Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) and Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: 3-Disc Limited Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) is the debut of the week. I review it later this week.
Compañeros (Blue Underground, Blu-ray) is an ironic title, but then as a spaghetti western—a genre steeped in mercenaries and con men and double crosses—it would have to be. Swedish gun runner Yodlaf (Franco Nero), in Mexico in the heat of the revolution to sell his weapons to the highest bidder, and hot-headed Mexican peasant turned revolutionary officer Vasco (Tomas Milian in a beret that evokes Che Guevara) are certainly not compañeros by any stretch of the definition. It’s only good timing that prevents Vasco from killing the blue-eyed stranger, and orders from his gun-shy but glory-hungry General that sends him along on a quest to free the idealistic revolutionary leader Professor Xantos (Fernando Rey) from American captivity at Fort Yuma. They make a great screen team, verbally jabbing and prodding one another along the way even when they are forced to rescue one another (left to their druthers, they’d go on alone). Nero plays the witty, worldly cosmopolitan (and, blue eyes and lightly bleached hair aside, the most Mediterranean Swede in the cinema) and Milian the wily survivor, acting on impulse and lobbing insults to his Swedish partner between paeans to his twinkling blue eyes.
Sergio Corbucci is one of the three great Sergios of the spaghetti western (along with Leone and Sollima) and the director of two of the genre’s classics, Django (1966), which made a star of Franco Nero, and the Great Silence (1968). Compañeros (1970) leans into the political arena that Sollima specialized in, using the political chaos and opportunism of the revolution as a volatile cultural backdrop filled with warring factions and freelance mercenaries, while driving the film with capers and cons and capture and escapes. They cross the border, break a prisoner out of an American Fort, and tangle with a dope smoking bounty hunter with a wooden hand and a loyal falcon named Marsha. Jack Palance plays the laconic mercenary John, puffing on joints and smiling a crooked grin as he lazily springs traps and puts his prisoners to sadistic tortures, and his stoner delivery sends the film into a whole realm of weirdness.
Complicating things even more are the (not always clear) conflicts within the revolution, with the grandstanding General Mongo only in it for personal gain and the idealistic Xantos playing the Gandhi of the Mexican Revolution, a pacifist who preaches non-violence while everyone is trying to kill him. That includes the opportunist Mongo, who needs Xantos for his payday but also finds him a threat to his agenda. Sort of. The details are murky, but that’s hardly a problem for a genre all about betrayals and greed. And yet Corbucci, who helped define the the amoral tone of the genre in Django, develops a streak of idealism that builds through the film until it blossoms as a defining theme without any sense of irony or insincerity. While he may not embrace the pacifism of his inspiration Professor, Corbucci certainly respects his integrity, a virtue not always seen in the genre, and presents it without cynicism. And that is quite a feat in a film with a body-count and a mercenary cast of this magnitude. It’s a wily good time with a rousing finish.
The Blu-ray debut features both the American version and the disc debut of the longer Italian cut (with four minutes of additional footage). Both editions, which have been newly mastered from the original negative, offer the choice of English and Italian language soundtracks (the restored scenes to the Italian cut are only in Italian with English subtitles, making them easy to spot). Image quality is great and the DTS-HD Mono soundtracks have that distinctive spaghetti western sound of studio-recorded dialogue and post-synched library sound effects. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack sounds great.
Carried over from the previous DVD release is commentary by film journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke and the 17-minute 2001 interview featurette “In the Company of Companeros” with interviews with stars Franco Nero and Tomas Milian and composer Ennio Morricone.
Death Comes to Pemberley (Masterpiece Mystery!) (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) marries the two genres that British TV has made its specialties: literary costume drama and period murder mystery. Based on the novel by P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, set a few years after Austen’s novel and built around a murder in the woods around the manor home of Darcy (played by a well-cast Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin), who are happily married with a young family. The prime suspect is the untrustworthy and morally dubious Wickham (Matthew Goode), who is married to Elizabeth’s sister (Jenna Coleman) but remains a rake and a cad. There’s no love lost between the honorable Darcy and his quasi-foster brother Wickham but Darcy nonetheless stands by him and joins the constable (Trevor Eve) in the investigation, while Elizabeth makes her own inquiries, all
It’s a lovely period piece, which is par for the course for a BBC mini-series, and a loving tribute to Austen’s characters that succeeds in large part due to excellent casting. The mystery is less involving than the character drama, which is both true to the spirit of Austen and generous enough to give Wickham, a charming villain in Pride and Prejudice, more dimension and a suggestion that he too can evolve. The three-part series arrives on disc while currently running on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS.
WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD) – In 2007, 20th Century Fox released the first season of the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, Hugh Wilson’s colorful sitcom of a sleepy radio station jolted out of an easily listening coma by a rock-oriented program director. The fan-favorite lasted only four seasons but earned a passionate fan base and ended up living for years in syndication. The problem with that release was that Fox didn’t have the home video rights to the music played on the show—and this is a comedy about a rock and roll radio station—and rather than license the songs, they simply substituted the original tracks for generic library music. It was disastrous. Almost all of the deejay cues were replaced and footage where songs could not be replaced was simply cut.
