by Bryan Theiss
This week brings us definitive editions of Bruce Lee’s films, a new Donnie Yen, a horror movie starring Mary J. Blige, a highly rated Brazilian sci-fi-ish film, a bunch of limited edition exploitation obscurities from Vinegar Syndrome, a W.C. Fields, a Bob Hope, documentaries about everything from Biosphere 2 to Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation, and much more. You can get any or all of them from our pickup window or via rent by mail.
ACT OF MURDER (1948)
Controversial thriller of its time about a small town judge (Fredric March) who kills his terminally ill wife to prevent her suffering, turns himself in and is defended in court by brilliant lawyer Edmond O’Brien. With commentary by film historian Samm Deighan. From Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema Volume 4 box set.
ANIMATION OUTLAWS (2020)
New documentary about the two hippie friends known as “Spike and Mike,” whose popular animated short film festivals in the ‘90s kicked off many careers, changed attitudes about the potential of the medium and completely transformed the animation industry. Interview subjects include Pixar’s Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, Aardman’s Nick Park and Peter Lord, Will Vinton and Bruno Bozzetto.
Acclaimed Brazilian film about a woman returning to her matriarchal home village after the death of her mother in a chaotic near future that includes bikers, flying saucer shaped drones and Udo Kier. Cody Corrall of the Chicago Reader calls it, “a rallying cry against structural injustice told through a satisfying blend of western and science fiction influences.” Includes hour-long making-of, interviews and deleted scene.
(DVD and Blu-Ray)
BARBED WIRE (1927)
Pola Negri stars as a woman who uses her father’s farm to feed the French troops as well as their German prisoners. At first she resents the latter, but she starts to empathize with them and even fall for one (Clive Brook), causing suspicion among her neighbors.
THE BIG BOSS (1971) (CRITERION)
After years in Hollywood as a sidekick and a teacher, Bruce Lee finally broke through as a leading man by going back to Hong Kong and making this classic action vehicle. He plays a Chinese immigrant in Thailand humbly working at an ice factory until he’s pushed to fight the criminal enterprise running the place. Criterion’s edition includes a new featurette with Lee biographer Matthew Polly, alternate and extended scenes, an archival program with “Judo” Gene LeBell discussing Lee’s career, a featurette about the soundtrack, and commentaries by Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder.
BLOOD GAMES (1990)
Stunt woman Laura Albert stars in this revenge thriller about a women’s softball team forced to fight for their lives when a men’s team does not take defeat well. Another interesting obscurity dug up by Vinegar Syndrome, who say it’s “A shockingly violent revenge thriller that, despite its early 90s release date, is as unflinching in its brutality as the roughest exploitation films of the 1970s.” New 2K restoration includes interviews with Albert and co-star Ken Carpenter.
BODY CAM (2020)
R&B legend/Academy Award nominee Mary J. Blige stars as a cop who discovers a mysterious supernatural figure in some body cam footage.
As punishment for trashing his house, a Houston teen (Amber Havard) has to run errands for her ex-bull rider neighbor (Rob Morgan of Just Mercy and The Last Black Man in San Francisco) and finds a love for the rodeo. Witney Seibold writes, “Maudlin, quiet, and natural, Bull captures, with a raw edge, the lives of a marginalized society within a marginalized society, and how human connection can still grow therein.”
Two cargo pilots (Alan Ladd and William Bendix) try to solve and avenge the murder of a fellow pilot. One of them falls for their dead friend’s fiancee (Gail Russell), who may or may not be in on it. With commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton. From Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema Volume 4 box set.
DR. JEKYLL’S DUNGEON OF DEATH (1978)
A mad scientist in a Victorian mansion in San Francisco turns people into crazed fighters in the only non X-rated movie by director James Wood. From the limited edition Vinegar Syndrome Archive collection, “celebrating forgotten cinematic oddities from the video store era.”
