The one thing you can say, positively, about the film is that — unlike the mediocre retreads served up by today’s blockbusters — “The Heretic” is never boring. Credit that to Boorman, whose career-long ability to follow a great movie (“Deliverance,” “Excalibur”) with an incomprehensible folly (“Zardoz” an d this turkey) produced an audacious but unspeakably awkward film that could never be made in today’s even more controlling studio system.
Part of the problem is that it’s clear Boorman didn’t actually care for William Friedkin’s classic 1973 adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s book. The theological components that enriched Blatty’s tome are entirely discarded here for more of a straight fantasy piece with a wooden Richard Burton sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding Father Merrin’s (Max Von Sydow) death. That leads the veteran Vatican priest to New York, where a recovering Regan MacNeil (the engagingly chirpy Linda Blair) is trying to recover from her childhood possession with the help of a psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher, fresh off her “Cuckoo’s Nest” Oscar win). Turns out the big bad demon isn’t just still around but even has a name – Pazuzu – which Burton uncovers as he treks around the globe and even Africa, where he meets a doctor (James Earl Jones) who was possessed by the same monster as a child.
In a new interview, Linda Blair says that the film’s top-flight cast signed on to “The Heretic” on the basis of William Goodhart’s screenplay. Apparently more tonally aligned with its predecessor, Goodhart’s script was overhauled a number of times by Boorman and, one would assume, his “Creative Associate” Rospo Pallenberg – all to the detriment of the picture, according to the actress.
It’s easy to see why, too, since this sequel is such a goofy mess on every conceivable level. Burton was a fill-in for Boorman’s first choice, Jon Voight, and the actor looks mostly disinterested as he continuously mutters “Pa-zu-zu” throughout the film. Blair mentions that Burton relied more and more on cue cards as shooting progressed, which is evident in his mostly moribund performance. Supporting roles from Fletcher, a returning Kitty Winn (Ellen Burstyn had the good sense to turn the picture down), and Von Sydow (weak flashback scenes) fail to make much of an impression, leaving a teenage Blair – who hadn’t been in a feature film since the original – to shoulder too much of the film’s load. Blair is cute and bouncy throughout “The Heretic,” basically giving the same carefree performance that she’d later bring to the likes of “Roller Boogie” – and it’s pretty much completely at odds with the supposed horror that Boorman totally fails to deliver in this all-time mess.
William A. Fraker’s cinematography and Ennio Morricone’s score lead an accomplished artistic team but it’s safe to say “Exorcist II” is going to be best appreciated by Bad Movie fans, the audience who will eat up Scream Factory’s new, double-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray.
Previously available in a poor-looking Warner Blu-Ray, “Exorcist II” gets a needed 2K scan from original film elements, in two different versions of the film: the 117-minute theatrical cut (which wasn’t available on home video in the early days), and Boorman’s much shorter 102-minute “European cut.” This abbreviated version, which tries to remove most of the film’s unintentional comedy and poor edits, followed the director’s 110-minute “revised theatrical release” (not included here), which viewers may be most familiar with from the movie’s first VHS release. (There was another version – a TV cut of the film – which ended up on VHS by accident at some point, because I recall renting it and wondering why there was so little profanity and violence for an R rated film!). The transfer is an improvement on the Warner disc in terms of color and brightness, though less so in terms of detail, since elements in the source materials that appeared soft or grainy still look that way here. The original mono sound remains untouched in a DTS MA track.
New interviews with Blair and a brief talk with editor Tom Priestley comprise the on-camera new extras, along with trailers (the “prologue” Boorman added to the re-cut of the film is present in the 102-minute version), and three new commentaries. One is provided by Boorman, which has some good information though it takes a bit of patience to get to the “good stuff,” while the other talk by “special project consultant” Scott Michael Bosco offers more in the way of trivia but is often disorganized. More production information is relayed in a superior commentary by Mike White on the 102-minute version.
Bad is also good – or at least hilariously funny – in the uproarious SCREAM FOR HELP (89 mins., 1984, R).Following the success of “Psycho II,” screenwriter Tom Holland found himself in hot demand. Holland managed to hook up his “Cloak and Dagger” script with the Hitch sequel’s director – Aussie helmer Richard Franklin – but had to sit helplessly by as his original screenplay for “Scream For Help” ended up in the less than capable hands of the prolific (and, by then, often prolifically bad) Michael Winner.
The result – a coming-of-age teen thriller set in the U.S., shot in England and packed with both bad performances and stilted direction – was a disaster that Lorimar refused to theatrically release. Making its home video debut circa 1986, the film would become something of a legend amongst bad movie buffs, who came to embrace its goofy story of a New York suburban teen (Rachael Kelly) who becomes an R-rated Nancy Drew as she attempts to piece together her new stepfather’s plans to murder her well-off mom.
It takes just a few seconds for the viewer to realize something is very, very “off” with “Scream For Help” – between Winner’s direction and the swelling musical strains of John Paul Jones, this is one of those “only in the ‘80s” misfires that, kind of like Tobe Hooper’s subsequent (also shot in the UK) “Lifeforce,” ends up an unintentional comedy since it’s played so straight.
