The Week In Video Part XLVIII

Tuesday, August 25 2015
The Week In Video Part XLVIII

This column has been a bit quiet of late, thanks, in no small part, to the school holidays limiting our viewing (and writing opportunities) and a few days away too, so here’s a bumper crop of current and forthcoming releases we’ve watched over the past few weeks, paying particular attention to there trade potential…

We’ll start with Charlie Chaplin, a comic genius who has never managed to translate that iconic status into sales in the video era. After Universal’s richly deserved success with Laurel And Hardy at the height of the DVD boom, Warner had a crack at giving the maestro similar treatment on DVD, but it failed to live up to expectations. Maybe it was the expectation the studio and rights-holders had of its potential, maybe it was that popular opinion sometimes suggest that Chaplin just wasn’t as funny as some of his contemporaries. Curzon Artificial Eye is now having a crack at it, with a raft of Chaplin releases on Blu-ray and DVD, spread out over a few weeks. The Great Dictator arrives in the middle of this, with the satire released on August 24. It looks gorgeous, from the lovely transfer through to the gorgeous sleeve; the latter among the best that Chaplin’s work has ever received on home entertainment formats. It works for punters buying in to the series of releases as a collection or individual purchases, with the likelihood that they’ll want to buy into more after making a first purchase. It’s important releases such as this are out there, especially if the famous figure ends up on the £20 note as is currently mooted, and if they’re left in anyone’s hands, Artificial Eye, the grandaddy of the UK arthouse scene, is as good a bet as anyone. The additional material is strong too, especially across the series.

Moving in a loose chronological order, just released from the Masters Of Cinema imprint, is another black and white tale, albeit one with a harder edge than The Great Dictator. Pickup On South Street has loads going for it – Samuel Fuller at the helm, all the usual film noir ingredients with an added cold war sensibility (it was made in 1953), stars Richard Widmark and, for this release, boasts all the usual MoC goodies – it looks and sounds great an comes complete with a lengthy booklet looking a the film and placing it into context of the time and Fuller’s career. It’s a Blu-ray first too, giving it further potential. The film’s a doozy too, expect support in all the right places (from classic film columns in The Times, The Observer et al).

Moving forward a good few years, to the early 80s, and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. For someone who vividly remembers renting this in about 1984 after it crawled onto VHS, it’s strange to think we’re now further away from Videodrome than Videodrome was from Pickup On South Street. Of course on its initial release, especially on the relatively new video format, Videodrome seemed ahead of its time, both in terms of its plot and special effects too. It’s aged well too, with Arrow Video’s exemplary work in terms of production making it feel fresher than it did for much of the DVD era. What’s more, the imprint has, as ever, assembled an unparalleled selection of extras, including a raft of early films. Its place in the canon was highlighted by its impressive early performance in terms of sales (the title was released on August 17) and it could well bring more consumers into Arrow Video’s unique world.

New films now and already out and about is Wild Card, released by Lionsgate, which shows that Jason Statham still has an ability to pull in the crowds and enjoy healthy sales. It’s a strange mix, but has enough Statham stunts and punch-ups to propel it along at a decent pace, with some existentialist card playing and other heist elements thrown in. Statham’s place among the bankable home entertainment action stars is still assured, with his place within that elite group being cemented thanks to his appearance in the latest instalment in one of the genre’s more successful franchises in Fast And Furious 7. It’s gone through numerous changes, from big budget blockbuster to DTV brand and back again, losing and gaining definite articles along the way, and has come out as a truly resilient force. Its box office shows that it’s currently at the top of its game and was given a somewhat tragic boost thanks to the untimely death of Fast And Furious stalwart Paul Walker, who’s passing delayed its release. It’s as fitting an epitaph as you’re likely to find for the star who genuinely enjoyed the Fast And Furious lifestyle. It’s as daft, if not dafter, than ever, but works a treat on Blu-ray, with a readymade audience eager to lap it up (remember, it was the home entertainment crowd who saw the franchise through its leaner years). Universal’s marketing clout will only add to its potential come its September 7 release, expect this to be one of the series’ best performers thus far.

