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Arguably the most legendary “lost movie” of all-time, Criterion’s new and eagerly anticipated Blu-Ray of Orson Welles’ THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (88 mins., 1942) still presents the compromised RKO released version of the writer-director’s oft-hailed “Citizen Kane” follow-up. Yet, it does so in such a vividly restored 4K transfer – and with a rich assortment of special features – that buffs may feel it easier than ever to gain a sense of Welles’ original vision, even if it’s still heartbreakingly out of reach.

Welles’ 1942 adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel (one based, apparently, at least in part on Welles’ own inventor-father) has been chronicled in many books, articles and interviews over the years. With the director off to South America to work on another RKO project (the never-completed “It’s All True”), studio brass and editor Robert Wise reworked “The Magnificent Ambersons” after poor test screenings. Hacking out over 45 minutes – possibly more – and reshooting several scenes (most infamously the picture’s ending), the theatrical cut of “Ambersons” is a patchwork of brilliance and studio-made melodrama – a would-be masterpiece that’s the function of a myriad of directors and cinematographers, not to mention composers (some of Bernard Herrmann’s work was supplanted by Roy Webb, with Herrmann opting not to take credit on the film as a result).

It’s difficult to know if Welles’ original 131-minute cut of “The Magnificent Ambersons” was a masterwork – over the years, numerous critics have detailed the lost footage and come to the conclusion that certain discarded portions were redundant and at times heavy-handed. Certainly the sequences Welles shot that were left intact – mostly during the film’s first half – are both brilliant and yet awfully “arch” in tone, compounded by an intensely unlikeable lead character (spoiled young George Minafer, played by Tim Holt) who’s almost impossible to generate any sympathy for. Perhaps there was a valid reason to “lighten” the tone, yet without Welles’ sensibilities, the finished movie falters during its second half, with uneven pacing and subtext that’s only hinted at instead of being fully realized.

All of that said, “Ambersons” is still a fascinating picture with breathtaking moments. Welles’ early scenes are the best, framing the high times of a wealthy Midwestern family during the early portions of the 20th century against the looming arrival of manufacturing and technology, as embodied by Joseph Cotten’s Eugene Morgan, a car-inventor who’s also a rival for the affections of Amberson matriarch Isabel (Dolores Costello). Seeking to derail their potential relationship after the death of his father, George destroys not only them but the Amberson family itself while “industry” engulfs the formerly quaint town surrounding them all.

Criterion’s celebrated laserdisc release from the early ‘90s was the closest approximation a viewer had to Welles’ original conception for the film, utilizing commentary and still-frame galleries to give viewers an appreciation of the director’s long cut. The label’s Blu-Ray, now available, ports over that disc’s audio lecture (with scholar Robert L. Carringer) while adding a fresh commentary from James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum, plus wealth of new interviews that touch upon the picture’s legacy and infamous post-production work.

Half-hour interviews with historians Joseph McBride and author/actor Simon Callow do a fine job setting the film in the context of Welles’ career and how RKO tried to rework the movie – one shot before, but released after, Pearl Harbor. In that short amount of time movie-going audiences’ tastes had changed, and what initially seemed a hard sell from the start now seemed to be a foregone financial wipeout for the studio. Those two interviews are joined by additional “visual essays” by Francois Thomas — detailing the work of different cinematographers on the film — and Christopher Husted, who discusses the score. Husted speaks about Herrmann’s original, unedited score and how it reflected Welles’ “symmetrical editing” – an intelligently designed approach that was ruined by Wise and RKO’s ultimate meddling.

Additional extras are highlighted by a 40-minute interview extract from the Dick Cavett Show. This 1970 conversation between Welles and Cavett (with Jack Lemmon along for the ride) is a wide-ranging talk mostly confined to Welles’ upbringing and overall filmmaking view, and is well worth a watch. There are also 40 minutes of audio tapes from Peter Bogdanovich’s Welles interviews, over a half-hour of audio from a 1978 AFI symposium on Welles, the trailer (which includes one fleeting bit of deleted footage), extracts from the 1925 silent adaptation of “Ambersons,” and last but not least, two Mercury Theatre radio plays: a 1938 telling of Booth Tarkington’s “Seventeen,” and the 1939 adaptation of “The Magnificent Ambersons” itself.

