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Pick of the Week
Schlock [Arrow Video]
What is it? A prehistoric apeman — possibly the famed missing link — exits a cave in Southern California, and a nearby descends into ridiculous chaos.
Why see it? John Landis’ debut is a sincere yet absurd love letter to the genre. It’s very much a comedy — a broad and hairy comedy — but from its ominous opening through to its tragic-ish end it’s clear that Landis is making an homage fueled by true affection for the material and a deep knowledge of its history. The creature costume worn by Landis throughout — that’s right, Landis himself plays Schlock — is an early effects job by the legendary Rick Baker, and while the director’s intention was for it to look like a bad ape suit it’s an unsurprisingly solid effort by the young effects guru that bears more than a little resemblance to the prehistoric beings in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. The film is littered with dead bodies, but in keeping with its playful spirit, they’re devoid of blood and gore. It’s cheesy, absolutely delightful fun, and Arrow’s new Blu-ray gives it a version worth bringing home.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K restoration, commentary, interviews]
The Big Lebowski – 20th Anniversary Limited Edition [4K UltraHD]
What is it? A man wants recompense for his ruined rug.
Why see it? The Coen Brothers have gifted the world with several great films, many of them comedies, but none are as consistently and reliably entertaining as this stoner detective flick. Jeff Bridges is at his absolute best here — forget all those dramatic roles of his — as comedy is his calling. The supporting cast is equally up to snuff with John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and others all bringing the funny. The dialogue is effortlessly quotable, and there’s not a dull moment to be found. This new anniversary set is for the super fans among you as it includes the film on Blu-ray and new 4K release as well as some shelf-hogging extras including a small bowling bag to hold it all. It’s as fitting a limited edition presentation as you’ve ever seen.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, bowling ball pencil holder, bowling bag, sweater sleeve, polishing cloth]
What is it? Pirates! And not the veggie kind.
Why see it? This Starz series comes courtesy of Michael Bay, and while it’s far from his usual action/sci-fi fare it still delivers plenty of slick thrills and strong production design. Captain Flint is the focus here as the most feared pirate across this stretch of islands, and he’s our anti-hero fighting back against other pirates, thugs, and military bastards. One of the main narrative threads running through the adventures is the rumored presence of Long John Silver which of course comes into play eventually. It’s big, thrilling adventures alongside historical antics and other sweaty shenanigans, and fans of the genre should be mightily pleased.
[Blu-ray extras: Featurettes]
Black Widow [Twilight Time]
What is it? A woman’s death sees a possibly innocent man on the hook.
Why see it? This is a terrific little noir filled with story turns and revelations that keep things moving with energy and suspense. The wrong man is accused of bad behaviors from infidelity to murder, and with police hot on his tail he’s forced to investigate the truth behind what’s happened. It’s a thrilling and entertaining watch with engaging performances by Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, Ginger Rogers, and more. The mystery works to keep viewers guessing.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
City Slickers [Shout Select]
What is it? Three city friends head to a dude ranch for a vacation.
Why see it? It’s nearly three decades old, but this light and highly entertaining comedy still delivers the laughs with its tale of three fish far out of their familiar waters. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and the late great Bruno Kirby star, and each of them bring the funny in their interactions and reactions to nature. Jack Palance co-stars with a performance that won him an Oscar, and the whole is just a rare bird of a comedy that manages big laughs despite being ridiculously wholesome. Shout’s new Blu-ray cleans up the picture and includes a handful of extras including a fun commentary with Crystal, Stern, and the director.
[Blu-ray extras: 4K transfer, commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Invasion of the Body Snatchers [Olive Signature]
What is it? Body snatchers invade!
Why see it? My heart belongs to Philip Kaufman’s adaptation from the 70s, but this version from two decades earlier remains a tight and effective sci-fi/chiller. Kevin McCarthy is aces as the man aware of the alien threat and fighting against it at every turn, and the film’s themes involving the dangers of conformity come through with anxious intensity. Olive Signature’s latest comes home with a new HD transfer and a bevy of extras including a fascinating commentary track featuring stars McCarthy and Dana Wynter along with Joe Dante. Consider this one a safe blind buy.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes, interviews]
Short Night of Glass Dolls [Twilight Time]
What is it? A body is found, but while the authorities think he’s dead the man is actually very much alive and trying to remember what led to his situation.
Why see it? This Italian thriller is often labeled as a giallo, but I’m not of the opinion that the genre fits. It’s instead a dark and twisted ride into some fairly deviant behaviors. Our hapless hero recalls meeting a young woman and searching for her after she disappears, and things get stranger from there. It’s beautifully photographed and Ennio Morricone’s score adds to the atmospheric experience.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Ant-Man and the Wasp
What is it? A superhero beats up bad guys and tries to rescue someone from the Quantum Realm alongside her sidekick Ant-Man.
