Veteran writer Bryan Reesman has you covered with his monthly round up of new releases and hidden gems available via home video and streaming.
Live Baby Live: Live At Wembley Stadium (1991) is the name of both the live album and video that INXS released at their commercial zenith. Recorded at London’s Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1991 in front of 72,000 fans, this concert captures the Australian sextet at the height of their powers with front person Michael Hutchence and his bandmates completely enthralling the huge crowd. On top of being upgraded to high definition video and with remixed audio, this reissue also includes one more song absent from previous releases, the song “Lately” which is my personal favorite from album X.
It’s easy to see why Hutchence was so popular. He commanded the stage, was also a powerful vocalist, and knew how to get a crowd going. The group also had a palpable chemistry where one cannot imagine them taking a false step. What’s interesting about the song selection here is it’s mostly from the two most recent albums they had at the time Kick (1987) and X (1990). Most of their earlier music was ignored in the setlist including the super catchy “Don’t Change” which was the first song that Americans were exposed to an MTV back in 1982. Still, that complaint aside, this is a top-notch performance that proves that these Aussies were more than simply pop hit makers. In fact, it’s nice to hear their music without the glossy production that emerged on their biggest albums. They connected with their audience on a deep level, and that shows in the electric energy hitting the stage as much as emanating from it.
THAT VOODOO YOU DO
While it looks like it would blatantly play to fans of horror movies, Zombi Child (2019) is more of a dark, moody drama about a Haitian teenager (Wislanda Louimat) attending a French boarding school. She becomes friends with some of the white students there who become intrigued by her interest in Voodoo which stems from her childhood. One even becomes inspired to explore that tradition, unbeknownst to her friends. At the same time, this narrative is intercut with a story from 55 years earlier, in which a Haitian man was poisoned, allegedly died, but was actually drugged and “resurrected” by a group of slave owners who drag him out to toil in the sugarcane fields. He eventually manages to escape and works his way back to civilization, unsure of how to return given the fact that he “died”. It seems to be based on the real-life story that also inspired the ’80s Wes Craven horror movie The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Written and directed by Bertrand Bonello, Zombi Child keeps one foot in the grave and the other firmly planted in the living world. It’s an unusual film in that it does not play out like a traditional horror movie, although near the end there is an intense possession sequence that certainly takes us into that realm. It can be slow moving at times, but it’s very lyrical and a rather interesting film with a more philosophical approach to Voodoo. I give it points for treading a different path.
TEMPLES OF ANTIQUITY
For those of us who love to collect physical objects – everything from books to CDs and movies – the digital era of convenience formatted in ones and zeros is a confusing place. A lot of people have shed their possessions in order to have everything stored on their phone or on a streaming service, but many of us really cherish the value of a tangible object of art. For literary lovers who like to hold something in their hands, The Booksellers (2019) is an intriguing documentary about not only New York City bookstores, but particularly antiquarian booksellers. In other words, the people that you see selling very rare books that only certain people will collect and only certain people can afford.
Many of us have spent time in such bookstores, marveling at things out of our price range. Here, we get the chance to hear from antiquarian booksellers and buyers as well as esteemed members of the literary profession. In some ways, it feels a little bit like an insider documentary because none of the famous people are identified by their names and titles on screen. Some of them come about because their names are mentioned or because they’ve been referenced beforehand. (Interviewees include authors Gay Talese and Fran Lebowitz, rare book dealers Glenn Horowitz and Rebecca Romney, and Argosy Book Store owners/siblings Adina Cohen, Judith Lowry, and Naomi Hample, among many others.)
That aspect doesn’t detract at all from the enjoyment of The Booksellers, which was directed by D.W. Wright and executive produced by Parker Posey. The informative interviews certainly allow us to get into these people’s heads. We learn what drives their passion, why they are obsessed with books, and how they are trying to keep that love for older physical objects alive in a culture that worships the digital. As a lifelong collector of books, movies, music, comic books and more, I totally appreciate where these people are coming from. While digital has certainly made it more convenient for us to carry things around, there is something to be said for a rare physical object that bonds you more fully with the artists and their work of art.
One of the more fascinating figures in this documentary has six warehouses full of over 300,000 books. That might seem crazy to some people. But there are others who feel the need to be an archivist, because if they don’t take care of such items… who will?
