It’s a huge week this week, at least in terms of the level of releases we’re getting, with a number of bona fide box office smashes and cultural phenomena hitting shelves. Check out the release slate below! Also, I’ve launched a new review format this week, so drop us a line and let us know what you think! (Quick note: I was on vacation last week, so some of these titles might have streeted before this column was published, I’m just now catching up to them.)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie –
The Movie: Easily THE smash megahit of the year at the box office, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has been so successful that it’s clear this will be a franchise in theaters for years to come. Visually dazzling and packed with references to the dozens of Super Mario Bros. games we’ve grown up playing over the decades, the film was a hit with audiences both child and adult. Personally, I enjoyed the film overall; I don’t know that I think it’s quite as great as some people are making it out to be, but I had fun watching it and enjoyed a lot of the in-jokes. The casting of Chris Pratt and Charlie Day as Mario and Luigi, respectively, was top-notch and the inclusion of characters like Donkey Kong was an added treat as well. The film was action packed and looked spectacular, but personally I felt the script was a bit pedestrian. Obviously I’m in the minority on that as the movie took in over a billion dollars at the box office, but I also know there was a lot of ground to cover in this as a first film. Hopefully future sequels will be a little more robust.
The 4K Audio/Video: The Super Mario Bros. Movie comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and the 4K Ultra treatment is breathtaking. Colors are unbelievably vivid, and image clarity is so sharp it’s dazzling. The surround soundtrack is also a wonder, filling your speakers with discrete sound effects, atmospheric presence, and a booming low end. It’s a fantastic audiovisual presentation all around.
The Special Features: Not overloaded, but this “Power Up Edition” release gives you a making-of feature, a cast interview featurette, a Peaches Lyric video, and a few more things.
The Wrap-Up: I suspect nothing I say is going to matter much here, as this movie was a runaway hit and people loved it, but rest assured the home video release will not let you down.
Avatar & Avatar: The Way of Water (4K Ultra HD) –
The Movies: James Cameron’s home video releases never come without a little bit of drama. For example, both The Abyss and True Lies are not available on 4K Ultra HD yet (heck, The Abyss isn’t even available on Blu-ray!), and Avatar: The Way of the Water released on digital and streaming a few months ago with nary a word about a physical home video release. The original Avatar got a few Blu-ray releases back in the day but no 4K release when the sequel hit, which is a common practice for studios. So in other words… typical Cameron. However, when Disney is the financing behind your movies, you know it’s not going to be long before the biggest box office hit of 2022 hits home video. So this week we are treated to both the original Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water on 4K Ultra HD (both of which also include a Blu-ray disc plus a digital copy.) Avatar was, of course, the highest grossing movie of all time for several years, so I don’t think I have to say too much about that. But personally, I feel like Avatar: The Way of Water has been kind of… ignored. I know that sounds silly when the film made almost $700 million domestically and topped $2 billion worldwide, but it seems like a lot of people and critics sort of defaulted to summing the film as, “Great visuals, too long, the story was so-so,” and left it at that. Well, I’m here to present a different point of view — I am obsessed with Avatar: The Way of Water. Like, seriously, I love, love, love, love, LOVE it. I don’t think the film got nearly enough attention for just how amazing it is. Literally every single scene in this movie contains something you’ve never seen onscreen before, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. And maybe it’s because I’m a parent and this story focuses heavily on family, but I didn’t find the story lacking at all. I found it engaging and moving and exciting, and I was completely sucked into the film for its entire three-hour-plus running time.
The 4K Audio/Video: Not surprisingly, two of the most visually dazzling film in decades – created by a filmmaker who invents new technologies to make his movies – look and sound utterly incredible in 4K Ultra HD. It’s like you have been transported to Pandora watching the films, with colors that are incredibly vibrant that add to the depth of the images. Image clarity is razor sharp and black levels are deep and inky, and watching them in 4K is like being in the theaters all over again. The surround soundtracks take advantage of every speaker in your array, creating an immersive, in-depth aural experience that puts you in the forest or underwater in a way that you have to hear to believe. A top-notch effort for both films.
The Special Features: These discs are loaded. On Avatar, you get two brand-new extra features featuring the cast and crew retroactively discussing the making-of and success of Avatar, plus you get over two hours of making-of featurettes. Avatar: The Way of Water gives you a huge number of featurettes as well, totaling over three hours of material. The only thing missing is the alternate versions of Avatar that were available on one of the Special Edition Blu-ray releases, but I like the theatrical cut the best so I wasn’t crying over that.
The Wrap-Up: At this point, with how great both of these films are, I am ALL IN on the world of Avatar; it’s my new Star Wars, my new Lord of the Rings. Give me ALL the Avatar, James Cameron! All of it! I’m here for it, and at this point I cannot wait for the next films in the franchise to come out. if you haven’t seen the films yet or just want to revisit the world of Pandora because it is so freaking amazing, you don’t have to wait any longer.
