This week doesn’t see a lot of new theatrical releases hitting home video, but there are some excellent catalog releases and a few terrific box sets hitting shelves. Read on for the full scoop!
First things first, there are minor spoilers to follow; if you know nothing about The Invitation, skip about two sentences ahead so you won’t have any plot points spoiled for you. This new horror film stars Nathalie Emmanuel as a young woman who discovers she has family in England, and wealthy family at that. When she goes over to visit them for a wedding, she begins to fall for the mysterious – and very handsome – lord of the manor she’s staying at (they’re not related, so it’s okay.) Only, it turns out there might be a catch to her invitation after all. I don’t want to give anything away but let me just say that this film definitely fits into a particular genre of horror films and it’s not ghosts or werewolves or zombies. Okay, I guess I managed to keep that relatively spoiler free for the most part, but The film is kind of a mixed-results effort. On the one hand, the story plays out slowly, giving us time to get to know the characters and build up to the events where things start to really unfold. Also, Nathalie Emmanuel is one of my favorite young actresses working today (you’ll know her from the last few Fast & Furious films, Game of Thrones, and the recent Netflix movie Army of Thieves), and she is utterly fantastic in the lead role, at times feisty, uncertain, romantic, intelligent, and kick-ass. But the script has some issues, there are definite moments of “why is this character doing that??”, and occasionally the film feels a bit silly. Overall, I found it enjoyable enough, but it’s close to that line of being forgettable once you’re done watching it.
Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 3:
Columbia drops the third volume of a massive box series this week that will please cinema fans immensely: The Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 3. This multi-disc beauty that includes new 4K Ultra HD versions of six classic films from the Columbia vaults, all making their 4K debuts. The films included are: It Happened One Night, From Here to Eternity, To Sir With Love, The Last Picture Show, Annie, and As Good As It Gets. The set includes a brand new 4K Ultra HD disc for each film but also includes each film on Blu-ray, ensuring that all of the original extra features are included in this set. Each film has been restored and remastered in the Ultra HD format, and despite the age range of the films, by and large each one has been wonderfully revitalized in the new format. It Happened One Night, for example, looks better than I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve seen the film on both DVD and Blu-ray previously. Annie and As Good As It Gets both sparkles with bright new colors and improved clarity. From Here to Eternity is in black and white, but it showcases brilliant contrasts and excellent shadow delineation. Technically speaking, you can’t beat the job Sony has done with these transfers. I can understand the complaints some people have had about the movie selection for these sets (maybe Annie fans and The Last Picture Show fans don’t share much of a Venn diagram), but most of the choices were drawn from a poll Sony took of movie watchers, so it does reflect what people want to some extent. Ultimately, it’s a nice mix of stone-cold cinema classics and newer classics that deserve a place in the movie pantheon. This is a terrific set overall, and I hope we’ll see another excellent set like continuing this series in the near future. Oh yeah, and it’d make a heck of a great holiday gift!
Ray Donavan: The Complete Series:
I always wanted to like Ray Donovan, but I could never quite get there. I’m a big fan of Liev Schreiber, the lead actor in the show, and I think the concept of a show about a Hollywood-based “fixer” is interesting enough. And it’s not like I ever truly disliked the show, I just wished I liked it more. Yet, while it was never a true smash hit, it ran for seven seasons, so it’s obviously quite popular. Schreiber is intense and charismatic in the lead role, but the show as a whole just has a “feel” that isn’t for me. It definitely fits into the style of most pay-channel drama shows; it’s edgy and intense, and sometimes I feel like that’s a little forced. It’s well-made and well-acted, but the vibe just doesn’t gel for me. This is one of those shows that people definitely like, but it’s not quite my cup of tea. But obviously, a lot of people love the show, and so to reward the fans who watched this show for seven years, Showtime and CBS Home Video bring us Ray Donovan: The Complete Series, a massive 29-disc box set that includes all 82 episodes of the show along with over two hours of extra features. It’s all wrapped up in a sharp-looking box set that will make a nice display piece on your home video shelf. So whether I like the show or not, if you’re a fan, you’ll want to snag this sweet box set.
