It's been a rather intriguing month so far with these new releases, I have a bunch of nice things in store for you from our good friends at Mill Creek, Lionsgate, Shout! Factory and Magnet. It's a nice group of things to do along with a few other added on reviews for good measure.
So roll camera, speed and action! Let's start off with Mill Creek shall we which includes a bunch of reissues from the Sony Blu-Ray catalog of titles. Starting with:
"Anaconda" Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer and Jonathan Hyde Directed by Luis Llosa 1997/PG-13/1 Hour 29 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. This sensational and exhilarating action-thriller that was both a surprise hit and received solid reviews stars JLo before she took with "Selena" (which had come out prior to this film and would earn her an Academy Award nomination) as part of a crew down including adventurer Stoltz and his cameraman Ice Cube and the rest of his crew (Wilson, Wuhrer and Hyde) down river in search of a mystic tribe in Amazon. They soon encounter Paul Sarone (Voight, in a terrific performance) as snake hunter in search of the ultimate prize: the anaconda. After a underwater accident knocks out Stoltz, Sarone soon starts to impose his will on JLo and company as they get closer and closer to the deadly snake. Thrills abound despite some rather early and a little hokey, but effective CGI effects and a sensational climax that satisfy fans of the genre.
This was Luis Llosa's second film after the underrated and thrilling action-thriller, "Sniper" starring Tom Berenger and Billy Zane. This film just simply works and it is alot of campy fun especially with Voight really relishing as the ultimate bad guy. It's beautifully shot by Bill Butler ("Rocky") and it's the type of film of high quality that they don't make anymore. It is a lot of fun! Thumbs way way up! (****)
"Last Action Hero" Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, F.Murray Abraham, Tom Noonan, Charles Dance, Mercedes Ruehl and the late Anthony Quinn Directed by John McTiernan 1993/PG-13/2 Hours 10 Minutes./Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 Non-Anamorphic. This over the top and sensationally enjoyable Arnold vehicle for which he earned a reported 25 million dollars to do is a very underrated action-comedy that really is ahead of time especially in terms of its plot in a very solid screenplay delivered by Shane Black ("Lethal Weapon", "Iron Man 3"), David Arnott and Marvel's regular screenwriter, Zak Penn ("The Incredible Hulk" amongst many). The film stars Arnie as Jack Slater, a tough guy LAPD detective who does things his way...in the movies! while in real life young Danny Madigan (O'Brien, "My Girl 2" a young teenage kid who hangs out in an old movie theater with the friendly owner/manager Nick (Robert Prosky, "Thief") because his imagination and fascination with Jack Slater and his movies get the best of him to mask the pains of the real world in which is mom (Ruehl, "Married To The Mob") suffers day and day out. When Nick gives Danny the opportunity to see the latest Jack Slater installment at a special screening, he also gives him a magic ticket he claims to have been given to him by Houdini himself. When the ticket actually works, it transports Danny into the film and getting into trouble with his hero who is after the man who killed his second favorite cousin (the late Art Carney), a ruthless henchman named Benedict (Dance, "Alien 3") who's signature is changing glass eyes all the time who works for a hapless mob boss (Quinn, "Zorba The Greek").
