Still Alice (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Julianne Moore won her first Academy Award (after four nominations since Boogie Nights in 1998) playing a renowned linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and starts to experience her identity, her sense of self, slipping away. It’s the kind of performance that doesn’t just support a film, it gives the film its breath of life.
Dr. Alice Howland is in the prime of life: happily married to a fellow academic (Alec Baldwin), the mother of three grown children, an expert in her field, and a professor at a respected university where she enjoys teaching. It comes on slowly: losing a word while giving a lecture, misplacing items, forgetting appointments, and finally getting lost on a routine jog across the campus that’s a second home to her. When the worst is confirmed by a neurologist, the denial is replaced with coping mechanisms, though even those are a temporary measure as the decline speeds up and that sharp intellect softens and falters, along with her own body. As she loses her identity along with her memories and her attention span, her eyes start to fog over and her body seems to collapse into itself, deflating like fragile old woman aging before her time. She becomes something of a ghost of her former self and it is heartbreaking, thanks to the depth and nuance with which Moore inhabits the mental and physical deterioration.
Adapted from a novel by Lisa Genova with compassion and sensitivity, this was clearly a labor of love from Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, partners in filmmaking and in life (they married in 2013). Glatzer co-directed while his body was breaking down from complications of ALS and died a few months after the film was released. It’s hard to imagine that Moore’s commitment to the role wasn’t in some way touched by his ordeal.
Kristen Stewart stands out from a fine cast as Alice’s youngest daughter, a free spirit who cuts through the denial to sustain whatever is left of her mother for as long as she can while her siblings seem to distance themselves, as if it were a communicable disease (it’s actually genetic, which means one of them may have inherited the condition—another prime arena for denial). So long dismissed for the Twilight films, Stewart is a smarter and more engaged actress than she’s often given credit for and she suggests a history behind this quietly resilient mother-daughter bond.
The rest of the film is admirable but never as nuanced or as rich as Moore’s performance. The cocoons of success, supportive family, and an academic and medical community that provides the best care available in New York can’t stop or even slow the ravages of the disease but it does provide a support net greater than any of us will know. Maybe that makes her inevitable decline even more affecting, but it does give us reassurance that even as she loses herself, her family will not forget her.
Blu-ray and DVD with the featurettes “Directing Alice” and “Finding Alice” and an interview with the composer. Also available on Cable On Demand and digital VOD.
Vincent Price starred in all of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations but one. Ray Milland took the lead in The Premature Burial (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD), playing Guy Carrell, an aristocrat with crippling fear that he will be buried alive due to a family history of catalepsy. Corman brings the fear home in the opening scene: an exhumation of an ancestor who shows every sign of having awoken in his casket. The obsession overtakes his life until the rather elderly newlywed moves into the family crypt, which he outfits as a Batcave of escape hatches, much to the horror of his neglected bride (Hazel Court), who observes that he has already “buried himself alive” and makes him chose the crypt or life with her.
Like most of Corman’s Poe films, the script (this one by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell) borrows little more than the central idea and the title from Poe. This one owes as debt to Gaslight and Diabolique, and of course leans on the art direction of Daniel Haller (who created a sense of grandeur on a budget) and the widescreen color cinematography of the great Floyd Crosby, who photographed Tabu (1931) and High Noon (1952) and here gives Corman his atmosphere. While Hammer was reviving the classic movies monsters as gothic horrors with lurid edges and color, Corman was creating his own Gothic horror revival with ideas influenced by Freud and Jung. Corman creates his world completely in the studio, including the grounds outside the manor, a veritable haunted forest of dead trees, ever-present mist hugging the boggy ground, and a pair of creepy gravediggers (John Dierkes and Dick Miller) constantly lurking and whistling the folk song “Molly Malone” as a dirge-like threat.
Though Carrell is supposed to be older than his lovely young wife, Milland is aged beyond the role, though he quite valiantly attempts to appear younger while also playing the haunted, sequestered, tortured soul. His bearing and deep, authoritative voice holds the center of every, whether he’s the romantic husband swept up in the promise of a happily ever after or the tormented obsessive spiraling into the madness of obsession. Alan Napier, best known in genre circles for playing Alfred in the sixties TV Batman, has a small but delicious role as the arrogant father of the bride, a medical doctor with little affection and even less sentimentality for his son-in-law.
