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Following up Part 1 of our annual Holiday Video Gift Guide, we turn our attention to a number of box-sets and TV on Disc releases newly available to viewers. These include the 4th volume in Shout Factory’s exemplary martial arts retrospectives, the SHAW BROTHERS CLASSICS. Leaping, kicking and fencing their way into the 1980s, this latest 12-disc Blu-Ray box preserves a dozen genre favorites in vivid high-def transfers, many with the option of English dubs alongside their original Mandarin soundtracks.
Focusing specifically on films produced from 1980-84, Shout’s set includes the following films and corresponding extra features:
–THE REBEL INTRUDERS (100 mins., 1980) with commentary from historian Brian Bankston
–TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN (106 mins., 1980) with commentary from Bankston
–LEGEND OF THE FOX (128 mins., 1980)
-BLACK LIZARD (87 mins., 1981) with commentary from critic David West
-HOUSE OF TRAPS (95 mins., 1978) with commentary from West and new interviews with Shaw Brothers veteran Chu Ke and genre historian Leon Hunt
-MASKED AVENGERS (91 mins., 1979) with two commentaries from Brian Bankston and critic Ian Jane, plus another interview with Chu Ke
-THE SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD (109 mins., 1981) featuring a Chu Ke interview and a conversation with actor Lung Tien-Hsiang
-FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (108 mins., 1982) with commentaries by author James Mudge and Brian Bankston; interviews with Chu Ke and David West; and “Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts”
-SHAOLIN PRINCE (94 mins., 1983) featuring Brian Bankston commentary and an interview with David Yee
-SHAOLIN TRUDERS (90 mins., 1983) with James Mudge commentary
-HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (90 mins., 1983) sporting commentary with James Mudge and an interview with Chu Ke
-OPIUM AND THE KUNG FU MASTER (90 mins., 1984) with Ian Jane commentary and an interview with Asian history academic Lars Laamann
As with Shout’s previous “Shaw Brothers” sets – which I reviewed in Part 1 of the Gift Guide – the transfers are superb with additional trailers on-hand and a mix of original Mandarin/Cantonese audio and English dubs available on each respective picture. Highly recommended for all kung fu fans!
Another new Shout! Factory box-set celebrates the works of animator Masaaki Yuasa: FIVE FILMS BY MASAAKI YUASA features a quartet of Yuaska’s most acclaimed films in a Blu-Ray retrospective alongside all-new special features and bonuses.
Included herein are MIND GAME (2004), THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL (2017), LU OVER THE WALL (2017), RIDE YOUR WAVE (2019) and INU-OH (2021), each presented in 1080p (aspect ratios range from 2.39 to 1.78) with Japanese DTS MA 5.1 audio and, outside of “Mind Game,” English 5.1 DTS MA tracks as well (in fact, the dub of “The Night Is Short…” is included here for the first time on Blu-Ray).
Special features abound: two Yuasa shorts, “Happy Machine” (2007) and “Kick-Heart” (2013), are on tap, plus director commentaries on “Mind Game, “Lu” and “Inu-Oh.” Scene breakdowns and additional commentaries are also included along with Yuasa character drawings, director interviews, an exclusive conversation with Yuasa recorded in Los Angeles, plus a deluxe 60-page book and plenty more, all in lovely hardbound packaging.
JFK (188/205 mins., 1991, R; Shout! Factory) was one of the key films in Oliver Stone’s filmography – the controversy-generated “hot button” film of the early ‘90s wherein Stone put forth his conspiracy theories (and then some) surrounding the JFK assassination, as seen through the prism of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), a New Orleans district attorney who believed Lee Harley Oswald didn’t act alone.
With a sprawling running time and all-star cast (even Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and John Candy show up in cameos!), “JFK” is a movie that time has punctured a few holes in – at least in so far as Stone’s accuracy and sort of “free association” filmmaking goes. This is a movie whose visuals – captured here in a new 4K UHD from Shout! Factory – and scoring are grandly theatrical, the wide lensing of Robert Richardson and John Williams’ regal soundtrack providing Stone a grand pulpit from which he delivers his own sermonizing for over three hours. Yet it also shows Stone at his most undisciplined as a director, the movie veering from one point to another in threads that are often difficult to follow unless you have prior knowledge of what tangent Stone is referencing – and all of it drones on and on, the picture quickly losing focus of a through-point for which the common viewer can reference.
