There are a lot of great releases out this week, with something for everyone, plus a strong independent slate. Read on to find something that tickles your fancy!
John Wick Stashbook Collection – With John Wick: Chapter 4 just out in theaters and tearing up the box office, it was the perfect time for Lionsgate to unleash the John Wick Stashbook Collection, a massive six-disc box set that gives you each of the first three films on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, all packaged in an intricate box that includes three steelbook cases, and packaging that is designed to look like it came from the world of The Table. In John Wick, Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a former mob legend/hitman who goes straight for the love of a woman. When his wife dies and his dog is murdered by a gang of mobbed-up thugs, he unleashes hell on the underworld. With gunfights, explosions, fisticuffs, martial arts, and car chases, the film is down and dirty action the way it used to be, not overly laden with CGI or wire work. Now, for the sequel, I have to admit I was a little disappointed in John Wick 2. For the most part, despite some neat additions to the mythos of John Wick’s world (expanding on the hotel concept from the first film), it sadly resorts to nothing but endless gun battles to carry the majority of the action. So much so that it gets kind of boring: head shot after head shot after head shot. There’s even a part of the film where John Wick has to get across the city with just one gun with seven bullets in it, and you think: Oh man, this is gonna be good! Until he shoots a bad guy, picks up his gun, and just carries on with seemingly unlimited ammo. Sigh. It’s not a bad movie, but it does cause fatigue and I was a little disappointed in it. I was nervous that John Wick 3 would be more of the same, but it was a real return to form for the series. Still ultra-violent, yes, but the film continued to build the John Wick universe mythology, while crafting action sequences that use multiple weapons, clever choreography, and a sense of fun to equal or surpass the excitement of the first film. In fact, the first major fight sequence of the film (in the antiques-type store) is one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen this decade. All three John Wick films are provided in this box set in 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray) and they absolutely sparkle in the premium format. The surround soundtracks are stunning, putting you right in the middle of the action, which is a must for films like these. The crystal clear picture quality is amazing and the contrasts are sharper than ever, which really works to make sure that the numerous darker scenes never obscure the on-screen action. It’s a fantastic presentation all around, and even if you already own the films, this sweet box set is worth the upgrade.
All Quiet on the Western Front – There are some films that can do a lot of things right and still for some reason just not resonate with you on any level. That was the case for me with All Quiet on the Western Front, the Academy Award-winning German film that debuted on Netflix last year and became a critical and awards darling, I can absolutely recognize that the film is exceptionally well made, with incredible cinematography and some harrowing action sequences. But if I’m being honest, I really didn’t like it at all. It’s a very bleak film that didn’t get me invested in the characters (the ones I could tell apart, that is; I very quickly lost track of who was who as they were all in identical uniforms and covered in mud and blood for most of the film), and the action was so brutal and bloody that it was unpleasant to watch. And I get that that is on purpose, as the film is trying to convey the horrors of war, but much like the issue I had with Hacksaw Ridge, there’s a fine line between realism and just showing way too much, and this film crossed that line for me. And I can see how the ultra-modern sounding soundtrack was innovative, but it took me out of the movie, personally. All Quiet on the Western Front comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) in a beautiful hardcover digibook packaging, and the 4K format treats it well. Image clarity is incredibly sharp, contrasts are strong, shadow delineation is excellent, and colors – while muted as a stylistic choice – still manage to feel bold and lifelike. The surround soundtrack also brings the war right to your living room, utilizing all the channels excellently. While I didn’t personally care for the movie, I know I’m in the minority on that and this is an excellent presentation of the film if you want to watch it.
