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Kino Lorber’s October bag of treats extends from catalog revisits to 4K UHD premieres, including the 4K debut of CUJO (93 mins., 1983, R), one of the many Stephen King adaptations that filled theaters in the 1980s. Helmed by journeyman director Lewis Teague, “Cujo” is a tight, gritty little film that – atypical for the author – eschews the supernatural but still boasts a suitably unpleasant but not unsatisfying adaptation that ranks, especially in hindsight, as one of the better King flicks from an era when it seemed a new movie based on one of his works was coming to theaters every few months.
Taft Entertainment’s take on King’s relentlessly dark novel here overcame a wealth of pre-production issues and a relatively modest budget through strong performances (including Dee Wallace), Jan DeBont’s cinematography and Neil Travis’ effective editing. This tale of a couple (Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly) trying to repair their marriage before they and their son (Danny Pintauro of later “Who’s the Boss” fame) run afoul of a rabid St. Bernard offers a decent number of shocks and an ending thankfully not as unflinching as the book (and was changed with King’s own consent). Yet that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have an “edge” so to speak – the characters are low-key and believably rendered, the movie sympathetic to the estranged parents without making either overly likable. The climax is finely edited and executed with the picture doing quite a remarkable job keeping the actual animal violence involving Cujo just off-screen – Teague and Travis cut to the dog’s POV when it’s being struck, resulting in a movie that’s still strongly R-rated and intense but one that manages, quite improbably, to keep that level of violence at a minimum.
Kino Lorber’s 4K UHD looks a tad processed at times but is overall satisfying, the movie – a Taft production that was theatrically released by Warner before ultimately ending up at Paramount some years back – featuring a reasonably effective Dolby Vision HDR (1.85) grading with superior detail than the Blu-Ray. The film was released in mono but both audio options here (5.1/2.0 DTS MA) are stereo remixes that are highly pleasing with directional activity and a nice sound stage for Charles Bernstein’s superb, underrated orchestral score.
Along with an accompanying Blu-Ray presentation of the 4K scan of the 35mm OCN, Kino Lorber has brought forward a wealth of outstanding supplements from a variety of sources. Three different commentaries are included here: one from Lewis Teague (recorded for the 2007 Lionsgate release), another from Teague from the 2013 Olive Blu-Ray, and a third by Lee Gambin that was recorded for the Eureka Blu-Ray in 2019. The lion’s share of new interviews that were conducted for that release were ported over here including conversations with Dee Wallace, Charles Bernstein, casting director Marcia Ross, stunt performers Jean Coulter and Gary Morgan, VFX artist Kathie Lawrence, special effects designer Robert Clark and dog trainer Teresa Miller.
Also present is a 2014 roundtable with Wallace, Pintauro, Teague and Daniel Hugh Kelly, along with the 2007 Lionsgate doc “Dog Days: The Making of ‘Cujo’” from producer Laurent Bouzereau. The 42-minute featurette recounts the film’s troubled production history (Teague replaced Peter Medak after the project switched studios; Travis was brought onboard to re-cut the film during shooting) and enduring status as one of King’s favorite movie adaptations.
Urgency is something you need from a thriller – a sense of impending doom, mounting suspense, and white-knuckle fear that films like “Silence of the Lambs” provided. It’s an element that’s missing for far too much of RED DRAGON (124 mins., 2002, R), the second adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book which was previously filmed by Michael Mann in 1986’s “Manhunter.” If you’ve never seen that film, chances are you may be wrapped up in “Red Dragon” and compelled by its story.
If, however, you’ve seen Mann’s subtler film, chances are better that you won’t be able to get out of your mind how much more suspenseful and exciting that film is than “Red Dragon” — despite the remake’s bigger budget and higher-profile cast, which came on the heels of Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar win from “Silence of the Lambs” (1991) and reprisal of the role in the horrendous Ridley Scott-helmed sequel “Hannibal” (2001).
Shot quickly after the latter was released, “Red Dragon” commercially benefitted from Hopkins’ third appearance in his iconic role but the only part of “Red Dragon” that really worked for me was the Ralph Fiennes-Emily Watson plot, which kicks in during the second half and shakes the film out of its lethargy, at least for a while. Both actors give strong performances and inject the film with the kind of energy and urgency that the rest of the picture lacks.