There’s no disputing Shout’s terrific 4K UHD/Blu-Ray box which contains a slick Dolby Vision HDR (2.39) presentation of the film with both 5.1/2.0 DTS MA soundtracks. The 4K includes Stone’s Director’s Cut with the theatrical version on a separate Blu-Ray; both have director commentaries with other extras including a new interview with Stone and similarly recent conversations with Robert Richardson, co-producer Clayton Townsend, editor Hank Corwin, and make-up artist Gordon J. Smith. Other featurettes and an hour’s worth of deleted scenes have been ported over from previous Warner releases in a set that ought to provide the film’s supporters with a brilliant new presentation of watching the picture – if they can make sense of it all.
LAST MAN STANDING Blu-Ray (101 mins., 1996, R; Shout! Factory): Flaccid Walter Hill remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” transplants its story of a stranger caught between warring gangs to rural 1930s Texas, wherein Bruce Willis’ “John Smith” tries to leverage his services between the two. Hill both wrote and directed this completely joyless downer which is filled with familiar faces, from Bruce Dern and Christopher Walken as well as Hill’s “Warriors” favorite David Patrick Kelly, but it’s all dressed up with nowhere to go but pounding the same thematic note over and over for its 101 minutes. A troubled movie both recut (check out the trailer for loads of unused shots) and rescored (replacing Elmer Bernstein with Ry Cooder to no avail) prior to release, “Last Man Standing” is one of the lesser later efforts of Hill’s, though fans may still want to check out Shout’s Blu-Ray. The new 2K transfer (2.39, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA) of the Interpositive is fresher than the old Warner scan on the Double Feature disc it shared with Willis’ far superior “Last Boy Scout.” The trailer is the sole extra.
TV on Blu-Ray
One of the great happenings this year has been a surprise increase in classic TV series heading to Blu-Ray, from “Hogan’s Heroes” to Universal’s stellar presentation of arguably the iconic ‘50s/’60s family comedy, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (1957-63; Universal).
A series that premiered on CBS in October of 1957 (it moved to ABC a year later), “Beaver” followed the adventures of the Cleaver fam: parents Wards (Hugh Beaumont) and June (Barbara Billingsley), plus their forever trouble-making kids, grade-schooler Beaver (Jerry Mathers) and pre-teen older brother Wally (Tony Dow). Their assorted trials growing up were chronicled over some six seasons – a staggering 234 episodes – that ran for decades in syndication afterwards, influencing sitcoms far and wide.
It’s a bona-fide television classic on every front, and Universal’s Blu-Ray box-set offers the entire run of the show in detailed 1080p (1.37) transfers. Extras aren’t on-hand except for a pilot that was discovered in the 1980s – this episode, “It’s a Small World,” offers some different casting than what ended up in the broadcast series, including an Eddie Haskell played by none other than Harry Shearer, future cast member of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons.”
More classic comedy is on tap this month with another Blu-Ray set – THE ODD COUPLE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (48 hours, 1970-75; Paramount). Initially released on disc via a pricey Time Life DVD back in the day, Paramount released the entire run of “The Odd Couple” on DVD over the last 15 years with solid transfers but unfortunate edits that were applied to various episodes due to music licensing issues.
These edits persist in the Blu-Ray compilation Paramount just released, which sports 15 discs of all five seasons of the show. This results in some unavoidably abrupt cuts and busted punch lines across a series of episodes, though on other shows no edits are made at all. Either way, if you can manage to live with the same presentation Paramount put out on DVD, you should appreciate the new 1080p (1.37) AVC encoded transfers and DTS MA mono soundtracks that enhance this HD presentation of the series.
Speaking of which, this hilarious small-screen adaptation of the Neil Simon stage play and subsequent hit film for Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon worked perfectly on network TV, where Tony Randall and Jack Klugman were ideal fits for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, respectively. Paramount’s box includes the entire Emmy-nominated series with extras carried over from the DVD sets (introductions from producer Garry Marshall; commentaries by Marshall, writer Jerry Belson, Klugman, actress Carole Shelley and others; TV promos; home videos; gag reel, etc.).
