Editor’s Notes: Rock Dog, Vixen: The Movie, Cops Vs. Thugs, Outsiders: Season Two, DC Super Hero Girls Intergalactic Games, The Jacques Rivette Collection Limited Edition, On the Road, Somewhere, Those Redheads From Seattle, I Am Heath Ledger, & Wolf Guy are out on their respective home entertainment formats May 23rd.
Rock Dog (Lionsgate) is an animated feature about Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson), a Tibetan mastiff who lives on Snow Mountain where he is training to be a shepherd, keeping the wolves away from the sheep under the watchful eye of his father, Khampa (J.K. Simmons), but his heart isn’t into it. When a passing plane accidentally drops a radio, Bodi hears the sound of an electric guitar for the first time. Soon, Bodi is off to find out who’s responsible for the amazing sound — the incredible Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). This complicates things, since Khampa has imposed a ban on music from the entire village.
Rock Dog based on a graphic novel by Chinese rock musician Zhen Jun, was a small Korean-Chinese co-production that was eventually recreated with the assistance of American animators. The story is fairly simple, and that may be why it lacks spark. Despite its focus on rock music, the film is low in energy. There are excerpts from songs from Radiohead, Coldplay and The Foo Fighters, but they never really enhance the film’s overall appeal. The voice talent is fine, but the movie itself is bland and unmemorable.
Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include featurettes on the making of the film, casting the voices, animating the characters, and exploring the music. Also contained is the music video, “Glorious.” A digital HD copy is included.
Vixen: The Movie
Vixen: The Movie (Warner Home Video) is an animated feature about Mari McCabe (voice of Megalyn Echikunwoke), originally from Africa, who grew up an orphan after her parents were killed by local greed, corruption and rampant violence. But Mari refuses to give in to the terrors surrounding her. Inheriting her family’s Tantu Totem, Mari can access the powers of animals — anything from the strength of a gorilla to the speed of a cheetah. As Vixen, she fights courageously to protect the world from threats like those that claimed her family.
Vixen was intended to be the first African female DC superhero to star in her own comic book series, but the first issue of her series was cancelled in 1978, never to be released. The story was subsequently printed in “Cancelled Comic Cavalcade.” Since her debut in “Action Comics,” Vixen has primarily appeared in team comic books, particularly incarnations of the Justice League and Suicide Squad.
Vixen possesses the innate ability to make direct contact with the Earth’s morphogenetic field, which is sometimes known as the Red. This contact with the Red allows her to draw upon the abilities of any animal that has ever lived on the planet. By simply focusing on a specific animal, she can draw talent directly from the morphogenetic field and mimic its abilities, thus giving herself a range of superhuman powers.
The success or failure of a superhero to click with the public is a combination of novelty, timing, and back story. Vixen is unlike any other superhero — whether from the DC or Marvel universe — and attempts to level the superhero racial and gender fields dominated by white males.
Bonus features on the widescreen Blu-ray release include the mini-documentary Vixen: Spirit Animal, which explores the inner challenges Vixen has to overcome as she unlocks the secrets of her past. There are also two episodes from “Justice League Unlimited” — “Hunter’s Moon” and “Grudge Match.” A digital HD copy is included.
Cops Vs. Thugs
Cops Vs. Thugs (Arrow Video) is regarded by many to be director Kinji Fukasaku’s greatest single-film achievement in the yakuza genre. Cops Vs. Thugs was made at the height of popularity of Toei Studios’ jitsuroku boom: realistic, modern crime movies based on true stories taken from contemporary headlines.
Returning to the screen after completing their Battles Without Honor and Humanity series together, Fukasaku joined forces once again with screenwriter Kazoo Kasahara, composer Toshiaki Tsushima and star Bunta Sugawara to create one of the foremost achievements oh his career as well as a hard-boiled classic which is still ranked as one of the best Japanese films of the 1970s.
