It’s a small but jam-packed-with-quality week as the studios have pretty much finished dropping their big titles for the holidays. This week still offers up a number of noteworthy titles (a few of which dropped earlier in the month but were delayed in getting review copies to me.) Check it out below!
The Woman King – Viola Davis and a simply outstanding supporting cast star in this based-on-true-events action epic set in Africa in the early 1800s. It tells of the kingdom of Dahomey, which featured an all-female army (alongside a separate cadre of male soldiers) who were some of the fiercest warriors of the time. As they fight to prevent threats from within their own country and without, we see them try to make societal change at the same time. What I really liked about the film is that it’s both an action epic and a coming-of-age tale of sorts, as the film centers on both Davis’s fiery general Nanisca as well as young Thuso Mbedu’s warrior-in-training, Nawi. It’s through Nawi’s eyes that we learn about the Agojie (the King’s female army) and the women soldiers around her and who they are as people. Yet alongside that, we are also treated to some spectacular action sequences that keep the film from ever slowing down too much. The Woman King comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and it really shines in the premium format, with outstanding colors, visceral sharpness, and excellent shadow delineation, plus a surround soundtrack that will give your speakers a real workout. It’s a terrific movie with excellent performances, great characters, and heart-pounding action, and you’d do well to check it out.
Smile – The horror genre still has some bite in it, as evidenced by Smile, a recent horror flick that grossed over $100 million at the US box office largely on the strength of a super creepy trailer and some effective marketing imagery. The film sees people dying in horribly self-inflicted ways, but doing so with a weird smile on their faces. Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) plays the therapist who witnesses one of these deaths and is now beginning to see visages of people around her wearing that same terrifying smile and has to figure out what’s going on before she’s the next victim. Overall, the film is pretty good. It’s got a creepy premise, some good supporting cast members (Kyle Gallner and Judy Reyes are always welcome additions to any cast), and a good mix of actual creepiness (yay!) and jump scares (not-so-yay!). The biggest disappointment for me is the film’s ending, which feels just a little too cliched and veers too close to typical horror movie endings for my tastes. Still, for horror fans, it’s a fun and creepy thriller that most people will enjoy
Pulp Fiction (4K Ultra HD) – Quentin Tarantino’s breakout film makes its 4K Ultra HD this month with an excellent new Steelbook Edition featuring eye-popping new artwork that focuses on Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace’s iconic dance number. I really don’t think at this point I need to try and sell anyone on Pulp Fiction; it’s one of the most revered and well-loved films of the past 30 years and it served as inspiration for a whole generation of filmmakers. It’s also just a really fun (and still slightly twisted) movie. This new 4K Ultra HD edition boasts the aforementioned gorgeous Steelbook case as well as a new transfer of the film in 4K. Now, this is still a medium-budgeted movie from 30 years ago, so it’s not like it suddenly looks brand new, but you’ll notice brighter colors, a slightly sharper picture, and a relatively active soundtrack (mostly making sure the music sounds terrific), and it’s hard to complain about any of those things. You also get a digital copy of the film, which is a nice bonus, especially as there’s only been I think one or two previous releases of the movie that allowed you to add it to your digital library. This is one of the great films of the ‘90s, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t always buy the next version of it available. Simply put, a must have.
Star Trek Discovery: Season Four – I wasn’t a fan of Star Trek: Discovery in the beginning, but I have since become a huge fan of the show. Season One took a while for me to come around to, but by the end of it, I was hooked. Season Two was terrific and Season Three just continued that trend. Each season focuses on a different central mystery, while still exploring space and time and coming up against various challenges, and I’ve found the entire series exciting and captivating, just like I want my Star Trek to be. This new Season Four Collection continues the starship Discovery’s adventures in the 30th century, with a new threat, the Dark Matter Anomaly, that pops up in unpredictable locations, destroying everything in its path. That includes entire planets, and the first planet destroyed has particular importance to one member of the crew, leading them on a path of revenge that might derail Captain Burnham’s search for a peaceful resolution. As with the previous seasons, this is another excellent year of episodes, with the focus on the main cast members shared by time in the spotlight for the supporting bridge crew, who have become some of my favorite characters. With the new season debuting in early 2023, now is the perfect time to catch up on Season 4 and all the great sci-fi action and drama you’ve been missing.
Ghosts: Season One – Probably my favorite new show of the 2021-2022 season, CBS’s Ghosts is a great reminder that sitcoms can be awesome and fun diversions when they’re done well. Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar star as a married couple, Samantha and Jay, whose aunt dies and leaves them a huge manor. They move in and plan to turn it into a bed and breakfast, and after an accident, Samantha discovers that she can see and communicate with the manor’s other inhabitants: a collection of ghosts, people who have died on the property over the past several years. This includes lady of the house Hetty (Sam’s ancestor); Isaac, a revolutionary war soldier with a grudge against Alexander Hamilton; Sassapis, a sarcastic Native American from the 1800s; Thor, a rough and tumble viking; Alberta, a torch singer from the 1920s; Trevor, a frat boy stockbroker from the ‘80s; Flower, a drug-addled hippy; and Pete, a squeaky clean boy scout troopmaster. It’s these diverse personalities — and all the brilliant actors who bring them to life— that give the show its comedic fuel, coupled with the fact that only Sam can see them. The writing is so sharp and the characters so endearing that the show won me over instantly, and I’ve loved every episode of it since. Do yourself a favor and check out Ghosts: Season One ASAP; you’ll thank me.
