Slow West (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD), which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2015, stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as 16-year-old Jay Cavendish, the son of Scottish aristocrats on a romantic (and foolhardy) journey to find the girl he loves on the 19th century American frontier, and Michael Fassbender as bounty hunter Silas who volunteers to be the boy’s guide and bodyguard… for a price, of course.
The tone of the film, a darkly absurdist frontier odyssey, recalls both the films of the Coen Brother and the novels of Cormac McCarthy. Fassbender’s hardbitten gunman has a bemused fatality about him, a man who expects every stranger in this gorgeous and savage wilderness to be a killer by nature or desperation. He’s usually right. Jay takes the more romantic view of the new world, a place of opportunity and new beginnings, and his openness and trust backfires constantly. Silas saves him from a pair of jayhawkers in the first scene (Jay puts his faith in their Union uniforms, despite the fact that the war is long over) and keeps saving him from his best instincts.
The title should prepare audiences for something odd and measured, a meandering, episodic film of unexpected encounters set against the majestic landscape of the Colorado frontier (which is actually New Zealand standing in for America): a Swedish couple turned unlikely outlaw robbers, an anthropologist chronicling American Indian culture in anticipation of its extinction who apparently funds his work by robbing travelers, and a rival bounty hunter played by Ben Mendelsohn with a feral charisma. It turns out both he and Silas are after the same thing—Rose (Caren Pistorius), the object of Jay’s desire, and her father have bounties on their heads and Silas is counting on Jay to lead him to a payday. The frontier is no place for romantics, but Jay may have been right about second chances. It’s just a matter of surviving long enough to take it. John Maclean writes and directs with a loping, lazy pace.
Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “On Strange Land: Making Slow West” and deleted scenes, plus a bonus Ultraviolet HD digital copy of the film (SD for the DVD version).
The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (Film Movement, Blu-ray, DVD) – The 1972 French spy spoof takes an idea out of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest—an innocent man is mistaken for a government agent and targeted by the enemy—and gives it cynical twist and a comic treatment closer to the Pink Panther films. When “St. Bernard” Milan (Bernard Blier), the ambitious assistant director of the French Secret Service, frames his boss (Jean Rochefort) for a sabotaged mission, the Colonel responds with a simple plan: a non-existent super-agent called in to “clear things up,” as he explains to the hidden microphones planted in his apartment. He’s a decoy, of course, but also an unwitting pawn sacrificed to the endgame. “Pick him out. A face in the crowd. As ordinary as possible. It doesn’t matter who. As long as Milan swallows the bait.” Pierre Richard is the patsy picked out of an airport crowd: François Perrin, first violin in a Paris orchestra. Milan sets his team of spies and surveillance agents to find out everything about this brilliant mystery agent.
This is the film that launched Richard from French comedy favorite to international farceur, though for all of his gifts for physical comedy he’s more of an everyman than the clownish idiot savant of later comedy hits The Toy (1976), Le Chevre (1981), and Les Fugitives (1986), all written and directed by Tall Blond screenwriter Francis Veber. Klutz he may be, he’s more amiable, innocent straight man in the eye of a spy movie hurricane than bumbling Inspector Clouseau, and director Yves Robert goes for small scenes and wry commentary over slapstick physicality. That goes for the obligatory seduction plot with resident honeypot Mireille Darc, whose dress is cut so low in the back she all but moons her target. The scene anticipates the postscript of The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), but Richard is neither as incompetent nor a cocky as Peter Sellers’ Clouseau, and his modesty and nervousness gives him a boyish integrity (despite the fact he’s been carrying on an affair with his best friend’s wife) in the midst of familiar male fantasy.
Seeing it for the first time in decades, I was impressed with the precision of Robert’s comic choreography, from the unspoken interplay of surveillance team investigating every tiny detail of Perrin’s apartment to the dance of rival agents taking one another out and hiding corpses around the oblivious Perrin while his annoying blowhard of a best friend (Jean Carmet) stumbles over every single body. While the comedy is more underplayed than you might expect for a French farce, the deadpan performances (from the hangdog faces of Blier and Rochefort to the strictly business attitudes of the agents) help elevate the absurdities when civilians stumble across spycraft gaffs and interagency pissing matches. And under it all is a cynical portrait of intelligence agency ethics right out of American conspiracy films like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor. Milan has built a fiefdom within the department that Dr. Mabuse would envy while the Colonel has no compunction about sacrificing an innocent bystander in the power struggle. In the face of such ruthless amorality (but for one agent with a conscience), François Perrin is the moral center of this skewed universe.
