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Blu-ray Reviews for November 21, 2018

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: the Stephen King underrated adaptation Dolores Claiborne, the foul-mouthed buddy comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and the magnificent Korean actioneer The Villainess. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Warner Bros. via Warner Archive

Selena St. George stares at the note and news clipping: Her estranged mother Dolores has been accused of murder. Grudgingly, Selena returns to her tiny Maine hometown to offer help. Not that she believes Dolores is innocent. In truth, she harbors suspicions going back 20 years. Kathy Bates, who won a Best Actress Oscar for Misery, scores in another chilling Stephen King story (directed by Taylor Hackford) as tough-talking Dolores Claiborne. Jennifer Jason Leigh is wrenching as embittered Selena. The two circle warily, piecing together past and present, memory and fact, to reveal the startling truth behind two mysterious deaths.

Dolores Claiborne has always been the most wrongly unheralded Stephen King adaptation. Despite the immense talent in front of the camera and behind it, for some reason it never became either the box office juggernaut like Stand by Me, or the underground cult classic The Shawshank Redemption. And that’s never made much sense, considering Dolores Claiborne is far superior to both those admittedly great films. Maybe it’s because Dolores Claiborne doesn’t offer up the kind of typical feel-good ending that allows audiences to let loose the proverbial breath they’d been holding in ever since the prison bus arrived at those wrought iron gates, nor does it offer up the bright and fuzzy recollection of a childhood spent at the sides of best friends while whistling down railroad tracks. What Dolores Claiborne instead offers is an unrelenting darkness and a folding back of forgotten time, layer by layer, to reveal the disgusting and depraved memories that lie beneath.

Dolores Claiborne very much showcases the most twisted kind of sisterhood, but one that’s also incredibly powerful, and in a strange way, comforting. And yeah, it’s easy to point to a film like Dolores Claiborne and call it a “women empowerment” film, all based on the fact that women play the primary roles, but to make such an assumption would cheapen the care that went into the careful crafting of the story.

Five years after winning Best Actress for her deranged portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, Kathy Bates revels in another Kingly woman riddled with dark secrets and an unburied past. And Jennifer Jason Leigh is that very rare actress who possesses the ability of her male counterparts Daniel Day Lewis and Gary Oldman to disappear, chameleon-like, into her roles. Her performance here is career-best, forced to play a woman living in complete denial as to what happened in her youth.

Dolores Claiborne is not a feel-good movie. This is a film where no one smiles, unless it’s a rueful one. And it’s a film where the cold, dark surroundings of wintertime wraps itself around you with frigid arms, refusing to let go, your only relief being the flashback sequences filled with dazzling sunlight and warm breezes… during which a well-known and well-liked man named Joe St. George is inside doing horrible, unspeakable things. But it’s extremely powerful, and emotionally rejuvenating at times, and presents Stephen King as his very best.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Thumbs up for this new release from Warner Archive as well. Dolores Claiborne is gorgeously photographed, with the picture truly coming to life during the eclipse sequences. Hackford uses a lot of eerie, surreal colors during this sequence, dependant on reds, and that replicates very well here. Clarity is very good.  Audio fares about the same, with dialogue (Dolores Claiborne is very dialogue heavy) sounding just fine within Danny Elfman’s atypically calm and traditional score.)

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The sole feature on this release, like it was on the DVD, is the audio commentary with director Taylor Hackford. He talks a lot about working with the actors and their various processes and how the screenplay by Tony Gilroy differed from the novel. The commentary is exhaustive as Hackford never lets a moment of silence go by.


Distributor: Lionsgate

The world’s top protection agent (Ryan Reynolds) is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world’s most notorious hit men (Samuel L. Jackson). The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years, and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their raucous and hilarious adventure from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades, and a merciless Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) who is out for blood. Salma Hayek joins the mayhem as Jackson’s equally notorious wife.

Patrick Hughes has had kind of an odd career so far as a director. His debut, Red Hill, starring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, was well made and straddled many different genres. Its western influence was its driving force, but it also contained bits of action, horror, and thriller, offering it an uncategorizable final product. Impressed by this debut, Sylvester Stallone tapped him to take the reins on The Expendables 3, the most reviled entry in the series (so far?), though the poor screenplay (by Stallone) and the terrible editing (which could be blamed on Lionsgate’s insistence that it be recut to PG-13) are what make it suffer. It would have seemed to be the typical Hollywood experience that would make an indie filmmaker turn and scamper back to the world of indie filmmaking, but after being briefly attached to the unnecessary remake of The Raid, he was announced as coming on board the action-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

The good news: The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a gigantic improvement over The Expendables 3. The bad news? Even with it being a tonally dissimilar film, it’s not quite near Red Hill.

