Editor’s Notes: Titanic, Moka, God of War, 8 Assassins, Girls Trip, Vampirina, Red Christmas, Jonah The Musical, Lady Macbeth, Lilith’s Hell, Ancient Aliens: Season 10, Volume 1 are out on their respective home entertainment format October 17th.
Titanic (Kino Lorber), released in Germany in the midst of World War II, is an epic production intended to be a drama with multiple stories, a la “Grand Hotel,” containing romance and intrigue, with a subtext of strong anti-British and anti-American sentiment. It combines factual material about the sinking of the ship along with fictional characters, mostly good, decent Germans, both above and below deck.
The highlight of the movie is a recreation of the most notorious maritime disaster. The production was as troubled as the doomed ocean liner. Director Herbert Selpin was arrested by the Gestapo when he was overheard making damning remarks about the German army, and replaced by an uncredited Werner Klingler.
For many years, Titanic was withheld from release, primarily because its scenes of panic might be demoralizing to wartime audiences. Some of the effects footage did appear, uncredited, in the 1958 British film, A Night to Remember. The movie was restored in 2004. Other motion pictures that have dealt with the liner’s tragic maiden voyage include Titanic (1953) and James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster.
Bonus materials on the unrated Blu-ray release include audio commentary by Gaylyn Studlar, co-editor of Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster; original 1912 newsreel; a White Star Line promotional film, offering a tour of the Olympic, Titanic’s sister ship; and a theatrical trailer.
Moka (Film Movement) is about a grieving woman who pursues a couple she suspects of killing her son in a hit-and-run. Diane Kramer (Emmanuelle Devos, Coco Before Chanel) travels to Evian, France in search of the vintage mocha-colored Mercedes that she believes killed her son. Overwhelmed with grief and desperate for answers, she tracks down Marlene (Nathalie Baye, Catch Me If You Can), a beauty salon proprietor and owner of the vehicle. In order to get closer to her, Diane pretends to be a potential buyer for the car, but the path of revenge is far more tortuous and complicated than it seems.
Director Frederic Mermoud spends time depicting Diane’s fascination with the Mercedes, the very instrument of her son’s death — the last thing to see her son alive. In silent, but revealing body language and facial expression, Ms. Devos conveys this fascination when she sits in the car or looks at its exterior. The car is the last physical connection to her dead son.
Diane spends time with Marlene’s sullen daughter (Diane Rouxel) and a young local hustler (Oliver Chantreau), a shifty guy who supplies her with a gun. But Diane is not exactly after vengeance, or even justice. She is determined to make the culprit share her horrible feelings of profound grief and loss. Because of the film’s slow build-up, director Mermoud fails to create adequate suspense to sustain our interest. The film comes off more as a character study of a woman thrown into emotional chaos over personal loss than riveting thriller. The revenge plotline is secondary to the more intriguing relationship between Diane and Marlene.
Bonus materials on the widescreen DVD release include the short film Le Creneau, written and directed by Frederic Mermoud, and an interview with the director. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
God of War
God of War (Well Go USA), set along the Chinese coast during the 16th century, is a character-driven battle epic. Pirates rule the coastline, pillaging the small villages and terrorizing its citizens. When maverick leader Commander Yu (Sammo Hung) enlists the help of sharp young General Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao), they devise a plan to defeat the pirates.
Based on a page from Ming Dynasty history, this action picture tells a story of loyalty, military strategies, and even incorporates a sub-plot of female empowerment. Outnumbered by the Japanese, Gen. Qi shows off his tactical genius by dealing the enemies their first major defeat. Following this, Qi must deal with the bureaucratic aftermath of the battle, flirt with an opinionated wife (Regina Wan Qian) at home, train a new troop comprising fearless villagers, and lead an all-out attack against the Japanese forces.
