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The summer of ’85 was a good time to be growing up and going to the movies. “Back to the Future” and “Cocoon” were two of the season’s biggest genre hits, and are just a couple of the many films from that year that are still entertaining viewers decades later (not to mention “Lifeforce,” of course!). Not every film released that summer was a hit, though, as the summer of ’85 had its share of box-office disappointments – one of them was Joe Dante’s EXPLORERS (106 mins., PG; Paramount), which was the genre auteur's highly awaited follow-up tpo his smash hit "Gremlins" from the preceding year. 

With lofty expectations, a relatively large budget, and the concept of a Spielberg-like youth space fantasy, “Explorers” had been pegged as one of the top prospects for the summer of ’85. When the movie arrived in theaters in mid July, though, “Explorers” became a quick casualty of mixed reviews and indifferent box-office response, turning into one of the year’s costlier flops. It’s a shame as well, because for all of the movie’s faults (and I’ll get to those in a moment), this is an optimistic and entertaining film that begins extremely well and offers one of Jerry Goldsmith’s most unabashedly lyrical and memorable scores from an especially prolific time for the composer.

Eric Luke’s script follows three pre-teens — dreamer Ethan Hawke, scientist River Phoenix, and outsider Jason Presson — as they build a spaceship in their backyard. Their mission: to meet up with an extraterrestrial presence that’s been sending thoughts to Hawke, who’s also in love with his cute classmate (the late Amanda Peterson, who would later star in the ’80s teen movie classic “Can’t Buy Me Love”).

The first half of “Explorers” is magical and moving, perfectly capturing the innocent period of each character’s adolescence. The three leads are amiable and well-established in the script, with Dante bringing the same mix of youthful exuberance and fantasy that marked “Gremlins.”

At about the hour mark, though, the movie completely falls apart. Once the kids actually launch into the outer reaches of our atmosphere, “Explorers” hits the ground with a thud, with loud, noisy, Earth-culture-loving extraterrestrials comprising a lengthy joke that’s neither funny nor well-staged. What’s worse, the said scenes feel like they’ll never end — a criticism that was almost universally noted in most reviews at the time of its release. As many movies as I’ve seen, there are few films that start as well as “Explorers” and end as badly as this one. (On the plus side, if you’ve seen the movie more than once, it’s easier to accept its deadly final act knowing the disappointment that’s to come).

Dante tried re-cutting “Explorers” after its theatrical release — editing out two sequences (totaling about three minutes) and slightly re-working the last scene — but his attention ought to have been turned towards at least trimming the final third, in lieu of re-shooting it altogether. Alas, there just wasn’t enough money and time – with a mandated Summer ’85 release date – for fixes that truly might’ve helped.

“Explorers” has taken the long road to a Blu-Ray release but has at last come home in a dynamite two-disc Shout! Factory special edition. Both the movie’s Theatrical Cut and slightly shorter Home Video Version are presented here in older but acceptable 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfers. Note that the Theatrical Version isn’t a “lost” edit, since viewers who experienced the film on TV or streaming will have seen this version as opposed to the Home Video cut (which was exclusive to Paramount’s VHS/DVD editions). Goldsmith’s score, meanwhile, truly sings in the 5.1 DTS MA stereo track available on both versions (a 2.0 stereo mix is also included). As I wrote earlier, this is one of the maestro’s many wonderful scores from the early-mid ’80s, with an enthusiastic spirit and memorable, exuberant main theme making for one of my all-time favorite Goldsmith works.

Shout’s special features really shine here, highlighted by “A Science Fiction Fairy Tale,” an hour-plus long documentary that’s well-paced and compelling at every turn. Clearly, as the interviewees – from Dante to Paramount’s David Kirkpatrick, writer Eric Luke and Ethan Hawke among others – attest, this wasn’t a case where the audience “just didn’t get it” — there’s a real sense of “we screwed this up” on the part of the filmmakers and studio, at least where the film’s third act is concerned.

