Movies Till Dawn: The Bad Guy Variations

The Northman” (2021, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) Human juggernaut Alexander Skarsgaard seeks to avenge the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) by his uncle (Claes Bang) by single-handedly slaughtering much of medieval Scandinavia. Co-writer/director Robert Eggers (“The Witch,” “The Lighthouse“) delivers a gore-soaked, psychedelic/supernatural “Hamlet” fueled not by brooding (though Skarsgaard’s brow knits impressively throughout) but bloodlust; it is a tall order to stitch together unrelentingly savage combat, period detail so exact that you can smell and feel the grime, a one-two punch of acid witchery from Anya Taylor-Joy and Bjork, and Willem Dafoe as a capering caveman jester, but Eggers not only pulls it off but injects the material with the oddball humor of Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s gassy shoutfests in “Lighthouse.” He also finds room for Nicole Kidman to etch some fine details in her turn as Skarsgaard’s mother, who is not all that she seems; elements like these keep the “Northman” from turning into a pure brawn-and-blood spectacle. Universal’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pairs Eggars’ commentary with numerous making-of featurettes, as well as deleted and extended scenes.

The Bad Guys” (2022, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) A quintet of predatory animals – wolf, snake, tarantula, shark – blow their chance at stealing a priceless statue and find themselves pressed into reform, which fuels a new and complicated scheme. Highly caffeinated animated feature, based on the graphic novel series by Aaron Blabey, features the smirking tone that defines the studio’s cartoon output (as well as many tired fart gags), but also surprises by overcoming its faults with gallons of visual style – director Pierre Perifel and writer Etan Cohen playfully filter elements of Tarantino, Altman, Leonard, et al through a sun-dappled cartoon LA – and a knowing vocal cast anchored by Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Richard Ayoade, Awkwafina, and Zazie Beetz. There’s enough in “Bad Guys” to root adults and kids for its entire running time; the Dreamworks Blu-ray includes making-of docs, deleted scenes, a table read with the cast, and an additional short featuring the crew.

True Romance” (1993, Arrow Video) Elvis obsessive Christian Slater meets cute with call girl Patricia Arquette over a Sonny Chiba film, and the two conspire to acquire her freedom from dreadlocked pimp Gary Oldman, unaware of his connections to a violent Los Angeles crime family. Early Quentin Tarantino effort is front-loaded to bursting with his pop culture fetishes and hyperstylized dialogue, which in combination with Tony Scott’s assaultive direction, becomes exhausting over time; what saves the film are ferocious performances by a remarkable cast anchored by Oldman, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, with scorched-earth support by (among others) Val Kilmer, James Gandolfini, Michael Rapaport, Tom Sizemore, and particularly hilarious turns by Brad Pitt and Bronson Pinchot. Arrow’s Limited Edition Blu-ray rewards devotees with a 4K scan of the original film negative, vintage and new commentary tracks (Scott, Tarantino, Slater and Arquette, and Tim Lucas) and scene select tracks (Hopper, Kilmer, Pitt, Pinchot and Saul Rubinek), new interviews with primary crew members, and a brace of deleted scenes, including the original ending (with commentary by Scott and Tarantino), and an even larger selection of EPK featurettes and vintage interviews.

Violent City” (1970, Kino Lorber) Charles Bronson is a taciturn hit man (what else?) whose unrelenting (and occasionally off-the-rails) love jones for Jill Ireland lands him in jail on trumped-up charges; upon release, he methodically picks off his former accusers, but can’t quit Ireland, which puts him in the crosshairs of mob boss Telly Savalas. Italian-French crime thriller by action specialist Sergio Sollima overcomes its lumbering and disjointed pace (courtesy of Lina Wertmuller, among others) with several jaw-dropping action setpieces, including a hit at a racetrack (using footage of the 1969 Can-Am) and a show-stopping hit on a skyscraper’s glass elevator, as well as considerable production value from location shooting (New Orleans, Virgin Islands, San Francisco) and Ennio Morricone’s snaky, fuzztone-drenched score. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray offers no less than three versions of the film – the original Italian edit, an English-language version released in Europe, and the shorter American cut, titled “The Family.” Commentary by Bronson scholar Paul Talbot and a vintage interview with Sollima about the film are paired with Stateside trailers and TV spots.

Repeat Performance” (1947, Flicker Alley) Stage actress Joan Leslie kicks off 1947 by ventilating her alcoholic heel of a husband (Louis Heyward) with a revolver and immediately regrets her actions. This sets in motion a sort of cosmic rewind, allowing her to re-do the events leading up to the shooting, albeit with unexpected results. Long-lost B-noir from British-Stateside budget company Eagle-Lion adds a fantasy element to its melodramatic crime premise (adapted from the novel by William O’Farrell), which adds intrigue to its production polish (expensive sets, camerawork by Lew O’Connell, a shivery score by none other than George Antheil) and solid cast led by a 21-year-old Leslie and Richard Basehart, who makes his debut as a doomed, gay-coded poet (as Nora Fiore’s commentary notes, his orientation is more upfront in O’Farrell’s novel). Despite these qualifiers, “Performance” was lost in the noir shuffle (due largely to Eagle-Lion’s inability to compete with the studio’s promotion machinery), but returns to audiences as part of Flicker Alley’s impressive roster of outstanding forgotten noir. Fiore’s commentary compliments the label’s excellent restoration and extras including an intro by the indefatigable noir champion Eddie Muller and video essays on Leslie’s unique career and Eagle-Lion’s history.

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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