Despite the picture’s cult reputation, “Scream For Help” never made it past VHS – no laserdisc or DVD ever followed. Even Warner’s digital download version is the ‘80s video master, down to 4:3 framing and standard-definition jaggies. Shout Factory, however, is here to make good at last for the film’s fans, presenting a wonderful 2K scan (1.85) from the interpositive. Color, framing, contrast – all of it bests any presentation you’ve ever seen of the film. Special features are fun – at least the interviews with Tom Holland, who bemoans Winner’s direction of his script (Franklin had chosen to make the ill-fated ape flop “Link” instead), and actor David Brooks. Less entertaining is a commentary from “Hysteria Lives!,” which analyzes the film’s socio-cultural components and too often sounds like a stuffy slice of cinematic academia. Turn it off and just enjoy the movie in all its awfulness, in high-def at last.
Another memorable cinematic turkey found affable comic Chris Elliott – best known for his appearances on “Late Night With David Letterman” during Dave’s ‘80s pinnacle – setting sail on the silver screen in 1994 for his one and only feature film vehicle: CABIN BOY (80 mins., PG-13).
Produced by Tim Burton and then-partner Denise Di Novi, “Cabin Boy” was meant to bridge Elliott’s comedic sensibilities with something of a Harryhausen-esque fantasy involving a “fancy lad” (guess who) who takes the wrong boat (“The Filthy Whore”) home from finishing school and learns to “become a man” in the process. The spoof comes complete with weird creatures and appearances from a myriad of character actors (James Gammon, Brion James, Brian Doyle-Murray, Russ Tamblyn, Ann Magnuson, Mike Starr), future Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter and a memorable cameo from Letterman himself.
Unfortunately for Elliott and his writer/director cohort Adam Resnick, Letterman’s cameo is the highlight of “Cabin Boy,” which for the most part plays like a five-minute sketch stretched to feature length in a most peculiar and bizarre manner. As much of an Elliott fan as I was, I always felt he was funnier playing comedy straight as opposed to his later efforts embodying a childish fool – which is what Elliott portrayed in the TV comedy “Get a Life” and reprised here to mostly grating effect. There are some sporadic laughs but between the thinness of the material and Touchstone’s in-house edits, which even cut the movie’s final shot short (along with Steve Bartek’s music, the picture ends on an incomprehensibly melancholic note), “Cabin Boy” is a movie best savored in small doses – if at all.
Kino Lorber’s Special Edition Blu-Ray of “Cabin Boy” includes a striking supplemental package. You might expect Resnick and Elliott to do what most participants involved with a failed film do and laugh it off – but that’s precisely not what happens here. Obviously still hurt from the overall experience, Resnick and Elliott detail the pain of sitting through a disastrous test screening in which most of the audience walked out – and their producers left without even talking to them. While mostly the brunt of subsequent jokes on Letterman’s show (Touchstone barely gave the film a theatrical run), the film’s reputation cost both of them work that took, as Resnick says, a full decade to recover from – and the duo, who had also collaborated on “Get a Life,” never worked together again.
It’s that kind of honesty that propels the candid interviews here, along with a commentary with Elliott and Resnick, moderated by author Mike Sacks. The pair talk about Letterman’s support of the film, while the obvious Burton touch can be both seen (in the movie’s assorted practical effects work) and heard (Bartek’s Elfman-esque score). Additional extras include the trailer, TV spots, B-roll footage and eight minutes of outtakes, plus a slew of archival cast interviews and audition tapes. Kino’s 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA 2.0 stereo sound are both solid for one of the year’s most unexpected Special Edition releases.
Also New From Kino Lorber
OSCAR Blu-Ray (***, 109 mins., 1991, PG; Kino Lorber): Underrated comedy was bashed by most critics mainly because of Sylvester Stallone’s participation – and that’s somewhat understandable, since Sly was in the midst of a sluggish period (sandwiched inbetween “Rocky V” and “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!”) at the time of “Oscar”’s release. That said, director John Landis’ variation on a French farce is disarmingly energetic and packed with terrific performances – yes, even from Stallone himself, playing the unforgettably named “Snaps” Provolone – a Chicago gangster who pledges to his dying father (a Kirk Douglas cameo) that he’ll go straight. Mistaken identities and endless comedic shenanigans, mostly revolving Snaps’ tempestuous daughter (a delightful early role for Marisa Tomei), ensue in one of Landis’ most appealing films from the ‘90s. Everything about the film is fun, from the period costumes and production design (shot in L.A. plus Universal Orlando and Disney MGM in Florida!) down to Elmer Bernstein’s classically-adapted scoring. But it’s mostly the cast that wins you over: Stallone is surprisingly spry working opposite Tomei while Peter Riegert, Tim Curry, Vincent Spano, Ornella Muti, Kurtwood Smith, Chazz Palminteri, Yvonne De Carlo, Don Ameche and Eddie Bracken shine in support.
