One wonders how many among the latter camp actually read the book, which I recall spending several weeks muddling through in high school. Joffe’s film, scripted by Douglas Day Stewart (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” “The Blue Lagoon”), is much more accessible and contemporary in its sensibilities than its source, reworking its premise to suit a love story that – R-rating aside – is also closer in spirit to a star-driven, old-fashioned Hollywood romantic drama than the more faithful literary adaptation most critics wanted to see.
Moore plays Hester as a strong-willed woman whose arrival in colonial New England causes a raucous with Puritans who already wonder about her living alone minus her husband, Roger, who goes missing on his trip over to the New World. Immediately Hester asserts herself against the stifling community and draws the attention of kind-hearted minister Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman). Their immediate connection, of course, results in a passionate love affair and the birth of a bastard child, complicated by the sudden, surprise reappearance of Hester’s husband (Robert Duvall), who’s been released after being held captive by local savages.
Beautifully shot in and around Vancouver and Nova Scotia by Alex Thomson, “The Scarlet Letter” received mostly scathing reviews and has essentially been forgotten since its release in Fall of ’95 – yet this is a vastly underrated, misunderstood picture with much to admire.
The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Moore – whose mere appearance in this film generated enormous venom amongst many pundits even before it opened – and Oldman. The latter was, according to director Joffe in his new commentary, going through an “emotional crisis” that led to a drinking problem on-set – something that required an enormous amount of sensitivity from Moore, whom Joffe credits with holding the duo together during a difficult production. Whether or not it contributed to his performance, Oldman is unusually vulnerable and soulful here, and he shares a strong on-screen bond with Moore, who was never better than this role. Duvall is admittedly both quirky and weird as Hester’s older and battered husband, while veterans like Robert Prosky (one of the town’s most judgmental Puritans) and Joan Plowright (a free spirit ultimately branded a witch) deftly anchor the supporting cast.
There are times when it seems Joffe and Stewart tried to cram too much into the movie’s two-plus hours (a subplot with a local Indian who serves as a liaison between the town and the surrounding tribe seems to have been mostly jettisoned), but the film is emotional and moving, not to mention graced with a marvelous score by John Barry. This is one of Barry’s loveliest and most supportive scores from the twilight of his career, providing a strong emotional undercurrent to Hester and Arthur’s relationship, and given numerous opportunities to single-handedly carry the film in key moments. A replacement for a comparatively bombastic Elmer Bernstein score, Barry’s work here is just outstanding, and is rightly praised by Joffe in his commentary for being “powerful and heartfelt,” and marked by rich thematic material.
“The Scarlet Letter” may not quite be the brilliant feminist drama Joffe was aiming for – but it is a most worthwhile film marked by superb performances, excellent scope photography and a fabulous score. Unless you’re a Hawthorne purist, what’s not to savor about that?
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of “The Scarlet Letter” has been long overdue – especially since Thomson’s J-D-C Scope (2.35) framing was inexplicably cropped in Hollywood Pictures’ previous DVD release. This 1080p master is accurately framed and fairly good in terms of rendering grain (especially for a Disney catalog master), with warm colors and source material in fine condition. The sound is offered in both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA tracks, and the 5.1 mix is much more robust than its two-channel counterpart, providing discrete sound effects and a wider stage for the music in general. Joffe is extremely proud of the film in his recently recorded commentary with the original trailer (tracked with music from “Glory” amongst other scores) also included in Kino Lorber’s just-released Blu-Ray.
One of Marlon Brando’s lesser-known films, THE APPALOOSA (98 mins., 1966) is a fascinating western. This Universal production stars Brando as a wayward soldier who returns to his home along the Mexican border, only to run into trouble from a bandit (John Saxon) along the way who steals his horse. Vowing to get it back, Brando’s Matt Fletcher travels down to Mexico for a showdown with the villain and his “pistoleros,” ultimately receiving help from the bad guy’s lover (Anjanette Comer) who wants desperately to leave him.
Made at a crossroads between old-fashioned Saturday Matinee genre fare and the blooming Spaghetti Western market, “The Appaloosa” is something different altogether – a stylishly shot picture with distinctive visuals courtesy of director Sidney J. Furie and ace cinematographer Russell Metty. Coming fresh off “The Ipcress File” (and years before his hackneyed ‘80s work on the likes of “Superman IV”), Furie utilizes Metty’s striking widescreen lensing to capture every close-up and detail of what’s an otherwise fairly straightforward story, scripted by James Bridges and Roland Kibbee from a Robert MacLeod novel. This isn’t a Leone-wannabe but rather a moody and interesting attempt to naturally tell a well-worn western story in realistic terms, even within its very traditional genre framework.
Brando has several memorable lines and Saxon and Comer are both superb opposite him. The tuneful Frank Skinner score is also memorable, even if you’d wish the story weren’t so perfunctory (something that could have given the music more opportunity to carry the film) and the pacing occasionally sluggish.
Ultimately, “The Appaloosa” may be “minor Brando” but it’s a film that’s well worth a look, and Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray gives viewers the chance to see the picture in a 1080p (2.35) AVC encode that preserves the film’s scope visuals. The Universal master is a bit worn and the colors faded from what they ought to be, but this is still a satisfying presentation considering the dated source elements. The trailer and a new commentary from Cinema Retro’s Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo round out the release.