Guy Richie’s The Covenant –
The Movie: When did Guy Ritchie become one of my favorite filmmakers? Between Wrath of Man and Operation Fortune (both starring Jason Statham) and now The Covenant, Ritchie has made three of my favorite movies of the past two years. Not that I ever hated him per se, but early in his career he was VERY hit or miss for me. The Covenant tells the story of American soldier John Kinley in Afghanistan during the post-9/11 military operations there. Working with a street smart interpreter named Ahmed, his entire squad is wiped out and he is gravely injured. Over the next couple of weeks, his interpreter risks his own life to carry him to safety through the mountains of Afghanistan, with Taliban forces getting ever closer and closer to finding them. When John gets back to the states, he learns that Ahmed was not given the visa for himself and his family that he was promised by the U.S. and is instead wanted by the Taliban and on the run. So John goes back to help him escape. Jake Gyllenhaal is – not surprisingly – excellent in the lead role, while Dar Salim is an absolute revelation as Ahmed, the interpreter. The two of them deliver powerhouse performances that fuel the film throughout. My only real complaint is that the last third of the film doesn’t quite live up to the intensity of the first two thirds, but that being said, I still really loved this movie overall.
The Special Features: I was a little surprised that this disc didn’t include a single extra feature. I would have really liked a making-of detailing the fantastic action sequences.
The Wrap-Up: A terrific action film overall, The Covenant is perfect for someone who wants a high-adrenaline, intense movie-watching experience.
The Pope’s Exorcist –
The Movie: It’s hard to make an exorcism movie these days that stands apart from the rest, because they really all just end up telling the same story, don’t they? So how do you set yours apart? Well, for one thing, you cast Russell Crowe, an A-list star. Then you amp it up with a solid budget and a strong script and you base it on a true story. And then…? Well, it ends up exactly like every other exorcism movie anyway. The Pope’s Exorcist is based on a real-life case of Father Gabriele Amorth, an Italian priest who worked for the pope directly and performed many of the Catholic Church’s exorcisms for nearly 30 years. In this case, an American family moves into an abandoned abbey in Spain and is quickly overtaken by a powerful demonic force, and only Father Amorth might be able to save them. The film is perfectly fine, and Crowe does bring some gravitas to the proceedings. But at the end of the day, it feels just like every other exorcism movie I’ve ever seen, so while it’s a relatively easy watch, there’s just nothing all that unique or interesting about it.
The Special Features: Two making-of featurettes is all that’s included own this one.
The Wrap-Up: If you like demonic possession movies, you’ll probably enjoy The Pope’s Exorcist, but don’t expect anything more than a well-acted, well-directed retread of familiar territory.
Insidious (4K Ultra HD Steelbook) –
The Movie: While Insidious did not launch the Conjuring shared film universe, it sure feels like it did, probably because James Wan directed both Insidious and The Conjuring, and writer Leigh Whannell and producer Oren Peli also have contributed to numerous horror franchises. (Patrick Wilson also stars in movies in both franchises, so there is a lot of cross-DNA.) But before The Conjuring, Insidious was a solid horror hit at the box office, spawning three sequels that were a series of diminishing returns. I liked the first Insidious a fair amount, with Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as parents whose young boy lapses into a coma after spending time in their clearly very haunted house, and the journey they go on to retrieve him from the devilish being that’s plaguing them. It’s ultimately nothing special, but it’s a fun horror romp.
The 4K Audio/Video: The film comes to 4K Ultra HD for the first time, and it comes in a Steelbook case that also includes a Blu-ray and a digital copy. Insidious isn’t the kind of movie that screams out for a 4K upgrade, but it does look and sound quite nice in ultra-high definition. Blacks are rich and deep, while shadow delineation especially excels, making the darker scenes even easier to see than ever. The surround soundtrack uses a lot of atmospheric effects to fill out the speaker channels, and a nice low end adds a lot of oomph to the proceedings.
The Special Features: There are three making-of features here which are decent, but nothing too special.
The Wrap-Up: It’s not a horror essential, but Insidious is a fun, spooky movie and this new package is the best version of it on home video yet.
Time Bandits (4K) –
The Movie: Let me preface this by saying that I think 12 Monkeys is an absolutely brilliant film. It’s one of my favorites of all time. I mention that film because I know Terry Gilliam has his die-hard fans, and outside of that one movie, I am not one of them. I can appreciate an oddball perspective like his in movies once in a while, but Gilliam usually skews so far outside of that realm that it’s too much for my tastes. So my take on Time Bandits, the cult classic ’80s film that follows a young boy traveling through time with a group of adventurous little people, might not be as rapturous as many fans’, as I know this is a cult classic that is well-loved by many people. However, I will say that as far as Terry Gilliam films go (at least ones that aren’t 12 Monkeys), it’s definitely one of his better ones. There’s a sense of fun to it that I can enjoy, and while it is odd, it’s not so far over the top that it gets to be truly bizarre. The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray and DVD several years ago, and now it returns to their line-up as one of their 4K Ultra HD releases. I like seeing Criterion tackle more audience-accessible movies than some of their usual extremely eclectic fare, and this is one of those titles.
