Welcome back yet again for another edition detailing Blu-ray and DVD highlights coming your way. It’s a remarkably busy week, jam packed with features both new and old. Be sure to click on any links you see to read detailed reviews. So if you can’t make it out to the movies this week, be sure to give one of these titles a try!
Big New Releases!
Assassin’s Creed – Once again, a hugely popular video game is translated to the big screen. This adaptation involves a man who is taken by a mysterious corporate entity with ties to the Templar Knights. He’s placed into a machine that can help him travel into an ancestor’s memories, where he is instructed to find information leading to a genetic code. Unfortunately, reviews were poor for this action picture. Many complained that despite the excellent cast and impressive visuals, the story was a jumbled mess with little in it to engage viewers. It stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael Kenneth Williams. To read more about the history of video-game-to-film-adaptations, click here.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe – This independent horror film is about a father and son team of coroners who get an unusual arrival at the morgue – a perfectly preserved body whom they are informed is the victim of a brutal and violent murder. As they begin an autopsy to identify her and get to the bottom of what happened, eerie questions are raised that put the team in mortal peril. Critics gave this feature (from Trollhunter director Andre Ovredal) high marks. They stated that it effectively created a sense of dread from the very beginning and built the tension to a fever pitch by the climax. It features Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton and Olwen Catherine Kelly.
Bakery in Brooklyn – After their aunt passes away, two cousins find themselves inheriting a French bakery on the brink of foreclosure. Tension rises when the two women discover that they have very different ideas as to how to run the business. One wants to keep things traditional, while the other fights to put a modern spin on their products. This small comedy didn’t overwhelm the press, who were split on the feature, with a few more giving it negative notices. Some found it sweet enough to earn a pass, but most commented that it was bland and forgettable fluff, reminiscent of a TV-movie of the week. The cast includes Aimee Teegarden, Krysta Rodriguez and Griffin Newman.
Evolution – Set in a strange alternate reality, a boy lives in a seaside village exclusively populated with women and children. He receives a shock when after going for a swim and discovering a body floating in the water. When his guardian dismisses the finding, the youngster develops suspicions that all is not as it should be and attempts to investigate the incident in more detail. This French-language, France/Belgium/Spain co-production earned solid reviews. Many commented that it was a simple tale, but that the strange, dreamlike mood created made it compelling. Max Brebont, Roxane Duran and Julie-Marie Parmentier headline the film.
Fire at Sea – This Academy Award-nominated documentary follows refugees from Africa and the Middle East as they arrive at the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, roughly 150 miles south of Sicily. The leisurely-paced feature shows the typical village life of its residents as well as the struggles new arrivals face both in traveling to and being processed into the country. Overall, the feature earned very good notices. Most appreciated the slice-of-life approach and were impressed by seeing events (even mundane ones) that give an honest and accurate picture of locals, rescue workers and immigrants.
Frankenstein Created Bikers – After meeting his end, an outlaw biker finds himself rising from the grave and becoming addicted to the chemical that resurrected him. The strung-out, undead lead must do the bidding of two nasty scientists to keep him going. Unfortunately, his old enemies, including a rival gang, bounty hunters, a crazed ex-girlfriend and the police, go on the hunt for him. There aren’t any reviews for this low-budget, horror/sci-fi/action B-movie, so curious parties will just have to give it a spin without knowing the details. It features Jeff Bryant, Laurence R. Harvey, Tristan Risk and Ellie Church.
In Dubious Battle – Based on John Steinbeck’s 1936 novel of the same name, this tale involves a group of workers in Depression-era California. Frustrated with their poor working conditions, they begin to strike against their employers. The film deals with their efforts on the picket line as well as the personal struggles they face standing against the farm owners. Critics seemed to have wildly different opinions on the finished product. A few thought that it was an important story that showed growth on the part of its star/director James Franco. However, more called it a well-intentioned but unconvincing feature that falls flat. It stars Franco, Nat Wolff, Vincent D’Onofrio, Selena Gomez, Analeigh Tipton, Sam Shepherd, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris and Josh Hutcherson.
Julieta – The latest from quirky Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver, The Skin I Live In) is about a middle-aged woman who learns that her long-lost and estranged daughter has returned to town. The child’s unexpected appearance forces the mother to remember the events that led to their separation. This foreign-language effort earned excellent notices. Many wrote that while this was a more low-key work from the director, it still presented a touching and affecting story with interesting characters and plenty of visual pop. The cast includes Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte and Daniel Greo.