More often than not, I felt “Red Dragon” was like watching “Manhunter” produced by Irwin Allen: you have big stars across the board, some of whom looked like they cared, with others that obviously were just along for the check. In the latter camp there’s Harvey Kietel, whose lifeless performance resembles what the actor looked like hosting Saturday Night Live around the same time. His dead line readings resemble Brando reading off a cue card, and/or was seeing the lines for the very first time.
Edward Norton seems to be playing Edward Norton, and I never bought him in the role of Will Graham. William Peterson (“CSI”) may never be the actor that Norton is, yet I found his performance of Graham in “Manhunter” to be far more believable and — again – – urgent. As far as Hopkins goes, he’s back to the Hannibal shenanigans we saw in “Lambs,” but this time the act grows old. We’ve been there, done that, and the element of surprise is gone.
The movie has a slick yet bland feel to it, as if there was really no reason for the film to exist but for DeLaurentiis and friends to rake in another fortune at the box-office. Artistically, the film is more or less bankrupt, failing in every level to match the suspense Mann’s version contained – something embodied by Brett Ratner’s by-the-numbers direction. A hot commodity on the “A list” at the time of movie’s production – following his “Rush Hour” movies and a decade before his career basically ended at the apex of the “#metoo” movement – Ratner’s direction takes no chances at any point. Just look at the nondescript climax of the film, which virtually has a “point and shoot” quality one would expect from a “Friday the 13th” picture.
Hannibal addicts desiring gory black comedy following the misguided and disgusting mess that was “Hannibal” itself will likely be disappointed by this comparatively restrained movie, which did its job in functioning as a passable box-office product but not as a noteworthy film. For the latter, one has to only pick up “Manhunter,” which managed to film the same story far more vibrantly some 15 years prior.
Kino Lorber’s new 4K UHD scan (2.35, 5.1 DTS MA) of the original 35mm “Red Dragon” camera negative results in a good looking UHD with a Blu-Ray also on-hand. The Dolby Vision HDR grading looks reasonably appealing but one can only imagine how “Manhunter” itself – ironically also shot by cinematographer Dante Spinotti – would look with a full-on HDR pass. Extra features are reprised from the Universal release including Ratner and writer Ted Tally’s commentary; Danny Elfman’s commentary and isolated score (this is not one of his stronger efforts); a Making Of; Director’s Journey doc; featurettes and a wealth of deleted/extended scenes.
The martial arts film genre underwent a series of changes in the 1980s, from the introduction of ninjas as a focal point in Cannon’s long-running, cult-favorite series to both low-budget knockoffs and major studio productions alike embracing the current fads in the post-Bruce Lee era. A quartet of pictures from that period come to Blu-Ray this month, offering genre fans contrasting viewing experiences that are each entertaining in their own respective ways.
Cannon’s “Ninja” series kicked off in grand style – for action fans – with the 1981 quasi-classic ENTER THE NINJA (99 mins., R). Directed by Cannon mogul Menahem Golan himself, this one offers the great Sho Kosugi – but only in a supporting role, playing opposite the westerner who infiltrates the ways of the secretive, mysterious ninja. That man here is Franco Nero, whose martial arts expertise comes in handy when he engages with slick (in more ways than one) oil men, who end up hiring ninja-for-hire Kosugi as a worthy opponent.
There’s a load of entertainment in “Enter the Ninja,” which offers solid production values for Cannon along with Susan and Christopher George in support. “In Search Of…” vets W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder scored the movie, which boasts plenty of decently executed action scenes and a bit of a sense of humor. It also helps that Nero seems more energetic here than usual – and admittedly, there’s a lot more fun to be had here than “The Salamander”!
Kino Lorber released “Enter The Ninja” on Blu-Ray a few years back and returns to the movie here with a higher bit-rate encoding of the same MGM master (1.85). There’s also a new commentary from action movie specialists Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.
Shortly after “Ninja” hit theaters, director John Frankenheimer weighed in with his own East/West samurai adventure THE CHALLENGE (108 mins., 1982, R), a CBS Theatrical Films production.
Scott Glenn stars in the picture as a California boxer visited by a Japanese businessman, who wants him to escort a prized sword back to the Far East. Glenn reluctantly takes the cash and soon finds himself embroiled in the midst of a family squabble over the sword’s possession – in particular, a pair of brothers, one of whom is played by Toshiro Mifune as a samurai still teaching the old methods of combat and honor. Ultimately, Glenn’s American plays both sides but comes to appreciate Mifune’s samurai methods, leading to a bloody action climax that’s both outlandish and enjoyable, with a particularly (unintentionally) funny dismemberment included in the mix.
