MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: 1st Reformed, Bleeding Steel, Higher Power, Black Water, Porcupine Lake, Tingler, Strait-Jacket, Tideland, Wild at Heart, Jack Ryan, Terror, Hillary, Outback, Blacklist, Walking Dead … More

First Reformed: Blu-ray
Paul Schrader’s films have always been informed by his upbringing in a strict Calvinist family, in a community, Grand Rapids, that serves “as home base for the Christian Reformed Church of North America.” He graduated from Calvin College — also located in Grand Rapids — with a minor in theology. He found his true calling, though, while studying at Columbia University, where he began making up for lost time by watching the movies his parents denied him until he was 18. He went on to earn a M.A. in film studies at UCLA Film School, where he also spent a lot of time removed from the real world, in screening rooms. A protégé of Pauline Kael, Schrader paid his dues as a film critic, while also producing screenplays with his brother, Leonard (The Yakuza). Before writing and directing his most autobiographical film to date, Hardcore, he wrote or co-wrote Mean Streets, Obsession, Rolling Thunder and Blue Collar, which he also directed. Hardcore opens in Grand Rapids, where George C. Scott plays a devout Calvinist and businessman. When his Jake VanDorn learns that his teenage daughter has disappeared from a church trip and likely has been absorbed into Los Angeles’ sexual underworld, he follows the lead of John Wayne in The Searchers and attempts to rescue her, whether or not she agrees to it. The movie was based on a story Schrader had heard as a high school student. It involved a Grand Rapids teenager, who went missing and eventually was found to have appeared in an adult movie. In a very real sense, Hardcore spanned Schrader’s youth and some of his experiences in Los Angeles, which also informed Mean Streets. He conceived of VanDorn’s ordeal as being both a test of faith and a mission from God. Travis Bickle was on a mission from something else.

First Reformed is set in a religiously minded community of New Englanders caught between traditional beliefs and the commercial realities of megachurches and politically connected preachers. Ethan Hawke plays the       Reverend Ernst Toller, who, as a young man, served as a chaplain in Vietnam and, later, lost his son after he pushed him to enlist in the Iraq War. His wife divorced him soon thereafter. He presides over a historic Dutch Reformed congregation that’s about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, but, otherwise, survives mostly as a tourist attraction – it once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, to Canada – subsidized by the larger megachurch, overseen by the Reverend Joel Jeffers Church (Cedric “The Entertainer” Kyless). As hard as Toller labors over his sermons and a journal of personal thoughts, the pews in his church are practically empty. One Sunday, after services, a pregnant parishioner, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), asks Toller for help with a problem in her marriage. After spending time in jail in Canada, Mary’s radical-environmentalist husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger), has returned to Snowbridge depressed, angry and determined to do something that will draw attention to the cause. Michael wants Mary to get an abortion, because he does not want to bring a child into a world that will be rendered almost uninhabitable by climate change and pollution. Toller advises against such an extreme action, and he thinks he may have made some headway with the couple. Instead, Michael’s spiel makes more of an impression on Toller than the other way around. How, he asks, can any Christian – especially a minister – stand by idly while industrialists and governments profit from destroying God’s glorious gift to mankind? It’s a fair question, as were the ones asked 40 years earlier of priests during the Vietnam War and during in conflicts in Central America.

The next time Toller hears from Mary, she asks him to provide Michael with more counsel. When he arrives at their home, Michael’s nowhere to be found. In his absence, Mary takes the liberty of showing Toller a suicide belt that her husband has hidden in the garage. The next thing he knows, Michael has texted him a message asking him to meet him in a nearby park, where he wants the minister to bear witness to his suicide and report it to Mary and the police. Naturally, Toller’s shocked and saddened by Michael’s death. Unexpectedly, though, it forces him to question his own dedication to God’s bounty. He also wonders about the kind of passion that would lead a vital young man and soon-to-be father to draw attention to his cause by killing himself. As he ponders the question, Toller sinks deeper into an addiction to alcohol. If that weren’t bad enough, he has also begun tests for a serious digestive problem, which could be cancer. After doing some research on the Internet, he recognizes a local industrialist and major church benefactor as one of the world’s leading polluters and a likely target of the suicide bombing. When he learns that the man will be speaking at the consecration of his church, Toller starts to believe that Michael has left the suicide vest behind as test of his resolve. Mary remains at his side long enough to make him consider other options. No need to spoil anything else about First Reformed. If this scenario seems more than a little bit unlikely, it would be difficult to walk away from the movie without asking some of the same questions Michael asks Toller, especially those pertaining to mankind’s obligation to God. It’s powerful stuff and the actors make it seem real. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Schrader and the incisive featurette, “Discernment: Contemplating First Reformed,” which includes interviews with Schrader and Hawke.

