January Chill Edition DANCES
WITH WOLVES, RAGING BULL on Blu-Ray Plus: Upcoming Blu-Ray Catalog
While many experts have been forecasting doom and gloom for DVD and
physical media sales, 2011 is already shaping up to be a huge year for
Blu-Ray owners. Not only has George Lucas finally announced that the
“Star Wars” series will be heading to Blu-Ray this September, several
independent labels are jumping onboard the HD bandwagon, with obscure
cult titles like Al Adamson’s “Carnival Magic” and noir favorites “The
Stranger” and “Kansas City Confidential” coming up in the next few
weeks, as well as more Paramount titles from Legend Films.
The latter include the following double-feature Blu-Ray packs, due out
sometime in March:
-THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES and HOUDINI, being
released as a “Tony Curtis Double Feature.”
-HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and LAST MAN ON EARTH, bundled as a “Vincent
Price Double Feature.”
-THE SKULL and THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, a “Cult Horror” two-pack.
-And early ‘80s horror spoofs STUDENT BODIES and JEKYLL & HYDE
I’m told there may be more to come thereafter, which would be only more
good news for cult-movie fans desiring vintage content in high-def.
New on Blu-Ray
30th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray/DVD (****, 129 mins., 1980, R;
MGM/Fox): Martin Scorsese’s classic portrait of boxer Jake La
Motta (an Oscar-winning performance by Robert DeNiro) hits Blu-Ray for
the second time with new extras and what appears to be the same vivid
AVC-encoded transfer from its prior BD edition, which beautifully
captures the potent images of the director and cinematographer Michael
Chapman, without glossing over the movie’s crispness (little
noise-reduction is seemingly on-hand here).
The DTS Master Audio sound is likewise impressive when called upon,
while new interviews with Scorsese and DeNiro and four new featurettes
are on-hand along with footage of Cathy Moriarty from the “Tonight
Show” circa 1981. Vintage extras include three commentaries by Martin
Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker (from the original laserdisc
edition), plus assorted cast and crew members, and screenwriters Paul
Schrader and Mardik Martin, plus La Motta himself; a four-part Making
Of, totaling nearly 90 minutes; a vintage La Motta newreel footage, and
another, 30-minute “The Bronx Bull” behind-the-scenes featurette.
WOLVES 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray (***½, 234 mins., 1990, PG-13;
MGM/Fox): Kevin Costner’s multiple Oscar-winner felt just a
little bit overrated to me upon its original release, and these days,
it’s even harder to grasp how Martin Scorsese’s classic “Goodfellas”
wasn’t honored more than Costner’s lovingly-crafted yet sentimental
1990 adaptation of Michael Blake’s novel. Still, there’s plenty in
“Dances With Wolves” to admire, from Dean Semler’s gorgeous lensing to
John Barry’s glorious score, one of the finest of his career and the
sort we truly don’t hear anymore.
MGM’s Blu-Ray of “Dances With Wolves” offers a sturdy AVC-encoded 1080p
transfer of the film that looks generally excellent, freed from
excessive DNR though in terms of overall detail, it’s not in a league
with the best Blu-Ray catalog transfers (“Braveheart”) we’ve seen. The
DTS Master sound is satisfying enough, though it’s nothing
Nearly an hour of footage has been added to Costner’s three-hour
western, as screened during ABC’s initial network TV showings in the
‘90s. Some of it is interesting, but a lot of it is extraneous, making
the absence of the original cut a drawback (fans of the movie would do
well to import the region-free UK Blu-Ray release from Warner Home
Video, which not only contains the theatrical version but is also quite
Extras include a couple of Blu-Ray exclusive interactive features along
with numerous extras from the prior DVD editions. The latter include
multiple commentary tracks, an 80-minute documentary with interviews of
all the principal players in front of and behind the camera, including
Costner and composer John Barry (not to mention a hilariously bad, Lite
FM music video of Barry’s “John Dunbar Theme”), a vintage Making Of,
photo montage and other goodies housed in the set’s second
Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 123 mins., 2010, PG; Disney): Entertaining,
leisurely paced chronicle of the last horse to win the coveted Triple
Crown, Secretariat, and its owner’s (Diane Lane) move from domestic
housewife to savvy businesswoman doesn’t offer any surprises – but how
could it when the outcome is pre-ordained?
