Editor’s Notes: Heal the Living, Ronin, The Slayer, Mouton, Killing Hasselhoff, Inconceivable, The Love of a Woman, Gotham: The Complete Third Season, Batman and Harley Quinn, Black Sails: The Complete Fourth Season, Bring It On: Worldwide #Cheersmack, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity are out on their respective home video releases August 29th.
Heal the Living
Heal the Living (Cohen Media Group) is a French drama that follows a human heart from a catastrophic accident to a transplant operation. On the way home from a dawn surfing trip, teenager Simon (Gabin Verdet) is involved in a car crash, leaving him brain dead. While dealing with the tragedy, Simon’s parents are forced to decide whether to donate his organs. Across Paris, former musician Claire (Anne Dorval) must confront her own worsening degenerative heart with her sons (Finnegan Oldfield, Theo Cholbi).
The film also focuses on the doctors performing the transplant. These are the stars of their profession who literally handle human hearts and provide hope every day. They are portrayed are self-confident and almost arrogant in their abilities. They have done hundreds of similar procedures which, to them, is practically second nature. There is an interesting contrast between the emotions of Simon and Claire’s families as they cope with organ donation and the casual way the physicians go about the business at hand.
By providing backstories for not only Simon and Claire, but supporting characters as well, the events are given a personal prism. Though many of the scenes in the operating room are nearly documentary-like in their graphic nature, they are staged realistically. What comes across is the incredible value of no-longer-needed human organs that can dramatically improve the health of another individual. If viewers have vacillated about checking off the “organ donor” box on their drivers licenses, “Heal the Living” will influence their thinking.
An interview with director Katell Quillevere is included on the Blu-ray release. The unrated film is in French, with English subtitles.
Ronin (Arrow Video) stars Robert De Niro. The title is a Japanese term for wandering samurai warriors who’ve been disgraced by their failure to protect their masters. The film concerns a band of international soldiers of fortune who rendezvous in a Paris Bistro summoned by a mysterious Irish woman named Deirdre (Natascha McElhone).
Hired to retrieve by force a briefcase of undetermined contents from a shady group of men, the group includes two Americans, logistician/intelligence expert Sam (De Niro) and driver Larry (Skipp Sudduth); laid back French triggerman Vincent (Jean Reno); former KGB agent and electronics expert Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard); and British military veteran Spence (Sean Bean).
Ronin benefits from an A-list class and an A-list director (John Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate), but is a fairly routine thriller with some spectacularly staged car chases and action sequences. The plot is murky, and contains implausibilities and convenient coincidences. But the pace is brisk, and Frankenheimer doesn’t leave us with too much time to pick at the script’s shortcomings.
The contents of the briefcase are never revealed, but are beside the point. It’s simply the McGuffin — a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock to refer to the item that sets the plot in motion but is not the primary concern of the audience. Ronin is a competent action film, the French locations are picturesque backgrounds for the action, and the central characters an interesting cross section of men willing to risk their lives for the right price.
Bonus materials on the R-rated, widescreen Blu-ray release include audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer; new video interview with director of photography Robert Fraisse; documentary about Robert De Niro; archival behind-the-scenes featurette; archival feature on the film’s car stunts; archival interview with actress Natascha McElhone; alternate ending; theatrical trailer; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and collector’s illustrated booklet containing new critical writing.
The Slayer (Arrow Video) is a slasher film made in 1982. Kay (Sarah Kendall), an artist who favors surrealism, decides to go on vacation with her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and their two friends David (Alan McRae) and Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook). But the peace is short-lived. As a storm batters the island, troubled artist Kay begins to sense that a malevolent presence is present with them, stalking them at every turn. Is she losing her mind, or are her childhood nightmares of a demonic assailant coming to terrifying life?
Sensing she has been on the island before, but not sure when of how, Kay witnesses many graphic murders. She’s so terrified of these nightmares, she attempts to fight off sleep.
The heyday of the slasher flick was the 1980’s. The trend was started by three low-budget films — Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street — that became huge hits and prompted a decade’s worth of horror movies that followed a familiar formula: establish a creepy location, introduce a horrifying presence bent on murder, usually with sharp, nasty instruments, and knock off characters periodically until a final confrontation between the “monster” and survivor(s).
The Slayer follows this template. The theme of reality and nightmare blending into one another is intriguing, and predated A Nightmare on Elm Street, which used the theme and introduced iconic horror monster Freddy Krueger two years later.
Because so many slasher movies were made around the same time, they tended to rip each other off, while trying to up the intensity and variety of murders. There aren’t as many killings in The Slayer as in most slasher pictures, but director J.S. Cordon does create a creepy atmosphere and builds considerable suspense.
