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Pick of the Week
Cleopatra Jones [Warner Archive]
What is it? A female secret agent goes toe to toe with a female crime boss.
Why see it? Blaxploitation films often focus on antiheroes in urban communities while others go the straight hero route, and this gem of a film falls under the latter category. Miss Jones (a terrifically charismatic Tamara Dobson) towers over Shelley Winters and her henchmen in her fight against the drug trade and corrupt cops, and she has karate chops to boot. A solid car chase and a wonderfully fun turn by Winters add to the mix resulting in a highly entertaining ride back into the 70s. Warner’s disc is sadly devoid of extras, but the movie looks great and is great fun.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Lord of War
What is it? An illegal arms dealer has a battle with his conscience and some baddies.
Why see it? Far too many of Nicolas Cage’s films these days are forgettable straight to DVD releases, but this 2005 movie is both a great film and a strong reminder of his talents. It’s a blackly comic thriller filled with gray areas that coincide with its clearer moral complexities, and writer/director Andrew Niccol crafts an engaging tale around one man’s poor choices. It’s a fantastic film — albeit one that doesn’t exactly scream out for a 4K release, though, so you’re on your own deciding if it’s worth the double dip.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary with Andrew Niccol]
Melvin and Howard [Twilight Time]
What is it? A kind young man helps a lending hand to his elder.
Why see it? Jonathan Demme directed this sweet drama about friendship and family set against the backdrop of the American dream and ethic, and both Paul Le Mat and Jason Robards do great work here. The latter plays the old man who it turns out just might be Howard Hughes, and his death brings repercussions back onto Melvin. Mary Steenburgen and the eternally under-appreciated Pamela Reed shine as well, and the film ultimately works as a warm call for kindness and understanding which is never a bad thing.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Snake Pit [Twilight Time]
What is it? A woman’s bout with madness sees her admitted to a mental ward.
Why see it? I make no secret of being team Fontaine when it comes to the battle between sisters Joan and Olivia (de Havilland), but I’m not blind to the latter’s talents. She gives a spectacular performance here as a young woman on the edge of madness. She endures treatment, disdain, and ridicule on her journey back towards healthiness, and the film serves as a plea for treatments that respect and understand the individual rather than merely label and forget them. It’s an engaging drama on a topic too often dismissed too easily, and its loose basis in reality adds to its weight.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, radio shows]
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
What is it? A teenager becomes Spider-Man and finds his own strength in the process.
Why see it? I held off on seeing this one because unanimous praise makes me suspicious, but hot damn is it a crazy great masterpiece. The animation is vibrant, alive, and never less than mesmerizing, and the script, characters, and personality are equally brilliant. It’s very funny, sweetly emotional, and constantly surprising in its characters as other variations of Spider-Man enter into the tale with creativity, wit, and pure joy. The film is highly re-watchable as new things pop out each time, and the disc’s extras offer plenty of observations and amusing insights into its production.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary with Lord & Miller]
Stagecoach [Twilight Time]
What is it? A stagecoach filled with strangers finds adventure along the trip.
Why see it? John Ford’s original is held in high regard for good reason as it’s a fantastic western filled with all the action, drama, and landscapes you could want. That doesn’t mean this version is a dud, though, as instead it holds up and delivers its own share of thrills, fun, and colorfully photogenic backdrops. Ann-Margret, Bing Crosby, Slim Pickens, Michael Connors, and more headline, and the result is a terrific western adventure worthy of finding its own fan base. Highly recommended.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A small town finds itself at odds with a nearby Army base.
Why see it? There’s a dramatic core to this otherwise comedic ensemble romp about an escalating conflict between civilians and the U.S. military, and while real-world cases typically take place overseas the story builds here as an American experience. The main focus, though, is the laughs, and to that end the likes of Tony Curtis, Brian Keith, and Ernest Borgnine keep things moving in the right direction with a smile on its face. The comedy leans both broad and incisive at times, but either way the result is the same.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan, commentary]
Born in East L.A. [Shout Select]
What is it? An American is accidentally deported to Mexico and tries every trick in the book to get back home.
