The Pit May Just Be the Greatest Gift We’ve Ever Received from Our Neighbors to the North
Pick of the Week
The Pit [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Young Jamie is a bit of an odd kid. His obsession with naked ladies is perfectly normal, but the conversations he has about them with his teddy bear most definitely aren’t. Oh, and he’s also feeding progressively fresher meat to some creatures at the bottom of a nearby pit.
Why buy it? Look at that haircut! The creepy kid subgenre got a shot in the arm with this early ’80s Canadian effort as it ups the ante by including flesh-eating monsters and a possibly living doll. The film gives ample time to the setup and Jamie’s increasingly clear madness before unleashing the bloodletting, and the result is a third act that’ll have you muttering “wtf” more than once. It’s also the uncommon horror film that nails the ending, and that alone makes it worth a watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New HD remaster, commentary, interviews]
Child’s Play ‐ Collector’s Edition [Scream Factory]
What is it? A killer with an interest in black magic transfers his soul into a doll just as he’s dying, and the pint-sized terror immediately goes looking for a way to get back into a human body. The answer comes in little Andy. No one believes the boy at first, but as the bodies pile up he finally finds allies in his mom and a police detective (Chris Sarandon).
Why buy it? Tom Holland’s killer doll film is ludicrous on its face ‐ because seriously, who among us couldn’t kick Chucky’s ass? ‐ but it remains a fun, playful thriller powered equally by ridiculous antics and the vocal stylings of Brad Dourif. Scream Factory’s clean-looking new Blu-ray comes loaded with extras making it a definite must-buy for horror fans.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2k remaster, commentaries, featurettes, interviews]
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
What is it? The Green Destiny sword has been stolen, and two warriors (Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh) are tasked with retrieving it. Their journey is complicated by unspoken feelings between them and talented enemies before them.
Why buy it? Ang Lee’s martial arts epic remains a masterpiece in every regard ‐ it’s gorgeously shot, beautifully acted, affectingly written, and filled with tremendously exciting action sequences. It’s a fight film with heart and a love story high-kicks, and it should be on every film-lover’s shelves. The film is getting a new 4K release, but this Blu-ray is worth the pick-up for new special features offering a more immersive look into its production.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interview, deleted scenes, featurettes, music video]
The King of Pigs
What is it? A man kills his wife, and as he recoils from his actions he recalls the childhood that brought him here.
Why see it? Animated films for adults ‐ not porn, but films with themes and content that kids wouldn’t appreciate or understand ‐ are a rarity here in the US, but Yeon Sangho has delivered more than a few in his homeland of South Korea. He’s breaking out this year thanks to his live-action debut, Train to Busan, and its animated prequel, Seoul Station, but one of his best remains this brutal, intense, and heartbreaking look at bullying and the circle of violence it enforces. There’s real drama here along with scenes of epic, wince-inducing violence, and it’s a story that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews]
Nighthawks [Shout Select]
What is it? Europe’s most feared terrorist, Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), heads to New York City to make a splash on the world stage, but he didn’t count on having to face off against a very determined cop named Deke SaSilva (Sylvester Stallone).
Why buy it? This is a very serious effort from Stallone despite the introduction of his character in drag, and it helps make the violence and terror more threatening than expected. Hauer is obviously fantastic, and Billy Dee Williams adds some much-needed levity. Shout Select’s new Collector’s Edition is a bit slight when it comes to extras ‐ there are some interesting elements in the interviews, but no Stallone, Hauer, or Williams leaves things a bit dry ‐ but the disc is well worth picking up for fans thanks to the sharp HD picture.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews]
Short Cuts [Criterion Collection]
What is it? Los Angeles is a sprawling city populated with all manner of people doing their best and their worst to get by. Twenty-two of them find themselves the focus here as their lives cross each others’ in ways big and small.
Why buy it? Robert Altman brings the writings of Raymond Carver to the screen with an epic look at life’s intimacies. Altman is more of a miss for me than a hit, but this is easily one of his absolute best films as it tells multiple stories by telling one. It’s a very human tapestry with strands both comedic and dramatic, and even at three hours it feels as if we’re only getting mere glimpses into very full lives.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4k transfer, interviews, documentaries, deleted scenes]
Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro [Criterion Collection]
What is it? An old man discovers a mysterious device rumored to provide eternal life, but he discovers the cost too late in Cronos. A newly orphaned boy arrives at a remote orphanage at the end of the Spanish Civil War only to find the horrors of the past continue to haunt the survivors in The Devil’s Backbone. A young girl retreats from the violence surrounding her into a deceptively beautiful fairy tale in Pan’s Labyrinth.
