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 early Van Damme effort Black Eagle; the excellent historical war drama/biopic Darkest Hour; the terrible and unauthorized remake Day of the Dead: Bloodline; a reissue of the Australian cult title Fair Game; Al Pacino’s lifeless serial killer thriller with Hangman; Twilight Time’s reissue of Woody Allen’s Husbands & Wives; and the weird Italian horror flick The Sect (aka The Devil’s Daughter). A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end, including Arrow Academy’s gigantic release of Jean-Luc Godard+Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films.
Distributor: MVD Entertainment
After an F-11 gets shot down over the Mediterranean Sea, The U.S. government cannot afford to lose the top-secret laser tracking device that was on board. But unfortunately, the KGB team lead by the infamous Andrei (Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Expendables 2, Universal Soldier) are beating the CIA in the race to find it. The CIA has no choice but to call in their best man, master martial-artist Ken Tani (Sho Kosugi, Ninja Assassin, Revenge of the Ninja), code name… BLACK EAGLE. In response, the KGB resorts to an all-out war, with powerful Andrei matching Ken blow for blow. From legendary action director Eric Karson (The Octagon), Black Eagle also stars Doran Clark (The Warriors), Bruce French (Jurassic Park III) and William Bassett (House of 1000 Corpses).
Perhaps I expect too much. Or, to be more specific, perhaps I expect a film to read my mind and give me what I want, whether that experience be genuine or ironic. And what I wanted from Black Eagle was what, on its surface, it seemed to offer: action movie silliness. Look no further than Black Eagle’s pedigree. First we have martial artist extraordinaire Sho Kosugi, who was the go-to guy in the ‘80s and ‘90s if you needed someone to play a ninja (good guy or bad), or if you just needed someone to karate the fuck out of movie screens. Playing opposite him was Jean-Claude Van Damme, in one of his earliest roles, as the villain. It was directed by Eric Karson, who had previously directed The Octagon, which, while not the most quickly-paced action flick, still featured a scene in which Chuck Norris broke the neck of the villain while covered in a fine sheen of cocaine. Lastly, and most important…Black Eagle was made in the ‘80s — the decade where every movie (and everything else, really) was more flamboyant, more exaggerated, and just the least bit…stupider.
Having said all that, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that I was left a little underwhelmed by Black Eagle’s end result. Sure, it features a shirtless Van Damme doing “the splits,” and it features Sho Kosugi doing what he does best — beating up dudes — but only small moments up this were wrapped up in an otherwise rote and uneventful spy thriller masquerading as a typical action flick. Black Eagle had tremendous potential: Van Damme and Kosugi threw down three separate times, Van Damme walked around shirtless more than he spoke words (I’m reasonably straight…until it comes to Van Damme), and Kosugi’s unintelligible dialogue was often amusing. Stuff like this makes Black Eagle come to life every so often, but otherwise it’s a slog that’s unfortunately more interested in espionage and intrigue — ya know, boring plot stuff — than man-on-man ‘80s violence.
Despite this, Black Eagle is a perfectly fitting new edition to MVD’s newish nostalgic video store label MVD Rewind, which continues its resurrection of rental staples in high-def debuts. (Van Damme’s Lionheart is coming soon from MVD Rewind, by the way.) I’ve personally seen lots of action/Van Damme fans share their excitement at this release and I’m glad for them, but for me, Black Eagle didn’t satisfy that urge I had for Van Dammage.
The disc offers two HD cuts of the film — the theatrical and an extended version. For once, it was the theatrical version that’s been more requested over the years, as it features a tighter edit. The special features on this release are pretty damn impressive as far as content. Obviously I beelined right for the featurette “Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme,” which is pretty much what you’d expect: the film’s many participants sharing their memories of him on set. Most of them agreed that he maintained a pretty egomaniacal presence on set, but that he was still perfectly nice and pleasant. And can I just say that I find it absolutely hysterical when participants also refer to Van Damme’s penchant for malleable posing as “the splits”? Because Van Damme has been using that odd and slightly incorrect phrase for years, and to hear other people, around whom he must have said it a hundred times, use the same wording is just the world’s best thing. Van Damme also did a lot of sunbathing between setups, apparently. I guess if I were Van Damme and had that Van Damme body, I would, too.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Includes 93 minute theatrical version + 104 minute uncut extended version of the film.
- Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend (HD, 21:26) (featuring new interviews with Sho Kosugi and Shane Kosugi and more)
- The Making of Black Eagle (HD, 35:50)(featuring new interviews with Director / Producer Eric Karson, Screenwriter Michael Gonzalez and stars Sho Kosugi, Doran Clark, Shane Kosugi and Dorota Puzio)
- Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme (HD, 19:20) (Brand new interviews with cast and crew tell stories about working with the legendary action star)
- The Script and the Screenwriters (HD, 27:14) (featuring Michael Gonzales, Eric Karson and more)
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Theatrical Trailer (SD)
- Collectible Poster
Distributor: Universal Studios / Focus Features
As Hitler’s forces storm across the European landscape and close in on the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is elected the new Prime Minister. With his party questioning his every move, and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) skeptical of his new political leader, it is up to Churchill to lead his nation and protect them from the most dangerous threat ever seen.
While watching Darkest Hour, one can’t help but notice the spiritual similarities to another political bio-pic from just a few years ago: Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. Both subjects have transcended just being historical figures in history books and have done out to become mythical characters. Both have been parodied in multiple forms (one as a supernatural slayer, another as a character in a first-person shooter — no shit), and both will forever remain the most widely recognized political leaders to have ever held their countries together in times of war.
Darkest Hour is beautifully shot — right off the bat, this is pretty evident. It might just be director Joe Wright’s most attractive film. (It could very well be his best in general.) The level of historically accurate detail in the production design is incredibly impressive; there are a handful of scenes in which Churchill observes everyday life on the streets through the window of a passing car, and while these scenes are present to remind him of the massive undertaking for which he is now fully responsible, they are also beautifully staged and highly indicative of the great pains the film is taking not just to look genuine but to feel genuine. (As an aside, I’ll mention that the events in Dunkirk, previously turned into a film by Christopher Nolan, figure heavily into the plot, though they never appear on screen. Darkest Hour and Dunkirk would make for a pretty appropriate double feature, and if you’ve got room for one more, throw in The King’s Speech.)
And of course, there’s Gary Oldman. His performance as Churchill has been much ballyhooed for what feels like the past year, and that’s for a reason. As he has in previous roles fully deserving of his capabilities, he’s again disappeared, chameleon like, into his role. Once again under heavy make-up, only the actor’s eyes remain as a reminder that he exists: the rest of him is gone. And like Daniel Day Lewis (another actor who disappears utterly into his roles), Oldman’s take on Churchill will seem familiar but also surprising in how it doesn’t jive with your own perception of Churchill that history has continued to whisper down the alley.
Like Lincoln, Darkest Hour isn’t a fully somber experience, in spite of the looming Nazi threat coming closer and closer to their shores (2018 reminder: Nazis are still bad). Further recognizing Churchill’s iconic status, Darkest Hour is smart to poke fun at his less well known and unbecoming attributes: his heavy drinking, his penchants for lethargy, his utter indifference to walking around in the buff. And that’s not to say that Darkest Hour is some kind of political satire or “dramedy,” but it’s more so that Wright recognizes the impossible task of making a biopic of such a towering figure completely straight faced. In the same way, again, that Lincoln, the tragic ending of whom everyone knows, took sidesteps and timeouts to engage in humor that let the air out every so often before it threatened to burst in a cloud of pomposity, Darkest Hour does the same. They’re not just moments of relief for the audience but reminders that they were real people — that Churchill, like People Magazine likes to remind us about all stars, was “just like us!”
Darkest Hour is one of the best films of the year, one of Wright’s overall best films as a director, and certainly one of Oldman’s best performance of a character. Most importantly, it happened. It’s real. And a film like this can remind audiences of a time where their political leaders had honor and the best interests of his people at heart, and it can also remind audiences of a time in which the people had faith in and support their political leaders — whether they wanted him or not.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Darkest Hour offers a flawless HD presentation, especially with its video. It’s beautifully shot, and beautifully replicates on home video. Surprisingly, the audio is equally immersive for a film that’s essentially a drama. Environmental ambience is a huge part of the overall experience, helping to envelop the audience along with the historical accuracies and engaging plot.