Randall Wallace, screenwriter of “Braveheart,” is nevertheless able to
supply a nostalgic trip back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as his
“Secretariat” documents the rise to fame of one of horse racing’s
legendary champions, stopping along the way for scenes involving Lane
and her family, along with flamboyant trainer John Malkovich, who helps
the horse’s female owner overcome sexual bias outside the track and
turn the horse itself into an all-time icon after winning the Triple
Crown in 1973.
Superb cinematography from Dean Semler makes “Secretariat” one of
Disney’s better sports movie offerings, ranking with the Mark Wahlberg
starrer “Invincible” as a sturdy, if formulaic, sports pic, and a film
that ended up doing well theatrically ($59 million) after having opened
quietly (not helped by Disney releasing it during football season!).
Disney’s Blu-Ray looks outstandingly detailed in a glorious AVC encoded
1080p transfer. DTS Master Audio sound is nicely mixed, while several
extras include a handful of deleted scenes, commentary from Wallace, a
look at Secretariat’s actual 1973 Preakness win from different angles,
behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, and a copy of the DVD for
HORRORFEST Blu-Ray Double Features (Lionsgate): Lionsgate’s line
of indie horror releases finds its way to Blu-Ray in a number of
double-feature packs (the individual movies have been covered here
before so check the index for those reviews).
THE GRAVES/ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION (88/89 mins.), BORDERLAND/CRAZY
EIGHTS (105/80 mins.), THE GRAVEDANCERS/WICKED LITTLE THINGS (96/94
mins.), and THE BROKEN/BUTTERFLY EFFECT 3: REVELATIONS (93/90 mins.)
all offer AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks
and all the extras (commentaries, featurettes) that graced each film’s
prior DVD editions.
SAW 3-D: THE
FINAL CHAPTER 3-D Blu-Ray (*½, 90 mins., 2010, Unrated;
Lionsgate): Jigsaw and friends are back in the seventh and (so
they claim) final installment in Lionsgate’s long-running horror
series, which made the leap to 3-D for its last hurrah last October.
The technical element of the picture aside, there’s little else to
remark about in this tired go-round, which brings back several stars
from prior installments including Tobin Bell’s lead big bad, Betsy
Russell (who looks great though she’s had so much work done she barely
resembles her ‘80s “Tomboy” self), Costas Mandylor and even Cary “Mr.
Puffy” Elwes, returning as the character he essayed in the original
film. While writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, along with
director Kevin Greutert, manage to make the plot somewhat more
accessible than the prior installments, this is a still a “fans only”
type of entertainment, though the 3-D effects as seen in Lionsgate’s BD
release are actually very good (kudos again to my friend Kevin
Domanican for letting me take a gander at his 3-D set-up). DTS Master
Audio sound, an AVC encoded transfer, a DVD copy, a 2-D version of the
film and a host of special features (two commentaries, deleted/extended
scenes, the trailer, and a nostalgic look back at prior death sequences
from the series!) compliment this Unrated package.
Blu-Ray (98 mins., 2008, PG-13; Image): South African import was
a big hit in its native land, following the misadventures of a groom
and his best man on a road trip across the country to get to his
wedding on time. Nice location shooting and a lot of good humor and
intentions mark this mostly formulaic affair executive-produced by
bestselling author Ken Follett (!). There’s no question that the film
struck a chord with its domestic audience, though it’s difficult to
envision this critically dubbed “‘Hangover’ without steroids” will
attract anywhere near that kind of following here. Image’s Blu-Ray disc
does offer a pleasant 1.78 HD transfer along with DTS Master Audio
AFTERMATH Blu-Ray (78 mins., 2011; Anchor Bay): Electronic Arts’
video game “Dead Space” offered a pleasingly creepy mix of action and
“survival horror,” and since “Dead Space 2" is about to hit video game
platforms worldwide, it makes sense that EA and Anchor Bay have teamed
up for an animated sequel to their prior “Dead Space” video movie.
