn’t exactly bristling with excitement, but it’s an above-average exercise from director Carl Schultz and writers Clifford and Ellen Green, veterans of “Baby” and “Spacecamp” who authored the script (albeit under pseudonyms). Moore is quite good here as well, anchoring the film with one of her stronger performances. Scream’s Blu-Ray boasts a fine 1080p (2.35) Sony-licensed transfer with 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound, while a slew of new interviews include conversations with Biehn, Shultz, the Greens, and supporting players Peter Friedman and John Taylor…Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s anthology GHOST STORIES (98 mins., 2017, Not Rated) bows this week from Scream Factory on Blu-Ray. Nyman also stars in the film as a professor whose scientific attempts to disprove the supernatural are shaken by a case file that – naturally – contains three stories (starring Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther and Paul Whitehouse) with creepy components. Based on their stage play (!), Nyman and Dyson’s “Ghost Stories” includes a 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1/2.0 DTS MA sound in Scream’s Blu-Ray edition.
MINDGAME Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack (103 mins., 2004; GKids/Shout Factory): Anime fans should rejoice over the belated North American home video release of Masaaki Yuasa’s 2004 sensation — a trippy collage of artistic styles, offbeat humor and metaphysical fantasy. “Mindgame” follows an aspiring comic book artist who loses his lifelong love to the Yukuza and is soon sent to the afterlife himself. However, Nishi resists his fate and returns with the hope of correcting his mistakes in this outlandish anime effort, one that fans have hoped to see in the U.S. since its debut nearly 14 years ago. Gkids’ BluRay/DVD combo pack is out this week and includes an attractive 1080p (2.39) transfer and 5.1 Japanese audio (DTS MA with English subtitles) along with selected-scene commentary, production artwork galleries, a feature-length animatic version, and the trailer.
BOUND Olive Signature Blu-Ray (108/109 mins., 1996, R/Unrated; Olive): Olive continues its fine Signature series with a revisit of the Wachowski Brothers’ 1996 indie hit with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as the lesbian lovers who try to embezzle $2 million and put the blame on the latter’s mob boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano). Dino DeLaurentiis produced this sleekly produced – if somewhat overpraised – thriller with excellent turns from all three leads, one that Olive previously released on Blu-Ray several years back. This new Signature release is a big improvement in terms of encoding and overall quality, boasting both versions of the film (R-rated and its unrated cut) in a newer HD (1.85) master that’s superior to its predecessor. Extras include a commentary with the Wachowskis and the cast, plus interviews with titles designer Patti Podesta, cast members Gershon, Tilly and Christopher Meloni, plus the “Difference Between You And Me” and “Modern Noir” featurettes. The trailer and an essay from Guinevere Turner round out a nice upgrade for fans (limited to 3500 copies)
UPGRADE Blu-Ray Combo Pack (100 mins., 2018, R; Universal): “Insidious”’ co-creaor Leigh Whannell wrote and directed this intriguing sci-fi thriller, starring Logan Marshall-Green as a paralyzed man who agrees to a cutting-edge physical enhancement – the implementation of an Artificial Intelligence implant named STEM. This AI allows him not just mobility again but also a number of powers – but at what price? “Upgrade” offers a mix of familiar elements but works fairly well for what it is, ending on a satisfyingly unhinged note. Maybe 10 minutes too long, Universal’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p (2.39) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound, along with a Digital HD copy.
WHERE IS KYRA? Blu-Ray (98 mins., 2018, R; Universal): Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a strong performance in a regrettably dreary independent film which went straight to home video. As a divorcee who moves back into her elderly mother’s Brooklyn apartment, Pfeiffer does convey indication of her range in a contrived, character-driven story by director Andrew Dosunmu and co-writer Darci Picoult, who also scripted. Kiefer Sutherland is also on-hand as an understanding neighbor with his own hang-ups in “Where is Kyra?”, now on Blu from Universal featuring a 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound plus a Digital HD copy.
Lionsgate New Releases: BEAST (106 mins., 2018, R) offers an odd, modern psychological take on “Beauty and the Beast.” Jessie Buckley plays a young woman, still living at home, whose life changes when she meets an outgoing passerby (Johnny Flynn) who’s later accused of a series of murders. When that happens Buckely shows other sides of her personality in Michael Pearce’s independent film. The Roadside/30West co-production hits Blu-Ray from Lionsgate on September 4th featuring a 1080p (2.39) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, a featurette, photo gallery, the trailer and Digital HD…Actress Melissa Joan Hart produced and directed Lifetime’s THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (89 mins., 2018), an adaptation of Florence Engel Randall’s book that attempted to adhere more closely to its source material than Disney’s troubled feature version from the early 80s. The result is pretty much a hum-drum affair despite the presence of Angelica Huston in the Bette Davis role, with Lionsgate’s DVD including a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound. (Available September 11th)
TRENCH 11 DVD (91 mins., 2017, Not Rated; RLJE): As Allied troops hunt around abandoned underground bunkers, they uncover a biological weapon created by the Germans during WWI. From there, a parasite is unleashed – attacking them one by one – in Tyler Levine’s low-budget, Canadian-lensed horror, which mixes an interesting setting with familiar genre elements. Horror die-hards may want a look when RLJE releases “Trench 11” on DVD September 4th, featuring a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
New From Cinedigm: Those resourceful Canadians scared up some thrills ahead of Blumhouse’s later TRUTH OR DARE (88 mins., 2018) by producing their own take on the game months in advance. The result isn’t any worse than the 2018 spring box-office hit – in fact it’s more watchable if anything – as a group of teens unwisely decide to play Truth or Dare in a remote town on Halloween weekend, and quickly wish they hadn’t. Cinedigm brings the Nick Simon-directed effort to DVD September 4th in a no-frills presentation with a 16:9 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
UFO DVD (88 mins., 2018, PG-13; Sony): Gillian Anderson doesn’t stray far from her sci-fi roots in Ryan Eslinger’s perfunctory tale of a college student (Alex Sharp) who believes a number of mysterious airport sightings are UFOs – particularly when he had his own personal encounter with a UFO as a youngster. Ella Purnell and David Strathairn co-star in “UFO,” which premieres on DVD this week from Sony, featuring a 16:9 (2.39) transfer and 5.1 sound.
Well Go New Releases: BROTHERS (96 mins., 2016) is set in Civil War-ravaged 1936 China, where one sibling and his Red Army troops take on the Kuomintang Army and an opposing soldier who happens to be the brother he left behind 5 years before. This Hong Kong production debuts on DVD September 4th from Well Go featuring a Making Of, the trailer, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound (Mandarin with English subtitles).
RBG Blu-Ray (98 mins., 2018, PG; Magnolia): The life and times of 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are profiled in Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary, one which plays to Ginsburg’s increasing importance to the left on the current court, as well as her newfound fame in certain pop-culture circles. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray, available this week, includes deleted/extended scenes, additional interviews, the trailer, a 1080p (1.78) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA audio.
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