After a couple of really small release weeks, this week sees things get back on track with some bona fide box office hits, plus the usual mix of indies, catalog titles, and B-movies.
Dune – I’ve had a bit of a complicated history with the Dune universe. I’m continually fascinated by it, and while I’ve never read Frank Herbert’s original novel, I’ve seen the 1980s movie, watched the various SyFy miniseries, and read the comic books, and I always find them weirdly interesting yet also lacking. So my expectations for last year’s theatrical release of Dune were somewhat low, especially since the film was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who I find makes films that can be either brilliant or ponderous. But I truly enjoyed Dune. I’ve heard the many complaints about the film — its confusing, everything is brown, etc. — but they didn’t land for me. I found the film engaging and interesting and epic in scope; it was the first time a Dune film really resonated with me. The cast is terrific, and I think if you have any cursory knowledge of the Dune universe, you should be able to follow it with no problems. Dune comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and the film looks and sounds terrific in 4K. The action is spectacular, and imagery is razor sharp, and the picture as a whole is very alive and lifelike. Yes, the film’s color palette is limited, but it looks as vivid and vibrant as it did in theaters. The surround soundtrack is nearly as immersive as the film, and the discrete surround activity never lets up from the first scene to the last. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Halloween Kills – The Halloween movies are hands down my favorite horror movies of all time. Yes, the franchise has its ups and downs, but I love me some Michael Myers and I like way more of the movies than I dislike. But the more recent offerings haven’t really been high water marks in my book. I hated the Rob Zombie films, and I didn’t really like the eponymous Halloween from 2018 all that much (although I didn’t hate it either.) So I had really low expectations for Halloween Kills, especially since I saw a lot of my friends and colleagues commenting online that they didn’t like it. But then a funny thing happened; I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, it’s a bit too gory for my tastes (and before you chastise me for that opinion, I’d ask you to recall that the original film, an absolute masterpiece, is virtually free of any gore at all), but I liked that the film brought back several characters (and even a few actors) from the very first film, giving it a nice continuity tie-in to the original. It’s not without flaws, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. There’s also an Extended Cut of the film included, which only adds a few scenes and a nice little beat to the ending. Halloween Kills comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and the film looks and sound impeccable in Ultra High Def, with a crystal clear picture, solid blacks, strong colors, and a very active soundfield that keeps the action constantly working your speakers. It’s a strong presentation of a surprisingly good film.
Cobra Kai: Season 3 – The hit Netflix series returns for another fun season filled with karate, ‘80s references, great music, solid drama, and some good comedy. Some thirty-odd years after we last saw Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), this new series picks up with ostensibly more focus on Johnny, whose life has not gone the way he wanted it to. He re-opens the Cobra Kai dojo in an effort to find personal redemption, and some of the old rivalries are reborn with it. This time around, Daniel and Johnny work in mentor roles as we see a new generation of karate kids come of age. Season Three doubles down on the guest stars, tapping into some deep cut guest stars from the first two movies, which is — of course — awesome. Almost every episode, it was like, “I can’t believe they found a way to bring this character back!”, yet it all works so well. Sure the show has its cheesy moments, but if you just embrace it, I think you’ll have a ton of fun with it. Fans of the Karate Kid movies should really enjoy this show.
The Addams Family 2 – If you had said that you predicted that the first animated Addams Family movie was going to be a pretty solid hit at the box office, I’d probably question your honesty. If you told me you had predicted it would spawn a sequel, I would have been SURE you were lying! But here we are, with the second animated film based on a property that started off as a TV show in the 1960s and was last on the national stage thanks to two live action movies in the ‘90s, long before anyone in the current target audience was born. Honestly, I can’t explain why these films have been hits, but that’s not because of the films themselves. Like the first movie, this new sequel is actually a perfectly enjoyable animated comedy, capturing most of the fun and quirkiness of the original characters, but updating it a bit by using CGI to bring the story to life. I guess the franchise is stronger than I thought, but I’m glad that a new generation of fans are enjoying The Addams Family.
The Beatles: A Hard Days Night – The Beatles on The Criterion Collection? Sign me up! I’m a die-hard Beatles fan, but I maintain that even if you’re not, A Hard Day’s Night is one of the greatest comedies of all time. A few years back, Criterion restored and remastered the film and and packed the release with new extra features. And now, as part of their inaugural slate of 4K Ultra HD releases, Criterion gives us the film once again in a package that includes the movie on both 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray. It’s a bit of a surprising choice (although I’m sure it’s probably one of the Criterion Collection’s most popular titles, so that makes sense), only in the fact that it’s a black and white film with limited surround sound activity, so it doesn’t benefit as much from the 4K upgrade as some films might. That said, it’s still the best looking and sounding version of the film I’ve seen to date. And let’s face it, if you are going to watch a movie filled with Beatles music, how cool is it to have that music sound absolutely fantastic? This movie is one of the reasons the world fell in love with the Beatles as hard as they did, and this beautiful new edition of the film should be a permanent fixture on any Beatles fan’s shelf.
