Sully (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 96 min.). Director Clint Eastwood has a liking for the loner who acts on instinct as much as reason, perhaps going back to the days when he starred as the Man With No Name in a trio of Serge Leone's spaghetti westerns, "A Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," in 1964-66. In this case, the "gunslinger" is 40-year veteran airplane pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, then 57, who landed a US Airways plane with 155 people on board safely on the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson." Sully felt he did not have enough altitude to either safely return to LaGuardia Airport or make it to New Jersey.
As most of the facts are well known and the emergency landing only takes up a small portion of the running time, Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (based on Sully's book, "Highest Duty") had to come up with an approach for the film. That takes two parts: Sully being haunted about whether he did the right thing; and Sully being hounded for fault by National Transportation Safety Board investigators. As to the former, the film opens with a fake disaster as Sully, played by Tom Hanks with white hair and white mustache, making him look very much like the real Sully, has a nightmare about turning back to LaGuardia and having the plane crash into buildings in New York City. Due to the tragic events of 9/11, the scene is very powerful. The film then turns to the NTSB investigation into what Sully calls "not a crash ... it was a forced water landing."
Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles ( a steady Aaron Eckhart), his co-pilot, had only 208 seconds to decide what to do after the plane hit a flock of Canada geese and both engines were shut down by birds going through them. Sully made his decision based on the plane's low altitude -- the birds struck the plane shortly after takeoff -- and his 42 years of flying, from crop-dusters as a teenager (the first flashback) to military jets (the second flashback). While Sully is initially sure he made the right decision, the NTSB investigators say one report indicates one of the engines was only in idle and not destroyed (something that proved to be false later). The investigators also tell Sully that 20 computer simulations all showed a successful return to LaGuardia was possible.
A third of the way into the film, the flight, encounter with the birds and the landing are re-enacted. However, even that riveting 12-minute sequence is topped by the film's re-creation of the rescue itself, a very emotional sequence in which some of the real people involved with the rescue are cast in the roles they had that day, including a ferry boat captain, two of the New York Police Dept. divers and Red Cross personnel. Striking is how the passengers made their way onto the plane's wings or into the life rafts. (In the extras, Hank talks about how difficult it was to find the way to detachment the life raft from the plane, as it had not been rehearsed, and how Sully told him that he had had the same difficulty, again because it had never been practiced.)
During the closing credits, the viewer sees and hears some of the real survivors and the real Sully. The best of the three bonus features has the real Sully, Skiles and Patrick Harten, the flight controller on duty at the time, discussing the event, moment by moment, and we hear the real voice recording (15:44). There also is a look at Sully and his career, including his wife Lorrie and Kelly, one of his two adopted daughters, which humanizes him (19:49), plus a making-of feature (20:17), in which we learn that Eastwood, then 21, had a forced water landing off the coast of California in a two-man plane. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 126 min.). The moment I knew for sure that this was a Tim Burton film was when some resurrected skeletons started battling the Hollows (giant monsters that are all legs and arms). However, there are earlier Burton moments in this adaptation of Ransom Riggs' young adult bestseller: for example, the topiary that looks like a dinosaur (hello "Edward Scissorhands") or the battle of the two table-top mechanical dolls (more stop-motion mastery).
Jake (a very good Asa Butterfield of "Ender's Game," "Hugo"), who narrates the beginning, is a socially awkward 16-year-old, who lives in Florida. He is very close to his Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp), who calls him one night with a warning. Rushing to Grandpa's house, Jake finds him dying in the backyard. Grandpa mentions a postcard and the date Sept. 3, 1943, and Jake sees a monster that he later learns was a Hollow. Jake finds another clue in a book Grandpa left him. That leads Jake and his father (Chris O'Dowd as Franklin Portman) to go to an island off Wales, where Jake hopes to find Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, stories of which his Grandpa has told him for years. Franklin agrees to the trip because he can bird watch for the book he is going to write.
It turns out, Miss Peregrine, who can turn into the bird, and the remarkable children with special abilities of his Grandpa's stories do exist, but it is in a day-long time loop (think "Groundhog Day"), the day being Sept. 3, 1943, leading up to the minutes a German bomb destroys the house. Among the children are levitating Emma (Ella Purnell), who can manipulate air; Olive (Lauren Crostie), who can start fires with her hands; and invisible Millard. They are being threatened by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), a shapeshifter who is helping the Hollows regain their human form, after his immortality experiment went horribly awry. To do that, the Hollows must eat the eyes of peculiars and their guardians, called Ymbryne and who include the likes of Miss Peregrine and Miss Avocet (Judi Dench). The film also stars Allison Janney as a psychiatrist and Rupert Everett as an ornithologist.
