Mad Max – The relatively low-key franchise starter that launched both star Mel Gibson and director George Miller’s careers gets less attention than the sequels, which created larger post-apocalyptic worlds from the ground up. Using limited resources, Miller initially made a more traditional ’70s revenge movie with an amped-up level of action – inspired by the results of violence he’d seen as a medical student – that would become the norm in the next few years, including a specific tribute in Watchmen (the comic) that would also beget Saw.
If you’re a fan, you already have a decent Blu-ray with most of the extras already. The major new addition is a featurette that includes new interviews with D.P. David Eggby, lead actress Joanne Samuel, and Mad Mel himself. There’s not a lot of new information to be had, but Gibson is of course delighted to recount tales of violence, action, and what he imagines to be cavemen seated around a fire eating charred meat while telling primitive tales of revenge. It makes you both miss him as a screen presence and understand why people might be a little wary to work with the guy.
And before you see Hugh Keays-Byrne as the new villain of Fury Road, you’d be doing him a disservice if you didn’t take one more look at his original villain, Toecutter. The Shakespearean actor rode across Australia with the actual biker-gang extras to make it to set, and by the time he arrived had become so method that nobody could tell he hadn’t always been one of them.
Ladyhawke – Newly cleaned-up version of Richard Donner’s 1985 fantasy in which thief Matthew Broderick encounters a knight (Rutger Hauer) on a quest for vengeance. Having fallen afoul of an evil bishop (WarGames‘ Jon Wood), the warrior has been cursed to become a wolf by night, while his beloved (Michelle Pfeiffer) becomes a hawk by day. It’s generally not a bad movie, though it’s damn near ruined by an insanely cheesy ’80s synth-pop score from the Alan Parsons Project’s Andrew Powell. Barely noticeable at the time to young me, it somehow morphed into something tremendously dated and intrusive by the time I saw the film again as an adult. No extras on the disc, but the transfer is improved.
Duel – One of several Steven Spielberg Blu-rays previously released only in a set and being made available individually today (the others are Always, 1941, The Sugarland Express and Munich), this is the nerdiest and the most must-see. Beginning life as a TV movie scripted by Richard Matheson, it’s an extremely simple premise: a man driving his car gets followed by a truck, whose driver apparently wants to kill him with no obvious motive. Spielberg added more scenes later to make it a theatrical release, but it feels like the kind of brilliance that emerges when a talented filmmaker is forced to deal with many limitations. In a movie that has essentially one major human character, he generated a fear of the road that would equal the fear of swimming he’d make others feel in the years to come. Ever since he started a family, The Beard has been loath to have any scary moments in his movies again, but he used to be very good at it.
The Adventures of Ford Fairlane – Along with Hudson Hawk, this is the other infamous Joel Silver-produced and Daniel Waters co-scripted cult action-comedy of the early ’90s. Likewise, its image has been rehabilitated a bit in the years since, now that Andrew Dice Clay is long past his moment of being thought of the poster boy for misogynist humor (which some insist he was merely spoofing to begin with). With a cast that includes Vince Neil, Gilbert Gottfried, Ed O’Neill, Lauren Holly and Robert Englund, a score by Yello (you know, the “Oh Yeah!” song from Ferris Bueller guys) and a pre-Cutthroat Island Renny Harlin directing, it’s quintessential era-specific insanity. Alas, no extras – this is one where the behind-the-scenes stories would most likely be great, but we may never know.
Black Sea – Submarine thriller, starring Jude Law, in which British and Russian crews team up to seek sunken Nazi gold in Georgia. I heard it was decent.
The Pyramid – Found-footage mummy horror that Fox ignominiously dumped into theaters last fall without any screenings. The reviews were as you’d expect.
Lost River – Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, “a dark fairy tale about love, family and the fight for survival in the face of true danger,” is compared to David Lynch by those who like it, and called confusing and sexist by those who don’t. I haven’t seen it, but I can believe that both interpretations could be true.
Pitch Perfect: Sing-Along Aca-Awesome Edition – I know a secret. Want to make ANY movie “Sing-Along”? TURN ON THE SUBTITLES.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Unrated Edition – I welcome any and all readers to this site, including idiots. If you happen to be one of those, here is your pick of the week.
Those are my top picks. Anything else you’re looking for?