All heck breaks loose inside Jack's world as Danny becomes really useful to Jack in more ways than he would prefer to get rid of him until Benedict gets the magic ticket and transports himself into the real world in which he can really have his own sick fun by summoning one of Jack's major nemesis in a serial killer named The Ripper (Noonan, "Manhunter") who killed his son in a previous film. Jack soon gets a lesson about the real world that Danny inhabits and has to use his help to stop them both before his real life persona: Arnold Schwarzenegger is no more! The film got buried along with a few others by Jurassic Park in the Summer of 1993 and while alot of critics did actually like it for its originality, the film didn't catch on despite how fun, goofy and exciting it was. The film was skillfully directed by John McTiernan and featuring a fun, rock based score by the late Michael Kamen, "Last Action Hero" is one of Arnold's fun films and one not to be taken seriously as "Commando" for example and that's why it is that good. It really was ahead of its time and should be rediscovered again. Thumbs way up. (****)
"Donnie Brasco (Theatrical Cut)" Starring Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Anne Heche, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby and James Russo Directed By Mike Newell 1997/R/2 Hours 7 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1 Non-Anamorphic This is the true story of a FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone, who infiltrated the New York mafia under the guise of Donnie Brasco (Depp), a jewelry dealer who gets in with "Lefty" Ruggiano (Pacino) and they actually bond together which would later result in his death after he's made a member of Sonny Black's (Madsen, "Reservoir Dogs") crew. Pistone also has to juggle his mafia life with his personal life with his wife (Heche) and his three young daughters which he has to keep at a distance and not put their lives in danger as well as his own. The film was critically acclaimed with solid performances by the cast especially Depp and Pacino who have great chemistry together as well as the look of the film which is wonderful to look at. This blu-ray doesn't feature the 2 Hour 27 Minute version that was released by Sony and should've included this version as well. That version was a little bit of a drag at times, this version is definitely the stronger and tightly edited of the two which really works. This is a very strong film and a very underrated mafia film. Very strong thumbs up! (****)
"Gridiron Gang" Starring Dwayne Johnson, Alvin "Xzibit" Joyner Directed By Phil Joanou 2006/PG-13/2 Hours 5 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 Non-Anamorphic Inspired by the true story of a Texas juvenile counselor Sean Porter who inspired a young group of deliquent teenagers in his care at the Kilpatrick juvenile detention center to join in and form a football team to learn to work together and also trust one another. The film was the comeuppance of Johnson as a leading actor and apart of his ascendance as one of the more charismatic actors of this generation. The film is ably directed by Joanou, who really had stayed out of the directorial limelight with his pretty good adaptation of James Lee Burke's "Heaven's Prisoners", a film I really did like. There is alot to like this film as well especially with Johnson leading the way. A nice film thumbs up. (***)
"The Legend Of Billie Jean" Starring Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Keith Gordon, Peter Coyote, Yeardley Smith, Martha Gehman and Richard Bradford Directed By Matthew Robbins 1985/PG-13/1 Hour 35 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic. This surprisingly entertaining film which has gained cult status after airing on HBO for years stars the lovely Slater as Billie Jean who one day stands up to the father (Bradford, "The Untouchables") a sleezy surf shop owner who's son (Barry Tubb, "Top Gun") wrecks her brothers' (Christian Slater, "Heathers") scooter and refuses to pay for the damages. By accident, the owner is shot and wounded and they both go on the run along with their friends (Smith and Gehman) along with an all willing hostage, Lloyd (Gordon, "Jaws 2") who is the son of the Texas State Attorney (Dean Stockwell, "Quantam Leap"). A honest Lieutenant (Coyote, "Southern Comfort") sees the truth of her actions and tries to save her any way possible and keep them alive. The film is well directed and features compelling performances by Slater, Gordon and especially, Coyote as the sympathetic officer trying to make things right. There is some nice laughs and good drama here. You can pretty much see why the film has become a cult classic. Thumbs up for being a guilty pleasure (****)
"Flatliners" Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, William Baldwin Directed By Joel Schumacher 1990/R/1 Hour 54 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 Non-Anamorphic. This uneven thriller features a young cast that would definitely make their mark in Hollywood and still do. Sutherland plays a young medical student who along with his fellow classmates Roberts, Platt and Baldwin and a failed doctor (Bacon, "X-Men: First Class") joins him in conducting experiments what happens after you die. By injecting themselves with poison and then being literally dead for three minutes and immediately revived, they all start to see and feel hilucinations and the torments of their respective pasts.