While the late John Ritter’s comedic legacy is mostly comprised of his work on “Three’s Company” and similar sitcoms, the multi-talented actor also had dramatic chops, as evidenced by a pair of made-for-TV movies new to DVD from Kino Lorber.
THE COMEBACK KID (97 mins., 1980) starts off well, with Ritter’s washed-up minor league baseball pitcher losing his position – and his livelihood. Down on his luck, he ends up taking charge of a group of under-privileged kids in what quickly becomes a “Bad News Bears” ripoff. All isn’t completely lost, however, as a teary-eyed turn into melodrama gives Ritter several strong dramatic scenes at the end. That, and an interesting supporting cast – Susan Dey, a young Patrick Swayze, and kid roles filled by the likes of Doug McKeon and Kim Fields – make this a worthwhile viewing.
Ritter later starred in PRAY TV (100 mins., 1982), even more of a dramatic piece with Ritter essaying a young minister who takes a job with a TV preacher (Ned Beatty) with more on his mind than theological concerns. This ABC production generated controversy when Rev. Jerry Falwell attempted to stop it from being aired – he didn’t succeed, but the movie itself met with mostly critical derision and hasn’t been heard from since. Ritter’s performance and an ace supporting cast (Madolyn Smith, Louise Latham, Richard Kiley) are still fun to watch in spite of a dramatically obvious story. (The film isn’t to be confused with a Dabney Coleman vehicle with the exact same title and subject matter made a few years later). Kino Lorber’s DVDs of both movies include well-worn ABC masters (1.33) with “Pray TV” being in slightly healthier condition.
THE PINK PANTHER CARTOON COLLECTION Volume 4 Blu-Ray (138 mins., 1971-75; Kino Lorber): Though the Pink Panther film series endured a long hiatus and a few misses at the box-office, the affable, loveable title character enjoyed an even longer, and more consistently successful, career as the star of over 100 animated shorts (not to mention numerous TV series and commercials). Produced by David DePatie and Friz Freleng, the Pink Panther made his solo debut as the star of 1964’s “The Pink Phink” and promptly won an Oscar for his efforts. If that wasn’t enough, the Panther would go on to star in 123 other shorts, the early ‘70s portion here assembled on Blu-Ray for the first time thanks to Kino Lorber’s fourth volume of Pink Panther cartoons.
The Panther cartoons — for anyone who didn’t grow up having seen them (which was tough to do since every generation has had the shorts or series available for viewing in one form or another) — are almost always amusing for kids and adults alike. The general lack of dialogue made the shorts easily accessible to all countries and they remain of universal appeal today, with the Depatie-Freleng staff having concocted ingenious trappings for the Pink Panther’s brand of physical comedy to play off, whether it was in a modern setting, in prehistoric times, or in parodies of familiar literature or film.
Shifting into the 1970s, Volume 4 of Kino Lorber’s series includes all the theatrical shorts starring the Panther from an era with somewhat more contemporary topics being thrown into the mix (the environmental-savvy “Keep Our Forests Pink,” for example). Directors new to the franchise like Hawley Pratt, Gerry Chiniquy, Art Davis, and Warner native Robert McKimson helped bolster the series in the interim between “Panther” live-action installments as well. Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray offers A Fly in the Pink, Pink Blue Plate, Pink Tuba-Dore, Pink Pranks, The Pink Flea, Psst Pink, Gong with the Pink, Pink-In, Pink 8 Ball, Pink Aye, Trail of the Lonesome Pink, Pink Davinci, Pink Streaker, Salmon Pink, Forty Pink Winks, Pink Plasma, Pink Elephant, Keep Our Forests Pink, Bobolink Pink, It’s Pink But Is It Mink, Pink Campaign and The Scarlet Pinkernel, all in 1080p (1.33) MGM catalog masters.
A 14-minute doc on DePatie-Freleng’s Art Leonardi and selected commentaries are also included along with thankfully laugh-track free DTS MA mono sound. Highly recommended!
Also New on Blu-Ray From Kino Lorber: Despite a pokey electronic score by Laurence Rosenthal (“supervised” by George Duning), THE HOUSE THAT WOULDN’T DIE (74 mins., 1970) is an agreeable enough TV Movie of the Week starring Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who moves with her niece (Katherine “Kitty” Winn) to an old house she’s inherited in Gettysburg, Pa. There, the duo find themselves being haunted by a Revolutionary War general and his daughter in a teleplay from “Baby Jane” author Henry Farrell and director John Llewellyn Moxley. Moxley is interviewed in Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray, which also features a 1080p (1.33) HD transfer and commentary from historian Richard Harlan Smith…Tim Lucas provides an informative commentary for Kino Lorber’s BD of Mario Bava’s FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (83 mins., 1971). This one, however, isn’t a gaillo or horror entry, but rather a sex comedy about a couple’s meeting and coupling – told in a way resembling Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.” A definite change of pace for Bava, Kino debuts “Four Times” on Blu-Ray January 15th. The good looking 1080p (1.85) transfer carries both Italian (subtitled) and an English dubbed track, plus deleted scenes and the U.S. trailer.