The press release describes the featurette “Into Darkest Hour” as ‘comprehensive,’ but I don’t know how comprehensive you can be in eight minutes. It does provide a decent overview of the production, including the attention to detail, which is one of the film’s biggest showpieces. The additional feature is rightfully dedicated to Gary Oldman’s transformation into Churchill. He amusingly recalls having laughed off the original offer to play the role because of the sheer impossibility of such a task. But then I guess he remembered he was Gary Oldman. Lucky for us.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Into Darkest Hour
- Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill
- Feature commentary with Director Joe Wright
Fear goes viral in this terrifying retelling of George A. Romero’s zombie horror classic. Five years after an epidemic nearly wiped out the world’s population, Dr. Zoe Parker lives in an underground bunker among a small group of military personnel and survivalists, working on a cure while fighting armies of the undead. When a dangerous patient from Zoe’s past infiltrates the bunker, he just might hold the key to saving humanity . . . or ending it.
Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve recently lost George A. Romero, the mastermind behind the holiest of zombie cinema and the godfather of a subgenre that has since been running rampant? And even before that happened, wasn’t it also bad enough that we had to witness the backsliding of the filmmaker first hand and suffer through the pedestrian schlock that was Diary of and Survival of the Dead? But every master eventually reaches that point where his better days are behind him — not a single one of them, not even Hitchcock, were as good at the end as they were at the beginning.
And during this two-decade period of Romero regression, his works were exploited in both remake and sequel form. 2004’s Dawn of the Dead managed a successful rebirth, but 2008’s Day of the Dead did not. The less said about the Romero-less Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (not a word) and Creepshow 3, the better. And the numerous remakes of Night of the Living Dead continue to flood the marketplace, which, outside of Tom Savini’s authorized remake (and written by Romero), have been as lifeless as you might imagine.
The presence of a “major” studio might give a Romero fan hope when they see a familiar title and concept coming down the pike. After all, the critically and financially successful Dawn of the Dead remake was released by Universal Studios. But none of the other titles mentioned above were released by anything approaching a studio. All of them were quiet direct-to-video releases — and for a reason: awfulness. So when Lionsgate announced the existence of Day of the Dead: Bloodline, neither a sequel or a remake but a “retelling,” there was momentary cause for optimism. Would it touch on the social commentary and political subtext as Romero’s films had previously? Probably not. After all, the Dawn redux didn’t — it was openly more interested in human drama and zombie carnage than anything else — so that didn’t necessarily negate this new Day of the Dead right off the bat.
Know what did, though? Every single thing else about it. This more than includes Johnathon Schaech’s ultra-evil zombie that looks waaaaay too much like Heath Ledger’s Joker.
If you’re in the mood to be in awe of how something baring a familiar title can be so unrelentingly stupid, then please, by all means, see Day of the Dead: Bloodline. It contains the cheapest looking sets, the worst acting, and the laziest storytelling you’ll ever see in a film that could still be considered a somewhat anticipated title, given the legacy to which it’s attempting to attach itself. It does absolutely nothing new, and with zero fucks given. It’s the worst episode of Fear the Walking Dead taken down five hundred million rungs. It’s one of the most pitiful movies I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from someone who has previously suffered through that other Day of the Dead remake, that other Day of the Dead sequel, and Romero’s own lackluster swan songs.
Run away as fast as the zombies run in Day of the Dead: Bloodline, or else the end result will be the same: you won’t survive, and it will be very very painful.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
Distributor: Umbrella Entertainment
A young woman running a wildlife sanctuary in the Australian outback is in for trouble when she is confronted by three kangaroo hunters. Bored with killing kangaroos, they decide to kill the animals in the sanctuary, and when they see how attractive the owner is, they decide to have a little “fun” with her, too. Turns out that they may get a bit more “fun” than they bargained for.
I’ve got a long-running inside joke with several of my fellow cinephile friends: when you’re watching something aloof, quirky, violent, and bordering on stupid, you turn to them and ask, “You know who probably loves this movie? Quentin Tarantino.”
The dorky, energetic, and pompous filmmaker, who is in hot water these days for — surprise surprise — actually being kind of a megalomaniac, has a fondness for the B-team faction of filmdom. If it’s got ninjas, or bad-ass chicks, or dubbed Italians masquerading as American cowboys, then he’s all over it. But the list is ongoing. So long as the film is low budget, somewhat schlocky, and features at least one member of the cast (usually an antagonist) whom you want to punch directly in the face, then chances are Quentin Tarantino loves it.
Say, you know who probably loves Fair Game?