Frankenheimer shot “The Challenge” on-location in Japan, working from a Richard Maxwell-John Sayles script and a mostly Japanese crew, including cinematographer Kozo Okazaki (“The Yakuza”). The film is clunky at times and one can imagine any number of other actors bringing more charm than Glenn to his role of an American scoundrel whose motivations are conflicted, but the film is solidly made and fun to watch. Jerry Goldsmith’s score offers a mix of Japanese instrumentation and “Poltergeist”-like motifs (no surprise seeing as that score was also written for the summer of ‘82), and Donna Kei Benz is an attractive female lead who “does it” with Glenn in a patently gratuitous bit of ‘80s lovemaking.
Coming back to Blu-Ray this month from Kino Lorber, “The Challenge” offers a superb 1.85 image on the HD front with clear DTS MA mono sound. Like many of CBS’ high-def transfers, details are sharp and the source materials are in good condition as well – this transfer also has been encoded at a higher bit-rate than the previous Kino Lorber disc and adds a new commentary from Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.
The success of “Enter the Ninja” lead Cannon to make a pair of direct sequels – this time making Sho Kosugi the star in “Revenge of the Ninja” and the delightfully bonkers “Ninja III: The Domination” – before it decided to shake things up with a host of “American Ninja” films.
In fact, both AMERICAN NINJA (96 mins., 1985, R) and AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (90 mins., 1987, R) rank as two of Cannon’s more fondly-remembered ‘80s action vehicles.
Michael Dudikoff stepped into a role originally planned for Chuck Norris in the original “American Ninja” as Joe Armstrong, a U.S. GI with martial arts skills who takes on the Black Star Order – plus corrupt military leaders – in an engaging Sam Firstenberg film as satisfying as any of Golan-Globus’ other B-level productions. The success of the picture lead to a variety of sequels, including 1987’s okay albeit inferior “The Confrontation,” which brings back Dudikoff and pal Steve James (aka Curtis Jackson) as they head for the Caribbean in order to find missing marines.
These are broadly played pieces of ‘80s escapism as only Cannon could produce them, striking the right amount of mayhem and bloodshed that’s admittedly tame by today’s standards. Both films were previously released in individual releases by Olive a few years back and return here – in new slipcovered releases – in the same MGM masters (1.85, 2.0) with extras culled from both the Olive release (the featurettes “Rumble in the Jungle” for 1 and “An American Ninja in Cape Town” for 2; commentaries with Firstenberg and Elijah Drenner) and Eureka’s UK disc (commentary from Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steven Lambert on the original; and Firstenberg and stunt coordinator BJ Davis on the sequel).
THE BEST OF TIMES Blu-Ray (104 mins., 1986, PG-13): The catalog of Kings Road Entertainment houses a few gems including the at-the-time critically acclaimed, but since mostly forgotten, Steve Martin-Lily Tomlin comedy “All of Me.” For whatever reason, though, the company’s output has been scarce in the high-def realm, making Kino Lorber’s premiere Blu-Ray of “The Best of Times” – a 1986 Kings Road production that was distributed by Universal – a welcome happening.
This is an agreeable comedy about small town winners and losers – and football – as seen through the prism of friends Robin Williams and Kurt Russell, who hope to change the fortunes of their fading town around by restaging, and the changing the outcome of, the high school championship they fumbled away over a decade prior. The film is a little uneven but has its moments and strong female characters as well – especially in Pamela Reed’s performance as Russell’s frustrated wife – which was typical of Ron Shelton’s other, better known scripts in the sports-movie genre (“Bull Durham,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Tin Cup”).
The Roger Spottiswoode-helmed “The Best of Times” is well worth seeing in spite of Lionsgate’s aged HD master (1.85, 2.0) which appears to have originated from a speckly and older source. Still, it’s better than other options viewers have had to watch the movie since its original release, with a new commentary from Shelton and director Roger Spottiswoode – making their second film together following 1983’s “Under Fire” – that enhances the overall package.
Cult and Additional Terrors for Halloween (and Beyond!)
