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There aren’t a lot of opportunities to talk about movies that push storytelling boundaries and employ technology in new and exciting ways, but Sam Mendes’ spectacular 1917 (****) is happily one of those instances. A unique war movie that works as – and was intended to be – an immersive cinematic experience, this is a truly breathtaking piece of filmmaking – a dazzling trip into the battlefields of WWI that’s unquestionably the best film of this year (or the last few, for that matter).

In Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay – based on stories told to Mendes by his grandfather – a pair of British soldiers (George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with delivering a message behind enemy lines in northern France. The retreating German forces, they’ve been told, have backed up only to fortify a more advantageous strategic location – making the British battalion they have to find believe they’re “on the run” but are, instead, being intentionally directed towards a trap. The duo – one more world-weary than the other – must battle the elements, rogue German soldiers, and other assorted perils en route to finding – and stopping – that battalion of some 1500 men, ready to assault at dawn.

With Mendes working alongside the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, “1917” has been designed to bring the viewer into, and inside, its straightforward premise in a manner only today’s technology would allow. Shot as one continuous take, the flowing, and masterfully executed, visual design proves to be fascinating all by itself: locations are laid out as if you’re traversing an actual map – a tree blocking a roadway in one shot becomes an obstacle being removed by soldiers several minutes later – and it’s all executed so brilliantly that you may drift away from the story to ponder just how it was done. Yet it’s also a testament to Mendes and Deakins’ work that, as the film progressed, I found myself no longer looking for the seams and truly accepted that the camera was really following these young men through the actual battlefields of the war in one flowing, “real time” movement.

It’s also more of a war-time adventure, a story of survival, than a film that follows the conventions of most genre movies. If you’re looking for the WWI equivalent of “Saving Private Ryan,” you’re going to be disappointed – the movie certainly paints a brutal portrait of its era, but its R rating is virtually more warranted for profanity than gore. The characters traverse its environments mostly on the periphery of conflict, skirting the dead, the wounded and those affected by the battle – along the way there are moments of introspection, but don’t expect the pretentious poetry of “The Thin Red Line” either. Mendes keeps the movie moving, constantly, pausing for moments of unfortunate tragedy, stopping occasionally for a flash of fortuitous fate (such as Mackay’s meeting with a young French girl hiding in her bombed-out village) – yet sticking to its thesis that the war is going to be won by the last man standing.

The message is clear, yet “1917” conveys it in an unpretentious manner that puts filmmaking first and foremost. This is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, showing that new technology can invigorate historical settings as well as the generic Hollywood franchise film when placed in the hands of master filmmakers. We all know that there aren’t a lot of them left, which makes “1917” such a movie-going experience to savor.

Is it possible to make a “provocative movie” that’s really not very provocative? That’s the case with JOKER (**, 122 mins., 2019, R; Warner), Warner Bros.’ “audacious” attempt at telling a gritty, “realistic” origin story for Batman’s arch-nemesis. Set in the 1980s and giving off an intentional “King of Comedy”/”Taxi Driver” vibe – right down to an opening reprise of Saul Bass’ “W” Warner studio shield – “Joker” gives Joaquin Phoenix the showy role of troubled Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed man who works as a low-rent clown and has aspirations of becoming a stand-up comic. Unfortunately, he’s not funny at all – and is quite crazy – and his downward mental spiral is matched by Gotham City’s increasingly dangerous descent into urban decay.

Todd Phillips – he of the “Hangover” comedies – clearly set out to make an anti-Marvel film, and while the film is aesthetically interesting, it’s also repetitively structured with underlying themes that are only skin deep. Much of “Joker” is comprised of Phoenix acting nutty – laughing too hard at things that aren’t funny, scaring other Gotham residents, dreaming of success he’ll never have – while Phillips fails to deliver much else to support the performance. Quick fragments of comic book lore pop up here and there in an obligatory manner (young Bruce Wayne sliding down a pole), Robert DeNiro shows up as a Carson-esque late night TV host (a direct nod to his earlier collaborations with Scorsese), and the violent outbursts are grizzly — yet also entirely expected.

The net effect, of course, is predictable in a relentlessly one-note movie that gives the viewer nothing else to grasp onto. Arthur eventually finds killing to be a mechanism that gives him power – but this transition is only brought forward at the very end, with his initial slaughter of obnoxious yuppies on the subway followed by scenes wherein Arthur acts as if nothing happened while a barely-developed “anarchist movement” rises in the backdrop.

“Joker” seems to have more on its mind than the usual comic book fare, and its attempts at making an “adult,” R-rated production – especially at a time when Disney’s franchises threaten to consume everything else at the cinema – are laudable. It’s just not a very good film, despite its convincing visual portrait of a run-down metropolis awash in crime and assorted filth, anchored by Phoenix’s self-indulgent turn which feels at times as if Phillips was content to just let the actor improvise and keep the cameras rolling. Whether or not you find Phoenix’s performance compelling, the film is a wholly unsatisfying, nearly pointless dramatic experience.

