Welcome to one of two DVD and Blu-ray review columns this week, where I give my two pennies' worth on the latest movies to hit home entertainment formats in the UK. The general UK column will return next week. Those following me on Twitter will know that I've been saying that for a good three weeks now, but various health-related issues reared their ugly heads and unfortunately threw a few spanners in the works. I appreciate your support.
My thanks as always to those who continue to support my efforts in writing the AICN UK content by ordering various releases through the Amazon links below. But most of all, thanks a lot for reading.
JURASSIC PARK Ultimate Trilogy (Blu-ray)
If there was ever a greater argument for the use of practical effects over CGI than Steven Spielberg's JURASSIC PARK, then I'd sure like to see it. The animatronics are as astonishing as ever on Blu-ray. Having said that, the digital effects hold up rather well, so the 1993 original really doesn't look terribly dated.
What is there to say about JURASSIC PARK that hasn't already been said? It's an utterly spellbinding movie experience; a true spectacle. The discoveries of the characters as they journey through the titular park on Isla Nubar are discoveries shared by the audience, an experience akin to walking through a theme park that has been brought to life by the magic of cinema. The diegesis of JURASSIC PARK reflects everything I felt the first time I watched it and continue to during each and every viewing. The eyes of the three doctors – Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and Ian Malcolm – meet real dinosaurs within the breathtaking fiction of the film, while mine meet incredible special effects and animatronics.
This three-film set is worth it purely for the first film alone, but that's not to disregard the sequels. Although THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK isn't a patch on its predecessor, it's still a highly enjoyable action film with plenty of interesting ideas and exciting set pieces, whereas the former was more of an adventure movie. I consider JURASSIC PARK III to be the weakest of the trilogy, and by quite a way, but its story is still engaging and it did try to be different.
I know many fellow fans of the franchise who appreciate the first sequel more than the original, and I also know of folks who enjoyed JURASSIC PARK III a lot more than THE LOST WORLD. Whatever your stance on the trilogy, you're sure to find something to enjoy with this new Blu-ray set, which comes in three editions that vary aesthetically, all of which come loaded with special features, such as a fantastic new documentary.
The image above shows the standard box set, while below you can see both the limited edition tin Collector's Edition, which comes packaged with all of the above, plus a rather swanky-looking model of a roaring T-Rex standing in the iconic wooden gates of Jurassic Park, and a certificate of authenticity.
JURASSIC PARK extras:
- Return to Jurassic Park: an all-new hour-long documentary
- Archival Featurettes: The Making of Jurassic Park; Original Featurette on the Making of the Film; Steven Spielberg Directs Jurassic Park; Hurricane in Kauwi Featurette
- Behind the Scenes: Early Pre-Production Meetings; Location Scouting; Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the Kitchen; Animatics: T-Rex Attack; ILM and Jurassic Park: Before and After the Visual Effects; Foley Artists; five storyboards; Production Archives (photographs, design sketches, conceptual paintings)
- Theatrical trailer
- Jurassic Park: Making the Game
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK extras:
- Continuation of the brand new documentary (Finding The Lost World; Something Survived)
- Deleted scenes
- Theatrical trailer
- Archival Featurettes: The Making of The Lost World; Original Featurette on the Making of the Film; The Jurassic Park Phenomenon: A Discussion with Author Michael Crichton; The Compie Dance Number: Thank You Steven Spielberg from ILM
- Behind the Scenes: ILM & The Lost World: Before & After the Visual Effects; Production Archives (Production Photographs, Illustrations and Conceptual Drawings, Models, The World of Jurassic Park, The Magic of ILM, Posters and Toys); 12 storyboards
JURASSIC PARK III extras:
- Return to Jurassic Park: The Third Adventure: the third and final part of the new documentary
- Archival Featurettes: The Making of Jurassic Park III; The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III; The Special Effects of Jurassic Park III; The Industrial Light & Magic Press Reel; The Sounds of Jurassic Park III; The Art of Jurassic Park III; Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs
- Behind the Scenes: Tour of Stan Winston Studio; Spinosaurus Attacks the Plane; Raptors Attack Udesky; The Lake; A Visit to ILM (Concepts, The Process, Muscle Simulation, Compositing); Dinosaur Turntables; Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison; Production Photographs
- Theatrical trailer
- Audio commentary with the Special Effects Team
MOTHER'S DAY (Blu-ray)
Darren Lynn Bousman has been a busy bee since Lionsgate gave him the benefit of the doubt and handed him the directorial reins of the SAW franchise with the first sequel, which was adapted from his script, THE DESPERATE. Since then, he directed a further two sequels, before helming his passion project REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA. Fast forward a few years and he's currently in production on Jersey Devil monster movie THE BARRENS, has supernatural horror 11-11-11 due for release this winter, and MOTHER'S DAY, his vastly different remake of Troma's 1980 film, is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. No one could accuse Bousman of resting on his laurels, that's for sure. And while we are yet to see his latest two films, MOTHER'S DAY is by far his best work to date.
