By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: Moonlight, Doctor Strange, Arrival, Before Trilogy, Chronic and more
It’s the nature of the Hollywood beast that memories of Sunday night’s misnaming of La La Land as Best Picture won’t be forgotten. Comedian Steve Harvey, who misread the name of the 2015 Miss Universe winner and barely lived to tell about it, was kind enough to tweet Warren Beatty Monday morning, offering his condolences and support. Beatty will have a much easier time living with his faux pas than PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant Brian Cullinan, now relieved of future duties, who was too busy tweeting to notice the impending shitstorm. If I were in charge of next year’s Oscar ceremony, this first two people I’d invite to open an envelope would be Beatty and Harvey, who, in 2012, appeared as himself in Medea Goes to Jail. This time, at least, there’s no question that Moonlight and La La Land were worthy candidates for top honors. This, of course, hasn’t always been the case … Crash, anyone? The controversy could actually serve to raise awareness of both pictures, especially among East Coast viewers who nodded off after the dreaded three-hour barrier passed. Indeed, the biggest beneficiary of the debacle could be Lionsgate, which owns the home-video distribution rights here, along with those to Manchester by the Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Lion and 20th Century Women.
Moonlight tells three interrelated coming-of-age stories, all involving Chiron, a Miami youth trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, drug addiction, intolerance and despair. In the first chapter, “Little,” we’re introduced to the desperately shy and withdrawn child, nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert), as he takes refuge from bullies in an abandoned building. He’s rescued by Juan (Oscar-winner, Mahershala Ali), a Cuban crack dealer, who takes the close-mouthed Chiron to the house he shares his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe). After being fed dinner and allowed to spend the night, Chiron begins to warm to Juan. The next morning, he delivers Chiron back to his emotionally abusive mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), whose home is as disheveled as his is tidy. Sensing that Chiron could use a well-meaning father figure in his life – in Miami, drug dealers aren’t necessarily excluded from such roles — Juan teaches Chiron how to swim, while also advising him to make his own path in life. The boy also befriends Kevin (Jaden Piner), a cocky classmate who sees something in Chiron the bullies want to punish.
In the second chapter, “Chiron,” our now-teenage protagonist (Ashton Sanders) continues to be bullied, but now with the added intimation of being a “faggot.” Although Juan has died in the interim, Chiron continues to spend his nights with Teresa. His crack-addicted mother now supports herself through prostitution and whatever money she can wrangle from her son’s benefactor. Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) and Chiron notch up their friendship with a first sexual dalliance, shared on a moonlit beach. The next day, Kevin kowtows to a gang of thugs by betraying his friend in the cruelest possible way. Chiron refuses to reveal the identities of his attackers or take any more crap from his mother. His startling response to being pummeled by his only friend ensures that Chiron has turned the corner into early adulthood … at least, as far as the law is concerned. The third chapter, titled “Black,” after the nickname given Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) earlier by Kevin, opens a decade later, outside Atlanta, with the young man fully assimilated into the life inadvertently introduced to him by Juan. After experiencing a portentous dream, Chiron decides to seek personal redemption by confronting his mother in a drug-rehab facility and responding to a mysterious late-call from an apologetic Kevin (André Holland), now working as a chef in Miami. Things get pretty deep in “Black,” but not in any predictable way.
Moonlight is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical text, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” written in 2003 to cope with his own mother’s death from AIDS. Never produced, it was ten years before Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) – who grew up only a few blocks from McCraney, in Miami’s poverty- and crime-wracked Liberty City projects – was pushed to begin work on a second film. The characters are informed by people who influenced both men at various times in their lives. If Moonlight feels hyperreal, it’s because McCraney and Jenkins endured many of the same powerful forces as Chiron and Kevin. The gay subtext shouldn’t dissuade anyone from picking up the movie, even if some observers have put Moonlight into the pigeon-hole reserved for LGBTQ title. McCraney and Jenkins’ points are made in ways that are no more graphic than anything in Brokeback Mountain, which won important awards and made money for Focus Features and Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Moonlight took statuettes for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ali) and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a finalist, as well, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Harris) and Best Achievement in Directing/Cinematography/Film Editing/Music Written for a Motion Picture. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Jenkins and the informative featurettes “Ensemble of Emotion: Making Moonlight,” “Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight” and “Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami.”