A movie some critics seemed to ravage for no good reason other than dump on Stallone (Siskel & Ebert at least got it right), “Oscar” makes its Blu-Ray debut in a fine Kino Lorber release. The AVC encoded (1.85) transfer and DTS MA 2.0 stereo sound are above par for Touchstone catalog masters, and an entertaining interview with the always engaging Landis is provided on the supplemental side. Landis divulges that Stallone performed well after the movie’s initial star backed out because of financial demands (I assume he’s talking about Danny DeVito but doesn’t mention him by name), and the perils of moving to Florida after a fire took down the sets on the Universal lot. He also relays the hilarious one-day shooting of Douglas on the lot, and how it brought back bad memories of his work on “First Blood” (Douglas quit after the filmmakers refused to change the ending and have Rambo killed) – which spilled over into Douglas’ physical handling of Stallone, which wasn’t just a “movie slap”!
BAT 21 Blu-Ray (***, 105 mins., 1988, R; Kino Lorber): Underrated, no-frills account of a veteran lieutenant (Gene Hackman) who’s shot down in Vietnam and the reconnaissance pilot (Danny Glover) who tries to save his skin behind enemy lines until a rescue mission can be carried out. William Anderson’s book was condensed into this entertaining, star-driven vehicle helmed by Peter Markle and featuring two strong, convincing performances from Hackman and Glover. “Bat 21” opened in October 1988 and didn’t perform well at the box-office – fatigue from the Vietnam genre, perhaps, and the fact that the movie didn’t offer a lot of political commentary – just a story based in fact that’s well told – prevented the film from making much noise at the time of its release. Very much worthwhile, “Bat 21” debuts on Blu-Ray in one of the better MGM catalog transfers I’ve seen of late (Tri-Star bought the film and released it but didn’t retain home video distribution). The 1080p (1.85) transfer has nice grain texture and the 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound houses a pleasing dynamic range and a supportive score by Christopher Young. A commentary from Markle is new to this release.
THE GREAT SCOUT AND CATHOUSE THURSDAY Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 1976, PG; Kino Lorber):Forgettable if likeably performed western stars Lee Marvin and Oliver Reed (now that must have been a set to be on!) as Old West con men looking to get back at Marvin’s former partner – a wily prospector turned politician who also fleeced Marvin’s girl (Elizabeth Ashley). Strother Martin, Sylvia Miles and Kay Lenz also star in this mostly unremarkable American-International release, helmed by Don Taylor inbetween genre assignments like “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “Escape From The Planet of the Apes” and “Damien: Omen II.” A respectable 1080p (1.85) transfer from MGM comprises Kino’s Blu-Ray with DTS MA mono sound, the latter featuring a dated score by John Cameron.
GOOD TIMES Blu-Ray (**½, 91 mins., 1967; Kino Lorber): Sonny & Cher’s one-and-only big screen vehicle is an enjoyable lark finding the duo playing themselves – and agreeing to star in a movie which Sonny takes a swipe at writing the script. This leads to a number of sketches and musical numbers – the kinds that the duo would subsequently use on their TV show – but handled with a lot of energy, some good music and direction from a young William Friedkin, making his directorial debut. “Good Times” is a period piece to be sure but it’s a fun for what it is, and both Kino’s Disney-licensed 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA mono sound are quite good. Friedkin provides an engaging interview while commentary from Lee Gambin details the project’s background, having been financially successful even before it was released thanks to Columbia having picked it up for distribution.
THE PINK PANTHER CARTOON COLLECTION Volume 3 Blu-Ray (138 mins., 1968-69; Kino Lorber):Though the Pink Panther film series endured a long hiatus and a few misses at the box-office, the affable, loveable title character enjoyed an even longer, and more consistently successful, career as the star of over 100 animated shorts (not to mention numerous TV series and commercials).
Produced by David DePatie and Friz Freleng, the Pink Panther made his solo debut as the star of 1964’s “The Pink Phink” and promptly won an Oscar for his efforts. If that wasn’t enough, the Panther would go on to star in 123 other shorts, the 1968-69 portion of which have been assembled on Blu-Ray for the first time thanks to Kino Lorber’s third volume of Pink Panther cartoons.
The Panther cartoons — for anyone who didn’t grow up having seen them (which was tough to do since every generation has had the shorts or series available for viewing in one form or another) — are almost always amusing for kids and adults alike. The general lack of dialogue made the shorts easily accessible to all countries and they remain of universal appeal today, with the Depatie-Freleng staff having concocted ingenious trappings for the Pink Panther’s brand of physical comedy to play off, whether it was in a modern setting, in prehistoric times, or in parodies of familiar literature or film.