Bleeding Steel: Blu-ray
Higher Power: Blu-ray
At the ripe old age of 64, with 56 of those years spent making movies and performing stunts, Hong Kong’s gift to the world, Jackie Chan, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, 2017 and 2018 will go down as his most prolific period since the early 1970s, when he worked in more than two dozen action pictures, several of them without being credited for it. While it’s true that Chan’s most recent credits include some voice-over assignments, there are scenes in Bleeding Steel that would defy any attempt by an outsider to guess his age. The best one takes place high atop one of the Sydney Opera House’s shelled roofs. Even from the comfort of one’s own couch, the high-altitude skirmish is capable of triggering vertigo. Beyond that wonderful set piece, however, and a couple of typically spectacular fight scenes staged on firm soil, is a movie that can’t decide if it wants to be a sci-fi thriller, a la Terminator and Star Wars – one of the villains resembles a Sith lord – or the most far-out Hong Kong action picture in memory. Bleeding Steel opens with special forces agent Lin Dong (Chan) speeding his way across town, split between his desire to bid a final farewell to his ailing daughter and an order from headquarters to escort bioengineering expert, James (Kim Gyngell), to a high-security facility. Choosing the latter, Lin loses most of his team in an ambush, led by a seemingly invincible bioroid warrior, Andre (Callan Mulvey), desperate for the immortality serum James has invented. After a thunderous explosion, he lands in a hospital unconscious, as well.

The movie then leaps forward 13 years, to 2020, with Lin now working odd jobs in Sydney and the coincidental release of a book about a mutated human girl with heightened physical powers and an artificial heart. Out of nowhere arrive a pair of ultra-kinky Amazons – also bioroids, one suspects – who attempt to coerce the writer into revealing his sources for the book. When that doesn’t happen and things in the hotel room turn nasty, Lin arrives in the nick of time to save him.  Meanwhile, though, while working in a Sydney ice-cream parlor (don’t ask), the former Hong Kong cop breaks up a fight between racist Aussie schoolgirls and a Chinese university student, Nancy (Nana Ouyang), who surprises herself with her ability to fight off her preppie adversaries. Something in the way she moves reminds Lin of himself. When Nancy’s subconscious kicks into high gear, 13 years of deep-seated memories come to the fore. They somehow alert the bioroids to her presence, ensuring a series of car chases and the battle royal at the Opera House. Did I mention the spaceship hovering over Sydney like a leftover prop from District 9? If not, it’s only because I have no idea what co-writer/director Leo Zhang (Chrysanthemum to the Beast) and co-writers Erica Xia-Hou and Cui Siwei were thinking when they added it to the screenplay. No extras, but Chan reprises the song from his 1985 gem, Police Story, for the end credits.

Compared to Matthew Charles Santoro and co-writer Julia Fair’s visual-effects extravaganza Higher Power, everything that happens to Chan in Bleeding Steel is completely logical and everything in the narrative makes sense, including the spaceship. Both are listed as science-fiction thrillers, which is as accurate description, but only as far as it goes. From what I can tell, the backers of Higher Power made no effort to distribute the film any further than a screening at the theater Fair manages on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and maybe a couple of others.  Box Office Mojo puts the total domestic gross at $528. I doubt that anyone within 20 miles of those theaters knew Higher Power was playing nearby, unless the screenwriter invited them. It reportedly was made for a mere $500,000 – a number I seriously doubt – which would mean that precious little money was left over for publicity. The blurbs on the Blu-ray cover are limited to “From the producer of Transformers and G.I. Joe” and “Visual effects artist of 300, Fantastic Four and X-Men Origins.” Left unsaid is the fact that Higher Power is Santoro’s first film as a director and, while the VFX are fine, everything else about the movie betrays an unsteady hand. The plot description could fit dozens, maybe hundreds of science-fiction pictures released over the course of the last 100 years: an ordinary man is faced with the task of saving the world from destruction. Apparently, Earth is imperiled by a star in the Milky Way, which is about to collapse into a black hole. It is believed that it will emit a ray of energy so powerful that it will destroy us. OK, but do we have to wait another hour for that to happen? A mad scientist (Colm Feore) attempts to deal with the dilemma by executing a planetwide DNA scan to find a man or woman who matches his criteria. Voila. The match arrives in the form of a former alcoholic and widower named Joe (Ron Eldard), with a chip on his shoulders and two estranged daughters (Jordan Hinson, Marielle Jaffe). Joe is injected with chemicals that give him electromagnetic powers, including visual properties not unlike those accorded the Transformers. If the threat of total destruction weren’t enough to persuade Joe to cooperate with the scientist, he orders his thugs to harass his daughters. The rest of the story – most of it – is a demonstration of special visual effects in the service of what I can only surmise is a “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” experience. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen the 4K UHD edition, but it almost certainly is more visually dynamic than the Blu-ray.

