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Long before Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan “re-defined” the Dark Knight on the silver screen came Tim Burton’s BATMAN and the Caped Crusader’s ‘90s sequels, all of which hit 4K UHD on June 4th courtesy of Warner Home Video. Despite the varied quality of the pictures themselves, revisiting them in new 4K transfers proved to be a highly enjoyable experience – with the movies all benefiting from the deeper blacks and higher contrast levels that HDR can provide.

While the latter fails to give the horror legends any shared screen time, the prior three features are terrific entertainment – most especially THE BLACK CAT (66 mins., 1934). This impressionistic and surprisingly adult tale springboards off its Poe namesake with its tale of vacationing newlyweds (David Manners, Jacqueline Wells) in Budapest running afoul of a feud between a formerly imprisoned psychiatrist (Lugosi) and an Austrian architect (Karloff) whose nefarious activities included stealing Lugosi’s wife and daughter during the Great War – oh, and Satanism too! Quite adult and outlandish, especially when placed in the context of the early days of the Hays Code being administered, “The Black Cat” was memorably directed by Edgar G. Ullmer, who brought his bonkers artistic sensibility – and occasional elegance – to a creepy film that’s still eerie, even with the occasional over-indulgence on the part of its hammy leads (and a nearly wall-to-wall music score by Heinz Erich Roemheld, mostly adapting assorted classical works).

The massive commercial success of “The Black Cat” led Universal to immediately bring back Boris and Bela for THE RAVEN (61 mins., 1935),  a weirdly conceived story revolving around a mad, Poe-obsessed doctor (Bela) whose plastic surgery skills turn a gangster (Karloff) into a monster. Not nearly as distinguished as “The Black Cat,” this is still a reasonably entertaining mid ‘30s outing with a plum Lugosi performance in particular.

The confined “chamber” settings of “Black Cat” and “The Raven” gave way to more outlandish, fantastical surroundings in THE INVISIBLE RAY (79 mins., 1936), a genre mash-up more sci-fi than horror, with Karloff as a scientist driven mad by discoveries brought forth via his new telescope, which allows users to veer deep into Earth’s past. Franz Waxman’s mostly original score is terrific, featuring a few leftover uses of “Bride of Frankenstein” in a film that’s deliriously scattershot at times – in a good way, of course.

After starring in “Son of Frankenstein,” Bela and Boris only appeared together for Universal one last time in BLACK FRIDAY (70 mins., 1940),another entertaining mix of horror, sci-fi/fantasy and a dash of the gangster genre for good measure. Curt Siodmak co-scripted this brain-switching exercise that regrettably doesn’t give Lugosi much to do – in fact, the stars never even share a scene together! That major disappointment aide, this is still a watchable B-grade Universal exercise that wraps up Scream Factory’s eagerly awaited first volume of collected vintage horrors from the studio, with Volume 2 coming later this summer.

The four-disc Blu-Ray package is highlighted by 1080p (1.33) B&W transfers of each film – “The Black Cat” from a reasonably detailed pre-existing HD master, and the others from new 2K scans of original film elements. As is to be expected, the prints show their age with various anomalies here and there, but there’s little DNR on-hand to spoil the natural filmic image, and the mono soundtracks are as potent as can be expected. Shout! has produced a generous assortment of extras as well, starting with the multi-part documentary “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal,” featuring historian interviews recounting the production of each film; Doug Bradley narrating “Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema Of Edgar Allan Poe”; archival audio recordings (Lugosi reading “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Inner-Sanctum radio adaptation of that same story featuring Karloff); still galleries and trailers. All-new commentaries include a pair of commentaries on both “The Black Cat” (from Gregory William Mank and Steve Haberman) and “The Raven” (Haberman and Gary D. Rhodes); and single commentaries on “The Invisible Ray” (Tom Weaver and Randall Larson, offering an insightful discussion of Waxman’s score) and “Black Friday” (Constantine Nasr).

High bit-rates grace each of the four discs, packaged with a slipcover and color photo booklet. Sure to be one of the year’s top releases for Golden Age horror fans!

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray (90 mins., 1986, R; Shout! Factory): Fred Dekker’s nostalgic sci-fi/horror effort with ample doses of comedy receives a Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray, sporting both cuts of the movie and a wide array of new special features.

Scream’s Blu-Ray preserves the original theatrical release version of the film in the format for the first time (Sony’s BD only offered the theatrical cut ending as a special feature), yet the better cut is Dekker’s preferred original version, with an ambiguous, cool ending that was shown for years in broadcast TV airings — but inexplicably taken out of the theatrical version in favor of a cheapjack scare that ended the film on a sour note. With its proper finale reattached, “Creeps” can be fully appreciated as one of the most purely entertaining genre films of the mid ‘80s, with a great, quotable performance from Tom Atkins as a grizzled detective trying to figure out what’s been causing a rash of dead (and undead) bodies in a college town.

