Editor’s Notes: A Perfect Day, Bitten: The Final Season, The Martial Arts Kid, Elvis & Nixon, Kill Zone 2, & Crimes of Passion will be released on their respective formats July 19th.
A Perfect Day
A Perfect Day (IFC Films), set in the Balkans in 1995, follows foreign aid workers around Bosnia confronting death in the aftermath of war. Over the course of 24 hours, aid worker Mambru (Benicio Del Toro, Sicario) leads his team of humanitarians, including a tough, wisecracking veteran known as B (Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption) and new French recruit Sophie (Melanie Thierry, Babylon A.D.), as they deal with a range of crimes large and small.
The film begins with a close-up of a fraying rope pulling a decaying corpse from a well, where it has been thrown to poison the water. The rope snaps and the body falls back into the well. The aid workers need a new rope. But materials are in short supply in this war-torn area and bureaucratic red tape, ingrained local practices, and dead cows in roadways make simply getting another rope a time-consuming exercise in frustration. The scene is emblematic of the often thankless job of aid workers, who do the best they can with what they have.
Director Fernando Leon de Aranoa shows the stiff price civilians pay for war and the problems faced by those who want to help them. Though Del Toro and Robbins play characters that are almost generic types — independent macho adventurers up for any challenge — the actors provide them with depth. Mambru is caring and dedicated, and his experience as an aid worker has taught him to combine pragmatism with compassion. B is a loud American with no family ties and nothing to lose, which often makes him reckless in his goal to help war victims.
Bonus extras on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette, interviews, and trailer.
Bitten: The Final Season
Bitten: The Final Season (Entertainment One), based on the Otherworld novels by Kelley Armstrong, stars Laura Vandervoort as Elena Michaels, the world’s only female werewolf. Over three seasons, Elena has evolved from a photographer who conceals her dark secret after being bitten, to a ferocious leader of the Stonehaven pack.
Season 3, the final season, picks up several months after the battle in the Season 2 finale. Bolstering their ranks in the wake of the carnage, the Stonehaven pack is on the hunt for the Russian Alpha pack, seeking to end a decades-old vendetta. Meanwhile, Elena struggles with the Alpha pack’s Jeremy Danvers’ (Greg Bryk) new extreme leadership style, and makes a shocking and surprising discovery about herself.
Unfortunately, the show has spiraled downward in quality since its premiere in January, 2014. The episodes in Seasons 2 are padded and lack the spark of Season 1. Unengaging storylines have failed to keep viewers invested in the characters. The extended fight scenes intended to create excitement come off as time fillers to keep us from falling asleep or tuning out. The CGI wolves are not at all convincing, likely because the show’s budget wouldn’t allow more careful renderings. The decision by the SyFy Channel to cancel the series was based on the waning popularity of supernatural-oriented dramas.
Bonus extras on the 3-disc DVD set include deleted and extended scenes, and the featurette, “A Look at the Final Season.
The Martial Arts Kid
The Martial Arts Kid (Traditionz Entertainment) follows Robbie (Jansen Panettiere), a troubled teen whose grandmother sends him to Cocoa Beach, Florida, to spend the summer with his Uncle Glen (kickboxing champion Don “The Dragon” Wilson), Aunt Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock), and cousin Katie (Kayley Stallings) after he once again runs afoul of police in his Ohio hometown. Robbie is far from happy with his uncle’s tough-love rules. Things change, however, when he meets a local girl named Rina (Kathryn Newton), whose boyfriend Bo (Matthew Ziff) is the town bully and seems to run things backed by his tough pals. Jealous of Robbie’s interest in Rina, Bo pummels the newcomer and targets him for repeated bullying until Glen teaches Robbie some martial arts.
Yes, this story is almost the same as The Karate Kid with a title so unimaginative that it simply replaces “karate” with “martial arts.” The plot contains many of the same elements as the 1984 film — the student/mentor relationship, a bully, and a climactic one-on-one between hero and antagonist. Though the performances are OK and the story moves along, the movie offers nothing special to distinguish itself as anything more than a rip-off of a picture released over 30 years ago.
Bonus features on the Special Edition DVD include commentary with cast and filmmakers, deleted scenes, and theatrical trailer.
Elvis & Nixon
Elvis & Nixon (Sony Home Entertainment) is inspired by a meeting at the White House in late 1970 between President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley and a photo of them shaking hands at that meeting. That photo is the most requested one from the National Archives collection.
