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Young Frank Walker attends the 1964 World’s Fair along with his homemade jet pack in the hopes of catching the eye of an inventor on the lookout for such things, but while Nix (Hugh Laurie) dismisses the boy’s toy his daughter Athena (Raffey Cassidy) sees something more. She slips him a special lapel pin and teases his curiosity, and soon Frank finds himself transported to a bright new world of science fiction turned real. The film then shifts to modern day as a smart and spunky teen named Casey (Britt Robertson) struggles to accept that her NASA engineer dad is just days away from losing his job thanks to cutbacks and disinterest in further space exploration. One of those pins finds its way into her possession setting her on a journey to find not only the now grown Frank (George Clooney) but also an entrance into Tomorrowland. What she finds in both cases is not quite what she expects.
Ostensibly aimed at a young adult audience, Brad Bird’s incredibly entertaining tale insists that as bad as things have gotten in the world there’s still hope for a better tomorrow. It’s not all sappy optimism, as it’s also an immensely fun and energetic cinematic ride. From young Frank’s early jet pack ride through the skies over Tomorrowland to a frantic home invasion and escape the action here is visually thrilling and frequently exhilarating. The humor meanwhile comes equally from all three leads who deliver sharp dialogue and banter like a well-oiled trio. Unsurprisingly, Clooney gives great grump and fits into the world’s magic like a long lost puzzle piece just waiting for reunion, but the two girls are the stand-outs here. Bird’s shiny, visceral thrill ride pairs optimism with some tough love, and the end result is pure possibility. This is a ride to be shared with the family.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
The Brood (Criterion)
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) wants very much to regain custody of his young daughter, Candice, but his estranged wife (Samantha Eggar) isn’t making it easy. She’s retreated to the care of a controversial doctor (Oliver Reed) whose work in the field physical/psychological modification has resulted in something monstrous. Disfigured children in snowsuits are on the loose, and the only thing more disturbing than their motivation is their origin.
David Cronenberg’s late ’70s horror tale infuses his love of body horror and grotesque growths with the emotional trauma of caring for and possibly losing your children. It’s a typically dry affair at first, but as the staid emotion gives way to anger the film becomes increasingly punctuated by moments of terror. The third act’s rescue of Candice features Cronenberg’s most unsettling sequence cross-cut with one of his most shocking as parental responsibilities move terrifyingly to the forefront. Criterion’s release spoils the film’s ending with its cover art, but it makes up for it by offering a beautiful new 2K remaster along with some stellar extras including an immensely entertaining and awkward episode of Merv Griffin featuring Reed, Orson Welles, and Charo.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, Crimes of the Future, interviews, Merv Griffin Show episode]
Call Me Lucky
Barry Crimmins first found the public’s eye as a stand-up comic sharing politically-tinged jokes between cigarette puffs and gulps of beer. He transitioned into hosting and celebrating other comics before moving into the crusader role in his fight against online predators targeting children.
Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary features copious interviews with family, friends, acquaintances, and Crimmins himself to tell the man’s story, and the result is one that’s both inspiring and emotionally satisfying. Goldthwait has history with Crimmins which brings an additional level of personal attachment to the proceedings, while talking heads (David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Steven Wright, Marc Maron, and others offer a fun and reflective series of anecdotes about the man.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
The Phantom of the Opera
Carlotta is a talented young singer new to the Paris Opera House, but her immense talent attracts an unfortunate admirer in the building’s rumored and much-feared inhabitant, the Phantom (Lon Chaney). His desire for her soon leads to a series of deaths, and as the hunt for him speeds up Carlotta finds herself a forced visitor to the phantom’s underground lair.
