Fortunately enough for us, a growing resistance movement offers some hope for humanity, even if it’s in the form of a TV cameraman (“Beastmaster”’s Marc Singer), a med student (Faye Grant, then hot from “The Greatest American Hero”), and a collection of folks from all walks of life, not to mention a sympathetic alien played by Robert “pre-Freddy Kruger” Englund. Together, the resistance takes on the conniving, rodent-consuming lizards, led by the seductive Diana (Jane Badler), a sexy, slinky villainess who wolfs down a full-sized gerbil in one of the program’s most memorable moments.
The original V was one of the top-rated mini-series of its day when it aired in the Spring of 1983. “Incredible Hulk” series creator Kenneth Johnson wrote and directed the two-part telefilm, which moves at a breakneck pace and features an abundance of then-excellent special effects work. It’s clear from watching Johnson’s effort – which does an outstanding job setting up the various characters and then, as the first part progresses, shows us how clearly their lives are intertwined – that a great deal of time and effort was taken to establish the scenario as a horrifying parallel to all forms of fascism, though some heavy-handed moments do ensue at various points. Joe Harnell’s orchestral score is more than a little reminiscent of “North By Northwest” but it works, as do the generally engaging performances.
Sure, Singer’s posturing is a bit much (you can feel him “acting!” throughout), but as both a sci-fi thriller with generous amounts of action, as well as a soap opera (with its juvenile love triangle between human teen Blair Tefkin, a Visitor played by Peter Nelson, and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who becomes obsessed with the Visitors), V still proves to be fully satisfying and great fun. It’s also far superior to the uneven (though still enjoyable), Johnson-less 1984 sequel “V: The Final Battle” and even weaker, short-lived weekly series.
Warner Archive has brought the original “V” to Blu-Ray in the form of an attractive 1080p master – crisper, more detailed than Warner’s old DVD – with the major caveat that it’s presented in 16:9 (1.78) widescreen format. The framing crops the original 4:3 TV aspect ratio but was done at Johnson’s preference years ago, and is retained here, even though the mini-series wasn’t shot with a theatrical exhibition in mind. The 2.0 DTS MA audio offers a pleasing, if somewhat limited, stereo soundstage with the documentary and Johnson’s commentary carried over from the prior DVD.
Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is just one of several outstanding new format releases that have been recently released by the label, including plenty of vintage animation.
Two “Complete Series” sets hail from the Hanna-Barbera stable: JONNY QUEST (572 mins., 1964-65) and THE JETSONS (621 mins., 1962-63), iconic animated series that have entertained fans for generations.
JONNY QUEST, pal Hadji, dog Bandit, Dr. Quest and Race Bannon comprised the cast of the former – an exciting adventure series for young viewers with a slightly more serious bent than its era’s typical Saturday Morning fare. The original ’64-’65 series was the most effective of all the “Quest” incarnations (subsequent series appeared for years following), sporting colorful action as our 11-year-old protagonist accompanied his government-agent dad on assorted adventures around the globe. Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray includes previously-released featurettes, nice 1080p (1.33) AVC encoded transfers and DTS MA mono sound.
THE JETSONS naturally requires little introduction for most, though viewers may want to be reminded that this “Complete Original Series”, while an accurate description, encompasses just the series’ initial 24 episodes, first broadcast in prime-time on NBC in the early ‘60s. “The Jetsons” was able to maintain quite a living in syndication through these 24 episodes, seeing as Hanna-Barbera didn’t infuse the property with new episodes until its resurrection in the mid ‘80s. Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray again features robust 1080p (1.33) transfers, 2.0 DTS MA soundtracks, and extras carried over from previous DVD releases (two commentaries by “Judy Jetson”’s voice, Janet Waldo; retrospective featurettes and other goodies).
Classic animation lovers also have a treasure-trove of Golden Age Popeye to savor on Blu-Ray in two more high-def volumes sporting restorations from their respective Technicolor/Cinecolor negatives.
POPEYE THE SAILOR: THE 1940s, Volume 2 (99 mins.) continues Warner’s survey of the Famous Studio era, featuring 15 more color cartoons starring Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto and the gang. These shorts are generally regarded as some of the funniest in the Popeye stable, and are being released here, like the preceding volume, for the first time on home video — and not only that, but in spectacularly detailed 4K transfers with abundant clarity and color, especially compared to any television broadcast of these shorts you may have seen. More over, the shorts are uncut, which is substantial since these 1940s cartoons are certainly “politically incorrect” at times, juggling WWII-era jokes and some ethnic stereotypes that’ll fly over the heads of young viewers who are likely to simply embrace their zany energy.