Plane – Gerard Butler and Mike Colter star in this high-octane action film that checked off every box I wanted it to. Butler plays a commercial air pilot whose plane is forced to crash land on an island that is populated by modern day pirates and gangsters. Colter plays the prisoner on board the plane who is being transported when it crashes. Together, the two of them have to help the passengers and crew survive the bad guys on the island who want to hold them for ransom. It’s not a complicated film, but I absolutely loved it. It gets right to the action, with a little bit of a disaster film component to it before moving into more familiar Die Hard-esque territory. Butler is his usual growly self, but he does it so well that it instantly feels familiar and comfortable. The film zips along with action set piece after action set piece and it never slows down, yet manages to give us just enough character development to care at least a little about our main characters. Honestly, it reminds me a lot of ‘90s action thrillers, and since that’s probably my favorite genre of movie, I was all in on Plane. Give it a watch and just have fun with it, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham – I know I tend to be hit or miss with the DC Universe Animated movies, but for the most part I enjoy many of them on one level or another; some I just find more exciting than others. Then there’s Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham. Based on an original comic book miniseries by Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy) and Richard Pace, this Elseworlds-style tale brings the world of Lovecraftian horror to Gotham City. Set in the 1920s in an alternate Gotham City, this time around we get to see Batman fighting large Cthulhu-esque demon monsters with names like Iog-Sotha and the like. Now, I’ve never been able to get into Lovecraftian horror, and even though I know it’s popular it’s just never been my thing and I doubt it will ever become my thing. For me particularly, I found this entry into the DC Animated Universe a slog. I think people who like the original comics or the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft will probably enjoy it just fine, but I didn’t like it at all. It’s not a poorly-made film, and I did enjoy some of the alternate takes on characters like Green Arrow and Talia Al Ghul, so I think a lot of fans will enjoy it, it just wasn’t for me.
The Walking Dead: The Complete Eleventh Season – I know that a lot of people fell off of the Walking Dead train long before it wrapped up with the final season, and I can understand why, since I am one of them. I checked out of the show around the second half of Season 9, but I always was enough of a fan to want to check back in when the show hit home video. Now, the original flagship series has come to an end, and this new Blu-ray (also on DVD) set collects the final 24 episodes to finish out your collection. But while the show does tie up some loose ends, it doesn’t really feel like an ending, especially since AMC has already announced not one, not two, but THREE spin-off shows: one featuring Rick & Michonne, one featuring Maggie & Negan, and one featuring Daryl Dixon. So it’s really more like the main show is just splintering into three new shows rather than actually coming to an end. Still, Season 11, while far from the heights of the show’s glory days, had some nice moments, and even though it probably could have been a few episodes shorter, if you’re still a fan I think you got a lot of what you wanted out of it. Now we’ll just have to see what the future holds in the upcoming series over the next couple of years.
Dragonslayer (4K Ultra HD) – I love when cult classics make the leap to higher-quality formats on home video. It’s not all about the blockbusters, baby! This week, Paramount brings us a 4K Ultra HD release of Dragonslayer, the 1981 cult fantasy epic that features Peter McNicol and, well, a huge dragon. In it, MacNicol plays a young sorcerer’s apprentice who travels to a neighboring land to slay a dragon that is terrorizing the countryside. Along the way, he picks up a fellow traveler and eventually, they must confront the dragon. Now, admittedly, this is a film from the very dawn of the 1980s and so the special effects are dated, but they’re still pretty cool because they were done by ILM (the premiere name in special effects) and there are a lot of great practical effects as this was before the advent of CGI. This new release sees the movie on 4K Ultra HD for the first time, and while it doesn’t look brand new, it is a nice visual and audio upgrade in the 4K format. Colors are a little bit brighter (although it’s a dark and grungy movie overall) and shadow delineation is much improved, while the overall image clarity is the best it’s ever been on home video. The Dolby Atmos surround soundtrack is surprisingly effective, offering up lots of rear channel utilization and a powerful low-end. This release also includes a lovely five-part making-of documentary that runs about an hour total. In short, it’s a terrific release for fans of a fun cult classic fantasy movie.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Series – I’ve been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since their early days as a black-and-white comic book (aimed at adults), and I’ve never let go of that fandom. But that fandom has its ups and downs. The first 1990 movie is an absolute classic, while the sequels are varying degrees of okay. I haven’t really loved all of the past iterations on TV, and the current run of comic books from IDW have been a real let down for me. So I’ve just mostly been waiting for the next reinvention to come along and — hopefully — get the Turtles right. Well, a few years back, Nickelodeon did just that. The eponymously-named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles CGI-animated series was the best version of the Turtles I’ve seen since the very beginning. It managed to find inspiration in the original comic books, infuse some flavor of the original cartoon, capture some of the feel of the movies, and even give it a bit of a video game flavor. It took all of the best and various versions of the Turtles and mashed them up into one utterly terrific show, packed with action and filled with humor. Now, for the first time ever, the entire series – all 124 episodes – have been collected into a chunky box set. That’s five seasons – 40+ hours! – on 20 discs, and it’s a thing of beauty. Everything about this show works, and it’s perfect for both kids and adult Turtles aficionados alike. I LOVE THIS SHOW!
