Movies Till Dawn: Opening on a More Positive Note

White Riot” (2019, Film Movement) Briskly paced and decidedly on-time documentary about the Rock Against Racism movement in the UK during the mid-1970s, with its focus divided evenly between the marquee names at various benefit concerts (the Clash, Steel Pulse, Sham 69, Tom Robinson) and the writers, photographers, artists, and others who cemented the group’s push against the National Front and its xenophobic tenets (which were notoriously supported by Eric Clapton, David Bowie, and members of the punk scene). The former comes in bracing live footage from the 1978 Victoria Park concert and from new and archival interviews with, among others, the late Joe Strummer, Pauline Black (The Selector), and producer Dennis Bovell; the latter is equally invigorating, with director Rubika Shah emulating the cut-up aesthetic of the movement’s flagship publication, Temporary Hoarding, through graphics, unsettling news footage and archival images.

Love and Monsters” (2020, Paramount Home Entertainment) Imaginative action-fantasy folds an ’80s YA romance into a post-apocalypse/giant monster movie, with surprisingly effective results. Dylan O’Brien is a lovelorn survivor of a global catastrophe that not only caused all cold-blooded creatures to grow Toho-sized, but also (and more importantly), separated him from girlfriend Jessica Henwick. Though ill-equipped for survival, O’Brien battles an impressive array of mutated fauna to reunite with his TLA. South African director Michael Matthews balances his film’s multiple genre requirements while also dovetailing from expectations (that O’Brien is largely inept at keeping himself alive is an amusing and endearing turn); he also gets solid turns from Michael Rooker (sympathetic) and Dan Ewing (less so), though the real star support is the special effects (a mix of practical and CGI) and production design, which conjure up a future world and creatures that echo the mix of grotesque and entrancing that defined Ray Harryhausen‘s classic creations. Paramount’s Blu-ray bundles seven (minor) deleted scenes, cast interviews, and a making-of featurette that details the clever use of the Australian locations.

Cinema Paradiso” (1988, Arrow Academy) Nostalgic confection from Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore that captured the Best Foreign Language Oscar and the attention of global audiences, who were made misty-eyed by its light but lovely meditations on the joys of growing from childhood to adulthood. The exceptional “kissing montage” and the score by Ennio and Andrea Morricone is what’s most remembered about the film, though major roles for a pair of European cinema vets – Philippe Noiret and Leopoldo Trieste – are also selling points. Arrow’s Blu-ray set bundles a first-ever 4K Ultra HD edition of the theatrical version with a second disc featuring the 173-minute (!) director’s cut; Tornatore is front and center for most of the extras, including a commentary track and featurettes on the making of the film and the aforementioned kissing sequence.

Waterloo Bridge” (1940, Warner Film Archives) Much-loved melodrama with Vivien Leigh (fresh from “Gone with the Wind”) and Robert Taylor as star-crossed lovers whose romance is thwarted at every turn by war, class conflict, and self-worth. Meryn LeRoy’s remake of James Whale’s 1931 feature (itself adapted from Robert Sherwood‘s play) tempers Leigh’s precipitous decline after believing that Taylor has been killed in battle, and while the twists in the plot produce voluminous suds, the two leads (who both considered this their favorite film project) shoulder the emotional weight with grace, and LeRoy’s polished direction allows for some memorable moments, most notably the lovely and lyrical “Auld Lang Syne” dance. Warner’s 4K restoration for Blu-ray includes a 1940 radio adaptation, with LeRoy directing Norma Shearer in Leigh’s role, and the theatrical trailer.

Thank you to Warner Film Archives for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something” (2020, Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber) Affectionate tribute to both the singer-songwriter and his attempts to impact world hunger and poverty through his music and live performances. Director Rick Korn’s focus is made clear immediately by describing Chapin as one of the “greatest storytellers of all time,” an assessment that, while perhaps grandiose, is supported by numerous big-name interviewees (Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elektra Records chief Jac Holzman) and Chapin’s own enduring song catalog, which includes such evergreen emotional workouts as “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Korn is succinct in summing up Chapin’s early life and music career, but his focus ultimately rests on the charity work, which by the end of Chapin’s life (cut short by a vehicle collision in 1981), consumed the majority of his attention. Doc enthusiasts and Chapin devotees may wish for greater depth of detail into the why of Chapin’s dogged philanthropy, but most will be happy with its portrait of a tireless advocate for basic human rights, especially in the current climate. Kino’s DVD includes trailers for the film and from its library.

Goodbye, Dragon Inn” (2003, Second Run Films) Snapshots, some funny, some bittersweet, and some offbeat, from the last late-night showing of the classic 1967 martial arts film “Dragon Inn” at a venerable Taipei movie theater on its final day of business. Very little “action” happens in Tsai Ming-Liang’s film – there’s maybe a dozen or so lines of dialogue – but through long takes and simple gestures and quiet performances, we come to understand the importance of shared simple pleasures, of community, and of solitude, all of which are available to the handful of patrons at the theater, and who must now find those elements in some other way. Nostalgia plays into the proceedings – underscored by the presence of Jun Shih and Miao Tien, two stars of “Dragon Inn,” here playing themselves as audience members – but the focus is more on the minutiae of life, unspooling without heed for our needs, and how we learn to live and thrive within that. Tsai’s pace can be glacial, but for the patient, there’s a lot to sink into and enjoy here (and also mourn, given that movie theaters are largely unavailable to us at this time). Second Run’s all-region Blu-ray features a new 4K restoration and new interview with Tsai, as well as the home video premiere of his 2009 short “Madam Butterfly” and appreciative liner notes from critic Tony Rayns and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

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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