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Sunday, April 21, 2024

TheaterByte Father’s Day 2022 Gift Guide

I can’t speak for all dads certainly, but this old man still digs his physical media. If your pops has more than a couple of DVDs, Blu-rays or 4K discs on the shelf, chances are he’s up for more. We’re here to help with our all-new list of giftable titles, now more valuable than ever since your father stopped wearing ties on his Zoom calls.

Human Lanterns Blu-ray (88 Films)

One of the great things about upstart label 88 Films is that they’re introducing us to a bunch of movies from the Shaw Brothers catalog that we might otherwise never hear about. A curious crossover between wuxia martial arts drama and stylized horror, 1982’s Human Lanterns (Ren pi deng long) owes as much to vintage Hammer as it does to contemporary American slasher flicks: The story follows a madman with a gruesome plan of vengeance that pits two rival masters against each other in period China. Another awesome bit about 88? They’ve remastered Lanterns from the original camera negative as is their wont and the results are especially colorful, ably showcasing the Bros.’ high production values. There’s also an audio commentary, extensive interviews, and the disc arrives in premium packaging with a substantial booklet, a two-sided poster and reversible cover artwork.

a-ha: The Movie (Lightyear Entertainment)

Thomas Robsahm’s documentary from last year affords the chance to deep-dive on the most famous band to ever hail from Norway, an enduring pop ensemble I only thought I knew, beyond their chart-topping MTV staple, “Take on Me.” Plenty of dads cut their teeth on that landmark music video, and although it’s not included in its entirety on the disc (the extras are comprised of a few deleted scenes), snippets are glimpsed and its distinctive visual motif is used deftly to help tell this remarkably well-researched tale of penniless teens who hit the big time. (Did anyone else forget that they wrote and performed the song for The Living Daylights?) The 5.1-channel surround, the frequent use of subtitles and the hard-hitting questions are further reminders that this is no mere episode of VH-1 Behind the Music.

Treasure of the Four Crowns Blu-ray 3D (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

Flesh for Frankenstein 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray 3D (Vinegar Syndrome)

Remember how happy your tech-savvy dad was when he bought his first 3D-enabled television? Life was good for a while but slowly the disc releases dried up, so I like to give a shout-out when I can to labels that keep the dream alive. Four Crowns is a pretty fun early-’80s actioner from Golan-Globus/Cannon and director Ferdinando Baldi (Comin’ at Ya!), a deliciously über-cheesy Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off with booby traps galore, a madman bent on world domination, and even a score by the prolific Ennio Morricone. It leans heavily into that third dimension, although it still kind of works in 2D, in case Dad ain’t feeling the specs (one pair of cardboard red/blue included) and his nose needs a rest on Sunday. All three versions (2D plus Blu-ray 3D polarized and anaglyphic red/cyan 3D) are conveniently assembled on a single disc, alongside a newly recorded expert commentary and a new audio interview with hyphenate-star Tony Anthony who portrays  hero J.T. Striker (best name for a soldier of fortune ever…?)

And for that elusive dad who lands in the middle of the Venn diagram between 3D buffs, horror aficionados and fans of (*ahem*) adult-skewing fare, there’s Paul Morrissey’s notorious take on Mary Shelley’s well-worn tale. X-rated upon its 1973 debut for its copious sex and violence, Flesh for Frankenstein was also marketed as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, despite the famous pop artist having virtually no input. The clever gore effects however–captured and shown in the “Space-Vision” 3D process–were designed by the legendary Carlo Rambaldi. Vinegar Syndrome is actually releasing Flesh in a three-disc set which comprises the movie and copious extras on 2D Blu-ray, anaglyph (with two pairs of custom cardboard goggles supplied) and digital 3D together on their own platter, and a 4K version, all of which are terrific-looking examples of their different media.

Raiders of the Lost Ark 4K Ultra HD Steelbook (Paramount)

Of course, why settle for Raiders exploitation when you can have the real thing? Paramount’s absolutely glorious Dolby Vision restoration and Atmos remix of the best movie in the long-running Indiana Jones franchise (and one of the best damned movies of all-time, frankly) can now be had as a single, liberated from the four-movie boxed set, and tucked into a lovely little steelbook case to boot. The cover art is the 1982 reissue poster artwork, different from the design inside last year’s steelbook four-pack, and inside is a miniature reproduction of the original 1981 one-sheet as well. No real extras on this one-disc edition, just trailers, and the Digital Copy code is redeemable for either iTunes or VUDU.