Volume 2 was released earlier this summer and it’s being joined this month by POPEYE THE SAILOR: The 1940s Volume 3 (121 mins.), which include 17 more shorts, this time from 1948-49. Even more than in Volume 2, the war-time settings have been switched out in favor of grander international locales and time-shifted backdrops (prehistoric times, ancient Greece, the Old West, etc.) , while retaining the same, manic Popeye formula.
For Popeye fans, it goes without saying that these are essential Warner Archive releases, and for animation buffs, they’re must-haves not only for their entertainment value (and gorgeous transfers), but because future releases in this genre are very likely connected to their sales performance.
After the box-office disappointment of “Labyrinth,” Muppet creator Jim Henson would return to the screen just one more time with THE WITCHES (***, 90 mins., 1990, PG).
A Henson production that he hired Nicolas Roeg to direct in 1988, “The Witches” adapted Roald Dahl’s dark children’s fantasy about a young boy, vacationing at a Cornish resort with his Norwegian grandmother, who’s turned into a mouse by a high Witch (Anjelica Huston) – one of many staying there for the group’s annual convention! The boy-turned-mouse uncovers a plot to transform all of England’s kids into mice, and races against the clock – while avoiding assorted pratfalls – to save the day.
“The Witches” was produced by Lorimar Film Entertainment and ultimately sat on the shelf for over a year once the company folded up shop. Though eventually consumed, along with the rest of Lorimar’s library, by Warner Bros., the studio clearly had little confidence in the picture, which had been extensively test-screened with two different endings – one of which changed the outcome of Dahl’s story and which the author chastised in the press (the final movie ending, however, works just fine). The movie was unceremoniously tossed into release during the late-summer dumping grounds of August ‘90 to tepid box-office, though received widespread acclaim from critics.
Revisiting the film today, it’s probably easy to see why the studio was reticent about the film – this is virtually a “kids movie for adults,” one with a European setting/flavor and which plays quite unevenly during its first half before finding its stride once Huston appears. She’s deliciously over-the-top here, even after transforming into one of the Henson Shop’s fully articulated hags. Roeg’s direction makes effective use of distorted camera angles and point-of-view shots, which compensates for the surprisingly (especially given Roeg’s reputation as both a director and cinematographer) vanilla cinematography and production values that likely were more directed towards the visual effects than the rest of the film – which at times resembles a TV movie.
Still an entertaining and eventually captivating film for adults and older kids in particular (the movie’s likely a little much for our 5-year-old!), “The Wiches” makes its long overdue Blu-Ray debut via Warner Archive’s new 1080p (1.85) master – one that’s far more detailed and satisfying than any prior video release (that includes the HD streaming version, which clearly was derived from an older master). The image bears all the hallmarks of a new scan, and the 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound is pleasingly active while housing a superb score by Stanley Myers that’s likewise been neglected for too long. While it certainly would’ve been interesting to see the other ending, no extras are included outside of the original 1989 trailer.
Finally, Bette Davis notched one of her most notable career triumphs with the title role in JEZEBEL (***, 104 mins., 1938), winning the Academy Award for her role of a New Orleans woman who pushes her fiancée (Henry Fonda) too far – specifically, into marriage with another woman (Margaret Lindsay). This mid 19th century-set romantic drama, adapted by three credited screenwriters (John Huston among them) from Owen Davis, Sr.’s play, offered Davis a plum role which she relishes from start to its (not entirely convincing) redemptive end. Directed by William Wyler and scored by Max Steiner, “Jezebel” hits Blu-Ray in a superlative Warner Archive (1.33 B&W, DTS MA mono) presentation with extras including Jeanine Basinger’s commentary; the musical short “Melody Masters: Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra,” the cartoon “Daffy Duck in Hollywood,” the trailer, retrospective featurette, trailer, and “Rambing ‘Round the Hollywood Studio with the Candid Camerman.”
TV on Video
Any time that Ken Burns produces a new series, you know what you’re in for: usually an exhaustive chronicle of the subject at hand, filled with interviews, archival photographs and footage. And if you stick around through all of the episodes, you may feel as if you’ve become something of an authority, just by having taken it all in.
COUNTRY MUSIC (16 hours, 2018) is Burns’ latest effort, and while I haven’t sat through all of it, it goes without saying that if the subject matter appeals to you at all, his 16-hour journey is certainly worth undertaking. This eight-episode affair breaks down the oldest American “popular music” format, starting with its origins in rural areas of the south, as well as its connections with slaves and influences from African music. From there, the “down home” component of how “country music” evolved is profiled in extensive detail, charting its assorted beginnings and importance to specific communities and areas. And, of course, Burns shows how it evolved into the mass phenomenon it became through the last few decades of the 20th century, supplanting “pop music” as the highest selling format in the country. Along the way Burns profiles its major players, be it Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, with family member interviews and wonderful music being performed throughout.
