The Game Changer
The Game Changer (Well Go USA) is a Chinese movie set in 1930s Shanghai. Two escaped prisoners join one of the most powerful gangs in Shanghai — the Green Gang — as the right-hand men of head boss Mr. Tang. When Tang tries to gain control over business dealings in the city, he discovers his closest allies are not who they seem and turns against his own men to protect his power.
There’s a lot going on in The Game Changer. Mobsters and corrupt government officials vie for power and control, the Japanese are an ever-present threat, and assassinations are constantly attempted. The movie drips with melodrama. There are love triangles, a broken friendship, dramatic misunderstandings, and a spate of tragic occurrences.
Action is hardly in short supply. There are explosions, knives wielded, a hailstorm of flying bullets, bloodied bodies dumped in the river, scenes of torture, shoot-outs, rope swinging, massive body count, and enough martial arts fights for two films. One sequence involves elaborately staged action in a jail cell, hallways, rooftops and sewers, winding up with a car chase in crowded city streets. A climactic scenes features a wild shootout in a mansion, and is reminiscent of the final scene in Al Pacino’s Scarface.
This is a way over-the-top gangster picture that relies on the usual ingredients of a martial arts actioner. The period setting adds interest, the action is fun, and the quantity and variety of action make this the ideal popcorn flick.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release. The Game Changer is in Mandarin, with English subtitles.
Cult of Chucky
Cult of Chucky (Universal Home Entertainment) is the seventh installment in this killer doll franchise, and unlike other franchises that attempt to milk the life out of a once good idea, it continues to deliver exciting moments. The original Child’s Play was made in 1988 and created a new kind of monster in a mass-produced kid’s toy that was possessed by the spirit of a murderer and carried on the family business, so to speak. Chucky became an instant star, ranking with Jason and Freddy Krueger as iconic horror “monsters.”
Cult of Chucky picks up where Curse of Chucky (2013) left off. Nica (Fiona Dourif) has been confined in a mental hospital for the past four years. She’s convinced that she, not Chucky, murdered her entire family. Her sanity is further tested when she sees the doll popping up at the remote facility. When a series of grisly deaths plague the asylum, Nica starts to wonder if perhaps she isn’t crazy after all. Andy (Alex Vincent), Chucky’s now-grownup nemesis from the original Child’s Play, races to Nica’s aid.
The new twist is that the spirit of Chucky can enter any Chucky doll, making it possible for the series to go on indefinitely. Like clowns, dolls often creep people out, especially if they are too lifelike. Chucky is a powerful fright image because he looks so innocuous and gentle. When his expression alters, however, and the cold, murderous voice of Brad Dourif emanates from his mouth, the effect is chilling. Other movies tapping into dolls for horrific effect include The Conjuring, Magic, Dead Silence, and the film that initiated the trend back in 1945, “Dead of Night.”
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital edition include deleted scenes with commentary by writer-director Don Mancini; feature commentary with Don Mancini and head puppeteer-associate producer Tony Gardner; and 3 featurettes. Both theatrical and unrated versions are included.
Churchill (Cohen Media Group) stars Brian Cox as the British leader at a critical moment in history. In June, 1944, the Allied forces are readying for the greatest invasion in history: D-Day and the landing on the beaches of Normandy, France. This will be the first stage in the campaign to free Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany. But even as close to one million Allied soldiers are secretly assembled on the south coast of England preparing to invade Nazi-occupied Europe, Churchill struggles with the decision to embark on the operation. Fearful of repeating the mass slaughter of more than 500,000 soldiers during World War I’s Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, he knows that if the D-Day landings fail, he will be remembered as the architect of the war’s greatest carnage.
As Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Waldham) prepare their troops to land in France and push back the Nazis, Churchill, grumpy and bombastic, tries to stop them. The portrait of the former British leader is not an attractive one. Unlike traditional portrayals of the prime minister as a fearless, cigar-chomping bulldog, Cox shows us an insecure man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, drinking heavily, and stewing over how history will regard him. Faced with the horrors of the mass invasion failing, he is frustrated by his diminishing role in determining the fate of his country. His wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) has little patience with her husband and their marital squabbles veer into the realm of soap opera. The dialogue between husband and wife is gooey and sentimental and is a poor fit in a movie about a world-changing plan.
Bonus materials on the PG-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include a 22-minute making-of featurette and a trailer.
