by Bryan Theiss
This week’s new arrivals include slick special editions of a variety of interesting underground and indie films, a new selection of international classics from Martin Scorsese and Criterion, a Bong Joon Ho short, a slasher parody, documentaries about John Lewis, Rudolph Nureyev, Helmut Newton and Ursula von Rydingsvard, plus Michael Jai White stepping into Jean-Claude Van Damme’s shoes, and much more. Also, scroll to the bottom if you’re interested in new titles on 4K-Ultra HD.
ALIEN ADDICTION (2018)
New Zealand sci-fi/stoner comedy about a guy who befriends two aliens that crash-land near his house and tries to hide them from the world. That’s ALF times two!
ALPHABET CITY (1984)
Vinegar Syndrome’s new Fun City Editions imprint for “maverick repertory cinema that can best be described as works that exist ‘outside of their time’” presents NYC indie pioneer Amos Poe’s neo-noir film starring Vincent Spano as a mobster whose boss turns against him when he refuses to burn down the tenement building he grew up in. Featuring Jami Gertz and Michael Winslow (yes, the sound effects guy from Police Academy), plus a score by Chic’s Nile Rodgers. Includes a new commentary by Poe and writer Luc Sante, interview with Spano and video essay by Chris O’Neill.
BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933)
Frank Capra’s pre-Code drama stars Barbara Stanwyck as an American missionary in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War who gets rescued by a Chinese warlord (Nils Asther) and is attracted to him while staying in his palace.
BLACK MAGIC FOR WHITE BOYS (2017)
A businessman uses a book of magic spells to deal with his financial troubles. From director Onur Turkel (Catfight, The Misogynists). Critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas called it “a sharp, emotionally cutting and very funny film about power: who owns it and the impact of how they choose to wield it.”
THE CALLER (1987)
A woman living alone in a house in the woods (Madolyn Smith) finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having Malcolm McDowell show up one night and ask to use her phone. “Bizarre and sinister mind games” ensue. Includes interviews with director Arthur Allan Siedelman and writer Michael Sloan.
Sean Penn, Wallace Shawn, Trinidad Silva and Christine Baranski help Donald Sutherland break into a pawn shop safe to get back at Jack Warden. This is director Louis Malle (Atlantic City)’s remake of the Italian comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street. With commentary by film historian Daniel Kremer and critic Scout Tafoya.
DESERT ONE (2019)
Academy Award winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan Count U.S.A., Shut Up & Sing, Miss Sharon Jones!) reveals the story of a secret mission to free the hostages of the 1979 Iranian Revolution using new archival resources and unprecedented access to many of the soldiers, President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale.
THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) (CRITERION)
Criterion presents a new 4K restoration of David Lynch’s beautiful black and white biography of John Merrick (John Hurt). Extras include Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna reading from their 2018 book Room to Dream, archival interviews with Lynch, Hurt, producers Mel Brooks and Jonathan Sanger, director of photography Freddie Francis, stills photographer Frank Connor and makeup artist Christopher Tucker, audio recording of a 1981 Lynch Q&A, documentaries The Terrible Elephant Man Revealed (2001) and Joseph Merrick: The Real Elephant Man (2005), trailer and radio spots.
(DVD and Blu-Ray)
This action drama is “based on a true legend” of Shields Green (Dayo Okeniyi), a descendent of African kings who escapes American slavery and travels north, joining the fight with abolitionists Frederick Douglass (Harry Lennix) and John Brown (James Cromwell).
FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (1943)
The second U.S. film directed by Billy Wilder stars Franchot Tone as the sole survivor of a British tank crew who poses as a waiter to spy on hotel guest General Rommel (Erich von Stroheim). With commentary by film historian Joseph McBride.
GENESIS II (1973) / PLANET EARTH (1974)
Warner Archive presents a pair of TV movies written and produced by Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry. In the first, Alex Cord plays Dylan Hunt, a NASA scientist buried by an earthquake during a hibernation experiment and revived in 2133 after “The Great Conflict.” He’s caught in a tug-of-war between the pacifistic PAX and totalitarian Tyranians, each desiring his expertise for rebuilding society. In the more action-oriented sequel, John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) takes over as Hunt, who now leads PAX Team 21 on a mission to find a missing surgeon in the territory of the Confederacy of Ruth, a matriarchal society who keep men drugged and enslaved and call them “Dinks.” (In 1975 Saxon returned for a third film, Strange New World, which we already have on DVD.)
Horny UCLA student Anthony Edwards goes on a European vacation with his buddy Jsu Garcia (Rod from A Nightmare On Elm Street) and falls for an older, cooler woman he sees in a cafe (an excellent Linda Fiorentino in only her second movie). He may think he’s in a college sex comedy, but in fact it’s a spy thriller, and he ends up in possession of microfilm and chased by the KGB. Kino-Lorber’s blu-ray features new commentaries by director Jeff Kanew and author Bryan Reesman.