The Ninth Passenger
If ever a movie was made to be exhibited on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” it’s The Ninth Passenger, a cross-subgenre thriller whose two halves appear to have been written, directed and conceptualized separately, by two people who’ve never met each other. The first involves seven college-age men and women, who converge on luxurious yacht one afternoon, for the sole purpose of getting drunk, high and laid. All the men have professed to their dates that they either own the boat or are booger buddies with the man who does. Only one of them wouldn’t be telling a lie. He’s trying to juggle two of the women, one he just met and the other, a jealous sort who he’s been dating and is feeling neglected. The women have chosen to go along with the lies, if for no other reason than the men aren’t half-bad looking, there’s an open bar and endless lines of cocaine. It’s a pretty cool place to party. The eighth passenger, Brady (Jesse Metcalfe), is a guy who snuck onto the yacht before any of them had arrived and remained busy below decks searching for something he believes the owner has hidden there. Naturally, the unwelcome guests interrupt his plans. Before long, the men will be forced to acknowledge the truth to their disappointed dates, and Brady will reveal himself to others, claiming to be a mechanic. So far, so good, if all one is looking for his some barely legal skin and lots of sophomoric humor.

The plot thickens considerably when the boat slips from its moorings and begins drifting away from the pier. It provides as good an excuse as any for the men to suggest to their date that they spend a couple of carefree hours on the water, canoodling. Then, almost exactly half way through The Ninth Passenger’s runtime, something goes bump in the night and the lights and power shut down at once. It signals the end of one movie and beginning of the next, with the titular ninth passenger being as silly-looking a monster as I’ve seen in years. The seaborne creature is somehow able to climb aboard the boat and wander around, looking for something to eat. A dinghy has already departed the yacht, headed for a nearby island. Once there, they discover a laboratory – linked to the ship’s owner — whose walls and floor are streaked with blood. The rest of the story is reasonably predictable, if no less ridiculous. The funniest thing are the monsters, who resemble duck-bill platypuses that have been crossed-fertilized with daffodil pollen and the semen of a Creature From the Black Lagoon. One of the passengers defends himself with a speargun, which would be fine, if his trigger finger weren’t so quick and his aim terrible. Co-writer/director/actor Corey Large never appears to have a firm understanding of what separates horror and comedy from missed opportunities, or a convincing way to explain the genesis of the monsters. As stupid as this might sound, I wonder how The Ninth Passenger might have looked if the producers of Sharknado had been called in at the last minute to rescue it, perhaps, even, finding a role for Tara Reid.

Black Water: Blu-ray
Pasha Patriki and Chad Law’s underwater-escape thriller reminds me so much of the Escape Plan movies that I began to wonder if the filmmakers slept through an airing of one or both of them on cable TV and absorbed the plots subliminally. Instead of featuring reasonable facsimiles of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Black Water stars fossilized versions of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, whose collaborations include Universal Soldier (1992), Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009), Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) and The Expendables 2 (2012). None of the actors is completely over the hill, but they probably could see the top from the craft-services truck. The foolishness begins with Van Damme’s deep-cover operative, Wheeler, waking up in a prison cell somewhere that he can’t identify.  He makes contact with the prisoner next door, Marco (Lundgren), who encourages him to try to recall the last thing he remembers. Flashing backward, only a day, he recalls waking up in nicely appointed motel room, alongside the unforgettably beautiful spook, Melissa Ballard, played by Courtney B Turk, who’s almost exactly half the actor’s age. Even though she’ll disappear for quite a while after the bedroom scene and subsequent skirmish in the parking lot, Turk logs about as much screen time as headliner Lundgren, who could have phoned in his role via Skype. After dispatching a couple dozen machine-gun toting thugs outside the Alabama motel, Van Damme is chased by operatives searching for a thumb drive containing top-secret information. Once cornered, Wheeler is taken to a CIA “black site” on a submarine, parked in a convenient location nearby. His cell is located alongside the one occupied by Lundgren’s Marco, who appears to be content catching up on his reading while in stir. Wheeler isn’t as fortunate, as his keepers – still unknown to him – demand he provide the drive. The longer they torture him, however, the more time they allow him to conjure an escape plan and pick up something sharp to help him kill guards and unlock doors and cuffs. Turns out, the interrogation is being handled by brass from both the CIA and FBI, who can’t decide if Wheeler’s a traitor hoping to sell the drive to the highest bidder or a patriot. What do you think will happen? The guards listening in on the interrogation begin to wonder what kind of game their superiors are playing and choose sides.