Finally, Matt Trynauer’s STUDIO 54 (98 mins., 2018) comes to Blu-Ray this month from Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber. This is a terrific documentary that recounts the rise and fall of one of New York City’s most legendary nightclubs, as well as the story of its owners, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, whose personal reminiscences are provided here on-screen for the first time, along with an ample amount of archival footage and interviews with people who were there. There are times when the doc stretches a bit to say something profound about the end of the disco era and connecting it with the club – something other projects have already touched upon – but this is still a fun watch. Kino’s BD is available later this month sporting a 1080p (1.78) transfer and 5.1 sound.
Shout January New Releases
Shout! Factory kicks their 2019 off with a big slate of all-new Collector’s Editions, several of which aren’t new to the format but feature either fresh extras or recent 4K-derived transfers.
Though long available overseas from Arrow Video in a region-free release, Brian DePalma’s 1976 “Vertigo” homage OBSESSION (98 mins., PG) makes its domestic Blu-Ray debut from Shout! this month. “Obsession” stars Cliff Robertson as a New Orleans real estate developer whose wife and daughter are killed in a kidnapping plot; decades later, he runs into Genevieve Bujold in Paris, who’s the splitting image of his late wife. Is he going mad? Seeing double? Or is there a conspiracy plot at the center of DePalma and Paul Schrader’s screenplay?
Despite its obvious, and intentional, similarities to “Vertigo,” “Obsession” isn’t a great movie, with a somewhat icky story by Schrader and DePalma making for one of those films they could’ve only made in the ‘70s (and still netted a PG rating, no less!). Though Bujold is appealing, and John Lithgow serves up sufficiently slimy “good o’l boy” charm, Robertson’s character often registers blankly at the events going on around him – he’s certainly no Jimmy Stewart-everyman, at least – and the film’s outcome strains credibility.
That said, there’s still much to savor in DePalma’s low-budget film, which was independently produced and later picked up by Columbia Pictures (who insisted that filters be used to suggest the movie’s love sequence was a dream – and with good reason given the film’s ending). Bernard Hermann’s score is simply breathtaking – a flowing, mysterious, gorgeous work that ranks with his best – and Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is likewise memorable, utilizing the full Panavision frame as so many of DePalma’s early works do. As a result of their efforts, the picture feels like a much more polished, elaborate production than it really was.
Shout’s Blu-Ray is based on the same master Sony provided for Arrow’s release, so the 1080p (2.35) transfer is pretty much equivalent. Though the disc likewise includes the original mono audio, you’ll want to access the full-bodied, remixed 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack that spectacularly reproduces Herrmann’s brilliant score. The 1080p transfer boasts a natural (DNR-free) image, though with so much of the film’s cinematography being soft and/or filtered, there’s little surprise that the print still looks a bit dirty at times. Supplements carried over from Sony’s DVD include Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary produced in the late ’90s (which include some moving anecdotes about Herrmann’s work on the film) and the trailer.
Exclusive to Shout’s release are new interviews with producer George Litto — who mentions advocating for John Williams to score the film — and editor Paul Hirsch. Each runs under a half-hour while the new commentary with author Douglas Keesey is a bit dry as the DePalma historian reads off a prepared script like an early Criterion lecture.
10 TO MIDNIGHT Blu-Ray (102 mins., 1983, R): One of Charles Bronson’s numerous forays with Cannon Group producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus ranks as one of their better collaborations. Here, Bronson plays yet another tough cop gunning after a serial killer (Gene Davis) who likes to kill in the nude. Eventually, Bronson takes Davis’ psycho down – only to have his unconventional (read: illegal) methods lead to his release, and Davis’ eventual stalking of Bronson’s nurse daughter (the lovely, underrated Lisa Eilbacher). Andrew Stevens co-stars as Bronson’s by-the-book young partner in a film that reunites Bronson with veteran director J. Lee Thompson. It’s an at-times seedy yet (given the material) mostly restrained outing for Thompson, who fuses “Death Wish”-like action with slasher-genre elements in an entertaining hybrid Bronson fans consider to be one of his best from the ‘80s.
Twilight Time previously brought “10 To Midnight” to the format, but that release has been one-upped here by Shout! Factory. A new 4K scan (1.85) of the original negative results in a more detailed and modern looking transfer than MGM’s previous HD catalog master, with the same DTS MA mono track. Extras are also enhanced, starting with a terrific commentary from Bronson authority Paul Talbott and extending down to interviews with supporting cast members Andrew Stevens, Robert F. Lyons and Jeana Tomasina, plus producer Lance Hool. The disc even reprises the TT commentary featuring producer Pancho Kohner, casting director John Crowther and historian David Del Valle, while adding the trailer, radio spots and a stills gallery.
Must-see viewing for Bronson and Cannon fans, this unusual (for the star) outing is irresistibly entertaining, much like his next outing – the near-classic trash sequel “Death Wish 3.”
PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES Blu-Ray (91 mins., 1965): Shot back-to-back with “The Reptile” and originally intended to be screened on the same double-bill, “Plague of the Zombies” is one of two moody Hammer chillers from the mid ’60s. While that release plan didn’t pan out, the movie still fits comfortably with “The Reptile” — not only because of their similar setting and shared cast members, but also because director John Gilling does an excellent job in both pictures establishing character and atmosphere. Where “The Reptile” focuses on how confused young lass Jacqueline Pearce turns into a bug-eyed snake woman in a small Cornwall village, “Plague” centers on a zombie plague that overtakes the same region. Excellent period detail, mood and atmosphere are all splendidly conveyed, with even the usually stereotypical supporting parts receiving more screen time than usual. Shout’s first U.S. Blu-Ray of the film includes two new commentaries: one featuring Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman, the other with historian Troy Howarth. A smattering of extras (Making Of, World of Hammer episode, trailer, still galleries), the transfer (1.66) and mono soundtrack have ported over from various overseas releases.
