Live-Action ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ Film to Make Blu-ray Disc Debut

Shout! Kids has announced a Sept. 29 home release date for Thomas and the Magic Railroad: 20th Anniversary Edition, starring Alec Baldwin, Mara Wilson, the late Peter Fonda and others.

The release marks the first time the live-action film, based on the iconic “Thomas the Tank Engine” children’s books and cartoons, will be available on Blu-ray Disc.

The film tells the story of Mr. C (Baldwin), who comes from a family of miniature Conductors who travel between the Island of Sodor and Shining Time Station thanks to a supply of mysterious gold dust. However, the steam engines of Sodor suddenly find themselves in trouble when confronted by the ruthless Diesel 10, whose plan is to take over Sodor before Sir Topham Hatt’s return. Mr. C Teams up with Thomas and Lily (Wilson), who believes her grandfather (Fonda) may be the one who can crack the code and save the conductor family and get Sodor back on track.

While Thomas and the Magic Railroad celebrates its 20th anniversary, Thomas the Tank Engine is marking his 75th year as a beloved children’s character. Originally part of the Rev W. Awdry’s “Little Railway” book series, first released in 1945, Thomas was brought to life through the animated TV series “Thomas & Friends” in the 1980s.

Shout! Kids is the children’s imprint of Shout! Factory, one of the leading independent home entertainment distributors.

Escape From L.A. — Collector’s Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Action;
$34.93 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.
Stars Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Cliff Robertson, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Bruce Campbell, Valeria Golino, Georges Corraface, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason.

Nowadays, a character such as Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken would be tagged for franchise potential and, if his first outing shows a modicum of success, thrust into a series of sequels (e.g. John Wick). But fans of 1981’s Escape From New York had to wait 15 years before director John Carpenter would bring the character back to the big screen.

Such a gap between sequels might not seem like such a big deal anymore, with studios frequently greenlighting follow-ups to popular movies from 20 to 30 years ago, or longer (case in point, the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick getting made 34 years after the original).

Carpenter and Russell certainly didn’t end their creative partnership following Escape From New York, collaborating on other cult classics such as 1982’s The Thing and 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China (both receiving their own Scream Factory special-edition Blu-rays).

The delay in getting a Plissken sequel off the ground wasn’t for lack of trying. Russell reportedly wanted to play the character again, and a script had been in development since the mid 1980s. The project suffered additional setbacks after the original film’s distributor went bankrupt and rights to the sequel bounced around, eventually ending up with Paramount. (Distribution rights for the original film ended up with MGM, making a DVD bundle of the two films problematic —though perhaps Shout! Factory can remedy that now that it has been able to release both films on separate Blu-rays).

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The film finally hit theaters in 1996, just a year before the “futuristic” setting of the original film, in which Snake had to rescue the U.S. president from the island of Manhattan, which had been turned into a lawless maximum security prison.

The sequel takes the obvious approach to a follow-up to a movie called Escape From New York, and transfers the setting to Los Angeles. Aside from that, the film is essentially a beat-for-beat remake of the first film, with a few details mixed around for good measure. Most of the new characters Plissken meets correspond to characters from the first movie, from the head of the police force that recruits him for an impossible mission, to the leader of the gangs on the prison island where he’s sent.

In the years since Snake’s first escape, a massive earthquake strikes California in the year 2000, causing the greater Los Angeles area to break off from the mainland. A presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson) who happened to predict the disaster is subsequently swept into office, and he oversees a series of Constitutional amendments, including one giving him a lifetime term. He outlaws all religions but Christianity, and anyone who violates the new U.S. moral code is deported to the island of Los Angeles, which is monitored by a national police force.

In 2013, however, the president’s daughter (A.J. Langer) falls in love with a revolutionary, steals a top-secret weapons control system, and exiles herself to the island. When the rescue team fails to find her, the president recruits Plissken, who has experience with this sort of thing (even eliciting a comment from Snake about how familiar it all is).