Fair Game plays out as Australia’s answer to something like I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left, with far less of the squeamish and disturbing violence but with all of the unpleasantness. Though our lead heroine never suffers an actual rape, that she’s stripped naked at one point and tied to the hood of the assailants’ truck and driven madly through the dry sandy barren landscapes of Australian wilds more than counts as sexual violation. Fair Game lacks in Last House-ness hostility and vileness, yes, but fills the void with other Australian influences — Mad Max’s vehicular carnage and the dreaminess and despair of Russell Mulcahy’s underrated Jaws ripoff Razorback.
Cassandra Delaney as Jessica, the terrorized co-owner of a wildlife sanctuary, plays one hell of a character: she’s strong from the start and remains so throughout, never backing down from the trio of increasingly sadistic men, even when you cringe because you just know that smart mouth of hers is going to get her into trouble. Films like these are built on the back of a strong female character who refuses to be the victim, and Fair Game is no different. What begins as cat-and-mouse harassment between the three men and her builds into something more dangerous and violent and eventually deadly.
To be honest, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about Fair Game. It definitely has its pitfalls, including some irritating villains and one of the worst musical scores I’ve ever heard, but its confident pacing and the bravery essayed by Delaney really give it an unexpected power and effectiveness. It certainly plays out more like a thriller than outright horror and mostly keeps its violence in check, so gorehounds and horror heads might not be satisfied.
Its Blu-ray release is strong, especially in the video department. The transfer is stable and attractive, and nearly blemish free. Fair Game offers an interesting color scheme, showing off Australia as both beautiful as well as stark and barren. Audio is utilitarian but without issue.
If you’re a van of the revenge thriller, Fair Game is worth at least a single viewing. And who knows? You might love it.
Tarantino probably does.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Audio Commentary With Director Mario Andreacchio and Writer Rob George
- Extended Interview With Cassandra Delaney From Not Quite Hollywood
- On Location With Fair Game
- Behind The Scenes – 1985 Tv Report From Nws9, Action News
- Behind The Scenes – 1985 Tv Report From Ads-7, State Affair
- Behind The Scenes With Dean Bennett
- Theatrical Trailer
- Image Gallery
- Mario Andreacchio Short Films
- Vandalism (1981) 14mins
- Break-in (1983) 13mins
- Taken By Storm (1984) 25mins
- Abduction…who’s Next? (1984) 15mins
- Under Pressure (1986) 15mins
Decorated homicide detective Ray Archer (Al Pacino) partners with criminal profiler Will Ruiney (Karl Urban) to catch one of the city’s notoriously vicious serial killers, who is playing a twisted version of the child’s game hangman, while journalist Christi Davies (Brittany Snow) reports on the crime spree, shadowing the detectives.
From the opening moments, you can just feel that Hangman is going to be bad. Before you catch a single lousy performance, or a sampling of overwrought directing, the sense of mediocrity to come is innately palpable. You could call this snap reaction either snobbish elitism, preconceived notion, or uncanny intuition. I don’t care — whatever. Regardless, it’s not going to turn Hangman into anything other than the tired, silly, and twenty-years-late ripoff of Se7en that it’s obviously vying to be.
Not a single name in the cast gives you that hope of, “Hey, this could be good!” Karl Urban’s name is not synonymous with quality. Nor is that of Brittany Snow, who Prom-Night-remaked
herself into the mainstream before ending up in almost exclusively quiet VOD releases (unless it’s a Pitch Perfect sequel) because she’s simply not a strong performer. And then, of course, there’s Al Pacino. Ironically, he and his counterpart, Robert De Niro, have been considered kindred spirits throughout their entire time in Hollywood: the actors (both of whom appeared in The Godfather II) became linked not just because of their cultural lineage and tough mafia guy personas, but because of their brooding intensities and dedications to their craft. (That Heat came along later and brought them together yet again, resulting in simply one of the all time greats, solidified this bond between them.) But, like De Niro, Pacino has been rubber stamping everything that’s come his way. Hangman is no exception. And it’s really odd to see Pacino slumming it in Hangman because it offers zero intrigue or uniqueness; there’s no obvious draw for him, and offers him absolutely nothing new. Was it the chance to play a cop, even though he’s already played a cop seven times already? The chance to play a homicide detective who regrets his past choices while hunting a serial killer? He did that in Insomnia. Another homicide detective chasing down a gimmicky serial killer? He did that too, in 88 Minutes. So why return to this well? The chance to, what, work with the venerable Karl Urban — the guy from RED? Or maybe he just wanted to vacation in beautiful Atlanta. No, wait — I’ve got it: it was the chance for Pacino to try on a southern accent that doesn’t sound at all convincing. And speaking of unconvincing, Pacino is flatout bad here. Obviously, he’s made bad films in the past — name me one actor who hasn’t — but even in any of those bad films you can conjure, at least Pacino was good in them. In Hangman, he’s bad. It’s like he knew right off the bat that Hangman was doomed — in the hands of a workman director eager to show off every film school trick, and being released by a studio who needed to fill their February slot in the Redbox at the local ACME — so why bother putting in a good performance?