Why buy it? Two of these titles have previously been released by Criterion, and the third is releasing this week as a standalone edition, but if you don’t have them yet this may be the way to go. It collects all of the extras featured on the individual titles in a gorgeous box-set with new artwork and a hardbound book. Cronos is a solid debut, but the real magic here is in the other two films. Both find beauty in the grotesque and fantastical, and they look stunning.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes, interviews, new transfers]
Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time
What is it? A group of friends take a private tour of a mysterious new wax museum and find themselves victimized by its living exhibits in Waxwork. Two of the survivors travel back in time to stop evil’s crusade against good in Waxwork II: Lost in Time.
Why buy it? The Vestron Collector’s Series continues to prove its worth with this newly restored Blu-ray debut, and Waxwork happily holds up as a wonderfully entertaining and terrifically bloody romp through monster classics including vampires, werewolves, and the mummy. It’s fun as hell ‐ plus Deborah Foreman! The sequel is none of those things, and I’m not just saying that because Foreman is replaced by a different actress.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, making of documentary on the first film]
Body Snatchers [Warner Archive]
What is it? An alien species invades the Earth and replaces humans beginning with the soldiers and citizens occupying an Army base.
Why see it? Abel Ferrara’s take on Jack Finney’s classic novel doesn’t get a lot of love, but there’s something to be said for its ranking as the third best adaptation (behind ’78 and ’56, respectively). Focusing on the military mindset plays with the idea of blind obedience and a uniform mentality, and while Gabrielle Anwar is no Donald Sutherland she does a fine job as the heroine. There’s a great beat at the end that sadly loses its power thanks to shoddy effects-work, but I still respect the narrative choice.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) isn’t cut out for his father’s New York City jewelry business and heads to Los Angeles instead to find work with his uncle (Steve Carell) among the stars of Hollywood. He finds what he’s looking for, but he also finds love ‐ a love that’s destined not to last.
Why see it? Woody Allen’s latest is very Woody Allen indeed, and for better or worse you know exactly what that entails. The dialogue is very precise, the narration is very unnecessary, and the humor is a mixed bag of funny one-liners and exaggerated gags. His cast is strong as usual with the standouts being Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively as Bobby’s inexplicable love interests.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? A simple life is all Doctor Thorne (Tom Hollander) seeks, but that goal grows increasingly unreachable as family troubles lead to unexpected outcomes. The land he’s occupying belongs to a family who’ve secretly gone broke, and the only hope they have is in the subtle machinations of the matriarch trying to secure a future through marriage.
Why see it? Julian Fellowes has wrapped up Downton Abbey and moved on to another period tale, and while it lacks that show’s depth ‐ due as much to story focus as brevity of only having four episodes ‐ he still shows a firm grip on character and place. The cast is appealing with the addition of Alison Brie guaranteed to pull in more American viewers. The details feel familiar as arranged marriages and issues of class dominate, but the fun is in the dialogue and characters.
[DVD extras: Making of, featurettes]
What is it? A man ostracized by his own neighbors stands up against the village’s religious leaders when he fears they’re driving the community to dangerous ruin.
Why see it? Yeon Sangho strikes again with another intensely dramatic animated film for adults. The focus here is misguided faith and organized religion, and Yeon pulls no punches in his scathing critique of both. There are some very Korean elements to some of the relationships and actions, but the core of the film is a message that applies universally to all countries.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Fuzz [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The 87th Precinct is populated with all manner of police from the competent to the inept, but the one constant among them is a collective attitude toward anything serious. The cases they’re dealing with ‐ a serial rapist, theft, an assassination plot ‐ are therefore treated with the expected lack of respect.
Why see it? Kino gives this early ’70s romp the HD treatment, but the real joy is watching this ensemble cast including Burt Reynolds, Tom Skerritt, Jack Weston, Raquel Welch, and Yul Brynner. They’re clearly having a lot of fun here, but while Ed McBain’s novel gets a fairly faithful adaptation it doesn’t quite work as well in film form. It’s disjointed but entertaining enough.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New HD remaster, commentary, Trailers from Hell segment]
Guilt ‐ Season One
What is it? A young woman is murdered in her London apartment, and all of the circumstantial evidence points towards one or both of two people ‐ her American roommate and/or her roommate’s French boyfriend. The prosecution builds the case against them as additional evidence and plot threads grow around them.
Why see it? This ten episode premiere season owes a narrative debt to the real-life Amanda Knox case as its setup bears a real similarity to that true crime. The series takes the story well beyond it though with the addition of multiple outside characters and a hefty amount of intrigue. It’s not all that successful though as the writing and filmmaking are second-tier much of the time with silly story turns and scenes filmed with little to no energy or style.
[DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes]
The Laughing Policeman [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A bus filled with seven passengers and a driver becomes a bloody crime scene when someone mows them all down with a machine gun. Det. Jake Martin (Walter Matthau) is assigned the case, but what looks at first like a simple mass murder becomes more complicated when he discovers one of the victims is his partner.