As often happens with Burns’ long-gestating documentaries (“Country Music” took some eight years to complete), the viewer really needs to be invested in the subject matter to be willing to make the commitment to soak it all in – and truthfully I’ve never been a fan of country music, so I’d be interested in knowing what a hardcore devotee of the subject thinks about the vast amount of information Burns throws at you here. PBS’ Blu-Ray box-set is now available featuring both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo sound, 1080p transfers and some of the most extensive supplemental content PBS has ever included in a home video release: over three hours of additional bonus videos (over 30 in all) and additional behind-the-scenes materials.
Also New From PBS: Our dino-loving son Theo will probably find WHEN WHALES WALKED: JOURNEYS BACK IN TIME (110 mins., 2019) of interest – a look at the evolution of assorted crocodiles, birds, elephants and other mammals from their often massive prehistoric predecessors. 3D special effects bring some of these strange creature forerunners to life while historians talk about the impacts of climate change and other factors that possibly lead to their demise. The 110-minute feature (16:9, 2.0 stereo) is now on DVD…ANCIENT SKIES (180 mins. 2019) is a fascinating profile of how our ancestors used the heavens as a guide. Their assorted beliefs – both real and inaccurate – are documented in a lengthy, and consistently watchable, presentation that embraces CGI in an educational manner. PBS’ DVD (16:9, 2.0) is new to DVD this week…8 DAYS TO THE MOON AND BACK (55 mins., 2019) offers yet another documentary on the 1969 moon landing, mixing Apollo 11 mission audio with news footage, CGI effects and a cast including Rufus Wright, Jack Tarlton and Patrick Kennedy amongst its re-enactors. This is a BBC production so the mood and tenor offer an interesting comparison with the numerous other docs on the subject we’ve seen this year. PBS’ DVD (16:9, 2.0 stereo) is now available…Finally, the latest “Secrets From the Dead” release sports a fascinating subject matter: the use of methamphetamines by not just Nazis but specifically American and British troops in WWII. WORLD WAR SPEED (60 mins., 2019) is an hour-long look at what could have been “the world’s first pharmacological arms race,” with historian James Holland on the case. PBS’ DVD (16:9, 2.0) was released earlier this month.
Acorn New Releases: A six-disc limited-edition set, MIDSOMER MURDERS: JOHN BARNABY’S TOP TEN (16 hours) includes ten mysteries from the hugely popular British mystery series – all of them selected by Barnaby himself, actor Neil Dudgeon. Collected on five discs, Dudgeon also introduces each of the mysteries provided for this Acorn DVD set, including behind-the-scenes anecdotes and favorite moments – as well as showcase some of the unique components to the episodes he chose (favorite storyline, funniest moment, unique murder weapon, etc.). Meanwhile, the original DCI Barnaby, John Nettles, hosts the hour-long documentary “20 Things To Do In Midsomer….Before You Die” – a retrospective in Acorn’s sixth disc. This looks at the long-running series with appearances by Dudgeon, Daniel Casey, Jane Wymark, Jason Hughes, Nick Hendrix and others, with ample clips on-hand for good measure. Acorn’s box-set is capped by an exclusive set of 4 Midsomer postcards, making for a nice collectible release for fans.
New on DVD September 24th from Acorn is PITCHING IN (237 mins., 2019), a BBC co-production set on the northern coast of Wales, where a camping-park community is presided over by its owner (Larry Lamb), who wants to sell the property. His daughter (Caroline Sheen), however, doesn’t want to – and returns to her hometown after the death of her mother to help turn their fortunes around. A good-natured family drama co-starring Haley Mills, “Pitching In” bows on DVD featuring six short minutes of behind-the-scenes content, 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks…Finally, available now on DVD is STRAIGHT FORWARD (367 mins., 2018-19), a New Zealand import starring Cecilie Stenspil as a Danish con artist reeling after the murder of her father. After a revenge plot on the kingpin responsible doesn’t work, she flees to New Zealand – leaving behind her daughter and mother – and attempts to keep them safe despite the distance between them all. Acorn’s DVD (2.35, 5.1 Dolby Digital) is now in-stores.
