Originally posted March 25, 2022
This week’s releases include an unexpected new chapter; a new adaptation; an endless tedium; an inspiring actress; an easy ending; classic cinema moments; over-the-top entertainment; and pictures from Shaw Brothers Studio.
A couple (Augie Duke and Michael Reed) embarks on a weekend getaway only to find the island curiously deserted. After stumbling upon the town’s dark secret, they trigger a time loop, forcing them to relive a demented cycle of terror with seemingly no means of escape.
This is another time loop narrative, but it’s without sci-fi origins. Instead, this is a horror loop in which the couple repeat the same day and end it with their deaths at the hands of a mysterious stranger. Throughout the many replays, the man tries to figure out the key to ending the loop: he attempts to make his girlfriend happy, confront his demons, hide, hit rock bottom and everything in between. As the days go on, audiences may figure out the cause of their predicament… which the ending confirms, while also not entirely explaining how the endless circle fits into this new revelation. It’s interesting for a bit, but it eventually gets a little repetitive and tedious.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
An American Werewolf in London [Limited Edition] (4K Ultra HD)
American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are savaged by an unidentified vicious animal whilst hiking on the Yorkshire Moors. David awakes in a London hospital to find his friend dead and his life in disarray. Retiring to the home of a beautiful nurse (Jenny Agutter) to recuperate, he soon experiences disturbing changes to his mind and body, undergoing a full-moon transformation that will unleash terror on the streets of the capital.
Director John Landis’ films have ranged in quality and peculiarity throughout his career, but this is unquestionably one of his greatest pictures. He takes a classic Universal monster and dives deeper into his transformation. After the attack, David finds he’s not really alone since Jack’s decomposing ghost keeps returning to warn him of his fate. David’s wolf transformation is not subtle and off-screen as it had been portrayed previously. Instead, it’s excruciating and graphic as his body changes in real-time in front of the camera. It’s this feat of practical special effects that largely defines the film. The sequel was a bit more comedic than this picture, but it still has that dark sense of humour for which Landis was known.
Special features include: commentary by Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis; commentary by actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne; making-of featurette; “Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf”; “An American Filmmaker in London”; “I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret”; “The Werewolf’s Call”; “Wares of the Wolf”; “Beware the Moon”; “An Interview with John Landis”; “Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London”; “I Walked with a Werewolf”; “Casting of the Hand”; image galleries; outtakes; original trailers; and reversible sleeve featuring original poster art and artwork by Graham Humphreys. (Arrow Video)
Blue Skies (Blu-ray)
Dancing star Jed Potter (Fred Astaire) and singer/nightclub owner Johnny Adams (Bing Crosby) are both in love with songstress Mary O’Hara (Joan Caulfield). She marries Johnny, but his passion for buying and selling nightclubs drives them apart. So, Jed steps in, hoping to win Mary’s heart — until fate steps in and changes the lives of all three.
This movie, released in 1930, stars two of Hollywood’s most popular male musical leads in Astaire and Crosby. Both are handsome, charismatic and light on their feet, making Mary’s attraction to both men quite understandable. In this instance, Jed is the nice guy who never gets the girl and Johnny is a big personality who isn’t always considerate or appreciative of his friends or family. The film is helmed by versatile director Stuart Heisler, while featuring 30 songs by acclaimed composer Irving Berlin. Notably, the picture includes the first appearance of the popular showstopper, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” performed impeccably by Astaire. The music is enchanting and the choreography ever impressive, uniting two great artists in an awkward love triangle.
Special features include: commentary by film critic and author Simon Abrams; and trailers. (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
Cosmic Dawn (Blu-ray)
After witnessing the alien abduction of her mother as a child, Aurora (Camille Rowe) joins the UFO cult, “The Cosmic Dawn.” At the cult’s remote compound, Aurora experiences miraculous revelations and consciousness-expanding flowers, but all isn’t as it seems with the cult’s leader, Elyse (Antonia Zegers). Now moved on from the cult, Aurora is forced to confront her past and pursue the ultimate truth about The Cosmic Dawn.
This is a strange cult narrative in which the saviour demonstrates unexplainable gifts, while also encouraging her followers to partake in strange, drug-fuelled rituals — and karaoke. Aurora isn’t exactly gullible, having spent most of her life researching UFOs, but she’s desperate to reconnect with her missing mother and willing to put aside her doubt for the chance of a reunion. Unfortunately, the movie’s biggest downfall is its jumbled timeline as it indistinguishably jumps back and forth between the past and present, resulting in confusion until audiences figure out how to tell the difference. While filmmakers opted to go one way with the ending, it does feel like there was another possible ending that may have worked better, taking into account the cliff and using a metaphor involving sheep.
