Back on Blu-Ray, Universal’s BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION reprises the same contents as the studio’s 2010 Blu-Ray release, with the addition of a new “Bonus Disc” featuring an assortment of extras that will likely appeal only to the hardcore BTTF fan.
Anyone who grew up in the ’80s undoubtedly saw the original more than a few times, and the good news is that the picture remains a joyful blast of entertainment, with wonderful performances, smart writing, and infectious energy. The sequels, while not on the classic level of the original, remain highly worthwhile for separate reasons: 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II” offered a delirious, dizzying time-travel adventure with a brilliant and underrated final third that put an interesting spin on the events of its predecessor. For those who thought Part II lacked heart and romance, “Back to the Future Part III” reprieved the endearing character interplay of the original and brought the series to a fitting close.
Personally, I have a lot of wonderful memories of seeing the BTTF Trilogy while I was growing up.
The original opened in 1985, right before I started 5th grade. Back then, Michael J. Fox was a known commodity due to his work on the hit NBC series “Family Ties,” and “Back to the Future” looked like a cute time travel picture geared specifically towards kids, with the “Steven Spielberg Presents” brand attached for good measure.
However, when I saw the movie for the first time that summer, it was clear even to a 10-year-old that the movie’s appeal extended far beyond the barriers of youth movie-goers. Adults loved the picture’s multi-generational story, which managed to encompass comedy, time travel, ’50s nostalgia, and themes of relating to one’s parents that are timeless — regardless of how antiquated some of the ’80s jokes are (including the hilarious reference to Tab, which was dated even when the movie was first released!).
For a lot of reasons, BACK TO THE FUTURE (****, 116 mins., 1985, PG) is one of my favorite films. Fox plays a typical ’80s teen with typical ’80s parents whose relationship with crazy inventor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) results in the teenager traveling back to 1955. There, he inadvertently alters the course of his own history by disrupting the moment when his father (Crispin Glover) and mother (Lea Thompson) met and fell in love. What’s worse, mommy now has a crush on him (!), forcing Marty to find a younger Doc and try to set things right before his existence is wiped away.
There’s just an optimistic and charming element inherent in Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s BTTF screenplay that few films in the sci-fi/fantasy genre possess. Fox’s Marty and Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown are two highly likeable protagonists, and equally noteworthy is the supporting work of Thompson and Glover as Marty’s parents, along with Thomas Wilson’s bully Biff Tannen. While the picture’s portrayal of both the ’50s and the ’80s are highly idealized, they still provide an interesting contrast to Fox’s quest to reunite his flawed parents and keep his existence together after causing a rift in the space-time continuum.
In nearly every facet, BTTF works splendidly — here we have one of Alan Silvestri’s best scores, Dean Cundey’s warm cinematography, a couple of bouncy Huey Lewis & The News hits, and a story that continues to entertain even some 30 years after its original release.
Four years later, Zemeckis and Gale, along with most of the original cast and crew, returned to the series for a pair of sequels shot simultaneously.
Although a box-office hit, BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (***½, 109 mins., 1989, PG) is a movie that received a negative (and mostly unwarranted) backlash from critics and audiences shortly after its release. Most of the complaints came from viewers who didn’t care for the picture’s frantic, non-stop action, open-ended finale (pretty absurd considering that the third movie was opening less than six months later), and claims that it lacked the “heart” of the original. While the latter may be true, I’ve always found it curious that critics who often carp about sequels being carbon-copy retreads chose to attack a follow-up that remains one of the more innovative sequels ever produced.
In Part II, Marty and Doc Brown travel into the future where Marty and girlfriend Jennifer’s kids are having problems — but their attempts to set things right there cause ramifications in the past once Biff steals the time machine and changes the course of history.
Zemeckis calls Part II the “most interesting film” of his career, and in many ways it is. Although it picks up right from the end of the first movie, Gale and Zemeckis chose not to write a mere “remix” of its predecessor, but rather a fast-paced and frantic time-travel adventure that ultimately goes back into the original film’s events from a whole different angle. I always found that portion of the picture to be enormously entertaining, since it reprieved portions of the first film through its own distinct, dramatic story line – clearly the most unique element in Gale’s underrated script.
As far as the rest of the movie goes, I’ve always loved the way that the picture weaves a complicated and yet not-all-that confusing story that spans pasts, presents, and futures with great ILM special effects, particularly innovative for their time. It’s a rollercoaster ride that ends leading right into the next installment, very much like an amusement park attraction you can’t wait to take another turn on.
