CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) / CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984). Arnold Schwarzenegger had been knocking about Hollywood for over a decade, but despite a few nibbles like Hercules in New York and Stay Hungry, he only became a recognizable Tinseltown fixture once he played the title role in the box office hit Conan the Barbarian. With the dreadful reboot now in theaters, the original has been getting labeled as a "classic," but let's not kid ourselves. This adaptation of Robert E. Howard's pulp adventures (also seen in the popular Marvel comic books) is a lumbering bore, with director John Milius and co-scripter Oliver Stone bringing no sense of joy to the proceedings. It's a fine-looking production, but the story — Conan squares off against a Snake King, played by a monotonous James Earl Jones — is uninvolving, and a wooden Arnie is not yet seasoned enough to work up the charisma that would serve him well in later roles. Conan the Barbarian was followed two years later by Conan the Destroyer; the sequel was roundly trashed, but it's no worse than its predecessor, since its campy components at least take the edge off the tedious proceedings. Besides, where else can you see Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones and Wilt Chamberlain all sharing the same screen?
Blu-ray extras on Conan the Barbarian include audio commentary by Milius and Schwarzenegger; a 53-minute making-of feature; 10 minutes of archival interviews with Milius and his stars; and a 15-minute piece on the making of the sword used by Conan. The only extra on Conan the Destroyer is the theatrical trailer.
Conan the Barbarian: **
Conan the Destroyer: **
CUL-DE-SAC (1966). Roman Polanski spent most of the 1960s making movies involving physical and/or emotional isolation (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, even The Fearless Vampire Killers), and Cul-de-Sac, easily the least known of the bunch, falls neatly into this pattern. A psychological character study that contains a near-invisible strain of dark comic undertones, this casts Lionel Stander as Dickie, an American gangster who, with his injured Irish partner (Jack MacGowan) in tow, seeks shelter in an English castle that gets cut off from the rest of civilization whenever the tide is high. There, he plays mind games with the sole occupants: the French Teresa (Francoise Dorleac), a beautiful young flirt, and the British George (Donald Pleasence), her mousy, middle-aged husband who will do anything to please her (when Dickie first encounters the pair, George is wearing a nightgown that Teresa forced him to don). Working from a script he penned with frequent collaborator Gerard Brach, Polanski has concocted a sweaty, claustrophobic film that examines notions of masculinity, honor and self-respect. Character actors Pleasance and Stander are both excellent; Dorleac, the sister of Catherine Deneuve, died in an automobile accident the year after this picture's release, at the age of 25.
DVD extras include a 23-minute piece on the making of the film; a 27-minute BBC interview with Polanski from 1967; and two theatrical trailers.
GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997). One of the few films (As Good As It Gets was another) that actually managed to make money during the period when Titanic was capsizing the vast majority of the multiplex competition, this effort from director Gus Van Sant (Milk) and fledgling scripters Matt Damon and Ben Affleck centers on Will Hunting (Damon), a 20-year-old janitor at MIT who's actually a closet genius with the ability to solve complex math problems that stump even award-winning professors. But Will is also a deeply disturbed man: Battered as a child by his foster dad, he has trouble connecting with everyone except his best friend (Affleck). Three people, however, try to set him straight: a brilliant math instructor (Stellan Skarsgard), a strong-willed Harvard student (Minnie Driver) and, perhaps most importantly, a psychiatrist (Robin Williams) working through his own demons. Most movies about troubled individuals are insulting in the way in which they suddenly wrap things up with insipid developments that cause tumultuous, positive transformations in the protagonist; this film avoids that pitfall, taking its time to believably develop Will's mental blocks and then just as smoothly working them out through some caustic dialogue and credible confrontations. Nominated for nine Academy Awards (including Best Picture and acting bids for Damon and Driver), this won two, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Williams).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Van Sant, Damon and Affleck; 11 deleted scenes; a 4-minute making-of featurette; a 7-minute production featurette; and the music video for Elliott Smith's Oscar-nominated song "Miss Misery."
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE UNEARTHLY (1991) / MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: RED ZONE CUBA (1994). Shout! Factory releases two more MST3K singles, both featuring John Carradine.
Carradine is the top-billed star of 1957's The Unearthly, although it's Tor Johnson who's fondly recalled whenever bad-movie buffs discuss this picture. Carradine merely plays the usual mad scientist whose botched experiments on humans naturally leave him with a cellar full of misshapen monsters. Tor, on the other hand, plays the dim-witted manservant Lobo — not a stretch, of course, but he is the one who gets to utter the immortal line, "Time for go to bed." Joel points out that Carradine has appeared in classics like The Grapes of Wrath and Stagecoach, the 'Bots imitate John Wayne and Groucho Marx, and, in a memorably sadistic experiment exchange, Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank invent Hard to Swallow Pills, including one with a fish hook dangling off the side. And given the main attraction's short running time, it's preceded by not one but two stuffy shorts, Posture Pals and Appreciating Our Parents.