Hit the Road
What is it? A family of four take a road trip towards an unknown destination.
Why see it? Not sure how chatter on this one missed me during its festival run last year, but Panah Panahi’s feature debut has taken a firm spot amid the best of 2022’s releases. The son of acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi delivers a warm, funny, emotionally charged journey about family, grief, and the uncertainty that awaits us all. We meet the father, mother, and two sons — one a wild six-year-old and the other a silent twentysomething — with the road trip already underway. Where they’re going and why remain unclear at first, but as truths and lies twist we fall in love with this family and see the best of ourselves in them. It’s a beautifully shot film capturing stunning landscapes from Northern Iran alongside the equally memorable topography of the family’s faces. This is ninety minutes of bliss and love, and it’s worth the effort to seek it out, ignore life’s distractions, and settle in for something beautiful.
What is it? A family loses their daughter in a new house.
Why see it? I’m team Elisha Cuthbert around these parts, and while it’s mostly due to her stellar work on Happy Endings, I’m also a fan of films like House of Wax and The Girl Next Door. This little chiller sees her return to horror for the first time since 2007’s underwhelming Captivity. It follows some familiar beats in its setup, but some strong sequences — including a set-piece on the stairs and a Fulci-like finale — make it one of 2022’s best horror releases so far. It’s high on atmosphere and suspense as well.
[Extras: Interviews, featurette, commentary, short film]
The Initiation of Sarah [Arrow Video]
What is it? A college freshman struggles with her choice of sorority house.
Why see it? Television horror movies from the 70s are a jam I enjoy very much. This 1978 entry riffs a bit on the likes of Carrie with its focus on a shy young girl with psychic powers that lead her towards a fiery finale. Kay Lenz takes the lead and is supported by Morgan Brittany, Morgan Fairchild, a terrific Shelley Winters, and more, and the film does good work building atmosphere around both the college scene and the darkness brewing in the shadows. Genre legend Tom Holland co-wrote the screenplay and offers up a great, albeit too short, interview here talking about his entry into filmmaking and experience on this film in particular.
[Extras: New 2K restoration of 4K scan, commentary, video essays, interviews]
Shaft [4K UHD, Criterion Collection]
What is it? A Black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks searches for a missing woman in New York City.
Why see it? Gordon Park’s early 70s slice of Blaxploitation goodness gets a slick 4K upgrade with this new Criterion release. Richard Roundtree stars as a tough private eye in the big city, and from the script to the action to the Isaac Hayes score, it remains a blast. Roundtree would reprise the role four more times over the next five decades — and the first sequel, Shaft’s Big Score, is even included here on its own Blu-ray — but the original is where it’s at. The new transfer retains the 70s grain while sharpening the images and deepening the shadows, and fans will want to play it often and play it loud.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, 1972’s sequel Shaft’s Big Score, documentary, featurettes, interviews, booklet]
Uncle Sam [4K UHD, Blue Underground]
What is it? An American soldier dies but can’t stop killing.
Why see it? The combination of director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen is a powerful one for genre fans, and while Uncle Sam is arguably one of their less great pairings it still delivers plenty of fun beats. What works better than the horror though, is its sharp commentary on blind patriotism — something that grows more and more dangerous in this country every day. Of course, we still get fun horror here as a soldier who was an abusive asshole in life returns as an even more violent zombie. Gore is minimal, but the set-pieces are creative and entertaining. The bigger story here is Blue Undergound’s ability to once again deliver some of the best 4K scan/restoration work going. They’ve yet to release a dud, and this continues that trend with a beautiful picture and sound enhanced by a strong collection of extras. (The fire stunt featurette is crazy.) Again, the movie is good fun, but the UHD is excellent and belongs on every genre fan’s shelf.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentaries, featurette, deleted scene, gag reel]
What is it? A depressed man begins to suspect he’s a vampire.
Why see it? This dark comedy was somewhat dismissed on release in 1988 but has gone on to find a much deserved cult status among fans of Nicolas Cage, vampires, and absolute weirdness. Cage plays a straightlaced exec at a publishing house whose one-night stand leaves him feeling a bit strange. Chaos ensues alongside black comedy, violence, and some “full Cage” shenanigans, and the end result is something unique that you’d be hard-pressed to think of another actor nailing so perfectly. Again, though, it is a dark ride at times so don’t go in expecting a light romp.
