Nick Nolte Thriller ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ Among Titles Due on Blu-ray March 14 From Ronin Flix and MVD

The boxing drama Body and Soul (1981); the mystery thrillers Last Rites (1988), Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978) and Wild Orchid 2: Blue Movie Blue (1991); and a Jet Li double feature are available on Blu-ray Disc March 14 from MVD Entertainment Group and Ronin Flix.

In Who’ll Stop the Rain, from the bloody battlefields of Vietnam, Ray Hicks (Nick Nolte, The Deep, 48 Hrs., The Prince of Tides) does his friend Converse (Michael Moriarty, Courage Under Fire, Pale Rider, Q, The Stuff) a favor, smuggling a stash of heroin back to the States. But when Ray goes to deliver the drugs, he and Converse’s wife, Marge (Tuesday Weld, Pretty Poison, Thief, Falling Down), are ambushed and barely escape with their lives. Suddenly on the run from two ruthless thugs and a murderous cop, the unlikely pair must find a way to get along and survive a perilous double-cross. The film also stars Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man, Opposing Force, License to Kill), Richard Masur (The Thing, Risky Business, Scavenger Hunt, Fallen Angel), Ray Sharkey (The Idolmaker, Wiseguy, Hellhole), Charles Haid (Altered States, “Hill Street Blues”) and Gail Strickland (The Drowning Pool, Protocol) and features music by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Special features include audio commentary with film historians Daniel Kremer and Scout Tafoya and interviews with actor Richard Masur, associate producer Roger Spottiswoode and screenwriter Judith Rascoe.

Body and Soul is based on the 1947 classic of the same name. It’s rags-to-riches tale about a vivacious young fighter from Chicago that pulls no punches in its portrayal of boxing’s dark side. Featuring Muhammad Ali as himself, Body and Soul follows Golden Gloves champ Leon, played by Leon Isaac Kennedy (Lone Wolf McQuade, Too Scared to Scream), who has no interest in becoming a pro boxer. Instead, he wants to be a doctor. But when his little sister requires immediate and expensive medical treatments, he decides to go for the title and all the money it will bring. On his way to the top, however, Leon succumbs to the temptations that come with success. As a result, he begins to lose everyone and everything he used to care about. The film also stars Jayne Kennedy, Peter Lawford (Salt and Pepper, One More Time), Perry Lang (The Hearse, Spring Break) and Academy Award nominee Michael V. Gazzo (The Godfather: Part II, Alligator). Special features include an interview with star Leon Isaac Kennedy.

The mystery thriller Last Rites stars Tom Berenger (The Dogs of War, The Big Chill, Platoon, Major League) and Daphne Zuniga (The Sure Thing, Modern Girls, The Fly II, TV’s “Melrose Place”) in a controversial tale of a love affair between a priest and a woman. With a shocking final twist, Last Rites features a Mafia hit, a vulnerable witness and a man of the cloth with a secret past. In the film, when Father Michael Pace (Berenger) finds himself drawn to the mistress (Zuniga) of a brutally murdered mobster, he risks his life, his standing and even his faith to protect her. Shot on location in New York by legendary cinematographer David Watkins (Catch-22, Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire, Moonstruck) and featuring a supporting cast that includes Chick Vennera (The Milagro Beanfield War, Yanks), Anne Twomey (Deadly Friend, The Image Maker), Dane Clark (Moonrise, Skidoo), Paul Dooley (Breaking Away, Sixteen Candles), Tony Lip (Goodfellas) and Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod of TV’s “Highlander”). Special features include interview with Director Donald Belissario and the theatrical trailer.

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The mystery thriller Wild Orchid 2: Blue Movie Blue is from the director of the erotic titles Wild Orchid and “Red Shoe Diaries.” It follows a beautiful young woman caught between passion and innocence — and two shades of the truth. The film stars Tom Skerritt (Top Gun, Alien, Opposing Force), Robert Davi (License to Kill, Showgirls, Die Hard, The Taking of Beverly Hills), Wendy Hughes (Paradise Road, My Brilliant Career, Happy New Year), Nina Siemaszko (License to Drive, Lost Angels, Airheads), Joe Dallesandro (The Limey, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Seeds of Evil) and Liane Curtis (Sixteen Candles, Critters 2: The Main Course). In the film, after her father (Skerritt) dies, Blue (Siemaszko) is forced to grow up fast. Taken in by Elle (Hughes), a high-class brothel madam, she discovers a beguiling world of power and pleasure — but also the tightening grip of Elle’s control. To make matters worse, she is falling for Josh (Brent Fraser, Dark Side of Genius, Wild at Heart), a regular guy who doesn’t know about her double life. Special features include scenes deleted from the theatrical cut and the theatrical trailer.

