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Blu-ray Reviews for October 10, 2017

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 Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler team-up The House, underrated crime thriller City of Industry, the very very very belated found footage flick The Poughkeepsie Tapes, the hilariously stupid teen thriller Wish Upon, Christopher Guest’s directorial debut Waiting for GuffmanJack Sholder’s action/horror romp The Hidden, the brutal Irish monk thriller Pilgrimage, and the Dirty Harry clone Stone Cold Dead. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Warner Bros.

When Scott and Kate Johansen’s daughter gets into the college of her dreams it’s cause for celebration. That is, until Scott and Kate (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) learn that the scholarship they were counting on didn’t come through, and they’re now on the hook for tuition they can’t begin to afford.

The House is impressively unfunny. Its hidden talent at a talent show would be “wasting promise.” When your leads are Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler – two comedians who have contributed some of the greatest comedy across film and television over the last decade plus – and something like The House is the final result, something’s rotten in Denmark. You had fish in a barrel and an AK-47, but instead, you kicked the barrel into the sea and let the fish swim back to their fish holes (which is all well and good for the fish, but not for much else.)

Comedies often have ludicrous concepts, but that’s never stopped (nor helped) a comedy to achieve long-running recognition. Whether it’s starting a ghost-busting business (prime example: Ghostbusters 1984 vs. Ghostbusters 2016), a pair of blues-loving miscreant brothers causing havoc wherever they go (The Blues Brothers vs. Blues Brothers 2000) or having your egomaniacal brain surgeon fall in love with an actual, floating-in-a-jar brain (there can be only one Man with Two Brains), what matters is the comedy. Are those ghost busters and blues brothers funny? Is your brain surgeon funny? Are the circumstances which surround them funny? It’s not the premise so much as the care that goes into that premise.

Speaking of premises, The House already exists on a very thin one: husband and wife (and friend) open their own secret casino; hjinks ensue, conflict, plot twist, unlikely happy resolution; fin. In more capable hands, this premise could have been fleshed out to include more clever humor and even a satirical look at the ongoing struggles of the middle class. But when you’re ninety minute film is only funny after a drunken Ferrell pushes down a teen girl, well, we’ve just gone back in time 70 years to when The Three Stooges were already doing this. As you watch The House, you can see Ferrell and Poehler doing their very best to inject some life into the material, but most of it lands with a thud.

The House is also shockingly, unexpectedly violent, and normally the very unexpectedness of violence this graphic can work if it’s in juxtaposition with comedy that, up to that point, has been doing what it was supposed to be doing: being comedic. But, again, The House isn’t, so the gruesomeness feels more like a patch on a bad script than it does as a twist of surprise.

Here’s the part where the critic turns the title into a pun which can be used against the film: The House never wins.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The House only looks interesting once the makeshift (read: unrealistically impressive) casino comes to life. The usual amount of Vegas-inspired neon and glitziness comes to life and replicates well in high-def. Clarity is very good as well. Some of the visual effects’ shortcomings, however, don’t replicate well; the high-def too easily reveals the CGI. The audio isn’t too showy or impressive, but dialog sounds fine along with the to-be-expected ironic soundtrack selections.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • The House: Playing with a Loaded Deck.
  • If You Build The House They Will Come
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended/Alternate Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Line-O-Ramas

OVERALL:

Bet on “no.”


Distributor: Kino Lorber

Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs), Stephen Dorff (Blade) and Timothy Hutton (Q&A) turn up the heat in this edge-of-your-seat crime and revenge story that strips the mask off L.A.’s shrouded underworld and turns it inside out. In the business of armed robbery, Roy Egan (Keitel) is a master who’s ready to retire. However, when his brother Lee (Hutton) proposes one last job – a slam-dunk, three-million-dollar diamond heist with his two friends – Roy can’t resist coming out of retirement to cash in on a sure thing. But when one of the friends gets greedy and pulls a deadly double-cross, the stage is set for a pulse-pounding game of cat and mouse as Roy relentlessly tracks him down, hell-bent on revenge.