Dante blames himself for how the film turned out – unsurprisingly so. He was technically a “director for hire” on the project but inherited a 3rd act that was already discarded when he came on-board, that needed reshaping from the get-go. That Dante couldn’t do it because he ran out of time and had no chance to truly fix it – one feels a palpable sense of anguish from the director in this new doc, right down to him contemplating quitting the film and letting someone else complete it.

One also gets the sense that the Paramount executives were also short-sighted to go into production knowing the final act was a mess while David Kirkpatrick, who was running things at Paramount under Barry Diller, admits he was “intimidated” by Dante coming off his “Gremlins” success. The inference is that the studio should’ve been more mindful as to what was being shot, as Dante and make-up/FX designer Rob Bottin were apparently allowed to do as they pleased with the ending. When it didn’t work, the film was left “unfinished” as Dante calls it, needing a major overhaul and reshooting it never had the opportunity to undertake since the release date was locked in (and a subsequent regime change at Paramount didn’t help matters).

Naturally there’s plenty of blame to go around, but the bottom line is that all seem to feel there should’ve been a way to get the movie’s message across in a manner that didn’t annoy and disappoint nearly everyone who watched it.

Ernest Cline (“Ready Player One” author) is also on-hand to discuss his fondness for the film and Jerry’s score – which Dante says came the closest to “saving” the film out of every soundtrack he composed – while Hawke has many fond memories of working on the film and with River Phoenix (there’s no sign of the “private” Jason Presson here, who apparently was reserved even while filming took place).

The disc also includes brief interviews with cinematographer John Hora and editor Tina Hirsch, plus the dismal theatrical trailer (which already summed up the movie’s flaws) and, for the first time ever, over 30 minutes of deleted scenes. Found in a workprint version Dante still has on Beta tape, these will prove to be enormously interesting for fans, as they offer a number of character sequences – some involving Mary Kay Place as Hawke’s mother – that could’ve helped to further flesh out the story (and are presented with or without Dante’s commentary).

If the finale had lived up to its start, “Explorers” could have been a bona-fide ’80s sensation, but even with its drawbacks, it’s a well-intentioned and occasionally touching fantasy that’s very much worth a return viewing trip in Shout’s now-available Blu-Ray.

Also new this month from Shout is THE NEST (107 mins., 2020, R), the follow-up to “Martha Marcy May Marlene” from director Sean Durkin. This similarly unsettling character-driven piece stars Jude Law as an entrepreneur who convinces his American wife (Carrie Coon) to move to England along with their kids, while he rejoins the business firm he once worked for. Problems, of course, ensue in this atmospheric effort on Blu-Ray (1.85, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA) this week from Shout. The IFC Films presentation includes a featurette and the trailer.

Coming late this month is the first Blu-Ray release of an infamous late ’70s bomb, JUST A GIGOLO (105 mins., 1978), the story of a young Prussian (David Bowie) who, after WWI ends, returns to his German home to find his world turned upside down. He eventually becomes a gigolo for the Baroness van Semering (Marlene Dietrich in her final film) before learning, the hard way, it’s a glitzy facade for a decaying way of life. David Hemmings helmed this vehicle which is best left for Bowie devotees, and was roundly jeered upon its original release. Shout and Fabulous Films’ release includes Hemmings’ shorter recut of the picture (1.85) with extras including commentary from assistant to the director Rory MacLean; a Making Of with MacLean and writer/producer Joshua Sinclair; a booklet and the trailer.


New From Paramount

There have already been several superb 4K UHD catalog releases so far this year, but Paramount and CBS have produced one of the very best with a marvelous presentation of MY FAIR LADY (172 mins., G, 1964).

The Lerner-Loewe musical classic, timelessly brought to the screen in 1964 by producer Jack L. Warner under the direction of George Cukor, ranks as one of the most satisfying Broadway-to-Big Screen adaptations, recapturing the entertainment of its source with Alan Jay Lerner scripting and Andre Previn robustly arranging the original score. Audrey Hepburn may have been (a bit distractingly) dubbed but still exudes star charisma opposite Rex Harrison while a sterling ensemble (Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel) shine in support.