A Kind of Murder – Set in New York in the 60s, this thriller tells the story of a married architect who become obsessed with an unsolved murder. He begins his own investigation, which draws the attention of the responsible party, leading to danger and intrigue. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley), this adaptation didn’t impress critics. While a few thought it was intriguing enough to recommend even if it didn’t fully work, more believed that the story was weak and that the character motivations lacked believability. It features Patrick Wilson, Jessica Biel, Haley Bennett and Vincent Kartheiser.
Live By Night – This Prohibition-set gangster flick made a quick trip from movie theaters to rental shelves (about two months, if memory serves). It involves a lower-tier Boston mobster who takes a position heading his outfit’s expansion into Florida. While there, he must contend with corrupt government officials and rival outfits. Critics weren’t taken at all with this crime film. A few gave this lavish production a pass as being pulpy fun, but many more thought it missed the mark and that the screenplay didn’t do enough to make its lead character charismatic or compelling. It stars Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller. To read a full review, click here.
Miss Sloane – A cold, calculating and ruthless lobbyist in Washington who will do anything to win suddenly develops a conscience when she accepts an offer to assist a group fighting for stricter background checks on gun owners. Her methods shock and surprise the organization, but begin to get results – what follows is a lengthy battle between two opposing political groups. The movie earned good reaction and reviews. Some found the main character difficult to like and the plotting predictable, but more were impressed with the commanding work of star Jessica Chastain. It also features Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston and John Lithgow.
Sing – This feature from the animation house behind The Secret Life of Pets and Despicable Me is set in a world filled with humanoid animals. A struggling theater producer decides to create a talent show competition to entice patrons. Amateurs from all over attempt arrive and compete and win the top prize. The movie was a hit and earned decent, if unspectacular reviews. Some complained that it was hastily slapped together and didn’t compare to the other animated offerings out there, but others called it a nice, if not particularly memorable, diversion that would entertain kids. The voice talent includes Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Jennifer Sauders and Jennifer Hudson. To read a detailed review, click here.
Tower – In August of 1966, a gunman climbed the University of Texas clock tower, opening fire and killing 16 people. This unusual documentary retells the story as it happened using interviews with those at the scene, using stylized animated sequences that recreate the events. This unusual technique seems to have impressed reviewers; they were very positive about the film. While they admitted the movie offers no answers for the shooting itself, all felt that the animation did an excellent job of recreating the terror and drama of the situation and detailing the heroism of the various individuals involved in the tragedy.
Blasts From the Past!
What an incredible week for classic titles arriving in high definition! Olive Films have several titles of note, all of which are arriving on Blu-ray for the very first time. Blast-Off (1967) (which was also released under the titles Those Fantastic Flying Fools and Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon) stars Burl Ives as Phineas T Barnum, a showman attempting to finance the first ever flight to the moon. Unfortunately, they encounter many problems both with the project and saboteurs that result in plenty of laughs. Read all about the disc here.
The Cardinal (1936) is a British depicting troubles facing Cardinal Giovanni de Medici from Florence, Italy. In this story, set in the 1500s, his brother is wrongfully accused of murder, but the man of the cloth finds that he is not allowed to break his vows in order to offer information that would prove his sibling’s innocence. They also have a Blu-ray of The Delinquents (1957), the first film from famed director Robert Altman (MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Player, Gosford Park). It’s a pulpy effort about a teen who gets caught up with the wrong crowd when the gang escalates their criminal activities to include kidnapping.
Phaedra (1962) is the globe-trotting story of a doomed romance between the title character and her stepson. Viewers will see stars Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins travel to Paris, London and Greece before things go awry. Finally, Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) is wacky spoof inspired by the films of animal star Rin Tin Tin. In this tale, the talented dog becomes a sensation on the big screen, inspiring a Hollywood matinee idol to try and take revenge on the pooch. It’s filled with stars like Bruce Dern, Madeline Kahn and is filled to the brim with celebrity cameos. You can read a detailed review of the movie here.
Arrow Academy have one of the my favorite foreign language films arriving in an impressive package. Cinema Paradiso (1988) is an incredible movie about a young boy’s love of cinema and the impact that they make over the course of his life. The Italian production won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. This new Blu-ray includes two versions of the film (the Cannes cut and Director’s Cut) transferred directly from the original camera negative, director audio commentary, documentary on the production, interviews with cast members and many other extras. Property is No Longer a Theft (1973) from the same company was announced on this page a couple of weeks ago, but it’s release was delayed. You’ll now find it available.