On the newly recorded audio commentary for this release, Steve Mitchell, director of the Larry Cohen documentary King Cohen, mentions that City of Industry had been heavily inspired by the works of directors who dabbled in the crime genre. Among the names mentioned was Quentin Tarantino (pre-Kill Bill, I’d assume), but even if you’d never listen to this commentary, it’s easy to see and feel City of Industry’s influences beyond Tarantino: there’s Michael Mann, famous for Heat, Manhunter, and Collateral, and his ease at capturing the real L.A. and then there’s William Friedkin of To Live and Die in L.A. and The French Connection, with his interest in loner, obsessively-driven characters.

Director John Irvin has always had a good eye for locations and environments. War film Hamburger Hill remains hyper-realistic and severely undervalued, and his Ghost Story is still one of the most atmospheric horror films to this day. Friedkin-like, Irvin makes L.A. a central part of City of Industry’s story. Forget the expected glitz and glamour that one might expect from the world’s most romanticized city: Irvin, instead, shoots his story in trailer parks, rundown motels, refinery lots, and lower-class neighborhoods with barred windows. And this is appropriate because City of Industry’s story isn’t glamorous. Even the glamorous diamond store where our robber characters strike isn’t glamorous. Their work is ugly; their relationships, too, are ugly. And the double- and triple-crossing that follows their heist is especially ugly. Like Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, the influence of which was felt above all others, City of Industry is about low- or middle-class crime. It’s organized, but it’s rough and unpredictable, and there is most definitely no honor among thieves.

Harvey Keitel is a joy to watch, even if the film’s construct is built entirely on visceral thrills rather than anything else. Keitel’s Roy Egan is at no point looking for emotional catharsis. He’s pissed, and that’s it, and he won’t stop until he gets his man. Keitel isn’t at Bad Lieutenant-caliber here, but again, City of Industry is more interested in being thrilling, entertaining pulp than plumbing the depths of anyone’s character.

PICTURE & SOUND:

For the most part, City of Industry looks great on Blu-ray. The picture is surprisingly stable, free of any noticeable trembling. Clarity isn’t on display a great deal of the time, with some skin surfaces lacking any great detail even on close-ups, but the look and feel of L.A. replicates very well. The audio impressed with how much oomph is crammed into a 2.0 Stereo presentation. Every gunshot and punch is solid and full, so much that it’s still just as shocking when it’s happening during the film’s finale. Just in terms of audio alone,, this is one of Kino’s finer releases.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio commentary by Steve Mitchell, producer-director of King Cohen, and film historian Nathaniel Thompson
  • Reversible Blu-ray Art
  • Trailer Gallery

OVERALL:

Part crime story, part modern western, City of Industry is one of the best kept crime secrets of the 1990s, and those yearning for the good ol’ days of Michael Mann and William Friedkin should definitely check out this solid Blu-ray release from Kino.


Distributor: Shout Factory

Throughout the 1990s, a serial killer terrorized upstate New York. After a decade-long crime spree conducted largely under the radar of law enforcement, the killer left behind the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives had even seen – hundreds of homemade videotapes that chronicled the stalking, abduction, murder and disposal of his victims. The Poughkeepsie Tapes examines these horrific tapes at length: what they reveal about the killer, why they were made and how FBI profilers have used them to better understand violent, psychopathic behavior. The Poughkeepsie Tapes combines interviews surrounding the devastating impact of the “Water Street Butcher,” with shocking footage from the tapes themselves.

You know how many found footage flicks are based on tapes or film cans being discovered and exhibited, reflecting footage that had been shot during an abstract past? There’s a tangible irony in that, being that’s not only the same deal for The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ concept, but because The Poughkeepsie Tapes is probably more famous for how long it sat on the shelf waiting to see release than anything else. The Poughkeepsie Tape was actually shot and completed alllll the way back in 2007 at the height of the found footage rebirth. Produced by MGM, who began going through a series of financial woes and lacked the means to properly market and exhibit their films during that period (which is how the MGM-produced Cabin in the Woods eventually ended up with Lionsgate), Shout! Factory has stepped up to acquire the distribution rights so that horror fans everywhere without the inclination to use a torrent program can finally see the long-mooted film for themselves.

So after ten-plus years, was the wait worth it?

Not…really.