The 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release features a brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Bonus materials on the unrated, widescreen 2-disc set include brand new interviews with cast and crew, original theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, and collector’s booklet with new liner notes.
Mouton (IndiePix Films) focuses on 17-year-old Aurelian (David Merabet), nicknamed “Mouton” (sheep), who is living in the French coastal town of Courseulles-sur-Mer after his alcoholic mother is found unfit to care for him. The first part of the movie deals with the young man working in the kitchen of a local restaurant and making out with the new waitress (Audrey Clement) on staff. There is an innocence and tacit side to Mouton that makes his nickname particularly apt. After a brutal act of violence is directed at him during the St. Anne Festival celebration, the point-of-view shifts to various inhabitants of the town.
During the second half of the film, the intertitle “They Live the Rest of Their Lives” appears and Mouton is out of the picture. The film follows Mouton’s various friends and their continued lives around the seaside. Directors Marianne Pistone and Gilles Deroo meander as they examine the aftermath of normalcy in the wake of senseless violence. Mouton’s friends Louise (Cindy Dumont), Mimi (Michael Mormentyn) and Benji (Benjamin Cordier) work at their wearying jobs at animal shelters and encounter prostitutes. Even the perpetrator of the attack — though not seen — is given a chance to speak about his regret over his actions.
The film has a veneer of artsiness that ultimately is its undoing, and the film deteriorates with a growing disconnect between the early part of the movie and a rambling second half with its languid pacing. The directors attempt, through visual analogies, to make statements about humanity, the good and bad within us, and the effect of one person on an entire community, but it all seems like a hodgepodge.
There are no bonus features on the unrated, widescreen DVD release. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
Killing Hasselhoff (Universal Home Entertainment). What started out as a regular week quickly turns into the worst few days of his life when Chris (Ken Jeong), a struggling nightclub owner, fails to pay back a loan shark and decides the only way to get the money is to kill his pick in the annual “Who Will Die This Year” celebrity death pool — David Hasselhoff. Aided by his friends Fish (Rhys Darby) and Tommy (Jim Jeffries), Chris desperately tries everything he can to knock off the”Baywatch” star and claim the jackpot. But the task is not as easy as he thought.
Though the premise is dark, this comedy has some funny moments, especially those featuring Hasselhoff himself poking fun at his own image. There’s even a scene of him running in slow motion after being urged on to save a man from drowning. ”I’m not a lifeguard,” he says. “I only played one on TV.” Jeong is great at physical comedy, and he makes the best out of what the script gives him. He even turns the simple task of putting on a car seat belt into a funny physical gag moment. Jeong was seen recently on the ABC comedy “Dr. Ken,” which was cancelled.
David Hasselhoff starred as lifeguard Mitch Buchanan in 220 episodes of Baywatch from 1989 to 2000. He has a cameo role in the Baywatch feature film as The Mentor.
The only bonus feature on the R-rated, widescreen DVD release is a series of deleted scenes.
Inconceivable (Lionsgate) is a thriller about a couple’s desire to have a child and a young woman they select as a surrogate mother. An older couple, Brian (Nicolas Cage) and Angela (Gina Gershon), have one child lead a contented life with Angela enjoying her role as parent, hoping to become pregnant once again after suffering through several miscarriages. Hoping to return to work as a doctor, Angela befriends young mother Katie (Nicky Whelan) and asks her to serve as live-in nanny. But Angela and Brian have no idea about Katie’s dark past, though Brian’s mother (Faye Dunaway) grows suspicious. When infertile Angela asks Katie to become a surrogate mother, Katie’s ulterior motives begin to surface, and Angela discovers that all is not as it seems.
Flashbacks shown periodically highlight Katie’s past, but also reveal early on that Katie is not to be trusted. An opportunity to build suspense is therefore squandered. Director Jonathan Baker doesn’t give the film enough distinctiveness, and writer Chloe King seems to have “borrowed” ideas from better thrillers. Nicolas Cage is more subdued than he usually is, and is in an underwritten role that could have been played by anyone. Gina Gershon is the real star of the picture, since the story is told primarily from her point-of-view. Ms. Dunaway is in a thankless role; it’s a shame she can’t find better parts, since this and recent films have been mediocre at best.
