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A bona-fide ‘70s relic has been resurrected by Factory 25 for its premiere Blu-Ray release this month: the 1978 “youth picture” SKATEBOARD (98 mins., PG), an independently produced film from director George Gage that Universal picked up in the wake of “The Bad News Bears.”

Little seen over the years on home video, “Skateboard”’s positive attributes come in its evocation of the era, as huckster Alan Garfield tries to make a quick buck by assembling a team of youngsters all into the newest fad of the time: skateboarding. These include Leif Garrett and real skateboarders Tony Alva and Ellen O’Neal, who proceed to spin their way through a hackneyed story that comes off as a pale knockoff of the 1976 Walter Matthau-Tatum O’Neal classic.

With too much of Garfield’s persona driving the story, thinly drawn and/or unappealing characters – plus a strident Mark Snow score peppered with obnoxious songs – “Skateboard” wasn’t exactly the undiscovered classic I was hoping for. Enthusiasts of the sport will be the most receptive to the picture and certainly Factory 25 is to be commended for restoring the rarely-seen movie in this new Blu-Ray, which heads out into a “retail” release later this month.

With a fresh restoration (1.78, Dolby Digital mono), “Skateboard” looks a little soft around the edges but given the dearth of previous releases, fans should still be highly pleased with the HD image. Extras include an interview with Gage, a 24-page booklet, safety PSA, the trailer, and a commentary from the 2010 DVD featuring Gage and Alva.

An offbeat, leisurely-told and ultimately downbeat “kid’s movie” that could only come from our neighbors up north, THE DOG WHO STOPPED THE WAR (91 mins., 1984) has been something of a long-time favorite in Canada. A project that led to an animated remake and a recent follow-up series, this story of 10-year-olds engaging in snowball-fighting warfare – until something sadly goes wrong that brings them all together – is a bit leisurely in its storytelling but does evoke time and place vividly, complete with an electronic score by Germain Gauthier.

Newly scanned and restored in 2K (1.85, 2.0) from the original 35mm camera negative, Canadian International Pictures’ Blu-Ray offers both the theatrical and extended cuts in either French or English. A commentary is included plus a feature-length 2009 documentary; a 2023 retrospective; new talk with writer Roger Cantin; an audio interview with Gauthier; archival interviews with assorted cast/crew members, deleted scenes, trailers and booklet notes.

KING ON FILM (105 mins., 2022; Darkstar) is a doc that does just what it promises: paint a portrait of the many decades of films based on Stephen King’s books, some of which have hit it big, some of which haven’t, and a few of which have made it into cinematic infamy (“The Mangler” anyone?). While offering a breezy overview of its topic with ample interviewees ranging from Mick Garris to Frank Darabont, it also – much like its author – veers into politics early on, which didn’t seem to be particularly necessary. Darkstar’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 2.0) includes a 77-minute version of the film; trailers; intros and deleted material; and more.

From IFC Films comes Alex Ross Perry’s 2015 indie QUEEN OF EARTH (90 mins.), a dark drama about a dysfunctional woman (Elisabeth Moss) whose father has died and boyfriend has left her. At a lake house, her phobias spin to the surface after her friend (Katherine Waterston) begins spending more time with her lover (Patrick Fugit). IFC’s Blu-Ray includes a new commentary with Alex Ross Perry, a Samm Deighan video essay, and a fresh interview with composer Keegan DeWitt along with archival extras from IFC’s earlier DVD. The latter include commentary with Ross Perry and Moss, who also produced, plus a featurette, the trailer, and a 1080p (1.78) transfer with 5.1 sound.

A fascinating cinematic experience derived from actual cockpit voice recordings of six troubled airplane flights, CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO (80 mins., 2013) makes an overdue sojourn onto Blu-Ray from Dekanalog featuring both 3D (anaglyphic and 3D capable) and 2D versions. Patrick Daniels and Robert Berger’s unique effort uses spartan visuals and interchangeable actors to portray several real-life flights, most of which ended in tragedy, in a compelling feature presented without much context – which is both a blessing in terms of brevity but may leave some viewers wanting the proverbial more. Still worthwhile viewing, “Charlie Victor Romeo”’s two-disc set houses both 2D/3D transfers (1.78), an anagylphic 3D transfer, directors’ commentary, additional background detail and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

Deaf Crocodile’s latest Blu-Ray restores Czech director Oldfich Lipsky’s wacky blending of genres, THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (97 mins., 1981). Nominally an adaptation of Jules Verne’s “The Carpathian Castle” but with an accent on comedy, counting Monty Python irreverence and the bawdy humor of Benny Hill for influences, “The Mysterious Castle” has been restored here by Craig Rogers of Deaf Crocodile sporting a 1080p (1.37, mono) transfer and loads of extras. These include a video interview with the writer’s daughter, Tereza Brdeckova; a video essay by Jonathan Owen; a commentary with Brdeckova and Czech film expert Irena Kovarova; two shorts from animator Jiri Brdecka, who designed the gadgets seen in the film; a feature-length documentary on Brdecka; and top-notch encoding from David Mackenzie of Fidelity in Motion (Arrow vet).

