New to Blu-ray/DVD: Isolation, Punching Henry, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, The Assassin, & Teen Titans: The Judas Contract



Editor’s Notes: Isolation, Punching Henry, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, The Assassin, & Teen Titans: The Judas Contract are out on their respective home video formats April 18th.


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Isolation (Lionsgate) is a thriller about a couple — Lydia (Tricia Helfer) and Creighton (Luke Mably) — who hope to get their shaky marriage back on track by journeying to a remote island in the Bahamas. After a night of drinking, they return to their cabin to find it ransacked. The motives of another couple, Max (Dominic Purcell) and Nina (Marie Avgeropoulos) are unclear. They may be able to help them, or possibly harm them.

Based on true events, Isolation is the ultimate vacation-from-Hell movie. After Lydia and Creighton escape their daily grind and their marital hiccups, they feel renewed by the warm sunshine, the quiet, and the leisurely unrushed pace. They strike up a few casual friendships with some local folk and fellow travelers, but violence, robbery, and modern-day piracy turn the trip into a desperate struggle for survival in which trust can prove extremely dangerous.

The film is an OK thriller, but nothing special. It follows a standard formula — establishing an idyllic setting, showing us two attractive, troubled people having their desire for one another reawakened, and then placing them in grave peril. The actors go through the motions without making their characters distinctive. Only Stephen Lang (Avatar) makes an impression with his considerable screen presence.

There are no bonus features on the R-rated widescreen DVD release.

Punching Henry

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Punching Henry (Well Go USA) stars Henry Phillips as a hang-dog version of himself in this comedy in which he’s being considered for a TV show. However, a series of personal and professional setbacks make it harder and harder to achieve that goal.

We first see Henry performing one of his many stand-up gigs across the country. He doesn’t have the following of a Seinfeld or Louis CK or Chris Rock, so he’s still among the ranks of journeyman comedians. His manager (Ellen Ratner) urges him to return to Los Angeles to meet with producer Jay Warren (J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”), who’s pitching a reality show about a loser comic to an HBO-type cable network.

At this juncture — and perhaps turning point — in his career, Henry must decide whether his future will be telling jokes for a living or becoming the butt of them. Off stage, Henry has a series of odd adventures. The lesbian couple he’s staying with ask him to father their child, he has to get around LA without a car, and his YouTube videos draw a paltry number of hits.

The film, which features Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro and Jim Jeffries, rests squarely on the shoulders of Phillips, who’s an acquired taste and incorporates his own songs in his act, among them “Dog-Type Girl,” “Just Say ‘Oops,” and “Move On.”

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes, the featurettes “Brendon Walsh Suffers” and “Stupid Joe,” and a trailer.

Apocalypse Child

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Apocalypse Child (Candy Factory) is the story of middle-aged surfing instructor Ford (Sid Lucero), whose birth supposedly stemmed from his then 14-year-old mother’s fling with Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola. After Coppola filmed on the beaches of Baler in the Philippines, his crew unintentionally transformed the small town into a future surfing destination after a surfboard from the movie set was left behind.

Ford now lives a seemingly happy, content life with his girlfriend Fiona (Annicka Dolonius) and his quiet beach bum lifestyle. Ford may or may not be the illegitimate son of the Hollywood director, but his mother petitions the director to acknowledge Ford as his son, though Ford doesn’t seem fazed by the controversy. When his childhood best find and now local congressman, Rich (RK Bagatsing), returns, Ford is forced to face realities, both present and past.

Writer-director Mario Cornejo’s theme in Apocalypse Child is that there are unintentional casualties when a film crew sets up shop on location, then leaves. Ford is referred to by a friend as a surfing philosopher — a guy who has all the time in the world to lie on the beach, watching the waves, and contemplating the mysteries of life. He’s content with his meager living and displays little ambition. He’s living in Paradise, and he recognizes that. The mystery of Ford’s background unfolds gradually as the viewer gains insight into his mindset.

There are no bonus features on the unrated, widescreen DVD release. It is also available on demand (VOD) on leading online platforms.

Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko (Arrow Video) is a look into the mind of a troubled teenager. At dawn, along a remote mountain road, a teenage boy named Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens next to his bicycle, surprised to find himself where he is, and maybe pleased to discover he’s still alive. After peddling home, he finds his family engaged in an argument incited by his Harvard-bound sister when she announces her preference for a political candidate.

