Well, this week sees a pretty awesome line-up of releases, depending on what you’re into. We’ve got a bona fide box office blockbuster, a well-liked superhero sequel, a popular pair of actresses co-starring (again!) and more Asian action cinema than you can shake a sword at. Read on for the full scoop!
Creed III – Michael B. Jordan added directing to his already full load of starring in nearly every single scene in Creed III, the third (and final?) offering in this offshoot of the Rocky franchise. In this outing, a face from Adonis Creed’s past resurfaces, someone with a chip on his shoulder and a mean right hook in the ring. Circumstances lead to Creed stepping back into the ring in a fight that echoes his father Apollo Creed’s publicity stunt from the very first Rocky film. As with the first two Creed films, the boxing takes a bit of a back seat to the characters and the drama, and that’s part of what makes these films so good. Honestly, I could have done with one or two more fights being sprinkled in, but the film is still very good. Jordan is an adept hand behind the camera, and both his and Jonathan Majors’ performances are terrific. If I’m being honest, Sylvester Stallone’s presence is missed from the film; I always enjoyed him working with Creed as coach/conscience; from a story perspective he wasn’t absolutely essential, but I missed him nonetheless. Still, overall, it’s a worthy entry in the franchise. Creed III comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as the other standard formats) and it is one of the prettiest discs I’ve yet popped into my 4K player. Colors in the fight scenes (with various stadium lighting, colored smoke, etc.) are absolutely eye-popping, while image clarity is astounding. The surround soundtrack also brings the excitement of the boxing arena into your living room with discrete surround activity and a punishing low-end bass channel. It’s a terrific A/V presentation of a movie that was a hit with audiences and will be with you, too.
Shazam: Fury of the Gods – While it underperformed at the box office, Shazam: Fury of the Gods is a fun sequel that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor’s greatness but is still absolutely worth a watch. The first Shazam was a terrifically fun superhero movie that worked for the whole family, and it was one of the first DC theatrical films that made me feel like the company was starting to move in the right direction. This sequel adds Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zeigler as a trio of gods out to restore their power and take over mankind and Earth itself. That leaves an outpowered Shazamily to take up the fight and try to save the world. If you remember the end of the first film, all of the kids in Billy Batson’s foster home got powers, so now we have a whole team of Shazam-powered heroes. And that’s really one of the only flaws with the film; there are so many characters to service between Billy/Shazam as well as each kid PLUS their super-powered alter-ego that it feels a bit cramped in places. For the most part, the humor from the first film is still there and the characters are still delightful, I just wish the movie had a little more time to breathe. Shazam: Fury of the Gods comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and once again, Warner Bros. has done a bang-up job with the A/V quality, giving us superheroic color saturation and crystal clear imagery as well as an outstanding surround soundtrack that doesn’t miss a lightning bolt, explosion, or dragon roar. While Shazam: Fury of the Gods probably won’t supplant the first film for anyone’s favorite in the series, it’s still a highly enjoyable sequel that’s worth watching.
The Jackie Chan Collection: Vol. 2, 1983 – 1993 – Shout Factory is making me a very happy man lately. A few months ago they brought us the terrific box set, The Jackie Chan Collection: Vol. 1, which collected six of the earliest films from one of the world’s most popular actors. Now, they’ve upped the ante with The Jackie Chan Collection: Vol. 2, 1983 – 1993, which gives us two more films than the previous collection. While these sets don’t feature every single film Chan has appeared in, they do include most of them, focusing on his most well-loved and successful movies. The eight movies included this time are: Winners And Sinners, Wheels On Meals, The Protector, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Armour Of God, Armour Of God II: Operation Condor, Crime Story, and City Hunter. Whereas the first set was made up almost entirely of far-in-the-past time period films, which was Chan’s stock in trade early in his career, this set sees most of the films taking place in the modern era, and here we start to get to some of my favorite Chan movies. Winners and Sinners, Lucky Stars, and Wheels on Meals were some of Chan’s biggest early hits and critical favorites; this is where he really started to become a superstar. Armour of God and Armour of God II (known as Operation Condor in the U.S.) see Jackie taking on an Indiana Jones-like adventurer role, while City Hunter is a fun outing that pays homage to the Street Fighter video game. In short, while there are a few ups and downs, by and large these are some of my favorite Jackie Chan movies. As with the previous volume, this set comes with a number of extra features for the Chan fanatic including new audio commentaries by either David West, critic and author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film or by veteran Hong Kong film critic James Mudge. Most of the films also include an additional interview or making-of featurette, and there are even more than on the previous set, probably because more making-of material was produced in the ‘80s and ‘90s than in the ‘70s. Several of the films also feature extended international cuts as well as the theatrical versions. The most significant extra feature, however, is a feature-length documentary called Break Neck Brilliance: A New Era of Jackie Chan and Skeleton Shattering Stunts. This 88-minute documentary focuses on Chan’s stunt work and the incredible feats he pulled off in his films, as well as the amazing stunt team that made it all possible. Frankly, this is one of the best box set collections I’ve seen in a long time and I loved every minute of it. Bring on Volume 3!!!