Kino Cult is a new imprint from Kino Lorber that celebrates its inaugural releases this month, starting off with a Blu-Ray of Jess Franco’s unholy LORNA…THE EXORCIST (99 mins., 1974, Unrated). This patented Franco hodgepodge of sex, violence, sensuality and weirdo psychotronic sensibilities (is there any other way to say it?) isn’t going to be for every taste – mostly it’s going to be the kind of movie only a Franco-phile could appreciate – but certainly for that audience, Kino has served up a strong release that should easily compete with the kinds of European-flavored fare labels like Blue Underground have issued over the years. Kino’s Blu-Ray features an as-always astute commentary from Tim Lucas along with interviews with star Pamela Stanford, filmmaker Gerard Kikone, and critic Stephen Thrower, plus offers a 1080p (1.66) transfer with both English and French mono sound.
The second and third entries in the Kino Cult series are also out just in time for Halloween.
Western favorite Lash La Rue closed out his career by appearing in two low-budget Phil Smoot sci-fi/action/western hybrids: THE DARK POWER (82 mins., 1985), which finds LaRue’s aging lawman helping college students take on newly resurrected zombies, along with ALIEN OUTLAW (91 mins., 1986), an expectedly ridiculous and at times tough-going B-grade affair co-starring Kari Anderson as an Appalachian girl battling crash-landed aliens. If you’re into these sorts of MST3K-styled affairs, Kino has served up a cornucopia of goodies: each with 4K restorations (1.78) from their respective 16mm OCNs; two commentaries on each title featuring Smoot and the cast; featurettes with the group; archival interviews; and new interviews with editor Sherwood Jones.
Also new – though not officially part of the Kino Cult series – is a fresh Blu-Ray of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (92 mins., 1963), which has endured as the director’s favorite film – something that naturally carries a lot of weight, coming from the king of Italian horror. This early horror anthology with a cast including Boris Karloff and Mark Damon was released during the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe cycle and was likewise picked up for distribution by James Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff’s American-International – which, as was often the case, rescored Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack and replaced it with a new score by Les Baxter. That “AIP Cut” is what’s included in Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray (1.85, mono) which also offers another collectible slipcover and a terrifically insightful Tim Lucas commentary.
Vintage & Silents
An early Michael Powell work – and yet a key one in his overall filmography – is THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (75 mins., 1937), a picture shot on Foula in the Shetland Islands, that looks at two families who live there and the uncertain future they all face in terms of day-to-day living and “real world progress” – as embodied in a “race to the top” between two young men. Though it feels a little curtailed dramatically at the end, there’s an awful lot to recommend in a movie Powell long felt was one of his favorite films, returning in 1979 with the cast and crew to film “Return to the Edge of the World,” which is also included here in Milestone’s Blu-Ray. The disc houses the BFI’s restoration (1.33 B&W) with extras including alternate scenes; a commentary from editor Thelma Schoonmaker and historian Ian Christie, with Daniel Day-Lewis reading passages from Powell’s book on its production; the 1941 short “An Airman’s Letter to His Mother”; additional home movies narrated by Schoonmaker; and the trailer.
The original Hollywood mega-star of the Silent Era, Douglas Fairbanks, has been celebrated in Cohen Media Group’s recent double-feature Blu-Ray of ROBIN HOOD (133 mins., 1922) with his classic THE BLACK PIRATE (95 mins., 1926). The latter was shot in two-strip Technicolor at a painstaking cost for its time, while massive sets were erected for the former – each symbolic of Fairbanks’ cinematic output, mixing romance with derring-do and a level of spectacle nearly unmatched for their era. “Robin Hood” was scanned in 4K from a full-frame 35mm fine grain, and a 35mm color negative was remastered in HD for “The Black Pirate” (both films 1.33). Rodney Sauer scored “Robin Hood” from historic silent soundtracks while Mortimer Wilson’s 1926 score for “The Black Pirate” is conducted here by Robert Israel. Extras include commentary on “The Black Pirate” with Rudy Behlmer along with two reels of outtakes, one of which also features commentary…A second Fairbanks Blu-Ray double feature, newly released this month, offers restorations of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (136 mins., 1921) and THE IRON MASK (104 mins., 1929), the former with Robert Israel and the Moravian Philharmonic and “Iron Mask” featuring Carl Davis’ City of Prague Philharmonic recording (each 1.33).