The ultimate result is one of Criterion’s most robust supplemental packages of late, capped by an extensive booklet with critic essays and excerpts from a 1982 unfinished Welles memoir. While we will all continue to hope a surviving print of Welles’ version turns up in a foreign warehouse one day (hey, it’s happened before!), Criterion’s Blu-Ray preserves the film we have and enriches a viewer’s understanding of the picture that could have been. Highly recommended!


New From Scream Factory

Amongst the many “Gremlins” rip-offs and assorted fantasies that followed in the wake of the 1984 Spielberg/Dante blockbuster, New Line Cinema scored a modest success with the cheerful, resourceful CRITTERS (86 mins., 1986, PG-13). Director Stephen Herek retooled (Brian) Dominic Muir’s original story but otherwise retained its framework in its portrayal of a Kansas farming family besieged by hungry aliens – furballs with teeth – who are actually fugitives from another galaxy being pursued by a pair of bounty hunters.

With inventive design on the part of the Chiodo Brothers, the Critters are more than just mere facsimiles of Chris Walas’ Gremlins, and Herek surprisingly plays “Critters” pretty much straight. There’s little camp on-tap as the Brown family — Dee Wallace Stone and Billy Green Bush as parents to teens Scott Grimes and Nadine Van Der Velde – are pursued by the Critters, who do raise a ruckus in a couple of funny moments with subtitles that I recall bringing the house down amongst the pre-13 year-old audience I remember being a part of back in day. The film offers few surprises but is charming for the low-budget, resourceful picture that it is, and the characters are quite appealing – especially Terrence Mann as the shapeshifting bounty hunter who takes on the guise of a music video star. Meanwhile, Billy Zane is on-tap as Van Der Velde’s smug boyfriend while M. Emmet Walsh does his “usual” as the town’s bewildered sheriff.

After netting surprisingly good reviews (including the coveted “Two Thumbs Up” endorsement from Siskel & Ebert), “Critters” did well in theaters but even better on home video, where cassette-hungry renters flocked to Media Home Entertainment’s VHS release. Spurred on by those revenues, CRITTERS 2 (86 mins., 1988, PG-13) followed a couple of years later but bombed at the box-office.

Not as likeable as the original but still reasonably entertaining, this sequel from a different creative team – namely director Mick Garris, who rewrote David (D.T.) Twohy’s initial script – plays more like a western. Riding back into town after moving to Kansas City is Grimes — older and oddly stiffer in his performance compared to the original – only to find out the Critters are back, requiring the assistance of the same bounty hunters (Mann and a returning Don Opper) and Grovers Bend’s disgraced sheriff, now played by Barry Corbin (Walsh refused to return for the sequel).

The Chiodo’s Critters have more screen time in Garris’ picture, which was shot on a much larger budget and shows – there are a couple of effective set-pieces including a big “Critters ball” running down the streets of Grovers Bend in a fun climax. In fact, Garris’ film really does feel like a western – right down to its nicely executed ending, complete with a fine score by Nicholas Pike. It naturally doesn’t feel as fresh as the original and the movie doesn’t give Mann enough to do (there’s also some surprising topless nudity given its PG-13 rating!), yet “Critters 2” provides a lot of fun once it literally gets rolling, with interestingly cast supporting turns from Liane Curtis (as Grimes’ love interest) and fan-favorite Eddie Deezen.

The movie’s surprisingly poor box-office seemingly caught its producers offguard, though with enough interest from the home video market, a pair of modestly-budgeted, direct-to-tape sequels followed in 1991. Neither of these pictures are nearly as satisfying as their predecessors, though they aren’t without interest – primarily because of their casts.