Volume three of the series finds the cartoons settling into a comfortable groove via a number of enjoyable shorts. Kino here collects the Panther’s 1968-69 run which includes the fan favorites “In The Pink of the Night,” “Think Before You Pink,” “Prehistoric Pink,” “G.I. Pink,” “Pink the Clink” and “Pink-a-Rella.” The Panther often matches wits with the vaguely Clouseau-looking “Little Man” in the cartoons, while new supporting extras include commentaries featuring historians Jerry Beck and Mark Arnold, plus fellow authorities Greg Ford, William Hohauser and Mike Kazaleh. The previously released featurette “Behind the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon” includes interviews with DePatie and Blake Edwards, while the transfers are mostly all just fine MGM catalog fare (1.33).
Also New From Shout!
THE BRIDE Blu-Ray (***, 118 mins., 1985, PG-13; Shout): A box-office flop from August of ’85, Columbia’s “The Bride” is a flawed but generally underrated picture — an overtly romantic remake of “The Bride of Frankenstein” that’s much more interesting for its “secondary” plot than its principal one. As the titular heroine, Jennifer Beals looks fine but comes off as stilted opposite Sting’s smug doctor. More effective is writer Lloyd Fonvielle’s tale of the original, cast-off monster (Clancy Brown) finding his way in the real world with the help of a circus dwarf (David Rappaport from “Time Bandits”). Handsomely shot by Stephen H. Burum and graced with one of Maurice Jarre’s four marvelous scores from 1985 (“Witness,” “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and “Enemy Mine” also comprised the quartet), “The Bride” is both a bit flabby and hampered by an ending that wasn’t fully realized. Frankenstein fans are also likely to dismiss the lack of terror and gothic atmosphere — but on its own terms it’s worthy of reappraisal, especially now in Shout’s splendid Blu-Ray. The Sony licensed transfer (1.78) and 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound are each excellent, with new, lengthy interviews on-hand with both Clancy Brown and director Franc Roddam, who seemingly set out to make something a little different than the love story he ended up with. Roddam’s 2001 DVD commentary has also been ported over, one where he doesn’t seem overly enamored with Jarre’s score.
“Braveheart” screenwriter Randall Wallace didn’t turn out to be much of a director, with the first of his directorial outings coming with THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (**, 132 mins., 1998, PG-13).This United Artists release offers both a superb cast — Leonard DiCaprio, coming off “Titanic,” opposite Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu and Gabriel Byrne as the Musketeers — and robust source material, but alas, Wallace’s claustrophobic, often stilted direction gets in the way, resulting in a mostly mediocre and lifeless picture. Shout’s Blu-Ray has been mastered from a 4K source, boasting new interviews with producer Paul Hitchcock and production designer Anthony Pratt, plus Wallace’s commentary and featurettes from MGM’s prior releases. The 1080p (1.85) transfer, 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA soundtracks are superb even though Nick Glennie Smith’s score isn’t going to evoke memories of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
THE REC COLLECTION Blu-Ray (Shout): Before it was remade as the inferior American remake “Quarantine,” filmmaker Jaume Balaguero collaborated with co-writer Paco Plaza for REC (78 mins., 2007, R), a short but effective slice of Spanish terror.
The plot is similar to its subsequent U.S. remake, with a TV reporter (Manuel Velasco) called to the scene of an emergency while producing a documentary on firefighters. There the group finds more than they bargained for with zombified apartment building residents and all kinds of chaos going on. Well-directed but somewhat undernourished dramatically (it runs under 80 minutes with credits), the original “Rec” is still worth a view, particularly considering the mixed results of its sequels.
Speaking of those, the mediocre REC 2 (85 mins., 2009, R) followed and was, of course, itself followed by REC 3: GENESIS (80 mins., 2012, R). “Genesis” is the series’ rock bottom: a tepid “prequel” that tries – and fails – to mix some humor into the mix with the zombie/plague/whatever-it-is breaking out at an unfortunate wedding between Leticia Dolera and Diego Martin. Director Paco Plaza struggles to inject a freshness into the series and the unpleasant ending seals the deal. However, Jaume Balaguero returned to direct REC 4: APOCALYPSE (95 mins., 2014, R), the “final” installment set hours after the original, where the same TV reporter (Manuela Velascol, reprising her original role) carries the deadly virus to a quarantine area – just in time to infect a new group of victims. Slow-paced, this will primarily appeal to fans of the series, but it’s at least superior to the prior sequels.
Shout’s four-disc Blu-Ray anthology includes the entire series run with 1080p (1.85 on the first two films, 2.35 on parts 3-4) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA Spanish tracks with English subs (the original “Rec” also includes a dubbed English track). Extras are in abundance, carried over mostly from Sony’s prior DVD releases, including Making Of featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes materials and other goodies.
Shout has also rolled out a new Collector’s Edition of the Halloween ’99 box-office hit THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (**, 93 mins., R), a remake of the 1959 Vincent Price thriller that, truth be told, wasn’t a classic of the genre.
This new version isn’t, either, but it does have its moments: Geoffrey Rush, doing what appears to be more of a James Woods imitation than anything else, plays a crazy amusement park designer who invites a motley assortment of guests together for a party in a former insane asylum. Turns out that Rush’s mechanical gadgets only go so far as to explain the truly supernatural phenomena that follow as ghosts of the former mental patients (including mad surgeon Jeffrey Combs) turn up and have a grand o’l time ousting the partygoers one-by-one.
