There are some interesting releases this week, including an award-nominee, a sci-fi thriller, some great catalogue titles, and more. Take a look at what’s on shelves this week!
Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson used to be a really exciting filmmaker. But somewhere along the line he became sort of like Wes Anderson, in that just like how Wes Anderson can now only make Wes Anderson movies, Paul Thomas Anderson can now only make Paul Thomas Anderson movies. It’s been a long while since I’ve enjoyed a PTA film, but I was hopeful when I saw the trailers for Licorice Pizza, which looked like it might have more fun and more life in it than his dour and dull outings like Phantom Thread and The Master. And even though the film garnered a bunch of Academy Award nominations (which is a perfect example of why I pay zero attention to the Oscars these days), I didn’t like Licorice Pizza at all. First off, the story is about the unlikely friendship-slash-possible-romance between a 25-year-old woman and a 15-year-old teenage boy in the 1970s. If the genders were reversed, this would be a movie about a pedophile, but since it’s the woman who’s older, I guess it’s supposed to be okay. But honestly, I couldn’t get it out of my mind the entire film. If the film was great, maybe I could have overlooked it. Instead, it’s basically two-plus-hours of older people manipulating younger people and younger people manipulating older people. And while we’re supposed to be rooting for these two main characters, they’re both quite unlikable and their relationship is utterly toxic. Plus, y’know… why is a 25-year-old girl hanging out with a 15-year-old boy? Ultimately, the film is basically just an endless number of scenes where Anderson was like, “You know what would be cool? Let’s have Bradley Cooper play Jon Peters on a coke bender!” and then just found a way to shoehorn it into this movie. As with all PTA movies, it’s well over two hours long, which is easily 40 minutes longer than it needed to be. I know this movie got a lot of critical acclaim and I’m sure there are people who will strongly disagree with my opinions, but I really didn’t like Licorice Pizza. Oh how I long for the Paul Thomas Anderson of Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood days.
Infinite – Premiering last year on Paramount+, the Mark Wahlberg starring action/sci-fi film Infinite finally makes its way to home video. The film sees Wahlberg as a seemingly average Joe who gets swept up in a race of immortal warriors fighting for the fate of the world. And on paper, the film should be fantastic. You’ve got a cool premise, you’ve got a reliable star in Wahlberg, and you’ve got a great foil for him in Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the film’s villain. Unfortunately, the film falls completely flat. It’s got lots of action and some great special effects, but the film is completely soulless. It feels like it was just made by committee by checking off tropes in popular blockbuster franchises and blending them all together. And sometimes that can be fun, but here, I found it surprising just how unenjoyable the film is. It’s easy to watch because it doesn’t slow down much, but you will never feel warm and fuzzy about it or connect with anything about it any way. If you want a similar story that’s told much better, check out Netflix’s The Old Guard. Sorry, Paramount. Infinite comes to home video on Blu-ray and DVD but also 4K Ultra HD, and the film looks astounding in the ultra high def format. If you have the capability (and the interest in a mediocre film), the 4K version is the one to get here. There are some great visuals in the film and they stand out in the new format. The surround soundtrack also offers up lots of nuanced directional sound in the various speakers to great effect. It’s a terrific A/V presentation, I just wish the film was better.
Beverly Hills Cop II (4K Ultra HD) – One of the biggest movie franchises of the 1980s, Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop movies have had no shortage of home video releases, but so far only the first movie had been released in 4K Ultra HD. This week, we get the second film making its debut on the premium format as well. Beverly Hills Cop II is one of the rare sequels from that era that is every bit as good as the first film. Nowadays, in the world of Marvel movies and the like, people expect sequels to be equal to if not better than the original film. But back in the ‘80s, sequels were usually a series of diminishing returns. BHCII is a cracking good action-comedy that rivals the first one on every level, and I love it. The 4K upgrade is a solid one, if not a transformative one. The film looks razor sharp and the darker scenes look better in Ultra HD, while the more saturated colors give the film a little extra oomph. The surround soundtrack is pretty sharp as well. You won’t mistake the film for being brand new, but I’ve watched this movie in every format that exists so far, and this is easily the best the film has looked and sounded yet. Definitely worth the pick-up for fans of the franchise, especially if you want to add it to your digital collection, since a digital copy is included.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (4K Ultra HD) – One of the great westerns of all time, and one of John Ford’s last great films, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance comes to 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Paramount Home Video. I’ll be honest, I had never seen the film before, but I’ve always wanted to. I mean, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in the same movie is enticing enough, but the film’s status as a bona fide classic had me really intrigued. Turns out, the film completely lives up the hype, with Stewart playing a straight arrow who runs afoul of the town outlaw and Wayne as the hero-type who’s not afraid of some gunplay. But the film is far from a conventional western, and even the identity of the title character is a mystery until the end of the film. I was thoroughly impressed by this one and I can see why it’s considered such a classic. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance makes its debut on Blu-ray this week, and the 4K upgrade is a worthwhile one. Not only is imagery razor sharp, but the deeply saturated blacks really give the film a vibrancy it’s never had before, plus the better shadow delineation helps keep the action in darker scenes more visible. The film is black-and-white, so color saturation isn’t a factor, but the nuanced grey tones and contrasts give the film a real oomph. The print is also exceptionally clean, with nary a scratch or a speck to be found. Frankly, it’s stunning. Plus, you get a digital copy of the film, so even if you already own it on DVD or Blu-ray, this is an upgrade that fans will want to make.