THE HONEYMOON PHASE (2019)
A young couple short on cash pretend to be married and volunteer for an experiment in which they’re locked in a high tech apartment for 30 days, under surveillance by researchers and interacting with a hologram. From the sounds of it it doesn’t go great for them. Critic Kim Newman writes that “Jim Schubin and Chloe Carroll are excellent as the leads, both likeable and credible at the outset but with flaws exacerbated by circumstances – and therefore plausible when required to become desperate, monstrous or violent in the home stretch.”
I AM A DANCER (1972)
An intimate portrait of the legendary ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, documenting his training as well as excerpts from his performances in the classical ballets La Sylphide with Carla Fracci and Sleeping Beauty with Lynn Seymour, as well as the modern ballets Field Figures with Deanne Bergsma and Marguerite and Armand with his long-time partner Margot Fonteyn.
Parasite director Bong Joon Ho made this 30-minute short between Memories of Murder and The Host, but it was never released in the US until now. It’s a disturbing look at an unemployed man unraveling, through the perspective of surveillance cameras. Vulture says that Bong’s film “displays his breadth and evolution as one of the modern heirs to Hitchcock. Shots are often fixed at odd angles (except for one scene that rather horrifyingly uses an oscillating security camera in a parking lot) all of which only manages to heighten the darkness of the physical comedy.” Includes two press conferences with Bong at the Jeonju Film Festival.
LEWIS, JOHN: GOOD TROUBLE (2020)
Documentary about the life and achievements of the late Georgia civil rights activist and congressman. Directed by Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army).
LORD LOVE A DUCK (1966)
Though Roddy McDowall was nearly 40 at the time, he plays a high school prodigy trying to woo new girl Tuesday Weld in this broad satire of ‘60s teen culture co-starring Lola Albright, Ruth Gordon and Harvey Korman.
LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932)
Maurice Chevalier plays a tailor who’s mistaken for loyalty, dodges Myrna Loy and chases Jeanette MacDonald in this musical from director Rouben Mamoulian (The Mark of Zorro).
LUCIA (1968) / AFTER THE CURFEW (1954)
Humberto Solás’ Lucia is a landmark of Cuban cinema telling the history of the country through stories about three different women named Lucia in 1895, 1932 and the 1960s. Usmar Ismail’s After the Curfew is a black and white Indonesian film about a former freedom fighter trying to adjust to peace time after his country’s independence from the Netherlands. Both come to us courtesy of Criterion and their Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3 box set.
(DVD and Blu-Ray)
THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988)
This comedy directed by Robert Redford is about a handyman (Chick Vennera) who accidentally starts a battle with developers when he uses their water to irrigate his small bean field. Co-starring Ruben Blades, Sonia Braga, Melanie Griffith, John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Walken, M. Emmet Walsh and Freddy Fender. Features new commentary by Vennera and film historian Daniel Kremer.
MURDER, HE SAYS (1945)
Fred MacMurray plays a pollster searching for a missing colleague when he meets a family of murderous hillbillies hunting for treasure hidden on their property. Directed by George Marshall (How the West Was Won). With commentary by historian Michael Schesinger and film archivist Stan Taffel.
NEWTON, HELMUT: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (2020)
The life and work of the controversial photographer, as told by the subjects of his portraits, including Catherine Deneuve, Grace Jones, Charlotte Rampling and Isabella Rossellini.
Another only-on-VHS cult film makes it to blu-ray courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome. Alfred Sole, writer-director of the serious proto-slasher movie Alice, Sweet Alice, later parodied the genre in this film about a mysterious killer stalking a school for cheerleaders. The all-star cast includes Carol Kane, Judge Reinhold, Phil Hartman, Tom Smothers, Paul Reubens and Tab Hunter. Includes an interview with Sole.
PIXOTE (1980) / DOS MONJES (1934)
Argentine-Brazilian director Héctor Babenco (Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Ironweed, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Carindiru) first broke out with Pixote, the stunning, documentary-style portrait of an eleven year old Brazilian kid who escapes a reformatory and survives on the streets through crime. Roger Ebert called it “a rough, unblinking look at lives no human being should be required to lead. And the eyes of Fernando Ramos da Silva, [Babenco’s] doomed young actor, regard us from the screen not in hurt, not in accusation, not in regret – but simply in acceptance of a desolate daily reality.” This has been out of print for years, so we’re excited to be able to rent it without a hefty deposit. Dos Monjes is an early Mexican sound melodrama about two feuding monks, shot by avant garde cinematographer Agustín Jiménez (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz). From Criterion’s Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3 box set.
(DVD and Blu-Ray)
THE QUEST (1986)
Henry Thomas plays an American orphan in the outback who hears an Aboriginal myth that sparks his imagination and sends him on a magical journey. Also known as Frog Dreaming, this Australian family adventure was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Stunt Rock, BMX Bandits, Dead-end Drive-in) and written by Everett De Roche (Razorback, Road Games, Link, The Long Weekend). This special edition includes a new 4K transfer, commentary with Trenchard-Smith, editor Brian Kavanagh and costume designer Aphrodite Kondos, plus three featurettes – one featuring Thomas and Trenchard-Smith, another with co-stars Rachel Friend and Tamsin West, and one revisiting the shooting locations.