Why see it? Cheech Marin not only stars as the fish out of water, but he also writes and directs. The result is a fun, lively, and often ridiculous romp that pokes fun at the system in the days and decades (it was released in 1987) before certain politicians weaponized the presence of Mexican immigrants. The humor runs the gamut from witty observations and more crass gags that fans of Cheech & Chong will appreciate. The supporting cast is a diverse blend of talents including Paul Rodriguez, Daniel Stern, and Jan Michael Vincent. Fans will definitely want to pick this up for the new Marin commentary as he puts much of the topic into perspective while sharing entertaining anecdotes.
[Blu-ray extras: New commentary with Cheech Marin, new interviews, extended cut]
The Deadly Mantis [Scream Factory]
What is it? A giant praying mantis is thawed out and set loose to wreak havoc on people not expecting to see a giant praying mantis!
Why see it? Creature features from the 1950s share similar themes in the arrival of monsters and the pure efforts of America’s military and scientific communities to defeat it, and this silly but fun entry follows suit. The mantis is an interesting choice, but it’s an effective one too as they’re frightening creatures blown up to giant size. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray cleans up the picture and adds an entertaining pair of extras in the commentary and TV episode.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, commentary, MST3K episode]
Losin’ It [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Three friends head to Tijuana for a good time and a donkey show.
Why see it? Tom Cruise’s first leading role sees him as one of three teenage boys looking for love in all the wrong places alongside John Stockwell and Jackie Earle Haley, and they’re joined by Shelley Long of all people. It leans in towards the expected T&A aspect of the 80s, but it’s really more of a general comedy mild attempts at character. Some of it works too thanks in large part to director Curtis Hanson who captures the humanity amid the hormones.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K source master]
What is it? The magically fickle nanny returns!
Why see it? It’s been decades, and now the children who once enjoyed Mary Poppins’ stern advice are grown up and facing adult troubles of their own, but while it aims for a lot of the same beats the magic is gone. It’s a shame as Emily Blunt is always a talent worth watching, but the beats feel more like it’s hitting marks than building something creatively. Fans of brightly colored, constantly noisy family “fun” might enjoy this continuation of a classic, but it won’t be for everyone.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted song, bloopers, featurettes, deleted scenes]
The Minion [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A key is found beneath the ground and the Knights Templar are on the case!
Why see it? Dolph Lundgren headlines as a Knight sent to America and from there it quickly becomes a horror movie — a Christmas horror movie at that — focused more on action and surprise than real horror. Still, it’s exactly what you expect from a late 90s Lundgren romp for both better and worse.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K master, commentary]
What is it? A family of John McClanes struggles to survive yet another natural disaster.
Why see it? The Wave is a pretty thrilling disaster film about a family and others trying to escape a deadly tsunami hitting the Norwegian coast, and now a few years later the same family finds themselves stuck dealing with the effects and aftereffects of a massive earthquake. It’s a again a strong mix of big suspense scenes, memorable f/x work, and solid performances that highlight the emotion amid the disaster set-pieces.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Strip Nude for Your Killer [Arrow Video]
What is it? The title kind of puts it all out there.
Why see it? Good gravy what a sleazy romp this slasher/giallo is! A leather-clad, motorcycle-riding killer is offing naked people and doing terrible things to their bodies, and a group of people attached to a fashion agency are at the center of it all. Edwige Fenech headlines for director Andrea Bianchi in a film that is just smutty from frame one. It’s a violent, dirty thriller too with plenty to appeal to fans of giallo/slasher hybrids. Arrow’s new Blu-ray is as loaded as expected starting with a sharp new restoration and continuing on through new interviews and essays. Just be sure to watch it all with your curtains closed.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, video essay, interviews]
The Witches [Scream Factory]
What is it? A new schoolteacher finds terror in a small English village.
Why see it? Joan Fontaine in a starring role is all the reason you should need to give this one a spin, and it being a Hammer Production is reason number two. Sure it’s mid-range Hammer, but there’s still good genre fun to be had in the story as it blends voodoo, cults, and proper English surprises. Fontaine does good work with a character who shifts from cheery to terrified to the only one capable of saving the damn town. The “Hammer Glamour” featurette is also worth a watch as it explores the leading ladies of the studio through the early years.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurette]
Also out this week:
Accident, Becoming Astrid, Big Kill, Detour [Criterion Collection], The Final Wish, Lovers and Other Strangers [KL Studio Classics], Ned Kelly [Shout Select], Out of Love, The Ritual, She-Wolf, Wanda [Criterion Collection]
Related Topics: Home Video