GNOMEO & JULIET (2011). In this toon take on, what else, William Shakespeare's immortal Romeo & Juliet, the majority of the characters are garden gnomes who come to life whenever the humans aren't around. As in the original text, the families of the boy (voiced by James McAvoy) and girl (Emily Blunt) are constantly feuding, making their love a forbidden one. But unlike the recent Rango, the film is strictly for small children, with only a few shout-outs to Shakespeare and a happy ending grafted onto the proceedings. The music score relies on slightly altered versions of Elton John standards, and while it's always nice to hear his classics in any form, they're usually integrated into the story in only the most perfunctory manner. Honestly, for all the difference it would make, they could have just booted the EJ tunes and instead employed, say, Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" or Cee Lo's "Fuck You."
Blu-ray extras include eight deleted and alternate scenes; two alternate endings; a 6-minute featurette looking at Elton John's musical contributions; short backstage pieces centering on vocal actors Ozzy Osbourne and Ashley Jensen; and the music video for "Crocodile Rock," featuring Nelly Furtado and Elton John.
THE MECHANIC (2011). In the annals of "tough guy" cinema, there's not much to say about the 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle The Mechanic except that its leading character displays a refreshing lack of sentimentality (not unusual in the days of vintage squinters like Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Steve McQueen) and its script ends on a neat little "gotcha." This sleek new model retains that twist ending but jettisons the steely sensibilities, resulting in yet one more formula flick about a taciturn killer who, despite his penchant for slaying, turns out to be the kind of nice guy you might consider Friending on Facebook. Jason Statham fills the Bronson role: As Arthur Bishop, he's the best hitman around, although he's not thrilled when his next assignment turns out to be his mentor (Donald Sutherland). Preferring to work alone, he later decides to take on the old man's unruly son (Ben Foster) as his protégé, teaching him everything he knows about the art of the kill. This Mechanic largely follows the plotline of its average predecessor, yet it goes the extra kilometer to prove its inferiority by cowardly softening its protagonist (the oldest movie profession might be the hooker with a heart of gold but the second oldest is the killer with a mind of conscience) and even copping out at key junctions — meaning that audience members have been snookered in more ways than one.
Blu-ray extras include five deleted and extended scenes; an 8-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; and trailers.
SOMETHING WILD (1986). In between his humble beginnings with Roger Corman in the 1970s and his ascension to the top ranks in the 1990s (thanks to his Oscar-winning work on 1991's The Silence of the Lambs), director Jonathan Demme carved out quite the eclectic filmography during the 1980s. Found among such efforts as Married to the Mob, Swimming to Cambodia and the Talking Heads collaboration Stop Making Sense (merely the greatest concert film ever) is this offbeat picture fueled by a wonderfully inventive screenplay by E. Max Frye as well as Demme's own eye for catching the little nuances that make up what we quaintly like to call Americana. The first half of the picture is pleasant if unexceptional, with Jeff Daniels as a buttoned-up Big Apple businessman who gets hooked by a sexy free spirit named Lulu (Melanie Griffith). The story follows them through a series of adventures on the road — so far, so good. But then Ray Liotta shows up as Lulu's deceptively charming but exceedingly dangerous husband, and the movie turns on a dime into a serious, violent affair — and Liotta turned into a star overnight. The cameos by Demme regulars and associates are amusing (look for John Waters as a used-car salesman), but the film's best component is its music: a score by Laurie Anderson and John Cale, songs by David Byrne, Celia Cruz, Timbuk 3 and X, covers of David Bowie and Neil Diamond, and a fantastic end-credits performance of "Wild Thing" by Sister Carol East.
DVD extras include a 33-minute interview with Demme; a 9-minute interview with Frye; and the theatrical trailer.
THE TERROR (1963) / DEMENTIA 13 (1963) / POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975). As they had done with The Stranger and Kansas City Confidential a few months ago, the good folks at Film Chest have taken titles that have long made the public domain rounds and cleaned them up for their Blu-ray debuts. Even so, of the three titles presented here, one clearly doesn't jibe with the others.
The production of The Terror certainly didn't lack for talent, but then again, that was often the case when Roger Corman was involved. The film guru who gave many of today's top names their big breaks is cited here as the sole director, but he only orchestrated a few scenes, with the remainder split up among four or five young bucks, including Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson also serves as co-star here, playing a Napoleonic officer whose infatuation with a mysterious woman (Sandra Knight) eventually leads him to the castle of the brooding Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff). The script is erratic and the pacing often poor, but it's a treat to watch the great Karloff and a babyfaced Nicholson square off, and the story packs a pair of nice surprises toward the end.
After toiling in the background for Corman on a couple of flicks — and helming the softcore romp Tonight for Sure on the side — Coppola got a chance to show the world what he really could do when Corman gave him the director's chair for Dementia 13. Well, OK, considering he would later make such masterpieces as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, this early effort doesn't quite show off his filmmaking prowess, but it nevertheless remains an interesting part of his filmography (certainly more than such latter-day bombs as Jack and Youth Without Youth). Working with a budget in the $30,000-$40,000 range, Coppola used his own hastily assembled script about a wealthy family haunted by the memory of a tragic accident that occurred on the grounds of their Irish estate. Two of the brothers (William Campbell and Bart Patton) are twitchy in their own right, a trait they share with the intense family doctor (Patrick Magee) — but can one of these three men really be the axe murderer who suddenly appears on the scene? Comparisons to Psycho are a given (including the early death of a leading character), but the film is stylish enough to maintain a small amount of interest.
Corman was savvy when it came to marketing sex and violence, but thankfully, he had nothing to do with the utterly repellant Poor Pretty Eddie, a grindhouse offering that later made the rounds under the titles Redneck County Rape (for the hick crowd), Black Vengeance (for the blaxploitation audience) and Heartbreak Motel (a heavily edited version). Leslie Uggams, at that point already a Tony Award-winning star, delivers a drab performance as Liz Wetherly, a famous singer whose car breaks down somewhere in the Southern wilds (filming actually took place outside of Athens, Georgia). She winds up at a motel run by Bertha (perpetually overrated Shelley Winters), an aged ex-entertainer desperately trying to hold on to her young stud, Eddie (Michael Christian). But Eddie ignores her in favor of repeatedly raping Liz, who finds no sympathy from the local lawmakers (Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor); only the strong, silent handyman Keno (Ted Cassidy, The Addams Family's Lurch) expresses a modicum of concern. The most notorious sequence finds Eddie's first sexual assault of Liz intercut with footage of rednecks leering at two dogs copulating, but the entire film is unwatchable — a sordid affair that's not even enjoyable on a trash level.
Blu-ray extras on all three titles consist of a "before & after" restoration demo and the theatrical trailer. Poor Pretty Eddie also includes audio commentary by cinematographer David Worth and cult film historian Joe Rubin, and an interesting text scroll detailing the film's production.
The Terror: **1/2
Dementia 13: **1/2
Extras on both: *
Poor Pretty Eddie: *