Movies Till Dawn: What to Watch This Weekend (Dragon Scholar Invader Edition)

Oh Lucy!” (2017, Film Movement) Convinced to take an English language class by her kawaii-minded niece (Shiori Kutsuna), lonely and embittered Tokyo office drone Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) finds herself under the tutelage of John (Josh Harnett), a likable but completely unqualified American teacher. But when he gives her an English name – Lucy – and a blond wig as part of a team-building exercise, something is set off in Setsuko, something like a crush, but more along the lines of a thaw after a deep freeze. And it’s here where in most comedies, Setsuko/Lucy would start living life to the fullest, freed to pursue long-buried dreams. And she does, but since Will Ferrell and Adam McKay co-produced this Japanese feature, Setsuko embarks on an ill-considered and often disastrous trip to America with her very angry sister (Kaho Minami) to find John after he goes AWOL. What follows is take on the comedy of awkwardness and lack of self-awareness that Ferrell and McKay have cultivated, mixed with streaks of darker humor (especially in Setsuko’s early, worn-to-a-nub reactions to others) and a sort of messy jubilance at her decision to carry on as she pleases, wrong or not; the protean tone is deftly handled by writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi, who earned two nods at Cannes for the film (which is based in part on her experiences at a high school in San Francisco), and the Independent Spirit-nominated Terajima, who finds the warped and wounded heart in an often challenging character. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and an interview with Hiranayagi.

Legend of the Mountain” (1979, Kino Lorber) Taking what he believes to be an easy job of translating a Buddhist sutra, the monumentally naïve scholar Ho (Shih Chun) sets off across the Chinese countryside to complete the task at a remote and deserted fort. There, he finds himself at the center of a three-way fight between two female spirits – the conniving Melody (Hsu Feng) and the more kindly (but no less dead) Cloud (Sylvia Chang) – and a priest with an array of incredible weapons determined to exorcise them both. Chinese ghost story from martial arts veteran King Hu (“A Touch of Zen”) is epic in scope and setting – the South Korean locations almost outdo New Zealand as a real-world magical landscape – but also quirky and absurd and frequently funny, as all good campfire tales should be. It’s also three hours long and leisurely paced, which may try some martial arts/Asian horror fans, but those with patience will be rewarded with an ambitious – and audacious – film fantasy. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the uncut 191-minute version of “Mountain,” along with appreciative tributes from critics Tony Rayns and Travis Crawford and writer Grady Hendrix.

The Flight of Dragons” (1982, Warner Archive Collection) A Boston scholar (voiced by John Ritter) is whisked back to a distant, magic-filled past, where he is transformed into a dragon to help fight a magician (James Earl Jones) who uses superstition and fear to halt the rise of science. Ornate and imaginative artwork, an impressive voice cast (including James Gregory and Hanna-Barbera vet Don Messick) and a smart script, which neatly folds issues of biology, nature and reason into a fantasy premise, made this feature-length animated project from holiday TV specialists Rankin/Bass a favorite during the days of VHS; it’s hard to say if “Flight” will have the same effect on 21st century kids, who might find the cel animation antiquated, but their parents and vintage animation fans may find it charming and surprisingly thoughtful upon revisiting. The Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presents “Flight” in both widescreen and standard-definition full-screen formats.

This is Cinerama (Deluxe Edition)” (1952, Flicker Alley) Released at a time when access to images of the world’s most impressive sights was relegated to news broadcasts, printed material and seeing it in person (itself a rare opportunity), “This is Cinerama” introduced the sprawling, three-panel widescreen process through travelogue-style scenes of America and the world – the canals of Venice, Italy, the postwar skyline of New York City, opera at La Scala – all showcased in a tone somewhere between reverence and awe. Some of the clips could be considered quaint by today’s standards – a trip to Cypress Gardens, Florida, complete with Southern belles, for example – were they not presented in Cinerama (recreated in impressive fashion by the Smilebox curved screen simulation), which renders everything in grandly epic and impressive scale. A charming postcard from a time when the sight of Niagara Falls could still be considered a cinematic event, “This is Cinerama” gets the deluxe treatment from Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray, which packages a digitally restored version of the film with alternate footage, a radio interview with Cinerama creator Fred Waller and a 2002 anniversary screening at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.

The Invaders: The Complete Series” (1967-1968, CBS/Paramount) The opening credits of this Quinn Martin production sums up its entire 43-episode run: architect Roy Thinnes sees a spacecraft that proves to be the advance guard of extraterrestrials that can take the form of humans as part of a plan to colonize the Earth. Created by Larry Cohen, who later made some of the most idiosyncratic horror films of the 1970s and ’80s (“It’s Alive,” “God Told Me To”), “The Invaders” did The-Truth-is-Out-There long before “The X-Files” and for most of its two-season run, delivered creepy, believable paranoia on a weekly basis. A wealth of talent in front of and behind the camera helped to sell the premise: directors included TV pros Paul Wendkos and Joseph Sargent, and the guest cast was populated by Gene Hackman, Shirley Knight and, in a nod to the influence of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Kevin McCarthy. CBS/Paramount’s 12-disc set packages the entire network run with an hour-long cut of the pilot, commentary by Cohen (on “The Innocent”) and episode intros by Thinnes.

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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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