Of a Martian and the T Virus: 'Space Between' and 'Resident Evil'

By Tom Von Malder | May 14, 2017
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson star in "The Space Between Us."

Owls Head — The Space Between Us (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 120 min.). This is a teenage romance with a lot of heart and winning performances by leads Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson and even Carla Gugino. Butterfield ("Ender's Game," "Hugo") plays Gardner Elliot, the first human born on Mars, as he was born after his mother, astronaut Sarah Elliot, arrived on the Red Planet as part of the first six-person crew to set up an ongoing scientific station on the planet. However, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), head of the private space exploration company behind the Mars project, has kept Gardner's existence a secret to avoid bad publicity for his company.

Astronaut scientist Kendra Wynham (Gugino of TV's "Wayward Pines") has been acting as Gardner's surrogate mother on Mars, but now Gardner is 16 and wants to visit Earth, specifically to visit Tulsa (Robertson), his Internet pen pal who just thinks he is some other Earth kid, and to find his unknown father. Tulsa also is without parents -- Gardner's mother died in childbirth -- and is on like her sixth foster home, and not liking it. The reason Gardner has been kept on Mars, surrounded by only 15 other humans at a time, is that he was carried to term in zero gravity, resulting in his bones being brittle and his heart not strong enough to pump in Earth's gravity. However, Gardner undergoes operations in which bars are inserted to strengthen his bones so he can travel to Earth.

Once on Earth and thinking he will be sent back to Mars because of his heart condition, Gardner escapes from Shepherd's company and heads to Colorado and Tulsa's school, so she can join him on the hunt for his father. (Gardner found a picture of his mother and a man in her belongings and believes that man to be his father.) The film has lots of heart -- not a pun, despite Gardner developing an enlarged heart while on Earth -- in such euphoric scenes as Gardner seeing waves and the ocean for the first time and his reaction to his first airplane ride -- in a crop duster.

Butterfield has to juggle a character that is very smart in science and math, but a neophyte in social skills, particularly when it comes to girls -- Gardner brings a lot of frank honesty that unsettles Tulsa, but in a nice way. Some plot moments can be seen miles away and a huge question remains why Gardner's mother's pregnancy was not discovered prior to her leaving for Mars, but there is so much good will and sheer happiness in Gardner's discoveries in this film that it absolutely charms the viewer.

Bonus features include an alternate ending (3 min.) that is more of a bookend as it contains another Shepherd speech, similar to the one that opens the film; five deleted scenes (13:44), including a longer version of Shepherd's opening speech, a more involved docking procedure for the first Martian astronauts and Gardner getting mugged while on the run; a look at how the film is centered on its love story (4:28); and a detailed audio commentary by director Peter Chelmson. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 106 min.). There have been two long-running science fiction action franchises starring women: "Underworld," starring Kate Beckinsale, that started in 2003; and "Resident Evil," starring Milla Jovovich, a video game-inspired series that started in 2002. Both this film, the sixth in its series, and "Underworld: Blood Wars," the fifth in its series, have reached the home video market within weeks of each other. To be blunt about it, "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" blows away "Blood Wars." It is a visceral, action-packed movie with a kickass heroine that one wants to root for.

As did "Blood Wars," "The Final Chapter" opens with a recap of what has gone before in a 5:30 telling of the story of the Umbrella Corp. For those just joining the series -- and this may be the strongest entry since the first film -- the T Virus was developed by Umbrella Corp.'s James Marcus (Mark Simpson) to save his young daughter from a disease, but the T Virus has side effects in that it basically turns everyone, except Alice (Jovovich), into zombies. The T Virus was released from The Hive laboratories beneath Raccoon City to basically cull humanity, it turns out. Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen) likens it to the Biblical flood. Isaacs also helped create The Red Queen artificial intelligence program that runs the Hive.

After the recap, the film opens with Alice emerging from the rubble that is Washington, D.C. (see "Resident Evil: Retribution," 2012). She is the lone survivor of the destruction, except for a couple of particularly nasty mutants, including a dragon. Alice is contacted by The Red Queen (Ever Anderson), which now claims it wants to help her and says there is an airborne antidote that can kill everyone and thing infected with the T Virus. It is housed in the Hive, meaning Alice must fight her way back to where everything started. However, she is racing the clock, as the last 4,472 non-affected humans will be wiped out in 48 hours. (This clock aspect is the film's weakest element, as, even if she releases it in time, it is going to take much more than two days to reach all over the world. Plus, the film's ending seems to take longer that her counting-down watch would allow.)

