If variety is the spice of life, this installment is hotter than a Sriracha cocktail on a steamy summer afternoon. That said, there is a common thread shared by all of the titles covered here. While some may be more obvious than others, there’s still something a little bit “off” with all of them, which is why they’re here.
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery
As one of the world’s most idiosyncratic and inventive filmmakers, David Lynch’s cinematic output remains pretty slim. One could deduce that the director’s knack for crafting highly creative but sometimes inaccessible films has made him a bit of a Hollywood maverick, and thus, has made funding difficult.
But beyond Lynch’s challenges for getting new projects off the ground, for years it was even hard to obtain quality DVDs of his previous body of work. Fans have lamented this for years, languishing with shoddy, out-of-print VHS tapes, laserdisc copies and even bootlegs to get their Lynch fixes satisfied. Over time, the Lynch catalog has gradually begun to catch up with the hi-def world, and this epic new release of the entire Twin Peaks saga should do well to please the diehards.
Twin Peaks debuted in 1990 and ran for two seasons on ABC. The series followed FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who arrives in the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington, to investigate the murder of popular high school student Laura Palmer (Cheryl Lee). We find out later that Laura was actually a severely damaged femme fatale with a mysterious power over men.
Far more than a TV mystery or melodrama, the series had a dark, supernatural feel—enhanced by an eerie musical score by Angelo Badalamenti—and loads of twisted humorous bits to further the insanity. The show took a skewed look at the suburban experience, delving into its dark underbelly with a combination of quirky dialog and shocking imagery. Like the hordes of other Lynch fans out there, I was hooked from the first time I discovered it.
Aside from the fact that it’s the first time Twin Peaks has been available in these parts on Blu-ray, this package finally pulls together all the loose ends and stray parts that have been floating around in various disparate formats. After the series ended, Lynch released the feature-length prequel of sorts Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which takes the story’s mythology into an ever darker and weirder place, providing answers as to what really happened to the elusive Laura Palmer. Jeered by critics at the time for its choppy narrative and absurdist imagery, the film is an essential piece of the Lynch canon, not only because it ties up loose ends with the original series, but because its hard to peel one’s eyes away from it—its cold, dank atmosphere providing the perfect palette for Lynch’s twisted vision.
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery also includes the different versions of the series pilot, which was once available on its own as a standalone movie (VHS of course). But beyond that, it’s the extras that should have David Lynch fans salivating. We get a bevy of bonus features like the two-part feature Between Two Worlds, which has Lynch interviewing the Palmer family and the actors that play them. There are also features about the movie, along with other bonus content that was included in the prior DVD version of the TV series.
The overall visual quality of this new Blu-ray set is fantastic. Both the series and film look rejuvenated in crisp hi-def. Hopefully, we’ll see more of these complete packages from the Lynch camp to come. (CBS/Paramount)
Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray
It’s great to see this kooky little gem finally make its way onto Blu-ray. Directed by Brian DePalma and released in 1974—just before the similarly flavored Rocky Horror Picture Show—the movie would do little business upon release, but command a loyal cult following through the years.
Although both films share staggering similarities, Rocky Horror would go on to be the clear champion, becoming an institution unto itself, with sold-out midnight showings and rampant audience participation. Both films were based on classic horror stories, infusing campy ’50s-style song-and-dance numbers and deviant sexual overtones.
But Phantom was dark. It had a gothic feel and a cynical tone that was obviously not going to resonate with the masses. The film crosses genres while pinching bits from classic films and literature such as Phantom Of The Opera, Frankenstein, Faust and The Picture Of Dorian Gray, as well as RKO serials from the ’30s, the then popular glam rock scene and theatrical rockers such as Alice Cooper.
Phantom tells the story of Winslow Leach (William Finley), a nerdy, but talented musician working on a cantata, ironically entitled “Faust.” The film starts with him auditioning at a club owned by power-hungry music mogul Swan, played to the hilt by pint-sized singer/songwriter Paul Williams. Upon hearing the cantata, Swan decides that he must have it for the opening of his newest venue, The Paradise, and proceeds to steal it from the unassuming musical genius. Soon enough, Winslow endures a shit-storm of nasty things before exacting his own revenge.
The film’s decadent rock ‘n’ roll imagery and killer soundtrack make for one helluva fun ride. Composed by Williams, the songs are more complex and introspective than the wild and upbeat Rocky Horror, and add an extra dimension to the storytelling and visuals.
This new Blu-ray release features a new remastered version in plush hi-def, along with a slew of extras including interviews with Williams and DePalma. (Shout! Factory)
Super Duper Alice Cooper
There isn’t a whole lot to say that hasn’t already been said about Alice Cooper—the man and the band. The innovative spirit, on-stage exploits and fist-pumping anthems have all been well documented. But, there’s not a lot out there that puts the whole story together in one neat and tidy package. Documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper doesn’t exactly do it either, but it is a good start.