CRITTERS 3 (86 mins, 1991, PG-13) sports an early turn from Leonardo DiCaprio as a teen who assists the residents of a rundown L.A. apartment building against the latest Critters onslaught. This entry, scripted by David J. Schow and directed by Kristine Peterson, is light and forgettable but still watchable, with Don Opper returning briefly as Charlie and Terrence Mann in a cameo as Og. CRITTERS 4 (87 mins., 1992, PG-13), meanwhile, strives to do something different altogether – specifically, tone down the humor (and fun) as it moves the setting into outer space, where Charlie wakes up from a Ripley-esque frozen slumber, only to have a salvage crew thaw out the last two Crites eggs. Director Rupert Harvey, working from a Schow-Joseph Lyle script, discards the humor of the previous films and the result is a mostly lame exercise in low-budget sci-fi, though it’s still amusing to see a young Angela Bassett playing off Brad Dourif here in a better-than-the-material-deserves cast.

The entire CRITTERS COLLECTION is new to Blu-Ray this month from Scream Factory – a four-disc set that should delight “Critters” fans. New 2K scans of the theatrical films (all four in 1.85) with 2.0 DTS MA stereo soundtracks (there’s also a 5.1 mix for the first “Critters”) grace a technical presentation that’s complimented by terrific documentaries on each picture. Rounding up producer Barry Opper, his brother Don, Mick Garris, screenwriter David J. Schow (Brian Muir, who has passed away, is seen in archival interview material), Terrence Mann, Dee Wallace, Liane Curtis, and the Chiodo Brothers, these lengthy, new Making Of docs are candid and a lot of fun. Trailers, deleted scenes (on 1 and 2, with the latter’s excised scenes culled from a rough-looking VHS tape of the TV version), some behind-the-scenes footage and still galleries make this one of Scream’s most engaging Blu-Ray releases of the year. Warmly recommended!!

Also New From Scream Factory: It’s not often Ted Levine was able to play a leading man, but the “Silence of the Lambs” killer turned cop hero in Tobe Hooper’s nutty THE MANGLER (106 mins., 1995, R), a very loose Stephen King adaptation shot in South Africa that managed to score a New Line theatrical release in the spring of 1995. Robert Englund nabs top billing as the crazed owner of a factory housing a demonic laundry press — yes, this is that Tobe Hooper movie, which is loony and consistently watchable even though the performances and general storytelling seem disconnected (to put it charitably). A new 2K scan (1.85) of the unrated original camera negative, interview with Englund and commentary from co-writer Stephen Brooks (who co-wrote the script with Hooper and producer Harry Alan Towers, under the pseudonym “Peter Welbeck”) comprise the extras along with the trailer and some rare behind-the-scenes footage…The presence of future stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey are pretty much the main reasons to check out Kim Henkel’s lackluster THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (87/94 mins., 1994), a troubled and more comedic spin on the earlier Leatherface films following a group of teens on prom night running afoul of the chainsaw-wielding madman. Columbia had purchased this independent production for release in 1994 but sat on the film for several years, eventually re-cutting it and dumping it out after Zellweger and McConaughey’s careers started to take off. This two-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray includes an HD transfer of the theatrical cut plus Henkel’s Director’s Cut in a version running seven minutes longer (albeit culled from a standard-def source). The movie’s turbulent production history is more interesting than its misfired black comedy, and is touched upon in a handful of extras including interviews with cinematographer Levie Isaacks, co-star Tyler Cone and FX creator J.M. Logan; behind-the-scenes footage, a still gallery and the trailer. The Sony-licensed 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded HD transfer on the theatrical cut and 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound are both top notch.

Also new from Shout this week is Sebastian Gutierrez’s Gothic-tinged film ELIZABETH HARVEST (109 mins., 2018, R), the story of a young newlywed (Abbey Lee) who wonders what secrets lie behind the door of her older scientist husband’s (Ciaran Hinds) laboratory. Clones, incest, a strange staff (including Carla Gugino and Matthew Beard) and direction from Gutierrez which doesn’t overplay its hand – and lets the film’s mystery play out – make for an interesting brew. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes a featurette, the trailer, a 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.


