Things return to normal a bit this week with a solid number of releases, and while there’s just one big marquee A-list theatrical release dropping this week, there is also a wide variety of titles from action to animation to thrillers to cult classics; a little something for everyone. Check it out!
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania – I cut Marvel a lot of slack in their post-Avengers Phase 4 film slate, as I know they built up to the incredible finale that was Avengers: Endgame and now have to find a way to continue to deliver films audiences will want to see. But maybe they should slow down just a little bit, so they can reset a bit more and make sure they’re not churning out films just to have a presence in theaters. I’m a huge fan of the first two Ant-Man films, and honestly I found Quantumania a massive disappointment. It’s not that it’s a terrible film per se, it just does a lot of things I don’t like. For example, at the end of Ant-Man 2 (mild spoilers ahead), we get Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne back in the real world and the whole family back together. Great. We barely get a chance to breathe in Quantumania before they are all sucked into the microverse and splintered into smaller groups, denying us a chance to see any kind of group or family dynamic. They’re all off on their own little side quests – none of which are all that interesting – and it’s effectively now a Star Wars-like movie filled with crazy creatures and aliens. What I loved about the first two Ant-Man films is that they were much more grounded in less universe-shattering events, a nice counterpoint to the hugeness of the Avengers films. But apparently Marvel felt the need to fill that hole, and Ant-Man and his crew aren’t really diverse enough from a super-powers standpoint to make that as interesting as it needs to be. There are fun moments in the film and the cast is terrific as always, but overall I found Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania a let-down for sure.
All Quiet on the Western Front – While there was a limited edition 4K/Blu-ray release for All Quiet on the Western Front a couple of months ago, this new edition marks the film’s initial Blu-ray-only debut in wide release. 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. 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.
Max Fleischer’s Superman: 1941-1943 – It’s amazing to think that the Fleischer Superman cartoons were made just a few years after Superman debuted to the world in Action Comics #1. His first ever appearance was in 1938, and these cartoons debuted just a few short years later, in 1941. Most fans are familiar with the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons by now; they were a series of technicolor animated theatrical shorts, 17 in total. Max and Dave Fleischer actually only produced and animated the first nine, while Famous Studios finished the remaining eight in 1942, but they are usually grouped together (and there’s little difference in quality between the two series.) Widely considered not only some of the best Superman adaptations but also some of the finest work from the early years of classic Hollywood animation, these 17 cartoons each run about 10 minutes, and while they’re not super-deep on plot or character development, as pure Superman action adventures they are outstanding, boasting some truly groundbreaking and beautiful animation. Now, the Fleischer cartoons have been collected on home video before, but this new Blu-ray release (part of Warners’ 100th anniversary celebration) has seen each and every short completely remastered and restored from the ground up, presenting them in higher quality than we’ve ever seen them before, which is a fitting way to capture these influential works. There are three additional featurettes as extra features, two from previous releases and one new one that focuses on the restoration of the shorts. I love these shorts personally, and I’m glad to see them well-preserved for future generations.
Miami Vice – Michael Mann’s Miami Vice was never quite the box office smash the studios were hoping for, but it seems to be a film that stays relevant due largely to Mann’s filmography being limited to a new film only once every handful of years. Now, Mill Creek – who specializes in budget and/or collectible releases of catalogue favorites – has a nice new version of the 2006 film out on Blu-ray. This time around, it’s a Wal-Mart exclusive that comes in a very stylish Steelbook case; while there’s no new content on the disc, Steelbook collectors are an avid group and this one will definitely appeal to them. As for the film itself, it stars Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as the iconic Crockett and Tubbs, and sees the duo’s undercover lives bleed into their personal lives, causing no small amount of mayhem. I was never a big fan of the film when it originally came out, largely because Michael Mann films sometimes leave me cold. He’s obviously an excellent technical director, but I find the grim humorlessness of his movies sometimes off-putting, especially for something like Miami Vice which always took itself seriously but was also a lot of fun. Revisiting the film for the first time since it came out, I found it more enjoyable this time; perhaps because my expectations were lowered, maybe it’s just held up well with age. Either way, I found it a solid action film with some charismatic leads and terrific supporting actors. You might find it worth a revisit, as well. If you’d like to do so while adding to your Steelbook collection, this new Mill Creek version is currently a Wal-Mart exclusive.