SUPERGIRL – The Complete Fourth Season Blu-Ray (1015 mins., 2018-19; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Marisa Benoist returns as the Maid of Steel/Girl of Steel or whatever term you want to utilize in these 22 fourth-season episodes of the CW series. Bad guys this time around include Lex Luthor himself and Agent Liberty (Sam Witwer), while a new intrepid reporter at CatCo Worldwide, mentored by alter-ego Kara Danvers looks at issues involving aliens, freedom and…yes, there’s a certain level of “wokeness” on display in Season 4 of “Supergirl” to be sure. When the series lays off the preachy “ripped from today’s headlines” material (gun control, LBGTQ issues, etc.), it’s still solidly done and appealingly performed by Benoist. BLU-RAY SPECS: Available this week on Blu-Ray, Warner’s Blu-Ray set (1.78, 5.1 DTS MA sound) includes the entire 3-part DC crossover event with “Arrow” and “The Flash”; the featurette “Villains: Modes of Persuasion”; two additional featurettes; deleted scenes; a gag reel and Digital HD copy. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: You wish “Supergirl” would lay off the heavy-handed socio-political commentary at times, because when it “sticks to the comic book stuff,” there’s still life in the series. Recommended for the episodes that adere to the latter more than the former.
Also new from Warner on September 24th is Season 4 of DC’S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (677 mins., 2018-19). In this fourth season of the CW series, Ava Sharpe’s Time Bureau continues to fix assorted time conflicts while John Constantine uncovers a major problem – history is now inflicted with “Fugitives,” mystical beings from assorted myths and fairy tales. The team races to repair the rift between worlds with inventor Ray Palmer, ex-con Mick Rory, tote-bearer Zari and historian-hero Nate Heywood joining Sara Lance and company. Warner’s Blu-Ray of “Legends”’s fourth season includes all 16 episodes in 1.78 AVC encoded transfers, 5.1 DTS MA sound, Digital HD copies, two featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
DOOM PATROL Season 1 Blu-Ray (775 mins., 2018-19; Warner): The DC Comics streaming service has been something of a misfire so far – a troubled adaptation of “Swamp Thing” and a general lack of content being prominent among the issues – with the most prominent bright spot being this entertaining take on the “Doom Patrol.” Led by Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), the Doom Patrol is your typically nutty assortment of less-popular heroes – Robotman (Brendan Fraser), Negative Man (Matt Bomer), Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby) and multiple-personality afflicted Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) – who team up when their boss goes missing. The group, along with Cyborg (Joivan Wade), go looking for him while battling bad guys including Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) in a funny series that doesn’t take itself seriously, while serving up plenty of action. Inventively shot and thoroughly appealing, “Doom Patrol” is well worth checking out when it comes to Blu-Ray October 1st. Unaired scenes, a gag reel and 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer with 5.1 DTS MA sound comprise Warner’s package along with a Digital Copy.
THE GOOD FIGHT – Season 3 DVD (9 hours, 2019; CBS): In Season 3 of this “Good Wife” spinoff, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart tries to fight a crazed administration while Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman and Audra McDonald’s Liz Reddick-Lawrence attempt to wage the modern legal battle of feelings prevailing over facts. Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), meanwhile, attempts to balance a new relationship and a new baby, while Michael Sheen’s Roland Blum seduces Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell. Season three of “The Good Fight” is new on DVD this week (1.78, 5.1/2.0 stereo) featuring deleted scenes, a gag reel, and the first episode of “Star Trek: Discovery” for extras.
ELEMENTARY: The Complete Series DVD (109 hours, 2012-19; CBS): Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) took on a variety of cases while cultivating their unusual (and platonic) chemistry in seven seasons of whoduneits and how-doneits. Whether Holmes and Watson investigated a drug gang, a rogue intelligence agency or battled a superbug threatening The Big Apple’s water supply, CBS’ long-running prime-time crime procedural netted a loyal amount of fans who stayed with the show from its 2012 debut through conclusion last month. CBS’ mammoth 40-disc DVD set houses the entire run of “Elementary” with some seven hours of extras, making this an essential release for fans. DVD BREAKDOWN: Extras in CBS’ now-available DVD box include deleted scenes, a gag reel, 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks and a handful of featurettes taking viewers behind the scenes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Miller is fine, as always, but Lucy Liu was the show’s anchor, as this complete, seven-season box of “Elementary” from CBS attests.
Also new from CBS this month is Season 5 of MADAM SECRETARY (15 hours, 2018-19), with Tea Leoni’s Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord returning for 20 more episodes of political intrigue and character drama. This time out, McCord grapples with transitioning from her long-standing cabinet role to a Presidential candidate, supported by her CIA op husband (Tim Daly) and Keith Carradine’s President Dalton. Appearances from the likes of Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell are on-hand in Season 5 of “Madam Secretary,” out this week from CBS (1.78, 5.1) with deleted scenes on select episodes…Season 4 of BILLIONS (12 hours, 2019) is also available this week on DVD from CBS. Former enemies Bobby Alexrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) here team up to rid themselves of their respective rivals in another acclaimed season of the Showtime series, on DVD (1.78, 5.1) with four featurettes on the supplemental side.
