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Blu-ray Reviews: August 8, 2017

A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.


When medical student Dean Cain advertises for a roommate, he soon finds one in the form of Dr. Herbert West. Initially a little eccentric, it some becomes clear that West entertains some seriously outlandish theories – specifically, the possibility of re-animating the dead. It’s not long before Dean finds himself under West’s influence, and embroiled in a serious of ghoulish experiments which threaten to go wildly out of control… Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s classic terror tale ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ and featuring a standout performance from Jeffrey Combs as the deliciously deranged West, Re-Animator remains the ground-zero of ’80s splatter mayhem and one of the genre’s finest hours. [Note: The street date in the U.S. for this release of Re-Animator was July 25, 2017.]

1985’s Re-Animator is kind of a stupid movie, but embracing that stupidity is what makes it such an unmitigated joy to watch. An ’80s splatter-movie take on Frankenstein, it features two doctors experimenting with a serum that has the power to resurrect the dead. Because this has never gone wrong for anyone in the horror genre, Re-Animator does not feature people getting their heads ripped off, their bodies torn in half, or every other kind of crimson-spattered gore piece you can think of.

Just kidding!

In a sort of sequel to my previous write-up for Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knightin which I launched back to my childhood to better explain my affinity for that particular title, I discovered Re-Animator on that same exact mid-’90s summer evening (when my unassuming extended family discovered the hard way that I was a weirdo into horror and gore and everything in between).

Once the closing credits on Demon Knight were rolling and my horrified family were filing out of the room, all while I rubbed my fists and wondered when I might ever see such genius dummy heads again, my uncle flashed me a mischievous grin and asked, “So you like all that gory stuff, huh?”

“Yup!” I said, the only time in my life I’ve ever said “yup” because doing so makes you a douche bag.

He walked over to a shelf filled with VHS tapes and procured one. He slid it into the VCR, gave me a wink, and said, “Enjoy!”

And then Re-Animator happened in front of me.

Let me tell you: when an eleven-year-old sees Re-Animator for the first time, it feels like magic. Dangerous, filthy magic. It feels like what you imagine a snuff film might be, or the kinds of films that linger behind the curtain in the local video store below the sign which reads ADULTS ONLY. It feels like you are watching something that you should not be watching.

This is how it felt for me. Between all the wonderful violence and gore, which at that time had topped anything I’d ever seen, and the fact that I didn’t recognize a single actor in the film, giving it an additionally “underground” feeling, I basically felt that by watching Re-Animator I was breaking the law, and any minute the Mom Police would kick down the door and beat me with 37 million wooden spoons. This unrelenting gore and cadre of unrecognizable actors re-enforced, in my eleven-year-old brain, one very scary notion: everything in Re-Animator had happened for real, and now everyone was dead. For real.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Re-Animator was previously issued on Blu-ray by Anchor Bay Entertainment, one of the earliest distributors of cult and horror titles before they sold out and became a mainstream distributor for the Weinstein Co., among others. Being that it was a release hailing from the early days of the high-def movement, it was a mostly ok but somewhat underwhelming image. Arrow’s 4K presentation blows it to smithereens, upping the resolution of the information on screen and sparing not a single bloody detail. Sill, some issues with telecine tremors and somewhat dark scenes (mostly in establishing shots) can be spotted, but overall, it looks wonderful. Audio is presented in two options — 2.0 and 5.1 — and both sound fine.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

2-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • 4K restorations of the Unrated and Integral versions of the film
  • Digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold
  • Re-Animator – the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety

DISC 1 – UNRATED VERSION

  • Unrated version [86 mins]
  • Audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon
  • Audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson
  • Re-Animator Resurrectus – documentary on the making of the film, featuring extensive interviews with cast and crew
  • Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna
  • Interview with writer Dennis Paoli
  • Interview with composer Richard Band
  • Music Discussion with composer Richard Band
  • Interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone
  • Barbara Crampton In Conversation –the Re-Animator star sits down with journalist Alan Jones for this career-spanning discussion
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • Trailer & TV Spots

DISC 2 – INTEGRAL VERSION – LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE

  • Integral version [105 mins]
  • A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – brand new featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work

OVERALL:

If you’ve never seen Re-Animator, now’s the perfect time to jump on board. And if you have seen Re-Animator, and love it — I know, I know…you’ve already bought it a few times — the sexiness of this set will take those double-dipping blues away. This release comes very highly recommended.


