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In the late ’70s, the vampire genre had nearly run its course. Decades of fanged Draculas – from from the Bela Lugosi era through Hammer’s seemingly endless succession of Christopher Lee efforts – had turned the undead into a cliché that often bordered on self-parody. With George Hamilton’s box-office success “Love At First Bite” still in theaters, Universal, producer Walter Mirisch and director John Badham attempted to revitalize the classic Dracula mythos with their own adaptation of DRACULA (***½, 109 mins., 1979, R; Shout! Factory).

Utilizing the Hamilton Deane-John L. Balderston play (and, to a lesser degree, Stoker’s novel) as its principal guide, the 1979 “Dracula” was a classy production that tried to bring style and seriousness back to the genre – along with a heaping amount of romance.

Fresh off his acclaimed and successful run as the character on Broadway, Frank Langella starred as the Count, carrying with him an enormously charismatic, sexual aspect to the role that’s absent from most Dracula portrayals. Laurence Olivier co-stars as Van Helsing, in a performance that was marred by the actor’s declining health — he lacks the energy one might have anticipated Olivier bringing to the part, but other performances compensate, from Kate Nelligan’s heroine Lucy to Trevor Eve as Jonathan Harker.

W.D. Richter’s script departs from other “Dracula” adaptations in a number of areas, but for the most part works well, with John Badham’s film being graced by a peerless technical crew, many of whom were veterans of the James Bond series. Maurice Binder contributes an unmistakably Binder-esque love scene, Peter Murton’s production design and Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography memorably capture a classic Gothic horror look, while John Williams’ outstanding musical score enriches every moment of the film.

In fact, Williams’ sweeping score includes one of his most memorable main themes – a darkly romantic motif for Dracula that fits hand in hand with Langella’s equally superb performance – that makes it a unique and marvelous entry in the composer’s filmography.

Even with Langella’s performance and all its visceral assets, “Dracula” was a box-office disappointment at the time of its release – a result attributed to the over-saturation of the genre and the success of Hamilton’s spoof. Though the movie’s gore (what little there is of it) is tame by today’s standards, the picture was heavily criticized for being excessive at the time, despite Langella’s insistence on Dracula neither drinking blood nor appearing with cliched aspects of the role (glowing eyes, fangs, etc.).

Today, Badham’s “Dracula” holds up as one of the most memorable of Stoker adaptations. Having grown up watching the film (along with the classic Universal Monsters), I admit I’ve always had a personal preference for Langella’s interpretation, and together with Williams’ score, they accentuate the romantic, sexual aspects of the material, making for a refreshing change from the usual vampire fare.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-Ray is nothing short of a revelation because it includes – for the first time since the film’s original, cropped VHS and laserdisc releases of the early ‘80s – the original theatrical color timing of the film. Badham had wanted to shoot the movie in B&W but technical and commercial considerations prevented him from doing so; his revenge was de-coloring “Dracula” for laserdisc in the early ’90s, giving the production a limp, desaturated appearance that became the only version of the Langella “Dracula” available to viewers for the decades that followed.

Shout’s Blu-Ray again offers the “Director Preferred Color” on Disc 1 (same transfer as the previous Blu-Ray) with the Original Theatrical Color on Disc 2. This is a new transfer from source materials that were likely the best-available from the Universal vaults — and those elements are mostly in fine shape with strikingly crisp detail, though they occasionally display assorted anomalies. Speckles, nicks, some blotches on the screen (especially in the last reel) are intermittently detectable, and at least one section – Langella’s introduction – seems notably softer than the rest of the transfer.

Yet, that being said, the restoration of the color itself is just wonderful to behold. The warmth of the hues and overall look to the film is striking, especially after years of being stuck with the anemic pseudo-“noir” version – in fact, this romantic “Dracula” now comes across as an even more unique viewing experience thanks to Taylor’s “Golden” color scheme, presented here with Badham’s blessing, in its original 2.35 widescreen proportions (the desaturated version seems somewhat cropped by comparison also, measuring out to more like 2.2:1). The romantic tone of the film seems much more aligned with the original cinematography, while the “off” looking, desaturated version’s “grittier, darker” look seems more suited to a different sort of treatment altogether. Either way, as the director notes in an introduction shared between the two discs, audiences can now choose, at last, the version they want to see, both of them also offering a rich 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack.

Shout’s supplemental package for “Dracula” includes a new commentary from historian/filmmaker Constantine Nasr, who also produced the assorted new interviews on the disc. Incredibly, editor John Bloom was previously interviewed by Nasr in a magazine article where he stated he “hated” John Williams’ score. Bloom doesn’t quite use that language on-camera here but doubles down on his belief Williams’ score was too bombastic and needed to be eerier. Other interviews include fresh conversations with John Badham and W.D. Richter, plus numerous members of the technical crew.

While these interviews are mostly interesting (Badham’s most especially), none of them can quite supplant the 2002 documentary “The Revamping of ‘Dracula’,” produced by Laurent Bouzereau for Universal’s DVD release and retained here. Offering then-new interviews with Badham, Langella, Richter, Walter Mirisch, John Williams, and other members of the production team, this is an honest evaluation of the production and its eventual, disappointing box-office performance.

