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It’s been a great year for movie buffs with one big 4K UHD title coming after another as we close out 2023. This final Aisle Seat of the year is capped with one of the finest packages of them all: Arrow’s highly-anticipated, outstanding edition of Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS (94 mins., 1979, R), a 4K UHD restoration that offers not just his controversial 2005 Director’s Cut – now notably called an “Alternate Cut” – but also its vastly superior 1979 theatrical version, each with Dolby Vision HDR and immersive Dolby Atmos audio.

In 2005, Hill tweaked his cult classic for a Special Edition DVD that drew raves for its remastered transfer and sound, as well as heavy criticism for Hill’s editorial changes – namely, comic-styled freeze-frames interspersed throughout the movie and a prologue that established its story within the context of a quasi-futuristic, comic book updating of a Greek myth. This narrative element is inherently baked in the material to begin with, making it an unnecessary component that fans long criticized this remaster for, while the comic book panels constantly broke up the film’s momentum.

Imprint’s Blu-Ray from just a year ago restored the theatrical cut in HD, and now Arrow’s 4K UHD includes both cuts, now with Dolby Vision HDR (1.85) and multiple audio options, in a Limited Edition hardbound box-set. Since the movie is a tight 90-plus minutes, the bit rate is bountiful, leaving grain to be finely, and fully, articulated in the image thanks to David Mackenzie at Fidelity in Motion, whose work on Arrow’s releases is unmatched in terms of a/v performance. The HDR is effective in its use of highlights, contrasts and colors, though is thankfully still tastefully handled, enabling Andrew Laszlo’s striking, stylized cinematography and Hill’s visuals to come alive in a home video format to a degree we’ve never seen before. On the audio side, the Theatrical Cut houses a new Dolby Atmos track, based off Paramount’s 5.1 remix, that’s quite excellent with channel separation and clearly rendered dialogue. In addition to a stereo track, we also have the option of hearing the original mono audio (purists take note), while on the “Alternate Version” the sole offering is the 5.1 DTS MA track carried over from previous releases.

The movie – chronicling the odyssey of a New York City gang as they attempt to get back home to Coney Island after a “gang conclave” among rival groups goes seriously wrong – remains highly entertaining. It’s ironic that the film, upon its original release, was pegged as being senselessly violent and encouraging amoral behavior when what’s actually on-screen would scarcely extend beyond PG-13 boundaries today – all the while our present-day cities are rife with rising crime and news stories that are far more graphic and disturbing than anything in the picture. Divorced from its era, “The Warriors” is an assured and tight piece of escapist entertainment – one of Hill’s best movies – and a movie that’s long been a viewer fave for obvious reasons.

Arrow’s UHD box-set contains all the usual trimmings – a hardbound case, extensive booklet notes, a fold-out poster – and a wide assortment of special features, different than the Imprint release. That even extends to Walter Chaw, who recorded a commentary for the latter Blu-Ray and performs the same function here on an all-new track.

The Theatrical Cut disc kicks off with what must have been a late addition (seeing as it’s not listed on the packaging), which is a “remotely conducted” 15 minute new interview with Walter Hill himself. There’s also an appreciation of the film by modern day indie directors Josh Olson, Lexi Alexander and Robert D. Krzykowski; new interviews with editor Billy Weber, costume designer Bobbie Manix, and historian Neil Brand, who discusses Barry DeVorzon’s score; a segment on Mannix’s designs with archival photographs; an isolated score track; a look at the Coney Island locations; trailers; and Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent 2005 retrospective DVD documentary, sporting interviews with Hill, cast members James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh and others.

It’s a sensational package that ends 2023 on a high – here’s hoping 2024 matches it!

Also new from Arrow as we wind up the year, SAVAGE GUNS: 4 CLASSIC WESTERNS is the third volume of Italian spaghetti westerns to hit Blu-Ray from the label.

This latest assortment offers another quartet of new 2K restorations from their original 35mm camera negatives (1.85/2.35) with the set including I WANT HIM DEAD (87 mins., 1968), starring Craig Hill as an ex-Confederate soldier ought for vengeance; Edoardo Mulgaria’s EL PURO [The Reward’s Yours…The Man’s Mine] (108/98 mins., 1969) presented in both its original release and a longer cut; Terence Hill in Mario Camus’ WRATH OF THE WIND (97/106 mins., 1970), another picture presented as it was originally exhibited or via a longer Spanish language version of the picture; and Fabio Testi and Tomas Milian teaming in Lucio Fulci’s THE FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (104 mins., 1975).

