It’s a jam-packed week this week, as we get a blockbuster theatrical hit, a new Blu-ray collection of some cult classic disaster films, and several new Steelbook 4K Ultra HD catalogue titles, plus a couple of new TV show releases. Read on for the full slate of new releases!
The Movie: As my kids have gotten older, seeing all the latest Disney/Pixar movies has become less of a priority, and I’ll admit that a few of them have passed me by without me catching up with them. But Elemental crossed my desk for review, and since I do love a good animated movie (and I enjoyed the trailer for it quite a bit), I was happy to dive in. And I can also happily report that Elemental is an absolute delight. The story focuses on life in Element City, where anthropomorphic elements live and work together. There’s Air, Earth, Water, and Fire people, but Fire people, due to their potentially destructive tendencies, tend to live more on the outskirts and keep to their own people a little bit more. (It’s hard to explain in writing, but trust me, it works and makes perfect sense in the context of the film.) When hot headed fire person Ember meets overly emotional water person Wade, sparks – quite literally – fly. What follows is a Romeo & Juliet-styled sweet romantic comedy mixed with a film that tackles familial and societal expectations. That’s a lot thrown in for a movie that is – above all else – fun and charming. I also appreciated that there are very few big name actors in the cast; this is a movie that works on its own merits, not because of stunt casting. I really enjoyed Elemental and I think you will too.
The Special Features: There’s a solid collection of extra features, including two making0f featurettes, an audio commentary with the filmmakers, the short animated film that played before Elemental in theaters, and a collection of deleted scenes. Good stuff!
The Wrap-Up: Elemental is one of those perfect family movies that kids will love but isn’t made specifically for kids. In fact, I honestly think adults might enjoy this one more than children will. It’s clever and heartfelt and well-written, with tons of visual gags and a great story at the heart of it all. Check it out and you’ll watch it with a smile on your face like I did, I’m sure.
Irwin Allen: Master of Disaster Collection
The Movies: Irwin Allen isn’t the household name in today’s pop culture landscape that he was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but the man was once a filmmaking powerhouse. I’m not sure that he directly created the disaster movie, but as a producer he certainly brought them to prominence and his name became synonymous with the epic disaster movie, hence his nickname, The Master of Disaster. This new box set from Shout Factory doesn’t include some of his biggest hits, unfortunately (The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure are notably absent), but it does give you many of his lesser-seen films, which is actually very cool. As much as I love Inferno and Poseidon, they’re available in a million different formats and various movie collections. Films like Flood, Fire, and Cave-In are rarely seen on home video. This new Blu-ray collection features seven Allen-produced films (a couple of which are TV movies), with the most well-known being the sequel to The Poseidon Adventure, 1979’s Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. Also included are six other films spanning Allen’s most active years, 1976-1983, including Flood, Fire, Hanging By a Thread, When Time Ran Out, Cave-In, and The Night the Bridge Fell Down. Now, not all of these are as great as Allen’s best films, but I enjoyed most of them quite a bit. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of disaster movies, always have been, and so I love Allen’s works, even the lesser ones. And with cast members like Paul Newman, Robert Culp, Barbara Hershey, Leslie Nielsen, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, Patty Duke, Ernest Borgnine, and Vera Miles spread throughout the movies, there’s a lot to like, even when the scripts or special effects feel slightly dated.
The Special Features: While extra features would have been welcome, sadly all that you get is a collection of the films’ trailers.
The Wrap-Up: This seven-disc Blu-ray collection is just another example of Shout Factory bringing us the best quality versions of movies that aren’t in the mainstream anymore, but still have a fan following. I loved digging into several Allen films I’d never seen before, so this set comes highly recommended for any disaster movie fans!