A family of criminals on the run crashes a house party at their former residence and terrorise those inside, but things take a far more sinister turn when their mother arrives and takes charge of the situation.
Compared to the original, Bousman's MOTHER'S DAY is a different animal. It's a brutal home invasion thriller with themes of horror, and one that is played absolutely straight, with Scott Milam's script opting to drop the social satire aspect that was prevalent in the original.
As a counterpart to the director's previous, more infamous work, MOTHER'S DAY is far more character-driven and intense than a portrait of blood and guts, although it certainly has its fair share of gory moments.
Extras: The trailer, B-roll footage and interviews with executive producers Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment President) and Charles Kaufman (director of the original film), cast members Rebecca De Mornay, Jaime King, Patrick Flueger, Warren Kole, Briana Evigan, Matt O'Leary, Shawn Ashmore, Lyriq Bent, Richard Saperstein, and stunt co-ordinator Bobby King.
STRAW DOGS: Ultimate 40th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Keeping with the home invasion theme, making its debut on the format is Sam Peckinpah's controversial classic, STRAW DOGS, which, of course, has recently been remade. But let's try and put that behind us as we reminisce about this stunning film, and how fresh it looks on Blu-ray as we mark its 40th anniversary.
If you're not familiar with the film, it stars Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, an American mathematician who moves across the pond to Cornwall, England with his wife, Amy (Susan George). Some of the locals take kindly to the outsider, while others appear not to. This ambiguity simmers along until a horrific prolonged rape scene, and reaches boiling point in the final twenty minutes, when Hoffman's character just about explodes and undergoes a whatever-it-takes approach to defending his home from his neighbours, with very violent results.
For me, the image of Hoffman wearing broken glasses is one of the most iconic in cinema. It's symbolic of a man's descent into crogmag-non instinct; that completely stripped-down faculty that stays with us no matter how much we and society move on or evolve.
Whether you've seen it before or you haven't, I heartily recommend that you mark the 40th anniversary of STRAW DOGS by picking this disc up. It's surprisingly violent for a film of the time and holds up just as well as it did back then, which is a credit to Peckinpah's sheer brilliance as a film-maker.
Extras: An audio commentary with Peckinpah biographers Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Paul Seydor, and another with the director's close friend and associate Katy Haber; isolated (Oscar-nominated) score by Jerry Fielding; interviews with star Susan George, producer Dan Melnick and Garner Simmons (author of PECKINPAH: A PORTRAIT IN MONTAGE); Before and After: restoration comparisons; stills galleries; 1971 on-location documentary; original US theatrical trailer; TV and radio spots; and a selection of other morsels of interest:
- STRAW DOGS and the Censors
- The Peckinpah-Pinter letters
- Sam and Dan correspondence
- Why Call the Film “STRAW DOGS”?
- 1971 Dan Melnick BBFC letters
- 1971 The Times review and critic outrage
- 1972 New York Times articles
- 1972 BBFC defence against local authority banning
- 1999 BBFC home video statement
- 2002 BBFC home video statement
- Uncut feature from December 2001
- Consider This a Bad Review
- Deleted “Pub Scene”
- Film facts and trivia
HOLY ROLLERS (Blu-ray)
I went into HOLY ROLLERS expecting a comedy. Not because of Jesse Eisenberg's pre-THE SOCIAL NETWORK ties to such films as ZOMBIELAND, but because of the title and plot. A movie about a Hasidic Jew recruited into an international drug smuggling operation, and one called HOLY ROLLERS no less? That sounds like a comedy to me, not a coming-of-age drama, which it actually is, despite a first act that tries to squeeze a few cheap – and weak – laughs from Eisenberg walking around with side curls and a big black hat.
It comes as quite a surprise, then, that HOLY ROLLERS takes a rather dark turn once Eisenberg gets wrapped up in the drug ring courtesy of his wayward neighbour, smuggling pills from Amsterdam to his native New York City. It doesn't take long for him to seemingly become a master of his trade, however, and he's soon out on the streets recruiting potential mule-colleagues in his community, and trying his hand at making business deals. This is where the film falls down.
It's hard to believe that Eisenberg's character could be sheltered enough to be as naïve as to trust in his neighbour's word that the pills are medicinal. For as long as it takes him to realise that he's a drug mule, it seems like he undergoes an overnight transition from sheepish rabbi-in-training to Tony Montana's apprentice, and before you know it he's fleeing from the police.
