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Pick of the Week
Rock n Roll High School [Shout Factory Steelbook]
What is it? A high schooler rebels against authority and has the Ramones in her corner.
Why see it? With a story co-conceived by the legendary Joe Dante, of course this classic tale of high school rebellion continues to hold up with laughs and energy to spare. PJ Soles gets a rare lead role, the Ramones bring all manner of cool to school, and the anti-establishment humor still lands. Shout Factory’s new 40th Anniversary release offers up a restored picture, a steelbook case, and a new documentary featuring interviews with many of the surviving filmmakers and stars. It’s a fantastically fun good time guaranteed to leave you laughing and strumming your own air guitar.
[Extras: New 4K scan, interviews, commentaries]
Betty Blue [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A romance develops between two people equally allergic to clothing.
Why see it? Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1986 feature is a controversial one due as much to its sexual nature as to its depiction of one woman’s mental illness, but neither argument should dissuade viewers from exploring its sad and sexy beauty for themselves. The nudity is equal between the sexes, but it serves as more than mere titillation as it reveals an openness between the lovers in their presentation to each other and the world around them. It’s a big, messy love story complete with real affection, humor, and tragedy, and while both leads do strong work it’s Beatrice Dalle who stuns as a free spirit challenged by illness. Criterion’s new Blu-ray of the director’s cut is supplemented with numerous extras affording more insight into the film, but the disc is worth it for the film alone provided you’re open to love, sex, sadness, joy, and madness.
[Extras: Documentary, interviews, short film]
The Boys Next Door [Severin Films]
What is it? Two teens go on a violent spree.
Why see it? Penelope Spheeris isn’t the first name you think of when it comes to movies about young thugs, but she should probably be up there as here interest in the punk scene was connective fodder for her move into a thriller like this. Maxwell Caulfield and Charlie Sheen play the disaffected youths who shift easily into violence, mayhem, and murder, and Caulfield in particular sells the frightening indifference. It captures well the mindset that leads to violence as these guys lack empathy for the lives of others. Severin’s new Blu-ray looks great and comes packed with interviews — the Caulfield / Christopher McDonald one is especially worth a listen.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary, interviews, featurette]
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
What is it? An investigation into an infamous death goes awry.
Why see it? Mads Brügger is a Danish journalist prone to exploring the truth in madcap ways, and this fits that bill to a T. It starts with a plane crash in 1961 that killed the United Nation’s secretary general, the cause of which remains uncertain, and Brügger’s investigation into the event sees him traveling internationally, talking with sources both willing and unlikely, encountering threatening personalities, and eventually leading to some nutty revelations. It’s a fascinating watch with a story that twists and turns in odd, unexpected ways, and Brügger acts like the circus ringmaster throughout.
[Extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? Dramatizations of stories ripped from the headlines.
Why see it? People talk about garage finds and attic discoveries, but this series — 39 episodes that ran from 1959 to 1961 — was lost to time until someone found the tapes in their garage. Cleaned up and collected for the first time since airing sixty years ago, the show tells a different story with each episode with a focus on crime being investigated and reported by journalists. The tales are taken directly from real newspapers and brought to life by actors like Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, and more. They range from stories about bribery and embezzlement to far deadlier events, and they work well as standalone tales reminding viewers about the importance of journalists. That’s never a bad thing.
Farscape – The Complete Series
What is it? An astronaut is transported to a galaxy far away.
Why see it? The immediate joy with this beloved sci-fi series is the presence of creatures and aliens created by Jim Henson’s workshop. The puppets add a playful, otherworldly feel to the adventures, and the result is fantastic. Sharp writing, a sense of humor, and engaging characters go a long way too. Mill Creek releases don’t typically include much in the way of extras, but this set is packed with all kinds of supplements (from earlier releases) offering detailed looks into the production at every stage. The only downside to this release is the case interior which spreads the multiple discs across spindles and plastic that don’t feel long for this world.
[Extras: Finale mini-series, commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews, documentaries, featurettes]
Blinded By the Light
What is it? A British Pakistani teen in 80s England struggles be true to himself.
Why see it? This feel-good comedy/drama was marketed heavily on a soundtrack filled with Bruce Springsteen songs, and it’s only fitting as “the Boss” is also a focus of the true story behind it. The teen discovers Springsteen’s music, and it helps fuel his own creativity and ambitions, and it’s captured best in an early sequence showing lyrics lit against the buildings as he walks around in a wind storm. The bulk of the movie isn’t quite as creative but is plenty familiar. Still, it’s a nice story.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
What is it? A bombardier in World War II would like to leave please.
Why see it? Joseph Heller’s fantastic, satirical novel previously reached the screen from director Mike Nichols, but this Hulu mini-series carries a cachet of its own with director/star George Clooney along with Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie, and more. The longer format offers more time to explore the novel’s characters and story lines, and while some may find it redundant the result is an engaging mini-series that hits its satirical targets dead on.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes]
Charlie’s Angels – The Complete Series
What is it? Three ass-kicking woman with big hair fight baddies week in and week out.
Why see it? Five seasons, 110 episodes — that’s a lot of angels. The first three seasons of this memorable series remain the best, and while I say that mostly because Kate Jackson left before season four it’s also because the final two seasons are a sad state of repetitive affairs. The show never grew the way it deserved and instead stayed fairly basic with its plots and characters. Still, it’s a fun show more often than not, and while this new complete series Blu-ray collection lacks any special features it does include the short-lived 2011 reboot that lasted eight episodes (the last of which was never even aired). Fans will want to pick this up as the original series looks great in its HD form.