Action highlights include the dragon attacking Alice's jeep and some "Mad Max" style fighting atop a tank that dangles a human behind to draw hundreds of zombies towards Raccoon City. Also good is the ingenuity of how the human defenders in Raccoon City handle those assembled zombie masses. While writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson has subtitled the film "The Final Chapter," Alice's last words are: "My work isn't done yet." So, do not be surprised if there is a seventh film in the series. The extras do include a sneak peek at "Resident Evil: Vendetta," the forthcoming animated film that is set after the sixth Capcom game (4:22). The film, which will be in theaters June 19, will center on an older Chris from the original video game, as well as a grown-up Rebecca, and Chris will team up with Leon. Other Blu-ray only extras include the ability to watch the film in "Retaliation Mode," which has Anderson and Jovovich break down key moments in the film and discuss the franchise, as well as show the practical effects work that went into creating the gore and zombies; and a look at the stunts and weaponry (9:03), with stunt coordinator Grant Hulley and Anderson.

All versions include two additional featurettes. One explores The Hive sets (4:18), while the other looks at the female characters, including Alice, Claire (a returning Ali Larter) and Abigail (6:32). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars

The Red Turtle (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 80 min.). Directed and written by Michael Dudok de Wit, who won a 2000 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film with "Father and Daughter," this animated feature was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. It is a co-production with the great Studio Ghibli, which has produced such animated films as "Spirited Away" and "Ponyo." The film is a visual delight, while the story is an almost wordless (there are seven "heys") examination of one man's solitary search for survival and companionship.

I'm not sure I really followed the metaphorical aspects of the film, which is the story of a man stranded on a deserted island after being separated from his boat in a fierce storm. Three times the man builds a raft -- each increasing in size -- only to have something butt the raft from below and destroy it. On his third attempt, he finally sees his opponent is a giant red turtle. There is a final confrontation that leads to the rest of the film, which also expands the cast. However, the rest is probably all hallucination, such as when he thinks he sees and hears a string quartet playing on the beach. The lovely score, by Laurent Perez del Mar, includes some wordless vocalizing. The story and visual style are simple, elemental. Overall, the film is a bit underwhelming, yet still beautiful in its simplicity.

Extras include the Dutch director showing how he did sketches for the film's settings and characters, which include some semi-comical crabs (17:45) and a making-of feature that includes concept art (56:36). Both come with English subtitles. There also is audio commentary by de Wit and de Wit talking to AFI Associate Programmer Mike Dougherty and the audience at the AFI Fest (20:47). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3.5 stars

Starlight (France, MVD visual/Cleopatra Blu-ray, NR, 91 min.). This is another film that is metaphorical, as rocker Iggy Pop appears throughout the film as La Conscience, that is the conscience of circus clown Elliot (Denis Lavant). However, only Elliot can see Pop's wordless angelic (?) character and he is not always successful in steering Elliot in the right direction.

The film is set in the dunes near the North Sea, where the carnival, owned by ringmaster Heroy (Tcheky Karyo of TV's "The Four Musketeers"), is faring quite poorly. Even when they attract a small crowd, gypsy opera singer Zohra (Beatrice Dalle of "Betty Blue") goes into weird shrieking mode that breaks eyeglasses and scares the crowd off. There is a triangle between Angele (Natacha Regnier), the diaphanous ballerina, her lover Elliot and would-be lover Heroy, who is both a cruel man and a schizophrenic leader. Also, Zohra is in love with Elliot and makes several outright advances. All the tension leads to a boiling point that spills over into violence, as the circus ensemble also feels underpaid.