Langella’s comments are often the most revealing, with the actor discussing his work as the Count on Broadway, and how he battled Universal execs at the time, who wanted a more visceral, explicit horror movie. Also fun is a discussion over Maurice Binder’s “love scene,” which the filmmakers seem to be split right down the middle on. Williams’ score, meanwhile, is rightly singled out by both Langella and Mirisch, who heap deserved praise on the ravishing London Symphony Orchestra soundtrack.

In addition to a photo gallery, Badham’s older commentary has also been retained on Disc 1, with the director being impatient with what he feels is an overly-leisurely running time. It all makes for one of Scream Factory’s most important restorative efforts, and one of their most satisfying Blu-Ray packages to date.

PROPHECY Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 1979, PG; Shout! Factory): I sort-of recall watching “Prophecy” on network TV in the early ’80s, and getting quite upset that Talia Shire’s unborn baby could be a mutated, one-eyed monster — the kind of thing you might expect from a tired eight-year-old who probably shouldn’t have been staying up to watch this movie to begin with!

Now that I’m old enough to fully appreciate this John Frankenheimer genre fiasco, I can honestly say that a) giant mutated bear movies are cool, and b) even though “Prophecy” is far from a good movie, they really don’t make silly horror films the way they used to back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Written by “Omen” scribe David Seltzer, “Prophecy” attempts to seriously preach about the environment at the same time it serves up a monster-on-the-rampage epic a la “Jaws,” except with a giant, bloody mutated bear wreaking havoc in the Maine woods instead of Bruce the Mechanical Shark.

Robert Foxworth stars as a righteous EPA employee who ventures up north to attempt to settle a land dispute between the local Native Americans (lead, inappropriately enough, by Armand Assante, he of Irish-Italian descent) and the giant paper mill, run by Richard Dysart. They’re cutting down trees, while the Indians continue to stammer and fall down — not because of alcoholism, according to Assante, but because something in the water is contaminating the system.

Of course, that’s not all: salmon are growing to shark-like proportions, while Foxworth and pregnant wife Talia Shire (top-billed in a thankless role she took while taking a break from the “Rocky” series) find a mutated baby bear that they attempt to bring back home to prove that mercury run-off from the paper bill is responsible for ruining the environment.

Unfortunately, after arguing over the legalities of population growth and the housing shortage worldwide, the ‘lil mutant bites Shire in the neck as the group attempts to flee from the giant monster bear, which has already disposed of a family of campers (including a teenager who memorably attempts to escape in his sleeping bag).

“Prophecy” has all the makings of a good “bad” movie, and unsurprisingly, it delivers: Seltzer’s script enlightens about the plight of urban decay, over-population, and environmental contamination, while presenting decent arguments about the natives’ concerns over the destruction of their land and the paper mill owner’s arguments about how much paper Foxworth is going to take to write up his report (which is going to be quite a lot, judging from his continual ranting about the evils of having a child in today’s world).

But after all of the build-up, what we have here is a very, very silly monster movie, with the man-in-the-suit bear running through the woods, ripping the heads off its victims in a fashion that still managed to attain a PG rating, and a hilarious ending where the monster destroys a log cabin situated in the middle of a lake. Fortunately, Assante’s bow-and-arrow comes in quite handy, and there’s a doozy of a final shot that will leave you in stitches – all of it matched to an over-the-top score by none other than Leonard Rosenman.

While “Prophecy” has gained fame in everything from the “Golden Turkey Awards” to its distinction as being one of Frankenheimer’s worst films, it’s still compulsively watchable. The Panavision cinematography by Harry Stradling, Jr. is often breathtaking (at least the scenes that weren’t shot on a backlot stage), and you get an educational tour of a real-life paper mill at work, that kind that would almost make “Prophecy”  a decent “Read More About It” book project for grade-school students.

While the movie is laugh-out-loud funny at certain spots, Frankenheimer still manages to make a scene where the characters hide in an underground tunnel from the giant bear creature quite unnerving and effective. Alas, scenes like that are few and far between, with the regulatory “Jaws”-inspired shocks comprising the rest of the action, and the director using herky-jerky camera work to draw attention away from the ridiculous-looking monster.

Shout’s Blu-Ray premiere of “Prophecy” burrows out of the forest this week, sporting a nifty 1080p (2.35) transfer with a nicely directional, early Dolby Stereo (2.0 DTS MA) soundtrack. Extras are copious but only David Seltzer’s interview is honest enough to hammer Frankenheimer’s lackluster direction (tellingly, it includes one of those disclaimers that “the thoughts and opinions” of the speaker aren’t necessarily representative of Shout or Paramount, etc.). Seltzer bemoans the director’s approach to the film and the fact his complaints over the poor special effects fell on deaf ears, making for a funny and candid talk. Lengthy but less frank conversations are also included with Talia Shire and Robert Foxworth, who praise the film’s ecological concerns, along wth FX artists Tom Burman, Allan Apone and Tom McLoughlin. The trailer is also included for a prime “Guilty Pleasure” pick for horror/monster fans.

John Carpenter’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (***, 100 mins., 1986, PG-13; Shout! Factory) may not be a classic, but this cult favorite – a pastiche of kung-fu mysticism, sci-fi fantasy, Saturday-matinee serials, ’80s FX extravaganzas, and supernatural hokum that was clearly ahead of its time – is nevertheless one of the director’s most entertaining films, and receives the deluxe Blu-Ray treatment this December from Scream Factory.

