“Rock ‘N’ Roll High School: 40th Anniversary Edition” (1979, Shout! Factory) There’s a nominal plot at the center of “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School” – diehard Ramones fan Riff Randall (P.J. Soles) wants to get her song to the band, wallflower Dey Young and BMOC Vincent Van Patten look for love, and diabolical principal Miss Togar (the eternally great Mary Woronov) wants to crush students’ spirits at Vince Lombardi High – but at heart, Allan Arkush‘s delirious musical-comedy is mostly about the giddy, all-or-nothing joy you experience as a teenager when discovering that thing (music, the opposite sex, etc.) that seems to be not only the sum of your parts, but also a possible direction (or escape route) for the future. Some of the gags haven’t aged well – there’s a leering quality to some scenes (like Riff’s take on the title track in the gymnasium) – but for the most part, “RNRHS” remains a gleeful, hormonally charged cartoon layered with Ramones’ aesthetic of girls, cars, noise and (Carbona not) glue. As such, Shout’s 40th Anniversary Blu-ray should come with a label that reads, “Use as often as needed.” The new steelcase package (and standard Blu-ray edition) includes a new 4K scan and a wealth of new and vintage interviews, including Arkush, Soles, co-writer/director Joe Dante, producer Roger Corman, and DP Dean Cundey, as well as four commentaries, featuring all of the aforementioned people in various combinations with co-star Clint Howard, co-writers Richard Whitley and Russ Dvonch, and producer Mike Finnell.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Good-natured, and more importantly, unsentimental comedy-drama starring Zack Gottsagen, a talented actor with Down Syndrome, as an ardent wrestling fan who flees the old-age home he’s been placed in for a training camp run by his favorite grappler (Thomas Haden Church). He’s aided by Shia LaBeouf (who’s relaxed and funny here) as a down-on-his-luck fisherman, and somewhat reluctantly by his volunteer caseworker, played by Dakota Johnson. Their adventures walk right up to the line of folksy-cute, but Gottsagen and the cast, which includes inveterate scene-stealers Bruce Dern and John Hawkes, as well as Yelawolf and wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake Roberts, keep it from floating into sappy territory. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes a profile of Gottasagen.
“Ultraman- The Complete Series” (1966-1967, Mill Creek Entertainment) An encounter with a UFO allows Science Patrol Officer Hayata (Susumu Korobe) to transform into the towering hero Ultraman and dispatch a seemingly endless parade of giant monsters and aliens with designs on Japan. Iconic Japanese science fiction series, produced by Toho’s special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya (and spun off from “Ultra Q”), which helped to launch the robot/alien-fights-monsters subgenre that would eventually include “Johnny Sokko,” “Space Giants,” the Power Rangers, and countless other live-action and animated tokusatsu programs, as well as its own voluminous franchise of “Ultra” series, features, anime and an avalanche of tie-in products. In every case, the main attraction – watching Ultraman beat the tar out of Tsuburaya’s frenzied menagerie (some of which are repurposed costumes from Godzilla films) – retains its candy-colored crash-and-bang (though diehard fans should note that the English-language dub is not included here), even after a half-century, on Mill Creek’s Blu-ray, which includes all 39 original episodes and handy liner notes.
“Man of a Thousand Faces” (1957, Arrow Video) Well-intentioned biography of silent film star Lon Chaney, Sr. (James Cagney), whose ascent in Hollywood through the remarkable makeup and physical demands of roles like the Phantom of the Opera is nearly undermined by a troubled marriage (to Dorothy Malone) and custody fight for their son, Creighton (later Lon Chaney, Jr.). Cagney netted an Oscar nomination as Chaney, which proves an excellent showcase for his highly emotive style of acting, even under layers of makeup (which are recreated here in disappointingly immobile form); the script also earned an Oscar nod, though much of it is fictional, but Cagney’s take on some of Chaney’s most indelible performances make it worth viewing for classic movie fans and monster kids alike, and there’s solid support from Jane Greer and the late Robert Evans (as Irving Thalberg), among others. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes informative commentary by Tim Lucas and an interview with Kim Newman about Chaney.
“Best of Pete Smith Specialties, Volume 1” (1937-1948, Warner Archives Collection) Studio publicist Pete Smith was blessed with a wry sense of humor and a carny’s voice, which led to narration for a slew of short subjects, including this series for MGM between 1931 and 1954. The black-and-white (and a few Technicolor) shorts are eclectic in scope and tone – some, like the Jacques Tourneur-directed “Killer-Dog” (1936), which opens the set, are mini-melodramas, while others peel a fisheye at fads, like “Aqua Antics” (1942), which details water-skiing stunts at Santa Monica Pier. Still others engaged the audience in quizzes, or looked at pro and college football, climbing Mt. Baldy, FDR’s dog, Fala, the rumba, or whatever else amused or interested Smith. A few, like “Penny Wisdom” (1937) – part of a sub-series of home ec shorts featuring “LA Examiner” columnist “Prudence Penny” – and 1940’s “Quicker’n a Wink” (both included in Vol.1), about stroboscopic photography, even won an Oscar. Depending on your perspective, they’re charmingly antique transmissions from a bygone America, or the Ur-text for everything from the “CBS News Sunday Morning” to “United Shades of America” and Errol Morris‘s early documentaries. Seventy-five (!) specialties are included on the four-disc Volume 1 set.
“My Favorite Year” (1982, Warner Archives Collection) A junior comedy writer (Mark Linn-Baker) for a TV variety series must keep an upcoming guest – a faded star (Peter O’Toole) of screen swashbucklers, now reduced to self-caricature – from drinking himself off the show. Charming show biz comedy, inspired by executive producer Mel Brooks’ tenure on the legendary “Your Show of Shows” (with a volcanic Joseph Bologna standing in for Sid Caesar), anchored by first-time director Richard Benjamin‘s assured touch and O’Toole’s unbridled, Oscar-nominated performance, which stands among his best. A familiarity with Caesar’s comedy or ’50s live TV isn’t required to enjoy this genuinely funny and occasionally bittersweet film; Warner’s Blu-ray includes lively, anecdote-filled commentary by Benjamin.
“Ophelia” (2018, Shout! Factory) “Hamlet,” as seen from the perspective of Ophelia (Daisy Ridley), who here is less tragic case than a determined young woman stuck in the untenable position of fealty to Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), who is caught up in a power play for the throne, and her love for its contender, Hamlet (George MacKay). Director Claire McCarthy manages to merge the Shakespeare text with Lisa Klein’s YA novel without losing grip on either while also adding considerable visual punch; Ridley and Watts hold the screen and are well supported by Clive Owen (a world-class heel as Claudius) and Tom Felton (Laertes). Shout’s Blu-ray includes cast and crew interviews and deleted scenes.
Thanks to Warner Archives Collection for providing their discs for review gratis.