Movies Till Dawn: Studio Thrills for Thanksgiving

*indicates that the film is also available to rent, buy, or stream on various platforms. Please note that these presentations may differ from those included in these home video releases.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One” * (2023, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment) Seventh (!) title in the action-espionage series pits secret agent/professional risk taker Tom Cruise against a small and colorful army of killers and terrorists as they all pursue a key that controls a sentient and powerful artificial intelligence. If you’ve been paying attention to this long-running franchise (I have not), you will undoubtedly be pleased to know that what appears to be its hallmarks – astonishingly elaborate stunts and complicated plots involving countless moving parts and players – are all in play here, and two of the former – a pursuit in an Abu Dhabi airport that coincides with the disarmament of a nuclear device and a vehicle chase through Rome anchored by a series of increasingly smaller cars – are handled with extraordinary care by director Christopher McQuarrie, the core cast (Cruise, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg as the IMF) and newcomer Hayley Atwell as a savvy thief pulled into the fray. You should also know that the dialogue (by McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen) is risible to the point of hobbling a small army of talented actors, including Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Carey Elwes and Henry Czerny; only Pom Klementieff, as an almost entirely silent killer, escapes unscathed, Additionally, the other action sequences, which include an assault on the Orient Express, hurdle by without generating much excitement or suspense, which are the twin engines on which the “M:I” series is supposed to run. Both make “Dead Reckoning’s” 164-minute running time an occasional challenge leavened only by the aforementioned high points; one hopes that these issues will be ironed out for the second part, due in 2025 (but perhaps they’ve always been part of the series?). Paramount’s two-disc Blu-ray includes commentary by McQuarrie and Eddie Hamilton and behind-the-scenes featurettes on the film’s six marquee stunt sequences, the most notable of which is the preparation required for Cruise to ride a motorcycle off a cliff in Norway and parachute to the valley below.

Blackhat” (2015, Arrow Video) * Most audiences resisted Michael Mann’s tech thriller upon its release, but if you appreciate the director’s sleek visual style (rendered here entirely in digital) and obsession with details, you’ll find favor with “Blackhat.” The casting of MCU vet Chris Hemsworth as a hacker fueled much of the critical dismissal, but the actor does well as the sort of brooding uber-male that Mann picks for his heroes (see: William Petersen in “Manhunter,” James Caan in “Thief,” Robert De Niro in “Heat’), and if his physicality clashes with the movie ideal of a computer jockey, it works for numerous scenes in which he crisscrosses the globe in search of a rogue hacker who is set on bringing global superpowers to their knees. Mann also finds a way to make computing a visually appealing and even suspenseful action on screen; “Blackhat” has the depth of character and story to win back longtime fans and the right amount of mayhem to bring aboard new ones. Arrow’s double-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray – a UHD upgrade (which means you’ll need that player to watch it) – features 4K editions of both the U.S. and international cuts (which differ largely in terms of a dialogue exchange), along with the rarely-seen director’s cut, which rearranges the story in a more linear fashion; commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry is hit-and-miss, but interviews with PD Guy Hendrik Dyas and DP Stuart Dryburgh are a wealth of information on Mann’s technique and his maiden voyage in digital filmmaking.

Black Sunday” (1977, Arrow Video) Israeli agent Robert Shaw pursues a Palestinian terror organization (led by sympathizer Marthe Keller) that recruits disgruntled and deranged Vietnam War POW Bruce Dern to crash the Goodyear Blimp (!) into a football stadium hosting the Super Bowl to protest U.S. support for Israel. Any number of recent events have cast John Frankenheimer’s disaster-thriller in a prescient light, which obscures its effectiveness as a taut, suspenseful thriller that overcomes the outrageousness of its central conceit. The script, co-written by Ernest Lehman (“North by Northwest”), allows more room for character development than most studio disaster titles of the day: casting Shaw, Dern, and Keller as warriors wounded by their involvement in endless and seemingly unwinnable wars carries emotional weight and adds heft to the story, which eventually settles into crash-and-bang material (capably executed with practical effects and real stuntpeople). Arrow’s HD Special Edition Blu-ray includes informative commentary by Josh Nelson, who details the source material (a novel by “Silence of the Lambs” author Thomas Harris) and machinations by producer Robert Evans; a making-of featurette and AFI-produced tribute to Frankenheimer round out the disc.

“Witness” (1985, Arrow Video)* When an investigation into the murder of an undercover cop (Timothy Carhart) earns Philadelphia police captain Harrison Ford a bullet from the perpetrator – dirty cop Danny Glover – Ford holes up in the rural community of the killing’s only witness, a young Amish boy (played by Lukas Haas). The opposing worlds in Peter Weir’s crime thriller are played broadly in the script by TV vets William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace – the story’s origins as an episode of “Gunsmoke” inspired by Wallace’s wife, novelist Pamela Wallace, should give you an idea of its moral topography – but what elevates “Witness” is the fine, natural performances by Ford and the cast, who overcome the stock tropes imposed on their characters (Kelly McGillis as the saintly yet ripe mother of angelic Haas, sage eminence Jan Rubes, glowering suitor Alexander Godunov, and in minor roles, Viggo Mortensen and Patti LuPone). Weir and DP John Seale’s painterly compositions also work well for both the grime of Philadelphia and the rustic glow of the Amish community; quibbles over the film are probably moot, given its beloved status and its six Oscar nominations, including wins for Original Screenplay and Editing. Arrow’s Limited Edition presentation lends considerable polish to the visuals with a 4K UHD presentation and new commentary and featurettes on the film’s production history, cinematography, and performances; vintage material includes a lengthy making-of documentary, interviews with Ford and Weir, EPK footage, and a deleted scene included in the network TV broadcast.

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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