Distributor: Shout! Factory

He always wanted to be special … but he never expected this! Like all teenagers, Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox, the Back to the Future trilogy) is going through some … changes. But unlike the rest of the students at Beacontown High School, Scott’s changes include long hair that covers his entire body, claw-like fingernails, fangs, a heightened sense of smell, superhuman strength and the extraordinary ability to … play basketball? And that’s just the beginning. Naturally, these uncanny new features turn this loveable loser into the most popular kid in school. But by embracing his newly minted popularity, has the Teen Wolf lost sight of what it truly means to be Scott Howard?

Every decade of filmdom can be easily defined by some if its choicest titles. Say the 1970s, you might think The Godfather, or Taxi Driver, or Apocalypse Now. Say the 1990s, you might say The Silence of the Lambs or The Cable Guy (haw haw). But say the 1980s, and the titles are seemingly endless. Never before has a decade been so reinforced by its penchant for excess and absurdism, along with the pop culture it created. The 1980s…where to start. The Breakfast Club. Back to the Future. Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

And oh yes. Teen Wolf.

Yes, that odd parable about boys becoming men and getting hair in places they didn’t have before, or noticing girls and wanting to go in closets with them, is one of the most ‘80s films that the ‘80s ever happened to. The music (James House!), the fashions (I wear my sunglasses indoors!), the hair (wolf and non-wolf alike!) – Teen Wolf wasn’t just made during the ‘80s, but it’s of the ‘80s; it is the ‘80s: when films were daring in their willingness to be stupid on purpose, and when two guy friends could call each other “fag” in the comfort of their own van. Yes, the 1980s were king.

Teen Wolf was one of the first somewhat genre-oriented films to embrace the “coming of age” aesthetic that was in its infant stage of becoming a go-to trope: an adolescent experiencing a physical, emotional, or mental renaissance that would see them transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Teen Wolf boasted one of the more outlandish approaches to “coming of age,” comparing puberty and sexual awakening to literally becoming the wolf man, but amusingly the film actually does a good job of slowly introducing this concept. NASA-sized suspensions of disbelief are required less for the fact that this is happening, but more for the notion that everyone at school seems totally cool with this. During minute one, there’s Scott the Boy: he sucks and everyone hates him. During minute two, there’s Scott the Wolf and he’s an instant fucking legend. Alan Turing had to create the modern computer system, get chemically castrated for being gay, commit cyanide suicide, and STILL wait fifty years before the masses cheered for him. Scott Howard The Wolf only needed thirty seconds during a single basketball period.

Societal progress!

PICTURE & SOUND:

If Shout’s new high-def transfer of Teen Wolf is better than the previous one by MGM, I couldn’t say, as it wasn’t a disc that I’d sampled. What I can say, however, is that this new iteration of Teen Wolf looks fantastic, boasting bright colors, a mostly stable picture, and fine clarity. Same goes for the audio, which presents dialogue prominently over its somewhat unusual musical score and its soundtrack of ’80s obscurities. (James House! Again!)

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The major selling point on this “why bother?” new edition of Teen Wolf, released by Shout! Factory, is the RIDICULOUS retrospective making-of that runs a staggering two hours and twenty-three minutes. That’s the same length as GoodFellas! It’s nearly an hour longer than the actual film it’s discussing! Insanity!

Nearly every pertinent member of the cast and crew return (save for Fox, who likely very politely declined, and director Rod Daniel, who died in 2016) to share their memories of the shoot. And it’s unanimous: according to every participant, Michael J. Fox was very very very nice. I had a feeling!

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • New 2017 High-Definition Film Transfer taken from the interpositive
  • Never. Say. Die. The Story Of Teen Wolf – A comprehensive documentary about the making and legacy of the film, including brand-new interviews with writers Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman; producers Mark Levinson and Scott Rosenfelt; stars Susan Ursitti-Sheinberg, Jerry Levine, Matt Adler, Jim MacKrell and Troy Evans; basketball double Jeff Glosser; casting director Paul Ventura; production designer Chester Kaczenski; special effects make-up artist Jeff Dawn; and editor Lois Freeman-Fox.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

 OVERALL:

Teen Wolf, silly though it may be, is essential ‘80s cinema. It’s not the best that the decade has to offer, but it certainly embodies the decade much better than other films from the same era that one might argue are better made. This new edition from Shout! Factory is ridiculously loaded with special features, and brings with it a brand new remaster. If you’re a fan of the film, don’t miss it.


