Editor’s Notes: The Winter, Mediterranea, Point Break, Killing Them Safely, Death Walks Twice, & CPO Sharkey: The Best of Season Two will be released on their respective formats on March 29th.
The Winter (IndiePix Films) is the story of young, impoverished writer Niko Gounaras (Theo Albanis), an immigrant in London who, to escape financial difficulties, leaves for his shabby family home in the Greek mountain town of Siatista, only to discover that the home has been abandoned and is now haunted by the ghosts of the past.
Enveloped by memories and inspired by his atmospheric surroundings, Niko begins to write what he hopes will be the great work that has eluded him in London. He also becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of how his father died. Blending these two storylines, the movie illuminates how a return to one’s roots can both inspire creative work and throw light on why one’s life has taken a particular direction.
Referred to as a fantasy drama, The Winter contains some memorable touches, such as an animated bedtime story based on traditional Greek shadow puppetry that his father shares with Niko as a boy. There is a definite influence of both Poe and H.P. Lovecraft in the film’s mood-rich production design.
The Winter is in Greek, with English subtitles. There are no bonus extras on the widescreen stereo DVD release.
Mediterranea (IFC Films) is a drama about the life-or-death struggle of refugees. Best friends Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) and Abas (Alassane Sy) live difficult lives in the West African nation of Burkina Faso and dream of a better future that seems to await them in Europe, as suggested by photos they’ve seen on social media of an immigrant’s life abroad. Making a dangerous journey through Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea, they end up in the Italian city of Rosarno only to face a harsh existence of long working hours, poor living conditions, and animosity toward them and the local immigrant population from the city’s gangs. As they try to carve out success, their individual perspectives cause them to drift apart until a shocking event reunites them in a common struggle and propels them into dramatically different futures.
Director Jonas Carpignano illustrates in graphic detail the hazardous journey to Europe, which involves a shipwreck and a trudge across the desert, and their plight in Italy, where they must live in a rat-infested shanty and accept being underpaid and victimized by exploitative employers. In reaction to the hostility of the locals, the illegal African immigrants bond together for support, thus isolating themselves from assimilation. Their ghettoization furthers their economic disparity and powerlessness, which in turn leads them to embrace racism and reject the local culture. This vicious cycle becomes a prison as escape-proof as one with bars.
By focusing on two men of exactly the same background and showing how they follow diverse paths, the movie attempts to take a non-judgmental, objective look at the forces at play when immigrants come to a new land with little money, not knowing the language, and facing grim realities.
The film is in French, Italian, and English, with English subtitles. The only bonus feature on the DVD release is the theatrical trailer.
Point Break (Warner Home Video) is a remake of the 1991 film that starred Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, and Gary Busey. The new version focuses on Johnny Utah (Australian actor Luke Bracey), a onetime extreme sports athlete who gave up a life of thrills after a personal trauma. Now, seven years later, he’s an FBI trainee mentored by Instructor Hall (Delroy Lindo).
An extreme sports group in Europe is pulling off daring crimes all over the world. Johnny’s history makes him the perfect agent to infiltrate the group. While surfing a giant wave off the coast of France, Johnny meets fellow extreme sports enthusiast Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), who introduces him to other adventure challenges: underground Paris fight clubs, snowboarding in the Alps, and wing suit flying.
With the help of CGI, complex stunt work, and exciting cinematography, director Ericson Core amps up the action but doesn’t do justice to the relationships that were such an appeal in the ’91 movie. Though that film is far from perfect, it had humor, colorful characters, plus a trio of charismatic actors. Bracey and Ramirez pale by comparison, and seem to go through the motions without any connection to either their characters or the story.
The 3-disc 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack contains a featurette showing how many of the movie’s stunts were accomplished by several of the world’s greatest athletes; deleted scenes; and trailers. To watch the 3D version, a 3D HDTV, compatible 3D glasses, Blu-ray 3D player or Playstation 3 system, and high-speed HDMI cable are required. There is also a 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack available with the same bonus features.
Killing Them Safely
Killing Them Safely (IFC Films) is a look at the use of Tasers in law enforcement and their often unintended consequences. Sold as a way to subdue violent suspects without resorting to deadly force, Tasers have changed the way police officers do their jobs. The company responsible for this is Taser International. In 1993, brothers Rick and Tom Smith, both in their early 20s, started what would become the multi-million-dollar company in their parents’ garage.
