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Pick of the Week
To Sleep with Anger [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A family in Los Angeles is visited by an old family friend with unexpected results.
Why see it? Danny Glover headlines this increasingly affecting slow-burn of a film as a Southern visitor welcomed into a friendly household that he slowly turns upside down. (Think a far subtler version of Takashi Miike’s equally excellent Visitor Q.) The drama at the heart of the film sees an African American family forced to look inward at cracks they didn’t know were there, and while he exaggerates them the exposure leads to healing. It’s a beautifully acted affair from top to bottom, and writer/director Charles Burnett shows real affection for his characters and their struggles. Criterion’s new Blu gives this 1990 film a long overdue spotlight with a restored picture and some new interviews with the creators.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K transfer, interviews, tribute]
The Little Mermaid
What is it? It’s a whole new world.
Why see it? Disney’s pre-Pixar/pre-CG days include numerous classics that the corporate geniuses periodically let out of the vault for consumer enjoyment, and this week’s lucky parolee is the still delightful and rousing tale of a girl with a… tail. Sure it’s old-fashioned as the girl really wants to be with the guy blah blah blah, but the vibrant hand-drawn animation, catchy tunes, and a wicked villain. The new Blu-ray looks beautiful, and while many of the extras are fluff there are some interesting featurettes digging into the art and artists involved.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Next of Kin [Severin Films]
What is it? A woman inherits her mother’s retirement home and all the terror that comes with it.
Why see it? Australia has gifted movie lovers with all manner of genre gems, but for all of its craziness the country isn’t necessarily known for horror movies that aim for atmosphere and/or scares. Next of Kin is a rare exception for Ozploitation horror starting with its terrifically atmospheric cinematography, energetic camerawork, and impressive synth score. It’s creepy and plentiful weird too, and by the time it wraps up viewers have even been treated to some action beats. The Blu looks fantastic and comes packed with extras.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurette, interviews, deleted scenes]
Willard [Scream Factory]
What is it? A young man befriends rats with unfortunate results.
Why see it? Glen Morgan’s new adaptation of Ratman’s Notebooks (and remake of WIllard) ramps up the blackly comic beats while staying true to the inherently lonely drama at the heart of the story. Willard’s life isn’t an easy one, and it only gets more difficult, and Crispin Glover shines as the mad young man. The rat action here is fantastically choreographed between live rodents, fake ones, and CG, and while we’re limited by the PG-13 rating when it comes to carnage the results are still thrilling enough. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is loaded with extras including three (!) commentaries and a 72 minute making-of. It’s a terrific release for fans.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, commentaries, feature length documentary, featurette, music video, deleted scenes]
Battle for the Lost Planet [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A man returns to an Earth overrun by mutants with bad attitudes.
Why see it? Low budget sci-fi/adventure films are rarely less than mild entertainment for fans of the genre, and this forgotten release fits the bill. It’s cheap, but there’s a clear enthusiasm and sincerity to the filmmaking as they do the best they can with what they have. Vinegar Syndrome’s shiny new rescue of the film comes complete with the equally unknown sequel, Mutant War. If you’re in the bag for these kinds of films then this is a fantastic release.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, bonus feature, interview, introduction]
What is it? Oh my.
Why see it? Nicolas Cage plays a widower who meets a woman with a comatose daughter, and through some supernatural shenanigans the teen becomes possessed by his dead wife — who wakes up pissed that he’s banging a new woman. This is a bonkers movie, no doubt, but it’s the power of Cage that keeps it moving. Sure the story setup is nuts, but the filmmaking leaves a lot to be desired giving the whole thing an amateurish feel, and only Cage holds it together with his patented acting skills.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Damages – The Complete Series
What is it? Two lawyers on opposite sides of the ethical divide face-off.
Why see it? The easy answer here rests almost entirely in the form of the two leads — Glenn Close and Rose Byrne. The former leans devious and devilish while the latter moves from innocent to jaded, and the two butt heads throughout the series run. It’s a show filled with near constant revelations and underhanded deeds, and while it runs out of steam in the back half of the series (by season 3 and 4) the quality of performances help keep things engaging.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Invasion of the Blood Farmers [Severin Films]
What is it? Members of an ancient cult kill innocents in an attempt to raise the dead.
Why see it? Cheap indie horror movies don’t come much cheaper than this bloody romp into rural New York, and while you get what you pay for — actors, effects, cinematography — the no budget results are actually part of the film’s charms. A small part to be sure, but they’re there. It’s an amateurish affair, but you sure can’t fault the enthusiasm. I can’t get on board with it being a good movie, but it’s definitely a movie! Severin has given the film the royal treatment, though, highlighted by a commentary track moderated by the always great Kier-La Janisse.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interviews]
The Midnight Man [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A campus security guard on parole uncovers a murder conspiracy.
