It always seems, during this time of year, like every week there are some really great Blu-ray and DVD releases as well as whatever garbage Hollywood chucked out during January. It really drops the ol’ net good-stuff average. For instance, this week sees the release of a classic of ’80s sci-fi/action as well as a movie that was easily one of my top ten of 2014…AAAAAAAAND a stupid sequel that didn’t need to be made. Darn the luck, DARN.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Revisionist horror is some of my favorite, especially when it deals with themes and ideas that have been done to death in the traditional sense. Show me something I haven’t seen before, please I beg of you. When it comes to vampires, they’ve pretty much been handled every single way possible, from jagged-toothed monsters to misunderstood sparklers. However, I don’t think they’ve been handled quite this way before, certainly not coupled with all of the other things that make Ana Lily Amirpour’s film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the world’s first Iranian vampire western. That alone is reason to watch it, but it also happens to be fantastic, which makes it even better.
The film begins with Arash (Arash Marandi), a James Dean equivalent, retrieving his pet cat and driving her home in his awesome vintage cherry Cadillac. His father (Marshall Manesh) is a heroin addict mourning the loss of his wife, Arash’s mother, but has run out of money and owes the brash local criminal element Saeed (Dominic Rains), a tattooed and pierced buffoon who deals smack and runs prostitutes. He takes Arash’s car as payment and goes off to collect money from Atti (Mozhan Marno), a hooker who’s “over the hill” at 31. But he’s also been watched by a girl (Sheila Vand) in traditional Persian wear over a striped Jean Seberg shirt. She seems demure and shy, but she’s actually a vampire who doesn’t like people picking on Atti, or anyone. Her life is a lonesome one and she walks the empty streets at night looking for someone to bite. Eventually, she meets Arash who shows her compassion, which she isn’t used to, and the two become enamored. But she’s a vampire, so this can’t possibly work out, right?
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is deep and layered and haunting and beautiful and funny and scary and truly unique. For her first feature, writer-director Amirpour shows a surprising talent for character and visuals. We need to hope she continues making movies of this level because if she’s this impressive with her feature debut, imagine what she’ll be with her second, fifth, or tenth movies. This is a movie that’s not anything like what you think it will be and that’s exactly what you should want. Easily sits as one of my top films of 2014, you should check it out immediately.
Remember the weird time back a few years ago when nobody knew Liam Neeson could be an ass-kicker? It was back before he had a particular set of skills and would continue to prove it in movie after movie. The beginning of this Neesonnaissance was 2008’s Taken in which he has to catch his daughter’s kidnappers and make them pay. The success of that film led to a second one, in which basically the same thing happened but the daughter has to try to save her parents, all while winking at the audience, “this is the kind of thing that happens in sequels, huh folks?” Now, because not every nickel has been wrung from the concept, there’s a third outing, fittingly titled Taken 3. They stay in Los Angeles for it. And a whole lot of nothing happens that’s still somehow utterly preposterous.
There’s never really been a whole lot of logic in these Taken movies, but this one seems to take the cake for most moments wherein the audience laughed at the absurdity of what was going on. Granted, it was an audience full of film critics, but still. Bryan Mills behaves in a way that’s completely antithetical to things that would actually help him. For once, the police in a movie aren’t incompetent (Forrest Whitaker’s character’s actually pretty smart) but Bryan still refuses to tell them anything or let them do their job. I realize there wouldn’t be a movie if he did that, but there would be a lot less carnage. Most of the wanton destruction happens because of Bryan and to the police. There are also moments where Bryan “downloads the police computer” (ALL OF IT?!?!?) or searches his dead ex-wife’s GPS coordinates and finds what he’s looking for immediately. These are all things in order to keep the plot going and they’re all the silliest things you’ve ever seen.
Taken 3 is a ridiculous and ultimately boring finale (we’re told) to the series in which most of the action comes from our hero resisting arrest and punching police and security people in aid of him running away. He kills a million guys but you know he’ll never see a day of jail time for it. Movies like this seem badly out of date these days, and I couldn’t help but add up another 20 years to what Bryan should be serving if any of that stuff was real. As much as we all love Liam Neeson, this act is growing a bit tired. We’ve seen it before. For 8 years in fact we’ve been watching it. By this point, everybody’s phoning it is.
Escape from New York Collectors Edition
Here are some facts that won’t be revelations to anyone: I’m a big John Carpenter fan (see my Top 5 of his films here) and one of those favorites is his 1981 dystopian future action masterpiece Escape from New York (which I wrote about recently in my Schlock & Awe column). So, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the movie, because y’all are probably sick of me singing its praises. But what I WILL talk about here is just how much and to what degree Scream Factory knocked it out of the park with their Collectors Edition.
Scream Factory have been releasing Carpenter’s films over the past couple years, at least the ones Carpenter owns the rights to, and they’ve done classics like Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, They Live, and even some deeper cuts like Prince of Darkness and his made-for-Showtime movie Body Bags. True to form, all of these had excellent HD transfers and their extras were excellent. But I think the company’s really outdone themselves with the two-disc Escape set. First of all, the new 2K scan of the inter-positive, struck from the original negative, looks about as crisp and clear as anything you could hope to see, without losing the graininess that gives the movie its charm. The sound is equally up to the gorgeousness of the picture. The first disc also includes three feature-length commentary tracks. The brand new one of the bunch has actress (and Carpenter’s ex-wife) Adrienne Barbeau and Director of Photography Dean Cundey. An entertaining chat that probably didn’t need a moderator but has one. The other two have been on previous releases but are well worth a listen; the late, great producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves talk about the specific production tricks of the film, and Carpenter and star Kurt Russell reminisce and cackle their way through a track that was recorded back in the old laserdisc days in the ’90s. If you haven’t heard a Carpenter/Russell commentary, oh friends are you in for a treat.
Thee’s a whole second disc with amazing featurettes, many of which are new to this release, including a special effects retrospective with Dennis and Robert Skotak, which explains how involved all the film’s model shots and matte paintings actually are; there’s an interview with Carpenter’s composing associate Alan Howarth about creating the iconic score, which was released as an album several times, usually selling very well; a new interview with still photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, author of On Set with John Carpenter; and a brief interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau who was a P.A. for one night on the film back in 1980. All the featurettes from older releases are here too.
This really is the definitive edition for fans of this movie, and it’s a movie that continues to excite and impress even after 34 years.
Ghoulies/Ghoulies II – A two-pack of movies that were made to exploit people’s love of Gremlins. They come out of toilets…so that’s fun.
Breakin’/Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo – Boy, remember when they tried to make a breakdancing movie happen? Well they did it twice. The first one is a fairly straightforward white-girl-dances-street movie, the second one with its amazing subtitle is just pure silliness and makes Footloose seem plausible.
Blind Woman’s Curse – A lesser-known period-set martial arts movie about a blind swordswoman who gets revenge on just about everybody. An interesting, and wholly Japanese, mixture of action and horror.
The Toxic Avenger: Part II – Toxie goes to Japan, and I, as a child seeing this when I wasn’t supposed to, was traumatized for a decade.