A quick note for this week’s column: I’m going to be on vacation next week so there will be no weekly column the week of June 20th. Meanwhile, there’s a wide range of titles this week (plus one or two that are stressing next week, which I’ve marked appropriately), including some potential great Father’s Day gifts if you’re in the market for one. Enjoy!
Renfield – I thought the trailer for Renfield looked pretty cool, largely because I’m a fan of many of the cast members and I love a good horror-comedy. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be so damn good! Seriously, I know it didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, but Renfield is fantastic. The film follows Renfield, Dracula’s servant (played by Nicholas Hoult) as he tries to free himself from Dracula’s yoke through the power of self-confidence and a support group (plus a new friend). Nicolas Cage plays Dracula, and his performance is letter-perfect: over-the-top in all the right ways. Add in Awkwafina as Renfield’s new friend, a cop who is trying to bring down a mob family that Renfield gets mixed up with, plus a plethora of other familiar faces, and there’s a really great ensemble here. The film actually reminds me a bit of Warm Bodies (which, ironically, was one of Nicholas Hoult’s first starring roles) in the way it takes a familiar story (Dracula and Renfield) and turns it on its side with clever writing, great humor, modern sensibilities, and an offbeat style that makes it feel fresh and funny. There are also some great action sequences, but the whole thing is just so clever and so well done that I was blown away by it. Witness a scene early on in which Renfield is telling how he came to work with Dracula and the sequence is a shot-for-shot black-and-white remake of the original 1930s Dracula film with Bela Lugosi. It’s stylish and sleek and witty and I absolutely loved it. Definitely watch it as soon as you have a chance!
The Indiana Jones Series (4K Ultra HD) – There’s no shortage of ways to own the Indiana Jones franchise on home video, and I’ll bet most people reading this already own the films in some format or another. In fact, the Indy quadrilogy was released on 4K Ultra HD last year in a nice box set, but with the new Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny movie in theaters imminently, why not revisit the franchise one more time? So now, Paramount brings us all four films on 4K Ultra HD as separate releases for the first time. (So if, say, you didn’t feel a need to own Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you would no longer have to.) Of course, the main question here is: are these movies worth the upgrade to 4K? After all, the original trilogy movies are all 30-40 years old, so how much improvement do we get in the new format? Well, I’m happy to report that Paramount knows what Indiana Jones means to fans, and they took their time to do this right, with each film’s final presentation approved by Steven Spielberg. So often with catalogue titles, you get minor upgrades in A/V quality when they come to 4K, but the Indy films look and sound practically brand new. The images look so crisp and clean, while the improved colors add new life and the enhanced shadow delineation lets you see more of the action in darker scenes than ever before. And then there’s the Dolby Atmos surround soundtracks, which are phenomenal. It’s like they took every sound effect and background noise and placed them by hand in all the different speakers. It’s the most immersive these movies have ever sounded since they were in theaters. Now, unfortunately, a lot of extra features from the previously released versions are not included here, which is a major oversight in my opinion, although the included digital copies are a nice bonus. Still, even with that major flaw, I have to say that this set comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Rain Man: 2-Disc Anniversary Edition – Back when Tom Cruise still made a wide range of movies and not just action films (which is not a dig; I love his action movies!), he scored an unlikely hit with Rain Man, a dramedy that paired him with Dustin Hoffman as a pair of brothers, one with special needs, traveling together on a trip across country. While the movie was a huge hit won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor (for Hoffman), it hasn’t really remained one of the Cruise roles that gets talked about all that much. Which is a shame, because Rain Man still holds up as a terrific film, anchored by outstanding performances by both Cruise and Hoffman. Now, the film has been released on 4K Ultra HD for the first time to celebrate its 35th anniversary, courtesy of MVD’s Marquee Collection. This new 2-disc set includes the film on both 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray, and the 4K Ultra HD provides a solid upgrade, even if it can’t make the film look brand new. What I noticed was nice, sharp details and overall great clarity, plus a little more pop in the color saturation. The surround soundtrack doesn’t have a ton to work with as there are no car chases or explosions, but dialogue sounds clear and natural, the score sounds lush and full, and there are some nice surround effects in scenes on the open road or inside the casinos. There are also some nice extra features, including three audio commentaries, a few featurettes, and more. I loved Rain Man back in the day and I really enjoyed revisiting it on this terrific new special edition release.