Why see it? The Ant-Man films are the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lightest fare, and while that means they’re casual fun it also means they’re the shortest-lasting in your memory. Fittingly for a tiny pair of heroes, the film (like its predecessor) is incredibly weightless. Thankfully the cast — Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Micael Pena, and more — and a handful of fun action beats keep things moving. Maybe I’d like it more if it tried to explain how Michelle Pfeiffer’s character spends thirty years in the Quantum Realm and comes out with plucked eyebrows, but as it stands it’s a fun diversion.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, commentary]
What is it? The Great Recession leaves one man at wit’s end.
Why see it? This is a film filled with darkness as people see their lives wrecked by the country’s economic collapse, but it retains a playful tone all the same. The humor remains even after the bodies start hitting the floor, sometimes through situational laughs but most frequently due to Danny McBride’s dialogue/delivery. The story itself, though, hits a self-imposed wall partway through as dumb decisions are made only to keep the film going and contained in one neighborhood. Luckily for viewers the dramatic stalemate doesn’t interfere with the overall entertainment as it remains an occasionally funny and very cruel ride.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? A woman reconnects with family on an unexpected road trip.
Why see it? This is a charming character study involving a woman who thinks she has her shit together and a father who really, really doesn’t, and it’s the kind of film you finish and think — this is good. And then you never think of it again. That’s not a slam as there’s a real need for good entertainment. The big draw here is the cast headlined by Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer and supported by Kristen Schaal and Bobby Cannavale.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? A police unit is trapped behind enemy lines.
Why see it? A quick glance at Erik Matti‘s latest Filipino thriller suggests a real treat for fans of action films with female leads, but as the opening minutes move forward through its 126 minute running time the truth comes clear. It’s too long, too sloppy, and too underwhelming. It’s a damn shame too as the elements that work do so extremely well. Anne Curtis offers a charismatic lead performance that sees her shifting repeatedly between desperation, fear, and determination, and a couple others are engaging. A couple of the action beats excite too as characters run, climb, and fight through and over ramshackle shacks and barely stable structures. The majority, though, is action heavy with mediocre action.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Dracula A.D. 1972 [Warner Archive]
What is it? A hip young man thinks it’d be groovy to perform a ritual to raise the dead.
Why see it? What an odd entry in the esteemed filmography of Hammer Studios. And yes, I say “esteemed” with a bit of tongue in cheek, but even by the studio’s slighter standards this is an odd one. Dracula and Van Helsing — Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, respectively — are once again at each other’s throats, but this time it’s London in the swinging early 70s that stands as their battleground. So much of the film is apart from them, though, and focused on obnoxious revelers instead. The party scene, dances, crazy dinners — London is hopping! The genre action works once it gets here, and the score is certainly something too.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
He’s Out There
What is it? A woman and her young daughters are targeted by a madman while vacationing in the woods.
Why see it? There are things to like here — Yvonne Strahovski in a rare lead role, the killer’s mask, the willingness to put kids in unsettling situations — but man, the things that don’t work are really damn frustrating including a window scene that had me ready to turn this off right then and there. It wants to be something more than a basic stalk n slash, and it achieves that to a degree, but some of those basic beats are fumbled. Similarly, the ending aims for a very specific punch that doesn’t quite land. Still… Yvonne Strahovski.
[DVD extras: None?]
What is it? A banker crosses paths with a bank robber.
Why see it? Frank Grillo, Bruce Willis, and Johnathon Schaech together in an action picture? Should have been a sure thing, but oh my is it anything but. Grillo’s saddled with a character who wouldn’t know action if he saw it, and Willis doesn’t wake up until the film’s final ten minutes. Worse, 53-year-old Grillo is playing husband to a 26-year-old performer, and together they’re playing parents to a 10-year-old. That’s bad math Hollywood. They’ve all been far better, but the energy level here is a flat-line. We also get a montage showing Grillo and Willis standing in front of white board as days change and shirts change and they point at maps and yammer on unintelligibly. And don’t get me started on that “Six months later” ending. Woof.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, interviews]
Sword of Sherwood Forest [Twilight Time]
What is it? It’s a Robin Hood adventure!
Why see it? The familiar beats and characters are here from Robin Hood to Little John and from Maid Marian to the Sheriff of Nottingham, and the Irish locales have a lovely period feel to them. The action is as expected too, but the real draw here (for my money) is Peter Cushing as the persistent Sheriff. He’s terrifically vile and cruel, and as a result he’s great fun. Richard Greene isn’t quite as charismatic as Hood, but he’s fine.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Unfriended: Dark Web
What is it? A stolen laptop leads to pain and suffering.
Why see it? Fans of the first film may or may not be thrilled to see the supernatural element removed in favor of more human evils, but the change makes for a slightly more unsettling horror movie. It’s engaging and not nearly as scary as it wants to be, but it finds some twisted and cruel story turns along the way. To be clear, it’s still a shallow riff on the far superior 2013 film, The Den, but if you’ve already seen that thriller this can be an entertaining enough experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate endings]
Also out this week:
The Affair – Season Four, Down a Dark Hall, Dust 2 Glory, Shampoo [Criterion Collection], Trilogy of Terror [KL Studio Classics]
Related Topics: Home Video