This 4K restoration – based on the late ’90s preservation that was spearheaded by Robert A. Harris – is nothing short of spectacular. The Dolby Vision grading produces an image where details are clear and colors richly saturated in a naturally filmic way – it looks just dazzling, while the audio is offered in a fine 7.1 Dolby TrueHD container preserving the original stereo tracks. “Legacy” extras are contained on a separate Blu-Ray platter, sporting commentary, alternate Audrey Hepburn vocal tracks, vintage featurettes, posters, trailers, and a Digital HD copy.

J.J. Abrams’ SUPER 8 (112 mins., 2011, PG-13; Paramount), his economically-made homage to early Steven Spielberg fantasies, is certainly a “nice” movie that’s easier to admire for its intent than its execution.

Abrams’ original script – while offering a few obvious references to early Spielberg classics like “Close Encounters” in particular – actually plays out like more of a 1950s monster movie than it does one of his producing mentor’s genre works, with a group of young teens in late ‘70s Ohio becoming involved in a government train accident that houses something not-of-this-world that escapes and begins causing all kinds of mysterious happenings around town.

One of the film’s shortcomings is that, while the movie begins like an overt Spielberg tribute, when it veers into “Cloverfield” in its second half the effect is a jarring one, especially because you go in expecting the emotion of a Spielberg fantasy and end up with something more detached and perfunctory. There’s not much of a connection between the film’s young protagonist (Joel Courtney) and his single-parent, police deputy dad (Kyle Chandler), so there’s no emotional investment that’s really built up between them. More over, the government guys are so purely “bad” here that I snickered a few times when they’d show up on screen and Michael Giacchino’s CE3K copycat motif would accompany them each and every time. There’s no Peter Coyote type to off-set the lack of depth in the movie’s characterizations, and why there needed to be a bit of an “edge” with an older pot-smoking teen and an f-bomb was also kind of odd (if anything, the latter felt like it came out of Judd Apatow’s “Freaks and Geeks” series as opposed to a Spielberg project).

There are, however, some great moments, and a few affecting ones as well. As much as I didn’t care for Giacchino’s score at times, the movie’s beautifully done final shot is matched with an emotive concluding cue from the composer, and Abrams’ overriding style at least makes for a movie that, well, feels like a movie the way they used to be made. “Super 8″ may not have delivered what it promised, but it’s not just a two-hour movie trailer with ADD editing either, and ranks as one of Abrams’ more satisfying projects all told – especially if you’ve overdosed on super-hero movies and Netflix true-crime shows during the pandemic.

Paramount’s 4K UHD of “Super 8” is superb in every regard thanks to its Dolby Vision HDR grading, while the 7.1 DTS MA soundtrack is excellent (also a straight reprisal of the previous Blu-Ray track). Archival special features offer a commentary from Abrams and associated crew, 14 deleted scenes, eight Making Of featurettes with a mostly promotional flavor, a breakdown of the movie’s train accident sequence, and a Digital HD copy.

New on DVD from Paramount is the massive, affordably priced box set JOHN WAYNE: 14 MOVIE COLLECTION. This deluxe package offers over a dozen previously released Wayne pictures: Big Jake, Donovan’s Reef, El Dorado, Hatari, Hondo, In Harm’s Way, Island in the Sky, McClintock!, Rio Lobo, The High and the Mighty, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Shootist, The Sons of Katie Elder, and True Grit. Every picture is reprised from its earlier DVD release – check the Aisle Seat Archives as I’ve reviewed many of these individually – but the big draw here is the bargain price, which makes this anthology a great way to collect Wayne’s Paramount/CBS catalog output in one convenient, oversized plastic clamshell case.