Also new from Universal is THE EXPANSE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (47 hours, 2015-21), the impressively mounted and widely acclaimed sci-fi series from creators Mark Fergus and Hank Otsby which originated on Syfy and eventually moved over to Amazon Prime to conclude its six seasons. Thomas Jane, Steven Strait and Shohreh Aghdashloo lead the ensemble cast in this series about the future of humanity, threatened by the advancement of an alien biopweaon at the same time the solar system has been colonized by humankind.
Politics, human drama and some special effects intertwine to create a dramatically rich series that netted critical acclaim during its initial season on Syfy. Eventually, declining ratings led to Syfy dropping the program after three seasons, after which Amazon was able to jump onboard for its remaining half.
Universal has packaged the Complete Series, all six seasons, of “The Expanse” in what amounts to an affordable repackaging of its previously-released Blu-Rays. 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are all superb with extras including many featurettes, episode commentaries, behind-the-scenes interviews, Making Of featurettes and more.
Looking for more sci-fi? Warner’s BABYLON 5: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1993-98) offers similarly engaging entertainment for genre fans.
J. Michael Straczynski’s sci-fi franchise was launched at the tail end of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” phenomenon and had a similar premise to “Deep Space Nine,” finding a group of disparate humans, aliens and things inbetween holed up on a benevolent space station, itself trying to keep the peace in a galaxy overrun with warring factions.
There’s no question there’s a heavy “Trek” influence on this show but fans will argue Straczynski did it better here, the series running for five seasons – 110 episodes – before siphoning off into attempted spinoffs and revival movies. Warner’s Blu-Ray box-set offers just the show itself in a rather spartan package: the 21-disc set contains the individual seasons of “Babylon 5” and those episodes in attractively remastered 1080p (1.78) transfers with 5.1 DTS MA sound and…well, nothing else. None of the post-series movies are included, just a single clamshell case with the discs and that’s it.
Fans hoping for a more deluxe release may lament the barebones nature of the package, but it’s still the best looking presentation of the show that’s ever been assembled, and the sub-$100 pricepoint is reasonable enough.
Deluxe Sets From CBS/Paramount
TULSA KING Season 1 Steelbook Blu-Ray (348 mins., 2022; CBS): Sylvester Stallone scores in Taylor Sheridan’s latest series – a fun change of pace from “Yellowstone,” offering Stallone a plum role of a NY mobster just out of prison after spending a quarter-century behind bars. Despite not ratting out his employers, he’s unceremoniously sent to the middle of Oklahoma to take a cut of the latest business phenomenon sweeping the land — pot — which he does along with a young man who becomes his driver.
Stallone is having fun in a show that’s dramatic but not “heavy” in the way “Yellowstone” can be, offering likeable characters who aren’t archly “odd” and a plot that does a nice job kicking into gear at a consistent yet leisurely pace, developing Stallone’s lead so he’s not a mere stereotype. Eventually the bleep hits the fan at the end with a violent finale, but it’s not as gratuitous as “Yellowstone” has been at times, with a Season 2 looming that ought to be quite interesting. Paramount’s Steelbook Blu-Ray looks superb with its 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio; extras include over 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes exclusive to this package.
SOUTH PARK: The Complete Twenty-Sixth Season Blu-Ray (134 mins., 2023; Paramount)/SOUTH PARK: The Streaming Wars (99 mins., 2022-23; Paramount): The hit-or-miss humor of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s recent “South Park” output carries over to these two recent entries – a six-episode Season 26 and a Paramount+ long-form “special,” “The Streaming Wars,” which mostly riffs on the contentious, COVID-era race between massive corporations starting up their own web services.
The former is more successful than the latter, with at least one funny episode tackling CHATGPT and Cartman and Butters launching their own restaurant. Either should find some favor with fans yet neither is as good as the recent Paramount+ special, “Joining the Panderverse,” which presumably will generate its own disc in the near future.
Paramount’s separate Blu-Rays feature 1080p transfers and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio and are each currently available.