Before you let the term “found footage” steer you toward a certain expectation, know that there aren’t any paranormal/supernatural/metaphysical aspects in The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Refreshingly, it’s a straightforward and (mostly) realistic look at a serial killer, his victims, and the law enforcement angle that surrounds the investigation. And again, “found footage” doesn’t just mean that The Poughkeepsie Tapes is 90 minutes of raw serial killer home movies, but instead features sit-down interviews with law enforcement officials, family and friends, and more — along with serial killer home movies. From a reality point of view, this is the ideal way to present this kind of story while still maintaining the ultimate suspense question: how is this going to happen? The problem is nearly half of the interviewees in The Poughkeepsie Tapes are clearly actors who are clearly focusing on trying to look natural and casual and end up giving a performance. For something billed as “reality,” it busts the illusion consistently throughout.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ content is disturbing at times, and during others, surprisingly violent. This is far less about tillation and more about disturbing viewers and making them uncomfortable. To its credit, The Poughkeepsie Tapes concocts some eerie images (the corpse being yanked out of the coffin via rope is especially eerie and it belongs in a far better film), but it also concocts some that are incredibly dopey. One interviewee preempts a coming sequence known as “the balloon footage” that one expects is going to be super disturbing, but instead shows a prostitute blowing up a large balloon, tying it off, and then bouncing on it. “LIke this?” she keeps asking the off-screen perpetrator, and the whole notion of it is just bizarre. If this is supposed to be funny…why? Because other than this, The Poughkeepsie Tapes doesn’t try to be. And if it’s not supposed to be funny, who on earth thought this was disturbing?

Ten years ago. That’s when The Poughkeepsie Tapes was completed and ready for release. A lot has changed in the horror genre since then, including the most important thing: found footage fatigue. But even if The Poughkeepsie Tapes had been released during a time when found footage was still considered a novelty, that still wouldn’t help its overall presentation — as an unconvincing, alternately silly and disturbing, but ultimately forgettable low budget horror flick that happens to feature the logo of a major film studio.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a hodge podge of multiple kinds of footage, which affects their video and audio quality. I’ll keep this brief: the overall presentation is about what you’d expect, although the jarring “static” sound used at the end of every raw footage cut is deeply irritating after a while.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW Interviews With Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle, Writer/Producer Drew Dowdle, And Actress Stacy Chbosky
  • Theatrical Trailer

OVERALL:

Very few films could be worth waiting ten years to see, and that very long delay has to be taken into account when determining its overall value. By now the more tenacious horror fans have already seen The Poughkeepsie Tape, whether it was on a torrent, Youtube, or a bootleg DVD-r from a horror convention. MGM’s financial woes may have been a good scapegoat for the company to avoid otherwise releasing an almost unmarketable and disturbing film to the masses. It’s finally arrived on a satisfactory Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, so now everyone else can make up their own minds.


Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

After her father (Ryan Phillippe) presents her with a mysterious music box, Clare Shannon (Joey King) is surprised to find her every wish coming true. Her joy slowly morphs into terror as she begins to realize the bloody price of each new wish.

Wish Upon feels like it should have seen release somewhere in the late ‘90s, where more fantastical teen thrillers like The Craft, The Faculty, and Disturbing Behavior were hitting theaters. There’s a certain novelty to it that, if nothing else, offers it its own identity in a crowded genre calendar. That Wish Upon also serves as the ultimate morality tale, heavily inspired by the immortal short story The Monkey’s Paw, too, helps it to stand off from the rest.

Otherwise, Wish Upon is woeful and inept to the point of accidental amusement, and you’ve got to hand it to the screenplay for being filled with such random bits that don’t really lead anywhere and offer any explanation. Joey King’s Clare is still haunted by the suicide of her mother a decade before, and with King consistently doing solid work in some popcorn favorites (The Conjuring, White House Down), the audience likes her because she’s a likable and spunky lead. She’s, rightfully, the foundation of Wish Upon, and her talents are a good start to a pic that otherwise goes amusingly off the track, and which introduces so many befuddling elements.