976-Evil (Sony Home Entertainment) is a horror film about rebellious teenager Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who calls a 1-900 number to get his “horrorscope.” Spike’s cousin, Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys, “Fright Night”), decides to call the phone number himself after learning of its supernatural powers. Hoax spends a lot of his time in his hometown keeping local leather-jacketed thugs at bay, avoiding his overbearing religious fanatic mother (Sandy Dennis), and dreaming of a date with trailer park charmer Suzie (Lezlie Deane). The fateful phone call connects Hoax with a grotesque demonic force that gradually begins to take over his entire life, compelling him to commit dastardly crimes.
Director Robert Englund (the original Freddy Krueger of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise) undermines the narrative with an annoyingly slow pace. The premise isn’t bad, and Geoffreys does an effective job of portraying Hoax’s inherent nerdiness as well as his crazed avenger, going after those who have made his life miserable. The plot is a variation on the mythological Pandora’s box. Once a phone call is made to that number, it’s virtually impossible to undo its effects. Hoax’s obsession with the hotline and his repeated calls is perhaps a metaphor for drug addiction. It gets to a point that he can’t help himself and he goes down an increasingly dark and sinister path.
Bonus materials on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include all-new commentary with director Robert Englund and Nancy Booth Englund and alternate home video version. A digital HD copy is also included.
A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story (Lionsgate) is an odd film that uses an entity usually found in horror movies in a sad, bittersweet way. C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) are a young couple who argue about small things. Their home contains a piano that came with the house. However, they are both disturbed by a sound that comes from the piano. Shortly after, C is killed in an automobile accident.
M grieves, unaware she’s being watched by a ghost. The ghost is C, appearing in a Halloween-like get-up — a bed sheet with two eye holes. The specter conveys a sadness that’s apparent even though we can’t see its face. C’s ghost becomes even sadder when M moves on with her life, and he witnesses subsequent occupants of the house.
The film is not a horror film nor is it intended to scare. It is more a meditation on love, grief, and finding eternal connection. Writer-director David Lowery has made a spellbinding film that draws us in, partly because it is unusual, partly because of the performances of Affleck and Mara. Actors depend on their faces to express emotion. When that’s stripped away, the tools of their trade are reduced. But Affleck manages to suggest his continued love for M by simply moving and being a nearly constant presence.
The early part of the movie establishes C and M as soulmates, despite petty bickering. They ring true as a couple. They’re not perfect, and accept the daily hassles of living together. These early scenes are important in the picture’s second half when C tries to look after M as best he can. Their performances ground the movie in reality and contrast with its more fantasy-driven aspects. The film beautifully illustrates passage of time, memory and loss in a screenplay that depends more on visuals than dialogue to create mood.
Bonus materials on the widescreen R-rated Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scene, audio commentary with director David Lowery and crew, and the short, “A Composer’s Story.”A digital HD copy is enclosed.
A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda (Arrow Video) stars John Cleese (Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers) as Archie Leach, a weak-willed barrister who finds himself embroiled with a quartet of ill-matched jewel thieves — American con artists Wanda Gershwitz and Otto (Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline), stuttering animal-lover hitman Ken Pile (Michael Palin), and London gangster Georges Thomason (Tom Georgeson) — when Thomason is arrested. Only he and Ken know the whereabouts of the diamonds, leading to plenty of farce and in-fighting. Archie is hired to defend Thomason.
Essentially a caper film with oddball characters, the movie was filmed in England, but financed by an American company. What should be a modest little comedy is made to look grander than it is. The humor is quirky, much like its characters, but it’s given a lavish production that clashes stylistically with the script. The attempt to blend droll British humor with broad American farce is a difficult mix. Not meant to be the greatest caper flick of all time, it relies on offbeat characters as its primary attraction.
John Cleese is probably one of the funniest comedians in the world. But not in this film. Instead of the stiff upper lip, supercilious manner combined with heavy doses of silliness he’s so great at conveying, he’s not given material to tap into these strengths. We expect a Pythonesque performance, but instead we get a fairly tepid portrayal. He does get some laughs, but they’re nowhere near the kind his Ministry of Silly Walks, Dead Parrot or Cheese Shop sketches have elicited.
In a plot lifted from The Ladykillers, Palin’s Ken Pile spends a good deal of time trying to kill the only witness to the robbery, a little old lady (Patricia Hayes). The humor derives from his repeated failure to complete the task. Palin is effective at conveying a loopy, eccentric character — the last person you’d want for a partner on a jewel heist.
Bonus materials on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include commentary by writer and star John Cleese; a 1988 documentary on the making of A Fish Called Wanda containing interviews with actors Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and director Charles Crichton; a 15th anniversary retrospective with interviews; a look at the film’s locations; 26 deleted and/or alternate scenes; tongue-in-cheek introduction from John Cleese recorded for the film’s original release; trivia track; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.
