For all that we see, hear and fear about the demise of physical media, we appear to find ourselves in somewhat of a purple patch for Blu-ray releases. While fancy new 4K releases may be turning our heads, there’s a hell of a lot of good old 1080p releases being churned out by the Studios and, more interestingly, the ever-growing number of boutique labels that are in the marketplace.
So to make sure that you don’t miss any of these little gems, we’re going to introduce a monthly round-up of some of these releases - and, of course, continue to endeavour to cover every single 4K release with their own separate reviews. Focussing here on titles that aren’t being released in other physical versions and that perhaps aren’t the most mainstream, hopefully this and future articles will help with your future purchasing or renting decisions. So please enjoy and do feedback in the discussion thread if you’ve watched any and what you think…
Mosley: It's Complicated
(2020, Dazzler Media, Region B UK Blu-ray, Release Date 19th July 2021)
While that title may be true of its subject, it's somewhat of a misnomer for this documentary looking back at the rather large life of Max Mosley, who will be known to most as one of the three things: the son of British Fascist Oswald Mosley; the one-time FIA/F1 supremo who helped oversee the creation of Formula One into the billion-dollar sports behemoth it is today; or possible sexual deviant and scourge of the UK press.
And while the documentary looks at each of these facets of the man and the impacts of them on his family, it’s very much told almost exclusively from its subject’s perspective – there is no challenge or questioning of him or his views/actions, with only a wry smile from the other talking heads involved (including the likes of Bernie Eccleston and other F1 luminaries, as well as Hugh Grant and other close friends) to indicate that other viewpoints may well be available...
The other issue the film faces is the scale of the life being looked at – 90 mins to cover everything means that even with a wealth of archive footage, it still feels very surface level, with little depth able to be given to any particular element. An interesting watch in terms of letting us know how much more to Mosley there was outside of the handful of newspaper headlines.
AV is as expected for a modern documentary – a wealth of archive footage and newly shot interviews mean there’s a huge range of visual type and quality on show while the audio keeps the all-important dialogue crystal clear at all time. Throw in the lack of any extras and this is an easier streaming recommendation than a disc purchase.
Film: 6/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 1/10 Overall: 6/10
(2020, Signature, Region B UK Blu-ray, Release Date: 12th July 2021)
Director Peter Hyams revels in his stripped to the bone, minimalist approach to this wholly generic kidnap thriller. Jules Wilcox is a widow travelling across country to start a new life when she is kidnapped by Marc Menchaca, who isn’t even given the dignity of having a name. What follows is all the usual tropes – abduction, escape, the hunt, etc – rolled out one after the other, albeit delivered with some real style by Hyams and Wilcox.
Yet it's so stripped back, there really is nothing to it – Hyams attempts to ratchet up tension by stretching scenes out for far too long: even after some clever subversion of the usual cliches in setting up the abduction (Wilcox knows something is very wrong with this man who she keeps bumping into on these deserted backroads), it takes an absolute age to happen, by which point the audience is getting restless as it already knows exactly what’s coming.
Throw in some of the same ridiculous decisions our protagonist makes that these films can’t seem to shake and an antagonist who barely registers any sort of characterisation outside of his Village People facial hair and we’re left with a handsomely put together and well-acted thriller that drags and adds absolutely nothing we haven’t seen delivered better in countless other films.
AV is bang average – flat, digital photography is fairly detailed but totally lifeless and an atmospheric audio track is more concerned with the sounds of the forest than anything else. Extras are solid but don’t elevate the disc anywhere near must-buy status.
Film: 5/10 Video: 6/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 5/10 Overall: 5/10
(2011, Criterion, Region B UK Blu-Ray, Release Date 12th July 2021)
A wonderfully heartfelt and heartbreaking coming of ager, told through a myriad of lenses – a teenage African American girl is struggling with her identity and sexuality against the backdrop of her disintegrating family and its Christian beliefs. What writer/director Dee Rees’ historically important LGB film gives us is a lack of stereotype in the deep characterisations of its main cast, yet balancing all this against what could be, in another life, a traditional almost John Hughes-esque teen drama narrative (best friend with a secret crush, the new love who may not be as into her as she is, the approaching prom, etc).
The cast are all superb and there’s an easy naturalness to the while film, helped by Rees’ documentary background. Yet it’s also hugely cinematic, its strip club opening showcasing a dizzying array of camera moves to heighten the emotions of our young lead while the rest of the film uses a vast amount of colour to do the same even in more sedate scenes. It’s wonderful and the kind of film that makes you want to have kids just to show them this and go ‘I will be better than this for you'...
As it’s a Criterion disc, there's the usual decent very filmic transfer and a fascinating array of extras that gives an in-depth look into the director and her life, the making of the film and its cultural importance. A great film on a great disc.
Film: 9/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 8/10 Overall: 9/10
The Revenge of Frankenstein
(1958, Indicator, Region B Blu-ray re-release, Release Date 12th July 2021)
Hammer's first proper movie sequel and already it was showing a tendency to try something a little different with its follow ups. Peter Cushing returns as the Baron, escaping his hanging in the opening scene and setting up multiple shops in the neighbouring city - a swish, upper class clinic to pay the bills and working in the poor hospital to help with his more esoteric and questionable hobbies. This time, his creation is a 'perfect' man for whom the brain of his hunchbacked assistant will be transplanted. But plans as we all know have a nasty habit of going awry...