Cobra Kai: Season 5
The Show: The hit Netflix series returns for another fun season filled with karate, ‘80s references, great music, solid drama, and some good comedy. By this point, even if you’re not watching Cobra Kai, you know that the show picks up some 30-odd years after the karate Kid movies and follows Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), as well as a new generation of karate kids come of age. Season Five continues the mix of furthering Johnny and Daniel’s stories with the usual mix of heart and slight cheesiness, while once again tapping into some deep cut guest stars from the movies, which is — of course — awesome. Every few episodes, it’s like, “I can’t believe they found a way to bring this character back!”, yet it all works so well. Sure the show has its cheesy moments, but if you just embrace it, I think you’ll have a ton of fun with it. Fans of the Karate Kid movies should really enjoy this show.
The Special Features: There’s not a ton, but you do get a set of deleted and extended scenes as well as a blooper reel.
The Wrap-Up: Season 5 of Cobra Kai continues to hit all the right notes. I keep waiting for the show to fall of a cliff, and it hasn’t happened yet. The characters are written perfectly, the humor is present, the music rocks, and you can’t help but get wrapped up in all of the drama and action the show brings with every episode.
Star Trek Prodigy: Season 1, Episodes 11-20
The Show: If this were a couple of years ago, I would have said that Star Trek: Prodigy — while ostensibly Trek’s “younger viewers” series — was the best Star Trek show on TV. But the franchise has been on fire lately, and I absolutely love me some Strange New Worlds. That said, Star Trek: Prodigy is absolutely fantastic. A CGI-animated series, this isn’t a kids’ cartoon. Instead, it’s a deeply layered animated adventure show that happens to be appropriate for all ages; in fact, it reminds me a lot of Star Wars Rebels and Clone Wars. The story follows a crew on non-Starfleet youngsters who find a Starfleet spaceship on a planet that they’re enslaved on and use it to escape. While on the run from the bad guys (and possibly Starfleet itself), they have to learn to become a crew and a family, with the help from a holographic Captain Janeway (voiced by Kate Mulgrew). The show works on every level: the characters are great, the voice actors are terrific, the action is fast-paced, there’s plenty of humor, the animation is gorgeous, and most importantly off all, it really feels like Star Trek. Don’t get caught up in this being a “kids’ show”; I promise you, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you will love Prodigy. In this half of the season, another legacy character is introduced to the proceedings – I won’t spoil who – but it’s one that fits in naturally and is a welcome return. This two-disc set contains the second half — 10 episodes — of the season; I wish that Paramount/CBS had just waited to release the whole season at once, but anything that gets people watching this show more is a good thing. Highly recommended!
The Special Features: You get three solid making-of featurettes that total about 45 minutes of running time, plus a collection of physical character cards in the Blu-ray package.
The Wrap-Up: I really can’t recommend Star Trek: Prodigy highly enough; don’t be thrown off by the fact that it’s a “kids” show, it’s really a high-quality TV series that doesn’t feel at all like it’s written for kids. If you are a Star Trek fan and you’re not watching Prodigy, you’re short-changing yourself. Check it out!
Halloween H20 (4K Ultra HD Steelbook)
The Movie: If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know already that I am a HUGE fan of the Halloween franchise. The original Halloween is my all-time favorite horror movie, and the entire Michael Myers franchise is my favorite horror series of all time. Now, as with pretty much any film series that numbers thirteen films, there’s going to be ups and downs. For example, I hate the Rob Zombie outings quite a bit, but I love most of the original eight films. For my money, though, Halloween H20 is one of the high points of the series. Before the most recent trilogy undid all of the events of everything after the first film, H20 made a perfect trilogy capper with Halloween and Halloween II. The other films between (Halloweens 3-6) have their own charms, but they got away from the main story and characters introduced in the first two films. H20 brought Laurie Strode back and did it really well. Despite some issues with the mask changing during production, re-shoots, and a whole new musical score being composed at the last minute, H20 really works. And it works because it got back to the roots of the original John Carpenter film: lower body count, minimal blood and guts, and a focus on suspense and tension instead of gore. Filmmakers since then have moved away from these aesthetics, but I love H20 because it feels the most like a John Carpenter film that wasn’t directed by John Carpenter. Now Halloween: H20 has been released on 4K ultra HD in a terrific Steelbook case, and it’s a welcome addition to any Halloween fan or Steelbook aficionado’s collection.
