Editor’s Notes: Dr. Strangelove, Back in the Day, Dream/Killer, Rams, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, & Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan will be released on their respective formats June 28th.
Back in the Day
Back in the Day (Virgil Films), set in the late 1980s and the present day, is the story about Anthony Rodriguez (portrayed by the film’s writer, William DeMeo), a half-Italian, half-Puerto Rican teenager growing up on the streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, then an area with an ample share of racists, bullies, and “social clubs,” where guys with ties to organized crime kept tabs on happenings in the neighborhood.
After his mother (Annabella Sciorra, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) dies and his father (Manny Perez, El Cntante) is run out of town, aspiring-boxer Anthony is taken under the wing of a mob boss (Michael Madsen, Kill Bill) and a tough-love trainer (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon). When mob Don Gino Fratelli (Alec Baldwin, TV’s 30 Rock) and his crew conspire to ruin his career, Anthony, his friend Matty (Joe D’Onofrio) and his girl (Shannen Doherty, Beverly Hills 90210) brace themselves for a tough, hard fight.
Back in the Day draws elements from the Rocky movies, Raging Bull, and Cinderella Man — as well as lots of other fight flicks — in this melodramatic tale of a kid from a humble background trying to navigate the obstacles of a tough environment in his pursuit of a goal. Unfortunately, the film adds nothing innovative to an overly familiar narrative. The performances are merely routine, and the overused plot makes it hard to buy into the plight of Anthony, an amalgam of every cliched good-hearted movie underdog.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release.
Dream/Killer (Kino Lorber) is a gripping documentary about a teenager wrongly arrested for murder. A few years after the murder of a Columbia, Missouri sports editor, 19-year-old Ryan Ferguson was fingered by a childhood friend who claimed he saw the crime in a dream. Though Ferguson assumed that the law would eventually exonerate him and he’d soon be released, his arrest began a long nightmare involving corrupt cops, judges, and attorneys. Without any physical evidence, Ferguson was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The film consists of interviews with Ferguson himself, his father Bill — largely responsible for persevering to prove his son was railroaded — and wrongful-conviction defense lawyer Kathleen Zeller. The case contains some amazing twists and turns, making for a dramatic accounting of how the system failed an innocent individual.
Director Andrew Jenks has a problem with consistency of tone, with editing that veers from the no-nonsense recounting of events to the oddly light manner of interviews. Highlighted effectively, however, is the willful disregard of the law by people charged with enforcing it. This is a real-life horror story.
There are no bonus features on the DVD release.
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The Criterion Collection) is Stanley Kubrick’s dark Cold War satire filled with great comic performances, three of them by Peter Sellers. A U.S. bomber armed with thermonuclear weapons and piloted by Maj. T.J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) is on a routine flight near the Soviet Union when it receives orders to begin Wing Attack Plan R — nuclear combat. The order was given by Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who explains he did it to take action against fluoridation, which he believes is sapping Americans’ bodily fluids. Pres. Merkin Muffley (Sellers) meets with his top Pentagon advisors to figure out how to get out of this sticky situation, while extreme hawk Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) sees this as an opportunity to strike a blow against Communism. The situation escalates when the Americans learn the Soviets have created a “Doomsday Machine” that will destroy the whole world if the Russians are attacked.
Made in 1964 just a few months after the Cuban missile crisis, this film was well timed to capture the paranoia of an era when schoolchildren routinely practiced duck and shelter drills and the build-up of nuclear weapons was regarded as the best way to defend nations. Despite the real threat that loomed daily, Americans went about their lives, having no choice but to hope that common sense would prevail and they’d live to see many tomorrows.
Dr. Strangelove shows how the act of one madman can put in motion a series of events that could lead to armageddon. Yet Kubrick manages to keep the tone light through the broad caricatures of the men in charge of protecting us. Even today, when the threats to America differ considerably from the one depicted, the movie packs a powerful punch.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray Special Edition include new interviews with Stanley Kubrick scholars and people associated with the film; excerpts from a 1966 audio interview with Kubrick; four short documentaries about the making of the film; interviews from 1963 with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott; 1980 Today show interview with Sellers; trailers; and a critical essay.
