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The early ‘70s were a lean time for William Shatner. While “Star Trek” was still omnipresent in pop culture via syndicated reruns, Shatner found lead roles sometimes hard to come by as he appeared in a bevy of TV movies and some sketchy independent features that were sometimes funnier than they were frightening. One of the “best” – or is the worst? — of the lot was IMPULSE (87 mins., 1974, PG; Grindhouse), a wacky, Florida-lensed thriller that finds Shatner in “Evil Captain Kirk” mode right from the opening credits as a suave con man/psycho who preys upon wealthy women. Fully embracing the maniacal tendencies of his character, Shatner goes full “Shat” in this at-times uproarious William Grefe-directed feature, supported by none other than former 007 nemesis Harold Sakata (“Oddjob” from “Goldfinger”) for good measure.

I first came across “Impulse” back in the ‘90s when I tracked down an old VHS of the film, and boy, it did not disappoint for any die-hard Shatner fan. Grefe – a prolific helmer of low-budget Floridian drive-in fare who was also a 2nd unit director on “Live & Let Die” – stages a zany tale of a psychologically scarred Shatner who moves from one rich widow/spinster to another. His latest prey is Ruth Roman (“Strangers on a Train”) though he also harbors a fondness for singe mom Jenifer Bishop, whose young daughter (Kim Nicholas) sees through Shatner’s psychotic tendencies – especially after he (hysterically) mows down a dog while driving (“dogs lick their wounds!”).

Clad in a leisure suit and snapping to tell a chubby woman that she ought to be “ground up” into dog food, Shatner’s “Matt Stone” is a one-of-a-kind nutcase that the thesp goes all-out in portraying. This is one of the actor’s essential performances to be sure, and while I couldn’t help but laugh outloud at his shenanigans here, that awkwardness – and however you react to it – is part of the charm of “Impulse.” This is one of those “regional” exploitation films from the ‘60s/’70s made outside the Hollywood system – one with a big star who was languishing before Trek was resurrected late in the decade – that offers its own “folksy” charm and an anti-hero at its core that, if nothing else, makes for a hugely memorable movie-going experience.

Grindhouse Releasing has resurrected “Impulse” in a two-disc Blu-Ray that’s already one of my favorite releases of the year to date. Not only has Grindhouse included the movie in a print scan (the negative was lost) that’s mostly in good shape (1.85, mono), but the label has packed the release with loads of extras. These include long interviews (and a commentary) with Grefe plus a 2022 post-screening interview with Shatner, who’s engaging and enjoyable as always as he holds court, discussing the most turbulent period of his career. Speaking of that, C. Courtney Joyner also highlights a half-hour look at Shatner’s struggles in the post-”Trek” ‘70s, a decade which also included his later appearance in the enjoyable B-creature feature “Kingdom of the Spiders” (which is an absolute classic compared to “Impulse”).

Still more amusement can be found in Grefe’s industrial and commercial films, including a Shatner-led advertisement for Bacardi Rum, plus later “investment videos” featuring Shatner and Lauren Bacall which Grefe used to spearhead later productions in the ‘80s. They’re all included here alongside even more retrospective interviews with crew members, Grefe himself, and two other features Grefe helmed in standard-def (“The Devil’s Sisters” and Mickey Rooney-led “The Godmothers,” regarded as one of the unfunniest “comedies” ever made!). There’s even a local news report about Grefe’s work on “Live and Let Die,” additional shorts and plenty on Grefe and his work in and around the Miami area. It’s all capped with Shatner-narrated footage of Sakata’s “hanging” sequence – one which turned out to be all too real. Don’t miss it!


OCN New Releases

The cult of “Galaxy Quest” fans should be keen on checking out NEVER SURRENDER: A GALAXY QUEST DOCUMENTARY (87 mins, 2019), which has surfaced from ETA Media. Produced in time for the movie’s 20th anniversary, this feature-length, independently produced doc sports interviews with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, director Dean Parisot, plus Greg Berlanti, Damon Lindelof, and Robert Gordon among others. The Blu-Ray includes extended long-form interviews with the participants, a 1080p transfer and PCM sound.