Doctor Strange: Blu-ray 2D/3D
A lot of people who care deeply about such things, as well as a few of us that don’t, thought 2017 might have been the year when a movie based on a comic-book superhero would be shown some love in Oscar voting. There appeared to be enough room in the Best Picture category for Deadpool to sneak into the expanded mix, which had a slot open for just such a longshot. But, nooooo … it wasn’t to be.To their credit, Golden Globe voters nominated Deadpool as Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy and Ryan Reynolds, as Best Actor in the same category. Looking ahead, fans of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy are hoping the upcoming sequel will surpass expectations prompted by the crossover success of the 2014 original, which was a runner-up in the Best Achievement in Makeup/Hairstyling and Visual Effects categories, traditionally reserved for green-screen epics. Suicide Squad did take home an Oscar this year in the ridiculously abbreviated list of candidates in the Makeup/Hairstyling, while Doctor Strange was nominated for Visual Effects. Meanwhile, genre and mainstream critics praised Scott Derrickson’s interpretation of surgeon Stephen Strange’s origin story for its introduction of Eastern mysticism to the Marvel Cinematic Universe bible and his ability to navigate the comic’s cross-dimensional conceits. Visually, Doctor Strange frequently merged Chinese-box mechanics with the surrealistic architecture of Inception’s dream scenes. If the narrative spends a bit too much time laying the foundation for future installments, the stunning action sequences justify such forward-looking plans.
The problem, of course, is that Disney/Marvel has so many projects circling the airport right now that the studio probably couldn’t absorb the loss, if more than two or three of them crashed and burned in the interim. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an abrasively arrogant neurosurgeon, who, like Dr. Gregory House, is only interested in helping patients whose conditions challenge him. If he can be a world-class prick, in and out of the surgical theater, Strange would still be the first person called by the Vatican or White House to remove a bullet or tumor from the spine of a pope or president. While being appraised of a possible next patient, while driving very rapidly in his sports car, Strange takes his eyes off the road long enough to miss a turn and go careening off the side of steep hill. He survives the crash, barely, but not without the loss of the physical and neurological tools necessary to do his work. It isn’t until his therapist alerts him to the miraculous recovery of Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a construction worker who’s overcome his injuries to the point where he can once again live a productive life, while standing on his own two feet. After much cajoling, Panghorn points Strange in the direction of Nepal, where sorcerers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) teach the mystic arts to very select students at the secret compound, Kamar-Taj.
The Ancient One demonstrates her powers to the skeptical Strange, revealing the hidden seams connecting the astral plane and Mirror Dimension. After he begs her to take him under her wing, she begins to recognize similarities in personality between Strange and her black-sheep student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who recently led an invasion of Kamar-Taj, killed the librarian and stole an ancient text. The Ancient One prepares Strange to do battle with Kaecilius to protect Earth against invaders from other dimensions, using a spell generated from three buildings called Sanctums, found in New York City, London and Hong Kong. By comparison, the story behind Kal-El’s journey from Krypton to Earth, and subsequent emergence as Superman, is as simple as a nursery rhyme. After all the mumbo-jumbo is dispensed with, however, the action becomes non-stop and wonderfully complex. The Blu-ray package adds more than an hour’s worth of interesting background featurettes; a humorous short, in which Thor copes with life away from the battlefield in a contemporary American setting; deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; and commentary with Derrickson.