Extras abound throughout the set – new commentaries feature the likes of Adrian J. Smith, David Flint, Nathaniel Thompson, Troy Howarth, Howard Hughes and Kat Ellinger, while interviews feature “I Want Him Dead” director Paolo Bianchini, editor Eugenio Alabiso and Nico Fidenco; actor Robert Woods on “El Puro” with an appreciation from Lovely Jon on composer Alessandro Alessandroni (he performs the same function on “Four of the Apocalypse”); “Wrath” camera operator Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli discussing the film plus Francisco Lacerda’s 2022 short paying tribute to the genre; and interviews with production manager Roberto Sbarigia and critic Stephen Thrower on Fulci’s “Apocalypse.”

Multiple audio offerings abound from lossless Italian and English dubs to hybrid tracks on the longer edits, a fold-out poster, an illustrated collector’s booklet and more in Arrow’s deluxe hardbound packaging.

BLACKHAT 4K UHD (132/133/134 mins., 2015, R; Arrow): Box-office wipeout from director Michael Mann is a curiously flat thriller about cyber-hacking, brought to 4K UHD here by Arrow with no less than three different cuts included.

Chris Hemsworth stars as an imprisoned hacker who’s freed as part of an international investigation into the culprit behind an intentional manipulation of the global soy market – the search of which takes him and a team of both Chinese and U.S. government agents (including Viola Davis) around the globe.

“Blackhat”’s premise is interesting but there’s no way around the fact this listless film is one of Mann’s few outright misfires, offering lots of shots of characters looking at screens while ominous music (credited to Harry Gregson-Williams and Atticus Ross) pounds away in the background. Despite the bloated running time, there’s not nearly enough dramatic meat in Morgan Davis Foehl’s script to satisfy, with limp characterizations and posturing actors struggling to connect with the material.

It’s likely no surprise, then, that Universal tried to punch up the action by moving one of the film’s few action set-pieces to the start of the film – thereby placing it in a flashback framework – but all that decision did was serve to further confuse audiences. Arrow’s 4K UHD sports a Dolby Vision HDR (2.39, 5.1 DTS MA) presentation of both the U.S. and “International” release versions plus, on a bonus Blu-Ray, the little-seen Director’s Cut first broadcast on cable outlet FX. This edit moves the story around, back to a more manageable chronological order (it also seems to have some dubbed-over profanity), but the movie’s central dramatic shortcomings naturally remain.

Extra features include a commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry; a video interview with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh; another interview with production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas; and three archival featurettes on the production.

New From Imprint Editions

The second set in Imprint’s TALES OF ADVENTURE COLLECTION boasts a handful of films from the late ‘40s through the mid ‘50s premiering on Blu-Ray. The hardbound-cased, deluxe limited edition includes:

ANGEL ON THE AMAZON (86 mins., 1948): A Republic drama with Constance Bennett as a mysterious white woman living in the Amazon and George Brent as the pilot she saves. Ridiculous stuff preserved in a 4K scan of the original 35mm nitrate negative (1.33 B&W) courtesy of Paramount. Also offers a commentary by Phillipa Berry.

DAUGHTER OF THE JUNGLE (69 mins., 1949): When another plane crashes in the jungle, a white woman raised a la Tarzan saves the day in a similar Republic release which made Harry & Michael Medved’s “50 Worst Films of All-Time” book in the late ‘70s (well, so did “The Omen”!). Gary Gerani provides a commentary with another 4K scan of the original 35mm nitrate negative present (1.33 B&W).

FAIR WIND TO JAVA (92 mins., 1952): Republic adventure offers a higher pedigree than the other studio efforts represented here, as captain Fred MacMurray looks high and low for a South Seas treasure. Victor Young scored this Technicolor-shot affair with a memorable volcano-eruption finale, restored here in a 4K scan of the original 3-strip “Trucolor” negative (1.37). A commentary by Samm Deighan is also on-hand.

ELEPHANT WALK (103 mins., 1954): Elizabeth Taylor plays the new wife of a tea plantation owner (Peter Finch) with a climax of stampeding elephants in this William Dieterle-helmed Paramount release. Enjoyable studio entertainment of its time with a Franz Waxman score and Taylor in fine form; she replaced Vivien Leigh after shooting began (according to Leonard Maltin, Leigh can still be seen in long shots). Gary Gerani provides a commentary on the disc with a 1080p Paramount master (1.37) included.