Warner’s gorgeous 4K UHD (1.85) provides a detailed, rich visual presentation that offers clear gains with HDR and Dolby Vision over the standard Blu-Ray. The Dolby Atmos audio is effectively rendered as well, even if the droning score by Hildur Guonadottir is as repetitive as the film’s tone. The Blu-Ray and a Digital HD copy are also on-hand along with barely a half-hour of Making Of featurettes.

Shout! January Releases

The early ‘70s were a time of great experimentation, as well as inspiration, in the arts. Yet although not every film was a “Chinatown”, not every musical a “Man of La Mancha,” even the uneven works of the decade often hold merit when viewed against today’s artistic output.

Take LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (***, 88 mins., PG-13; Shout! Factory), a supernatural/psychological thriller that’s gained a small cult following since its 1971 release.

Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray debut marks one of the few home video opportunities viewers have had to catch this slow-moving, strange and yet somehow spellbinding tale of one woman’s sanity and possible supernatural occurrences, set against a creepy, late summer New England countryside (it appears as if the picture was shot in rural Connecticut).

Zohra Lampert (who played George C. Scott’s wife in William Peter Blatty’s “Exorcist III”) stars as Jessica, a woman who travels to a remote country house with her husband (Barton Hayman) and friend (Kevin O’Connor) after being recently released from a mental institution. Soon, Jessica hears voices in her head and questions the identity of a young girl whom the trio find living in the house — along with another mysterious girl (Gretchen Corbett, who would later star in “The Rockford Files”) who pops in and out, staring at her.

John Hancock (“Bang the Drum Slowly”) directed this trippy mood piece, which absolutely feels like the kind of film you’d find in the early ‘70s — and for the most part that’s a compliment. The cinematography and direction establish an authentic atmosphere that supports the somewhat thin Norman Jonas-Ralph Rose screenplay, and the performances — especially Lampert — are consistently on-target. The film stresses restraint instead of full-out shocks, and ends with a hugely ambiguous finale that barely skims the surface of answering the questions it raises. Yet even with its offbeat ending, “Let’s Scare Jessica…” is an eclectic thriller that lives up to its reputation as a unique genre piece of its time.

Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray offers a good-looking 1080p (1.85) transfer plus DTS MA mono audio, sporting an eclectic score by Orville Stoeber that only detracts from the picture during its goofy, bombastic synthesizer passages. All-new extras feature a commentary from Hancock (who was later dismissed from “Jaws 2”) alongside producer Bill Badalato; a new interview with Stoeber; a segment with critic Kim Newman; a fresh location featurette; plus a full run of trailers and TV spots.

Shout’s January slate is also rich with other catalog releases – Blu-Ray debuts for both genre and non-genre fare alike.

BODY PARTS (***, 88 mins., 1991, R) is a moody, nifty little chiller that’s more a “suspense mystery-thriller” than a horror movie, even with “Hitcher” writer Eric Red co-writing and directing. Jeff Fahey plays a shrink injured in a car wreck, losing his arm in the process. (Un)fortunately for Fahey, a mad doctor is able to transplant an arm – from a serial killer! – causing major trouble for him and his family in an adaptation of Boileau-Narcejac’s book. Horror fans found “Body Parts” too slow moving and thriller fans didn’t care for the movie’s few gore scenes, resulting in a movie that was neither here nor there in terms of tone. If you can go with it, though, “Body Parts” is an A-grade studio product with strong production values, Theo Van de Sande’s scope lensing and Loek Dikker’s terrific orchestral score leading the way. Scream’s Blu-Ray (2.35, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA stereo) isn’t the best looking of their recent releases – it looks to have originated from an older Paramount master – but the supplements make up for the visual shortcomings, with extras including a long interview with Eric Red, new conversations with editor Anthony Redman and actors Paul Ben-Victor and Peter Murnik, plus trailers, a new commentary with Red, and two deleted scenes pulled from the workprint.

A trio of new Shout Select titles also hit retailers this month.