New & Noteworthy

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT 4K UHD (147 mins., 2018, PG-13; Paramount): Sixth adventure for Ethan Hunt and company is one of the series’ best – another sturdy entry from star/producer Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, returning from the prior sequel “Rogue Nation.”

This time out, Cruise’s Hunt is tasked with finding missing plutonium while taking on a terrorist organization dubbed The Apostles – the remnants of villain Sean Harris’ gang from the preceding picture. A shady CIA agent (Henry Cavill), Hunt’s returning team members (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin), his former wife (Michelle Monaghan) and the usual double-crosses and international intrigue follow – all wrapped up in a sturdy, appealing package that should prove highly entertaining for all action fans, especially those who enjoyed the pre-Daniel Craig era Bond films. Vanessa Kirby, meanwhile, acquits herself extremely well as the “new girl,” though it’s unfortunate she leaves the film midway through. And, sure, there are a couple of quibbles one could make (McQuarrie should have revealed the villain sooner as it’s tipped off too early and obviously), but “Fallout” is still superior studio fare for this day and age.

Generating just shy of an $800 million worldwide gross, “Fallout” makes for a brilliant 4K UHD release courtesy of Paramount. Featuring Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision and abundant use of HDR, this is a superb UHD that should provide viewers with a go-to disc for a/v demos this holiday season. Extras on the 4K are limited to commentaries, including one from Cruise and McQuarrie, while ample supplements are housed on separate BD Special Features disc with deleted scenes, a Making Of, storyboards, and even an isolated score track on the Blu-Ray platter of Lorne Balfe’s musical contribution.

WESTWORLD – Season 2 “The Door” 4K UHD Combo Pack (636 mins., 2017; Warner): Despite its origins as a riff on Michael Crichton’s ‘70s sci-fi favorite, a stellar cast and capable producers, “Westworld” has been a cold and convoluted disappointment thus far for HBO. Any hopes that the series would improve upon its uneven first season – which was often slow-going – were quickly dashed in the show’s long-gestating Season 2, wherein Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) try to piece together their respective pasts, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) tries to take over (#robotempowerment) and Maeve (Thandie Newton, easily the most “relatable” component in the series) sets out on a new mission. Samurai action is added into the mix but “Westworld” is still a cold fish of a series with almost wholly unappealing characters – it’s well-made, finely acted and often oft-putting between its glacial pace and excessive “R rated” sex and violence.

Warner’s 4K UHD combo pack (also including a Blu-Ray and digital copy) is out this week. Two exclusive featurettes are on-hand here plus several other behind-the-scenes segments and superb HDR-enhanced Dolby Vision 4K transfers, complete with Dolby Atmos audio. This is a superior package to the first season’s 4K UHD in terms of HDR and general enhancement over the Blu-Ray, though pretty pictures can only compensate so much for a stilted letdown of a series.

THE NUN Blu-Ray (96 mins., 2018, R; Warner): Yet another “Conjuring” spin-off is at least more satisfying than the “Annabelle” prequels. Taissa Farmiga (sister of series star Vera) plays a nun sent along with a priest (Demian Bichir) to investigate the death of a young nun at a mysterious, and quite scary, Romanian abbey. Director Corin Hardy, working from a Gary Dauberman script, pushes all the requisite buttons as “Valak” does its usual cinematic trickery; the characters and dialogue are less interesting, but “The Nun” should still please series fans despite its lack of surprises. Warner’s Blu-Ray of “The Nun” includes 10 minutes of deleted scenes and three featurettes, a 1080p (2.41) transfer and effectively layered Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS Commemorative Edition 4K UHD Combo Pack (72 mins., 2017, PG-13): 4K UHD edition of the 2017 DC Comics animated film – issued to coincide with the release of the big-screen “Aquaman” later this month — focuses on the adventures of Aquaman, whose kingdom – Atlantis – in on the verge of war that might encompass all of Earth and not just the hidden underseas world below. Superman, Batman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman offer support in a so-so outing that questions once again whether Aquaman can ever be made interesting. Four exclusive featurettes – including a “Throne of Atlantis” soundtrack and scoring featuette on Frederik Wiedman – are included on the Blu-Ray along with four bonus cartoons, “Villains of the Deep” featurette, commentary, a HVEC encoded (1.78) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, HDR, and a Digital HD copy.


