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Pick of the Week
What is it? A mutated baby is born and tears up the delivery room… more follow.
Why see it? Larry Cohen is never less than an interesting filmmaker, and along with titles like Q the Winged Serpent and The Stuff, one of his highly entertaining contributions to genre cinema is this trilogy. There are blackly comic undertones throughout alongside both social and environmental commentaries, but at their heart the films are about toothy babies tearing people to shreds. The first two are solid flicks, but my own heart belongs to the third which takes things in absolutely bonkers directions with the eternally great Michael Moriarty leading the crazy charge. The extras include a terrific new interview with Cohen and friends as well as three commentaries from the man himself.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 2K scans, interviews, commentaries]
What is it? Marvel’s African hero fights an enemy from his nation’s past.
Why see it? After being introduced in Captain America: Civil War it seemed only natural that Black Panther would get his own film, and the result is one of Marvel’s better entries. The action is solid enough, but the film shines in its characters and interactions whether it be the relationship between our hero and his sister, the kingdom’s various other players, or its focus on strong females. The film also features one of the MCU’s best and most interesting villains brought terrifically to life by Michael B. Jordan as a tortured soul burdened by the past and his own anger. It’s an obvious pickup for fans, and the disc’s numerous extras add hours of extra entertainment.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel, commentary]
What is it? A Scotsman leads a rebellion against those bastard Brits.
Why see it? Mel Gibson’s second feature as director saw him up the stakes dramatically from his indie debut, and the result is a big, bold epic. Gibson paints an engaging story based (loosely) on the true story of oppression and revolution, and he proves himself capable of delivering big action and drama as a filmmaker. He’s always been a charismatic performer too, and that plays well into a tale where a smaller presence could easily get lost. It’s not his most rewatchable film, but fans will be more than happy and impressed with the 4K presentation.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
What is it? An off-duty cop welcomes people to the party.
Why see it? John McTiernan’s late 80s action masterpiece — yeah, I said it — is an action masterpiece. Redundant? Perhaps, but while later films (even those in the same franchise) riffed on the formula this first movie is absolute perfection. Bruce Willis shines as the average cop forced into heroics against a group of greedy terrorists, and the antics that follow are filled with thrilling action set-pieces, humanity, and wit. That last bit comes courtesy of strong character work and smart dialogue that reveals characters to have more depth than the genre typically provides. The new 4K presentation highlights detail and precision in every shot — and yes, that means Willis’ stunt double is even more noticeable in that brawl with Alexander Godunov — and the result is like watching it again for the first time.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurette, articles]
What is it? A Roman general is turned into a slave and a gladiator but becomes a hero anyway.
Why see it? When Ridley Scott’s on he is on, and this epic film from 2000 is among his best. Dazzling battle scenes, grand character arcs, captivating performances, a beautiful score, and an ending that satisfies with both action and emotion — the movie is well-deserving of its accolades. Russell Crowe gives a terrific performance filled with fury and feeling, and Joaquin Phoenix is deliciously terrifying. This is once again the kind of movie that takes full advantage of a 4K upgrade, and the resulting release is stunning.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Introduction, commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, ]
What is it? A man attempts to placate fate with mixed results.
Why see it? Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film is less interested in narrative than it is imagery and ideas, but the result is one that affects in a myriad of ways. An impending war threatens a man’s family and home so he makes deals with two supernatural forces — God and a witch — but when crisis appears to be averted which is deserving of credit? And does it even matter? The story’s meaning can be debated, but what’s definite is the film’s pure beauty as a work of art. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the man’s pain, much like Tarkovsky’s at the time — he was dying from cancer — is powerful. This new 4K restoration makes an already beautiful film even more breathtaking.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K restoration, booklet, commentary, interview, documentary]
What is it? A Southern town appears in the mist on the anniversary of its destruction at Union hands, and some Northern tourists get caught up in the nightmare.
