Fresh on Blu-ray: ‘FIRESTARTER’, ‘RED DAWN’, ‘PASSENGERS’, ‘FENCES’, ‘ELLE’ and ‘SOLACE’

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Preston Barta // Editor

It’s a good time to be a Stephen King fan. STRANGER THINGS paid homage to his great works, two new adaptations are hitting the big screen later this year (DARK TOWER, IT) and a few others will be streaming on Netflix. But before they arrive, Shout! Factory (a genre home distribution company) will re-release one of his film adaptations, with a 2K upgrade and a bundle of new features.

FIRESTARTER
Rated R, 115 minutes.
Director: Mark L. Lester
Cast: Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Freddie JonesHeather LocklearMartin Sheen and George C. Scott
Available for purchase on Shout! Factory here.

Speaking of Stranger Things, if you were wondering where they got the idea of a girl with superpowers whom a government agency tries to weaponize, look no further than 1984’s cheesy, but often fun FIRESTARTER.

While it’s not considered one of the best King adaptations out there, time has treated some of FIRESTARTER’s themes and aspects well. For instance, many thought 8-year-old Drew Barrymore gave a rather wooden performance at the time of its release. However, as you may have saw with the character Eleven in STRANGER THINGS, she also played the character quite similarly. At a second glance, this method actually works for a character who barely knows how to use her incendiary powers.

So if you can tolerate a story that, at this point, has become a formula for King, and have a taste for conspiracy thrillers with a healthy dose of sci-fi, FIRESTARTER should spark your interest.

Grade: B-

Extras: An audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester, a making-of (featuring interviews with Lester, actors Freddie Jones, Drew Snyder, stuntman/actor Dick Warlock and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream), an interview with Schmoelling about creating the music and memories, a live performance of “Charlie’s Theme,” theatrical trailers, a radio spot and still gallery.

RED DAWN
Rated R, 115 minutes.
Director: John Milius
Cast: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea ThompsonCharlie SheenJennifer GreyBrad Savage and Harry Dean Stanton
Available for purchase on Shout! Factory here.

This is a movie that requires being in a certain mindset to appreciate. Whether it’s the love of ’80s cinema or exploration of what could have been if history had gone a different direction, RED DAWN thrills and entertains.

Like many ’80s movies with large casts (including Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell and Charlie Sheen), there’s more focus on the action and plot than actual character building.

That said, the movie doesn’t hold back in its gritty and violent display. As hard as it is to watch Americans defend themselves on their own turf, the movie opens up a school of thought that otherwise wouldn’t have been considered.

Grade: B+

Extras: A 70-minute reflection of making the film (including brand-new stories from co-star Doug Toby, casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Jackson DeGovia and editor Thom Noble, four archival featurettes (“Red Dawn Rising,” “Training for WWIII,” “Building the Red Menace” and “WWIII Comes to Town”) and the original theatrical trailer.

PASSENGERS
Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael SheenLaurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia

Aboard a spaceship full of passengers bound for a new planet, a mechanic named Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) finds himself waking up from induced hibernation 90 years early.

After flying solo through space over the course of a year, Jim takes it upon himself to wake up the prettiest female passenger — journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) — to keep him company until the end of their days. Striking production sets, charismatic talent and the potential for a juicy horror movie may keep our attention, but rather than diving into the deeper, darker conversation at hand, the film instead distracts us with a TITANIC-esque action tale that deserves to be lost in space.

Grade: D-

Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, on the set with Pratt, how they cast the film and created the design of the ship.

FENCES
Rated PG-13, 138 minutes.
Director: Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen HendersonJovan AdepoRussell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson

Thunderous performances and a sharply adapted screenplay give third-time director Denzel Washington’s Fences some real bravado. But because its story of a pre-civil rights working-class black family is based on August Wilson’s award-winning stage play, Washington doesn’t broaden the scope of the movie to a cinematic level.

Grade: B

Extras: A featurette on taking the play from stage to screen, casting process and building the film with Washington, a special on Davis’ character and August Wilson.

ELLE
Rated R, 130 minutes.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne ConsignyCharles Berling and Virginie Efira

Paul Verhoeven (TOTAL RECALL, ROBOCOP) is best known for his sci-fi epics in the ’80s and ’90s, but what many may not realize is he’s one incredibly versatile director. He may just have made his magnum opus with his French language debut ELLE that goes above and beyond to reinvent the rape/revenge narrative.

Marked by an astounding central performance from Isabelle Huppert (AMOUR), the film dives into interpersonal relationship with her ex-lover, son and work colleagues as she deals with the trauma of sexual assault. Provocative and funny, ELLE is a high-brow film with teeth.

Grade: B-

Extras: A making-of and Celebrating an Icon: AFI’s Tribute to Isabelle Huppert.

SOLACE
Rated R, 92 minutes.
Director: Afonso Poyart
Cast: Anthony HopkinsColin Farrell, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish and Janine Turner

First thing you’d take notice of if you picked up this title is its talented cast — which includes Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Sometimes when you come across a movie you hadn’t heard of that sports a big cast, though, chances are it’s not good.

SOLACE is not worthy of being placed in the $2 bin, because it showcases an intriguing premise about a psychic doctor working with the FBI to track down a serial killer, but it twists a little too far for its own good and drowns itself in cliches.

Grade: C+

Extras: An audio commentary with director Afonso Poyart, a making-of (“Visions and Voices”) and trailer gallery.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.