Movies Till Dawn: Lost in the Stars

*indicates that this title is also available for rent, purchase, or viewing through streaming sources.

Asteroid City” (2023, Universal Pictures Home Video*) Two storylines, running concurrently, detail the various personages, famous and otherwise, who converge at a 1950s convention for young astronomers that also happens to mark the first human interaction with an extraterrestrial, and the on-camera and behind-the-scenes machinations involved in the production of that story as a live broadcast for television. Your appreciation of Wes Anderson’s latest intricately plotted and densely populated diorama of Big Emotions on a Minor Scale will determine whether you find “Asteroid City” endearing or precious; the cast, led by mainstay Jason Schwartzman and including Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, Maya Hawke and Bryan Cranston, is smartly chosen and do well at delivering the pain and hope that often runs just below the surface of Anderson’s deadpan, mile-a-minute dialogue. Their presence may win more converts to Anderson’s particular and peculiar but often appealing aesthetic; Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD’s includes a four-part EPK detailing aspects of the production in the briefest of terms (it’s seven minutes total).

Star Pilot” (1966, Raro Video*) Fashion-forward alien Leonora Ruffo and her spaceship crew kidnap an Earth scientist, his assistants, a gaggle of Asian spies (who insist they’re not Chinese), and best of all, the scientist’s movie-star-hopeful daugher (Leontine Snell) to repair their damaged craft before taking them back to their home planet for genetic experiments. Astonishing Italian-made science fiction surpasses its limited special effects by virtue of its plot, a frothy blend of pulp tropes and amusing self-parody that culminates in a hairpin left turn that is both jaw-droppingly absurd and curiously prescient of better-known ’60s sci-fi cinema. Those unimpressed/unamused by these elements can simply groove on the locations (Rome and Sardinia) and Ruffo and Snell’s ever-changing future shock fashions; Raro’s Blu-ray offers a gorgeous restoration and both the Italian and English-language cuts (the latter of which includes stock footage from Toho fantasy titles and the junky “Doomsday Machine” from ’72) as well as enthusiastic commentary by David del Valle and actor/writer Matteo Molinari.

Extra Terrestrial Visitors” (1983, Severin Films*) A chatty young boy with a serious Boston sports team jones befriends a blank-eyed, long-nosed alien while its parent kills off a gaggle of poachers and the members of an atrocious rock band in its search for its offspring. Baffling Spanish-made “E.T.” carbon enjoys cult status thanks to “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which mercilessly lampooned an English-language cut dubbed “Pod People”; Severin’s restored, Spanish-language director’s cut does not clarify the film’s jarring tonal shifts (from whimsical children’s fantasy to violent horror, often within the same scene) and extreme lapses in logic, but does underscore what attracted the series’ performers to this title. The two-disc Blu-ray set includes on feature-length documentary on director Juan Piquer Simon, which details his eccentric body of work (everything from gloppy gore like “Pieces” and “Slugs” to pulp adventures) and the ’70s Spanish exploitation scene, as well as interviews with cast member Emilio Linder and Librado Pastor, the film’s composer. Pastor also performs several cuts from the memorably loopy soundtrack, of which four songs (including the memorable “Engines Roar“) are featured on an accompanying CD.

Arena” (1988, Arrow Video*) Down-on-his-luck human Peter Satterfield (“Dungeonmaster”) parlays his short fuse and pugilistic talents in an intergalactic boxing contest to free his pal (Second City vet Hamilton Camp) from a ruthless casino owner and buy a one-way ticket back to Earth. Better-than-average low-budget sci-fi from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures benefits from scripters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo freely mixing pulp sci-fi conceits and boxing melodrama tropes (though according to an interview with Bilson on the Arrow set, the original script was more of a direct nod to Hollywood boxing pics) and an outré array of creature opponents, all rendered as practical effects by (among others) John Carl Buechler, Screaming Mad George, Steve Wang, and Michael Deak (who plays the alien Deak and provides two of Camp’s four arms. Arrow’s Blu-ray, taken from surviving 35mm elements, includes widescreen and full-frame versions of the film, commentary by director Peter Manoogian, the aforementioned interview with Bilson (not a fan of this movie), and a conversation with Deak.

Alien from the Abyss” (1989, Severin Films) Prolific jack-of-all-genres director Antonio Margheriti namechecks several American sci-fi high water marks – “Aliens,” “The Abyss” – but ultimately follows a more idiosyncratic route for this low-budget but energetic Italian action/sci-fi effort. The first half of the film follows Greenpeace-affiliated journalists who discover that a military-industrial corporation (led by Charles Napier) is dumping radioactive waste into a volcano on a remote island nation (played in exterior scenes by the Philippines). After much abuse of leads Marina Giulia Cavalli and Robert Marius, a meteorite crashes near the volcano and yields a massive robot-alien puppet seemingly constructed from cast-off tech and building supply parts. Though only passingly acquainted with plot logic, “Alien” bulldozes dismissal and disbelief with a barrage of explosions, man-on-monster faceoffs and considerable teeth-baring by the always welcome Napier. Severin’s Blu-ray offers a 4K scan of the original 35 mm negative and English and Italian language audio, as well as a lengthy and affectionate career overview doc on Margheriti by his son Edoardo, who also appears in two short interview featurettes.

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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