There is not a lot of dialogue in the film, which mostly succeeds due to its interesting photography. At times, such as the imprisonment scene, the film is quite surreal. It ends with an Pop song. The film apparently was finished in 2013, but not released until this year. The director is Sophie  Blondy. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.75 stars

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (Italy, 1959, Arrow Blu-ray, NR, 76 min.). This film is noteworthy for several reasons. It was about the third Italian science fiction film (never a large genre) made in the 1950s, and while set in Mexico, its Mayan ruins were actually created only a handful of miles outside of Rome by Mario Bava. Uncredited Bava, who also did the practical monster effects and handled post-production on the film after director Riccardo Freda left the project, went on to direct "Bloody Sunday" as his next film. Bava (1914-1980) became the master of the Italian horror film, with his work kick-starting the giallo film genre and the modern slasher film. Among the films he made are "Baron Blood," "Black Sabbath," "Planet of the Vampires," "Kill, Baby, Kill" and "Twitch of the Dead Nerve."

The monster Caltiki is very reminiscent of "The Blob" (1958) and the plot closely mirrors that of "The Quartermass Xperiment" (1955). The film opens with a geological expedition to the Mayan city of Tikal, abandoned in 607 AD and lying 300 miles south of Mexico City. When one of the scientists goes missing (the unseen character is named Ulmer, most likely in homage to Edgar G. Ulmer, director of 1934's "The Black Cat" with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff). Professor John Fielding (John Merivale of "Arabesque," "King Rat" and "The List of Adrian Messenger") and Max Gunther (Gerard Haerter of "Ludwig") go after Ulmer, but instead of finding him, they find a deep pool with treasure from previous drowning victims and a guardian statue of Caltiki, a Mayan deity, that has the inscription: "Caltiki is one and immortal. When her bridegroom comes from the sky, the power of Caltiki will destroy the world."

Down in the pool is a creature, Caltiki, that feeds on radiation. It attaches to Max's arm, but John cuts a portion off, freeing Max. Max, already jealous of John and coveting John's wife (Didi Sullivan as Ellen), despite having his own woman (Daniela Rocca as Linda, a former prostitute), gradually goes insane. Meanwhile, John has been studying the portion of the creature he cut off and he foolishly brings half of it home. That never works out well. The film was made so long ago that the scientists have an "electronic brain," what we would call a computer today.

There are many special features, and the Blu-ray also comes with a standard DVD and, for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector's booklet with new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti. There are two separate audio commentaries: one by Tim Lucas, author of "Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark"; the other by Troy Howarth, author of "The Haunted World of Mario Bava" and "So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films." There is an archival introduction by critic Stefano Della Casa, who also is featured in an archival interview on director Freda (19:05). A new feature (18:13) has critic Tim Newman, discussing the film situation in Italy at the time and the many influences reflected in  "Caltiki," including "The Quatermass Xperiment," "The Thing from Another World" and "X ... the Unknown." There also  is an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (21:33) on the film's genesis and its creation. Finally, there is a new 2k restoration from the original camera negative that shows the entire captured frames, thus showing more of Bava's creature effects. Grade: film: 2.5 stars; extras 4 stars

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italy, 1972, Arrow Blu-ray, NR, 99 min.). Speaking of Italian giallo films, there is this striking example by director Emilio Miraglia, a follow-up to his even more gothic "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave" (see below). Miraglia, who also made half of his six films under the name Hal Brady, disappeared after finishing this film. The film was a German co-production, which probably explains that while the dialogue is in Italian, all the character names are German and the filming was done in Germany.

The film starts with a prologue that has two young sisters fighting over a doll. Eveline steals the doll from Kitty. Their fight spills over into the castle, where Grandpa Tobias (Rudolf Schundler) tells the story behind the huge painting in which one sister stabs the other, with the Black Queen murdering the Red Queen. The legend is that every 100 years, the Red Queen comes back to life and kills seven times for revenge, with the next killings due in 14 years.

The film then jumps ahead those 14 years to 1972, when Grandpa is literally frightened to death. His will anticipates his death and he instructs that his bequests not be opened until the following year, as he is trying to avoid the curse of the Red Queen. Grandpa and everyone else has been told that Eveline is living in America, when, in fact, we learn via flashback that she was accidentally killed in a fight with Kitty (Barbara Bouchet plays the adult version). Eveline was then hidden in a wall in a cell beneath the castle. When the killings start, there is no end of suspects and more than one person dies after they indicate to Kitty that they know who the killer is. Part of the convoluted plot has to do with Springe, the fashion company for which Kitty is a photographer. There is a rivalry between general manager Hans Meyer (Bruno Bertocci) and Martin Hoffman (Ugo Pagliai), who is having an affair with Kitty, while his wife is stuck in a psychiatric hospital. Then there is Lulu Palm (an often nude Sybil Danning, later of "The Man with Bogart's Face"), who is sleeping with Hans but has her eyes on Martin.