Distributor: Shout! Factory

In Teen Wolf Too, high school was easy, but college is a whole different animal! Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses) stars as Todd Howard, a Hamilton University freshman with a full athletic scholarship — only Todd has no idea why, since he’s far more interested in veterinary medicine than sports. But his boxing coach, Bobby Finstock, is very familiar with the Howard family secret and he’s hoping he can use it to his advantage. When the whole school — including Todd — finds out that he’s a werewolf with superhuman abilities, Todd’s popularity skyrockets and he becomes the big wolf on campus. But is his fame a gift? Or a curse? And can he keep it from getting in the way of the relationships he has with his best friends and girlfriend? Perhaps a little guidance from his professor (Kim Darby, True Grit), who has a secret of her own, may help Todd learn the biggest lesson of all.

As usual, Teen Wolf Too falls victim to the comedy sequel: it strives to hit the same comedic beats, follow the same path, etc. It’s not quite as derivative as Airplane 2: The Sequel, which literally recycled every good joke from the original, but it’s very close. However, while it’s bad enough that Teen Wolf Too seems totally fine reveling in redundancy, therein lies an additional problem which basically torpedoes Teen Wolf Too right from the start: Jason Batemen, who fills in for Michael J. Fox as the new Scott Howard.

After toiling in 1990s obscurity following the end of the Brat Pack era (he was nearly cast in Freddy vs. Jason – for serious) and enjoying a career resurgence thanks to the brilliant Arrested Development, Batemen has been back in full force enjoying many different manners of films and television: acting, writing, and directing. As a comedic voice, his talent is immense, and as a dramatic one, he’s surprisingly nuanced and mature. But all that aside, one thing remains: guy plays an excellent dick. Following his semi-dick role of Michael Bluth, he’s transitioned into many other film roles where he…plays more of a dick, with a biting sense of humor and a sharp tongue. Some people are naturally capable of this, in the same way other people are naturally capable of the exact opposite. When one thinks of Michael J. Fox, Marty McFly comes to mind – America’s wholesome, plucky boy next door – someone who will take your daughter’s virginity, but be lovably flustered about it the whole time. When one thinks of Jason Batemen, your mind fills with a dick, complete with snide smile and really nice sweater. Ergo, opting to have Batemen fill in as Scott Howard for this go-round results in his turning the character into kind of a dick. And it’s not just his performance that’s to blame, either, but also the script, which is intent on pursuing a kind of Dickensian (pun not intended but I’ll take it) reformation story that sees Howard starting off shy, becoming a dick, but then re-embracing his humanity again by film’s end. Along the way he’ll excel at sports, woo the girl, isolate and then win back his best boy chum, and befriend Kim Darby – a page torn from the journal of our own lives.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Shout’s presentation of Teen Wolf Too is better than the film deserves, but with one caveat. We’ll get to that in a second. In the meantime, the HD presentation of Teen Wolf Too fares very well, also boasting bright colors and fine stability and detail. However, there appears to have been a conservative but noticeable amount of digital noise reduction applied, giving skin tones a somewhat waxy presentation. Either that or all these fresh-faced kids had very smooth skin. All in all, the picture is fine, in spite of this. Audio sounds great, with no issues worth noting. Dialogue, again, is presented well, amidst the ’80s soundtrack.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

As usual, Shout! Factory doesn’t get flustered by releasing a crap film and still manages to compile a handful of interesting interviews, perhaps most notably Kim Darby, also recognizable for her appearance in another terrible sequel, Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. She comes across very meek and timid, as if she’s afraid to speak above a whisper. She’s adorable.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Working with the Wolf – An interview with director Christopher Leitch
  •  Otherworldly – An interview with co-star Kim Darby
  • A Man of Great ‘Stiles’ – An interview with co-star Stuart Fratkin
  • Nerdy Girl Saves the Day – An interview with co-star Estee Chandler
  • A Wolf in ‘80s Clothing – A look at the wardrobe of Teen Wolf Too with costume designer Heidi Kaczenski
  • Still Gallery

OVERALL:

Teen Wolf Too is a weak sequel – generally bandied about on those “worst sequels of all time” lists that movie sites love to run. And, frankly speaking, it deserves to be there. Its plot is recycled, its conflict redundant, and its lead is unlikable. Except for a single fun montage set to Oingo Boingo, this sequel will leave you howling in pain haw haw sorry. (If you want to check out the REAL sequel to Teen Wolf, then locate the nearest copy of Teen Witch, stat.)


Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A solitary assassin (Sam Worthington) is hired to murder a teenaged girl (Odeya Rush). When he can’t bring himself to do it, both are marked for death. The pair form an uneasy alliance and flee across Europe, hunted by powerful forces who will stop at nothing to kill them both. 

Director Jonathan Mostow deserves better. After breaking onto the scene with 1997’s extremely underrated open-road thriller Breakdown with Kurt Russell and J.T. Walsh, the director then embarked on 2000’s similarly underrated submarine drama/thriller U-571, which saw Matthew McConaughey and the recently departed Bill Paxton as members of its crew. Mostow’s double-whammy of critical acclaim for this pair of films got him the far higher profile and much coveted role as director on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, a well-made but polarizing entry in the Terminator franchise that actually looks better and better with each subsequent Terminator installment. While the script would be condemned for being a bit too similar to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Mostow was praised for his ability to stage a handful of exciting action set-pieces, most notably the downtown Los Angeles chase which saw numerous city buildings destroyed in a glorious hail of broken glass. Despite Terminator 3 having made a ludicrous amount of money, Mostow was unable to transition onto a similarly high-profile film, languishing in the world of TV movies andthe  sleepy Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller, Surrogates, that no one saw.

All these years later, the director is finally back, but it’s in aid of a too-familiar concept which sees a man with special skills tearing ass across international landscapes to save the life of a teen girl, whose only crime was to whom she was born as a daughter. Lead Haunted Guy With The Skills is played by Sam Worthington, who, post-Avatar, was presented as being the next big thing, but who has yet to appear in anything worthy of the potential we’ve been told he possesses. In The Hunter’s Prayer, he’s mostly lifeless — the same kind of lifeless he’d previously shown off in Terminator: Salavation and Clash/Wrath of the Titans. He does attempt to show signs of life during one particular monologue that characters like these are supposed to share in movies like these that explain why he’s so haunted, but otherwise it’s all steely eyes and hardened glances and the slightest of neck stubble.

Maybe just double-feature the John Wicks and thank me later.

PICTURE & SOUND:

For the most part, The Hunter’s Prayer looks and sounds just fine, and during exterior day-lit scenes manages to look very good. There are, however, sequences set as dusk that look terrible: too dark, muddy, and artificially presented, suggesting these sequences may have been shot day-for-night. The audio presentation is very good, offering excellent dynamism and ambiance from the get-go.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The three featurettes, overall run less than twenty minutes, including only minor insight on the making of The Hunter’s Prayer. The info remains pretty basic, not offering anything particularly notable, although participants are eager to shout-out Odeya Rush, as they should.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • “The Cost of Killing: Making The Hunter’s Prayer” Featurette
  • “The World of The Hunter” Featurette
  • “Creating The Driving Force” Featurette

OVERALL:

Try before you buy.


Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Two estranged brothers (Steve Coogan and Richard Gere) and their wives (Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall) meet at a restaurant to discuss a dark crime committed by their sons. With their involvement still a secret, they must decide how far they’ll go to protect the ones they love.

Israeli director Oren Moverman isn’t one to make an easy and enjoyable slice of lighthearted escapism, and The Dinner, based on the novel by Herman Koch, is no different. The framing device of The Dinner comes courtesy of the titular get-together between two brothers, one mentally ill (Coogan) and one a U.S. Congressman (Gere), along with their wives, played by Linney and Hall. Turns out their sons, together, were involved in a somewhat disturbing incident, and Gere’s congressman, who is seconds away from having a bill passed having to do with mental health screening, finds himself weighing doing what’s best for his family versus what’s best for the entire country.