Juice: 25th Anniversary Edition – This week’s make-you-feel-old anniversary release is Juice: 25th Anniversary Edition. This movie was all over the video store shelves for months and months on end when I was younger, so the fact that it’s now 25 years old makes me feel a little bit ancient. Somehow, though, in all that time, I never got around to seeing the movie. Watching it now, 25 years after its release, I’m surprised to see it’s just as powerful as I’m sure it was back in 1996. Starring Omar Eps and Tupac Shakur, the film follows four young African-American men going about their daily lives, until one of them gets his hands on a gun, which starts to change everything. Both Shakur and Epps are terrific, and the film has an energy that is palpable, as well as a sense of capturing the real challenges that plagued the African American community in the 90s — and I’m sure still do. It’s a powerful film and this is a great new edition of it.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Billions: Season 5 – Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis and Malin Akerman return in the fifth season of the hit Showtime series. The show, which has found quite an audience, is about drama and high stakes manipulation in the world of high finance. This is one of those shows that I can appreciate more than I actually like. The production values are terrific without a doubt and the actors are all firing on all cylinders. So I can’t say it’s not a good show, it’s just that I personally can’t get into it. I don’t generally love stories set in the financial world, and while there are some good stories here, it’s just not quite my cup of tea. But with five seasons under their belt and — I believe — another one on the way, it clearly has found its audience.
- Amityville Uprising – New Amityville films used to be at least a minor event in the horror genre; now, apparently, it’s just a word used in the title of horror films that can’t find any other way to try and get an audience. Amityville Uprising is, of all things, a zombie movie. Not a haunted house film, as you would expect when you hear the word “Amityville.” And it’s not even a particularly good zombie film. It takes about half the film before we even get to any zombies, and what little action we get is uninspired. The film has no recognizable cast members, and it isn’t particularly well-written or well-acted, so there’s not really anything to make this film worth watching. And again, it’s just not an Amityville film. What a shame.
- The Toolbox Murders – Cult classic purveyors Blue Underground work their usual magic on a notorious film getting a sparkling new home video release: The Toolbox Murders. This notorious “video nasty” has a cult following, but it’s more infamous than famous, and for good reason: it’s a pretty nasty film. Or at least it was, 40 years ago. Watching it nowadays, I have to say it’s really less shocking and gory than I expected it to be. It plays out like a pretty typical ‘70s slasher flick, honestly. This cult classic sees a ski-masked slasher killing the inhabitants of an apartment building with various tools from his toolbox, and there really isn’t much more to it than that. It’s an okay film, but it’s low-budget and doesn’t offer any great performances or clever writing, so ultimately it’s fairly pedestrian. However, for fans of the film, this new 4K Ultra HD edition comes with upgraded picture and sound (although it still looks and sounds mostly like a film from the ‘70s) and absolutely loaded with extra features. You get two commentary tracks and multiple interview featurettes with cast and crew, many of which are brand new. It’s a terrific package for fans, but if you’ve never seen the film, you might find yourself a little underwhelmed by its notoriety.
- The Zombie Collection – I would love to report that this new four-movie collection is filled with the best of the best of the zombie genre; a genre I happen to love, in fact. Unfortunately, while I applaud Mill Creek for offering zombie lovers a budget-priced fast pack of flicks, these are all low-budget, no-pedigree zombie flicks. You get the following movies: Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies, Granny of the Dead, Attack of the Killer Donuts, and Harold’s Going Stiff. And yes, for those of you keeping score, that means that 25% of the movies included here feature zombie donuts. Zombie. Donuts. So basically, your enjoyment of this collection will depend on your ability to watch these films as B-movie shlockfests and enjoy them for what they are and have a few laughs. If you’re looking for a Dawn of the Dead-caliber zombie movie, well… you’ll probably want to keep on looking.
- A Walk in Her Shoes: An Homage to the Life and Legacy of Harriet Tubman – This new documentary sees personal trainer and author Metra Lundy following in the footsteps of American hero Harriet Tubman… sometimes literally. In the film, Lundy retraces the near 700-mile journey Tubman took as part of the Underground Railroad, helping slaves get to freedom over the border into Canada. She actually walks about 250 miles on foot, which is no small feat. Along the way, she talks with historians and civic leaders and learns about herself and her own personal journey. It’s an interesting enough film; there are parts I found quite engaging, and parts I found that dragged a bit, but there’s no denying that Tubman’s story is a fascinating one that deserves to be told.
- Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy – Not to be confused with the television game show, this new Japanese film from acclaimed director Ryusuke Hamaguchi is actually a triptych film, meaning we get three complete stories told as vignettes within the two-hour film. Each story focuses on a female character, but each one deals with different plot elements and themes, and the end result is surprisingly good. It’s moving at times and intriguing at others, and I found it effective overall.
- Last of the Grads – We’ve got some more low-budget horror this week with Last of the Grads, which is a surprisingly decent entry in the slasher genre. The film has a plot we’ve seen plenty of times before: teenagers picked off one by one by a slasher/killer. This time around, that means newly graduated high school students. And while the film offers up literally nothing original at all, it also does what it does well; it’s teenagers versus a killer in classic slasher formulaic fashion. If you like slasher films, you really can’t find much to argue with with this one.
- Joy Womack: The White Swan – It sounds like a fictional film: a little girl from Texas wants to become the first American to go to the famed Russian Bolshoi Ballet Academy and become a part of the Bolshoi Ballet. But this new film is no fiction; instead it’s a documentary that tells the story of Joy Womack, who did exactly that. The film follows her journey from the time she moves to Russia as a 15-year old to her eventual signing to the Bolshoi Ballet. It’s a fascinating story with no small amount of inspiration to be found, and I think people will like it.
What’s New on Home Video – January 18th, 2022 – Dune, Halloween, Cobra Kai, The Addams Family, & More!
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