The 4K Audio/Video: This is the second time H20 has been released on 4K Ultra HD, and once again, this new version sees the film getting a nice upgrade from the Blu-ray and DVD releases in the past. The Dolby Vision treatment benefits the film nicely, with rich and even blacks and strong contrasts. Color saturation is strong, with daytime scenes bright and vivid, and nighttime scenes not seeing the various hues getting lost in the crush. The Dolby 5.1 surround soundtrack isn’t a masterpiece, but it does feature strong musical cues and clear dialogue, as well as some decent directional effects in the surround speakers. It’s a very strong overall presentation.
The Special Features: Paramount, what are you doing to us? This was one of the first DVDs I ever bought, in large part because it was loaded with extra features. Now that it’s got this beautiful Steelbook 4K, you drop it with literally no extras at all? Not a one? Unbelievable. What a huge disappointment.
The Wrap-Up: Halloween: H20 remains one of my favorite films in my favorite horror movie franchise. It’s not a perfect movie and it has its flaws, but I absolutely love it. This new Steelbook edition includes a digital copy for fans who have only ever owned the film as one of the many home video releases that dropped before digital movies became a thing, and the Steelbook itself looks great. It’s the lack of extras that really kills this, though. I can’t give it my full recommendation because of that, but everything else about it is great.
School of Rock (4K Ultra HD Steelbook)
The Movie: School of Rock was a moderate hit when it was released 20 years ago; it wasn’t a blockbuster smash, but it did pretty well overall at the box office. Over the years, it’s become something of a cult classic, however, with a whole generation of kids finding themselves inspired to play music as a result of the movie. It also helped cement Jack Black as a comedic movie star, even if he’s had one of the more unusual careers paths in the time since. The film itself is quite a bit of fun, even though it mines familiar territory. Black plays Dewey Finn, a failed musician who takes a job as a substitute teacher and uses his young students to form another rock band. But as with every similar movie from The Bad News Bears to The Mighty Ducks, Dewey eventually starts to care about the kids and teaches them how to believe in themselves. It’s a sports movie without the sports, but it’s a great film nonetheless. Now, Paramount has released a new 20th Anniversary Edition of School of Rock that presents the film in 4K Ultra HD, all packaged in a nice new Steelbook Case. Fans of the film will find this a great release to add to their collections.
The 4K Audio/Video: Comedies don’t always offer up the most for a 4K upgrade to work with, but School of Rock does look and sound pretty great on 4K Ultra HD. The transfer is clean and clear with impeccably sharp imagery and color saturation that gives the movie a really nice pop. The surround soundtrack really brings the music to life, giving it a real emphasis in the mix without ever overpowering everything else going on. It’s a great presentation of a great film.
The Special Features: While there are no new special features, this is still a disc bursting with bonus material. There are two audio commentary tracks, one with Jack Black and director Richard Linklater, and one with the kids in the cast. You also get a couple of featurettes, two video diary features (one with the kids and one with Black), and a few other goodies.
The Wrap-Up: School of Rock is an endearing, charming, and fun movie that also has heart, and that’s a tough combination to beat. It’s been on home video before, but this is easily the best version of the movie to hit home video yet.