The colors are good if not quite as strong as some of the previous Corman Poe Blu-rays. Joe Dante discusses the film in the new 9-minute featurette “Buried Alive!” and a video interview with Corman from the 2002 DVD release (where he explains how Milland ended up in the role rather than Price) is included, along with the “Trailers From Hell” presentation with Corman’s commentary.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) reunites Corman and Milland for a science fiction thriller by way of a Greek tragedy. Milland is Dr. James Xavier, who experiments with a formula that will the human eye to see beyond the wavelength of visible light. “Only the Gods see everything,” cautions a fellow scientist. “I am closing in on the Gods,” responds Xavier with the hubris that is doomed to destroy his over-reaching ambition. Peeping through the clothes of comely women is all good adolescent fun until the gift becomes a nightmare as his sight rages out of control.
Charles Beaumont once again scripts this twist on the tale of a scientist who risks everything to explore the unknown and is finally driven mad by, literally, seeing too much. The possibilities suggested in the hints of addiction and inconsistent bouts of megalomania remain tantalizingly unexplored in the unfocussed script and Corman’s cut-rate special effects are often more hokey than haunting (the “city dissolved in an acid of light” he poetically describes becomes fuzzy photography through a series of color filters). But there is an edge to the B-movie machinations. Don Rickles offers a venal turn as a scheming carnival barker turned blackmailing con man and Diane Van Der Vlis is understanding as a sympathetic scientist who tries to rescue Xavier from his spiral into tortured madness, but in the tradition of Greek tragedy he is doomed to be destroyed by the very gifts he desires.
This release features two commentary tracks—filmmaker Roger Corman’s commentary from the original 2002 DVD release and new commentary by film historian Tim Lucas—plus “Terror Vision!,” an interview featurette with Joe Dante and the “Trailers From Hell” take on the film with Mick Garris providing the commentary.
Jamaica Inn (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) was Alfred Hitchcock’s final British film before leaving for Hollywood and his first Daphne du Maurier adaptation, but it’s an ill-matched project for his sensibilities. Hackneyed melodrama and a convoluted plot landlocks this strange pirate tale come costume pageant while Charles Laughton chews the scenery not already hidden by the perpetual nighttime fog. Laughton was also a producer and his flamboyance and theatricality collided with Hitchcock’s meticulous constructions and affection for compromised characters. Up against the caricatured rogues gallery of this gang of smugglers, cutthroats, and ship-wreckers, Maureen O’Hara’s earnest performance is woefully out of place. There’s mood thick enough to stuff a mattress and a few inspired sequences but otherwise Hitch seems to have given up on wrangling the lurid material into a coherent picture. It’s kind of weird and strange, but if it isn’t quite as bad as its reputation suggests, it’s hardly good. Hitchcock summed it up best in his epitaph for the picture: “Jamaica Inn was an absurd thing to undertake.” He fared much better in his next du Maurier adaptation: Rebecca.
You don’t need an excuse to a restoration of any Hitchcock film, even a minor one, but this new 4k restoration (a collaboration between Cohen and the BFI) arrives in for its 75th anniversary. The film has never looked very good on home video. Now it looks amazing. Features commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold, the new video essay “Shipwrecked in a Studio” by Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, and a trailer. The booklet features brief credits and stills but no film notes.
Two cult film from Eurotica exploitation legend Jesus (Jess) Franco and his muse Soledad Miranda debut in new Blu-ray editions. In the surreal “sexadelic” horror film Vampyros Lesbos: 2-Disc Limited Collector’s Edition (Severin, Blu-ray), Miranda is a sexy female vampire who lures maidens to her isolated castle because she prefers the blood of women, and Ewa Strömberg is her latest conquest. In She Killed in Ecstasy: 2-Disc Limited Collector’s Edition (Severin, Blu-ray), she’s the vengeful wife of an eccentric doctor (Fred Williams) who seduces and kills those in the medical community (including Howard Vernon, Ewa Stromberg, and Franco himself) who drove him to suicide. Both feature funky retro-lounge scores, and Quentin Tarantino sampled tracks from Vampyros Lesbos for Jackie Brown. In German with English subtitles.
Both releases feature new interviews with Franco (recorded shortly before his death), Soledad Miranda biographer Amy Brown, and Jess Franco historian Stephen Thrower. Vampyros Lesbos also includes an alternate German opening sequence discs and the second disc features a DVD of the alternate Spanish language bootleg version of the film (with English subtitles). She Killed in Ecstasy also features an interview with Paul Muller and the second disc is a CD with music from Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, and The Devil Came From Akasava. Both are limited editions.