Dekker’s movie melds an old-time ‘50s creature feature with ‘80s sensibilities in a satisfying manner, and Shout’s double-disc Blu-Ray package reprises both the technical specs (1.85 AVC encode, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA soundtracks) and all the extras from Sony’s earlier release: these include commentary with Dekker, a separate cast commentary, deleted scenes, multiple retrospective featurettes, Atkins interview and the original trailer. What’s new are a long line of fresh interviews with the likes of stars Jason Lively, Alan Kayser, Vic Polizos, Ken Heron and Suzanne Snyder, plus editor Michael N. Knue. There’s also a “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” segment with Lively and Dekker returning to the film’s location shooting alongside host Sean Clark.

Also New From Shout! Factory: Barbara Hershey’s central performance powers THE ENTITY (125 mins., 1983, R), one of the more memorable – and, mostly, “realistic” – horror outings of the early ‘80s. Based on a supposed true story, Hershey plays a single mother reeling after a series of graphic, disturbing sexual assaults – of which there was no visible perp committing the crimes. Sidney J. Furie shot “The Entity” – an American Cinema production that Fox released after acquiring the fading company’s remaining assets – in widescreen and the result is a compelling, well-acted story that works because of Hershey and Ron Silver’s performances. Alas, the film’s latter stages set up a silly, “Poltergeist”-inspired special effects show that rings false, but the film otherwise is so sound that it’s possible to overlook it. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes the same Fox (2.35) AVC encoded master seen on prior Blu-Rays but adds a number of new interviews with Hershey, co-star David Labiosa, composer Charles Bernstein and editor Frank J. Urioste, plus a new commentary with Furie biographer Daniel Kremer. The earlier “Entity Files” featurette, trailers, TV spots and effectively directional  5.1/2.0 DTS MA soundtracks round out the now-available Blu-Ray…Coming June 25th (after a brief delay) is a Scream Collector’s Edition of Eli Roth’s grizzly THE GREEN INFERNO (101 mins., 2013, R), which finds a group of students wishing they had never ventured into the Amazon jungle after they fall victim to cannibals. For fans of Roth’s usual fare, “The Green Inferno” serves up gore o’plenty and killings to spare but the movie only works for that intended audience. If you’re among them, Shout’s two-disc set includes a copy of the soundtrack by Manuel Riveiro (with bonus tracks), new interviews with Roth and cast members Lorenza Izzo, Daryl Sabara and Kirby Bliss Blanton, a 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1/2.0 DTS MA sound offerings, and extras from the previous home video release (commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, Making Of materials, trailers, etc.).

Highlighting Shout Select’s latest roster is the rarely-screened FATSO (93 mins., 1980, PG), a big-hearted comedy about a pudgy Italian-American man (Dom DeLuise) whose sister (Anne Bancroft) attempts to steer him onto a healthier course of living, both for himself and whatever family he may eventually have. Despite the dumb title, Bancroft’s movie – she also wrote and directed the film – is an enjoyable, if often broadly played, character dramedy co-starring Ron Carey and Candice Azzara. A Fox release from Brooksfilms that met with mixed reviews, “Fatso” was syndicated to local TV and cable outlets but has never had much circulation on home video. Shout’s Blu-Ray offers a 1080p (1.85) Fox licensed transfer with mono sound (the picture was scored by Joe Renzetti and not Mel’s usual collaborator, John Morris). Extras include a featurette with Brooks reflecting on wife Bancroft’s one and only directorial outing with producer Jonathan Sanger, and an interview with historian Maya Montanez Smukler…Chad Archibald’s I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD (86 mins., 2017, Not Rated) is a definite change of pace indie about a man (Aidan Devine) who works with his daughter (Ava Preston) to handle an influx of corpses from gang-related city murders that are dumped onto his rural property. When one such body turns out to be very much alive, they have to work at keeping her alive in a film with some ghostly elements but horrors that are predominantly out of the real world. This Scream Factory release includes a featurette, deleted scenes, script-to-screen comparison, trailers, a 1080p (2.35) transfer, and 5.1/2.0 DTS MA stereo sound.

Animation/Family Fare: Available June 18th is MODEST HEROES (54 mins., 2018), an animated anthology of stories from Studio Ponoc, the producers of “Mary and the Witch’s Flower.” Anime fans should take to this hour-long new release, brought to home video in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout. The disc includes both Japanese and English 5.1 DTS MA tracks; Japanese cast interviews, an art gallery, trailers/TV spots, Film Completion press conference, and the featurette “The Modest Heroes of Studio Ponoc”…Coming July 2nd, and also recommended for anime fans (and younger viewers as well), is Madhouse’s OKKO’S INN (95 mins.), a moving story about a girl who moves in with her grandmother in the countryside after her parents are killed in a car accident. She soon discovers an ancient spring and spirits who help her heal in a tender story from director Kitaro Kosaka, a Studio Ghibli native. Shout/GKids’ Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes an interview with Kosaka, another talk with Sieran Kobayashi (voice of Okko), a Q&A from the Japanese premiere, trailers, a 1080p (1.77) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA Japanese/English soundtracks…Finally, Shout brings the French-produced, English-language family feature MIA AND THE WHITE LION (98 mins., 2018, PG) to Blu-Ray and DVD also on July 2nd. This fact-based film charts the relationship between a young British girl who bonds with a baby white lion after her family moves to South Africa. As he grows up, “Charlie” faces numerous dangers, leading the resourceful Mia to try and lead him to a sanctuary. Shout’s Blu-Ray/DVD includes a 1080p (2.35) AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes and other goodies.