THIS IS US – Season 3 DVD (775 mins., 2018-19; Fox): NBC’s massively popular drama continues its mix of heartbreak, triumph and tragedy in its third season. Once again mustering big ratings in prime-time, “This Is Us” still follows the respective lives, loves and losses of the “Big Three” (Randall, Kate and Kevin) while flashing back to Jack and Rebecca’s earlier days. Lots of social commentary – even more than the series’ first two seasons – is on-hand in a show that still appeals to its fanbase though more casual viewers may find their tolerance levels lowered for its treacly elements and enhanced preachiness. Fox’s DVD (1.78, 5.1) is now available featuring a Paleyfest 2019 panel and “The Aftershow” segments for all episodes…Also new from Fox is Season 10 of the long-running ABC comedy MODERN FAMILY (2018-19), out on DVD featuring all 22 episodes from the show’s penultimate season (1.78, 5.1). Though the series’ heyday has clearly passed, fans should still enjoy this reportedly less silly assortment of storylines, culminating in the birth of Haley’s baby at season’s end. The multi-disc set is now available from Fox.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: COMIC GENIUS DVD (841 mins., Time Life): New to retail this month is a five-disc DVD anthology of Robin Williams’ HBO stand-up specials – previously issued last year alongside Time Life’s marvelous 22-disc version. This set sports Williams’ classic sets for HBO: “Off The Wall” (1978), “An Evening With Robin Williams” (1983), “An Evening At The Met” (1986), “Live on Broadway” (2002) and “Weapons of Self Destruction” (2009). Ample supplements include rare archival footage of Williams’ early stand-up; raw footage from the HBO promo shoots and press interviews; featurettes; and fresh interviews with Lewis Black and Robin’s manager, David Steinberg.
Also New & Noteworthy
YESTERDAY 4K UHD Combo Pack (**, 117 mins., 2019, PG-13; Universal): Danny Boyle’s whimsical yet forgettable fantasy stars Himesh Patel as a struggling London musician who, after being involved in a bike accident, finds out that he’s the only human alive with a recollection of both The Beatles and their music – which he promptly passes off as his own. His relationship with his would-be girlfriend manager (Lily James) and dealings with a Faustian music promoter (Kate McKinnon) inform his subsequent rise to the top – but, of course, assorted moral and ethical concerns stem from the fallout of his meteoric ascent in popularity.
While Boyle’s direction keeps things lively, once the premise of Richard Curtis’ slight script is set in motion, there’s nowhere for “Yesterday” to go. The performances are mostly appealing but, through no fault of his own, Patel’s Jack Malik turns out to be such a jerk at times that the film’s not entirely as likeable as it ought to be – not to mention inconclusive in terms of providing an explanation for the overall scenario. This might’ve worked better as a lighter episode of the revived “Twilight Zone” but it doesn’t function especially well as a feature.
Universal’s 4K UHD of this summer release (a decent box-office hit) debuts September 24th featuring a vibrant HVEC (2.39) transfer with HDR and Dolby Atmos audio on both the 4K and Blu-Ray as well. Extras include an alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes (including a segment on Ed Sheeran, who plays himself), and Digital copy, with the extras included in 4K resolution on the UHD as well.
THE DEAD DON’T DIE Blu-Ray (**, 104 mins., 2019, R; Universal): Jim Jarmusch’s films were once more reserved for the Criterion Collection than mass consumption, but the iconoclast director’s latest – “The Dead Don’t Die” – offers a big cast (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny) in a meditation (of sorts) on modern zombie fare. Murray and Driver play small-town cops who have to deal with a zombie outbreak, but the simple plot line is just an excuse for a series of scattershot comedic interludes that mostly don’t come together. A box-office misfire earlier this summer, the “Dead” comes recommended for Jarmusch completists only. Universal’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes three featurettes, a 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and a Digital HD copy.
BOOKSMART Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2019, R; Fox): Nicely performed but extremely familiar tale of high schoolers – here booksmart pals (Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein), one of whom is a lesbian – who decide to let loose and party on the night before graduation scored big reviews from some critics but only tepid box-office. Actress Olivia Wilde directed “Booksmart” and the performances of its leads are right on-target, yet a lot of this felt contrived to me – not to mention overly reminiscent of other (and frankly much better) high school films. Fox’s now-available Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) includes Wilde’s commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, a gallery and Digital code.
DARK PHOENIX Blu-Ray (**, 114 mins., 2019, PG-13; Fox): Much troubled, apparently final entry in Fox’s X-Men series underwent extensive reshoots then a studio switch once Disney bought out Fox’s film/TV division. Unceremoniously released to franchise-low box-office this past June, “Dark Phoenix” is an unremarkable (though far from embarrassing) adaptation of one of the Marvel Comic’s most popular story lines, with previously good-natured mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) here becoming the apocalyptic Dark Phoenix at the behest of an alien villainess played by Jessica Chastain.
