Anvil! The Story of Anvil (NR, 2009, VH1 Films)
Anvil shared a stage in 1984 with Bon Jovi, Scorpions and Whitesnake, and the band is credited by the likes of Metallica, Slayer and Slash as a musical influence. So why do founding and remaining members Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner continue to toil in obscurity while those acts each went on to sell millions of records? It’s a multifaceted mystery, though give “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” credit for diligently trying to figure it out. Even if it doesn’t quite crack the riddle, “Anvil!” most definitely spins an amazing yarn — giving us an unflinching look not only at two genuinely loveable musicians who maddeningly refuse to let the dream die, but also the realities of trying to operate as a fallen star in an industry known for chewing artists up and spitting them out the moment their shine begins to fade. On a happier note, it’s also an indirect (and possibly accidental, but possibly not) testament to the new order of doing business in the music business. “Anvil!” is hilariously funny in some spots, inspiring in others, and sympathetically wince-worthy in several others, and for all those reasons and more, it probably does more for the band’s profile than the last two decades of running in place ever did. If you have a pulse and cherish the power of music, Lips are Reiner are nearly impossible not to love.
Extras: Director/Anvil commentary, deleted scenes, extended Ulrich interview, bonus performance footage.
Not Quite Hollywood (R, 2008, Magnolia)
The first and most lasting lesson learned while watching “Not Quite Hollywood?” History lessons are a whole lot more fun to learn when the presenters are having this much fun. “Hollywood” delves deep into the auspicious and slightly mad beginnings of the Ozploitation movement, which propelled Australian cinema to push the filmmaking envelope and arguably humiliate Hollywood at its own game. But while “Hollywood” makes a point of being thorough and studious, it does so with considerable glee, opting to unabashedly celebrate its subject matter rather than simply observe and discuss. There’s a comprehensive history here — not only of the movement’s roots, but the direction the phenomenon took and where the genre went once Hollywood’s influence arrived at the party. But it’s a history submerged beneath absurd levels of sex, violence and wanton indecency, and “Hollywood” teaches it the only way it should: with copious visual aids. Throw in some extravagantly passionate but entirely articulate interviews with those who were there and those who followed, and the sum total feels like a beautifully unwieldy celebration that’s as good as the films it honors at taking viewers down any given avenue at any given minute.
Extras: Director/Ozploitation Auteurs commentary, deleted/extended scenes, interviews, funding pitches with Quentin Tarantino and John D. Lamond, photo gallery.
The Children (R, 2009, Ghost House Underground/Lions Gate)
There’s an unwritten but highly recognized rule about killing children in horror movies, and it goes a little something like this: Unless the kid in question is a doll named Chucky, don’t do it. But what happens, in the case of “The Children,” when a group of sweet-faced kids catch a virus that turns them against their parents during (what else?) a familial Christmas retreat in the middle of nowhere? Something has to give, right? If you’re a connoisseur of horror that actually strives to horrify, it’s probably best you see for yourself. “The Children” observes as many genre rules as it bends and breaks. The cast of adults receives a surprising level of care in their construction, coming off at no point as all the way likable, unlikable or (most importantly) disposable. At the same time, it’s clear before anything’s even wrong that some degree of human disposal is inbound from somewhere. “The Children” kicks in a modest but undeniable layer of dread almost the minute the secluded setting is unveiled, and it capitalizes on that dread by mixing classic twists with bent rules and other X factors to maintain a consistent level of shock and surprise most horror films no longer know how to even attain. This one isn’t for the squeamish — and not because it’s just another soulless bucket of blood and guts. Hannah Tointon, Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield and Rachel Shelley, among others, star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, six behind-the-scenes features.