Originally a western (!) that was re-written by W.D. Richter (“Dracula,” “Buckaroo Banzai”), “Big Trouble” stars Kurt Russell in one of his most engaging performances as trucker Jack Burton, who improbably stumbles into San Francisco’s Chinatown, where an ensuing war between rival gangs coincides with the kidnapping of his best friend’s bride. Undaunted by any of Richard Edlund’s fine special effects, Russell and pal Dennis Dun, along with reporter Kim Cattrall, venture into the lower depths of a mysterious world where monsters run amok, an old sorcerer wants to seize the promise of eternal life, and folks fly around in a way that we would not see again until the likes of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Carpenter’s jokey, 1986 comic-book adventure was way ahead of the curve in pre-dating the ’90s revival of martial arts movies, but “Big Trouble” owes as much to Indiana Jones and the genre of big, FX-heavy blockbusters that were so prevalent in the mid ’80s as it does to Hong Kong cinema. Russell and Cattrall work up some believable chemistry, the pacing is quick and fun, Carpenter’s trademark use of the wide Panavision frame is on full display, and even one of the director’s better musical scores (composed, as was the norm for the era, with Alan Howarth) helps out.

“Big Trouble” has always been one of my favorite Carpenter films, and was previously released in a Fox Blu-Ray in 2009. This two-disc Collector’s Edition features the same technical package (1080p 2.35, 5.1 DTS MA) while mixing in both new and older extras. As with the earlier BD, Carpenter and Dean Cundey’s widescreen visuals adapt beautifully to high-definition, and once again viewers can pick between the rollicking 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack as well as a 2-channel stereo mix (2.0 Dolby Digital) or an isolated score track.

Shout’s exclusive extras include two new commentaries – one with producer Larry J. Franco, another with FX artist Steve Johnson – plus ample new interview segments. These include W.D. Richter, co-scripter Gary Goldman, and actors Dennis Dun, James Hong, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, and Al Leong. There are also new conversations with Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace (Carpenter’s pals and “Coupe De Ville” musical members), martial arts choreographer James Lew, and the great movie poster artist Drew Struzan. The most notable of these interviews are the comments from Goldman – whose original script placed the action in the late 19th century – and Richter, who discusses “contemporizing” the long-in-development concept (which he initially didn’t like) and then not sticking around to watch the film being shot.

A bounty of other supplements are carried over from previous releases, including some interviews from Arrow’s UK release as well as the Fox Blu-Ray. Among the latter are an engaging old commentary with Russell and Carpenter, plus trailers and TV spots, a promotional featurette, an on-camera interview with Richard Edlund, deleted scenes, production notes, and plenty of stills and storyboards. You also get a hysterically bad music video of the movie’s theme song, featuring the “Coupe de Villes” including lead vocalist Carpenter himself!

“Big Trouble” is one of many movies that failed to find an audience in theaters (as a pre-teenager, I was one of the few viewers there when it opened), but clicked with viewers on video and TV in the years since its release. This is no-holds-barred escapist entertainment with great effects and an engagingly bonkers story that – enhanced by Carpenter’s trademark use of anamorphic cinematography – has proven to be a durable home video favorite.

ROAD GAMES Blu-Ray (**½, 101 mins., 1981, R): Remember when Richard Franklin was once all the rage? This 1981 Aussie thriller put the director from Down Under on the map, at least for a while. Stacy Keach essays a motorist who gets caught up in the “Duel”-like games of a serial killer who drives a van. Jamie Lee Curtis, meanwhile, plays a hitchhiker who comes along for the ride in what amounts to an extended cameo.

Though the ending stinger is weak, “Road Games” is an otherwise agreeable thriller from the heyday of the then-prolific Australian film industry. The movie’s original 2.35 widescreen dimensions have been preserved in this solid Scream Special Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray, which includes new interviews with Stacy Keach and a recent commentary with cinematographer Vincent Monton and cast/crew members. There’s also an exclusive demo of Brian May’s music plus a 1980 script read between Franklin, Keach and actress Marion Edward. Copious extras carried over from previous Anchor Bay/Umbrella releases include a Franklin commentary, a featurette with the director and Stacy Keach, plenty of interviews, archival pieces, audio-only interviews and more. The soundtrack offerings, meanwhile, are comprised of the original mono plus a 5.1 DTS MA stereo mix.

Also New From Shout! Factory

As if the sci-fi/horror treasures Shout! brings movie buffs this season isn’t enough, the label has also produced one of their most ambitious undertakings with a Blu-Ray box-set of ABBOTT & COSTELLO: THE COMPLETE UNIVERSAL PICTURES COLLECTION.

