New Blu-ray Releases Southland Tales

The time has come again for me to bring you the good word about the latest Blu-ray releases. As usual, I’m focused on physical media here – but you can always choose to check things out digitally and pretend you’re Johnny Mnemonic. Whatever floats your boat! This week’s Blu-ray round-up includes the pseudo-documentary Rolling Thunder Revue, the cult classic Southland Tales, Mel Gibson as Santa Claus in Fatman, and a new 4K release of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

What is Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese? Based on the title, and the trailer, you might think the answer is easy: it’s a Bob Dylan documentary from Martin Scorsese. After all, Scorsese already directed one Dylan doc: No Direction Home. And Rolling Thunder Revue is indeed set up like a documentary. But it’s not. Instead, this is a semi-fictional documentary featuring interviews with real and fictional people (and sometimes real people portraying fictional versions of themselves).

Here’s how the film portrays things: in 1975, a filmmaker named Stefan Van Dorp followed Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour and filmed what he saw. The end result is the Rolling Thunder Revue film, which features that footage and interviews with people who were there, including Joan Baez, Sam Shepard, Patti Smith, and more. But here’s the truth: the footage was actually shot by Dylan himself, for his movie Renaldo and Clara. Stefan Van Dorp doesn’t exist. And that’s just one of the many sneaky little things the film does to trick its audience.

As Scorsese explains in a supplementary interview, he wanted the movie (or picture, to use Scorsese’s preferred term) to “be a magic trick.” What’s real, and what’s fiction? That’s all part of the fun. Scorsese has commented before about his desire to play around with a formula in regards to this film, telling Rolling Stone: “The question was: How do you tell a story differently? How could I tell a story differently from my films that had fictional, or more traditional narratives? I wanted to do something different, and I found these documentaries were a place where I could go and just smash the form.”

Own or Rent?

You can, of course, stream Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese on Netflix right now, for no additional cost (assuming you already subscribe to Netflix, that is). But as is always the case when a Netflix title heads to the Criterion Collection, I urge you to pick up the Criterion disc. Not only do you get a new 4K digital transfer that Scorsese approved himself, you get the extras listed below. It’s worth it.

Special Features Include:

  • New 4K digital transfer, approved by director Martin Scorsese, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interviews with Scorsese, editor David Tedeschi, and writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman
  • Restored footage of never-before-seen Rolling Thunder Revue performances of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” and “Romance in Durango,” and of a never-before-seen cut of “Tangled Up in Blue”
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by novelist Dana Spiotta and writing from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour by author Sam Shepard and poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman

 

Southland Tales 

Nearly 14 years ago, Southland Tales premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a disaster. Critics tore the film apart along with everyone else who happened to take part in that premiere. “I was dazed, confused, bewildered, bored, affronted, and deafened by the boos all around me,” Roger Ebert wrote of the experience.

Filmmaker Richard Kelly would call the premiere “traumatizing,” later telling Vanity Fair: “The feedback from the publicists was like somewhere along the lines of getting news that your child had been drowned in a swimming pool. People were looking at me like there was a major death in the family. It wasn’t as much as the feedback we were getting on the film as the expressions on people’s faces all around me. It was quite traumatizing.”

Like Kelly’s debut feature, Donnie DarkoSouthland Tales would eventually find its audience. Sort of. Because while Darko managed to go beyond obscure cult movie status and find something close to mainstream appeal on home video, Southland Tales remained an outlier; the type of film that’s an abomination to some and a stone-cold classic to others. Before it found its way to a few theaters (where it promptly bombed, taking in just $374,743 on a $17 million budget), Kelly cut the film down. The now-infamous Cannes Cut clocked-in at 160 minutes, while what the general public got ran at 144 minutes.

Now, all these years later, Kelly’s Cannes Cut is available for all to see thanks to a new Arrow Video Blu-ray release. So how does it stack up? Could it somehow be better than the theatrical cut despite all the talk of audiences booing their throats raw? There’s no easy answer. If you hate the theatrical cut of Southland Tales, you’ll hate the even longer cut, too. While the Cannes Cut is a bit more coherent (if you can call anything that happens in this movie coherent) and expansive, it’s pretty much the same movie. This isn’t a Ridley Scott-style recut, where what you’re getting is drastically different.

The plot, if you want to call it that, revolves around various players in a “futuristic” 2008 Los Angeles. There’s an amnesiac movie star (Dwayne Johnson, actually acting here and not just playing the same character he plays in movies these days), his porn star mistress (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and twin brothers both played by Seann William Scott. There’s lots of talk of political intrigue, racist and fascist governments, and apocalyptic scenarios. There are impromptu musical numbers. There are a lot of former Saturday Night Live cast members who show up, go extremely over-the-top, and then promptly die. It’s a lot to handle. And yet, Southland Tales is special. Is it a mess? Oh my god, yes. It’s a catastrophic mess, in fact. But I would much rather live in a world where filmmakers take huge swings like this than play it safe. Even if those risks don’t pay off they’re far more rewarding than the mundane.

Own or Rent?