It’s 1963 in the southern Japanese city of Kurashima, and tough-as-nails detective Kuno (Sugawara) oversees a detente between the warring Kawade and Ohara gangs. The Kawades use political connections to further their activities, and the Oharas have an alliance with the local police. Best friends with Ohara lieutenant Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata), Kuno understands that there are no clear lines in the underworld, and that everything isn’t painted in blacks or whites, but varying shades of grey. When a gang war breaks out, Kuno’s superiors begin cracking down on the yakuza and command the cops to stop fraternizing with the criminals.
In the world of Fukasaku, there is no honor among thieves or lawmen. The only thing that matters is personal honor and duty among friends.
Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD edition include a new video appreciation of Fukasaku, theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, and illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film. The film is in Japanese, with English subtitles.
Outsiders: Season Two
Outsiders: Season Two (Sony Home Entertainment), set in the fictional town of Blackburg, Crockett County, Kentucky, tells the story of a group of mountain folk known as the Farrell clan and their struggle for power and control in the hills of Appalachia. The Farrells are an isolationist group who shun normal society and live a spartan existence in the woods. Extremely suspicious of outsiders, the family controls a mountain coveted by a national mining outfit for its coal deposits.
In Season Two, control continues in the rugged hills as the battle between the clan and the town escalates with the Farrells becoming more isolated and paranoid than ever before. The uneasy truce that had previously existed between the townspeople and the family tribe came to an abrupt end when Big Coal headed up the mountain and the stand-off continues to have repercussions, putting everyone to the test as they’re forced to face new challenges and enemies.
The series is unique in its depiction of a clan that has lived in the hills for centuries. They live apart from much of the modern world without Internet, television or a written language of any kind. They have their own leadership and their own code of laws, and they interact with the regular folk in town only on supply runs, which involve bartering rather than currency. There have been tragedies when the Farrells and townsfolk interacted, so mostly they steer clear of each other.
The show throws a spotlight on a group about which little is known, drawing drama from tension, distrust, wariness, and self-preservation. It’s an intriguing show that draws the viewer in as the day-to-day reality of the Farrells’ lives is shown.
All 13 episodes of Season Two are contained in the 4-disc unrated DVD set. The sole special feature is a collection of 29 deleted scenes.
DC Super Hero Girls Intergalactic Games
DC Super Hero Girls Intergalactic Games (Warner Home Video) is a direct-to-video animated movie. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee and Katana face off against Korugar Academy and the Female Furies in the Olympics-inspired Intergalactic Games, a friendly competition whose goal is to bring peace throughout the galaxy.
But trouble rears its head when Lena Luthor takes advantage of the gathering of the Supers to enact a villainous plan. It’s up to the DC Super Hero Girls to fight the forces of evil and protect their school, combining Wonder Woman’s strength, Supergirl’s speed, Batgirl’s strategic knowledge, Poison Ivy’s ability to make things grow, Harley Quinn’s energy, Bumblebee’s ability to shrink, and Katana’s fearlessness.
This is a mildly entertaining film clearly geared toward young girls, since it features an all-female cast. There is a lot of action, with the villainess more irritating than evil. Though not rated, this is easily G-rated caliber, with stylized violence and a heavy dose of good triumphing. There is also a theme of fair play and strength in numbers running throughout, as the gals pool their special talents to overcome their mutual adversary.
The animation looks rushed and doesn’t exhibit the care or motion smoothness of animated films with more generous budgets. The lead characters are portrayed as teenagers and, despite their amazing abilities, they are still kids trying to do the right thing without arrogance and aware of their own power.
Special features on the widescreen DVD release include the music video That’s My Girl and 7 featurettes.
The Jacques Rivette Collection Limited Edition
The Jacques Rivette Collection Limited Edition (Arrow Academy) is a box set representing the ambitious four-part cycle of interconnected films, each in a different genre. One was to be a love story, another a Western, a fantastical thriller, and a musical comedy. Because of ill health, Rivette completed only two of the films.
