Bond is back, baby! (Oh yeah, and a bunch of other films, too.) One quick note, there are a couple of releases included this week that don’t street until December 28th (I’ve marked them accordingly) as there will be no new column next week. Enjoy!
No Time to Die – Daniel Craig wraps up his time as James Bond in style with the blockbuster hit and latest entry in the franchise, No Time To Die. Now, I’ve been a pretty huge fan of Craig’s films; with the exception of Quantum of Solace, I think they’re all pretty outstanding. And No Time to Die puts a nice capper on the five film series-within-a-series, tying together elements from the previous four films and making the whole thing come together nicely. It’s got some incredible action sequences, good character development, and it wraps up all the story elements put into place in the films that came before it. While I’m excited to see where the franchise goes next, I don’t think I could have enjoyed this film more. No Time to Die 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.The film has numerable vivd locations 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!
The Many Saints of Newark – I don’t really know what to say about this movie. It’s… fine? Having never been a Sopranos fan, I’ve only really seen a few episodes of the show, and while you can certainly follow the story of Many Saints just fine without having seen the show, the context is clearly missing. I’m sure there are characters and nuances that I didn’t pick up on because I didn’t watch the show. Michael Gandolfini does a good job as the teenaged Tony Soprano, and the way he looks like his dad and captures some of his mannerisms is impressive. The supporting cast, which includes Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, Leslie Odom Jr., and Billy Magnussen all do a good job as well, so it’s a perfectly well-crafted film. But ultimately, I think fans of the show will get a lot more out of this film than I did.
The French Dispatch (Dec. 28) – The French Dispatch might the most Wes Anderson-y film that Wes Anderson has ever made. Now, I’ll admit right up front that I am most decidedly not a Wes Anderson fan. There are only one or two movies of his I like. But The French Dispatch took all of the things I don’t like about his movies and doubled down on them. First of all, Anderson has clearly never met a square he didn’t like; literally every scene in this movie is framed in a square shape or image of some sort. It’s maddening. And the story is less a story than a pastiche. It’s basically an artsy magazine brought to life in film form, so you get three shorter stories and some interludes instead of an actual narrative. The film also switches back and forth from color to black and white; I assume to mimic the look of a magazine, but I found it annoying and unnecessary. Sure, the cast is great, but it’s also like, “Look it’s a Wes Anderson movie! There’s Bill Murray! There’s Ed Norton! There’s Bob Balaban!” Same old same old, only more so. This one was a chore to get through.
Manifest: The Complete Third Season – One of the few TV shows in the past couple of years that’s generated some actual buzz, Manifest is the kind of show that I really like but I wish the format could be tweaked. The story follows a passenger jet that disappears mid-flight and then reappears five years later – but nobody on board has aged a day. That’s the hook, and to say more would spoil the surprises to come, of which there are many. If I have any problem with the show, it’s the aforementioned format, by which I mean the fact that it’s a continuing series that will presumably have a fourth season coming soon. Like so many other high concept shows I can think of (Prison Break, Under the Dome, and Zoo all come to mind) I’m worried that the show is going to have a gangbusters first few seasons, and then fall off a cliff fast because it’s hard to keep these kinds of stories going plausibly. Still, the first season was terrific and Seasons Two and Three have been a decent ride, so I’ll stick with it for now.
One Night In Miami… – It’s rare that a new movie goes straight to release via the Criterion Collection, but I guess when the company feels strongly about a film, they don’t see any reason to waste time. One Night in Miami debuted earlier this year in theaters and on Amazon Prime, and it gained widespread critical acclaim. The film (directed by the uber-talented actress Regina King) tells the story of when four of the biggest names in the Civil Rights movements came together in a hotel room for one night following a major boxing match. Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, football star Jim Brown, and singer Sam Cooke met up to bare their souls to each other, and this film (based on a stage play) imagines what that conversation was like. Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, and Kingsley Ben-Adir are all utterly incredible as the foursome of celebrities, and while you can tell the film is based on a play, (it rarely steps outside of the motel room) that doesn’t detract from its power at all. In fact, King has done a masterful job of taking a dialogue-driven film and turned it into a powerhouse of personalities and performances. As with all Criterion releases, the film has been given a top notch audiovisual presentation and it comes loaded with extra features. This is definitely one to track down.