There are no special features. (Cranked Up Films)
Dexter: New Blood [Limited Edition Steelbook] (Blu-ray)
The world at large believes Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) died in a tragic boating accident, and in a way the world at large isn’t wrong. Far from the life he knew, living under a false name in the small town of Iron Lake, NY, he’s successfully tamped down his Dark Passenger for nearly 10 years. With a normal job and a Chief of Police girlfriend (Julia Jones), it seems he’s got life under control — until his son, Harrison (Jack Alcott), shows up and turns his world upside down. Rattled, Dexter yields to his homicidal urges and soon finds himself on a collision course with a very dangerous local.
This revival was unexpected, coming so long after the eight-season series concluded in 2013. However, it’s to the show’s credit that all the returning characters are portrayed by the original cast members. Ignoring his urge to kill, Dexter has actually become a pillar of the community — using his skills to sell hunting equipment and keep his forensics expertise under wraps. However, learning someone he already doesn’t like actually has a criminal past pushes him over the edge. Harrison’s arrival certainly complicates things, but Dexter already stirred the pot on his own. He was closely connected to his infant son, but it’s quite a different thing seeing him reconnect with a teenager who has issues of his own. Moreover, it seems Dexter is never the only serial killer in a given area, which makes operating in the small town a little more challenging. This season opens the door for a spinoff series, though it’s hard to say if they’ll follow through.
Special features include: “Why Now?”; “Deb is Back”; “The Kill Room”; and “All Out on the Table.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)
The Godfather Trilogy [50th Anniversary Edition] (4K Ultra HD & Digital copy)
The multigenerational saga of the rise and fall of the Corleone crime family.
This collection not only includes remastered, high-def versions of Francis Ford Coppola‘s films The Godfather and The Godfather II, but also the recently re-edited version of the final film, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. The trilogy stands up even now that it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary. Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, the rising Godfather in 1950s New York, is simply outstanding as is the rest of the cast, which includes Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire. The first sequel then incorporates Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone, recounting his tale of a young Sicilian immigrant who took over organized crime first in his NY neighbourhood and then beyond. Although no one went back in time to reshoot any of the film, this version improves on some of the most significant issues seen in The Godfather III. The movie’s runtime is only shortened by about five minutes, but it’s the reordering of scenes and tighter editing that improves the film’s pace and impact. Most notably, different opening and closing scenes change the course of the film and better highlight Michael’s search for penance in his old age, after decades of sins begin to weigh on him.
Special features include: additional scenes; “Godfather World”; “The Masterpiece that Almost Wasn’t”; “When the Shooting Stopped”; “Emulsional Rescue”; “Revealing The Godfather”; “The Godfather Family”; “An Inside Look”; four short films on The Godfather; “Anatomy of a Scene”; quote cards; trivia cards; and magnetic poetry. (Paramount Home Entertainment)
The Legend of The Stardust Brothers (DVD)
Meet the Stardust Brothers, a 1980s Japanese pop duo manufactured by a shady music mogul when he brings together two wannabe stars — punk rock rebel Kan (Kan Takagi) and new-wave crooner Shingo (Shingo Kubota) — and transforms them into a girl-friendly, silver-jumpsuited, synth-pop sensation. Along with their appointed no.1 fan (Kyôko Togawa), who herself dreams of a music career, the duo rockets to stardom, only to discover that, as the lyrics of one of their insanely catchy songs makes clear, ‘Once you reach No. 1, you just go down.’
In the same vein as other cult films of the ‘80s, this off-the-wall musical is filled with catchy pop songs, varied performances and vibrant dream-like sequences. In fact, a substance-fuelled dream actually personifies a character’s vices as monsters chasing him in a nightmare. It’s all very exaggerated, yet low budget; colourful and shiny, yet fitting of the narrative. The story is strange, but also follows the basic formula of a band achieving great success and then being divided by a woman and/or partying too hard, allowing their rival to rise up in their place. Meanwhile, the opening and closing are unusual as they appear to be doing a past-their-prime show at a mismatched venue, where they opt to tell the story of the careers to an uninterested audience.
Special features include: making-of featurette; director interview; and trailers. (MVD Entertainment Group)
Monkey Kung Fu (Blu-ray)
When prisoner Ching is given half of a wooden keepsake by a one-eyed-master about to be executed, he breaks out of prison to go in search of the other half to discover its purpose. However, on his quest, he is pursued by a gang leader who will also stop at nothing to find out its secrets.
Released in 1979, this Shaw Brothers classic features a number of spectacularly choreographed fight sequences. Also known as Stroke of Death, the picture generally showcases uneven matches as Ching must first prove himself to the master and then defend the charm from various gangs who want its secrets for themselves. Interestingly, in at least one instance, the battle is to his advantage as his goal extends beyond simply beating his opponent. There is a lengthy section in which Ching and his counterpart learn an elite form of kung fu that makes them almost unstoppable. The choreography throughout the picture is excellent, often so well-timed the fighters appear to be engaged in a violent dance.