Kino Classics has released the definitive version of the silent ’20s classic in part by including multiple versions. This two-disc set features a restored 1929 version (with projection speed and soundtrack options), the longer 1925 cut, and excerpts from the lost sound version from 1930. Kino’s presentation is typically fantastic ‐ a hand-colored segment of a century-old black & white film really shouldn’t look this impressive ‐ and the variations offer an interesting, educational look at the film’s place in cinema history.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, score options, alternate version, screenplay, interview, travel shorts]
Team America: World Police
A madman named Kim Jong-il threatens to cause havoc around the globe by detonating numerous bombs, and he has a powerful assembly of supporters in the famous members of the Film Actors Guild. The only thing standing in their way is Team America, a highly trained unit who specialize in blowing shit up. The team is suffering their own shake-up after the death of one of their own and the addition of an actor capable of playing any role.
Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s marionette action/comedy fell flat to me on first watch back in 2004, but I’ve apparently matured since then as evidenced by a re-watch that had me laughing aloud. It features the pair’s usual mix of broadly comic gags and sharp jabs at institutions as diverse as patriotism, liberals, action movie montages, and more. Even without all of that though the movie actually works as a pretty great action movie complete with epic explosions, chase scenes, fights, and more.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Samuel (Lukas Haas) is an Amish boy who witnesses a murder on his first visit to the big city, and when it’s discovered that the perpetrator is a fellow cop the detective (Harrison Ford) assigned to the case is forced to act fast. Wounded, Det. John Book gets the boy and his mother (Kelly McGillis) back home but is forced by blood loss to accept their collective care. The tranquility has an expiration date though as the men responsible come calling.
Peter Weir’s 1985 dramatic thriller remains something of a masterpiece with talent to spare on both sides of the camera. Ford is at his all-time best, and he’s surrounded by fantastic character work from the rest of the cast. Weir captures the beauty of the landscape as well as the lifestyle and proves himself just as capable of staging action beats and scenes of stirring romance. Unfortunately, the long-awaited Blu-ray release of the film is without special features, but the film is utterly fantastic and a worthy addition to any shelf. It’s a thriller for adults that would never be made today, especially with a two and a half hour running time.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Along Came a Spider
A senator’s daughter is abducted from beneath the watchful eye of a Secret Service agent (Monica Potter), and when the kidnapper contacts Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) the two join forces to bring the little girl home. James Patterson’s first Cross novel hit the screens second, and it’s the lesser of the two. The opening sequence starts things off poorly with some laughably bad special effects, but once the main story kicks in the interactions between Freeman and Potter help keep things moving. As usual, Michael Wincott makes for a terrific bad guy, and the supporting cast is solid as well. There’s even a young Anton Yelchin! The story lacks Kiss the Girls’ creepiness and suspense, but it finds engagement through the villain’s twisted motivations.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
A top secret space program launched in the ’60s is now more than half a century into its mission. Generations have grown up aboard a ship with no contact to the Earth behind them as they head towards a hopeful new life as the future of humanity. When a murder occurs ‐ the first in this manufactured community’s history ‐ the ship’s secrets begin to unravel. This eight episode (presented as four) miniseries plays like a mashup of Battlestar Galactica and Mad Men with its space-set, ‘60s-inspired character dramas, and the story takes some fascinating turns along the way. The project has a basis in reality, although it was never actually put into action.
[DVD extras: Featurette]
The Avenging Fist
Scientists create a new power glove that gives the wearer the power of mind control, and then people fight over it. This 2001 release is all about the special effects to the point that many of the action beats are drowned out by digital effects and wire-work. Some fun fights squeak through, and Sammo Hung is always worth watching.