The Bad Guys
What is it? A group of crooks find something even more appealing than crime.
Why see it? As heist films go, this animated comedy delivers good fun alongside its tale of morality and self-growth. The bad guys are historically “bad” animals including a wolf, snake, shark, piranha, and tarantula, but things take a turn when they discover the appeal of doing good. It’s unclear why they’re nearly the only animals here while 99% of the others are human, and it’s equally unclear why they’re simply named the animal name… are there no other wolves, snakes, etc?
[Extras: Short film, deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? Think Poison Ivy without the obvious psychopath.
Why see it? A British exchange student comes to America and disrupts the happy suburban life of a couple and their teenage daughter. Drake Doremus’ 2012 feature is a lushly photographed drama about the naivete of both the young and the middle aged. Guy Pearce is terrific as the husband/father who finds himself entranced by the young British beauty, played by Felicity Jones, and they’re joined by Amy Ryan and Mackenzie Davis as his wife and daughter. It’s something of a slow-motion car crash as you see where things are headed well before they get there, but it’s still affecting even if it isn’t surprising.
[Extras: Featurette, interview]
Edge of Sanity [Arrow Video]
What is it? Anthony Perkins is Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and Jack the Ripper!
Why see it? Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of a scientist’s darker side has reached the screen numerous times, but chalk this late 80s entry up as one of the more genre-oriented and exploitative adaptations. Director Gérard Kikoïne splashes the screen with color, blood, and flesh while Anthony Perkins and others chew scenery with abandon. It’s over the top throughout but still offers some solid beats here and there thanks in big part to Perkins’ out-sized personality and performance. The extras offer plenty of observations and thoughts on the film’s wild inspirations and executions.
[Extras: New 2K restoration from a 4K scan, commentary, interviews]
Ip Man: The Awakening
What is it? A young Ip Man visits Hong Kong.
Why see it? The real Ip Man has been brought to the screen numerous times with highlights being Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster and Wilson Yip’s Ip Man trilogy starring Donnie Yen. There have been plenty of lesser attempts too, and it’s in that group where this latest feature lands. It all feels a bit stagey, and the lead’s charisma is knocking at zero, but the biggest issue is the action. That’s really all that matter in an action movie, and what we get here is just overly edited noise that fails to thrill or impress. An early fight on a trolley features so many cuts in a thirty-second sequence that I lost count, and later fights rarely improve. There’s no denying the ability of some of these performers, but it’s nearly impossible to actually appreciate it here.
The UFO Incident [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A couple recount their experience with aliens.
Why see it? Alien encounters have long been the stuff of science fiction, but the 70s started seeing more accounts that were purportedly true stories. I myself believe aliens exist while also believing they aren’t visiting Earth, but there’s still enjoyment to be found in the claims of others. James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons star as Barney and Betty Hill, a couple who claim to have been abducted by aliens and lost time as a result. Their story was something of a sensation and was captured in this made-for-TV movie. It’s a bit of a drag, but the third act does kick in with the alien antics, and while it never rivals Fire in the Sky when it comes to the intensity or terror it’s an interesting watch all the same.
[Extras: New 2K master, commentary, documentary]
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent [4K UHD]
What is it? Nick Cage gets caught up in an adventure involving his biggest fan, the CIA, and bullets.
Why see it? When you think about the actors worthy of a meta film catered to them, Nicolas Cage sits comfortably at the top of the list. Someone finally realized that truth, and the result is this entertaining action/comedy that sees Cage playing a lightly fictionalized version of himself. His real filmography is referenced liberally, as are his very real financial troubles, but his family life is fictionalized to bring warmth and heart to it all. That said, the real relationship worth loving here is the friendship between Cage and Pedro Pascal’s drug lord superfan. The pair are highly enjoyable together, and the addition of some laughs and minor action beats make for a fun enough time.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, Q&A, commentary]
Also out this week:
After Yang, Aliens Clowns & Geeks, The Beatles and India, Bleeding Audio, Cinderella, Escape the Field, Giant [4K UHD], Gold, Monday Morning, You Are Not My Mother