Plissken has a day to infiltrate the island and recover the weapons system, which is apparently America’s only defense against an imminent invasion from the rest of the world the president has managed to tick off. The invasion will be led by Che Guevara wannabe Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), who now possesses the weapon thanks to the First Daughter, and plans to use it against the U.S.

So, as with New York, Snake must navigate a series of unsavory characters and dangerous situations to recover the items of national importance and return to the authorities for the cure to the deadly ailment they secretly gave him to motivate him to go on the mission.

Where Escape From New York mostly treats its setting as a generic burned-out urban sprawl, Escape From L.A. puts more emphasis on re-creating the dystopian version of specific recognizable Los Angeles landmarks, and revels in extrapolating a lawless world from a number of L.A. tropes, from a gang of mutant plastic surgeon victims led by a doctor (Bruce Campbell) trying to keep them fresh, to the aging surfer (Peter Fonda) who helps Snake get around town by riding the waves.

And in one of the film’s best gags, a character implies that Disney has somehow gone bankrupt by 2013. In the real timeline, that would have been a year after they bought Lucasfilm.

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Escape from L.A. plays a bit like what Carpenter would have done with the first movie if he had an actual budget to work with. Where the first film felt gritty and was quite effective in making the most out of its limited resources, the sequel seems a bit too polished. The film makes extensive use of computer animation for its visual effects, but they haven’t aged well, looking more like video game graphics than anything that exists in the real world.

Still, its fun to get a sense of the future version of L.A. that Carpenter was going for. The Blu-ray features a new 4K scan of the original negative that makes it easy to enjoy the film’s production design, even if it doesn’t do many favors for the visual effects.

Where the previous Paramount Blu-ray of the film offered no bonus materials, the new single-disc Scream Factory edition presents more than an hour’s worth of newly recorded interviews with some of the cast and filmmakers. They are presented as six separate videos, one for each subject.

Among the actors showcased here are Stacy Keach, who plays the police commander, and Peter Jason, who plays another police official, in addition to Campbell and Corraface. The behind-the-scenes guys include special effects artist Jim McPherson and visual effects artist David Jones. The discussions don’t always stick to Escape From L.A. as the topic and hand and at times veer into the subjects’ careers in general.

Rounding out the package are the trailer, TV spots and a still gallery. While a better offering than the original Blu-ray, it’s a far cry from the two-disc Escape From New York collection that included several audio commentaries and deleted scenes in addition to behind-the-scenes interviews.

Carpenter and Russell reportedly had additional sequels planned, but the underwhelming critical and box office response to Escape From L.A. put an end to that. One potential sequel supposedly ended up being turned into Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars.

Lionsgate’s ‘The Last Full Measure’ A True-Blue American Hero’s Tale

It’s the tale of a true-blue American hero, one who didn’t have superpowers, but was exceptional nonetheless.

Sebastian Stan (left) and William Hurt

The Last Full Measure, its title echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln about the ultimate sacrifice, is based on the true story of the three-decade effort to have William H. Pitsenbarger recognized for an act of selflessness in the Vietnam War that cost him his life on April 11, 1966.

The film is available now on Digital, and arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD and On Demand April 21 from Lionsgate.

The story follows Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), who investigates a Congressional Medal of Honor request made by Pitsenbarger’s mission partner and parents to posthumously recognize the U.S. Air Force medic (played in flashback by Jeremy Irvine) who saved more than 60 men before making the ultimate sacrifice in the bloody Vietnam battle Operation Abilene. Huffman interviews Army vets to learn more about Pitsenbarger’s courageous acts — and uncovers a high-level conspiracy behind the medal’s denial.

Christopher Plummer (left) and Diane Ladd play parents looking to honor their son.

“We never know in life when we show a random act of kindness or a random act of sacrifice what the effect might be 20, 30 years down the line,” says writer-director Todd Robinson in the extras.

“There’s a lot of remarkable courage out there, but Bill’s story is one at the top,” adds historian William Chivalette.

