Pretty eclectic group of releases this week and I’ll start with the best, Triple Threat. The film has been on my radar for a while ever since I first heard about it. It’s a bananas action film with Asian superstars like Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, and Celina Jade. Plus it has Hollywood action names like Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, and Michael Bisping. A hit is put out on a billionaire’s daughter and there are double crosses between those out trying to get her and those trying to save her. You never know if one of the character’s is on the up and up or if he’s playing everyone. It has over the top action with fantastic fight choreography. It didn’t disappoint me. If I hadn’t already seen John Wick 3, this would probably be my favorite action movie of 2019. I love Iko Uwais’ The Raid franchise. I love Tony Jaa’s numerous franchises as well. Plus Michael Jai White is always good. If you want a good old-fashioned 1980’s throwback action film with some of the biggest names in Asian martial arts, then this is for you. I dug it and it will certainly be something I watch again and again.
Sticking with Asian films, 1969’s Yakuza Law gets a special edition Blu-ray release this week. I had actually never seen it and didn’t realize it was an anthology film at first. It changes time periods and I was confused until I realized it time jumped. It starts in the Edo Period and tells the story about samurai revenge. There is some pretty gruesome violence which lets you know what you’re in store for. Then it shifts to the Meiji Period where an exiled man returns to deal with the consequences of his past actions and seek his own revenge. It then jumps to 1960’s Japan and sees a crime mob trying to hunt down those that stole money. It’s a violent film for sure, but it’s also well made and has great production design. The time periods look great and have beautiful wardrobe and set design. This new release looks and sounds great and comes with commentary, interviews and more.
Third we have Nina, the feature film debut of Polish director Olga Chajdas. It’s about a married couple who want to have a baby, but the wife can’t conceive. She’s a teacher and he’s a mechanic. When Nina, the wife, hits a car, the husband has to fix it and they think they meet the perfect surrogate for their child. But the young woman is wild and more than they bargained for. Their marriage becomes strained when Nina starts to fall for young Magda. It actually isn’t as heavy as it sounds. It is a drama about love, marriage, life and desires, but it doesn’t feel long or too drawn out even being over two hours long. The two female leads are great and it’s an easy to follow film. It might not work as well with a different cast, but this cast makes it feel authentic and you understand what each character is thinking about and their actions. Pretty solid film.
Next we have Bosch: The Garden Of Dreams a documentary on Bosch’s famous painting. If you read me enough you know art and I aren’t a good mix. I had never heard of Hieronymus Bosch or this painting so this documentary isn’t quite for me. You get a lot of “experts” telling you what this 500 year old painting means and how important it is and all that. To me it looks like a 15th Century Dr. Seuss book. The work is kinda cool even if it makes no sense to me. I’m more impressed that this style of art was around 500 years ago. This looks like an acid trip or album art for The Beatles when they really got into drugs. It’s a huge piece of art that unfolds into three sections so it’s probably even more impressive in person, but don’t ask me what I think it means because one section has a Garden of Eden and God vibe while another section has a mermaid and all kinds of stuff. If you are a fan of Bosch or at least know this work you’ll probably like this documentary.
From one documentary to another, next is Surviving Birkenau: The Dr. Susan Spatz Story. With the rise of antisemitism again, schools need to start showing their students films like this. Holocaust survivor Dr. Susan Spatz recounts her life and its 96 years. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1922 she would face many levels of drama ultimately finding herself in Birkenau at Auschwitz. It would take three years until her eventual freedom. I had seen Ron Small’s previous work, To Auschwitz and Back, before and he has a way of capturing the emotional journey with it being very educational on top of it. I wasn’t familiar with Spatz’s story and if you aren’t either, check it out.
Liam Neeson’s Cold Pursuit is next. It’s a remake of the underrated In Order of Disappearance which starred Stellan Skarsgård as the Neeson character. I liked the original a lot and this is almost a shot for shot remake because the same director made both. Neeson plays a snowplow driver whose son is found dead of a heroin overdose. He doesn’t believe his son was a druggie and when his son’s friend tells him the truth, Neeson takes matters into his own hands like all recent Neeson movies! The film is nicely photographed and has a bleak, cold setting which works great for the story and looks fantastic on 4K. If I hadn’t seen the original I might have liked this more. I did like it because I like most Neeson films, but already knowing the story hurt this a bit. But if you don’t know the original you should like this especially if you’ve liked Neeson’s recent revenge flicks.
Never Look Away is a 2 time Oscar nominee that is over 3 hours long. The runtime hurts it a bit, but overall it’s pretty good. The leads are very good as is the set design, costuming and cinematography. It’s about a painter, his early life right before World War II, during the war and post-war Germany. He falls in love with a fashion student, but her father is tied to his past. It’s inspired by real events, but I can’t tell you if the characters are actual real people or a mix of real people. The easy comparison is to Cold War, but this is almost double the runtime and in color! I was really impressed with the lead actor who plays Kurt the painter and the lead actress who plays his wife. I do wish it was shorter because it would make it an easier watch, but it’s not tiresome and does hold your attention throughout most of it.
Next is a slew of releases from Mill Creek Entertainment. First is Eyes of Laura Mars starring Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones (with a unibrow). I had never seen this 1978 film before with Dunaway as a fashion photographer who gets visions and Jones as a cop. Horror master John Carpenter has a writing credit for it and it’s directed by Irvin Kershner who would follow this up with a little film called The Empire Strikes Back. Raul Julia plays Dunaway’s husband who they really want you to believe is the killer she’s seeing, but there’s a few twists and turns in it. My mom remembers seeing it back in the day and I can see it being a film a lot of people enjoyed.
