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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Lighthouse, Primal, The Curse of Oak Island, Holiday, Imprisoned and more

The Lighthouse – Robert Eggers (who also directed The Witch) is one of the more critically acclaimed filmmakers of the last decade. But having watched two of his films now, I absolutely do not in any way see what people like so much about these movies. I’ll give you that the performances by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are both absolutely outstanding, but I am hard-pressed to think of two less enjoyable movie-watching experiences that I’ve had in recent years. And yes, I get that he’s known for his technical cinematography skills, but I hate his style. “Let me focus on this doorknob for 37 seconds while a droning sound plays in the background.” For me, good cinematography + inane shot subject matter = pointless. So, yes, if you want to see great performances, watch The Lighthouse, but if you want to watch a good movie, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Primal – Nicolas Cage has become the king of direct-to-video B-movies, and while many of them are often junk, I still find myself watching them and hoping that this one will be the one that stands out. Primal seemed like it might be that movie. With a good supporting cast (Famke Janssen and Michael Imperioli) and a good concept (hunter versus assassin versus deadly jungle cat on a massive ship in the ocean), I figured this one would be a lot of fun. And it’s, well, kind of fun, I guess. There are actually a few decent action and suspense scenes, but Cage plays his hunter as a surly bastard, and it’s hard to find much to like about him until the third act. It’s certainly not one of the worst DTV Cage movies I’ve seen in recent years (and I’ve seen a lot), but it’s really not much more than a B-movie to kill time.

The Curse of Oak Island: The First Six Seasons – I love this show. The Curse of Oak Island is an intriguing reality series from the History Channel about a pair of brothers and their crew trying to find out the secret behind an island that people have been searching for treasure on for over 200 years. It started when a 250-foot man-made shaft was discovered on Oak Island in 1795; while no treasure was ever found, there are so many tantalizing clues, mysteries and secrets, that it’s captivated people for centuries. Now, admittedly, with a show like this, the lack of definitive answers can sometimes get frustrating, but luckily the Lagina brothers and their various helpers and treasure hunters are an engaging enough coterie of characters that it makes the show fun. This chunky new box set includes the first six seasons (they are currently on the seventh), and it does make you wonder how long the show can go before people give up, but for now I’ll say that I am still really digging it.

Holiday – You may or may not be familiar with Holiday, but when you’ve got Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and director George Cukor in the same room, you know you’re in for a treat. The Criterion Collection now gives us a terrific new edition of this classic Hollywood film, and it’s a perfect fit for their hallowed canon. The story follows a young man who wants to live a life of carefree travel, then bristles at the idea of being a kept man when he finds himself engaged unknowingly to an heiress. Enter Katherine Hepburn as a kindred spirit who might be more of a romantic match for Grant than his paramour. The film falls solidly into the “dramedy” category, as it’s more dramatic than you might expect but still has lighter moments and funny scenes. And, of course, Grant and Hepburn’s chemistry on screen (this was their third film together) really drives the charm of the movie. This new edition from Criterion is restored and remastered, and it includes a nice collection of new extra features. While this may not be the acting duo’s most famous collaboration (that would probably be The Philadelphia Story), it’s still an incredibly worthy one.

The Cry – Doctor Who alumni Jenna Coleman stars in this four-episode series that is incredibly powerful but also pretty tough to watch, especially for parents. Coleman plays a woman who goes on vacation to Australia with her partner and her infant son. When the baby goes missing, it becomes a nightmare for everyone involved. That’s all I can say about the story without revealing the show’s secrets, but suffice it to say that there are some twists and turns along the way. There are also powerful performances, and some moments that are really hard to watch for anybody who’s ever had a kid in their care. The drama unfolds in both current time and in flashbacks, and the story is revealed piece by piece, ending with a bang. It’s not light viewing, but it’s definitely worth watching.

Imprisoned – Laurence Fishburne takes the lead role and a talented supporting cast that includes many Latino actors (among them Esai Morales, Jon Huertas, Edward James Olmos, and the decidedly non-Latin John Heard in his final role) in this prison drama set in Puerto Rico. But the heart of the film lies with actors Juan Pablo Raba and Juana Acosta, who play an ex-convict made good and his wife, respectively. When Fishburne, a former prison warden, becomes obsessed with seeing Raba behind bars again, things go south pretty quickly. Now, I’m a sucker for a good prison movie, so this wasn’t a hard watch for me, but the film is just okay. The performances are good across the board, but the script isn’t great and the film has some noticeable pacing issues. It isn’t a bad movie per se, but it’s not great, either.

