Even though it’s a smaller week this week (following a holiday in the US), we have some great and exciting titles out, including some blockbusters, some lesser known titles, and a few movies that I just flat out LOVE! Read on!
Downton Abbey: A New Era – We’re big Downton Abbey fans in my house, so of course it was disappointing when the show came to an end, although it was hard to argue with what a great run the show had. Still, I’m super excited that the show continues to live on in theatrical movies. And I’m even more happy that audiences have responded to the movies and made them box office hits. Not surprisingly, Downton Abbey: A New Era is absolutely delightful. Of course, there’s a lot of characters and stories to fit into a two-hour running time, so it’s not the most complicated story in the world, but the basic gist is that the Grantham Family inherits a villa in the south of France that has some intrigue attached to it, while a movie is being filmed at Downton itself. What follows is the usual charm, humor, drama, and class that you might expect from the show. While it’s a little lighter than the previous film, there are a few downright dramatic moments to be found as well, all in that perfect blend that has you laughing, crying, and smiling throughout. If you’ve never seen the show, you really should watch it first, but even if you haven’t, you can watch the two movies on their own and be totally fine. I really enjoyed this film, and I was glad to see it become such a huge hit worldwide. Now bring on the next one!
Fatherhood – Kevin Hart turns in an absolutely fantastic performance in Fatherhood, a dramedy in the truest sense of the word. Playing a father whose wife dies shortly after giving birth to their daughter, Hart has to raise a baby girl all by himself, something he’s woefully prepared for. What follows is a film that will have you laughing out loud one minute and wiping tears from your eyes the next. Hart’s performance is a truly great one (not just “great for a comedian”) and young Melody Hurd is an absolute spitfire as young Maddy (the film spends some time with her as a baby and then jumps ahead to the five-year-old version.) There’s a great supporting cast including Alfre Woodard, Paul Reiser, DeWanda Wise, and Frankie Faison, who all add to the proceedings. My only complaint about the film is that the characters that are Hart’s friends occasionally feel a little bit forced; like they’re trying to squeeze laughs out of them. Aside from that very minor nitpick, I absolutely loved this movie. It will move you, but it will leave you with a big smile on your face, and that’s a real treat in my book.
Edge of Tomorrow (4K Ultra HD) – It’s hard to call any Tom Cruise movie that grossed $100 million domestic a “cult classic,” but Edge of Tomorrow sort of qualifies. A horribly generic name and a weak marketing campaign resulted in this film seriously underwhelming at the box office for a big-budget sci-fi actioner starring the world’s biggest movie star. But despite that, people eventually started to realize that Edge of Tomorrow is utterly fantastic. A blend of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers, and Saving Private Ryan, the movie is set amidst an alien invasion of earth, in which Cruise starts to relive the same day over and over again, all the while trying to prevent a massive slaughter of human troops. Cruise is typically excellent, while Emily Blunt shines as a kick-ass war hero. And even though the story starts over repeatedly, the film never gets stale or boring. Edge of Tomorrow makes its 4K Ultra HD debut this week, and it is a thing of beauty. This is the kind of film that was made to be seen in the highest resolution possible, and it looks and sounds utterly amazing. The frame rate never suffers despite the high speed of the action, colors really pop, and. The surround soundtrack gives every channel a true workout. Great special effects, terrific action, and a strong premise make Edge of Tomorrow a real hit, whether the box office realized it or not.
The Untouchables – One of the absolute best movies of the ‘80s — and one of my all-time favorite films — Brian De Palma’s crime saga made its debut on 4K Ultra HD a few weeks back. Now, I also got my hands on the Limited Edition Steelbook Edition of the 4K release, and it’s a thing of true beauty. Featuring incredibly stylish art on a beautiful metal case, there’s no doubt that this is the version to get. To be clear, ANY version of this movie is worth owning, but the Steelbook version is absolutely gorgeous! As to the movie itself, starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, and Andy Garcia, the film tells the (loosely) true story of Elliot Ness and his Untouchables, his group of mafia-busting police officers. It’s an absolute masterpiece of a film, one that earned Sean Connery an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and it culminates with an absolutely mind-blowing train station shoot-out finale that famously pays homage to the Odessa Steps sequence from the 1925 Russian silent film Battleship Potemkin. (A little film history for ya, there.) If you’ve ever seen The Untouchables, I can’t possibly recommend watching it highly enough. And if you haven’t seen it, this new 4K is definitely the way to watch it. While the film is 35 years old so it doesn’t look brand new, I’ve seen it a million times and this is easily the best it’s ever looked and sounded on home video. The imagery is crystal clear and the colors are lifelike and natural, while the surround soundtrack utilizes the satellite speakers well. Plain and simply, this release is a must-have for any cinephile.