James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and the gang all return, but with Turner just basically having inhabited the role, there’s not enough dramatic pull to this rendition. Meanwhile, the film feels as if it’s been worked over in post-production, from Hans Zimmer’s cliched scoring (itself giving the movie a different tone than its predecessors) to a general lack of character interaction. It’s not a total dud as many of the reviews would lead you to believe – and is more watchable than the overstuffed last outing, “X-Men: Apocalypse” – but it still ends up a mediocre swan song to a mostly successful series.
“Dark Phoenix” makes a fast track to home video this week from Disney and Fox. The 1080p (2.39) transfer and 7.1 DTS MA sound are expectedly robust with extras including deleted scenes, a five-part documentary and commentary from writer-director Simon Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker, a DVD and Digital HD copy.
SHAFT Blu-Ray Combo Pack (*½, 111 mins., 2019, R; Warner): In 2000, Samuel L. Jackson starred in a successful, straight “Shaft” reboot playing the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original ‘70s P.I. In 2019, Jackson returned – now confusingly as Roundtree’s son – in another “Shaft” reboot, this time accentuating comedy to substantially more diminishing returns than John Singleton’s 2000 hit.
This box-office wipeout from earlier this summer has less to do with its predecessors and more to do with tired “buddy movie” clichés, here with Jackson’s “outrageously candid” Shaft partnered with estranged son J.J. (Jessie T. Usher), a “buttoned-up” FBI analyst who teams up with Dad to uncover the circumstances behind his childhood friend’s apparent overdose. Richard Roundtree is back again as Grandpa Shaft with Regina Hall as Shaft’s ex in a Tim Story-helmed affair that feels strangely out of step in terms of its lightweight approach, not unlike a ‘90s cinematic revival of an old TV sitcom. Even worse, though, are the staleness of the jokes in the Kenya Barris-Alex Barnow script, most of which misfire to such a degree one can easily understand why Warner unloaded the film to Netflix for territories outside North America. Making its home video bow this week, Warner’s punchy Blu-Ray (2.41, Dolby Atmos) sports deleted scenes, a gag reel, featurettes, a DVD and Digital HD copy.
PAVAROTTI Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**½, 115 mins., 2019, PG-13; Lionsgate): Ron Howard’s documentary on the great tenor of the 20th century proves to be thoroughly watchable and strangely superficial at the same time. Expectedly well-crafted and packed with both many of Pavarotti’s indelible performances, interviews with colleagues and admirers alike, and lots of archival footage, “Pavarotti” the film ultimately doesn’t provide as many insights as you might’ve hoped, and tip-toes around the singer’s off-stage infidelities and assorted controversies – bringing them up enough that you might be encouraged to “read more about it” while the film doesn’t entirely fulfill its end of the bargain. Lionsgate’s good-looking Blu-Ray (1.78, 7.1 Dolby TrueHD) is out September 24th featuring three featurettes, a Digital HD copy and DVD.
Also New From Lionsgate: Despite boasting the involvement of director Luc Besson and composer Eric Serra, ANNA (119 mins., 2019, R) offers yet another retread of Besson’s earlier, now almost 30-year-old “La Femme Nikita.” Here, the attractive Sasha Luss goes through the usual paces as a Russian girl recruited to be the KGB’s next super-spy, with Helen Mirren in the Tcheky Karyo part and Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy offering varying degrees of support. Yet, the Besson-Marc Shmuger script is recycled stuff all the way, putting Luss through predictable paces ending the same way you’ve seen this story told a dozen times (or more) by now, while the visually snazzy action eventually becomes tiresome. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (2.39, Dolby Atmos) is out September 24th also featuring a DVD, Digital HD copy and four Making Of featurettes; the superior 4K UHD edition (Dolby Vision/HDR, Dolby Atmos) features more robust video enhancements thanks to both HDR and DV being implemented, along with the BD and Digital code.
Dolph Lundgren struts his stuff in the Italian-lensed THE TRACKER (87 mins., 2019, R). Here, Lundgren plays a special ops sniper whose wife and daughter are killed while on vacation; years later, a cop who says he has information on their slayings is also murdered, leading Lundregn’s Aiden to unravel a vast conspiracy. Giorgio Serafini’s film is new to Blu-Ray on September 24th featuring a 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound – the film’s in English though nearly all of the cast and crew were Italian for this production.
Independent Label Wrap
THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II Blu-Ray (90 mins., 1984, R; Arrow Video): There are fewer horror sequels – at least those that return their original directors – as downright “odd” as Wes Craven’s 1984 sequel to his 1977 hit “The Hills Have Eyes.”
