There’s a number of notable titles out this week, including a few genuine Blockbusters and no shortage of releases for superhero fans. Check out the goods below!
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – One of the biggest theatrical releases of last year, Wakanda Forever was well received at the box office and it seems like most audiences really enjoyed it. I wish I could say I was one of those people, but I actually really didn’t like Wakanda Forever at all. It had so many problems, I don’t even know where to begin — and admittedly it’s even harder to do so without giving away spoilers. I’ll give it a shot, though. First of all, I thought the script was not very strong, but the story itself was more the problem. Why are we pitting Wakandans against Atlanteans? A desert country versus an undersea kingdom? That doesn’t even make for an interesting or logical battle set up. There are so many plot holes in the film I lost count, or at least moments where you go, “Why did that character do that? Why not just do this instead?” or something along those lines. Nobody’s actions or motivations made sense. And as much as I liked the introduction of the Riri Williams/Ironheart character from the comics, she felt completely shoehorned in and didn’t really fit at all. Add to all that that there isn’t even a Black Panther in the movie for 90% of its running time and the characterization of the main villain, Namor the Submariner, was really uninteresting, and you have a film that fell flat for me on every level. I understand that Marvel was a bit hamstrung by the death of Chadwick Boseman, and the box office receipts indicate I’m in the minority on this, but it just wasn’t a good film in my eyes. Your mileage may vary.
Legion of Superheroes – The newest DC Universe animated movie sees the 31st century heroes known as the Legion of Superheroes finally get their chance to shine in the spotlight… sort of. The story starts with Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, who landed on Earth as a teenager and is having a hard time adjusting to life outside of Krypton. So Superman takes her to the 31st century to meet the Legion and let her train with them. There, she runs into a conspiracy that could threaten the entire world. Now, the reason I say it “sort of” lets the Legion shine is that for some reason, the filmmakers chose to select a group of Legion trainees (i.e., lesser-known Legionnaires) instead of the main characters who have long ben the focal point of the Legion comics. So absent are Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad, and in their place we get the Superman-like Mon El, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Dawnstar, and… Arms Fall Off Boy. Yep, Arms Fall Off Boy. (admittedly, he’s there more for comic relief than anything serious.) Now, I don’t mind giving lesser-know characters the spotlight – and really, Supergirl remains the main character throughout, for the most part – but I would have liked a few of the more classic Legionnaires to have more than a split-second cameo. Overall, the film is a perfectly solid entry in the DC animated canon; it’s nothing special, but it’s an enjoyable watch. I did really like the animation style which switches up the long-overused staple DC animated house style for something a little sleeker and hipper looking. The film also looks and sounds great in 4K Ultra HD (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD.) Longtime Legion fans might be disappointed, but those who just want a good superhero yarn should enjoy this one.
Chicago: 20th Anniversary Edition – The hit award-winning musical gets a shiny new Blu-ray edition with Chicago: 20th Anniversary Edition, which comes housed in a smart-looking new Steelbook case. Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zellweger, and John C. Reilly shine in this smash adaptation of the hit musical stage play, and it’s hard to belied it’s been 20 years since it came out. The film garnered a whopping 12 Academy Award nominations and won six, including Best Picture, and it was also a huge hit at the box office. So I’m a little surprised that Paramount chose to simple re-release a previous Blu-ray edition rather than give us a proper 4K Ultra HD release for the 20th Anniversary. Honestly, if you already have the previously released Diamond Edition Blu-ray, the only thing that’s different here is that it comes in the Steelbook case (which is admittedly gorgeous, especially once you open it up), and a digital copy, which is great if you’d like to add it to your digital library. While I’m not a big fan of musicals, I do think Chicago is a pretty good film, and this is a nice edition if you don’t already own it.
Mickey & Minnie: 10 Classic Shorts, Volume One – You may or may not know this but Disney is ramping up a huge 100th Anniversary celebration this year with all kinds of new releases and events. One of the first such releases is Mickey & Minnie: 10 Classic Shorts, a collection of ten of the famous couples most famous and well-loved cartoon shorts. Far from a comprehensive collection, this is more of a greatest hits release, collecting ten famous cartoons from yesteryear. The highlights include Steamboat Willie (the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon), Brave Little Tailor, Hawaiian Holiday, and more. They’ve all been remastered and restored, which is a huge bonus, and put together in a way that makes the viewing experience like one 83-minute movie, which I’m not entirely sure I love. Now, look, I love classic Disney, so I’m a fan of this release in that I’m glad to see a Mickey & Minnie collection with remastered classics, but I wish the format was better. I’d personally have preferred a chronological release collecting ALL of the classic shorts, and the lack of any extra features is a bummer, too. What, there’s a shortage of documentary material on Mickey Mouse that we couldn’t have found a few scraps to throw in here? Still, the original cartoons themselves are so great that all of my complaints are just nitpicks. Disney fans will still enjoy this release as a whole.