The effects are passable but the most fun comes from watching the cast at work: Rush is amusing, and SNL’s Chris Kattan gets a few laughs in playing the Elisha Cook role. Ali Larter and Taye Diggs make for a pair of appealing protagonists, while former actress-on-the-rise Bridgette Wilson (Sampras), singer Lisa Loeb, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”‘s James “Spike” Marsters appear in secondary roles. Director William Malone pushes the gore quotient and jacks up the Dolby Digital soundtrack (and Don Davis’s score) to their highest possible limits, but ultimately all the razzle-dazzle can go so far as to cover for a rather pedestrian screenplay that leaves a lot of explaining to do when all is said and done.
Shout’s Blu-Ray, out October 9th, hails from a new 2K scan (1.85) from original film elements and includes new interviews with composer Don Davis and director William Malone. Additional extras are ported over from earlier Warner releases including commentary and several deleted scenes featuring Debi Mazar, cut from the finished print. It’s a moderately entertaining ride for horror fans.
ROLLING STONE: STORIES FROM THE EDGE Blu-Ray (Aprx. 5 hours, 2017; Shout! Factory): Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney and Blair Foster produced this chronicle of Rolling Stone magazine and its 50 years of publication. At its best, this presentation from HBO is filled with revealing insights into, and a vivid portrait of, the changing pop-music culture. Featuring performances from a predictably diverse crew (Janis Joplin, Ice-T, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, The Sex Pistols and many others), the documentary serves to show how relevant the publication was – and also, inadvertently, irrelevant it is these days (especially in lieu of its incessant political pandering). Shout’s Blu-Ray is still certainly worthwhile for music fans, featuring 5.1 DTS MA audio, 1080p (1.78) transfers, deleted scenes and extended interviews…the wonderful Mackenzie Davis gets another chance to shine in IZZY GETS THE F*CK ACROSS TOWN (86 mins., 2017), a genuinely enjoyable indie comedy-drama about a rambling mess of a twentysomething (Davis) and her efforts to traverse L.A. in order to break up the relationship between her ex and former best friend. Davis’ committed performance is terrific and anchors this uneven but generally amusing affair, co-starring a wacky cast including Carrie Coon, Haley Joel Osment and Annie Potts. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes commentary from director-writer Christian Papierniak, a documentary, deleted scenes, the trailer, 1080p (2.35) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound…From IFC Midnight and Scream Factory comes FERAL (91 mins., 2016, Unrated), Mark H. Young’s tale of a rabid zombie virus that begins to affect a group of college students on a camping trip. Beyond the twist that the lead characters are a pair of young lesbians “Feral” is pretty familiar stuff with a decent cast including Scout Taylor-Compton from Rob Zombie’s terrible “Halloween” films. Scream’s Blu-Ray is out featuring a 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound…Set in 1943 Norway, THE 12th MAN (136 mins., 2017) is an impressively mounted true story of Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullesyad), a WWII resistance fighter on the run from the Nazis in a barren, snow-covered Scandinavia. Lengthy, slow-moving and yet believably rendered, Harald Zwart’s grueling film comes to Blu-Ray this week from Shout sporting both the original Norwegian/German audio (subtitled) and an English dub. The 1080p (2.40) transfer is just fine.
New on DVD From Shout Factory is WHEN CALLS THE HEART: 6-MOVIE COLLECTION, a multi-disc set featuring all six TV-movies from the highly rated Hallmark Channel series’ most recent “Year Five.” Shout has bundled these together with 16:9 transfers and stereo sound, along with a Walmart exclusive Gift Set featuring Brian Bird and Michelle Cox’s devotional book “When God Calls The Heart.” Available October 16th…The source for the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” was the Japanese series SUPER SENTAI (17 hours, 1991-92), specifically “Chojin Sentai Jetman.” While the 15th iteration of the franchise, this one introduced five humans gifted super powers, four of them by accident, as they battled the vile Vyram. Colorful action and kid-centric fun that provided a blueprint for the later Saban series, Shout brings all 51 episodes of “Chojin Sentai Jetman” to DVD with 1.33 transfers and stereo soundtracks, in Japanese with English subtitles…Coming October 2nd is Shout’s inaugural “Sesame Street” DVD, ELMO’S WORLD: ELMO EXPLORES! (122 mins., 2018), a compilation disc featuring two hours of fun for youngsters with the lovable furry monster tackling 13 topics. Bonus features include a trio of classic Elmo’s World episodes and two episodes from the series “The Furchester Hotel”…Finally, new on DVD from Shout is ALL STYLES (91 mins., 2018), the story of a hip-hop artist who heads off to college but loses his girlfriend as well as his dance crew in the process. He subsequently signs up a whole new group of friends and heads for a national dance battle in this independent production, new to disc with outtakes, a behind-the-scenes EPK, 16:9 transfer and 5.1/2.0 soundtracks.