The one universal criticism that was leveled at the movie — that it lacked the warmth and heart of its predecessor– is more than compensated for in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (***½, 119 mins., 1990, PG), which abandons the technical wizardry and time-traveling element of the second picture and concentrates on telling a central story – marked by a charming romance between Doc Brown and a Hill Valley woman (Mary Steenburgen) – set in the Old West.
Or, to be more precise, in the Old West of Hollywood’s Golden Age. A handful of character actor veterans pop up in this fitting end to the trilogy, which focuses on Marty trying to get back to his present while Doc falls in love and has to contend with Biff Tannen’s gunslingin’ forefather (Tom Wilson again, in another appropriately nasty performance).
Another rousing score by Alan Silvestri (his finest of the series in fact) rounds out a perfect finale to the series, which – along with its predecessors – is back on Blu-Ray here in a presentation that’s essentially a straight reprise of the 2010 release. Though the transfers could be improved upon, Universal’s VC-1 encoded 1080p presentations (1.85) are still pretty solid. Colors, details and overall sharpness levels are superb across the board; while there does seem to be a bit of filtering going on, they’re far from the worst output Universal has produced in this format. Regrettably, the label has done such a good job of late with some of their catalog discs that it’s disappointing they did not take the opportunity to remaster the BTTF transfers for this box-set, ranking as its biggest letdown. On the audio end, 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtracks are all nicely textured with directional activity.
In terms of new extras, the bonus disc includes a brief short with Christopher Lloyd in-character, “Doc Brown Saves the World,” plus two episodes from the 1991 animated series, a 2009 retrospective doc, a featurette on the 2012 restoration of the DeLorean, and 2015 “Jaws 19″ and Hoverboard commercials. These are all nice to have, but none are particularly essential given the already-solid extras found in Universal’s earlier Blu-Ray.
Other extras reprise those supplements, which are highlighted by the 2010 retrospective doc, “Tales From the Future,” a documentary presented on each film platter in multiple parts.
This HD-produced retrospective offers then-new comments from Zemeckis, Gale, Spielberg, and all the stars; even Claudia Wells, who notably hadn’t been interviewed on-camera about her role as Jennifer in the original BTTF, appears (and looks great too) and divulges how she left the business at the time of the sequels’ shooting to focus on her family. While some of the anecdotes have been heard before in other featurettes, for the first time viewers are able to see actual footage from Eric Stoltz’s five weeks of shooting as Marty McFly. The Stoltz footage is extremely brief and we never so much as hear him utter a word (are they still trying to keep his performance a secret?), but it’s still jarring to see him in Fox’s shoes. Even in these brief moments something seems just, well, “off” about Stoltz in the part, since other than bearing more of a physical resemblance to Crispin Glover than Fox, one can’t imagine he would have been able to fill the needed comedic demands of the role (and apparently, according to Zemeckis, he didn’t). There’s also a brief look at Silvestri’s score on the first “Back to the Future” disc, though the composer himself only appears in archival interview segments.
The other big feature in those extras was the inclusion of footage from “Back to the Future: The Ride,” the terrific, but now defunct, Universal Studios amusement park ride which opened in 1993 and closed in the Hollywood and Orlando locales in 2007 (it’s apparently still running in the Tokyo venue). The 30 minutes of footage (culled from a videotape master) on-hand here includes all the pre-show material and the ride itself, with Christopher Lloyd and Tom Wilson reprising their roles as Doc and Biff.
Plenty of supplements have also been carried over from the DVD edition and, in certain cases, enhanced for the Blu-Ray. Among the latter are the deleted scenes and outtakes from the trilogy, some of which have been remastered for high-def, as well as a trivia track, which has been incorporated into the “U-Control” Blu-Ray pop-up options (along with storyboard comparisons). In addition to the music videos, archival promotional material, DVD documentaries from the prior release, and other assorted, previously-released odds-and-ends, both the Q&A “live commentary” and scene-specific commentaries from the DVDs have been ported over to the Blu-Ray.
The live Q&A session – conducted for the DVD release – with Zemeckis and Gale was recorded at USC under the guidance of home video specialist Laurent Bouzereau. The track runs anywhere between 60-90 minutes each on all three films, with the two filmmakers fielding questions read by Bouzereau from students. The two cover the bases from the (mis)casting of Eric Stoltz in the original version of BTTF, to the infamous “To Be Continued” line that was added to the video release of the first movie. Along the way, the two talk about Fox’s crazed schedule, Spielberg’s involvement in the films, and – most tellingly – Crispin Glover’s insane demands that lead to his ouster from II and III (and how the sequels had to be rewritten to cover for his absence – probably, collectively, their biggest drawback). There are some revealing moments in this track, but getting to the tastier nuggets does, admittedly, take a while.