 

 

Also New & Noteworthy

ZOMBIE – 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-Ray/CD (92 mins., 1979; Blue Underground): Lucio Fulci’s 1979 gore hit gets a new, deluxe Limited Edition release this month from Blue Underground. Last seen in a double-disc 2011 Blu-Ray from the label, ”Zombie” – which tells the story of a reporter (Tisa Farrow) who joins with another journalist (Ian McCulloch) in traveling to the Caribbean in order to find her missing father and runs into voodoo and zombies once there – has long been a favorite of Italian horror fans. Shot as a sequel to “Zombi,” a re-edited version of “Dawn of the Dead,” Fulci brings the gore and expected shenanigans to “Zombie,” though its weak plot and accent on gore restrict its appeal mostly to spaghetti-slaughter devotees.

This new Blue Underground release is derived from a brand new 4K restoration (2.40) of the film and offers ample extras along with audio options (English and Italian tracks in both the original mono and 7.1 DTS MA). What’s new in terms of extras are an interview with horror critic Stephen Thrower and a commentary with Fulci author Troy Howarth. Carried over from the 2011 Blue Underground edition are commentary with star Ian McCulloch and Jason J. Slater; trailers in HD; still galleries; a new intro from Guillermo Del Toro; “Zombie Wasteland” and “Deadtime Stories” interviews with writers, actors and other crew members; an interview with co-producer Fabio DeAngelis; conversations with Salvati and production designer Walter Patriarca; a full look at the make-up and special effects; composer Fabio Frizzi discussing his score; and a conversation with Guillermo Del Toro who considers the film to be one of his favorites.

The package is capped by a soundtrack CD, a new collectible booklet with Thrower’s writing, and one of several 3D lenticular slipcovers. Recommended for Fulci fans.

THE CROWN – Season 2 Blu-Ray (607 mins., 2017; Sony): Second season of the acclaimed, award-winning Netflix series from Sony finds Queen Elizabeth II (the terrific Claire Foy) juggling her royal duties and various tragedies on the national stage, including the assassination of JFK. Set between the years 1956-64, Season 2 of “The Crown” continues the intrigue and stellar storytelling of Peter Morgan with Foy opposite the likes of Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode. Sony’s excellent Season 2 Blu-Ray looks superb (1.85 AVC encodes) with DTS MA sound and extras including two featurettes (“Royal Rules of Etiquette” and “Horses & Hounds: The Queen’s Companions”), a photo gallery, and a BD-format exclusive trivia track and “Fact or Fiction: Breaking Down the Pivotal Scandals” featurette.

SCHOOL DAZE Blu-Ray (120 mins., 1988, R; Sony): Welcome Sony catalog release gives a nicely detailed high-def sheen to Spike Lee’s engaging, energetic – if a bit chaotic – 1988 look at life on the campus of a predominantly African-American college. Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell lead the ensemble cast in “School Daze,” which debuts on Blu-Ray with a handful of extras: an all-new 30th Anniversary Q&A featuring Lee and assorted cast/crew members, plus two commentaries, three featurettes, a fine 1080p (1.85) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and a Digital HD copy.

THE MARINE 6: CLOSE QUARTERS Blu-Ray (85 mins., 2018, R; Sony): Mike “The Miz” Mizanin’s Jake Carter teams up with Shawn Michaels’ Luke Trapper to rescue a kidnapped girl being held hostage by Maddy Hayes – played by WWE superstar Becky Lynch – in this sixth (!) entry in the now long-running, durable home video action saga. James Nunn’s latest sequel is by-the-book but fairly diverting for what it is, with Sony’s now-available Blu-Ray including two featurettes, a Digital HD copy, 1080p (2.39) transfer and 5.1 DS MA audio.

