Editor’s Notes: New to Blu-ray/DVD: Cartels, The Treasure, The Hero, Glory, Hana-Bi, The Big Sick, Phantasm 5-Movie Collection, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends are out on their respective home video formats September 19th.
Cartels (Lionsgate) stars Steven Seagal in an action thriller that pits American forces against an Eastern European drug cartel. U.S. Marshal Tom Jensen (Luke Goss) is assigned to protect an imprisoned Russian drug lord (Florin Piersic, Jr.) from his former employee, brutal assassin Bruno Sinclaire (Georges St-Pierre). In a framing device, government agent John Harrison (Seagal) interrogates Jensen and flashbacks show an operation gone wrong.
Seagal was once quite popular and starred in some good movies, including Above the Law (1988) and Under Sieg (1992), but he is on screen in Cartels for a ridiculously short amount of time. Mostly, he’s seated delivering dialogue. This film is among seven in which the actor appeared in 2016.
Seagal’s presence in the cast and his top billing were probably decisions made to sell the film as more than it is — a routine action movie. Now 65, Seagal is heavier than he was in his prime and apparently can’t handle — or is unwilling to — complex action choreography. There is one fight between his Harrison character and Sinclaire, but it is staged awkwardly and without the speed action fans are used to.
Goss is the real star, has good charisma, and handles the action sequences effectively. St-Pierre is a good villain and gets a chance to display his mixed martial arts talents.
There are no bonus features on the R-rated widescreen release, available in both the Blu-ray and DVD formats. A digital HD copy is included on the Blu-ray.
The Treasure (IFC Films) is the Cannes prize-winning film from director Cornelieu Porumboiu. Costi is working family man whose deep-in-debt next-door neighbor Adrian makes him an intriguing proposition: help him find the fortune reportedly buried somewhere on the grounds of his family’s country home and split the profits. As the two men dig, however, they unearth more than they anticipated, excavating not only dirt, but traces of Romania’s turbulent history.
Much of the film is devoted to the two men trying to buy a metal detector, which is expensive but essential for the intended task. Through a series of comic misadventures, they finally get the metal detector, stumble through learning how to use it, eventually discover something large, begin digging, and try to keep their treasure hunting under wraps.
The treasure hunting is difficult, consisting of hard labor and lots of frustration. Amateur metallurgist Cornel is recruited to help in the search, contributing a great deal of visual humor with his hangdog expression. The comic tone is dry and droll, and a couple of twists in the film’s third act come as a real surprise. The actors play their scenes with deadpan expressions, making their exploits all the more amusing.
Director Porumboiu indulges himself with forays into sub-plots, as we wait eagerly to see what lies beneath the beeping metal detector. This creates a considerable degree of suspense, with those comic twists proving a funny, unanticipated climax.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release. The film is in Romanian, with English subtitles.
The Hero (Lionsgate) is a romantic drama starring Sam Elliott (Tombstone) as Lee Hayden, an aging actor best known for his roles in Westerns, whose finest performances are long behind him. His days are spent reliving old glories and smoking pot with his former co-star and current dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). When he gets an unexpected cancer diagnosis, he realizes it’s time to sharpen his priorities. He strikes up a relationship with stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon, Orange Is the New Black), attempts to re-connect with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), and seeks one final role to cement his legacy.
The film itself has a familiar plot, but Elliott provides a quietly moving performance with his silent introspective moments and velvety voice. He shows Lee’s human flaws, particularly the sad distance between himself and his daughter. With an air of a wounded soul, Elliott manages to rivet the viewer with a highly expressive face and that incredible voice.
Director Brett Haley has assembled a first-rate cast. Casting Elliott in a role that mirrors the actor’s own life and career gives the movie a resonance and prevents it from being overly sentimental. The film also shows the downside of celebrity — the period when one’s most memorable roles are in the past and hope of achieving that level of fame and popularity is more elusive dream than realistic expectation.