We’ve mentioned the Arrow Video label and its sister label, Arrow Films, is having a good run too, with Good Kill, released a couple of weeks ago, earning one of the company’s biggest ever ship outs for a film release. It’s easy to see why – US and UK battle zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are providing fertile ground for filmmakers and are eminently commercial too – just look at the recent success of Kajaki for further proof. Good Kill also marks another step on the rehabilitation of Ethan Hawke, particularly on the home entertainment shelves, following the likes of Predestination.

Bulldog is one of the more recent entrants into the distribution fray and has picked up a raft of decent titles, Cottage Country, just released, continues that decent run of releases. It feels loosely similar to something like Koch’s Cheap Tricks or You’re Next – blacker than black comedy, a nice line in gore and a plot that sees people’s lives rapid spiralling out of control.  Boasting the kind of solid acquisitions policy that deserves reward and support, Bulldog is a welcome addition to the market and long may it pick up more interesting fare such as this…

Arriving on the same date came She’s Funny That Way, which boasts a fine ensemble cast and also marks a return to the fray for Peter Bogdanovich, who has rarely troubled audiences since his involvement with The Sopranos, both as actor and director. It has a truly commercial cast, nice strong sleeve that plays up its romcom credentials, and a distinctly old-fashioned, New York screwball comedy feel to the proceedings. These titles can still work and it deserves to succeed, but it’s caught in that middle-ground that is proving to be one of the toughest for films to succeed in in the marketplace, so time will tell…

Proving to be a real success in its first week of release if The Duff, which has been skilfully handled by eOne on its August 17 release. Billed as Mean Girls meets Bridesmaids, a fair enough description, it sits well with both those kind of titles and as well as a barnstorming week one it should, like the aforementioned releases and the Pitch Perfects of this world, enjoy a long shelf life to, as part of assorted multi buys and lower-priced catalogue offers. Schools returning will aid word of mouth for the teen audience, which could give it a further boost.

Out this week, but far grittier, is Colors, part of a double bill of separate releases from Second Sight, sitting alongside State Of Grace. Both are from a similar era and have disappeared from view in the DVD age, now getting worthy treatment from a label that really cares. The company has done a great job in the transfer, both films look gorgeous. The former, directed by Dennis Hopper and starring a very young looking Sean Penn (so young, it’s almost distracting) alongside Robert Duvall, has stood the test of time surprisingly well, its rap-friendly soundtrack hasn’t dated drastically either. The latter was a sizeable rental hit in the early 1990s, deservedly so, and sees Gary Oldman joining Penn in the fray (the pair again looking like relative newcomers). Both deserve to succeed.

From Signature (we’ll have more from the label next week, as we’ve just received a nice batch of DTV-friendly titles from he thriving independent) comes The Phoenix Incident, out on September 7. It’s a genre that Signature seems to have made its own – the alien invasion horror done as a found footage title – but still manages to offer up enough of the key ingredients to make it watchable. Signature knows its way around this genre, the sleeve does the job (and looks similar enough to previous examples of the genre) to give it real standout.

And we’ll end with one of the more startling films released this year, The Tribe. Due from Metrodome on September 14, it’s truly original and is that rarity – a foreign language film that supermarkets can stock with little fear of comeback or complaints – there’s no real dialogue in it, as it follows the brutal life of residents at a home for young deaf people. It’s unrelenting, disturbing and incredibly powerful and deserves a wider success. Metrodome has the track record here to make this work, especially over the past year of two. It carries enough goodwill from its theatrical release – and a host of four and five star reviews – to make it work. That depends partly on the independent’s ability to make the sleeve work, but given both Metrodome’s credibility in this field and the film’s pedigree, it should work.

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