Movies Till Dawn: New Kind of Kick (in the Head) Edition

Dragged Across Concrete” (2018, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) A trifecta of hardluck types – disgraced cops Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn and ex-con Tory Kittles – decide that the solution to their downward-spiraling fortunes is to rob violent criminal Thomas Kretschmann. Grisly and suspenseful crime drama from writer-director S. Craig Zahler (“Bone Tomahawk“) is tautly written and directed, features solid performances from its cast (which includes Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Michael Jai White and Udo Kier), some memorably pulp-gritty dialogue (“It’s bad like lasagna in a can”) and a doom-laden tone that should please noir devotees. But “Concrete” also asks viewers to regard racially charged and divisive moments and lines as tough talk and action from tough men; these elements raise points that are addressed in either oversimplified or unfocused terms, and do little for the film except obfuscate an otherwise well-crafted and intense thriller. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray/DVD includes a three-part making-of featurette and interviews with Zahler, cast and crew which attempt to address the film’s intent.

Mega Time Squad” (2018, Dark Sky Films) As small-time New Zealand criminal John (Anton Tennet) discovers, there is a positive and a negative side to owning a magical Chinese bracelet. The former includes time travel and the ability to duplicate one’s self, while the latter is the realization that when you’re as dim as John, more of you is actually a problem, rather than a solution; there’s also the matter of the bloodthirsty demon that’s unleashed whenever the bracelet is used. Kiwi director Tim van Dammen takes his matching orders from ’80s-era fantasy/sci-fi, and does a fine job of evoking the era with Mike Hancock’s synth-heavy score and carefree mixing of junkfood genres; the cast (which includes Jonny Brugh from the feature version of “What We Do in the Shadows”) swings wide and aims low, and largely succeeds at making the sort of amusingly rude comedies that dotted Reagan-era videostore shelves; Dark Sky’s Blu-ray includes commentary by van Dammen and numerous deleted scenes.

The Quake” (2018, Magnolia Home Entertainment/Magnet Releasing) Still reeling from the destruction wreaked by a tidal wave that hit Norway, scientist Kristoffer Joner is dismayed to find that he must once again convince a skeptical public that a massive earthquake is about to strike Oslo. Sequel to the Norwegian thriller “The Wave” succeeds where any number of recent Hollywood disaster epics have failed by delivering on both the special effects and story; director John Andreas Andersen (replacing Roar Uthaug) is as invested in the psychological impact of a natural disaster (Joner’s mental unraveling after a cataclysmic event makes perfect sense, but feels like a novel touch) and the tension caused by its impeding impact as he is in the impressive visual effects, which are frightening but never lapse into the monotonous overkill of “Skyscraper,” “Geostorm,” et al. Magnolia/Magnet’s Blu-ray includes a barrage of short making-of featurettes covering various aspects of the production.

The Legend of Billie Jean” (1986, Mill Creek Entertainment) Blamed for the accidental shooting of a man that was trying to assault her, Texas trailer park teen Helen Slater becomes the subject of a statewide manhunt and a folk idol to oppressed Lone Star kids. Well-timed reissue of this cult favorite, best known for Pat Benatar’s theme “Invincible” and produced by, among others, Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) and Jon Peters and Peter Guber (Tim Burton’s “Batman”); it mostly avoids teensploitation territory thanks to Slater’s no-nonsense heroine, a better-than-expected script (though a more socially conscious first draft by blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein was revamped extensively) and capable support by Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Keith Gordon and Yeardley Smith. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray – part of its “Retro VHS” Collection – includes commentary by Slater and Smith, who seem both pleased and shocked by their past adventure.

Tideland” (2006, Arrow Video) Left alone after the deaths of her heroin-addicted parents (Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly) in a dilapidated Texas farmhouse, young Jodelle Ferland busies herself with elaborate games involving her constant companions – several disembodied Barbie doll heads – until she encounters siblings Janet McTeer and Brendan Fletcher, with whom she explores deeply complicated issues of family and love. Disquieting fantasy from director Terry Gilliam was lambasted during its brief theatrical run for overtures of pedophilia and incest and a pervasive atmosphere of mental decay. But Nicola Pecorini’s photography and Jeff and Mychael Danna‘s music also make it morbidly beautiful to view and hear (though not so the performances, save for McTeer and Fletcher), so it remains up to you whether those aspects are worth a deep dive into the muck. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a lot of Gilliam, including commentary and interviews, as well as a 45-minute making-of doc, deleted scenes, green-screen FX footage and cast interviews.

And: Norway’s “The House” (2016, Artsploitation Films) also asks you to truck with some unpleasant characters – here, it’s a pair of Nazi soldiers with a Norwegian prisoner who discover that the remote house they encounter in the snow-swept woods is anything but a sanctuary. Nothing particularly new is set forth in this supernatural thriller from Reinert Kill (“Christmas Blood,”) but it’s actually better acted and scripted and more unsettling than expected. Worth a look.

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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