Shout Factory, a label with strong ties to the music industry, spent the better part of a year licensing what songs they could and finding appropriate substitutions for those they could not (due to price or simply refusal). What we have here is not 100% restoration but neither is it some frustrated compromise. Some sites have figured about 80% of the original music is intact and the substitutions are for the most part considered replacements. And for the one cue that everyone seems obsessed over, it is true that Pink Floyd is not heard in the great “Turkeys Away” episode, but the substitute song works just fine for the dialogue (“Do I hear dogs barking?”) and a single joke was edited out.
The series was shot and edited on videotape and the video masters of the show are over 35 years old. It’s a credit to Shout Factory that the episode look as good as they do. They look soft compared to the HD standards but otherwise are quite fine, and they are the original, full-length versions, not the edited syndication episodes.
88 episodes on 12 discs, plus a bonus thirteenth disc with supplements. Two new featurettes are the highlights: “Baby, If You’ve ever Wondered: A WKRP in Cincinnati Reunion” presents the cast discussing the show in a panel presentation at the Paley Center for Media and runs about 45 minutes and “A Look Back at WKRP in Cincinnati with Gary Sandy” is a 25-minute interview featurette. Carried over from the original Fox release of the first season are the featurettes “Do My Eyes Say Yes?,” a nice tribute to Loni Anderson and her character, Jennifer Marlowe, featuring actors Frank Bonner, Tim Reid, Hugh Wilson, and Loni Anderson (six minutes), and the three-minute “A ‘Fish Story’ Story,” a brief but interesting portrait of a protest episode that, in a strange way, backfired. Each season is collected in its own case, with a thinpak case for the bonus disc, all in a sturdy paperboard box.
Begin Again (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) stars Keira Knightley as a songwriter left behind when her singer boyfriend (Adam Levine) is signed to a record deal and Mark Ruffalo as a music producer who discovers Knightley’s talents and decides to develop her sound. It’s from John Carney, who make the indie romantic musical hit Once, and co-stars Hailee Steinfeld and Catherine Keener.
Moebius (Film Movement, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital VOD) is the latest from Korean provocateur Kim Ki-duk, a thriller about the scorned wife of a cheating husband who turns her rage on her son for revenge.
Margaret: Extended Director’s Cut (Fox, DVD), the much delayed and debated second feature from director / screenwriter / playwright Kenneth Lonergan and starring Anna Paquin, was originally released as a bonus disc on the Blu-ray release. You can now purchase it as a stand-alone DVD.
The Complete Jacques Tati (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) collects all six features he directed (including alternate versions of three films) and seven shorts he wrote and/or directed, plus a wealth of other supplements. No review, sorry to say, as I didn’t receive a review copy, but this one is on my must list. Tati’s Playtime is one of my all-time favorite films.
Planet of the Vampires (Scorpion, Blu-ray, DVD) – I didn’t get a copy of this release either, but it’s a favorite of mine and it features new commentary by Mario Bava scholar Tim Lucas.
One Day Pina Asked… (Icarus, DVD) is Chantel Akerman’s 1983 portrait of choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance company.
22 Jump Street (Sony, Digital HD) is available to purchase as a Digital HD download weeks before its disc release and VOD availability.
The superhero hit X-Men: Days of Future Past and the big screen version of the sixties cartoon Mr. Peabody & Sherman both come to Cable VOD a few weeks after debuting on disc.
Classics and Cult:
The Vanishing (1988) (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Squirm: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Werewolf Woman (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD)
In Search of Ancient Mysteries (Film Chest, DVD)
Accused: Series 1 & 2 (Acorn, DVD)
Miss Marple: Volume One (BBC, Blu-ray)
Raising Hope: The Complete Fourth Season (Fox, DVD)
Brickleberrry: The Complete Second Season (Fox, DVD)
Vera: Set 4 (Acorn, DVD)
Lovejoy: Series 3 (Acorn, DVD)
The Big Valley: The Final Season (Timeless, DVD)
How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson (PBS, DVD)
Cook’s Country: Season 7 (PBS, DVD)
Life of Crime (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Wish I Was Here (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Deliver Us From Evil (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Good People (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD)
Child of God (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
The Prince (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
LFO (Dark Sky, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Dormant Beauty (Kino Lorber, DVD)
The Mystery of Happiness (Strand, DVD)
Running From Crazy (Virgil, DVD, VOD)
America: Imagine the World Without Her (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
The Forgotten Kingdom (Alive Mind, DVD)
Plastic (Arc, DVD)
Grace: The Possession (Sony, DVD, Digital HD)
Bound By Flesh (IFC, DVD)
Beneath (IFC, DVD)
Behaving Badly (Vertical, DVD)
The Last Showing (Screen Media, DVD)
Plastic (Arc, DVD, VOD)
Heterosexual Jill (Ariztical, DVD)
Thomas and Friends: The Christmas Engines (Universal, DVD)
Beethoven’s Treasure Tail (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)