The film really does not make much sense until the final five minutes, and its closing sequence, which includes a flood washing away characters, is quite elaborate. Along the way, there is a gruesome death by car and a vivid stabbing, with the latter taking place in a dream. Bonus features include audio commentary by Alan Jones and critic Kim Newman and a new interview with Danning (19:47), in which she describes her early careers as a dental assistant and a cosmetologist, before becoming a fashion model and then an actress. She also discusses making this film. Also new is an interview with critic Stephen Thrower (13:48), who points out how initially disorienting is the presence of a woman one only comes to realize a bit later is a third sister. He also acknowledges Bruno Nicolai's music. (Nicolai was a friend and collaborator with Ennio Morricone.) From the archives come an interview with production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi (13:38), who also does a brief film introduction; an interview with actor Marino Mase (18:24), who played Police Inspector Toller; and a featurette in which Erika Blanc, Baladi and Mase answer what they would say to director Miraglia if they were to encounter him again (4:14). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 3 stars

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971, Arrow Blu-ray, NR, 103 min.). This is another gothic giallo from director Emilio Miraglia, and is also available with "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times" as the set, "Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia." In the film, handsome and wealthy Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) has just been released from an asylum. He was put there after a breakdown caused when his unfaithful wife Evelyn died. Cunningham now picks up women who look like Evelyn, takes them to his remote castle and tortures and kills them. While he seems cured by his marriage to  Gladys (Marina Malfatti) -- who also looks just like Evelyn -- people then start being killed again, Cunningham starts seeing Evelyn's ghost and her tomb is found empty. Again, there is female nudity and the most interesting part of the film comes at the end.

Extras include new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of "So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films," and a new interview with critic Stephen Thrower, as well as an exclusive introduction by Erika Blanc, who plays Susie in the film. There also is a new interview with Blanc, as well as an archival one.

Heat (1995, 20th Century Box, 2 Blu-ray discs, R, 170 min.). This is a remastering of the previous 2-Blu-ray Warner Bros. release, carrying over all the extras and then adding 93 minutes of new extras in the form of a Toronto International Film Festival Q&A with writer/director Michael Mann (30 min.) and an Academy Q&A of Mann, Pacino and De Niro moderated by filmmaker Christopher Nolan (63 min.). This new "Definitive Edition" of the crime masterpiece, which stars Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer, is a new restoration, personally overseen by Mann, who has been quoted as saying he made several scenes visually darker. Carried over are Mann's audio commentary; the three-part making-of documentary (59:12); 11 deleted scenes (9:44); a look at the Los Angeles locations (12:05); and a look at the dinner conversation between Pacino and De Niro's characters (9:58).

Pacino and De Niro deliver the performances of their post-"Godfather" careers, and have two mano-a-mano confrontations. They are supported by a strong cast, including Jon Voight, and Mann's Shakespearean screenplay. Pacino plays Lt. Vincent Hanna, a hot-tempered Robbery-Homicide Division detective on the trail of Neil McCauley (De Niro), a master thief whose crew includes gunman Chris Shiherlis (Kilmer), muscle Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore) and driver Trejo (Danny Trejo). Hanna gives his all to the case, neglecting wife (Diane Venora) and step-daughter (young Natalie Portman). Mann focuses the film on Hanna and McCauley's inner conflicts. Both subscribe to self-ascribed laws and we see what effect their actions have on their loved ones. Grade: film and extras 4 stars

Beaches (Lionsgate DVD, NR, 88 min.). This Lifetime remake of the 1988 film that starred Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey is currently only available at Walmart. It stars Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel as CC Bloom (the Midler role) and Nia Long as her lifetime friend Hillary Whitney. The two first meet on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. CC is an aspiring singer, while Hillary is the daughter of a prominent civil rights lawyer. I'm not sure a remake was needed. There are no bonus features.