Another superb DVD box-set from CBS is the Ultimate Collection of BEVERLY HILLS 90210 (1990-2000, 2019; 74 Discs), which presents the entire run of the massively popular Fox TV series and its far less successful 2019 revival, which has already come and gone on the CW network.

Outside of my high school and college graduations just happening to coincide with the same years as the characters on “90210,” I have to admit that I couldn’t really relate to Brandon, Brenda and the gang on Fox’s long-running teen soaper. I mean, things in my high school didn’t really match up with the surf, sand, and obviously too-old students (I’m talking about you, Steve Sanders!) who populated the halls of “90210″ — but that being said, that fantasy aspect was also part of the series’ charm. Over time, I eventually did gravitate towards the show – after Brenda had already left the series, and the program settled into the “Tiffani Amber Thiessen Years” with what proved to be a creative renaissance (of sorts). It’s a testament to the writers and producers of the program that the formula worked, and was tweaked, so successfully as the years passed before “90210” finally ended its run in 2000.

CBS and Paramount’s DVD box-set features the entire run of the series in respectable full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks, starting with the first, breakthrough season (1990-91) of “90210.” Watching the initial shows truly is like experiencing a blast in the past – as here all the characters are young, impressionable teens (except for Ian Zierling and Luke Perry, who seemed too old even then as bad-boy Dylan), in stories that definitely have more of an “Afterschool Special” sort of feel to them than the years that followed, when soap opera-ish romances were played up (indeed, the demise of Brian Austin Green’s best friend — and first season cast member — provided one of the tragic moments in season 2). Nevertheless, the cast, from Ziering’s Steve Sanders to Jennie Garth’s good-girl Kelly, remains one of the series’ most enduring elements, and the constant, episodic progression from light subplot to heavy-handed melodrama is something that kept the series going for years.

Supplements here in CBS’ box – presented in three oversized clamshell cases – include retrospective featurettes, an interview with creator Darren Star, plus selected commentaries by Star and other goodies. The 2019 series is included in 16:9 transfers and is best left as a footnote to the main show, which is intact here save for expected music alterations.

More TV on DVD box-set goodness is included in CSI: NY: THE COMPLETE SERIES (2004-14), which despite tepid critical reviews, still performed well for the CBS network as it follows the Big Apple-set adventures of detectives Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes in what was the first spin-off from the CSI franchise at the time of its debut (first of many to come). I’ve reviewed many of the individual seasons of the show on DVD, so check the Aisle Seat Archives for the specifics on those discs – for those who didn’t buy them before, this is a conveniently packaged set offering all 55 discs in three clamshell sized plastic cases, spanning the decade-long run of the series.

Olivia Cooke stars in the Irish heist picture PIXIE (93 mins., 2020, R; Paramount) as a girl out to avenge her mother’s death by staging a robbery with a pair of misfits. Things naturally go wrong, leading to the group being pursued by a criminal gang including a bad priest (Alec Baldwin!) in Barnaby Thompson’s picture, co-starring Colm Meaney, Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack. Paramount’s now-available DVD includes a 16:9 transfer with 5.1 audio and a Digital copy…Also new on DVD from Paramount is THE VAULT (118 mins., 2021, R), a Saban Films production starring Freddie Highmore as an engineer who joins up with a group of thieves to steal lost treasure hidden under the Bank of Spain, all during a World Cup final. Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Famke Janssen also star in this new thriller from horror vet Jaime Balaguero. Paramount’s DVD (16:9, 5.1) is out this week featuring a Digital Copy.

The original MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (110 mins., 1996, PG-13; Paramount) was remastered for 4K UHD a couple of years ago; in lieu of the movie’s 25th Anniversary (yes it’s been that long!), Paramount has seemingly utilized that remaster for this Limited Edition Blu-Ray package. For 1080p BD owners, this is a marked upgrade on the old, dusty transfer Paramount previously issued in the format, including an AVC encode with 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio. Extras run the gamut from featurettes to photo galleries, with a Digital HD copy and a IMF Car Decal sticker included for good measure.