The age-old buddy comedy is back, and instead of our at-odds characters being cops begrudgingly working together (one for punishment, one for the “mentorship), we have a slight spin with it being one who worked in personal protection and one who…killed people professionally. As you might expect, this makes for some tension haha!

Billed as an action-comedy, it is. Only the comedy part is a miserable failure. Very few of the jokes land, up to and including the wonderful Salma Hayek and her foul-mouthed appearance as Sonia, wife of Jackson’s Darius. However, the other half of the equation — the action half — works quite well. In spite of Nu Image’s continued penchant for very dodgy CGI, The Hitman’s Bodyguard contains very well staged action sequences, including an impressive third-act car chase that relies mostly on practical stunt work. Hughes also shoots a handful of fight scenes depending on complicated choreography in long takes, which is always appreciated in the genre.

Reynolds and Jackson are no Bruce Willis and Jackson, but they do establish some nice on-screen chemistry and they play well off each other. Reynolds mostly plays the straight man, but finds instances to lean on his snide/dry thing that he’s utilized in pretty much all his films so far; meanwhile, Jackson spends most of The Hitman’s Bodyguard laughing and saying “motherfucker,” which is about what we all expected. Gary Oldman, however, is having no fun whatsoever, slipping in and out of an unconvincing Russian accent and not being allowed a single amusing line during this whole affair. But, eh Oldman is better than no Oldman, so I say welcome aboard.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is decent escapism. The action elements are fun and well executed, and Reynolds and Jackson make for a fun pair. The comedy portion lacks actual comedy of course, which is a bummer considering that’s literally half the point, but enough of it works to let it squeeze by. Hughes’ direction has massively improved since The Expendables 3, and if this remake of The Raid insists on being a thing (definitely cast Scott Adkins for that, by the way), I could think of worse people to take it on. If Hughes sticks with action, I’m keen to see what he does next.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Hitman’s Bodyguard looks very good in high-definition. In this genre, it’s definitely the best looking release from the studio since John Wick: Chapter 2 (which probably won’t be unseated until John Wick: Chapter 3). Granted, that aforementioned terrible CGI stands out, but it at least adds some dynamism to the events unfolding. Audio is equally great. As you might expect, there’s a lot of carnage — lots of bullets and explosions and body hits and broken glass.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Outtakes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended Scenes
  • Alternate Scenes
  • “The Hitman’s Bodyguard: A Love Story” Featurette
  • “Hitman vs. Bodyguard” Featurette
  • “Dangerous Women” Featurette
  • “Big Action in a Big World” Featurette
  • Director’s Commentary


Distributor: WellGo USA

Honed from childhood into a merciless killing machine by a criminal organization, assassin Sook-hee is recruited as a sleeper agent with the promise of freedom after ten years of service – and she jumps at the chance for a normal life. But soon enough, secrets from her past destroy everything she’s worked for, and now nobody can stand in her way as she embarks on a roaring rampage of revenge. Directed by JUNG Byung-gil (Confession of Murder), THE VILLAINESS stars KIM Ok-bin (Thirst, The Front Line), SHIN Ha-kyun (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) and BANG Sung-jun (Horror Stories 2, Pluto).

I’m going to skip my usual pondering opening and just get right to the point: The Villainess is one of the best action films of the year, if not the best. Opening and closing with breathtaking, incredibly staged, and ridiculously violent fight scenes (again presented in unbroken takes), the choreography alone should have people praising The Villainess for its daringness and ingenuity. But luckily The Villainess is also able to coast on an engaging and unique story about a cagey and underground sleeper cell of trained female assassins, along with a gently executed love story.

As the titular heroine, Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee is sheer bad-assness, but is never without the ability to show off her humanity and the pain she’s carried with her all her life. Her softest moments easily match her most chaotic and bloody ones, and the relationship she has with her young daughter is effortlessly touching and real.

The direction by Jung Byung-gil is astounding. Again, he commits to film some of the best action choreography you’ll ever seen, occasionally falling back on the Hardcore Henry/first-person POV during the more insane sequences. But away from this sequences, his directing is calm and gentle and very specifically still — not only does this match Sook-hee’s docile manner during her time at the facility, but it also heightens the sheer breadth of the bigger action scenes once they kick in.