The film loses the menace of Christopher Lee as the Monster (but gains pathos and the power of speech in return), but Cushing returns with a much nastier edge, thirsting for revenge by desperately proving that he is God. Following the template of the Universal Frankenstein/Bride double act, it’s funnier than its predecessor (some jet black dialogue about the poor in the hospital and the insane experiment in the lab that sees separate tanks for separate body parts all work in unison all raise a giggle) and this, together with a genuinely surprising ending, gives the film a different feel and tone to its much more straightforward predecessor. A very worthy follow up.
The transfer is grainy, but it looks exactly as it should - colours are hot, but the detail is nice and natural and print damage is non-existent. The lossless mono track is clean and clear and it's rounded out by a number of really decent mini documentaries on the disc. Highly recommended.
Film: 8/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 8/10 Overall: 8/10
Crazy Samurai 400 vs 1
(2020, Dazzler Media, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 5th July 2021)
A samurai clan is seeking revenge but an arranged dual between its grandmasters turns into a double cross and a lone samurai is left to take on over 400 swordsmen from the other clan. And the next 75 minutes shows that battle in a single take. An actual single take.
Wave after wave of faceless goons falling under our antagonist’s sword in a very good facsimile of a third person video game. And yet, for all the extraordinary feats of endurance and technical skill to choreograph so many fight moves and have them feel and look so plausible, fulfilling its central conceit – a single take means there’s no elaborate fight choreography and therefore little variation in the fights/kills - comes at the expense of emotion, drama and simple engagement with what we’re watching. And the second conceit – that one man could take down 400 enemies – further adds to the limitations of the fights: at any point, the faceless samurai could rush our antagonist all at once and end him within seconds... but they never do, content to attack either individually or in no more than groups of two or three.
A final short fight scene traditionally shot and edited that comes at the film’s conclusion has so much more energy, spectacle and excitement than anything shown in the preceding 75 minutes that it almost proves that this was a great concept that simply doesn’t work in reality.
AV sees picture quality being very digital and very noisy, while a thunderous (at times) soundtrack helps bring it to life. No extras at all means this is little more than an interesting curio than an essential purchase.
Film: 5/10 Video: 6/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 1/10 Overall: 5/10
(1989, Eureka Video, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 19th July 2021)
A pleasing blend of romantic drama and Hong Kong police actioner from genre legends Ringo Lam and Chow Yun Fat. A police informer lets Fat’s hard-bitten inspector know of an arm’s deal that is about to take place in an empty apartment. And while the ensuing gun battle sees bullets spraying randomly and not a hint of balletic choreography in sight, the presence of a cute as a button three-year-old in the midst of all this carnage is the first clue we get that this isn’t going to go where we expect it to.
Fat’s investigation sees him become smitten with the sister of one of the dead gunrunners and in amongst all the expected action beats, a love story begins to develop, complete with cheesy rom-com beats and ballad-backed montages of Fat and the lovely Cherie Chung falling head over heels for each, all the while getting sassed by the best three-year-old actor the world has ever seen.
While the pacing between these two plot strands isn’t quite perfect, come its conclusion, it just feels satisfyingly right. Hardcore action fans may bemoan the lack of, well, hardcore action, and romantic comedy fans will question why so many people had to be burned to death for the lovers to realise their true feelings for one another. But this was an unlikely solid action/romance where that crazy genre blend somehow actually works.
Solid AV and a fairly meh set of extras are also included on the disc.
Film: 7/10 Video: 7/10 Audio: 7/10 Extras: 5/10 Overall: 7/10
(2020, Arrow Films, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 5th July 2021)
A micro-budgeted blend of the weird, supernatural genre stylings of Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead's Resolution, the loose, character work of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and a dash of Ben Wheatley's Kill List for its mix of the mundane with an insane ending... it's sadly not quite a sum of those parts.
Leo receives a call for help from his estranged junkie of a sister. Strung out, she tells him that she's been cursed by a quasi-religious sect, and 'bound' to another man whom they must now go and find to break the curse. Whilst it aims for a 'is she/isn't she telling the truth?' type vibe from the off, there’s sadly a few seemingly random interludes along the way that show the film's hand way too early.
And while some of these are quite effective - a dark empty hotel room suddenly punctuated by a strange light and the very first appearance of the clown-masked intruder are both eerily disturbing and very well delivered - they come across as random highlights on a more freewheeling and fairly dull character piece as the siblings reconnect over badly carved pumpkins and even worse karaoke, the balance between the two strands firmly in favour of the latter rather than the much more interesting former.
A real shame, as for something shot on two iPhones over a 12-day road trip it deserves some plaudits. But sadly, its blending of the weird genre effort and the more character driven drama just doesn't quite work.
The digital version via iTunes was watched, rather than the disc, but the transfer is likely similar – very digital, very clean, not very filmic. Extras are packed, with all the usual kinds of Arrow goodies.