One of them, Jasmine Waltz, who plays the glamorous FBI agent Cassie Taylor, has a background that’s more interesting than anything else in the picture. Besides acting (sort of), Waltz has earned paychecks as a model, cocktail waitress, dancer and reality-show contestant. She’s also a graduate of a maximum-security school for wayward girls. The Las Vegas native shares with Kim Kardashian the distinction of having re-leaked her own leaked sex tape; punched Lindsay Lohan is a snit over a shared boyfriend; and being outed as one of David Arquette’s lovers during his separation from Courtney Cox. In Hollywood, that kind of notoriety will get you a star on Hollywood Boulevard quicker than a supporting role in a sitcom.  In any case, when Wheeler accomplishes what everyone in the audience knows he will, she’s one of the agents, who, with Lundgren, help spring him. With all the leftover submarine sets lying around in warehouses across America, I’m surprised the producers couldn’t find one a tad more claustrophobic than the sub in Black Water. The interrogation might as well be taking place in Langley. Of course, freeing Wheeler and exposing the real backstabbers is only two-thirds of the battle. They still must get off the submarine, just as Stallone did in Escape Plan 2. It will be interesting who gets jailed at Guantanamo Bay first, Sly or JCVD.

Show Yourself
Some of the best titles are wasted on films that never see the light of a theater’s arc lamp or only register on the Richter scales of towns on the festival circuit. Billy Ray Brewton’s intriguingly named Skanks in a One Horse Town! – note the exclamation point — is a live video recording of the similarly titled stage musical about three Studio 54 patrons, who — thanks to Steve Rubell’s “magical disco ball” — travel back in time to the Old West. The sleepy town in which they land, Deep Hole, is threatened by a local railroad baron with the arrival of a disruptive steam train. Among the celebrities impersonated in the musical are Meat Loaf, Conway Twitty and Anita Bryant. Although it sounds a bit like the long-running San Francisco musical revue, “Beach Blanket Babylon,” I’m not sure if the drag musical/documentary has ever played anywhere beyond Birmingham, Alabama, the 2014 Slamdance festival and the Internet. According to David McMahon, writer/director/producer of Skanks, a later behind-the-curtains documentary, the creators were influenced by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy’s delightful comedy, Waiting for Guffman: As we edited Skanks, it became clear that we were in some way trying to defy the Guffman-esque expectations people have of community theater.” I wish Brewton had included Skanks in a One Horse Town! as a bonus feature on the DVD edition of Show Yourself, his far more conventional follow-up.

Shot in the scenic Los Padres National Forest, an hour’s drive from L.A., Show Yourself is a ghost story that takes advantage of modern technology and old-fashioned solitude. It stars Ben Hethcoat as Travis, a young actor taking a few days removed from the grid to scatter the ashes of his best friend, Paul (Clancy McCartney), who recently committed suicide. Although he couldn’t bring himself to deliver a eulogy, Travis accepted the responsibility of returning to their boyhood haunt to perform the last rites. Not long after he arrives at the family cabin, things begin to get strange … not scary particularly, but spooky. Travis overcomes his nerves by calling his agent on his cellphone and remaining in Skype contact with his drinking-partner brother and ex-girlfriend, an unsympathetic two-timer, whose cluelessness in their friend’s suicide isn’t terribly credible. As the heeby-jeeby moments mount up, it becomes increasingly clear that Paul’s ghost will show up in due time. The first one comes after Travis scatters a couple handfuls of ashes in a pond in which they used to swim. Suspicious knocks on the door of the cabin also disturb him. Even so, he drives to a camping spot, higher in the mountains, where the inevitable encounter occurs. Sadly, it’s more dramatic than scary. It works, though. Finally, through flashbacks, we learn how the friends became estranged and how much was left unsaid between them when Paul died. Brewton takes full advantage of the high-altitude setting.