Richard Pryor joined with director Walter Hill for a remake of the 1945 Universal property BREWSTER’S MILLIONS (102 mins., 1985, PG), a mild comedy featuring Pryor as a minor league baseball pitcher who finds out his new inheritance comes with a price: he has to spend a portion of his $300 million windfall within 30 days or else lose it all. John Candy tags along for the ride in “Brewster’s Millions,” which is pleasant enough though far from hilarious. An ace supporting cast helps, with Lonette McKee, Stephen Collins, Hume Cronyn, Jerry Orbach and Pat Hingle on-hand. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes the same, solid transfer as Universal’s previous format release (1.85, 2.0 DTS MA) with extras including the 1945 version (in HD) starring Dennis O’Keefe, plus an interview with screenwriter Herschel Weingrod, the trailer, a still gallery, and commentary from podcasters William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a “parallel” role in SLIDING DOORS (99 mins., 1997, PG-13), one of several ‘90s rom-coms the actress starred in. This one is British-set and features Paltrow as a London publicist who, based on whether or not she grabs a train back to her apartment, leads two different lives. John Hannah, John Lynch and Jeanne Tripplehorn co-starred in Peter Howitt’s 1997 film, a Sydney Pollack production that met with mostly positive critical acclaim. Shout’s Blu-Ray (1.78, 5.1 DTS MA) includes a new Making Of featurette sporting interviews with Howitt, Paltrow, Hannah and others, along with a new commentary from the director and a Locations featurette with Howitt as well.

In the wake of “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo,” dozens of black-comedy imitators sprang up throughout the ‘90s. Few were as transparently obvious in their “influences” than VERY BAD THINGS (100 mins., 1998, R), an annoying and bleak film that wastes a capable cast (Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven) in a strident farce focusing on four Bachelor Party buddies who head to Vegas where they have to, among other mishaps, cover the accidental death of the stripper they’ve hired. Peter Berg, making the transition here from actor to director, would go on to greater success with larger studio films, which worked out for him since “Very Bad Things” is quite awful indeed, bitter and unrelentingly “down.” Shout’s Blu-Ray (1.85, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA) includes new interviews with Jeremy Piven and Daniel Stern, plus the trailer, a still gallery, and commentary again from podcasters Witney Seibold and William Bibbiani.

Coming January 21st from GKids and Shout Factory is Kelichi Hara’s SUMMER DAYS WITH COO (128 mins., 2007), a film about a fourth grader who stumbles upon a fossil that’s a “Kappa” — a Japanese water creature who’s been sleeping for the last 300 years. This multi-award winning animated feature debuts on Blu-Ray in a BD/DVD combo pack sporting a 1080p (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Japanese DTS MA audio and English subtitles…Finally, also new this month from Shout! is MY NAME IS MYEISHA (82 mins., 2018), a “musical fantasia” about Myeisha Jackson – a young black woman who was killed by California police after passing out in her car, while holding a gun, some 20 years ago. A hip-hop musical with a star-making performance from Rhaechyl Walker, Gus Krieger’s film adapts the acclaimed stageplay “Dreamscape” by Rickerby Hinds and comes to home video January 28th. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes commentary from Krieger, cast interviews, a photo gallery, 1080p transfer (2.39) and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

New & Noteworthy

Making its long overdue “Trilogy” debut on Blu-Ray in the U.S. (despite being available overseas for quite some time), Paramount unrolls BEVERLY HILLS COP 1-3 in a new 3-Movie Collection this week.

What most people don’t remember about the original BEVERLY HILLS COP (***½, 105 mins., 1984, R), Eddie Murphy’s Christmas ‘84 blockbuster, is that it wasn’t just originally conceived as a Sylvester Stallone project, it was also cast with the “Italian Stallion” in mind.

The straightforward story of a Detroit cop who travels to Beverly Hills to seek out the men responsible for the death of a friend still feels like it could have been a Stallone vehicle, with its blaring shoot-outs and action sequences, though fortunately enough, Murphy’s presence meant the comedic elements were accentuated just enough to find the right balance between gags and guns.

The slick cinematography, interplay between Beverly Hills cops Judge Reinhold and John Ashton (both terrific), and chart-topping soundtrack – featuring the well-known Harold Faltermeyer score and hit songs by Glenn Frey, Patti Labelle, and the Pointer Sisters – all combined to make “Beverly Hills Cop” a smash hit, sending Murphy on his way into super-stardom as a leading man and spawning a pair of sequels that failed to reach the heights of the original, either comedically or financially.

Paramount’s new Blu-Ray edition of the movie trumps its earlier BD appearance – which ranked as a solid catalog transfer in its day but has been surpassed here with a dynamic 1080p (1.85) encode. The DTS Master Audio sound is potently remixed from the original Dolby Stereo soundtrack as well.

A good array of supplements have been carried over from the 2002 DVD, including a revealing 30-minute documentary backed up with tasty anecdotes, featuring then-new interviews with Judge Reinhold, Lisa Eilbacher (whose character was originally the love interest for Stallone), John Ashton, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Martin Brest, and writers Danilo Branch and Daniel Petrie, Jr. This is a surprisingly frank and fun featurette that looks at the oft-discussed production of the film, from its original conception as a Pacino/Eastwood cop thriller, to a more comedic vehicle for Mickey Rourke and — later — Stallone, through to its final resting place as Murphy’s biggest big-screen success. Separate featurettes look at the casting and music (though Faltermeyer is nowhere to be seen), with Brest also contributing an informative audio commentary track, though at times he seems to be pausing to watch the film. The original trailer is also on-hand in HD.