This is a 15-disc anthology that supplants Universal’s own 2008 DVD anthology of the same name by offering all of the duo’s productions for the studio, produced between 1940 and 1958, when A&C were ranked among the top box-office performers in Hollywood. AVC encoded HD transfers (mostly 1.33 B&W), Dolby Digital mono audio, a few new supplements, and a basic reprinting of the DVD’s fine color booklet (offering trivia and stills for each film) are all included in the package, which offers the following 28 Abbott & Costello comedies:

“One Night in the Tropics” (1940), the duo’s massive hit “Buck Privates” (1941), “In the Navy” (1941), “Hold That Ghost” (1941), “Keep ‘Em Flying” (1941), “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” (1942), “Pardon My Sarong” (1942), “Who Done It?” (1942), “It Ain’t Hay” (1943), “Hit the Ice” (1943), “In Society” (1944), “Here Come the Co-Eds” (1945), “The Naughty Nineties” (1945), “Little Giant” (1946), “The Time of Their Lives” (1946), “Buck Privates Come Home” (1947), “The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap” (1947),  the classic “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948), “Mexican Heyride” (1948), “Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff” (1949), “Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion” (1950), “Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (1951), “Comin’ Round the Mountain” (1951), “Lost in Alaska” (1952), “Abbott & Costello Go To Mars” (1953), “Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (1953), “Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Kops” (1955), and “Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy” (1955).

A few of these have been available in the BD format previously but the large majority have never been, making it a must for A&C fans. One of the most notable inclusions is the rarely-screened “It Ain’t Hay.” Based on a Damon Runyon story, this A&C outing finds Lou accidentally killing an elderly horse and replacing it with famous racer “Tea Biscuit.” It’s all standard fare with sporadic laughs, but it’s noteworthy since Runyon’s estate held the film up from release on home video for decades, with Universal’s DVD set – and now Shout’s superior Blu-Ray package – marking its first official release.

Shout’s Blu-Ray box is laid out like Universal’s DVD package (most definitely a good thing), sporting brand-new interviews with Chris Costello and historians Ron Palumbo and James L. Neibaur, plus the 3D Film Archive’s new restoration of old Castle Film reels featuring A&C. Previously-released, ported-over extras include outtakes, trailers, Sidney Miller’s 1965 documentary “The World of Abbott & Costello,” the TV special “Abbott & Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld,” and the featurette “Abbott & Costello Meet the Monsters.” Numerous audio commentaries, nine of them newly produced for this set, are also on-hand, including Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek’s “Buck Privates” chat; Jeff Miller discussing “Hold That Ghost”; Frank Coniff on “Who Done It?”; Frank Thompson on “The Time of Their Lives”; Gregory Mank on “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”; and Tom Weaver and Richard Scrivani on “Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” Production notes and trailers round out the extras for nearly every film.

The set is capped by a reprint of the DVD set’s outstanding booklet offering a film-by-film synopsis, along with historical notes from Ron Palumbo and introductions from Vickie Abbott Wheeler, Chris Costello and Paddy Costello Humphreys.

If you’re an Abbott & Costello fan, Shout’s essential Blu-Ray is a must-have, and one of their finest “Golden Age” catalog releases. Highly recommended.

THE ANNE BANCROFT COLLECTION (Shout! Factory): Likely to fly under the radar but extremely worthwhile for its inclusion of both classic and several new-to-Blu titles, Shout! Factory’s terrific, eight-film anthology of Anne Bancroft favorites comes highly recommended.

While Shout previously released Bancroft’s family comedy FATSO (93 mins., 1980, PG) with Dom DeLuise earlier this year (reviewed in my column here), Shout has augmented this collection by licensing Criterion’s THE GRADUATE (104 mins., 1967, PG) plus husband Mel Brooks’ genial 1983 remake of TO BE OR NOT TO BE (107 mins., 1983, PG) from Fox, with Bancroft and Brooks appearing opposite one another. Also included here are the Fox thriller DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK (76 mins., 1952), which Twilight Time previously released a year ago, with Bancroft as the straight-arrow girlfriend to a pilot (Richard Widmark) who gets mixed up with a floozy (Marilyn Monroe); and, of course, the multiple Oscar-winner THE MIRACLE WORKER (106 mins., 1962), the story of Hellen Keller (Patty Duke), with Bancroft in one of her signature roles (this is a straight reprise of the Olive Blu-Ray).

A trio of Sony-licensed Blu-Ray premieres are also housed in the set. These include the format debut of Jack Clayton’s 1964 film THE PUMPKIN EATER (110 mins., 1964), a searing domestic drama adapted by Harold Pinter from Penelope Mortimer’s book, scored by Georges Delerue and shot by Oswald Morris; Norman Jewison’s 1985 filming of AGNES OF GOD (98 mins., 1985, PG-13), the John Pielmeier play with Bancroft’s Mother Superior playing opposite Jane Fonda and Meg Tilly, the somewhat static drama vividly shot by Sven Nykvist and again scored by Delerue; and the charming, Brooks-produced 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD (99 mins., 1987, PG), with Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Each disc has been given its own Blu-Ray platter in Shout’s “Select” box-set with a 20-page booklet featuring notes from TCM host Alicia Malone. The low price tag and high-quality content makes it hugely appealing and one of the year’s most worthwhile “classic” format retrospectives.

CANDY Blu-Ray (***, 2006, 108 mins., R; Shout! Factory): Excellent performances from Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish carry this Australian import. Ledger plays a poet who falls for art student Cornish, but their attraction is at least partially fueled by their growing addiction to heroin. Director Neil Armfield (who co-wrote with Luke Davies, adapting his novel) has produced a realistic, well-performed character study that’s worth tracking down on Blu-Ray. Shout’s format premiere includes a 1080p (1.85) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound and extras from the DVD release including commentary and two featurettes.