X-MEN 3-FILM COLLECTION 4K UHD (Fox): Perhaps spurred by their forthcoming Disney takeover (likely to be a blow to physical media owners one way or the other), Fox has been issuing all kinds of 4K UHD catalog releases lately – most recently diving into the Marvel waters with an anthology of the first three “X-Men” films, all in spectacular new HDR-enhanced HVEC transfers.
Bryan Singer’s original X-MEN (**½, 104 mins., 2000, PG-13) started off the trilogy and remains an entertaining, brisk adaptation in spite of some glaring flaws. Singer may have been an unusual choice to helm “X-Men” at the time but the long-awaited, modestly budgeted big-screen movie of the famous Marvel comic satisfied its legion of fans who grew up reading the exploits of Professor Xavier, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and the motley assortment of mutants battling the forces of evil in a future not too far removed from our own.
For everyone else, “X-Men” remains a bit of a detached experience — and it’s never as compelling or fun as you’d like it to be. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are perfect as Professor X and Magneto, but while Hugh Jackman gives a strong performance as Wolverine and I enjoyed Anna Paquin’s Rogue, too many of the other supporting turns are lifeless — from Famke Jenssen’s Jean Grey to an awful turn by Halle Berry as Storm.
The plot — a mishmash of origin stories and the creation of a device built by Magneto that could wipe out our world leaders — never fully engages the viewer, outside of providing an arena for the Marvel heroes to come to life in several well-choreographed fight sequences. Those individual moments are fine and entertaining for fans, but there’s just something hollow about the rest of “X-Men” that prevents it from being a classic.
Singer’s movie also wasn’t done any favors by some shoddy, rushed production tweaking, including a so-so array of special effects and a lousy soundtrack. If music scores could kill movies, perhaps Michael Kamen’s disappointing outing put the final dagger into “X-Men” (I originally called Kamen’s score “atrocious noise” — upon reflection of where film music has gone since the year 2000, it’s not nearly that bad, but it still doesn’t provide the picture with the needed dramatic support it requires).
The movie still managed to effortlessly rake in millions despite its shortcomings, and Singer delivered the goods with the bigger and better (if oddly titled) X2: X-MEN UNITED (***, 134 mins., 2003, PG-13), which finds our favorite Marvel mutants combating a villainous military man (Brian Cox) intent on starting a war between humans and those who are “different.”
X2 has generally been held in high esteem by fans as one of the best comic book movies, and it’s a quite entertaining ride that crams an awful lot of characters and plots into its 133 minute running time. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Halle Berry’s Storm and Famke Jenssen’s Jean Grey are given most of the spotlight in this go-round, reluctantly joining forces for a brief time with the evil Magneto (Ian McKellen again, looking as if he’s having a great time) as they try to squelch a battle with humankind. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, with not a whole lot to do here) is kidnapped by Cox for equally nefarious purposes, and we’re introduced to Nightcrawler, a blue-toned good guy perfectly played by Alan Cumming in a role that offers a nice contrast to the other members of the team.
It takes a while for X2 to get going, but once it does, the movie provides rousing comic book entertainment. Jackman is again terrific as the tough-as-nails Wolverine, anchoring the movie with enough star charisma to hold the various storylines together. The action scenes are crisply edited (kudos to John Ottman) and choreographed, and the film is remarkably well balanced for a story that tries to juggle an awful lot of narrative threads in the air throughout.
If there’s a downside, however, it’s in the script’s almost incessant set-up for future sequels and occasional pretentiousness. Furthermore, the ending is an almost blatant steal from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” right down to a main character’s narration and swelling orchestral music from Ottman.
Singer departed the series for the ill-fated “Superman Returns,” leading director Brett Ratner to jump onboard X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (***, 104 mins., 2006, PG-13).
Die-hard comic book aficionados disliked Ratner’s more colorful, action-oriented approach right from the get-go, and basically castigated “The Last Stand” even in the weeks and months leading up to its release. In spite of their endless trashing of the film on the web, “X-Men III” managed to be wildly successful at the box-office, outgrossing both of its predecessors in the process.
Ratner’s movie, much like the first “X-Men,” isn’t without its faults, as it seeks to tie up the loose ends of X2 and moves at a breakneck pace as it chronicles Jean Grey’s resurrection as the Phoenix. Yes, the Simon Kinberg-Zak Penn script deviates substantially from the original comic storyline, yet the picture works quite well on its own terms, with vivid cinematography by Dante Spinotti that’s warmer and more evocative than the darker hues provided by Singer and Newton Thomas Sigel on the preceding efforts. “The Last Stand” may not be the greatest comic book film ever produced, but it’s certainly far better than its reputation among certain viewers would lead you to believe, and is capped by a particularly satisfying John Powell score.