Twilight Time New Releases

Twilight Time’s latest releases are highlighted by the domestic Blu-Ray debut of WARLOCK (121 mins., 1959) – not the late ‘80s Julian Sands fantasy but a strongly dramatic Fox western that’s at last been preserved in a beautiful new high-definition restoration.

Edward Dmytryk’s film, scripted by Robert Alan Arthur from Oakley Hall’s novel, examines a small town’s attempts to deal with a local gang that consistently stirs up trouble. Hiring a gunslinger-for-hire (Henry Fonda) and his top man (Anthony Quinn) to clean up the premises while the duo open their own gambling hall, the town of Warlock eventually finds itself with another, more righteous savior: an ex-gang member (Richard Widmark) whose conscience leads him to turn on the bad guys he once rode with. Taking over the highly undesirable role of sheriff, Widmark takes on not only his former posse but Fonda himself, who finds his mercenary services ultimately becoming unwelcome in a changing Old West.

Finely tuned characters make this a terrific entertainment, vividly shot in Cinemascope and offering occasional blasts of realistic action and violence. Widmark’s performance is especially superb, making his character’s arc convincing while Fonda and Quinn are likewise excellent. Leigh Harline’s score is an asset as well – in fact this is one of the most satisfying westerns from its era, maintaining a level of believable realism while still being a firm example of Golden Age studio filmmaking at its best.

Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray is a stunner from its 1080p (2.35) transfer to its 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA soundtracks. The 5.1 mix is interesting for its highly directional dialogue though the less robust 2.0 mix sounds a tad more natural – your use of a surround system will likely dictate which track you’ll prefer. An isolated score track, trailer and Fox Movietone newsreel are included for extras.

The other new western joining Twilight Time’s ranks is BANDOLERO! (106 mins., 1968, PG-13), which carries a lot of appeal for genre fans: a gorgeous 1080p (2.35) transfer and 4.0/2.0 DTS MA stereo soundtracks go a lot way to making this uneven Fox release more appealing than ever before. Jerry Goldsmith’s tuneful score is one of his best western outings, while the James Lee Barrett script does a fine job establishing its series of outlaws (led by Dean Martin’s bank robber), good guys (George Kennedy’s sheriff), and those in between (Jimmy Stewart) – all of whom become intertwined after Martin’s gang springs a jailbreak, taking hostage the widow (Raquel Welch) of a man they killed as the posse heads south of the border.

Directed by genre vet Andrew V. McLaglen, “Bandolero!”’s stronger half is its opening, as the movie sets up its respective players in a satisfying, leisurely manner playing to the strengths of its cast. Once the movie settles into its familiar chase-and-gunfight structure, it becomes more familiar and a little tedious – especially in regards to the constant ogling of Welch by Martin’s crew. It’s also a bit uneasy mixing old-fashioned genre standbys with a bit of a downbeat climax in keeping with the era in which it was made.

Martin’s straight and convincing dramatic turn is a standout, though, and Goldsmith’s score is a particular delight. So is Twilight Time’s technical presentation, with both a pleasingly detailed AVC encoded transfer and stereo soundtracks with directional dialogue. Extras include trailers and a commentary with Lee Pfeiffer, Paul Scrabo and Tony Latino.

MORITURI Blu-Ray (123 mins., 1965). WHAT IT IS: Though not one of Marlon Brando’s bigger box-office hits, “Morituri” is nevertheless a compelling 1965 WWII thriller starring Marlon as a wealthy German deserter reluctantly brought into the espionage fold by the British, who want to seize the rubber cargo from a German vessel captained by Yul Brynner. After infiltrating the ship, the reluctant spy finds that nothing goes as planned in a moody, low-key suspense thriller shot in black-and-white by Conrad Hall. TWILIGHT TIME TECH SPECS: Another quality Fox master (1.85, 2.0/1.0 DTS MA) graces Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray, the movie’s debut in the format. An isolated score track of Jerry Goldsmith’s unobtrusive work on the film and trailers are included for extras.

BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL Blu-Ray (99 mins., 1965). WHAT IT IS: Director Robert Mulligan, producer Alan J. Pakula and writer Horton Foote – adapting his play – reunited off their “To Kill a Mockingbird” triumph for this downbeat rural drama. Steve McQueen is mostly the whole show here, essaying a would-be small-town Elvis who can’t stay out of trouble; Lee Remick is his estranged wife who (somehow) can’t stay away from him, even if she wishes he could. Sensitively performed, “Baby the Rain Must Fall” isn’t an especially satisfying film, with the story coming off as fragmented and Mulligan’s direction occasionally pretentious. At least Elmer Bernstein’s score and Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography do add immeasurably to Foote’s mosaic of rural Texas life. TWILIGHT TIME TECH SPECS: Twilight Time’s Sony-licensed Blu-Ray boasts a highly detailed, attractive 1080p (1.85) B&W transfer with mono sound and the trailer.