More than anything that happens in the movie, itself, Allied will go down in pop-cultural history as the catalyst for precipitous change in Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s surprisingly fragile marriage. The cause was, at first, attributed to an on-location romance – since denied – between Pitt and leading lady Marion Cotillard. The irony didn’t escape anyone whose primary memory of the 2005 spy-vs.-spy caper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is the role its pairing of Pitt and Jolie played in breaking up the fairy-tale marriage of Pitt and America’s Sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston. In that picture, a bored married couple is surprised to learn that they are assassins hired by competing agencies to kill each other. In the far more sober-minded Allied, one of the married spies is ordered to eliminate a threat to the Allied cause, by killing a treasonous spouse. In Hollywood, what goes around, always comes around. There are better reasons to appreciate both pictures, but not if you’re a fan of TMZ and the Enquirer. Cotillard has publicly denied the rumors, while Jolie has used the gossip rags to present an indictment against Pitt that practically defies belief. At one time, sparking or defusing speculation about on-location liaisons were within the prevue of a studio publicist, who was paid to find the most favorable spin for his boss. Today, studio publicists spend most of their time preparing press releases, arranging junkets and deferring to personal publicists and freelance specialists able to trade favors with the tabloid and gossip press and set rules limiting access to the talent. I can’t remember Pitt doing much press in support of the Allied – things had gotten far too ugly in the divorce proceedings – but Cotillard dutifully made the rounds of the talk shows, dutifully knocking down rumors in lieu of promoting the old-fashioned wartime romance. It’s too bad, because the movie needed all the positive spin it could get, especially going into the intensely competitive holiday season.
If, while watching Bob Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight’s Allied, viewers immediately are reminded of Casablanca, it’s no accident. The designers in charge of costumes, exteriors and set designs borrowed freely from perceived period ambience and pressure-cooker relationships established in Michael Curtiz’ beloved classic. Pitt plays Max Vatan, a French-Canadian pilot and spy, who is parachuted into Vichy French Morocco, where he’s assigned the less-than-onerous task of pretending to be married to deep-cover assassin Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard). Apart from his Quebecois accent, they make a convincing pair. When the mission is successfully completed and they’re extracted to England, Marianne and Max get married for real. She delivers their child during a German air raid and prepare to live happily ever after … if only. One day, Max is called into the offices of the British S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive), whose head man informs him of reports that his wife is a German operative, still reporting to Axis spies planted in England. Naturally, Max denies any such thing is possible. Even so, their marriage is covered under the “Intimate Betrayal Rule,” which demands of married spies that they execute their spouse, post haste, if proven to be a double-agent. If the execution isn’t carried out, both could be arrested, tried and punished for high treason. Max decides to risk his life in a covert mission to German-occupied France to determine the truth for himself. It’s at this point that the suspense begins to take hold. One of the things that’s made Casablanca so enduring was a collection of supporting characters nearly as memorable as Rick and Ilsa. Here, Lizzy Caplan is the closest thing to a recognizable face and, so, Pitt and Cotillard are forced to carry the load. Allied doesn’t look too bad on the small screen, if only because we’ve gotten used to watching such vintage dramas on TMC. The Blu-ray adds an hour’s worth of featurettes, the longest of which is 10 minutes long.
The Before Trilogy: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Just as investors and participants were required to make a giant leap of faith when committing to Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood, backers of what became known as the “Before Trilogy” were challenged to ignore disappointing results for the first chapter and accept the possibility the Austin-based writer/director could turn things around. In 1995, Linklater’s reputation was based largely on the cult popularity of indie faves Slacker and Dazed and Confused, neither of which resembled the walk-and-talk Before Sunrise in any recognizable way. “(It) was a little European art film that was never going to be a mainstream success,” Linklater recalls. “But, it was generally well-reviewed and, I felt, people got it. That’s where (the trilogy idea) started: the people who liked it, liked it. Most people … didn’t notice it.” In it, characters played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke meet on train from Budapest to Vienna, becoming fast friends while chatting in the dining car. Because Jesse has a plane to catch the next morning, Céline decides to hop off the train to Paris and hang out with him in Vienna for the next several hours. Before they go their separate ways, however, they agree to meet six months later at the same railroad station and pick up where they left off. Neither has enough money to afford a hotel room or much in the way of food or drink. What they have, even for so brief a time, is each other and that’s more than enough. In fact, what happens to Jesse and Céline roughly approximates the fantasy every youthful backpacker carries with them when hitchhiking through Europe on holiday. Linklater was influenced by a similarly magical encounter with a woman he met years earlier on a train in Pennsylvania. He’s said that the purposefully ambiguous ending of Before Sunrise serves as a litmus test for viewers, forced to decide for themselves if the lovers will reunite, as planned, or blow it off.