Targets – I’ve learned that it’s generally a good idea not to question the Criterion Collection with the selections they make for inclusion in their prestigious library. When I saw that Targets — despite being Peter Bogdanovich’s debut film – was produced by Roger Corman (the B-movie king!), I was more than a little surprised. Bogdanovich, known for movies like The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc?, and Paper Moon, of course had to get his start somewhere, and the list of great filmmakers who got their start with Corman is long. Still, you don’t see a lot of Corman-related film’s in the Criterion Collection. However, what surprised me the most is just how good of a film Targets is. The movie follows two separate storylines that eventually converge: one sees Boris Karloff (in a slightly meta role) as an aging actor known for horror movies who is tired of not being taken seriously; the other storyline finds a young man who goes on a shooting spree, killing people for no discernible reason. There were so many things I liked about the movie, most especially Karloff’s fantastic performance, plus the tension that fills the killing scenes. It’s also an oddly timely film, despite having come out in 1968; a seemingly normal young white male easily buys a bunch of guns and kills lots of people for no reason – it’s not hard to see parallels to today’s society there. As per usual with any Criterion home video release, the film has ben restored and remastered and it looks absolutely astounding. The transfer looks gorgeous, with razor sharp imagery, lifelike colors, and not a hint of any dust, debris, film scratches, or any imperfections in the print. I have no idea how Criterion made a film from 1968 look brand new, but it’s quite impressive. Targets is not a well-known film, but I found it incredibly impressive and it is definitely worth tracking down.
Righteous Thieves – While made up of largely unknow actors, the cast of Righteous Thieves gives this new heist film their all, with slightly mixed results. The film sees a thief named Annabel putting together a crew to steal four famous paintings from a neo-Nazi (as the paintings themselves, all by the masters, were originally stolen by the Nazis to begin with.) Of course, nothing goes according to plan, and our crew end up going against a formidable foe who’s determined to keep his prized possessions. So far, so good. The problem comes with the filmmaking itself; the script is clunky in several places and the directing is rather pedestrian, meaning what should be a high-adrenaline thrill ride often feels just… flat. The cast gives it their all and tries to imbue the cookie-cutter characters with some personality, but it’s not enough to save the movie. That said, it’s also not un-entertaining. I think if you go in with low expectations, you’ll find it a decent way to kill 90 minutes. If you go in looking for anything exceptional, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Young Ip Man – Donnie Yen may have retired from the Ip Man film franchise, but it’s been so popular that Asian Hollywood clearly has no plans to let the franchise go gently into the good night. The first four films were loosely based on the life of a real martial arts grandmaster, most famous for having trained Bruce Lee. Now we have Young Ip Man, which serves as a prequel to the original quadrilogy of films. This time around, Zhao Wenhao takes over the lead role, and the film takes place in 1917, with Ip Man being a college student. When an escaped convict takes the school and students hostage and starts killing people, our young hero has to step up and take action. Did this happen in real life? I highly doubt it, but it seems as if the erstwhile grandmaster has become more character or legend than real-life figure now, at least as far as cinema is concerned. The film is solidly enjoyable, even if it falls far short of being great. With a 70-minute running time, there isn’t a lot of time for the film to slow down, and that’s a good thing, especially since the script doesn’t do the movie any favors. If you’re a fan of the franchise, this one is worth a watch, but it’s not one of the best of the series.