The secondary commentary track, another holdover from the DVD, with Bob Gale and producer Neil Canton is more interesting but, unfortunately, is also pretty dry. More than a few times Gale brings up topics but refuses to go into them, claiming that they were already covered in other supplements.
A digital copy rounds out the package, making for a nice – but not essential – Anniversary edition for one of the more amiable trilogies in the sci-fi/fantasy genre.
JURASSIC WORLD 3D Blu-Ray (**, 127 mins., 2015, PG-13; Universal): The most cartoonish live-action film that producer Steven Spielberg has been involved with since “The Flintstones,” “Jurassic World” became one of the biggest hits of all-time this past summer, ranking only behind “Avatar” at the U.S. box-office (sans inflation taken into account). That doesn’t excuse the fact that the picture is an insult to both Michael Crichton’s original “Jurassic Park” novel and the type of cinematic sci-fi that Spielberg himself captured in his 1993 screen version. While that groundbreaking blockbuster was flawed, it was at least an honest attempt at incorporating enough real-world science that one’s suspension of disbelief was minimal for a story about bringing dinosaurs back to life.
Much of that is negated in this belated series entry, which serves, more significantly, as a new entry point for today’s 12-and-under set into the franchise – which makes sense, since “Jurassic World” is essentially a two-hour animated film with live actors (not to mention an ad for Comcast, Verizon Wireless, Mercedes, IMAX, and other companies whose products appear throughout).
Indie director Colin Trevorrow’s film – scripted by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly from an earlier draft by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver – wastes little time in establishing its premise. On the island of Isla Nublar, nobody learned a lesson from the prior movies, since the shady InGen Corporation has not just built another park teeming with dinosaurs, but crossed some of the breeds, one of which – of course – gets out of its paddock and causes trouble. Park operations manager Bryce Dallas Howard can’t figure out what to do, so she enlists the help of dinosaur whisperer Chris Pratt (more the new Brendan Fraser than Harrison Ford), who’s been able to train a group of raptors that simultaneously draws the attention of InGen security head Vincent D’Onofrio, who has more sinister plans up his sleeve (elements retained from a derided draft by John Sayles years back). Oh, and there are also Howard’s teen nephews, whose parents – of course! – are in the midst of getting a divorce, and who also (naturally) get stuck on the island.
“Jurassic World” is jammed with standard-issue effects from one second to the next (the complete reverse of “Jurassic Park” itself), but it’s hollow, empty, dumb, poorly written and every bit the kind of brainless summer fare studios now crank out all year long. Unlike its predecessors, it has no sense of pacing or suspense — the characters are thinly drawn, the performances mostly vacant. The “genetically engineered” monsters now possess no surprise or interest on-screen, appearing early and often and presumably serving to retain the attention of restless kids who can’t wait for “the good parts.” Any connection to Crichton’s scientific study or the history of the dinosaurs themselves is negated by a line of dialogue talking about how the monsters no longer look or act like the real thing, and then thrown out the window for a series of set-pieces that range from fairly effective to mind-bogglingly silly, culminating in the much-talked about “fan service” ending that, beyond its “emotional resonance”, is so ridiculous words can’t properly describe it.
The script also never bothers to stick to one plot thread long enough for any of them to connect. I laughed outloud at Vincent D’Onofrio’s stock villainy (not to mention his demise) as well as Michael Giacchino’s grotesquely bombastic score (in hindsight, he could have done both himself and John Williams a favor by not referencing his themes at all); I was immediately uninterested in the divorce of the central kids’ parents, which has no payoff; and Pratt is completely unconvincing in the lead role, giving a performance that’s basic posturing as the would-be Indiana Jones who saves the day. Howard, to her credit, does the most she can with a role that’s not particularly sympathetic, while Judy Greer appears as the boys’ mother in a role that could have (and should have) been left on the cutting room floor.