The SNOOPY 4-MOVIE COLLECTION combines all four of the big-screen, original Peanuts animated features: A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, SNOOPY COME HOME, RACE FOR YOUR LIFE CHARLIE BROWN, and BON VOYAGE CHARLIE BROWN – in one convenient Blu-Ray box-set. Digital HD codes are included for each movie, which is presented in the same Blu-Ray configuration as its previous edition. Be sure to check the Aisle Seat Archives page and search for my full-length reviews of all four features.

STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS (4 hours, 2020) is an attempt by “Rick and Morty” veteran Mike McMahan to boldly go – into animated comedy – with Gene Roddenberry’s franchise. This one springboards off a late-era Next Generation episode, following a rag-tag bunch of Starfleet newbies hoping to make their way up the chain of command – from the very bottom. While its heart may be in the right place, the humor is so frantic – and for me, mostly ineffective – that a few minutes go a really long way. Perhaps some fans will feel differently, with CBS’ Season 1 Blu-Ray including 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks, along with over two hours of behind-the-scenes segments, animatics and more.

LARA CROFT, TOMB RAIDER 4K UHD 2-Movie Collection (TOMB RAIDER: 100 mins., 2001, PG-13; and LARA CROFT, TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE: 117 mins., 2003, PG-13; Paramount): “Tomb Raider” was first brought to the screen in two unfortunately ho-hum adaptations of the popular video game franchise, basically coming across in live-action form as a watered-down version of “The Mummy” — itself, of course, a watered-down version of Indiana Jones. What saves the films from total disaster are Angelina Jolie’s lively performances as Lara Croft, the shapely adventuress whose travels take her to the far reaches of the globe in search of fame, fortune, and saving the world.

The original “Tomb Raider”’s messy plot finds Lara embroiled in an astronomical convergence (don’t ask me how or where this is happening) and a “cosmic clock” that holds the key to being able to control time. A ruthless bad guy (Iain Glen) responsible for the death of her father (Jolie’s real dad, Jon Voight) is in hot pursuit of the gadget, which takes Lara to Venice, Cambodia, and points far south in the hopes of attaining the power to the device before it falls into the wrong hands.

There’s nothing especially inventive about the plot, visual design, or direction of “Lara Croft”– it’s all pretty much by the numbers. Simon West’s direction relies upon many of the generic technical hallmarks of Ridley Scott (the disco-esque lighting) and assorted Jerry Bruckheimer productions (quick cutting that almost renders entire action scenes incomprehensible), which means it’s slick and good-looking but will remind you in every sequence of something else.

The Patrick Massett-John Zinman script, meanwhile, clearly resembles the story architecture of a video game as well, rarely bothering to establish character development outside of the relationship between Lara and her late father. It also, predictably, leaves behind a raft of bland uninteresting supporting characters in its wake — Lara’s cohorts don’t have much to do, Glen doesn’t make much of an impression as the villain, and Daniel Craig is particularly miscast as a former American flame of Lara’s.

As you would expect in a movie of this sort, the production design is lavish and the special effects of top quality, but aside from a statue that briefly comes to life, there’s not much in the way of epic fantasy stuff in “Tomb Raider,” either.

Why the movie works at all is because of Jolie, whose athletic, physical prowess and sense of timing are perfect for the part. West concentrates on long, luxurious close-ups of his star, and Jolie proves to be up to the task of single-handedly carrying the weight of the film on her shoulders. (He doesn’t do her any favors, though, by ending the movie with a hysterically bad, final freeze-frame shot that looks like something out of a mid ’70s kung-fu opus).

“Tomb Raider”‘s initial financial success (it took in an excellent $150 million in the U.S. alone) quickly ensured a sequel, one that – as I originally wrote in 2001 – “you would hope will surround Jolie with a more interesting story and supporting characters than this only moderately engaging first go-around.”