 

 

Arrow/MVD New Releases

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN Blu-Ray (131 mins., 1971, G; Arrow): One of my favorite sci-fi thrillers from the ‘70s, Robert Wise’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain” is a cool and effective – and still enormously entertaining – tale of a virus that wipes out nearly the entire population of a small New Mexico town…threatening the entire world unless a group of scientists can stop the contagion before it’s too late.

With its offbeat Gil Melle score and low-wattage cast, “The Andromeda Strain” may have flown under the radar for some buffs over the years – even with Wise and Crichton’s involvement. However, its realistic depiction of how a team of experts rushes in to save the day and the overall “clinical” feel of the movie have held up remarkably well, making for a tasty treat for genre fans. Best of all is Richard Kline’s elegant widescreen lensing, often taking great advantage of the Panavision frame in a visual presentation similar to his later collaboration with the director on “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

Arrow’s brand new 4K scan of “The Andromeda Strain” is just terrific: a huge upgrade on the older Universal HD master, which was doused with far too much noise reduction. There are no such issues here with the 1080p (2.35) transfer, which boasts a vivid and clear image with far more detail. While most of the extras are carried over from the older Universal release (archival Laurent Bouzereau segments on the film and Crichton himself), the disc does debut a new commentary from critic Bryan Reesman and an appreciation of the film by Kim Newman. There’s also a Cinescript gallery of Nelson Gidding’s screenplay along with a PDF (via BD-ROM) of the entire 192-page illustrated script mock-up; trailers and TV spots; and PCM mono audio, which has also been newly remastered for this highly recommended new Arrow release.

THE NEW YORK RIPPER Collector’s Edition BD/DVD/CD (93 mins., 1982, Not Rated; Blue Underground): Lucio Fulci’s graphic and unsettling (if not downright exploitive) 1982 film returns to Blu-Ray in the form of a brand-new 4K restoration that highlights Blue Underground’s Collector’s Edition package.

This account of a NYC serial killer who brutally (and I mean brutally) slashes his way through a series of beautiful women boasts stylish 2.35 scope cinematography, which has been captured splendidly in Blue Underground’s BD edition. The 4K restored transfer trumps the label’s earlier, discontinued Blu-Ray while additional audio offerings bring 1.0 DTS MA mono mixes in either English or Italian into the fold (the 7.1 DTS MA audio from the previous BD is also on-tap). Brand-new extras include a commentary from historian Troy Howarth; interviews with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, star Howard Ross and co-stars Cinzia de Ponti and Zora Kerova (plus a 2009 archival interview with the latter); conversations with historian Stephen Thrower and poster artist Enzio Sciotti, trailer and still galleries, and the same NY location featurette from the previous BD. The Blu-Ray and bonus soundtrack CD featuring Francesco DeMasi’s score round out the package, capped with a lenticular slipcover.

DOUBLE IMPACT Blu-Ray (110 mins., 1991, R; MVD): Special “MVD Rewind Collection” package of the 1991 Jean Claude Van Damme outing that offers twice the amount of JCVD as usual – in fact, he plays twins separated by years after their parents’ murder. One’s a SoCal fitness instructor, the other’s a Hong Kong smuggler – but together they wage a two-man assault on the men who murdered their folks. Sheldon Lettich, who guided Van Damme through several of his better outings, helmed this appealing enough if overlong vehicle for the Muscles from Brussels, produced during his “A” heyday. Featuring seemingly the same MGM master as its prior Blu-Ray, MVD’s Rewind disc is chock full of new extras: nearly two hours of documentary interviews with Van Damme, Lettich and cast/crew members are on-hand (in HD); nearly an hour of deleted/extended scenes (in SD); Lettich’s “Anatomy of a Scene,” plus B-roll selections, promo videos, EPK materials, the trailer and PCM stereo sound. Recommended for its maximum Van Dammage!


Kino Lorber New Releases

Two recent Blu-Ray releases from Kino Lorber should be right up the alley of genre fans.

The mid ’80s were a high time for New World Pictures, which tried luring some big stars into the fold with movies like BLACK MOON RISING (100 mins., 1986, R), a thriller that tries desperately hard to be “Blue Thunder” on the road.

Tommy Lee Jones — back before TLJ’s ‘90s resurgence — gets his name over the credits for his role as a thief who unwittingly hooks up with aerospace designers Richard Jaeckel (in the midst of his mid-’80s resurgence) and William “My Name is Larry…” Sanderson, on the road to L.A. to close a deal for their sleek, top-secret new automobile design. After being stolen by another thief (Linda Hamilton, fresh off “Terminator”), Tommy Lee tries to get the car back from the clutches of villainous Robert Vaughn, even as government tough-man Bubba Smith breathes down his neck.

Co-scripted by John Carpenter (one of two New World films he was involved with – “The Philadelphia Experiment” being the other), “Black Moon Rising” is cheesy ’80s action all the way, playing at times like a soft, R-rated version of “The A-Team.” Lalo Schifrin’s score is suspiciously “WarGames”-like, while Haley Corkliss’ direction moves from one scene to the next with all the panache of an NBC Night at the Movies extravaganza.