Like:

Why does Clare’s father (Ryan Phillippe) trash-pick professionally instead of just getting a job? Why does his passion for the saxophone never amount to anything? Why doesn’t their next door neighbor (an utterly wasted Sherilyn Fenn) seem to mind at all that she lives directly across the street from a family who has let their lawn grow over with weeds and is covered sky high in piles of trash?

Why is Jerry O’Connell in this for a ten-second cameo where he does nothing but scream?

What’s with the casual prejudice, like having the gay teen boy at a slumber party sleep on the floor half-in/half-out of the closet, or a scene in which Clare bribes a Chinese girl with “wontons”?

As Clare makes increasingly selfish and stupid wishes even after it’s established that they not only come true but KILL ANOTHER PERSON, are we supposed to be screaming “YOU MORON” at the screen?

Wish Upon entertains, there’s no doubt about that, and though it lacks the more interesting directorial flair that John R. Leonetti brought to Annabelle (even if he was borrowing from James Wan), the story at least keeps you engaged in a “how badly is Clare going to fuck up her life?” kind of way.

If nothing else, please watch this for the twist ending, which I imagine was supposed to be very shocking and very sad, but instead results in instant hilarity.

PICTURE & SOUND:

No complaints in the AV department, at least. The picture is mostly attractive, managing to create bright and interesting images in humdrum environments. Clarity is very good as well. As for audio, I hope you love a constant barrage of teen pop, because here it comes. Dialogue sounds fine and doesn’t get lost, however. The audio presentation overall is fine.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Unrated Version (91 min.)
  • Theatrical Version (90 min.)
  • “I Wish: The Cast Share What They Would Wish” – Featurette
  • “Attic Tour with Joey King” – Featurette
  • “Directing Darkness: John Leonetti and Cast Talk About Developing a Horror Film – Featurette
  • “Motion Comics: Lu Mei’s Curse and Arthur Sands Reveal The Stories Behind The Previous Owners Of The Box” – Featurette

OVERALL:

If you have a bratty teen son or daughter who needs a reality check, maybe you could make a case for ever finding a useful reason for Wish Upon. Or, if you were looking for unintentional amusement (or if you’ve always wanted to see Ryan Phillippe pretend to play the saxophone), you could do a lot worse. The Blu-ray release itself is solid in the AV and supplements sense, but for a film that’s pretty dire.


Distributor: Warner Bros. via Warner Archives

Blaine, Missouri, may be small, but Corky St. Clair always dreams big. Determined to get back to the lights of Broadway, he’s created Red, White and Blaine, a musical celebration of the burg’s 150th anniversary. This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show co-creator Christopher Guest plays Corky in this acclaimed comedy. Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard and Bob Balaban costar as stagestruck townfolk who pin their hopes of being discovered on Corky’s hilariously hapless theater production…and on reports that big-time talent scout Mort Guffman will be in the audience.

For a long time now, Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries (a term he doesn’t prefer) have been some of my favorite things. Ever since randomly stumbling upon his second mock effort, Best in Show, but not knowing what it was or that it was all a joke, I was transfixed by Harlan Pepper and his bloodhound, Hubert. Harlan was aloof, and the least bit dimwitted, but he was earnest with his words, and that earnestness made it seem real. And so I thought it was. But once familiar faces began showing up, I realized I’d been had. It was my first immersion in the comedic approach to the fake documentary and I fell instantly in love.

I worked my way backwards from that point, seeing Waiting for Guffman, and then taking a giant leap back to This is Spinal Tap, and while I found them to be entertaining and well made, Best in Show remained my favorite for years.

Having watched Waiting for Guffman again for this review of Warner Archive’s reissue of the film on Blu, there may be a new victor.

Waiting for Guffman sports all the usual faces that would appear in Guest’s later efforts as a director, including Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration (for which he ditched the documentary aspect and made a straight-up narrative), and they are all the absolute strength and highlight of his filmography. From the overstated Fred Willard to the understated Bob Balaban, everyone is approaching their characters in a different manner using their strengths as comedic performers. The adorable and perky Parker Posey is there as well as a Dairy Queen employee, and Catherine O’Hara, with her bizarre Beetlejuice hairdo, matches well with Willard’s somewhat overbearing personality. But really, the best performance belongs to Guest as Corky St. Clair, the flamboyant but mindful producer/director of their show-within-the-documentary, “Red, White, and Blaine.”

