We’ve got a little bit of everything this week, including an out-and-out blockbuster, some great catalog releases, and some kids fare for the little ones. Check it out!
Shang Chi – I don’t know if there’s anyone better than Marvel at taking B-level characters and making them into blockbuster movies. I’ve been collecting comics for decades, and I think I’ve only read a dozen or so comics with Shang Chi in them in all that time. In the 70’s, his comic was a huge hit, but since then he’s been relegated solely to supporting character status. But here comes Marvel, and turns him into a massive worldwide blockbuster. I found Shang Chi to be quite enjoyable and I can see why it was so popular. For my money, I liked the first half a little bit better; the more real-world grounded scenes had a really unique and different feel than your typical Marvel movie, whereas the back half where all of the more mystical elements show up started to feel just a little familiar. That said, the movie is still a really good time, Simu Liu is a true movie star, and the film is easily rewatchable. It’s out this week on pretty much every format you can imagine, and if you missed it in theaters, I definitely recommend catching up with it now.
Heaven Can Wait & Reds – I don’t always get Paramount’s strategy when it comes to their catalog releases. For example, the studio has this excellent line of Paramount Presents Blu-ray releases, which sees some of their most popular and well-loved movies released on Blu-ray in nice gatefold packaging, usually with one or two new extra features and a digital copy. And then you have their new Blu-ray releases this week of Heaven Can Wait and Reds, two of Warren Beatty’s most popular and acclaimed films and massive successes each, and they are… NOT Paramount Presents editions? They’re just regular catalog Blu-rays. I just don’t get it. That said, at least one of these films is a true masterpiece. Heaven Can Wait is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. It’s Warren Beatty at his best and most likable, and the film is literally perfect from start to finish. So it’s a shame that this new Blu-ray only includes a digital copy (which I am excited about!) but no extra features whatsoever. Then there’s Reds, Beatty’s award-winning drama, which I personally find really difficult to get into. However, this release at least includes all of the extra features from the last special edition DVD that was released (as well as a digital copy), so it’s a nice package for fans. I can’t say I understand how Paramount makes their decisions, but I am happy to have these two films, especially Heaven Can Wait, on Blu-ray and digital.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Steelbook Edition – Speaking of Paramount’s catalog releases, the John Hughes comedy classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles remains one of the studio’s most popular catalog titles. As such, we’re treated to new iterations of it on home video every couple of years. This year, we see the film getting the Steelbook treatment, with the Blu-ray housed in a nice, sleek steelbook case featuring cool new art. Now, I absolutely love Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and while this new version doesn’t add anything new in terms of extra content or new features, it does include a digital copy and I know there are Steelbook collectors out there who will be excited to add this one to their collections. It’s a great, funny comedy, and it should be in your collection as well.
Wonder: Steelbook Edition – Speaking of Steelbook Collector’s Editions, the completely wonderful and delightful film Wonder also gets a new Steelbook Edition out this week. Available exclusively at Target, this new edition of the hit film (based on the bestselling book) gets the Steelbook treatment, featuring Augie-in-space-helmet artwork. If you don’t know what that means, then you obviously missed out on the film that I ranked as my number one movie of 2018. With Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay, Wonder is just an absolute gem of a film. It’s funny and charming and moving and heartbreaking, all at the same time. It’s so well-constructed that you will literally be laughing one moment and crying the next, and I mean that in the best possible way. Do yourself a favor and add Wonder to your collection today. Trust me.
I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series – Mill Creek brings us a long-awaited new set with the multi-disc box set I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series. Now, I Dream of Jeannie has been collected in a complete set box before, but this marks the first time it’s available on Blu-ray, which is no small thing. I grew up watching I Dream of Jeannie re-runs on television; I’ve seen every episode of the show, probably more than once, and I love it. It’s classic television that’s funny and clever and occasionally a little subtly naughty, and it still holds up some 50+ years after it aired on television. Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden were absolutely magical together on screen (pun very much intended) and I think this is a show that’s a lot of fun to revisit. This new 12-disc collection includes all five seasons of the hit show, and while the Blu-rays don’t exactly offer up real high definition, they do look better than the previous DVD releases. You also get some extra features, including the I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later TV movie, which is a really cool addition for completists. This is a great show and this is easily the best collection of the entire 139-episode run that’s been out yet.
UltramanDyna: The Complete Series – Mill Creek has done a terrific job with their Ultraman complete franchise release series so far, and this newest one is no different. I should note right off that this is a DVD-only release, whereas the first dozen or so releases in the line were on Blu-ray. My understanding is that Mill Creek was unable to locate masters of high enough quality to create a high def Blu-ray but didn’t want to leave fans with a hole in their collection, so they made the decision to release it only on DVD. Honestly, I’m totally cool with that. I appreciate Mill Creek not just putting crappy transfers on Blu-ray and charging us more money for sub-par Blu-ray quality. UltramanDyna is one of the most recent entries in the franchise, released originally in 1997. This time around, as mankind is moving away from earth, we get a new Ultraman protecting a human colony on Mars. You get all the usual monsters and costumes and fights, and it’s a lot of fun if you enjoy this kind of television. Despite the format being DVD instead of Blu-ray, if you’ve been grabbing the Mill Creek Ultraman series so far, I doubt you’re gonna want to stop now.