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Season 1 Steelbook 4K UHD (524 mins., 2022; CBS/Paramount): The adventures of Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), first introduced in their current state via the underwhelming “Star Trek: Discovery” series, receive a full solo overhaul in this spin-off. The colorful result tries to update “classic Star Trek” for a new generation, and at least manages to be a little more focused in its mix of genre storytelling and progressive politics than “Discovery”’s weekly sermonizing. It helps that Mount and supporting cast members Rebecca Romjin and Ethan Peck remain appealing and the tone is likewise compared to, say, “Discovery” and “Picard.” CBS’ 4K UHD of “Strange New Worlds”’ first season offers featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and commentary, plus Dolby Vision HDR (1.78) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks – and even better, this sleek-looking Steelbook offers attractive cover art (though apparently is hard to find currently).
“Strange New Worlds”’ general acceptance even among hard-core, old-school Trekkies has been a positive for the franchise – especially given how PICARD (aprx. 25 hours, 2020-23; CBS/Paramount) fared, at least until its final season. Prior to the final season’s “member-berries” fan service, Trek fans had been trapped in the Alex Kurtzmann hell of uneven projects. Initially, “Picard” appeared to be the project to bring Trekkies together of all persuasions, yet this moribund show is morose and at times outright depressing, with an aging Jean-Luc trapped in his own alternate hell fashioned by Q. The expected cameos crop up here and there but this is a joyless affair for the most part, well acted yet bitter and sad – with heavy-handed politics thrown into the fray, adding insult to injury.
Luckily for fans, Season 3 offered a faster pace and lots of supporting faces that tried to lift the show’s erratic first two seasons – the end result is definitely going to rely on how much nostalgia you have for Patrick Stewart and the TNG crew (and can forgive the first two seasons). CBS’ Complete Series Blu-Ray houses the entire run of the show in a superb technical package: the 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are all excellent and over 7 hours of extras include the usual featurettes plus commentaries, deleted scenes and gag reels to spare.
THE GOOD FIGHT – Complete Series DVD (51 hours, 2017-22; CBS): After an investment scam wrecks Diane Lockhart’s retirement plans, she’s forced out of her own law firm and has to join another group as a junior partner. That sets in motion Robert and Michelle King’s follow-up to their CBS series “The Good Wife,” with Christine Baranski reprising her supporting role from the latter in a series that aired on CBS’ premium streaming service, the star playing opposite the superlative Audra McDonald, Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo. CBS’ Complete Series DVD offers the entire run of the series in a deluxe box-set; specs and assorted extras have been carried over from previous releases, including deleted/extended scenes, gag reels, a featurette, 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 2.0 (Seasons 1-5) and 5.1 (Season 6) soundtracks.
YOUR HONOR The Complete Series DVD (1100 mins., 2020-23; CBS): After netting wide acclaim and popularity in “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston returned to series TV as a veteran New Orleans judge whose son becomes involved in a hit-and-run, placing him in the middle of increasingly tense dramatic stakes in this Showtime series. Cranston is the main draw here as a character trying to work out of a difficult place, while Hope Davis is his equal as the judge’s more ruthless wife. Superb support is turned in by Michael Stuhlbarg plus Hunter Doohan as his teenage son, while bravura guest stars include Maura Tierney, Margot Martindale, Rosie Perez, Carmen Ejogo and others. CBS’ complete series set is now available sporting deleted scenes, featurettes, “After the Episode” segments for selected episodes, 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
NCIS: LOS ANGELES The Complete Series DVD (229 hours, 2009-23; CBS): CBS’ crime procedurals have had a good run over the last 20 years, though the one that started it all, the venerable “CSI” franchise, eventually gave way to “NCIS” as TV’s most popular dramatic series – leading, naturally, to a number of spin-offs of its own. Not bad for a series that itself was originally a spin-off of “JAG”!
In the first of these NCIS spinoffs, “NCIS – Los Angeles,” partners Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J top-lined the west coast investigative team who pursued criminals threatening national security. The show’s successful first season remixed (gently) the formula established by its predecessor and coasted to solid ratings on CBS, becoming for a time the network’s most-watched dramatic series with over 16 million viewers tuning in weekly at its height.
The series has just concluded its run and CBS’ mammoth DVD box-set offers all 14 seasons of the series, bundled together in three oversized clamshell cases customary for the label’s multi-season box-sets. Commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes help comprise over 16 hours of bonuses with nearly 320 episodes and 81 discs on-hand.