Porcupine Lake
Speed Walking
In Ingrid Veninger’s heartfelt coming-of-adolescence drama, Porcupine Lake, two 13-year-old girls – the cautious summer-resident, Bea (Charlotte Salisbury), and precocious townie, Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall, waste no time becoming fast friends and cuddle buddies. If this were a coming-of-age movie and the girls were 17, it’s likely that they’d be on more equal footing, with the visitor from Toronto initiating the first embrace. As it is, however, Bea hasn’t yet experienced her first menstrual cycle and her curiosity is sparked by Kate’s willingness to meet her eyes in a chance encounter and her offer to help sell hand-made trinkets in front her parents’ restaurant/service station. After that, they’re practically inseparable. Because Bea’s mom and dad are a divorce waiting to happen, they give her a lot freedom to hang out at Kate’s trashy home, with her brother, his reprobate friends and a mom who long ago stopped caring about appearances. Her family is so dysfunctional, in fact, that Kate has convinced herself she was adopted. If Veninger rushed Bea and Kate’s attraction to each other, she allows their friendship to blossom naturally, by sharing secrets, swimming in the lake in their undies and swapping valuables. When the crisis point arrives, it’s triggered by an incident that has nothing to do with their friendship, but everything to do with their families’ dysfunctions. Porcupine Lake is played by Port Severn, a lovely town about 100 miles due north of Toronto, if only as the crow flies. The movie might remind viewers of Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love (2004), which introduced Emily Blunt to feature audiences. First-timer Salisbury and Hall (“Neighbors”) are wonderfully natural actors and don’t look as if they might be adult women, playing 13-year-olds. The DVD adds the feature-length making-of doc, “The Other Side of Porcupine Lake,” audition videos and interviews with the cast and crew.  For those who care about such things, the Canadian ratings board gave Porcupine Lake a 14A, while, in Sweden, the age designation was 11.

Speed Walking is another coming-of-adolescence movie, dealing with similar issues and emotions, but in the rural harbor town of Kerteminde, Denmark. The sexuality is a bit more open and obvious here, but most of it involves adults reacting to the liberalization of pornography laws in the mid-1970s. Everything revolves around 14-year-old Martin (Villads Bøye), an undersized towhead approaching Confirmation. His closest friends, also blond, are Kim (Frederik Winther Rasmussen) and Kristine (Kraka Donslund Nielsen), who probably have already passed the invisible gateway to adulthood and can’t wait for Martin to join them. In the meantime, however, he’s preoccupied with the death of his mother, his father’s nihilism, his brother’s peculiarities and the first signs of impending puppy love, coming from two distinctly different directions. Everything else will have to wait until after Confirmation ceremony, which is as big deal among Protestants as First Holy Communion is to Catholic kids. Speed Walking was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who very capably directed the first adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). Again, for those who care about such things, the film was classified 11 in Denmark and 16 in Germany. It probably would get a R-rating here. The title derives from the after-school sport at which the boys excel, but has become tiresome.

The Tingler: Blu-ray
Strait-Jacket: Blu-ray
Horror buffs will rejoice at news of this week’s double-barreled release of William Castle’s exploitation classics, Strait-Jacket (1964) and The Tingler (1959). The former was directed by the master showman from a script by Robert Bloch (Psycho), and starred Joan Crawford, who was only one picture (The Caretakers) removed from her comeback role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? At 58, Crawford was barely able to pull off playing the protagonist, an ax-murderer in her mid-40s, let alone the 20-years-young version of herself. Bloch may have been inspired by the old rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an ax/And gave her mother 40 whacks/When she saw what she had done/She gave her father 41,” except with “husband” substituted for “mother” and “her father” with “his girlfriend.” Crawford plays the Lizzie Borden wannabe Lucy Harbin, who’s just been released from a 20-year stay in a facility for the criminally insane. Her deceptively prim daughter, Carol (Diane Baker), who witnessed the killings, suggests that Lucy might feel a bit more grounded if she invested in some cosmetics, a new dress and a brunette wig. And, they do just that. And, while Carol tries mightily to make Lucy feel at home, “Mommy, Dearest” returns the favor by hitting on her boyfriend. (She even goes so far as to stick her fingers in his mouth.) As could have been predicted, though, nasty things begin happening around the house, including, yes, ax murders. Castle and Bloch leave plenty of room for conjecture as to the identity of the killer, but don’t expect any spoilers here. George Kennedy (“Dallas”) makes one of his first non-TV appearances in Strait-Jacket, as does Lee Majors, in the thankless role of Lucy’s husband.

For many years, I ranked The Tingler among the scariest movies I’d ever seen. I can’t remember watching it in a theater with seats tricked out with vibrators or nurses in attendance, but they would have been superfluous to our enjoyment of the thriller. After watching it again, for the first time in several decades, I can understand why I might have reacted the way I did to the eponymous creature. It’s likely that Castle’s unexpected shifts from black & white to color, and some trippy visual effects, also affected me … as intended. Does the movie still hold up? Well, Vincent Price continues to delight as the scientist who discovers the relationship between instances of extreme fright in humans and a lobster-like critter that hugs the spines of its victims and is nourished by those fears. Doctor Chapin also discovers that loud screams will cause the Tingler to release its prey. Later, after the parasitic creature is extracted and placed in a cage that isn’t strong enough to contain it. Skipping ahead, the Tingler finds its way into the projectionist’s booth of an adjacent movie theater, reveals its silhouette to the audience and drops to the sticky floor below. Instead of panicking, Chapin urges the patrons to scream at the top of the lungs when they feel something creepy, which is exactly what happened in theaters equipped with vibrators in seats upon its release. (Our third-tier theater couldn’t afford such luxuries and we flipped flattened popcorn boxes at the screen, instead.”) One thing I missed when I was a kid is that Chapin’s assistant (Darryl Hickman) recognizes the acidy chemical makeup of the Tingler’s venom as resembling the compound then being tested on American servicemen and intelligence officers as a truth serum. That drug was LSD and, although the hallucinogenic experience in the movie produced nightmare visions, a more refined form of “acid” would, seven years late, fuel the Summer of Love. Because none of this was widely known at the time, it adds some nostalgic fun to the story.