Bonanza: The Complete Series – I don’t know that I’ve ever reviewed a box set that has 112 discs in it before. Let me be clear: not 112 episodes, but 112 discs! This massive new box set is a behemoth, collecting one of the most popular television series in history. With 431 episodes to its credit, Bonanza ran for 14 seasons, making it the second-longest-running television drama of all time after Gunsmoke. Now you can watch Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe help Ben Cartwright battle cattle thieves and old west injustice in all of its original glory, and you can spend some 400 hours of your life doing so! Running from 1959 to 1973, it’s amazing to me that the show hit the airwaves in one generation and ended in another. 1959 was still the era of June Cleaver and I Love Lucy, while 1973 was knee-deep in the Vietnam War and Watergate. That’s mind-blowing to me. It was also the first western TV show to air in color, all the better to see cast stalwarts Lorne Green, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon. In addition to the entire series (it’s all collected in one massive box, with each three or four season block in a separate disc case), you also get a whole host of extra features, including the original pilot, multiple television appearances and interviews from the cast from during the show’s run, a gag reel, promos and trailers, and much more. It’s almost three hours of additional content in total, and that’s on top of, you know, a million episodes. It’s also worth noting that as Paramount/CBS was releasing the show in individual season sets over the past several years, they were restoring and remastering the episodes, resulting in some pretty impressive picture quality. All in all, it’s an amazing set and a Bonanza fan’s dream come true!
The Venture Bros.: The Complete Series – I know The Venture Bros. has a really strong fan following, and I’m not here to disparage it. I just have mixed feelings about it. The show is a pretty straight-up spoof of Jonny Quest and other similar adventure-based cartoons from the ‘60s and ‘70s. In it, we have Hank and Dean Venture, two teenage brothers, as well as their eccentric genius father, Doc Venture, and security guy/handyman Brock Sampson, as they travel the world, fight bad guys, and make scientific discoveries. Now, in some ways, I do find the show funny; there are some jokes that really land or really skewer a trope from the cartoons of yesteryear. However, the show also tends to do that thing that a lot of Cartoon Network shows did which was to really go for shock value over character or story and try to continually push the envelope, which often just ventures (no pun intended) into mean-spirited territory a little too often for me to truly love the show. I suspect, however, that that’s largely what people like about it so much. Like I said, the show has a huge fan following, and now those fans can own the entire series in one nice, compact box set. This 14-disc set includes all seven seasons of the show, comprising 82 episodes in total. And watching the series back to back, it’s amazing to watch the art progression from Season 1 to Season 7. The show looks markedly better in terms of style, animation, and video quality as it goes on. The set also includes a wealth of extra features, including audio commentaries for every episode, making-of featurettes from all seven seasons, tons of deleted scenes, and much more. Now, everything in this set has been previously available in the individual season sets that came out over the years, but if you are a Venture Bros. fan, this is easily the most complete collection available yet of the show that will leave you wanting for nothing.
Bone Cold – Sometimes an independent action movie comes along that gets your attention; it’s often a genre that suffers in the indie world because the lower budgets usually equal less action. Bone Cold manages to avoid that issue by focusing on snipers, which allows the film to build tension and create visceral action scenes that don’t require a huge budget. The film sees a pair of snipers in the winter wilds of Ukraine who find themselves being stalked by… something. Is it a creature, a figment of their imagination, or a sign of deeper psychological trauma? Well, that’s what the film spends its running time trying to figure out. And for the most part, I really liked Bone Cold, which is what makes my ultimate opinion of it so disappointing. I found the film to be a taut, tense sniper film that had some great action scenes as well as some intriguing suspenseful moments with the supernatural elements. However, the film wraps up the sniper portion of things and continues on in the civilian world for about 15-20 additional minutes, and that’s where the film lost me. I get that there’s a message here about PTSD and veterans and their mental health, but honestly, I felt the last 15 minutes of the movie completely undermined the effectiveness of the preceding hour or so. So ultimately I liked Bone Cold, but I really wish it had stuck the landing. Still, despite that fact, it’s worth checking out, and if you like the ending better than I did, I think you’ll really be impressed by the film overall.
The Event – Mill Creek continues to mix things up between giving us new, budget-priced releases of classic and mid-level cult films from yesteryear and also collecting popular-but-forgotten or cult classic TV show offerings. This week, they bring us The Event: The Complete Series, a Blu-ray collection of the intriguing show from 2010 that only lasted one season. Starring Jason Ritter, Sarah Roemer, Blair Underwood, Laura Innes, Bill Smitrovich, and Clifton Collins Jr. The show was one of those post-Lost episodic series that introduced a big conspiracy and mysterious events in the first episode and then spent the season trying to untangle them. In this case a young man traveling with his girlfriend stumbles onto a conspiracy when his girlfriend goes missing while they’re on vacation, leading to secrets within the U.S. President’s inner circle, a biological threat, and more. I remember watching the show when it came out in 2010 but I never finished it, so this is the kind of show I love to see get a home video release so that people like me can see how it all ended, and fans of the show can revisit it now that it’s been over a decade since it originally aired. The Event tries a little too hard to answer some questions while keeping other central mysteries intact, and I suspect it might have been fatiguing watching from week to week, but it plays out well in binge format, and you can find it for a pretty low price thanks to Mill Creek’s budget-friendly pricing strategy.
