Here Are 17 New Genre Blu-rays Worth Fighting For
Good drama is all about conflict, but many of the notable Blu-rays released in recent months have been unusually heavy on confrontation and/or outright hand-to-hand combat. While this doesn’t describe every worthwhile new disc in circulation, don’t be surprised if working your way through the discs below gives you a renewed interest in karate lessons. Of course, some of these films are better remembered (if they were ever known at all) for altogether different reasons, but if you’re looking for friendly, laid back restraint, you’ve come to the wrong place. In any case, here are 17 new genre Blu-rays worth fighting for.
A case could be made that franchise fatigue has caused some viewers to undervalue several recent blockbusters. This is true—to varying degrees—of Aquaman, Glass, and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. For all its tired conventionality, Aquaman has some truly jaw-dropping imagery and The Lego Movie 2 bombards viewers with inventive jokes and flourishes at roughly the same rate as its predecessor, even if it lacks that film’s originality and subversive spirit.
Of all these films, Glass is the most significant (and surprising) triumph, delivering the kind of sure directorial hand and narrative focus that distinguished M. Night Shyamalan’s early films, making this a significant improvement over 2017’s Split. The extras on this disc highlight the director’s most effective strategy: approaching a sequel (double sequel in this case) like a standalone film.
Something to Scream About
Still the most reliable horror movie label in the business, Scream Factory maintains a steady flow of worthwhile releases throughout the year. The company’s recent standouts include 1985’s Warning Sign—a lively genre movie cousin to films like Silkwood and The China Syndrome with Sam Waterston, Kathleen Quinlan, and Yaphet Kotto—and 2003’s Willard, a remake of the 1971 rat movie that yielded one of Crispin Glover’s best performances.
This was the only time writer-director Glen Morgan (of The X-Files fame) really got to shine behind the camera, riffing on Psycho and countless other genre classics to impressive effect. The highlight of the extras on this disc is a remarkably candid 80-minute interview with Morgan that dares to portray Steven Spielberg—a one-time Morgan collaborator—and several other powerful industry figures in a relatively unflattering light.
The criteria to be released under the Shout Select banner is unclear—for the most part, these seem to be the Shout! Factory special editions that are too light on horror for Scream Factory—but many of the standout titles are from the ’80s, including two new releases: Suburbia and Someone to Watch Over Me. Made by Penelope Spheeris some time between her celebrated punk rock doc The Decline of Western Civilization and her mainstream breakthrough Wayne’s World, Suburbia is a gritty drama about homeless teens with a Reagan-era rage that feels relevant all over again.
However, the label’s real revelation in recent months is Someone to Watch Over Me, the relatively modest Ridley Scott crime drama that now stands as one of the director’s most distinctive and accomplished films. In addition to an impeccable transfer, this disc features enlightening interviews with screenwriter Howard Franklin (The Name of the Rose) and cinematographer Steven Poster (Donnie Darko). Ridley Scott is conspicuously absent, but this visually stunning film gives him every reason to hold his head high.
The Street Fighter Collections
As you may recall, the opening sequence of 1993’s True Romance features a triple bill of Sonny Chiba Street Fighter movies that caused the demand for this series to go through the roof. While this resulted in a mid-’90s box set on VHS, these films never got the quality DVD treatment they deserved. Shout Select and Arrow Video recently corrected that with a pair of stellar Blu-ray sets that collect the Street Fighter trilogy (Shout Select), as well as the four entries (three official, one unofficial) in its spin-off series, Sister Street Fighter (Arrow Video).
Both sets feature strong transfers and a number of extras, including an interview with the 80-year-old Chiba. While the Sister Street Fighter interview (understandably) focuses on star Etsuko Shihomi and the way she landed the title role (Chiba was a mentor with a unique sense of her potential), the Street Fighter interview covers Chiba’s entire life, from his training as a gymnast to his influence on Jackie Chan’s decision to do his own stunts. If you’re curious about Chiba—who got more exposure from Quentin Tarantino when he appeared as Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill—these two sets are the holy grail.
Crime and Punishment
The Criterion Collection has always thrived in the realm of art cinema, but the company is also adept at contextualizing and celebrating worthy genre cinema. If your knowledge of Jackie Chan is limited to his sub-par Hollywood vehicles of the last two decades (the Rush Hour movies, The Karate Kid, etc.), do yourself an eye-opening favour and pick up Criterion’s release of Police Story and Police Story 2. These films—arguably Chan’s best, as both performer and director—and the extras (including interviews with filmmaker Edgar Wright, novelist Grady Hendrix, and Chan himself) do a great job of illustrating his status as a fearless cinematic original.
On a far bleaker end of the spectrum, Criterion has finally given noir classic Detour the revival it deserves. Celebrated by filmmakers ranging from the Coen Brothers to Errol Morris for its skuzzy nihilism, this is an unapologetically grim look at romance and professional aspiration that takes its experiments in subjective storytelling and identity swapping to mind-bending extremes. At only 69 minutes, Detour should leave you plenty of time to watch the informative extras on this disc, all of which revolve around unsung B movie maestro Edgar G. Ulmer.
Even devoted fans of cult cinema have been pushed beyond their limits by the dubious nature of some films in the MVD Rewind Collection, but this company should be applauded for delivering extras that will leave you fascinated, even by films you otherwise abhor. In the case of this duo from Imperial Entertainment (the company behind Sudden Death, Demons 2, and the Nemesis movies), I would personally describe one (Double Dragon) as an unwatchable dud and the other (Showdown) as an amusingly innocent, good-natured, and yes, somewhat dopey Karate Kid knock-off. In any case, both discs include entertaining feature length documentaries that put everything in perspective, tempting even the most scathing critic to consider a second viewing of these early ’90s time capsules.
In our last Blu-ray round-up, we looked at a giallo staple (All the Colors of the Dark) and a similarly named documentary about the subgenre (All the Colors of Giallo). While there continues to be an endless supply of giallo releases on Blu-ray, two of the recent highlights showcase the arthouse genre skills of director Luigi Bazzoni. More Antonioni than Argento, 1965’s The Possessed tells the story of a mysterious drifter looking for a woman in a small Italian village, while The Fifth Cord—one of the most visually stunning gialli, thanks to the work of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now)—follows a murder suspect turned amateur investigator. Of the extras on these discs, the highlight is an interview with The Fifth Cord’s Franco Nero (best known as the original Django), who heaps praise on Bazzoni and Storaro, while sharing the story of an enduring group alliance that preceded their respective successes in the film industry.
Given the number of worthy new Blu-rays in recent months, this post could go on and on, but there are two other releases that are especially worth highlighting: Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz and Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic. The former offers excellent new transfers of three boundary-breaking films (Whirlpool, The Coming of Sin, Vampyres) from an overlooked exploitation heavyweight, while the latter brings together The Exorcist’s Linda Blair and director Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, The Goonies) for a surprisingly engrossing issue movie that transcends its vaguely After School Special trappings. In a pair of excellent new interviews on this disc, both Blair and Donner recognize Sarah T. as one of their proudest accomplishments, two credible verdicts that offer all the reason you need to seek out this little-known gem.