A wacky Aussie import, SONS OF STEEL (96 mins., 1988) sees futuristic “eco warrior” “Black Alice” heading back in time in order to prevent a nuclear sub from turning Sydney Harbour into a wasteland. Gary L. Keady’s film has been restored from original film elements (1.85, 2.0) in this Umbrella Blu-Ray which also sports a boatload of extras typical for the label: an alternately-framed 1.33 version; Making Of; archival EPK material and featurettes; “Knightmare” short film; music videos; and even a limited-edition soundtrack CD.

Maya Hawke was part of the ensemble cast of LADYWORLD (93 mins., 2018), Amanda Kramer’s film about eight teen girls trapped after an earthquake. An alternate opening, deleted scenes, Kramer’s commentary, the 2018 feature “Paris Window” and Kramer’s other shorts “Bark” (2016) and “Intervene” (2018), the trailer and rejected teaser are all included in Yellow Veil’s new Blu-Ray (2.35), along with an essay from critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.

Finally, two films by filmmaker Nana Ekvtimishvili have been coupled on a new Blu-Ray from Big World Pictures. Included are Nana and Simon Gross’ 2013 film IN BLOOM (102 mins.), a portrait of two teen girls growing up in war-torn Georgia after the USSR collapses, which is paired here with Nana and Simon’s 2017 picture MY HAPPY FAMILY (119 mins.), which looks at a teacher who, after a quarter-century of marriage, decides to leave her Tbilsi flat. 1080p (2.35/1.85) transfers grace the Blu-Ray that also includes a booklet with a Gerald White essay.


Warner Archive New Reviews

A pair of ‘90s box-office underachievers kick off this month’s slate of Warner Archive new releases.

It’s hard to know at what point ROVER DANGERFIELD (74 mins., 1991, G) transitioned from a concept concocted by top dog Rodney Dangerfield and his “Caddyshack” cohort Harold Ramis into a genial yet easily forgettable family animated film that basically was sent straight to video by Warner Bros. This despite being a project that was announced in the late ‘80s, with Dangerfield filmed recording his lines for a script he’s credited with writing; in fact, Rodney even co-wrote the movie’s (mostly disposable) songs with Vegas musician Billy Tragesser to boot.

Some of the few behind-the-scenes stories you can read about the film speculate that “Rover” – about a canine Vegas lounge performer who ends up having adjustment issues on the farm he’s been transplanted to – was buried after Dangerfield backed out of “Caddyshack II” at the last minute, costing WB (and that ill-fated project) a bundle. A failed breach of contract suit sided with the star, who was already developing “Rover Dangerfield” as a more adult-oriented cartoon, allegedly for a 1988 or ‘89 release.

For whatever reason, in the wake of those issues, the studio ultimately buried “Rover Dangerfield,” sending the Hyperion-animated effort into an extended post-production where most of Rodney’s mature humor was removed. Warner decided against a wide release for the film as well, giving it a token run in a few selected markets in August 1991 before the picture was released to home video the following spring.

Hyperion, which had animated the cult favorite “The Brave Little Toaster,” does a good job capturing Rodney’s mannerisms for this animated curio which might fetch (no pun intended) some interest for Dangerfield fans and genre movie buffs – yet the unevenness and lack of coherence in both storytelling and tone is unavoidable. It’s a fascinating watch more for what might’ve been than what’s actually on-screen in the abbreviated final cut.

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray offers a high bit-rate transfer (1.85, 2.0 DTS MA stereo) that looks great with a pair of Looney Tunes shorts (“Dog Daze,” “Dog Collared”) and the trailer on-hand for extras.

Worth a few chuckles – and also making its Blu-Ray debut – is JOE’S APARTMENT (80 mins., 1996, PG-13), the feature extension of an MTV short by its writer-director, John Payson. Jerry O’Connell stars as an Iowa transplant who meets a group of free-wheeling, hard-partying cockroaches after moving into his New York City apartment. Cute female lead Megan Ward and several amusing musical sequences can’t really shake off the bizarreness of the central concept, but at least the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome – it’s a relic of the ‘90s to be sure (Rockapella doubles as the “Roach Chorus”!), a box-office wipeout that nevertheless has its charms.

Warner’s Blu-Ray (1.85) debuts a new 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack to go along with a trio of Looney Tunes shorts on the supplemental side (“The Lady in Red,” “From Hare to Eternity,” “Superior Duck”).

MGM’s CABIN IN THE SKY (98 mins., 1943) receives a full-on, gorgeous restoration from Warner Archive this month. Producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli’s adaptation of the hit all-black Broadway musical became a film fable about the battle for the soul of “Little Joe,” with memorable songs derived from the show by Vernon Duke, John Latouche and Ted Fetter, plus original songs added by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and a young, vibrant Lena Horne front a movie that mixes its view of African-American culture with some Hollywood stereotyping typical of its time – the end result being something more noteworthy in terms of its historical significance than overall dramatic impact.