Alas, that didn’t happen: though the original “Tomb Raider” all too obviously felt like a “product” doubling as the beginning of a “franchise,” at least it was also still moderately  entertaining to watch, which is one thing that its 2003 sequel, THE CRADLE OF LIFE, rarely is. Though the movie plays more coherently and attempts to further develop its characters than its predecessor did, it’s also awfully tired and disappointingly dull, once again failing to surround its cinematic heroine with a plot or supporting cast worthy of its potential.

This time out, Lara (Jolie) stumbles upon Pandora’s Box after infiltrating an underwater tomb belonging to Alexander the Great. An evil scientist (Ciaran Hinds) makes off with the device, leading Lara to recruit her jailed former partner (Gerald Butler), in an attempt at retrieving it before Hinds unleashes its power on mankind.

Jan DeBont has made some spectacularly successful films in his time (“Speed,” “Twister”), and even when his movies aren’t so good (“The Haunting”), they’re at least watchable and well-made. That’s why the lack of energy in “The Cradle of Life” is so surprising: everything about the movie, from its plot to its characters and visual design, is thoroughly uninspired. Jolie again gives it her all, but Butler isn’t very interesting as her former lover, and the movie’s drawn-out 117 minute running time will end up trying the patience of even the most die-hard Lara Croft fan. Even Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack — written late in the game as a replacement for Craig Armstrong’s initial work — comes off as a watered-down pastiche of his “Mummy Returns” score.

Paramount’s 4K UHD Double Feature includes both UHDs of  “Tomb Raider” 1 & 2 in one convenient package: each have received solid HDR-enhanced, Dolby Vision-encoded HVEC transfers from Paramount. Both transfers offer the expected uptick in color pallet and contrast over their standard Blu-Rays, pretty much par for the course as far as most UHD catalog releases we’ve seen from the label, with 5.1 DTS MA sound and Digital HD copies (note there are no Blu-Rays here, so a commentary from West on the first film is the sole extra feature).

 

 

Aisle Seat Picks of the Week

I can’t say enough about the risk-taking animation of Genndy Tartakovsky, who previously produced the eclectic “Samurai Jack,” the family fun of the “Hotel Transylvania” series, and the underrated, early (and probably “non canon” at this point) edition of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” His latest series, PRIMAL (221 mins., 2019-20; Warner), is an undisputed winner that’s even more compelling than anything he’s produced so far: a dialogue-free, action-packed, violent thrill ride set in a Prehistoric fantasy land where a caveman and a dinosaur become bonded after their respective families are wiped out. This landscape isn’t for the faint of heart, with not just dinosaurs but fantastic beasts and other creatures lurking at every corner — but together, the duo forge an unlikely “association” that leads to them becoming the hunters instead of the hunted.

Presented in a vividly rendered widescreen frame, “Primal” has no pretentions other than serving up 20-minute-ish episodes that constantly advance its 10-episode story line in a way that doesn’t require dialogue or narration. In this day and age, this kind of storytelling is positively refreshing — the series is also most definitely R-rated, violent and unsuitable for young kids, while the visuals are something out of a Frank Frazetta/”Heavy Metal”-esque type of stylized world that’s not meant to be a straight chronicle of primordial life. Instead, the freedom that exists here for Tartakovsky and his staff to unleash a surprising and off-kilter landscape adds to the series’ tension, as a threat could exist at any turn for the central odd couple.

Though stringing together more than a single episode at a time might be overkill, I found it hard to turn off “Primal” because I wanted to see where it was going, and because Tartakovsky’s work is constantly surprising. While I’ll always lament that Tartakovsky was never able to spearhead that “Power of The Dark Crystal” feature he was once attached to direct, “Primal” is just superior animation and highly recommended, and further establishes that there are few other animators working today whose projects are as varied and exciting.

Warner brings Season 1 of “Primal” to Blu-Ray in a dazzling single-disc 1080p (2.39) release. The 5.1 DTS MA audio houses a throbbing score co-composed by Tyler Bates with a Digital HD copy and a Making Of featurette also on-hand. Season 2 is reportedly set to debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim at some point this year.