Also available this week on Home Video:

  • White Squall – Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line delivers a new Blu-ray edition of one of Ridley Scott’s best and most under-appreciated films. I’ve never been a big Ridley Scott fan, and he’s made a lot of films that many people love that I don’t like (Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, for example.) But this little seen 1996 film features Jeff Bridges and a cast of soon-to-be-famous young men including Ryan Phillippe, Scott Wolf, Jeremy Sisto, and Ethan Embry. The film tells the story of a group of teenage students who set out on a sailboat with their teacher to learn about discipline and responsibility. When a freak storm sets upon them, however, the learning experience turns into a fight for survival. The film isn’t particularly Ridley-Scott like, in that the characters feel fully realized and there’s more of an emphasis on them than on the technical aspects of the film. And perhaps that’s why I like it so much. White Squall wasn’t a box office hit and didn’t gain much more of an audience on home video, but I’ve always found it to be a really great film. Check it out.
  • Terminal Velocity – Also from Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line this week, we have a new Blu-ray edition of Terminal Velocity, a fun 1990s actioner starring Charlie Sheen and Nastassja Kinski. Sheen plays “Ditch” (gotta love ‘90s movie character names!), a skydiving instructor who gives a lesson to Kinski who then apparently dies during a jump. But of course, nothing is that easy, and Ditch is quickly thrown into a whirlwind of action that involves bad guys, the mysterious woman, and of, course, parachutes. With supporting roles by the great Christopher McDonald and the late James Gandolfini, this isn’t exactly great cinema, but it sure is a lot of fun. Sheen is a likable screen star, the film doesn’t waste a minute getting to the action, and there’s enough under the hood to keep things chugging along nicely right through to the climax. This new Blu-ray includes a terrific new audio commentary and is available for a nice price, so it’s a great pick-up for fans of ‘90s action flicks.
  • Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection – This new collection from Kino Lorber is sure to be of interest to Hitchcock aficionados, but it might appeal more to the die-hard fans than to the casual admirers. Alfred Hitchcock is, of course, the Master of Suspense and deservedly so. This collection, however, is from Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood days, delivering us four silent films (and one talkie) from his days as a young filmmaker in Britain. Thus, we get the following films, none of which are what you think of when you think of Hitchcock: The Ring (a boxing drama); The Farmer’s Wife (a comedy); Champagne (another comedy); and The Manxman (a romantic drama), as well as The Skin Game (another drama about two warring families, this one a sound picture.) So if you’re looking for suspense thrillers, you’ve come to the wrong place. However, it’s an interesting journey through his early films, which might not be signature Hitch, but you can catch glimpses of his style here and there. This two-disc set also includes some nice extra features, including new scores for the silent films by noted composers, audio commentaries, and a Hitchcock/Truffaut audio interview. A terrific set, but be aware of the kinds of movies you’re getting.
  • The Titfield Thunderbolt & Passport to Pimlico – Film Movement Classics brings us two films that are new to Blu-ray (and, I believe, home video altogether) and have interesting pedigrees. The Titfield Thunderbolt and Passport to Pimlico are both post-World War II films from the famed Ealing Studios. The Titfield Thunderbolt was Ealing’s first color film and it’s directed by Charles Crichton, who also helmed The Lavender Hill Mob and A Fish Called Wanda. The film focuses on a small town and their reluctance to give up the titular train as the only means of transportation for the small village. Passport to Pimlicosees a small town in England claiming independence from Mother Britain when one of the last unexploded bombs from WWII goes off and reveals the town is “Burgundian” property. Both films are a product of their time, and while neither one completely knocked my socks off, I found them both to be relatively enjoyable. I’m sure there are people who fondly remember these films from their childhood, though, and they’ll appreciate finally having access to these films on home video.
  • Gags the Clown & Girl on the Third Floor – Finally, this week we have two new low-budget horror films, neither of which particularly impressed me. Gags the Clown is about a killer clown terrorizing a town with nothing more than a handful of black balloons. The film focuses less on the clown and more on the people who set out to stop him, including the police and – believe it or not – a conservative podcast host. Seemingly a response to the weird clown sightings that were all over the internet a few years ago, there’s not a lot about this film to elevate it beyond B-movie status, so I would only recommend it if you really love the B-movie world. Girl on the Third Floor is a little better, and with wrestler CM Punk in the lead role, it will have more of a built in audience. The story follows a couple who movie into a new house and — surprise! – it might have unwanted guests. The acting is solid but not great, but at least the film has a decent sense of pacing and steadily builds up the suspense through the film, which is nice to see. Neither film is great, but low-budget horror fans might enjoy them.

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