The film is visually stylish and exceptionally shot by Jan DeBont, who would be a solid director with hits such as "Speed" and "Twister" and featuring a solid score by James Newton Howard, the film has great moments and not so great moments and mainly because of the script by Peter Filardi which needed one more draft. Schumacher's direction is steady and solid as usual, but the film suffers alot from being a bit dated and venturing off into horror territory at times which really isn't needed because the psychological horror was already there. "Flatliners" is a fairly entertaining film that could've been a whole lot memorable, but unfortunately is it. Marginal thumbs down (**1/2)
Mill Creek has reissued most of these titles from Sony's vast catalog and while it's great to see them reissued at a affordable price, there is some issues that might not please fans of these films. The first being is that all of those blu-rays are only 5 chapters instead of the individual tracks that Sony does for their releases. What is also a bit dissappointing is the lack of features these possess other than "Billie Jean", but the original "Gridiron Gang" featured some special features as the other films did include a theatrical trailer and 5.1 DTS HD sound which is missing here. For their price range, they're worth it and do feature the film's original theatrical posters which are great to see again. and the key gem of this lot is "The Legend Of Billie Jean". So don't heistate on getting these.
"Tyler Perry's The Single Mom's Club" Starring Nia Long, Amy Smart, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Cocoa Brown, Tyler Perry, Terry Crews and Zulay Henao Directed by Tyler Perry Lionsgate/2014/PG-13/1 Hour 51 Minutes. Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 Anamorphic. This surprisingly entertaining film features Long, Smart, McClendon-Covey, Brown and Henao who are all apart of a small group of Atlanta single mom's whose children get into trouble forcing the principal of a high scale prep school for them to unite to do something for the school. Soon all of the girls start to form a strong bond and learn more about themselves and how much they do have in common and how hard it is to be a single parent. At the same time, they all start to fall in love through the acceptance of their potential loves.
The film wasn't all the well received but by Tyler's standards was pretty much a hit film theatrically and should do well on home video and digitally. I honestly didn't know what to expect coming into see this film, but the more I got into it, the more I enjoyed it for what it is. The running time maybe a bit of a turn off for most, but knowing Perry's previous films, this one is a tightly edited film that is smart and charming. Thumbs Up. (***)
"Deadly Eyes" Starring Sam Groom, Lisa Langlois, Scatman Crothers Directed By Robert Clouse Shout! Factory 1982/R/1 Hour 30 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1:78.1 Anamorphic This nasty little horror thriller shot in Toronto (and quite well I might add) revolves around some corn grain that is contaminated with steroids which start to produce large rats the size of small dogs who begin feeding on the residents of the city. Paul (Groom), a basketball coach, teams up with Kelly, a local health inspector to uncover the source of the mysterious rat attacks and they eventually try to prevent the opening of a new subway line as well that could open up Pandora's box to disaster.
The film is a slick and entertaining film that fans of the genre will devour (forgive the pun!). Shout has lovingly (like many of their films they've done) remastered and presented the film in their best capacity with some nice special features including an interview with star Lisa Langlois, who is still very fetching and candid about the film after all these decades. I think this film is more for fans of the genre will be excited to have it, but for the casual viewer, it's just another run of the mill horror film for the most part despite some nice effects work. Thumbs down (**)
"Southern Comfort" Starring Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Peter Coyote, Fred Ward, T.K. Carter, Brion James Directed by Walter Hill Shout! Factory/1981/R/1 Hour 46 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1 Anamorphic This is easily one of Walter Hill's best and most underrated films he's ever directed and one I had to personally purchase to complete this review which is definitely well worth it. The film takes place in 1973, where a group of National Guardsmen led by Peter Coyote go off into the Lousiana swamps for some military field exercises before they're shipped off to Vietnam. Soon lost and wondering the vast and alien landscape they inadvertently borrow some canoes from some vicious Cajuns in which their commander is killed and soon find themselves hunted throughout the swamp that is filled with booby traps, deadly weather and a final confrontation with their hunters in a small Cajun community that sets up a rather unforgettable final shot.