Nevertheless, I have to admit — I kind of enjoyed the movie, and its easy-going charm (thanks to a likable cast) makes it more palatable than it has any right to be. Things are enhanced even more thanks to Kino Lorber’s super Blu-Ray, a legit Collector’s Edition that rolls out a slew of terrific extras. These include commentary by Lee Gambin and interviews with producer Douglas Curtis, director Harley Cokliss, Lalo Schifrin (moderated by Dan Schweiger), and a video essay on Carpenter’s non-directorial screenwriting work from Troy Howarth. Archival goodies include alternate scenes from the Hong Kong release version (sporting a different score/effects), the trailer, radio spots and a vintage documentary. The 1080p (1.85) Lakeshore-licensed transfer and 5.1 DTS MA/2.0 PCM stereo soundtracks are all excellent, and superior to the German BD release of “Black Moon Rising” from a few years back.

ARABIAN ADVENTURE Blu-Ray (98 mins., 1979, G; Kino Lorber): The last of Kevin Connor and John Dark’s ‘70s fantasies strikes a lighter, G-rated touch. The EMI production “Arabian Adventure” switches out the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulpiness from Connor/Dark’s previous work for a more Harryhausen-esque tale of a commoner (Oliver Tobias), pretending to be royalty, who’s sent to win the hand of a lovely princess (Emma Samms) at the unwitting behest of a conniving bad guy (Christopher Lee). “Guest Stars” include Peter Cushing, Capucine and Mickey Rooney, there are flying carpets and swordfights to spare – but this is pretty threadbare stuff by any measure, strictly for kids, who may themselves be bored with the slack running time. Kino Lorber debuts “Arabian Adventure” on Blu-Ray for the first time offering a pleasant 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfer and okay mono soundtrack, the movie featuring a Ken Thorne score. The trailer and a commentary from Connor round out the release.


New & Noteworthy

CAPTAIN MARVEL 4K UHD Combo Pack (124 mins., 2019, PG-13; Marvel/Disney): Not exactly the monumental cultural moment certain people made it out to be (didn’t “Wonder Woman” manage to become a huge hit minus most of the fuss?), Marvel’s first female-led super-hero vehicle also proves to be – stripped of the hype – one of their weakest features to date.

A stiff Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, the former Air Force pilot whisked away to a galaxy far (though not that far) away where (for reasons unclear to her and us) her memories have been wiped. Becoming an intergalactic super-hero in the midst of the Kree-Skrull war, Danvers/Vers only begins to recall her previous human existence by returning to Earth, where she encounters (among others) her tutor (Annette Bening) and a young Nick Fury (a satisfyingly de-aged Samuel L.Jackson) who gets wrapped up in her “first adventure.”

Too often recalling the unfortunate big-screen version of DC’s “Green Lantern,” “Captain Marvel” is quickly mired in a convoluted origin story that never becomes appealing much less magical. To compensate for the dense narrative, directors/co-writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck intersperse a lot of “Girl Power” lines and tropes – including the much-criticized fight set to the strains of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” – which are as transparent as Larson’s performance, which feels at times like it’s been assembled in the editing room. The Oscar winner never seems comfortable with this material, and her lack of gravitas is clearly shown whenever the more charismatic Jackson is on-hand to have fun with an earlier version of his future SHIELD director.

Best viewed as a fan-service lead-in to “Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel” is one of the least satisfying Marvel outings when viewed on its own terms, though it still makes for a nifty looking 4K UHD. The HVEC encoded transfer (2.39) and rollicking Dolby Atmos soundtrack are reference-worthy as far as their use of HDR and wide color gamut. The package also includes a Digital HD copy and Blu-Ray with a host of extras: these include commentary, a gag reel, deleted scenes and numerous featurettes, albeit mostly on the short side.

US 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (116 mins., 2019, R; Universal): Muddled and unsatisfying follow-up to Jordan Peele’s box-office smash “Get Out” finds an African-American family vacationing in California during the 70s where dopplegangers run amok. Lupita N’yongo is excellent and tries as hard as she can to carry this oddball outing – one which begins well but threatens to veer totally off the rails midway through. Peele’s original script eventually becomes a convoluted “what’s happening?” type of story that “encourages discussion” less because its plot is well-articulated but more because it does a poor job laying out its implausibly nightmarish scenario. What’s worse, Peele doesn’t have nearly the same handle on the movie’s humor and horror mixture, with the film offering repetitious thrills undercut by comedy in a manner that becomes tiresome. The end is memorably weird, but it can only partially redeem the rampant unevenness of its prior act.

A box-office hit likely based more on the goodwill generated by “Get Out” than anything else, “Us” debuts in a 4K Ultra HD combo pack next week from Universal. This is unsurprisingly a strong HDR enhanced (2.39) transfer with Dolby Atmos audio and loads of extras: deleted scenes, interviews with Peele and the cast, featurettes (many of which are in 4K in the UHD), a Digital HD copy and Blu-Ray as well.