Again, this will completely depend on what you currently think about Southland Tales. Have you seen the theatrical cut, and are you a fan? Then yes, by all means, you should pick this up. Hate the theatrical cut, but curious about this extended version? Well, you’re probably going to hate the extended version, too, so maybe you should steer clear. In short, this release is for those who already enjoy the weirdness of Richard Kelly’s film and want more of it.

Special Features Include:

  • New 2K restoration by Arrow Films, approved by director Richard Kelly and director of photography Steven Poster
  • High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentations of both versions of the film: the 145-minute theatrical cut and the 160-minute “Cannes cut”, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006
  • Original lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary on the theatrical cut by Richard Kelly
  • It’s a Madcap World: The Making of an Unfinished Film, a new in-depth retrospective documentary on the film, featuring contributions by Richard Kelly and members of the original crew
  • USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland, an archival featurette on the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew
  • This is the Way the World Ends, an archival animated short set in the Southland Tales universe
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey
  • Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Peter Tonguette and Simon Ward

 

Fatman

Remember Scrooged, the 1988 riff on A Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray as a cruel TV executive? Remember how that movie opened with a fictional TV movie called The Night the Reindeer Died, where terrorists invade the North Pole and Santa Claus and Lee Majors had to fight them off? Well, now imagine an entire movie that seems to be based on that one opening joke from Scrooged, and you have Fatman.

In writer-directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms‘ film, a hitman (Walton Goggins) has been hired to kill Old Saint Nick (Mel Gibson). This is, admittedly, a fun premise. The hitman is hired by a spoiled rich kid (Chance Hurstfield) who seems modeled on Donald Trump, and the idea of a brat like that trying to bump off Santa for bringing him some coal is rife for comedy. Unfortunately, Fatman doesn’t really do anything with it. Instead, the film is oddly…boring? If you have a movie where Walton Goggins is a hitman trying to kill Santa, and you make that movie boring, something is very wrong.

Then there’s the fact that Santa is played by Gibson, an actor who will forever carry around baggage due to several controversial personal issues. That’s going to turn people off from the get-go, but to be fair, Gibson is quite good here as a miserable, washed-up Santa who feels like he’s obsolete. A better movie would’ve played with all of these threads – the spoiled kid, the cold-hearted killer, the sad Santa – and done something memorable. But Fatman can’t find its footing. It throws in a needless subplot about Santa having to take a job producing weapons for the government to make ends meet and never really delivers on its premise. Skip this and stick with The Night the Reindeer Died instead.

Own or Rent?

Going to go with a rental for this one. Potentially great premise aside, the end result is just too flat to justify a full purchase. I think there are plenty of folks who may get a kick out of what’s on display here, but I’m also pretty sure those same people would be happy just to rent this and move on rather than own their own personal copy.

Special Features Include:

  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • Storyboards to Film
  • Commentary by Mel Gibson, Directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms, Producer Michelle Lang, and Director of Photography Johnny Deerango

 

Prince of Darkness (4K)

Where are we, as a society, on John Carpenter‘s Prince of Darkness? Is it considered “minor Carpenter” by the masses these days? Or do we all want to admit the truth: that Prince of Darkness rocks, as the kids say. Carpenter’s metaphysical whatsit concerns a group of quantum physics students who get rounded up to study a giant tube of green goo locked away in the basement of an old church. And by the way, that green goo? It’s Satan! Sort of. Look, logic doesn’t apply here. Instead, Carpenter uses this set-up to lock a bunch of people in one location and have them terrorized.

Not only do our students have to fight off the Devil himself, but there are hordes of zombie-like homeless people roaming around outside, ready to kill if anyone dares try to escape. And these homeless killers are inventive with their murders – they kill one guy with a bike! While Prince of Darkness doesn’t have what you’d call an air-tight script, Carpenter evokes such a surreal, ominous mood that you can’t help but get swept up in it all.

Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness has already had itself a Blu-ray from Scream! Factory, but now it’s returned in 4K form. This isn’t the first 4K release of the film – a version was previously released overseas. But if you’ve been waiting for a US release, your time has come.

Own or Rent?

This is a must-have, even if you already have the previously released non-4K Blu-ray from Scream! Factory. Prince of Darkness is one of Carpenter’s best, and the prospect of having it in 4K is too good to pass up. Treat yourself to a little Prince of Darkness 4K action, reader. You deserve it.

Special Features Include:

DISC ONE: 4K ULTRA HD

  • NEW Dolby Atmos Audio
  • In Dolby Vision (HDR Compatible)
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Audio Commentary With Writer/Director John Carpenter And Actor Peter Jason
  • Theatrical Trailer

DISC TWO: BLU-RAY

  • NEW Dolby Atmos Audio
  • Remastered From A 4K Transfer
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Audio Commentary With Writer/Director John Carpenter And Actor Peter Jason
  • Sympathy For The Devil – Interview With Writer/Director John Carpenter
  • Alice At The Apocalypse – Interview With Actor Alice Cooper
  • The Messenger – Interview With Actor & Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere
  • Hell On Earth – A Look At The Film’s Score With Co-Composer Alan Howarth
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds With Host Sean Clark
  • Alternate Opening From The TV Version
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Radio Spots
  • Still Gallery
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