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US Blu-ray and DVD releases: Halloween, Notorious, The Purge: Season One, Howling III and more


Halloween – So, the Halloween relaunch was a huge hit, obviously, and I’m ultimately glad that that means we’ll be seeing more Halloween films, but I was pretty disappointed with the new film. It’s a perfectly watchable slasher flick, but I had so many problems with it as a long time Halloween franchise fan. First off, some of Michael Myers’ actions/kills either don’t make sense or are set up to mean something and then don’t pay off with anything. There’s also way too much of the film with Myers’s mask off (they don’t full-on show his face, but they give you enough to make out that he looks like an ageing janitor, which isn’t terribly scary). But my biggest problem comes from the film’s revamped continuity. I understand why you’d discount Halloween 4, 5, and 6, as they went to some weird places. But by erasing Halloween II and (to a lesser extent) H20 from the mix, you really take away most of Michael’s motivation to chase Laurie Strode. Not only that but with those movies erased, it’s revealed early on that he only ever killed three people. Not to minimize that, but I find it hard to believe that his name would still be whispered in such hushed tones 40 years later for a guy who only murdered three people. That happens pretty much every day nowadays, and it’s forgotten by the next day or the next big news story. By retconning the continuity, they’ve taken away most of what makes Michael Myers scary in the first place. He’s no longer the Boogeyman; he’s just a guy who killed a couple of people. Sigh. Anyway, Halloween is available on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD. The 4K version looks stellar, with sharp imagery, excellent shadow delineation (a must for a film like this) and strong colors (even though it’s not a particularly colorful film).

Notorious – Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller gets the Criterion treatment with a terrific new Blu-ray release that sees the film restored and remastered and bundled with a slew of extra features. The film stars Cary Grant as Ingrid Bergman as a government agent who asks his ex-lover to spy on a group of Nazis in South America, and it’s — of course — fantastic. While it’s not quite a masterpiece on the level of Psycho or Rear Window, it’s a terrific spy thriller that sees a mix of tense scenes, constrained romance, moral reckoning, and real drama. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are terrific together on screen, and the film keeps you on the edge of your seat up until the end. Loaded with extra features and featuring newly restored and remastered sound and picture, this release is a must-have for any Hitchcock fans.

The Purge: Season One – I don’t know that the Purge movies needed a TV series to go with them (especially since there’s a new movie pretty much every year anyway), but a TV series we have. And while there are some set-ups that make you cringe (why would you leave to go anywhere just an hour before the Purge starts? Why not leave a few hours ahead, just to be safe?), and while stretching the story out over ten hours does lessen some of the impact of the films (which I quite enjoy), I still like this show quite a bit. I’ve heard some pretty bad reviews of it, but honestly, if you like the films, I think you’ll like the show, albeit maybe to differing degrees. It has its flaws, but the multiple character storylines give you a little more to chew on than a 90-minute movie. Flawed, but fun.

Howling III – The original Howling movie is a werewolf classic, probably one of the very best in a genre that has — let’s face it — very few good entries in it to begin with. Of course, with its success came a series of sequels. Unfortunately, this was in the era when sequels were pretty much made cheaper, quicker, and with much less thought than they are today. So Howling III is an oddball of a film with no real connection to the original classic, instead taking us to Australia (in fact, the original title for the film when it was released was Howling III: The Marsupials). So what you get on this new Blu-ray edition from Scream Factory is — deep breath — yet another sub-par werewolf film in a genre already littered with sub-par werewolf films that just dilutes the name of what is one of the few great werewolf films there actually are. And while there are some watchable moments in the film, it’s far from great.

Obsession – Brian de Palma has his fans and his detractors. Now, I’m a pretty big fan of the director’s but even I find that he has films I love and films I… don’t love. So when I go back to watch one of his early films, I never know exactly what I’m going to get. I’m happy to say that Obsession, which gets a new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, is absolutely fantastic. Starring Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold, the film is loosely based on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and it sees a man whose wife and daughter are kidnapped and killed. Then, ten years later, he finds a woman who is the mirror image of his wife. It’s creepy and suspenseful and has a great ending, and although de Palma’s early work was riddled with Hitchcock homages — and despite the fact that this is one of his most blatant ones — it’s exceptional. The Blu-ray comes with some nice extra features as well, making this a terrific addition to any de Palma fan’s collection.