Also New From Shout! Factory: Two new upcoming Blu-Ray combo packs come recommended for animation buffs. FUNAN (87 mins., 2018) is a stunningly animated story of a young Cambodian woman whose life is forever altered when the Khmer Rouge regime takes over in spring of 1975. Her family struggles and day to day existence are powerfully conveyed in this acclaimed 2018 production here brought to Blu-Ray December 3rd from Shout and GKids, featuring an interview with director Dennis Do, an art gallery, storyboards, trailer, a 1080p (2.39) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound. Due out December 10th is Satoshi Kon’s well-reviewed follow-up to “Perfect Blue,” MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (87 mins., 2001, PG), a fascinating look at the life and times of actress Chiyoko Fujiwara, as seen through the lens of documentary filmmakers literally thrust into her past – experiencing her lifetime memories and experiences in an emotionally rich and varied journey through her life. Shout’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo includes interviews with the producers and voice talent, a newly restored 1080p (1.85) transfer and 5.1 English and Japanese sound.

4K UHD owners looking for a solid new nature documentary needn’t look further than TURTLE ODYSSEY: BUNJI’S BIG ADVENTURE (60 mins., 2019), a colorful and gorgeously produced study of an Australian sea turtle named Bunji and her assorted aquatic adventures from her hatchling phase through adulthood. Russell Crowe’s narration in-tones this IMAX Enhanced UHD, which sports an HVEC encoded (1.78) transfer, DTS X audio, an interview with conservation officer Dr. Ian Bell, and an included Blu-Ray with 1080p video and similar DTS X sound. The image is terrifically conveyed with great detail and wonderful cinematography…Finally, SESAME STREET 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION! (122 mins.) is the terrific retrospective on the enduring children’s series. Host Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosts with appearances from celebrity guests and the current cast, paying tribute to the historical run of the PBS (and now HBO) chestnut with Shout’s DVD (1.85, 2.0 stereo) also offering the “Elmo’s World: Celebration” and “50 Years in 50 Seconds” bonus shows.


 

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Also New & Noteworthy

ROBOCOP Limited Edition Blu-Ray (***, 103 mins., 1987, Unrated/R; Arrow Video): A title that’s racked up plenty of frequent-flier miles on Blu-Ray already, “Robocop” is back for a third go-around in the format, this time in a new Arrow Limited Edition set.

Technically this is the same remastered 4K transfer (1.85) first introduced in MGM’s 2014 Blu-Ray release, and it still holds up spectacularly well. Solid detail enriches an image that was poorly presented in MGM’s first MPEG-2 encoded format master, with Arrow offering both the R-rated theatrical and Unrated cuts on two separate platters. Audio options include a run of 2.0, 4.0 and 5.1 DTS MA mixes on both discs, along with two isolated score tracks (Basil Poledouris’ original score and the “Final Theatrical Mix”) on the Director’s Cut disc.

If you’re looking to upgrade on the A/V side, Arrow’s presentation isn’t an improvement on that end, but where this Limited Edition package (complete with postcards, an 80-page limited edition book, double-sided fold-out poster and exclusive reversible cover art) shines is, unsurprisingly, with its supplements.

Offered here are new commentaries from historian Paul M. Sammon and a collection of fans; newly filmed interviews with co-writer Michael Miner, Ed Neumeier, Nancy Allen, casting director Julie Selzer, 2nd unit director Mark Goldblatt, and FX designer Peter Kurran. There’s also a 12-minute featurette paying tribute to the uber “masculine” soundtrack of Basil Poledouris featuring comments from Lukas Kendall (who?), Jeff Bond, Robert Townson and Daniel Schweiger. This is a welcome segment that’s included alongside a wealth of other extras, commentaries and featurettes from MGM’s previous home video releases.

Arrow has also assembled assorted “Edited for Television” alternate takes used to supplement “Robocop”’s TV broadcasts. These include overdubbed lines and some alternate versions, presented in both a full 20-minute montage or in a comparison with the Theatrical and Unrated versions (there’s also a Theatrical Vs. Unrated comparison featurette for good measure). The full TV cut (95 minutes) is also included in standard-def, putting the cap on a definitive supplemental section for fans.

THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S Olive Signature Collection Blu-Ray (126 mins., 1945; Olive): For this 1945 classic, Bing Crosby repeated his performance as Father O’Malley from “Going My Way,” playing the irrepressible priest trying to determine if struggling school St. Mary’s – complete with its headstrong Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) – is worth saving, especially when a businessman arrives on the scene, hoping to turn it into a parking lot.

A wealth of sterling supporting performances and the chemistry between Crosby and Bergman make this a perennial favorite, here improved immeasurably on Blu-Ray thanks to Olive’s 4K restored (1.37) AVC encoded B&W transfer. New extras include Crosby biographer Gary Giddins’ commentary, featurettes on the film being one of the earliest sequels as paying tribute to the work of director Leo McCarey, and the Screen Guild Theater radio presentation. Strongly recommended!

NOW, VOYAGER Blu-Ray (117 mins., 1942; Criterion)/ALL ABOUT EVE Blu-Ray (138 mins., 1950; Criterion): Two of Bette Davis’ legendary performances receive the Criterion Blu-Ray treatment this month, each boasting 4K digital restorations and new extras.