The Gate: Monstrous Special Edition (PG-13, 1987, Lions Gate)
With this DVD release and with a 2010 big-screen remake following close behind, whatever age of innocence still remained for “The Gate” — a cult horror classic that until now had received a puzzlingly low-profile DVD treatment — is nearing its end. It’ll be interesting to see where that remake goes, too, because it’s been a pretty long time since anyone made a high-profile PG-13 movie starring children (Christa Denton, Louis Tripp and Stephen Dorff as Glen) that looked quite like this. “The Gate’s” plot is pretty threadbare — the chopped-down remnants of an old tree give way to a hell dimension, which conveniently opens and unleashes tiny demons everywhere right as Glen’s parents leave town for the weekend — and it only grows more incomprehensible once the demons are out and about. But it doesn’t greatly matter, because the story’s never the thing anyway. Rather, it’s the film’s surprisingly unflinching willingness to expose a young cast to the kind of visual horrors filmmakers typically reserve for teens and adults. “The Gate’s” special effects are powered primarily by stop-motion animation, which is dated to the point of charming now, but the goriness of certain scenes — no spoilers — remains as convincing and eye-opening as ever due to how rare this combination is in today’s landscape. Will the remake inspire the same reaction and take the same chances? Here’s hoping, but at least the original gets its day in the DVD sun in case things don’t work out.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, new cast/crew interviews.
Year One: Theatrical & Unrated Edition (NR, 2009, Sony Pictures)
Do we now have enough material from which to construct a hypothesis about the limited comedic possibilities of primitive cavemen and cavewomen talking like people talk today? Here’s hoping. Like those cute Geico commercials with the cavemen, “Year One” gets off to surprisingly funny beginnings: Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) are sharp in wit and delivery in spite of their primitive ways, and the novelty of watching a tribe of Neanderthals wittily crack on each other really is good for some actual laughs. But once “One” moves past novelty and onto the laborious task or telling a story, things play out more like that unfunny Geico cavemen sitcom that should probably have never been made. “One” bounces from one tired prehistoric set piece to another, lazily palming whatever narrative clichés it can along the way to slap together an entirely trite story we’ve all seen before in different clothing. There are more laughs here and there — mostly thanks to David Cross’ supporting role — but they grow rarer by the minute, and by the time the credits roll, that early novelty has been stomped to death several times over. Given the talent on hand, that’s a bummer. Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple, June Diane Raphael and Matthew Willig also star.
Extras: Director/Cera/Black commentary on both cuts, alternate ending (with commentary), deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, line-o-rama, bloopers.
Worth a Mention
— “Audition: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition” (NR, 1999, Shout Factory): Takashi Miike’s disturbingly brilliant horror classic showed up at least a decade ahead of its time, so this 10th anniversary treatment, which remasters the film for high-definition consumption, arrives right on time. Extras include director/writer commentary, a large helping of new cast interviews and liner notes courtesy of author Tom Mes.
— “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition” (G, 1937, Disney): Snow White makes her Blu-ray debut. But Disney’s fantastic all-inclusive strategy — packing the Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy editions inside one efficient package — means everyone’s invited to enjoy this definitive edition, which (per usual) benefits from a fresh coat of digital restoration. Extras (some Blu-ray only) include commentary with animator John Canemaker, set-top games, four behind-the-scenes features, a new music video and a peek at Disney’s upcoming “The Princess and the Frog.”
— New wave of Ghost House Underground DVDs (R, 2009, Lions Gate): “The Children” (reviewed above) is the best of the lot, but completists also can pick up “Seventh Moon,” “The Thaw” and “Offspring” for their collections. “Moon” and “Offspring” both feature commentary tracks, while all three have one or more behind-the-scenes features.
— “Mister Ed: The Complete First Season” (NR, 1961, Shout Factory): Yes, it took this long for someone to put together a complete season of “Mr. Ed.” Includes 26 episodes, plus cast commentary on the pilot and interviews with stars Alan Young and Connie Hines.
— “My Fair Lady” (G, 1964, Paramount): Warner Bros. released a flashier edition of “My Fair Lady” back in 2004, but it’s discontinued, and if you want the film on DVD but haven’t indulged yourself until now, this should do. Extras include commentary, vintage behind-the-scenes features, alternate vocal tracks and promotional materials.