After Darkness – Sometimes you hope for the best from a film and find yourself wildly disappointed, and After Darkness was that film for me this week. In a world where the sun is going out, a wealthy family tries to keep some semblance of normalcy in their palatial home. However, what looks like it’s going to be a thriller forgets one thing: the thrills. I get that it’s a more of a drama than a thriller (at least, I get it now after watching the film), but the problem is that the drama is so slow and dark and bleak that the viewing experience is a dreary one. Despite a terrific cast that includes Tim Daly, Kyra Sedgwick, and Valorie Curry, the film is just too slow-moving and dull for me.

Also Available this week on Home Video:

  • The Bounty – Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins (both much younger!) star in this adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty, now out on a special edition Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Directed by Roger Donaldson (who has long career that includes No Way Out, Cocktail, and Dante’s Peak), the film also stars Sir Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day Lewis, making it perhaps the best-acted of all the Mutiny on the Bounty film versions (of which there are a good handful). This Blu-ray edition sees the film look and sound terrific, with a few nice extra features, but the main attraction here is the film itself, which is a taut action/drama with some terrific cinematography and an amazing cast.
  • The Plague of the Zombies – While Hammer films is best known for its gothic horror movies like its Dracula series starring Christopher Lee, they often branched out into other genres as well. This 1966 film sees the studio tackle zombies, and it’s clear that it had some influence on films that would follow, while it also does a lot of things its own way. The film is much smaller scale for instance, seeing a voodoo curse launch the undead and focusing on a small town and its inhabitants rather than the world at large. The film is from 1966, so people weaned on The Walking Dead might not find it all that exciting, but it’s good to go back and watch what influenced today’s filmmakers once in a while.
  • A Paris Education – This 2018 French drama film directed by Jean Paul Civeyrac is an interesting release. I always find films in which the characters are steeped in film and film history to be a unique viewing experience; there’s a slightly meta approach to a movie that wears its love of cinema on its sleeve. This drama follows a young man who goes to Paris to study film, where he finds himself among fellow cinephiles/roommates who influence his life and opinions. Of course, eventually, things get complicated, which is to be expected. I liked the film, although at 137 minutes I found it too long by a good half hour. The French New Wave influence is hard to deny, but like I said, that’s part of the charm of the movie. Worth a look for deep-dive cinephiles.
  • Knives of the Avenger & Four Times That Night – Kino Lorber has two cult classic Blu-ray releases from Mario Bava out this week. First up is Knives of the Avenger, one of Bava’s semi-rare forays outside of the horror genre. Here, he tackles the Viking genre, wherein a wandering soldier ends up defending a woman and her child. In Four Times That Night, we get a Rashomon-style narrative in which we learn about a couple’s unexpected romantic tryst, and we see the events from four different perspectives. Mario Bava and “sex comedy” are not words you typically see together, so this one took me by surprise. Neither film is a masterpiece, and I definitely prefer Four Times That Night, which is something really different for Bava.
  • Tea With The Dames – Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, and Dame Eileen Atkins feature in this lighthearted and lightweight documentary which sees the four grand dames of acting, well, having tea, but also chatting about their lives and careers. The film is directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), and there are some film clips to break things up a bit, but this is meant to be an earnest conversation with some true acting legends. However, it never really feels all that intimate or personal or in-depth, so while the end result is moderately charming, it isn’t particularly noteworthy.
  • PAW Patrol: Pups Save Puplantis – This is the newest DVD release of the popular Nickelodeon series for pre-schoolers. The show features six dogs and their 10-year-old friend who use cool vehicles to save the day and teach lessons about “good citizenship.” It’s a fun show, and the young ones will love it. Of course, as the title implies, this one has an aquatic theme with a trip to Atlantis (coincidence, considering that Aquaman is in theaters? I don’t think so!) This show is immensely popular, and I’m sure parents with Paw Patrol-obsessed kids (and I know there are many out there) will be happy to have a few new episodes to hit heavy rotation on their TV screens.
