A LOVABLE ILLEGAL ALIEN — Close encounters are usually portrayed as a scary affair, but in Paul they become endearing. Voiced by Seth Rogen, the titular E.T. (a rather cool CGI creation) is on the run from government spooks, then falls in with two British, alien-obsessed geeks traveling across the American Southwest after San Diego Comic-Con. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are great as the geeks, Kristen Wiig is fun as the religious nutcase who they encounter and Jason Bateman rocks as a badass government agent in dogged pursuit of Paul. Toss in a fun cameo from Sigourney Weaver, an impromptu musical number as an extra, not to mention lines from famous sci-fi films quoted verbatim for comedic effect, and it’s a fun ride. Paul did not draw a lot of attention in theaters earlier this year, so here’s your chance to catch it, and with extra footage.
BOOBS IN SPACE — I’ve only ever seen little bits of Battle Beyond The Stars, the low budget Roger Corman knock-off of Star Wars from 30 years ago, but it’s gotten its share of praise over the decades, and now Shout Factory! has unleashed a special edition with loads of extras as part of its year-long roll-out of classic Corman B-movies. I’m looking forward to seeing it in full, even if for the curiosity factor of its key players. And what players they were—the cast (Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, Sybil Danning, John Saxon, George Peppard), writer (John Sayles), production manager (Gale Ann Hurd) and production designer (James Cameron), who was responsible for creating the spaceship with breasts. I kid you not. Interested now?
IT’S TOUGH TO MAKE A KILLING — Ever wonder where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the time-jumping narrative of Reservoir Dogs? If not, I’ll tell you anyway: It was from Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 black and white thriller The Killing starring Sterling Hayden (the future maniac brigadier general in Dr. Strangelove). He plays a crook trying for one last, big score before settling down. To do so, he assembles a motley crew of corrupt individuals on both sides of the law to steal money from a racetrack, which involves distractions in the form of a brawl and a horse shooting. While it was not on the same level production-wise as his later efforts—the budget was allegedly only $320,000, which is $2.65 million today—The Killing already showcased Kubrick’s budding talent for inventive storytelling and visuals. And it’s got a good sense of humor to balance with its film noir style. The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray release of The Killing includes a lot of new supplemental materials along with a new transfer of the black and white boxing drama that followed this movie, called Killer’s Kiss. It was another noir film that Kubrick made early on and featured a violent fight sequence in a room full of mannequins, with plenty of “body parts” being damaged.
FAR OUT AND FAR BACK — When a middle aged couple are reunited with their estranged son Gabriel, who has been absent from their lives for nearly 20 years and was found living on the streets, they learn that he has suffered a traumatic brain injury that makes him believe he is still in 1968. But the year is 1986. With no memory of what transpired after he stormed out of his home as a teenage hippie following a parental showdown, Gabriel seems to be unable to connect with his parents or their past, until a music therapist (Julia Ormond) starts jogging his damaged brain cells with music from his past. But will his conservative father be able to get past the ‘60s rock he disdained to try to reach out to the son he thought he lost forever? Based on an actual patient studied by Dr. Oliver Sacks (the author of Awakenings), The Music Never Stopped combines medical and family melodrama into a story that’s sentimental without being saccharine, and it does not offer pat answers or simple or happy conclusions to everything that transpires. Lou Taylor Pucci’s performance as the disconnected Gabriel is mesmerizing, and J.K. Simmons shines as the father who learns to open his mind in order to communicate with his son. If you’re a fan of late ‘60s rock, you’ll hear plenty of it here. The ‘60s flashback sequences are fun, too.
POOR ROLE MODEL — Since this is the prequel to Malevolence, which has been sitting in my “to watch” pile for a couple of years now, I felt okay watching Bereavement. Actually, when I saw it last year at the Long Island International Film Expo, I didn’t know that it was a prequel. Featuring Michael Biehn and John Savage, Stevan Mena’s twisted tale of a killer who kidnaps, imprisons and indoctrinates a young boy in a slaughterhouse—and teaches him the ways of murdering those he deems bad (usually teenage girls)—is quite a compelling if violent tale with plenty of dark, unsettling imagery. After watching it, you’ll probably think of those times you passed by a spooky industrial building in your hometown and imagined the scary things that might have been transpiring inside. It turns out you might not have been imagining them after all.
BLU-RAY BONANZA — As home video revenues take a hit—DVD sales are slumping, and the slowly rising Blu-ray market is not exactly making up for the drop-off—it’s becoming a better and better time to get good Blu-ray bargains. In fact, you occasionally will find a Blu-ray title that’s slightly cheaper than its DVD counterpart, usually online at Amazon or Deep Discount. Of course, you also want to make sure that you’re getting what you want. As with the DVD revolution before it, many new BD titles come with little or no extras, but you know that in some cases a better version might be released later. For some movies a dearth of extras makes no difference, but it is interesting how sometimes the previous DVD extras are not included in a new BD reissue. You just need to do your research. Still, getting a budget-priced title on BD that costs what it does on DVD is certainly enticing and a possible motivation to upgrade to HD.