Top picks: Classic
Monte Hellman’s unfairly overlooked, parable-like 1988 feature stars Everett McGill as a disfigured whaler who escapes to a remote island and declares war on humanity, enslaving anyone unlucky enough to wash up on his shore. Grotesque, haunting, and fixated on cycles of cruelty, the film deserves to be ranked alongside Two-Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter as one of Hellman’s best and most accomplished films.
Level Five (Icarus)
Chris Marker’s final theatrical feature is a proto-vaporwave assemblage of screen effects and degraded SVGA textures—an essayistic documentary about the Battle Of Okinawa, framed as the video diary of a philosophizing game designer. Like much of Marker’s best work, this gives real life to the texture of brainy, paranoid sci-fi; gradually, the original subject recedes, and the interplay of ideas—about World War II, Japan, identity, and the possibilities of cyberspace—takes over.
Other classic releases
This writer would be derelict in his duties if he didn’t take a little time out in this week’s column to sing the praises of Christian Duguay—the minor league direct-to-video auteur behind Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover—and his Philip K. Dick-derived B-movie Screamers (Sony). Chock-full of old school matte paintings and workmanlike Steadicam shots, it’s an oddball, utterly unpretentious sci-fi action flick with plenty of personality. Take it away, Loulou Hughes…
From the director of Rolling Thunder and the screenwriter of Se7en comes Brainscan (Sony), a very 1994 movie about a video game character who hops out of the screen and forces a teenage boy to commit murders and listen to Primus. October is usually the time when distributors foist repackaged horror titles on the general public; this week is fairly bare, with the only major releases being a reissue of Jörg Buttgereit’s no-budget curio Nekromantik (Cult Epics) and the very belated DVD debut of TV movie maestro Paul Wendkos’ 1975 ABC production The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (New Video). The latter is a perfect example of the kind of unusual, risky work that occasionally managed to find its way on to the weeknight network lineup during the golden age of the American TV movie.
Harry Saltzman cornered the market on Brit spy cool in the mid-1960s, producing both the James Bond series and the Michael Caine-led Harry Palmer films, which were marketed—quite successfully—as a thinking man’s alternative to 007. For the third Palmer outing, Saltzman picked an arty up-and-coming director named Ken Russell; the result was Billion Dollar Brain (Kino Lorber), an often outrageous Cold War fantasy whose weak box office take effectively ended the franchise. Also out from Kino Lorber this week: Jules Dassin’s fun, flimsy, travelogue-like caper flick Topkapi; the Joan Didion-scripted L.A. noir riff True Confessions; and the Pete Dexter-scripted L.A. noir riff Mulholland Falls.
On the heels of the new extended edition of Once Upon A Time In America comes a new Blu-ray of director Sergio Leone’s entertaining, unabashedly political Zapata Western Duck, You Sucker! (MGM). Those who prefer their oaters a little less ambitious can pick up Ride Beyond Vengeance (Sony), the 1966 feature debut of TV Western veteran Bernard McEveety.
Run Wild, Run Free (Sony Choice Collection) may not have been Richard C. Sarafian’s feature debut, but it signaled his transition into full-time film directing. Like McEveety, Sarafian was a veteran of the small-screen Western; he’d go on to make the existentialist drive-in classic Vanishing Point.
No edition of New To Home Video is complete without a peak into the pop culture’s only genuine underworld: porn. Vinegar Syndrome is putting out a triple feature of XXX flicks pseudonymously directed by cult mainstay Ray Dennis Steckler: Red Heat, which shouldn’t be confused with the Walter Hill movie of the same title; Peeping Tom, which shouldn’t be confused with the Michael Powell movie of the same title; and the much less confusingly titled Hot Vampire. Speaking of titles, this week brings some choice examples of awful porn wordplay, including Dracula Sucks (Vinegar Syndrome), Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls (Vinegar Syndrome), and Wanda Whips Wall Street (Distribpix).
Also out this week: the Irving Berlin musical revue Holiday Inn (Universal), which features Fred Astaire, “White Christmas,” and Bing Crosby singing about Abraham Lincoln in blackface; Pennies From Heaven (Sony), which features Crosby, the title song, and actual black person Louis Armstrong singing 1936’s answer to the “Monster Mash”; and the leaden film version of Oklahoma! (20th Century Fox), directed by Fred Zinnemann.
Top pick: Catch-up
Live Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow (Warner Bros.)
Level Five isn’t the only video game-like movie to hit home video this week. Doug Liman’s effects-driven black comedy ingeniously plays off of star Tom Cruise’s established screen persona, casting him as smarmy coward who must repeatedly die in order to become… well, the kind of hero Tom Cruise would play. An unlikely critic’s darling, the movie underperformed at the box office, and has been retitled for home video release.
Other catch-up releases
Million Dollar Arm (Disney) is a sappy baseball movie with an overqualified cast, an overburdened redemption-arc plot, and a noticeable dearth of scenes where people actually play baseball. Those afflicted with severe cover blindness—a condition detailed by Oliver Sacks in his bestseller The Man Who Mistakenly Bought A Blu-Ray Of The Avengers, Starring Ralph Fiennes—should be careful not to confuse it with Billion Dollar Brain or Seth MacFarlane’s tedious Western comedy A Million Ways To Die In The West (Universal), in which the makeup-slathered Family Guy creator smugs his way through a half-dozen continually repeated gags.
Gillian Robespierre’s Sundance hit Obvious Child (Lionsgate)—which stars Jenny Slate as stand-up comedian faced with a very unplanned pregnancy—hits DVD and Blu-ray this week. Also out this week are a couple of profile docs: To Be Takei (Anchor Bay), a fans-only feature about Star Trek supporting player and full-time meme machine George Takei; and Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon (Anchor Bay), which marks the directorial debut of Mike Myers.
Kasi Lemmons has never managed to equal her promising debut, Eve’s Bayou. Her inept Harlem-set musical Black Nativity (20th Century Fox)—which is only tangentially related to the Langston Hughes play of the same title—represents a new low. It arrives on home video in an extended edition that allows viewers to enjoy even more of the ugliest musical numbers in recent memory. Those that prefer their bad movies of the winking, intentional variety can pick up Sharkando 2: The Second One (Asylum).