What’s new and exclusive to this Blu-Ray are additional 1984 EPK interviews, two unearthed deleted scenes and a “BHC ’84” Mixtape. There’s also an isolated score track, debuting here for the first time.

“Cop” was followed by the slick-looking – but comparatively humorless – box-office smash BEVERLY HILLS COP II (**½, 102 mins., 1987, R), which put the accent on action with Tony Scott helming a scope-shot affair. John Landis took over for the belated and poorly-received – if a bit unfairly maligned – BEVERLY HILLS COP III (**½, 104 mins., 1994, R), which is at least a more likeable sequel than II with a few added laughs, and more in-line with the tone of the original (it also has a particularly kickin’ rendition of “Axel F” from its composer, Nile Rodgers). Both II and III were released overseas some time ago in attractive, high bit-rate 1080p transfers, and Paramount’s release reprises those efforts with 5.1 DTS MA sound and no extras.

Interestingly, Paramount has released all three films in 4K UHD on streaming platforms, complete with HDR. The Itunes version I was able to screen looks really good, though it’s a trade-off with the Blu-Rays: you lose in bit-rate what you gain in HDR. The film that pops the most of the trio is easily II – with its smoky and stylized colors, HDR gives a major lift to the sequel’s heavy ‘80s aesthetic. As good as these transfers are (and they’re a viable alternative to the Blu-Rays), here’s hoping we’ll get a 4K UHD disc release when the long-gestating Part IV arrives on Netflix down the road.

GEMINI MAN 4K Ultra HD/Blu-Ray (**, 117 mins., 2019, PG-13; Paramount): Just as Robert Zemeckis fell in love with “new tech” during the latter portions of his career, director Ang Lee seems to have left his penchant for choosing smart dramatic projects behind in lieu of something to show off his “new box of cinematic toys.” After scoring a major hit with “Life of Pi,” Lee made the inert “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and then took a major shift, signing onto the forever-in-development hell action vehicle “Gemini Man” for Paramount and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Originally scripted in the mid ‘90s by Darren Lemke for director Tony Scott, “Gemini Man” went through an endless series of potential stars (reportedly everyone from Sean Connery to Harrison Ford were at one point bandied about) before the plug was pulled since the technology to make its premise – a hitman finds himself being hunted by a younger clone of himself – work was either too expensive and/or or too primitive.

Envisioning this – like “Billy Lynn” – as another vehicle ideal for high frame-rate, Lee’s “Gemini Man” offers a reasonably photorealistic depiction of a Fresh Prince-era Smith being sent off to knock off his older self: a wisened, retired government agent being stalked by his clone and joined by another covert op (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The duo, along with one of Smith’s pals (Benedict Wong), traverse the globe trying to avoid young Will and his surrogate father (Clive Owen), a slimy government op who cloned Smith during the “Men in Black”/”Independence Day” era.

The action is smooth, the detail high, and the colors smashing – especially when you view “Gemini Man” in its 60fps 4K UHD presentation – but to what end? This is such a dull, and lifeless, thriller that it’s stunning Lee had anything to do with its creation. It’s also truly remarkable that, for all the years “Gemini Man” was in development, this movie’s screenplay is such a mess. There’s no clear reason why Owen is even after the elder Smith, as the movie seems more interested in showcasing its backdrops and special effects than its story and characters.

As for all the technological advances that enable two Will Smiths of differing eras to square off with one another, the project would’ve been more effective if it paired a truly aging, near-elderly star with a younger model – say, Connery 10 or 20 years back – instead of a charismatic star like Smith who doesn’t look or even sound all that different from a couple of decades ago.

“Gemini Man” certainly held a lot of promise – there are obvious reasons why someone would be compelled to produce it – but also just as many reasons, judging from a finished product that died at the box-office, why nobody bothered to before.

Paramount’s 4K UHD offers a 60fps version of the film exclusively on UHD that more closely represents Lee’s conception as opposed to its standard 24fps presentation (which is preserved here on Blu-Ray). The 60fps presentation is silky smooth and looks like a HD travel video as opposed to a typical movie – but once you get past the initial shock of seeing a movie look as if it’s employed the “soap opera effect,” the viewer is rewarded with dynamic colors and detail far surpassing the 24fps 1080p Blu-Ray. The “hyper-reality” also increases the effectiveness of the CGI effects since the entire environment is more life-like than conventional film. Despite its blah Lorne Balfe score, the Dolby Atmos sound is satisfyingly rendered with extras including an alternate opening and deleted scenes, over an hour of featurettes, a VFX scene breakdown (in 60fps high framerate on the UHD), and a Digital HD copy.