Nevertheless a fascinating curio for musical fans, “Cabin in the Sky” proves that whatever problematic elements it has can be enriched with supplemental materials. Instead of burying the film like Disney’s “Song of the South,” Warner’s Blu-Ray offers an insightful commentary with everyone from Anderson’s wife and daughter to black cultural scholar Todd Boyd, historian Drew Casper among others, placing the film in a proper historical lens, while a vintage Pete Smith specialty short and an audio-only outtake of Louis Armstrong’s “Ain’t it the Truth” round out the extras. The highly detailed 1080p (1.37 B&W) transfer and mono sound are both crisply delivered.

Aficionados of pre-Code melodramas will want to pursue a view of FAITHLESS (77 mins., 1932), an MGM soaper starring Tallulah Bankhead as an heiress who loses her fortune in the Great Depression, this after taking off from boyfriend Robert Montgomery because he didn’t make enough cash. Things only descend for Bankhead from there in a star-driven early ‘30s vehicle, restored by Warner Archive (1.37 B&W, mono) with extras including a trio of classic vintage short subjects.

Last but not least is the Errol Flynn swashbuckler THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (118 mins., 1937), another Warner vehicle for its leading man that adapts Mark Twain’s novel, set in 16th century England. Claude Rains essays the villainy opposite Flynn’s rogue hero, who – once he turns up – helps a young King Edward VI reclaim his throne after trading places with a lookalike urchin from the streets. Billy and Bobby Mauch are the twins in this polished if unspectacular Warner production released a year out from the far superior Flynn classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Erich Wolfgang Korngold scored “Pauper” also, which receives another sterling 1080p (1.37 B&W, mono) transfer here with three vintage WB cartoons presented on the supplemental side.


New & Noteworthy

TROLLS BAND TOGETHER 4K Ultra HD/Blu-Ray (91 mins., 2023, PG; Universal): Third go-around for the Dreamworks animated heroes results in a breezy, fun family film with an emphasis on music. After Poppy finds out boyfriend Branch once was part of the boy band “BroZone” (a funny throwback for Branch’s vocal alter-ego, Justin Timberlake), his pal Floyd is kidnapped, leading them to reunite the “BroZone” in order to save the day. Lots of songs, both familiar and new, pack this latest “Trolls” and our 4th grader “loved it” – audiences seemed to also, as it doubled the gross of Disney’s more expensive “Wish” domestically at the box-office. Universal’s candy-coated 4K UHD of “Trolls Band Together” offers Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound – both are as impressive as you’d anticipate. The UHD/BD combo pack offers a “Sing-Along” option with an additional original short, “It Takes Three,” deleted scenes, featurettes and a Digital HD code also included.

JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM Blu-Ray (99 mins., 2023, PG; Sony): Upbeat, contemporary music mixes with traditional holiday staples in this mostly reverent take on the Nativity, from “Glee” veteran Adam Anders, who directed, co-wrote and co-produced the picture. Milo Manheim is Joseph opposite Fiona Palomo’s Mary, portrayed here as a rebellious type, in a fairly well-reviewed “Christian film” that didn’t make much noise at the box-office but may find more backers at home. Sony’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) is out this week sporting three deleted/extended scenes, featurettes, and a Digital HD copy.

SPECIAL OPS: LIONESS Blu-Ray (352 mins., 2023; Paramount): Superb action series from producer Taylor Sheridan follows a special ops team as they attempt to implant a new recruit (Laysla DeOliveira), who’s brash and confident yet decidedly inexperienced, into the social circle of a terrorist’s fiancee. The training of DeOliveira comes off as perfunctory in the early episodes but once “Lioness” gets going, it’s a compelling, engrossing ride with an irresistible plot line and superior cast, with Zoe Saldana as the head of the special ops program and Nicole Kidman the supervising government goon working above her. The production value and pacing are right in line with Sheridan’s other series and it all ends on a satisfying note, violent and occasionally over-the-top (though mostly in the show’s later episodes). For those who might’ve missed the Paramount+ series, “Lioness” comes to Blu-Ray this month via a 1080p/5.1 Dolby TrueHD presentation with featurettes on the supplemental side.

KARATE KIDS USA Blu-Ray (90 mins., 1978; Shoreline Entertainment): Long before “L.A. Confidential” established Curtis Hanson on Hollywood’s “A list,” he helmed this low-budget late ‘70s drive-in flick about a pair of karate-kicking young brothers (Chris and Pat Peterson) who have to save their new friend (Sally Boyden) after she’s abducted and held for a ransom by backwoods villainess Ann Southern and her two sons (Joe Spinell, John David Chandler). Despite its threadbare budget and awkward story, which throw some “adult” elements into the midst of a rural “family” film, “Karate Kids USA” might hold some nostalgic interest – yet Shoreline’s Blu-Ray is appalling, offering what looks like a VHS rip taken off Youtube (hence the compression artifacts over the opening credits). Avoid!

 

NEXT TIME: Arrow unleashes CONAN on 4K! 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!

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