On this rather slow holiday week, new Blu-rays are headlined by a movie that almost didn’t get released at all.
‘Annihilation‘ – Writer/director Alex Garland follows up his acclaimed ‘Ex Machina’ with another challenging, high-concept science fiction drama. Based on a novel by author Jeff VanderMeer, the film is about a group of female scientists and soldiers led by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who enter a quarantine zone called “The Shimmer” where unexplained mutations have affected the flora and fauna. Prior expeditions fronted by men didn’t go so well. Despite its pedigree, the movie became a victim of corporate politics at Paramount, whose new management tried to bury projects greenlit by the previous regime. (See also: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox‘.) The studio barely promoted the movie during its brief theatrical release and actually sold it off to Netflix overseas. Reviews were strong, though many audiences found the plot impenetrable. This is the only title of the week to get an Ultra HD release, albeit exclusive to Best Buy.
‘The Road Movie‘ – Russian drivers are notorious as some of the craziest and most reckless in the world, to the point that dashcam videos of the insane crashes and road rage incidents from the country are hugely popular on YouTube. Calling a 67-minute compilation of some of the wildest of them a “documentary” might be stretching the meaning of that word, but the result is said to be strangely entertaining.
For a time, John Schlesinger’s gritty 1969 street hustler drama ‘Midnight Cowboy‘ was the only X-rated movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. However, the film was re-rated down to an R in 1971 without any cuts. (The original rating was for subject matter, not explicitness.) MGM released it on a rather unexceptional Blu-ray in 2011. It now moves into the hands of the Criterion Collection, which will surely treat it better.
Robert Bresson’s 1966 ‘Au hasard Balthazar‘ traces the journey of a donkey passed from owner to owner, turning its story into a kind of religious allegory. The film is frequently described as a masterpiece. Criterion released it on DVD in 2005 and now offers a Blu-ray upgrade.
Also from Criterion is a reissue of the Howard Hawks Western ‘Red River‘, which drops the DVD from the previous dual-format package but is otherwise unchanged.
The latest noir offering from ClassicFlix is 1952’s ‘The Man Who Watched Trains Go By‘ with Claude Rains.
The 1982 domestic drama ‘Smash Palace‘ brought Australian director Roger Donaldson to the attention of Hollywood, leading to a long and mostly fruitful career behind the camera of such hits as ‘No Way Out’ and ‘Species’ (as well as a few duds). The Blu-ray comes from Arrow Academy.
Dick Van Dyke headlines Norman Lear’s 1971 screwball comedy ‘Cold Turkey‘, about a small Iowa town that accepts a tobacco company’s PR challenge to go cigarette-free for a month, resulting in most of the residents going a little mad from nicotine withdrawal. Only ever released on DVD as a burned-on-demand DVD-R, the movie now gets a proper Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Italian cult filmmaker Lucio Fulci suffered a stroke during production of ‘Zombie 3‘, forcing writer Claudio Fragasso to take over. Fragasso helmed the next sequel ‘Zombie 4: After Death‘ by himself, but what he’s really notorious for is ‘Troll 2’, the so-called “Best Worst Movie.” Both zombie flicks hit Blu-ray from Severin.
Vinegar Syndrome serves up more schlock with the 1984 ‘Bloodsuckers from Outer Space‘.
I’m curious to see ‘Annihilation’, but it seems certain to hit Netflix in this country pretty soon, so I doubt I’ll blind-buy the Blu-ray.
‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Au hasard Balthazar’ will both go on my wish list. What’s on yours this week?