The Last Dragon (4K Ultra HD Steelbook)
The Movie: “Who’s the master?” “SHO NUFF!” If that line doesn’t mean anything to you, then you probably a) didn’t grow up in the 80s, and b) won’t really care about The Last Dragon being released on 4K Ultra HD. For the rest of us, however, this release is about as exciting as it comes. As cult classic as a movie can get, this early ’80s gem is like a mash-up of a low-budget Bruce Lee film and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Watching it now, it’s cheesy and silly and ridiculous in all the best ways. The film follows Bruce Leroy (no, I’m not making that up), a young martial artist trying to achieve a level of mastery that will allow him to find “The Glow,” a concentration of martial arts energy that will literally make him glow. Along the way, he comes up against The Shogun Master of Harlem, Sho Nuff, and also falls in love and must rescue a singer from a crazy promoter. Honestly, no amount of telling you ABOUT the film can make The Last Dragon make sense to you, you have to see it for yourself. And once you do, I think you’ll become just as much of a fan as I am.
The 4K Audio/Video: One of the greatest cult classic movies ever made has now been restored and remastered for the 4K format. Usually, when you get older catalogue titles on 4K they get a slight upgrade from their last Blu-ray transfer. But The Last Dragon has new life breathed into it. Not just in the deeper color saturation, which is vibrant and vivd, but in the image clarity which — while still not perfect – looks better than it ever has on home video. The surround soundtrack is not a perfect mix; there are occasional scenes where the action sounds a little flat, but by and large, it really fills the room nicely, and the pop music soundtrack has never sounded better. Simply put, for a movie that has no shortage of home video releases, this is hands down the best version of it yet.
The Special Features: It’s rare these days to see a new special feature on a 4K release, but this one has got one. It’s an audio commentary track with comedian Amber Ruffin (who is amazing on Late Night with Seth Myers) and author Lacey Lamar. You also get some previously existing extras such as an audio commentary with director Michael Schultz, a lengthy retrospective documentary feature, and the film’s trailer.
The Wrap-Up: The Last Dragon was never a box office hit, but there’s a reason it keeps getting released on home video every time there’s a new format, and that’s because it’s an awesome and fun film. Is it great filmmaking? Definitely not. But is it one of the all-time cult classic greats? SHO NUFF!
Fall (4K Ultra HD Steelbook)
The Movie: While Fall borrows quite liberally from films like 47 Meters Down and Adam Green’s survival horror masterpiece Frozen (NOT the Elsa film), I have to admit I was blown away by it. It’s the simple story of two young women who climb to the top of an abandoned 2,000-foot-tall TV broadcast tower, only to see the ladder break off, trapping them at the top in the middle of the desert with no way down. That’s all you need about the story, but what you do need to know is that the film is so tense and suspenseful that you’ll have a knot in your stomach for almost the entire running time. I was literally sweating while watching it, and part of the reason for that is because of the amazing cinematography. The making-of on the disc reveals how it was filmed, but there is a ton of practically-shot footage with the two leads actually quite high up in the sky, and the realism that comes with that is tangible and takes the film to a whole new level. With terrific performances by Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner, you can excuse what minor plot contrivances there are (like phones with batteries that are apparently powered by magic) as you get caught up in the sheer intensity of it all. This one is definitely worth tracking down for a real survival suspense thriller.
The 4K Audio/Video: The film wasn’t a box office hit, but it seems to be gaining new life on home video and streaming. This week, we are treated to a new 4K Ultra HD Steelbook edition of Fall, currently only available at Best Buy. Now, this is an amazing-looking film to begin with, so the 4K upgrade makes the scenery and cinematography stand out even more. The colors bring the desert to life, while the razor sharp imagery gives the movie additional depth of field that only increases the vertigo the towering locations induces. The surround soundtrack doesn’t have a ton to work with, but dialogue is clean and clear and the surround channels do add to the atmosphere of the film (and I do mean atmosphere quite literally, they’re so high up!)
The Special Features: The disc includes an audio commentary with the director and t wo producers, a making-of featurette, a music video, and then a new 4K exclusive feature that looks at the film’s success.
The Wrap-Up: Fall is a cult classic in the making, and I’m a huge fan of it. I raved about the film when it first hit home video and I’m happy to have another opportunity to tell people how great it is. Track it down now so you can be the one to tell your friends about it rather than the other way around.
