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'Lion King,' 'Whale Rider,' 'Mr. Mom' receive Blu-ray upgrades

Posted August 30

“The Lion King” gets a Blu-ray reissue this week, and “Mr. Mom,” “Whale Rider” and others make their Blu-ray debuts, while a couple of vintage Westerns are on DVD for the first time.

“The Lion King” (Disney, 1994, G, original and sing-along versions, audio commentary, featurettes, art galleries). Young lion cub Simba is destined to become king of the jungle after his father, Mufasa, is killed, but Simba’s evil Uncle Scar has other ideas. Taking cues from “Bambi” and “Hamlet,” this animated hit (one of the all-time biggest pre-Pixar box office blockbusters) still looks great, boasting stunning visuals. It also still seems a bit rough for its G rating and has some weaknesses, but there’s no denying the film’s entertainment value as it nicely balances drama, comedy and jaunty songs.

“Whale Rider” (Shout Select, 2002, PG-13, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, poster/photo galleries). Keisha Castle-Hughes is utterly winning in this outstanding family film (which should be PG; the PG-13 is far too harsh for one brief drug moment). She’s a young New Zealand girl living with her traditional Maori grandparents, and she feels that she is meant to be a leader, despite the fact that women never have been allowed to take such a position. Don’t miss this one.

“Mr. Mom” (Shout Select, 1983, PG, featurette, trailer). There’s a sort of TV-movie/sitcom feel to this somewhat dated (or maybe not-so-dated) look at a housewife (Teri Garr) who goes to work when her husband (Michael Keaton) is laid off, forcing him to take over raising the children and doing the household chores. The script has some amusing contrivances but would never rise above superficiality were it not for the stars, whose chemistry and superior comic talents are palpable. Ann Jillian and Christopher Lloyd co-star, and John Hughes wrote the script (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Home Alone”).

“The Love of a Woman” (Arrow, 1953, b/w, in French with English subtitles, 1969 TV documentary feature on Jean Grémillon, booklet). A young doctor (Micheline Presle) takes a position in a small island community where she gradually wins over the locals and finds love with an engineer (Massimo Girotti). Soon they are talking of marriage, but he refuses to commit until she quits working and agrees to become a housewife. This is a low-key, sad, heart-tugging character drama, which became Grémillon’s final feature.

“Freebie and the Bean” (Warner Archive, 1974; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; trailer). Self-serving James Caan and uptight Alan Arkin are the two respective title characters — an “Odd Couple” pair of San Francisco police detectives — in this loud, chaotic, R-rated crime comedy, a forerunner of the oil-and-water, buddy-cop flicks that would become a cinema staple a decade later. There are exciting action scenes and a hundred car crashes, along with surprisingly racist, politically incorrect insult humor. Valerie Harper stands out in a small role as Arkin’s wife and Loretta Swit plays Caan’s wife. (The Blu-ray debut is available at wbshop.com.)

“Cow Country” (Warner Archive, 1953, b/w). Edmond O’Brien runs a Texas freight line that is threatened when beef prices drop, and things heat up when local businessmen collude to wrest control of local ranchers’ land. It is an interesting mix of two genres — the traditional Western and dark film noir — as O’Brian pines for a woman (Helen Westcott) he has long loved, and she is unaware that the man she’s with (Robert Lowery) is a crooked, two-timing scoundrel with a femme fatale (Peggie Castle) on the side. (The manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at wbshop.com.)

“Cross Fire” (Warner Archive, 1933, b/w). Tom Keene stars in this offbeat 1930s-contemporary Western crime flick. He’s a mining company foreman who goes off to fight in World War I, but when he returns the mine is in the hands of a scoundrel who has driven out the board members and has an army surplus machine gun at his disposal. It is creaky and illogical but still quite watchable, with Betty Furness and Edgar Kennedy in support. (The manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at wbshop.com.)

“Ronin” (Arrow, 1998, R for violence and language, alternate ending, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). A trio of mercenaries (Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Skipp Sudduth) is hired by an Irish operative (Natascha McElhone) and paired with two less trustworthy cohorts to steal a mysterious briefcase. Naturally, things go awry, and double and triple crosses make everyone involved quite paranoid. The story is overly familiar and less-than-satisfying but there’s a terrifically kinetic car chase that helps immensely. It is directed by John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate”).

“New Battles Without Honor & Humanity” (Arrow, 1974-76; not rated/probable R for violence, sex, nudity; in Japanese with English subtitles, featurettes, trailers, booklet). Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku found enormous success with his five-film “Battles Without Honor” yakuza crime franchise, and the three films here are a sort of trilogy follow-up to those films: “New Battles Without Honor,” “The Boss’s Head” and “Last Days of the Boss.”

“The Slayer” (Arrow, 1982; R for violence, language, sex, nudity; featurette, trailer, booklet). Two young couples visit a small island off the Atlantic coast, but when a raging storm hits one of the women realizes that the island is the location she sees in gruesome recurring nightmares she has had since childhood. And then people start dying in violent ways. This better-than-average slasher film foreshadows the “Nightmare on Elm Street Films” that would arrive two years later, and has a deliberately murky conclusion.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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