ENTER THE DRAGON (2 VERSIONS) (CRITERION)
Bruce Lee’s iconic mysterious-island-fighting-tournament movie, with the nunchakas, the mirror maze, the claw slashes and the funky soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin. Criterion’s edition includes new restorations of the original theatrical version, as well as the extended special edition. Extras include numerous vintage promotional materials, new and archival documentaries and interviews and a commentary track with producer Peter Heller. Three of the new programs sound particularly interesting: one with producer Andre Morgan discussing his work at Golden Harvest as martial arts films became popular in the U.S., one with author Grady Hendrix (Paperbacks From Hell) discussing the phenomenon of Bruce Lee imitators (plus a collection of Bruceploitation trailers) and an interview with two voice actors for English dubs of Chinese movies, including the guy who did Bruce’s voice for Fist of Fury.
ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (2020)
No, this is not part of the Bruce Lee box set – it’s Donnie Yen starring in a new remake of Sammo Hung’s 1978 comedy kung fu classic. He plays a cop who gains weight after transferring to a desk job, then tries to prove himself on a big case in Japan.
(DVD and Blu-Ray)
A deadly assassin (Markiss McFadden) starts to have second thoughts about that evil priest (Paul Sorvino) teaching him to murder people in the name of God. Also starring Mischa Barton and Eric Roberts.
FIST OF FURY (1972) (CRITERION)
In Bruce Lee’s second star vehicle he plays Chen Zhen, a student in early twentieth century Shanghai avenging his master and his people against a Japanese dojo. Criterion’s edition includes a new featurette with biographer Matthew Polly, several archival interviews with cast members, 18 minutes of vintage trailers and a commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Mike Leeder.
GAME OF DEATH (1978) (CRITERION)
12 minutes of footage from Bruce Lee’s unfinished final film is spread across this posthumous release that uses doubles and even footage from Lee’s actual funeral to tell the story of a martial arts star who fakes his death on a movie set to get away from gangsters. Despite the exploitative nature of the thing, it contains some of the most indelible images in martial arts movie history, including Lee in the famous yellow jumpsuit fighting Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Criterion’s new 4K restoration comes with a new featurette, archival interview with co-star Bob Wall, commentary by expert Mike Leeder, and most importantly Game of Death Redux, a new 2020 presentation of the scenes Lee actually shot for his movie, with new vocal performances, edits and mixing. At 35 minutes long, it’s basically a short film featuring Lee’s best work.
GAME OF DEATH II (CRITERION)
Hats off to Criterion for including this film in their Bruce Lee box set. Don’t expect to see Bruce Lee – they just use some obvious outtakes for his brief appearance at the beginning – but it’s a total blast of a movie that includes fighters disguised as lions, an evil white guy with a pet monkey, and James Bond villain style sets. This disc also includes the feature length 1973 documentary Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend.
The Hell Riders are such vicious bikers they get kicked out of their gang and have to go off on their own to terrorize innocents including Adam West and Tina Louise. From the director of Don’t Go in the Woods and Executioner Part 2. New 2K restoration with director interview and storyboard gallery, from the limited edition Vinegar Syndrome Archive collection, “celebrating forgotten cinematic oddities from the video store era.”
L’ INNOCENTE (1976)
A new HD restoration of the final film by director Luchino Visconti (The Leopard). Giancarlo Giannini stars as a jerky, unfaithful aristocrat who suddenly cares about his wife (Laura Antonelli) when he thinks she’s cheating on him too. Richard Brody of The New Yorker writes, “The lavish, colorful depictions of stately villas with their sumptuous furnishings and immortal art work and the characters exquisite attire are matched by the director’s carnal delight in the beautiful people themselves.”
JUDY & PUNCH (2019)
Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak) and Damon Herriman (Justified) star as marionette performers whose lives turn into a variation on the famous 16th century puppet show. David Ehrlich of indieWire writes that it “feeds on the comic violence that has always informed this material, and finds any number of amusing ways to weaponize it against the irredeemable puppetmaster who’s due to become the butt of his own joke.” Feature directing debut of actress Mirrah Foulkes (Top of the Lake, Sleeping Beauty)
THE KILLER IS ONE OF THIRTEEN (1973)
Family and friends stay at a recently widowed woman’s secluded home, not knowing she suspects one of them of being her husband’s killer, in this Spanish take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. New 2K scan of a film never available on any video format in North America, with historical commentary by Diabolique Magazine editor Kat Ellinger. From Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Forgotten Gialli Vol. 1 set.
KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948)
Film noir about a former POW (Burt Lancaster) who kills a guy in a bar fight, hides out with a sympathetic nurse (Joan Fontaine) and is blackmailed by a witness (Robert Newton) to assist with another crime. Includes commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold.
L.A. WARS (1994)
Disgraced cop turned bouncer turned one man army Jake Quinn goes undercover as a bodyguard to stop a brutal mob war. Vinegar Syndrome promises that this “high octane action indie produced during the later craze of direct-to-video thrillers packs in as many monster shoot outs, slow-motion squib explosions, gratuitous sex scenes, and explosions as possible.” From the limited edition Vinegar Syndrome Archive collection, “celebrating forgotten cinematic oddities from the video store era.”
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971)
Vanessa Redgrave plays Mary, Glenda Jackson plays Elizabeth, supporting dudes include Patrick McGoohan, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Davenport, Trevor Howard and Ian Holm. From the director of Anne of the Thousand Days, this royal biography received Oscar nominations for Redgrave as well as the art direction, the costume design and the score by John Barry. Includes a commentary by film historian Sergio Mims and an isolated music track with commentary by Nick Redman and John Burlingame.
MR. JONES (2019)
Thriller from director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa) about ambitious 1930s journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton) uncovering evidence of the man-mad famine Holodomor while in the Soviet Union to interview Stalin.
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941)
W.C. Fields plays himself in his last starring role. With audio commentary by film historian Eddy Von Mueller and vintage documentary Wayne and Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at W.C. Fields.
THE PALEFACE (1948)
Bob Hope’s biggest box office hit was this western farce where he’s seduced into a quickie marriage with Jane Russell, not realizing that she’s Calamity Jane. With commentary by film historian Sergio Mims and two featurettes, Entertaining the Troops and Command Performance 1945.
THE POLICE ARE BLUNDERING IN THE DARK (1975)
Bloody, twisty movie about nude models murdered after being photographed by a guy trying to invent a camera that can photograph people’s thoughts. New 2K scan of this never-officially-on-video Italian oddity, with historical audio essay by film historian Rachael Nisbet. From Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Forgotten Gialli Vol. 1 set.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) (CRITERION)
Last year’s stunning French film about a painter (Noémie Merlant) hired to hang out with an eccentric rich girl (Adèle Haenel) and try to paint her portrait without her knowing is deserving of its instant Criterion treatment. Includes a conversation between Céline Sciamma and film critic Dana Stevens and interviews with the two stars, the cinematographer and the artist who created the paintings for the film.
(We already had a Blu-Ray, but the DVD has now arrived.)
Documentary about Freddy McConnell, a gay trans man who decided to carry a child.
THE SEVERED ARM (1973) (UNCUT)
A group of friends on a camping trip get trapped in a cave and draw straws to decide who should have to cut off an arm for the others to eat to survive. Then they get rescued, and years later they start to be stalked by somebody who’s chopping off their arms. Hmmm. Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K scan is the first authorized video release and features interviews with actor Vince Martorano and producer Gary Adelman.
SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS (1955)
Tony Curtis stars as a charming thief torn between a lifelong friend (George Nader) offering redemption and a really tempting crime inspired by the famous 1950 Brink’s robbery. Co-starring Sal Mineo. With commentary by film historian Samm Deighan. From Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema Volume 4 box set.
SPACESHIP EARTH (2020)
Documentary about the 1991 Biosphere 2 mission, when eight utopians spent two years locked inside a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem. “An impressive example of basic storytelling techniques refined for maximum impact, each element reinforcing and feeding off every other element, as in the enclosed ecosystem that it depicts,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz. From the director of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell.
STRAIGHT SHOOTING (1917)
The first film by John Ford (credited as Jack!) stars Harry Carey as “Cheyenne Harry,” a character he would play into the ‘30s.
STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940) (WARNER ARCHIVE)
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland star as a high school bandleader and singer in a Busby Berkeley musical extravaganza that includes a tribute to the conga and a duet of “I Ain’t Got Nobody.”
SUBURBAN WILDLIFE (2019)
After graduating from high school, four Australian friends go on a road trip in their last week before one of them leaves for London.
TRAUMA (1978) (SPAIN)
Spanish proto-slasher about a writer staying at a bed and breakfast where a razor-wielding psycho is stalking the guests. New 2K scan with a historical commentary track by author Troy Howarth. From Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Forgotten Gialli Vol. 1 set.
Shot-on-VHS retro comedy about a kid in 1987 who gets a camcorder for Christmas, and accidentally records neighborhood happenings and late night TV clips over his parents’ wedding video. Then a haunted TV transports him into his own recording, where he gets to talk to people from the TV programs as well as a younger version of his mother. It debuted at Fantastic Fest and is distributed by Oscilloscope. “A skit-filled Kentucky Fried Movie-like takedown of kitsch 1980s media culture develops into a far more prescient and surprisingly moving satire,” writes Simon Foster of Screen-Space.
WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972) (CRITERION)
Way of the Dragon (sometimes called Return of the Dragon) is the only film that Bruce Lee directed, other than the unfinished Game of Death. He also stars as a country boy who goes to Rome to help his uncle with gangsters extorting money from his restaurant. It’s most famous for Lee’s incredible fight to the death with hairy bad guy Chuck Norris. Includes new and archival featurettes, alternate opening credits, vintage trailers and radio spot, and in-depth commentary with Hong Kong cinema expert Mike Leeder.
These titles we expect to arrive later in the week:
ARDE MADRID: BURN MADRID BURN (2018)
Spanish mini-series about the life of Ava Gardner (Debi Mazar) when she lived in Madrid in the early ‘60s, from the perspective of her maid and chauffeur, who are actually spies for Franco’s secret service.
HOMECOMING: SEASON 1
Julia Roberts plays a social worker who works for a facility that helps soldiers transition to civilian life. After quitting and becoming a waitress she stars to realize there was more going on there than she realized. Also starring Bobby Cannavale, Stephan James, Shea Whigham, Alex Karpovsky and Sissy Spacek.
PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
The Paramount Classics series presents a new 4K transfer of the Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy favorite written and produced by John Hughes. Includes Filmmaker Focus: Director Howard Deutch on Pretty in Pink, an isolated score track, and the original ending.
PRIDE & PREJUDICE (1940)
Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier star in this version of the beloved Jane Austen novel, with a screenplay written by Aldous Huxley! The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther called it “the most deliciously pert comedy of old manners, the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen.”
SEVEN STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS BY PASSING THROUGH THE GATEWAY CHOSEN BY THE HOLY STORSH (2018)
Kate Micucci and Sam Huntingon play a couple who find out that their new apartment was the site of a deranged cult’s mass suicide. The loaded comedy cast includes Taika Waititi, Brian Posehn, Dan Harmon, Mindy Sterling, Mark McKinney, Maria Bamford and Dana Gould.
A signal from another dimension brings on the end of days, and a survivor (Virginia Gardner) finds a cassette tape labelled “THIS MIXTAPE WILL SAVE THE WORLD” in her dead friend’s apartment. Now she has to mourn, fight off monsters, and follow a series of clues to maybe save the world. Packed with extras including two director commentaries, an hour-long making-of, deleted scenes, two Alamo Drafthouse Q&As, and a bunch more.
STRAY DOLLS (2019)
Riz (Geetanjali Thapa) flees traffickers in India and winds up working as a hotel maid in Poughkeepsie, only to be pushed into thieving and drugs by her roommate Dallas (Olivia DeJonge) in this crime drama. “A taut and stylish thriller that manages to draw fresh blood from some very familiar territory,” writes David Ehrlich of indieWire.
12 MONKEYS SEASONS 1, 2, 3 and 4
These are separate rentals of each of the four seasons of SyFy’s series loosely based on the Terry Gilliam time travel film (itself inspired by Chris Marker’s La Jetee).