Before Sunset (2004) picks up nine years later, when Jessie is signing his semi-autobiographical novel at the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, on Paris’ Left Bank, and Céline makes a surprise appearance at the end of his reading. The obvious question hanging between them is whether one or neither of them returned to Vienna for the rendezvous. (It’s also on the minds of the reporters and readers, who, likewise, were left hanging at the end of the novel.) They hadn’t exchanged addresses, so were unable to reschedule their meeting for a more convenient date. In the interim, Jesse has gotten married and fathered a son. Céline spent a couple of years in the U.S. before moving back to France to become an advocate for the environment. Not so coincidentally, Jesse has another plane to catch, this time in only a few hours, giving Linklater an opportunity to upgrade their story in real time.
Released in 2013, Before Midnight finds Jesse, Céline, their twin girls and his son from his first marriage on vacation on the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece. He’s a successful novelist and she’s chomping at the bit to take a job with the French government. Jesse would prefer to move to Chicago, for reasons that seem more than a little bit selfish to Céline. Despite the idyllic location of their summer residence and friendly relationship with smart and witty friends there, the couple is facing the very real prospect they no longer are in love and, by extension, are no longer young. Neither is their predicament remotely unique. We’ve enjoyed sharing a few days with them and might even envy their ability to converse so easily and sound as intelligent as they do. It’s nice that, after 18 years, Jesse and Céline are still as attractive a couple as when we met them on the train to Vienna. The director-approved 2K restoration makes all three chapters look as if they were filmed back-to-back, instead of nine years apart. It adds several new and vintage interviews with Linklater, Delpy and Hawke; behind-the-scenes footage; audio commentary on Before Midnight; “Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny,” a feature-length 2016 documentary by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein; “After Before,” a new documentary by Athina Rachel Tsangari about the making of Before Midnight in Greece; a new conversation between scholars Dave Johnson and Rob Stone about Linklater’s work; an episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” featuring host Terry Gross, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke; “Linklater // On Cinema & Time,” a new video essay by Kogonada; and an illustrated leaflet, featuring an essay by critic Dennis Lim.
Many horrifying things about Australia’s historic mistreatment and neglect of its Aboriginal population are revealed in John Pilger and Alan Lowery’s heart-breaking documentary, Utopia. And, yes, the title reflects the ironic notion that one of the most hellish regions of the Northern Territories, possibly in the entire world, could be considered to be an idyllic place to live. The most mind-blowing revelation, perhaps, comes when we’re taken to Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia, now a popular holiday destination and nature reserve. Throughout most of the 1800s, and until 1931, this “heaven on Earth” served as a penitentiary and reform school for Aboriginals convicted of crimes, ranging from murder to theft. Some 3,700 indigenous men and boys were imprisoned there during the life of the establishment, with an estimated 369 of them buried there in an unmarked graveyard. With no signs or warnings posted to discourage them, generations of tourists have been encouraged to consider the hallowed ground as a playground and throughway for nature walks. Even worse, perhaps, buildings once used to “warehouse” prisoners now provide holiday accommodations, as part of the Rottnest Lodge. Imagine the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre Monument converted to accommodate a “Westworld” resort and condos and you’ll get an inking how Aboriginals feel about what passes for fun on Rottnest Island. It wasn’t until 2015, after numerous protests from local Aboriginal activists, that the Rottnest Island Authority agreed to create a memorial recognizing the events, deaths and unmarked graves and begin work on the Wadjemup Burial Ground.
It is only one of many examples provided by the producers of Utopia of how Australia’s unofficial apartheid continues to negatively affect the native population, while also whitewashing and twisting the reality of the country’s racist history in textbooks and tourism campaigns. Utopia further investigates government policies on epidemic levels of poverty, disease, pedophilia, suicide and illiteracy. In several “60 Minute”-like interviews, the producers offer government officials — many of whom freely acknowledge the failures of reform efforts — offer little cause for optimism. Out of sight, out of mind. In conclusion, Pilger points out that the indigenous people of Australia – unlike those in most other developed countries – have routinely been denied the right of self-determination and autonomy in places they’ve historically lived, farmed and developed, according to their own beliefs and standards. If a mining company finds an exploitable commodity in an area largely populated with indigenous people, the government finds a way to do so, without giving anything back to the natives. As bad as conditions continue to be on American Indian reservations, some autonomous tribes, at least, are legally allowed to steal white people blind in Las Vegas-style resorts and casinos. Aboriginal communities aren’t able to benefit from outsider-owned casinos in territories where poverty and unemployment are rampant. The DVD adds another 90 minutes of extended interviews.