I SEE YOU DVD (98 mins., 2918, R; Paramount): Helen Hunt stars as the wife of an investigator (Jon Tenney) charged with finding a missing 12-year-old boy in “I See You,” a watchable Saban Films co-production from director Adam Randall and writer Devon Graye. This thriller with faint supernatural overtones bows January 21st on DVD sporting a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound and a Digital copy.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (118 mins., 2019, PG; Disney): A sequel that few seemed motivated to see – especially by the standards of most Disney IPs – the good-looking “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” mixes up a sequel with a prequel in an attractively packaged, if unnecessary, follow-up.

Joachim Ronning helmed this effort, here with Maleficent (a returning Angelina Jolie) blamed for a curse placed on princess Elle Fanning’s soon-to-be father-in-law (Robert Lindsay). Turns out the spell was placed by a wicked mother-in-law to-be (Michelle Pfeiffer), who casts out Maleficent, sending her on a journey outside the kingdom to find others of her kind – and recalling her younger days along the way.

With Patrick Tatopoulos’ production design and a slew of visual delights, “Maleficent” serves up vivid 4K eye candy – even if the story is as fragmented and eventually underwhelming as its predecessor. Still, Jolie is engaged and the movie is able to reprise the original’s themes of connectivity amongst those with differences fairly effectively – this movie never needed to be made, yet it’s certainly not the worst of Disney’s live-action “re-quel” output from 2019 (“Dumbo,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” were much more painful by comparison).

Disney’s 4K UHD is out this week and includes HDR and Dolby Atmos audio, with the Blu-Ray boasting extended scenes, outtakes, a Behind the Scenes featurette, and a Digital HD copy.


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Classics on Blu-Ray

Film Movement kicks off the New Year with their first releases of vintage British comedies – the inaugural Ealing titles they’ve licensed from Studio Canal, and the first of hopefully many more to come.

Their first two Blu-Rays include PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (84 mins., 1949), wherein an unexploded WWII bomb detonates and uncovers the secret that Pimlico is, in fact, part of Burgundy, France – leading to England trying to annex it, much to the consternation of its residents. Stanley Holloway, Hermoine Baddeley, Margaret Rutherford and Paul Dupuis star in this frothy Ealing effort scripted by T.E.B. Clarke and helmed by Henry Cornelius. Film Movement’s Blu-Ray boasts a new digital restoration (1.37) plus a Locations featurette with historian Richard Dacre, an interview with BFI curator Mark Duguid, restoration comparison, still gallery and booklet notes from scholar Ronald Bergan.

Ealing veteran Charles Crichton – whose career extended all the way to “A Fish Called Wanda” – directed the 1953 Ealing comedy THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT (84 mins.), another tale of an uprising amongst local townspeople – this time residents of a quaint village who strive to keep a railway line operating after British Railways closes it down. Stanley Holloway again leads the cast with Douglas Slocombe shooting this first Ealing Technicolor comedy, preserved here in a lovely 1.37 transfer with extras including a Making Of, Slocombe’s home movie footage, a Locations featurette, segment on the Lion Locomotive, still gallery, Slocombe interview on Charles Crichton, plus more of critic Ronald Bergan’s liner notes.

Also new on Blu-Ray from Film Movement is the U.S. high-def debut of Bill Forsyth’s GREGORY’S GIRL (91 mins., 1980, PG), one of the Scottish director’s first features to garner critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. This funny coming-of-age picture about a Scottish teen who falls for his soccer team’s first female player preceded Forsyth’s later comic triumphs (“Local Hero,” “Comfort & Joy”) and debuts in a Blu-Ray from Film Movement later this month. The disc includes a 1080p transfer (2K digital restoration, 1.85) with both the original Scottish soundtrack and a redubbed U.S. theatrical track; a commentary with Forsyth and Mark Kermode; interviews with Forsyth and Clare Grogan; and an essay from Jonathan Murray…Kei Chikaura’s story of a Chinese immigrant who takes a job working in a Japanese soba restaurant, COMPLICITY (116 mins., 2018), is new on DVD this week as well from Film Movement. The DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with Japanese/Mandarin audio and Dezhou Li’s short “About Bintou” as a bonus feature.

George Cukor’s HOLIDAY (95 mins., 1938) makes its debut this month from the Criterion Collection. This Columbia production was the second screen adaptation of Philip Barry’s play, pairing Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in a finely-tuned, witty screen comedy Criterion here brings to Blu-Ray for the first time. The new 4K transfer (1.37) sparkles with crisp detail while leading the supplements is the 1930 version of “Holiday”; a new conversation between filmmaker Michael Schlesinger and critic Michael Sragow; audio excerpts from an AFI oral history with Cukor, recorded in 1970-71; a costume gallery; and an essay from critic Dana Stevens.