BEL CANTO Blu-Ray (102 mins., 2018; Screen Media): Julianne Moore and the great Ken Watanabe star in Paul Weitz’s adaptation of Ann Patchett’s novel. Moore stars as an opera singer performing in South America at the behest of a Japanese businessman (Watanabe) when a rebel group holds them hostage during the latter’s birthday party. Well-acted though not all that memorable (plus burdened by a weak ending), “Bel Canto” is new to Blu-Ray this month from Screen Media, featuring a 1080p (2.35) transfer and 5.1 sound.

SUCCESSION – Season 1 Blu-Ray (588 mins., 2018; HBO): Brian Cox plays Logan Roy, the patriarch of a powerful family whose four children (Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, Alan Ruck) position themselves to inherit his legacy in this HBO series created by Jesse Armstrong. “Succession”’s first season is now on Blu-Ray this November from HBO featuring 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA sound along with a Digital HD copy.


Label Wrap

Lionsgate New ReleasesComing December 11th from Lionsgate is LIZZIE (105 mins., 2018, R), yet another telling of the strange life and infamous times of Lizzie Borden – the 32-year-old woman from Fall River, Mass. who seemingly murdered her father and stepmother in a fit of pent-up rage, yet was ultimately acquitted of the crimes. In Craig William Macneill’s film, Lizzie is portrayed as a repressed soul at least partially stirred to her actions by a maid (Kristen Stewart) with whom she also shares a romantic interest. This speculative take on the material is predictable in today’s social climate, making the “revisionist” attitude seem overly modern and grafted on. Macneill also makes some odd flashback decisions, robbing the film of suspense despite the fine lead performances. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray of the Saban Films production includes a 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, a featurette and Digital HD copy…Bella Thorne stars in I STILL SEE YOU (98 mins., 2018, PG-13), an adaptation of Daniel Waters’ book “Break My Heart 1000 Times” about an apocalyptic event that leaves ghosts intermingling with the living. This decently-executed thriller from screenwriter Jason Fuchs and director Scott Speer comes to Blu-Ray December 11th from Lionsgate with extras including deleted scenes, two featurettes, commentary with Speer and Thorne, a 1080p (2.40) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and a Digital HD copy.

Harold Cronk, who helmed the box-office hit inspirational drama “God’s Not Dead” directed GOD BLESS THE BROKEN ROAD (111 mins., 2018, PG),a feel-good faith-based picture about a young widow (Lindsay Pulsipher) who struggles after her husband dies while serving in Afghanistan. Sincerely made if leisurely, this melodrama is new to Blu-Ray sporting three featurettes, a 1080p (2.40) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA audio and a Digital HD copy…After being framed for the murder of her father, a viking queen (Anna Demetriou) gathers a new army and attempts to retake her throne in the Irish-shot VIKING DESTINY (91 mins., 2018, R). Ian Beattie, Paul Freeman and Terence Stamp co-star in this low-budget and formulaic feature that has nice Irish scenery but frankly little else to recommend it. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes a digital copy, five featurettes, a 1080p (2.39) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound…Cute dogs and sports continue to be a winning combination on home video. In this post-“Air Bud” world comes SK8 DAWG (92 mins., 2018, G), an inoffensive little Grindstone Entertainment effort about a young boy who aspires to be a skateboarder – and gets an assist from his best pooch (voiced by David Arquette) before taking on a local bully. Joey Lawrence co-stars in this family-friendly affair, new on DVD from Lionsgate boasting a featurette, 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Acorn New Releases: In Season 2 of JACK IRISH (352 mins, 2018), Guy Pearce returns as the title character – an ex-criminal lawyer who somehow finds himself in all kinds of precarious situations, including the suspicious death of a foreign student at an Australian college. Needing his reporter-girlfriend’s (Marta Dusseldorp) help, Jack takes on the case while receiving assistance from a sexy shrink (Danielle Cormack). This  popular Australian mystery series is back on Blu-Ray this month from Acorn sporting a half-hour of cast interviews, a featurette, Season 1 recap, 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks and 1080p transfers…Lily Cole pays Queen Elizabeth I in the well-executed docu-drama ELIZABETH I AND HER ENEMIES (141 mins., 2017),mixing dramatic recreations with introductions from Suzannah Lipscomb and Dan Jones that place Elizabeth’s life, times and decisions into proper historical context. A nicely produced program freshly treading oft-covered terrain, Acorn/RLJ brings the Oxford Film production to DVD featuring a 16:9 transfer and stereo sound…The Australian mini-series version of Joan Lindsay’s novel PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (319 mins., 2017) is new on Blu-Ray this month from Acorn. This is a lengthy retelling of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of several Australian schoolgirls and their governess on Valentine’s Day 1900 – not nearly as potent as Peter Weir’s celebrated film version, but nevertheless atmospheric and graced with Natalie Dormer’s lead performance. Acorn’s Blu-Ray boasts over an hour of extras, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks.