Why see it? This San Francisco-set procedural doesn’t get mentioned much, but it’s a solid crime thriller with a gritty feel tempered by a blackly comic outlook. Matthau is always great, and while he’s best known as a funny guy that persona plus his wrinkled face work well to create a cop who was disillusioned long ago. Bruce Dern co-stars delivering some additional fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interview]
The Marx Brothers ‐ Silver Screen Collection
What is it? A man’s attempts to get rich as a land baron in Florida are dashed by the antics of two Marx brothers in The Cocoanuts! A painting is stolen, and only the Max brothers can solve the mystery in Animal Crackers! The Marx brothers steal away on a transatlantic cruise and find themselves caught up with criminals and worse in Monkey Business! A college president turns his staff upside down by hiring the Marx brothers in Horse Feathers! A madman takes charge of a small country and declares war on a neighbor in Duck Soup!
Why see it? The Marx Brothers are comedy legends, and this new collection features the only five films featuring all four of the funny men. Their humor is a very particular style, so you already know if you’re a fan. If you are you’ll want to pick up this set for the extras as well as a restoration of footage to Animal Crackers.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, documentary, interviews, booklet]
The Night Of
What is it? Nasir (Riz Ahmed) is son to conservative Pakistani immigrants, and one night decides to throw caution to the wind for a night of fun and sex with a woman he just met. He awakes to find her murdered… did he do it in a drug-fueled haze? Did someone kill her while he slept? He’s arrested and charged, and soon the truth will be revealed.
Why see it? HBO’s acclaimed mini-series tells an engaging story that touches on multiple hot-button topics across its tale of murder including police treatment of minorities, racism and Islamophobia, and the presumption of innocence. It’s a suspenseful watch at times although filler and some contrivances interrupt the flow, but it’s most worth a watch for both Ahmed and Bill Camp’s performances.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Our Kind of Traitor
What is it? Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) are a married couple trying to work through their relationship troubles with a vacation, but they find all new problems when they cross paths with a Russian named Dima (Stellan Skarsgard). He’s connected to the Russian mob and convinces Perry to bring evidence to the British authorities, but what should have been a simple hand-off becomes a game of life and death for all involved.
Why see it? John le Carre’s novel gets a solid adaptation here and benefits from some fine, intense performances. The story shifts with plot turns and false allegiances, but a lot of it does feel a bit dated and quaint. That sounds like a knock, but it just leaves the film feeling unsurprising. Still, it’s a well-produced affair, and fans of the author and genre will want to dive in.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews]
What is it? Bill “Spaceman” Lee (Josh Duhamel) is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who’s seen his career decline thanks more to antics off the field than on. He talks more than the MLB would like, and his openness on drug use doesn’t fit the image they’d like to express, so he’s dropped and left to find new life in the minors.
Why see it? There’s a definite goofiness to this biopic, but Lee’s story remains a true one. It’s an unlikely career, one that finds its value in a personality and perspective far removed from the corporate sanctioned or the criminally offensive. The big draw for those of us who give no shites about baseball is Duhamel’s performance. He’s rarely allowed to cut loose like this, and the result is a casually charismatic delight.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? The vampire life is often a messy one, especially when you have a habit of painting the walls red and bathing excitedly in the blood of your victims. Two female vampires living in the English countryside keep busy with each other’s bodies and the victim in their basement, but their routine perks up when some nearby campers stumble into their lives.
Why see it? An unofficial remake of the mid ’70s film of the same name, this bloody, flesh-fillled horror film takes a far more graphic and gratuitous approach to the tale of lady vampires. The story remains the same, but the original’s atmosphere is replaced here with a more matter of fact presentation. The sexy bloodletting is intact though, although again, it’s far more explicit here.
[DVD extras: Interview, making of]
What is it? Pancho Villa has a war to fight, but the American pilot supplying him with weapons may be heading in a different direction.
Why see it? Robert Mitchum plays the cash-hungry American who finds something possibly more important in the people, and famed Hispanic actor Yul Brynner portrays the Mexican revolutionary. Plenty of action fills the screen as shootouts and even some aerial dogfights work to keep things moving, but the two-hour film still gets stuck in weak character interactions which ultimately pull it down.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What We Become [Scream Factory]
What is it? A small town in Denmark seems like the perfect place to raise a family, but that was before it became ground zero for a viral plague. People are transforming into bloodthirsty killers, and while one family struggles to survive and stay together the violence outside grows more intent on getting in.
Why see it? This Danish horror thriller features some intense and grisly sequences as it borrows plague effects similar to the likes of 28 Days Later. It adds an emotional element with the family’s dire straits that makes some of the horror more effective, but some very stupid character decisions threatens more than once to derail our concern. It ultimately remains an effective thriller though.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Also Out This Week:
Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Good Neighbor, Independence Day: Resurgence, Wallander: The Complete Collection