Also new from Cohen is the fascinating documentary THE STORMS OF JEREMY THOMAS (92 mins., 2021), Mark Cousins’ look at the fascinating producer behind “The Last Emperor” whose life and times are recounted while the duo drive to Cannes. Debra Winger and Tilda Swinton are also on-hand in a movie that celebrates the kinds of filmmaking that’s regrettably disappearing from today’s landscape (1.78, 5.1/2.).
Indies, Special Interest & Documentary
Kino Classics has remastered Beth B’s 1993 film TWO SMALL BODIES (88 mins.), a two-character drama that pairs Suzy Amis’ bar room temptress with a hard-nosed cop (Fred Ward) investigating her for the disappearance of her two children. Both Ward and Amis are superb here in this adaptation of Neal Bell’s play, scripted by Bell and Beth B, though the movie’s subject matter won’t be for everyone – something likely that has kept the film off the radar over the years. Interviews with Beth B and Amis are included in Kino’s newly released Blu-Ray (1.85)…Lola Campbell gives a highly appealing performance in Charlotte Regan’s film SCRAPPER (84 mins., 2023), a British indie about a 12-year-old who continues her life in a working-class London suburb even after her mother passes away. Eventually her father (Harris Dickinson) appears but not before young “Georgie” pretends to live with her uncle and stays afloat by stealing bikes. A warm and funny film that doesn’t overstay its welcome, “Scrapper” debuts on Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1/2.0) with a commentary by Charlotte Regan, a featurette, and the trailer.
New on DVD from Cinephobia Releasing, EMANUELLE’S REVENGE (83 mins., 2022) attempts to bring back the kinds of provocative sexual shenanigans that Sylvia Kristel among others became associated with back in the 1970s. This Italian reboot features Emmanuelle tearing apart the life of a businessman who should’ve known better, in a scope-shot (2.35, 5.1 Italian with English subtitles) picture now available on DVD…First Run Features and Kino Lorber’s double-disc DVD of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ALLEN GINSBERG (84 mins., 1999) serves up a Director’s Cut of Jerry Aronson’s 1999 portrait of Ginsberg, updated and remastered, with ample extended interviews featuring the likes of John Baez, Bono, Johnny Depp, Paul McCartney, and Andy Warhol among many others.
MHz has released Valerie Donzelli’s NONA AND HER DAUGHTERS (257 mins., 2023), a mini-series featuring French great Miou-Miou as a woman who, improbably, becomes pregnant at age 70. A family drama from Donzelli co-starring Virginie Ledoyen, “Nona” debuts on DVD in a two-disc set from MHz with 5.1 French audio, English subtitles, and a 16:9 transfer. Another French import, AGATHA CHRISTIE’S CRIMINAL GAMES THE 1970s (900 mins., 2020-22), features a breezy set of mysteries set in the midst of the 1970s with a trio of disparate investigators tackling a number of cases. Mhz’s DVD is a five-disc set with 16:9 transfers and French audio with English subs…Coming November 14th from mHz is the series SPIN (876 mins.), sort of a Parisian “West Wing” of sorts that follows the last few weeks leading into an election that’s set to occur after the assassination of the French President. Bruno Wolkowitch, Gregory Fitoussi, Philippe Magnan and Nathalie Baye star with MHz’s six-disc DVD (16:9) set including French audio with English subtitles.
Virgil Films’ SPEED IS EXPENSIVE: PHILIP VINCENT AND THE MILLION DOLLAR MOTOR CYCLE (78 mins., 2023) is David Lancaster’s moving documentary of the designer Philip Vincent, whose motorcycles in the ‘40s and ‘50s set records for speed and still command a high price on the secondary market. This doc profiles Vincent’s life and times, which ended quietly in West London council housing in 1979. A number of extras are included in Virgil’s DVD with extra interviews with Vincent admirer Jay Leno also included…Greeenwich Films’ newest DVD, YOUR FRIEND, MEMPHIS (95 mins., 2023), chronicles a young man with celebral palsy and his attempts to balance independence with his parents’ more realistic expectations of his wild aspirations. David P. Zucker’s piece is now available with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1/2.0 sound, while also available is Philip Carter’s NEITHER CONFIRM NOR DENY (93 mins., 2019), a look at the CIA’s six-year Cold War mission to raise a sunken Russian sub from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (1.78, 5.1/2.0).
Warner Archive New Releases
A high-profile Warner Bros. theatrical release that met with mostly indifferent critical notices, MAD CITY (115 mins., 1997, PG-13) was a big-budget holiday ‘97 release that sputtered right out of the gate at the box-office.