[Extras: The 2011 series reboot]
Cold War [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A romance develops between two musically inclined people in post World War II Europe.
Why see it? Pawel Pawlikowski’s film tells a fifteen-year story in under ninety minutes, but while that might suggest it speeds through events it’s actually the opposite that’s true. The film spends time with its characters and the music they make, but while I appear to be in the minority here that time isn’t well spent or captured. It’s an attractive film to be sure, but its lack of movement — in narrative, energy, and emotion — leaves it feeling somewhat hollow. Criterion has given it a beautiful Blu-ray, though, so fans will not be disappointed.
[Extras: New 4K transfer, interviews, featurettes]
The Divine Fury
What is it? An MMA champion is called to fight for the Lord.
Why see it? This South Korean effort casts its hero as a martial artist turned messenger for Christ, and while it (thankfully) doesn’t go deep on the proselytizing it has fun with the premise of an ass-kicking priest (of sorts). The action is solid as he uses his chops to battle demons, possessed souls, and his own self doubts, and while the plot gets fairly convoluted at times the main narrative is clear enough to enjoy.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold
What is it? The popular kids cartoon gets a live-action update.
Why see it? Fans of the series and young kids are almost guaranteed to dig this new rendition of the show as it captures the same spirit and sense of fun throughout. It’s playful as hell with its numerous nods to the series, but even without those beats it delivers a fun little adventure with a strong hero in Dora at its center. The CG isn’t great, but it’s a small price to pay for a film celebrating culture and family with such spirit and positivity.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, featurettes]
The Fan [Scream Factory]
What is it? An obsessed fan stalks an aging female actor.
Why see it? Lauren Bacall does good work as an actor well past her prime who’s hanging onto her success even as a madman grows ever closer. That madman is brought to life by a terrifically creepy Michael Biehn who channels his obsessive feelings into an effective performance. James Garner co-stars, but it’s really a two-hander between Bacall and Biehn leading to a notable body count and a memorable face off. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray includes a solid new interview with Biehn worth a watch for fans.
[Extras: Interviews, commentary]
What is it? A cab driver experiences deja vu after picking up a woman.
Why see it? It’s a fairly common thing to say, but this lightweight, time twisty thriller feels very much like a Twilight Zone episode with its particular setup and reveal. That’s the good news. The down side, though, is that it feels like a story better suited to the length of a television episode rather than the 82 minutes it’s afforded here. The middle of the film just sags, and while the third act reveal is fun and warm it’s lessened by having to wade through the repetitive filler that precedes it. Fans of Rod Serling’s style of tales should still give it a spin.
[Extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes]
Hitch Hike to Hell [Arrow Video]
What is it? A serial killer drives a red van signifying the hell he brings into the lives of young women.
Why see it? The gist of the film comes down to a deranged young man unable to get over his sister’s decision to run away from home. He’s processing it now by picking up hitchhikers, asking if they’re runaways, and then assaulting/killing them. It becomes pretty repetitive, and while it’s occasionally sleazy the film never approaches Last House on the Left territory and is ultimately a fairly tame watch. Still, it’s exploitation, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island stars as the cop on his tail, and Arrow’s new Blu-ray shows it a lot of love, so fans will want to give it a spin.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, interviews, video essay]
What is it? A mean girl clique gets embroiled in an accidental murder.
Why see it? This high school comedy is tailor made for fans of the likes of Heathers, and while it can’t reach that film’s highs it manages plenty of fun on its own. Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, and Julie Benz are delightful, the comedy is sharp, and the production design captures this world with a pop sensibility. This 20th Anniversary release would have benefited from some extras — new, old, any at all — but as it stands it’s a good movie worth checking out.
The King of Queens – The Complete Series
What is it? A delivery man delivers packages for nine seasons.
Why see it? It’s hard to argue with a sitcom that lasted nine seasons on network television — clearly there was/is a big audience for Kevin James and his shenanigans — but the show’s comedy never really worked for me. It’s a traditional sitcom, but as much as I enjoy Patton Oswalt and Jerry Stiller the show is too much of a “fat funny guy and sexy babe” trope for me to stomach. That and it’s just not funny. That said, humor is subjective, and fans should eat up this release at this price.
The Perils of Gwendoline [Severin Films]
What is it? A young woman heads East in search of her missing father.
Why see it? They *really* don’t make movies like this any more. Tawny Kitaen headlines this big budget adventure mixing Indiana Jones-like action with topless women and softcore shenanigans. The production design is pretty impressive for a T&A romp — it has a Flash Gordon feel at times — and while it’s arguably not a good movie it’s never a boring one. Based on a naughty comic strip, the film brings the character and her adventures to life with nudity, inappropriate cultural portrayals, and a skin-filled feminist slant. I can’t quite bring myself to move this one to the “Best” section, but it’s undeniable fun at times, and Severin’s new Blu-ray gives it a fantastic home.
[Extras: New 4K scan, alternate US version, commentaries, interviews]
Too Late to Die Young
What is it? Children come of age at the end of a dictatorship.
Why see it? This Chilean feature exploring a period in its recent history through an atypical lens is beautifully shot and delivers some truly gorgeous imagery. Its narrative, momentum, and character base aren’t quite as enthralling, though, as the film too often feels like a series of snapshots rather than an engrossing story. Still, the film is more about feeling, atmosphere, and mood, and to that end it captures an uncertainty and hope well.
[Extras: Short films, interview]
Also out this week:
The Bad and the Beautiful, The Demons, Genese