Special features on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include audio commentary with writer-director Brett Haley and actor Sam Elliott, and a photo gallery. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Glory (Film Movement) begins with a simple premise, but becomes a portrait of bureaucracy consumed by cynicism, and a government with little regard for its most idealistic citizens. When Tsanko Petrov, a stuttering railroad linesman discovers millions of dollars on some rural train tracks, he decides to turn the entire amount over to the police. The authorities reward him with a televised ceremony and a new wristwatch.
But when the fancy-looking new watch stops working, Julia Staikova, the public relations head of the corrupt Ministry of Transport, can’t seem to find Petrov’s old watch, a family heirloom. When Tsanko’s simple life collides with a bureaucracy determined to use his “heroism” to distract the public from an emerging scandal, he struggles to recover both his old watch and his dignity.
The premise of a person finding a huge amount of money has been used before in movies with varying degrees of success. This Bulgarian film ties together the life of a simple man with the vast inner workings of a government grown too corrupt and self-serving to care about its own people. The film is not without humor, as poor, honest Tsanko gets mired in a swirl of political turmoil for his trouble in doing what he thought was the right thing. Glory is reminiscent of Frank Capra’s 1930s pictures in which average men became heroes because of their simple dedication to being fair, trustworthy, and ready to tilt at windmills when the cause was just.
Included on the unrated widescreen DVD release is the Academy Award-winning short film from Denmark, Helium, about a hospital janitor who tells tales of a magical universe to bring comfort and joy to a young, terminally ill patient.
Glory is in Bulgarian, with English and Bulgarian subtitles.
Hana-Bi (Film Movement) is a different kind of cop drama. Feeling responsible for the shattered lives of his loved ones, police detective Nishi (Takeshi Kitano) takes desperate measures to try and set things right in a world gone wrong. With his wife suffering from leukemia and his partner paralyzed from a brutal gangster attack, Nishi borrows money from a yakuza loan shark and then robs a bank to pay off his debt. The yakuza, however, are not satisfied, causing Nishi to resort to violence.
Directed by Takeshi Kitano, Hana-Bi (Fireworks is its English title) is composed of lengthy takes in which a lot happens, but often these takes are long shots. We are therefore like spectators at a stage play. Close-ups are a key director’s tool in conveying a character’s thoughts and emotions and emphasizing key dialogue.
When violence occurs, it is sudden and brutal with lots of blood spilled in the process. With Kitano doing quadruple duty as writer, director, editor and star, the movie has a distinctive mood of impending doom. Nishi is a basket case with constant visits by yakuza thugs intent on getting their money. These confrontations lead to a final showdown with the crime bosses.
Hana-Bi doles out significant pieces of the story gradually in order to create and sustain suspense. The movie is more about consequences than pure action, depicting Kitano’s day-to-day activities, numbed by overwhelming problems. Fans of cop thrillers might be disappointed that Hana-Bi is light on typical action, but those who enjoy a decent character study will appreciate how Kitano gets inside Nishi’s head and shows his battle against spirit-crushing circumstances.
Bonus materials on the widescreen Blu-ray release include audio commentary, a critical essay, and the featurette “The Making of Hana-Bi.” The unrated film is in Japanese, with English subtitles.
The Big Sick
The Big Sick (Lionsgate) is based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (Nanjiani) moved with his family to Chicago when he was a boy. His parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) invite many young Pakistani-American women to the house, pressuring Kumail to choose one. As Kumail says in his routine, “In Pakistan, arranged marriage is just called ‘marriage’.”
One night, however, he connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his stand-up sets. What they thought would be just a one-night stand turns into something more serious. This complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents. When Emily comes down with a mystery illness, Kumail is forced to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), whom he has never met, while dealing with the emotional struggle between his family and his personal happiness.
Apart from the cute banter between Kumail and Emily, the awkward predicaments, and the obvious cultural clash, The Big Sick has the feel of authenticity that distinguishes it from typical romanic comedies. The plot device of illness isn’t new to the genre, but it’s handled here with lightness and gentle humor. Even in the film’s second half, when Emily is in a coma, the film keeps the laughs coming while not diminishing the seriousness of Emily’s condition.