[DVD extras: None]
Black Widow (Twilight Time)
Alexandra (Debra Winger) is a Justice Department employee tasked with working cases involving members of organized crime, but her investigation goes off topic when she notices an odd trend. A handful of men, connected only by their wealth and recent marriage to a much younger woman, have died in their sleep. In each case, Catharine (Theresa Russell) is that younger woman. This is a solid suspense thriller, but the rarity here is in the presence of two female leads. The women plays both sides, protagonist and antagonist, but they’re still allowed to explore the attraction and fascination between hunter and prey normally reserved for traditional pairings.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Devil in a Blue Dress (Twilight Time)
Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is a rarity in post-WWII Los Angeles as a black man who owns his own house, but he risks losing that accomplishment when he loses his factory job. Desperate for work, he accepts a seemingly simple job offer that turns out to be anything but. Soon people are dying before his eyes, the police are on him for the murders, and hanging onto his house becomes the least of his worries. Walter Mosley’s bestselling novel gets an atmospheric adaptation from writer/director Carl Franklin who captures the period, corruption, and femme fatale at the heart of it all. Strong performances by Washington and supporting players Tom Sizemore and Don Cheadle add to the compelling mix.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary with Carl Franklin]
Dexter: The Complete Series
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) works for the Miami Police Department as a forensic expert with a specialty in blood. It’s a fitting career path as he’s also a serial killer. Dexter has a strict moral code though in that he only kills those who deserve it ‐ ie other killers. The bestselling novels were adapted into a Showtime series that works quite well until it overstays its welcome. Early seasons told thrilling, suspenseful story arcs following Dexter’s own journey as well as threats posed by other serial murderers and even the police. 96 episodes across eight seasons are a long run though, and the endless series of close calls and character actions grow a bit thin eventually leaving the show stuck in a rut. Still, while later episodes grow more repetitive and less engaging the earlier ones are great, suspenseful fun.
[DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, interviews]
Malcolm is a high school brain with a love of ’80s rap who’s happy spending his days with his two best friends, but when the trio unwittingly find themselves part of a drug deal gone bad their lives take a decidedly more adventurous turn. This fun, fast-moving comedy follows some familiar beats but does so with characters who can’t help but feel fresh. Malcolm’s world is played for laughs throughout, but he and the film take time to point out the seriousness beneath it all. The film stumbles in this regard toward the end as it tries to present itself as something bigger and more important that it actually is, but the effort is endearing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Edward Scissorhands (25th Anniversary Edition)
A more lonely than mad doctor creates life only to lose his own leaving his creation, Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp), to wander out into the world alone. He’s taken in to a nice, colorful suburban home and finds love with a local girl (Winona Ryder) as well as the challenges of being different. Did I mention he has scissors for hands? Tim Burton’s beloved comedy never quite connected with me ‐ there are some minor laughs and an enormous amount of visual creativity, but the characters’ quirkiness always kept them at arm’s length. 20th Century Fox’s new 25th anniversary release keeps the same extras from previous releases, but the picture gets a major upgrade with a new 4K remaster. Seeing as the film’s visuals are its strongest feature that alone probably makes it worth a pick-up for fans.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurette]
Escape from Alcatraz
Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) is serving a sentence in Alcatraz for bank robbery, but rather than wait out the decades behind bars he makes plans for an escape. No one had ever escaped from the prison before, so the odds were more than a little against him. Director Don Siegel’s fourth (and final) collaboration with Eastwood is a solid, occasionally suspenseful drama that benefits greatly from being filmed on location at Alcatraz itself. The true story is fascinating and somewhat open ended, and the film captures it well. WB’s new Blu-ray offers zero extras, but it’s the HD debut.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