In addition to Stan, the star-studded ensemble cast includes Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Peter Fonda (in his last big screen performance), Diane Ladd, Amy Madigan, Bradley Whitford, Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson. Plummer and Ladd portray Pitsenbarger’s long-suffering parents, who wait patiently for their son to be properly recognized. Jackson, Hurt, Fonda and Harris play former servicemen who witnessed Pitsenbarger’s heroism and are still haunted by their war experiences.

Peter Fonda plays a haunted vet in his last big-screen performance.

“This is the struggle that all of our veterans face every day, is finding purpose and reason, and that’s really what the movie is all about,” says writer-director Todd Robinson in the extras. “I wanted to tell a story that transcends the Vietnam War — and frankly transcends war. They had a search for purpose that took 32 years, and in that purpose, came their healing.”

A featurette among the extras explores the film’s original score by composer Philip Klein, who felt the music had to match the heroism of its subject.

“The story deserved an orchestral score. It deserved something big and powerful,” he says in the featurette. “There was this enormous amount of responsibility that we all felt to make this worthy of this man.”

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Other extras include interviews with the servicemen who actually witnessed Pitsenbarger’s actions in 1966, awed by his selflessness. Even three decades later, his choice to stay and help the wounded mystifies.

“There’s not a one of us that wouldn’t have left there if we could, and the only guy that could leave was Pitsenbarger, and he didn’t,” comments serviceman Ron Haley in the extras.

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Also included in the extras is footage of a screening for veterans of Operation Abilene and Pitsenbarger’s family at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

“Our wish for you is simply that, when you leave here tonight, this picture has cracked the door open just a little wider for communication, that if you are a veteran, you either tell your part of this story or one like it, or that the rest of us might do our part to be good, patient witnesses and listen,” Robinson tells them.

BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:

  • “The Women of The Last Full Measure” Featurette
  • “Medal of Honor Ceremony Shoot” Featurette
  • “That Others May Live: Remembering Operation Abilene” Featurette
  • “USAF Museum Screening with Veterans & Pitsenbarger Family” Featurette
  • “The Music of The Last Full Measure” Featurette
  • “William Pitsenbarger Tribute” Photo Gallery

Drama ‘The Last Full Measure’ Due on Digital April 7, Disc April 21 From Lionsgate

The drama The Last Full Measure will arrive on digital April 7 and Blu-ray (plus digital), DVD and on demand April 21 from Lionsgate.

The film is inspired by the courageous acts of Vietnam War hero William H. Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force medic who personally saved more than 60 men before making the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam’s bloodiest battle. Three decades later, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman investigates a Congressional Medal of Honor request made by Pitsenbarger’s mission partner and parents. Huffman interviews Army vets to learn more about Pitsenbarger’s courageous acts — and uncovers a high-level conspiracy behind the medal’s denial.

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The ensemble cast includes Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War, I, Tonya), Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer (2011, Actor in a Supporting Role, Beginners), Academy Award winner William Hurt (1985, Actor in a Leading Role, Kiss of the Spider Woman), and Academy Award nominee Peter Fonda (1997, Actor in a Leading Role, Ulee’s Gold) in his last big screen performance. The film also stars Academy Award nominee Diane Ladd (1991, Actress in a Supporting Role, Rambling Rose), Academy Award nominee Amy Madigan (1985, Actress in a Supporting Role, Twice in a Lifetime), Golden Globe nominee Bradley Whitford (2001, 2002, 2003 Best Supporting Actor – Television, “The West Wing”), with Academy Award nominee Ed Harris (2002, Actor in a Supporting Role, The Hours), and Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson (1994, Actor in a Supporting Role, Pulp Fiction).

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Extras include five featurettes and a photo gallery.

‘Easy Rider’ Released on 4K Digital for 50th Anniversary

The road trip classic Easy Rider is now available on 4K digital with high dynamic range from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, marking the 50th anniversary of the film.

Starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, directed by Hopper, and co-written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern, the counterculture classic focuses on two bikers who set off on a cross-country road trip. The cast also includes Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Antonio Mendoza and Phil Spector.

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Digital extras available through participating platforms include a Hopper commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The 4K restoration premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, mirroring the film’s original debut at the festival in 1969.