GREASE – RISE OF THE PINK LADIES Season 1 DVD (527 mins., 2023; CBS): Not every streaming series is a hit, obviously, and this oddball “prequel” to the hit movie and Broadway show was quickly canceled at Paramount+ after its first season concluded. That comes in spite of “Rise of the Pink Ladies” offering solid production values and some nifty musical numbers, charting the rise of Rydell High’s ‘50s girl gang – at least before Stockard Channing showed up. “Grease” fans and/or musicals in general may still get a kick out of the show, collected here on DVD by Paramount with 16:9 transfers, 5.1 sound, plus “Rydell High Yearbook” and “Song Stories” featurettes.
New on 4K UHD
CLUE 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (86 mins., 1985, PG; Paramount): Of all the ‘80s comedies to apparently generate some kind of cult following, you wouldn’t have imagined Paramount’s holiday ‘85 offering “Clue: The Movie” to be one of them – yet this box-office disappointment arrives on 4K UHD from Shout! Factory in a good-looking new 4K restoration.
Originally a John Landis vehicle (he’s still listed as an executive producer and receives co-story credit), director Jonathan Lynn’s “Clue” is a fast-paced, wacky whoduneit with all the principal characters from the famous Parker Brothers board game assembled for a night of murder and mystery. The cast tries their hardest to make the frantic shenanigans of Lynn’s script come to life (Tim Curry is terrific as the Butler, while Martin Mull and Michael McKean provide some laughs as iconic characters from the game), but the problem with the movie is that it often tries too hard to be funny – leaving you exhausted by the time the outcome is revealed (die-hard fans, obviously, will feel differently!).
“Clue” was shot with three different endings (A, B, and C) and was originally released that way to theaters, with multiplexes advertising the specific version of the movie they were showing. On its initial video releases, all three endings were assembled to create a disjointed finale that didn’t really work too well, while the Blu-Ray offered the option to choose a “surprise” (i.e. randomly selected) individual ending in addition to its “compilation” finale.
Shout’s brand new 4K scan from the original negative (1.85, mono) boasts Dolby Vision HDR and clarity unseen in any previous home video transfer – plus a choice of watching the movie with a random ending or with all of them strung together. Why Shout didn’t give fans the ability to choose which ending they wanted to watch is still something of a mystery onto itself.
Despite that disappointment, the attractive new transfer should be enough to warrant a purchase for any “Clue” fan, and Shout! has further enhanced the value of this UHD/Blu-Ray combo set (the Blu-Ray is likewise restored from the same 2023 4K scan of the OCN) by including several new extras. These include a fresh interview with director Jonathan Lynn, associate producer Jeffrey Chernov, and Daniel Schweiger discussing John Morris’ score, which works as hard as the cast in instilling a sense of comedic presence and energy.
STAND BY ME 4K UHD Limited Edition Steelbook (88 mins., 1986, R; Sony): Unquestionably one of the very best adaptations of a Stephen King work, Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me” has been remastered on 4K with Dolby Vision HDR as part of Sony’s new limited-edition Steelbook release.
I’ve always been a big fan of Reiner’s film, which Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans adapted from King’s novella “The Body.” The coming-of-age ’50s tale about a group of friends (River Phoenix, Will Whteaton, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) who go looking for the body of a missing neighborhood teen is funny, touching, and an ideal examination of a boy’s journey into manhood. Reiner was able to capture superb performances out of his young ensemble, punctuated by equally strong work by other young leads like Kiefer Sutherland (terrifying as the film’s heavy) and John Cusack (in flashbacks as Wheaton’s older brother). Narrating the later-imitated film is Richard Dreyfuss, who came in after Reiner wanted to re-shoot scenes involving the original narrator, and also following a variety of actors who unsuccessfully tested for voice-over work. The resulting film is a memorable, entertaining and endlessly repeatable viewing experience (at only 90 minutes “Stand By Me” never wears out its welcome).
Sony previously released “Stand By Me” in 4K with HDR10 enhancement; this new Dolby Vision HDR presentation (1.85) offers the same transfer now with DV encoding. Dolby Atmos, 5.1 DTS MA and the original mono sound are all included with extras highlighted by “Walking the Tracks,” a 2002 DVD documentary on the making of the picture, incorporating interviews with Reiner, Dreyfuss, Wheaton, O’Connell, Feldman and Sutherland (a few months prior to his breakout, career-reviving role on “24”). They speak about the tragic death of fellow star River Phoenix and naturally offer their vivid recollections of making “Stand By Me.”