As outlandish as the plot may sound, it's actually based on true events, which makes this a highly interesting story that has been ham-fistedly told.
Extras: Audio commentary with director Kevin Asch and stars Eisenberg and Justin Bartha; deleted, extended and expanded scenes; a UK-exclusive interview with Eisenberg; and another with both Eisenberg and Bartha.
TOKYO DECADENCE (DVD)
1992's TOKYO DECADENCE is a dark and often ugly journey across the seedy underbelly of Japan's capital city. The film follows Ai, a timid young woman who joins a prostitution service that specialises in sadomasochistic sex acts. Reluctant to partake in each and every perverse fantasy she is hired to realise, she plunges herself into a cruel world of depravity, and yet we never discover her reasons for doing so. As she soldiers through long scenes of humiliation, submission and dominance, it appears as though only she is to blame for her physical and mental drudgery. She is a victim, but one of her own becoming.
It's a strange film, still relatively explicit in 2011, and one that has absolutely no aspirations of eroticising its sexual content. It's almost artistic, yet you can only sit and admire its cinematography for so long before the unnerving variety of near-torturous sex scenes begin. TOKYO DECADENCE certainly isn't for everyone, but it's very accomplished in its intent to explore a character who enters what is, effectively, an alien world.
Extras: A selection of trailers for other ArrowDrome releases.
A MAN VANISHES (DVD)
Though we now live in a time when film goers hop online to furiously debate the authenticities of such films as CATFISH and I'M STILL HERE, Japanese film-maker Shohei Imamura broke the fourth wall over four decades ago with his psuedo-documentary A MAN VANISHES, which tries to piece together the mystery of a man's very sudden and unexpected disappearance.
It's not your typical talking heads doc, however, as soon the interviewees share the screen with those asking the questions. As revelations are uncovered that portray the missing person as both a womaniser and someone who embezzled money from his employers, his fiancée finds herself falling for the director of the film, and the focus of the cameras change from interviews to a kind of voyeurism as the relationship between the woman and film-maker grows, creating an interesting drama with much more of a narrative than the preceding parts of the documentary.
At 130 minutes, A MAN VANISHES is a long film and one with a first half that isn't compelling enough to sustain such a running time. But once the story begins to twist and turn and almost morph into something new, it makes for a gripping – and unique – viewing experience, even to this day.
Extras: An interview with director Imamura, the theatrical trailer, an interview with writer Tony Rayns on the film, and a booklet featuring rare archival images.
JACKIE BROWN (Blu-ray)
Aside from DEATH PROOF, JACKIE BROWN is most likely Quentin Tarantino's littlest seen film. As ingrained in pop culture as PULP FICTION is, you never hear anyone quoting the fiery dialogue of JACKIE BROWN. In fact, one scene in particular sees Samuel L. Jackson referencing a line from Jules Winnfield, his character in the aforementioned film. It's an unfortunate irony as JACKIE BROWN deserves as much attention as RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, because, although a very different film from his first two, it's still an excellent crime drama with a first-rate cast, and his most mature effort to date.
Tarantino should always be applauded for giving actors – new and forgotten – opportunities. He did it in PULP FICTION and did it again in JACKIE BROWN, giving top billing to Pam “FOXY BROWN” Grier and Robert “MEDIUM COOL” Forster, two fine, experienced performers who had been overlooked over time, only to prove their worth before the camera in spades.
The film has now made its Blu-ray debut, so if you are one of those self-professed QT fans who is yet to see this Elmore Leonard adaptation, then you know exactly what to do.
Extras: Critics Corner – Breaking Down JACKIE BROWN: A number of critics, led by Elvis Mitchell, discuss the film; JACKIE BROWN: How It Went Down – documentary; A Look Back at JACKIE BROWN – Interview with Quentin; Chicks With Guns: the entire Chicks Who Love Guns video from the movie, with an introduction by Tarantino; six deleted and alternate scenes, with a QT intro; Siskel and Ebert's AT THE MOVIES review of JACKIE BROWN; JACKIE BROWN on MTV: a promotional spot and 15-minute interview with Tarantino from December 1997; Marketing Gallery: posters, three trailers and eight TV spots; Stills Galleries: production stills, behind the scenes stills, location scouting, production design sketches and logos, memorabilia, posters from Pam Grier movies, posters from Robert Forster movies, soundtrack covers from Pam Grier movies; trivia track; soundtrack chapters; trailers from films starring Grier and Forster; and a selection of radio spots from Grier's pre-JACKIE BROWN filmography.
THE CHEERLEADERS (DVD)
Orgies ahoy! '70s smut is in full force in THE CHEERLEADERS, a softcore sex comedy that pits various scantily-clad 18-year-old girls against a rival high school football team in the heat of passion.