“Jurassic World” has a few, fleeting glimpses of cinematic inspiration, and the movie works best when Trevorrow indulges in the mayhem, including a surprisingly brutal pterodactyl attack on the park’s guests. In these moments, it’s easier to forgive the material’s thinness and accept the picture on the level of an old-time monster film from the ‘50s, just on a larger, more elaborate modern scale. Yet even then, the director’s entire approach is a drastic 180 from Spielberg’s desire to make the original “Jurassic Park” not a “monster movie” at all but rather a thoughtful adventure about what would happen if Crichton’s central scenario actually came to pass. Every possible pitfall Spielberg sought to avoid Trevorrow steps right into, creating a film that makes last year’s “Godzilla” seem positively elegant by comparison.
Ultimately, despite a couple of fun moments and John Schwartzman’s agreeably colorful cinematography, “Jurassic World” is basically just another film to feed Hollywood’s sequel/remake machine – one that reaffirms just how far the bar has been lowered in the 22 years since the original “Jurassic Park” was released, back when “summer fun” wasn’t always dumb.
Universal’s 3D Combo Pack of “Jurassic World” is an impressive presentation all the way around, though the 3D seldom takes advantage of its stereophonic dimensions, preferring instead to offer casual depth-of-field effects. Despite this, the 1080p (2.00) presentation is quite strong across both the 2D and 3D plains, with a rousing 7.1 DTS MA soundtrack sporting all kinds of frenetic activity. Extras include a few minutes of deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes, none of which are all that exciting but do an OK job bringing fans a look into the creative process, albeit with a promo-flavored twist. A DVD and digital copy round out the release, which is capped with a good looking 3D slipcover.
KWAIDAN Blu-Ray (183 mins., 1965; Criterion): Masaki Kobayashi’s highly stylized, striking horror anthology spins a series of tales related to the supernatural and Japan’s particular localized relationship with spirits. The result is a film that’s best appreciated by Japanese cinephiles or those with an understanding of its inherent cultural traditions, yet “Kwaidan”’s visual artistry – despite a running time that can feel sluggish and inaccessible to some western audiences – is undeniable. Shot in scope on sound stages, there’s really nothing else like “Kwaidan,” with its color and production design making for a remarkable and unique picture that’s been restored here in a gorgeous 2K-derived (2.35) 1080p transer. Criterion’s Blu-Ray presents the movie’s longer cut with a new commentary from historian Stephen Prince; an interview with Kobayashi from 1993; a new interview with assistant director Kiyoshi Ogasawara, plus a new piece on author Lafcadio Hearn, whose original stories, culled from Japanese folklore, provided some of the basis for “Kwaidan.” Highly recommended.
EDGAR ALLAN POE’S BLACK CATS Blu-Ray/DVD Limited Edition (1972, 1981; Arrow Video): Italian horror fans have been greatly anticipating this deluxe box-set from Arrow, which debuts this week on Blu-Ray, sporting two different, unique adaptations of Poe’s short story “The Black Cat.”
In Sergio Martino’s 1972 “Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key,” Luigi Pistilli plays a teacher put under the spotlight when one of his students – whom he’s also sleeping with – is found murdered. In 1981’s “The Black Cat,” that Italian auteur Lucio Fulci spins a ghastlier tale with inspector David Warbeck (alumnus of Fulci’s famous “The Beyond”) investigating a series of murders in a quiet village that Agatha Christie wouldn’t feel wrong placing Miss Marple in.
Both pictures may play best to their intended audience, but for fans, this 3000-copy limited edition is jammed with goodies: 2K restorations of both films from their original camera negatives via 1080p AVC encoded transfers (a DVD is also included); Italian and English soundtracks in uncompressed PCM form; new English subtitles; a limited-edition 80-page booklet featuring Fulci’s last interview; and film-specific extras on each movie. These include an interview with Martino, Making Of, Michael Mackenzie visual essay, Eli Roth interview, and other extras on “Your Vice…” Meanwhile, “The Black Cat” offers commentary by Fangoria’s Chris Alexander, interview with star Dagmar Lassander, an archival talk with Warbeck, featurettes and reversible sleeves for each film.
MY FAVORITE MARTIAN: The Complete Series DVD (50 hours, 1963-66; MPI): Ray Walston’s delightful performance as “Uncle Martin” – the Martian who falls to Earth, where he moves in with newspaper reporter Tim O’Hara, embodied by the equally terrific Bill Bixby – solidified the sitcom “My Favorite Martian” as one of the most memorable cult hits of the 1960s. This three-season CBS comedy made great use of Walston’s talents and gave Bixby the first of several big TV series the actor would enjoy throughout his career – their chemistry is strong and “Martian” also benefitted from a number of outstanding guest stars from the world of TV comedy (Gavin MacLeod, Marlo Thomas, Jamie Farr, Bernie Kopell, Alan Hale Jr., Richard Deacon and Henry Gibson among them) throughout its 1963-66 run.