Well Go New Releases: New this week on DVD from Well Go is THE HOUSE THAT NEVER DIES: THE AWAKENING (98 mins., 2018), a sequel to the 2014 HK picture about a haunted, ancient mansion and how the spirits of the wrongly deceased come to take back their vengeance on the living. Joe Chien’s Hong Kong import includes an appearance from Joan Chen with Well Go’s DVD boasting Mandarin and Cantonese audio with English subtitles and a 16:9 transfer…Coming December 11th from Well Go is something quite different – the Korean fantasy ALONG WITH THE GODS – THE LAST 40 DAYS (142 mins., 2018), the climax to the Korean box-office smash with Su-hong and his three guardians from the afterlife going through their final trials before reincarnation. A production documentary, trailers, and character intros comprise Well Go’s extras along with a top-notch 1080p transfer and DTS X audio (Korean with English subs).

New From Film Movement: Romy Schneider catapulted onto international stardom when she played Sissi in a number of films. Previously released on Blu-Ray, the entry FOREVER MY LOVE (145 mins.) is new on DVD from Film Movement in its original U.S. theatrical cut – a condensed version of the entire Sissi series, featuring a Burt Bacharach-penned theme song. Now available, Film Movement’s DVD also includes a featurette and documentary extract, a 1.33 transfer and mono audio…Takeshi Kitani’s OUTRAGE CODA (104 mins., 2017) is the final entry in the Japanese director’s underworld saga. Beat Takeshi returns as the ex-Yakuza boss now working in South Korea when he’s suckered back in for one final confrontation in Japan. A documentary, 16:9 transfer (2.40) and 5.1 sound (English with Japanese subtitles) comprise Film Movement’s now-available DVD…Available December 11th is Rodrigo and Sebastian Barriuso’s UN TRADUCTOR (107 mins., 2018), the story of a Chernobyl survivor, now a professor at the University of Havana, who’s tapped to translate for Soviet children being sent to Cuba for medical treatment. Movingly told, this fact-based film is on DVD from Film Movement featuring a 16:9 transfer, 5.1/2.0 audio (Russian/Spanish with English subtitles), and Barriuso’s short “For Dorian.”

PBS New Releases: The documentary series BREAKING BIG (320 mins.) profiles 12 different men and women (Trevor Noah, Eddie Huang, Danai Gurira, Jason Aldean, Ruth Zuckerman, Roxane Gay, Michael Strahan, Kirsten Gillibrand, Lee Daniels, Gretchen Carlson, Christian Siriano and Carmen Cruz) whose “bold journeys” in their respective fields are outlined by everyone from marketing experts to social scientists. You can pretty much guess the bent this Carlson Watson-hosted program takes, but it’s certainly watchable with PBS bringing the broadcast to two DVDs with stereo sound and a widescreen transfer…Robbie Robertson narrates NATIVE AMERICA (220 mins., 2018), an epic chronicling of 15,000 years of Native American people, from their science, art and writing, to their spiritual beliefs and social networks. Diversified in its subject matter, this is a fascinating and comprehensive production that looks at various tribes and their specific cultures – not just on oft-told historical lessons – making for a splendid production all told. PBS’ DVD includes all four episodes of the mini-series in 16:9 widescreen and 2.0 stereo audio.