At Close Range:
I’ll be honest, up until now, most of my exposure to At Close Range came from the 1980s Madonna music video, Live to Tell, which was omnipresent on MTV back in the ‘80s and extensively featured clips from the film in it. Beyond that, I’d never actually seen the movie before this new Blu-ray from MVD’s Rewind Collection crossed my desk. The film stars Sean Penn as the son of a career criminal (played by Christopher Walken) who wants to enter what he thinks is a glamorous world of crime. When he’s faced with the reality of that world, however, he begins to rethink his decision. Based on a true story, At Close Range is one of those movies that is well made but is hard to enjoy, if for no other reason than that it is just so dark and bleak. Walken and Penn are both terrific, Penn idolizing his father who basically couldn’t care less about his son and seems to honestly hate him at times. You can’t deny the performances, but the film will leave you feeling pretty bad about the world. While At Close Range has appeared on Blu-ray before, MVD gives it their Rewind Collection treatment, which translates to sharp new packaging, reversible cover art, a mini-poster, and an audio commentary. A nice release for fans of the film, but not the movie to track down if you’re looking for something on the lighter side.
We Baby Bears: The Magical Box:
I’ll admit that since my kids are out of the “children’s programming” age range, I’m not fully up to speed on what’s popular with the little ones as much as I used to be. But We Baby Bears got on my radar a couple of years ago, and it’s clearly become very popular. And it’s not hard to see why; the show follows the adventures of three baby bears: Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear as they use their magical box to transport themselves to various adventure-filled lands. Kids like it because it’s cute and fun, and I think parents like it because it does have something of an ‘80s cartoon vibe to it, at least in my eyes, The new We Baby Bears: The Magical Box DVD release collects 20 episodes of the hit show, giving kids almost four hours of magical bear goodness. Amongst kids’ TV properties, many of which can be grating on parents’ nerves, this is one of the more enjoyable ones for my money.
This week’s requisite anime release comes from GKIDS, who bring us the surprisingly effective Summer Ghost, the directorial debut of artist Loundraw (no surname.) The film tells the story of three disparate teenagers who all end up at the same place on the same night: a place that’s said to be haunted by a ghost, who will answer one question for you if you light up fireworks at the spot. When the ghost reveals that each of the teenagers will soon be “touching death” it sets off ruminations about their own troubled life experiences. The film is really pretty impressive; despite being only 40 minutes long it works a lot into its brief running time and I’d be lying if I said there might not have been a few tears in my eyes by the end of it. The animation is terrific and the characters have impact, which isn’t easy to pull off in what is essentially a short film. There are some extra features on the Blu-ray to give you a little more bang for your buck, but this one is definitely worth a look.
Also Available This Week On Home Video:
- Hex – On paper, the concept for Hex sounds pretty cool. A group of skydivers performs a daredevil stunt in midair that is supposed to be cursed, and one of them disappears without a trace mid-fall, before they hit the ground. As they try to solve the mystery of the disappearance, things start to put them all in danger. Cool, right? And while I understand that a low budget film might not have all the resources to pull off an epic film, there’s no denying that Hex might have worked better with a little more money pumped into it; at least enough for a better script and a few more skilled actors. I’ll give the film kudos for actually having some impressive aerial sequences with real skydivers, not a bunch of green-screened footage, but it just feels like one of those movies that you’re wishing was better the whole time you watch it. Neat premise, but disappointing execution.
