Every Tuesday, discriminating viewers are confronted with a flurry of choices: new releases on disc and on-demand, vintage, and original movies on any number of streaming platforms, catalog titles making a splash on Blu-ray or 4K. This biweekly column sifts through all of those choices to pluck out the movies most worth your time, no matter how you’re watching.
Your latest new release round-up includes a big winner at yesterday’s Oscar nominations, a 4K upgrade for a dopey ‘80s favorite [Editor’s note: How dare you, Jason Bailey? It’s a classic!], and a big ol’ stack of tip-top catalog titles.
IN VIRTUAL CINEMAS:
The Inheritance: A prominently displayed “La Chinoise” poster serves as the broadest of winks to the intentions of director Ephraim Asili, who crafts an eclectic mix of documentary, narrative, poetry, and education from this story of a young man attempting to revive the Black socialist spirit in Philadelphia. There is some history there – most notably, that of a similar group, MOVE, which was bombed by Philly police in 1985 – and Asili expertly weaves together those facts and his fiction to create a fascinating and thought-provoking hybrid.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
Promising Young Woman: Emerald Fennell’s provocative drama / pitch-black comedy is a sustained howl of rage, in which a woman who’s tired of being powerless takes out that frustration on the men who come at her sideways. Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie, who goes out to bars, fakes like she’s fall-down drunk, waits for a “nice guy” to take her home and take advantage of her, and then… well. Writer/director Fennell leaves exactly what happens next to our imagination, at least for a time, but suffice it to say that this proves a fine and therapeutic way for Cassie to work through some stuff. It’s provocative, gleefully subversive, and – if I may – ballsy. (Includes audio commentaries and featurette.)
ON 4K/ BLU-RAY:
Rad: There’s a tiny part of this cold, cynical heart that is absolutely delighted that the dumbest ‘80s trash is getting the lavish, 4K treatment, and you don’t get dumber or more ‘80s than this 1986 BMX biking drama from director Hal Needham, looking to “How do you do, fellow kids?” after his “Smokey and the Bandit” franchise sputtered and stalled a few years earlier. Between the endless bike stunts, hilarious dance sequences, and power rock soundtrack (with hilariously on-the-nose lyrics like “Takin’ a chance / riskin’ it all”), the kitsch value is off the charts, but damn if it isn’t a giggly good time – particularly Jack Weston’s scenery-chewing turn as the most durable of the era’s archetypes, the greedy, evil developer. (Includes Q&A, archival interviews and featurette, and music video.)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: This 1974 neo-Western (new on Blu from KL Studio Classics) gave us our purest peek at the uncut id of co-writer/director Sam Peckinpah, and the results were both unnerving and utterly unforgettable. Warren Oates does God-level work as Bennie, an American ex-pat hired by a pair of bounty hunters to track down the title character, who knocked up the daughter of a Mexican crime boss; it turns into a mini-“Heart of Darkness,” with Bennie peering into his own dark soul, and Pecknipah examining the ethos of Western masculinity while joining Bennie on his journey into madness. There’s never a movie quite like it; it’s hard to imagine another even trying. (Includes audio commentaries, “Trailers from Hell” commentary, trailers, and TV spots.)
Little Fugitive: The Collected Films of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin: Engle and Orkin were married photographers, filmmakers, and collaborators – true mavericks of the early independent cinema, and among the first adopters of documentary equipment and techniques to make small-scale, personal dramas on the streets of New York (at a time when motion picture production was almost entirely confined to the West Coast). This three-disc set from Kino-Lorber features several gems, including “Lovers and Lollipops” (1955), “Weddings and Babies” (1960), and the all-but-lost counterculture feature “I Need a Ride to California” (1968). But the highlight is the title film, a 1953 charmer (co-directed with Ray Ashley) in which a scared kid runs away from home and spends the day in Coney Island, offering up both a child’s escapist fantasy and a valuable document of the boardwalk of the era. (Includes “Little Fugitive” audio commentary and trailer, documentaries on Engel and Orkin, and short films and commercials directed by Engel.)