MPI’s Complete Series DVD box-set offers uncut, full-length broadcast episodes that were restored for individual season releases in 2014 by the label. These are excellent packages filled with extras, from home movies to cast/sponsor commercials, test footage, Walston’s promotional game show and talk show guest bits, 1964-65 radio interviews with Lucille Ball and the stars, photo galleries, the original soundtrack music album, effects reels, and two other pilots from producer Jack Chertok. Highly recommended!
STUNG Blu-Ray (87 mins., 2015; Shout! Factory): Amiable B-movie stars Matt O’Leary and Jessica Cook as catering staff working a garden party when giant mutated wasps descend upon the hapless attendees. Director Benni Diez and writer Adam Aresty work within the confines of “Stung”’s modest budget and deliver an entertaining low-budget monster affair for genre fans, brought to Blu-Ray November 3rd from Shout’s Scream Factory label. Ample extras in the IFC Midnight-licensed title include commentary from Diez and producer Benjamin Munz, a Making Of featurette, production blog videos, the trailer, a 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
Also coming shortly from Scream is BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS (84 mins., 2015), with Fran Kranz as an office worker whose mundane 9-5 gig gets worse once his girlfriend dumps him, his boss passes hum over for a promotion and, what’s more, vampires begin infiltrating his fellow co-workers. Brian James O’Connell’s mix of “Office” like comedy and undead horror offers an OK way to waste 84 minutes, though you’re unlikely to recall much of “Bloodsucking Bastards” when all is said and done. Shout’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary by co-writer “Dr. God” plus outtakes, a 1080p (2.35) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
PIXELS 3D Blu-Ray (**½, 105 mins., 2015, PG-13; Sony): Not exactly “Ghostbusters” but also not as bad as the majority of its reviews would indicate, “Pixels” does a fair job working from a seemingly surefire premise – that an alien invasion would be based off a videotape shot into space circa 1982, and utilize video game characters from that era as its physical force. The result finds Galaga spaceships, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong fighting with U.S. soldiers, who need special help from an unlikely source: a former arcade champ (Adam Sandler), hired under the auspices of his pal, the President of the United States (a woefully miscast Kevin James).
Director Chris Columbus may have been the right choice to helm “Pixels” 20 years ago, but the finished product plays a bit uneasily between “Ghostbusters”-like fantasy and a typical Sandler family comedy. It doesn’t really come together, but as a film kids might enjoy, “Pixels” is at least bright and colorful, with engaging FX work recreating the neon-tinged colors of those classic arcade games, and a few laughs (particularly from co-stars Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad) along the way.
Sony’s great looking 3D combo pack includes a number of Blu-Ray exclusive featurettes plus a music video, 2D presentation (in 2.40 AVC encoded 1080p), and a digital HD copy.
MAX Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**½, 111 mins., 2015, PG; Warner): Decent enough family film from director Boaz Yakin, who co-wrote “Max” with Sheldon Lettich, focuses on a military-trained dog who works with his handler in Afghanistan until he’s killed in the line of duty. Sent back to the United States, Max is united with the man’s younger brother (Josh Wiggins), who bond in this MGM/Warner Bros. release, which generated a successful run at the box-office this past summer. Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church star in Yakin’s effort, which overstays its welcome but nevertheless packs a potent enough emotional punch. Warner’s Blu-Ray combo includes two featurettes, a digital HD copy, DVD, strong 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
SOUTHPAW Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**, 124 mins., 2015, R; Anchor Bay): Another boxing drama, this one from “Sons of Anarchy” writer Kurt Sutter and director Antoine Fuqua, puts Jake Gyllenhaal through the ring(er) as a tempestuous fighter who loses it all – including his wife (Rachel McAdams) – before trying to piece his life, and career, back together again with the help of trainer Forest Whitaker. Self-consciously “gritty,” this anti-“Rocky” accentuates the grime of its setting and lead character, but even though Sutter and Fuqua go to great lengths to make the film feel authentic, its drama is predictable – and what’s worse, its slavish desire to feel “important” only accentuates its inherent phoniness. Despite good performances, “Southpaw” is a miss, though some critics felt differently. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray offers eight deleted scenes, a Q&A with the cast, extended training montage and featurette, along with DTS MA 5.1 sound (featuring a moody, mostly unobtrusive James Horner synth score), 1080p (2.35) transfer and a digital HD copy.
THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM MACHINE DVD (aprx. 13 hours; S’More Entertainment): Those who weren’t around in the early ‘70s (like me) likely have never seen “The Great American Dream Machine” – a PBS series that mixed sketch comedy, satire, politics and music into a fascinating, if somewhat dated, precursor to Saturday Night Live. Certainly there had never been (and never was afterwards) a show like it on the PBS airwaves, as the “Dream Machine” was a time capsule of its era – showing what was on the minds of Americans in the early ‘70s as the hippie era drew to a close and the nation remained embroiled in the Vietnam war. Appearances from Chevy Chase to Albert Brooks, Charles Grodin, Martin Mull, Henry Winkler, Penny Marshall and Andy Rooney are included along with monologues by the likes of Kurt Vonegut and music from Mel Torme – it’s an eclectic and compelling brew that was shuttled off the air after only two years, apparently because of complaints from the right.
S’More Entertainment’s DVD retrospective offers over 12 hours of material from the series comprised of two specific “Best Of” compilations and more than 90 additional sketches. Extensive liner notes from TV critic David Bianculli are also included, putting the series into the proper social context. Recommended.
Lionsgate New Releases: on Blu-Ray, “Crank” co-director Mark Neveldine strikes out on his own – and then literally strikes out – with the flimsy supernatural thriller THE VATICAN TAPES (91 mins., 2015, PG-13), a tale of a woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who causes all kinds of problems once she’s inhabited by a demon from the underworld. Dougray Scott, Michael Pena and Djimon Hounsou co-star in this well-produced yet unsurprising – and surprisingly bland – chiller Lionsgate brings to Blu this week. A commentary, deleted/extended scenes, featurette and digital copy are on-hand plus a 1080p (1.78) transfer, digital HD copy and 5.1 DTS MA sound…Edie Falco bids adieu to her acclaimed performance as NURSE JACKIE (330 mins., 2015) in this seventh season of the Showtime series, this time focusing on Jackie’s problems once her addiction issues are outed to everyone. Lionsgate’s Blu includes deleted scenes, three featurettes, a gag reel, and cast/crew commentaries plus 1080p (1.78) transfers and DTS MA soundtracks. A digital HD copy is also included…a brunette Margot Robbie (who looks great in any hair color) headlines Z FOR ZACHARIAH (98 mins., 2015), a flaccid adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien’s novel about a young woman (Robbie) who believes she might be the last woman on Earth after a nuclear war – only to run into both a scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a stranger (Chris Pine) who comes between them. Moody and well-acted, “Z For Zachariah” is an oddity – it lacks menace and a dramatic component needed to push the material forward, with the film content to spend much of its running time with characters talking. At least “The Last Man on Earth” is actually funny from time to time. Lionsgate’s Blu includes a Making Of, deleted scenes, extended interviews, a 1080p (2.40) transfer, digital copy and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
On DVD, THE CURSE OF OAK ISLAND Season 2 (7 hours, 2014-15) brings brothers Rick and Marty Lafina back to Oak Island and its triangle-shaped swamp looking for treasures from King Solomon’s Temple that were supposedly buried there 2500 years before. All 10 second-season eps from “Oak Island” are now on DVD from Lionsgate along with 20 minutes of bonus features…JAMES BOND GADGETS (90 mins., 2002-04) contains the entertaining 2002-04 History series with 1.33 full-screen transfers, examining the various contraptions 007 has used throughout the decades.
SOME KIND OF HATE Blu-Ray (83 mins., 2015; RLJ Entertainment): Moody and different slasher from director/co-writer Adam Egypt Mortimer focuses on a young man, bullied outside the classroom, who’s sent away to a remote school for troubled youths. There, he makes the mistake of raising the dead – in this instance, a female ghost likewise tormented and bullied – who begins to dispatch those who wronged him. “Some Kind of Hate” doesn’t stick around long enough to really click, but it’s enough of a departure from the norm to work as an interesting enough chiller for genre fans. RLJ’s Blu-Ray, a Best Buy exclusive until late December, includes deleted scenes, two commentaries, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
BLACK SAILS – Season 2 Blu-Ray (555 mins., 2015; Starz/Anchor Bay): Impressively mounted pirate series, a precursor to “Treasure Island” and broadcast on Starz in the U.S., takes a little bit to get going but picks up steam in Season 2. Set in the Caribbean circa 1715, the British colony of New Providence Island is home to an assortment of motley folks, from Toby Stephens’ Captain Flint to his shipmate John Silver (Luke Arnold), who has an agenda of his own. Season 2 kicks off with the Walrus screw stranded with Spanish soldiers standing in the way of Urca gold, leading Silver and Flint to join forces – reluctantly. Though well produced, “Black Sails” took an inordinate amount of time to get off the ground (or, more precise, out on the water) in its freshman year, but Season 2 moves at a brisker clip and ranks as a recommended view for pirate lovers. Starz’s attractive Blu-Ray set boasts 1080p transfers, digital HD copies, featurettes (Inside the World of Black Sails, Mon O’War, Expanding Worlds, High Seas Action and History’s Influence) and 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound.
