What is it? The apocalypse isn’t quite what you expected.
Why see it? The cover quote from yours truly says it all really, this bonkers romp feels like the love child of Astron-6 and a young Peter Jackson. Fernando Alle’s film is the latest from Troma Entertainment, home to the likes of Rabid Grannies (1988) and The Taint (2011), but don’t let that scare you off — Mutant Blast is a legitimate blast. It’s a silly, low-budget romp that takes its characters seriously even as their situations scream utter ridiculousness, and it delivers a fine balance between pure nonsense and smart execution. These are engaging, charismatic characters — yes, even the French lobster in a suit — and their fates become every bit as fascinating and compelling as those in far more serious apocalyptic fare.
The Carey Treatment [Warner Archive]
What is it? A pathologist investigates a death.
Why see it? Michael Crichton is best known now for Jurassic Park, but his early achievements including writing novels under pen names while attending medical school. He even managed to sell some to Hollywood including this thriller about a laid-back West coast doctor whose arrival in Boston coincides with his friend being accused of murder by way of a botched abortion. (It was illegal in 1972 and may be again soon if we let ignorant pricks on the right gain power.) James Coburn is the good doctor, and he is a goddamn firecracker delivering some sharp dialogue and the occasional karate chop. It’s a solid little mystery too, and I can easily see it as an inspiration for Quincy M.E. which hit television four years later. There are no extras here aside from a trailer, but the film itself is another forgotten gem from the 70s and well worth adding to your collection.
What is it? A young girl struggles after witnessing her brother be bullied.
Why see it? Laura Wandel’s beautiful but harrowing look at the schoolyard experience can be a difficult watch, but it’s due less to onscreen brutality and more to the performance of young Maya Vanderbeque. The camera stays on her nearly throughout — we’re in her space for the entirety — and the emotional journey her eyes take is a 72 minute gut punch with a hauntingly lovely relief at the end. You’ll want to silence any possible distractions for this one in order to stay in young Nora’s world. The emotional concerns, the adult ineffectiveness, the cruelty of children, a sad truth about how the bullied become the bullies, the love between siblings… damn.
[Extras: Short film]
What is it? An elderly Chinese man struggles to live with his son’s family.
Why see it? Ang Lee’s first feature is a quiet film about family, generational differences, East/West struggles, and more. The focus is on a man who can’t quite connect with his white, American daughter-in-law, and it ultimately pushes him out on his on. It’s about finding your way, no matter where you are, and it’s a sweetly emotional and honest journey. Does the third act also involve a little martial arts action? Sure. It’s an enjoyable movie offering hints of Lee’s growing talents as a filmmaker.
[Extras: Interview, booklet]
What is it? An awkward teen sees her inner monster come out when she gets angry.
Why see it? Pixar’s latest explores one girl’s move into puberty in a very specific way, but its themes are ultimately very relatable. The shift towards adulthood is rarely an easy one as bodies and minds change, and for girls that includes a monthly period. Is this the kind of thing you want in a kids movie? You should as it’s nothing to be ashamed of and instead can only be more normalized for girls and boys through media. All of that aside, the film is a fun, sweet, and wonderfully manic tale as the girl’s bouts with excitement take the form of a large red panda. It’s a great watch for all ages.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]
Year of the Jellyfish
What is it? A young woman comes of age by competing with her vivacious mother.
Why see it? Fair warning right out of the gate, this film has a higher BPM (boobs per minute) ratio than any film you’re likely to find. While nearly a third of the skin scenes are in sexual situations the rest are just an everyday reality on the summer beaches of Saint Tropez. It’ll a culture shock for some to be sure, but this is more than just a T&A flick. What starts as a Blame It on Rio-like romp with a teen (eighteen year-old) sleeping with a family friend becomes something more as her actions find a footing in her troubled need for competition with her mother’s wandering eye. To say more would spoil, but there’s a darkness here that rears its head both emotionally and humorously at times while still being sexy as all hell. You almost grow inured to the nearly non-stop nudity, and instead it’s the summer sun, the warm flirtations, and the risk behind so much of it that teases, excites, and arouses. Plus jellyfish!
What is it? A government agent is targeted by his own boss.
Why see it? The most entertaining thing about this new Liam Neeson film is the tagline — “They’re gonna need more men.” It’s all downhill from there, and while a more detailed explanation is in my full review, a shorter version basically comes down to the film’s blandness across the board. Neeson’s action beats are kept to a minimum, the script is fully predictable and lacking even in the smallest of surprises, and there’s nothing thrilling throughout. Forget the men, what it needed was more talent.
What is it? A garbage man hides a violent secret.
Why see it? A quiet man with a past, an act of violence that sees his past skills come back into play in the defense of someone else… you’ve seen this film before, and is too often the case it has nothing fresh to make it stand out. Adrien Brody does give a strong performance as the garbage collector, and his fans will want to seek it out for that. Genre lovers, though, will have to settle for two brief action beats that splash CG blood around before landing where you expect.