THE NEW SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES: THE (ALMOST) COMPLETE COLLECTION Blu-Ray (986 mins., Warner): Growing up in the early-mid ‘80s, “The New Scooby-Doo Movies” were always being run on local UHF TV. These hour-long shows, produced a decade prior, found Scooby and the Mystery Machine Gang teaming up with a number of celebrities to solve a wide range of cases carrying a supernatural component that are – of course – always debunked by the respective episode’s end.

The marriage of standard Hanna-Barbera storytelling with “Guest Stars” proved to be a big hit, lasting two seasons – almost all of which have been released on Blu-Ray at long last. Featuring 1080p (4:3) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, Warner’s two-disc set includes the 23 episodes from the show’s run – minus an episode with The Addams Family, omitted due to contractual reasons. These include Scoob’s run-ins with the Three Stooges (twice), Batman & Robin (twice), Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts, Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Sonny & Cher, Don Knotts, Laurel & Hardy, The Harlem Globetrotters (three times), Davy Jones, Jerry Reed, Josie & The Pussycats, Jeannie & Babu, Tim Conway, Don Adams, Speed Buggy, “Mama” Cass Elliot and Dick Van Dyke.

Highly recommended as good, clean nostalgic fun, Warner has also taken the opportunity to (almost) complete the series’ run on DVD as well. THE BEST OF THE NEW SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES: THE LOST EPISODES (337 mins., Warner) features 8 of the remaining 9 missing episodes from the series (again minus the Addams Family show) on two discs – these include the episodes with Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Sonny & Cher, Davy Jones, Jerry Reed, Jeannie & Babu, Josie & The Pussycats and Tim Conway, which were missing from the show’s previous DVD box.

BATMAN VS. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 4K UHD Combo Pack (87 mins., 2019, PG-13; Warner): Team-up of the DC and Nickelodeon franchises yields one of the best DC Animated productions to date. Here, Ras’s Al Ghul and other Gotham villains take on the Dark Knight, who ends up working with the TMNT gang – Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo – to stop the bad guys and their theft of experimental tech. Plenty of other familiar faces from both universes appear, but the strongest attribute of the feature is that it doesn’t lose focus from the central collaboration of the Turtles and Batman, providing an engaging story with plenty of action. Recommended for either fan base, Warner brings the feature to 4K UHD with a potent HDR-enhanced HVEC transfer (1.78) and 5.1 DTS MA sound. Extras include two featurettes, a preview of the next DC film (“Batman: Hush”), a Digital HD copy and the Blu-Ray.

SOUTH PARK: Season 22 Blu-Ray (223 mins., 2018; Paramount): Despite being on a downward cycle for the last near-handful of seasons, “South Park” keeps trudging along – and Season 22, which aired last fall, does manage a few choice laughs. Most of them revolve around Amazon’s essential takeover of South Park, and the arrival of Jeff Bezos – cleverly portrayed as the Talosian ringleader from “Star Trek”’s “Cage”/”Menagerie” episode! Other episodes, including a hysterical trip to the boys’ near-deserted mall, likewise augment the laugh quotient, even if the episodes strain at times to get through their allotted 20-plus minutes. Paramount’s Blu-Ray includes mini-commentaries from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, #socialcommentary on all episodes, deleted scenes, 1080p transfers and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.

LOST IN SPACE: The Complete First Season Blu-Ray (551 mins., 2018; Fox): Updating of the Irwin Allen series fares, at least, far better than the terrible 1998 big-screen remake – even with the expected modern feminist touch, between occasionally pretentious dialogue and the presence of Parker Posey as “Dr. Smith.” This 10-episode Netflix production again follows the Robinson family through a series of adventures, captured here in a Season 1 Blu-Ray with 1080p (2:1) AVC encoded transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Supplemental featurettes include the colorized pilot, “No Place to Hide,” from the classic series and the original Will Robinson, Bill Mumy, visiting the new set.

SWING TIME Blu-Ray (103 mins., 1936; Criterion): Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had already danced a few times together on-screen by the time this seminal 1936 RKO musical was released – but none of their numerous pairings were as memorable. Backed by a strong Dorothy Fields-Jerome Kern roster of songs (most especially the Oscar-winner “The Way You Look Tonight”), “Swing Time” finds Astaire’s gambler and Ginger’s dance school instructor hooking up for a series of dance sequences that are among the finest of the genre, while still offering an engaging (if somewhat drawn-out) story.

Happy endings and pleasant tunes mix for a grand Golden Age musical, directed by George Stevens and restored here in a 2K transfer (1.37) licensed from Warner by Criterion. The “Swing Time” Blu-Ray also includes John Mueller’s 1986 laserdisc commentary; archival interviews with Astaire, Rogers and the great choreographer Hermes Pan; and new interviews with George Stevens, Jr.; scholar Mia Mask; and critics Gary Giddins, Brian Seibert and author Deborah Grace Winer, who discuss the film’s dancing and songs in the new program “In Full Swing.”


Cohen Film Collection New Releases

BETWEEN THE LINES Blu-Ray (101 mins., 1977, R; Cohen): I watched this quite engaging character-drama years ago on TCM, and was surprised to find out Cohen’s new 2K restoration of the film marks the first wide release of “Between the Lines” apparently on home video ever.