To parrot an earlier point, Guest has always shied away from the term “mockumentary” for his films because he never wanted to offer the illusion that he felt his subjects were being mocked. Whether it’s a small-town production, or a dog competition, or a folk music festival, he approached all his films with a reverence and respect that saw him looking for comedy in those environments rather than just making fun of them. And you can see that in Waiting for Guffman, which is scripted and presented as realistically as possible, but without leaving the comedy on the sidelines. And regarding his character’s sexuality, by now the gay stereotype for the flamboyant man with a high lispy voice, outrageous wardrobe, and passion for theater has reigned supreme, and the film playfully pokes at this in two ways — one that obviously goes for the laugh, but one that hints at something deeper. Characters opine about Corky’s wife, “Bonnie,” remarking that they’ve never met her but one day they hope to. Corky talks about how he does all the clothes shopping for her, which means that’s one less reason for her to be in public. And at the point where Corky ups and moves to New York, he never mentions “Bonnie” at all. You have to remember: Waiting for Guffman takes place in small, middle America, where “alternative” lifestyles wouldn’t be as easily accepted.. So is the ambiguity strictly for laughs, or does it suggest that maybe Corky feels the need to keep up this facade for fear of how he would be treated? Little details like this are what made Waiting for Guffman more than just clever farce — it really is a comment on life in small-town America.

Waiting for Guffman details realistic trials and tribulations that would also plague whomever was attempting to put on a town production in reality: lack of funds, lack of dependable people, a power struggle that might materialize between two people who might finally feel like they’ll exist in their own town. Guest even went as far as to shoot the film in 16mm, a commonly used format for documentaries, to preserve the realism of the medium. Take his approach and dedication, along with the wonderful cast, and the earnestness that appears throughout, and you’ve got a solid winner and the best film in Guest’s career as a director.

PICTURE & SOUND:

As previously mentioned, Guest shot Waiting for Guffman in 16mm, which was blown up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition. The film was remastered for this high-def release, and though it still maintains the softness and fuzz from a 16mm production, the picture actually looks very good, offering a reasonably amount of clarity and a stability. (Just make it past the opening scenes and the trembling goes away.) The audio remains comparable. The film is very dialogue heavy, and doesn’t feature any music except for when the performance sequences, but for what the film presents, everything sounds fine and without issue.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • New Remaster of the Film
  • Audio Commentary by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy
  • Additional Scenes with Optional Commentary
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles

OVERALL:

Waiting for Guffman is a fun, entertaining, and earnest film free of the cynicism and slightly more mean-spirited humor that would pop up in Best in Show. It doesn’t have quite a happy ending, as those hoping for stardom in the wake up their show’s release wake up to reality, but it offers a consistently amusing experience from beginning to end. Waiting for Guffman didn’t seem like a viable title for Warners to release on Blu-ray but I’m glad they did. It comes highly recommended.


Distributor: Warner Bros. via Warner Archives

Something hideous is changing law-abiding citizens into monstrous, hyperviolent psychopaths. Now, only Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Twin Peaks) and Michael Nouri (Flashdance) can halt the terrifying rampage of The Hidden! A series of bizarre, inexplicable robberies and murders have L.A. police detective Tom Beck (Nouri) totally baffled. And it doesn’t help when mysterious FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (MacLachlan) tells him that a demonic extraterrestrial creature is invading the bodies of innocent victims – and transforming them into inhuman killers with an unearthly fondness for heavy-metal music, red Ferraris and unspeakable violence!

Seldom do the action and horror genres come together, and when they do, more often than not it results in new entries in the unending Underworld series. Take away your lone anti-heroes clad in leather and cutting off vampire heads set to moody techno, and there’s not much left to pick through. And that’s what makes The Hidden such a rarity: in such a little visited genre-mash-up, it manages to be a thrilling example of what such a concept has to offer.

The Hidden feels familiar while you’re watching it, as it borrows plot points from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, but realizes them as something more akin to The Terminator.

