Whoo boy, we’ve got a great week of releases this week! One of my favorite movies of the year hits home video, we get a couple of fantastic catalog upgrades, a few cult classic movies, and — just to be different — Lebron James. Check it out!
Free Guy – Ryan Reynolds delivers another classic-in-the-making film with Free Guy, one of the two most fun movies of the year so far (the other being Disney’s Jungle Cruise.) One of the many delayed 2020 theatrical releases, Free Guy finally hit theaters this summer and instantly became a surprise hit — and the reason is because it’s just so much fun. Reynolds is delightful as a video game character who doesn’t know he’s a video game character. Think The Truman Show crossed with Fortnite and you get some sense of the film’s story. But the fun is in the details of the film itself: the way it lovingly skewers video game tropes, the costumes (which are absolutely outstanding), the humor, the action, the in-jokes, and the back-and-forth between the real world and the video game world. My only complaint is Taika Waititi as the “bad guy” of the film; it’s one of those performances that’s purposefully over-the-top in a way that’s meant to be funny, but it’s too over-the-top and detracts from the film. (But only a little.) I loved this movie and so did my entire family, and we had a blast watching it. Free Guy comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and the 4K premium format was pretty much made for this movie. It’s an incredibly colorful film and the colors virtually leap off the screen, while image clarity is leveled up to the max. The surround soundtrack will keep every speaker you have buzzing with activity, and this is the kind of movie you’ll want to show off your home theater with. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Space Jam: A New Legacy – Okay, so I know a lot of people who absolutely LOVE the original Michael Jordan Space Jam. I was a little too old when it came out to get into it, but if you were a kid in the ‘90s, you probably have very fond memories of the original film. It’s no surprise that a sequel/reboot was on the books, and we finally got it this year with Lebron James in Space Jam: A New Legacy. And sure, the technical aspects of the film are way improved over the ‘90s version, and there are tons of pop culture references and surprise guest appearances, and all of that is fun, but the movie itself just isn’t particularly good. Lebron James is not a great actor (nor would I expect him to be) and the film skews really young. To that end, I think it will be well-liked by kids (and I suspect the kids who grow up with this one will still love it 25 years from now, just like kids from the ‘90s with the original), but now-adults looking for a worthy successor to their childhood favorite will likely be disappointed. Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and the 4K format does an excellent job with the film. The animation/live action blend looks sharp and seamless, the colors are deep and vibrant, and blacks are solid and inky. The surround soundtrack is quite active and will give your low end a nice rumble, so while the film itself isn’t great, the A/V presentation is.
The Green Knight – Boy, if ever there was a movie that you could tell was an A24 film from the very first scene, it’s The Green Knight. For those of you who don’t follow such things, A24 has carved out a niche bringing us moody, atmospheric, surreal, smaller films that are critically acclaimed — think Midsommar, The Lighthouse, Hereditary, etc. And The Green Knight plays out like an A24 film from the very first scene to the last. It looks and feels like an A24 film through every moment. Now, personally, I’m not a fan of A24 films; they’ve honestly made very few movies I’ve liked and have made lots of movies I have severely disliked. The Green Knight, however, is the latest project from David Lowery, who also gave us Pete’s Dragon (good) and A Ghost Story (very, very, VERY bad.) The story follows Gawain (played by Dev Patel), one of King Arthur’s knights, and his quest to meet the Green Knight, an otherworldly creature/knight that might just kill him. There are a lot of good things about the film: Dev Patel is terrific, the movies visuals are absolutely breathtaking, and there are some intense sequences that will keep you on the edge of your seat. However, it also takes its time getting where its going, and the pacing, while allowing time to take in the visuals, is slow at best. And there are some A24 flourishes that feel a little unnecessary. It isn’t entirely my cup of tea, I think, but I also feel like I’m still digesting it. Available on 4K Ultra HD, the super high def format ensures that the visuals look astounding, while the surround soundtrack is effectively moody, if not overly active. People who like the film will appreciate the excellent A/V upgrade.
Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection (4K Ultra HD) – So, at this point, getting a new Universal Classic Monsters Collection on home video has become sort of an annual event. In the last decade, we’ve had two different collections on DVD, two different collections on Blu-ray, and now we get a 4K Ultra HD collection. This is the more streamlined collection (and I would guess the main one we’ll get on 4K) featuring four of the most popular and well-loved of Uni’s classic monster films: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man. Each film has been remastered in 4K, and they’ve all been packaged together in a gorgeous box set with a wealth of extra features. It’s an 8-disc set that includes each movie both on a 4K disc as well as a Blu-ray Disc, and this time around you also get digital copies of each movie. The 4K Upgrade definitely makes a difference in the visual presentation of each film. While the films are in black and white so you don’t get the extra pop of colors, the grey tones are more subtle, the blacks are deeper, the shadow delineation is much stronger, and the overall image clarity is sharper than previous home video editions. The soundtracks are working with limited fidelity due to the age of the films, but I certainly don’t hear anything to complain about. If you’re a fan of the classic Universal monster series and don’t already own the Blu-ray collections (or want to have the films in hour digital library), this set is a must-have!
Inglorious Basterds (4K Ultra HD) – The 4K hits keep coming this week! Quentin Tarantino remains one of the most popular filmmakers of the 21st century, and now, one of his very best films makes its debut in 4K Ultra HD. I’ll assume at this point most of you are familiar with Inglorious Basterds, but if you’re not, it’s a wonderfully unhinged World War II action film that features Tarantino’s signature non-linear storytelling, a whirlwind performance that introduced Christoph Waltz to the world, and some of the most tense scenes in any movie in the past 20 years. It’s easily one of my favorite of all of Tarantino’s movies, and it’s definitely worth watching if you’ve never seen it. The film comes to 4K Ultra HD for the first time this week, and it benefits nicely from the upgrade. It already looked and sounded pretty good on Blu-ray, but the 4K transfer just makes it pop a little more, with deeper colors, better shadow delineation, clean imagery, and a pristine print free of blemishes. The surround soundtrack utilizes the rear channels well while also bringing the soundtrack to life in a way that any good QT movie requires. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
The Flash: The Complete Seventh Season – The Flash was one of my favorite TV shows for the first few seasons it was on. I still enjoy it, but I have to admit that maybe it’s run its course. The show is a lot of fun, but it’s also a little bit off the deep end. The stories don’t feel as fresh as they were in the early days and some of the villains and storylines occasionally get a little silly. Yes, there’s still some comfort to be found in our cast of characters and the supporting characters that round out the show, but I do find myself rolling my eyes a little bit more than I did in the early days. There’s a lot of speedsters and the mirror universe to contend with, and while those stories can be fun, sometimes I long for the simpler stories of the first season or two. This new Blu-ray (and/or DVD) collection includes all 18 episodes of Season Seven, and Flash fans will want it to keep their collection going.
Blithe Spirit – Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, and Leslie Mann star in Blithe Spirit, a new adaption of the celebrated Noel Coward stage play. Now, I’ve never seen the original play, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s maybe better than this film adaptation. I love Dan Stevens and I’ll watch anything he appears in, and he and the rest of the cast are giving it their all, but the film basically falls flat. The comedy never feels particularly funny, the filmmaking never feels fresh or unique, and the characters aren’t really particularly likable. It’s not a terrible movie, but I feel like it just isn’t as successful an adaptation of a beloved work as it wants to be.
Also Available on Home Video This Week:
- Witching & Bitching – This Spanish film was actually released in 2013 but is just coming to US home video now. Borrowing a page heavily from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn, the film sees a small robbery crew on the run from a heist who hide out in a village that is populated by witches. From there… well, predictably, chaos ensues. This is the kind of movie I feel like I would have absolutely loved when I was 20 years old. Now, however, the overt Tarantino fan service makes it feel a little derivative. It’s full of rapid-dire dialogue (which requires subtitles if you’re not a Spanish-speaker) and offbeat characters that are matched by moments that seem like they were thrown in just to shock you or to be archly funny, which only works some of the time. It’s not a bad movie, and maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age, but I feel like younger audiences will get more out of this flick than I did.