Another fine documentary, EVERYTHING TO ENTERTAIN YOU: THE STORY OF VIDEO HEADQUARTERS (60 mins., 2023), is out from ETA later this March. This is one of those docs you can show to young kids (like mine) who have no conception about how home video once functioned, and the often personal relationships that once existed between video store owners and their customers. Such was the case with Ken McAleer’s Video Headquarters, which operated in Keene, New Hampshire from 1983-2015 but was also an influence on industry trends across the country. This compact hour-long documentary is a lot of fun and will bring many of us back to recalling the local video haunt that existed in the days before Blockbuster. ETA’s Blu-Ray (1.78, stereo) offers director commentary, extended interviews, a documentary, additional featurettes and other goodies.

SEX & BROADCASTING: A FILM ABOUT WFMU (78 mins., 2016) takes a look behind the scenes at New Jersey radio station WFMU, from its “unique”, free-flowing on-air content to the people still trying to keep it going in an increasingly corporate broadcast spectrum. Factory 25’s Blu-Ray (1.78) sports a 1080p transfer and supplements including a tour of the WFMU record library with DJ Brian Turner; alternate opening; “at home” with the station’s DJ’s; and a 32-page booklet…Also coming from Factory 25 is TOTALLY WIRED: THREE FILMS BY NATHAN SILVER (217 mins., 2012-15), featuring the indie filmmakers’ “Exit Elena,” “Soft in the Head” and “Stinking Heaven,” along with a Silver interview, his short “Riot,” and a 28-page booklet (all films 1.78).

Kani Releasing’s latest Blu-Ray is a release of the Philippines import CLEANERS (82 mins., 2019), an inventively designed picture about life in a Catholic High School in Tuguegarao. Director Glenn Barit’s movie was printed and hand-colored with highlighters before being rescanned, giving a fascinating and sweet nostalgic glow (literally) to its drama. Several of Barit’s short movies are also included in Kani’s now-available Blu-Ray (1.78, 2.0)…Landing later this month from Kani is something else entirely: Alex Cheung’s MAN ON THE BRINK (100 mins., 1981), a true-crime Hong Kong import that predated later classics like “Infernal Affairs” and is preserved here in a new 1080p (1.85) transfer. Supplements include a lengthy 2022 interview with Cheung, commentary with the director and his assistant director Teddy Chan; a 2019 screening Q&A running over an hour; and other archival clips.

Speaking of visual design, Bill Plympton’s THE TUNE (69 mins., 1992) was the acclaimed animator’s offbeat first feature, following a mentally-blocked songwriter attempting to generate a hit tune and keep his girlfriend around. A variety of animation styles abound in this surreal effort which isn’t for every taste yet is easy to appreciate on a unique, handrawn personal scale. Deaf Crocodile’s restoration of the film from the Academy Film Archive (1.33, mono) offers a number of other Plympton shorts (several Oscar-nominated) along with an hour-long look at the movie with Plympton and composer/co-writer Maureen McElheron; a new commentary track from podcasters; a trailer for Plympton’s new feature; an essay from Walter Chaw; and a 2004 archival commentary featuring Plympton and McElheron…Adventurous animation fans will also want to savor Deaf Crocodile’s impending release of BUBBLE BATH (79 mins., 1979), an off-the-wall effort from Hungary’s Gyorgy Kovasznai mixing numerous artistic styles in an adult manner that fans of Plympton and Ralph Bakshi might also appreciate. A commentary by Samm Deighan leads Dead Cocodile’s Blu-Ray (1.37, Hungarian with English subtitles) along with an interview featuring composer Janos Masik, a short restoration video, and five rare shorts by Kovasznai.