A highlight of the film is the battle of wits between Qi and Japanese strategist Kumasawa (Kurata Yasuaki). Qi is appropriately heroic, but avoids the blindness that often is associated with the good guy. Though he’s humiliated in front of his men by his wife, tricked by the local magistrate, and mocked by his opponents, he remains unshakable in his goals. And Kumasawa is portrayed not as a caricature of evil, but as an intelligent and formidable adversary, to be both respected and feared for his ability to figure out battle moves.
Director Gordon Chan uses handheld cameras to get close to the action, with fights extending into streets, alleys, up staircases and onto rooftops. These sequences are excitingly staged and provide excellent action moments. There are many characters and many relationships to keep track of, but Chan never lets the proceedings get confusing or overly complex.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc unrated Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a making-of featurette, and a trailer. The film is in Mandarin, with English subtitles.
8 Assassins (MYD Visual) follows the journey of Amir, a thief who makes a living robbing banks. Following one bank robbery gone terribly wrong, Amir steals his associates’ loot and flees from Marrakech to the Moroccan wilderness, pursued by bloodthirsty thugs. He attempts to take refuge in a remote walled city, but finds instead a beautiful and mysterious woman, the tyrannical warlord Sharkan, and eight deadly assassins.
He’s shunned and immediately sent to the jails of Sharkan’s Kasbah. It’s here where he meets the wise and cunning Shahin, head of the oldest and most prestigious desert tribes. This strange encounter in the middle of nowhere between Amir and the revered tribal leader alter both of their lives, revealing a heroic nature within the thief.
An action adventure in the style of spaghetti Westerns, 8 Assassins is a tale of redemption as a fugitive from justice finally understands the importance of embracing a sense of integrity in the fight to break free from the oppression of a tyrannical ruler.
The movie delivers in the action department. There are sword fights, martial arts confrontations, gun battles, exploding buildings, deadly scorpions, rat-tat-tatting machine guns, car chases, destruction by bazooka, and men charging across desert sands on horseback.
The movie is well shot, and contains a rousing score by Jurgen Engler as well as contributions by several artists, including Onyx, Judy Collins, Black Plastic, Yellowman, Christian Death, and others.
Director Said C. Naciri makes up for a thin plot by keeping the pace brisk and the action constant. The plot is familiar: a societal outcast, out for only himself and living on the wrong side of the law, heroically embraces a greater cause. Amir is a flawed anti-hero who undertakes a ritual of deprivation, extreme danger, and self-examination to carve an unexplored path.
The unrated DVD release contains a dubbed English soundtrack. Bonus features include a slide show, and the film’s official movie trailer.
Girls Trip (Universal Home Entertainment) follows four best friends on an experience of a lifetime as they reunite for a weekend of fun, festivities and outrageous adventures only to learn they are not as strong apart as they are together. The four ladies are old pals who used to be known as the “Flossy Posse,” but have drifted apart as their lives took them in different directions. But when Ryan (Regina Hall), an Oprah-type media mogul and guru, gets invited to be the keynote speaker at Essence Fest, she brings her old friends along with her.
Sasha (Queen Latifah) had a falling out with Ryan and is now the editor of a struggling celebrity gossip website. Dina (Tiffany Haddish) is as sexually voracious and uninhibited as ever. And Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is nervous about leaving her two children and has forgotten how to relax and let her hair down. Over the course of their stay in New Orleans, they renew their friendship, revisit former rivalries, and rekindle old romances.
The film most closely resembles The Hangover with its R-rated language, broad humor, sense of camaraderie, and over-the-top situations. The strongest performer is probably the least well known — Tiffany Haddish — who has the funniest material and is the most profane and vulger. As Melissa McCarthy did in Bridesmaids, Ms. Haddish steals the picture. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie among the four women. Their multi-layered dynamic gives the movie an easygoing, natural flow.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc widescreen Blu-ray + DVD + Digital release include deleted scenes with commentary by director Malcolm D. Lee; outtakes; extended performance of the song “Because of You” by Ne-Yo; feature commentary with director Malcolm D. Lee; and 3 behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Vampirina (Disney), inspired by the children’s book series Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, is about a family of friendly vampires who move from Transylvania to Pennsylvania. Vampirina “Vee” Hauntley’s family includes a friendly ghost and pet werewolf. Life in Pennsylvania is completely different from Transylvania, primarily because there are humans everywhere, but Vee adjusts to her new surroundings and makes friends with several humans. Whether they’re making their own music video, planning a party or throwing a surprise-filled sleepover, Vee and her friends always figure out how to have fun with a helping of spookiness for good measure.