Why see it? H.G. Lewis’ films are something of an acquired taste, but for my money this is among his very best. Creative gore effects, a fun sense of humor, and an engaging commentary on the Southern refusal to accept defeat combine for a fun slice of blood-soaked craziness. Performances are a mix of flat and over the top, but they all add to the experience that’s Lewis in a crimson-hued nutshell. Arrow’s Blu-ray looks great and in addition to numerous extras they’ve included a second Lewis feature called Moonshine Mountain.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Bonus feature film, introductions, featurettes, interviews, outtakes]
What is it? An ex-cop/ex-con finds trouble involving drugs, murder, and a conspiracy.
Why see it? Karl Urban in a lead role is never a bad thing, and here he doesn’t even have to share it with a sleepy Al Pacino (seriously, their recent Hangman movie is bad news). His latest is filled with plenty of plot turns and twists, and while few of them are all that surprising they work alongside the action to keep things engaging. Andy Garcia in a supporting turn doesn’t hurt either.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, interviews]
What is it? Four retired gangsters decide it’s time for one last job.
Why see it? “Goodfellas meets Grumpy Old Men” is the too-easy shorthand hand, but it definitely lives up to the second half anyway. The comedy runs the gamut from age-related dialogue to physical gags, and the actors headlining — Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Dan Hedaya, Seymour Cassel — are a terrifically talented foursome. It’s lightweight, but it’s fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
What is it? A young man recalls his life en route to seeing his ailing father.
Why see it? Jackie Gleason plays the patriarch of a family in comedic distress. His wife (Maureen O’Hara) is trying to hold them together, but a falling out years prior has left the pair walking on eggshells. Shelley Winters adds to the fun as an artist turned hopeful mistress, and some sharp writing lends the characters humor and an engaging backstory.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A young woman leaves the city life behind for a country vacation and finds love along the way.
Why see it? John Wayne literally plays a character named Duke, but don’t hold that against the film. Besides, he’s a supporting player here while the lovely and goofy Jean Arthur headlines as a woman fed up with the dating game in the big city. She’s terrific and brings wit and charm to the film’s comedy even as the script challenges our more advanced ideas about possessive males and equal relationships.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4K scan]
What is it? A teenager recently released from an asylum finds unexplained terror on a family reunion.
Why see it? There are some interesting enough ideas at play in the setup to this horror thriller, but the problems come with the execution. Rough acting is the biggest stumbling block as several of the performers stumble through stilted dialogue and exposition. Editing choices are equally iffy as quick flashbacks are dropped in to tease character beats and punctuate revelations, but none of them land with real effect. It’s ultimately ineffective as a horror thriller because the underlying drama just doesn’t work.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? A delusional detective runs into trouble while protecting a futuristic robot.
Why see it? Meant as a spoof of the classic Charlie Chan mysteries, this comedy makes the same misstep they do right out of the gate by casting a white guy as its Asian detective. Here it’s Zero Mostel which on the plus side at least means there’s talent behind the comedy, and the film is four decades old, but it still feels off finding comedy with what amounts to yellow face. That big bump aside, there are some lightweight Inspector Clouseau vibes at work here meaning if you can get past the unfortunate nature of its lead role there’s fun to be found.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? The Monkey King’s journeys are interrupted by a powerful queen.
Why see it? Aaron Kwok returns in the title role, but even when Donnie Yen held the monkey’s conch it was a bit too much to handle. The action is frenetic, the comedy is broad, and the CG is wall to wall. Fantasy fans, particularly those familiar with Chinese legends, will continue to find fun with the franchise as it mines known characters to tell its epic, magic-filled story.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? It’s love squared, with fire.
Why see it? You’d be hard-pressed to find a more 90s movie than this as from the poster to the cast to the overall feel in channels the decade into 94 perfectly okay minutes. William Baldwin, John Leguizamo, and Erika Eleniak headline while a TV veteran directs, and the resulting film is minor across the board in both its comedy and romance. That said, it is fun seeing Baldwin cut loose and not worry about looking cool.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Also out this week:
Carbon Copy, Doctor Blood’s Coffin [Scream Factory], Lego DC Superhero Girls: Super Villain High, The Other Side of Hope [Criterion], The Shannara Chronicles – Season Two