New to Blu-ray/DVD: Centerstage, Night of the Living Deb, The Bodyguard, Dark Passage, The Pride and the Passion, The Iron Giant: Signature Edition


Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 2.02.38 PM

Editor’s Notes: Centerstage, Night of the Living Deb, The Bodyguard, Dark Passage, The Pride and the Passion, The Iron Giant: Signature Edition are out today on their respective home entertainment formats.


Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.49.04 PM

Centerstage: On Pointe (Sony Home Entertainment) is the third in a series of movies set in the world of ballet. Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher), director of the fictional American Ballet Academy, wants to incorporate more contemporary styles and modern touches into the company. He assigns his three top choreographers — Charlie (Sascha Radetsky), Cooper (Ethan Stiefel), and Tommy (Kenny Wormald) — to locate and recruit dancers to compete for an invitation to join the Academy. Bella Parker (Nicole Munoz), who has always lived in the shadow of her successful sister, Kate, finally gets her chance to step into the spotlight as one of the competing dancers.

The plot is predictable and Peter Gallagher overacts, but the dance sequences are enjoyable and feature both classical ballet and contemporary dance. Dance lovers especially will be attracted to Centerpiece: On Pointe. What is shown about ballet rehearsals, the prevalence of injuries, the dancers’ short performing life, and the hours of classes serious dancers take to hone their skills are all fascinating and reveal the hard work behind the glamor of performance.

Some characters from the two earlier films appear, providing a bit of continuity, but the story works effectively as a stand-alone. A major theme is how ballet companies must constantly struggle financially to stay afloat. This means creating ballets that will sell tickets and creating stars from the corps. There’s romance and melodrama a-plenty, but the setting of the ballet world anchors everything and draws us in.

The only special feature on the DVD release is a dance tutorial with competitive dancer Chloe Lukasiak.

Night of the Living Deb

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.51.18 PM

Night of the Living Deb (MPI Media Group) blends comedy with horror, a feat accomplished previously in Shaun of the Dead and Pride + Prejudice + Zombies. Here, the setting is modern-day Portland, Maine. Deb (Maria Thayer) awakens on July 4th after a one-night stand with the handsome Ryan (Michael Cassidy), feeling pretty good about herself and things in general. But her mood darkens when Ryan kicks her out and she encounters the zombie apocalypse. Now, she and Ryan have to set aside the awkwardness of the previous night and get out of town without becoming a zombie meal.

Deb is a very funny heroine who always has a zinger at hand and is adept at turning an end-of-mankind scenario into a neat spoof of the zombie genre. She’s the smartest character in the film, with the guys either dumb or helpless when it comes to making quick, life-saving decisions. The pace gets sluggish toward the end, but the conclusion doesn’t disappoint. There’s little chemistry between Ms. Thayer and Mr. Cassidy, which makes it hard to believe they found each other attractive enough to share a bed.

Special features on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include commentary with writer-director Kyle Rankin, actors Maria Thayer and Michael Cassidy, writer Andy Selsor, and editor Tony Copollo; bloopers; behind-the-scenes making-of featurette; and trailer.

The Bodyguard

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.53.30 PM

The Bodyguard (Well Go USA) is the story Ding (Sammo Hung), an ex-bodyguard with the Central Security Bureau who is haunted by the disappearance of his granddaughter, lives alone, and faces the onset of dementia. He befriends a young girl who lives next door, Chunua (Jacqueline Chan). Her father’s connection with a local crime lord puts their lives in danger and forces Ding to come out of retirement.

The problem with The Bodyguard is that it attempts to be too many things. It’s a crime thriller, a turf war is brewing between Russian and Chinese-Korean gangs, we get a smattering of family drama, and comic relief is provided by Ding’s landlady (Li Qinqin), who constantly puts the moves on him. There’s a lot of action by gangsters who never use guns, the better for Ding to show off his martial arts skills.

It’s interesting to see a movie in which the hero is at the age when his glory days are long past. Ding looks like a typical granddad, an image that belies his still lethal skills. Despite an often rambling screenplay, the film is entertaining and illustrates a style of action filmmaking that still depends more on hand-to-hand combat than on spectacular, expensive stunt set pieces.