Special features include: commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillon of the Podcast on Fire Network; “Stunting Around,” an interview with choreographer Tony Leung Siu-hung; and original trailer. (88 Films)
Princess Tam Tam / Zou Zou (Blu-ray)
Conceived as a vehicle for Josephine Baker, then among Europe’s most popular entertainers, Zou Zou was her debut talking film. In the tradition of 42nd Street, it tells the story of a talented Cinderella (Baker) who saves a show and becomes an overnight sensation. Features Josephine’s poignant rendition of “Haiti,” sung while clad in feathers and swinging in a birdcage. Princess Tam Tam is a Pygmalion-like comedy in which Baker stars as a mischievous shepherd girl who rises through society to become a pretend princess and the toast of Paris nightlife.
In the 1930s, Black performers were prohibited from taking attention away from White actors in American films, inhibiting their ability to reach their full potential. Unsatisfied with these unofficial rules, singer/dancer/comedian Baker opted to work in France, resulting in these two films. Outside of the U.S., Baker is free to be the confident, sexy, centre of attention that shares the screen with her co-stars and outshines them at every opportunity. However, that’s not to say these movies were not still problematic, positioning Baker as the uncivilized, overtly sexual native or an oddity to be gawked at for entertainment. Yet, the multi-talented actress transcended these stereotypes with her exceptional skills, engaging audiences and then impressing them with scene-stealing performances, including exceptional dance moves and a remarkable voice.
Special features include: 2005 documentary shorts focused on Josephine Baker: “The Woman,” “The Performer,” and “The Films”; interviews with actress Lynn Whitfield, theater critic Margo Jefferson, dance historian Elizabeth Kendall and Baker’s adopted son Jean-Claude; video tour of Chez Josephine, Jean-Claude Baker’s culinary exhibition of rare Josephine Baker paintings and posters; and The Fireman of the Folies-Bergère, a 1928 short featuring Baker. (Kino Classics)
Shaolin Mantis (Blu-ray)
When scholar Wei Fung (David Chiang) is hired by the Emperor to infiltrate a clan of rebellious Ming loyalists, his mission goes adrift when he falls in love with the clan leader’s granddaughter, Tien Chi-Chi (Cecilia Wong), and his plans are discovered.
This is a cross between a martial arts film and a romance. Wei Fung is a very accomplished fighter, which draws Chi-Chi’s attention. She pleads with her grandfather, first for Wei Fung to become her teacher, then for him to be her husband to save him from execution. In the meantime, the lovers must battle the clan’s best fighters to prove their worth and earn his pardon. These acts of skilled combat use various weapons and are powerfully choreographed. The film gets its title from an extraordinary scene in which Wei Fung develops a style of martial arts while observing a praying mantis in its natural habitat.
Special features include: commentary with Asian cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema; commentary with Asian cinema experts Frank Djeng; “Complicated Families,” David West on Shaolin Mantis; interview with actor John Cheung; and trailers. (88 Films)
The Stand [2020 Limited Series] (Blu-ray)
This is author Stephen King‘s post-apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil. The fate of mankind rests on the frail shoulders of 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and a handful of survivors, including Stu Redman (James Marsden), an ordinary working-class factory man; Nadine Cross (Amber Heard), a deeply conflicted woman; Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young), a pregnant young woman; and Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), a young deaf and mute man. Their worst nightmares are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), a.k.a. the Dark Man.
This is the second adaptation of King’s epic tale of good vs. evil. The first was also a TV miniseries released in 1994, featuring familiar actors of the time. The latest show updates the narrative somewhat as the book was initially published in 1978, though it’s still relatively true to the core of the characters. Filmmakers take some liberties with the story to accommodate the contemporary changes, but it doesn’t stray too far from the main plot points, following various characters as they travel the country, ultimately choosing sides with their choice of residence. Skarsgård doesn’t quite fit the physical description of the Dark Man, but he definitely exudes a seductive and covertly wicked personality designed to tempt survivors to join him. Moreover, the contrast of the two strongholds is more defined than ever as either side equally exemplifies metaphorical, Earthly versions of heaven and hell.
Special features include: “An Apocalyptic Epic: Adapting The Stand.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)
This Game’s Called Murder (Blu-ray)
Mr. Wallendorf (Ron Perlman) is an iconic women’s footwear designer with a sadistic streak. His wife (Natasha Henstridge) is his equal in conniving and brutality, while their troubled daughter, Jennifer (Vanessa Marano), is a social media celebrity trying to figure out her love life and world domination at the same time. The Wallendorfs are power-crazed sociopaths, and “This Game’s Called Murder” exposes their most outré transgressions with shocking savagery.
This is definitely a case of style over substance as the movie features a bunch of attractive people killing and robbing each other. Opening with a brutal, yet artistic, murder, the dominance of the Wallendorf empire is puzzling, particularly as it appears to be built on a series of snuff films. On the other hand, a gang of women proves capable of carrying off heists, but not smart enough to look past the obvious. In the meantime, Jennifer jumps between the two worlds, trying to carve her path in both. In spite of the weak script, the actors all fully commit to their outlandish roles, producing a movie that would adequately entertain late-night audiences.
Special features include: interviews; and trailers. (Kino Lorber)