In Mexican writer/director Michel Franco’s first English-language film, Chronic, Tim Roth delivers an emotionally gripping portrayal of an in-home nurse, David, who works primarily with terminally ill patients. Away from them, he’s awkward and reserved. In their presence, however, he’s dutiful, efficient and intimately concerned with their comfort and well-being as they approach death. The reasons behind David’s devotion to his patients’ every need – no matter how unpleasant – are never made crystal clear. It leaves us wondering if he’s an Angel of Mercy, an Angel of Death or a penitent, working off his sins in the most humbling manner possible. One family interprets his overreaching concern as being somehow perverse. They threaten to sue him for sexually abusing their invalid father, who, before his stroke, satisfied his obsession with gay porn without them knowing about it. Knowing how close the patient is to death and incapable of amusing himself, David helps his him surf the web for anything that might take his mind off his pain. On the other hand, Sarah Sutherland, who plays Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ perpetually morose daughter, in “Veep,” brightens up whenever her college-age character is in David’s presence. His obsession with her is left vague. Franco’s uncompromising portrayal is facilitated through the objective lens of a nearly static camera and fewer than 100 shots. He’s approached the characters in After Lucia, Daniel and Ana, and After Lucia in much the same way. Chronic was accorded a Best Screenplay award at Cannes and nominated for Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards ceremony. (Roth was a finalist for Best Actor.) The DVD adds an interview with Franco.
We Are the Flesh: Blu-ray
For his first feature, We Are the Flesh, Mexican multihyphenate Emiliano Rocha Minter benefits from the kind of Arrow Films presentation usually reserved for classic horror and other cult treasures. Anyone coming to the Blu-ray package based solely on previous Arrow releases is in for a shock, however. While, someday, We Are the Flesh may rightly be accorded cult status, it’s of more interest today to extreme arthouse junkies and admirers of the post-surrealist theater espoused by Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, New York’s Living Theater, Jerzy Grotowski at the Theater Laboratory in Poland and Peter Brooks’ experiments with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including “Marat/Sade.” It also hues closely to the avant-garde and surrealistic films of Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky, both of whom lived and worked in Mexico. If all that that name-dropping sounds a tad pretentious, check out what critic Virginie Salévy – founder and editor of Electric Sheep, an online magazine “for lovers of transgressive cinema” – has to say about We Are the Flesh, in her 36-minute visual essay: “In a similar spirit to his illustrious predecessors, (Minter uses) incest, cannibalism, orgy and slaughter to build an extreme sensory experience that brutally shakes up audiences’ aesthetic and moral preconceptions, forcing them into new forms of perception.” I guess the same could be said of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox, but We Are the Flesh can’t be lumped together with old-school exploitation fare. In what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world, a young brother and sister, desperate for food and shelter, find both in the cavernous lair of a depraved hermit. They earn their keep by constructing a makeshift womb out of discarded wood, metal, rope and duct tape. Inside it, the older man, Mariano (Noé Hernández), hopes to create his own version of Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The tables will turn several times during the 79-minute head trip. The set also adds interviews with Minter and cast members Hernández, María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel; Minter’s short films, “Dentro” and “Videohome”; a stills gallery; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and an illustrated collector s booklet, with an essay by critic Anton Bitel and a note from the producer.
Kiyoshi “No Relation” Kurosawa returns to the psychological J-horror arena here,after such classy non-genre pieces as Tokyo Sonata, Journey to the Shore and the action/thriller Seventh Code. Based on a mystery by Yutaka Maekawa, Creepy lives up to its title by combining horror, detective work and suspense into a twisting, 133-minute package. A year after a botched hostage negotiation with a serial killer turned deadly, ex-detective Koichi (Hidetoshi Nishijima), and his wife move into a new house and a new job in academia. Sure enough, his former assistant, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), turns up, asking for help in an unsolved six-year-old case, involving a family that disappeared into thin air in a nearby town. Meanwhile, Koichi has his hands full at home, with a suspiciously belligerent neighbor, whose schoolgirl daughter and invalid wife might be missing links in the missing-persons investigation. As coincidences go, it’s a doozy. Eventually, the pressure that comes with solving two major crimes simultaneously pushes Koichi’s calm demeanor to its limits and he joins the list of suspects. Kurosawa employs all sorts of visual and aural tricks to push our buttons. And, yes, Creepy is very creepy, indeed.