Runaway Train: Whenever we talk about the parade of schlock and garbage trawled out by Cannon Films in the 1980s, there’s always some smart guy who has to pipe up about the prestige stuff they used the junk to finance, and this is always one of the titles that comes up. And here’s the thing: “Runaway Train” is so goddamn good, it’s worth ten nonsensical ninja movies. Jon Voight and Eric Roberts – both Oscar-nominated, both doing perhaps their best screen work – are a pair of escaped convicts trapped (along with Rebecca DeMornay) on, well, a runaway train, as it crashes through the Alaskan wilderness. Working from an unproduced Akira Kurosawa screenplay, director Andrew Konchalovsky mirrors the momentum of the titular vehicle while slyly building an emotional character drama underneath. It’s an astonishing piece of work. (Includes audio commentary, “Trailers from Hell” commentary, and theatrical trailer.)
The Don is Dead: Every studio wanted a “Godfather” of their own after that film’s spectacular commercial and critical success, but few were as transparent about it as Universal – they hired Anthony Quinn (one of the front-runners to play Don Corleone) and “Godfather” co-stars Al Lettieri and Abe Vigoda, and adapted Marvin H. Albert’s novel, one of many Mafia books published in the wake of Mario Puzo’s bestseller. But the film’s main draw is Robert Forster’s turn as the Don’s son, which he plays like Sonny Corleone after snorting a mountain of coke, and Frederic Forrest’s cool-as-a-cucumber work as his main enforcer. Director Richard Fleischer keeps things moving at a pretty good clip, and while no one will confuse “The Don is Dead” for its inspiration, it’s an enjoyable exploitation riff. (Includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer.)
Damn Yankees: George Abbott and Stanley Donen’s 1958 film adaptation of the smash Broadway musical gets a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive, and it looks and sounds spectacular – the colors pop, the songs whip, and a good time is had by all. Robert Shafer stars as a middle-aged baseball fan who makes a deal with the devil to not just de-age into Tab Hunter (a helluva deal in itself) but to be a baseball superstar. Yet, surprisingly, he finds himself longing for the pleasures of schlubby suburban life, so the devil tries to bring in reinforcements (in the form of the great Gwen Verdon) to keep him sinning. Ray Walston is a delight as Ol’ Scratch, and Verdon is spectacular in her show-stopping role, while Hunter finds just the right note of aw-shucks naiveté for the lead. (Includes trailers.)
Crossfire: This 1947 drama from director Edward Dmytryk has been often mislabeled (by Warner Bros. itself, in fact) as a film noir – understandable, given its release date and cast, which includes Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Gloria Grahame. But it’s not that at all; it’s much of a whodunit, with Robert Young as a police detective investigating a murder (with often-conflicting stories revealed in flashback), before turning into a social drama, and a pretty effective one at that. Young is a good anchor and a baby-faced Mitchum is magnetic as ever, but Ryan is electrifying as a bigoted soldier who turns from affable to resentful in the blink of an eye. (Includes audio commentary and featurette.)
My Favorite Blonde: KL Studio Classics’ admirable and ongoing mission to preserve the early (and often brilliant) comedies of Bob Hope continues apace with three new, very funny titles. The best of the bunch is probably this 1942 effort, which is both a tip-top Hope vehicle and a well-made little spy yarn, in the mold of war-era Alfred Hitchcock. Hope did his best work as a coward in over his head, and that’s certainly the case here; Madeleine Carroll, an alum of Hitch’s “The 39 Steps” and “Secret Agent,” is a terrific match for him, versatile and charismatic, with crackerjack comic timing. (Includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer.)
Caught in the Draft: Every screen comedian of the ‘30s and ‘40s did a service comedy and Hope was no exception, starring here as a cowardly movie star – mostly known, of course, for his war pictures – who ends up serving in the real army. Hope and Crosby’s “Road” movie co-star Dorothy Lamour is on hand as the romantic interest who lands him in the trenches, and she’s as slinky and sly as ever, while Hope has a good time tossing his scaredy-cat persona into combat. And, bonus, Preston Sturges fave Eddie Bracken pops in to steal scenes as Hope’s cynical, wisecracking assistant. (Includes audio commentary, archival featurettes, and theatrical trailer.)
Nothing But the Truth: The final of this month’s Hope triumvirate is something of a proto-“Liar Liar,” with the star playing a Miami stockbroker who bets his co-workers he can go a full 24 hours without telling a single lie. Complicating matters is Paulette Goddard, in terrific form as a would-be investor who’s inadvertently bankrolling the deal. The witty script (based on an earlier play and novel) works through all the premise’s potential variations, not unlike the contemporaneous “Brewster’s Millions,” and arrives at a conclusion that’s both uproarious and satisfying. (Includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer.)