Yellow Veil Pictures’ Blu-Ray release of Jukka-Pekka Valekapaa’s DOGS DON’T WEAR PANTS (105 mins., 2019) should be of interest mostly for the director’s devotees as it follows protagonist Juha down a rabbit hole via an evolving relationship with a dominatrix. Yellow Veil’s Blu includes a 1080p (2.39, DTS MA) presentation with a director introduction and interview, camera test, storyboards, interviews with star Krista Kosonen and J-P, and more in its supplemental section…Due March 26th from Yellow Veil is an “Adams Family Picture Show,” WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS (93 mins., 2023), a look at a family of traveling carnival performers searching for eternity during the midst of the Great Depression. For those who enjoyed the Adams’ “Hellbender,” this might be worth a look with extras including a documentary on the production, short film “Ever,” a 1080p (1.87) transfer and DTS MA sound.

The latest Blu-Ray from Canadian International PicturesONE MAN (88 mins., 1977) stars stage great Len Cariou as a reporter who becomes obsessed with his latest scoop that a nearby factory is poisoning local children. A tense Canadian thriller from director Robin Spry co-starring Carol Lazare and Jayne Eastwood, this ‘70s gem has been remastered in a new 2K scan from the 16mm interpositive by the National Film Board of Canada (1.33, mono) with extras including commentary by historian Stephen Broomer; interviews with Spry’s sister Lib and collaborator Bob Presner; five shorts directed by Spry (produced between 1966-73) and additional shorts from co-writer Peter Madden; a 1986 short featuring Lazare; and the 1972 short “Trafficopter.” Cariou, meanwhile, is newly interviewed in CIP’s booklet along with an essay from Albert Ohayon of the NFB.

Coming soon from CIP is Denys Arcand’s REJEANNE PADOVANI (94 mins., 1973), part of the director’s informal Canadian crime trilogy, with Jean Lajeunesse playing a Montreal mobster whose dinner party with the local Mayor and other political players goes all wrong after his estranged wife (Luce Guilbeault) and the press shows up. A 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray (1.78, mono) newly scanned in 2K from the original camera negative, “Rejeanne Padovani” ought to be essential viewing for Canuck cinephiles with extras including professor Anthony Kinik’s commentary; a 2023 interview with Arcand; and new audio interviews with numerous cast members.

Darkstar Pictures’ newest release, NIGHTSIREN (106 mins., 2023), is a rural supernatural thriller from director Tereza Nvotova following a woman in a remote mountain village who’s blamed for the disappearance of two sisters. Darkstar’s Blu-Ray (2.39, 2.0) offers a still gallery…from Umbrella comes a double feature of punk rock music specials: STRANDED (61 mins.) and COSMIC PSYCHOS (91 mins). The former relays the history of Aussie punk group The Saints, the latter is a portrait of its title, another hugely influential Australian group. Extended interviews are on tap in the Umbrella Blu-Ray (1.77).

Memory’s Blu-Ray of CARPET COWBOYS (85 mins., 2023) is an offbeat feature from Emily Mackenzie and Noah Collier looking at the carpets that permeate hotels and convention halls, which the filmmakers trace to their manufacturing home in Dalton, Georgia. A compelling documentary and meditation on American pop culture and its transition into the modern 21st century landscape, Memory’s Blu-Ray offers a 1080p (1.85) transfer, 5.1 sound, a Q&A with the director, bonus scenes and a special intro…IFC’s release of SIMON KILLER (90 mins., 2015) brings writer-director Antonio Campos’ thriller to Blu-Ray for the first time. Brady Corbet stars with IFC’s Blu featuring a new commentary with Campos and Corbet; a video conversation with the duo; an interview with Campos; Campos’ 2007 short “The Last 15”; Sundance interview; behind the scenes footage, rehearsal clips and more.

Finally, THE EARLY FILMS OF ASGHAR FARHADI (Film Movement) is a two-disc Blu-Ray featuring the Persian filmmaker’s initial two pictures: DANCING IN THE DUST (100 mins., 2003) and BEAUTIFUL CITY (100 mins., 2004), each in new 2K restorations (1.85) with English subtitles. Extras include video essays on the two films by critic Roxana Hadadi and a 16-page booklet with commentary from scholar Naghmeh Rezaie.