“Now, Voyager” offers Davis in all her glory as Charlotte Vale, a Boston spinster convicted by her psychiatrist (Claude Rains) to go on a South American cruise. There, her journey of self-discovery includes a relationship with an unhappily married man (Paul Henreid). This war-time soaper was memorably scored by Max Steiner and comes across as one of Davis’ most poignant performances. Criterion’s Blu-Ray, available November 26th, includes a new 4K (1.37 B&W) remaster with uncompressed PCM audio; a 1971 Dick Cavett episode with Davis; selected-scene commentary on Max Steiner’s score by Jeff Smith; new interviews with critic Farran Smith Nehme on the making of the film, as well as costume historian Larry McQueen; and two radio adaptations from 1943 and 1946.

Joseph Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve,” meanwhile, returned Davis to the top with the 1950 Best Picture Oscar winner – an all-time show biz classic with tart, endlessly quotable dialogue and unforgettable performances to spare. Mankiewicz’s crown jewel was previously brought to DVD by Fox in a mediocre transfer that’s been totally usurped by this 4K restoration (1.37 B&W, though many have reported it’s derived from the same source as Fox’s previous 2011 Blu-Ray). The disc otherwise mixes new extras with older supplements Fox produced, including two commentaries (one with actress Celeste Holm, Mankiewicz’s son Christopher and Ken Geist; another sporting Sam Staggs); a 1983 documentary on Mankiewicz; Dick Cavett episodes from 1969 and 1980 featuring Davis and Gary Merrill; a new interview with Larry McQueen; AMC’s 2001 “Hollywood Backstories” episode on the film; 2010 featurettes on Mankiewicz’s life and times; the 1946 short story on which the film is based; a 1951 radio adaptation; and an essay from critic Terrence Rafferty.


Label Wrap

Lionsgate New Releases: A surprise box-office hit, ANGEL HAS FALLEN (121 mins., 2019, R) brings Gerard Butler back as secret service agent Mike Banning. This time, though, he’s not tasked with saving D.C. or London but rather trying to save himself – first from the PTSD fallout from the events of the prior films, then from a conspiracy that pegs him as an Enemy of the State, even after he rescues the President (Morgan Freeman) from an assassination attempt. Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and director Ric Woman Waugh concocted this third entry in the “Banning Trilogy,” utilizing a lower budget to spin a formulaic yet agreeable enough spin on the “Fugitive”/”Taken” action movie formula, with Butler comfortably doing his thing and a capable supporting cast (Nick Nolte, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Piper Perabo, Danny Huston) backing him up. It’s no great shakes but for a single viewing the film capably gets the job done. Lionsgate’s 4K UHD package boasts HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound, with ample extras including four featurettes and two additional goodies on the included Blu-Ray with three scenes “Declassified” with Waugh’s commentary and a Digital HD copy rounding out the disc.

New on DVD, Season 12 of ANCIENT ALIENS (8 hours, 2019) offers the first 10 episodes from the still-popular History series’ most recent season. Return to Antarctica, The Badlands Guardian, Element 115, The Star Gods of Sirius, They Came From The Sea, Secrets of the Maya, The Druid Connection, The Reptillian Agenda, The Alien Infection and Project Hybrid constitute this “Volume 1” portion of the 12th season of “Ancient Aliens,” now on DVD from Lionsgate featuring 16:9 transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound…Out November 29thAMERICAN DREAMER (93 mins., 2018, R) is a downbeat, “gritty” character study offering sometime-comedian Jim Gaffigan in an atypical dramatic role: a ride-share driver who makes one bad decision after another after opting to chauffeuring a local drug dealer around. Derrick Borte’s film is well-acted if one-note, with Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) including a Making Of featurette with a Digital HD copy…Newly available on Blu-Ray is 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED (95 mins., 2019, PG-13), a sequel to the surprise hit “47 Meters Down,” this time finding a quartet of teen girls running afoul of great whites while swimming around the remains of a sunken Mayan City. Silliness ensues in this inferior follow-up, which Lionsgate has brought to Blu-Ray sporting a commentary, featurette, 5.1 DTS MA sound, 1080p (2.40) transfer, DVD and a Digital HD copy.

The drama LOW TIDE (86 mins., 2019, R) is a decent independent offering from A24 about a trio of Jersey Shore buddies, bumming around on the boardwalk, when they uncover some actual treasure. Kevin McMullin’s film follows the predictable fallout from their discovery, but “Low Tide” does a decent job establishing the characters and their predicament, through an ambiguous ending. Lionsgate’s DVD (2.39, 5.1) is out December 3rd sporting a featurette…Finally, also due December 3rd  is is SEMPER FI (99 mins., 2019, R), an urban drama starring Jai Courtenay and Nat Wolff in the story of a cop and marine reservist who takes up his childhood friend’s fight after he’s arrested and unfairly sentenced to prison. Henry-Alex Rubin’s film is new to Blu-Ray (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) sporting deleted scenes, commentary from Rubin, two featurettes, a DVD and Digital HD copy.

