A sci-fi thriller that pays homage to Steven Spielberg (who also produced) leads these movies new to DVD and Blu-ray this week.
"Super 8" (Paramount/Blu-ray + DVD + digital/2011, two discs, $39.99). J.J. Abrams (the recently rebooted "Star Trek") has made a very personal film that will remind you of 1980s movies in general, and "E.T." and "The Goonies" in particular. Until the final third when it turns into a more routine and occasionally incomprehensible monster flick.
Abrams has assembled a first-rate cast of youngsters, the best known being Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota), and he gives us a spectacularly staged train wreck to get things going. The small-town characters are well drawn and the initial story is compelling. Too bad it goes awry in the end.
Extras: widescreen; Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions; deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes (also on single-disc DVD, $29.99)
"Lafayette Escadrille" (Warner Archive, 1958, b/w, $19.95). This was the final film by the great filmmaker William Wellman ("Wings," "The Public Enemy," "The Ox-Bow Incident," etc.), who based the story on his memories of serving as an American in the French air force during World War I. Tab Hunter has the lead role, and he's pretty good, although the film isn't quite the great epic Wellman was attempting. But check out the supporting cast of young up-and-comers, including David Janssen and Clint Eastwood!
Extras widescreen (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Safe in Hell" (Warner Archive, 1931, b/w, $19.95). Dorothy Mackaill, a big star during the silent era and into the early '30s, though mostly forgotten now, plays a New Orleans prostitute who thinks she's killed an obnoxious former (and married) customer. So she takes it on the lam, heading to Tortuga, where there's no extradition. To her shock, the guy shows up there, alive and well and predatory. So, naturally, when he's killed, she's accused.
Another film by Wellman, this early sound and pre-Production Code melodrama is dark and surprisingly frank (by the era's standards), with a tragic twist at the end. And be sure to watch the hilarious trailer, which is loaded with superlatives but never really says anything about the movie.
Extras full frame, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Sidewalks of New York" (Warner Archive, 1931, b/w, $19.95). Buster Keaton and sidekick Cliff Edwards (who would later voice Jiminy Cricket in Disney's "Pinocchio") throw caution to the wind with physical gags galore in this early sound yarn about trying to reform young hooligans. But it's hit and miss, not nearly up to Keaton's silent classics.
Extras full fame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"The Family Tree" (eOne/Blu-ray, 2011; R for sex, language, drugs, violence; $29.98). Suburban angst gets the black-comedy treatment when housewife Hope Davis suffers from amnesia while having an affair. So her wildly toxic family tries to bring her back in this uneven comedy. Good cast includes Durmot Mulroney, Selma Blair, Chi McBride, Keith Carradine and Jane Symour.
Extras widescreen, featurettes, trailers (also on DVD, $24.98)
"Pound of Flesh" (Odyssey, 2010, $24.98). College professor and Shakespearean scholar Malcolm McDowell runs a prostitution ring with his female students to earn them scholarships, and he has half the town fathers in his pocket. But then a murder draws unwanted attention. Sleazy, half-baked dark satire is allegedly based on a true story!
Extras widescreen, featuettes, outtakes, trailers