New on 4K UHD

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER 4K UHD (121 mins., 1990, PG-13; Shout! Factory): Writer John Hill penned “Quigley Down Under” as a vehicle for Steve McQueen in the ‘70s. After the star’s passing, the movie would ultimately be produced as a project for Tom Selleck in what would be, despite its underwhelming box-office, the best of his leading-man feature forays from that era (movies which also included Bruce Beresford’s anemic “Her Alibi,” the underrated Fred Schepisi-helmed “Mr. Baseball” and horrific Robert Klane black comedy “Folks!”).

Director Simon Wincer, coming off his triumphant TV mini-series adaptation of “Lonesome Dove,” here reunited with many of that project’s crew members including composer Basil Poledouris, whose terrific score and memorable theme is one of the film’s chief assets. They all greatly support Hill’s tale of an American sharpshooter (Selleck) who arrives Down Under for a gig working for a British rancher (Alan Rickman) only to find out it’s not wild dogs he’s supposed to clear out but rather Aborigines. After spurning Rickman, Quigley becomes a marked man alongside a fractured American woman (the lovely Laura San Giacomo) with a mysterious past.

“Quigley Down Under”’s 4K UHD (2.35) looks tremendous. Shout Factory’s Dolby Vision HDR presentation is a rock-solid MGM scan of the original camera negative and adds grandeur and color to the old HD master of the film, David Eggby’s widescreen lensing being a big asset as you’d anticipate. The original Dolby Stereo (2.0) track is nicely mixed and extras are culled from Shout’s earlier BD including a then-new interview with San Giacomo, a talk with master armorer Mike Tristano, an archival featurette, the trailer and TV spots.

MIGRATION 4K UHD/Blu-Ray (82 mins., 2023, PG; Universal): Wan kids movie from the Illumination crew is a “B” effort that’s essentially one long chase film, wherein a family of ducks decides to fly beyond their pond to points south. They get mixed up in a series of episodic adventures, some more amusing than others, but with a minimum of character development and dramatic engagement. It’s colorful and inoffensive with a minimum of licensed pop music (a nice change from Illumination, favoring John Powell’s original score instead), but the funniest moments are non-sequitors (a cat playing in an empty playground in the middle of the night) that adults will wish that there were more of. Overall, “Migration” was completely fine for a Christmas vacation weekday matinee that our 4th grader enjoyed — the adult impression was indifferent.

Universal’s 4K UHD of this mild box-office hit boasts a reference-quality Dolby Vision HDR transfer (2.39) with Dolby Atmos sound and a slew of featurettes. There are also three Minions mini-movies, “Fly Hard,” “Midnight Mission,” and the “Despicable Me 4” lead-in “Mooned” which preceded “Migration” in theaters. The Blu-Ray and a Digital HD copy round out the package.

WONKA 4K UHD (116 mins., 2023, PG; Warner): One of the few bright spots at the box-office over the last six months was this agreeable prequel to Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” focusing on the soon-to-be eccentric chocolatier (Timothee Chalamet) who here finds a way to put his dreams of building delightful candy confections into action…even if it means taking on a chocolate cartel in the European town he ends up in.

“Wonka” was met with generally positive reviews and seemed to entertain kids – certainly our son enjoyed it – which means director Paul King and “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman achieved what they set out to do. Chalamet really never convincingly fits the part for me – to say nothing of evoking Gene Wilder vibes – but he’s “okay”, much like the movie’s so-so original songs. Calah Lane is merely serviceable too as the young orphan who gets wrapped up in Wonka’s adventure, making it a must that supporting roles – from Rowan Atkinson and Keegan-Michael Key to Sally Hawkins and Olivia Colman – keep the ship afloat. Best of all is Hugh Grant’s droll turn as a feisty, runaway Oompa Loompa.

“Wonka” isn’t a classic but in these desperate pop-culture times, it’s one of the better “IP rehashes” Hollywood has recently produced, and Warner’s 4K UHD offers both a good looking Dolby Vision HDR (2.39) transfer, Dolby Atmos audio, several shortish featurettes and a Digital HD code.