Fox’s 4K UHD releases are just splendid – color, detail, and contrasts are all hugely pleasing and offer a nice upgrade on the already-excellent Blu-Ray editions. Fans may be disappointed in the lack of Atmos audio (you’ll have to live with 6.1 DTS MA instead) and the extras from each film’s “Special Features” platter haven’t been carried over (though a good amount of extras, commentaries and deleted scenes, have) – but the a/v presentation is stellar, and there will be few quibbles with how good each film looks on UHD. The first disc from each film’s last Blu-Ray release and a Digital HD copy round out the package.
THE FIRST PURGE 4K UHD Combo Pack (98 mins., 2018, R; Universal): The never-ending “Purge” franchise turns back the clock for this tale of the very first title event – set in an isolated community before the New Founding Fathers’ plan spilled over to the rest of the country. By now you’ve either seen and embraced this low-budget series or passed it by, with “The First Purge” netting poor reviews, even by the standards of the series. Franchise vet James DiMonaco’s script is right in line with its predecessors, embracing a hyper-left view of patriotism that’s both silly and sick. Universal’s 4K Ultra HD package is out this week, including an HDR enhanced transfer (2.39) with DTS X audio. The accompanying Blu-Ray offers a deleted scene and three featurettes, plus a Digital HD copy.
SKYSCRAPER 4K UHD Combo Pack (103 mins., 2018, PG-13; Universal): Not even The Rock is immune to the occasional flop, as evidenced by this dumb summer underachiever. Trying to play more of an “ordinary guy,” Dwayne Johnson here essays a security expert, on assignment in China (read: a transparent play for their box-office), whose latest facility is quickly engulfed in flames…with his family trapped inside. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s film is well produced technically, as expected, but the script is a pastiche of other, better films, and Johnson’s over-exposure (he seemed to be on a movie-a-month roll) arguably contributed to its failure. Universal’s 4K UHD includes both Dolby Atmos sound and a fine Dolby Vision/HDR transfer, with ILM’s effects looking superb on UHD. Extras include deleted/extended scenes, Thurber’s commentary, a slew of featurettes, a Blu-Ray and Digital HD copy.
Also New & Noteworthy
THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF Blu-Ray (82 mins., 1950; Flicker Alley): San Francisco location photography and a tough turn from Lee. J. Cobb combined for a gritty film noir, here restored on Blu-Ray thanks to the efforts of Flicker Alley, the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Televison archive. Cobb plays a grizzled homicide lieutenant who tries to cover up his girlfriend’s (Jane Wyatt) murder of her scheming husband in a taut and exciting film that was independently produced by Jack Warner’s son. John Dall co-stars as Cobb’s rookie-cop brother in a movie that’s long held a distinction among noir fans for its Bay Area locations, captured in a superb B&W transfer here by Flicker Alley.
The Blu-Ray/DVD dual-format presentation, now available, includes a mini-documentary on the film’s production; a look at the locations then and now; the trailer; and Flicker Alley’s superb booklet notes, featuring a reproduction of rare photographs, production materials, and vintage press clippings. Highly recommended for film noir fans!
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: CULT DVD (500 mins., 2017; Fox): Seventh season of Ryan Murphy and company’s patently bizarre mix of horror, dark comedy, social commentary and general weirdness brings back Sarah Paulson – here playing a lesbian who tries her hand at being a restaurateur along with her son and wife (Alison Pill). Unfortunately, Evan Peters’ cult leader throws a wrench in all their plans, leading to chaos. If you’re an AHS fan, Fox brings “Cult” to DVD featuring 16:9 transfers and 5.1 sound…Also new from Fox on DVD is THE GIFTED (569 mins., 2017-18)the Fox TV series about a family that finds out two of their kids have mutant powers. This Marvel adaptation/“X”-spinoff is character-driven and quite likeable once it kicks into gear, despite the familiarity of the material, with secondary Marvel characters like Eclipse, Blink, Polaris Thunderbird, Thunderbird and Jace Turner popping up. Fox’s Season 1 set of “The Gifted” includes all 12 episodes in 16:9 transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
PBS New Releases: Mister Rogers’ work on the landmark PBS series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is profiled yet again in MISTER ROGERS: IT’S YOU I LIKE (60 mins., 2018), a pleasant documentary with Michael Keaton – who worked on the series early in his career and hosted a prior look at the program – narrating an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Footage from the show is mixed with recent interviews from a variety of celebrities, from John Lithgow to Yo-Yo Ma, Izthak Perlman and Carroll Spinney among many others. Available October 2ndon DVD with over a half-hour of bonus video…Something different from the Masterpiece brand is on-tap in THE MINIATURIST (150 mins., 2017), an adaptation of Jessie Burton’s popular novel. Set in late 17th century Amsterdam, Anya Taylor-Joy plays a young woman about to become the wife of an affluent merchant (Alex Hassell), only to meet his sister (Romola Garai) and a certain dollhouse with an uncanny connection to reality. Well-cast and stylishly produced but slow moving, PBS’ Blu-Ray of “The Miniaturist” includes its full-length UK broadcast version with a 1080p widescreen transfer, a 2.0 stereo soundtrack and 40+ minute Making Of featurette.