Also Available This Week on Home Video –
- In The Cut – Meg Ryan (remember her?) and Mark Ruffalo (before he was a big name) star in this disjointed murder mystery from way back in 2003. Mill Creek continues to take movies that fall in the “I’ve heard of them but they weren’t huge hits” category and give them new re-releases, meaning we have a new Blu-ray edition of In The Cut, which features an Unrated Director’s Cut of the film. The story sees a body part of a murdered young woman found in the garden outside of Ryan’s character’s apartment; Ruffalo is the investigating police officer, and as they fall into an affair, signs seem to point to Ruffalo possibly being the killer. The film was directed and co-written by Jane Campion, and while she is an acclaimed director, it seems like she was trying a lot of experimental approaches in this movie, and the end result is a film that feels overly edited, too dark, and visually overwrought. I think In The Cut would have benefitted from a more traditional filmmaking aesthetic, as the visual flourishes Campion introduces are, honestly, distracting. I don’t know that it would have made the movie great, but it might have been at least better.
- One Day As A Lion – Hawaii Five-O’s Scott Caan wrote and stars in One Day as a Lion, an oddly convoluted direct-to-video action/drama film. The film sees Caan playing an assassin who is out to kill a guy who owes his boss money, but said guy is played by J.K. Simmons, so you know he’s not going down easy. Then Caan takes a waitress hostage but she in turn cooks up a scheme how to get a bunch of money from her dying mother. And at some point, all these elements tie together. Caan may not be the most gifted screenwriter ever, but he does offer up some snappy dialogue here and there, and he makes sure each character gets a spotlight scene, which speaks to his career as an actor influencing his screenwriting process (and I mean that in a good way.) One Day as a Lion is a solidly decent film; it’s not great, it’s not bad, but it’s an easy film to throw on late at night when you just want something on the TV.
- Samurai Wolf 1 & 2 – Film Movement brings us a nice Blu-ray double feature of two Asian action films (one of three Asian action film releases this week!) with this collection featuring Samurai Wolf and its sequel, Samurai Wolf 2. This pair of films is directed by the acclaimed director Hideo Gosha, who took Japanese samurai films and married them with western genre sensibilities. In the movies, Isao Natsuyagi stars as a roving samurai named Kiba who keeps finding himself tangled up in conflicts. In the first one, he takes on highway robbers which leads him into a much bigger conspiracy, while in the second one, he goes up against a crooked businessman and a rival swordsman. Now, the films are from 1967 and 1968, so they are in black-and-white (although they feature stunning cinematography) and they may not be to every modern viewer’s tastes. However, if you like classic Asian cinema, think of Gosha’s films as a cross between the legendary Akira Kurosawa and modern cinema’s Quentin Tarantino. Also, I applaud Film Movement for making this a double feature right off the bat and not making us chase down two separate releases.
- Violent Streets – Also from Film Movement this week is the Blu-ray debut of Violent Streets, another film from Hideo Gosha. This one turns in the Samurai trappings to traffic instead in the world of the Yakuza (or Japanese mafia) of the 1970s. This film sees a retired Yakuza boss finding himself drawn into a conflict between two rival Yakuza factions. The main character, Egawa, is played by Noburu Ando, an actor who apparently was involved in the Yakuza earlier in his life before leaving it behind and pursuing acting. As such, his performance does bring a sort of raw authenticity to the proceedings that adds to the grittiness of the film. Violent Streets is aptly named, as the movie is action-packed and violent, and Gosha isn’t shy about diving into the Japanese underworld without pulling any punches. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s certainly a seminal film in the genre. Picking up Violent Streets with Samurai Wolf 1 & 2 would make for a great trilogy of Asian action movies to power through a weekend with.
- Sweetheart – This British coming-of-age dramedy sees a teenage girl named AJ who is gay stuck going on a summer beach vacation with her heteronormative family – who clearly don’t get her. But when she falls for a lifeguard named Isla, her vacation suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. As written and directed by Marley Morrison, the film doesn’t break any new ground… but it’s also clearly not trying to. We’ve seen a lot of this before in various other rom-coms and teen-driven films, but the performances by Nell Barlow and Ella-Rae Smith are winning and charming, and the script is strong enough to capture the family dynamics of a modern family with mixed orientations and the angst that comes with their interactions on a daily basis, especially on a family vacation. It’s a simple yet enjoyable film, and if you’re looking for something a little bit different, Sweetheart might fit the bill.