Magnolia New Releases: New on Blu-Ray, SKATE KITCHEN (105 mins., 2018, R) brings viewers a drama about a teenage skateboarder on Long Island who joins up with a NYC-based crew dubbed “Skate Kitchen.” Soon she has to deal with new friends and a prospective boyfriend (Jaden Smith) in this drama from director Crystal Moselle, presented on Blu from Magnolia with deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes, a photo gallery, 1080p (1.85) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.


On DVD

ELF: Buddy’s Sing and Cheer Along Edition DVD (95 mins., 2003, PG; Warner): DVD reissue of the 2003 box-office hit has never been one of my favorites. This cute, appealing but somewhat under-developed comedy stars Will Ferrell as the North Pole’s only human elf, “Buddy.” Wanting to meet his real dad (an under-written role for James Caan), Buddy ventures to the big city where he tries to spread Christmas cheer and falls for cute department store clerk Zooey Deschanel.

Director Jon Favreau’s movie has its heart in the right place and generates a fair amount of laughs, but as gentle a fantasy as “Elf” is, the final result just never really gels. The comedy is hit-or-miss and while there are sme neat references to Rankin-Bass animated specials mixed in (along with Bob Newhart as the Head Elf and Buddy’s adoptive father), the picture doesn’t hit on all cylinders when it comes to the “domestic” drama of our big elf’s human family. Still, at least it’s better than numerous other holiday misfires (“Fred Claus,” “Deck the Halls,” etc.) lurking out there at this time of year.

Warner’s “Sing and Cheer Along” DVD of “Elf” includes a sing-along and assorted interactive features, plus a second DVD with commentaries from the filmmakers, a few deleted/alternate scenes, plenty of Behind the Scenes segments, interactive games for kids and other extras from prior releases. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio are both fine.

LONGMIRE – The Sixth and Final Season DVD (635 mins., 2017; Warner): Sheriff Walt Longmire signs off in this final season of the series. While Walt’s job and home are under threat from a shady lawyer, Vic has to figure out about her secret pregnancy, Cady’s loyalty is conflicted and “The Ferg” tries to balance work with a new relationship. The final 10 episodes of the series are new on a no-frills DVD release from Warner this month sporting 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING DVD (80 mins., 2018, Not Rated; RLJ): Constance Wu and Jonathan Kite appear in this independent anthology film from Rebekah and David Ian McKendry – one that mixes mirth, merriment, horror and practical effects in a more satisfying way than, say, that “Krampus” movie from a couple of years ago. Most of the stories are predictable but there’s some yuletide spirit and a sense of playfulness here that offsets the low-budget, making “All the Creatures…” worth a spin for horror fans especially. RLJ’s DVD is available December 4th featuring commentary, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound…Also new From RLJ is RIDE (77 mins., 2017, Not Rated), a slight thriller starring Jessie T. Usher as an aspiring actor who drives for a ride-sharing service. Into his world comes lovely Bella Thorne as well as a hustler who takes them all for a ride in Jeremy Ungar’s film, based on a short which is also included in RLJ’s Blu-Ray plus a 1080p (2.35) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

DOG DAYS DVD (113 mins., 2018, PG; Fox): Amiable ensemble comedy stars Nina Dobrev and Vanessa Hudgens in the story of a group of strangers whose lives – and romances – intersect along with their fellow canine companions. Adam Pally, Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry co-star this family rom-com which should scare up more barks on home video than it did at the box-office last summer. Fox’s no-frills DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

SEARCHING DVD (102 mins., 2018, PG-13; Sony): Suspenseful and cleverly-constructed thriller from director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian follows the efforts of a distraught father (John Cho) trying to find his missing teenage daughter. The plot sounds familiar but the “social media”/online assembly of telling the story is extremely effective, and Cho is superb in a rare lead role. Sony’s DVD includes commentary, three featurettes, a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound and a standard-def digital copy.

NEXT TIME: Warner Archive brings Tarzan and Dracula to Blu-Ray, plus Kino Lorber’s latest! 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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December 10
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Leigh Harline died (1969)
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