PAPER TOWNS Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**½, 109 mins., 2015, PG-13; Fox): Lightning didn’t strike twice for Fox, which funded this second adaptation of a John Green young-adult bestseller in the wake of last year’s “Fault in Our Stars.” In “Paper Towns,” Nat Wolff plays a high schooler who goes off in search of his neighbor and lifelong crush (Cara Delevigne) after she disappears following an unusual night of pranks and shenanigans. Well performed by the young cast but predictable in its dramatic structure, “Paper Towns” is likely to be best appreciated by its teen audience. Fox’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes deleted scenes, a Making Of, gag reel, featurettes, DVD, digital copy, 1080p AVC encoded transfer (2.40) and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
Helen Hayes shines in two pre-Code MGM productions now on DVD from the Warner Archive. ANOTHER LANGAUGE (76 mins., 1933) is an adaptation of Rose Franken’s play about an artist (Hayes) who elopes with her husband (Robert Montgomery), only to face his domineering mother (Louise Closser Hale). Margaret Hamilton and John Beal make their big-screen debuts in this fascinating picture, while Hayes displays a lighter touch in J.M. Barrie’s WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS (89 mins., 1934), an adaptation of the “Peter Pan” author’s play about a wife who stands behind her husband (Brian Aherne) on his way up the political ladder. Both B&W transfers are as workable as can be epected given the source materials…Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, and Gypsy Rose Lee top line producer Budd Schulberg’s WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (93 mins., 1958), a late ‘50s Warner Bros. potboiler directed by Nicholas Ray that pits Everglades warden Plummer against the leader (Ives) of poachers tracking down feathers for women’s hats. Peter Falk, jockey Sammy Renick, boxer Tony Galento and Pulitzer Prize winner MacKinlay Kantor lead a one-of-a-kind cast in a wild adventure marked with a fine 16:9 (1.85) DVD transfer and mono sound from the Archive.
Western buffs will want to saddle up with the WILD BILL ELLIOTT WESTERN COLLECTION, which includes eight sagebrush sagas starring Wild Bill, the 50-ish cowboy who proved to be one of the last successful heroes of the genre. These eight pictures, shot at Monogram/Allied Artists between 1951-54, are all included here in 4:3 B&W transfers with the exception of the final film, “The Forty-Niners” (16:9 enhanced). Also on tap are “The Longhorn,” “Waco,” “Kansas Territory,” “The Maverick,” “Rebel City,” “Topeka,” and “Vigilante Terror,” co-starring the likes of Peggy Stewart, Phyllis Coates, Virginia Grey, Henry Morgan, Fuzzy Knight and Myron Healy among others.
Finally, two of ‘40s femme fatale Virginia Mayo’s more popular Warner Bros. thrillers join the Archive this month on DVD. FLAXY MARTIN (86 mins., 1949) offers Grey playing opposite Zachary Scott and Dorothy Malone as a nightclub singer who convinces a mob attorney (Scott) into taking a murder rap while falling for gangster Douglas Kennedy. In SMART GIRLS DON’T TALK (81 mins., 1948), Mayo plays a tough “society girl” who gets wrapped up with a gambler in debt with the mob. Both films were directed by Richard Bare and include 4:3 B&W transfers from the WB vaults.
Coming November 3rd, THE GREAT FIRE (4 hours, 2014) is an appropriately searing look at the Great Fire of London – from its origins in a Pudding Lane bakery through cathedrals, shops, and inns and all but 10,000 of London’s 80,000 inhabitants lost their homes. This two-part docu-drama looks at the real-life participants involved in the tragedy, from King Charles II to Thomas Farriner, the King’s baker who owned the shop where the fire began. Charles Dances, Andrew Buchan, Jack Huston and Rose Leslie star in this superior presentation coming on Blu-Ray featuring a 1080i HD transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.