It’s a Wonderful Life – Much like the aforementioned Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Paramount’s It’s a Wonderful Life makes its return to home video just about every year at this time. Now, for the film’s 75th Anniversary, we get a new Blu-ray edition that comes with a number of recipe cards from the new Wonderful Life-inspired cookbook. You also get the film on digital copy, with most of the extra features from previous releases included (about 45 minutes’ worth). You also get a colorized version of the film on a second disc, which is completely unnecessary in my opinion, but there you have it. It’s a Wonderful Life is a worthwhile part of any collection, as the film is a masterpiece, but if you already own it, the only real reason to upgrade would be for the digital copy. The recipe cards are a cute add-on, but they don’t add any real value to the set. Still, worth a pick-up if you’ve just never gotten around to adding this film to your collection.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- The Deceivers, White As Snow, & Who You Think I Am – Cohen Media, who specializes in bringing us a well-curated collection of Blu-ray releases featuring largely foreign and classic films, has three new releases out this week. First up is The Deceivers, an early film from Merchant Ivory’s Ismail Merchant starring Pierce Brosnan. Based on a John Masters novel and directed by Nicholas Meyer (Star Treks II and VI), the film sees Brosnan going undercover as an Indian man in an attempt to root out and destroy the notorious Thuggee cult, which was preying on and murdering tourists and citizens. It’s an interesting premise for a film and Brosnan gives a terrific performance, but the film never quite gets to where it’s going. It’s lacking an urgency or an intensity that would have really made it pop, but it’s at least a solid viewing experience. Then we have White As Snow, a new (and very loose) adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale. Starring Isabelle Huppert and the fetching Lou de Laage, this French film is set in modern times and sees young Claire fall victim to the jealousy of her business-owner stepmother, who tries to have Claire killed. Claire then ends up coming under the care of seven “princes” (i.e., men from the local community near the house she ends up staying in), entering into romantic relationships with more than one of them. Again, the film never quite gels, despite terrific performances from Huppert and de Laage, and it’s so far removed from the Snow White story that you often forget it has anything to do with the original fairy tale. Not terrible, but not great, either. Finally, we have Who You Think I Am, another new French film starring Juliette Binoche. This is a hard one to say too much about because it is a film with a lot of twists and turns and I don’t want to spoil anything, but it starts off with a 50-ish woman creating a fake Facebook profile to start talking to a younger man. Where it goes from there is where the film gets interesting, and the film veers into multiple genres, including drama and thriller territories. Binoche is absolutely outstanding in the lead role, and this was easily my favorite of the three films from Cohen Media this week. Definitely worth a watch.
- The Heart Guy: Season 5 – This popular drama feels both familiar and different all at the same time. An Australian show, the series follows an arrogant but gifted heart surgeon who ends up working as a general practitioner in his rural hometown after an incident fueled by drugs and alcohol brings him down. Now, a lot of that stuff happened in the early episodes, but we still get to enjoy a fish-out-of-water, Doc Hollywood-type story that manages to carve out its own unique take on a story we’ve seen before. For example, this season we see Doc Knight’s hospital in danger of being shut down, an old flame pop up, and a main character on trial for corruption. Admittedly, I don’t tend to watch very many medically-based shows so I might not be a regular viewer, but overall The Heart Guy is a well done series.
- The Drowning – This intriguing miniseries follows a mother who’s never gotten over the drowning death of her young son almost a decade before. However, since his body was never found, when she sees a teenager who she believes is her son alive and well, she begins to go to great lengths to discover the truth about the boy. That’s a pretty cool concept and it’s rife with opportunities for tension and suspense. And honestly, The Drowning is never lacking in tension or suspense, even if much of it feels a little manufactured. The show is four episodes long, and it gets more and more unbelievable and less realistic with each episode. You definitely have to check your rational brain at the door, but if you do, you’ll probably enjoy this miniseries. I think it might have worked better as a movie than a full on miniseries, but it was at least an engaging watch.