Right from the get-go, The Hidden is out to showcase thrills, depicting a violent bank robbery sequence and an even more violent high-speed chase between the sports-car loving alien and a Blues Brothers amount of cops in pursuit. But like a vampire, as each body/host outlives its usefulness, it hops to the next (and into a new sports car — the film never explains why beyond “he likes Ferraris,” but that’s the kind of film The Hidden is). For much of The Hidden, director Jack Sholder (who also directed the underrated Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) relies more on visceral and icky sequences than anything resembling human emotion. Oddly, the alien race manages to show more emotion than their human counterparts — especially lead cop Tom Beck, as essayed by Michael Nouri, who manages to show two emotions throughout: mad, and not mad.

The Hidden is silly, and it knows it’s silly — especially when Claudia Christian shows up as a stripper blowing away guys (pun not intended) with a Rambo-inspired shotgun — but that’s all part of the fun. The film only gets heavy when Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI character starts slowly revealing pieces of his past. While The Hidden may have benefited from a bit more of this kind of humanity, as it stands, there’s nothing wrong with the way it’s presented either. The Hidden is a blast, and has long been a cult oddity, and like Warner’s other recent Archives reissue, didn’t seem like a title that would ever see the light of day. I’m glad it has.

PICTURE & SOUND:

The Hidden makes its high-def debut on Blu-ray and the result is very clean and surprisingly stable. Colors are pretty strong, though clarity isn’t. Surfaces tend to lack detail, unless Kyle MacLachlan’s face is the smoothest of all time. Audio is very good after a somewhat flat start. Dialogue is prominent, and the chaos sounds very dynamic once the carnage really kicks in. Overall, both video and audio are very good.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Commentary by Director Jack Sholder and Tim Hunter
  • Special Effects Production Footage Narrated by Jack Sholder
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (HD)

OVERALL:

If you like rough and violent flicks ala The Terminator, Robocop, and They Live, The Hidden might be the safest blind buy of your Blu-ray collecting life. This release from Warner Archives gets an easy recommendation.


Distributor: RLJ Entertainment

Leaving his Irish monastery for the first time, a young novice (Tom Holland, Spiderman: Homecoming) departs with a devoted group of monks and a mysterious former Crusader (Jon Bernthal, “The Punisher”) as they attempt to transport a holy relic to Rome. Threatened at every turn by savage tribes, traitorous Norman soldiers and those that seek the power they believe the relic holds, the young man finds surprising courage while faced with deadly challenges that will push his body, mind and spirit to the breaking point.

Your really clever movie fan will look at the synopsis for Pilgrimage and think, “the new Spider-Man and Punisher in the same movie!” and assume they’re in for a light, high-action, bad-ass experience.

Ha!

Instead, Pilgrimage is basically a religious-thriller, hyperviolent version of Indiana Jones, filled with graphic combat scenes and hard-hitting human conflict. And it’s quite good — far better than you might expect considering chances are low you’ve even heard of it until now.

What’s interesting about Pilgrimage is that it’s very similar in tone to Christopher Smith’s horror/thriller Black Death, which starred a pre-Game of Thrones Sean Bean and Carice van Houten, but isn’t a horror film at all. That’s not to say that horrific things and images aren’t a large part of Pilgrimage, because they are. But if you’re familiar with The Black Death, that’s the kind of unflinching, bleak, and discomforting experience you can expect.

Though he received more attention and praise for his role in James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, As Diarmuid, Tom Holland is excellent here, looking incredibly comfortable speaking Gaelic and keeping his performance restrained and fearful for a large part of the running time. Joining him is Jon Bernthal, whose unnamed laborer remains mute for the entirety, but manages to convey a spectacularly powerful performance despite that. The bond that forms between him and Diarmuid is a large part of what makes Pilgrimage successful, although it’s not entirely a success.

Pilgrimage’s biggest shortcoming is its pace, which is understandably deliberate at first until the action component starts to pick up as the men find themselves being systematically attacked and their relic targeted. Once this happens, one would expect the pace to quicken, or at least remain quickened, until the finale, but this was not the case, and is what lessens the impact of the finale when it finally does arrive.