Hangman is every bit cop movie that you’ve come to expect. And if you’re hoping that it has that scene where a homicide detective shows up to a crime scene and asks the coroner examining the body, “Whaddya got?,” well, you’re in luck. Everything about Hangman is dull, and generic, and simply uninteresting. The only thing it tries to do that’s the least bit different is add a journalist into the mix who basically rides along with our detectives from crime scene to crime scene to obtain research and insights for an article she wants to write. And that I’ll totally buy. What I won’t buy is that this journalist follows the detectives directly into danger — into houses where suspects are hiding, where blood was spilled and where her ignorance could very well contaminate evidence, and where she actually puts herself in harm’s way to help catch a suspect. There’s nothing believable about this — and if this does actually go on in the real world of law enforcement, we have major problems.
The film only momentarily comes to life when the killer is prominently introduced in the last act (and to give Hangman credit, it at least takes another page out of Se7en and introduces a new character instead of hamfistedly and impossibly revealing the killer had been a main member of the cast). The killer, as played by the underrated Joe Anderson (The Grey), has awful motivations and his link to one of the main characters is hazy and unconvincing, but Anderson still manages to shine through all that and bring to the table something resembling an actual performance — which is more than can be said for anyone else in this garbage.
Potential viewers, you’ve seen Hangman a hundred times already — all of them, even the worst of them, much better than this. In fact:
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I T B L O W S
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- “Al Pacino: Insight from a Hollywood Legend” Featurette
- “Hangman: In Their Own Words” Featurette
Distributor: Twilight Time (limited to 3,000 units)
Writer-director-actor Woody Allen’s excoriating Husbands and Wives (1992) is a black comedy focusing on two couples, both, in their varying styles, coming apart. Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis) initially appear mature and amenable about their split, “initially” being the key word; Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow) react with horror to their friends’ break-up, but are soon on their own path to dissolution. Shot by Carlo di Palma in a quasi-documentary style, and also featuring Juliette Lewis, Liam Neeson, and Lysette Anthony.
Let’s address the elephant: given its plot, I can’t launch into a review of Husbands & Wives without acknowledging the renewed claims against Woody Allen by Mia Farrow and their biological daughter, Dylan. These claims have existed for a while now, and began recirculating even before the recent #MeToo movement, due in no small part to Allen’s biological son, Ronan Farrow, a freelance journalist who also blew the lid off the Harvey Weinstein saga. The allegations of incestuous sexual assault Allen allegedly committed against his then-preteen daughter were disturbing, especially when levied against the belovedly quirky man who’d spent the previous thirty years making people laugh and winning major awards.
It’s a very difficult time to be a film fan and trying to determine in what way we should react in situations like these, in an effort to show support for the victims of abuse, as the claims pertain to our favorite directors, writers, and actors. I, personally, have become the most disillusioned by the claims against Kevin Spacey, as he’s frankly made too many of my favorite films. I’m appalled by his behavior, and embarrassed and angered by his attempt to subdue their becoming public with a “P.S., I’m gay” tweet, but I also can’t promise I’m never going to watch L.A. Confidential or Se7en or The Usual Suspects ever again. In fact, throw Glengarry Glen Ross and A Time to Kill on that pile. And is that wrong? Should I not show that kind of support, even if that support never extends beyond my living room or idle conversation with fellow cinephiles?
Moviemaking, after all, is a common effort. No one person makes a movie (and if they do, chances are it’s terrible). Hundreds of people, even thousands, make just one film. Should their efforts be redacted due to the bad behavior of one individual? Should we risk offending even more individuals by sweeping this film or that film under the rug as if to say their contribution isn’t comparable to that of XYZ’s? Weinstein is the biggest bastard of them all — someone severely psychologically sadistic and who may very well need help beyond a team of Hollywood attorneys. I’ll offer major props to anyone who successfully cleanses their lives of every film produced by Harvey Weinstein, as they are numerous, with many achieving iconic status: The Lord of the Rings trilogy; nearly every film by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez; the Scream series; the Halloween series; Gangs of New York. Are you really ready to say goodbye?