Horror film series don’t come much wilder or sillier than the many offshoots of Gary Brandner’s “The Howling.” The weirdest sequel of them all is Philippe Mora’s offbeat THE HOWLING III (98 mins., 1987, PG-13), another in-name-only follow-up that brings the marsupial action Down Under, where a young werewolf becomes an unlikely movie star. That’s one of several subplots running through a bizarre movie featuring veteran Aussie stars like Barry Otto and “Dame Edna”, aka Barry Humphries, who appear in an original Mora script that bears scant resemblance to either of the movie’s predecessors or Brandner’s third “Howling” novel. Definitely an acquired taste, Shout’s “Howling III” Blu-Ray boasts a new 4K scan (1.85) from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia with extras including commentary from Mora and moderator Jamie Blanks; an interview with Mora; the trailer; 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound; and archival interviews culled from Mark Hartley’s “Not Quite Hollywood” documentary.
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray (95 mins., 1989, R): New Special Edition of the 1989 romantic comedy staple with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan boasts a 4K scan of the original camera negative along with a conversation with director Rob Reiner and Crystal. The transfer is well worth the upgrade for fans of the film, boasting enhancements in color and detail over MGM’s previous catalog master. Shout has also ported over copious extras from the prior MGM releases, including Making Of featurettes that recount the production of the picture; commentary from Reiner, Ephron and Crystal; plus deleted scenes, vintage featurettes, and a music video from Harry Connick, Jr.
8MM Blu-Ray (123 mins., 1999, R): Seedy thriller from director Joel Schumacher and “Se7en” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker stars Nicolas Cage as a private investigator who pushes too hard into a case involving the discovery of a snuff film that may show a real murder. Cage is mostly kept in-check here (at least until the end) in a fine cast (Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini among them) who capably performs what’s an unrelentingly dark and depressing film, albeit well-made. Shout’s Blu-Ray of “8mm” includes a 1080p (2.35) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, a new interview with Schumacher and additional extras from the DVD (Schumacher’s commentary, trailer, vintage featurette).
SCREAMERS Blu-Ray (108 mins., 1996, R; Shout! Factory): Resourceful little Canadian sci-fi thriller stars Peter Weller as a commander on a barren, bombed-out planet whose side takes advantage of high-tech military weaponry – subterranean robots dubbed Screamers – during an intergalactic feud…at least until the Screamers begin to take on human form, carrying on the war despite the fact that it’s already over.
As explained by screenwriter Miguel Tejada-Flores in one of Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray interviews, “Screamers” – or more specifically, a Philip K. Dick story named “Second Variety” — had been developed into a feature in the 1980s by none other than “Alien” scribe Dan O’Bannon. O’Bannon’s bleak vision was supposedly a heavy-handed Cold War tale that went unmade until producer Charles Fries ultimately sold the rights to a Canadian company that reworked O’Bannon’s concept against the backdrop of an intergalactic civil war. Tejada-Flores (“Revenge of the Nerds,” “Fright Night Part II”) then added humor and levity to O’Bannon’s original script, with director Christian Duguay shooting the film in wintry Montreal with a mostly Canadian cast and crew.
Despite its low budget, “Screamers” is a very watchable and entertaining film for sci-fi buffs. I saw the film theatrically back when I was in college, and was surprised at the movie’s strong character development and measured pace. Though lacking in overall production scale, Duguay and the cast were still able to believably convey a compelling story with effective (mostly mechanical) special effects on a modest scale. If you haven’t seen the picture, it’s definitely worth a look, especially now in Shout Factory’s Blu-Ray edition.
New, insightful interviews with producer Tom Berry, actress Jennifer Rubin, Tejada-Flores and Duguay comprise an agreeable supplemental section, even though a few of the conversations are on the short side. The trailer is also included while the Sony-licensed 1080p (1.85) transfer and 2.0 DTS MA stereo soundtrack are both attractively conveyed.
After too many sequels and imitators to count, the smartest thing the filmmakers behind the much-anticipated HALLOWEEN (106 mins., 2018, R; Universal) revival did is forget everything that came after John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic. So sayonara to “Halloween II,” throw out vague memories of the late ‘80s sequels, toss out the “Miramax years” and happily discard Rob Zombie’s putrid reboots – this straight-ahead follow-through to Carpenter’s original is a smart, savvy and suspenseful continuation that’s appealing and fun. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel – but what film in the hack ‘n slash genre possibly could at this point?
Utilizing humor in mostly natural ways as opposed to snarky in-jokes, keeping the gore mostly confined to “reaction shots” of murders that take place primarily off-camera, and offering a truly nail-biting climax, the 2018 “Halloween” is as assured and satisfying as any in today’s run of recycled franchises and prefab brands. Refreshingly, it’s not a remake in the guise of a sequel – this truly does feel, look and behave like a believable extension of Carpenter’s sole entry in the series, from elegantly composed long takes to an effective (and more textured) score from Carpenter, his son Cody and Daniel Davies that reworks familiar themes in a likewise fresh manner.
