Editor’s Notes: Americano, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mine, Hee Haw: Pfft! You Was Gone!, Chapter & Verse, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 3 Generations, Bitter Harvest, Madhouse, & The LEGO Batman Movie are out of their respective home entertainment formats June 13th.
Americano (Lionsgate) is an animated film about Mexican parrot Cuco (voice of Rico Rodriguez, Modern Family), who gets bored with his family’s bird circus and tries to spice up the act. But when Cuco’s acrobat father, Gayo (Edward James Olmos), gets hurt, rival bully bird Martin (Cheech Marin) swoops in to take over the show. So, Cuco heads for Hollywood, hoping to learn daring action stunts from TV star El Americano. Also starring the vocal talents of Kate Del Castillo, Paul Rodriguez, and Lisa Kudrow, this family adventure shows the importance of courage.
An independently produced animated film has a tough time these days competing with giants Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, studios that have far greater resources to bring feature films to the big screen. Americano is not the best animated film by far, but it is pleasant, colorful, and contains worthwhile themes of bravery, determination, and the importance of family.
Unfortunately, the voice talent lacks the distinctiveness of films such as Toy Story, The LEGO Movie, or the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This makes it harder for the viewer to connect with Cuco and the other characters. Only Edward James Oleos succeeds in giving his animated counterpart, Gayo, a personality. The rest of the cast is simply a series of cute critters babbling. The directors incorporate a lot of action, which kids will enjoy, but the movie never comes off as anything unique or memorable.
There are no bonus features on the DVD release.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Kino Lorber), made in 1959, is a production of Hammer Studios, the company best known for reviving classic movie monsters in a series of period horror films. This adaptation of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous stories stars Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Andre Morell as Dr. Watson.
A terrifying hound lurks among the mist-shrouded cliffs of England’s moors, killing off the heirs of Baskerville Hall. Holmes is called in to investigate the murders before the hound can sink its fangs into the newest lord of the manor, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee). Holmes and Watson encounter a number of colorful locals as Holmes demonstrates his incredible knack of coming to conclusions through keen observation and examination of motives. These scenes — as in most Homes adaptations — are the best and show the detective’s “elementary” method of deduction.
Cushing is a very good Homes. He captures the self-assurance, intelligence, mannerisms and authority of the detective. Once he enters a scene, he commands the screen. He also is similar in appearance to the original Strand magazine illustrations with his deerstalker hat, cape and Meershaum pipe. His Holmes also displays a dry sense of humor, which lightens the mood a bit in this murder mystery. It’s great to see Cushing team up with Lee, his frequent co-star in many Hammer horror films.
The film employs many of Hammer’s signature touches, such as rich production design, period costumes, and an atmosphere of foreboding, which enhance overall production values while adhering to the basics of the story. Cushing provides an above-average portrayal of Holmes and director Terence Fisher (The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula) takes pains both to be respectful to Doyle’s tale as well as infusing the movie with Hammer’s distinctive look.
Bonus materials on the widescreen DVD include a featurette with Christopher Lee and the original theatrical trailer.
Mine (Well Go USA) is a military thriller starring Armie Hammer as Mike, a sniper on a mission in an unnamed North African country with his fellow soldier and best friend, Tommy (Tom Cullen). They are spotted by the enemy and chased into a minefield. Tommy doesn’t make it, and Mike could easily be next, if he lifts his foot. Practically immobile, he has to deal with armed tribesmen, wild animals, a sandstorm, heat, cold, a Berber and his enigmatic daughter, and visions from his troubled past.
The challenge here is to create drama and suspense when one of cinema’s greatest tools — the ability to vary locations — is unavailable. The technique has been used before in such films as Open Water and Buried, and in Mine, the stakes are just as high — human life. If Mike steps off the mine, he will be blown to pieces. He knows that, and so do we, so we are involved with his plight as forces mount up to challenge him. Directors Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro sustain the tension throughout the film’s 107-minute running time as Hammer must almost entirely carry the film. He’s on screen for virtually the entire picture.
What should have been a showcase role for an actor comes across as less. The film is good, and so is Hammer, but the performance never rises above what you see in combat movies. The fact that the script calls for Mike to undergo self-examination and relive his past complicates the main plot of survival and shifts focus from a predicament that could cost him his life.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and storyboards.
Hee Haw: Pfft! You Was Gone!
Hee Haw: Pfft! You Was Gone! (Time Life) contains 4 classic episodes from the long running TV music/variety show, Hee Haw, which aired originally on CBS from 1969 to 1971 followed by a 21-year run in local syndication. It was dropped by CBS in an effort to cater to a younger demographic. At around the same time, successful programs such as Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Ed Sullivan Show were also canceled.