CONTAGION 4K UHD (106 mins., 2011, PG-13; Warner): Steven Soderbergh’s 2014 thriller hits UHD just as we’re breaking free from the worst part of cold/flu season – and if there’s anything “Contagion” preached years before COVID, it’s that you’d better wash your hands, disinfect your work space, and hope that person who just shook your hand didn’t come in contact with the bird flu.

Those are the lessons imparted by “Contagion,” an involving, if overly clinical, account of a global epidemic, the ordinary lives touched by the outbreak, and the scientists and politicians who work to contain it. Soderbergh has assembled a large and talented ensemble cast here (Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow; Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law with an affected accent) and viscerally adapts Scott Z. Burns’ script in his typical directorial fashion, though there are – surprisingly – few dramatic fireworks produced by the film despite its apocalyptic, yet (obviously) plausible, scenario.

Warner has brought “Contagion” to UHD this month sporting an HDR10 enhancement of the movie’s cinematography (1.85) plus the original 5.1 DTS MA track. A Digital HD code and three lightweight featurettes carried over from the original home video release are also included.

DARK WATER 4K UHD Limited Edition (101 mins., 2002; Arrow): Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata struck gold with his film “Ringu” back in 1998. The terrifying tale of a video tape that causes everyone who watches it to die within several days was a smash hit in its native country. In the U.S., “Ringu” was turned into the hugely popular “The Ring” and became one of numerous films that helped usher in a Japanese horror cycle that ran throughout most of the 21st century’s first decade.

One of Nakata’s best films was “Dark Water,” a film that ought to send a chill up the spine of most genre viewers and has now been revisited in a 4K UHD from Arrow out March 19th.

A superior movie in many respects than “Ringu,” “Dark Water” stars Hitomi Kuroki as Yoshimi Matsubara, a recently divorced woman trying to start a life of her own with five- year-old daughter Ikuko in tow. The two move into an apartment building that’s a bit dilapidated, though not even that can explain the constant leak coming down in their apartment’s ceiling. While Yoshimi attempts to find a job and fight off her ex-husband’s attempts to gain custody over their daughter, things take a turn for the bizarre once she spies a little girl in a yellow raincoat walking about, holding a purse that appears, disappears, then re-appears again throughout the building.

“Dark Water” is leisurely paced but filled with atmosphere and genuine – though not gory – shocks. The dynamic soundtrack is filled with the pitter patter of constant rainfall (as well as a good, though at times overstated, score by Kenji Kawai), and Nakata milks the suspense throughout, leading to a strange, unexpected ending set nearly a decade after the fact.

Although the script – adapted by “Ringu” author Koji Suzuki from his novel – is predictable up until the very end, “Dark Water” is one of the sturdiest, most effective ghost stories of the last few decades. The visuals are likely to stick in your head for days afterwards, with the plight of the lead character developed enough so that you care about her and the situation she finds herself in.

What’s more — like all good genre films — there’s enough subtext to make the non-supernatural aspect of the story likewise compelling. Nakata and Suzuki touch upon issues of abandonment and childhood isolation, and how those themes tie in with not just the lead character and her daughter, but also to the ghostly girl walking about. It culminates in a climax that, again, is extremely creepy yet satisfying at the same time.

“Dark Water” didn’t receive much play in North America, and was remade in a rather pedestrian, quickly forgotten 2005 U.S. version starring Jennifer Connelly. Arrow’s 4K UHD piggybacks on their 2016 Blu-Ray edition, sporting a new Dolby Vision HDR (1.85) transfer with the original (and fantastic) 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack that employs every channel of your home theater. Extras are reprieved from Arrow’s first release and include interviews with Nakata, a talk with Koji Suzuki, a conversation with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi; archive interviews with stars Hitomi Kuroki and Asami Mizukawa, plus theme song artist Shikao Suga; a vintage Making Of; and trailers and TV spots.