Honestly, that’s Pilgrimage’s only issue; otherwise, its story is unique, the performances powerful, and the religious/mystical undertones are thankfully kept ambiguous, never coming down on one side regarding the relic’s supposed powers. It’s brutal at times, both graphically and philosophically, and it just may leave you emotionally drained by its end, but it’s a journey well worth taking.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Pilgrimage on Blu-ray looks and sounds phenomenal. The film is depressing to look at but gorgeously shot, hewing constantly on darker colors, from the men’s wardrobe to their usually bleak surroundings. The audio excels as well, making dialogue (subtitled or not) prominent. (The film relies on Gaelic and French language, but is mostly in English.) Musical score by Stephen McKeon sounds especially good.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Five behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Interviews with the cast and crew
  • Photo gallery
  • Poster gallery

OVERALL:

For audiences who enjoy going back in time to faraway lands, Pilgrimage is one of the stronger titles out there to consider — so long as you have a strong stomach. Its accompanying Blu-ray is excellent.


Distributor: Kino Lorber

Sergeant Detective Boyd (Richard Crenna, First Blood, Wait Until Dark) has been assigned to a case with no ordinary circumstances. He is taunted by a sniper who selects only prostitutes as victims, and baits police with photographs of the victims at the exact moments of their deaths. Along the faint trail through the city’s main streets, everybody is a suspect, from powerful dope dealer and pimp Julius Kurtz (Paul Williams, Phantom of the Paradise), to the attractive Monica Page (Linda Sorensen, Breaking Point), a spirited and classy hooker. Boyd enlists the help of a streetwise policewoman, Sandy McCauley (Belinda J. Montgomery, Blackout), who goes undercover as Boyd and McCauley slowly piece together the few elusive clues and await the sniper lurking in the dark corners of the city. Based on the best-selling novel The Sin Sniper by Hugh Garner (Waste No Tears), Stone Cold Dead marks the stellar writing and directing debut of George Mendeluk (The Kidnapping of the President). Alberta Watson (Spanking the Monkey, The Sweet Hereafter) co-stars in this unforgettable thriller with a shocking twist ending.

If Dirty Harry never existed, Stone Cold Dead wouldn’t either. It’s easy to get that sense while watching your grizzled loner detective (this time played by the Rambo series’ Richard Crenna) wax philosophic about choosing fish over people. With even a slight tweak, Stone Cold Dead could have easily been slid into the Dirty Harry series as an immediate sequel. Sure, it would have been heavily redundant of the Scorpio Killer’s sniping exploits in that landmark first film, but knowing The Dead Pool would eventually happen, hey, who would’ve cared?

In more capable hands and with a more focused script, Stone Cold Dead could have been a solid, mid-level thriller, but as it stands right now, it’s a handful of interesting concepts with interesting actors on board but which results in a bland and scattershot film whose too-clean ending suggests that all of Stone Cold Dead had been as similarly focused and tied together.

It wasn’t.

One familiar with Crenna’s glib masculinity would think he’d make for a good Harry Callahan clone, but in Stone Cold Dead he’s so focused on playing the lead loner that he’s forgotten to inject any kind of life into his character. The only time he shows any life at all is a second-act date which sees him ice skating (and if you’re picturing a widely smiling Richard Crenna doing laps around a pond, believe me, you’re already putting in more effort than he did).

Stone Cold Dead’s hooker-populated and drug-infested environment is easily New York-ish if you’re only paying a reasonable amount of attention, but it not only takes place in Canada but it was also shot there. This, at least, allows Stone Cold Dead to offer its own identity at least thematically if not aesthetically. (It still just looks like Skid Row, New York.) Other than that, Stone Cold Dead is D.O.A.