Succession: The Complete Third Season – Boy, Succession is really starting to become a pop culture juggernaut. I’ve seen it referenced in other TV shows and movies, which is when you know it’s really taken on a life of its own. HBO rarely makes out-and-out bad television, so it’s not really a surprise, but I wish I could get into the show more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very well-made show, with great acting and strong writing. The show follows a Rupert Murdoch-like corporate magnate and his children who are in varying degrees of jockeying for his power when he passes away. While the cast is terrific (featuring Brian Cox, Sanaa Lathan, Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin, and Sarah Snook) it’s hard for me to really find much common ground with characters who are so rich they can’t even count their money. This show is like an HBO version of Dynasty, which there clearly is an audience for, I’m just not it. Still, for fans or for people who don’t subscribe to HBO, having the next season available on home video is sure to make a lot of people happy.
Belle – This new anime film plays out a little bit like a cross between Beauty and the Beast and Ready Player One. In a world where an online platform has become where everyone hangs out (but not quite full on reality like in RP1), a shy girl named Suzu accidentally becomes a worldwide phenomenon as Belle, a singing powerhouse that captures the world’s attention. She meets a “beast” in the virtual world and begins to suspect that they might need help in the real world. I was excited to watch Belle because the trailer was extremely impressive, and there’s no denying that it’s some of the best animation I’ve seen in recent years. The story is good as well, with several plot points that are surprisingly heavy and representative of real-world issues. But it also runs over two hours, which is way too long, and it lost my interest at a few points. I liked the movie overall, but I think being a good half hour shorter would have made it an absolute powerhouse. Still, there’s a lot to like and I can definitely see this being a movie that anime fans will flock to.
Also Available This Week on Home Video –
- Outside the Law – You know, for people outside of France and Algeria, I think unless you’re a history buff, your knowledge of the Algerian struggle for independence from France after World War II is minimal, if it exists at all. But it was absolutely a very big deal in the history of Europe, especially if the number of movies made about it is any indication. This 2010 film from Europe tells the story of three Algerian brothers throughout the conflict and shows what individual people went through in the battle for independence. It was directed by Rachid Bouchareb, an Algerian director who has received no small amount of critical acclaim for his filmography, and it’s easy to see why. The film is powerful and well-acted, and also includes some very strong action scenes. As seems to be a theme with this week’s column, it’s a touch on the long side at 2 hours and 18 minutes, but at least this movie earns it by telling a story of a family, a war, and decades worth of events. While this might not be a part of history that everyone reading this is familiar with, the film itself is definitely worth watching.
- Two Men In Town – Also from director Rachid Bouchareb (and also from Cohen Media Group, who also released Outside The Law), this 2014 movie starring Forest Whitaker, Brand Blethyn and Harvey Keitel also makes its way to Blu-ray this week. A loose remake of a 1974 French film starring Alain Delon, the update sees Whitaker as a former convict who is released and strikes up a friendship of sorts with his parole officer (Blethyn). Keitel comes along as the sheriff whose deputy was murdered by Whitaker, and who can’t let the past go, despite Whitaker’s conversion to Islam and his plan to make amends and live a peaceful life. It’s a slow burn drama that benefits greatly from some excellent performances, most especially from Brenda Blethyn, who is utterly fantastic in every scene. It’s not a complete home run, but if you’re in the mood for something more thoughtful with some commentary on society and race relations, but that is also extremely well-acted, this will fit the bill.
- Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2 – VCI Entertainment is really trying to market Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2’s home video release as a major entertainment event. And I get it; the original DNOTS film was a TV-movie that was a ratings hit when it aired in 1981. It starred Larry Drake, Charles Durning, and Lane Smith and was pretty much the first horror film to feature a scarecrow as the monster. And while DNOTS2 is an actual sequel to the original film, it was made last year and features no actors from the original film (sadly because most of them have passed away.) However, rather than just using the name, the film does actually take place in the same locale as the original and tries to tie in where it can. It’s a low-budget affair and it’s not terribly scary, but honestly its heart is in the right place and it’s better than some other low-budget horror flicks I’ve seen lately, Just know you’re not getting a big-deal horror movie here and you will probably find it enjoyable enough for what it is.
- Mutant Blast – Troma fans, rejoice! Mutant Blast is the latest Troma film, which means you know what you’re going to get: cheese, cheese, and more cheese (but fun cheese!) While the film was made in 2018, this new Blu-ray seems to be its inaugural release on home video. The film sees a trio of misfits (a female soldier, a man with enhanced strength, and… Pedro, a drunk slacker) on the run from the military during a zombie apocalypse. And that sounds like a fairly straightforward plot synopsis, but Mutant Blast is anything but straightforward. It’s like director Fernando Alle took every off-the-wall, crazy B-movie he’s ever seen and threw them in a blender and hit ‘puree.’ The film is full of crazy fun moments, and it’s a chaotically fun schlock experience. You can’t watch it looking for serious cinematic intent, but if you just want some goofy fun with zombies and mutants, you’ve come to the right place.