Mixing traditional animation with CGI, “ Aftermath” picks up right from
the end of the first video game and serves as a precursor to “Dead
Space 2,” with a rescue ship sent to find out what happened to hero
Isaac Clarke on the surface of Aegis VII. Decent animation and a few
scares mark this Blu-Ray release from Anchor Bay, which ought to please
fans of the game with its vivid 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD
soundtrack. There’s not much in the way of extras outside of a game
trailer for the sequel.
New From Shout!
CULT CLASSICS: After a series of terrific releases in 2010,
Shout’s first Roger Corman discs of the new year offer more nostalgia
for genre fans along with terrific extras.
The superior new package is clearly the “Triple Feature” SCI-FI CLASSICS
set offering a trio of vintage Corman fare: the 1957 drive-in (and
later “Creature Feature”) staple ATTACK
OF THE CRAB MONSTERS with Russell Johnson (best known as
“Gilligan’s Island”’s Professor), Richard Garland and Pamela Duncan
fighting crabs mutated via Pacific atomic testing; the original 1958 NOT OF THIS EARTH with Garland,
Paul Birch and Morgan Jones, which was later remade as a vehicle for
Traci Lords (and released on DVD last year by Shout); and the 1958 WAR OF THE SATELLITES, boasting a
top-billed Dick Miller in a sci-fi fantasy produced and directed (as
are the prior two pictures) by Corman, who also appears in a cameo.
Shout’s remastered transfers (full-screen on “War of the Satellites,”
1.78 16:9 on “Crab Monsters” and “Not of this Earth”) are excellent
given the age of the respective elements, while wonderful new special
features include commentaries on “Crab Monsters” and “Not of this
Earth” with “Universal Horrors” authors Tom Weaver and John and Mark
Brunas; 25 Corman trailers, from these ‘50s sci-fi flicks all the way
up to “Frankenstein Unbound”; and a terrific “Salute to Roger Corman”
featuring new interviews with Corman, Peter Fonda, Joe Dante and others.
Somewhat less in stature is the Double Feature pairing of
“Jaws”-influenced shockers UP FROM THE DEPTHS
and DEMON OF PARADISE – a wacky duo of Corman B-efforts (or is
it Z-efforts?) co-produced by Cirio Santiago and each offering a
tropical setting. That’s the good news.
The bad news (at least for non-shlock fans) are that the movies are
terrible, especially the hideous 1979 “Depths” which offers a
particularly annoyed prehistoric fish wreaking havoc near a vacation
resort. Sam Bottoms gets top billing in this almost unfathomably
laughable film (even for Corman standards) which offers garbled
dialogue almost entirely looped in post-production, a ridiculous
musical soundtrack, and a bizarre attempt to mix comedy in with the
gore. Not director Charles Griffith’s finest hour and 25 minutes,
that’s for sure.
“Demon of Paradise” thankfully fares somewhat better – a 1987
direct-to-video affair that’s more or less a remake of the above, this
time with the killer being a land-dwelling creature as opposed to a
tired old crustacean.
Both movies have been treated to remastered 16:9 (1.78) transfers with
extras including original trailers and TV spots, which manage to be
just as entertaining as the films and only occupy a few minutes of your
Shout! also has two terrific TV on DVD releases out this month.
will certainly be of interest for sci-fi fans – a short-lived NBC
series, launched right after “The X-Files” took off for Fox, that tried
to capitalize on the success of Chris Carter’s series.
Set during the ‘60s, “Dark Skies” is an alien invasion thriller
starring Eric Close and Megan Ward as a couple who try and stop an
extraterrestrial threat while living through a number of historical
events with real-life figures from Carl Sagan to Jim Morrison appearing
as supporting characters, and past UFO mythology from Roswell to cattle
mutations raised as story lines along the way.
It was an intriguing premise but “Dark Skies” never caught on during
the 1996-97 season, despite decent backing from NBC and the presence of
Jeri Ryan, who comes in and essentially supplants Ward during the
latter episodes of the series.