There are eerie parallels in Husbands & Wives that make it such a hairy title to properly and fairly critique. It is, after all, about the dissolution of a relationship between Allen and Farrow as they examine the failing and subsequently rejuvenating relationships of the friends around them…all while Allen becomes smitten with one of his too-young students (Juliette Lewis). That Husbands & Wives additionally eschews Allen’s more quirky humor in favor of a stone-serious tone makes it seem especially prescient. — a quasi spiritual confession, if we wanted to get really analytical. Having revisited the full breadth of the allegations against Allen, Husbands & Wives is almost prophetic, and as such, it makes the experience of watching it occasionally uncomfortable.
Sidestepping the controversy for a moment, Husbands & Wives is a solid addition to Allen’s prolific body of work, and its insistence on finally examining the crumbling of the human relationship with the tragedy that often derives from it was a braver choice for a filmmaker known for nervously mumbling punchlines and avoiding confrontation for comedic effect. I’m personally not sure the occasional break from narrative to frame the film as a documentary being produced about the human relationship was needed, and sometimes serves as a distraction — especially the first time the narrative halts to introduce this concept — but thankfully it only proves to be an occasional distraction rather than something that derails the experience. I get that Allen wanted the themes of Husbands & Wives to be as realistic as possible, so what better way to embrace this than by the use of cinéma vérité, but even back during the era when this was a little used technique, it still seems a bit too on the nose to feel fluid.
Actor/director Sydney Pollack is the best character and presence in the film, playing one-half of a defunct marriage opposite Judy Davis. One could blame Allen for unfairly tipping the scales in Pollack’s favor, as even though his post-marriage “shortcoming” sees him dating his young yoga instructor, Davis is presented as a shrew who finds ways to passive-aggressively complain about almost everything. Because of this, the dynamic threatens to fall back on that old criticism of both the man and woman acting poorly, but the man doing so in an affable manner as if he’s skirting responsibility, while the woman is left to bear the brunt of the reason behind the breakup in the first place. Sure, in real life, the dissolution of a relationship is usually more one person’s fault than the other’s — incompatibility is rarely split 50/50 — but Allen’s main takeaway message seems to be that people are complicated and very flawed, and it makes this particular break-up less complicated because it can be more likely summed up as, “oh, it’s her fault.” The idea of presenting only one person as more complicated than the other feels like a cheat and sacrifices the power of duality often embodied in storytelling by two people bound to each other in some thematic way.
Husbands & Wives is a sobering film from the usually zanier and idiosyncratic Woody Allen, and even outside of his ongoing controversy, it still presents as a bleak and depressing look at human coexistence. Except for the laughs derived from Davis’ constant bellyaching, there’s not much lightheartedness to be found, and the implications it leaves behind aren’t what most fans of the writer/director may be expecting. Still, it’s undeniably compelling, even when it’s disconcerting to watch. Of course, it’s up to you if you’d want to watch it at all.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Isolated Music & Effects Track
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Distributor: Scorpion Releasing via Music Box Films
There’s fear around every corner with a diabolical sect on the loose! Kelly Lee Curtis (sister of Jamie Lee) stars as Miriam, an American schoolteacher relocated to Germany in an area plagued by a satanic cult that murders and tears out the hearts of anyone who betrays it. One afternoon Miriam accidentally hits an elderly pedestrian, Moebius (Herbert Lom, The Pink Panther, The Dead Zone), standing in the middle of the road; alarmed, she takes him back to her house to recuperate, only for him to secretly drug her and then secrete a hallucinogenic insect in her nostril. Clearly targeting Miriam for a sinister plan, Moebius triggers an uncanny string of events in Miriam’s life involving nightmares, a diabolical cult leader, Damon (The Church’s Tomas Arana), her magic pet rabbit, and a dark well filled with mystical water.