That’s reason enough for movie buffs to cheer this Boston-lensed tale of a small, independent newspaper in the Hub populated with a feisty, alternately ideologically-driven or burned-out staff fearing a corporate buyout in the mid ‘70s. Atmospherically shot (a must for those who grew up, lived in or around Boston during the era), Joan Micklin Silver’s film is notable for its superb young cast: John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Stephen Collins, Bruno Kirby, Joe Morton, Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eickenberry and Michael J. Pollard comprise the staff of the “Back Bay Mainline.” Their various romantic hang-ups and a looming buyout from a publishing magnate (Lane Smith) drive most of the drama, but “Between the Lines” is mostly a laid back and flavorful “little movie” of the sort that, once upon a time, informed independent cinema.

Scored by Michael Kamen and Steven Van Zandt – with an early performance from Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes – “Between the Lines” is a movie of its time in a good way, and for the cast alone, comes strongly recommended. Cohen’s Blu-Ray is now available sporting a terrific 2K (1.85) AVC encoded restored transfer with crisp PCM mono sound. A recent interview with Silver comprises the extras along with the original trailer.

THE BOSTONIANS Blu-Ray (122 mins., 1984; Cohen Film Collection): A Merchant-Ivory film that’s been harder to find on home video compared to many of the duo’s outings, “The Bostonians” adapts Henry James’ story about an activist (Madeleine Potter) whose oratorical skills in post-Civil War Boston captivate both a suffragette (Vanessa Redgrave) as well as her Southern lawyer cousin (Christopher Reeve). Jessica Tandy, Linda Hunt and Wallace Shawn also appear in this rather flatly photographed, stagy piece, made prior to the duo’s breakout hit “A Room With a View,” though the performances are mostly fine. Cohen’s Blu-Ray of “The Bostonians” includes a new interview with James Ivory and a featurette, “Conversations From the Quad: James Ivory on The Bostonians,” plus a 1080p (1.78) transfer and 5.1/2.0 DTS MA sound.

THE BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION Volume 1 Blu-Ray (Cohen): Outstanding 4K restorations of two of Buster Keaton’s legendary features — THE GENERAL and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. – were released last month by Cohen on DVD and Blu-Ray. Clearly the latter is the way to go, as only the Blu-Ray sports a close approximation of the meticulous restoration afforded to both of these comic classics – the Civil War-era “General” and delightful “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” – both with original scores from Carl Davis conducting the Thames Silents Orchestra (“The General”) and the Chamber Orchestra of London (“Steamboat Bill Jr.). Extras in the single-disc BD include “Reflections on The General” and “Buster Keaton: The Luminary.”


Mill Creek Wrap

DROP DEAD DIVA – The Complete Series DVD (56 hours, 2009-2014; Mill Creek): The charming lead performance of Brooke Elliott is the saving grace of this amiable but not particularly well-written Lifetime original series, which lasted six seasons from 2009-2014.

In “Drop Dead Diva,” an airhead fashion model is killed in an auto accident – but given another chance to make a difference. Blonde, trim Deb is sent back to Earth to inhabit the body of “real size” attorney Jane, who finds adjusting to her new career and more capable brain to be nearly as much of a change as living with a curvier body.

Elliott, whose primary work was on Broadway prior to “Drop Dead Diva,” is just terrific in this series. She’s able to pull off playing a thin girl in a “plus sized” body brilliantly, shifting gears from comedy to drama at a moment’s notice, and the producers wisely tried to work in her vocal talents as the seasons went along. When the show centers around her, “Drop Dead Diva” worked; when it tried to balance comedy with lightweight, “Ally McBeal”-like courtroom dramatics, the program floundered, but still maintained a modest fan base throughout its run.

Mill Creek’s DVD packages the entire series in one package for the first time with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Little seen since the show ended in 2014, Elliott is about to resurface in a new Netflix series, which is long overdue as she’s the best part about this program.

Four new Blu-Rays – three of them “Retro” packaged — are also new from Mill Creek this month. Among the “Retro” VHS packaged editions are Dana Carvey’s entertaining 1990 solo comedy vehicle OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS (102 mins., PG-13), which starred the SNL comedian as a con man opposite Todd Graff and Robert Loggia; one of Pauly Shore’s later comic vehicles, JURY DUTY (88 mins., 1995, PG-13), which came towards the end of the star’s run and struggles to whip up a consistent stream of laughs; and Hong Kong action director Tsui Hark’s off-the-wall teaming of Jean-Claude Van Damme with Dennis Rodman, DOUBLE TEAM (93 mins., 1997, R), which co-stars Mickey Rourke in a wild and woolly Mandalay production.

Capping off the fun is a “Nineties Comedy Double Feature” Blu-Ray sporting the very funny 1996 David Zucker production HIGH SCHOOL HIGH (96 mins., PG-13) starring Jon Lovitz in a spirited send-up of assorted “inspiring educational” films. It’s paired here with the inferior Damon Wayans comedy MO’ MONEY (89 mins., 1992, R) co-starring Stacey Dash in a Columbia picture Wayans also wrote.