Donnie is in therapy, prone to sleepwalking, and has an imaginary friend — a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in just over 28 days. During that time, Donnie narrowly avoids death when a plummeting jet engine crashes through his bedroom. He becomes a sort of celebrity at school because of this, but a series of crises occurs — the flooding of the school, an axe in the head of the school’s mascot statue, and Donnie’s English teacher (Drew Barrymore) getting into trouble for assigning a controversial book to her class.

The film has a stylish look and, like Catcher in the Rye, focuses on a young, rebellious character yearning to express himself in society. Gyllenhaal infuses Donnie with a wry sense of humor and grounds the movie in the here-and-now. His Donnie is a regular kid balancing daily life as a teenager with the doomsday pronouncements of his imaginary pal.

The supporting cast includes Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Katherine Ross, Seth Rogan, and Noah Wyle. The soundtrack consists of 80s classics by Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears For Fears, and Duran Duran.

Bonus features on the unrated, widescreen 4-disc Blu-ray + DVD box set include both the theatrical and director’s cut of the movie; three archive featurettes; storyboard comparisons; the music video ”Mad World” by Gary Jules; archive interviews with director Richard Kelly, actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katherine Ross; 20 deleted and alternate scenes; “The Goodbye Place,” Kelly’s 1996 short film; “The Donnie Darko Production Diary;” galleries; trailers; TV spots; limited edition packaging featuring new artwork; and a collector’s book containing an in-depth interview with Richard Kelly, introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal, original stills and promotional material.

The Assassin

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The Assassin (Arrow Academy) was released shortly after Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Antonioni’s La Notte. Directed by Elio Petri, The Assassin stars Marcello Mastroianni as dandyish thirty-something antiques dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the increasingly mysterious and unfriendly police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is essentially put on trial.

Petri (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Tenth Victim) was one of the most talented, yet underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but neglected since, The Assassin is a confident debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest observers of Italian social and political realities. Petri said that he wanted to reflect the changes that came about by the early 60s, and to examine “a new generation of upstarts who lacked any kind of moral scruple.”

Petri uses flashbacks during Martelli’s incarceration to fill in blanks of his actions in the lead-up to the murder which make us question his guilt. The police tactics depicted appear more suitable to a totalitarian country than to a democratic nation, and the strong-armed techniques incorporated to make Martelli confess are shudder-inducing.

Mastroianni’s performance is excellent. We see his self-confidence erode as he is worn down by the exhaustive interrogation. He is excellent at conveying Martelli’s unwavering egoism. He buys stolen goods from a desperate thief for a small sum, selling them to his rich clientele for vastly marked-up prices. He drives a drunk to pull an insurance scam which results in tragedy. He tricks a shy maid to remove her clothes by persuading a lecherous friend to pretend to be a doctor. And he treats his mother with disrespect. Though briefly regretful after each instance, he continues to look for weaknesses in people and to take advantage of them.

Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include Elio Petri and L’Assassino, an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; “Tonino Guerra: A Poet of the Movies,” a documentary about the Italian screenwriter; theatrical trailer; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and a booklet containing new writing on the film Petri’s own critical analysis of 1950s Italian cinema, and a selection of contemporary reviews. The unrated film is in Italian, with English subtitles.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

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Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (Warner Home Video) is both the animated sequel to Justice League vs Teen Titans and an adaptation of one of the more famous tales of Teen Titans mythos. All the Teen Titans from the previous film are back — Robin, Nightwing, Raven, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Starfire — plus the new character, Terra (voiced by Christina Ricci). With so many characters, the plot is pretty involved. There are two villains. Brother Blodd (Gregg Henry) is obsessed with draining the Titans of their power to turn himself into a god, while Deathstroke (Miguel Ferrer) shows up with an entirely different agenda.

This provides plenty of conflict, but the Titans also have to deal with personal concerns. Thus, there are subplots involving Blue Beetle’s isolation from his family, the growing relationship between Nightwing and Starfire, and demons from Terra’s past that are revealed. There’s also a love triangle involving Terra.

Visually, the film looks terrific in the Blu-ray format. Colors are vivid, and details remain clear however fast the action is. The soundtrack adds to the excitement with its booming musical score and sound effects, providing a near-theatre experience.

Special features on the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Limited Edition include a Blue Beetle figurine, 2 cartoons, the featurettes “Titanic Minds: Reuniting Wolfman and Perez” and “Villain Rising: Deathstroke,” plus a sneak peek at DC Universe’s next animated movie, “Batman and Harley Quinn.”


About Author

For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.