Children of the Corn
Children of the Corn (Arrow Video), based on a short story by Stephen King, is tale about how getting lost in the Midwest can lead to a nightmare. Young couple Burt and Vicky (Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton) find themselves lost in the backroads of rural Nebraska, eventually winding up in the town of Gatlin, which is not listed on the map.
In a prologue, we learn that the town’s entire adult population was murdered three years earlier by its child population. The kids live under the influence of boy cult leader Isaac (John Franklin), who claims to preach the sacred word of “He who walks behind the rows.” Isaac’s number-one follower is Malachi (Courtney Gains), who dutifully does the young preacher’s bidding. Isaac’s cult-like hold on the children continues, all the trappings of modern life are forbidden, and sacrificial rites are performed on anyone who turns nineteen. Burt and Vicky soon discover that their lives are in grave danger unless they can escape the town and its bloodthirsty children.
Like Village of the Damned and Lord of the Flies, Children of the Corn takes innocence usually associated with children and introduces an evil malevolence, creating such disturbing images as young people carrying machetes, bailing hooks and scythes chanting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Director Fritz Kiersch incorporates some good special effects, such as the cornstalks parting by themselves and something moving beneath the soil in the cornfields. These are effective because they’re accompanied by suspense. Later in the movie, however, he falls into the trap of showing too much, making what should have been a frightening climactic sequence silly.
The actor playing Malachi, Courtney Gains, is the best thing in the movie. As Isaac’s enforcer and right-hand man, he has the look of madness in his eyes and a smile that sends chills down one’s spine. His character is truly scary.
Bonus materials on the R-rated widescreen Blu-ray release include brand new audio commentary with horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan; audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains; a retrospective documentary about the movie; interview with actor Linda Hamilton; several making-of featurettes; “Disciples of the Crow,” a 1983 short film adaptation of a Stephen King story; storyboard gallery; original theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.
Don’t Torture a Duckling
Don’t Torture a Duckling (Arrow Video), directed by Lucio Fulci, takes place in a rural area in southern Italy where a serial killer is targeting local teenage boys. The superstitious locals are quick to assign blame, the suspects including the local “witch,” mentally unbalanced Maciara (Florinda Bolkan), the village idiot (Vito Passeri), a voodoo practitioner (Georges Wilson), and a young priest (Marc Porel). With the bodies piling up and the community gripped by panic and a thirst for vengeance, two outsiders — city journalist Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) and spoiled rich girl Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) — team up to crack the case of who is murdering young boys in the small village of Accendura.
The film is filled with red herrings as the police commissioner (Virgilio Gazzolo) heading the investigation and the cynical local police captain (Ugo D’alessia) keep getting the wrong suspect and the murders continue. Though there is less blood and gore than in typical Fulci movies, Don’t Torture a Duckling incorporates a series of strange characters and sustains suspense, always keeping the murders in the forefront.
The movie was shocking at the time of its release for its brutal violence and themes of child murder and pedophilia. Today, it’s regarded as Fulci’s masterpiece. In addition to being a dark murder mystery, it is a social commentary on mob mentality and vigilante justice, the arrogance of modern thinking, and the disrespect outsiders have for traditional values. It also provides an unflattering depiction of the Catholic Church.
Bonus features on the unrated 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack include audio commentary by Tory Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films; “Hell Is Already In Us,” a video essay by critic Kat Ellinger; “Lucio Fulci Remembers,” a 1988 audio interview with the film’s co-writer/director; interviews with actor Florinda Bolkan and key crew members; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork. The film is in Italian, with English subtitles. There is also an English language track.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) is the fifth film in the Pirates… franchise, and it attempts to capture the appeal of the original with similar ingredients: Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is again being pursued by a sinister ghost pirate and Salazar (Javier Bardem) blames Sparrow for turning him into the undead. Young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) are seeking the mythical Trident of Poseidon.
This is definitely a movie franchise that’s overstayed its welcome and has become a big yawn. Even Depp, who was so terrific in the first film, looks as if he’s going through the motions. The cleverness, humor and audaciousness of that first portrayal of Sparrow has given way to overdone mannerisms and exaggeration to elicit laughs that mostly fail to materialize.
Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have incorporated elaborate special effects to distract the audience from a thin plot. Effects include a ship that opens its hull to swallow its victims whole, ghost sharks, ghost pirates, and a parting of the sea reminiscent of The Ten Commandments, but without the excitement.