THE SILENCING (2020)
A former hunter (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones) living on a wildlife sanctuary sets out with the sheriff (Annabelle Wallis, The Mummy) to track a killer who might’ve kidnapped his daughter years ago.
SILENT WITNESS: SEASON 13 (2010)
Five more two-part episodes of the popular British crime drama about the investigations of the forensic pathology department of London University.
SOLEIL O (1970) / DOWNPOUR (1972)
Soleil Ô is Mauritanian director Med Hondo’s film about a West African immigrant seeking community in Paris, and finding himself unwelcome. Criterion describes it as “a bitterly funny, dazzlingly experimental attack on capitalism and the legacy of colonialism… a shattering vision of awakening Black consciousness.” Downpour is an Iranian New Wave film from director Bahram Beyzaie about a teacher trying to fit into a new neighborhood. Criterion restored it from the only known surviving print for their box set Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3.
(DVD and Blu-Ray)
SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS (1971)
Two bank robbers hide out in Miami, one cross dressing as the other’s “Aunt Martha,” before losing it and going on a killing spree. The good ol’ American Genre Film Archive, who have lovingly restored this film from the only known 35mm print, describe it as “one of the most unforgettable exploitation movies of all time, and an overlooked chapter of early queer cinema” that’s “somewhere between Pink Flamingos, Blood Feast, and an episode of The Brady Bunch on acid.” They’ve packaged it with a commentary by queer film historian Evan Purchell and AGFA’s Bret Berg, bonus movie The Drag Queen’s Ball, shorts Gay-in III and Caught in the Can, and trailers for Gay Liberation, Lusting Hours, My Third Wife George, The Queen and Sins of Rachel.
STARGIRL: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2020)
Based on the DC Comics series Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., this is the story of high school student Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), who discovers the Cosmic Staff of Starman and, learning that her stepfather (Luke Wilson) used to be the super hero’s sidekick, decides to lead a new generation of superheroes in a revival of the long-dead Justice Society of America. This was one of the live action shows created for the soon to be defunct DC Universe streaming service.
TOY SOLDIERS (1984)
Not to be confused with the 1991 Die-Hard-in-a-private-school movie starring Sean Astin and Will Wheaton, this is the one about college students who get kidnapped by Central American rebels while partying on a boat. One of them (Terri Garber) escapes and convinces washed up veterans Jason Miller (The Exorcist) and Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) to train her and her friends (including Tim Robbins) for a rescue mission.
Christine (Sandy McLeod), who works the ticket booth at a Times Square porn theater, becomes obsessed with porn, to the confusion of her boyfriend (Will Patton). This pioneering NYC indie features early contributions by cinematographer Tom DiCillo (who later directed Living in Oblivion), actor Luis Guzman (in only his second film), and composer John Lurie (Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train). Kino Lorber’s blu-ray features a new 2K restoration approved by director Bette Gordon, with commentary by Gordon and moderator Hillary Weston, plus Gordon’s 1981 short film Anybody’s Woman, production and location scouting stills, and storyboards.
VITALINA VARELA (2019)
Vitalina Varela is not only the title of the movie, but the name of the Cape Verdean non-professional actor who stars in a story based on her own life, traveling to Lisbon to reunite with the husband she’s been separated from for decades, only to find that he’s just died. K. Austin Collins of Vanity Fair called it, “The best looking and most emotionally resilient movie of the year so far. Somber but (somehow!) electrifying, its frequent wordlessness, its consummate stillness, are a thrill.” Includes a 41 minute interview with director Pedro Costa at the Toronto International Film Festival, and short film Chantal + Pedro (2020).
VON RYDINGSVARD, URSULA: INTO HER OWN (2019)
Documentary about the renowned cedar sculptor who grew up in war-torn Germany but has worked in Brooklyn for the past 30 years. According to Glenn Kenny in the New York Times, “This documentary portrait of the formidable sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard is, by dint of its brevity, more tantalizing than satiating. But it’s still a welcome cinematic account of her work.”
WELCOME TO SUDDEN DEATH (2020)
The great action star Michael Jai White (Blood & Bone, Black Dynamite) plays a basketball arena security guard whose special forces background comes in handy when terrorists kidnap his daughter and a team owner during a game. Yes, this is meant to be a sequel to the fun 1995 Jean-Claude Van Damme Die-Hard-in-a-hockey-arena movie Sudden Death. If you want to make it a triple feature, the 2018 film Final Score starring Dave Bautista is an enjoyable soccer stadium version of the same basic premise.
We also got in the following titles on 4K Ultra HD:
DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
JERRY MAGUIRE (1996)
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
These rentals each come with a standard blu-ray as well, but you’ll need a 4K Ultra HD player to take full advantage.
Special thanks to the generous customer who donated Gandhi and Lawrence of Arabia to the collection.