Why see it? Burt Lancaster co-directed this solid little thriller and stars as the ex-con trying to do right without rocking the boat so much he gets sent back into the joint. He finds friends, new and old, alongside the mystery, and the story delivers a few engaging turns along the way. It also features what feels like three endings, each offering a new layer of the onion unpeeled for our pleasure. Lancaster is good fun, and the mystery is solid and twisty enough to hold our attention throughout.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Party Line [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? Sibling lovers (?) add murder to their nightly game play.
Why see it? One of the many joys of the Vinegar Syndrome label is that in addition to horror movies, weird films, and adult delights they also spread some of their love in the direction of the unloved — Skinemax thrillers from the 80s and 90s. This little slasher of sorts casts ex-heartthrob Leif Garrett as one of the pervy pair, and it focuses in on the sure-to-never-be-outdated concept of party lines as a way of drawing in young female victims. It’s good fun.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K restoration, interview]
The Possession of Hannah Grace
What is it? A young woman working a morgue night shift faces a supernatural threat.
Why see it? Possession movies typically bore the hell out of me as the threat, details, and execution are typically dull and overly familiar, but this little chiller succeeds where they don’t by shifting towards a more physical threat. It’s almost a riff on The Autopsy of Jane Doe in its locale and circumstances, but it finds fresh scares and creepy visuals in its story of what happens after an exorcism goes bad. Horror fans should give it a spin.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene, featurettes]
Ralph Breaks the Internet
What is it? Ralph traverses the internet to help a friend, and chaos follows.
Why see it? The sequel to Disney’s successful Wreck-It Ralph sees our heroes branch out from the video game consoles to the crazier world of online shenanigans, and it offers them — and the film — plenty of opportunities to have fun with real-world properties from eBay to the Disney princesses. Much of the film’s humor comes from those elements, for better or worse, and the film maintains an energetic momentum through to the end. It’s a bit too noisy at times with a story that doesn’t quite feel weighty enough, but there’s plenty here for the kids to enjoy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? Zombies overrun a Korean kingdom.
Why see it? South Korea’s horror output has been remarkably light on zombie films (not a bad thing), but this past year has seen the nation’s filmmakers double-down with both the Netflix series Kingdom and this feature. Credit the fantastic Train to Busan for the inspiration, but both new genre entries move the undead action from the present several hundred years into the past. The film features some big set-pieces alongside the usual period antics, and the zombie action delivers the goods.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
The Rover [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A pirate finds land-based challenges after the French Revolution.
Why see it? Director Terence Young, best known for helming several James Bond films, steps back in time for this period drama with flashes of adventure. It’s not nearly as thrilling or entertaining as those films, though, and instead offers minor drama based as much on your appreciation of Anthony Quinn as of the film itself. It does a good job crafting the world, but the story isn’t quite as engaging.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K master, commentary]
The Vengeance of She [Scream Factory]
What is it? A young woman is believed to be the reincarnation of a long-dead queen.
Why see it? H. Rider Haggard’s novel She has been adapted to the screen a whopping seven times, and rather than follow the same story this spinoff takes things in a slightly different direction. It lacks the presentation of 1965’s She starring Ursula Andress, the version that directly precedes it, but it’s attempt at trying something new is to be respected. That said, it loses some of Haggard’s intended power by focusing on the queen’s court’s sillier aspects. Some of it may be due to budgetary concerns, but we never feel the full atmosphere of her power and standing. Still, there’s fun to be had with every Hammer production.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, interviews, commentary, Worlds of Hammer episode]
Wacko [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A escaped lunatic returns to his serial killing ways.
Why see it? Director Greydon Clark’s (Satan’s Cheerleaders, 1977; Uninvited, 1988) never really been one to make serious genre films, and this lesser known slasher spoof continued that trend. It’s actually far sillier than the others as it doesn’t even pretend to play things straight, and while its broad approach to comedy may turn some off the rest of us will find plenty to laugh along with. It’s flat-out goofy, and the bevy of old-school familiar faces including Joe Don Baker, George Kennedy, Charles Napier, and more add to the fun.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, interview, outtakes]
What is it? A pair of ranch hands tired of hard work rob a bank instead.
Why see it? Films often romanticize the West and the life of the cowboy as something grand and free, but while its charms are legion its more difficult aspects remain. Blake Edwards took a break from comedy for this character piece about men no longer charmed by the dream. William Holden and Ryan O’Neal are the pair whose friendship is tested with a posse hot on their tail, and their conflicting vantage points — one’s an old man, the other is fresh behind the ears — lead them to the same conclusion. It’s a sad American tale, told well, and Warner’s new Blu-ray brings its Roadshow Edition home with a gorgeous widescreen picture capturing all the beauty and the regret..
[Blu-ray extras: Featurette]
Also out this week:
The Day After, Legally Blonde Collection [Shout Select], Mary Queen of Scots, Megalodon, The Mole People [Scream Factory], Used Cars [Shout Select], La Verite [Criterion Collection]