Here are two high octane superhero films that benefit from propulsive action, witty wordplay, and charming characters, but they operate on different levels.
One of the few major comic book films with a female co-lead, Ant-Man and the Wasp(2018) gives Evangeline Lilly the chance to shine as Hope van Dyne as she and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) shrink down into the Quantum Realm to seek her mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer as the original Wasp) who was supposedly lost in that subatomic realm three decades ago. This Marvel blockbuster offers the antithesis to the bleak and intense Avengers: Infinity War both in tone and scope, preferring a more light-hearted approach and diving into a microscopic world rather than a galaxy-spanning odyssey, while still delivering the requisite superhero experience. Some ant antics even get goofy screen time. The Blu-ray/DVD bonus features include “making of” featurettes, outtakes, a gag reel, and deleted scenes.
In contrast to that PG-13 film, the R-rated Deadpool 2: Super Duper $@%!#&Cut (2018) set delivers the off-the-cuff, un-PC humor and intense violent action that its predecessor is known for. It’s ironic that Ryan Reynold’s greatest role barely features his actual face, but he inhabits the snarky character of Deadpool really well, while Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz amp things up as Cable and Domino, respectively. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes loaded with extras, including deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel, interviews, and commentaries. Oh, and you can watch the R-rated theatrical or the extended unrated cut with 15 more minutes of Wade Wilson wildness, including a montage where he attempts more methods of suicide.
BEYOND THE ZONE
Debuting in 1963, the year that The Twilight Zone began its fifth and final season, The Outer Limits brought us two seasons of sci-fi, alien beings, and touches of horror in gothic black and white. Available now on Blu-ray through Kino Lorber, The Outer Limits: Season One served up some dark and thought-provoking scenarios that beguiled its audience at the time (it’s still remembered) and inspired the more successful ‘90s color series that ran for seven years. The 32 episodes of Season One are packaged in a box set that includes an informative 40-page book featuring photos and liner notes by David J. Schow. While the quality and production values varied from episode to episode, and the show did not quite reach the lofty heights of Rod Serling’s iconic series, there were many memorable Outer Limits adventures that took us everywhere from an old house turned alien prison to an Arctic outpost to outer space. “The Galaxy Being” (with Cliff Robertson), “The Architects Of Fear” (with Robert Culp), and “The Zanti Misfits” (with Bruce Dern) are among the classic episodes here. Further, audio commentaries on many episodes are provided by Schow, Tim Lucas, Dr. Reba Wissner, and other notable film and TV historians.
Like Will Smith and Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise loves saving the world, and the Mission: Impossible franchise has given him the golden opportunity to do so. In the sixth and latest M:I installment, Fallout (2018), his heroic alter ego Ethan Hunt must stop plutonium from ending up in the hands of terrorists with nuclear intentions. Fast-paced and well directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the film is so filled with double and triple crosses it will make your head spin. It verges on self-parody, but it is ramped up by its self-aware sense of humor, fast-paced globe-trotting, and Cruise’s hyperkinetic performance. Among the bonus features is an hour-long look into the making of the film and Cruise’s crazy stunt-work — that’s him riding his own motorcycle, flying a helicopter, and falling from a helicopter. No green screen needed. He’s an insurer’s nightmare and an action fan’s dream. This latest M:I chapter is also included in the Mission: Impossible 6-Movie Collection.
The fine folks at Kino Lorber have been pumping up a crazy amount of titles, everything from past Oscar winners to under-appreciated indies. They also have regular Blu-ray and DVD sales online, and they are helping us rediscover some worthy movies.
Alan Rudolph is perhaps the most underrated and under-appreciated director of modern American cinema. A protege of Robert Altman, he writes and directs similarly multi-layered tales that involve multiple characters and storylines weaving together in both obvious and subtle ways. There is also a strong romantic streak running through his work. Rudolph’s debut Welcome To L.A.(1976) helped set the template for his career. It follows an alcoholic, womanizing singer-songwriter (Keith Carradine) who arrives in L.A. because his songs are being recorded by a popular if typical soft rock performer. Along the way, he romances several ladies (including Geraldine Chaplin and Lauren Hutton), spars with his estranged father (The Dukes Of Hazzard’s Denver Pyle in a meatier role), and copes with the weird world of La-La Land. The ending is both enlightening and unexpected.