Rams (Cohen Media Group) is set in a secluded Icelandic valley where brothers Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) live side by side and tend their sheep. Their sheep stock, of an ancient lineage, is regarded as one of the country’s best and the brothers repeatedly win awards for their prized rams. The brothers, however, have not spoken to each other in 40 years.
When a lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s flock, all the herds in the valley come under threat of infection. The authorities decide to slaughter all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak, but this could result in financial ruin for the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income. Many abandon the land. But Gummi and Kiddi persevere and each tries to prevent disaster in his own way — Kiddi by using his gun, Gummi by using his wits. As the authorities close in, the brothers must work together to save the special breed passed down for generations.
The movie shows how difficult shepherding is, especially as summer turns into winter. It doesn’t address the cause of the brothers’ alienation from each other, but humorously illustrates the alternate, sometimes ingenious, means of communication they have devised. Director Grimur Hakonarson incorporates some slapstick sequences, but relies mostly on the performances of the two leads for laughs. Rams is an entertaining character study of two curmudgeons, too stubborn to work together until their livelihood is on the line.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include an interview with director Grimur Hakonarson; Wrestling, a short film by the director; and a theatrical trailer. The film is in Icelandic, with English subtitles.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes
Return of the Killer Tomatoes (Arrow) is the sequel to 1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, a silly film that was endearing because of its self-deprecating humor, over-the-top visuals, and goofy premise. In Return… it’s ten years after the first incursion by the marauding veggies. The world fears another uprising by the red menace as mad scientist Prof. Gangreen (John Astin, TV’s The Addams Family) sets out to pursue his own twisted ends by creating an army of tomatoes made to look like humans, laying the groundwork for the second Great Tomato Uprising.
Director John de Bello has the right instincts about satirical silliness but fails to replicate the loopy tone of the original, despite efforts to make Return… bigger, dopier, and more bizarre. The problem with comedy this broad is sustaining it. Though 98 minutes is generally a short running time, here it seems too lengthy. The jokes peter out, the visual gags seem more and more desperate, and much of the humor seems forced. There is also too much self-referencing of the film, which breaks down the fourth wall.
An interesting casting highlight is the appearance of George Clooney, complete with mullet, six years before his big break as Dr. Doug Ross in the TV series ER and eventual movie superstardom.
Blu-ray Special Edition features include new audio commentary with writer-director John de Bello; Hangin’ with Chad, a new interview with star Anthony Starke; image gallery containing rare behind-the-scenes stills; original theatrical trailer; TV spot; and reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork.
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (Arrow) is a documentary about the man responsible for the creatures in Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, and many more fantasy films. Inspired by the original King Kong, Harryhausen mastered the slow, painstaking process of stop-motion animation — minutely adjusting miniatures and photographing them one frame at a time to create the illusion of motion.
The film features interviews with Harryhausen (who died in 2013), as well as filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, and Guillermo del Toro, who were inspired by Harryhausen’s monsters and mythological creations and discuss how transfixed they were as kids sitting in movie theaters wondering how dinosaurs could interact with human beings, prehistoric beasts could devastate New York City, or men could battle sword-wielding skeletons.
We see Harryhausen in the workshop where he works his magic and displays some of the models that have become iconic after their appearance in fantasy and science-fiction motion pictures. A number of books have been written about Harryhausen, but there’s nothing like seeing his work come to life, enhanced with atmospheric music, mood lighting, and expert editing that intercuts live action with animation sequences, often blending the two in the same shot for the ultra mind-blowing effect.
Blu-ray Special Edition extras include interviews with Simon Pegg, Rick Baker, and Edgar Wright; 12 interview outtakes with Joe Dante, John Lassiter and others; deleted scenes; Paris Cinematheque Q & A; London Gate Cinema Q & A; audio commentary with the filmmakers; original trailer; Ray Harryhausen trailer reel; and reversible sleeve featuring two artworks.