January Horrors

He either shook you to the core – or bored the living daylights out of you – with “The Witch.” Now, director Robert Eggers returns with THE LIGHTHOUSE (109 mins., 2019, R; Lionsgate), another sorta-supernatural story involving a pair of late 19th century lighthousekeepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Patttinson) who begin to witness apparitions around them as a fierce Nor’easter begins to engulf them – and their increasingly demented states – in wintry New England. Eggers nails mood and mounting paranoia as well as anyone, yet much of “The Lighthouse” is going to depend on how much tolerance you have for Eggers’ self-indulgent pacing and bag of narrative tricks about the questionable mental state of its protagonists. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray offers a commentary with Eggers, deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette, 1080p (1.19:1 pillar-boxed) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, and a Digital HD copy.

Nicolas Cage isn’t wasting any time jumping into the New Year, appearing in PRIMAL (97 mins., 2019, R; Lionsgate), the story of an exotic animal collector (you know who) whose latest addition to his personal zoo – a white jaguar – gets free en route to the U.S. Not only that, it happens on a ship also containing an assassin being extradited – resulting in a competent yet still mostly hum-drum, claustrophobic thriller co-starring Famke Janssen and Michael Imperioli. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes a Making Of, 1080p (2.39) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio and a Digital HD copy.

THE SHED (97 mins., 2019, R; RLJE Films) is a genre indie from writer-director Frank Sabatella about a pair of friends (Jay Jay Warren, Cody Kostro) who have a difference of opinion over what to do with the vampire living in the former’s shed – one that his buddy believes could be used to take vengeance on local bullies who’ve pushed him around. Bear McCreary performed and composed the score for “The Shed,” out on Blu-Ray this week from RLJE sporting a 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

Not one but two “creepy clown” flicks are also new to home video this month. WRINKLES THE CLOWN (78 mins., 2019, Not Rated; Magnolia) is the superior of the duo: a documentary from Michael Beach Nicholas that chronicles the real-life appearances of “Wrinkles the Clown,” who first surfaced in a Youtube video and has since become an online phenomena. Nicholas’ film looks at the actual truth behind the “hauntings” with Magnolia’s DVD (1.85, 5.1) featuring deleted scenes for extras…Though not a horror movie per se, Tim Heidecker’s MISTER AMERICA (88 mins., 2019, R) offers its share of horrific comedic elements as the comedian runs for district attorney — haplessly. This political “mockumentary” earned solid reviews on the indie circuit and is now on DVD from Magnolia. The disc (1.78, 5.1) offers a full run of special features including commentary, a deleted scene and several featurettes.

Finally, GAGS THE CLOWN (90 mins., 2018; Doppelganger Releasing) tries to take the real-life pop-up appearances of clowns roaming local neighborhoods late at night and fashion it into a thriller about one such weirdo mysteriously appearing with black balloons – only to fizzle out once it’s clear the filmmakers had little idea where to guide the concept. Doppelganger’s Blu-Ray is now available sporting the original short by director Adam Krause, commentaries, VFX comparisons, a Behind the Scenes segment, gag reel, 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio.

HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-Ray/CD (86 mins, 1981, Unrated; Blue Underground): Italian gore auteur Lucio Fulci followed his cult classic “Zombie” with the 1981 shocker “The House by the Cemetery,” about a family who move from NYC to a new home in New England, unaware of its sordid past.

Though not quite as renowned amongst genre enthusiasts as “Zombie,” “House” offers up plenty of splatter for Spaghetti horror fans, and Blue Underground’s brand new Limited Edition surpasses their 2011 release thanks to a slew of exclusive features. A 4K restoration (2.40, 5.1 DTS MA and mono Italian/English soundtracks) of the film is accompanied by a new commentary from historian Troy Howarth while a second disc of extras includes new interviews with star Catriona MacColl, co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, and horror expert Stephen Thrower. There’s also a bonus CD with Walter Rizzati’s score, a collectible booklet with Michael Gingold’s commentary, and all the comprehensive extras from the 2011 Blue Underground release. These include conversations with stars Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatine, Dagmar Lassander and Carlo de Mejo, plus writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Birganti; a deleted scene; trailers in HD; a TV spot; and a poster and stills gallery.

Quick Takes

LINE OF DUTY Blu-Ray/DVD (99 mins., 2019, R; Lionsgate): Police thriller offers Aaron Eckhart as a disgraced cop who goes rogue in order to track down his chief’s abducted, pre-teen daughter – yet finds himself being followed by a TV crew and its lead reporter (Courtney Eaton) broadcasting his maneuvers in real-time. This is a decent time killer co-starring Ben McKenzie, Giancarlo Esposito and Dina Meyer, with the picture well-executed by director Steven C. Miller. Lionsgate’s BD/DVD combo pack (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) is out this week featuring a Digital HD copy.