Duelle (1976) is a mythological fantasy that channels elements of Val Lewton, Jean Cocteau and film noir. Two goddesses, the Queen of the Sun and the Queen of the Night, fight over a man in a Paris set somewhere between the 1930s and the 1970s and search for a magic diamond.
Noroit (1976) is a pirate revenge drama, set and filmed in and around a castle on the Brittany coast. There is a play within the film loosely adapted from The Revenger’s Tragedy, Noroit stars Geraldine Chaplin.
A third film — Marie et Julien, starring Albert Finney and Leslie Caron —began production, but Rivette succumbed to nervous exhaustion and shooting was abandoned. When he did return to making films, Rivette borrowed some of the elements of Duelle and Noroit and came up with Merry-Go-Round (1981). Joe Dallesandro (Trash, Flesh for Frankenstein) and Maria Schneider (Last Tango In Paris) are summoned to Paris, which leads to a search for a missing writer and an inheritance.
Bonus features of the 6-disc unrated Blu-ray + DVD box set include the featurette “Scenes From a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers,” an archive interview with the director in which he discusses Duell, Noroit, and Merry-Go-Round; Remembering Duelle, in which Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz recollect their work on the 1976 feature; interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who reported from the sets of both Duelle and Noroit; a book containing writing on the films and on-set reports from Duelle; and reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork. The films are in French, with English subtitles.
On the Road, Somewhere
On the Road, Somewhere (IndiePix Films) follows three high school best friends, Oliver (Arnold Martinez), Moises (Javier Grullon), and Hemingway (Victor Alfonso), on a summer road trip through the Dominican Republic, their last together before college. Oliver needs to arrive at all costs to the remote town of Pedernales to say goodbye to his high school sweetheart before she moves away to New York. Moises is documenting the trip as a final tribute to his love of photography before enrolling in a career in civil engineering. And Hemingway is looking to escape his oppressive family and become a writer in a society that despises authors.
Along the way, the car breaks down often, leaving the three boys stranded as they encounter a range of individuals — a Haitian hitchhiker, a famous photographer, and an intriguing artist. These strangers trigger a series of adventures unexpectedly changing the boys’ travel plans, turning their celebratory journey into a final farewell.
As we watch the boys converse, argue, and riff on pop culture and politics, a light is shined on both the joys and insecurities of modern Dominican society.
There are no bonus features on the unrated DVD release. The film is in Spanish, with English subtitles.
Those Redheads From Seattle
Those Redheads From Seattle (Kino Lorber) was made in 1953, the height of Hollywood’s fascination with 3D movies. This movie is a kind of hybrid — it’s a musical set in the late 1800s during the Alaska gold rush. Mrs. Edmonds (Agnes Moorehead) takes her four unmarried redheaded daughters (Rhonda Fleming, Teresa Brewer, Cynthia and Kay Bell of The Bell Sisters) to Alaska during the 1898 gold rush so they can help their father run his newspaper. All four are members of the singing sister act The Edmonds Sisters, and upon arriving in the Yukon, they find out their father was murdered. The four women get work at the saloon owned by Johnny Kisco (Gene Barry). Katie Edmonds (Fleming) searches for her father’s murderer, who may or may not be Kisco.
This film holds the distinction of being two “firsts,” It was the first ever 3D musical (beating “Kiss Me Kate” to the screen buy a month) and the first widescreen movie released by Paramount Pictures. The casting here is strictly second-tier; the lack of star power plus an uninspired script makes this a nearly forgotten curiosity. Its release in Blu-ray 3D gives viewers a chance to see the film as it was intended but, like so many 3D films of that period, the 3D was used more as a gimmick than to enhance its story telling, with objects hurled toward the camera and chorus girls kicking their legs endlessly.
Teresa Brewer was a pop singer of the 1950s who had several hits, including “Music! Music! Music!,” “Ricochet,” and “Til I Waltz Again With You.” Also appearing is another 50s singer, Guy Mitchell.