Book author Riggs is featured in a couple of the bonus features, most notably in a piece on the making of the film (12:51), including Riggs' on-set visit. Riggs made the original book up from a series of strange, old photographs he collected, which gave rise to the characters in the story. One change was to make Emma have the ability to manipulate air, rather than start fires as in the book. Each on the major characters and their actor gets a brief look at in The Peculiars (64:54), while Map of Days (17:40) looks at the Peregrine Home (filmed in Belgium) and Blackpool Tower locations. In "Hollows and Ex-Hollows," Riggs explains that Barron is based on his eighth-grade school bus driver. Additionally, there is a photo gallery and a Florence + The Machine music video. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars
Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy (1987-1992, Arrow, 4 Blu-ray discs, R and NR, 299 min. + bonuses). This handsome box set, which comes with an exclusive bonus disc and 200-page hardcover book, contains the first three "Hellraiser" films, based on Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart" novella (1986). The films are "Hellraiser," "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" and "Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth," with the latter presented in two different versions (one being unrated and three minutes longer). Barker only directed the first film, which is the best and most stylish of the three.
In "Hellraiser" (1987, R, 93 min.), Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson of "Dirty Harry") and his second wife Julia (Claire Higgins) move into a London-area home, unaware that his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) met his fate there by opening a puzzle box, called the Lament Configuration. Larry also does not know that Julia and Frank were lovers (shown in flashbacks). When Larry accidentally cuts his hand on a nail while helping move in a mattress, his dripping blood starts to revive the remains of Frank, which are beneath the floor of an upstairs room. Soon Frank appears to Julia in a partially reconstructed form, telling her he needs more blood to complete his coming becoming human again. Spurred by memories of their great passion, Julia agrees and starts luring men to the house, with her knocking them out so Frank can feed on them. Forty-two minutes into the film, the Cenobites are first mentioned. They are perhaps fallen angels, beings of strange appearance that can be summoned by the opening of the puzzle box, and who offer extreme pleasure through pain. The lead Cenobite (Doug Bradley, who used to perform in Baker's theater company) became a breakout star, earning the name Pinhead for his visage. Pinhead has been the central figures for most of the other eight films in the series. Another major character is Frank's daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence in her debut), who ultimately has to battle the Cenobites.
The film of sexual obsession and perhaps the most unusual domestic triangle ever was original and shocking upon its release, especially with the introduction of sadomasochism fetishes, such as hooks piercing skin. It highlights Barker's ongoing fear of skinless people, a recurring theme in his works. The extras are plentiful and excellent. They include the 2009 audio commentary by Barker and actress Laurence from the Anchor Bay Blu-ray release, plus a newer commentary just by Barker. There is a new version of "Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser" (89 min.), narrated by Oliver Smith, who played Uncle Frank in his skinless form. It is a very informative look at the making of the film. New features include "Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser" (26:24), who points out his voice was dubbed in the first film, and Stephen Thrower, formerly on the band Coil, about Coil's abandoned score for the film (18:11). Christopher Young ended up doing a more orchestrated score for the finished film. Carried over from the 2009 release are the "Hellraiser Resurrection" making-of (24:26); "Under the Skin with Doug Bradley" (12:31), an image gallery, TV spots and original promotional material (5:58).
The second film, "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" (1988, NR, 99 min.), was a direct sequel, beginning mere minutes after the first film ended. Tony Randel directed, as Barker was already making his second film, "Nightbreed." Early on, the film shows the creation of Pinhead, then cuts to Kirsty being in a psychiatric hospital run by Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham). Channard actually knows about the Lament Configuration and has three of the puzzle boxes in his home. He orders the bloody mattress on which Julia died brought to his home, and then brings a patient with dementia to the house and gives the patient a knife so he can cut himself while on the mattress and have his blood will revive Julia. While sex will rear its ugly head again, Channard's primary interest is to find out what the afterlife is like. When Julia returns from the dead, she is squishy gross and yet another skinless person. When Kirsty catches on, she uses one of the puzzle boxes to enter hell, so she can rescue her father. There is a fantasy carnival sequence when another patient (Imogen Boorman as Tiffany) enters the puzzle corridors that is truly terrifying in spots. Also, Uncle Frank surfaces again in hell (this time with the actor's true voice).