The last American studio film from French director Costa-Gavras, this would-be “Dog Day Afternoon”-styled variant matches then-A listers John Travolta with Dustin Hoffman – the former playing a security guard who takes hostage TV reporter Hoffman and a group of schoolchildren at the museum he’s been fired from. Hoffman’s attempts to “spin cycle” Travolta’s intentions make for a transparent (and highly unconvincing) critique of contemporary mass media in Tom Matthews’ script, which wastes a superb cast (Alan Alda, Blythe Danner, Robert Prosky) in a film that feels phony in spite of Hoffman’s strong lead performance; Travolta, meanwhile, produces a wan variation of the “IQ-challenged” persona he offered the year prior in the far more commercially successful “Phenomenon.”
Arguably still worth a look as a time capsule of the late ‘90s – and Hollywood starting to struggle packaging star-driven properties as holiday-season adult programming – “Mad City” offers a fine 1080p (2.39) transfer with 5.1 DTS MA sound, the film having been shot in scope by Patrick Blossier (who performed similar chores on Costa-Gavras’ other American films) and scored by Thomas Newman.
Released just a few months later to even meager commercial results, PALMETTO (113 mins., 1998, R) was one of numerous contemporary film noirs that hit theaters in the late ’90s, incorporating hits like “Wild Things” as well as busts like “Goodbye, Lover.”
This Castle Rock production falls exactly in line with the latter: an oddity where none of its players, from the cast to writer E. Max Frye and director Volker Schlondorff, seemed to be on the same page. The central story, an adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s novel “Just Another Sucker,” features Woody Harrelson as a well-meaning guy who manages to continuously blunder into a series of bad choices and worse people — this time a femme fatale (Elisabeth Shue) he meets right after getting out of prison.
Shue is absolutely miscast in the sexpot role with Gina Gershon — effective in the sultry “Bound” and “Showgirls” — here inexplicably playing the “good girl” role to nearly as ineffective results. A game supporting cast including Chloe Sevigny helps, but the tone is all over the place. Is the movie supposed to be funny? Suspenseful? Neither? Both? “Palmetto” winds up with a reasonably satisfying ending but the journey getting there isn’t going to be worth the travel for most viewers. Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray looks fine with scope cinematography from Thomas Kloss (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) and just the trailer on the supplemental side.
Elvis Presley’s movies were starting to wane in popularity by the time DOUBLE TROUBLE (92 mins.) showed up in 1967, though this is actually a superior Elvis outing, mostly because its script by Jo Heims (who later worked on several Clint Eastwood movies including “Play Misty For Me”) is a good deal of fun. It was also, reportedly, written simply as a caper comedy, later reworked for Elvis, whose crooner’s European travels include getting wrapped up with a pair of girls (Annette Day, Yvonne Romain) and detectives on the trail of jewels hidden in one of the ladies’ luggage by a pair of bumbling thieves.
Not a comedy classic or even one filled with memorable songs, “Double Trouble” is still a lot livelier than the typical late-era Elvis cinematic sojourn, boasting attractive Panavision (2.35) lensing and a decent pace under the direction of comedy vet Norman Taurog. Despite its European settings the movie was shot entirely in Hollywood – and quite effectively at that! Bonus features include two Tom and Jerry bonus cartoons and the trailer.
Warner Archive’s other recent releases bring high-def treats for Golden Age fans.
Those who haven’t overindulged in Halloween tricks should appreciate THE DEVIL DOLL (79 mins., 1936), Tod Browning’s production given an A-grade (atypical for the genre) budget from MGM.
Lionel Barrymore stars in as a Devil’s Island escapee who uncovers the secrets of miniaturization and in turn sends shrunken subjects to exact revenge on the men who imprisoned him – all in the guise of a benign old lady. Barrymore’s get-up is none too convincing but “The Devil Doll” is a good amount of silly entertainment, especially for its time, when critics heralded its special effects work. It also offers a Franz Waxman score and supporting cast including Maureen O’Sullivan as Barrymore’s daughter, who’s unaware of his scheme.
Previously available in Warner’s 2006 “Hollywood Legends of Horror” DVD box, “The Devil Doll” premieres on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. The 1080p (1.37 B&W) transfer benefits from a high bit-rate with extras including a new commentary from genre experts Constantine Nasr and Dr. Steve Haberman, plus classic cartoons “Milk and Money” and “The Phantom Ship” and the trailer.