The script from director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley wastes little time in establishing its premise: it’s 40 years later, and Michael Myers is being transported to a new prison. Cue Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), still haunted by Myers’ murders and trying to impress her hardened worldview upon her estranged daughter (Judy Greer) and high school-aged granddaughter (Andi Matichak) who, you just know, will soon be in Myers’ deadly path. Of course, Myers breaks free and causes havoc, forcing Laurie to confront her past and her fragmented family, all the while the local sheriff (Will Patton) and Myers’ doctor (Haluk Bilginer) likewise follow in pursuit of the masked killer.
There’s a bit of character development here but it would’ve been nice to have even more scenes between Curtis, Greer and young heroine Matichak, whose relationship with her not-so-crazy grandma seems to be, intriguingly, warmer than her relationship with her suburbanite mom. It’s an interesting component that should’ve been given more time to develop, but given the parameters of the genre, it’s gratifying that there were any attempts at all here to craft believable protagonists. In that regard Green – working along with exec producers Carpenter and Curtis herself – should be commended for making a film that’s filled with surprisingly likeable characters. The teens that populate this Haddonfield are more relatable and less obnoxious than most genre sacrificial lambs (that includes its 1978 namesake), while the visual style is clean and natural – again creating a convincing continuation of the original “Halloween.”
Unlike the first appearance of Myers opposite Curtis and Donald Pleasence, the new “Halloween” isn’t a classic but by this point in the annals of masked killers and crazed horror bad guys, it would be nearly impossible to create one. There’s a weak attempt to throw a twist into the mix near the climax that doesn’t quite work (and one major character’s entire presence, regrettably, is essentially a red herring), but Green gets it together for an ending that’s less horrifying than it is truly suspenseful. There’s also a brilliant flip on one of Carpenter’s classic shots from the first film, but it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t call too much attention to itself, making for a most entertaining film of its kind – and a veritable treat in this day and age for horror fans.
Universal’s attractive HDR-enhanced 4K UHD is out January 15th, featuring deleted and extended scenes plus a slew of featurettes. This isn’t an especially jammed package but the quality transfer (2.39) and DTS: X audio should satisfy fans with a Digital HD package rounding out the release.
THE NUN 4K Ultra HD (96 mins., 2018, R; Warner): The latest “Conjuring” spin-off is at least more satisfying than the “Annabelle” prequels. Taissa Farmiga (sister of series star Vera) plays a nun sent along with a priest (Demian Bichir) to investigate the death of a young nun at a mysterious, and quite scary, Romanian abbey. Director Corin Hardy, working from a Gary Dauberman script, pushes all the requisite buttons as “Valak” does its usual cinematic trickery; the characters and dialogue are less interesting, but “The Nun” should still please series fans despite its lack of surprises. Warner’s 4K Ultra HD combo pack of “The Nun” follows the standard Blu-Ray release but includes HDR and a slightly more impressive 4K transfer (the BD is perfectly good by itself). Extras include 10 minutes of deleted scenes and three featurettes, a 1080p (2.41) transfer and effectively layered Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE 4K UHD (141 mins., 2018, R; Fox): Though thankfully not just another Tarantino knockoff, Drew Goddard’s overlong ensemble character thriller never justifies its extended build-up. In Goddard’s original script, a group of disparate characters – led by Jeff Bridges’ priest with a fading memory and Cynthia Erivo’s washed-up Motown songstress – find themselves holed up in a kitschy hotel on the Nevada/California border in the late ‘60s, all “looking for something” (mostly quite literally). Murder and mayhem are on-hand as each character’s backstory is fleshed out via a series of flashbacks before they intersect at the end – yet the protracted set-up is let down by a final act that’s just never as exciting or interesting as it needed to be. Part of the problem is Chris Hemsworth’s late arrival as a ‘60s cult guru, which is supposed to ratchet up the tension, yet the flatly written character is devoid of both menace and humor – two things the film itself needed more of to really score.
The other performances – Bridges and Erivo in particular – are assured and Seamus Garvey’s widescreen lensing is elegantly designed, making the film’s failure to click doubly disappointing. What’s worse is the languid pace the picture moves at – at a unmanageable 2½ hours, there’s not enough here story-wise to justify the length, with Goddard lingering way, way too long on Erivo’s singing, making the picture at times feel like it’s been designed as a demo reel for the British newcomer.
Fox’s 4K UHD includes Dolby Atmos audio and HDR, but there’s surprisingly little difference between the UHD and Blu-Ray in its overall appearance, with little implementation of the heightened dynamic range. Slim extras include a Digital copy, Making Of, and stills gallery.
FIRST MAN 4K UHD (141 mins., 2018, PG-13; Universal): One would’ve thought the story of Neal Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, would’ve been a surefire subject for a great motion picture. It still may be, but “LaLaLand”’s director, Damien Chazelle, and star Ryan Gosling turn it into an often downright peculiar cinematic experience – a movie graced with a convincing and authentic looking visual design, but stalled out constantly by tedious “domestic scenes” that never generate any narrative momentum, much less establish an emotional connection for the viewer with the material.
