Movies Till Dawn: Complicated Individuals

* indicates that this title is also available to rent, stream, or purchase on various platforms. Please note that streaming options may differ from these home video presentations in terms of visuals, supplemental features, etc.

Narc” * (2002, Arrow Video) After gruesomely bungling a drug arrest, hyper-intensive Detroit narcotics officer Jason Patric is given a shot at professional redemption by investigating the murder of a fellow undercover cop with the help of Ray Liotta, an old-school detective whose preferred method of crime prevention (brutality) complicates matters. Cop drama from Joe Carnahan travels along well-worn territory from a script perspective but benefits greatly from Carnahan’s skill with violent and intense setpieces and downbeat atmosphere; he’s helped immeasurably by his two leads, who navigate the razor’s edge on which their characters live without resorting to caricature. Arrow’s Limited Edition 4K/Blu-ray presentation lends considerable polish to DP Alex Nepomiaschy’s already crisp, funereal imagery, and adds new interviews with him, Carnahan, costume designer Gersha Phillips and co-star Krista Bridges; also included are archival interviews and EPK footage, many extended from previous release versions, with Carnahan, Patric, Liotta, and a lengthy appreciation of “Narc” by William Friedkin, as well as vintage making-of featurettes.

UHF” * (1989, Shout! Factory) For reasons known only to scripters “Weird Al” Yankovic and director/manager Jay Levey, hapless dreamer George (Yankovic) is given the reins of a failing UHF channel and decides that its fortunes lie in original programming like “Stanley Spadowski’s Playhouse,” an alarmingly surreal children’s show hosted by addled janitor Michael Richards. Good-natured and proudly bizarre comedy feature showcase for Yankovic was a flop upon release but retains a cult following thanks to its affectionate take on the strange and scrappy programming that filled out lower-rung UHF channels in the pre-cable/streaming era and a steadfast refusal to let up on its oddball tone in favor of what its studio (Orion) undoubtedly hoped would be more palatable material for audiences. While “UHF” is a product of its time (ask anyone under the age of 50 what a UHF channel actually is and expect blank stares), Yankovic’s steady stream of pop culture parodies and visual non sequiturs serves as a neat link between similar comic efforts of the past (see: the Firesign Theater, National Lampoon, the Zucker Bros.) and the 24-hour-stream-of-consciousness that is internet/social media content. Shout’s 35th Anniversary UHD/Blu-ray presentation, taken from a 4k scan of the orginal 35mm negative, highlights the film’s kaleidoscopic color scheme and Yankovic’s relentlessly cheery songs; a commentary track by Yankovic and Levey taken from a previous Blu-ray release remains a highlight for its recollection of their highs (the co-stars) and lows (the studio) in making the film, while a “UHF” panel from Comic-Con 2014 offers more “Weird Al” amidst a flock of devoted fans. A brace of deleted scenes with intros by Yankovic, EPK interviews, and a music video for the title track round out the set.

Enter the Clones of Bruce” * (2024, Severin Films) Jaw-dropping master class in the economics and morals of the exploitation film industry, as seen from the perspective of the martial arts boom of the 1970s and its most dominant and enduring figure, Bruce Lee. When Lee died unexpectedly in 1973, film producers and distributors cross the aglobe were faced with the reality that the flood of ticket sales generated by his films would run dry. Their solution: recruit a host of similar-looking actors who could ape Lee’s moves, give them sound-alike monikers (Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Leung.) and shoehorn them into (mostly low-budget) martial arts films that posited them as successors to Bruce Lee, or disciples, or in some cases, Lee himself. Director and Severin label chief David Gregory details the convoluted history of the “Brucesloitation” subgenre by highlighting not only its many shoddy and laughable moments but also the films and performers who rose above the pure ballyhoo and delivered exciting screen action. Gregory tracks down the major Bruce clones – Bruce Li, Bruce Le, the Korean-born Dragon Lee, and Bruce Liang – and lets them detail their sudden rise to fame (and in many cases, equally rapid descent) as well as the thorny emotions evoked by imitating and profiting from the legacy of a man they considered a hero. Their participation lends humanity and humility to “Clones,” and adds fresh context to both grindhouse filmmaking – which is often celebrated for its unfettered appeal to viewers’ ids without considering its less savory elements – and the deification of celebrity. “Enter the Clones” is featured in Severin’s sprawling “Game of Clones: Bruceploitation Collection Vol. 1” which bundles 14 of the subgenre’s wildest entries (like 1977’s “The Dragon Lives Again,” with Bruce Leung as Lee fighting the Godfather, Dracula, and the Man with No Name in Hell with help from Popeye and Caine from “Kung Fu”) with numerous commentaries and featurettes; the “Enter the Clones” disc includes commentary by Gregory, co-producers/martial arts experts Frank Djeng, Michael Worth, and Vivian Wong, and DP Jim Kunz, a look at the challenges of preserving ’70s martial arts films, and additional material from many of the film’s interviewees, including Hong Kong legends Sammo Hung, Angela Mao, and David Chiang, director Godfrey Ho, and actors Lo Meng and Philip Ko.

Never Open That Door” * (1952, Flicker Alley) Two-part noir from Argentina, with both segments drawing on stories by American author Cornell Woolrich, who specialized in thrillers with heavy doses of the macabre and tragic. The segment’s titles give a good indication of what’s in store: “Anguish” details a man desperately trying to free his sister from a gambling debt, while “Pain” follows a criminal’s return to his childhood home and his blind mother’s efforts to put him on “the good path.” Dutch-Argentine director Carlos Hugo Christensen underscores the blunt force trauma of Woolrich’s twist endings (essentially, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t) with remarkably suspenseful pacing, most notably in a lengthy sequence in “Pain” where the mother must navigate her home during the night in order to disarm her son and his accomplice. Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray features an outstanding restoration (by the UCLA Film & Television Archive) as well as a second feature, Christensen’s “If I Die Before I Wake,” another Woolrich adaptation that was intended as a third segment in “Door; it’s not restored but still looks and sounds great, and delivers a particularly unsettling take on adolescent fears and fantasy as seen through the prism of a rash of child murders. Commentary by historian Guido Sega and featurette interviews with writers/scholars Steven C. Smith, Alan K. Rode, and Fernando Martin Pena offer production details and influences on “Door,” an overview of Woolrich’s work and strange and sad life, and Argentine film production 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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