MGM’s Seven Brides For Seven Brothers would come along the following year, a musical using a similar Western setting but with a far better cast and script. Those Redheads From Seattle never rises above mediocre. Seeing it in 3D is its primary attraction.
Special features on the Blu-ray 3D release include audio commentary by film historians, 2006 interview with Rhonda Fleming, before & after restoration demo, restored three-channel stereophonic sound, stereophonic sound demonstration, and original theatrical trailer.
I Am Heath Ledger
I Am Heath Ledger (Virgil Films) is a documentary about the actor who died unexpectedly at age 28. The film recounts his acting career, from his early days performing in Australia to his rapid rise in Hollywood as star of such films as Monster’s Ball, Brokeback Mountain, and The Dark Knight, for which he won the Best Supporting Academy Award for his performance as The Joker.
Also included is footage taken by Ledger himself which gives a very personal look into his personal life. In addition to never-before-seen footage, the film features several interviews from close friends, family members, and industry colleagues including directors Ang Lee and Catherine Hardwicke; actors Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou and Emile Hirsch; musicians Ben Harper, Justin Vernon, N’fa and Grace Woodroofe; and the Ledger family.
This film is part of a series of Spike-TV documentaries about famous people who died young. Though it’s interesting to see a portrait of this talented actor, the documentary is pretty heavy on the superlatives. There is hardly any attempt to do more than scratch the surface of Ledger’s life and career, with little probing beneath the sentiments expressed. What does come across is the tremendous potential this young actor possessed, and the fact that he was well on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s brightest lights. Conspicuously missing from the documentary is Michelle Williams, the mother of Ledger’s daughter.
The title is curiously misleading, since the film is the work of Derik Murray, who also directed similar I Am… documentaries on Chris Farley, JFK, Jr., Evel Knievel, and Bruce Lee.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include additional stories from Heath Ledger, his family, and friends, and an introduction to the Heath Ledger Scholarship.
Wolf Guy (Arrow Video) is based on a manga by Kazumasa Hirai and never release outside of Japan. Manga is a comics style created in Japan, conforming to a style developed in that country in the late 19th century. Produced by Toei Studios, the film stars Sonny Chiba as Akira Inugami, sole survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves, who relies on his supernatural powers to solve mysterious crimes. After a series of bloody killings committed by an unseen force, Inugami uncovers a conspiracy involving a murdered cabaret singer, crooked politicians, and a plot by the Japanese CIA to harvest his blood in order to steal his lycanthropic powers. At the same time, Inugami also discovers the truth behind his family heritage, and that he may not be the last of his kind.
Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, Wolf Guy contains violence, action, nudity, actual surgical footage, and a psychedelic musical score, resulting in a one-of-a-kind movie. Though there are lapses in logic, the film is fast paced, introducing new characters and sub-plots along the way. Chiba displays his trademark martial arts skills and, free of prosthetics and heavy make-up, he’s able to kick his way through an assortment of adversaries, both male and female. The film is notable not only for its elaborate fight sequences, but for gallons of stage blood splattered throughout.
The werewolf is a product of European folklore, existing in numerous variants. Belief in werewolves developed at the same time as widespread belief in witches. The creature has been a staple of fantasy cinema dating back to 1935’s Werewolf of London. Through the years, filmmakers have turned to the legendary creature, creating variations with settings both ancient and modern. In 1981 alone, three major motion pictures — American Werewolf in London, Wolfen, and The Howling — dealt in different ways with the werewolf. Frequently, the character who transforms into a werewolf is treated sympathetically — a victim of violence and/or genetics. In Wolf Guy, Inugami is actually the hero, looking to protect society rather than victimize it.
Bonus features on the 2-disc Blu-ray-DVD Combo Pack include new video interviews with Sonny Chiba, director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, and producer Tatsu Yoshida; reversible sleeve containing original and newly commissioned artwork; and an illustrated collectible booklet featuring background on the film and a history of Japanese monster movie hybrids. The film is in Japanese, with new English subtitle translations.