Cursed [Scream Factory]
What is it? A werewolf terrorizes some fools in Los Angeles.
Why see it? The troubled history of this production is well documented, but that doesn’t change the mess that is the final product. Late changes removed characters and story threads and left a movie that makes little sense. Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg play siblings caught up in it all, and their hair changes multiple times in the same scene due to reshoots and bad wigs. They hired Rick Baker for practical effects and then used CG for the the majority of the werewolf shots. Kevin Williamson’s script is a lazy retread of his own Scream screenplay, and director Wes Craven can’t find much of a grip on the material. Is it a metaphor? A comedy? A commentary on vapid LA types? A handful of laughs land, but most fall flat alongside all of the attempted horror. Scream Factory’s new release looks good and includes some featurettes shining a small light on the film.
[Extras: New 4K scan of theatrical and unrated cuts, featurettes, select scenes with commentary]
What is it? A French village is terrorized by a creature.
Why see it? The same “true” story from 16th century France got a better film in Brotherhood of the Wolf, but there’s enough here to make The Cursed a good time for horror fans with patience. A gypsy curse triggers a werewolf-like curse, and soon locals are being eaten, slashed, and otherwise disemboweled. There’s a class commentary at play here, and we get some very good gore beats, but the cg creature isn’t helping anything.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2
What is it? A sequel to the TV movie classic.
Why see it? J.D. Feigelson wrote the original film starring Larry Drake as a simple man murdered by local yokels and hung up like a scarecrow only to return from the dead for revenge. He returns to write and direct this new feature, but it absolutely pales beside the first. The first film’s scares and empathetic lead are absent here leaving only flat acting, uninteresting characters, and uninspired attempts at horror. It once again tries for a vengeance theme, but it just never comes together.
Francis the Talking Mule – 7 Film Collection [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? One of the first superhero franchises.
Why see it? Say what you will about today’s franchise-heavy Hollywood output, but at least we’re not stuck with a new movie about a talking mule every year. The core premise of the films boils down to the friendship between an American soldier and the talking mule who saved his life during the war. The pair end up on numerous adventures alongside gangsters, Naval seamen, art thieves, and lovely ladies. Clint Eastwood makes his feature debut in one! The films are comedies, obviously, and fans of wholesome content will find a lot to love here as the set also features commentaries on each movie.
[Extras: New 2K remaster, commentaries]
Sacco & Vanzetti [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The true story of two immigrants railroaded over their political beliefs.
Why see it? Two Italian immigrants in 1920 Boston are picked up by police and charged with serious crimes. Are they guilty, or are they simply being targeted as known radicals? The film captures their journey through the American justice system with a serious, straightlaced eye, almost documentary-like, from their arrest to their final days. It’s a bleak look at a system that hasn’t really gotten much better.
Sunnyside [Scorpion Releasing]
What is it? A street gang runs into trouble.
Why see it? Joey Travolta headlines this late 70s drama about lightweight gang members whose path inevitably heads towards tragedy. Chris Mulkey co-stars alongside a handful of familiar faces, but he’s a single highlight in a film that can’t really find its own voice. Good kids making bad choices, worse kids push back until someone dies… it’s not a new tale, and you’ve seen it done better before.
[Extras: New 2K master, interview]
Treasure of the Four Crowns [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A treasure hunter enjoys a death-defying adventure.
Why see it? This early 80s adventure film is an odd one and a clear attempt at riffing on (ripping off) Raiders of the Lost Ark. Its 3D elements are heavily played up as it doesn’t miss a single opportunity to shove, throw, drop, or shoot something towards the camera. The opening twenty minutes are a dialogue free highlight as our hero secures a special item from with a castle-like fortress while under attack from traps and wild animals. Plot and characters aren’t nearly as engaging. This new restoration includes both 2D and 3D versions, and there’s a nostalgic thrill in watching in 3D.
[Extras: 2D and 3D versions, 3D glasses, commentary, interview]
What is it? An adaptation of the hit video game series.
Why see it? The Uncharted games are third-person adventures that see players controlling characters in search of adventure, treasure, and survival, and Ruben Fleischer’s adaptation captures the feel at times throughout. Of course, it’s also pretty damn stupid as well. One twenty-minute sequence sees our heroes on an elaborate subterranean journey complete with puzzles, traps, and more on their way to a hidden treasure chamber — that’s also both accessible and visible via a sewer grate in front of a Papa John’s restaurant. So dumb. Tom Holland is fine, Mark Wahlberg is bland, and both are outshined by Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle in supporting roles.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Also out this week:
A-ha: The Movie, Lovecut, Mamba, Miklos Jancso Collection