Also New From Arrow

THE SHOOTIST Blu-Ray Limited Edition (100 mins., 1976, PG; Arrow): A poignant, moving tale of an aging gunslinger attempting to set things right before his impending death, “The Shootist” was a fitting swan song for legendary star John Wayne, who bowed out here from the big screen in a Dino DeLaurentiis production well executed by director Don Siegel.

Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Jimmy Stewart, Richard Boone, Harry Morgan, and John Carradine are among the veteran performers who appeared with “The Duke” in this adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel, which is melancholy without being outright depressing – more a character study than a traditional western, but a picture that’s all the more effective for being so.

The movie certainly provided a fitting end to Wayne’s career, and Arrow’s debut Blu-Ray of “The Shootist” at last provides the film with a proper HD presentation via an exclusive 2K remaster (1.85, mono) from the original 35mm camera negative. The lossless mono audio is fine and sports a superb Elmer Bernstein score, bringing a level of humanity to the picture as he had so many westerns (several of them with Wayne, of course) previously.

Special features include a new commentary with Howard S. Berger; visual essays/featurettes with David Cairns, C. Courtney Joyner, Scout Tafoya, and Neil Brand (the latter talking about Bernstein’s score); the trailer; a double-sided fold out poster, collector’s booklet, and small lobby card reproductions.

Also on-hand is Paramount’s 2001 DVD documentary featuring interviews with the producers (who divulge that George C. Scott was once intended to star) and cast member Hugh O’Brian, who says he did his small part for nothing – like many of the cast members, he just wanted to be in the picture any way possible.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER TRILOGY Blu-Ray Limited Edition (Radiance): “Lone Wolf and Cub” star Tomisaburo Wakayama appeared as a doctor/spy employed by a local Shogun and assigned to take out his enemies in a trilogy of 1700’s Japanese period-set adventures that were clearly inspired by James Bond – hence a number of gadgets at Wakayama’s disposal, a keen sense of humor (ribbing his real-life brother’s “Zatoichi” series in one scene!), and plenty of widescreen eye candy.

Though not a hugely successful series apparently upon its initial release, “The Bounty Hunter” nevertheless inspired three films — “Killer’s Mission” (89 mins., 1969), “The Fort of Death” (98 mins., 1969), and “Eight Men to Kill (88 mins., 1972) – plus a TV series also with Wakayama. Radiance’s Blu-Ray limited-edition box-set, out March 29th, houses new high-def digital transfers on each film in their two-disc package. The PCM Japanese audio (English subtitled) and 2.35 widescreen presentations are terrific in Radiance’s 3000-copy limited edition that’s chock full of extras.

For those special features, the label has included a new commentary on the first film,”Killer’s Mission,” with critic Tom Mes; an interview with historian Akihiko Ito; a visual essay by Robin Gatto on Eiichi Kudo; a poster/press photo gallery; trailers; six postcards featuring artwork from the movies; reversible sleeves; and a limited-edition booklet with new writing from Alain Silver and more.


Quick Takes

Film Movement New Releases: New on DVD this month, Yujiro Harumoto’s A BALANCE (153 mins., 2020) looks at a documentarian (Kumi Takiuchi) examining a girl’s suicide after she’s bullied at school. After interviewing the girl’s family, she runs into issues with her television network – not to mention becoming wrapped up with her father’s own misgivings at the test prep school he runs. A look at honesty, the modern media, and conscience, “A Balance” debuts on DVD with a 16:9 (2.39) transfer and 5.1/2.0 Japanese audio with English subtitles.

PUNTO ROJO Blu-Ray (80 mins., 2023; MVD): Nic Loreti’s wild Argentinian thriller stars Demian Salomon as a soccer team hooligan whose life is upended after a man falls onto his windshield. Moro Anghileri is the female agent who wants to know what happened – and also why a con man is being kidnapped in the trunk of his car! Brevity is a major plus to this fast-moving picture preserved here on Blu by MVD (2.35, 5.1 PCM) with both the original Spanish language (optionally subtitled) and an English dub on-hand. Extras include Loreti’s short “Pinball” and the trailer.

 

NEXT TIME: Stephen King’s THE SHINING ’90s Mini-Series New 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!

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