Deadtime Stories: Blu-ray
Thirty years ago, it would have been difficult not to dismiss Lester Bacon’s Slaughterhouse as being just one more generic slasher flick, inspired by the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Today, in its impeccable 2K Vinegar Syndrome upgrade, it practically looks inspired. The setting is an old-fashioned rural hog farm and slaughterhouse, whose owner, Lester Bacon (Don Barrett), no longer can compete with the larger, assembly-line meat-packing plants dominating the industry. Lester and his morbidly obese son, Buddy Bacon (Joe Barton), are desperate to maintain ownership of the property, despite overtures by a rival company. Buddy, who displays an unhealthy fondness for his swine, has been instructed to keep an eye out for trespassers and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. Instead of industrial spies, Buddy’s first victims are teenagers, who, instead of being satisfied with necking and smoking pot, choose to antagonize the livestock. They become the first of several teenagers, cops and other innocent bystanders to wind up hanging from a meat hook, awaiting slaughter. Perhaps, you can guess the rest. Roessler, whose only further contribution to the American cinema was as a PA on Dead Girls Don’t Tango (1992), wisely gets a headstart on the impending horror by giving viewers a first-hand lesson in basic slaughtering techniques. To say it’s not for the squeamish is an understatement.
From this point on, audience members know only too well what could happen to any poor sot caught trespassing or investigating the teens’ disappearance. That Buddy carries a “bone-crusher” cleaver wherever he goes only adds to the aura of impending dread. Slaughterhouse (a.k.a., “Pig Farm Massacre,” “Maniac” and “Bacon Bits”) benefits from being filmed in and around actual meat-processing plants, with more porcine actors than usual, and production values that are so cheesy they’re part of the fun. While either seedy locations look as if they were created specifically for Roessler by professional set designers, they were, in fact, chanced upon by his staff. As such, Slaughterhouse remains a solid representative of the bargain-basement horror and teenagers-in-peril terror that dominated drive-in and grindhouse screens in the 1980s. Besides an entertaining commentary track with Roessler, producer Jerry Encoe and production designer Michael Scaglione, there’s a decent video interview with lead actress and future stunt specialist Sherry Bendorf Leigh; a new “Epilogue: 30 Years After the Slaughter”; several making-of featurettes; archival interviews and local news coverage from the theatrical premiere; outtakes; a shooting-script gallery; and vintage publicity material.
“Deadtime Stories” is a 1986 anthology series with a D.I.Y. look that makes it interesting, even 30 years later. Made on a super low budget by college students looking for a challenge, instead of a career path, it re-contextualized a trio of classic fairy tales by changing the time frames and adding a sense of terror diluted over time from the original European folk tales. The wraparound gimmick here involves a lazy adult babysitter, whose nephew demands a bedtime story before he’ll agree to fall asleep. Marketed in England as “Freaky Fairytales,” it conjures visions of Little Red Riding Hood, being stalked by a werewolf while jogging; “Goldi Lox” and the three felonious bears; and a medieval world populated by blood-crazed witches, evil experiments and captive maidens. Most of the participants quickly disappeared into the anonymity provided by VHS purgatory, while a precious few others emerged unscathed. Among them are future TV fixtures Scott Valentine (“Black Scorpion”) and Cathryn de Prume (“Shameless”), and Oscar- and Emmy-winner Melissa Leo (“Treme,” The Fighter, Frozen River), who were interviewed specifically for the Scream Factory Blu-ray package. It also includes
commentary and a fresh interview, “I Like the Grotesque,” with co-writer/director Jef Delman; an alternate cut of the first story, “The Black Forest”; deleted scenes; and a stills gallery.