An early RKO melodrama that marked Katharine Hepburn’s first lead role – and just second screen appearance – CHRISTOPHER STRONG (78 mins., 1933) finds Hepburn taking charge as a headstrong aviatrix whose relationship with a married man (Colin Clive from “Frankenstein”) sends her down the runway to emotional turmoil. Dorothy Arzner directed this story of a strong, independent woman which fits hand in hand with Hepburn herself – establishing, even early in her career, a screen persona which would become a cinematic mainstay for decades to come. Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray (1.37 B&W) offers a pair of vintage shorts (“Plane Nuts” and “Tomalio”) and the ‘30s cartoon “Buddy’s Beer Garden” for extras.
Finally, Pre-Code buffs might enjoy the dated but appealing teaming of Joan Crawford with Clark Gable — billed 5th! — in the early MGM release DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE (81 mins., 1931). This one’s not a musical extravaganza but a character drama wherein Crawford’s undercover reporter investigates a murder that seems to lead right into Gable’s mobster, and the duo pop chemistry in this first of some eight films together. The 1972, hour-long MGM documentary “Hollywood: The Dream Factory” is included in Warner’s Blu-Ray (1.37 B&W) with a pair of classic WB cartoons the icing on the cake.
Also New & Noteworthy
MEG 2: THE TRENCH 4K Ultra HD (116 mins., 2023, PG-13; Warner): Water-logged shark sequel starts off fine and concludes with a reasonably fun 20 minute finale — but everything inbetween is a dull, lifelessly directed affair.
Jason Statham and about half the original cast — plus their writers — return for another go-around though not, tellingly, director Jon Turtletaub, who’s replaced here — ineffectively — by British indie horror auteur Ben Wheatley. Wheatley struggles to get any tension going during the movie’s endless mid-section in “The Trench” where Statham, Chinese box-office superstar Wu Jing and friends run afoul of an evil corporation mining for precious materials along the bottom of the dangerous ocean floor — in fact, it’s so bland the actors look like they’re wandering through sets and delivering lines with the least amount of energy possible given their supposedly dire circumstances. The drab sets, unexciting creatures, and lack of suspense might even make you feel like you’re watching a rerun of “Leviathan” — only not as good (is that even possible?).
Once things return to the surface, the movie reasonably recycles the effects-filled conclusion of its predecessor with a few additional prehistoric beasties on land as the tourist-saturated “Fun Island” is besieged by multiple “Megs” — finally delivering the absurd action fans expect (and there are a couple of fun homages to “Jaws 2”), but it’s all too long in coming to offset the tedium that came before. It also leads you to wonder — why not just set this sequel completely there to begin with? Why not have fun with the premise and have Statham be running the resort or something absurd along those lines? “Meg 2” shows so little ingenuity and cinematic energy that it comes off as nearly a contractual obligation for all involved — a sequel almost completely without bite.
Warner’s now-available 4K UHD (2.39) includes a Dolby Vision HDR presentation with Dolby Atmos sound, a Digital HD code, and a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
BLUE BEETLE 4K UHD (127 mins., 2023, PG-13; Warner): Despite its box-office under-performance, “Blue Beetle” ranks as a brightly colored, mildly enjoyable comic book exercise even though there’s little fresh that breaks it from the genre’s stifling formula.
Xolo Mariduena from “Cobra Kai” is likeable and has plenty of charisma as new college graduate Jaime Reyes, who improbably finds himself bound to the “Blue Beetle” extraterrestrially-driven, government-cultivated technology and becomes the latest hero in the DC Universe. Alas, too much of the Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer screenplay is carried by Jaime’s extended family members — taking away Mariduena’s screen time and significance as a result. There are still some laughs and director Angel Manuel Soto incorporates enough ethnic Latino touches to distinguish a movie that’s otherwise pretty vanilla in terms of its super-hero story line — certainly my 4th grader enjoyed it, but if you’re looking for a break from convention it’s not here. The picture hits on all the same, expected beats and special effects you’ve seen before, keeping character development at a minimum, and ending with, as usual, our hero beating people up in dimly lit corridors for X amount of minutes.
