Fresh on Blu-ray: ‘BULL DURHAM’ on Criterion, ‘THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE’ and ‘YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE’

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

BULL DURHAM (1988)

Rated R, 108 minutes.
Director: Ron Shelton
Cast: Kevin CostnerSusan SarandonTim RobbinsTrey WilsonRobert WuhlWilliam O’Leary and David Neidorf
Available today on Blu-ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection.

You can love a movie with characters named Crash Davis and Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh. You can love a romantic-comedy sports film about giving up on a certain phase of your life where characters deliver cheesy, cliché speeches that somehow still manage to hit home. You can love BULL DURHAM.

BULL DURHAM, released 30 years ago this year, didn’t only change the nature of sports films, but it also changed the way we look at sports and how we talk about them. Writer-director Ron Shelton, who (oddly enough) is a former minor league baseball player, is well versed in the glitz of the sports world and the story of an ordinary fellow with modest talent. BULL DURHAM bats 5-for-5 with its infectious baseball romanticism, richly drawn characters and first-rate performances.

What makes Bull Durham a great baseball movie is it doesn’t completely focus on the sport. Its true subject of examination is passion. Religion and sex intertwine to a grand degree. Susan Sarandon’s character, Annie Savoy, tells us at the outset that “she belongs to the Church of Baseball,” and she has an annual tradition of selecting one talented player on the professional minor league team Durham Bulls as her lover for the new season. What follows is an engrossing love triangle involving Annie, a hotheaded young pitcher (Tim Robbins) and an aging catcher (Kevin Costner). This concept may make people some feel a bit icky, but there’s a complexity to it that breaks beyond the surface.

The special features included on the Criterion release also solidify the repackaged disc as the ultimate collector’s edition. It comes with cover art that shows a baseball hat hanging on the corner of a four-poster bed, along with a man’s arm securely tied to it, to illustrate the film’s eroticism. The film also includes two audio commentaries (featuring Shelton, Costner and Robbins), a new conversation between Shelton and film critic Michael Sragow, an appreciation special featuring former players and broadcasters, a trailer, other interviews and featurettes about the love and making of the film.

Grade: A

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)

Not rated,
Director: Gunther von Fritsch
Cast: Ann CarterSimone SimonKent SmithJane RandolphEve March and Julia Dean
Available today on Blu-ray through Scream Factory.

This 1944 sequel to 1942’s CAT PEOPLE is one of the most detached sequels you’ll ever come across. Its associations with its previous film are slight; it’s merely a continuation of the characters’ lives, not of its themes.

The black-and-white title tells the story of a peculiar young girl named Amy (Ann Carter), who’s so caught up in her own fantasy world that she doesn’t have any friends of her own. Well, that’s unless you don’t count the creepy old lady (Julia Dean) who lives in the town’s haunted house. Amy is given a ring by the old woman and she wishes for a friend. Her wish is granted, and Amy suddenly finds herself in the company of beautiful woman (Simone Simon) no one else can see. The mystery ensues.

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is a nice horror stepping stone for children. In many ways, it functions as a Disney Halloween special that’s equivalent to HALLOWEENTOWN or HOCUS POCUS. There are spooky set pieces and chilling moments, but it’s not a full-blooded horror movie that will scare you or make a lasting impression. It’s just harmless ghostly entertainment.

Grade: B

Extras: Available today through shoutfactory.com/shop, The Scream Factory release comes with original artwork on the cover, two audio commentaries with historians, a video essay, a new audio interview with Ann Carter, theatrical trailers and a still gallery.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Rated R, 90 minutes.
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Joaquin PhoenixJudith RobertsEkaterina SamsonovDante Pereira-Olson and Alessandro Nivola
Available on Blu-ray and Digital HD on Tuesday, July 17.

There’s something cool about the idea of a relatively homeless-looking Joaquin Phoenix going around killing bad men. Phoenix has got to be one of the most captivating actors to watch on the screen. He’s so unpredictable and absurd that you can’t help but watch his every move, even if that move involves him driving a hammer into a pedophile’s skull. His latest work of eccentricity, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, is a gruesome and emotionally shattering experience.

It’s equal parts a movie about a contract killer who goes rogue when a job goes south (think JOHN WICK) and another about a traumatized veteran who’s trying to close the wounds of his past. There’s a riveting parallel story structure here that hits above the standard hitman movie. It actually has something more to provide than action.

Although some sequences leave you feeling a bit confused or empty, there’s no denying that Lynne Ramsay (director of the equally-as-devastating WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) wants to expose audiences to a world that feels dirty and authentic. All the death scenes and hard-hitting themes cut to the bone. It’s unshakable.

Grade: B+

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.