Fire in the Sky – D. B. Sweeney stars alongside James Garner, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, and Henry Thomas I this 1993 alien abduction thriller that remains one of the scariest movies in its genre I’ve ever seen. Let’s be honest, most alien abduction films are either cheesy or mildly tense, but rarely do they ever capture the terror of an otherworldly experience — or at least what you imagine it would be like if it really happened to you. The film deals with the abduction as well as the aftermath of it; what happens when no one believes you when you tell them what happened to you. But it’s the abduction scenes that are the most memorable part of the film; they are intense and downright scary, and that’s really impressive to me. Fire in the Sky makes its Blu-ray debut this week after almost 30 years, courtesy of Shout Factory, who add in new interviews with several cast members as extra features. This is a terrific release of a really strong movie; check it out if you’ve never seen it before.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Zero Contact – You have to give Zero Contact for the fact that it was produced entirely virtually during the COVID pandemic; made in several different countries with all of the actors completely isolated from each other. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing you can give it credit for, because it’s interminably boring. The film sees its one known star, Anthony Hopkins, play a tech giant who dies and leaves five senior managers with instructions to enter the password to set off an initiative. However, they don’t know what it’s going to do (there might be time travel involved), so they spend the running time of the film debating whether to participate or not. Filmed on cell phones and Zoom windows, it’s basically 90 minutes of bad expository dialogue. This would have made an interesting short film; however, as a full-length movie, it’s just dull, dull, dull. I give the creators credit for trying something during COVID, but that doesn’t make the end result a watchable film.
- Hero – 88 Films has been putting out a huge number of cult classic martial arts films, most of which come from the famed Shaw Brothers studios that were huge in the 1970s. This week brings us the something a little different: a new Blu-ray Collector’s Edition release of Hero, a 1997 action flick that is a remake of the 1972 Shaw Brothers favorite The Boxer from Shantung. Now, I’ve liked most of the films I’ve seen from 88 Films’s excellent martial arts releases, as they’ve been enjoyable action films. This one, however, is one of my favorites, probably because it’s so much more recent. Written and directed by Corey Yuen (Red Cliff, The Transporter), the film is pretty impressive. There are some weaker moments (the forced humor of the main character’s dopey brother doesn’t do it any favors), but the action scenes are absolutely outstanding. This new Blu-ray release doesn’t give us much in the way of extra features (although there is a commentary track) but it does feature terrific cover art, a mini-poster, and newly updated subtitles. Definitely an action-packed film worth checking out.
- Ryoma: The Prince of Tennis – Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here, so if you’re not familiar with the Ryoma franchise (as I wasn’t)… buckle up. This franchise started in 1999 as manga comics, and has since become a multimedia juggernaut in its native Japan, with shows, movies, podcasts, comics, etc. This newest Blu-ray release is a new CGI movie (although it includes an alternate cut of the film that was released in 2021.) Get all that? Good. The film follows tennis star Ryoma (whose father was also a tennis star) who ends up going back in time to when his father finished his career. So it’s basically like Back to the Future meets Wimbledon, although that might be oversimplifying it. There were definitely parts where I think previous knowledge of the franchise would have been helpful, but I did enjoy the tennis matches, which play out like something out of a video game and are truly exciting. It’s a fun film, aimed more at kids than adults, but I think anyone can enjoy it (although franchise fans will fare the best.)
- Panda Go Panda – Sort of an unofficial Studio Ghibli entry, Panda Go Panda predates that studio but was directed by Isao Takahata, based on a concept by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, both of whom were at the heart of Ghibli’s creation. Made before the pair co-founded the acclaimed Studio Ghibli, the two stories included here (1972’s Panda! Go, Panda, which runs 34 minutes, and 1973’s Rainy Day Circus, which runs 38 minutes.) These are kids’ stories that are pretty simple, but they’re also rather enjoyable. They work as family fare but also as a bit of a history lesson for fans of Studio Ghibli who want to see some of the earliest works by the men who made that studio the legend that it is.
- 20,000 Days on Earth – This cult favorite 2014 film gets a new Blu-ray release courtesy of Giant Pictures. A semi-realistic, mostly fantastical story, the film follows musician, writer, and pop culture icon Nick Cave on his largely imaginary 20,000th day on earth. What the film does then, is give us a glimpse into Cave’s head and his persona; with the knowledge, however, that he’s playing a persona here and this isn’t unfiltered truth. There are times when you feel like you’re seeing the real Cave come through, and there are times when things seem particularly staged, and I have tp suspect that there’s a good chance that we think we know what we’re seeing more often than we actually do. It’s an interesting film, but I think it will definitely appeal more to fans of Cave’s than it will to just your everyday viewers.
What’s New on Home Video – July 6, 2022 – Downton Abbey, Edge of Tomorrow, Fatherhood, Fire in the Sky, & More!
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