Apparently filmed in the wake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” but with a budget that ran dry during production, this follow-up finds a group of young bikers – plus a survivor of the original film and a reformed member of the cannibal clan that still lives in the desert – running afoul of the same family of Yucca Valley psycho mutants. Some gory kills and a general lighter mood (comparatively speaking) dominate the action this time around, along with ample clips recycled from its predecessor – used to pad the running time.
Reportedly disowned by Craven himself, this is a very strange and yet still curiously watchable sequel Arrow has fully restored for its Blu-Ray debut. A new 2K restoration (1.85, mono PCM) graces the technical side of things while “Blood, Sand and Fire” is a comprehensive Making Of featuring interviews with producer Peter Locke, stars Michael Berryman and Janus Blythe (who both returned from the original “Hills”), production designer Dominick Bruno, production manager John Callas and composer Harry Manfredini. The trailer, a stills gallery, fold-out poster, six postcards and a 40-page Limited Edition booklet put the cap on a silly effort best recommended for those old enough to remember its Thorn EMI home video release back in the mid 80s.
TEDDY PENDERGRASS: IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME (106 mins., 2018; MVD Visual): Before suffering an auto accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, Teddy Pendergrass was at the top of the R&B field – in fact, Pendergrass was the first African-American artist to chart five straight platinum albums. His fortunes changed when he was critically injured in 1982, though Pendergrass staged a comeback with a number of hits, including the soulful “Hold Me In Your Arms”, a classic soft-rock duet with Whitney Houston.
This BBC Films production from director Olivia Lichtenstein profiles Pendergrass’ fascinating career, meteoric rise to the top, subsequent tragedy and eventual comeback in a superb feature documentary. Now on Blu-Ray from MVD, the Blu-Ray sports stereo audio and a 1080p (1.78) transfer, along with five deleted scenes and the trailer…New in MVD’s Rewind Collection is FIND ME GUILTY (124 mins., 2006, R), Sidney Lumet’s penultimate film about a mobster (Vin Diesel) who testifies on his own behalf even after striking a deal to shorten his prison term by ratting out his former associates. Lumet directed and co-wrote this flavorful and entertaining picture for the Yari Film Group, which did little at the box-office – even with Diesel attempting at the time to branch out as a dramatic actor (something that, these days, nobody in his position feels a need to even try). This Blu-Ray debut of the 2006 film, co-starring Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Ron Silver and Annabella Sciorra, features a 1080p (1.78) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 audio, the trailer, TV spots, and a five-minute archival interview with Lumet, who passed away in 2011 after directing one final picture.
A BUCKET OF BLOOD Blu-Ray (66 mins., 1959; Olive): Roger Corman’s predecessor to “Little Shop of Horrors” stars Dick Miller as a beatnik artist who takes to murder to fnd the subjects of his latest sculptures. Barboura Morris co-stars as Carla, the would-be muse for Miller’s art, with Bert Convy as an undercover cop (!), Antony Carbone as the owner of the café where Miller works, and Julian Burton (another Corman regular) as a resident poet at the same coffee house.
A favorite among Corman devotees, “A Bucket of Blood” has been fully remastered in a brand-new 4K scan (1.85) from MGM and debuts this month as part of Olive’s “Signature Collection.” As with Olive’s prior Signature releases, this deluxe package includes extensive supplemental materials including interviews with Roger Corman, Dick and Lainie Miller, and commentary from Miller biographer Elijah Drenner. There’s also an archival commentary with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith; a visual essay comparing the shooting script with the final cut; an essay from historian Caelum Vatnsdal, the German version’s rare prologue, a Super 8 “digest” version, trailers and a gallery of newly uncovered on-set photography.
CANAL STREET DVD (103 mins., 2019, PG-13; Cinedigm): Faith-based thriller tells the story of Koli Styles, a young man whose father – a Chicago lawyer – has to defend him once he’s accused of murdering a classmate. Cinedigm’s DVD of Rhyman Lamarr’s film includes strong performances from Bryshere Y. Gray and Mykleti Williamson, and is now on DVD (16:9, 5.1) featuring several behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Music Box New Releases: The life of Notre Dame’s long-time President Rev. Theodore Hesburgh is recounted in Patrick Creadon’s new documentary HESBURGH (106 mins., 2019, Not Rated). Both renowned as an educator, theologian and presidential advisor, this feature-length production examines his work especially during the turbulent Civil Rights era alongside the likes of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, Jr. A worthwhile look at someone who crossed the aisle in a time seemingly more fractured than today, “Hesburgh” is new on DVD from Music Box sporting bonus interviews, a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound…Coming September 17th from Music Box is the delightful German import IN THE AISLES (125 mins., 2019), a leisurely yet appealing tale of a soft-spoken man (Franz Rogowski) who takes the night shift at a grocery store. His relationship with his manager (Peter Kurth) and blossoming romance with a girl (Sandra Huller) who works in “Sweet Goods” across the aisle makes for a low-key and eventually infectious comedy that received positive notices on the art-house circuit. Music Box’s DVD (1.66, 5.1 German) includes an interview with Rogowski, press conference, featurette and English subtitles.