If you ask me, Robocop (1987) is one of the best movies of the 80s. Great action and deeper themes of a man being turned into a corporate product. Shout! Factory must know there are series completists out there, because they’re offering a Collector’s Edition of the follow-up, Robocop 2 (1990). This Blu-ray features all sorts of new features never before seen. They include a 2K scan of the movie, two audio commentaries, as well as numerous featurettes with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. They’ve also included publicity materials for the movie. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also pick up a Collector’s Edition of Robocop 3 (1993). Again, it comes with two new commentaries and several newly created bonus features on the production as well as trailers and ads. To be brutally honest, neither of these sequels come close to matching the brilliance of the original, but at least you can now own them all on Blu-ray with the best possible picture, sound and bonus features.
Criterion have a personal favorite arriving on Blu-ray. Being There (1979) from director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) stars the incomparable Peter Sellers as a slow-witted gardener who accidentally finds himself wandering into high society. Soon, his every word on horticulture is misinterpreted as metaphor by the power players around him and he quickly rises within the ranks of the Washington political scene. It’s an incredible comedy with a hint of melancholy at the state of the world that is well worth any cinema fan’s time. Besides an incredible new 4K transfer, this release includes a bevy of extras like a documentary on the making of the film, promo interviews from its original release, deleted scenes, outtakes, the original ending and many other bonuses. I’ll definitely be picking this one up.
They also have Multiple Maniacs (1970), the second feature from quirky director John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom). This one has also received a 4K transfer so one can enjoys its… well.. grosser elements with the sharpest image possible. It also includes a new commentary with Waters and interviews with several of the surviving cast members among other extras.
Kino are also putting out some fascinating titles on Blu-ray. They have the hard-to-find Chamber of Horrors (1966), about a one-handed maniac who uses detachable devices on the end of his wrist to attack his victims. A Game of Death (1945) is yet another adaptation of the popular story, The Most Dangerous Game, in which a wealthy madman hunts a human on his isolated island.
A Great Wall (1986) aka The Great Wall is A Great Wall is a well-regarded comedy about a computer programmer who gets passed up for a promotion. In frustration, he takes his family to mainland China to visit relatives, leading to a culture clash. Bela Lugosi fans can now own Invisible Ghost (1941) on Blu-ray, which features the actor as a man driven to kill after seeing his dead wife outside his window. Interestingly, Kino also have the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Lifeboat (1944) about a group stranded at sea on a lifeboat – and of course, one of them is a murderer.
Kino appear to have put some extra effort into their Blu-ray release of the cult 80s flick, Teen Witch (1989). It’s about an outcast high school student who is granted magical powers and attempts to use them to gain popularity at school. The movie arrives on high definition disc for the first time and comes with a commentary track featuring the star, as well as numerous lengthy interviews with cast members and a theatrical trailer. If you happen to be a fan of the feature (and apparently there are many who grew up watching it on cable), then you’ll more than likely be happy with this release.
Finally, Warner Archive are making some out-of-print titles available once again on DVD via special order through their website. This includes the effective Australian chiller Dead Calm (1988), which stars Sam Neill and a very young Nicole Kidman and a couple on a boat who are targeted by a psychopath. You can also buy some “bad movie night” with the horrendous When Time Ran Out… (1980). It’s an Irwin Allen disaster flick about a Hawaiian volcano that erupts, putting the lives of characters played by Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, James Franciscus, Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Pat Morita, Alex Karras and Burgess Meredith in danger. It’s really, really, really bad but might provide some yuks to people in the right frame of mind. And in case you were wondering, the movie’s special effects looked cheesy to viewers even back then.
You Know, For Kids!
Here are some titles that small fry may enjoy.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season 3 (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
Pokemon the Movie 19: Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Super Shredder (Nickelodeon)
On the Tube!
And here are the TV releases for the week.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season 3 (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
The Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 3
Death Valley Days: Season 3
Frontline: Exodus (PBS)
Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement (PBS)
Insecure: Season 1
Master of None: Season 1
Military Medicine: Beyond the Battlefield (PBS)
Newsreaders: Season 1 (Warner Archive)
NOVA: Ultimate Cruise Ship (PBS)
People Just Do Nothing: Complete Seasons 1-3
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Super Shredder (Nickelodeon)
The Untouchables: The Complete Collection (42 Episodes of 1993-1994 Series)
When Calls the Heart: The Heart of Faith (Hallmark)
Wolf Creek: Season 1