“Gamera: The Complete Collection” (1965-2006, Arrow Video) Arrow’s eight-disc Blu-ray set compiles all 12 films featuring the giant, firebreathing turtle Gamera, who vied with Godzilla for global adoration from the kaiju faithful for more than a half-century, and bundles them with an absolutely staggering amount of extras. Both creatures followed similar career arcs, beginning as city-wrecking metaphors for the dangers of nuclear power before making a hard transition into defenders of humanity and then rebounding, after decades of obsolescence, with ’90s reboots that benefited from improved FX technology. The difference between the two boils down to tone and talent: Gamera’s parent company, Daiei, lacked a special effects genius like Toho’s Eiji Tsuburaya , and decided to focus on keeping younger audiences entertained with abundant brawls with outlandish monster villains, including the laser-spouting pterodactyl Gyaos, the sadistic, knife-faced Guiron, and Viras, a colossal squid with a permascowl. As with Godzilla, the strategy worked, albeit with increasingly limited returns, until television upended ticket sales, forcing Gamera into retirement (save for a silly greatest-hits style compilation film, “Gamera: Super Monster“, in 1980) until 1995, when director Shusuke Kaneko revamped him as a quasi-mystical figure for three well-regarded films. (more)
All of Gamera’s screen adventures, including the last to date – the kid-centric “Gamera the Brave” (2006) – are included in Arrow’s set in their original Japanese presentations, as well as any American theatrical versions; it’s likely that most Stateside viewers know Gamera from these poorly dubbed iterations, but it’s worth noting that in the case of the ’60s titles, the former isn’t a more “serious” version than the latter; both are candy-colored science fiction designed entirely to drive elementary school kids into frenzies, and depending on your appreciation for such fare, you’ll either find these charming nostalgic or the perfect BadFilm fodder. If you want to see a “serious” Gamera film, check out Kaneko’s trilogy, which injects genuine suspense and effects-fueled heroics into the Gamera formula without sacrificing its fun elements (“Gamera the Brave” attempts to fold more of the kid material into this take, with mixed results). It’s hard to say how 21st century kids will view Gamera’s lo-fi adventures, though the bizarro creature design (which could fit into the Power Rangers/Ben 10 universes) and ceaseless boom-and-bang might win some converts. In addition to the Japanese and English presentations (the former in high-def, the latter remastered from original elements), the Arrow set includes commentary for each film by kaiju historians like August Ragone and David Kalat, a huge, three-part documentary about the ’90s films, interviews with cast and crew, behind the scenes footage, and countless promotional items (trailers, posters, photos), all bundled in a disc book with cover art and collectors’ cards by Matt Frank, a 130-page comic book reprinting the 1996 Dark Horse Comics series, and an 80-page booklet with essays by Patrick Macias and others. Whew.
“Pizza: A Love Story” (2019, MVD Entertainment Group) I grew up in Massachusetts, and even after 25 years in Los Angeles, still favor Boston and New York pizza, but this documentary makes a compelling case that humble New Haven, Connecticut is the Mount Olympus of pie. Director Gorman Bechard (“Color Me Obsessed”) focuses on three New Haven joints – Sally’s Apizza, Frank Pepe’s Pizza Napoletana, and Modern Apizza – as the crucible that forged this pizza sine qua non, and corrals loving testimony from and anecdotes about famous fans (Henry Winkler and Rick Nielsen in the former, Sinatra in the latter) and locals alike about the near-divine qualities of their pies; these hinge on the axis of hyperbole and adoration, but more compelling is a detailed history of the Italian immigrants that settled in CT and through sheer hard work, founded a trio of restaurants that have earned worldwide recognition. That perspective lends depth to what is essentially a very well-made fan film (and one that took a decade to complete); MVD’s DVD includes commentary by Bechard and co-producers Dean Falcone and Colin M. Caplan, extended and deleted interviews, and a Q&A from the New Haven premiere.
“Dr. Who and the Daleks“/”Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150” (1965/1966, Kino Lorber) Two feature-length adventures for England’s long-running, time-traveling science fiction TV hero, played in both films by Peter Cushing, whose mettle is sorely tested by his primary nemesis, the genocide-minded cyborgs known as the Daleks. Dedicated Whovians know that the two Dalek films, produced by UK horror anthology specialists Amicus, deviate from the series’ canon: Cushing’s Doctor is a genial, grandfatherly human, for one (and, rather amusingly, really named “Who”), and the tone is decidedly kid-centric (especially in “2150”), with the Doctor serving as second fiddle to granddaughters, nieces, and Roy Castle‘s goof take on William Russell‘s stalwart sidekick, Ian Chesterton. Said diehards will either consider the films travesties or amusing one-offs in the Doctor’s vast c..v.; those with a more casual interest in the Time Lord may appreciate the films’ pulpy tone and special effects, plentiful menace from the implacable Daleks, and Cushing’s performance, which embraces both sides of his screen persona (warm and charming and steely and forthright). Kino’s Blu-rays include commentary by historians/authors Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss (the recent Netflix “Dracula”) and Robert Shearman, and the 1995 documentary “Dalekmania,” which details the making of both films and the extraordinary popularity of the Daleks during the 1960s, as well as an interview with “2150” actor Bernard Cribbins.
“Children of the Sea” (2019, Shout! Factory/GKids) Feeling rejected at home and at school, teenager Ruka finds acceptance and adventure in the waters off her small coastal Japanese hometown, where she encounters not only a pair of unusual siblings who claim to have been raised by dugongs, but also strange behavior by the area’s sea life, which seem to be gathering for something big and imminent. Animated feature by the popular Studio 4°C attempts to adapt the strange and lovely manga art of Daisuke Igarashi to film; director Ayumu Watanabe is successful in using both traditional and CGI animation to translate the airy, almost supernatural quality of his work, especially the underwater sequences (and a spectacular earth-to-space journey), though the story itself feels at times unfocused and underdeveloped. The Shout/GKids Blu-ray – which offers Japanese language audio with English subtitles – includes interviews with Watanabe, composer Joe Hisaishi, and the Japanese voice cast, storyboards, and a documentary (of sorts) about Igarashi.