Likely not a surprise that “Blue Beetle” didn’t make noise in theaters, the film has fast-tracked to home video and Warner’s 4K UHD (2.39) offers both a dazzling Dolby Vision HDR transfer and active Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Extra features include the usual featurettes and Digital HD insert.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 3 Blu-Ray/DVD (92 mins., 2023, PG-13; Universal): Nia Vardalos is back for more diminishing returns, with the Portokalos and its extended clan heading to Greece for fun in the sun and predictable family shenanigans. The actors try as usual but Varadalos, who both wrote and directed this sequel, doesn’t have a very good handle on the movie’s story, with most of this slight, episodic film falling into a fragmented feel as if it was assembled in the editing room. As such, there’s no real rhythm to the material, making it a far cry from its initial 2002 installment which generated an enormous amount of box-office — only a tiny fraction of which this Focus-released second sequel produced just a few months ago. Universal’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) boasts a Making Of, commentary with Vardalos, gag reel and deleted/extended scenes, plus a DVD and Digital HD copy.
THE BOYS Season 3 Blu-Ray (481 mins., 2022; Sony): Popular streaming series starts off its third season with Homelander having been taking care of and Butcher off working for the government under Hughie’s supervision, yet the discovery of an “Anti-Supe” weapon brings them – and The Boys – back into the familiar blood ‘n guts skirmishes the series is known for. A confrontation with The Seven leads to another all-out rumble while they seek the origin behind the first-ever super-hero, Soldier Boy. Fans familiar with the raunchiness of “The Boys” should still enjoy this latest go-around for the Amazon Prime program, back on Blu-Ray from Sony with DTS MA 5.1 sound, 1080p transfers, deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel, and a Making of featurette.
DOLLY PARTON’S MOUNTAIN MAGIC CHRISTMAS DVD (85 mins., 2022; Warner): It may be just Halloween but Christmas is in full swing already in stores and on TVs everywhere, with Warner kicking it into gear this week with a DVD release of last year’s newest Dolly Parton TV movie. This one takes a bit of a different approach than other recent, high-rated Dolly-produced efforts, using some trips into her past with a framing device involving the production of Parton’s new TV special for NBC. This enables “Special Guest Stars” like Jimmy Fallon to show up alongside Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus, plus Willie Nelson, in a tuneful but not quite as satisfying package as Dollywood’s other recent TV-movie offerings. Warner’s DVD (16:9, 5.1) includes a Making of featurette.
THE HAUNTED MANSION (123 mins., 2023, Disney): One of those films where you just know a film’s original script had to have been far different than what ended up on-screen, this worked-over, completely unappealing second attempt by Disney to adapt the beloved Magic Kingdom ride to the big-screen ends up an even bigger bust than their first stab: a similarly charmless, but at least more coherent, Eddie Murphy vehicle from 20 years ago.
This “Mansion” is so fragmented there are numerous times in the film where scenes that had to have been shot establishing characters and their placement in the story were clearly excised, as several times my wife and I asked one another “how does this character even know this person”. Also excised must’ve been the laughs from Katie Dippold’s script, which thinks it’s being “cute” (references to Costco and Amazon!) and is overstuffed with so many lead characters that you’re never able to latch onto any of them. We get LaKeith Stanfield as a brooding former astrophysicist who misses his late wife; Rosario Dawson, for some reason dressed like it’s the 1960s (and has no chemistry with anyone), and her scared little boy (who disappears for so long you forget he’s in the film); Danny DeVito as a completely unfunny college professor; Tiffany Haddish as a completely unfunny incompetent/competent physic (the movie never seems sure which way to go); Owen Wilson as a shady priest; and Jamie Lee Curtis as the fan-favorite “Madame Leota” (Jennifer Tilly did it better back in the 2003 movie).
The movie’s pacing is completely off, with scenes being condensed at times into obvious (and multiple!) montages to explain story elements that want to make this a comical variation on THE HAUNTING — but it all ends up a mess with an ensemble so unmanageable that you can only surmise studio executives and focus groups presided over test screenings and reshoots (I neglected to mention Jared Leto’s “contribution” as the big bad ghost at the center of the haunting, plus laugh-free cameos by Winona Ryder and Dan Levy).
Meanwhile, director Justin Simien’s film even fumbles what should’ve been fun references to the ride itself, which in its 10 or so minutes of attraction time is infinitely more fun and memorable than this disaster.
NEXT TIME: Arrow’s 4K UHD edition of WITNESS and more! 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!