Reiner also contributed an informative commentary track to that release, which is included here alongside the 2011 Blu-Ray “picture-in-picture commentary” with Reiner, Feldman and Wheaton remembering the film. On this track, the trio are sufficiently engaging and Feldman is fortunately less irritating than he was when he infamously drove Sean Astin out of the room during their “Goonies” commentary several years prior.
Exclusive to the UHD are a number of deleted/alternate scenes which are notable for including David Dukes’ original performance as the older Gordie. While the movie was a bit of a post-production mess – with Reiner going through numerous narrators before settling on Dreyfuss and throwing out Jack Nitzsche’s score (Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli said they rescored the entire picture, shortly before release, once the Ben E. King song became the movie’s title) – the end result is a superb piece of ‘80s studio filmmaking in every facet.
LOVE ACTUALLY 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (135 mins., 2003, R; Universal): Cute and thoroughly appealing romantic comedy from writer-director Richard Curtis examines the lives and loves of a handful of characters around Christmas time. As with any episodic film, some of the stories are more interesting than others, but the ones at the film’s core work extremely well. Among the latter are newly elected British Prime Minister Hugh Grant’s attraction to an adorable co-worker (Martine McCutcheon); frustrated author Colin Firth’s infatuation with a girl in his Italian villa; aging rocker Bill Nighy’s struggle to land the top Christmas single; and Liam Neeson’s attempts at tutoring his young son in the ways of the heart.
Grant’s scenes in particular are extremely well played, with the star in top form, and McCutcheon has a charming presence on-screen. Except for a heavy-handed commentary on US-British relations (what else would you expect when Billy Bob Thornton shows up as the President?), that section of the film turns out to be the most satisfying, with Curtis’s script incorporating equal doses of hilarity and heartbreak. A few of his vignettes fail to work — Laura Linney’s would-be romance with a fellow co-worker never pays off — but the movie for the most part is breezy and engaging, backed by a soundtrack comprised of familiar tunes and an effective Craig Armstrong score.
Now available on 4K UHD, “Love Actually” offers a new Dolby Vision HDR (2.35) transfer with Dolby Atmos sound,yet the transfer is surprisingly soft, displaying obvious filtering and little detail. A brand-new “Making Love Actually” offers interviews with Richard Curtis and the cast and crew while archival extras include a commentary with Curtis and Grant, Nighy, and Thomas Sangster that’s thoughtful and amusing, plus a full run of deleted scenes. Multiple music videos, the Blu-Ray and a Digital HD copy cap the release.
PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES 4K UHD (87 mins., 2023, R; Paramount): Pedestrian follow-up to the recent “Pet Sematary” remake serves as a prequel to the Stephen King story wherein a young Jud Crandall first runs afoul of the supernatural forces that haunt his small Maine town. Nothing much doing here except genre vets David Duchovny, Henry Thomas and Pam Grier reduced to serving in a technically competent but narratively deficient rehash, despite the late ‘60s period setting. Paramount’s 4K UHD includes Dolby Atmos sound, a 1080p transfer, digital code, and over 50 minutes of cast/crew interviews.
SCHOOL DAZE 4K UHD (120 mins., 1988, R; Sony): Superlative HDR10 enhancement graces this 4K restoration of Spike Lee’s 1988 college musical-comedy-drama, a film bursting with energy and social themes. Laurence Fishburne and Giancarlo Esposito lead the ensemble cast — also including Tisha Campbell and veterans Joe Seneca, Art (J.) Evans and Ossie Davis — in a film about a group of students engaging in campus life at a Black college, from frats and brats to football games and points inbetween. The film is a bit unfocused but has so much going for it that “School Daze” ranks as one of Lee’s more engaging films on balance. A number of terrific extras are included in Sony’s 4K UHD (1.85, Dolby Atmos plus 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA) with two commentaries, three featurettes, an Anniversary Q&A and music video all on-hand.
New on Blu-Ray
THE RED BALLOON AND OTHER STORIES Blu-Ray (Criterion): An anthology of shorts and features from French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse highlight this superb Criterion Blu-Ray anthology, highlighted by the director’s classic 1956 work THE RED BALLOON (34 mins.) and his earlier, 1953 black-and-white effort WHITE MANE (40 mins.).