A SCORE TO SETTLE Blu-Ray (104 mins., 2019, Not Rated; RLJ): It’s been too long since Nicolas Cage’s last movie, so here, just in the nick of time, is “A Score to Settle.” Alas, this Shawn Ku-directed affair isn’t as bonkers as, say, “Mandy,” with Cage playing a prisoner with a terminal illness who’s released after serving nearly two decades behind bars. He attempts to make good with the now-grown son (Noah Le Gros) he left behind while taking revenge on the gang who left him to rot in this pretty much push-button outing that’s not the worst of Cage’s recent films – though here that’s not necessarily a recommendation! Benjamin Bratt and Karolina Wydra co-star in the film, which debuts on home video September 24th from RLJ sporting three featurettes, a 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
Well Go USA New Releases: Available this week, KUNG FU LEAGUE (103 mins., 2018) is a popular Hong Kong martial arts comedy about a guy who summons the assistance of four Kung Fu masters in order to nab the girl he wants from the clutches of an obnoxious manager. Silliness ensues in this one, now available in a BD/DVD combo pack from Well Go sporting a 1080p transfer and DTS MA Mandarin audio with English subtitles…Coming September 24th is something entirely different for Well Go: THE FIRST KING (128 mins., 2019), an elaborate Italian production mounted by RAI and directed by Matteo Rovere. This two-plus hour epic examines the relationship between shepherd brothers Romulus (Alessio Lapice) and Remus (Alessandro Borghi), with ample action and decent production values. Well Go’s Blu-Ray/DVD offers a Making Of, 1080p transfer and DTS MA audio in Latin (English subtitles) or an English dubbed track…”Night Train From Busan” star Don Lee headlines THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL (110 mins., 2018), starring as a local mob boss who’s attacked after an auto accident. Barely escaping with his life, Lee teams up with a detective (Kim Moo Yui) to clear up his reputation and finds out the culprit is a serial killer dubbed “K.” This Hong Kong action/thriller mash-up is pretty lively stuff for genre fans, and Well Go’s Blu-Ray is out October 1st featuring two featurettes, trailers, a 1080p transfer and Korean DTS MA audio with English subtitles.
IT, CHAPTER TWO (***): “It”’s still good.
The much-anticipated concluding chapter to Andy Muschietti’s 2017 box-office hit continues Stephen King’s story – this time 27 years later with the Derry, Maine kids replaced by their adult counterparts, who answer the call once Pennywise begins another rampage directed towards the kids in their hometown. Though there’s a sense of blandness in some of the casting (James McAvoy and Jay Ryan especially), Bill Hader scores with plenty of laughs as the grown-up Richie and Jessica Chastain provides a convincing portrayal of an adult Bev. Helping matters is Muschietti’s reprisal of the original’s teen cast via extensive flashback sequences – albeit some with (not always convincing) “de-aging” digital effects work.
“It”’s first half was certainly more focused than this overlong second helping, yet as a “funhouse horror movie” goes, the picture still hums along. Much lighter in tone overall – not just through Hader’s character but much of the set-pieces themselves, which grow increasingly outlandish – Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman let loose and have fun paying homage to movies like “The Thing” (a decapitated head serves a similar purpose to Carpenter’s classic) and throwing in weird cameos (King himself and Peter Bogdanovich!) along the way.
The frights are mostly of the “boo!” variety – as they were in the original – but it’s possible some hardcore horror fans may be turned off by the self-referential, occasionally comedic nature of this sequel: McAvoy’s character receives the repeated criticism (often reserved for King’s works) that he can’t write a satisfying ending, while Hader’s riffs poke a bit of fun at the material, including Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise performance.
Still, the cumulative mix of scares and laughs work here, and I struggle to come up with many studio-produced horror films in recent memory that have been as satisfying as this ambitious adaptation of “It.” Capped with a terrific climax that nails what the 1990 TV mini-series was trying to get across and you have a sequel that – even with its silly and overstuffed portions — eventually delivers all the goods. (R, 169 mins.)
NEXT TIME: Kino Lorber September with Ealing classics, REAP THE WILD WIND and ’60s pseudo-Hitchcock! 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!