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Blu-ray upgrade of Escape From New York leads vintage films on video
Kurt Russell stars as Snake Plissken in the 1981 dystopian thriller "Escape From New York," now on Blu-ray for the first time. - photo by Chris Hicks
Following his unexpected success with Halloween in 1978, filmmaker John Carpenter did fairly well with The Fog in 1980, but then hit it bigger the next year with Escape From New York. A hit when it opened, Escape has only increased in popularity over the years.

Escape From New York (MGM/Scream/Blu-ray, 1981, two discs, R for violence and language, deleted scene, audio commentaries, featurettes, photo/art galleries, trailers). Back in 1981, my review of this horror-thriller-satire described it as a dark and very jaundiced view of American power and politics.

The setup offers a futuristic vision of a nation so violent that all of Manhattan has been walled off as a maximum-security prison, giving way to myriad gang subcultures among the 3 million incarcerated felons (whose weirdness borrows from the gangs in The Warriors and anticipates those of The Road Warrior).

The plot has Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, buffed up, tattooed, long-haired and wearing an eye patch) about to be dropped into that prison when he receives a unique plea deal: Rebels have hijacked Air Force One and crashed it within New York Citys walls, but if Plissken can rescue the president (Donald Pleasence), hell be pardoned.

Inside, he receives reluctant help from a chatty cabbie (Ernest Borgnine), a clever crook called Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and Brains moll (Adrienne Barbeau) as they connive to outwit the presidents captor, The Duke of New York City (Isaac Hayes).

In that early review, I was surprised at the level of cynicism present, with no truly sympathetic characters. Even the president is less than honorable, I wrote. Little did I know where American movies were headed. Post-apocalyptic pictures comprise a run-of-the-mill genre these days, and its interesting that so many of them have been influenced by this one.

That Man From Rio/Up to His Ears (Cohen/Blu-ray/DVD, 1964/1965, two discs, in French with English subtitles or English dubbed, featurettes, trailers; eight-page booklet). Heres a wonderful double feature for foreign film fans: two French comedy-adventures starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, the first of which shot him to international stardom.

Belmondo became a movie star with his third film, Jean-Luc Godards international phenomenon Breathless, which helped introduce the French New Wave. But it was five years later that the worldwide commercial success of That Man From Rio put Belmondo in the cinematic stratosphere.

Writer-director Philippe de Brocas James Bond-style spoof (just two years after Dr. No) casts Belmondo as an airman on leave heading to Paris to visit his fiance, but when shes abducted he follows her captors to Rio de Janeiro and the chase is on. Funny, exciting and fast-paced, this one is still a winner. Co-stars Francoise Dorleac (Catherine Deneuves sister, who died three years later at age 25 in an auto accident).

Up to His Ears came the following year and is also funny and thrilling, though it didnt achieve nearly the same success. Directed by de Broca and adapted from a Jules Verne story, the film has Belmondo as an unhappy billionaire who hires assassins to kill him but changes his mind when he falls for Ursula Andress. Very young Jean Rochefort has a supporting role.

Seven Angry Men (Warner Archive/DVD, 1955, b/w). Character actor Raymond Massey stars here as abolitionist John Brown (which he had played as a supporting role in 1940s Santa Fe Trail). Exciting, if fictionalized, pre-Civil War Western has Brown enlisting his sons (led by Jeffrey Hunter) to help him achieve his end of abolishing slavery through violent means, eventually leading to a slave revolt that will either seal the deal or blow up in their faces. Two more sons are played by pre-stardom Dennis Weaver and Guy Williams. Debra Paget co-stars.

Doc (MGM/Timeless/DVD, 1971, PG). Stacy Keach and Faye Dunaway star in this revisionist retelling of events leading up to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Keach is a brooding Doc Holliday looking for his old friend Wyatt Earp (Harris Yulin) when he meets up with Wyatts brothers as they make their way to Tombstone. The gunfight finishes things off, so to speak.

Breakin/Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo (MGM/Shout!/Blu-ray, 1984, PG, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). These two breakdancing films get Blu-ray upgrades for this double-feature set. The films are little more than Rocky Goes Breakdancing and theres a lot of that in both films but fans will enjoy this hi-def reissue, which includes new bonus features.

Miami Blues (MGM/Shout!/Blu-ray, 1990; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; featurette). Young Alec Baldwin plays one of the screens more despicable psychos in this offbeat, well-filmed thriller, which is alternately fascinating and repugnant. He has the lead role, flying from Los Angeles to Miami on a stolen credit card, killing a Hare Krishna at the airport, moving into the suburbs with a nave hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and when a homicide detective (Fred Ward) catches up with him, he steals the cops identity, along with his badge, handcuffs, gun and even his false teeth!

From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring, MGM/Scream/Blu-ray, 1987; R for violence, sex, language; audio commentaries, documentaries: A Decade Under the Innocence and Return to Oldfield, photo gallery, trailers/TV spots). Vincent Price stars in this fairly typical horror anthology, which, since it was made in the 1980s, is more gruesome and sexual than most of those that preceded it. Price is a historian in Oldfield, Tennessee, relating four grisly stories to a reporter (Susan Tyrell). Co-stars include Clu Gulager, Rosalind Cash and Martine Beswick.