The 4K Audio/Video: As this is a film from the 1980s, the 4K upgrade isn’t a huge one. You already had Criterion give the film a restored and remastered upgrade when they released it the first time, so we get a little more pop in the colors and a little more crispness to the imagery, but it’s not some huge A/V revolution. The surround soundtrack sounds largely the same as before, with clear dialogue and lush music, and some surround effects in the various speakers.
The Special Features: While they are all carried over from the previous release, this is typical Criterion greatness, offering viewers a commentary with Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock; as well as a documentary feature, an interview/comversation with Gilliam, a phot gallery, and more!
The Wrap-Up: For die-hard fans of this cult classic, you can never go wrong with the Criterion treatment, but this remains just an okay film for me personally.
The Tank (June 27) –
The Movie: It takes a lot to get me to like a horror movie these days. Not because I’m some horror snob (quite the opposite, actually; I can’t stand the so-called “elevated horror” genre that’s so popular nowadays), but because, quite frankly, there are very few films that do anything interesting, or that bother with a good script and good acting. So when I find one that impresses me, it’s always so refreshing. I was struck by the trailer for The Tank and couldn’t wait to watch it, but the end result is a little mixed. The story starts off — as so many of these films do — with a young couple, Ben and Jules, and their daughter Reia inheriting a home in remote Oregon. Moving in, they discover a large water tank outside that holds some mystery and perhaps a creature of some sort. I don’t want to give more away than that, but the film features some good performances and a nice atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s also really slow to start and takes a while to get to the good stuff. Once it does, despite its low budget, it’s pretty entertaining.
The Special Features: Not too much, but there are two making-of featurettes and a trailer included.
The Wrap-Up: An uneven but ultimately decent thriller, The Tank treads familiar ground but is worth watching if you don’t mind a little patience.
Kaiju Battles Vol. 1: Ultraman Vs. Red King (June 27) –
The Show: Mill Creek has been devotedly putting out Ultraman releases for the past few years, tackling many of the franchise’s most popular series and films in complete sets. Now, they’re dipping into a “greatest hits” style package with Kaiju Battles Vol. 1: Ultraman Vs. Red King. Red King is a kaiju that’s like a skull-laden version of Godzilla who went up against the various Ultramans in a number of different series. This new two-disc collection pulls all 16 episodes of any Ultraman series that featured Red King, meaning we get to see everything from 1960s uber-cheese to an animated version to slick 1990s Asian television versions. If you have all the other Ultraman releases Mill Creek has released, you probably don’t need this set, but seeing as how there’s a couple dozen of those releases, if Red King is a favorite of yours, this is still a cool way to get all of his appearances in one convenient space
The Special Features: The Blu-ray release includes a slipcover with gorgeous artwork from Marvel Comics’ Ultraman comic book, and it also includes a 12-page episode guide booklet inside, which I love. There are no other extra features, however.
The Wrap-Up: All in all, if you’re an Ultraman or Red King fan and you aren’t the completist who already owns every single home video collection, then this one is a no-brainer.
Radiance and Still The Water –
The Movies: Two films from acclaimed Japanese director Naomi Kawase are out on DVD this week: Radiance and Still the Water. Still the Water was a 2014 Cannes Film Festival Entry while Radiance was a 2017 Cannes Film Festival Entry. The films are being released simultaneously on home video, and it’s easy to see why, as they have a lot of connective spiritual tissue. Still the Water follows two teenagers, Kaito and Kyoto, as they come of age. What starts off seeming like it could be a mystery slowly morphs into a treatise on life and death and an exploration of different kinds of relationships. It’s a slow-burning film with some very interesting visuals, not all of which I loved. Radiance, meanwhile, explores the relationship between a visually impaired photographer and a woman who writes audio descriptions for movies. This is an arthouse film through and through, and as such it is quiet and delicate and soft. I haven’t seen any other films from Kawase personally besides these two, but it seems that this type of atmospheric drama is her stock in trade. Which is fine, it’s just not my personal cup of tea. I will say that the performances by the lead actors in both films are quite good, and Wasake is a sure hand behind the camera, she just doesn’t make the kind of movies I tend to go out of my way for.
The Special Features: Sadly, neither film includes any real special features.
The Wrap-Up: Wasake’s films are the kind of movies that will appeal to arthouse film fans but will struggle to find an audience in the mainstream, so be aware of what you’re getting as you go into them.
What’s New on Home Video – June 30th, 2023 – Super Mario Bros., Avatar, The Covenant, The Pope’s Exorcist, Insidious, Time Bandits, Ultraman, & More!
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