Gosling’s stiffly mannered performance as Armstrong also never feels convincing, as the movie tells us – repeatedly – that the astronaut was a soft-spoken man haunted by the death of his young daughter from cancer. That point is understandably a big one at the heart of “First Man,” but surely there were other components to Armstrong’s journey that could have been rendered – one only has to seek out interviews with the real Armstrong to see that he actually did have a sense of humor and didn’t always sound like Forrest Gump. Just as ill-considered are the tiresome scenes of Armstrong’s wife dealing with raising their son in his frequent absence and complaining to NASA about a lack of transparency – poor Claire Foy is saddled with these repetitive sequences and is unable to inject anything to counterbalance Chazelle and writer Josh Singer’s downright shrewish portrayal of Janet Armstrong.
Saddled with a capable supporting cast that’s given very little to do — Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, and Lukas Haas are among those who basically disappear into the background — plus a score by Justin Hurwitz that’s “introspective” at best (and unsupportive dramatically at worst), and it’s no surprise that “First Man” failed to muster much enthusiasm among audiences. This is a movie that tries so hard not to be “The Right Stuff” or “Apollo 13” – here draining all joy out of one of the most quintessentially “American” moments of the 20th century – that you wonder what the filmmakers found compelling about the subject matter to begin with.
Universal’s 4K UHD of “First Man” is out next week. The HDR/Dolby Vision enhanced transfer (2.39, though opened up briefly for an IMAX aspect ratio during the moon walk itself) is superb, and does boost the movie’s visuals – clearly its strongest asset. Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren capture the look of vintage NASA films and there are individual moments – especially the film’s opening sequence – that are superb, making the disappointment of the surrounding material all the more striking. The Dolby Atmos sound is as immersive as a viewer would hope, with commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, the BD and a Digital Copy also included.
Coming from Universal on January 22nd is JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN (89 ins., 2018, PG), the third entry in the comedy series with Johnny (Rowan Atkinson) coming out of retirement, just in time to sack a hacker threatening the world. Director David Kerr and writer William Davies stick to the formula with Atkinson breezily playing off former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, Ben Miller, Jake Lacy and Emma Thompson in this amiable, more-of-the-same sequel. Universal’s Blu-Ray (2.39, DTS X) includes commentary with Kerr, featurettes, a DVD and Digital Copy.
CASTLE ROCK – Complete First Season 4K Ultra HD (500 mins., 2018; Warner): Stephen King and J.J. Abrams collaborated for this Hulu original series that extracts bits and pieces from King’s various past works and tries to fashion it into an original (esque) story involving the author’s favorite hometown in Maine. The result, regrettably, is a show that begins promisingly, bringing in a great cast (Nathan Fillion, Melanie Lynsky, Sissy Spacek among them) and plenty of fan-favorite references to King’s previously rendered stories. Once all the cards are thrown on the table, though, “Castle Rock” doesn’t so much explain as it teases, culminating in a disappointing resolution that makes you feel as if you’ve wasted your time completely.
Still well produced and perhaps worthwhile for hardcore King supporters, “Castle Rock” makes its home video debut this month in a quality 4K (1.78, 5.1 DTS MA) UHD presentation with HDR. Two featurettes, “Blood on the Page” and “Clockwork of Horror,” are presented on the supplemental side along with Digital copies and “Inside the Episode” segments on for each of the series’ eight installments.
Also new from Warner this month is the Complete Third Season of FULLER HOUSE (502 mins., 2017), the “Full House” spin-off with Candace Cameron Bure, Andrea Barber and Jodie Sweetin reprising their roles from the long-running ABC sitcom. The ladies continue to juggle romantic and family pursuits in this third season of the Netflix series, again laced with cameos from original stars John Stamos, Bob Saget, Dave Coulier and Lori Laughlin. Warner’s DVD (1.85, 5.1) is a no-frills, three-disc set available on January 22nd.
Lionsgate New Releases
Blu-Ray Premieres: Jonah Hll’s mid90s (85 mins., 2018, R) is an authentically observed – if dramatically limited – “time and place” indie about a disaffected L.A. teenager who makes new friends at a local skate shop while trying to stay away from a troubled home life. Those with an interest in “skating culture” and the mid ‘90s in general should find “Mid90s” to be compelling – those without an affection for either will have a harder time, though Hill’s picture is at least atmospheric and believable in the world it recreates. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (1.33, 5.1 DTS MA) offers deleted scenes, commentary with Hill and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, and a Digital HD copy…Time travel gets a romantic comedy spin in Andrew Bowler’s TIME FREAK (104 mins., 2018, PG-13), the story of a psychics genius (Asa Butterfield) who traverses time and space with his friend (Skyler Gisondo) in order to repair his relationship with the girl (Sophie Turner) who just dumped him. Appealing enough with a few laughs and a capable cast, “Time Freak” debuts on Blu-Ray (1.85, 5.1 DTS MA) with a Digital HD copy.
Another year, another Jon Travolta made-for-video epic – and this one, SPEED KILLS (102 mins., 2018, R) is mostly noteworthy for including a listing of literally dozens upon dozens of Executive and Associate Producers (investors, I’d assume) – the largest listing I have literally ever seen in a film credits block! The movie itself stars Travolta as a speedboat champ (!) whose boats are being used to move cocaine through Miami. Caught between DEA agents and the mob, Travolta makes a move to save his family in this Jodi Scurfield-directed picture co-starring Jennifer Esposito, Katheryn Winnick, Matthew Modine and Kellan Lutz. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray (2.35, 5.1 DTS MA) is out January 15th alongside a Digital HD copy.