There’s no bad movie like a bad Italian movie (♪ like no bad movie I know ♪). Michele Soavi is proof of this, because he directed one of the all-time greats with StageFright (Deliria), a sort of slasher/sort of giallo/all of a movie where the killer wore a giant owl mask and used a chainsaw. It’s glorious and stupid and one I revisit often. Right around the same time that killer owl was cutting up stage actors, another Italian director named Lamberto Bava was directing a similarly chaotic movie called Demons (Dèmoni) — the gold standard when it comes to terribly amusing Italian horror. And this movie, about a theater audience whose exhibiting horror film about demons inadvertently raises real demons that begin possessing and/or tearing apart cinemagoers, would naturally spawn a “series.” Demons 2 highlights the same level of disaster, this time in a high-rise apartment building, but somehow without the same level of enjoyment. Officially, the Demons series would be done, but unofficially, further sequels would be made. (Italians could make fake sequels like no one else.) Among them would be The Church (aka Demons 3, coming next month from Scorpion Releasing/Music Box Films), and The Sect (aka The Devil’s Daughter…aka Demons 4). Now, except for the basic concept of demonism, neither film has anything to do with the Demons series (boo!), but when it comes to the histrionics of poor Italian horror filmmaking, they are all kindred spirits (yay!). (And in case you were desperate to know, there are TWO MORE unofficial Demons 3’s: Bava’s own unrelated television effort, The Ogre, released on video as Demons 3: The Ogre, and Umberto Lenzi’s Black Demons, which is exactly what you think it is, and which I need in my life ASAP.)
Unfortunately, there’s “bad movie! :)” and then there’s just a bad movie, and The Sect is the latter. Unlike Soavi’s early effort, StageFright, which was full-on nuts and only out to spill some blood and dazzle the audience with its preponderance of mystifying setpieces, The Sect is out to proffer a more “mature” experience, with an emphasis on mystique peppered with psychedelic hallucinations and dream sequences. And one might argue, “What’s wrong with maturity?” Well, I’ll tell you: sometimes it’s boring. Really boring. And that’s what The Sect is: really boring. I know there are an alarming amount of Italian horror fans out there who would tear me asunder for even suggesting such a thing, but, as they say, if it walks like a duck that’s boring and talks like a duck that’s boring, that’s one boring fucking duck. Speaking of ducks, and in spite of The Sect’s insistence on maturity, it still boasts a few moments of pure absurdism which with Italian horror can be riddled — to throw out just a couple, there’s the heroine’s nightmare where she’s pecked apart by the fakest looking bird you have ever seen, or the scene where a pet bunny rabbit goes channel surfing with a remote control.
What is this? Why is this? What’s happening?
Kelly Curtis, sister of Jamie Lee Curtis you’re just now finding out not only exists but actually acted in the ‘80s and ‘90s (she even had role in Trading Places), proves in The Sect that she shouldn’t be acting. Of course, I won’t profess to be an authority on this second Curtis and maybe she’s decent in her own right. Perhaps it was the curse of the Italian horror film, as American actors in Italian productions often offer shaky performances. But based on The Sect…yeesh.
Really, The Sect as a whole…yeesh.
PICTURE & SOUND:
There was a weirdly high demand for this title (and The Church, coming soon) in HD, and for better or worse, it’s here. Scorpion Releasing did a long restoration on this title, and though it didn’t deserve it, The Sect looks very good. There’s almost no print damage to speak of, and the transfer is stable and free of blemishes. I can’t imagine ever wanting to have to sit through this thing again, but for those that are eager to add this to their home libraries, they should be very happy with its presentation.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Interview with Actor Tomas Arana
Also Available This Week:
Distributor: Arrow Video
After finishing his film Weekend in 1967, Jean-Luc Godard shifted gears to embark on engaging more directly with the radical political movements of the era, and thus create a new kind of film, or, as he eventually put it: “new ideas distributed in a new way.” This new method in part involved collaborating with the precocious young critic and journalist, Jean-Pierre Gorin. Both as a two-person unit, and as part of the loose collective known as the Groupe Dziga Vertov (named after the early 20th-century Russian filmmaker and theoretician), Godard and Gorin would realize “some political possibilities for the practice of cinema” and craft new frameworks for investigating the relationships between image and sound, spectator and subject, cinema and society.
Included here are five films, all originally shot in 16mm celluloid, that serve as examples of Godard and Gorin’s revolutionary project:
- Un film comme les autres [A Film Like Any Other]: An analysis of the social upheaval of May 1968 made in the immediate wake of the workers’ and students’ protests. The picture consists of two parts, each with with identical image tracks, and differing narration.