What really makes these Blu-rays special, though, are bonus packages that goes way beyond what is expected of such things. New featurettes on Straight-Jacket include “Joan Had Me Fired,” an interview with short-lived co-star Anne Helm; “On the Road with Joan Crawford,” a treatise on diva behavior by publicist Richard Kahn; new commentary with authors/film historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow and Constantine Nasr; and ported-over material, “Battle-Ax: The Making of Strait-Jacket,” “Joan Crawford Costume and Makeup Tests,” and “Ax Swinging Screen Test,” theatrical trailers and a stills gallery. Special features with The Tingler are new commentary by author/historian Steve Haberman; “I Survived The Tingler,” an interview with co-star Pamela Lincoln; “Unleashing ‘Percepto’,” an interview with publicist Barry Lorie; along with vintage featurettes “Scream for Your Lives! William Castle and The Tingler,” Castle’s drive-in “Scream!” promo, an original “scream” scene, the original 1959 recording for theatre lobbies and a stills gallery. Movies used to be so much fun.

Tideland: Blu-ray
Only those viewers willing to sacrifice a couple hours of time to experience the work of a mad genius are likely to benefit from Arrow Video’s repackaging of Terry Gilliam’s 10th feature, Tideland (2005). Co-writer/director Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits) admits as much in the short introduction to his seriously twisted adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s celebrated cult novel. (He once described “Tideland,” as “Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho through the eyes of Amélie,” and, if you catch the references, the description is pretty much on target.”) Tideland also made me think of how The Wizard of Oz might have turned out, if Dorothy’s house had overflown Munchkinland and landed in a suburb of hell. The protagonist here is 9-year-old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who was raised in a remote part of Texas by a heroin-addicted rock-star father, Noah (Jeff Bridges) – she helps him shoot up – and a schizophrenic mother, Queen Gunhilda (Jennifer Tilly). When her mother dies, Noah and Jeliza-Rose re-locate to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, where, we’re led to believe, he was raised. Noah quickly overdoses, leaving his daughter in the company of an eccentric family of ghosts, lorded over by Janet McTeer. The location reminded me of Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World,” Edward Hopper’s “House by the Railroad” and similar motifs found in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which also was shot in the golden splendor of a wheat field in summer. Jeliza-Rose doesn’t appear to have much problem adjusting to the solitude of her decaying home and its environs. She discovers a cache of vintage dresses, hats, wigs, shoes and makeup and befriends a hyperactive boy (Brendan Fletcher) living there. Meanwhile, Noah’s cadaver slowly decays on a bed upstairs. Yes, Tideland is every bit that strange. Even so, Gilliam creates images and settings so imaginative they demand to be seen and savored. The Arrow Blu-ray adds commentary by Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni; “Getting Gilliam,” a 45-minute documentary on the making of Tideland by Vincenzo Natali; a making-of featurette; “Filming Green Screen,” with commentary by Gilliam; interviews with Gilliam, producer Jeremy Thomas and actors Bridges, Ferland and Tilly; deleted scenes, with commentary; B-roll footage; a gallery; a reversible sleeve, featuring two choices of original artwork; and illustrated collector’s booklet, with writing on the film by Neil Mitchell.