This set contains 4 vintage Hee Haw episodes from 1969 to 1973. The show was centered on country music and rural comedy. Hosted by country artists Buck Owens and Roy Clark for most of the series’ run, the show featured lots of “corn pone” humor and flimsily dressed, shapely young women in farmer’s daughter outfits. The cast of characters included Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and Archie Campbell. Apart from the down-home comedy sketches, the show featured performances by stars of country music.
This release contains musical performances by Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Marty Robbins, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones. Comedy sketches include “Hey Grandpa! What’s for Supper?,” “Archie’s Barbershop,” “Gordie’s General Store,” “The Culhanes,” “Pfft, You was Gone,” and “KORN News.”
The 2-disc DVD release contains all-new interviews with country singers Aaron Tippin and Moe Bandy.
Chapter & Verse
Chapter & Verse (Anchor Bay) is a film about a reformed gang leader trying to make a better life for himself. After serving eight years in prison, Lance Ingram (Daniel Beaty) reenters society and struggles to adapt to a changed Harlem. Living under the tough supervision of a parole officer in a halfway house, and unable to find a job that will let him use the technological skills he gained in prison, Lance is forced to take a job delivering for a food pantry. He befriends Ms. Maddy (Loretta Devine), a strong and spirited grandmother, and assumes responsibility for her 15-year-old grandson, Ty (Khadim Diop), a promising student who is pulled into a dangerous street gang. When gang members decide to punish Ty for disobeying the “law” of the streets, Lance risks sacrificing his second chance at freedom so that Ty can have a first chance at a better life.
Director and co-writer Jamal Joseph was incarcerated for ten years for his involvement with the Black Panthers. He gives the film a grounding in reality, avoiding many of the cliches Hollywood frequently incorporates about modern urban life, and steers clear of excessive violence, which is refreshing. His portrayal of the new Harlem — composed of longtime residents having trouble making ends meet and young white people attracted by affordable rents and an “in” neighborhood — is particularly relevant.
Mr. Beaty, who also is credited as a co-writer, is an imposing screen presence. His Lance looks like the kind of person you don’t want to mess with, yet he is gentle, endures setbacks without flying off the handle, and forges ahead, determined to succeed in a world he hardly recognizes. Ms. Devine, one of the original Dreamgirls, is excellent. Though she has a sweet smile and a little girl voice, she not only elicits laughs, but tears at your heart. The relationship between Ms. Maddy and Lance is the dramatic center of the movie, and the excellent chemistry between the two actors makes it believable.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen DVD release.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Kino Lorber) stars Warren Oates as Benny, a lounge pianist who plays for tourists in a Mexican dive when a couple of American hitmen (Robert Webber, Gig Young) enter looking for information on “an old friend.” Benny learns that a Mexican land baron has offered a bounty of $1 million on the head of the man who seduced and impregnated his daughter. The hitmen offer Benny $10,000 to help them do their dirty work. This is a tale of greed, vengeance, and violence, as only director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) could imagine.
Benny isn’t very smart or savvy about the ways of professional hitmen, double-crosses and the prospect of a windfall payday. Though many would see in Benny a loser, Peckinpah is fascinated by him, taking time to explore the man beyond first impressions. He loves his girl, Elita (Isela Vega), despite her inability to be a one man’s gal. As his quest proceeds, he becomes more courageous about taking risks and testing the fates. When he is double-crossed and nearly murdered, he dedicates himself to payback, no matter the peril.
Peckinpah’s road trip film is filled with sleazy characters, lots of tequila swigging and, graphic violence, the director’s trademark ingredient. The second half of the film features Benny lugging around a canvas bag containing Garcia’s severed head, flies swarming around it. The image is practically a metaphor for the extent of a person’s greed. Benny and the head he carries become road buddies, with Benny carrying on one-sided conversations with his rotting prize.
Peckinpah got his start in television, directing such shows as The Rifleman, Broken Arrow, and Route 66. His feature films include The Getaway with Steve McQueen, Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, and The Killer Elite with James Caan and Robert Duvall. He also wrote extensively for movies and television.
Bonus features on the widescreen DVD release include audio commentary by film historians, and an original theatrical trailer.
3 Generations (Lionsgate) tells the story of three generations of a family living under one roof in New York as they deal with the life-altering transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray (Elle Fanning) is a teenager who has struggled with the body assigned to him at birth and is determined to start transitioning. His single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father, Craig (Tate Donovan), to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother, is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.
Director Gaby Dellal captures the confusion brought by the situation. It forces family members to react; it’s impossible to be impassive when a young person decides to move ahead with a decision that is so dramatic. The most realistic reaction is Maggie’s as she tries to understand her daughter’s desire, undergoes inner conflict, tries to be supportive despite misgivings, and attempts to calm the concerns of Dolly, the family member most freaked out by Ray’s decision.