Secret Headquarters – This is the kind of movie that would probably have been a huge box office hit back in the late ‘90s or early 2000s. Adopting the feel of that era’s Spy Kids movies, this family action/adventure superhero movie sees four young friends discover a secret headquarters under Charlie’s house, meaning that his dad is none other than the superhero known as The Guard. Unfortunately, their discovery of his secret lair also allows its location to be known to bad guys who are searching for The Guard’s technology, leading to a showdown with four middle school kids going up against mercenaries with superhero technology that’s brand new to them. The film isn’t a masterpiece or anything like that, but I found it quite enjoyable overall and in an earlier era, I could have seen it making big bucks at the box office. As it is, it debuted on the Paramount+ streaming service and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. While it’s probably not going to spawn any sequels, I think it’s the kind of movie that kids will enjoy and the parents who watch along with them will enjoy as well, and sometimes that’s all that you need.
Call Jane – Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver star in this dramatic story based on true events of the Jane Collective, an organization of women who helped other women get safe abortions in Chicago in the 1960s before it was legal. Obviously the film is incredibly timely, and what I liked about it is that it its’t so much about getting an abortion as it is how the network operated and the lengths the women in it went to to try and get care and treatment to women in need. The film is centered around Joy Griffin (an amazing performance by Elizabeth Banks) a housewife who needs an abortion because the baby she’s carrying might kill her; when the hospital refuses to help her, she turns to the Janes for help. Soon after, she is roped into their network and finds herself helping various women and also discovering who she is as a woman and what women have the potential to be. The film has a few pacing issues and is a touch long for my tastes (coming in right at two hours) but Banks and a saucy Sigourney Weaver (as well as Chris Messina as Joy’s husband) carry the film extremely well, and the story is interesting enough to stick with it. Not a perfect movie, but a good one.
A Walk to Remember: Collector’s Edition – Twenty years ago, in 2002, Mandy Moore and Shane West starred in A Walk to Remember, one of the earlier adaptations of a Nicholas Sparks book to hit theaters. The film was a moderate success but it’s never appeared on Blu-ray until now, thanks to a new Collector’s Edition from Shout Factory. The film itself is a solid coming-of-age drama, with West playing a teenager who finds himself in with the wrong crowd and Moore as a free-spirited minister’s daughter. When they form a friendship, it transforms both their lives. It’s not cinematic genius, but I think anytime you walk into a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, you have to have some idea what you’re getting yourself into, and this is an enjoyable effort .This new Blu-ray edition includes two audio commentaries (both with director Adam Shankman, but one of which features Moore and West, which is a nice treat), a look back at the film with Sparks himself, and a Mandy Moore music video. Fans of the film will enjoy revisiting it, and may of those fans probably now have children who are old enough to watch it, so it can be a treat for them too.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
American Murderer – It probably says something about American Murderer that it has an exceptional supporting cast (that includes Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, Jacki Weaver, Shantel Van Santen, and Kevin Corrigan), yet the lead actor, Tom Pelphrey, is largely unknown. Now, I’m not opposed to casting a lesser-name actor in a big role when it’s called for, but in this based-on-true-events crime thriller the lead character is supposed to be so charismatic that he can con his way in and out of anything, and that’s where the film comes up short. Pelphrey’s performance isn’t bad, he just lacks that charisma (see Josh Duhamel in this year’s Bandit for an example of this exact kind of role played to perfection). The rest of the cast, all terrific actors, are largely wasted thanks to an uninspired script that never gives any of the characters any more than a surface existence. I generally like these kinds of movies but I found American Murderer to be pretty mundane overall.
The Roundup – This South Korean movie was a blockbuster hit in its native country, and it’s not hard to see why. The film sees two South Korean cops go to Vietnam to extradite a criminal, only to find that there has been string of crimes perpetrated against tourists there (apparently, Vietnam has become a tourist hotbed for Koreans in the real world). As they get involved in trying to solve the crimes, things get more and more dangerous. While this is a crime film, there’s no denying that is also a full-on action movie, and the fight scenes are quite impressive. There’s a lot of action throughout the film and it’s quite gritty and violent at times (as well as having some comedic relief, a common trait in action films from this corner of the world), but I was really taken in by this visceral, fast-paced actioner. Asian action movie fans — or action movie fans in general — will likely want to track this one down.
The Loneliest Boy in the World – Okay, a domestic family comedy set in the 1980s with zombies sounds like it could be a great thing, but unfortunately director Martin Owen’s new film falls flat. In it, teen boy Oliver lives a sheltered life and is shocked when his mother dies suddenly. Threatened with life in an asylum if he can’t make a friend (whaaat?), Oliver decides to dig up bodies from the local graveyard and pose them in pictures as friends — because that’s a normal thing to do. Of course, then the bodies come to life as zombies and everybody learns a little something from everybody… or something like that. The film just never seems to find its footing, the plot is full of holes, and the humor there is isn’t funny enough to overcome these issues. It’s quite all over the place and while I’m sure there are cult movie fans out there waiting to take this as one of their own, it just wasn’t for me.
Creature From Black Lake – From Synapse Films, this week sees the Blu-ray debut of the low-budget Bigfoot movie Creature From Black Lake, a late night TV staple for many years that is the very definition of a cult classic. The movie was released in the wake of the minor Bigfoot hysteria that took over the US in the 1970s and while some people would claim it is a complete hidden gem, it’s not entirely. What it is is a rather enjoyable low-budget film that takes its time getting to the scary stuff and barely has any monster action in it. And that’s okay, just don’t go into watching this movie expecting a visceral ‘70s style horror flick a la The Last House on the Left. It’s rated PG, after all. Still, I found it a fun throwback, and this new restored Blu-ray edition from Synapse Films cleaned the movie up and adds some nice extra features, making it a great home video release for fans.
What’s New on Home Video – December 20th, 2022 – The Woman King, Smile, Pulp Fiction, Ghosts, Star Trek Discovery, & More!
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