On the flip side, Rudolph’s Love At Large (1990) serves up quirky romantic comedy as two bumbling PIs, one an experienced vet (Tom Berenger) and other a newbie (Elizabeth Perkins), gradually become intertwined as they mishandle their cases and cope with fizzling relationships. Enhanced by a moody and sensual Mark Isham score and a Neil Young cameo (he plays a mobster), this film’s wacky, oddball charm comes from inserting characters from a ‘40s film noir into a late ‘80s dramedy.
Some other interesting Kino titles I discovered recently include Nightkill(1980), Mr. Destiny (1990), and Zero Population Growth (Z.P.G.) (1972). Nightkill stars Jaclyn Smith (Charlie’s Angels) as a wealthy wife whose lover kills her callous corporate husband so they can be together and spend his cash. But when her younger paramour mysteriously ends up dead in her meat freezer as well, and a nosy detective (Robert Mitchum) comes poking around, things turn weird fast. It’s definitely got some plot holes, but the torrid tale twists and turns to a nasty finale. In Mr. Destiny, Jim Belushi wishes his middling life was better — why did he have to screw up that big Little League playoff game as a kid? — but when Destiny (Michael Caine) gives him a chance to live the life he dreams of, things do not go as planned. It’s a standard Hollywood fairy tale with more traditional male and female roles, but it is elevated by witty writing and a particularly heartfelt performance from Belushi.
By contrast, Z.P.G. is a grim, claustrophobic look into a severely dystopic future where it is punishable by death to have children. The world is choked by smog, synthetic food is the norm, domestic pets are extinct, and there are simply too many of us, so people get to “parent” talking dolls as a twisted substitute. Geraldine Chaplin and Oliver Reed play a depressed and privileged couple who seek to break the rules. I take issue with focusing on motherhood as a woman’s primary source of happiness, and the low budget somewhat hampers the feel of the film, but sci-fi cultists will likely find things to appreciate among this weird movie’s futuristic predictions.
Every generation in America knows about the classic Christmas films Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and The Cricket In The Hearth (well, at least the first three). And yes, they have been reissued before. But the new Blu-ray package The Original Christmas Specials Collection includes a wonderful 47-minute documentary on the history of Rankin/Bass animated films, which have aged pretty well (although Rudolph has been getting called out in recent tweets for its perceived moral lapses). It turns out that Rankin/Bass’ stop motion and cel animation releases were predominately outsourced to Japan, so in effect, many ‘70 and ‘80s kids grew up watching Japanese animation without knowing it. There is also a look into the creation of the new Rudolph 4D attraction, the original Frosty pencil test, and commentaries for Frosty and Santa Claus.
When he wrote and directed Looker (1982), Michael Crichton sought to craft a sci-fi thriller that made statements about the American obsession with perfect beauty and plastic surgery, as well as the power of media over our lives. Coincidentally, he predicted CGI technology and the replacement of people and actors with digital replicas. In this film, a skilled plastic surgeon (Albert Finney) has been asked to do minute cosmetic work on women who already seem perfect. All are connected to a media company called Digital Matrix which has scanned in their likenesses for use in digitally manipulated commercials, and three of them are soon killed. He seeks to protect a fourth model (The Partridge Family’s Susan Dey) from the same fate while finding out what is going on. Gratuitous nudity included, Looker is both very ‘80s and very relevant. It’s also got one of the most original slo-mo fight scenes you’ll ever see. The plot hole of why the models were killed after their images are scanned is explained in the inexplicably deleted (and compelling) sequence that was inserted into the TV cut and included on this reissue.
OWNING YOUR VOICE
Sorry To Bother You, the debut film from writer/director Boots Riley, is one of the year’s wildest cinematic rides. Actor and rapper Lakeith Stanfield portrays Cassius “Cash” Green, a struggling African-American man who soars to the heights of telemarketing success by discovering his “white voice” while making cold calls. While his oppressed co-workers battle their corporate slave masters, Cassius is promoted and wined and dined by the elite, including his coked-up boss Steve Lift (played with glee by Armie Hammer), which leads to a crisis of identity and conscience. Deftly blending black comedy, sci-fi, and social commentary, Riley’s film really goes off the deep end — intentionally stereotypical rapping, wild wardrobes, and references to horse cock included. Movie buffs into edgy, surreal comedy will really dig this and won’t soon forget it. Riley offers a commentary, and a solid 12-minute documentary also delves into his history and creative process.