Orange is the New Black: Season Four (Lionsgate, 3 Blu-ray or 4 standard DVDs, NR, 778 min.). From Jenji Kohan, the creator of "Weeds," this thought-provoking, often funny drama is about life in a women's prison. The series is based on the best-selling memoir by Piper Kerman. Set inside Litchfield Prison, the season explores the racial and economic tensions that run rampant, as the prison is overrun with new inmates -- many of them Dominican -- and overseen by inexperienced guards. The season opens with the attempted murder of Alex (Laura Prepon). There is an interesting stunt casting this season, as Blair Brown plays celebrity inmate Judy King (think Martha Stewart). The show, which has won three consecutive Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series, has a cast that includes Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba, Michael J. Harney, Taryn Manning and Kate Mulgrew. Other guest stars include Annie Golden, Diane Guerrero, Matt McGorry, Lori Petty, James McMenamin, Ruby Rose and Journee Brown.

Extras include a gag reel; three audio commentaries for episodes "It Sounded Nicer in My Head," "The Animals" and "Toast Can't Never Be Bread Again"; and a 10-minute set tour. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Shark Week: Shark 'n' Awe Collection (2015-16, Lionsgate, 6 DVDs, TV-14, 1,374 min.). Also initially a Walmart exclusive, this collection highlights some of the most recent breakthroughs and developments , leading to new insights into sharks. Rather than a full collection of 2016 episodes, this package includes the best episodes from 2015 and 2016. The 32 episodes include "Alien Sharks: Close Encounter," "Ninja Sharks" and "Sharks versus Dolphins: Face Off." Shark Week 2017 will begin July 23 on the Discovery Channel.

Mannix: The Complete Series (1967-75, CBS/Paramount, 48 DVDs, NR, 163 hours 44 min.). It would take almost a full week -- without sleep -- to watch this series in its entirety. Mike Connors stars as Joe Mannix, a private investigator who defined cool for an entire generation.  He is tough, gritty and defies rules and regulations as he cruises the streets of Los Angeles. Cynical, he takes on dangerous criminals and high society syndicates, with plenty of fist fights, car chases and bullet wounds along the way. His loyal assistant/secretary is Peggy Fair, played by Gail Fisher ("TV's "General Hospital"). Another regular, Lt. Art Malcolm, is played by Ward Wood (TV's "Have Gun Will Travel") in 75 of the 194 episodes. Extras include interviews with Connors  (including on "The Mike Douglas Show") and Joseph Campanella; Connors' audio episode introductions; audio commentary on the pilot by co-creator William Link; audio commentary on "Another Final Exit" by Connors and Campanella; a "Diagnosis Murder" clip that features Connors, Dick Van Dyke and Barry Van Dyke; and a photo gallery. Campanella played Lew Wickersham, Mannix's boss and friend, in the first season, before Mannix started his own firm. During the show's run, Connors was nominated four times for Golden Globe Awards, winning once, and four times for Emmy Awards in eight seasons. Fisher was nominated for four Emmy Awards, winning once, and for three Golden Globes, winning twice. The show was twice nominated for the Best Dramatic Series Emmy and four times for the Golden Globe award, winning once. Connors died at age 91 on Jan. 26 this year.

The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77, CBS/Paramount, 32 DVDs, NR, 102 hours 47 min.). This gritty police procedural helped make a star out of Michael Douglas, who plays young, inexperienced Inspector Steve Keller. Keller is paired with grizzled veteran Lt. Mike Stone, who has more than two decades of experience. Stone is played by Karl Malden ("A Street Car Named Desire"). After 98 episodes, Douglas left for a film career -- he next made "Coma" in 1978 --  and his character was replaced by youthful Inspector Dan Robbins (Richard Hatch of TV's "Battlestar Gallactica") for the show's final season. (The audience apparently did not like the change and the show ended its run.) Guest stars include Tom Selleck, Leslie Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Sheen, Dabney Coleman, John Ritter and Bill Bixby. The set includes all 120 episodes, plus a pilot presentation and an archival interview with Douglas and Malden. The show was nominated for three Golden Globes, once each for Douglas and Malden and once as Best Television Drama. It earned 16 Emmy Award nominations, with Malden nominated four times and Douglas three times. Three times it was dominated for Best Drama Series. Guests Bixby and Jessica Walter (currently TV's "Archer") earned Emmy nominations for their work in individual episodes. Malden died at age 97 in July 2009.

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