From the Big Screen:
“Labor Day,” “Gloria,” “Devil’s Due” and “The Legend of Hercules.” For more information on these and other releases this week, see the Weekly Guide to Home Video Releases.
This Week’s Highlights:
“The Strange Woman” (1946), directed by B-movie genius Edgar G. Ulmer, is a wicked piece of melodramatic period noir set in the early 19th century about a beautiful woman from a dysfunctional family who discovers that her good looks, charm and strong will allows her to get what she wants from men, and she stops at nothing to control the ones who cross her path. As portrayed by the deliciously lovely Hedy Lamarr, Jenny Hager is a bundle of contradictions: evil and heartless as well as giving and vulnerable. She chases after her older husband’s good-looking son (and a childhood friend), played by Louis Hayward, while giving to the poor and standing up for a downtrodden fallen woman despised by the community. In good old-fashioned melodramatic style, Jenny rises from poverty to wealth only to be undone by her heart. Lamarr’s work ranks right up there with the best by Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. Ulmer’s direction is sparse yet, at times, foreboding and wild, and the script, by Herb Meadow (who went on to write for “Have Gun – Will Travel” as well as many other TV shows), has a sly critique of sexism and capitalism bubbling below the surface. The great Douglas Sirk directed the opening sequence with Jenny as a young girl. Co-stars Gene Lockhart, George Sanders and Hillary Brooke. Restored in HD from original 35mm film elements from Film Chest Media Group.
“Il sorpasso” (1962) is the ultimate Italian road comedy, starring the unlikely pair of Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant as, respectively, a waggish, free-wheeling bachelor and the bookish law student he takes on a madcap trip from Rome to rural Southern Italy. An unpredictable journey that careers from slapstick to tragedy, this film, directed by Dino Risi (the original “Scent of a Woman”), is a wildly entertaining commentary on the pleasures and consequences of the good life. A holy grail of commedia all’italiana, “Il sorpasso” is so fresh and exciting that one can easily see why it has long been adored in Italy. In a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, in a Blu-ray/two-DVD Dual Format Edition from The Criterion Collection.
Debuting on Blu-ray this week is “Sophie’s Choice (Collector’s Edition)” (1982), directed by Alan J Pakula and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. Adapted from William Styron’s best-selling novel, this passionate tale of a writer’s love for a holocaust survivor is an exhilarating and compelling revelation. Meryl Streep received an Academy Award for her portrayal of Sophie Zawistowska in this penetrating drama set in post-World War II Brooklyn. Kevin Kline plays her all-consuming lover, Nathan. The story revolves around Sophie’s struggle as a Polish-Catholic immigrant in the United States who had survived a Nazi concentration camp. The lovers’ drama unfolds through the observations of a friend and would-be writer, Stingo (Peter MacNicol). As the trio grows closer, Stingo uncovers the hidden truths that they each harbor. It’s a devastating, heart-wrenching viewing experience. Extras include a new roundtable interview featuring Streep, Kline, Donald Laventhall (director Alan Pakula’s assistant during the film), Hanna Pakula (director Alan Pakula’s widow), Rose Styron (the widow of the novel’s author, William Styron) and moderator Boaty Boatwright (who was Pakula’s agent at the time of the film and is presently an agent at ICM). Available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Shout! Factory.
“Dead Shadows” (2012 — France) is an interesting apocalyptic zombie flick that, while high on concept, gore and on-the-cheap special effects, lacks a strong story line and meanders from situation to situation in search of an ending. Given that, however, it’s still a fun ride if you cast aside any expectations of cohesiveness. Eleven years after a young man’s parents were murdered on the same day the Halley comet was visible from Earth, a new comet lights up the Parisian sky, giving rise to Apocalyptic fears — and parties — throughout the city. Chris, on meds because of the anxieties caused by his parents’ unusual deaths, goes to one of the parties but, as the night goes on, the effects of the comet take their toll on the city’s denizens, first making them disoriented and then violent, and then transforming them into horrible creatures — zombies, mutants, alien monsters, human-alien hybrids. In a fight for survival, Chris escapes from his building with the help of some other tenants, only to find Paris devastated by the aftereffects of the comet — and an alien invasion. North American debut of the overseas cult hit. Stars Fabian Wolfrom, Blandine Marmigere, John Fallon and Rurik Salle. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Shout Factory!/Scream Factory.