PICTURE & SOUND:

Stone Cold Dead looks fairly good in high-definition, but the insignificance of this title is evident in how it was cared for over the years. There’s quite a bit of shuddering over the opening moments, which eventually subsides (and, to be fair, is something that plagues a lot of catalogue releases shot on film). Clarity is reasonably good throughout, though Stone Cold Dead is kind of a bleak and unattractive film to look at in the first place. The audio presentation is pretty utilitarian, and some dialogue gets a little lost during scenes with a lot of audio activity (no English subtitles are available for this release, which ain’t helping. There’s no outright damage, however, and most of the dialogue is easily understandable.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Interview with director George Mendeluk
  • Audio commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Reversible Blu-ray Art
  • Trailer Gallery

OVERALL:

Dirty Harry didn’t birth the “gritty cop thriller,” but it certainly reinforced it as a sub-genre that many filmmakers and actors would go on to exploit (John Wayne in McQ; Charles Bronson in The Stone Killer). Even if you’re a completist for this wave of imitators, Stone Cold Dead still ranks somewhere at the bottom, but it’s not totally without merit. If nothing else, Crenna’s Detective Boyd has perfected a method for tele-feeding his fish that has to be seen to be believed. Fans of the sub-genre should check it out for themselves. Casual cans, however, should steer clear.


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: Arrow Video

In 1988, John Cleese, former Python and the mastermind behind Fawlty Towers, teamed up with the veteran Ealing Comedy director Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) to produce another classic of British comedy.

Cleese plays Archie Leach, a weak-willed barrister who finds himself embroiled with a quartet of ill-matched jewel thieves – two American con artists played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, Michael Palin’s animal-loving hitman and London gangster Tom Georgeson – when Georgeson is arrested. Only he and Palin know the whereabouts of the diamonds, prompting plenty of farce and in-fighting as well as some embarrassing nudity and the unfortunate demise of some innocent pooches…

Nominated for three Academy Awards and winning one for Kline’s outstanding supporting turn as the psychopathic Otto, A Fish Called Wanda has stood the test of time, earning its rightful place among its creators’ remarkable comedy pedigree.

Special Features: 

  • Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
  • Commentary by writer and star John Cleese
  • Brand-new appreciation by Vic Pratt of the BFI National Archive
  • Brand-new interviews with composer John Du Prez, production designer Roger Murray-Leach, executive producer Steve Abbott and makeup supervisor Paul Engelen
  • John Cleese’s Final Farewell Performance, a 1988 documentary on the making of A Fish Called Wanda featuring interviews with actors Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and director Charles Crichton
  • Something Fishy, a 15th anniversary retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Cleese, Curtis, Kline and Palin, executive producer Steve Abbott and director of photography Alan Hume
  • Fish You Were Here, a documentary on the film’s locations hosted by Robert Powell
  • 24 deleted/alternative scenes with introductions by Cleese
  • A Message from John Cleese, a tongue-in-cheek introduction recorded for the film’s original release
  • Gallery
  • Trivia track
  • Theatrical trailer
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Sophie Monks Kaufman

Distributor: Lionsgate

A team of highly trained operatives find themselves trapped inside an isolated military compound after its artificial intelligence is suddenly shut down. The crew begins to experience strange and horrific phenomena as they attempt to uncover what killed the previous team.

Special Features:

  • Inside the Minds of Armed Response – Featurette


Distributor: Shout! Factory

Two city street kids (Jon Cryer of Pretty in Pink and Daniel Roebuck of The Fugitive) along with their best friend, head west to look for the good life in California. On the way, the threesome come across a vicious biker gang leader (Lee Ving, Streets Of Fire) and a pistol-packin’ beauty (Catherine Mary Stewart, Night Of The Comet), who takes them from heaven to hell in the story of reckless youth and killer reality. Directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Penelope Spheeris (The Decline Of Western Civilization, Suburbia, Wayne’s World), Dudes also features the hottest Rock ‘n’ Roll soundtrack this side of the border.

Special Features:

  • NEW “Duckie Dude” –Jon Cryer Interviewed By Penelope Spheeris (31:40)
  • NEW “Suburbia Dude” – Flea Interviewed By Penelope Spheeris (26:03)
  • NEW “Dude Looks Like A Lady” – An Interview With Catherine Mary Stewart (13:00)
  • NEW “Mohawk Dude” – Daniel Roebuck Interviewed By Penelope Spheeris (25:14)
  • NEW “Writer And Producer Dudes” – An Interview With Writer J. Randall Jahnson And Producer Miguel Tejada-Flores (14:11)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Vintage Featurette: “Making of Dudes”
  • Still Gallery

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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.