The film is a sensational action-thriller which is very riveting throughout featuring some stellar performances by Boothe and Carradine and even Brion James, as a Cajun that the group takes prisoner is very solid. The dirty look of the film is also to be commended by the great cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, who would go on to shoot "First Blood" with Sylvester Stallone that also featured some great visuals and was just as tough a shoot as this film was. It's great to see the film get the very special treatment that it really deserves and this set will not disappoint. Very enthusiastic Thumbs way way up! (****)
"Motel Hell" Starring Rory Calhoun, Nina Axelrod, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons Directed By Kevin Connor Shout! Factory/1980/R/1 Hour 41 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen. A very ingenious and entertaining horror film that has become a cult classic that stars Calhoun as Farmer Vincent, who with his sister Ida (Parsons) who run a hotel named "Hotel Hello" who also produce the finest smoked meats (hot dogs basically) in the county out of traveling hitchhikers, bikers, truckers and stranded motorists as Frank's Fritters! They bury their victims in their garden and turn out to be still alive.
The film has a nice mix of both comedy and terror with Calhoun giving a fine performance as the believable Farmer Vincent and a nice supporting cast included that bring this film way above the standard horror films that both Siskel and Ebert used to trash back then (I believe they liked this film). Well directed by Kevin Connor, Motel Hell is a solid film that is both funny and terrifying at the same time. Well worth getting. Thumbs up (****)
"Sabotage" Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrance Howard, Joe Mangianello and Harold Perrerenau Directed by David Ayer Universal/2014/R/1 Hour 50 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1 Anamorphic This is a slick, violent and at times engaging action-thriller that is much better than critics give it credit for, but really isn't what it truly should've been. Arnie plays the leader of an elite DEA raid unit named John Breacher who with his group raid the house of a nefarious Drug Cartel in Atlanta. Without giving up too much away, during the raid ten million dollars goes missing and soon after, each member of the group start to show up dead one by one in the most gruesome of ways. Breacher with the help of a determined Atlanta police detective named Caroline (Williams, "The Sixth Sense") tries to put together the pieces of what's going on before he's next despite things being not what they seem to be.
The film was critically panned and it is understandable as to why. The movie is mercilessly violent at times and the reveal of this who dunnit doesn't quite work and neither do the other two endings that were shot which means that Ayer and co-writer Skip Woods really didn't know how to properly finish the film which really had the strong elements of being something special like Ayer's "Training Day" and "Street Kings" ultimately were. Arnold is good here for once playing a tormented and conflicted leader of a group of wild cards that make up his team. This is the side of Arnold that people have been wanting to see for a long time and its good to see him in top form. The film is tightly edited and features a nicely orchestrated chase that well ends gruesomely for someone in the end. i'll give it a marginal thumbs up for Arnie's performance and Ayer's gritty style, but it is a bit of a disappointment all around (**1/2)
Recommendations for the Month
"The Spectacular Now" Starring Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kyle Chandler Lionsgate 2014/R/1 Hour 35 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 Anamorphic This is a tough and wonderful drama featuring Teller ("That Awkward Moment") as a life of the party and aimless teenager about to graduate from high school who falls in love with Woodley's ("The Fault In Our Stars") Aimee Finicky, a beautiful and shy young woman eager to please but has really opened up to the world thanks to Teller. Even when Teller starts to sink into the oblivion of darkness and gloom in which he finally loses his job, finds out the truth about his father (Kyle Chandler, "Friday Night Lights") and why his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Fast Times At Ridgemont High") has protected him from that pain.
Based on a novel by Tim Tharp, the film is very striking and real when it comes to the pain that teens go through at that point in their lives. Woodley is beautiful here with her plain and striking look and this role pretty much prepared her for the surprise Summer hit, "The Fault In Our Stars" and "Divergent" and Teller shows off his chops as a future leading man with a very complicated and tough performance that he pulls off quite well. One of the year's best. Thumbs Up! (****)
Well that'll do it for this month and I'm looking forward to bringing you more reviews in August. Until then the blu-ray is now turned off!