There’s a cobbled together feel to the film, with director Baker and writer King following a predictable path, ending the film in a spate of violence. This tired device is a desperate default choice when a more complex, dramatically satisfying conclusion eludes them. If you want to see a better film with similar subject matter, check out The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
Bonus materials on the R-rated, widescreen Blu-ray release include the featurette “Behind the Scenes of ‘Inconceivable’,” director’s commentary, deleted scene, cast and crew interviews, and trailer gallery. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
The Love of a Woman
The Love of a Woman (Arrow Academy) was released in 1953 as L’amour dune femme by the French filmmaker Jean Gremillon. The director made a series of 1940s classics that include Stormy Waters, Lumiere d’être, and Pattes blanches. After completing The Love of a Woman, he would make only three shorts before his death in 1959.
Marie Prieur (Micheline Presle), a 28-year-old recently qualified doctor, is about to take up her first post at Oudessant, a small island off the coast of Brittany, and receives a lukewarm welcome from the locals, who are mostly male. Her former schoolteacher, Mademoiselle Leblanc (Gaby Morlay), is the only person happy to see her.
Marie’s first patient is a young girl. Without the consent of her parents, Marie cures the girl of her illness. This brings her to the attention of Andre Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti), a young engineer, and a passionate romance follows. But Marie’s work suffers, and she becomes increasingly absentminded and careless.
This is an early film about the balance of career and one’s private life. Director Gremillon makes his central character a woman, which complicates the situation, since female doctors were not as ubiquitous as they are today. On the island, in such a parochial setting, Marie is under scrutiny — she’s a newcomer, a woman, self-assured, and confident. As she becomes involved in her romance with Andre, it proves a serious distraction from her competence, and she must decide how to reconcile the duties of her job with her relationship.
Bonus materials on the unrated 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include the 1969 feature-length documentary In Search of Jean Gremillon containing interviews with director Rene Clair, archivist Henri Langlois, and actors Micheline Presle and Pierre Brasseur; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and an illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by critic Ginette Vincendeau. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
Gotham: The Complete Third Season
Gotham: The Complete Third Season (Warner Home Video) continues to show major steps taken by Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to becoming his alter ego, Batman. The show can be frustrating because Batman is not a part of the show. We’re being teased without a payoff, but the journey still fascinates with good scripts, particularly its portrayal of villains.
The character of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is developed this season when he becomes compromised morally, taking matters into his own hands as bounty hunter on the trail of the Indian Hill fugitives. The show emphasizes equally the characters of Gordon and Wayne.
Smallville, which ran for ten seasons, chronicled the life of Clark Kent before he became Superman. The writing was good, the episodes laced with humor, and the story arcs engaging. The creators of Gotham probably hoped for the same kind of success showing us the life of Bruce Wayne well before he donned the black cowl of Batman. But Batman is sorely missed from the series. It was more interesting to watch a teenaged Clark come to terms with his powers while also dealing with adolescence. The formula fails to create the same dramatic possibilities in “Gotham.”
The best thing going for the show is its regular parade of villains, which allows it to veer from predictable police procedural to something more in line with the DC Comics Universe. When the Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Mad Hatter, the future Poison Ivy, and the Penguin show up, the series is at its best.
Bonus materials on the unrated, widescreen 4-disc Blu-ray release include 2 behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes, 2006 Comic-Con panel, and deleted scenes. A digital copy is enclosed.
Batman and Harley Quinn
Batman and Harley Quinn (Warner Home Video) is an original animated film that brings together an unlikely trio to stop a global threat. When a break-in at S.T.A.R. Labs leads to a secret dossier being stolen by the duo of Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and the Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson), the duo team up to transform all animal life on Earth into plant hybrids by using the research that Alec Holland created before he became Swamp Thing. With few leads on the duo, Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing (Loren Lester) turn to Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch) for help locating her friend, Poison Ivy.
The film is a lighter version of the Batman stories, and attempts to balance a dramatic action tale with comedy. Unfortunately, the blend frequently fails and appears childish in setting up jokes geared more to pre-schoolers than to devotees of Batman and other DC comics characters. In fact, the movie often goes off the cliff into pure camp, thoroughly undermining itself. Balancing humor and action is a fine art, and the efforts here look entirely amateurish.
The film is filled with double entendres, graphic images, strong language, and even some suggestive sexual content, and is not suitable for very young viewers. Rauch’s voice work is annoying more than appropriate to the character of Harley Quinn. She seems whiny in some scenes, and simply lacks feeling in others. Her performance has the sound of a person going through the motions rather than bringing to life the animation. Conway and Lester, by contrast, are excellent.