The much buzzed-about “Escape From Tomorrow” (2013), shot guerilla-style at Disney World by writer-director Randy Moore, is a great idea in search of a film. The plot revolves around a middle-class family’s bizarre day at the theme park in Florida that slowly enters a Twilight Zone realm when the husband/father begins to hallucinate and loses his grip on reality. There’s little back story or information about this family aside from learning that the husband has just lost his job (which, of course, triggers the bad day), his wife is a bit of an overbearing shrew, and his kids are spoiled. The film starts off on a promising note, offering some surreal moments and vignettes, then gets bogged down in a series of stale, repetitive scenes as the husband abandons his wife and goes on an obsessive pursuit of a pair of sexy French teenage girls. There’s some digs at corporate America and their consumer-control tactics (but, for a better look at the way theme parks manipulate their visitors, one would be better served reading an academic critique such as Disneyland: A Degenerate Utopia) but, unfortunately, the film doesn’t follow through on this exploration nor on the consequences of American angst, and the hallucinatory segments, paranoid visions in the guise of princesses, happy theme park rides and fellow tourists, fall short of being as horrible as intended. Still, it’s worth viewing for the audacity of the production and some exciting visuals. Stars Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru. Extras include an illuminating behind-the-scenes featurette. From Cinedigm.
“The Best Offer” (2014 — Italy), written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) unfortunately wastes a great cast — Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks — on an overworked art-swindling theme about an unscrupulous art dealer who gets involved in a scheme that backfires on him. When a mysterious heiress asks famed art appraiser and auctioneer Virgil Oldman (Rush) to evaluate her late parents’ collection — yet wishes to remain anonymous and only deals with him unseen from behind closed doors — it ignites a spark of curiosity in the normally austere Virgil that soon grows into an all-out obsession, leading him down a path of self-destruction. Disappointingly bland and slow given its pedigree. From IFC Films.
From TV to DVD:
“Dynasty: The Eighth Season, Volume One and Volume Two” (1987-88) contains all 22 episodes of the addictive, primetime soap opera that quickly became a 1980s hit. The second-to-last season again highlights the conflicts, passions, drives, and tensions of the Carringtons, the powerful, rich, and greedy Denver oil family that struggles to maintain its position of wealth and power in the world. The pop culture phenomenon features a legendary ensemble cast including John Forsythe, Linda Evans, Joan Collins and Jack Coleman. $69.98 for the two-volume set or $39.98 each 11-episode volume from CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount … “Father Brown: The Complete Collection” (1974) is a four-disc set with all 13 episodes of the British series about Father Brown (Kenneth More), a wily clergyman-detective who, despite his absentminded air, always manages to confound criminals with his inescapable logic and keen understanding of the human condition in 1920s England. First complete collection of the hit, based on the well-loved stories of British writer G.K. Chesterton, that ran on PBS’s Mystery! in the mid 1970s. $59.99 from Acorn Media … Created by award-winning writers-producers Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll, the critically acclaimed television series “Hill Street Blues” became one of the most seminal drama series by virtue of its powerful writing, gritty realism, emotionally charged story lines and incredible ensemble cast, including Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Bruce Weitz and Betty Thomas, among other notables. Throughout its seven year run on network television, the series took viewers inside the heart of a racially torn, crime-ridden precinct of an urban metropolis. Each episode charts a day in the life on “The Hill,” balancing the characters’ personal lives with their professional ones. “Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series” (1981-97) is a 34-disc set with all 144 episodes, $199.99, with interviews with Steven Bochco, Dennis Franz, James B. Sikking, Bruce Weitz, Alan Rachins, Gregory Hoblit, Dennis Dugan, Jeffrey Lewis and more, as well as a commemorative 24-page book. From Shout! Factory … “Mr. Selfridge Season 2” (2014) is a three-disc set with 10 episodes of the Masterpiece series, in their original U.K. editions. Jeremy Piven returns for a sumptuous new season as the man who brought seductive shopping to early 20th century London. On DVD: $39.99 and Blu-ray Disc: $44.99 from PBS Distribution … “Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 4” (2004-05) is a six-disc Blu-ray set with all 22 episodes of the final season, $130.00. Stars Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, Linda Park, Anthony Montgomery and John Billingsley, and follows the adventures of the first Earth-built vessel capable of breaking the Warp 5 barrier. A special highlight to the collection is “In Conversation: Writing Star Trek Enterprise,” an exclusive, 90-minute writing staff reunion special. The compelling discussion includes series creator and executive producer Brannon Braga, along with Mike Sussman, Andre Bormanis, David Goodman, Chris Black, Phyllis Strong, and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, all detailing some of the series’ most fascinating behind-the-scenes stories. Plus, fans will get special insight on the creation of the final episodes with a newly produced, four-part documentary “Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise,” which includes more in-depth interviews with the cast and crew. From CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount … “You, Me & Them, Series 1” (2013) is a two-disc set with six episodes of the British sitcom that follows a couple (Anthony Head, Eve Myles) navigating their May-December romance … and the disapproval of her family and his deranged ex-wife (Lindsay Duncan). $39.99 from Acorn Media.
Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:
“Bad Country” (2014), starring Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Neal McDonough, Amy Smart and Tom Berenger, is a crime thriller about a Louisiana detective (Dafoe) who teams up with a contract killer-turned-informant (Dillon) to take down the most powerful criminal enterprise in the South.On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Sony … “Locker 13” (2014) is a five-segment short horror film anthology revolving around the tales unleashed by the nighttime janitor in an Old West theme park, who delves into the mysteries surrounding an old locker: An aging boxer who is given an opportunity to become a real killing machine, a young man seeking membership in a secret society who experiences an initiation with deadly consequences, a would be suicide shaken to his core by a menacing member of a very special club, a hit man for hire playing a devious cat and mouse game with three women who have a score to settle, and a life-or-death decision made by the janitor himself. Stars Ricky Schroder, Jon Gries, Rick Hoffman, Tatyana Ali, Krista Allen, Jason Spisak, Bart Johnson and Jason Marsden. From ARC Entertainment … “Gimme Shelter” (2013), starring Vanessa Hudgens, James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson and Brendan Fraser, is based on the true life stories of Several Sources Shelters founder Kathy DiFiore and some of the pregnant teen shelter residents; the tale follows the courageous Agnes “Apple” Bailey who fights against all odds to find the father she’s never known and create the family she never had. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Lionsgate … In “Prince Killian and the Holy Grail” (2011 — Spain), a 12th-century knight-errant wanders the world to retrieve the Holy Grail from the clutches of an evil wizard, accompanied by his faithful friends Crispin and Goliath and the beautiful Viking Princess Sigrid of Thule. Stars Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Natasha Yarovenko, Manuel Martinez and Adrian Lamana. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Shout! Factory … When a struggling downtown artist finds his muse in sultry singer Fran, their daring romance spirals out of control into a dangerous game of obsession, deception and betrayal in “Dark Hearts” (2012), starring Kyle Schmid, Lucas Till and Sonja Kinski, from Vertical Entertainment … “Bucksville” (2011) is a thriller about a young man who struggles to leave a secret militia — started by his father and uncle — that takes the law into its own hands and executes criminals in the name of community service. Stars Thomas Stroppel, David Bodin, Ted Roone, Tom Berenger, Allen Nause and Alexander MacKenzie. From Monarch Home Entertainment … In order to compete with a drag queen for the love of a gay newbie, a young man enlists the help of his club friends to become a drag queen himself in “Lady Peacock” (2013), starring Alec W. Seymour, Joshua Cruz and KC Comeaux. From Breaking Glass Pictures/QC Cinema.
For the Family:
“SpongeBob, You’re Fired!” (2014) consists of 14 work-related adventures as SpongeBob loses his job at the Krusty Krab and tries new jobs such as working at The Chum Bucket with Plankton (gasp!), picketing with Squidward and even modeling in a commercial. $14.99 from Nickelodeon/Paramount … In “Approved for Adoption” (2012), comic book artist Jung returns to Seoul for the first time since he was abandoned at the age of 5 at the end of the Korean War (and adopted by a Western family) in this mixed media memoir that combines animation intercut with snippets of Super-8 family footage and archival film. On DVD, Blu-ray/DVD Combo from GKIDS/Cinedigm.
“The Rise and Fall of The Clash” (2014) is an up-close and personal film about the juggernaut band The Clash, and their meteoric trajectory through rock ‘n’ roll history. Features previously unseen footage of the band at work and at play as well as interviews with the individual band members and with those who knew them well. The film tells the fascinating inside story of rivalries, treachery, betrayal and the internal band dynamics and managerial interference that ultimately led the band to self-destruct. Highlights include new interviews with Mick Jones, Terry Chimes, Vince White, Nick Sheppard, Pete Howard, Viv Albertine, Pearl Harbor, David Mingay and many more Clash friends and insiders, as well as archival interviews with Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Nicky “Topper” Headon, and rare performance and candid footage from the band’s final years. $14.98 from Shout! Factory … Set to air on PBS stations in Spring 2014, “Civil War: The Untold Story” (2014), narrated by Elizabeth McGovern, uses dramatic battle recreations, compelling archival imagery, 3-D maps and insightful interviews with top Civil War scholars to show why the West played such a vital part in the outcome of the war. Focusing on the often overlooked battles of Vicksburg, Shiloh, Atlanta and more, the series also explores the issue of slavery and the surprising roles that African-Americans played in the conflict. Two-disc set with all five episodes, $49.99 from Athena … In Karachi, Pakistan, a runaway boy’s life hangs on one critical question: where is home? In the streets where he’s made his life, or in a home for runaways run by humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi, often called the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan”, or with the rural family he fled from in the first place? “These Birds Walk” (2013 — Pakistan/USA) is a heart-wrenching and life-affirming look at the struggles of these wayward street children and the samaritans looking out for them. From Oscilloscope Laboratories.