Movies Till Dawn: Conflict Resolution 101

* denotes that this title is also available for rent, purchase, or streaming from various online platforms. Please note that streaming options may differ from these home video presentations.

Tokyo Pop” * (1988, Kino Lorber) Believing the industry hype that American musicians can find success in overseas markets, down-on-her-luck singer/songwriter Carrie Hamilton heads to Japan, where her fortunes do not so much improve as shift into a relationship with an equally disillusioned vocalist (singer Diamond Yukai) and a better understanding of her own value and talent. Charming indie comedy-romance from director/co-writer Fran Rubel Kuzui, who later directed the original feature version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”; much of the heavy lifting is accomplished by her leads, whose abundant chemistry and knack for gentle comedy (Hamilton was Carol Burnett’s daughter) buoy the film when it occasionally drifts into well-worn showbiz tropes. With Tetsuro Tamba and (briefly) X Japan; Kino’s Blu-ray, which marks the first official digital release of “Tokyo Pop” (it’s been unavailable for decades), offers the recent 4K restoration (funded in part by Burnett and Dolly Parton) that toured theaters in 2023 but only bundles it with the re-release trailer.

“Reflect” * (2023, Cranked Up Films) Five women attend a mysterious desert retreat in hopes of coming to peace with their respective issues, but instead find themselves at the center of a cosmic reality competition series. Ambitious feature from writer-director-star Dana Kippel juggles a wide array of topics and styles – self-help, metaphysical journeys, and women’s empowerment, in addition to science fiction and thriller elements – and if she is not successful at combining them into a cohesive perspective (and occasionally makes a wrong turn like the grating trickster Hermes), the clash of so many diverse components holds interest if, for no other reason, to see exactly where “Reflect” is going. Kippel also benefits greatly from the otherworldly locations, which do much to sell the mystic side of the story when the dialogue and plot falter. Available on VOD.

Carlito’s Way” * (1993, Arrow Video) No sooner has Cuban drug smuggler Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) been sprung from prison than he finds himself on the wrong end of a drug deal gone wrong; he parlays his cut from the deal into a nightclub in hopes of launching a path to the straight life, but the past (ex-girlfriend Penelope Ann Miller) and present (crooked lawyer Sean Penn) soon threaten to upend even that modest endgame. An almost polar opposite to the cartoonish flash of Pacino and director Brian De Palma’s previous collaboration (“Scarface”), “Carlito” hews closer to traditional noir, with characters scrambling from (or leaning into) an inescapable sense of doom; De Palma’s technical excess is restrained to a couple of impressive shoot-outs, but his romanticized eye for low life in high gloss remains sharp here. With a ferocious John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, and briefly, Vincent Pastore, Jamie Sanchez, and Viggo Mortensen; Arrow’s 4K Ultra/Blu-ray combo lends gleaming polish to DP Stephen Burum’s visuals and bundles a wealth of extras, including commentaries by Matt Zolller Seitz and Dr. Douglas Keesey, interview with source material author Edwin Torres, critic David Edelstein, and members of the production team. Archival interviews with De Palma and liner notes by Barry Forshaw are also included.

The Gamblers” * (1970, VCI Entertainment) Dostoyevsky (or Gogol) by way of “Ocean’s Eleven,” with the authors’ novel (or play) allegedly transposed (very loosely) to a Yugoslavian (now Croatian) resort, where American con men Don Gordon and Stuart Margolin partner with British and French counterparts to separate a high roller from his bankroll. Complications arise in Suzy Kendall’s comely hanger-on and the crew’s own duplicitous natures; the de rigueur twists, turns, and double crosses ensue. Director Ron Winston, a TV vet, delivers the film in unremarkable, small-screen terms, but benefits greatly from the offbeat casting – Gordon and Margolin (“The Rockford Files”), best known as character players, are unusual but effective leads – and Adriatic Sea locations. VCI’s Blu-ray offers an acceptable A/V upgrade from its grainy DVD release and adds informative commentary from podcaster Robert Kelly.

The Exiles” * (1961, Milestone Films/Kino Lorber) Two sides of a long night – one seen from the perspective of rambunctious pals seeking to shirk responsibility, and the other from the wife of one carouser, left behind to contemplate her situation – for the Native American residents of the long-gone Bunker Hill residents. Remarkable docudrama by Anglo-American filmmaker Kent Mackenzie, who directed the film over a three-year period using real locals (who provided much of their own dialogue), was praised at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival for its unvarnished portrait of a little-seen side of the indigenous experience, but lapsed into obscurity after failing to secure a distributor. A 2008 restoration returned “Exiles’ to public view and revived its status as a quiet but potent document of displacement in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and how it affects a population already set on its heels by generations of forced relocation and assimilation. With music from San Luis Obispo’s Revels; the Milestone Films Blu-ray (distributed by Kino Lorber) ports over many of the extras from the 2009 DVD, including terrific commentary by writer/filmmaker Sherman Alexie and Sean Axmaker, who are also featured in several other audio discussions and interviews (including one with “Killer of Sheep” director Charles Burnett). Several of Mackenzie’s shorts, including his 1956 USC student film “Bunker Hill,” and a 1910 silent short, “White Fawn’s Devotion,” which was allegedly the first project directed by a Native American filmmaker (J. Younger Johnston/James Youngdeer).

The Desperate Hours” * (1955, Arrow Video) A trio of convicts led by grizzled con Humphrey Bogart take over the suburban Indiana home (played in part by the exterior of Cleavers’ house from “Leave It To Beaver”) of Fredric March and Martha Scott and play psychological games with the family while awaiting the arrival of Bogart’s girlfriend with a much-needed infusion of cash. Though some of the grit and suspense that fuels this excellent thriller has been sanded away by decades of inferior projects that aped its home invasion plot (including a truly lousy remake with Mickey Rourke), Bogart’s presence (which echoes, as many have noted, his star-making turn twenty-five years earlier in “The Petrified Forest”) and Wyler’s supremely confident handling of the material (penned by Joseph Hayes from his own novel and play) help “Desperate Hours” retain a palpable degree of intensity. Arrow’s Blu-ray – a 6K scan from the original camera negative – helps preserve the film’s freshness, and offers concise analysis in the commentary by historian Daniel Kremer, video essays by Jose Arroyo and Eloise Ross, and an interview with Wyler’s daughter, Catherine; a trailer and lobby card reproductions round out the presentation.

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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