- Little Vampire – Speaking of younger audiences, let’s move to a Halloween-themed movie for much younger audiences, Little Vampire. This fun animated film (not to be confused with the live action film from the ‘90s of the same name) follows a 300-year-old vampire (who is basically a 10-year-old boy) who goes to school against his parents’ wishes and makes a non-vampire friend, only to come up against a monstrous adversary. Based on a series of children’s books in France, this Belgian movie is the kind of film that manages to straddle the line between being kid-friendly and being just spooky enough to be edgy. I wound’t recommend it for little little kids, but older kids (and their parents) will probably enjoy it quite a bit.
- Casanova, Last Love – Another French film this week, this 2019 dramedy tells the tale of an aging Casanova, the infamous romantic lover of days gone by. Here, we see a bored Casanova dutifully chasing women before he meets the one woman who catches his eye, but of course, she doesn’t want to make it easy on him. What could be a fun and flirty comedy somehow doesn’t become that at all, instead feeling tired, uninspired, and occasionally a little misogynistic. Perhaps a more charismatic actor int he lead role might have helped, but Vincent Lindon’s portrayal does not help me believe that this man was the one who bedded hundreds of women and became a legend doing so.
- The Titans That Built America – The History Channel has a new release this week, a three-episode miniseries that traces the history of some of the most influential men in American business history. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, the miniseries focus on Pierre Du Pont, Walter Chrysler, J.P. Morgan Jr., Henry Ford, and William Boeing, all captains of industry. This dramatic telling of their stories starts in the 1920s and continues through World War II, showing us how these men became the powerhouses they were and what they did with that money and power once they had it. As with most History Channel productions, the show is pretty solid. The acting is decent if not superb, and the narrative moves at a good clip, keeping you interested throughout the program. History buffs especially will enjoy this one.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter: One Night Lonely – This new PBS release is a concert (of sorts) video of acclaimed singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter. Filmed in November 2020 during the pandemic, this is a solo show featuring Carpenter and literally no one else: there’s no audience for the show due to COVID. Featuring songs from Chapin’s latest album as well as her storied career, the show gives you an intimate setlist over two hours that features Carpenter at her most raw and soulful; without an audience to feed off of, she has to put everything she has into every song, and it shows. Fans of Carpenter’s will definitely want to track this one down.
- Indie Spotlight – Wrapping up the week, we’ve got a few indie releases out this week. First up is Fried Barry, which the video cover describes as “The Hard-R Version of E.T.!” Ummm… not so much. What we get instead is a gonzo film about a drug-addicted jerk who gets abducted by aliens and finds his body being used by an alien to experience human life for a little bit. The film starts off with a definitive lack of restraint and never really reels it in. In that respect, the film accomplishes what it sets out to, but I personally couldn’t get invested in the film, the characters, or the ridiculous situations alien Barry finds himself in. For cult film fans only. Following that, we have Sweet Thing, a touching and difficult film about brother and sister young children who find themselves between a home with their alcoholic father and a home with their mother who’s more interested in her boyfriend than her kids. It’s not a cheerful film, but it does have some uplifting moments. The film’s strength is in the performances, with young Lana and Nico Rockwell carrying the film with really impressive performances, and Will Patton (one of my favorite actors) crushing a supporting role as their father. Worth a watch, but not exactly a Friday night popcorn flick. Finally, we have a Spanish drama with The Shepherd (El Pastor), a film about a shepherd who lives a quiet solitary life… until land developers offer him a boatload of money for his land. Which, of course, he doesn’t want to give up. Unfortunately, they won’t take no for an answer, so things eventually escalate. Now, this isn’t an action movie, but things do pick up in the second half once the conflict ramps up. Miguel Martín turns in a terrific performance as the lead character, and the film works despite its small budget. It’s not the kind of thing everyone will love, but if you enjoy foreign film, you might want to give it a watch.