There’s also a lot of plot and assorted sub-plots stuffed into 129 minutes that seem to be pulling in all directions. What should be an old-fashioned adventure flick with laughs is a lumbering, top-heavy shallow spectacle. Depp’s loony bravado and stylistic performance made the first film a huge hit, much to the surprise of the Disney folk, who wanted a straightforward swashbuckler. In the studio’s attempt to replicate that magical formula, it has simply turned out a bloated movie devoid of charm.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Combo Pack include a making-of documentary, bloopers, and deleted scenes. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is rated PG-13 for stylized violence and suggestive content.
The Best of The Carol Burnett Show
The Best of The Carol Burnett Show (Time Life) is a 6-DVD set containing 16 episodes from across all 11 seasons of the variety show that ran from 1967 to 1978. Included are such sketches as Mr. Tudball & Mrs. Wiggins, Carol and Sis, The Oldest Man, The Family, As the Stomach Turns, and lots of movie spoofs.
Guest stars include Ella Fitzgerald, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Steve Lawrence, Rock Hudson, Perry Como,Burt Reynolds, Jimmy Stewart, Rita Hayworth, and Carl Reiner. Also in the set are Carol’s Q & A openers with the studio audience. The set contains the very first episode with Jim Nabors from September 11, 1967 and the emotional, double-length series finale.
New bonus features include a new interview with Carol Burnett; 2 specially-produced featurettes “11 Years of Laughter on The Carol Burnett Show” and “The End of 11 Years: Saying So Long;” and never-before-seen bloopers including Tim Conway completely cracking up in the “Dog’s Life” sketch.
Carol Burnett was a regular cast member of The Garry Moore Show on CBS from 1959 to 1962. When she left that show, she did films, appeared on Broadway, and appeared in TV specials. She signed a 10-year contract with CBS to do guest appearances and one special a year. She was offered a sitcom of her own but insisted on going on a regular weekly variety show, which became The Carol Burnett Show.
Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three
Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Three (Well Go USA) is a biographical martial arts television series based on the life story of martial artist/actor Bruce Lee (Danny Chan, Kong Fu Hustle). Michelle Lang stars as Lee’s wife, Linda Lee Cadwell.
After winning a high-profile martial arts championship, Lee is spotted by a Hollywood producer (Hazen MacIntyre) who sees great potential in the skilled young master and wants to make him a movie star. Eager to break into the American film scene, display his new kung fu style (Jeet Kune Do), and change the negative portrayal of the Chinese in mainstream media, Lee immerses himself aggressively into the art of making movies. But discrimination in the industry is rampant, and he must fight for his dreams of becoming the first Chinese martial arts film star to achieve worldwide fame.
Chan not only resembles the late action star. He has the same wiry body and is amazingly effective in the choreographed action sequences. Though his acting is not the best, Chan compensates with enormous enthusiasm, an irresistible smile, and a thoughtful portrayal of an iconic superstar of the action genre.
The English soundtrack unfortunately isn’t very good, and often borders on the laughable. Apart from Chan, the acting is overly broad, with exaggerated line deliveries and gestures. Those who recall Bruce Lee and his movies will enjoy seeing recreations of the significant milestones in his rise from obscurity to worldwide fame.
Ten episodes are contained on the unrated 3-disc DVD release. There are no bonus features.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor
The Suspicious Death of a Minor (Arrow Video), an Italian thriller filmed in Milan by director Sergio Martino, is an odd mixture of Italian cop conventions, grisly slashing, and comic car chases. A young prostitute is stalked during and after a wedding celebration by a sinister man in sunglasses who eventually catches up with her at her apartment and kills her in an orgy of blood.
A not exactly by-the-book undercover detective Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) teams up with sidekick Giannino (Adolfo Caruso) to track the vicious murderer and those who run a widespread drug-dealing ring. In his search for the killer, he undergoes a series of unexpected adventures, including a shootout on a rollercoaster ride, a knife attack in a crowded theatre, dangerous encounters with trains, a roof-top fight, and a group of female Harpo Marx impersonators.
The film fits within the Italian giallo genre — lurid crime fiction thrillers or horror films. This kind of film had its heyday in the 1970s and was popularized by Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage in 1970. Martino is attempting more of a police procedural as he follows Germi through his gritty investigation of a crime, yet he constantly throws the viewer off balance with weird moments, giving the investigation the feel of journeying through a forest you know well where the trees have been rearranged. Detective Germi, with the help of dopey young Giannino, breaks nearly every rule in the giallo playbook.
Bonus materials on the unrated 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include new audio commentary by Tory Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Itanian Giallo; new interview with co-writer/director Sergio Martino; and reversible sleeve containing original and newly commissioned artwork. The film has both Italian and English soundtracks. English subtitles are also available.