The limited edition Jet Li double feature includes two martial arts action films directed by Corey Yuen (The Transporter): The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk 1 and, for the first time on Blu-ray in the United States, The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk 2. In The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk 1 (aka The Legend), Li stars as a carefree young martial arts expert who gets involved with a government official’s daughter just as he discovers his family is part of a rebel resistance movement. While his fighting ability and charm made him a local champion, his epic battle for freedom would make him a legendary hero. It includes a sequence fought entirely atop the heads of stunned onlookers. The Legend was the winner of Best Action Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards. In The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk 2 (aka The Legend 2), Li kicks back into action as the heroic Fong Sai Yuk. In the film, having fought to save his father from the wrath of the Chinese government, Fong Sai Yuk joins his father’s underground revolutionary organization, the Red Flower Society. But in the camp of rebels, a traitor lurks. At a time when few can be trusted, Fong Sai Yuk must utilize his every skill in the fight to overthrow his nation’s brutally powerful empire. Special features include a custom slipcover; theatrical trailers; “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword,” an exclusive interview with writer Jeff Lau; “Hit Hard & Fly High,” an exclusive interview with Yuen; and new audio commentary from the author of These Fists Break Bricks, Chris Poggiali (The Legend only).

Top Gun

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
$14.99 Blu-ray, $22.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich, James Tolkan, Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan.

The new Blu-ray editions of 1986’s Top Gun were clearly timed to coincide with what would have been the theatrical release of the film’s long-awaited sequel. However, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic shutting down theaters, Top Gun: Maverick was pushed back six months to Dec. 23.

The new Blu-ray does include a trailer for the new film, plus a new six-minute “The Legacy of Top Gun” featurette in which Tom Cruise and some of the filmmakers behind the sequel discuss the impact of the director Tony Scott’s original, which has become an iconic depiction of fighter aircraft combat action. The film still holds up well (despite some cheesy over-the-top machismo that is part of its charm).

Of course, the other thing the film is well known for is its beach volleyball scene that has fueled the film’s reputation as a homoerotic fantasy. The volleyball scene has become so intrinsically associated with the film that a recent board game based on the film lets players either try their hand at the airplane combat of the famed Top Gun dogfighting school, or simulate the volleyball game.

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The bright, vivid image of the new Blu-ray transfer shows off every detail, to the point where it’s impossible not to notice how almost everyone is sweating profusely in practically every scene (it must be hot on those airplanes and carriers). The disc also brings out the film’s legendary soundtrack in a 5.1 mix that perfectly services the action.

The other extra listed as new for this edition is the five-part half-hour retrospective “On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun.” It’s filled with great stories about the production ( such as Scott getting a Navy captain to turn an aircraft carrier around in order to get the perfect lighting from the sun). It was obviously filmed a few years ago, since this year is the 34th anniversary of the film, and Cruise talks about having just read an early draft of the sequel screenplay (the same sequel that is now finished and waiting to hit theaters).

The Blu-ray also includes all the bonus material from previous releases, including a commentary with the filmmakers and naval experts; storyboards; vintage interviews; four music videos (which have not aged particularly well); an earlier behind-the-scenes featurette from the 2008 Blu-ray; and an interesting look at the real Top Gun school, also from 2008.

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Up in Smoke

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$12.99 DVD, $16.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt.

I’m running late on this vibrant-colored commemorative 40th anniversary paean to cannabis capers — and given the specifics of one gag that opens it, plus the disoriented and judgmentally addled states of its two protagonists, detractors could just as well call it a pee-on. But given that, for all its raggedness, Cheech & Chong’s screen debut has aged so much better than Jeff Sessions, attention must be paid — which is the same advice one might give to protagonists Pedro and “The Man” when they’re behind the wheels of motorized vehicles.