Another highly recommended title this week is BASEBALL: A FILM BY KEN BURNS (22 hours; PBS), one of Burns’ seminal documentary efforts. Fully restored in high definition, this mammoth undertaking offers “The Definitive History of America’s Pastime” from the 1840s (in the original 1994 doc’s “First 9 innings”) through Burns and producer Lynn Novick’s “Inning 10” which takes viewers from 1992 through its 2009 completion. Scores of interviews make for an absorbing, if lengthy, historical document that ranks as one of Burns’ best, and an obvious must for baseball fans. PBS’ Blu-Ray not only includes the newly reconfigured HD presentation of the main “Baseball” program (which first aired in 1994) but also 5.1 audio across its 11 discs.


Twilight Time New Releases

Twilight Time’s newest Blu-Rays include the quite watchable Peplum MESSALINA (94 mins., 1960), which stars the sexy Brenda Lee as the wife of Claudius, who moves from the country to the Roman palace and finds out very quickly how to navigate between politics and the bedroom – all the while continuing to pine for her old love Lucius Maximus (Spiros Focas). This Italian production may be short on historical accuracy (no surprise) but the film is entertaining and the British Lee is convincingly alluring in the lead. Released stateside by American-International, Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray includes a strong, good looking 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded transfer with LPCM English or Italian audio. Recommended for genre fans!

Also new from Twilight Time is SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYES (95 mins., 1973), another Italian import, this one from the giallo genre of moody, often bloody widescreen suspense thrillers. This Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti) entry is set in a Scottish castle where a killer is on the loose; Jane Birkin is the beauty at the center of the goings-on in a visually appealing genre exercise for aficionados, and capped with a Riz Ortolani score. Like “Messalina,” Twilight Time licensed the film from Italy’s Rewind films and the 1080p (2.35) transfer is attractive with both stereo English and Italian soundtracks on-hand. There’s also a commentary from historian Troy Howarth and trailers.

New From Film Movement: Maggie Cheung lights up Stanley Kwan’s CENTER STAGE (1991, 154 mins.), playing “China’s Greta Garbo” – silent movie star Ruan Lingyu – in a heavily praised, and stylized, biopic that examined the performer’s abbreviated life and times. The movie favors a bold visual style showcasing Lingyu’s rise to fame and turbulent off-screen life, which often matched the melodramatic storylines of the films she starred in – all before committing suicide at age 24. Cheung also appears as herself discussing Lingyu in an offbeat but effective film presented on Blu-Ray by Film Movement in a new 4K restoration (1.85, Cantonese/Mandarin with English subtitles). Extras include interviews with director Kwan and HK cinema expert Paul Fonoroff; a new introduction from Kwan; and a 16-page booklet with liner notes…Also new From Film Movement on DVD is the Japan import TRUE MOTHERS (140 mins., 2021), the story of a couple who have to fight to keep their adopted son after a woman arrives, claiming to be his biological mother. Naomi Kawase’s film is new to DVD featuring a 16:9 transfer (1.85) with 5.1/2.0 Japanese audio and English subtitles; Atsushi Hirai’s short film “Return to Toyama”; and a segment where Kawase is joined by Juliette Binoche in discussing the picture.


Quick Takes

FULLER HOUSE: The Complete Fifth and Final Season DVD (505 mins., 2019; Warner): DJ, sister Stephanie and pal Kimmy end up holding a triple wedding that concludes the five-season run of this “Full House” revival. Warner’s Season 5 DVD set (16:9, 5.1) is available June 8th featuring the final 18 episodes from the Netflix-premiered program, which didn’t quite hit the popularity heights of its predecessor but nevertheless had a decent run for the series’ long-time fans. No extras are included.