All have been restored in either 2K or 4K, which is the latter case with “The Red Balloon,” better allowing viewers the opportunity to savor this marvelous, dreamy story of a young boy’s relationship with a balloon he comes across in Paris and bonding with it as if it were a loyal pet. Little dialogue is ever spoken, and the redemptive ending is simply glorious, a sensational bit of filmmaking on the part of Lamorisse.
Countless school-children around the world (yours truly included) have been subjected to “The Red Balloon” at some point in their young lives, but unlike most teacher-mandated classroom movies, the picture leaves a positive imprint on most anyone who sees it. Lamorisse’s enchanting point-of-view, playful innocence and magical conclusion make it a spellbinding and unique piece that translates perfectly to children of any nationality.
“White Mane” is a more somber but equally compelling 1953 work from Lamorisse about a young boy in the south of France who discovers, and is able to tame, a wild stallion. Just as in “The Red Balloon,” exterior forces eventually cross their path, culminating in a harsher but equally memorable finale.
Criterion brought both of these to DVD in 2008 and this new Blu-Ray includes fresh 4K restored transfers of each, the latter featuring English narration from Peter Strauss. They’re included alongside new 2K restorations of Lamorisse’s earlier short BIM, THE LITTLE DONKEY plus rarely-seen features STOWAWAY IN THE SKY (with narration by Jack Lemmon, who imported the film himself to the U.S.) and CIRCUS ANGEL. “Stowaway” is the real discovery here, a beautiful widescreen travelogue that serves as a gentle child’s fantasy as well as a gorgeous tribute to France itself with spectacular aerial cinematography.
A new interview with Lamorisse’s son Pascal is included plus a 2008 documentary with him and his daughter, Lysa, and vintage French television interviews with his late dad, whose work is given a grand retrospective here from Criterion.
EUREKA Blu-Ray (130 mins., 1983, R; MGM): Bizarre and unsatisfying, yet still oddly compelling, Nicolas Roeg film spent roughly two years on the shelf before being released to mixed reaction in the mid ‘80s.
Gene Hackman stars as a gold prospector who strikes it big in the mid ‘20s, but then finds his life besieged by family dysfunction and exterior forces upon migrating to the Caribbean two decades later. It’s not always easy to figure out what Roeg and writer Paul Mayersberg were trying to say in “Eureka” – something about the dangers of fame and the isolation of fortune, perhaps – as the movie transitions from an eerie opening third to a tedious family melodrama and later courtroom climax not all that coherently. Yet Roeg’s eye for visuals results in a memorable looking film, if nothing else, with Rutger Hauer, Theresa Russell and – yes – Mickey Rourke and Joe Pesci comprising a supremely eclectic supporting cast.
Though largely forgotten over the years since its release, a fascinating cast and Roeg’s potent visuals make “Eureka” a film that still lingers in the mind in spite of its problems. MGM’s Blu-Ray reprises the same HD master (1.85, 2.0) as seen in Twilight Time’s out-of-print release sans its supplements.
You couldn’t go in a more divergent direction than BIKINI BEACH (99 mins., 1964; MGM), the third “Beach Party” movie with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello frolicking on the sand with guest stars Don Rickles, Kennan Wynn, and series stalwart Harvey Lembeck. This one features musical appearances by “Little” Stevie Wonder, The Pyramids, and the Exciters Band. I was always surprised we never received a full-on box-set of “Beach Party” movies on Blu-Ray but fans can piece together a mini-collection and this premiere release of “Bikini Beach” offers a no-frills, decent 1080p (2.35) MGM master from the AIP vaults.
Finally, Ed Harris’ acclaimed film based on the life of American painter Jackson POLLOCK (123 mins., 2000, R), which he also stars in, features a look at the artist’s creative process and turbulent relationship with lover Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). A stellar supporting cast includes Jennifer Connelly, Val Kilmer, Bud Cort and John Heard, and Sony’s debut Blu-Ray (1.85, 5.1 DTS MA) of “Pollock” is included with all its DVD special features attached: Harris’ commentary, the Charlie Rose interview with Harris, a Making Of, and a handful of deleted scenes.
NEXT TIME – Kino Lorber December wrap, from FACE/OFF in 4K to COLUMBO on Blu-Ray! 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!