Film: 5/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 7/10 Extras: 8/10 Overall: 5/10
New Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Trilogy
(1974-76, Arrow, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 5th July 2021)
A re-release of Battle Royale’s Kinji Fukasaku’s uneven but fun yakuza trilogy.
The first film is a wannabe period gangster epic that falls at the first hurdle due to some baffling tonal issues that plague what should be the most important elements. Its too short run time doesn't give the characters room to breathe, while too many are introduced, meaning everyone is sketched far too vaguely with no real feel for the narrative-driving shifting allegiances that occur. Secondly, a number of these main characters are portrayed as near cartoon buffoons - falling down drunk, pawing any woman nearby and coming across as nothing but ridiculously boorish oafs, it robs the film of any sense of seriousness that the plot requires us to have and renders the whole thing lightweight and tonally all over the place.
While the second film has the same gonzo tone and feel, it seems to sit far better within its narrative. It throws just about every trope in the book at the wall - a drug-addicted son-in-law of the gang boss, a deputy who craves power and all manner of simmering tensions between various factions - but with the protagonist playing a much more proactive role in proceedings, the film feels better structured, tighter in its narrative and just more effective in its storytelling. And the insane car chase finale, more akin to something you'd see on a Friday night down Belle Vue speedway than anything from The Fast and the Furious, is an absolute blast.
Finally, the last film in the trilogy goes epic, in a way that the previous two films only hinted at. Focussing on two major Japanese gangs and their rivalry, this time taking place right at the top of each family, it combines elements of both previous films almost perfectly - still retaining that hyperactive camerawork for action sequences and the odd scene of drunken tomfoolery, yet upping the roles and importance of women into key plot drivers and expanding the narrative to match its scope. Hugely enjoyable and the set as a whole, if you can plug into the tone of all three, delivers an awful lot of fun.
It being Arrow, this re-release does everything you want – solid transfers and a raft of extras.
Film: 7/10 Video: 7/10 Audio: 7/10 Extras: 8/10 Overall: 7/10
(1975, Criterion, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 26th July 2021)
Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky at his most lyrical and possibly his most obtuse, Mirror has virtually no narrative construct at all: it’s a trip through the fractured memories and brittle emotions of a man on his death bed. Looking at three different periods of a life, the vignettes segue between dreams, actual newsreel footage of momentous Russian events taking place during these periods and loose dramatic interpretations of moments from Tarkovsky’s own life. Wholly enigmatic and featuring multiple members of his own family, it’s a haunting and often beautiful combination of cathartic therapy and biography of himself and his country.
And yet it left me wholly outside of it – no doubt emotional, it simply didn’t connect with me at all on any level. Resembling less of a film and more of a cinematic interpretation of one of those rambling conversations with an aging parent that sees them freewheel from one topic to the next, going into huge detail about things of which you know nothing and care even less about, it’s a frustratingly obtuse watch.
This has obviously connected with many going by the ubiquitous positive reviews it garnered but for me, it’s a nothing but a series of random scenes that mean very little, with no hook or relevant framework to make any of it matter. Scored below accordingly (some will view it as a masterpiece, others the most pretentious piece of cinema ever made), your mileage will definitely vary with this one...
It being a Criterion release, it has a really solid transfer and the second disc of extras has a number of in-depth looks into both the film and Tarkovsky, with mostly new interviews and short films rounding out the disc. For fans of the film, it’s a brilliant release.
Film: 5/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 9/10 Overall: 5/10
(1981, 101 Films, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 26th July 2021)
College hazing horror from the director of Reform School Girls and starring a still too young-looking Linda Blair, this plodding slasher suffers from some hefty delusions of grandeur.
Establishing itself with an interesting 60’s gothic horror vibe a la Roger Corman’s Poe cycle (thanks to some really nice design touches such as the mansion it all takes place in and the period costumes the leads are wearing), its simplistic narrative – college pledges must spend a night in a haunted mansion and of course, things go sideways as the previous residents of the house don’t take too kindly to guests – is perfectly set up for a series of well executed and gruesome setpieces…
... which sadly never materialise. Mistaking a glacial pace for a means to automatically generate tension, the second act takes a nap, with nothing much really happening outside of watching our cast slowly mooch round an empty house. The kills are bloodless, there’s little of any of the exploitation trappings we all know and love and its ending feels so tacked on from the rest of the film it’s all screaming for a massive twist that sadly never arrives. Desperately wanting to be more than an average blood n’ boobs slasher, it fails to be anywhere near as fun as those it was avoiding trying to mimic.
The transfer is pretty ropey – it talks of a new restoration but it's covered in print damage with even some SD inserts copping up every now and again – but the extras package is really special, with lots of interesting new interviews with the main cast and crew who all hold the film in really high esteem. Almost worth a purchase for the extras…
Film: 4/10 Video: 5/10 Audio: 6/10 Extras: 10/10 Overall: 6/10
Next month we'll have more Criterion, more Eureka, as well as a little Lionsgate, a dash of Shameless, some Fractured Visions and maybe even some Sony to add to the mix.
Please let us know how right or wrong we are, and tell us what most enjoyed on Blu-ray in July 2021 in the discussion!