Lawrence of Arabia 60th Anniversary Limited Edition

Bridge on the River Kwai 65th Anniversary Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Steelbooks (both Sony)

Did somebody say “steelbook singles”? The coveted Lawrence 4K is finally available as a standalone, previously exclusive to the first Columbia Collection boxed set, released two years ago almost to the day. Newly repackaged for the occasion is director David Lean’s other wartime classic, Kwai, originally released on 4K disc in 2017. Each of these titles benefits from a native 4K master, restored from the original camera negative.

Before he veered into mom-friendly fare (Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter; I can’t really complain about A Passage to India because that one saved many an A.P. English student from failing), Lean directed these two epic dramas back-to-back, Best Picture winners both along with a lot of other golden statues. Owing to the film’s length and to assure a high bitrate, Lawrence is split across two Ultra HD platters, presented in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and it’s no exaggeration to call this of the finest examples of the 4K format issued thus far. A single-disc HD Blu-ray version is also included plus a Blu-ray full of extras. Kwai is no slouch, a Dolby Vision/Atmos treat, with separate discs for the 2160p and 1080p versions, the latter with its own ample bonus content.

The new cover art for both is gorgeous, enhanced by the subtle metallic sheen. Steelbooks are starting to grow on me, and it doesn’t look like they will be going away any time soon.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 4K Ultra HD (Paramount)

And to think, I almost didn’t have a Western in this Father’s Day lineup! Thankfully, the latest Paramount Presents title to come across my desk is this 1962 oater that sought to deconstruct the heroes of the frontier, whose stories were not always (ironically enough) black-and-white. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” and so Liberty Valance seeks to disentangle truth from fiction regarding a notorious shootout between a despicable bandit and the hero who gave him what-for. It gets complicated, and director John Ford makes the most of stars John Wayne’s and Jimmy Stewart’s bigger-than-life personas. On the short list of Paramount Presents titles released on 4K disc, this’n ports terrific old extras; including commentaries that edit together archival audio of Ford, Stewart and Lee Marvin;  a seven-part documentary and a new signature “Filmmaker Focus” featurette, once again with historical perspective from the affable Leonard Maltin.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm Blu-ray (Warner Archive Collection)

Film history is a worthwhile hobby for dads, keeping them out of trouble when they’re not playing golf, fixing stuff or mowing the lawn. A fascinating chapter from the bygone era of theatrical showmanship, true three-strip Cinerama was an elaborate process to say the least, as a trio of carefully synchronized cameras shot the action, and later three projectors just as precisely displayed their images joined together onto a specially curved screen. The intended effect is deeper immersion in the subject at hand, sometimes with three distinct areas of action across the wide frame. Often these were merely colorful travelogues of exotic locales, but eventually scripted feature films utilized Cinerama as well. Part biography of the real-life fraternal authors, part fantasy and part musical, Grimm was well-cast (I’ll stop short of “star-studded”), with fairy tale sequences directed by the great George Pal. At a healthy two-hours-and-20-minutes, it’s a G-rated escape that’s fun for the whole family.

WAC really nailed this standout two-disc edition, a curiosity and definitely cool if you’ve never seen a Cinerama film before (big-screen showings are extremely rare), presented in 1080p from a 4K master off of a 6K scan of the original camera negative. Disc 1 is a more traditional “letterbox” at 2.89:1, a lot like looking through the narrow mail slot from which the term takes its name; while the “Smilebox” version on Disc 2 simulates the bowed image we’d see on a Cinerama theater screen. Different extras adorn each platter, including alternate trailers, vintage radio interviews and documentaries.

American Flyers
Blu-ray (both Warner Archive Collection)

What a time 1985 must have been for Kevin Costner, bouncing back from his disappearing act in The Big Chill two years earlier to headline these twin vehicles that relied heavily on his all-American good looks and boyish charm. That was also the same year as Silverado, which Sony desperately needs to revisit in 4K, but I digress. First-time writer-director Kevin (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) Reynolds’ Fandango is irresistibly nostalgic, perfectly capturing the vibe of the early ‘70s as a bunch of fun-loving friends head off on a final irresponsible roadtrip. A tad heavier is director John Badham’s Flyers, as family drama flares during a difficult two-wheeled race through the Rockies, with a script by Steve Tesich who copped an Oscar a few years earlier for his similarly bike-themed Breaking Away. The crisp new 1080p masters are the perfect excuse to check out one or both of these under-the-radar flicks, although there are no extras beyond the trailer for each, so folks hoping for a reunion/reconciliatory Kevin-squared commentary or even an interview should manage their expectations.


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