Motivated by the shooting deaths of two of their friends, the Smith brothers imagined a world without guns. By 1999, after years of trial and error, they introduced a new electroshock weapon they named the Taser. Almost immediately, Tasers began to alter the way officers did their jobs. Because these weapons were designed not to be deadly, officers used them with less and less restraint, and by 2008, more than 300 people had died from Tasers. Scores of lawsuits have been brought — and continue to be brought — against Taser International.
In his directorial debut, Nick Berardini combines interviews, depositions, and other footage to give a multi-dimensional picture of several issues surrounding Taser use by law enforcement. Currently, Tasers are used by more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in 107 countries. Though the documentary makes clear that most people who were tazed are perfectly fine afterwards, there are those exceptions. The most disturbing images are of non-violent civilians who die after being tazed by police. The company comes across as the primary villain, but Berardini also notes that lack of regulation and oversight regarding these products is also at fault.
The only bonus feature on the unrated DVD release is the film’s theatrical trailer.
Death Walks Twice
Death Walks Twice (Arrow Video) is a box set containing two feature films from the early 1970s directed by Luciano Ercoli and starring the director’s wife Nieves Navarro (billed under her adopted stage name of Susan Scott) as the leading character in peril. Both films — in Italian, with English subtitles — fall into the category of “giallo,” named for the yellow-jacketed pulp paperback thrillers popular in Italy during the 60s and 70s.
In Death Walks On High Heels (1971), Scott is an erotic nightclub dancer who incorporates an assortment of body paint and wigs in her act. She is stalked by a killer in a ski mask who is determined to get his hands on her murdered father’s stolen jewels. Desperate to get out of town, she turns to nightclub regular Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff), a rich British surgeon, who takes her to his home in the English countryside. Her pursuer, however, doesn’t give up easily and soon more murders occur.
Death Walks at Midnight (1972) stars Scott as Valentina, a model tricked into taking a hallucinogenic drug during a photoshoot who witnesses a brutal murder in the apartment opposite hers. When it’s revealed that the savage slaying she describes relates to a crime that took place six months earlier, the police are perplexed. Much of the movie is spent with Valentina trying to convince a police inspector and her boyfriend that she’s witnessed a murder. This film is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, in which invalid James Stewart thinks he’s witnessed a man across the courtyard covering up the murder of his wife. Brian De Palma’s Sisters, made a year after Death Walks at Midnight, covers similar ground.
Director Ercoli knows how to establish suspense and hold our attention as he presents lurid tales of murder. These are stories inspired by American film noir, but with a lot more sex, violence and blood. Like American noir, the films feature seamy, cynical types in unsavory, often dangerous, settings. The scripts of both movies are well crafted, and Ms. Scott — though no Meryl Streep — is an effective femme fatale. Production design is stylish and there is a pervasive feeling that danger lurks in unexpected places and at unexpected times.
Both Blu-ray and standard DVD versions are included in the 4-disc box set. Bonus features include a visual essay exploring the collaboration between director Luciano Ercoli and star Susan Scott; audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas; newly-edited archive interview with director Luciano Ercoli and actress Susan Scott; introductions to both films by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi; interviews in which Gastaldo discusses what constitutes good giallo; and reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.
CPO Sharkey: The Best of Season Two
CPO Sharkey: The Best of Season Two (Time Life) is a collection of six complete broadcast episodes from the second and final season of the sitcom as they originally aired on NBC-TV. Don Rickles, known for his trademark insult comedy, stars as 24-year naval veteran Chief Petty Officer Otto Sharkey. Stationed at the Navy Training Center in San Diego, California, Sharkey is in charge of a company of new recruits. It’s his job to make sailors out of a collection of diverse ethnic types, most of whom have never been away from home before. Despite his verbal barbs and withering looks, he has the heart of a softie.
“The New Captain,” the first episode of Season Two, finds Sharkey fuming when his beer belly comes under attack from a tough new captain (Richard X. Slattery). In “Sharkey Flies Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Sharkey goes in for a routine physical at the base hospital and is mistaken for a psychiatric patient. Natalie, Sharkey’s girlfriend, accuses him of being insensitive in “Close Encounters of the Worst Kind.” Captain Buckner is ordered to take on Sharkey as his personal aide in “Captain’s Right-Hand Man,” and an upcoming flight unnerves the navy CPO in “Fear of Flying.” “The Used Car Caper,” which was the series final episode, airing on April 28, 1978, finds Sharkey bailing out his men by foiling a crooked used-car dealer.
There are no bonus features on the single-disc DVD.