Contract to Kill: Blu-ray
I don’t know if Steven Seagal elected to open Contract to Kill in a handful in a handful of theaters to qualify for Oscar consideration or simply to avoid the onerous “direct to video” label. Either way, the only real effect of the decision apparently was to give critics at such mainstream publications as the Los Angeles Times and Village Voice an opportunity to spew some pent-up venom. If the Academy ever decides to include a category for Best Direct-to-Video Movie Made in Romania, Seagal may have a fighting chance at getting an Oscar. To his credit, the more movies Seagal and his go-to director Keoni Waxman pump out, the more actors and behind-the-camera workers find jobs in their chosen profession. Fact is, Seagal’s loyal fans know what they like and where to find it. The opinions of critics matter very little to them. In Contract to Kill, the ancient Black Sea city of Constanța stands in for Istanbul and Mexico, where Muslim extremists are working with the drug cartels that control the routes the terrorists need to infiltrate the United States. Seagal plays former CIA/DEA operative John Harmon, reactivated to prevent the alliance from realizing its goals. To this end, he recruits former associate Zara Hayek (Jemma Dallender) and drone-flying martial artist Matthew Sharp (Russell Wong). In the interviews included in the bonus package, Seagal and Waxman both emphasize their intention was to return to an old-school actioner from the actor’s glory days. The problem, of course, is that the 64-year-old Seagal is only able to pull off the basic martial-arts stunts with any authority. His love scene with the considerably younger and smaller Dallender (I Spit on Your Grave 2) is laughable, as are the cosmetic refinements used to maintain a semblance of his middle-age persona. No matter, Seagal is already working on four more projects and, like President Trump, is booger buddies with Vladimir Putin. How many people in Hollywood can say that?
Seagal may not be physically present in Elite, but his fingerprints can be found on nearly every frame of Mark Cantu’s straight-to-video actioner. The picture opens with a deadly ambush of eight Special Forces commandoes by foot soldiers of a Mexican cartel. Two years later, newly promoted U.S. Navy investigator Abbey Vaughn (Allison Gregory) takes it upon herself to find the drug lord responsible for the attack. After Vaughn finds herself in over her head inside a bar favored by cartel stooges, she’s required to accept the assistance of former ELITE-team leader Lt. Sam Harrigan (Jason Scarbrough), who’s gone to seed since the ambush. He cleans up pretty quickly, though, allowing for some fast-paced, if completely illogical action. Not surprisingly, Benitez’ tentacles extend from the Mexican border to Washington, D.C.
Released at the dawn of the golden age of porn, Alex deRenzy’s Babyface is a prime, if nearly isolated example of a hard-core film in which the story isn’t subordinate to the sex. Unlike Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones, Babyface wasn’t contingent on a single concept or gag (no pun intended). It had a discernible beginning, middle and end, and the sex was portrayed, at least, to be almost entirely consensual. The production values were quite good and, with the exceptions of some blemishes in the fifth reel, hold up very well in the newly scanned and restored 2K edition. Parts of it are legitimately humorous, as well. A San Francisco dockhand, Dan (one-hit-wonder Dan Robert), allows himself to be seduced by a teenager, Priscilla (Lyn Cuddles Malone), who lost her innocence well before she met the hulking stud. Unaware of her promiscuous nature, Priscilla’s mom leads a cop (NFL star Otis Sistrunk) to the warehouse in which her daughter and Dan are wrapping up their liaison. After taking a beating, Dan washes up on the shore of a Sausalito houseboat community, where he’s tended to by a pair of women who wrangle men for a brothel dedicated to fulfilling women customers’ fantasies, as well as their libidos. A rock goddess, played by Kristine Heller, engages in a hot and surprisingly funny gang-bang scene that presages a similar encounter, three years later, in Insatiable. He fits right in with the other dudes (Paul Thomas and Joey Silvera, among them), of course, and things go swimmingly until Priscilla’s mom (Molly Seagrim) discovers where he works and endeavors to eliminate his manhood. The female talent includes Amber Hunt, Angela Haze, Desiree West, Linda Wong, Sandy Penny and Marion Eaton. The Vinegar Syndrome set has been restored from long-lost 35mm vault elements and includes a lengthy audio interview with Seagrim; deRenzy’s short, “Parochial Passion Princess”; and reversible cover artwork.