Movies Till Dawn: Thrills and Chills for a Long, Hot Weekend

Promare” (2019, Shout! Factory/GKids) In the future, a section of humanity will be branded as terrorists for their ability to produce spontaneous and destructive combustion, but a young and brash member of a firefighting rescue team discovers that their intentions hew more towards world-building than burning. Japanese animated (3DGC and cel art) science fiction features Studio Trigger‘s striking geometric-styled design and the most frenetic and action/mayhem set pieces in recent anime, much of which involves Stuff on Fire, but also giant fighting robots, interdimensional beings, and super weapons. The hyper-caffeinated pace may prove overwhelming for casual anime watchers, but the design is eye-popping, and the underlying message about tolerance and co-existence feels genuine and not an afterthought. Shout/GKids’ Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes English and Japanese language tracks, a CD of Hiroyuki Sawano‘s relentless score, two shorts about the primary characters, interviews director Hiroyuki Imaishi, the animators and English-language cast, a sizable production booklet, the English-language script, and even a poster and decal!

The Terror: Infamy” (2018, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) A second-generation Japanese-American (Derek Mio) discovers that a vengeful spirit, responsible for a series of murders in his hometown of Terminal Island, may have followed him and his family after they are relocated to an internment camp during World War II. Second season of AMC’s history-fueled supernatural series benefits from the stigma that still exists around this shameful period in America’s past (and the specter that has lingered, thanks to the current administration’s xenophobia) and a monster that generates both fear and sympathy. The scope of the story and its vast number of characters (including George Takei as a fellow camp inmate) tend to undermine the pace, but there are a surprising number of chilling scenes to make the wait worthwhile. Lionsgate’s three-disc set includes all ten episodes.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire” (1961, Kino Lorber) Simultaneous nuclear tests by the United States and Soviet Union knock the Earth off its axis and sent it hurtling towards the Sun; jaded British reporter Edward Judd covers the global Hail Mary to correct the planet’s course between romantic jousts with British Meteorological Office worker Janet Munro. Current events and temperatures may make this British disaster thriller from producer/director Val Guest (“The Quatermass Xperiment“) feel a little too close to home, but those who don’t mind images of ecological apocalypse (baking heat, a dried-up Thames, freak hurricanes), this is suspenseful, mature science fiction with a solid balance between brisk, biting dialogue and characters (the script by Guest and Wolf Mankowitz won a BAFTA) and alarming images of a ruined London by visual effects artist Les Bowie. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes two commentary tracks – one with Guest from 2001, and a newer track by historian Richard Harland Smith, who provides a wealth of fascinating details on cast (hey, is that Michael Caine?) and production. A trailer and TV and radio spots round out the disc.

Haven” (2004, MVD Marquee Collection) The Cayman Islands, that Caribbean island home-away-from-home for tax evaders and all manner of nefarious types, is the setting for this sudsy ensemble piece about (ostensibly) money and revenge. Among those in various states of agitation: local boy Orlando Bloom, whose love affair with his boss’s daughter (Zoe Saldana) puts him in the crosshairs of her rage-prone brother (Anthony Mackie), and corrupt businessman Bill Paxton, who has fled to the island with a fortune and his bored teenage daughter (Agnes Bruckner), both of which catch the eye of hustler Victor Rasuk. They all come to one bad end or another, and if director Frank E. Flowers (who himself hails from the Caymans) can’t do much with the various threads, the island setting looks pleasant and the cast (many on their way up or down the Hollywood ladder, and including Bobby Cannavale, Robert Wisdom, Stephen Dillane, and Bob Marley’s son, Ky-Mani) holds the attention when the material cannot. Probably best appreciated with your own take on island libations; keep the windows open to approximate the heat. MVD’s Blu-ray includes a brief making-of featurette.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1916, Kino Lorber) Sent to investigate reports of a sea monster near U.S. shipping lanes, a French professor (Dan Hanlon) and harpooner Ned Land (Curtis Benson) discover that the creature is the “Nautilus,” a fantastic submarine captained by the mysterious Nemo (Allen Holubar in blackface). The first feature length version of Jules Verne’s novel (which also incorporates elements from “Mysterious Island”), Stuart Paton’s silent, black-and-white “20,000 Leagues” is best appreciated for its special effects, including the construction of a full-sized “Nautilus,” a sprawling India set, and various sea creatures, as well as undersea photography – reportedly the first ever seen on film – in waters near the Bahamas. Though both are quaint by today’s standards, the effort required to produce them (Paton and crew worked for two years on the wildly expensive project) using 1916 technology – specifically, a capsule camera called the Photosphere by brothers George and Ernest Williamson – is impressive, and more than makes up for a meandering script marked by casual sexism and racism. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray offers the 4K restoration of this recent addition to the Library of Congress with extensive commentary by historian Anthony Slide, who details differences between the film and novels and the film’s prolonged production.

Perfect Strangers” (1984, Vinegar Syndrome) Mob hitman Brad Rijn (“Smithereens”) discovers that his latest murder has been seen by a toddler, and sets out to mitigate any fallout by romancing his mother (Anne Carlisle from “Liquid Sky“). Typically offbeat neo-noir from writer/director Larry Cohen backburners plot logic in favor of playing fast and loose with audience expectation: Rijn is more than just a flinty killer, and Carlisle is less than the ideal mom. Subtle surprises like these, along with the film’s Downtown 80 vibe (Village locations and underground favorites like Rijn, Carlisle and Ann Magnuson in the cast), are most likely the main attraction, though Cohen also delivers some effective suspense setpieces (a merry-go-round sequence is particularly unnerving). Vinegar Syndrome’s remastered Blu-ray includes interviews with Carlisle and the late Cohen.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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