The chemistry between Kumail and Ms. Kazan works beautifully, the first half of the film benefitting greatly from their easy, comfortable repartee. They look great together. The actors playing the two sets of parents are all exceptional, and Holly Hunter steals most of her scenes as Beth, whose penetrating looks at Kumail, zippy one-liners, and state of mind suggesting the collapse of mankind provide lots of the movie’s laughs. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) keeps the pace brisk by switching back and forth among several story threads.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include background on the actual story that forms the basis of the movie; making-of featurette; deleted scenes; 2017 SXSW Film Festival panel; cast and filmmaker commentary; and the short “The Bigger Sick: Stick Around for More Laughs.” A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Phantasm 5-Movie Collection
Phantasm 5-Movie Collection (WEll Go USA) contains all five films in Don Coscarelli’s horror franchise. Each film finds Mike (Michael Baldwin) facing off against a mysterious grave robber known only as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his deadly arsenal of terrible weapons.
Phantasm (1979) features Mike (Baldwin) at a funeral watching a tall mortician clad in black (Scrimm) lift a coffin by himself into a waiting hearse. Seeking the truth to this odd sight, Mike breaks into the mortuary, where he comes face to face with the sinister Tall Man, protected by his deadly flying spheres. Barely escaping with his life, Mike enlists the aid of his brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and their friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), to uncover the secrets of the Tall Man and his hellish world.
Phantasm II (1988) takes place seven years after Mike’s stay in a mental hospital. He enlists the aid of old pal Reggie to hunt down and destroy the bTall Man once and for all. Mike’s visions take them to a small town where flying killer balls aim to slice and dice their way through everyone.
Phantasm II: Lord of the Dead (1994) feature mutant dwarves attacking, the silver spheres flying, and the Tall Man returning with a vendetta. Brothers Mike and Jody are reunited to assist friend Reggie destroy the Tall Man.
Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) takes place 13 years after the original nightmare began. Mike must cross dark dimensions of time and space to discover his origins and those of his nemesis, the evil Tall Man. With only loyal buddy Reggie at his side, Mike must finally confront this malevolent embodiment of death.
Phantasm V: Ravager (2016) takes place after a battle with the Tall Man. Battered Reggie wanders through the desert in search of missing friend, Mike. Reggie is targeted by two of the Tall Man’s Sentinel Spheres and destroys them. He awakens suddenly to find himself sitting in a wheelchair. In this alternate dimension, Reggie is an aged and weary old patient in a psychiatric ward. He must travel between dimensions and figure out what is reality in order to confront the mysteries of a decades-long struggle against evil.
Bonus materials on the 5-disc DVD set include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, trailers, interviews with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and TV spots. All films are in the widescreen format. The first four films are rated R. “Phantasm V: Ravager” is not rated.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends (Time Life) collects many of the great moments from The Tonight Show. Among the guests are Rodney Dangerfield, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Burt Reynolds, Jay Leno, animal expert Jim Fowler, and Don Rickles.
Before his stint on NBC’s The Tonight Show, Carson worked on radio in his home state of Nebraska, appeared as a guest on TV on The Jack Benny Show, was a panelist on To Tell the Truth, and hosted Who Do You Trust? from 1957 to 1962. He took over The Tonight Show on October 1, 1962, succeeding Jack Paar as host. His tenure as host lasted 30 years and consisted of 4,000 shows. Ed McMahon followed Carson from Who Do You Trust? and became his announcer and sidekick.
The show was originally produced in New York City with occasional stints in California. In early May, 1972 the show moved to Burbank, California because of it was closer to the talent pool of stars. In 1980, the show was cut from 90 minutes to a one-hour format.
The 10-disc DVD set contains 28 full, unedited episodes from the 70s, 80s and 90s, including original commercials. Included is a Memory Book containing photos and stories about Carson and his famous friends, and over an hour of bonus material.