The DVD contains 8 episodes. In “Going Batty,” Vee gets nervous when she meets her new neighbors. In “Scare B & B,” Vee’s mom, Oxana, opens up a B & B, and two vampires check in as guests the exact same time the neighbors are invited to stay. Vee invites Bridget and Poppy to spend the night in “The Sleepover.” “Portrait of a Vampire” deals with Vee’s eventful first day at a human school, while “Vee’s Surprise Party” finds Vee’s classmates throwing her a surprise birthday party. “Vee Goes Viral” focuses on a web video of Vee and Poppy that becomes an Internet sensation. Vee and Poppy have to undo a curse put on Edna’s garden in “The Plant Predicament,” and Vee and pals must convince the mummy, King Peppy, that museum visitors are still interested in him.
The animation lacks the lushness of Disney’s feature films but the episodes are perky and filled with cute versions of iconic monsters. A frequent theme is Vampirina feeling like an outcast because she is different from the humans who surround her. Each episode features a new musical number that teaches a lesson.
The Vampirina series debuted in October, 2017 on The Disney Channel. It combines elements of The Addams Family, Hotel Transylvania, and Casper the Friendly Ghost. There are no bonus features on the DVD release.
Red Christmas (Artsploitation) stars Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo) as Diane, widowed matriarch of a large family gathering at its Australian estate for the holidays. The family includes Diane’s outspoken, pregnant daughter Ginny (Janis McGavin) and her partner Scott (Bjorn Stewart); Ginny’s childless sister Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her preacher husband Peter (David Collins); younger sister Hope (Deelia Meriel); Diane’s Down Syndrome-afflicted son, Shakespeare-quoting Jerry (Gerard Odwyer); and grumpy, pot-smoking Uncle Joe (Geoff Morrell).
The festivities are interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Cletus (Sam “Bazooka” Campbell), clad in dirty bandages and a black cloak, who’s come with a letter to Mother. Cletus claims to be part of the family, telling a story that seems both sad and frightening. He’s thrown out, but the assembled family has not seen the last of him.
On the surface, Red Christmas is a slasher film with lots of blood and gore. But the motivating factor for the killings is rooted in something more than madness, and it affects a decision made by Diane decades earlier that has now brought that controversial decision back to haunt her.
Ms. Wallace plays Diane as a strong woman who is clearly unsettled by the stranger who brings up events she thought she had put permanently behind her. But the opening of old wounds also causes her grown children to regard their mother from a new perspective. This is the first feature film from writer-director Craig Anderson, who stages several gruesome scenes with an assortment of interesting props.
Bonus materials on the unrated Blu-ray release include director Craig Anderson interviewing Dee Wallace; a conversation with actors Sam Campbell and Gerald Odwyer and director Craig Anderson; blooper reel; deleted scene; and director’s commentary.
Jonah The Musical
Jonah The Musical (Virgil Films) was filmed in front of a live audience at Sight & Sound Theatres in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When God calls Jonah to offer mercy and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh, he runs straight in the opposite direction. One bad choice leads to another, and soon Jonah’s “getaway” ship is on the verge of destruction in the midst of a raging storm. To save themselves, the ship’s crew tosses Jonah overboard and into the waiting mouth of a monstrous whale.
This stage production contains humor, music, large impressive sets, colorful costumes and its highlight — an underwater sequence featuring a 40-foot whale.
The original live stage show debuted in 2012 then traveled to a Branson, Missouri theatre for the 2014-2015 season. It was shown on 600 movie screens in May, 2017 through Fathom Events.