As outlandish plots go, THE CHEERLEADERS takes the biscuit. The pompom-bearing females use their assets to their advantage as they scheme to exhaust their team's opposition via excessive sex, in a raunchy bid to make the players unable to compete at their best. Outrageous? Absolutely, but it's also fairly funny in all its rampant ridiculousness.
Extras: Aside from the trailer and a radio spot, this release also comes packaged with a bonus second disc featuring the sequel, REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS.
THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (DVD/Blu-ray)
Another Shohei Imamura release from the great Masters of Cinema label comes in the form of 1983's THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA, a remake of the 1958 film of the same title and an adaptation of Shichiro Fukazawa's novel, NARAYAMA BUSHIKO.
Set in a small farming community that rests in the shadow of Mount Narayama, 69-year-old Orin must make preparations for her silent ascent up the mountain to mark her 70th birthday. It is a custom of the village for those who reach that age to travel to the top of Narayama and die alone of starvation. Of sound health and mind, the bulk of Orin's final preparations involve tying up loose ends with her family.
THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA is a peculiar film. It's beautifully shot (and looks stunning on Blu-ray) with fantastic natural imagery and a darkly comic tone, and yet is, at times, quite disturbing. Between a man having sex with a neighbour's dog, a family being buried alive for stealing vegetables, and Orin's bid to help her son lose his virginity, it's an unusual story, yet the events it depicts aren't considered particularly unusual in the community. There's something tribal about the villagers and it's an aspect that is often both unsettling and unpredictable.
THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA is yet another masterwork from a film-maker who, as highly regarded as he is, still deserves so much more attention for his efforts. Fortunately, we have Masters of Cinema to thank for touching this Palme d'Or-winning film up and putting it out there in this excellent Dual Format Edition.
Extras: An interview with scholar Tony Rayns on the film, two teasers, two trailers, and a booklet featuring rare promotional material, stills and a producer's on-set diary.
BLOOD CREEK (Blu-ray)
Hitler's fascination with the occult is taken to the extreme in BLOOD CREEK, a gruesome supernatural horror that revolves around a Nazi scholar (Michael Fassbender) who was sent to live with a German family in the States to uncover Viking runestones, which were said to lead to unlimited power. Fast forward five decades later and medic Evan Marshall (Henry Cavill) plunges into a blood-soaked world of mystery when his long lost brother Victor (Dominic Purcell), presumed dead, suddenly returns from obscurity and asks for his sibling's help. Brandishing shotguns, the brothers arrive at the farm where the German family lived all those years ago – the very place Victor was held captive for ten years – and become embroiled in a deadly battle against the Nazi professor, now a green-skinned, Pinhead-esque demon bent on finishing his quest for supreme power.
The plot is paper-thin and the characters are wafer-thin, but it still manages to be a fast-paced and mildly entertaining horror movie with a few creative scenes of destruction. Rumour has it director Joel Schumacher and his assistant butchered what was apparently a great original script. If you're looking for a really good Nazi occult movie, however, check out New Zealand's THE DEVIL'S ROCK, the best Kiwi horror film since Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD.
Extras: Just the trailer.
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (Blu-ray)
Another legendary film is revitalised on region-free Blu-ray as J. Lee Thompson's THE GUNS OF NAVARONE arrives on the format in a glorious new transfer.
It's World War II, and the Germans have concocted a plan to align themselves with Turkey by bullying them into joining the Axis. They intend to do so by massacring 2000 British soldiers stranded on the island of Keros in the Aegean Sea. Royal Navy rescue attempts are futile because of two titanic German cannons positioned on Navarone, a nearby island, so it is up to the daring of a diverse group of experienced soldiers to make their way to the island and destroy the guns.
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE is an epic adventure and one of the finest men on a mission movies ever made. The excellent cast, which includes Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, lends terrifically well to deep, defined characters. The film definitely has its fair share of exciting action sequences, but it's the interactions between the characters that really stand out and make it the blistering slice of war cinema that it is.
Extras: The Resistance Dossier of Navarone: an interactive dossier that gives you access to various behind the scenes features and textual supplements; two audio commentaries, one with film historian Stephen J. Rubin and another with director J. Lee Thompson; three documentaries: Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set, An Ironic Epic of Heroism, and Memories of Navarone; six featurettes: Epic Restoration, A Heroic Score, Great Guns, No Visitors, Honeymoon on Rhodes, and Two Girls on the Town; a narration-free prologue; a brief message from producer Carl Foreman, which was shown at the Sydney, Australia premiere; and an option to play the film with the original roadshow intermission card, which is a nice touch to say the least.
Stay tuned for another big fat review column later this week!