Created by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn (creator of Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey), the film chronicles Alice Cooper’s extraordinary career from his humble beginnings as the son of a preacher to his triumph over drugs and alcohol, and eventual comeback. Told through archival footage, interviews, photographs and vignettes, the narrative thread is tied together through mostly audio interviews. This is where there could be a little more Alice in the mix. We don’t get much of the man himself in this film. It’s more of an abstract retrospective rather than a true documentary. Even so, it’s still a fun ride, and music fans of all stripes should enjoy the show. (Eagle Rock)
The Midnight Special
Back in 1973, a few suits at NBC had the truly inspired idea to launch a rock show that would air at 1:00am on Friday nights. The Midnight Special was born, and would go on to stir the imagination of future rock stars near and far with its high-energy concert vignettes.
Predating MTV by about a decade, the show was responsible for exposing the masses to the likes of AC/DC, Aerosmith, KISS, Alice Cooper, T.Rex and a slew of others, ranging from singer/songwriter types to pop, rock and metal. Format-wise, there’d be a guest host who’d introduce the videos and share in bad jokes with the announcer, radio personality Wolfman Jack.
The new DVD release comes in a couple different formats, the most common being this 6-disc package, which comes complete with over 100 live performances (most not lip-synced) in a slick glossy package and superior sound quality. For the true fan, there’s also a massive 11-disc set with expanded packaging. (StarVista)
Guns N’ Roses
Appetite For Democracy 3D
It’s hard to be objective about the current-state version of GN’R. Having created the greatest US debut record ever, the groundbreaking band was the culmination of its five members, each bringing something unique to the mix. Now after 25+ years, it’s just not the same with only one original member and a collection of stand-ins, however talented they may be.
But like other behemoth rock acts that’ve shifted core lineups over time, the public eventually comes to accept the change as the norm after a while, and GN’R is no exception. If you can watch this concert Blu-ray through that lens, it’s one helluva blazing-hot rock show.
First, Axl Rose’s voice is in fine form, hitting notes high and low, with deftness and verve. And then there are the songs. From “Welcome To the Jungle” to “It’s So Easy,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Rocket Queen” and “Paradise City,” they’re anthems for the ages, all of ’em. But while it sounds massive and alive, and the production values are impeccable, it’s still just not the same. Maybe Axl and Slash will someday figure out a way to work together again. Until then, we’ve still got the music—even if it has a slightly different look and feel. (UMe)
The Men Who Make the Music DVD
DEVO is like the Rush or Genesis of the new wave/post-punk era. Wildly experimental and progressive in its own right, the band went through similar phases to the aforementioned prog heroes, from its idealistic beginnings to massive commercial breakthroughs, pop dalliances and now elder statesman status.
The Men Who Make the Music features live footage from the band’s 1978 tour, plus music videos and vignettes, documenting the band from the early days, before hits like “Whip It” and “Freedom of Choice” put it center stage.
From start to finish, it’s a compelling piece of rock history, even if you’re not a fan of the band. Also included is the side feature, Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig, which showcases a concert from 1996, when the band played the Sundance Film Festival wearing prison suits. (MVD)
Genetic Sci-Fi opus Orphan Black made quite a splash when it debuted last year; much of the buzz centering on its lead actress, Tatiana Maslany. The ultra-versatile actress stars as Sarah and her many clones, each as different as night and day.
Maslany’s performances are mind-blowing, and as the plot continues to thicken, so does the depth of each character she portrays. The second season successfully expands upon the mysterious narrative put in the place the first time out, exposing secrets and heightening the eerie aspects in spades. (BBC Home Entertainment)
Die, Monster Die
No matter what kind of movie phase I’m in at any given time, I always go back to the gothic horrors of the ‘60s and ‘70s, especially for creepy late-night fare. It was a period where horror got more racy, colorful and ambitious, especially when it came to adapting classic literature and reinterpreting the iconic Universal horror films.
Starring a weathered and ailing Boris Karloff, Die, Monster Die (1965) loosely adapts HP Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space. This clever, albeit patchy flick has it all: a mad scientist, cosmic deformed creatures, a dishy blond and loads of creepy shadows, gothic overtones and the lush greenery of the English countryside. While not one of Karloff’s best, it’s got enough interesting angles to make it a worthy view, especially with this plush Blu-ray release. (Shout! Factory)
The SYFY channel can be a dicey thing. For every Defiance, there are scores of Sharknados and Scare Tactics to sift through, making the channel a somewhat dubious proposition. Fortunately, Helix takes a clever premise and actually executes it fairly well.