- Ultraman Spotlight – Mill Creek has done a terrific job with their Ultraman complete franchise release series so far, and this month they have not one, but three new releases: UltramanCosmos: Series + Specials Combo, Ultraman Zearth Double Feature, and Ultraman Neos: The Complete Series. By now, you probably know what you get with the Ultraman franchise; it was a major inspiration on shows like the Power Rangers: colorful costumes, robots and monsters, occasionally cheesy action scenes, and a whole lot of fun. As usual, you also get an awful lot of bang for your buck in each of these sets, with each one being a multi-disc set. UltramanCosmos: Series + Specials Combo gives you the 26-episode UltramanCosmos series, as well as three TV movies, UltramanCosmos: The First Contact, UltramanCosmos 2: The Blue Planet, and UltramanCosmos Vs. UltramanJustice. Then we have Ultraman Zearth Double Feature, which gives us two Ultraman Zearth TV Specials (with a running time of about 2 hours total, making this the briefest collection of the bunch). Finally, Ultraman Neos: The Complete Series gives us six hours of episodes on two discs of this show from the early 2000s. Now, each of these sets is only released on DVD and not Blu-ray, but my understanding is that Mill Creek only does a DVD-only release when they can’t locate masters of high enough quality for a Blu-ray release, which makes it kind of hard to get upset about. The bottom line here is that if you’ve been grabbing the Mill Creek Ultraman Blu-ray series so far, you’re not gonna want to stop now.
- The Good Boss – The first of three new catalog Blu-ray releases from the Cohen Film Collection this week, The Good Boss stars Javier Bardem and was Spain’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards. It’s easy to see why the film was submitted, too; it’s a tense film that mixes in comedy, drama, and suspense, all anchored by a terrific performance by Bardem. He stars as the manager of an industrial manufacturing company who is up for a business award. As he awaits the award’s judge to come and see him in action, a disgruntled employee shows up, railing against Bardem and threatening to derail his award hopes. The film is often a satire of corporate culture and Bardem’s character is anything but one note; at times, he seems like he really cares about his workers and does some good things for them, and at other times, you can see that he isn’t entirely as benevolent as he appears. The movie can’t entirely decide what tone it wants to adopt, and that works against it on occasion, but by and large there’s more good than bad to be found here, especially in the performances.
- Monsieur Hire – Also from the Cohen Film Collection this week we have a French thriller from 1989 called Monsieur Hire. Adapted from the book by Georges Simenon, this sexually charged mystery sees a young woman murdered, and the residents of the building all suspecting the titular Monsieur Hire, mostly because he’s offbeat and they don’t like him. But one young resident of the building finds out that Monsieur Hire has been spying on her, and instead of being repulsed, she begins to see him differently and enters into a friendship of sorts with the man who has many layers and many secrets. It’s a hard film to summarize but watching it will keep you guessing. Is his obsessive love for this woman real? Does she care about him? Will she stay with her no-good boyfriend, who Monsieur Hire has spied on while he makes love to her? And is he a murderer? The film is less about the whodunit than this odd relationship, yet it works nonetheless. It’s not an easy-breezy viewing experience (especially in French with English subtitles), but it’s an intriguing movie with some excellent performances nonetheless.
- Felix And Lola/Love Street – The final Blu-ray release from Cohen Film Collection this week is a double feature of two films directed by Patrice Leconte (who also directed the above Monsieur Hire), a pair of romance-tinged dramas from 2001 and 2002. Felix and Lola sees a bumper car operator named Felix (Philippe Torreton) fall in love with Lola (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a woman with a mysterious past that he wants to help find happiness. Meanwhile, Love Street is a period piece set in 1945 Paris that sees the beautiful Laetitia Casta star as a prostitute who dreams of being a singer and the handyman who loves her and wants to help her achieve her dream, even though he knows she’ll never love him back. Both films have a sense of sadness that runs through them, and I suspect that’s why they were paired together in a double feature. Neither of the films was exactly my cup of tea, but they are both solid dramas with excellent performances that will appeal to foreign film fans.