Shout’s six-disc DVD box-set contains the complete series of the
program in satisfying full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks,
with extras including the international pilot, multiple featurettes,
cast/crew commentaries, network promos, a proposal for the unproduced
second season, the original sales presentation and a glossary from
creators Bryce Zabel and Brent Friedman.
On a much lighter notes comes the first season of ‘80s sitcom staple
WEBSTER, the ABC family comedy with then-married real life couple Alex
Karras and Susan Clark starring as newlyweds who find out they’re the
legal guardians of a young African-American child, played by the
precocious Emmanuel Lewis.
Less “edgy” than “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Webster” was alternately
saccharine or annoying (I always preferred the adventures of Arnold and
the gang myself), but love it or hate it, it was certainly an emotional
show that many kids enjoyed back in the ‘80s, with the series running
for six years between 1983-89 on ABC.
Shout’s double-disc set houses the series’ complete first season in
transfers as solid as its videotaped origins afford, though extras are
disappointingly limited to a trivia game.
Last but not least, Shout’s newest “Marvel Knights” animated feature is
a stylish new adaptation of BLACK PANTHER (132
mins., 2010) with Djimon Hounsou voicing the fan-favorite Marvel
hero produced by Reginald Hudlin and comic book great John Romita, Jr.
Shout’s DVD includes a music video, trailers and a Hudlin featurette,
looking back on the character’s legacy.
New From Criterion
Criterion’s first new Blu-Ray discs of 2011 include a pair of Samuel
Fuller cult offerings.
The pulpy SHOCK
CORRIDOR (101 mins.) stars Peter Breck as an overly intrepid
reporter who decides to investigate a murder by being committed to a
mental institution to get close to, and question, three inmates who
witnessed the crime, but ultimately pays a steep price in his pursuit
Fuller’s low-budget 1963 Allied Artists release is a favorite among the
director’s devotees, with good performances from Breck and Constance
Towers as his girlfriend, who tries to warn her man of the possible
ramifications from his quest.
Criterion’s Blu-Ray edition offers a new interview with Constance
Towers, along with a 1996 documentary on Fuller’s career, the trailer,
an informative booklet and a crisp, really cracking AVC encoded 1080p
transfer with uncompressed mono audio.
Produced the following year, THE NAKED KISS (90
mins.) is even better, with Towers taking the lead in what’s
understandably regarded as her finest performance: a hooker who tries
to go straight in a quaint small town, becoming a nurse for handicapped
kids and engaged to a member of the town’s wealthiest family. Of
course, things don’t quite go as planned, and Towers’ heroine
ultimately has to prove her innocence to a group of single-minded,
With terrific cinematography by Stanley Cortez and an appropriately
smoky score by Paul Dunlap, “The Naked Kiss” is terrific Fuller through
and through, raising all kinds of then-taboo subjects with just enough
of an exploitation feel, and it’s enhanced even more by Criterion’s
meticulous AVC encoded Blu-Ray 1080p transfer.
Another interview with Towers is on-hand in the extras, alongside
extracts from 1983 “South Bank Show” dedicated to Fuller, a 1967 French
TV interview with the director, a 1987 conversation with Fuller (also
from French TV), and the original trailer. Recommended!
New on DVD
Season 1 DVD (552 mins., 2010; Sony): Timothy Olyphant is
tremendous in this popular F/X series as a U.S. marshal who’s
reassigned to his Kentucky mining-town home after a controversial
shooting in Miami; trouble, naturally, follows from all kinds of foes,
some of them familiar to Olyphant’s unflappable Raylan Givens.
Graham Yost (“Speed”) developed “Justified” from an Elmore Leonard
character first introduced in the story “Fire in the Hole,” and it’s a
perfect vehicle for Olyphant, who’s suave, confident and believable in
a terrific lead part. The series mixes humor with some melodrama and
lots of action, with family drama and some heart included for ample
measure. It’s no wonder why the show has become one of the more popular
shows on cable these days.
Sony’s DVD of “Justified”’s first season includes fine 16:9 transfers,
5.1 soundtracks and a number of extras, including four cast/crew
commentaries, a handful of featurettes and a music video. NEXT
TIME: RED on Blu-Ray. Until
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