A team of ace CDC scientists travels to a state-of-the art research lab in the Arctic to look into a potential disease outbreak. Soon, they find themselves in the center of it all and the cold, dark mayhem ensues. Think The Thing meets Outbreak with dashes of World War Z and some psychological horror, and you get the idea. Season 1 comes in a sharp Blu-ray with a few decent extras to sink your teeth into. (SYFY/Sony)
Sons of Anarchy
Season 6 of this leather-clad operetta on wheels saw it go down an insanely dark road. It was not only a season of transition—where key characters were killed off—but also one that saw the series take on topical issues like guns in schools.
Some say that Sons of Anarchy parallels Shakespeare’s Hamlet in structure and that can only mean one thing—it’ll all end up in blood. We shall see as the final season is now underway. But given the carnage, torture and all around skull-duggery in season 6, it’s not looking very good for our ragged heroes and their shaky motorcycle club. (FOX)
Aside from its overt homage to ’80s horror of the cheesier variety, this indie sleeper comes packed with some surprisingly effective moments. A hapless lumberjack gets abducted by an otherworldly force, only to return a changed man and wreak havoc on his former town.
Director Joe Begos is obviously a student of the horror genre, and there are some inescapable similarities in feel to cult classics like They Live and Body Bags. But while Begos is no John Carpenter, Almost Human—with its dreadful atmosphere and decently executed shocks—is a promising start. (IFC)
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead continues to be one of the better shows that mainstream TV has to offer up, and the fourth season is no exception. All seems like it may actually be okay at the onset. The crew has found a safe haven of sorts in the prison until a new threat appears—adding an intriguing new twist to the storyline.
This new set contains the entire series, plus a few juicy extras to sink your teeth into…plus a great transfer and sound. (Anchor Bay)
Under The Skin
One of the more imaginative horror/Sci-Fi films to come out in a while, Under The Skin has certainly been a conversation piece. There are two main reasons for this. First, it’s the story itself. The film relies more heavily upon feel and imagery than a traditional narrative to move the story along. In fact, it’s often hard to tell what is happening, except for the fact that Scarlett Johansson plays a seductive alien that abducts Scottish men for her own dubious extraterrestrial reasons. Second, said alien appears in all manners of undress, and for Scarlett fans that might be a big deal.
With similarities to David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, director Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin explores the nature of human relationships, as seen by a non-human. Its atmospheric feel and poetic pacing make it a stunner to look at, with enough mystery and intrigue to ponder for a while. (Lionsgate)
Ja’mie: Private School Girl
From Australian comedian Chris Lilley comes Ja’mie, a snobby well-to-do schoolgirl with a heavy, masculine jaw line and bulky legs. For the uninitiated, Ja’mie, is actually Lilley himself, and his portrayal of the mini-skirted busybody diva is hilarious.
In a mockumentary style similar to that of The Office, Ja’mie gossips, twerks, takes selfies and lusts over boys like any affluent schoolgirl might. But it’s with such accuracy that Lilley portrays his subject that you almost forget she’s really a grown man, except for maybe the aforementioned jowls. This season’s full of sophomoric gags and some oddball satire. (HBO)
This little horror nugget centers on a grad student who observes chat rooms as part of her graduate thesis. When she stumbles upon a murder via webcam, no one believes her and she must now try and unravel the depravity on her own.
Through a clever mix of simulated web cams and “found footage,” the story follows our grad student through one stressful online situation to the next, until the tension builds to a breaking point. That’s what a good horror film should do, and this film has it loads of it packed within its low-budget confines. The film’s use of a simulated computer desktop for its point of view and its creative narrative give it a fresh feel—especially in a genre where everything’s been done to death. (IFC)
The Dead 2: India
For fans of the Ford Brothers’ cult favorite The Dead, this sequel should be a welcome addition. This time out, the zombie mayhem takes place within the bustling confines of present day Mumbai. For the uninitiated, what made the first film appealing was its knack for character development and fantastic special effects, with some truly badass zombies.
This time out, an American engineer discovers that his pregnant girlfriend is trapped behind zombie lines and he must battle hordes of undead ghoulies to save his unborn child. Again, the makeup, sets and effects are excellent, and the Ford Brothers score high marks for infusing a solid narrative into the chaos. (Anchor Bay)
Ghost in the Shell 25th Anniversary Edition
When I first saw Ghost in the Shell some years back, I had no idea how major it actually was. For one, this little import from Japan would prove to be wildly influential on future Sci-Fi institutions such as The Matrix and Avatar.
Beyond its cyberpunk and anime affiliations, Ghost is a complex work or cinematic art. Within its innovative visual presentation, the story deals with multifaceted subjects such as gender identity, cyber crimes, philosophy and political intrigue, its narrative depth exceeding most all other animated feature films.
Director Mamoru Oshii’s tale of a female government agent on the trail of a deadly computer virus is told through a wispy combination of delicate pacing and dense atmospherics, giving it an affecting and surreal flair. This Blu-ray release comes complete in a brand-new, hi-def transfer with enhanced visuals and sound. (Anchor Bay)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. JK