Sticking with crime based films, the 7 part documentary series Becoming Evil: Serial Killers is also out. True crime podcasts/series are huge right now and this one talks about some of America’s most infamous killers including John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrew Cunanan, Ted Bundy and many others. This breaks down into different parts covering the mind of killers, victims and the media response, the first and second wave of famous serial killers, female killers, international killers and the rise of its popularity and today’s killers. Some of it was new, some of it I knew because I always enjoyed psychology and serial killers. If you are one of the many people part of the surge in true crime popularity then this is for you.
The 3 Documentary Collection A Hero’s Welcome is next. Josh Brolin narrates the first part, Never Surrender about Lt. Edwin P. Ramsey who led an offensive in the Philippine jungle that made history as the last mounted horse cavalry charge in U.S. military history. He would then go on to lead 40,000 guerrilla warriors as part of the Filipino resistance. Kelsey Grammer narrates Until They Are Home. This second part is about the search for the remains of U.S. Marines who were killed in the legendary South Pacific World War II Battle of Tarawa, where over 6,000 men were killed in 72 hours. Ed Harris narrates the third part, Return to Tarawa, a look at Leon Cooper who was a WWII veteran that returns to the Tarawa battle site after learning that many of his countrymen still lie where they fell sixty-six years later. It’s pretty sobering stuff, but it also shows how much people still care about these heroes decades later.
Now back to some feature films. John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars hits Blu-ray at Mill Creek prices this week. I hadn’t seen the film in years and forgot how bad (yet good) it is. It was a major disappointment when it came out and originally was supposed to be Escape from Mars, a third Kurt Russell film, but after Escape from LA bombed Carpenter rewrote it with Ice Cube as the lead. It’s one of Jason Statham’s first films and it looks like a low-budget straight-to-video movie with lots of bad effects. Yet I also kind of like it because of it. Natasha Henstridge plays the leader of a group on a train whose mission is to pick up a prisoner (Ice Cube) and get back to where they are from. This is also happening on Mars in the future of course and when they get to the mining town where Ice Cube is being held, it’s eerily empty. Crap hits the fan when people have been turned into zombie types after dust makes them go crazy and want Mars to themselves. It’s all campy and bad, but it’s one of those movies you pop in and laugh at and enjoy. It’s certainly not one of Carpenter’s masterpieces, but it’s also not the horrific film some people make it out to be.
So many patterns in this article already, but here’s another one. Ice Cube sees another release this week with Anaconda getting the Mill Creek price drop. It’s also another “so bad it’s good” movie and also stars Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight and Eric Stoltz. Long before Sharknado made a mockery out of killer animal flicks, Anaconda made people change their minds about snakes. Stoltz and Lopez are part of a documentary crew in the Amazon who rescue Voight from a sinking boat. Voight’s character takes over the ship because he’s hunting for a big anaconda. It’s pretty ridiculous and over the top, but also fun in its own ridiculousness. If you don’t already own it, this is a good release.
Almost done, I promise. Next is The Adventures of Robin Hood – The Complete Series. This is all 143 episodes of the Richard Greene version of Robin Hood from the 1950’s. For a show that is decades old, it has some pretty high production value. It’s not much worse than what we saw in Xena or Hercules from the 1990’s. It’s the classic version of Robin Hood and his merry men protecting Sherwood Forest from Prince John. You see a lot of the same actors pop up throughout the series playing different characters, but no one paid attention to that stuff back then. I’m not sure if the full series has been available as a complete series but it is now.
Sticking with complete series sets, The Shield gets a Complete Series DVD release from Mill Creek this week. I did a full write-up of the Blu-ray release here so I’ll just go over some highlights of this DVD set. It comes with the absolute must-watch cast reunion in the bonus features. The cast (minus one actor who’s in jail) sat together in an intimate setting and discussed what the show meant to them and its history. This also comes with the Writers Panel from the ATX Festival featuring Shawn Ryan, Kurt Sutter, Glen Mazzara, Scott Rosenbaum and Charles Eglee which was super interesting. It also comes with featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary and oh yeah, every fantastic episode of one of my favorite all-time TV shows. Like the Blu-ray release, this is a must own.
Finally we have Sex Madness Revealed. This actually came out last week, but I didn’t get my copy until last Friday. It’s sort of an MST3K episode with Patton Oswalt playing a film podcaster who watches classic movies and talks over them MST3K style. In this “episode” he watches Sex Madness which is like Reefer Madness, but for STDs. He has a surprise guest who claims to be the grandson of the real director of Sex Madness and knows its true meaning. So basically you are watching a movie about two guys watching a movie and talking over it. The surprise guest takes a wide turn saying all the actors in the movie aren’t actors but criminals his grandfather uses to make the movie to let The Order know he was on to them. Oswalt’s character has his mind blown throughout and it goes off the rails completely at the end. I’m not 100% sure what I thought about the movie to be honest. I kinda liked it and it’s quick enough to sit through, but I’m not a huge Oswalt fan anymore and the “twist” is really weird. I get it’s a satire on these cheesy movies and a satire things like MST3K (which Oswalt is a part of nowadays), but something about it felt off. But I can see it becoming a huge cult classic for Kino Lorber.