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Code of the Assassins – This week’s requisite Asian action movie comes in the form of the offbeat thrill ride Code of the Assassins, which gives us a protagonist with a mechanical arm, even though the film is set in the far past. The story has to do with a clan of assassins, hidden plots, treasure, and betrayals, and I’m keeping that description purposefully vague because it gets so confusing at times that I’m not sure exactly what was happening throughout the film. But in a movie like this, the plot is clearly secondary to the over-the-top action, which is fast-paced and frenetic. There’s a sense of unreality to the whole film, but that’s clearly a part of the story and the aesthetic, so it works. Could I follow the whole plot? No. Could I tell all the characters apart once things got crazy? No. Did I care? Well, maybe a little, but only a little. The film has a lot of flaws, but at the end you just sit back and marvel at the sleek-looking chaos unfolding on screen and you’re ultimately okay with all of the problems. Not a perfect action film, but not a boring one, either!
- Legend of Gatotkaca – This week, we also get another Asian action release, this time from Indonesia, in the form of Legend of Gatotkaca. This film is more of an adventure movie than a straight-up action flick, and it kind of feels like a Young Adult novel brought to life. The story sees a college student named Yuda whose friend is murdered by an assassin, thrusting Yuda into a world of superhero-like powers and a mysterious past that he must come to grips with. It’s an interesting film; on the one hand, I like the general storyline and the kind of fantasy hero-esque origin story. On the other hand, the film kind of bogs down in places, and the action is solid but not spectacular. It’s a diverting enough film, but it falls short of really sucking you in and getting you fully engaged. It’s worth a watch for something with a different flavor from American films, but I doubt it will blow anyone away.
- Secret Defense – This French film from 1998 makes its Blu-ray debut this week courtesy of Cohen Media Group, which specializes in bringing foreign cinema to high quality home video releases. In this movie, Sandrinne Bonnaire plays a scientist who finds out that her father may have been murdered, and sets out to get revenge on the person who did it. What sounds like maybe just another cheesy thriller is actually a very different movie in the hands of director Jacques Rivette, a mainstay of French cinema. Rivette is less concerned with the act of vengeance itself and more so with the effects on the people involved. The end result is a near-three-hour film that is much more emotionally layered than a typical revenge movie. It’s also much longer than a typical revenge movie, and that works against it for me. This movie was too long by an hour, and I found my interest in it waning at times, despite strong performances and some interesting moments. However, French cinema fans will find a lot to like here, and Rivette does know how to make a film that’s more complex than it seems on the surface.
- Let it Be Morning – Also from Cohen Media Group this week is Let it Be Morning, a 2021 film from Israel by acclaimed director Eran Kolirin. The film sees an Arab-Israeli family effectively stuck at a wedding after it’s over, once Israeli army forces block the only road out of town. Then, the waiting begins, and as the characters are stuck in place, we learn more about them as well as pick up on some commentary about current political temperatures in that part of the world. I’ll be honest, I think if I had a better grasp of that situation I might have understood the subtext a little more, but at its heart, the film is an ensemble dramedy about family and about being stuck in place. It’s a little slow in the beginning and I think it runs a little too long, but it’s not a bad film overall. People interested in the subject matter or fans of the growing Israeli cinema scene would do well to check it out.
- Blue Thermal – One of this week’s requisite anime releases is Blue Thermal, which is one of the more slice-of-life kind of animes, rather than the more typical ones that focus on fantasy or sci-fi elements. This one sees college student Tamaki who ends up in the school’s aviation club after some troubling events that cause her problems. She begins to take to flying and gliding and even starts training to compete, which leads her up against her estranged half-sister. Apparently it’s based on a popular manga, although I’ve never read it so I can’t compare the two. I found Blue Thermal a little on the mediocre side; the animation is nice but nothing extraordinary, and the story is fine but I never really got wrapped up in it. It’s enjoyable enough for what it is, but as someone who’s only a casual anime fan, it didn’t really get me excited.
- Deemo: Memorial Keys – This week’s other anime release is a more traditional kind of anime, delving into a fantastical world with mystical elements. Deemo lives by himself in a lonely castle and plays the piano when one day a girl falls from the sky (as happens often, naturally) and has no memory of who she is. Deemo takes care of her and plays the piano, which causes a tree to grow taller and taller, which might help this girl get back to her world. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it does make some narrative sense when you’re watching it. The film is fantastical in nature so you kind of have to just go with it, and while it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I can see how anime fans will dig it. It’s certainly got a unique vibe to it, and that I can respect.
What’s New on Home Video – March 28th, 2023 – John Wick, All Quiet, Batman, Plane, Ninja Turtles, & More!
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