The Dinner is very timely, as our real conversations about the need for us to take mental health just as seriously as physical health, are constantly ongoing. And seeing Coogan, known mostly for dry British comedies, play someone constantly haunted by his own thoughts, allows the audience to realize that no one is immune from suffering any strain of mental health. If there is just one reason to watch The Dinner, it’s because of his fantastic and at times abrasive performance, even if the film in general never rises to the terrific performance he offers. The fragmented and nonlinear presentation of the story, along with the inconsistent tone (is this a very subtle black comedy, or a straight-up drama?) mar the final product, leaving the audience somewhat bewildered as to the point of it all. But the ensemble of actors do great work, and it’s a delight to see Gere and Linney sharing the screen for the third time, following their collaborations in the severely underrated Primal Fear and The Mothman Prophecies.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The look of The Dinner constantly changes, depending on the immediate environment, mood, and point in time. Much of The Dinner takes place in a fancy, upscale restaurant with the most pretentious menu this side of American Psycho. These scenes are dim but elegantly shot, offering subdued but warm colors and fine detail. Flashback scenes are blown out and somewhat fuzzy (by choice), setting them off from the present. Audio fares fine; dialogue heavily drives the film, and mixes well into the background score and restaurant ambiance.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

On the audio commentary, Linney jokes, “Richard and I try to work together once a decade.” And it’s true. The commentary track she shares with the director is the sole supplement on this release, but provides some interesting background info on the film’s shoot. Moverman drops an amusing anecdote about how to work continuity errors into the story. You’ll probably know the scene in question when you see the film.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Oren Moverman and Actress Laura Linney
  • Photo Gallery

OVERALL:

The Dinner is not for everyone, but for those who like their films a little unusual and dialogue heavy, it may offer some enjoyment. This release by Lionsgate offers very good PQ and AQ, although comes off a little light in the supplements department. Rent it.


Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A riveting World War II thriller filled with espionage and romance in equal measure, The Exception follows German officer Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) as he goes on a mission to investigate exiled German monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). The Kaiser lives in a secluded mansion in the Netherlands, and as Germany is taking over Holland, the country’s authorities are concerned that Dutch spies may be watching the Kaiser. As Brandt begins to infiltrate the Kaiser’s life in search of clues, he finds himself drawn into an unexpected and passionate romance with Mieke (Lily James), one of the Kaiser’s maids whom Brandt soon discovers is secretly Jewish.

Mankind will always be fascinated by Nazi Germany, and it will likely be explored in novels and films from now until the end of time. The atrocities committed during World War II will forever be the darkest stain on humanity, and though it has been exhaustively researched and analyzed and dramatized in varieties of ways, the many different stories that derive from that era seem endless. You could spend the rest of your life reading about and watching specials on World War II, but you would still never grasp all that went on during that time.

It’s because of this that The Exception feels so familiar, even if the term “romance” ain’t exactly associated with Nazi Germany. The iconography of this era — the swastika, the SS uniforms, the architecture of Berlin — is understandably entwined in so many more notable stories which examine his era of history. Judgment at Nuremberg comes to mind as the greatest, but there’s no forgetting Schindler’s List or even Bryan Singer’s undervalued Valkyrie. This era has been well covered before, in every genre, and with many different approaches.

Director David Leveaux is to be commended for his attention to detail, even if he is playing with history, but too much of The Exception feels at odds with itself. Is it a doomed romance? An espionage thriller? One older man’s reflection on his life? All of these come together, but instead of forming one complicated conflict, instead vie for attention. Jai Courtney turns in a typically bland performance, with Lily James handling most of the heavily lifting during their shared scenes. Of no surprise is Christopher Plummer’s excellent performance as the doddering kaiser; he is an actor that has let age factor into his recent roles, and to a consistently effective degree.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Exception fares very well in high-def, offering a brilliantly opulent picture. Colors are dialed down just a hair, but present well; reds pop, for obvious reasons. There’s a very fine showing of clarity and detail. Audio also fares well, with strong dialogue presentation. Musical score by Ilan Eshkeri sounds very fine as well, although at times seems to be sampling from James Newton Howard’s score for The Village (an odd source considering The Exception‘s subject matter).

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Director David Leveaux
  • Behind the Scenes of The Exception

OVERALL:

If there’s a clear point behind The Exception that director Leveaux is trying to convey, it gets a little lost by film’s end. An excellent performance from Christopher Plummer, as usual, is enough to consider giving The Exception a go. Try before you buy.


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J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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