Two excellent new documentaries, IN THEIR OWN WORDS: JIM HENSON and IN THEIR OWN WORDS: MUHAMMAD ALI (60 mins. each, 2015) offer new profiles of the celebrated figures. Henson’s life and times include comments from his children (Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, and Heather),as well as friends and colleagues Frank Oz, Carroll Spinney, Bob McGrath and Disney CEO Michael Eisner among others. The Ali documentary charts a similar course, from his family and friends to biographer Thomas Hauser and others. Recommended, and also available on DVD November 3rd.
Finally, humorist/host Rick Sebak returns with a pair of tasty new documentaries. Available November 10th, A FEW GOOD PIE PLACES (60 mins., 2015) takes viewers on a tour across the country looking at some of the tastiest pies, from Portland, Maine to Seattle, with stops in Vermont, Pittsburgh, Indiana and northern California for good measure. A FEW GREAT BAKERIES (60 mins., 2015) produces a similar feeling in the viewer, compelling one to seek out fresh bread, desserts and other goodies only your local bakery can provide. Sebak’s travelogue here includes bakeries in Martha’s Vineyard and Juneau, Alaska, and both DVDs – sold separately – include ample bonus features, with material that didn’t make either program as well as a look at Sebak’s soundtrack on “Pie Places.” Warmly recommended!
3 FILMS DIRECTED BY BENOIT JACQUOT Blu-Ray (Cohen Film Collection): French cinephiles will want to seek out this two-disc Blu-Ray collection from Cohen, featuring a trio of films directed by Benoit Jacquot. Included here are “The Disenchanted” (78 mins., 1990), starring Judith Godreche as a 17-year-old forced to degrade herself in order to take care of her bedridden mother. In “A Single Girl” (90 mins., 1995), Virginie Ledoyen’s career shot to stardom in Jacquot’s real-time story of another young woman – this one a pregnant 19-year-old who starts her new job at a hotel by wondering if her boyfriend is right to raise their child. Finally, “Keep It Quiet” (106 mins., 1999) is a change of pace satire about a CEO who gets out of prison with a decided change in personality. Commentary from critics Wade Major and Tim Cogshell are included on all three films along with a new on-camera interview between Jacquot and critic Kent Jones. Re-release trailers, 1080p transfers and 2.0 French soundtracks (with English subtitles) make for a top notch package for Jacquot devotees.
HUNGRY HEARTS DVD (112 mins., 2014; MPI): Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher play newlyweds whose relationship distintigrates once they have a child and Rohrwacher develops obsessions with veganism, cleaniness and other hang-ups. A strong performance from Driver is the main draw to Saverio Costanzo’s film, now on DVD from MPI as part of the label’s Sundance Selects line. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are both fine.
Coming from MPI on November 3rd is SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (81 mins., 2015, PG), actor Ethan Hawke’s documentary about virtuoso pianist Seymour Bernstein, who gave up a life of concert performing for teaching music. Bernstein and Hawke share stories about life, art and fulfillment in “Seymour,” which comes to DVD next week from MPI sporting a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound and bonus concert footage…DO I SOUND GAY? (77 mins., 2015) finds journalist David Thorpe engaging in a look at whether or not he “sounds gay.” Margaret Cho, George Takei, and Don Lemon appear in this offbeat, funny doc coming to DVD November 3rd from MPI as part of their “Sundance Selects” series. The disc boasts a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound and the trailer.
Well Go New Release: Coming November 3rd, THE GOLDEN CANE WARRIOR (111 mins., 2014, Not Rated) is an Indonesian adventure starring Christine Hakim as the holder of the “Golden Cane” weapon, who has to take charge once chaos reigns before her successor can be announced. Martial arts fans should find ample entertainment in this import coming to Blu-Ray November 3rd from Well Go. The Blu offers a 1080p transfer with 5.1 DTS MA sound (Indonesian with subtitles).
BIG EDEN 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray (117 mins., 2000, PG-13; Wolfe Video): Thomas Bezucha’s acclaimed gay romance – which shows that a homosexual romance needn’t carry an explicit R rating – stars Arye Gross, Tim Dekay and Louise Fletcher in the story of a thirtysomething gay man who returns to his Montana hometown in order to make good on his affection for his high school best friend. A featurette, “Looking Back: New Interviews With Director and Actors,” offers a retrospective on the production, with commentary from the previous DVD release and the trailer included for extras. The 1080p transfer and stereo soundtrack are both fine in Wolfe’s now-available Blu-Ray edition.