Movies Till Dawn: What You Could Be Watching This Weekend (Short and Sweet Edition, Part 1)

“The Gospel According to Al Green” (1984, MVD) Remarkable documentary by Robert Mugge (“Deep Blues”) about the legendary soul singer at a crossroads in his career, when he gave up his smoldering secular music to become a minister and gospel recording artist. The interview with Green – who sings and accompanies himself on electric guitar throughout – is both candid and carefully worded, though he touches on the 1973 assault by girlfriend Mary Woodson White (who subsequently committed suicide) that spurred his conversion. But it’s the performance footage of Green, both in concert and at an awe-inspiring church service, which underscores his boundless talent and the undeniable link between his R&B and gospel careers. MVD’s Blu-ray includes the audio portion of Green’s interview in its entirety and an interview with Mugge, who discusses the lengthy process of gaining Green’s trust.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: 50th Anniversary Edition” (1966, Kino Lorber) A trio of mercenaries – soft-spoken Blondie (Clint Eastwood), a.k.a. the Good; the diabolical Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), who more than qualifies as the Bad, and the earthy and Ugly bandit Tuco (Eli Wallach) – criss-cross a phantasmagorical American West in pursuit of hidden Confederate gold. Enormously entertaining third entry in the “Dollars” trilogy is more than just the definitive European Western – Sergio Leone‘s adventurous, hyper-stylized direction also changed the language and scope of genre films as a whole. Surprisingly, for such an iconic film, no definitive version exists on home video; Kino’s 50th Anniversary Blu-ray comes close by presenting both the theatrical and extended cuts (which feature a few deleted scenes) with the original mono sound mix and two 2.0 tracks, as well as three excellent commentaries, including a newly recorded one by historian Tim Lucas. But the color composition – a recurring problem in many previous releases – looks muted and undercuts the vibrancy of Leone’s imagery; more troubling is the wealth of extras, including featurettes on composer Ennio Morricone’s ground-breaking score, ported over from the 2003 MGM special edition DVDs, but in jittery, low-res formats. Call it a push.

Band Aid” (2017, Shout Factory) Wry indie comedy about a married couple (Zoe Lister-Jones of “Life in Pieces” and Adam Pally), trapped in a neutral gear of career disillusion and combativeness, who decided to solve their issues by writing and performing low-fi songs based on their arguments and pretensions. Their ensuing music career – for which they are accompanied by neighbor Fred Armisen – provides them with a new venue for open dialogue and in turn, some insight (good and bad) into the mechanics of their relationship. Lister-Jones, in her very assured feature writing and directorial debut (she also wrote most of the songs) and Pally have chemistry to spare, and deliver in the comic, dramatic and musical moments (their first performance, marred by an ill-timed muscle relaxant, is particularly memorable); they’re well abetted by Armisen’s eccentric if understanding sideman, and a large and gifted comic cast of supporting players, including Lister-Jones’ “Pieces” co-star Colin Hanks, Erinn Hayes, Susie Essman, Ravi Patel and Brooklyn Decker.

Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie” (1980, Shout Factory) Twenty-hours in the lives of Cheech and Chong, which kicks off with gasoline siphoning and an eviction and soon encompasses two face-offs with a very angry Paul Reubens/Pee-Wee Herman, a hostage situation, attempts to remold their careers as protest singers and finally, abduction by aliens who introduce them to “space coke.” Second screen effort by C&C has an appropriately woozy, free-flowing format and several moments that echo the goofy-rude humor of their LPs (e.g., the song “Mexican-Americans,” whom, we are informed, “don’t like to get into gang fights/They like flowers/And girls named Debbie”), but the picture, directed by Tommy Chong, can’t quite approximate the anarchic drive of their debut in “Up in Smoke.” The game supporting cast counts Michael Winslow of the “Police Academy” movies (doing his sound effects bit) and Groundlings/Pee-Wee vets Edie and Bob McClurg, John (Jambi) Paragon and Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson in their number, while LA Plays Itself devotees can glimpse shots of the Garden Court Apartments on Hollywood and City Terrace in East LA among the locations. Shout Factory’s widescreen Blu-ray doesn’t appear to include the alternate footage featured in TV broadcasts of “Next Movie,” but does offer a new interview with Cheech Marin.

Stormy Monday” (1988, Arrow Video) Neo-noir set in industrial Northeast England, where American businessman Tommy Lee Jones is strong-arming jazz club owner Sting to join in a land development deal. Orbiting their conflict is Sean Bean (“Game of Thrones”) and Melanie Griffith, both as lean and hungry types with links to both sides of the land grab. Debut feature from Mike Figgis (“Leaving Las Vegas”) makes excellent use of the natural gloom of his hometown of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which gets a sooty polish from cinematographer Roger Deakins; his quarter of leads all do solid work, but his script itself hangs on flimsy, overly familiar material. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes informative commentary by Figgis and a visit to the film’s locations.

Warlock” (1989, Vestron) A pair of marvelously overripe turns by Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant are the chief pleasures of this  energetic horror-fantasy by Steve Miner (“House”). Sands is the titular fiend, rescued from execution in 17th-century New England by Satan himself, who propels him to modern-day Los Angeles. Witchfinder Grant (sporting a spectacular furry outfit) follows, and enlists waitress Lori Singer in his attempt to stop Sands before he unleashes a powerful destructive force. David (“Pitch Black”) Twohy‘s script has the right blend of modern grue and Hammer-style historical horror, as well as plenty of purple dialogue for Sands and Grant to masticate; two sequels – “Warlock: The Armageddon” (1993), with Sands, and “Warlock III: The End of Innocence” (1999) – followed, both of which are included in Vestron’s impressive three-disc “Warlock Collection.” The “Warlock” disc includes new commentary by Miner, interview with Sands and make-up designers Carl Fullerton and Neal Martz, as well as a barrage of promotional material (trailers, posters), behind-the-scenes footage, and original EPX interviews with cast and crew.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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