Sakra – Asian action superstar Donnie Yen stars in this new period action thriller about a martial arts instructor accused of murder. Yen plays Qiao Feng, leader of a beggars’ gang who gets accused of murdering a fellow gang member. So he sets out to clear his name, investigating the murder and trying to learn about his own past at the same time, something which is shrouded in fog for him. That’s a very simple description of a film that is boasts a surprisingly complex narrative throughline, but you get the gist. Now, this is a wiuxia-style film, meaning we get action scenes involving people flying through the air and occasionally demonstrating super powers beyond those of mortal men. I’m not always a huge fan of that aesthetic, but Sakra does feature some pretty spectacular sequences, and Yen knows his way around an action movie. The film is a bit too long as it runs over two hours, but I suspect that fans of period martial arts films, wiuxia movies, or Donnie Yen will find a lot to like here.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- A Radiant Girl – This French drama could be just an average, everyday coming-of-age movie about a young girl finding her way in the world and falling in love, if it weren’t for the fact that this particular girl lives in France in 1942 and she also happens to be Jewish. So while the film is really about the events leading up to Nazi Germany’s occupation of France and the impending events of the holocaust, A Radiant Girl instead focuses on the time before those events. But the ominous nature of what’s to come underlines every scene in the movie, which gives it a lot of its power. The film stars Rebecca Marder – who is absolutely radiant in the lead role – as Irene, a young woman hoping to become an actress. She lives with her family, is involved in theater, and has a new crush. She is also living in a world where things are subtly changing around her due to world events, such as the fact that she can’t find a scene partner who is male because the young men are slowly disappearing from town. The film manages to find light and humor even with such a serious backdrop, but make no mistake, it has some powerful dramatic moments as well. Marder’s performance is outstanding and she carries the film on her shoulders, leading up to an ending that leaves no doubt what’s about to happen in France’s future. I don’t always get caught up in foreign films, but A Radiant Girl definitely grabbed my attention.
- I Am T-Rex (June 20) – This Asian animated feature film has been dubbed in English and released on home video for the family market. Now, I don’t want to say that this movie is The Lion King but with Tyrannosaurus Rexes instead of lions, buuuut… I mean, it kind of is. The story sees young T-Rex Jarrett who isn’t as brave as his father, the leader of the dinosaurs in the valley. When a bad guy dinosaur named Fang (not Scar, darn it, but Fang!) usurps his father, Jarret flees the valley and has to learn to become brave so he can take on the new ruler of the valley. I mean… that sounds nothing at all like The Lion King. Still, if you have little kids at home who like dinosaurs, they’ll probably enjoy this movie quite a bit. It’s CGI animation that was clearly done on a budget, but since it looks similar to what you’d see in a mid-level video game’s cut scenes, it’s actually decent, especially for younger kids who aren’t necessarily looking for photorealism. I Am T-Rex is perfectly acceptable family entertainment, although I think only the kids will really enjoy it.
- Moko Jumbie – This film from 2017 (which has been released on home video once already) is described as a “gothic punk Caribbean love story,“ shot on location in the Caribbean. Effectively, the film is basically a star-crossed-lovers tale that doesn’t exactly reinvent the genre, but it does offer up a somewhat fresh take. Set in Trinidad, the film sees a young woman named Asha falling for her next door neighbor, Roger; unfortunately, they come from different cultures that do not see eye-to-eye. As their families clash and potentially supernatural elements based on Trinidadian legends get involved, Asha and Roger just want to find peace together. The film has a distinct visual feel that keeps it from being overly linear, which may or may not be a boon; it’s not personally my favorite style of filmmaking. That said, Moko Jumbie does feel like its own film and even though it treads some familiar ground, it doesn’t shy away from tough messages or political issues, all while keeping the relationship between the two main characters front and center. It won’t be for everyone, but I suspect the film will find its fans.
What’s New on Home Video – June 13th, 2023 – Renfield, Indiana Jones, Rain Man, Bonanza, Venture Bros, & More!
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