Presley showed up at the White House with a handwritten note asking to speak with the President about becoming an undercover federal agent to help combat the country’s drug culture and “hippie elements.” He wanted a badge designating that status. There was no transcript of the meeting, which gives the filmmakers license to suggest what may have transpired during that odd meeting.
Nixon (Kevin Spacey) is initially reluctant to meet with Presley (Michael Shannon), and Chief of Staff Haldeman (Tate Donovan) is incredulous at the request, but eventually it’s thought that the meeting will score points with younger voters.
Shannon isn’t an Elvis lookalike, but he could sure moonlight in Vegas as a more-than-passable Elvis impersonator. Rather than caricature the singer, Shannon plays Elvis as a genuinely concerned citizen who wants to do something for his country. The irony is his mission — to be a drug agent. Seven years after the meeting, Elvis would be dead, his body riddled with drugs.
Spacey has had plenty of experience playing a Washington insider on House of Cards, so it’s not a stretch to accept him as Nixon. He plays the President as a cranky and irritable man who gradually warms to Presley when they meet — men from two entirely different worlds finding commonality and sharing feelings about the state of the country.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include director commentary and the featurette “Crazy But True.”
Kill Zone 2
Kill Zone 2 (Well Go USA) is a martial arts action thriller featuring illegal human organ harvesters, a corrupt prison warden, and lots of knife-proficient bad guys. Kit is an undercover cop who’s ingratiated himself into the inner circle of human organ-trafficking crime boss Hung Man-keung, turning into a drug addict in the process. When Kit gets too close to revealing the identity of the crime boss, his cover is blown. Double-crossed and under a false identity, he’s thrown into a Thai prison, where a guard conveniently discovers the new inmate is a bone marrow match for his dying daughter.
For an 80-minute action flick, there’s far too much plot in Kill Zone 2. And though the title suggests a sequel, it’s actually a stand-alone picture that features only one minor character from 2005’s Kill Zone. Though the action takes a while to ramp up, once it begins, it is elaborately staged, fast, and thrilling to watch. With so many movies these days reliant on computer-generated images, it’s fun to see some good old-fashioned martial arts mayhem.
A highlight occurs toward the end of the film in which there’s a two-against-one hand-to-hand fight in a Hong Kong high rise. The editing here expertly matches the moves of the actors, resulting in a veritable martial-arts ballet, with the sounds of bodies crashing and grunts contributing to the illusion that these guys are going at it for real. There are far too many coincidences, but plot is secondary to the fights, which definitely deliver in excitement.
Bonus extras on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include deleted scenes, trailer, and making-of behind-the-scenes featurette. The film is in Cantonese, Mandarin and Thai, with English subtitles and English dub options.
Crimes of Passion
“Crimes of Passion” (Arrow) stars Kathleen Turner as Joanna Crane, a woman who leads a double life. A sportswear designer by day, Joanna transforms into China Blue by night decked out in wig and skimpy outfit, hitting the streets as a $50-a-trick hooker. In this persona, she attracts the unwanted attention of two men. One is a sexually frustrated private detective hired by her employees. The other is a deeply disturbed priest (Anthony Perkins) in possession of a murderous sex toy.
Directed by Ken Russell (Altered States) in 1984, Crimes of Passion shuttles between the two worlds as both unexpectedly converge. The point of the movie appears to be the exploration of sexual fantasies, yet because of its R rating, the film never succeeds other than to titillate. The contrast between the folks in Joanna’s daytime circle and nighttime encounters is sort of intriguing, but offers nothing more than what we’d expect. Suspense is created when it appears Joanna’s nighttime pursuits will be revealed, but since the central character is so unsympathetic, it’s hard to stay engaged.
Ms. Turner does her best with the material, trying to reprise the screen sensuality she so perfectly conveyed in Body Heat three years earlier, but often the more sexual-oriented scenes come off as awkwardly laughable rather than erotic. Perkins channels his Norman Bates in yet another portrait of a damaged soul, but his character is not sufficiently developed. Russell is a director who liked to push the envelope and often relished in excess. That’s evident here, as he fashions a noir-ish world of soft-porn grittiness.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray edition include home movie footage of Ken Russell at a Crimes of Passion retrospective in Florida; deleted scenes, some with optional commentary; new interview with screenwriter Barry Sandler; audio commentary with director Ken Russell and producer-screenwriter Barry Sandler; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and theatrical trailer.