Extras include an audio commentary by Randel, writer Peter Atkins and Laurence, carried over from the 2008 release, and a newer audio commentary by Randel and Atkins. Again, there is a new version of "Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II" (120 min.), narrated by Smith. In the feature, Atkins' screenplay is called "an operatic horror film." There also are rare and unseen storyboards; "Being Frank with Sean Chapman" (part two, 11:35); an excised surgeon sequence (4:49, which had been lost for years); and six vintage carryovers, including interviews (17:03), Bradley on the film (10:53), on-set interviews with Barker, who executive produced (3:18), behind-the-scenes footage (1:51, including an alternate ending), cast and crew interviews (4:45) and an image gallery. The draft screenplay is available through BD-ROM, as it was on the 2008 release.
"Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth" (1992, R/NR, 93/96 min.) is a completely different film, made to appeal to a younger audience and, basically, to start a franchise, which it did. The film is centered on a younger, hedonistic nightclub owner (Kevin Bernhardt as J.P. Monroe), who buys the Pillar of Souls, which arose out of Julia's body in the finale of the previous film. The pillar includes a trapped Pinhead. However, a rat bite causes blood to be splashed on the pillar, bringing Pinhead awake to make an unholy deal with Monroe. Meanwhile, TV reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) is trying to get off the cute kitten beat into hard news. Joey, who has nightmares about her father's death in combat in Vietnam (he died before her birth) comes across Dr. Shannard's archives, including a videotape of Kirsty Cotton.
The ghost version of Capt. Elliot Spencer (Bradley) -- the human form of Pinhead, which has separated from the Cenobite in the previous film's finale -- seeks Joey's help. We see more of Pinhead's beginnings in 1921 India. Towards the end, the film turns more funny than horrifying, as it introduces three new Cenobites -- Camerahead, CDhead and Barbie (a guy wrapped up in barbed wire) -- and then has a special effects-heavy sequence in which Joey runs down the street, with windows, cars and other items exploding as she passes. Talk about overkill in a bad way.
Again there are two audio commentaries, an earlier one with director Anthony Hickox and Bradley and a new one with writer Atkins (he also played Cenobite Barbie or Barbhead as he calls the character). Also new is a 32-minute documentary about making the film in North Carolina, as well as an interview with Paula Marshall, who played Terri's, Monroe's former girlfriend (14:55). In an interview with Bradley (13:46), he says the original script was set in ancient Egypt, which would have meant no Pinhead. There also is an old interview with Hickox (13:59); old on-set interviews (5:12); previously unseen FX dailies (23:49); an image gallery; and a comic book adaptation.
The bonus disc, "The Clive Barker Legacy," includes the first full release of two of Barker's very early, silent home films, "Salome" (18:24), made when Barker was 19, and "The Forbidden" (39:53). Both films also feature Bradley and Atkins as actors. The films can be watched with portions of an interview with Barker, discussing how he was influenced by the films of Kenneth Anger. "The Forbidden," based on the Faust story, includes themes and images that would surface years later in "Hellraiser," including a nail board, a precursor to Pinhead's disfigurement. Author David Gatward discusses Barker's written works in "Books of Blood and Beyond" (19:25), giving a good overview of the books' themes. "Hellraiser Evolution" (48:17) looks at the "Hellraiser" franchise, including interviews with several people involved in making films four through nine. (Reportedly, a 10th is being made now, after a lapse of six years.) Finally, there is "The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith" (31:40), a short film by R.N. Millward that was a pilot for a possible TV series. It's not all that good but does introduce yet another Cenobite.
Completing the box set is the hardcover book, "Damnation Games" by Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes, with chapters on Barker's early work and the genesis and production of the first three "Hellraiser" films. The 200-page book is small in size but large in depth, with many wonderful photos. The set also includes a fold-out, reversible poster; a 20-page booklet with never-before seen concept art; five exclusive art cards; and limited edition packaging with artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Grade: Hellraiser 3.5 stars, Hellbound: Hellraiser II 3 stars; Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth 2 stars; extras 5 stars