PBS New ReleasesAidan Turner’s performance grounds the acclaimed, entertaining POLDARK (43 hours), a fan-favorite period drama that opens in 1783 with the titular hero returning to Cornwall from the failed American Revolution. There, he finds his land and family in the midst of turmoil – his beloved (Heida Reed) now engaged to his cousin and Cornwall itself is dragged down by recession. Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza, though, offers much-needed emotional support in this five-season adventure, adapted from Winston Graham’s books, which recently completed its run. PBS’ DVD box-set offers over 150 minutes of behind the scenes interviews and featurettes, plus 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks. Highly recommended for gift-giving (or just personal viewing!) this holiday season.

“Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes wrote the PBS-produced feature THE CHAPERONE (110 mins., 2019), starring “Abbey”’s Elizabeth McGovern as a Kansas society matron who volunteers to accompany 15-year-old, future star Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) to New York in order to study with a dance troupe. An adaptation of Laura Moriarty’s novel directed by Michael Engler, “The Chaperone” is an entertaining, well-acted character study co-starring Miranda Otto, Blythe Danner and Campbell Scott. PBS’ DVD is out November 26th sporting a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Finally, FOR SAMA (95 mins., 2019) is a powerful Frontline documentary from filmmaker Waad al-Kateab – the autobiographical account of Waad’s life living in Syria, from chronicling the unrest in the setting around her to her marriage and eventual birth of her daughter. Heartbreaking and truthful, “For Sama” debuts on DVD this week from PBS with a 16:9 transfer and stereo audio.

CITY ON A HILL DVD (6 hours, 2019; CBS): Showtime dramatic series from producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon is set in their backyard of Boston circa the 1980s, where an idealistic District Attorney (Aldis Hodge) arrives on the scene, unaware of the extensive amount of crime and corruption in the city. Kevin Bacon plays a crooked FBI agent who joins forces with him, hoping to expose a family of armored car robbers in Charlestown. “City on a Hill” originates from an esteemed pedigree and offers fine performances from Hodge and Bacon, with some heavy Bostonian accents to spare. CBS’ Season 1 DVD is out this week (16:9, 5.1) sporting “Inside” episode segments and bonus featurettes.

Acorn New Releases: TAKEN DOWN (320 mins., 2018) is an Irish crime drama that utilizes immigration as a major plot point. When a Nigerian girl turns up dead at a bus stop, Inspector Jen Rooney (Lynn Rafferty) and her team are on the case, starting their investigation at a refugee center where its manager (Brian Gleeson) offers little in the way of help. The mystery unfolds over six episodes in “Taken Down,” presented in a Series 1 DVD this week from Acorn with a 16:9 transfer, 2.0 stereo sound and 45 minutes of cast/crew interviews…Also new this month from Acorn is Series 2 of THE SIMPLE HEIST (276 mins.), a Swedish import with Sissela Kyle and Lotta Tejle as unlikely bank robbers. This comedic-dramatic mix is back on DVD with RLJ’s DVD sporting its second season with 16:9 transfers and Swedish soundtracks with English subtitles.

OFFICIAL SECRETS DVD (111 mins., 2018, R; Paramount): Keira Knightley stars as a British intelligence agent who receives an edict to collect blackmail info on UN councilpeople in order to force the vote for the Iraq invasion in 2003. Unable to betray her conscience, Knightley’s Katharine Gun instead leaks the memo to the press, unleashing a political conspiracy in this fact-based story from director/co-writer Gavin Hood, co-starring Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith. Paramount’s DVD is available November 26th featuring a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound and a Digital copy.

Also new from Paramount is KILLERMAN (112 mins., 2019, R), something of a meager “John Wick” variant starring Liam Hemsworth as a money launderer who wakes up with millions stashed away, dirty cops hunting him down — and no memory of who he is after being engaged in a car crash. He slowly recalls his backstory while running through NYC’s criminal underbelly in Mark Bauer’s formulaic outing, new to DVD December 3rd from Paramount (16:9, 5.1 Dolby Digital), with the disc also including a Digital copy.

BUTTONS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (87 mins., 2018, PG), meanwhile, is something entirely different: an independently produced story of two orphans trying to find a home for the holidays, and are guided in doing so by a pair of guardian angels (Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury). Tim Janis wrote, directed, produced and composed all the songs (and score!) for this feel-good family film starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jane Seymour, some Star Trek vets (Robert Picardo, John De Lancie), and even Robert Redford and Kate Winslet (who both provide narration). Paramount’s DVD includes two additional music sequences, a music video, photo gallery, a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound and a Digital copy.

AFTER THE WEDDING Blu-Ray (112 mins., 2019, PG-13; Sony): After a media mogul (Julianne Moore) meets an American woman (Michelle Williams), just returned from helping orphans in India, in order to discuss her charitable donation, she invites her to her daughter’s wedding – setting in motion a series of revelations beginning with Moore’s husband (Billy Crudup) and the relationship he had with Williams decades before. This is a remake of a 2006 film from Suzanne Bier by writer-director Bart Freundlich, presented on Blu-Ray by Sony sporting a featurette, 1080p (2.39) transfer, and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