The Blu-ray debut comes from Film Movement, which is new to Blu-ray releases, as part of their new Classics line, and they offer a nice-looking edition with a solid image. It’s clean, with a satisfying level of grain that retains the film texture without tipping into distraction. In French with optional English subtitles, no supplements apart from a trailer (plus trailers from other Film Movement releases). An accompanying booklet features an essay by Nick Pinkerton. Also on DVD.
1990: The Bronx Warriors (Blue Underground, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Escape From the Bronx (Blue Underground, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
The New Barbarians (Blue Underground, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Blue Underground presents three exploitation action pictures with a science fiction setting (some of which have slipped into the quaint past by now) from Tarantino favorite Enzo G. Castellari. He was another jack-of-all-genres in the Italian film industry who delivered one of the great spaghetti western masterpieces, Keoma (1976), and made the Dirty Dozen knock-off The Inglorious Bastards (1978), which inspired Tarantino’s World War II film.
1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) shamelessly rips off both Escape From New York (The Bronx is a streetgang no man’s land that the police have walled off, and the daughter of a corporate billionaire has gone there to escape her father) and The Warriors (the gangs all have their own costumes and themes, like team outfits). Vic Morrow gets top billing as Hammer, a hit man sent by the father to retrieve the runaway heiress, while The Hammer himself, Fred Williamson, plays The Ogre, the King of the Bronx decked out like a superpimp, but the actual star is a young Italian model named Mark Gregory, more handsome than talented but suitable enough for the needs of the film. He leads the mission to rescue the girl from a gang called The Zombies that dresses like a hockey team (right down to hockey stick weapons and rollerblade footwear) designed by a disco fashionista.
Castellari shoots much of the film on location in New York and he flaunts it by getting the distinctive skyline and telling landmarks in every single shot, even if there’s no dramatic reason for it. The rest is shot in Rome, though the entire film is manned by an Italian crew, giving even the New York scenes the look of an Italian exploitation film, right down to shooting without location sound. The English dubbing is actually quite good, but Vic Morrow is dubbed by another actor. This was the last production he finished before the fateful accident on The Twilight Zone Movie and he may have died before the looping began.
Mark Gregory is the sole actor to return for Escape From the Bronx (1983), set ten years later, where he leads the resistance against a corporate holocaust unleashed to clear The Bronx wasteland of the gangs, and Henry Silva is the token American villain who leads the extermination squad.
The Bronx films are hardly masterpieces but they have a lively sense of character and entertaining action sequences. The New Barbarians (1983), a Road Warrior knock-off also released as Warriors of the Wasteland, has no such redeeming qualities. Set in the post-apocalypse of 2019, it’s a world where religious zealots known as the Templar systematically kill off anyone who defies their edicts and a former Templar soldier (Timothy Brent) is the only hope to save the survivors from the holy militia and its petulant leader, One (George Eastman). This is desert wasteland science fiction where the cowboys drive electric cars and ray guns that shoot like toy sparklers. At least Fred Williamson arrives with a composite bow and exploding arrows to blow more than a few dummy victims into bloody pieces. Otherwise Castellari’s knack for action on a budget fails him here.
All three films are presented on Blu-ray+DVD combo packs, and each set features commentary by director Castellari and a video interview with Castellari and producer Fabrizio De Angelis. Each disc also includes additional interviews and featurettes, including a terrific 20-minute interview with Fred Williamson on The New Barbarians.
The Killers (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) double feature, with newly remastered versions of two crime classics inspired by the Ernest Hemingway short story, pairs Robert Siodmak’s 1946 with Don Siegel’s 1964 remake. Reviewed on Cinephiled here.
The Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 1 (Acorn, DVD) – After years of American affection for the low-key style of British TV mysteries, Acorn found a new culture of TV crime shows in Ireland, Scotland, and Australia, which shared a similar sensibility and sense of humor but offered a different social culture. Now they’ve found a terrific mystery series from New Zealand, set in the rural culture of small towns and independent folk of North Island.
The Brokenwood Mysteries plays like a mix of Midsomer Murders and Longmire, with a veteran police detective from the city who is sent to clear up a botched investigation and decides to stay. Neill Rea is Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd, a lone wolf of an officer with a love of country music and a clutch of ex-wives and failed marriages in his recent past, and Fern Sutherland (of The Almighty Johnsons, another New Zealand import) is Detective Kristin Sims, the local officer who is suspicious of his motives and ends up his reliable (if constantly exasperated) junior partner. This exchange from the pilot episode pretty much sets the tone: “So who in Brokenwood has a reason for murder?” “Nearly everyone.” But it’s much more than a novelty. It’s a clever show with an engaging cast of regular characters, plenty of eccentric suspects, and a culture of small town gossip, rural orneriness, and folks who like their privacy, even if they are a person of interest in a murder. Fans of the British murder mystery cozies that take a laid back approach to investigation will surely enjoy this series.