- Warner Archive Spotlight – We have a few new releases this week from The Warner Archives, Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand boutique home video service. The titles released this week are all making their debut on Blu-ray, and they are all available at www.warnerarchive.com. First up this week is an excellent release, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. This is the 1932 version (one of the earliest put to film) directed by acclaimed director Rouben Mamoulian (The Mark of Zorro, Porgy and Bess) and starring Frederic March. I love watching March in just about anything, so watching him in dual roles here is fantastic. This inaugural Blu-ray edition of the film features 17 minutes of footage that had previously been deleted from the film and rarely have been seen before, which is a real treat for Hollywood film buffs and cinema historians. Next, we have Mark of the Vampire, a 1935 thriller from director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) and starring Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi. The film sees a village under strife when a murder victim is found with two puncture marks in their neck… but is it vampires or something else? This isn’t a movie I was familiar with before this, but it’s an entertaining enough thriller that only suffers from pacing issues because we’re so used to movies that move so much faster nowadays. Worth a watch, though. Switching gears a bit, we have Rachel, Rachel, one of the few movies directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife, Joanne Woodward. Released in 1968, the film received a Best Picture Oscar nomination, which surprises me a little because it’s just not a very eventful film. The movie focuses on a 35-year-old woman who lives with her domineering mother and is still a virgin. When a childhood friend comes back to town and asks her out, she begins to imagine a life outside of her depressed life orbit. Newman gets a great performance out of Woodward and the film has some touching moments, but personally I found it a bit on the slow side. Finally, we have Abe Lincoln in Illinois, a 1940 biopic starring Raymond Massey and Gene Lockhart. The film has Massey portraying a younger Abraham Lincoln as he journeys toward the White House (hence the film title’s focus on Illinois.) It’s a touch long, but Massey is fantastic as Lincoln and the film does focus on a side of Lincoln we don’t usually see, the time before he was president. A solid film if just a touch too long.
- Mill Creek Spotlight – Mill Creek specializes in catalogue rereleases made available at a budget price, and this week they have several new releases this week, on a mix of DVD and Blu-ray. All of these are packaged in MVD’s signature Video Store Rewind packaging, which mimics the old VHS boxes from video stores in the ‘80s. First up we have Renegades, a fun late ‘80s mystery/actioner starring Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips. Sutherland and Phillips play an undercover cop and a native American who are both sort of outsiders, and then they are forced to team up to recover a stolen relic. It’s not a masterpiece, but for people like me who enjoy revisiting ‘80s and ‘90s action flicks, it’s a fun enough watch. Sutherland and Phillips are always welcome screen presences, and the supporting cast includes some great character actors like Robert Knepper, Bill Smitrovich, and Jami Gertz. Next up is a new DVD edition of Krull, an ’80s sci-fi/fantasy with echoes of Clash of the Titans (and look for Liam Neeson in one of his very first roles.) It’s cheesy, but it’s another cult classic, and it’s a lot of fun to revisit. Also, a lot of people really love this film, so if you’re a certain age, it’s worth the ten bucks or so just to revisit a fantasy cult classic. Then we have a new Blu-ray edition of 1994’s The Paper, one of Ron Howard’s least-known films. With an all-star cast that includes Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, and Marisa Tomei, the film is a sharp journalism drama. Now, I’m a sucker for journalism movies to begin with, but I really liked this one (and which I’m pretty sure I’d never seen before this.) Keaton stars as the editor of a New York Post-like tabloid whose life is chaotic, always on deadline, and is considering a change. When a huge story breaks that may or may not be true, Keaton has to rely on his conscious to make the right decision, all while the 24-hour-a-day world of news is swirling around him. It’s a tightly paced, taut drama with suspenseful overtones, and while there are a few convenient contrivances in the plot, I found it to be a real winner. Finally, we have a new Blu-ray edition of Shadowlands, a 1993 biopic/drama directed by Richard Attenborough. Anthony Hopkins stars as author C.S. Lewis (he of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe fame), and while it is based on the true story, it isn’t a biopic in the traditional sense. Instead, the movie focuses on Lewis as a bachelor later in life who meets Joy Gresham (played by Debra Winger), a woman quite opposite him who he falls in love with. So the film is less a biopic than a romantic drama, but it’s based on real people and events. It’s a bit long, clocking in over two hours, but the performances carry the day.