Also new and notable:
Blackhat (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller with Chris Hemsworth as a hacker taking on international terrorists breaking through government firewalls to plant viruses, is a sleek little film that makes little sense but sure is gorgeous to see in motion. Viola Davis and Wei Tang co-star.
Mortdecai (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD) features Johnny Depp in another eccentric performance, this time with a flamboyant mustache to boot. Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn, and Ewan McGregor co-star.
Retaliation (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD), a follow-up to Massacre Gun, reunites director Yasuharu Hasebe with crime movie superstar Jo Shishido for a gangland collision with fellow crime icon Akira Kobayashi, who plays a yakuza lieutenant back from prison to see his old gang broken up and a new player (Shishido) trying to take over. In Japanese with English subtitles, with an interview with Asian film expert Tony Rayns.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD), director Walerian Borowczyk’s take on the oft-told classic, stars Udo Keir as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Marina Pierro as his fiancée, who learns his secret after a killer invades their engagement party. Features both French and English language soundtracks, with commentary by Daniel Bird interspersed with interview clips of Borowczyk and others, the 1979 Borowczyk short Happy Toy, interviews with actors Udo Keir and Marina Pierro, filmmaker Alessio Pierro, and historian Sarah Mallinson, a video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López, and additional featurettes and short films.
Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is a direct-to-disc animated feature based on the Cartoon Network series.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Available to watch on cable pay-per-view and Video On Demand same day as theaters is Every Secret Thing, a thriller with Elizabeth Banks investigating the disappearance of a young girl and Dakota Fanning as a prime suspect, and Slow West, a dark western starring Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Seventh Son (Universal, Digital HD) is available for digital purchase before disc release and VOD availability.
Classics and Cult:
Stay As You Are (Cult Epics, Blu-ray, DVD)
A Man For All Seasons (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Mississippi Burning (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
American Buffalo (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Hombre (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Carla’s Song (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
They Call Me Mr. Tibbs (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
The Organization (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Make Way for Tomorrow (Criterion, Blu-ray)
Wet Hot American Summer (Universal, Blu-ray)
Orgazmo (Universal, Blu-ray)
The Jester’s Supper (One7, DVD)
Lilith, a Vampire Who Comes Back (One7, DVD)
Satan’s Blade (Slasher // Video / Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Spine (Massacre Video, DVD)
Sexandroide (Massacre Video, DVD)
Sex World (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Long Jeanne Silver (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Fast Cars Fast Women / Starship Eros (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Snow Honeys (Impulse, DVD)
42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection Vol. 10 (Impulse, DVD)
TV on disc:
Power: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Murder in the First: The Complete First Season (Warner, DVD)
Two and a Half Men: The Complete Twelfth and Final Season (Warner, DVD)
The Midnight Special (StarVista, DVD)
Broadchurch: The Complete Second Season (eOne, DVD)
Bob’s Burgers: The Complete Fourth Season (Fox, DVD)
Science Fiction Theatre: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD)
Supercar: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Series 14 (Acorn, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Series 15 (Acorn, DVD)
Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty: The Plantangenets (Acorn, DVD)
Southland: The Complete Series Boxset – Seasons 1-5 (Warner, DVD)
Dallas: The Complete Series Boxset – Seasons 1-3 (Warner, DVD)
Nikita: The Complete Series Boxset – Seasons 1-4 (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Revolutions: The Complete Series Boxset – Seasons 1-2 (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Colbys: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Walker, Texas Ranger: The Complete Series (CBS, DVD)
The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series (CBS, DVD)
Rawhide: The Complete Series (CBS, DVD)
The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show (StarVista, DVD)
Mr. Ed: The Final Season (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Texas Rangers: The Real Stories (Lionsgate, DVD)
Tracers (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
The Cobbler (RLJE/Image, Blu-ray, DVD)
Two Men in Town (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD)
Beloved Sisters (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Extraterrestrial (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
These Final Hours (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Sleepwalker (IFC, DVD)
Tip Top (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Dance Goodbye (First Run, DVD, VOD)
Magical Universe (IFC, DVD)
Champs (Anchor Bay, DVD)
An Irish Exorcism (Virgil, DVD, VOD)
Icestrastophe (Alchemy, DVD, VOD)
Dinosaur Island (Alchemy, DVD, VOD)
The Drownsman (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)