THE OTHER BETTY DAVIS
You probably know of Bette Davis the famous Hollywood actress. But there was another Betty Davis, the wife of legendary jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis who was also a formidable talent in her own right and whose musical life is chronicled in Betty: They Say I’m Different (2017). She helped Miles reinvent his career by getting him to adopt a slicker image and introducing him to artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. A few years after they split, she focused on her own music which was bold funk and soul that put her in a very different category than the other women of the time. She had no problem expressing her sexuality and individuality on stage, which put her at odds with conservative religious types and television progammers. She did three solo albums between 1973 and 1975 (the third was appropriately titled Nasty Gal) but never achieved the level of popularity that she really should have. A fourth solo album sat in the vaults for over 30 years.
In his documentary, director Phil Cox tracks her and past bandmates down to talk about what happened to her. Over the course of the 54-minute film, Davis is only seen in partial glimpses so we don’t get a sense of what she looks like now. Her old bandmates also try to coax her out for a reunion. I won’t spoil how that turns out. Die-hard fans might deem that this to be more of a tutorial into her life than a deeper look, but it will likely make casual fans and newbies want to learn more about her.
What’s great about the current wave of music documentaries is they’re not just focusing on all the multi-platinum artists — they’re focusing on other people who had an impact in their own way and who really deserve a wider audience. You’ll definitely find yourself intrigued not only by Davis’s story but her music, which is available on Spotify and other streaming services. So check it out!
Werewolf movies are often a dicey proposition because the results are usually mixed. Even with the advent of digital effects it’s not always easy to get it right, and a lot of times it’s still cooler to have people in furry suits. As in Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, which I highly recommend you see.
I recently revisited two older, low budget werewolf movies on Prime that I have a fondness for. The first one is The Beast Must Die! (1974), a production from Hammer Films competitor Amicus Productions who put out a lot of fun films back in the day. In this movie, a wealthy sportsman (Calvin Lockhart) assembles six people in his house along with his wife for a weekend of dinner parties because he believes that one of them is a werewolf. There have been mysterious deaths surrounding all of their lives, and he’s convinced that one of those people is the beast that will be worth hunting down. With an incredible security system monitoring his estate, he traps them there until he can ferret out the culprit. Unless he’s delusional.
Of course, we know there will be a werewolf, and while The Beast itself is not all that impressive – it’s a dog with an extra furry outfit on – what’s fun about the movie is the atmosphere, the amazing location, and supporting cast member Peter Cushing who’s always fun to watch on screen because he always gave his all in everything he ever did. I also love the Shaft-like guitars that open up the movie. It’s definitely something that’s a lot of fun for horror fans who also can handle a touch of kitsch in their viewing. Many fans online have expressed surprise at liking it after reading some negative reviews.
Another movie that riffs along those same lines is the direct-to-video fear flick Howling V: The Rebirth (1990). Yes, I’m actually recommending one of the many Howling sequels. What makes this movie particularly interesting is that it’s essentially Ten Little Indians done werewolf style in real-life Corvin Castle in Romania (where parts of The Nun were also filmed). The acting abilities of the cast members vary wildly – some are good and some are not so great – but what makes this movie work is this incredible location and the fact that the werewolf is used sparingly. It’s a similar concept to The Beast Must Die! in that a bunch of people have been assembled for a castle opening, but it’s a ruse since one of them is the descendant of a family of werewolves that all perished (save for one baby) 500 years ago. Presumably, that person must be eliminated. If you’re a big cult movie aficionado, you might get a kick out of it. (One caveat: It’s available for free on Prime and Vudu but with ads.) Neither of these movies are going to blow your mind. But if you’re someone like me who loves digging into quirky indie fare, you’ll likely appreciate them.
NETFLIX FIX: BINGE BUZZ
DARK, Season 3 – The multi-generational time travel conspiracy in this German series wraps up with what some have declared to be a completely crazy finale. And why not?
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, Season 2 – Adapted from the comic book by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (with characters aged up), this season also delves into time travel as individual team members wind up in Dallas between 1960 and 1963. Their leader Five arrives post-JFK assassination and needs to reunite them and save the world in a short span of time, again.
CURSED, Season 1 – Adapted from the illustrated novel by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, Cursed reimagines Arthurian legend. Queen of the Fey people, Nimue (the future of Lady of the Lake) teams up with a young mercenary named Arthur as she seeks to free her people from the tyranny of the Red Paladins.