THE COURIER Blu-Ray (100 mins., 2019, R; Lionsgate): It’s sad that Gary Oldman has had to parlay his Oscar win on “Darkest Hour” into a myriad of rote made-for-demand features. “The Courier” even hails from a producer of that Winston Churchill drama, yet this is low-brow “thriller” fare with Oldman essaying a crime boss who dispatches a motorcycle courier (Olga Kurylenko) to take out a witness ready to testify against him. Claustrophobic action follows, with Zackary Adler’s movie checking most of the “hitman” movie cliché boxes and wasting a good cast in the process. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) is available January 21st with extras including a commentary with Adler and producer/composer James Edward Barker and a Digital HD copy…New on DVD from Lionsgate this month is THE BIG TRIP (84 mins., 2019, G), a passable animated feature about a grumpy bear who undertakes a massive trek to return a baby panda to its family after a mis-delivery from a stork. Younger kids might enjoy this Russian-drawn effort from a writer of “Madagascar” and featuring the voices of Drake Bell and Pauly Shore. Lionsgate’s DVD (2.39, 16:9) is out this week sporting one featurette and a trailer gallery.

On Blu-Ray next week, JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (105 mins., 2019, R; Lionsgate) is an unsurprisingly fan-friendly return trip to the View Askew universe, with Jason Mewes and writer-director Kevin Smith reprising their comedy duo — here finding out that Hollywood is rebooting even them. Loads of cameos from past Smith efforts make this an amusing, if hit-or-miss, outing that overstays its welcome at 105 minutes — and isn’t as well-constructed as Smith’s older films — but should still suffice for devotees. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes cast interviews, bloopers, a 1080p (2.39) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and a Digital HD copy…Now available from Lionsgate is JEXI (84 mins., 2019, R Lionsgate), a comedic vehicle for Adam Divine, who plays a single guy leading a solitary existence when he buys a new phone with an advanced A.I. named Jexi (voiced by Rose Byrne) who helps him break out of his shell — but to such a degree that his newfound relationship with a local bike shop owner (Alexandra Shipp) is threatened. “Bad Moms” directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore helmed this slight effort that wastes a good cast, and will be more remembered as being the final release of CBS Films. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) includes a Digital HD copy and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

THE TURKEY BOWL (120 mins., 2019, R) is a surprisingly lengthy, character-driven dramaedy about a former Midwestern high school QB who heads home from his cushy Chicago job; there, he’s forced to finish a Thanksgiving football game among friends. Ryan Hansen from “Veronica Mars” stars in what’s essentially an R-rated Hallmark movie, on DVD this week from Lionsgate with a commentary from director Greg Coolidge and writer Kirk Ward, plus deleted scenes, a 16:9 (2/39) transfer and 5.1 sound on-hand…MaCGYVER: Season 3 (16 hours, 2018-19) finds young Mac (Lucas Till) back and ready for action in this latest assortment of episodes from the popular CBS revival of the old ABC series. Gadgets, girls, action and a little bit of messaging is on-tap in “MacGyver”‘s third season, on DVD (1.78, 5.1) this week from Lionsgate.

BIG LITTLE LIES – The Complete Second Season DVD (338 mins., 2019; HBO): One of HBO’s biggest hits of recent years returned in 2019 for a second season that, regrettably, failed to capture the magic of its inaugural episodes. “Big Little Lies”’ big name cast returns – Nicole   Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley among them – and are joined by Meryl Streep, yet the protracted, central storyline is a drag and takes a long time before kicking into gear. HBO brings “Big Little Lies” to DVD (1.78) this month featuring 16:9 transfers, 5.1 sound and a featurette, “The Lies Revealed,” sporting an interview with the cast.

KRYPTON: Season 2 Blu-Ray (435 mins., 2019; Warner): Things didn’t quite work out as planned on this Syfy Channel series – a prequel of sorts to the Superman mythos with Seg-El, Supes’ grandfather, teaming up with time traveler Adam Strange to stop General Dru-Zod from rebuilding Krypton on Kandor. The resistance mounts with Brainiac, Lobo and Doomsday also making appearances in this second – and final – season of “Krypton,” which was axed after these 10 episodes were produced. Warner’s Blu-Ray (1.78, 5.1 DTS MA) package is out this week with a Digital HD copy also included along with assorted extras including “The Fate of Superman” featurette and “Villains: Modes of Persuasion” segment.

New from MVD this month on DVD is the documentary BETTY DAVIS: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT (53 mins,. 2020), a look at the funk music pioneer who composed songs for a myriad of artists, performed on her own, befriended Miles Davis and then vanished nearly as quickly as she arrived on the pop culture scene. Animation and typical documentary footage comprise this look at the “Black Power Goddess,” with a 16:9 transfer, Davis interview extract and director interview also a part of MVD’s DVD release.