Up in Smoke was directed by record producer Lou Adler, and no one will mistake his mis-en-scene for the seamless elegance of, say, Josef von Sternberg’s in Criterion’s imminent Sternberg-Dietrich box set. Cheech & Chong, however, came from improv and knew how to play to an audience, and their album cuts were essentially sustained routines (at times, more sustained than the humor itself) with unexpectedly impressive sound effects. I became a fan listening them send up “Sister Mary Elephant” (on the Big Bambu LP) — where an understandably frazzled nun’s attempts to impose order with her ear-shattering “Shut Up!!!! screams on her suddenly silenced classroom were interrupted by a pupil aside. Even though these were the days of two stereo speakers and nothing else. the response seemed to come from about 20 feet in back to me and off to the side: “I gotta go to the can, man.”

Vinyl and concert popularity notwithstanding, the picture’s box office success came after everyone’s conventional wisdom (mine included) speculated that Paramount probably had another The Last of the Secret Agents? (which, in 1966, deservedly became the last of the Allen & Rossi comedies) on its hands. Matter of fact, I seem to recall that Steven Bach opens his great account of how Heaven’s Gate sank United Artists — Final Cut — with a lot of lot of old white-guy studio executives sitting in a studio screening room trying to figure out what Paramount’s genies were smoking inside their bongs.

Cheech is Mexican-American Cheech Marin, who — and I don’t say this lightly — is one of the greatest mimics ever. Tommy Chong (sometimes billed as Thomas, though it hardly fits) is a mix of Scots-Irish-Chinese raised in Canada. In later years, he was so persecuted by the U.S. government on a minor drug charge that a documentary was made about it (I have a copy) — but in terms of the act, he’s mostly a passive straight man to Marin despite displaying a pleasing personality on this set’s bonus interviews. Albeit one that probably couldn’t be mined because it would have thrown off the act’s dynamics.

Basically, the movie is about the twosome’s sole motivating force in life: getting stoned, with occasional breaks for band rehearsals and sex with buxom hitchhikers. Though it peters out some at the end — an affliction it shares with some of the team’s other and progressively inferior screen comedies — this hook sustains itself better than expected for much of its length. Much of this is due to casting more inspired than one might assume for a low-budget production that took six or seven years to get green-lit.

Right off the bat, there’s Strother Martin and Edie Adams (fading trophy wife) as Chong’s parents. We also get Tom Skerritt as a cousin and pot source who thinks he’s still back in Vietnam; and most of all, Stacy Keach as a narc who’s only a little less inept than his subordinates and whose K-9 police dog ends up on his back with all fours sticking up after picking or ingesting fumes from an entire van made of grass. Two of the bonus deleted scenes feature Harry Dean Stanton as a prison guard who sells pills at rip-off prices on the side, though he was edited out of the final release print. (Best of the excised clips is one where C&C try to smoke a joint that is half-made with Hamburger Helper in an attempt to cure the munchies problem in one fell toke).

At its best, this is funnier than most of the Abbott & Costello movies I’ve seen, in part because I’ve never been crazy about comics who lack a sexual dimension (and before you ask, W.C. Fields definitely had one). Everyone was talking at the time (well, I guess Alistair Cooke wasn’t) about the aforementioned van of pot and how it would interact with the exhaust fumes. And also the scene where the kind of woman who would smoke Hamburger Helper accidentally snorts Ajax and gets a still-funny rush that must have had the boys in the Colgate-Palmolive boardroom being if it was too late to change the ad campaign.

This was a rich brief period for distributor Paramount, the kind they haven’t seen in a while. There was the box office grosses of the godawful Grease to presumably off-set the commercial underperformance of Days of Heaven; Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, which scored with both critics and public; and then the surprise success of this poster child for stoner cinema to prove that not everyone was into Star Wars and the lesser galaxy rides it spawned.

As a footnote, I did my part to sustain the C&C spirit (coincidentally, as it turned out) by programming Maryjane with Fabian in the AFI Theater around the same time — a film series about high school and college, as opposed to a Fabian retrospective. I simply felt that the Kennedy Center could use some loosening up, and I didn’t have a key to the supply cabinet where they kept the Ajax.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Up in Smoke’ and ‘The Woman in the Window’