Four 90-minute mysteries on four discs on DVD, including murders at a winery, on a golf course, and on a hunting trip, all making their respective stateside debuts on disc. No supplements.
Also new and notable:
Maggie (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) offers a different kind of role for Arnold Schwarzenegger: helpless father of a dying girl (Abigail Breslin) slowly succumbing to the zombie epidemic. While he watches her slowly slip from alive to undead, he decides he’s going to protect her from the authorities no matter what. Blu-ray and DVD with commentary, a featurette, interviews and a deleted scene, plus an Ultraviolet HD copy of the film (SD for DVD). Also on digital VOD.
’71 (Lionsgate, DVD, VOD) stars Jack O’Connell as a British soldier left behind on the violent streets of 1971 Belfast after a riot separates him from his platoon. He has to survive the night in what is, to him, enemy territory. Also on cable and digital VOD.
Contamination (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD), an Italian alien invasion horror from Luigi Cozzi (who takes his cues right out of Alien), gets the special edition treatment. This edition, digitally restored from the original camera negative at 2K, features new commentary by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, a new interview and Q&A with the director, and new and archival featurettes.
Robot Jox (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), originally slated to be a big budget breakthrough film for cult director Stuart Gordon, ended up shortchanged when Empire Picture went bankrupt during the filming and it was released two years later when it was picked up by another studio and completed with minimal outlay. Given that, the special effects are quite impressive for its origins, and the script by science fiction author Joe Haldeman puts the Transformers-inspired giant robot battles in a socio-political framework. With two new commentary tracks (one by Gordon, the other by members of the special effects team) and new and archival interviews among the supplements.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) is the HBO non-fiction mini-series from filmmaker Andrew Jarecki that became notorious when it presented what appeared to be a confession from the suspected killer, broadcast on HBO the same weekend Durst was arrested on the charge of murder. It’s now on disc.
Poldark (2015) (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) reboots the acclaimed period drama based on the novels by Winston Graham. Originally produced in the 1970s, the new show features Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, who returns to Britain after fighting in the American Revolutionary War and builds a new life. It arrives on Blu-ray and DVD while the series is still playing on the PBS showcase Masterpiece.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Available on Cable On Demand on Friday, July 10, same day as select theaters nationwide, are the thriller Strangerland with Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes (rated R), the comedy What We Did on Our Holiday with Rosamund Pike and David Tennant (PG-13), and the documentary Do I Sound Gay? (no rating).
Red Knot (The Orchard)
The Yes Men Are Revolting (The Orchard)
Sharknado: Feeding Frenzy (Cinedigm)
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc on Friday, July 10:
True Story (Fox, Digital HD)
Meet Me in Montenegro (The Orchard, Digital HD)
Classics and Cult:
Samuel Goldwyn Collection: Vol. II (Warner, DVD)
The Crimson Cult (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Deranged (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Report to the Commissioner (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Truck Turner (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Deep Sea Blues (MVD, Blu-ray)
Street Smart (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ned Kelly (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Criminal Law (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Roller Boogie (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Wild Thing (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Spasmo (Scorpion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Pit Stop (Code Red, Blu-ray)
Joe Dirt (Sony, Blu-ray)
The Cell (Warner, Blu-ray)
Virtuosity (Warner, Blu-ray)
TV on disc:
Playing House: Season 1 (Universal, DVD)
House of Cards: The Complete Third Season (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bitten: The Complete Second Season (eOne, DVD)
Dick Cavett’s Vietnam (PBS, DVD)
Barney Miller: The Final Season (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Woman in Gold (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
The Road Within (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
5 Flights Up (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) (RLJ, DVD)
Belle and Sebastian (Film Movement, DVD)
Kill Me Three Times (Magnet, Blu-ray, DVD)
Survivor (Alchemy, Blu-ray, DVD)
Human Capital (Film Movement, DVD)
No Way Jose (Sony, DVD, Digital HD)
Deli Man (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Encore of Tony Duran (Cinedigm, DVD, Digital)
Merchants of Doubt (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
For the Emperor (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Lovers (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 (Icarus, DVD)
The Drop Box (Virgil, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Gerontophilia (Strand, DVD)
Echoes of War (ARC, DVD)
The Pact 2 (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Awaken (Arc, DVD)
Absolution (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Tiger Orange (Wolfe, DVD)
Dark Summer (Scream Factory/IFC Midnight, Blu-ray, DVD)
Alien Outpost (Scream Factory/IFC Midnight, Blu-ray, DVD)
Tooken (Cinedigm, DVD)