Jonah The Musical is not the first musical based on Biblical characters. Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat, and Jesus Christ Superstar all tapped into characters and stories from both the Old and New Testaments.
Bonus materials on the widescreen DVD release include “The Sight & Sound Story” and the featurette, “Behind the Curtain.”
Lady Macbeth (Lionsgate) is not based on the Shakespeare play. Set in rural northern England, it’s based on a 19th century Russian novel. The title derives from the main character’s proclivity for ruthlessness. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is married off to Alexander (Paul Hilton), son of a wealthy landowner, who proves to be a cruel and neglectful husband. His father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank) is a bitter tyrant who bullies her. She’s kept indoors supposedly for the sake of her health, and left alone for long periods with nothing to do and no one to talk to. Her sex life with her husband is dominated by him and unsatisfying for her. When both men are called away, Katherine eyes a worker on the property, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and decides he’s going to be hers. The two begin an affair behind Alexander’s back.
In this story of female oppression, almost everyone is deeply flawed with no regard for doing what is morally right. Poor housemaid Anna (Naomi Ackie) finds herself in the middle of hostilities and intrigues and serves as the film’s only moral compass. The early scenes of Katherine’s boredom and wife-as-prisoner give way to a stronger, more aggressive woman determined to extricate herself from the hold of her husband and father-in-law. We see her plotting dastardly deeds with calm, effortless logic. Despite her youth, Ms. Pugh conveys frustration and icy authority. She plays Katherine as always thinking, playing scenarios over in her mind, figuring ramifications of her actions, all while maintaining the pose of a helpless, dutiful wife.
Bonus materials on the R-rated widescreen DVD release include a behind-the-scenes featurette and photo gallery.
Lilith’s Hell (MVD Visual) is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a horror film. A pair of filmmakers try to work with director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park) to pull off a horror film based on realism. The producer’s family house, where the film is to be shot, turns out to have its own secrets hidden behind the walls — secret chambers and ritualistic ceremonies invoking the spirit of Lilith, who was cursed by God for not obeying Adam in the Garden of Eden. The women in the crew are possessed one by one and their only salvation is through death.
Lilith’s Hell falls into the horror sub-genre of “found footage,” pioneered by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. With a cast of only five main characters, director Vincenzo Petrarolo is able to develop them better than in typical low-budget horror flicks. Though we don’t get to know their entire life stories, there’s enough dialogue and interaction to give us a sense of who they are. The film is pretty powerful, once it seques into the heavy-duty horror content — escalating suspense, blood and gore, and a heightened sense of unrelieved terror. This all occurs gradually, from the routine preparations of making a movie to the descent into a supernatural abyss.
Bonus extra on the widescreen, unrated DVD release include interviews with cast and crew, interview with Ruggero Deodato, and trailer reel.
Ancient Aliens: Season 10, Volume 1
Ancient Aliens: Season 10, Volume 1 (Lionsgate) continues its investigation of new evidence of extraterrestrial intervention on Earth, including an aluminum object that resembles the foot of a lunar lander, but dates to over 40,000 years old. In India, a thousand-year-old mask is discovered that looks identical to the face of a grey alien. Newly uncovered records from Russia indicate that in 1948, an ancient rocket was discovered in Kiev.
The 8 episodes in this set are “The Alien Hunters” “Forged by the Gods,” “The Mystery of Rudloe Manor,” “The Alien Architects,” “The Pharaoh’s Curse,” “The Science Wars,” “City of the Gods,” and “The Alien Frequency.”
Ancient Aliens premiered in April, 2010 on the History Channel. The series started with a TV special of the same name that aired in March, 2009. The episodes popularize far-fetched theories, without substantial scientific evidence, about the possibility that aliens visited Earth eons ago. The shows are structured like legitimate documentaries, with on-location footage, newspaper reports, “expert” commentary, and a narrator tying together the outlandish premises. As entertainment, the shows are innocuous enough, but because they have the look of serious documentaries, they can lead viewers to believe speculation over real evidence.
There are no bonus features on the 2-disc widescreen DVD release.