VEEP: THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD (Seasons 1-7; HBO)/VEEP: THE FINAL SEASON Blu-Ray (226 mins., 2018, HBO): Julia Louis-Dreyfus won multiple Emmys for her turn as VP Selina Meyer in this recently-concluded HBO series, with her character a VP that became a one-time President after her running mate stunned the world by not running for re-election. Armando Iannucci’s series was generally hailed by critics throughout its seven-season run, concluding last year with a goodbye season where Selina tries to make one last mad dash for the Presidency.

HBO has packaged a Final Season Blu-Ray that’s out this week, featuring 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. A Digital HD copy is also on-hand, while those seeking a Complete Series set may be disappointed to learn that such a release is confined to DVD only. Though well-packaged, this box-set is 16:9 standard-def only, even while including all seven seasons with ample bonus content. Hopefully HBO issues a Complete Series Blu-Ray at some point in the future for fans, who will make to make do in the meantime with this DVD collection.

THE CRY DVD (240 mins., 2018; Acorn/RLJE): “Doctor Who” vet Jenna Coleman delivers a compelling turn in this adaptation of Helen Fitzgerald’s book – a searing mini-series about a couple (Coleman and Ewen Leslie) who travel from Scotland to Australia with their infant son. The child goes missing after they land – and that’s just the beginning of the mystery in this taut, disturbing production from writer Jacquelin Perske which Glendyn Ivin tautly helms over the course of four episodes. Acorn has brought “The Cry” to DVD in a two-disc set featuring a 16:9 (2:1) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE KNIGHT OF SHADOWS Blu-Ray (109 mins., 2019; Well Go USA): Jackie Chan is back in a period-set fantasy, here playing Pu Songling, a veteran monster slayer charged with investigating the disappearance of two girls from a remote village. He uncovers a demon feasting on their souls in this outlandish Hong Kong import that only partially evokes memories of Jackie’s prior “historical” films, with much of its reaction being mixed in its native land. Well Go’s Blu-Ray is out January 21st featuring a 1080p transfer, 5.1 DTS MA audio in either Mandarin or an English dub.

Coming January 28th from Well Go is BATTLE OF JANGSARI (108 mins., 2019), a South Korean import that profiles the battle of Inchon and the victory of inexperienced student soldiers who, with limited supplies and ammunition, liberated a pivotal location in the war. Warner Bros. co-funded this well-mounted production (sporting Megan Fox as a reporter), debuting on Blu-Ray in a BD/DVD combo pack from Well Go. A Making Of featurette and trailers are included alongside an attractive 1080p presentation with 5.1 DTS MA Korean audio (English subtitles).

Mill Creek Double Features: New on Blu-Ray from Mill Creek are a pair of Blu-Ray double features. The treacly DAD (119 mins., 1989, PG) was a Steven Spielberg production starring Jack Lemmon as an elderly man who spars with yuppie son Ted Danson after his wife (Olympia Dukakis) is hospitalized. Ethan Hawke and Kevin Spacey co-starred in this dramaedy written and directed by “Family Ties” creator Gary David Goldberg, and featuring an appropriately moving James Horner score. “Dad” has been paired with the 1996 film adaptation of Herb Gardner’s hit stage play I’M NOT RAPPAPORT (136 mins., 1996, PG-13) starring Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis, which wasn’t nearly as well-received as its source….Finally, Mill Creek timed their Joaquin Phoenix double-bill Blu-Ray right as their disc pairs RESERVATION ROAD (102 mins., 2007, R) with RETURN TO PARADISE (112 mins., 1998, R), each making their high-def debuts. Both single-platter Blu-Rays include DTS MA soundtracks and 1080p transfers, along with serviceable compression (“Reservation Road” also includes deleted scenes).

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE Blu-Ray (97 mins., 2019; Cohen Film Collection): Pernilla August stars in this Swedish import from director Tuva Novotny as a housewife whose 40-year-old marriage disintegrates — leading her to become the coach of a youth soccer team at age 83! This slight vehicle offers the veteran actress a plum role in a comedy debuting on Blu-Ray from Cohen this week with a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound (Swedish with English subtitles).

PIRANHAS Blu-Ray (112 mins., 2019; Music Box Films): A group of enterprising teenagers, living in Naples, decide to get involved in the world of drug trafficking in order to make their way in a Naples neighborhood that’s been controlled by the Camorra mafia for centuries. Based on Roberto Saviano’s novel, “Piranhas” is an authentic Italian drama served up by Saviano and director Claudio Giovanessi, now on Blu-Ray from Music Box. The disc (2.35, 5.1 Italian Dolby Digital with English subtitles) offers a Making Of featurette, interview with Saviano and press conference with the cast and crew.

NEXT TIME: TERMINATOR heats up the January chill in 4K plus the latest from Kino Lorber! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address.


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