Bonus extras on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette and theatrical trailer. The film is in Cantonese, with English subtitles.

Dark Passage

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.55.38 PM

Dark Passage (Warner Archive), set in San Francisco, stars Humphrey Boagart as Vincent Parry, a San Quentin escapee framed for murdering his wife. He’s picked up by young painter Irene Jensen (Lauren Bacall), who hides him in her apartment until Vincent can visit an underworld plastic surgeon who gives him a new face. He’s now able to elude the police and search for his wife’s real murderer.

Made a year after Lady in the Lake, the first major film to employ subjective camera technique throughout, Dark Passage uses the technique more effectively because of the plastic-surgery plot twist. We see the action from Vincent’s point of view until the bandages come off over an hour into the film, when the film changes from the first-person perspective to a more traditional, objective point of view.

Dark Passage (1947) is the third of four films made by Bogart and Bacall. Though the first half is suspenseful, the second draws upon more traditional noir touches and plot tendrils that never mesh. The two leads provide great chemistry, even though Bacall’s role isn’t as well written as those in her other films with Bogart. Agnes Moorehead provides a strong supporting performance as Madge Rapf, the woman who framed Vincent.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include the featurette “Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers,” the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Slick Hare,” and theatrical trailer.

The Pride and the Passion

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.58.11 PM

The Pride and the Passion (Olive Films), directed by Stanley Kramer, combines the talents of three stars — Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Sophia Loren — in an epic melodrama that takes place in Spain in 1810 during the Peninsular War, a military conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Britain, Spain, and Portugal. A giant cannon is abandoned by the retreating Spanish army and British naval officer and artillery expert Captain Anthony Trumbell (Grant) is ordered to retrieve it. He enlists the aid of guerrilla leader Miguel (Sinatra) and the cannon is raised from the bottom of a gorge and repaired. Miguel insists the cannon be used to bombard the French occupying the fortress at Avila. Trumbull reluctantly agrees to accompany Miguel and his peasant followers and fire the cannon once it reaches its destination.

During the long journey, Trumbull is attracted to Juana (Loren), Miguel’s girl, and a romantic triangle develops as the rebels lug the multi-ton cannon across rough terrain.

Sinatra’s Spanish accent is terrible and Loren speaks with a thick Italian accent. Grant, looking great in his military uniform, rises above the material and plays it perfectly straight. This is a good example of monumental miscasting. None of the leads comfortably or believably convince in their roles and were obviously hired for their name value at the box office. Despite their cumulative star power, the real star of the picture is that enormous cannon being dragged across the landscape.

There are no bonus features on the Blu-ray release.

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 2.00.20 PM

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (Warner Home Video), originally released in 1999, is set in the 1950s and is the animated tale of an unlikely friendship between a 9-year-old rebellious boy named Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) and a giant robot, voiced by Vin Diesel. The voice cast also includes Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick, Jr. Hogarth lives in a world in which fears of nuclear war and Russian espionage are widespread. The boy finds and befriends a 50-foot robot that feeds on metal — an armed probe sent by an unknown race of extraterrestrials. With the assistance of his artist pal Dean, Hogarth tries to hide his giant playmate, particularly from the suspicious eyes of a Communist-obsessed federal agent.

The film will remind viewers of Spielberg’s E.T. Both movies feature visitors from outer space, a young boy as protagonist, and an unorthodox relationship. But The Iron Giant, based on a children’s book by Ted Hughes, is more than a mere wannabe copy. It is an allegory about the conflict of innocence and Cold War paranoia, and brings to mind a film made during the era depicted — The Day the Earth Stood Still, which had its own giant robot from beyond the stars. The best scenes involve the robot learning about earthy emotions, such as compassion, and especially his grasp of the term “soul.” Hogarth sees the robot not as a threat to mankind, but as an unusual, cool buddy.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray Signature Edition include the new documentary, “The Giant’s Dream;” a personal letter from director Brad Bird; theatrical version commentary by Brad Bird; additional scenes; alternate opening; mini-documentary segments; and Duck and Cover sequence.


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.