  • Mill Creek Retro VHS Collection – This terrific slate of releases from Mill Creek sees a bunch of cult classic films released on Blu-ray in packaging that’s made to mimic the old VHS tapes you’d get from the rental stores. While the discs don’t come with a ton of extra features or anything, there are some great movies to be had here for a budget price. First up is The Last Action Hero, which is a much maligned Arnold Schwarzenegger flick that I actually quite enjoy. Sure, it’s too long, but it’s got some really great gags in it and some terrific in-jokes, and I think it gets a bad rap for no reason. Krull is a fantasy epic that a certain age group of ‘80s kids remember extremely fondly. With a cool weapon (the glaive!), some freaky creatures, and Liam Neeson’s first major role, Krull is a fun throwback. Happy Birthday to Me is a really fun ‘80s slasher flick that is surprisingly good. The plot is actually a little too complicated to explain here, but suffice it to say that involves teenagers being killed off one-by-one in creative wats, and any fan of ‘80s slashers will enjoy this if they haven’t seen it before. Hardbodies is another ‘80s cult classic, but of a different sort, seeing teens not getting killed, but rather frolicking on a beach. Along with the three older men who can’t see to score with the girls. It’s not a great film, but it’s fun to revisit the decade and the beach. Silent Rage is a Chuck Norris film, and what more can you say about a film with a tagline like “Science created him. Now Chick Norris must destroy him”? Chuck Norris versus an invincible serial killer? Sign me up! Finally, Who’s Harry Crumb? is a comedy vehicle starring John Candy as a bumbling detective. Now, I love John Candy, but this really wasn’t one of his better films. It’s got a great cast, but the script is weak and the humor falls flat, which is a shame. The good news is that all of these releases can be found for under ten bucks on online retailers, making them all fun flashback trips!
  • Jane Fonda: Lean Routine and Lower Body Solution – Speaking of flashbacks, how about a couple more Jane Fonda workout videos making their debut on DVD? The original workout videos — and the most famous ones ion the world — continue their roll-out onto DVD with two “new” releases: Lean Routine and Lower Body Solution. As you would imagine, each one is specialized, with Lean Routine offering up 20, 40, and 60 minute workouts designed to keep you trim (mostly aerobics) and Lower Body Solution offering up 25 and 35-minute programs focusing on your lower half. Jazzercise-tastic!
  • Iranian Cinema: Before and After the Revolution & Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable – These two new documentaries from Kino Lorber are completely separate subjects, but somehow spiritually related, both focusing on art that starts with film as a medium. Iranian Cinema: Before and After the Revolution is a pretty self-explanatory title, with three films taking us into the little-known world of cinema in Iran, a country where making films is no easy feat. The three documentaries housed in this collection include Friendly Persuasion (2000), which features film legend Abbas Kiarostami and other Iranian filmmakers, The Lost Cinema (2007), which focuses on the Iranian New Wave, and A Cinema of Discontent (2013), which deals with the state-imposed censorship in Iran. All three films are interesting and offer up some enlightening details about a whole different world of filmmaking. Meanwhile, Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable is a portrait of Garry Winogrand, a photographer who made his mark largely in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I wasn’t really familiar with him, but the film does a good job of detailing the man and his work before his unfortunate death ion 1984. These two collections are more for the art lover than the casual filmgoer, but sometimes that’s a good thing.
  • Kino Lorber Studio Classics – Kino Lorber’s excellent line of Studio Classics releases has a terrific slate this week. First up its a hard-hitting revenge western starring none other than a mid-late period Marlon Brando. In this one, he impersonates a Mexican, steals a gang leader’s woman, and has a showdown with scorpions. It’s The Appaloosa, and honestly, I’d never even heard of it before this, but it’s a lot of scenery-chewing fun as Brando goes up against James Mason (equally as Mexican!) Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is another western of sorts, with Robert Redford playing a sheriff out to find an Indian and his bride who murdered the wife’s father. It’s an early Redford role (from 1969) and he shines in the role, even if the movie itself hasn’t aged all that well. Trilogy of Terror is a horror TV-movie starring cult icon Karen Black, and it gets a nice treatment here. A 4K restoration, a ton of extra features and new cover art with a slipcover all adorn this cool release. Plus, of course, you get an anthology with a trio of horror stories featuring Karen Black in not one, not two, not even three, but four roles! Awesome! You Never Know Women is an early film from Hollywood’s history, starring Florence Vidor and directed by the great William Wellman. I always like to dip into the silent era from time to time, and when you tack on a love triangle between a Russian dancer, an escape artist, and a wealthy broker, I’m hooked. Finally, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre stars Martin Landau as a paranormal investigator, and it’s really cool. Apparently, it was filmed as the pilot for a Twilight-Zone-esque horror anthology show that was never picked up, so they shot some more scenes and turned it into a movie, and now we have it on Blu-ray for the first time. Nice job, Kino Lorber!

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