Though it runs just a touch too long, the plot becomes a little convoluted and difficult to follow, and a handful of moments relying on CGI (mostly during the finale bus chase) aren’t convincing, The Villainess easily overcomes this and results in the most impressive and human action film you’ll see all year.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Excellent on both counts. Beyond the opening massacre, shot with what looks like a fishbowl lens, the film really opens up as the camera calms down and becomes still. There’s a noticeable intent on world building and showing off the domesticated prison where Sook-hee lives and trains. Colors are very attractive in this high-def image, and clarity is very good. Like the direction and camera work, the musical score dances between gentile and chaotic. All in all, this is a very impressive presentation on both counts.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Making-Of Featurette
    • The Action Choreography
    • The Characters


Also Available This Week:

 

Distributor: American Genre Film Archive

Considered to be the first X-rated parody, Bat Pussy is as lurid and tasteless as its title implies. Put another way: It’s mess-terpiece of your wildest dreams… And also your most horrifying nightmares. The citizens of Gothum City are under attack by smut filmmakers and only one hero can help! Bat Pussy (Dora Dildo) hangs out in her secret headquarters (aka an outhouse). When her “twat begins to twitch,” warning her of imminent crime, Bat Pussy hops on her Holy Hippity-Hop to foil the grotesque sex schemes of un-happily married couple Buddy and Sam! The unidentified lunatic filmmakers of Bat Pussy have never been located, providing further proof that this movie was most likely made by extraterrestrials.

Special Features:

  • BRAND NEW 2K RESTORATION from the only surviving 16mm theatrical print
  • Commentary track with Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci and Tim Lewis, and the AGFA team
  • Crime-smut trailers and shorts from the Something Weird vault
  • Liner notes by Mike McCarthy, the savior of BAT PUSSY, and Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci
  • Bonus movie: ROBOT LOVE SLAVES (1971), a new 2K scan from an original theatrical print
  • Reversible cover art with illustration by Johnny Ryan (PRISON PIT)

 Distributor: Shout! Factory

Take flight with “Porco Rosso,” a valiant World War I flying ace! From tropical Adriatic settings to dazzling aerial maneuvers, this action-adventure from world-renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki is full of humor, courage and chivalry. When “Porco”, (whose face has been transformed into that of a pig by a mysterious spell) infuriates a band of sky pirates with his aerial heroics, the pirates hire Curtis, a rival pilot, to get rid of him. On the ground, the two pilots compete for the affections of the beautiful Gina. But it’s in the air where the true battles are waged. Will our hero be victorious?

Special Features:

  • Textless open and end credits
  • Feature-Length Storyboards
  • Original Theatrical Trailers
  • Interview with Toshio Suzuki
  • Behind the Microphone

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Discover The Secret World Of Arrietty, where imagination comes to life! The studio that brought you Ponyo and the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away once again delivers a heartwarming tale of friendship and courage in beautiful animation! In a secret world hidden beneath the floorboards, little people called Borrowers live quietly among us. But when tenacious and tiny Arrietty is discovered by Shawn, a human boy, their secret and forbidden friendship blossoms into an extraordinary adventure. Featuring the voices of Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie and comedic all-stars Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett, and based on the award-winning novel The Borrowers, The Secret World Of Arrietty will delight families of all sizes!

Special Features:

  • Feature-Length Storyboards
  • Original Theatrical Trailers
  • Interview with Hiromasa Yonebayashi
  • Interview with Hayao Miyazaki
  • Arrietty’s Song Music Video

Distributor: American Genre Film Archive

Written by legendary Hollywood outsider Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Plan 9 from Outer Space), The Villent Years is the story of Paula Parkins (Jean Moorehead), a good-girl-gone-bad who leads her degenerate teenage hellcats down a path of gas station hijackings, pajama party orgies, and cold-blooded murder! From Wood’s patently deranged dialogue to the scene where the gang performs a “man attack,” The Violent Years is an essential exposé on crime, gender politics, and sweater-stealing. Remember, “This is a story of violence!”

Special Features:

  • BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM from the original camera negative
  • Audio Commentary track with filmmaker Frank Henenlotter (BASKET CASE, FRANKENHOOKER) and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey
  • Gutter-noir trailers from the Something Weird vault
  • Memorabilia scrapbook
  • Bonus movie: ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961), a new 2K scan from an original theatrical print
  • Reversible cover art

NEW PODCAST LOOP

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Written by

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.