- Our Ladies – This 2019 film is the latest from director Michael Caton-Jones, whose filmography includes Rob Roy, The Jackal, and Basic Instinct 2. The film is a sex-positive dramedy about five Catholic school girls who get a chance to leave their small town for a singing competition in The Big City. Of course, they’re less interested in singing than they are hitting the town, hooking up with random guys, and having fun. The film, set in the 1990s, is really well done. The characters are interesting, the actors (largely unknown) are outstanding, and the story doesn’t shy away from showing what teenage life was (and probably still is) really like. This isn’t a movie about a bunch of shrinking violets experiencing the big city for the first time; it’s more about the city experiencing them. I found it refreshing and enjoyable, and Caton-Jones has delivered a nice slice-of-life film that might be a little more realistic than some viewers are comfortable with. Plus, it’s got a great soundtrack.
- Old Henry – Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Dorff, and Trace Adkins star in this new western film about a man who takes in a stranger who just happens to have a bag full of cash on him. And everyone lives happily ever after. No, I’m kidding. I think we all know whenever there’s a bag full of cash in a film, we can reasonably expect that pretty soon people are going to come looking for it, and that’s the case here. Now, while this sounds like a pretty typical western set-up — and maybe it is — the film was better than I expected it to be. There’s a he-said/he-said approach to explaining where the money came from that gives Nelson an interesting dilemma, and there are a few action sequences that really stand out. Nelson’s performance is terrific, and the supporting cast is pretty good as well. It’s not a masterpiece, but if you like westerns and are tired of them being weak, low-budget affairs, this one will definitely hold you over.
- Sesame Street: Wonderful World of Friends! – The latest Sesame Street DVD collection delivers two hours of learning to your pre-schoolers, with a focus on friendship and social interactions. With repeat of appearances by Elmo, Abby, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster, this one sees a lot of favorite characters get screen time. Real-life celebrity guests include musicians Gwen Stefani, John Legend, Alessia Cara, and Josh Groban. There are also episodes focusing in both Indian and Mexican cultures, so that’s pretty cool. This DVD give you two hours of Sesame Street content, which should keep your little ones happy for a good chunk of time.
- Pups Alone – Sometimes you have to type things you don’t expect to when you’re writing movie reviews, and this movie certainly gave me one of those moments: Pups Alone is a new film that is effectively a remake of Home Alone… but with dogs! I kid you not. Dolph Lundgren plays the bad guy who hires two thieves to break into his co-worker’s house to steal his new invention. Well, instead of Macauley Culkin, we get a group of neighborhood dogs who set up traps and try to drive the robbers off. Again, I kid you not. The film features the voices of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jerry O’Connell, Danny Trejo and Rob Schneider, who I assume all had nothing better to do and wanted an easy paycheck. The film isn’t exactly awful, but it’s clearly aimed at young kids and doesn’t have a clever bone in its body. Younger viewers will probably enjoy it, but I think parents will probably spend most of their time rolling t heir eyes.
- Midsomer Murders & Murdoch Mysteries: Halloween Pop Ups – Okay, these were released for Halloween, but I didn’t get my review copies until this week. Acorn Media releases pop ups every year, and they’re neat little DVD gift sets that take a couple of episodes of a popular show, and put it in a cardboard package that opens up to create a little pop-up standee that can be displayed. Its a neat little gift item or display for fans of the shows, and while previous pop-ups have been released as Christmas-themed packages, this time around we got a couple of Halloween pop-ups. The shows featured this time are the popular British/Canadian mystery show, Murdoch Mysteries (a forensic procedural set in turn of the century Toronto, right on the cusp of the age of scientific discovery.) and the unendingly popular mystery show Midsomer Murders. Each pop up includes two episodes and one extra feature, plus, of course, the collectible packaging. I like that Acorn does fun little innovations like this, and the low price point makes them an easy buy for fans, even if you already have the episodes included in a complete season set.
- Back to Soloz – This short documentary (running just over an hour) follows a French filmmaker of Armenian background who returns to his grandparents village, the titular Soloz. This is not his first visit back to Turkey, as he explains in the film, but it affects him emotionally nonetheless. There’s not a lot to say about this film from a plot perspective; it’s a documentary but it’s more about identity and introspection, as well as a touch of geopolitics (the area has historically been filled with strife) than a plot that I can describe to you. I’ll be honest, these kinds of films don’t usually get me too interested, but I think if you’re someone who likes learning about family history, you might find it worth a watch.
- El Hombre Bufalo – Wrapping up the week, we have a Mexican film (another short one, also running just over an hour) that sees a journalist decide to quit writing after receiving some concerning threats and bodily harm, who ends up searching for a mythical creature that’s part man/part buffalo. That synopsis actually makes the film sound much more straightforward than it really is, as this is an art film through and through, and I’d be lying if I said I understood what was happening most of the time. Again, I’m not really a fan of abstract, dreamlike films, and this one definitely qualifies as those things, so it wasn’t my cup of tea. But people who go for artsier and/or foreign fare might want to check it out.
What’s New on Home Video – November 30th – Shang Chi, Warren Beatty, I Dream of Jeannie, & More!
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