LONG WEEKEND DVD (91 mins., 2021, R; Sony): Steve Basilone’s film stars Finn Whittrock as a down-on-his-luck guy who starts a fast and furious new relationship with “Vienna,” a spirited woman played by Zoe Chao. Their promising relationship, though, faces serious hurdles from their past experiences in a well-written rom-com-dramedy now on DVD from Sony (16:9, 5.1).

SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD Blu-Ray (90 mins, 2018, Not Rated; RLJE Fims): Stephen Kijak’s ensemble drama is set in the ’80s where four childhood friends gather to not only say goodbye to the recently broken-up band The Smiths – by way of taking a local DJ hostage – but also their best-friend before he departs for the Army. Kijak’s film hits a lot of familiar notes in terms of its characters but it’s well-intentioned and appealingly performed, with the young cast complimented by Joe Manganiello and Thomas Lennon. RLJE’s Blu-Ray (2.39) is new June 1st featuring 5.1 DTS MA audio and two featurettes.

TV on DVD From Lionsgate: It was an abbreviated ride for the MacGYVER (9 hours, 2020) revival, which seemed to disappoint both newcomers and also long-time fans of the original “Mac” primetime series with Richard Dean Anderson. Recently canceled, Lionsgate brings the Fourth (and final) season of the “MacGyver” re-do starring Lucas Till to DVD on June 8th. The multi-disc set incudes 16:9 transfers and 5.1 sound, but no extras…the Starz series “Power” returned in the form of POWER BOOK II: GHOST (10 hours, 2020-21), which confusingly also carries the term SEASON 1 on the front cover. Picking up from the events of its first incarnation, this edition follows Tariq St. Patrick as he copes with his father’s death while his mother faces the charges for the murder that he committed. The series boasts the same level of intrigue and domestic drama as its predecessor, with Lionsgate’s multi-disc DVD set available June 8th sporting 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and 16:9 transfers.

Also new from Lionsgate on Blu-Ray is CITY OF LIES (112 mins., 2021, R), a better than average Saban production about the investigation into the murder of rapper “Notorious B.I.G.” This long-gestating adaptation of Randall Sullivan’s book “Labyrinth” was off-set by star/co-producer Johnny Depp’s ample off-screen problems but it’s certainly watchable, with Depp here starring as LAPD detective Russell Poole, who teams up with journalist Jack Jackson (Forest Whitaker) to find out what happened and why the LAPD seemingly covered up some of the case’s details. Brad Furman’s film debuts on disc sporting a 1080p (2.39) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA audio, deleted scenes, a featurette, Digital HD copy and commentary from Furman and Sullivan.

TRIGGER POINT Blu-Ray (82 mins., 2021; Screen Media): Barry Pepper stars as a former secret service agent pressed back into action in order to find a missing colleague – all the while dealing with memory loss from a kidnapping that may hold the key to solving the mystery. This Canadian production is better cast than most, with Eve Harlow, Laura Vandervoort and Colm Feore making this a watchable, if formulaic, genre exercise. Screen Media’s Blu-Ray (2.35, 5.1/2.0) is out this week.

Also New From PBS: New on DVD this week from PBS is THE BLINDING OF ISAAC WOODARD (110 mins., 2021), an American Experience presentation that recounts not only the horrifying blinding of a Black army sergeant returning to his South Carolina home after serving in WWII, but also the acquittal of the local chief of Police who committed the crime. The historical fallout that followed is also profiled in this superb piece, adapted from Richard Gergel’s book “Unexampled Courage” (16:9, 2.0)….Finally, Agatha Christie fans may want to check out PBS’ affordable AGATHA TRIPLE FEATURE, which includes the 2018-20 films “Agatha and the Truth of Murder,” “Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar,” and “Agatha and the Midnight Murders.” Each tele-film was written and produced by Tom Dalton though stars a different actress as Christie in each adventure, set before and after her headline-generating 1928 disappearance. PBS’ DVDs include 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks.

NEXT TIME: CAREER OPPORTUNITIES and more in my big Kino Lorber June round-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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