It’s not the biggest week ever, but there are some real standout releases this week, including 4K releases of some incredibly popular films, a complete series box set for a hit TV series, and even a couple of cowardly dogs solving mysteries! Read on!
Star Trek: The Original 4-Movie Collection – The first four Star Trek movies make their 4K Ultra HD debut this week with this terrific new collection from Paramount. Let me get my one complaint out of the way right up front: why just the first four films? There’s only two films left before the franchise switched over to The Next Generation for the next four movies, so wouldn’t it have made sense to include all six original crew films in this box set? Weird choice, Paramount. Now the good news: this is a terrific collection for fans of the franchise. You get The Motion Picture (the original cut), The Wrath of Khan (with both the original and Director’s cuts), The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home, all on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, and all packed with all of the numerous extra features created for previous home video releases of the films. The 4K Ultra HD format does make some nice improvements in the A/V quality of the films, although seeing as how they’re all 30-40 years old, it’s not a complete transformation. Brighter colors, deeper blacks and sharper imagery are evident, but don’t expect the films to look like they were made yesterday. The surround soundtracks remain solid if uninspiring, with most of the action taking place in the front speakers and a little added sound in the rear channels. So while upgrading to 4K Ultra HD isn’t an absolute necessity if you have the Blu-ray releases, these versions are still the best the movies have looked on home video, so fans will likely want this box set in their collection. RECOMMENDED!
The Shawshank Redemption (4K Ultra HD) – Also making its 4K Ultra HD this week is The Shawshank Redemption. And let’s be honest, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest movie of all time. If you’ve never seen it, you simply need to rectify that as soon as possible. And if you have seen it, well I have to assume you agree that it’s an absolutely stunning movie. I’m sure most people are familiar with it by now, so I don’t need to rehash the storyline, but I will say that the fact that a movie set in a prison and based on a Stephen King book could turn into one of the greatest movies about friendship ever is a hell of a feat. Now the film makes its debut in the premium 4K Ultra HD format, and it’s a welcome release. The new 4K transfer is actually a large improvement over the previous Blu-ray, with much more accurate colors, a nice attention to detail and sharp imagery, and great shadow delineation and contrasts. The surround soundtrack is nicely ambient, with a foreboding bass channel low end that adds some extra rumble to the prison sounds. It looks and sounds the best I’ve ever seen it on home video, and the fact that the release includes all the original extra features as well as a digital copy makes this release a must have! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Mare of Easttown: The Complete Limited Series – By now, if you’ve heard anything about HBO’s hit show Mare of Easttown, you’ve probably heard that Kate Winslet’s performance is absolutely amazing. Which seems kind of obvious, because when does Kate Winslet ever give a performance that isn’t absolutely amazing? Which is what makes her performance here even more astounding: how can she be THAT good when she’s already set the bar impossibly high? I don’t know, but she does. Mare of Easttown was an HBO limited series about a small town sheriff in Pennsylvania dealing with a murder, a missing persons case, and the turbulence of her own life. It’s an incredibly effective show, but be aware that it is bleak. There is nary a happy soul to be found anywhere in the show, and we see a lot of people and parts of the town that are in some stage of a depression. This isn’t a cheerful or funny show; it’s a drama, and it’s not afraid to deal with unpleasant subjects or actual problems that plague people in real life. This is a good show and Kate Winslet is fantastic, just be aware that it’s not exactly cheerful.
NCIS: New Orleans – The Complete Series – Now that NCIS: New Orleans has come to the end of its run after seven seasons, fans might be wanting to go back and binge the entire series. Well, if that’s the case then CBS has good news for you: NCIS: New Orleans – The Complete Series has arrived on DVD. This massive 39-disc box set gives you every single episode from the show’s run, as well as all the extra features from the original season set release. NCIS: New Orleans, while obviously a successful show, always felt like the youngest child in the franchise, never quite hitting the heights of popularity of its franchise brethren NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. But the show, which saw Scott Bakula in the lead role and had more of a Louisiana bayou flavor to it, had a good cast with characters and actors I liked, such as Vanessa Ferlito as Tammy and CCH Pounder as Dr. Wade. I’ve always liked Scott Bakula, so it was good seeing him tackle a new lead role, and I’m sure a lot of fans are sorry to see it end, but this is a nice way to relive the entire show.
Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby Doo Meets Courage The Cowardly Dog – The last few years has seen Warner Bros. Animation focus their new Scooby Doo movie efforts on teaming the Mystery Gang up with various guest stars, like WWE wrestlers, the rock band KISS, and even celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentis. This newest movie sees Scooby and company team up with another well-liked cartoon dog, Courage the Cowardly Dog. Obviously, Scooby and Courage are kindred spirits! Now, I know Courage has a huge fan base from his show in the 90s, but I never watched the show, as I wasn’t quite the right generation for it, but I think fans will like this mystery team up. It not only stays true to the Scooby Doo myths, but it also (from what I can tell) has a lot of throwbacks to characters and events from the Courage series. It’s not my favorite of the recent Scooby movies (largely because I’m unfamiliar with the world of Courage the Cowardly Dog), but it’s still enjoyable.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Season 2 – I don’t know if there are any bigger horror fans out there than Eli Roth. Despite whatever you may think of his films (Cabin Fever, Hostel, etc.) — and they can be very love-it-or-hate-it — Roth is a horror super-fan and an enthusiastic on-camera personality. Here, we get seven episodes that look at a variety of horror genres, with participation by and conversations with some of the biggest names in horror, including Stephen King, Jordan Peele, Quentin Tarantino, Greg Nicotero, Mick Garris, and many, many others. Each episode focuses on a different subset of horror, with this season’s themes being: Houses of Hell, Monsters, Body Horror, Witches, Chilling Children, and Classic Horror. I mean, how awesome is that? Through it all, we get clips from classic movies, in-depth discussion of the films and the genres, and just a real sense of a love for horror, largely thanks to Roth and his infectious enthusiasm for the genre. This is a must-watch show for fans of horror!
- The Gateway – Shea Whigham and Frank Grillo (who look like they could be related) are two of my favorite character actors, so you put them in a movie together (and add Olivia Moon to the cast), and I’m definitely going to watch. Unfortunately, despite the great cast, the film is solidly mediocre. Whigham plays a social worker (a nice change of pace for him) trying to help a teenager whose mother isn’t taking care of her and whose father just got out of jail and is hopping right back into a life of crime (which is where Frank Grillo’s criminal character comes in.) The film isn’t bad, it’s just a bit cliched. Everyone is angry, everything goes wrong, and nothing all that surprising or original happens. I feel like I’ve seen some variation of this film a thousand times. Whigham is terrific in the lead role and Moon and Grillo are welcome presences, even if their roles don’t really stretch their talents much, but the film falls a little flat.
- Howling Village – From the director of the original Asian version of The Grudge (which inspired the Hollywood hit version), we have a new horror film that sticks to the overall aesthetic of that earlier movie, Howling Village. The film sees a young woman visiting an infamous “howling village” after her brother goes missing, and of course, she encounters all kinds of scary supernatural forces. I wish I could say I liked the film more than I did, but honestly, I found the narrative confusing. There is a great atmosphere to the film and it looks terrific, and believe me, there are some seriously creepy moments throughout the film; I just wish I understood what was going on more than I did. Fans of J-horror will want to check it out, as director Takashi Shimizu is considered one of the greats of the genre, but be prepared to have some questions as you watch it.
- Dinosaur Train: Adventure Island – My kids used to love Dinosaur Train when they were little. I always found it a charming show for little kids, with a wholesome storyline with important lessons in the main episodes as well as some dinosaur facts for the kids who love the big lizards. After several years as a hit show on PBS, we now have a Dinosaur Train feature-length movie called Adventure Island. The nearly-90-minute film has a fun little riff on Jurassic Park, as the story sees our gang of dinos going to visit a new theme park with robotic dinosaurs. And what do you think happens…? Of course, the dino robots run amok! Don’t worry, it’s all done in classic Dinosaur Train style, so it won’t be too scary for little ones, but I think kids will really get a charge out of this fun movie version of one of their favorite shows.
- Summer of 85 – Based on a YA novel called Dance on My Grave, Summer of 85 is a coming-of-age romance drama with an LGBTQ+ theme. As the title of the source material might indicate, though, this isn’t a rom-com or a happy movie. There’s a central mystery of sorts that leads to some darker places. The film is directed by François Ozon, the director of the critically acclaimed film Swimming Pool, but I don’t think he’s doing his best work here. Despite some solid performances and an interesting-enough narrative throughline, the film seems to lack any real energy or passion. I never got very invested in the characters, which left me oddly unconnected to the events of the film. Maybe other people will have a different reaction to it, but I was underwhelmed.
- Dead Pigs – Dead Pigs is one of those movies that sees multiple characters who are completely (or at least seemingly) unrelated eventually interact or intertwine. In this case, we have a pig farmer, a salon owner, a busboy, an architect , a model, and a rich girl, whose paths all cross when hundreds of dead pigs start floating down a river (and don’t worry, it’s explained why.) The film came out in 2018 and was directed by Cathy Yan, who was then handpicked by DC and Warner Bros. to direct Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (which I am distinctly not a fan of.) Dead Pigs is an interesting film and it’s enjoyable enough, but I can’t say I fell I love with it. Fans of Birds of Prey will want to track it down and people who like quirky multi-character films might dig it, though.