Special features

The RN&R’s resident movie critic rounds up some of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases

Nazi zombies: What’s not to hate?

Nazi zombies: What’s not to hate?

With this rare opportunity to share some DVD goodness with Northern Nevada, I’ve picked an eclectic mix of home video offerings that serve up everything from classic rock to Nazi zombies. Throw in a little Elvis, and some vintage Jeff Goldblum, and you have yourself a bizarre trip to the video store that might make clerks wonder about your sanity.

Dead Snow (2009)

Movie: B-
Special features: B

As far as goofy zombie movies go, this one delivers the goods. And … THE ZOMBIES ARE NAZIS!

Things get off to a slow start when a bunch of young folk head up into the Norwegian mountains for some snowy recreation. Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola pays homage to American fare like Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead by actually mentioning them prominently in his screenplay. Problem with mentioning classic genre flicks is that you’re bringing up the very films yours will be compared to.

The movie isn’t quite up to snuff for its first half hour, but then it slowly starts to get nutty. By the time one of the leads is cutting off his arm and cauterizing it, you’ve got a nice, hardcore zombie fest on your hands.

The gore looks quite bad in the early killings, but becomes respectably disgusting as the bodies pile up. Zombies crack a dude’s head like an egg, and the brains spill out accordingly. Another victim gets pulled apart, Romero style, and in one particularly horrifying moment, we see a POV of somebody becoming a zombie buffet. Bravo!

This is not high art, but Wirkola and crew make it fun, and even a little scary at times. Were I to have a zombie film night at my house, I would play this one proudly alongside Romero’s and Raimi’s best. It’s not as good as those, but it’s a cut above the majority of zombie flicks.

Special Features: Two-disc set comes with a lot of behind-the-scenes docs—a lot more than I was expecting for something like this.

Who died before they got old?

The Kids are Alright (1979)

Sanctuary Record
Movie: A+
Special features: C

Being a rabid fan of The Who, I view this as the finest rock documentary ever made. Released shortly after the death of Keith Moon, it contains footage from their final concert with their infamous drummer. You also see them clowning around in the studio during a retake of “Who Are You” with Moon clearly having a blast.

Highlights include Moon blowing up his drum kit and allegedly starting guitarist Pete Townshend’s hearing troubles during an early American TV appearance. (They give Tommy Smothers a hard time.) And, for sheer rock power, nothing touches their rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” featuring a nice laser light show and a massive Townshend knee slide across the stage.

I didn’t go into this Blu-ray thinking it would be a big deal since they released a deluxe version of this on DVD back in 2003, but I was really surprised. The picture and sound are astounding, so any fan who has this in their collection on DVD needs to upgrade.

Special features: But don’t throw away the prior version on DVD. It has far more special features on it, with the Blu-ray only retaining the excellent director’s commentary.

“Would you like to buy a hat?”

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980)

Mill Creek
Show: A
Special features: F

Jeff Goldblum honed his comedic skills in this excellent, short-lived 1980 TV series that was ahead of its time. Goldblum played a bookkeeper who wanted to be a private eye, and Ben Vereen costarred as a con man with sharp detective skills. Vereen’s “man in disguise” shtick preceded Chevy Chase’s Fletch, and his rapport with Goldblum was hysterically classic.

The show was a strange mishmash of modern sensibilities with the cliché stuff that had become big in the previous decade. Vereen and Goldblum faced such adversaries as motorcycle gangs and cowboy villains, and sometimes the show had a CHiPs or Charlie’s Angels vibe as far as the plot was concerned. But the show’s stars were visionaries, refusing to conform to conventions. I imagine that this was developed as a run-of-the mill detective show homage, but when they cast their two stars, things went off in a glorious direction.

I vividly remember the early ’80s as a time when I lost faith in American television. Police Squad!, Bosom Buddies and this show were all favorites of mine, and they all faced quick deaths. Combined with the cliffhanger ending for The Empire Strikes Back, it was a very scarring couple of years for my developing mind. It ruined my junior high school years for sure!

Special features: You get nuthin’! And screw CBS for not allowing the pilot episode, for which they own the rights, to go on the DVD. Greedy bastards. Still, it’s great to have this show on DVD, even if it isn’t a complete collection.

“Hunka, hunka, hunka.”

Elvis (1979)

Shout Factory
Movie: B+
Special features: B

After an extremely long wait, John Carpenter’s excellent 1979 Elvis Presley biopic finally makes it to DVD. Carpenter, fresh off his Halloween success, landed the prestigious gig and teamed with Kurt Russell in the title role for what still stands as the best movie ever made about the King.

Russell nails the Presley looks and mannerisms from his high school days straight through to his triumphant Vegas return in 1969. While he doesn’t provide singing vocals, he sure does some damned fine lip-synching. Country music singer Ronnie McDowell sang many Elvis tracks for the movie, and the resemblance to Presley is uncanny.

This film, which was made for TV, was broadcast just two years after Elvis checked out, so it’s understandable that it’s a somewhat whitewashed treatment of Presley. There’s no drug use, no overeating, and no philandering. Yes, Presley does shoot out a television and break a lamp but, for the most part, the film focuses on the safe stuff, like Presley’s relationship with his mom (Shelley Winters).

The film is at its best when Russell is onstage recreating Presley’s dance frenzy. He and Carpenter get everything right, and wind up putting together a nice tribute to the legend. I suppose a film that followed Elvis until his bloated, drug-addled dying days would’ve been interesting, but this film didn’t want to go there—and it didn’t need to.

Special features: A nice commentary with McDowell and Elvis cousin Edie Hand. There’s also an archival documentary about the making of the movie, including old interviews with Russell and Carpenter.