Well Go New Releases: Available October 2nd, AFRAID (125 mins., 2014) is a lengthy independent horror outing from director Jason Goldberg. “Walking Dead”s Alanna Masterson stars with George Byrne as a couple who head off to a cabin in the woods, only to find out they’re being watched by the cabin’s owner. Overly familiar and really slow-going, “Afraid” debuts on DVD from Well Go featuring a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound…Coming October 16th in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is director Erik Matti’s Filipino import BUYBUST (127 mind., Not Rated), an ambitious action film starring Anne Curtis as a drug enforcement operative whose new squad — sent to take out a cartel that wiped out her old one — faces both the same enemy as well as civilians in an urban slum who also want them dead. Well Go’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes a Making Of, the 2018 Comic Con panel, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound in Filipino (with English subs) or dubbed English.
DC SUPER HERO GIRLS: LEGENDS OF ATLANTIS DVD (75 mins., 2018; Warner): Animated, kid-friendly original movie opens with sisters Siren and Mira stealing the “Book of Legends,” hoping to raise an aquatic army for worldwide domination. Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Supergirl swim to the rescue in this feature-length diversion based on the popular children’s series. Warner’s DVD, available this week, includes a bonus TV special (Super Hero High), a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Also new from Warner on DVD is the Fifth and Final Season of THE ORIGINALS (548 mins., 2017-18), the CW series spun off from the “Vampire Diaries.” Set seven years after the Mikaelson siblings left New Orleans, the Big Easy is now a peaceful place until a series of unfortunate tragedies bring them back for a final confrontation with a centuries-old evil. All 13 episodes from the series’ goodbye season are on-hand in Warner’s DVD, along with unaired scenes, a 2017 Comic Con panel, gag reel, Georgia location PSA’s, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
SAVING FAITH DVD (106 mins., 2018, G; Lionsgate) stars Jenn Gotzon as a woman who runs a small-town theater that’s about to be foreclosed upon. Her uncle and his famous friends – including Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Phil Vassar, and members of the Gatlin brothers – manage to perform live and save the day in this faith-based effort. Lionsgate’s now-available DVD includes cast/crew interviews, a music video, outtakes, a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
THE CATCHER WAS A SPY DVD (94 mins., 2018, R; Paramount): IFC Films production stars Paul Rudd in a definite change of pace role — essaying Moe Berg, a pro baseball player who was recruited towards the end of WWII to go behind enemy lines and assassinate the Nazi’s chief nuclear scientist, who was in the process of developing an atomic bomb. Ben Lewin’s film was scripted by Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan,” “The Patriot”) from Nicholas Dawidoff’s novel, and features Rudd playing off an impressive supporting cast including Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Tom Wilkinson, Giancarlo Giannini, Guy Pearce and Paul Giamatti. Paramount’s DVD of the IFC production includes deleted scenes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound.
MOLLY Blu-Ray (91 mins., 2018, Not Rated; Artspolitation): Dutch-produced post-apocalyptic teen adventure from co-directors Colina Bongers and Thijs Meuwese netted positive reviews at assorted festivals earlier this year. Julia Batelaan makes for an appealing young heroine – a girl with enhanced powers who manages to hold her own in a familiarly barren landscape with just a bow and an arrow. Shades of “Thunderdome” follow when a ringmaster of a futuristic fight club wants her as his star attraction. A commentary with Bongers and Meuwese plus a half-hour featurette are on-hand in Artspolitation’s Blu-Ray, available this week with a 1080p transfer and 5.1 English surround.
Film Movement New Releases: New this month on Blu-Ray from Film Movement is another entry in their Joseph Sarno retrospectives. Their latest anthology features CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE (84 mins., 1974) along with Sarno’s earlier B&W offerings SIN IN THE SUBURBS (90 mins., 1964) and WARM NIGHTS AND HOT PLEASURES (70 mins., 1964). New 2K digital restorations have been produced for each film (1.78) with extras including commentaries on “Sin” and “Housewife” by Lucas with another track featuring Sarno and assorted friends. Deleted scenes are also included on “Housewife”…Gustavo Rondon Cordova’s LA FAMILIA (82 mins., 2018) also bows on DVD this month from Film Movement. This acclaimed debut feature follows a young teen in Caracas who flees along with his father after he fatally injures another boy during an altercation. An interesting pursuit follows in Cordova’s film, new this week on video alongside a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound (Spanish with English subtitles), and Ladj Ly’s short film “Les Miserables.”
THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW – 50th Anniversary Special DVD (95 mins., 2018; Time Life): Emmy-nominated 50th Anniversary special premiered to over 15 million viewers on a CBS broadcast last December, proving there’s still ample interest in Carol Burnett’s legendary sketch comedy series. Burnett reunites here with numerous friends and fellow cast members (Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner) to pay tribute to the show. Time Life’s now-available DVD includes extensive bonus features (backstage interviews, red carpet footage) plus a commemorative booklet and personal message from Burnett.
NEXT TIME: Twilight Time’s autumn 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!