DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 7/12: "The Whip Is Cracked!"

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/13/15 07:29:45

This column has been on hiatus for a few weeks but is now back with a collection of titles that includes both a number of cult favorites and some of the best films to hit theaters so far this year. After all, who needs that Harper Lee nonsense when you can spend your time watching the majesty that is "Stone Cold"?


ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (Twilight Time. $29.95): When it was initially released in 1986, Julien Temple's lavish musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes cult novel about the rise in teenage life in Fifties-era London was a disaster of mammoth proportions from a business perspective--it was an overhyped flop in its home country, it was barely shown in America and it helped to bring down the studio that produced it. Time has been much kinder to it and it can now been seen as one of the great latter-day movie musicals thanks to its gorgeous visual style (check out that extended opening shot through the teeming city streets), thrilling production numbers and a killer soundtrack featuring performances from Gil Scott-Heron, Sade and David Bowie, whose title song remains the last unassailably great song that he has written to date. Sadly, there are no bonus features to be had beyond an isolate score but if you can get your hands on this limited edition release, it will still be worth it.

BATMAN--SEASON 2, VOLUME 2 (Warner Home Video. $39.98): In the second half of the second season of the beloved Sixties-era campfest, the Dynamic Duo go up against such villains as The Puzzler (Maurice Evans), Sandman (Michael Rennie), The Mad Hatter (David Wayne), Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (Carolyn Jones), King Tut (Victor Buono), the Black Widow (Tallulah Bankhead) and Mr. Freeze (Eli Wallach) and get some assistance from the Green Hornet (Van Williams) and his sidekick Kato (Bruce Effing Lee) for good measure. Auteurists will note that some of the episodes were directed by George Waggner, who previously made the horror classic "The Wolf Man," and others were done by Oscar Rudolph, who helped produce numerous episodes of "The Brady Bunch," the Lenny Bruce-penned kiddie sci-fi cheapie "The Rocket Man" and, perhaps most significantly, acclaimed filmmaker Alan Rudolph. Other notable TV-related releases include "Bitten: Season 2" (eOne Entertainment. $34.98) and "House of Cards: Season 3" (Sony Home Entertainment. $55.99).

THE BLACK STALLION (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): One of the great live-action family films of all time, Caroll Ballard's thrilling 1980 adaptation of the beloved children's book about a boy (Kelly Reno) and a horse who become inseparable friends when they are stranded together on a deserted island. In fact, the first hour of the film, chronicling their time together apart from civilization, is one of the most spellbinding stretches of filmmaking I have ever see and helps carry it through a more routine second half involving a crusty trainer (Mickey Rooney) and a big race. If you have kids who have never seen this before, show it to them as soon as you can so that they can see that a film can be so much more than noisy junk like "Minions."

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Earlier this year, eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar award (the French equivalent of the Oscar) for her supporting turn in Olivier Assayas' drama in which she plays the personal assistant of an aging actress (Juliette Binoche) confronting both her storied past and uncertain future when she is asked to appear in a revival of the play that made her a young star--this time in the role of the older woman opposite American tabloid fixture Chloe Grace Moretz. Clearly those making snarky remarks hadn't seen the film because if they had, they would have realized that Stewart is flat-out brilliant in the role and that her work her is easily the best performance of her often underrated career. Binoche and Moretz are no slouches either in this powerful mind-bender that will hopefully find the audience it deserves on home video. (Just the sight of Binoche's character confronting a 3-D superhero crapfest alone is worth the rental price.)

EX MACHINA (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): One of the best films of 2015 to date, this trippy futuristic drama from writer Alex Garland (making his directorial debut) follows a computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who is selected by the reclusive genius boss (Oscar Isaac) to journey to his remote mountain retreat to participate in an elaborate experiment involving what may be the first true example of artificial intelligence--housed, perhaps inevitably, in the form of a gorgeous female robot (Alicia Vikander). Of course, nothing is as it seems to be and it is a delight to see how Garland takes familiar elements--the whole premise is essentially a riff on the Voight-Kampf test from "Blade Runner"--and spins it out in smart and thought-provoking new directions. Visually sumptuous, intelligently written and nicely acted (with Vikander stealing the show with a performance far more complex and nuanced than it might seem at first), this is one of the best sci-fi films to come along in a while.

IT FOLLOWS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.95): Another highlight from the year to date is this spellbinding horror film about a nice young woman (Maika Monroe in her breakthrough performance) who, following a sexual encounter that goes from sweet to decidedly strange, finds herself being dogged by a mysterious, deadly and relentless force that will not stop following her wherever she goes. Having made a name for himself with the teen-oriented comedy-drama "The Myth of the American Sleepover," writer-director David Robert Mitchell knocks it out of the park with the most skillfully made and genuinely creepy American horror film to come along since at least "The Conjuring." Even the most jaded genre buffs are going to find themselves jumping at some of the exquisitely-timed scare on display here and chilled by the haunting final shot.

THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (Shout! Factory. $19.97): If you thought that Johnny Depp take on the Lone Ranger was a botch of staggering proportions, you need to try this barely-remembered 1981 stab at recreating the success of "Superman" featuring then-and-future unknown Klinton Spilsbury as the beloved masked avenger. Alas, Spilsbury's performance was so awful that all of his dialogue was redubbed by James Keach but even that couldn't save the project from terminal inanity--at one point, we essentially are told that our hero uses silver bullets because he is a bad shot. The one glorious part comes at the end when Jason Robards, playing President Ulysses S. Grant, turns to the camera and drolly remarks as only he can "Who was that masked man?"

MAGGIE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99): In this nearly zombie-free zombie movie set in an America where the dead have begun rising from the grave and are feeling snacky, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a midwestern farmer caring for his recently infected daughter (Abigail Breslin) over the two weeks that it will take for her to completely turn into one of them. This is certainly an intriguing take on a genre that has just about reached its saturation point but it is done in by a somnambulistic pace, a story that doesn't really go anywhere and the presence of Schwarzenegger himself--he isn't bad in a role in which his action moves are kept to a minimum, but to cast him in a role that might have more plausibly been filled by the likes of William H. Macy is a move that never quite pays off. Still, as recent Schwarzenegger vehicles go, it is certainly more interesting than "The Last Ride" or that current "Terminator Genysis" gibberish.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2 (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): I only mention this critically derided sequel to the hit Kevin James slapstick comedy because the same leaked emails from Sony executives that all but doomed the charming "Aloha" months before it came out by deriding it amongst themselves found those very same weasels talking about how thrilled and happy they were with this patently unnecessary cash grab.

RECKLESS (Artsploitation Films. $18.99): Did you watch the hostage drama "The Disappearance of Alice Creed," in which Gemma Arterton played a rich woman kidnapped and tied to a bed by two masked men hoping to ransom her who then tries to use her own cunning to get free and escape and think "This is okay but it would have been better if it had been in Dutch and didn't have Gemma Arterton"? Well, you have your oddly specific wish with this Dutch remake and while the end result is okay, I suppose, anyone who saw and liked the original is likely to look at this one and ask "What is het punt?"

SLOW WEST (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99): In this decidedly offbeat western from debuting writer-director John Maclean, a 16-year-old Scottish kid (Kodi Smit-McPhee) follows the love of his life when she mysteriously flees their hometow to the American frontier. Along the way, he becomes acquainted with a tracker (Michael Fassbender) who agrees to help him look for her but does he have an ulterior motive? Those of you looking for a traditional oater may be put off by its slow pace and general weirdness but if you ever speculated as to what a western might look like in the hands of someone like Wes Anderson, you may get as much of a kick out of this cheerfully oddball work as I did.

STONE COLD (Olive Films. $19.99): In this 1991 trash classic that was designed to launch former football star Brian Bosworth as a big screen action hero, a cop on the edge (guess who) infiltrates a violent white supremacist biker gang (led by B-movie icon Lance Henriksen) in an attempt to bring them to justice in the most head-banging, fist-crunching, gear-shifting manner possible. Although the similarly-themed "Point Break" has gone on to become some kind of cult favorite, this movie beats that one like a gong thanks to its entertainingly sleazo tone, gonzo action sequences that include a climax that finds motorcycles bombing through the halls of the Mississippi state capitol and one of the great B-movie lines of all time "This reminds me of my father's last words: 'Don't son. That gun is loaded!'"

THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (Olive Films. $29.95): Another former football star, Rosey Grier, got to shine in this immortal trash classic in which a dying racist surgeon (Ray Milland) perfects a surgical process to transplant his head onto another body--alas, when an emergency arises, the only available body is that belonging to a death row convict who just happens to be black (Grier). Sort of like a two-headed version of "The Defiant Ones" without any of that pesky piety, this is one of the most ridiculous movies you will ever see but as campy crap goes, this one doesn't wear out its welcome as quickly as you might think--the sight of Grier and Milland sharing the same body is a schlock image for the ages--and there is one classic scene in which the newly enhanced Grier visits his girlfriend who greets him with "You get into more shit" and then asks if he has two of anything else.


THE CELL (Warner Home Video. $14.98)

FLED (Olive Films. $29.95)

HOWLING 2: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF (Shout! Factory. $29.97)

JOHNNY BE GOOD (Olive Films. $29.95)

THE KILLERS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

LIFE STINKS (Kino Lorber. $19.99)

THE MEAN SEASON (Olive Films. $29.95)

MERCHANTS OF DOUBT (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)

ROBOT JOX (Shout! Factory. $24.97)

SOUL PLANE (Olive FIlms. $29.95)

THRASHIN (Olive Films. $29.95)

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST--ROGUE CUT (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98)

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