Moving On – I think Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have decided they just don’t want to work anymore unless they can work together. Between Grace & Frankie running for seven seasons, box office hit 80 For Brady, and now the new film Moving On, it seems like the pair just want to make movies and TV shows together. Which, luckily, works really well, as the pair are always great together. Moving On sees Tomlin and Fonda playing close friends who just lost one of their other friends. At the funeral, Fonda’s Claire threatens to kill her deceased friend’s husband, played by Malcolm McDowell, and it’s not just idle talk. There was an incident between the two years ago that reveals that McDowell’s Howard is not a nice guy. The rest of the movie veers between drama and comedy as Tomlin’s Evelyn tries to help Claire decide if she really wants to kill a man. On the surface the film looks like a comedy farce, but obviously it veers into dramatic territory that gives it some depth, although the script is not one of the strongest points of the film. Moving On is directed by Paul Weitz, who’s come a long way since American Pie put him on the map. What really makes the film worth watching are the performances by Fonda and Tomlin and the chemistry between the two, plus the supporting turns from McDowell and Richard Roundtree. While I don’t know that film is going to break out beyond its target audience, it’s an enjoyable enough movie that at least strives to do something different from the norm.
In The Line of Duty I-IV – 88 Films has spent the past several years putting their stamp on the Asian action cinema market on home video, and their latest release is another terrific effort. Now, I’ll try to keep this brief, but I had to do a lot of digging to understand this film franchise’s lineage, so I’ll try and explain it to you in short order. This is not really a four-film series. It is, instead, a thematically-related series of movies that – due to being released under various names in different parts of the world – have come to be known as the In the Line of Duty series. So, for example, the first two films are actually called Royal Warriors and Yes, Madam; both star Michelle Yeoh as a policewoman, but she is not the same character in both films. (In fact, Royal Warriors came out in 1986 while Yes, Madam came out in 1985, yet for some reason they are Parts 1 and 2 instead of the other way around.) Then you have In The Line of Duty III and IV, which both star Cynthia Khan, but again, they’re not directly related, just both films in which she plays a police officer taking down big criminals. Yes, Madam is largely considered the first film in the “Girls With Guns” genre, and each of these movies fits into that theme, although they are also packed with martial arts action as well. I really enjoyed this entire set, even though the films aren’t really a true franchise. Royal Warriors is hands down the best film in the set, but Yes, Madam does also feature American martial arts actor Cynthia Rothrock, while ITLOD IV sees a young Donnie Yen in the cast. The box set includes a handful of extra features, mostly interviews or featurettes, and then it also includes two posters and a very nice 100-page full-color book featuring interviews with various cast members. I always love 88 Films’ booklets; I just wish this one had offered up an essay explaining the lineage of the franchise. Still, if you want to see ferocious martial arts, explosive gun play, and some bona fide action cinema stars (plus a very young Michelle Yeoh!), this is a really fun set to dive into!
Go On: The Complete Series – Matthew Perry has been one of the busiest cast members of Friends since the iconic comedy ended, but you wouldn’t really know it unless you’re paying attention. He’s starred in a number of TV series that have been canceled after one season, and this week Mill Creek collects one of those series in its entirety with Go On: The Complete Series. This 2012 sitcom saw Perry playing a sportscaster who joins a support group after the death of his wife, only to find new connections with the quirky and unique group of people in the group. The cast also included Laura Benanti, John Cho, Brett Gelman, and Tyler James Williams, and honestly, the ensemble is really strong. I don’t remember watching Go On back in the day (it only ran for 22 episodes), but now that I’ve seen it, I’m actually a little disappointed it didn’t… well, go on. It’s not that the show was brilliant or anything, but Perry was terrific (and not just playing a variation on Chandler from Friends), the supporting characters were interesting, and I think the show had a lot of room to grow; it would have been great to see a new group member every season, which could have had some terrific casting opportunities. While it didn’t make it, you can pick up this DVD set for well under 20 bucks, and I’d say that’s money well spent.
Up, Down, Fragile – Cohen Media Group has been going heavy on the Jacques Rivette movies recently, with a number of Blu-rays of the acclaimed director’s films having hit shelves in the first half of 2023. This week we get the inaugural Blu-ray edition of Up, Down, Fragile, a 1995 comedy about three young women who are all at very different points in their lives. One has just woken up from a coma, one is starting a new life away from a violent ex, and one was an adopted child who is searching for her birth parents. There paths intertwine as the film progresses and their lives start to become connected, which allows the three lead actors to interact more and more. Speaking of, Nathalie Richard, Marianne Denicourt, and Laurence Cote are all terrific in the lead roles, and they carry the film. As usual with Rivette, the movie is too long, coming in just a shade under three hours, which taxed my attention span a bit. However, the film does offer up interesting characters, engaging plotlines, and strong performances to still come together nicely. Rivette is never the most linear filmmaker ever, so there’s a bit of an arthouse feel to the movie which may challenge some viewers (myself included,), but by and large it’s a strong effort from the French cinema and it even has a few musical numbers in it. Why not?