Wild at Heart: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
A bit of a mystery surrounds the delayed release of the “Collector’s Edition” of David Lynch’s doomed romance, Wild at Heart (1990). Just as Amazon began filling orders for the Blu-ray last May, Shout!Factory announced that it was delaying the general release until August 21. Since no big stink has been raised in the meantime, it’s safe to assume that the problem was indiscernible to the untrained eye or hear … mine included … perhaps something missing on the soundtrack or main menu. Anyway, it’s here and looks great. Too bad, it isn’t available in 4K UHD. Despite its winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, critics hardly knew what to make of its excesses, fantasies and depictions of unhinged sexuality and violence. In fact, many of them loathed it. The only Academy Award nomination it received was for Best Supporting Actress (Diane Ladd), but, in hindsight, it can be argued that Lynch, Nic Cage, Laura Dern (Ladd’s daughter), Willem Dafoe and cinematographer Frederick Elme (Blue Velvet) deserved one, as well. I imagine that most of the people who would naturally be attracted to Wild at Heart – or any of Lynch’s works — have already watched it in theaters or on video, at least once. It’s also reasonable to assume that it would offend the same number of viewers – if not critics and scholars – as in 1990. Maybe, though, they’d find it easier to separate the inky-dark humor from the perverse violence and sex. For the uninitiated, though, Lynch’s adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel describes a possibly insane mother’s attempt to extinguish her daughter’s incendiary love affair with a career criminal, Sailor (Cage), who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Elvis Presley. The young woman, Lula (Dern), can’t help but remind Sailor of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, and her mother, Marietta Fortune (Ladd), of the Wicked Witch of the West. Through Marietta’s various sexual entanglements with members of the Dixie Mafia, she’s arranged to have Sailor killed. Dafoe plays the maniacal assassin, Bobby Peru, assigned to do the deed. They meet in a speck of dust town in Texas, called Big Tuna. The Shout Select Blu-ray adds a new interview with Gifford, more than an hour of deleted scenes and ported-over featurettes from previous editions.

Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection: Blu-ray, UHD 4K/HDR
In advance of the August 31 launch of the Amazon Prime original series, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski, as the up-and-coming CIA analyst, and Wendell Pierce, as Admiral James Greer, Paramount has released “Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection” in 4K UHD/HDR. You can watch the movies in the order of their original release or chronologically, based on Ryan’s age. It includes The Hunt for Red October (1990), the underwater thriller, with Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery and James Earl Jones; Patriot Games (1992), the IRA thriller, with Harrison Ford now in the catbird seat; Clear and Present Danger (1994), in which Ryan/Harrison and Willem Dafoe take on Colombian cartels and bloodthirsty American advisers to the president; The Sum of All Fears (2002), in which Ben Affleck, as Ryan, must stop a terrorist plan to provoke a war between the U.S. and Russia; and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), an origin story, with Chris Pine as the young covert CIA analyst, Ryan, uncovering a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy. By far the most successful financially was John McTiernan’s “Red October,” while critics gave slightly higher marks to Phillip Noyce’s “Games” and “Danger.” I didn’t find any new bonus features, in addition to those ported over to the Blu-rays in the boxed set. A la carte versions of the quintet, in 4K UHD/HDR, won’t be available until December 31, 2018. Given the age of the first three films in the package – also the best – the 4K presentation is a slight improvement of the Blu-rays. The HDR audio is noticeably more dynamic, though.

TV-to-DVD
AMC: The Terror: The Complete First Season
PBS: Hillary
PBS: Outback
NBC: Blacklist: The Complete Fifth Season
AMC: The Walking Dead: The Complete Eighth Season: Blu-ray
More movies and television series have depicted the banishment of Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to the North Pole than have documented the doomed Franklin Expedition, which ended with two British ships trapped in the Arctic ice pack and all hands lost to the elements and disease. Far better known, too, is the fate of Ernest Shackleton’s final visit to Antarctica, which also ended badly. Here, Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), leads the expeditionaries, who, in 1845, departed England aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, committed to mapping an unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. Largely mythical, the passage was believed to connect open waters on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of North America. In winter, of course, it would be completely frozen and bereft of sunshine. AMC’s nine-part mini-series, “The Terror,” is based on a 2007 novel by American author, Dan Simmons. Ironically, the book was published less than a decade before explorers would, for the first time, locate the substantial remains of both ships in the same region it described. News of the discoveries didn’t get in the way of a good psychological thriller, however. If the sheer horror of being stranded in a desolate land, in constantly freezing weather, for two years, weren’t sufficiently dramatic, the mini-series throws in a gigantic polar bear that terrorizes the sailors when they attempt to mount missions to known towns hundreds of miles to the south of the ice pack. Members of the small Eskimo community nearby believes the bear to be an evil spirit incapable of being killed and dedicated to their destruction. Meanwhile, life on the ships goes on with all the twists, turns and back-stabbings normally associated with such shows. Not all of it is terribly exciting, but, given the little we know about the expedition, it’s possible to hope for a partially happy ending, at least. Some of the actors who should be familiar to American viewers are Jared Harris (“Mad Men”), Tobias Menzies (“Rome”), Paul Ready (“The Tunnel”), Ian Hart (Harry Potter) and Nive Nielsen (The New World). The icy cinematography made me shiver, even though I live in California. The DVD/Blu-ray adds some interviews and making-of material. Improbably, a second season of “The Terror” is on the drawing boards, on a different ocean and closer to World War II.