All of these titles feature 1080p transfers (1.85 except for “Double Team”’s 2.35) with DTS MA sound (the “I Love the 90s” slipcovered releases) and plain Dolby Digital (the Double Feature disc).


Quick Takes

SWINGTOWN: Season 1 DVD (2008, 9 hrs., CBS/Paramount): Good-looking and well-cast, but essentially ridiculous, CBS night-time soap failed to find much of an audience during the summer of 2008. That said, the subject matter is remarkably scandalous for the network’s usual standards (especially a decade ago), following a young couple (Molly Parker and Jack Davenport) who move to the other side of town, away from their conservative friends and near swinging couple Lana Parilla (future “Once Upon a Time” villainess) and her airline-pilot husband Grant Snow.

Packed with ‘70s attire and mores, “Swingtown” is watchable enough but most episodes adhere to the same formula in each episode (should they cheat? Should they do drugs? Does anyone really care?). More over, the “swinging” is essentially portrayed like vampirism (!), making for some unintentional yucks as goody two-shoes housemom Miriam Shor attempts to cope with pal Parker’s new freewheeling lifestyle and conversion to “the dark side.” It’s basically like a lightweight, soapy version of Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

CBS’ new DVD of “Swingtown”’s one and only season brings the show back in-print (the previous DVD was discontinued years back) and offers a virtual reprise of its previous disc: glossy 16:9 transfers with 5.1 audio, deleted scenes, a gag reel, audio commentaries and a Making Of featurette.

NORM OF THE NORTH: KING SIZED ADVENTURE Blu-Ray Combo Pack (90 mins., 2019; Lionsgate): The latest adventures of the affable animated polar bear from Misty Mountain finds Norm meeting up with Jin the archaeologist. When the duo uncover a plot by Dexter, Jin’s old partner, to steal a priceless Chinese artifact, they head out on a trip around the world – along with Norm’s lemming pals – to retrieve the artifact and bring it back to its rightful place. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray combo pack offers a colorful 1080p (1.78) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA sound, a DVD and Digital HD copy – all perfect for the production’s intended young audience.

I AM THE NIGHT DVD (264 mins., 2019; Warner): Smoky film-noir series adapts the real-life memoir of Fauna Hodel, a Nevada teen (played here by “Secret Life of the American Teenager”s India Eisley) given up at birth. She eventually uncovers that her grandfather – a prominent LA gynecologist – was one of the suspects in the infamous Black Dahlia murders, and working alongside a frustrated reporter (Chris Pine), tries to solve both that case – and the key to her own existence. “Wonder Woman”’s Patty Jenkins helmed this good-looking yet complicated and not entirely satisfying TNT mini-series. Out on DVD this week from Warner, the two-disc DVD includes a number of featurettes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULEZ DVD (104 mins., 2018, R; Sony): Pretty much by-the-numbers Brit horror comedy finds an elite prep school overrun with creatures rising up out of a sinkhole, causing trouble for the already angst-ridden, class-divided students and teachers alike. Crispian Wells’ film is predictable from its story right down to appearances by Simon Pegg (check), Nick Frost (check) and Michael Sheen (check), but still might be worth a view for younger genre fans. Sony debuts “Slaughterhouse Rulez” on DVD June 18thfeaturing a 16:9 (2.39) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE ODDS DVD (107 mins, 2018, Not Rated; 4Digital): Well-received indie about a woman (Abbi Butler) who sits down at a table to play a game opposite a facilitator (James J. Fuertes) in which the winning participant is the one who can best tolerate a series of torture techniques. Not as grizzly as other entries in this genre, Bob Giordano’s movie is also well acted by both leads. 4Digital’s DVD is out this week sporting a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1/2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

WOMAN AT WAR DVD (100 mins., 2018; Magnolia): Icelandic import focuses on a 50-year-old woman who secretly works as an environmental activist dubbed “The Woman of the Mountain.” Fighting against a local aluminum factory, her efforts are effective but are thrown into question after she receives the greenlight to adopt a Ukranian child. The offbeat “Woman At War” is new to DVD this month from Magnolia sporting a 5.1 Dolby Digital Icelandic soundtrack with English subtitles and a 16:9 (2.35) transfer.

FORREST GUMP 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray (141 mins., 1994, PG-13; Paramount): Newly remastered presentation of Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 Oscar winner boasts a finely detailed 1080p (2.35) transfer along with Dolby Atmos audio – both upgrades on the studio’s earlier BD edition. Over three hours of bonus content, including the original DVD special features, are also included in this slipcover-adorned 25th Anniversary edition plus a Digital HD copy.

PJ MASKS: BIRTHDAY CAKE RESCUE DVD (Fox): Compilation of four episodes with Catboy, Owlette and Gekko and the gang includes the shows Catboy & The Great Birthday Cake Rescue; Owlette and the Giving Owl; Catboy’s Two-Wheeled Wonder; and Gekko Floats. Music video extras are also on-tap in this single-disc Fox DVD, now available in-stores.

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!

 

 

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