- British Sounds, aka: See You at Mao: An examination of the daily routine at a British auto factory assembly line, set against class-conflict and The Communist Manifesto.
- Vent d’est [Wind from the East]: A loosely conceived leftist-western that moves through a series of practical and analytical passages (“an organization of shots,” Godard called it) into a finale based around the process of manufacturing homemade weapons.
- Lotte in Italia / Luttes en Italie [Struggles in Italy]: Not necessarily a film about the struggles in Italy — largely shot, in fact, in Godard and Anne Wiazemsky’s home at the time — this is a discursive reflection on a young Italian woman’s shift from political “theory” to political “practice” and, at the same time, a self-questioning of its own practice and theories.
- Vladimir et Rosa [Vladimir and Rosa]: A searing and satirical comic-reportage on the trial of the Chicago Eight, featuring Juliet Berto and Godard and Gorin themselves.
These films, long out-of-circulation except in film dupes and bootleg video, here make their Blu-ray debut, providing a crucial glimpse of Godard’s radicalization, and of the aesthetic dialogue between him and Gorin that, in essence, served to invent a modern militant cinema. As Godard told an English journalist of the era, film is not a gun — but “a light which helps you check your gun.”
- Limited Dual Format Collection [1500 Copies]
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentation of all films
- Original uncompressed monaural audio
- Optional English subtitles
- A Conversation with JLG – Interview with Jean-Luc Godard from 2010 by Dominique Maillet and Pierre-Henri Gibert
- Michael Witt on Godard, Gorin and the Dziga Vertov Group – Professor Witt, author of Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian, takes an in-depth look at the films and filmmakers of this collection
- “Schick After-Shave” – a 1971 commercial by Godard
- Newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
- A 60-page full-colour booklet featuring a revised version of a lengthy essay by Michael Witt never before published in English; vintage texts by Godard appearing in English for the first time; archival interviews with Godard and Gorin; and a copious selection of stills from the films.
Distributor: MVD Visual
“John Oldman”, the immortal 14,000 year-old “Man from Earth” is now comfortably hiding in plain sight as a college professor in Northern California. His existence comes crashing down when four students discover his deepest secret, putting his life in grave danger and potentially shaking mankind to its very soul.
From director Richard Schenkman (Mischief Night), the sequel to the smash cult hit Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth stars David Lee Smith (Fight Club, CSI: Miami) and William Katt (Carrie, The Greatest American Hero) reprising their roles from the original film along with award winning actress and international recording star Vanessa Williams (Eraser, Ugly Betty), Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ted 2), Sterling Knight (17 Again, Sonny With a Chance), Akemi Look (A Wrinkle in Time), Brittany Curran (The Magicians, 13 Going on 30) and Carlos Knight (Supah Ninjas).
- Audio Commentary with Writer / Director Richard Schenkman and Producer Eric D. Wilkinson
- Behind the Scenes Documentary featuring cast and crew (39:17)
- Behind the Original Score Featurette (18:05)
- Dances With Films World Premiere: Red Carpet interview with Writer / Director Richard Schenkman (11:15)
- Dances With Films World Premiere: Cast & Crew Q&A (16:05)
- Deleted/Extended Scenes (with optional director commentary)
- Matt Douglas “Primal Kickboxing” Instructional Video
- Original Theatrical Posters / Character Posters Gallery
- Original Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer
English, French, German, Dutch, Swedish and Spanish subtitles
Distributor: Arrow Video
US television staple Robert Lansing (Star Trek, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone) stars as a deranged surgeon in this twisty-turny psychological thriller from Blood Rage director John Grissmer.
In Scalpel, Lansing plays Dr. Phillip Reynolds, a man whose daughter Heather (Judith Chapman, As the World Turns, General Hospital) has run away from home a year prior following the suspicious death of her boyfriend. When he happens across a young woman one night, her face beaten beyond recognition, the unhinged Reynolds sees his an opportunity to put his trusty scalpel to use – hatching a plan to “reconstruct” her face in the image of his missing daughter, and so claim her sizeable inheritance.
Photographed by celebrated cinematographer Edward Lachman, who would go on to serve as DP on the likes of Erin Brockovich and The Virgin Suicides, Scalpel is an exemplary slice of Southern-fried gothic, filled finally rescued from VHS obscurity in this revelatory new Blu-ray edition from Arrow Video.
- Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original Uncompressed Mono Audio Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Brand new audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
- Brand new crew interviews
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Bill Ackerman