On the plus side, Batman and Harley Quinn captures the look and spirit of Batman: The Animated Series, bringing a touch of nostalgia to those who recall fondly the 1990s series.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD Gift Set release include a Harley Quinn figurine, the featurette “The Harley Effect: Loren Lester in His Own Voice,” a sneak peek at DC Universe’s next animated movie, “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” and 2 cartoons. A digital copy is enclosed.
Black Sails: The Complete Fourth Season
Black Sails: The Complete Fourth Season (Lionsgate) follows Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and his notorious crew of pirates in a prequel to the events in Robert louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. In this final season, Flint and his crew do battle in the West Indies and fight to avoid the destruction of their way of life while the season as a whole aims to underscore collusion and infighting. Politics is a significant theme in Season 4.
In the first episode of the season, “XXIX,” the pirates enter Nassau Harbor only to be dealt a severe blow, with Flint attempting to organize what’s left of their forces. Silver (Luke Arnold) is presumed drowned. The episode gets the season off to a rousing start and sets the groundwork for an anticipated climax to the STARZ series.
Coming to a head is the confrontation between the lawless lifestyle of the pirates and the hand of authority, which is becoming more forceful and is set on eradicating crime on the high seas as civilization gradually but inevitably asserts itself. Like Game of Thrones, Black Sails contains many characters and sub-plots that are interwoven in interesting ways. The last season attempts, with varying degrees of success, to provide closure to all of them.
The strength of the show is its action sequences, lush photography and occasional sense of spectacle. The fights are well staged, providing excitement, and many scenes are shot from dramatic angles to accentuate and exploit the tropical surroundings. The weakness is its tendency to spend too much time with characters delivering dialogue in static settings. Exposition is necessary, but there are ways of giving information to viewers apart from long orations, which often seem flat and lifeless.
Bonus materials on the 3-disc widescreen Blu-ray release include the featurettes “Inside the World of Black Sails,” “Creating the World,” “Roundtable: Women in Piracy”, “Roundtable: The Legends of Treasure Island,” and “Roundtable: Fearless Fans.”
Bring It On: Worldwide #Cheersmack
Bring It On: Worldwide #Cheersmack (Universal Home Entertainment) stars Vivica A. Fox as Cheer Goddess, the Internet’s most popular “Cheer-lebrity.” When Destiny (Cristine Prosperi), captain of three-time national champions The Rebels, is challenged to a global cheer showdown by an edgy new team called The Truth, the Cheer Goddess organizes a virtual battle for squads from all around the world. It seems as if the entire world wants to take down Destiny and her team, and they just might succeed, unless Destiny can rise to the challenge, set her ego aside, and figure out who her real friends are.
This is the sixth installment of the Bring It On franchise, and the plots have gotten thinner and thinner with each successive movie. The acting is pretty lame, and the characters unengaging. The only attraction is the choreography and stunts, many new and exciting. When the cheerleaders are performing, the film is highly entertaining, but sitting through the silly plot is hard.
The movie features 19 cheerleading squads from Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, as well as the Northern Elite Gymnastics and Cheer team from the United States. The cobbled-together plot points to this global showdown. It seems endless in coming, but when the teams strut their stuff, the movie shines with the amazing physical and rhythmic prowess of the competitors.
Bonus materials on the widescreen, PG-13-rated Blu-ray release include behind-the-scenes featurettes on how the actors mastered the escalating difficulty of cheer routines, why this installment of the franchise stands out from its predecessors, and how costumes and set design provide visual pizzazz to the movie. There’s also a gag reel. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Arrow Video) is a trilogy of gangster films directed by Kinji Fukasaku that were a big hit in Japan in the early 1970s. They are often compared to “The Godfather” films, released around the same time. Lacking the tragic elements and complex characters of The Godfather trilogy, the Battles pictures are ruthless, and completely unsentimental.
In the first film, Bunta Sugawara stars as Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who’s sent to jail after a bungled hit. While in prison, family member Aoki (Tomisaburo Wakayama) attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honorable way out.
The second film, The Boss’s Head, focus on Kuroda (Sugawara again), an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) goes wrong, and takes the fall for the Owada family, but when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance.
In Last Days of the Boss, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a laborer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki sets in motion a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara) taints his relationship with his fellow gang members.
Each of the films can stand on its own and isn’t dependent on information in other installments of the franchise. The series is testosterone-driven, with few significant female roles. Violence is rampant through all three movies, providing considerable action. Director Fukasaku creates a palpable atmosphere of dark malevolence as characters go through their illegal dealings.
Bonus materials on the unrated 6-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include a new video appreciation of director Kinji Fukasaku; two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy; Original theatrical trailers for all three films; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and an illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the films, the yakuza genre, and Fukasaku’s career.