Belly (4K Ultra HD) – While Belly was never a big box office hit (grossing just under $10 million in its initial run), this crime drama starring rappers Nas and DMX has garnered a cult following in the years since its release. Directed and written by music video impresario Hype Williams, the film is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s certainly found its audience on home video. The film sees Nas and DMX as lifelong friends and criminals, one of which wants to expand his empire, while the other is reconsidering the lifestyle. I’ll be honest, I don’t really love the film; narratively, it’s a bit all over the place. However, Hype Williams brings a really great visual flair to the movie that is second-to-none. The use of imagery, colors, music, and editing really make the film an audiovisual delight. And now you can revel in all of that glory in 4K Ultra HD thanks to a new release from Lionsgate, and it looks and sounds fantastic. Even though it’s a lower-budget film that’s 25 years old, the 4K Upgrade really lets the colors pop and the soundtrack fill the room. There are no new extra features on this release that weren’t on the previous Blu-ray, although there is a digital copy included, which is a nice thing. Fans of the film will find this the best home video release of Belly yet.
The Return of Swamp Thing (4K Ultra HD) – The original Swamp Thing movies are low-budget creature feature flicks that aimed higher than their origins, and I have to admit to having a real soft spot for them, despite their inherent cheesiness. This week, Lightyear Video brings us a new 4K Ultra HD Edition of The Return of Swamp Thing, the infamous sequel that sees Swampy landing no less a dish than Heather Locklear. The film is cheesy fun with lots of great practical creature effects, and Locklear’s bouncy presence makes it even better. This new two-disc Collector’s Edition comes with a couple of new extra features, including a retrospective documentary with producer Michael Uslan and a music video. You also get all of the extra features from the previous Collector’s Edition release (including lots of interview featurettes), as well as the film on Blu-ray alongside the 4K Disc (which is a bonus since the last release was only on DVD; now you can own it on Blu-ray even if you don’t have a 4K player yet.) The set comes packaged in sharp packaging that includes a slipcover, and this is a fun way to celebrate a campy (or should I say ‘swampy’?) cult classic. You can check out an exclusive clip below!
The Dentist Collection – Speaking of campy fun, Lionsgate serves up a double dose of cult classic horror with The Dentist Collection, a two-film set that makes going to the dentist even scarier than it already is. This Blu-ray double feature is part of Lionsgate’s excellent Vestron Video imprint, and it collects The Dentist and The Dentist 2, a pair of horror movies from the ‘90s starring none other than Corbin Bernsen (clearly not at a high point in his career) as a homicidal dentist who snaps after catching his wife with the pool boy. If you’ve seen any ‘90s movies, you know what to expect with these films, although the first one is clearly the better of the two. The second film sees Bernsen’s Dr. Feinstone escaping from an insane asylum and it just feels like the unnecessary sequel it is in almost every scene. As someone who already finds the dentist scarier than it should be, I’d be lying if I said these films didn’t creep me out in a major way. Just the sound of a dentist’s drill is enough to set my nerves on edge, and you can imagine that things don’t stop with just the sound of the drill in these movies. The Dentist Collection includes some great new extra features including a pair of audio commentaries and interviews with cast members, including Bernsen himself. A worthy release for fans of cult classic horror entries.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Divide & Conquer – So, if you know anything about Troma Films (whose biggest claim to fame is The Toxic Avenger), then you can imagine how hard it is to review their films. The studio specializes in and goes out of its way to present ultra-low-budget, over-the-top movies that focus not on acting or story but on shock value, camp, or outrageous goings-on. And while I can get behind a good low-budget movie, I feel like there’s a certain kind of filmgoer who gravitates to Troma movies, and I don’t think I’m necessarily that person. Divide & Conquer, written and directed by Mercedes the Muse, who also co-stars, sees a trio of butt-kicking ladies… well, kicking butt. They go up against white supremacists, Adolf Hitler, and even Harvey Weinstein, and they don’t do it in subtle ways. Really, you can’t go into any Troma film expecting restraint or class, so if you’re in the mood for a low-budget and lowbrow assault on the senses starring three sexy ladies dishing out punishment, then this is the film for you.
- Ruth Weiss: One More Step West is the Sea – I’m not always the friendliest reviewer when it comes to documentaries, largely because I just don’t get into them as much as I probably should. There are plenty of documentaries I like, sure, but there are a lot more where I either find them boring or I just don’t think the finished films are as interesting as their premises are. Ruth Weiss: One More Step West is the Sea is a portrait of one of the original beat poets and artists (and one of the few women) to gain notoriety in the counterculture movement of the mid-20th century America. Here’s what I’ll say about this one: it’s a perfectly solid documentary about Weiss and she has certainly lived a well-traveled and interesting life. But personally, the whole beat poet/counterculture scene has never held a lot of interest for me, so my interest in this film was limited from the start. If you dig that scene, then you should probably seek out this doc pronto.