Sir Edmund Hillary shared with Franklin a lineage that could be traced to the Age of Exploration – or Age of Discovery, if you will — the period in European history when overseas exploration began to grow in popularity. Technically, it began in the late 1400’s and lasted through the 1700’s, when exploration became synonymous with colonialism and imperialism. In reality, however, the very human desire to explore, discover and conquer has never diminished. No one personified this passion more than Sir Edmund Hillary, the subject of an eventful, if sometimes rather dry profile of one of the great explorers of our times. The six-part PBS series, “Hillary,” follows the New Zealander’s life and career from his early days as a a bee-keeper, aspiring mountaineer and war veteran, through his glory years as a widely admired explorer, climber, philanthropist, family man and hero of the British Commonwealth. In 1985, he accompanied lunar explorer Neil Armstrong on an excursion, via a small twin-engine plane, to the North Pole. In doing so, Hillary became the first man to stand at both poles and on the summit of Everest, soon to become known as the Three Pole Challenge. The mini-series concludes in 1977, when Hillary led a jetboat expedition, titled “Ocean to Sky,” from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source. In 2007, a year before his death in New Zealand, at 88, travelled to Antarctica as part of a delegation commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Scott Base. Unlike many journalists and western historians, “Hillary” doesn’t ignore the concurrent accomplishment of Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund’s Sherpa “guide” and co-conqueror of Everest/Sagarmatha. Writer Tom Scott draws the detailed story from his personal conversations with Hillary, which took place before Hillary’s 2008 death. Look-alike actor Andrew Munro stars as Hillary, while Dean O’Gorman plays fellow Kiwi mountaineer George Lowe, and Amy Usherwood plays Lady Louise Hillary.

At a time when people with money to burn can walk in footsteps of Franklin, Hillary and other noteworthy explorers, it’s easy to assume that the world’s oceans provide the last remaining places on Earth to discover, the three-part PBS special, “Outback” begs to differ. The vast, forbidding and largely overlooked terrain generically known as the Australian Outback is only now being challenged by non-Aboriginal explorers and mining interests. In a landscape so ancient that, in parts, it predates life on Earth, are found animals superbly adapted to the territory’s harsh and beautiful extremes. Over the course of a year, the show’s producers journeyed alongside the people and animals of Australia’s Kimberley region, in North West Australia. It is a vast, rugged and remote wilderness that’s bursting with character, natural beauty, animal and aquatic life and undiscovered riches. It also includes a portion of coastal Australia, where salt-water crocodiles threaten anything that dares trespass on their habitat. Some of it has been opened to tourism, but, so far, not enough to do much harm.

AMC’s stunningly successful series, “The Walking Dead,” will embark on its ninth season on October, which plenty of time for laggards to catch up with things in “The Complete Eighth Season” DVD/Blu-ray package. The series centers on sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who wakes up from a coma to discover the Zombie Apocalypse has come to Georgia. He becomes the leader of a group of survivors, attempting to sustain themselves, while avoiding attacks not only by “walkers,” but also by other groups of less virtuous humans, known as the Saviors, led by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). They enslave other survivor communities and and force them to pay tribute to him. As Season Eight opens, Rick and his comrades have penetrated Negan’s compound, armed to the teeth and protected behind a staggered vehicular shield-wall. The Saviors are larger, better equipped and ruthless, but Rick and the unified communities are fighting for the promise of a brighter future. The battle lines are drawn as they launch into a kinetic, action-packed offensive. The compilation goes behind the scenes with three audio commentaries (episodes 803, 804 and 816) and featurettes, “Carl Grimes: Leaving a Legacy,” “In Memoriam” and “The Price of War.” It also includes six extended episodes not seen in the original broadcasts.

The release of “Blacklist: The Complete Fifth Season” allows fans and newcomers plenty of time to binge, in advance of Season Six, which doesn’t begin until January. NBC has bumped the show to Fridays at 9 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific), but it will air without hiatuses until season’s end. Season Five opens with Raymond Reddington (James Spader) in the process of rebuilding his criminal empire. His lust for life is ever-present as he lays the foundation for this new enterprise, one that he’ll design with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) by his side. Liz finds herself torn between her role as an FBI agent and the temptation to act on her more criminal instincts. In a world where the search for Blacklisters has become a family trade, Red hopes to reclaim his moniker as the “Concierge of Crime.” The bonus material adds deleted scenes, commentaries, a gag reel and a featurette saluting the show’s 100th episode.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“I wanted that feeling that you could live in a city your entire life and never meet anyone who wasn’t like you.”
Gillian Flynn

“We’re all going to die so it makes it very easy. I haven’t always thought that way but I’ve realized it’s the truth. I think age gets you there, questioning your mortality… When you realize that, it’s so liberating, it’s so free, you can fly! There’s no need to hold on to anything. Like, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you; it’s probably happened to 500 million people as well. Who gives a shit!”
~ Steve McQueen