“Animal Factory” (2000, Arrow Video) Intent on surviving behind bars, new prison inmate Edward Furlong forges an alliance with flinty fellow con Willem Dafoe, which will have a lasting impact on the future – and freedom – of both men. Second feature directorial effort by actor Steve Buscemi, co-scripted by real-life ex-con turned actor/writer Edward Bunker, is an unvarnished look at prison life, minus the grandiosity or exploitative elements common to such pictures. Like Buscemi’s first film, “Trees Lounge,” “Factory” is focused more on character that plot, and works best as a showcase for its ensemble cast, which includes excellent support from Danny Trejo, Mark Boone, Jr. and Seymour Cassel, and two surprisingly fine turns by Tom Arnold as a predatory heavy and Mickey Rourke as Furlong’s cross-dressing cellmate. Arrow’s Special Edition Blu-ray focuses on Bunker’s career as author and actor (he played Mr. Blue in “Reservoir Dogs”) through an interview with critic Barry Forshaw and the commentary, which pairs Bunker with fellow former inmate-turned-actor/entrepreneur Trejo.
“The Indian Runner” (1991, Kino) Assured directorial debut by Sean Penn, who drew in part from Bruce Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman” to write this bleak indie drama about Midwestern brothers (David Morse and Viggo Mortensen) whose unbreakable grips on either side of the moral fence has long-ranging implications for anyone in their orbit. Its examination of family and fate is well-worn territory, and if the script feels too laden with allegory and intent, Penn has a keen visual eye and a talent for drawing natural performances from his cast. Morse and Mortensen draw deep on soulful reserves in their opposing roles, and there’s fine work from Patricia Arquette, Valerie Golino and Sandy Dennis as the women in their lives, but the most memorable turn comes from Charles Bronson as their father. His screen time is brief, but Bronson manages to etch out a lifetime of regret and sadness from just a handful of lines. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes a recent interview with Penn, Morse and Mortensen, who are eloquent in discussing their work together.
“The Sea Wolf” (1941, Warner Archive Collection) A pair of shipwreck survivors – writer Alexander Knox and fugitive Ida Lupino – are picked up by the “Ghost,” a seal-hunting ship captained by Edward G. Robinson, an erudite sadist who dominates his crew (which includes John Garfield) through a Trump-like mix of verbal and physical threats and promises of wealth. Though frequently viewed through the critical prism of fascist allegory (which at the time of release, had reared its head in Germany), this adaptation of Jack London’s novel by director Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”) and writer Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”), also works as an atmospheric suspense-thriller, with Robinson’s operatically menacing performance and the fog-drenched photography by Sol Polito doing much of the heavy lifting, with able support by the visual and sound special effects, which netted an Oscar nod for Byron Haskin (“War of the Worlds” ) and Nathan Levinson. Warner’s Blu-ray, remastered from a 4K scan, restores both audio and 14 long-lost minutes trimmed from the original theatrical version, and includes a 1950 radio adaptation directed by Curtiz, with Robinson reprising his screen role.
“Black Society Trilogy” (1995-99, Arrow Video) Typically outrageous trio of Japanese crime films from inveterate transgressive Takashi Miike (“Audition”), who takes some of his most extreme measures to detail the clash between subgroups in the sprawling maze of urban Japan. All of Miike’s calling cards are at play here – kinetic camerawork and editing, explosions of shocking violence (especially in “Shinjuku Triad Society,” with its jaw-dropping police interrogation sequence) – but with the exploitative material, Miike also finds room to address the profound alienation and endless cycle of abuse faced by non-Japanese (Chinese and Taiwanese, among others) living at the bottom of Japanese society. Arrow’s Blu-ray set includes all three films – “Triad Society” (1995), 1997’s “Rainy Dog” and Ley Lines” (1999), and includes a lengthy interview with Miike and commentary for each film.
“OSS 117: Five Film Collection” (Kino) Kiss-kiss-bang-bang quintet of ’60s French spy adventures, all featuring author Jean Bruce’s secret agent OSS 117/Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, who appeared in a staggering 88 novels between 1949 and 1992. Like James Bond (whom 117 predated by four years), multiple actors played the role in his ten screen appearances, including Oscar winner Jean Dujardin in two recent parodies; here, you get Americans abroad Kerwin Mathews (“7th Voyage of Sinbad”) in “OSS: Unleashed” (1963) and “Panic in Bangkok” (1964) and John Gavin (“Psycho”) in “Double Agent” (1968), while Czech-born Frederick Stafford, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Topaz”,” took over for “Mission for a Killer” (1965) and “Mission to Tokyo” (1966), which was based on a script by “Dr. No” director Terence Young. The five films are more leisurely paced and less tech-heavy than Bond or his other European carbons, but there are enough world domination schemes and brassy cocktail-pop music to entertain casual and cult viewers alike. For my money, “Double Agent” is the best of the lot thanks to the square-jawed Gavin – a one-time contender to play Bond – who’s believable in both the roguish and tough departments, as well as a great fizzy score by Piero Piccioni and a supporting cast of Eurocult favorites, including future/past Bond players Luciana Paluzzi (“Thunderball”) and Curd Jurgens (“The Spy Who Loved Me”), Robert Hossein, and the amazing, colossal George Eastman.