An accident during a high school play two decades earlier leads to a night of terror for students trapped in the building and at the mercy of a supernatural entity. Luckily for us it’s all captured on a camcorder. All of the usual found footage gaffes are present and accounted for ‐ there’s a comedically inept and douchey cameraman who insists on narrating even the most basic observations, there’s the curiosity of how certain shots are achieved, and there’s the question of why characters are still filming at all. There’s also an attempt here to make the ghostly villain into a memorable antagonist ‐ kidding, there’s no attempt at all. Some of the characters warn others not to say his name, but there’s no cause and effect on that front (ie Candyman, Bloody Mary). There’s no tragic backstory or impetus for supernatural revenge either, and no attempt is made to humanize him in an effort to give his actions meaning. The only thing of interest on this release is the inclusion of the original YouTube version that first caught the eye of uber producer Jason Blum.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel, original version]
Kiss the Girls
Young women are being abducted and murdered in North Carolina, and the case draws the attention of a Washington D.C. detective named Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) when his niece is taken. As the investigation drags on they get break when the most recently abducted woman (Ashley Judd) manages to escape. She decides to assist Cross in the hope of rescuing the girls left behind, and together they make a startling discovery. Years before James Patterson began hogging the bookstore shelves (and bestseller lists) with novels he “co-wrote” his most popular character made two appearances onscreen. Kiss the Girls (the first film, but actually published after Along Came a Spider) is a sharp, creepy, and suspenseful thriller with strong leads and smart twists. WB’s long-overdue Blu-ray is disappointingly devoid of extras, so a double dip isn’t necessary for anyone but the biggest fans.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
The Little Death
Four couples see their relationships challenged by various intimacy issues including rape fantasy, tear-based arousal, role-playing, and infidelity with an unconscious spouse. There are laughs here, but there’s also a heavily depressing aspect to most of the intersecting stories. The exception is a shorter tale located at the end involving a young deaf man and the female relay operator who assists with his call to a sex chat line. It’s incredibly sweet and would make for a truly special short film, but as it stands it’s the strongest element of an otherwise mixed bag of laughs and frustration.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interview]
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
A politician (James Stewart) returns to the frontier town where he got his start to bury a friend from his past, but when reporters pester him about the mystery man and his importance the whole story is revealed. It’s a tale of an idealistic lawyer (Stewart), a respected cowboy (John Wayne), and the young woman (Vera Miles) they both love. There’s also a dastardly villain (Lee Marvin). John Ford’s film explores the need for violence when combating violence and the idea of rumor and legend being more important than the fact.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Manos the Hands of Fate
A family road tripping their way across Texas mistakenly ends up at a bed & breakfast under disturbed management. A cult has made its home there, and while its members squabble for power and control the family finds themselves trapped at the mercy of the unstable. Coincidentally, that’s also how the cast and crew of this film probably felt as this feature is a disaster in every frame. This incomprehensible, mid ’60s genre effort found notoriety on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a punchline, but here Synapse Films gives it a far more respectful treatment with a 2K restoration and numerous extras speaking to its production and rescue from obscurity. There’s probably some joy to be found watching it while apart of an intoxicated crowd, but the film is difficult to endure without that friendly atmosphere.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, unrestored version]
An alien ship crash lands in a mosquito-laden pond mutating the local blood-suckers into insects the size of recliners. As the creatures work their way through the park’s populace a handful of survivors come together in an effort to stop the hungry horde. Old school special effects add charm and gruesome gore to this creature feature and work to overcome some shoddy acting along the way. It’s a fun watch thanks in part to the campy appeal but also to the pure sight of giant, practically-made mosquitoes ‐ they just don’t make giant bug movies anymore. Synapse Films’ Blu is loaded with extras making this a must-own for fans of over-sized proboscises.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, behind the scenes]
No, not that one. Choy is a soldier turned prisoner turned doctor whose days are spent treating locals suffering from poison gas attacks, but when he decides to attack the source the action, bloodletting, and explosions are turned up to eleven. This early ’90s action/comedy from Hong Kong suffers from a convoluted plot/character setup, but the action is enough of a reason to watch. Gun play, fights, and big stunts keep things entertaining and fun.