SAFARI (91 mins., 1956): Cinemascope-lensed production from the Warwick production company of the UK with melodramatic characters and good-looking cinematography from soon-to-be mainstays of the James Bond series, including director Terence Young and cinematographer Ted Moore among others. Victor Mature and Janet Leigh star (2.35).

In all, this set’s quality is not quite on the level of Volume 1, yet fans of the genre should still find ample entertainment, especially in the ‘50s studio efforts included in Imprint’s now-available box-set.

Also New & Noteworthy

THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ Blu-Ray (121 mins., 1974, PG; Fun City Editions): An early turn from Richard Dreyfuss supplies the humor and energy in this film based on Mordecai Richeler’s story about a young Jewish man’s trials and tribulations growing up in late 1940s Montreal. Director Ted Kotcheff went onto helm a number of successful films across a wide swath of genres (from “First Blood” to “North Dallas Forty” and “Weekend At Bernie’s”!) and he cut his teeth on this eclectically cast film which also offers Jack Warden as Kravitz’s father, Randy Quaid, and Joseph Wiseman. The issue is that the often manic pacing and post-sync dubbing makes for a very uneven viewing experience, though the atmosphere and Dreyfuss’ performance are memorable. Fun City’s lovingly produced Blu-Ray offers a new 4K restoration (1.85) from the Paramount vaults with just a commentary from Adam Nayman and more retro-centric artwork gracing the package.

THE HOLDOVERS Blu-Ray (133 mins., 2023, R; Universal): Alexander Payne decides to make a “70s movie” — at least in period tone — in this critically overpraised study of a middle-aged, Massachusetts boarding school professor (Paul Giamatti) stuck babysitting a group of students over Christmas break. These include a smart yet troubled teen (Dominic Sessa) whose mother leaves him stranded in the wintry “Barton Academy” along with several other kids, the school cook, and Giamatti’s gruff civics teacher.

“The Holdovers” has one uproarious moment, several good scenes, and a strong performance from Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the cook, grieving over the loss of her son in Vietnam. She’s terrific, utilizing a believable Roxbury accent, even though she seems a bit too young for the part, holding her own opposite Giamatti in a role carrying a high degree of sadness. Alas, David Hemingson’s script is awash in far too much of the latter — for example, it’s not enough that Sessa’s estranged parents leave him there: he also has a secret that becomes a contrived plot element, needed only to provide a climax to the picture.

The rest of the movie offers scant surprises, providing predictable dramatic beats for the characters and Giamatti most of all — the actor doing little here but reprising his “Sideways” character in the role of a stuffy curmudgeon who’s really pretty soft that we’ve seen on-screen countless times before. Payne captures the “look” of the 70s, I suppose, with lots of characters smoking in public, but there isn’t a whole lot of cinematic feel or purpose to the exercise, which includes an old MPAA “R” rating logo before it starts, a “cutesy” Focus Features logo apropos to the period, and some low-key credits meant to evoke the era…but so what? That people were even more miserable in the 70s than they are today?

In fact, a lot of “The Holdovers” simply comes off like a group of scenes strung together, never generating the emotion of Payne’s (far superior) “The Descendants” as it’s stuck in a single gear throughout. What you see with these characters is basically what you get, and the film falls into a pattern of bickering/disclosing emotions/bickering pattern with writing that misses obvious opportunities to craft an actual dramatic arc. I kept hoping Payne would rally and provide an emotional send-off for at least some of its characters (if not the audience), but all we get is a minor-key finale that’s like a bad cousin to the endings of other, similarly-set prep school movies like “Dead Poets Society” and “Scent of a Woman.”

“The Holdovers” needed more mirth, more merriment to offset its tartness — ’tis the season after all — but Payne is mired in depression here, preferring dysfunction to deliverance, in a picture that also seems oddly pleased with itself.

Universal’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is newly available featuring the movie’s tight 1.66 aspect ratio and a suitably old school 3-channel LCR soundtrack. Deleted scenes, featurettes, an alternate ending, the DVD and a Digital code are also included in the release.

THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS Blu-Ray (95 mins., 2010; 88 Films): Jackie Chan produced this enjoyable HK martial arts outing about a team of female super-cops taking on assorted criminals – all via action scenes choreographed by Chan’s stunt team. Sibelle Hu, Kara Wai and Cynthia Rothrock star in a competently handled genre outing with ample humor and solid pacing, and 88 Films’ new Blu-Ray (1.85) includes both Cantonese and English dubs; a commentary by Frank Djeng; interviews with Rothrock and director Wellson Chin; alternate credits (under its U.S. title “Top Squad”); trailers and a collectible slipcover.

New in the MVD Rewind Collection, MONDO NEW YORK (83 mins., 1988) is a picture anyone interested in the punk movement of the late ‘80s will want to check out. Harvey Keith’s feature is packed with luminaries, musicians and performance artists from the era, including Joey Arias, Joe Coleman, Phoebe Legere, Ann Magnuson and many others. Remastered here in a 2-disc set (the second disc of which is a soundtrack album), “Mondo Yew York” boasts a crisp new 2K transfer (1.78) from the OCN with 2.0 PCM stereo sound. Extras include interviews with Arias and Coleman (nearly an hour each), plus Shannah Laumeister and producer Stuart Shapiro, all in HD. MVD’s customary cool slipcover and fold-out poster seal the deal on another fine run of Rewind titles released in 2023.

Radiance New Releases

Yuzo Kawashima’s ELEGANT BEAST (96 mins., 1962) is a contemporary Japanese drama based on a play by Kaneto Shindo, who adapted his work for the screen. Shindo’s story focuses on disparate members of a Japanese family – each one engaging in some kind of bad behavior, and comprising a commentary on society in post-WWII Japan that’s strikingly shot by Kawashima in widescreen, bringing texture and scope to material that here transcends its claustrophobic stage roots. Radiance’s now-available Blu-Ray includes a faultless 4K restoration (2.35, Japanese mono) with an interview with critic Toshiaki Sato; an appreciation by filmmaker Toshiaka Toyoda; a visual essay by critic Tom Mes; the trailer; and extensive booklet notes.

Out this week from Radiance is Pietro Germi’s THE FACTS OF MURDER (115 mins., 1959), an intriguing, pre-gaillo Italian noir/mystery. Germi directed and also stars in this adaptation of the novel as a detective who, sent to initially investigate a robbery, soon finds himself engulfed in a murder case; lots of atmosphere and solid performances abound, including an early but important turn from Clauda Cardinale. Radiance’s Blu-Ray offers another 4K restoration (1.37, Italian mono) with extras including an interview with Germi expert Mario Sesti; a documentary about the director with comments from Cardinale, Guiseppe Tornatore and others; and a visual essay by Paul A.J. Lewis on noir in Italian cinema.

BUTCHER’S CROSSING Blu-Ray (107 mins., 2023, R; Sony): Flat, dreary western based on John Williams’ book about a green Harvard grad who heads to the Old West where he meets a frontiersman (Nicolas Cage) looking to score off hunting buffalo – at least until a hard winter sets in. Gabe Polsky’s independently shot film offers capable performances from Cage and Fred Hechinger as the young idealist about to be schooled in the harsh realities of the real Old West, but it’s relentlessly one-note and ends pretty much exactly where you’d expect. Sony’s Blu-Ray (2:1, 5.1 DTS MA) is now available.

THE SANDMAN – The Complete First Season Blu-Ray (526 mins., 2022; Warner): For years different directors have attempted to bring Neil Gaiman’s celebrated DC Comic series to the screen – either big or small. All failed in their collective efforts until this recent Warner production which was launched on Netflix a year ago, bringing the adventures of the Master of Dreams (Tom Sturridge) to life, one where the mystical being who controls our unconscious realm has to fix the world after he’s captured in the early 20th century and held prisoner for decades.

Gaiman’s stylized art and storytelling come are vividly relayed in this impressively mounted, and unsurprisingly expensive, series from David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg, scripted by Gaiman himself from two of his “Sandman” tomes. As you might expect, fans familiar with the source material will be most satisfied by the wild swings of violence and fantasy inherent in the story, which is perhaps a little too faithful to Gaiman’s works for newcomers to penetrate.

There’s no quibble with the a/v transfers on Warner’s Blu-Ray; the 1080p presentation is superb with Dolby Atmos sound and extras including featurettes “The Sandman: Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Peek” and “The World of the Endless.”

NEXT TIME – More of the latest reviews! 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 and here’s to a great 2024!

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