New On Home Video: The Always Amazing ‘Road House’ And An Orson Welles Masterpiece

With so many movies hitting VOD, streaming services, Blu-ray, and DVD, it’s hard to know what to watch next. New On Home Video offers a bi-weekly guide to what’s worth seeking out, with an emphasis on what’s really worth watching, from recent theatrical releases to classics and long-lost gems.

Must Sees

Road House (Shout! Factory)
After the success of Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swazye, until then a modestly successful young actor, quickly became one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. But what kind of star would he be? Instead of following up with another dancing movie, or another romance, Swayze swerved into action films, teaming with super-producer Joel Silver and director Rowdy Harrington for 1989’s Road House. At the time, it didn’t seem like a good idea. The film performed moderately well and racked up several Golden Raspberry nominations, seldom a good sign.

Since then, Road House has picked up a following as a so-bad-it’s-good movie, but that seems a little too simple of an explanation for what’s going on in the film. It almost seems like the product of an alternate universe, one where everyone’s lives revolve around roadside bars, bouncers are celebrities, and really great bouncers, like Swayze’s Jack Dalton, are like rock stars. Simply by making Dalton a Zen-practicing, philosophy degree-holding badass suggests everyone understands they’re operating on the edge of absurdity, as do threats like “I used to f*ck guys like you in prison.” (That gem comes from Silver himself, Harrington reveals on the Blu-ray and DVD commentary track.)

Thing is, though, the movie really delivers the goods, from the way cinematographer Dean Cundey (a veteran of John Carpenter’s best films) shoots everything from the mist of the countryside to the action scenes. (This is more evident on the new Blu-ray edition than past incarnations.) It’s ridiculous, but also ridiculously entertaining, and now a beautifully precise time capsule of what action movie audiences wanted at the end of the ’80s: Big muscles, big hair, and throat-ripping action. (And Sam Elliott, apparently, in a fun supporting role.)

This new edition includes the Harrington commentary, a track from super-fan Kevin Smith, new interviews, and other bonus features.

The Immortal Story (Criterion)
Chimes at Midnight (Criterion)
Orson Welles spent the last decades of his career scraping together money where he could find it to finance dozens of films. Some of them went nowhere. Some of them were never completed. And some did get finished only barely to see the light of day. Both The Immortal Story and Chimes at midnight fall into this final category. The former, released in 1968, is Welles’ only completed narrative feature in color, and his final completed narrative film. Based on an Isak Dinesen (a.k.a. Karen Blixen) story, it finds Welles playing the role of a rich old man in Macao who becomes obsessed with making true a much-passed-around story about a sailor hired to sleep with a rich man’s wife. So he hires a fallen-from-grace woman (Jeanne Moreau) to play the part of his wife and picks up a soldier to complete the tale. But the story slips away from him in this short, bittersweet film.

The Immortal Story feels more like a remarkable curio than a major statement, but it’s not like he didn’t still have major statements in him. Shot in Spain, it was little seen at the time and has never been legitimately available until now, after playing theaters in a restored version earlier this year. Adapting elements from several Shakespeare plays, Chimes at Midnight uses Falstaff (played in a near-definitive interpretation by Welles) as its focal character. But it’s as melancholy as it is mirthful, portraying the merry oaf as a man whose era is coming to an end — and as someone not too foolish to notice this. It’s a later masterpiece from a genius who, if life had been a little kinder and he’d been a little wiser, might have produced more of them. But could such a man have played Falstaff so well?

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (Warner Bros.)
Before moving to Pixar, Brad Bird made this visually striking, emotionally moving (if loose) adaptation of Ted Hughes’ children’s novel about a robot and the boy who befriends him. Few saw it then, but in the years since its 1999 release, it has rightly earned a regular spot on any list of the greatest animated films ever made. This new version features a slightly longer cut.

Also New

The Jungle Book (Disney)
Viewers of all ages should enjoy Jon Favreau’s gorgeous, intense adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories, which features remarkable effects and sure-handed storytelling (even if the brilliant use of 3D will be lost to most home viewers).

A Bigger Splash (Fox)
Not a sequel to Splash, this erotic drama starring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts earned strong reviews during its brief theatrical run and will likely find an appreciative audience at home.

The Meddler (Sony)
And speaking of slept-on movies that deserve a wider audience, this Lorene Scafaria-directed comedy starring Rose Byrne as a TV writer going through a rough patch and the widowed mom (Susan Sarandon) who tries too hard to help her is a real gem, one that features one of Sarandon’s best performances.

Now You See Me 2 (Liongate)
You know summer’s over when the sequels you didn’t bother going to see in theaters turn into the sequels you’ll probably reluctantly watch at home.

Next time: Coen roots.