New on DVD: “Stranger Things”’ Natalia Dyer is a supporting player in AFTER DARKNESS (95 mins., 2019), Batan Silva’s independently produced sci-fi thriller where a solar disaster ruins the fun for a family with a security bunker inside their posh home. Tim Daly and Kyra Sedgwick also make appearances in this Dreamwalker/Camellia production on DVD (16:9, 5.1 Dolby Digital) from Lionsgate January 15th…Family audiences are better off checking out PEGASUS: PONY WITH A BROKEN WING (87 mins., 2018, G), a fantasy about a teenager and her neighbor who find the mythical creature with an injured wing on their ranch. Jonathan Silverman and Charisma Carpenter co-star in this G-rated adventure also starring Tom Arnold. Lionsgate’s DVD (1.78, 5.1 Dolby Digital) is new on disc January 8th…THE OATH (9 mins., 2018, R) pairs comedians Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish in the story of a holiday dinner that goes awry when citizens are asked to sign a “loyalty pledge.” Barinholtz also wrote and directed this political satire new to DVD (2.39, 5.1 Dolby Digital) from Lionsgate featuring several extras (deleted scenes, two featurettes, the trailer, a photo gallery).
Mill Creek New Releases
Blu-Rays with retro-styled VHS artwork are all the rage these days – and amongst these mostly bargain-priced titles, Mill Creek’s line are easily the best in terms of reproducing the original artwork from video cassette replicas.
This month brings a new batch for fans (check the Aisle Seat Archives for specific reviews of these movies) – the sci-fi favorite KRULL (121 mins., 1983, PG), the ‘80s sex comedy HARDBODIES (87 mins., 1984, R), and the weak John Candy comedy WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? (89 mins., 1989, PG-13) are the latest additions to the Mill Creek line. No-frills packages with 1080p transfers and DTS MA sound, these are highly recommended for their collectible slipcovers alone, which resemble their respective original RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video covers.
Also new from Mill Creek this month: available for the first time in a retail package (and affordably priced at that) are the later two entries in the “Karate Kid” series: the laughably bad THE KARATE KID PART III (112 mins., 1989, PG), which reunites stars Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita for the final time, and the enjoyable enough Hilary Swank vehicle THE NEXT KARATE KID (107 mins., 1994, PG),which is, if nothing else, an improvement on its immediate processor. Mill Creek’s BD contains Sony-licensed (1.85, 5.1/2.0) 1080p transfers but spotty, low-bit rate compression…Finally, DOGS ON THE JOB (180 mins., 2019) is a seven-part documentary series not just about the various tasks our canine friends do but also their evolutional history. Mill Creek’s DVD also includes a digital copy and is available this week.
Documentary/Special Interest New Releases
LOVE, GILDA DVD (86 mins., 2018; Magnolia): Lisa D’Apolito’s marvelous documentary on Saturday Night Live founding cast member Gilda Radner is filled with reminiscences along with rare photos and journal entries unearthed from Radner’s estate. This allows for “Love, Gilda” to have more of Radner’s own voice than a typical talking-head documentary would allow, making for a highly recommended production on multiple levels. Magnolia’s DVD includes additional interviews, Radner’s home movies, the trailer, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound.
CMA AWARDS LIVE Greatest Moments: 1968-2015 DVD (Time Life): Three-disc set highlights a cavalcade of 48 performances from the Country Music Awards show, featuring superstars like Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn through Vince Gill, Weylon Jennings, George Strait and others. Bonus interviews and more classic moments from the show grace this DVD anthology, now available from Time Life (a 10-disc set is also available for hard-core music lovers).
Documentaries New From MPI: Natalie Portman produced and narrated the documentary EATING ANIMALS (94 mins., 2018), an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foers book about the dangers of factory farming, from the unethical treatment of animals down to what it results in the food we consume. Deleted scenes, an interview with Foer, and the trailer are included in MPI’s DVD (1.78, 5.1)…the highly enjoyable TEA WITH THE DAMES (84 mins., 2018) gathers Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright for a candid conversation about their careers, aging and similarly wide-ranging topics. A delightful show courtesy of “Cruel Intentions” director Roger Michell on DVD (1.78, 5.1) January 15th…Andrew Solomon’s bestselling book FAR FROM THE TREE (93 mins., 2018) has been turned into a poignant, effective documentary by Rachel Dretzin. Like Solomon’s book, it profiles a number of families, living with children affected by Down Syndrome and Autism among other disabilities, who triumph over adversity. Deleted scenes are included in MPI’s new DVD (1.78, 5.1).
THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: AND THAT’S THE WAY IT IS… DVD (aprx. 6 hours, S’more Entertainment)/THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: INSIDE THE MINDS OF… DVD (4 hours, S’More Entertainment): It’s always good to see more episodes from the heyday of the Dick Cavett Show getting a release on DVD. Years after Shout! Factory’s box sets, S’More Entertainment brings several new Cavett compilations to disc:
“And That’s The Way it Is…” spotlights “great newscasters” including Walter Kronkite (from October of ’74 as well as March ’82), Mike Wallace (1970 and 1986), Barbara Walters (1970), Don Hewitt (1985), Tom Brokaw (1989) and Dan Rather (1991). These interviews are spread out over two discs, while “Inside the Minds Of…” is a single-disc release including Cavett shows with Robin Williams (1979), Bobcat Goldthwait (1992), Richard Lewis (1990) and Gilbert Gottfried (1990). The second “Inside the Minds Of…” Cavett DVD volume is comprised of four interviews from the early-mid 1990s with Steve Martin, Martin Mull, and George Carlin (twice).
Film Movement New Releases: Coming January 22nd from Film Movement, I AM NOT A WITCH (93 mins., 2018) is the acclaimed debut film of writer-director Rungano Nyoni – a drama abut a nine-year-old African girl, accused of being a witch, who’s sent to a camp presided over by a corrupt government official. A satirical/political commentary, the 93-minute import (in numerous African languages and subtitled in English) comes to DVD (2.40) later this month from Film Movement also featuring an interview with Nyoni and the short “Mwansa The Great”…Something odd from the Czech Republic is on-tap in ODDSOCKEATERS (87 mins., 2016), a kid-friendly CGI animated feature new to DVD this month from Film Movement. This adaptation of the popular international books by Pavel Srut offers a 1.78 transfer and 5.1 English audio…New on Blu-Ray from Film Movement is Sean Mathias’ BENT (105 mins., 1997, NC-17), the acclaimed film about a homosexual (Clive Owen) who ends up on the run in Nazi Germany and is eventually sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, he meets and forms a bond with a fellow inmate (Lothaire Bluteau) in this tough, uncompromising and yet uplifting film in HD for the first time from Film Movement. The disc includes cast/crew interviews, behind the scenes footage, and co-star Mick Jagger’s “Streets of Berlin” music video. The 1080p (1.78) transfer and 2.0 soundtrack are both perfectly fine...Finally, new this week from Film Movement is Birgitte Staermose’s ROOM 304 (88 mins., 2018), a Danish import set in a Copenhagen hotel where a series of characters play out their respective story lines in an offbeat picture with shifting time frames. Film Movement’s DVD (1.85, 2.0) is now available featuring a German/Danish/English soundtrack with optional English subtitles.
Garagehouse New Releases: Two of schlock-meister Andy Milligan’s late ‘80s efforts have been restored by Garagehouse Pictures and are new to Blu-Ray this month from the label.
If you’ve never seen a Milligan film, it’s safe to say these films are for an acquired taste. MONSTROSITY (92 mins., 1988) finds a young man setting out to make a Golem to take revenge on the L.A. street thugs who murdered his girlfriend. The only problem (one of many, actually) is that his Frankenstein-like creature, Frankie, falls in love with a girl from the streets in an especially bizarre Milligan opus. Garagehouse’s Blu-Ray includes commentary with Milligan biographer Jimmy McDonough and Charlie Beesley, another commentary with Greg Giovanni and others, outtakes, deleted scenes, and an exclusive HD transfer. Meanwhile, WEIRDO: THE BEGINNING (91 mins.,, 1989) stars Steve Burlington as a kid who moves into a shed after being shunned by his family and picked on by locals – soon he meets a young girl (Jessica Straus) who “understands” him…but not his penchant for killing, which ultimately takes hold in an insane finale. “Weirdo” boasts another HD restoration (like “Monstrosity” in 1.37) with commentaries and ample extras.
HERE AND NOW DVD (90 mins., 2018, R; Paramount): Sarah Jessica Parker returns to the screen in this independently-produced story of an established singer who balances her career, friends and family after receiving life-altering news. Newcomer Fabien Constant, making his directorial debut, spins a character-driven picture with a fine cast (Simon Baker, Jacqueline Bisset, Renee Zellweger, Common). Paramount’s DVD (16:9, 5.1) is available January 22nd featuring a behind-the-scenes featurette.
PAW PATROL: PUPS SAVE PUPLANTIS DVD (95 mins., 2019; Paramount): DVD compilation of episodes from the hugely popular Nickelodeon kids series boasts six episodes new to the format, including a pair of double-length shows: Pups Save Puplantis, Pups Save a Sunken Sloop, Pups Save a Wiggly Whale, Pups Save the Flying Diving Bell, Pups Save a Soggy Farm, and Pups Save Their Pirated Sea Patroller. 16:9 transfers and 5.1 sound are available on Paramount’s DVD, out January 15th.
FAMILY GUY: 20 GREATEST HITS DVD (476 mins., 2000-16; Fox): Solid three-disc DVD set compiles 20 of the most memorable episodes from Seth MacFarlane’s animated hit series, including “Road to Rhode Island,” “The FCC Song,” “A Bag of Weed” and “Airport ’07.” No extras but still a far more convenient way to keep on-hand the best moments of the series than stacks of bulky season compilations.
THE DARK DVD (95 mins., 2018; Dark Sky/MPI): Not-really-a-horror-film from writer-director Justin Lange is set in Devil’s Den, a supposedly haunted terrain outside a small town where a young boy and girl both attempt to find solace from their respectively tough backgrounds – even with the possibility of a ghost floating around. More rooted in real horror as opposed to the supernatural, “The Dark” makes its DVD (1.85, 5.1) debut this month from MPI.
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