Fire Country: Season One
The Show: Sometimes I feel like there are enough police/medical/firefighter dramas in the world, but then I look at all the shows that my wife and daughter watch endlessly and realize there can never be enough for some people. Fire Country puts a slightly new spin on the genre, bringing us a firefighting drama that’s based on real life programs that utilize convicts to help fight massive forest fires while at the same time working to shorten their sentences. In Fire Country, Max Theriot plays Bode Donavan, a young convict who joins one of these elite fire fighting forces. Unfortunately for him, he ends up in the hometown he mysteriously left with a big secret, which fuels a lot of the drama of the show. With some great familiar-face supporting cast members such as Diane Farr, Billy Burke, and Ty Olsson, the show focuses on Bode and his past (as it collides with his present) and also gives us some pretty solid firefighting action on occasion, keeping it from being all drama and no action. While I wasn’t exactly looking for a new emergency services drama to watch, Fire Country sucked me in.
The Special Features: There are two making-of featurettes and a gag reel, which gives you about a half an hour’s worth of extras on this Season one collection. I’ll take it.
The Wrap-Up: While Fire Country does give us some formulaic storylines, the convict angle mixed with Bode’s mysterious past and the size of the fires they fight also gives the show a different feel, and I have to say that I liked it. Definitely worth a look if you’re in the need of a new show to add into the rotation.
The Movie: Cobweb is a textbook case of a pretty-good horror movie that could have been great but gets caught up in its own aspirations a bit too much. The film follows a young boy who’s a bit of a loner and who gets picked on at school, and who also keeps hearing unnerving tapping noises in his bedroom. His parents ignore his concerns, and he begins to suspect that they’re the cause of the noises and other sinister occurrences. We do too, as Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr (both great actors who you either know or will know when you see them on screen) play their roles with enough ambiguity to keep us guessing as to the roles the parents are playing here. The film is decently creepy, but then it all sort of falls a part a little at the ending, which tries to accomplish too many things at once. The film doesn’t always work when you think about the logic behind what’s happening on screen, but if you just go with it, it’s still a relatively fun ride.
The Special Features: There are three featurettes, but none of them runs longer than four minutes, so there’s less than ten minutes of material total here. Disappointing.
The Wrap-Up: Although I pointed out a few of its flaws, Cobweb is still one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in recent months. The genre has become so weak in recent years – either focusing on endless blood and guts or, even worse, getting artsy in the so-called “elevated horror” genre – that Cobweb stands out as a horror flick that will simply genuinely creep you out.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror
The Movie: As someone who’s only marginally an anime fan, I find that anime movies that don’t find a unique angle or do something truly innovative tend to leave me cold. Lonely Castle in the Mirror, unfortunately, doesn’t do anything new or interesting enough to win me over. The film focuses on teenage Kokomo, who is unhappy in her life and bullied at school. When she finds a portal to another place in her bedroom mirror, she meets up with six other teens who all have similar issues. They are greeted by the Wolf Queen, a young girl in a wolf mask, who tells the group they have one year to follow clues and find a room in which one of them will receive a wish. But if they break any of the rules, they’ll get eaten by a wolf. While the premise is intriguing, the film moves at a slow pace and is more concerned with the traumatic issues facing the teens than the mystery of the room and the wolves. And that’s okay, if you do it in a way that’s engaging and captivating, but the relationships never captured my imagination, and I found the film a little on the dull side.
The Special Features: Not much, just an art gallery and some trailers.
The Wrap-Up: Usually, with an anime movie, if the story doesn’t grab me, the animation is at least spectacular enough to give the film a little extra credit. Unfortunately, neither the story nor the animation in Lonely Castle in the Mirror stood out for me. Younger teen audiences might connect to it more than I did, but it’s not one I’d go out of my way for if I wasn’t in that demographic.
What’s New on Home Video – September 26th, 2023 – Elemental, Star Trek, Cobra Kai, Halloween, The Last Dragon, & More!
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