[DVD extras: None]
Regular Show: The Movie
Mordecai and Rigby’s friendship is tested when the receive a visit from a time traveler from the future. That traveler is Rigby himself, dying from a gunshot wound he received from Mordecai. Whoaah! It seems the universe itself is in danger, and the only hope it has is a trip back to the pair’s high school days and a fateful decision. The story is more epic than the usual slacker shenanigans the episodes cover, but the laughs and character shenanigans remain familiar. Fans of the show will find a lot to enjoy here.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, galleries, commentary]
The Return of Count Yorga (Scream Factory)
Count Yorga returns to terrorize Northern California, and he’s bringing his undead wenches with him. The opening act of this early ’70s sequel sees the world’s worst Halloween party interrupted by the vampire’s arrival, and the attack that follows is terrifically staged. What follows loses some of that intensity as the focus becomes Yorga’s growing love for Mariette Hartley, but the film remains a darker thriller than expected as his deadlier urges come into play.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a celebrated rescue helicopter pilot for L.A. County prone to acts of heroism with a dash of the crazy. Unfortunately for him he also just received divorce papers from his wife and can’t compete with her new boyfriend’s immense wealth. It seems all the bravery and courageous feats in the world aren’t enough to keep his family together… or are they?! An earthquake strikes near the Hoover Dam so Ray suits up and heads out alone to lend a beefy hand, but he’s barely out of the city when a related quake strikes Los Angeles trapping his wife atop a downtown high-rise. Ray abandons his post without a second thought and rushes to save her, but his day is just getting started ‐ his daughter is in San Francisco with her soon-to-be step-dad, and when the seismic chain reaction moves north Ray and Emma take an impromptu sky/road trip to save their daughter. If only someone had listened to the CalTech professor’s (Paul Giamotti) warnings! The film accomplishes the basic goal of big budget disaster movies and destroys numerous landmarks and lives in glorious fashion. It’s just everything else that it gets wrong.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, stunt reel]
Scream and Scream Again (Twilight Time)
A man is abducted and his limbs amputated. A killer stalks young women for their precious blood. A fascist regime guns down those it hopes to oppress. A mad-ish scientist (Vincent Price) performs very peculiar experiments. This UK flick is one of the odder films you’ll see as it moves between subplots with wild, gleeful abandon. It doesn’t quite gel though leaving viewers on unstable footing throughout and experiencing the film as if it was an anthology of sorts. There are definite highlights here in some of the more creatively ridiculous scenes, but as a whole the film leaves you wanting something more.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurette, interview]
Strange Invaders (Twilight Time)
Charles (Paul Le Mat) says goodbye to his wife who’s heading to her small home town for a visit, but he grows worried when she doesn’t return his calls or return home at all. He heads to Centerville, Illinois in search of her, but what he finds is something all together out of this world. Aliens have made a home here turning the small town into a time capsule from the ’50s, and now he’s discovered their secret. Michael Laughlin’s early ’80s genre film is a fun mix of sci-fi, horror, and comedy highlighted by some stellar practical effects. The pacing is a bit on the languid side though, something paired for better or worse with Le mat’s flat performance, and together they make for an enjoyable film that’s far from a hopping one.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Vampires (Twilight Time)
Jack Crow (James Woods) is the head of an elite team of vampire hunters working for the Catholic Church to rid the world of this particular scourge. His efforts are hindered after an attack by a master vampire (Thomas Ian Griffith) decimates his team and a church secret is revealed, but when he discovers the vamp’s ultimate plan he’s forced to step up his game. John Carpenter’s been in something of a slump for the past two decades and hasn’t directed a good film since 2004’s In the Mouth of Madness. His vampire western is better than the other four films from this period, but it’s still a far lesser creation than he’s capable of. The effects work, but the script is just plain bad with laughable dialogue. Woods is great fun though in one of his rare action-oriented roles.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary with JohnCarpenter, making of]
Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) is investigating his partner’s disappearance when a car crash leaves him to awaken in the hospital of a strange town. Wayward Pines is a quiet, peaceful community, until it isn’t. Blake Crouch’s bestselling novel gets a limited-run series under the watchful eye of M. Night Shyamalan that along with a solid cast ‐ Terrence Howard, Shannyn Sossamon, Carla Gugino ‐ starts incredibly strong. The mystery unfolds with some intriguingly crazy twists, but it’s not long before it gets supremely frustrating. Ethan responds to his situation in annoying ways that make it difficult to root for his efforts ‐ seriously, Melissa Leo should have been punched in each and every one of her scenes. It’s ultimately still worth a watch as, unlike something like Under the Dome, Fox kept the series to a tight ten episode run so it never outstays its welcome.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Bates Motel: Season Three, The Following: The Final Season, Gloria, Justified: The Complete Series, Mad Men: The Complete Collection, The Sand, Skin Traffik, A Special Day (Criterion)