PREGAMING ROGUE ONE
Last year, J.J. Abrams relaunched the famed Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens, reuniting some of our favorite characters from the original trilogy and introducing some fresh ones to kickstart a next wave rebellion against the reinvigorated forces of the evil Galactic Empire. If you enjoyed the seventh chapter in this iconic franchise, you might want to revisit it in this special edition Blu-ray before checking out the upcoming standalone movie Rogue One, which tells the tale of the rebels who stole the Death Star blueprints, to get pumped. The two films are not sequentially related except they are modern upgrades of an older cinematic universe, so you’ll have to dig that aspect to get into them. They certainly have generated renewed interest in the series across multiple generations. What works about Abrams’ film, and hopefully Gareth Edwards’ forthcoming one, is that they combine modern CG with practical effects. (The prequel trilogy felt like digital overload at times.) The new Collector’s Edition release of The Force Awakens inserts an extra disc into a four-disc package that offers new bonus features, including featurettes about costume design, weapon design, and foley work along with deleted scenes, an Abrams commentary track, and an interview with rising stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
Famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was known for his intense martial arts epics like The Seven Samurai, Throne Of Blood, and Ran, but he delved into other genres. Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990) delved into magical realism territory, and the eight short stories contained within the anthology—including entries about a fox wedding in a forest, a soldier encountering ghosts of war, and a deadly power plant meltdown—were reportedly inspired by actual dreams that the director had. The film was co-produced by Steven Spielberg and features Martin Scorsese portraying Vincent Van Gogh in the segment entitled “Crows”. Criterion’s new Blu-ray of the film includes, among other things, a new 4K transfer, a 150-minute documentary shot on set, new audio commentary from film scholar Stephen Prince, the 50-minute documentary Kurosawa’s Way from 2011, which includes interviews with Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Hayao Miyazaki, and a booklet with an essay and Kurosawa’s script for an unfilmed dream sequence. That’s quite a package.
BAND OF BROTHERS
Rock docs have become all the rage in recent years, but Rush: Time Stand Still, Dale Heslip’s look at the career of Canadian prog rock icons Rush which is narrated by Paul Rudd, is less about digging deep into history or expanding upon the mythos of a band and more about life lessons learned and the inevitability of a great ride ending. Made on the cusp of their 40th anniversary tour, the film combines vintage and modern concert footage, animation, and new interviews with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart as they contemplate their hard work, achievements, and the bond that has kept them together for 40 years. Heslip avoids overt sentimentality as various people involved with the group, and particularly the band members themselves, reveal funny and interesting anecdotes about their hard struggle to make it but also come to terms with what could be (and turns out to have been) their final tour. Once this generation of bands is gone, rock and roll will never be the same again.
Some movies age better than others, and sometimes it’s not the aging that matters but the quality of the story. Two titles from the Warner Archive Collection, a line that has been specializing in old school gems that deserve more play today, fit the bill.
Time After Time (1979) is a wonderful romantic adventure from writer-director Nicholas Meyer, whose involvement in the Star Trek film franchise brought us the awesome second, fourth, and sixth installments. Meyer’s more modestly budgeted film offers a clever premise: Prophetic sci-fi author H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) has secretly invented the time machine he wrote about. He is unknowingly friends with Jack The Ripper (David Warner) who escapes to future San Francisco with his invention. Because it returns to its point of origin, Wells jumps in and chases the cunning maniac into the future, where he becomes romantically entangled with bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) whose life faces danger from his nemesis. The film would clearly be played in a more violent manner today, and the love affair between the Wells and Robbins is endearingly sweet in a way that might not be portrayed now. It’s a product of its time, wonderfully so, and it’s great to see McDowell in a tender role. (Trivia alert: A very young Corey Feldman gets a short cameo near the beginning.)
On the flip side, the campy adaptation of the pulp novel action hero Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze (1975) marries adventure movie panache with nudge-nudge wink-wink, self-referential humor. The muscular Ron Ely actually skirts hamming it up as the stoic adventurer/scientist/surgeon/inventor who journeys into the mysterious valley of a Central American country where his father visited and later had a claim to before he was murdered. His five brasher compatriots in adventure include Paul Gleason (who played the assistant principal in The Breakfast Club) and a young William Lucking (Piney from Sons Of Anarchy). Directed by Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run), Doc Savage is goofy fun with some decent production values. If you grew up in or appreciate the era of ‘70s TV superheroes, you’ll get a kick out of it. FYI: It turns out Savage’s Fortress of Solitude predates the one made famous by Superman. In this case, though, it’s only a secret arctic igloo with a nice fireplace.
An excellent and underrated horror film, William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist III, which he directed and adapted from his sequel novel Legion, fell prey to studio tampering back in the day. In order to market it, Morgan Creek Productions needed an exorcism that was absent from the story. Thus one was written in to appease the financial backers and give the film more box office allure. It performed well at the box office but did not set the cinematic world afire. At long last we get Blatty’s original vision for the film, which excised some elements including the exorcism and now includes new footage or alternate takes of scenes restored mainly from VHS sources. It is part of the new Collector’s Edition of the film from Scream Factory. The two-disc release offers both cuts of the film, and to be fair, while the original, over the top version is great fun, the exorcist-free rendition is equally unnerving. In fact, the pulse-pounding jump scare at the heart of each movie, unconnected to any overt supernatural event, will make you lose sleep. Recommended for the supernatural horror buff in your life.
While originally known for releasing art house, classic, and foreign films, Kino Lorber has in recent years embraced horror and cult films, notably the underrated studio and indie fare being reissued through their Studio Classics line. What is great about these releases is they will be new to many people who overlooked them originally or are just learning about their stars. For example, the late, great Gene Wilder was known for his work with Mel Brooks and as Willy Wonka, but he also directed and starred in off-the-wall comedies, including Haunted Honeymoon (1986) and The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975). They are titles for the hardcore fans who certainly deserve to see them in HD.
On the coming of age movie front, My Bodyguard (starring Chris Makepeace, Matt Dillon, and Adam Baldwin) tells the story of a bullied teen who hires some muscle to fend off a persecuting peer. Joan Cusack and Jennifer Beals also appear in this acclaimed 1980 film from director Tony Bill (Flyboys). I remember seeing this in the theater back in the day. It was a crowd pleaser that struck a chord of truth with its audience.
Kino has also revived numerous horror flicks from over the years that are hard to find, including Witchcraft with Lon Chaney Jr. (1964), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? with Shelley Winters (1971), and Monster Dog with Alice Cooper (1984). It’s nice that these cult flicks get nice transfers and decent bonus features for the fans who want them, plus people like me who still need to see some of them for the first time! It’s a tough job, but Kino’s got to do it. And they make me happy.