THE GOLDFINCH Blu-Ray (149 mins., 2019, R; Warner): It was feast or famine for Warner Bros. at the fall box-office, with adult audiences showing up for “Joker” and “It: Chapter 2,” but staying far away from the likes of “Doctor Sleep” and this adaptation of Donna Tartt’s bestselling book. Condensed down to 149 minutes, “The Goldfinch” is a well-acted but enormously dull drama starring Ansel Elgort as a young man holding onto a piece of art he stole from the same museum where his mother was just killed in a terrorist bombing. John Crowley’s film follows his difficult and mostly depressing existence, getting involved in drugs and art forgery, in a languidly paced picture that some readers of the book claimed did not retain its overall mood. Either way, “The Goldfinch” was a tough commercial sell at a time when older viewers are becoming preconditioned to staying home and watching “mature” fare on streaming — so it wouldn’t be a surprise if this Warner/Amazon co-production at least finds a more receptive audience on home video. Debuting December 3rd, Warner’s Blu-Ray (1.85, 5.1 DTS MA) includes two featurettes, deleted scenes and a Digital copy.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE Season 3 Blu-Ray (659 mins., 2019; MGM/Fox): Season 3 of the Showtime series starts off where its prior season ended: with handmaid June (Elisabeth Moss) opting not to flee to Canada with her baby, and instead staying close to the dystopian regime of Gilead in order to affect real change. Moss’ performance anchors the season, as it did its first two years, with MGM’s Blu-Ray available this week. A featurette, “Power Play: Gilead’s Women Fight Back,” is included in the multi-disc set along with 1080p (2:1) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks...Also new on the TV on DVD side is Season 19 of THE SIMPSONS (Fox), which belatedly comes to disc on December 3rd. Featuring all 20 episodes, this 19th season should’ve been released a couple of years ago when Fox lost interest in disc releases of assorted TV series. They skipped Season 19 but did release Season 20, in lieu of the series’ 20th Anniversary, creating a gap that’s been closed with this multi-disc (16:9, 5.1) set.

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE Blu-Ray (109 mins., 2019, PG-13; Fox): A terrific performance from Cate Blanchett puts this character study about a wife and mom who decides to rekindle her creative pursuits after years of putting family first over the top. Richard Linklater’s direction gives this adaptation of Maria Semple’s book some added flavor, but it’s Blanchett’s performance that seals the deal, playing a former, brilliant architect whose social anxiety and past disappointments have clouded her potential. Less effective is Kristen Wiig as a meddlesome neighbor, with Billy Crudup sympathetic in his scenes as Blanchett’s husband. Fox’s Blu-Ray (1.85, 5.1 DTS MA) of the Annapurna release is out this week featuring two featurettes, a still gallery, and Digital HD code.

MARY Blu-Ray (94 mins., 2019, Not Rated; RLJ): Gary Oldman plays a working class captain drawn to an abandoned vessel that he picks up at auction — not knowing it’s really haunted, and houses a spirit that comes to prey upon him, his wife (Emily Mortimer) and family. Michael Goi’s “Mary” certainly boasts two capable leads in Oldman and Mortimer, and while the film isn’t a total embarrassment, it’s so minor and low-key that you wonder what drew them to the project in the first place. RLJ’s Blu-Ray (2.40, 5.1 DTS MA) includes two featurettes and streets this week.

ELF PETS: A FOX CUB’S CHRISTMAS TALE DVD (Not Rated): Delightful holiday story about an intrepid elf, a little boy, several scout elves, and cute “Elf Pets” Arctic Fox cubs who head out on a quest to uncover how Santa manages to deliver all those toys in one night. Our five-year-old enjoyed this cute “Elf on the Shelf” spin-off sporting a Making Of featurette, commentary, sing-alng version, the trailer, a 16:9 transfer and stereo sound.

D-DAY: BATTLE OF OMAHA BEACH DVD (85 mins., 2019, Not Rated; Cinedigm): Low-budget cheapie from horror specialists The Asylum lines up a series of B-stars like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddelll and Weston Cage Coppola (sound familiar?) for this meager study of American soldiers ordered to take out a series of Nazi gun nests. Cinedigm’s DVD is now available sporting a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

From Well Go USA: Cui Siwei’s SAVAGE (113 mins., 2019) is an action-packaged Hong Kong import set on the top of Mt. Baekdu, where a policeman – holed up until weather conditions subside – finds himself struggling against a group of thieves, some of whom he has to work alongside in order to survive. Well Go’s Blu-Ray is available December 3rd featuring a terrific 1080p transfer with cinematography of the movie’s eastern China settings and a DTS MA Mandarin soundtrack. A rugged adventure-thriller worth checking out.

KENNY ROGERS: THE GAMBLER’S LAST DEAL DVD and CD (85 mins., 2019, Weinerworld): One of the most popular country/pop crossover artists of all-time, Kenny Rogers put on his final tour in 2017, culminating with a performance at the London Palladium. This concert performance captures “The Gambler’s Last Deal” in that London show, augmented with some live footage performed in other venues. Included here are all the hits, “Ruby,” “Through the Years,” “You Decorated My Life,” “She Believes In Me,” plus “The Gambler,” “Islands in the Stream” and Rogers’ sublime pop duet version of “We’ve Got Tonight” (performed with Linda Davis subbing for Sheena Easton). Weinerworld’s DVD combo pack offers a 16:9 transfer with a 57-minute CD also included in the value pack plus a photo booklet. (Available December 13)

NEXT TIME: More of the latest releases as the Christmas season ramps up! 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 6
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