Ms. Fanning does a decent job, but has been criticized for taking on a role that some believe should have been played by a transgender actor. Her Ray conveys both teen stubbornness and a maturity unusual for people her age. Director Della shows that many of Ray’s friends are supportive. This would be great in the real world, but it seems her friends take the news a little too matter-of-factly. The effect of the film is to clarify the ramifications of a difficult issue by focusing on a single family. This personalizes the issue by putting faces on the people rather than making blanket pronouncements about the transgender community.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include deleted and extended scenes. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Bitter Harvest (Lionsgate) is set in the 1930s against the devastation of Joseph Stalin’s policies on intolerance against the Ukraine. As Stalin advances the ambitions of the burgeoning Soviet Union, a young artist named Yuri (Max Irons) overcomes famine, imprisonment and torture to save his childhood love, Natalka (Samantha Barks) from the “Holodomor,” or man-made famine. Yuri escapes from a Soviet prison and joins the anti-Bolshevik resistance movement as he battles to reunite with Natalka and continue the fight for a free Ukraine.
The Nazis’ genocide — the Holocaust — has been featured as the subject of many documentaries and feature films, as well as books, memorials and magazine articles. But Stalin’s crime in the Ukraine — the Holodomor — has never received a similar amount of attention, and is not as widely known as the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Bitter Harvest doesn’t do justice to the event it purports to memorialize. Used as a backdrop for a love story in adverse times, its importance is reduced to a convenient plot element separating Yuri and Natalka. The film never achieves the stature or quality of such films as Schindler’s List, Son of Saul, or the French documentary Shoah, which movingly dealt with the horrors of the Holocaust.
Compared to the genocide taking place around them, the problems of Yuri and Natalka seem trivial and it’s difficult to empathize with them. The political motivation behind Stalin’s policy is explained as Russia’s need for the Ukraine’s ample harvest of grain to feed his large nation. By forcing the Ukranian farmers into a collective, Stalin leaves less grain than they need to plant the next year’s crop and feed their own families.
A highlight of the film is Terence Stamp as Yuri’s grandfather Ivan, who displays his Cossack fighting skills. Director George Mendeluk’s approach is uneven. Sometimes, he incorporates cliched metaphors to stress a point. But in other instances, he relies on basic narrative to emphasize the horror of the genocide. A sequence showing a simply staged funeral with an accompanying traditional folk song is effective in underscoring the loss of life that needn’t have occurred with a more compassionate leader.
The only bonus feature on the R-rated widescreen DVD release is a photo gallery.
Madhouse (Arrow Video) is a 1981 slasher film about sibling rivalry. Julia (Trish Everly) is a young teacher of the deaf in Savannah, Georgia. She has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin, Mary (Allison Biggers). At the urging of her Catholic priest uncle (Dennis Robertson), Julia visits Mary in the hospital where she’s recently been admitted with a horrific, disfiguring illness. The meeting doesn’t go well, and Mary vows to make Julia suffer as she has suffered.
As their mutual birthday approaches, a number of Julia’s friends and neighbors begin to die gruesome deaths the house she lives in, some involving a mysterious rottweiler dog who attacks its victims, mauling them to death. Julia becomes increasingly fearful that someone — possibly Mary — is hiding inside the large house in which she lives.
The murders constitute the film’s set pieces and are staged elaborately and graphically. Director Ovidio Assonitis is good at creating and sustaining suspense, though he fails to elicit anything but adequate performances from the cast. Better acting would go a long way in improving this grisly picture. The score by Riz Ortolani is highly atmospheric, and the vast mansion featured is yet another creepy haunted house, where danger can be lurking anywhere. The film is also known by the title There Was a Little Girl.
Bonus materials on the unrated, widescreen 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack include alternate opening titles; brand new interviews with cast and crew; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and a booklet containing new writing on the film.
The LEGO Batman Movie
The LEGO Batman Movie (Warner Home Video) is a spinoff to 2014’s animated The LEGO Movie. With LEGO Batman the breakout star of the original film, it was inevitable that he would get a film of his own. Once again voiced by Will Arnett, LEGO Batman is beloved by Gotham City for frequently saving it from The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), but, personally, life is not so great. He has no family and he returns from his crime fighting to an empty house. He only has loyal butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to look after him.
After The Joker surrenders to new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Batman/Bruce Wayne must deal with adopted orphan Robin (Michael Cera). Director Chris McKay has filled the movie with numerous pop-culture references, including Total Recall and the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet episode of The Twilight Zone, as well as pokes at Jerry Maguire and Suicide Squad.
Though The LEGO Batman Movie is not as sharp as its predecessor, it’s still a lot of fun. Unlike many live-action superhero movies, it isn’t filled with angst and a dark side of the guy in tights. The film adheres to traditional children’s film ingredients — life lessons, happy endings, lots of visual comedy, and cute leading characters.
The voice work is uniformly excellent, and is instrumental in giving these little figures personality and distinction.
Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray 3D-Blu-ray-Digital HD Combo Pack include 4 original animation shorts, deleted scenes, 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes, film trailers, and director and crew commentary.