Street Fighter – When Street Fighter came out in 1994, it was a pretty big flop, and it was critically savaged. And there’s a reason for that, which is that the film isn’t very good. But somewhere in the past three decades, it’s sort of transformed itself from an epically bad video game adaptation into a super-cheesy-fun cult classic, and I think the world is a better place for it. Starring Jean Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia (in his final role, sadly) and Ming Na Wen, the film took a pretty simple fighting game and fleshed out its story to include an international military strike force, an evil dictator, a hostage situation, and plenty of over-the-top action. It’s not great, but it’s easy now to watch it and just have fun with it as a throwback to a simpler era of video games and their related films. And while the film has been available on home video before, now Mill Creek has given us a Steelbook edition of the Blu-ray which includes the film wrapped up in a Steelbook case with some truly epic artwork on it. Seriously, it’s worth picking up just for the case alone! But on top of that, you also get brand new extra features like interviews with writer/director Steven E. De Souza, producer Edward R. Pressman, composer Graeme Revell, and cast members Ming-Na Wen and Damian Chapa. Sweet!
South of Heaven – Jason Sudeikis is best known for comedy, but as any fan of Ted Lasso knows, he can also handle drama with ease. However, it’s rare to see him take on a fully dramatic role like his one in South of Heaven. This new crime drama sees Sudeikis as the trademarked Bank Robber Who’s Not Really a Bad Guy That Gets Out of Jail and Keeps Getting Roped Back Into Crime, except this time he’s trying to keep his nose clean so he can be with his Childhood Sweetheart (played Evangeline Lily) who is dying of cancer. Shea Whigham shows up as a Crooked Parole Officer, and he’s fantastic as always, as is Mike Colter as a Real Bad Guy. In fact, the entire cast is terrific, but the plot goes from one rehashed cliche to another (with a few minor surprises along the way.) There is an exceptionally well-shot action sequence to be found in there, and the film isn’t bad at all, it’s just nothing we haven’t seen before. Still, there are worse ways to kill a couple of hours.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Ultraman Gaia: 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, like the last few releases in the series, this six-disc set 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. Ultraman Gaia is one of the most recent entries in the franchise, released originally in 1998, and I think it directly follows Ultraman Dyna (the previous releases in the DVD series), although I’m not an Ultraman expert. This time around, we return to earth and take on a more classic Ultraman dynamic: our hero Ultraman fights a myriad of kaiju-style monsters after a wormhole opens near earth. 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
- Jack Irish: Season 3 – Guy Pearce stars the third season of this fierce Australian-set crime drama based on Peter Temple’s award-winning novels. The show follows Jack, a lawyer who’s wife was murdered, become a sort of investigator-for-hire, fighting not only bad guys but his own demons, often with a bottle of liquor to aid him. It’s dark and well-written, but it also has a sense of humor that shows up from time to time, keeping it from veering into “bleak” territory. The excellent Marta Dusseldorp from A Place to Call Home co-stars with Pearce, who is utterly terrific in the lead role. If you’re interested in the show, I’d recommend starting at the beginning, but it’s definitely worth diving into.
- Hell Hath No Fury – It takes a little while for this World War II film to kick into high gear, but once it does, it never really lets up. Directed by B-movie action directing stalwart Jesse Johnson, the film follows a woman who has been branded a traitor by her own French resistance e. When she is rescued by a group of American soldiers, they offer to help her in exchange for her help in locating a Nazi gold treasure. The film isn’t as lofty as that description might make it sound, but it does have a serious amount of ass kicking in it, with numerous gunfights and other mayhem. The cast is not Oscar-caliber, but nor do they act with the stiffness so common in lower-budgeted films. This is a solid actioner that will easily chew up a couple of hours for you.
- Mary Pickford: Sparrows – While she’s not exactly a household name now, back in the silent film era, Mary Pickford was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Now, VCI films — along with the Mary Pickford Foundation and the Library of Congress — have decided to preserve Pickford’s legacy with what I assume to be the first in a series of Blu-ray releases. Sparrows is a much darker and more serious film than most of the silent movies I’ve seen; the story deals with illegal adoption and what is almost a form of human trafficking. Now what you expect when you think of silent movie stars like Charlie Chaplin or Rudolph Valentino. But apparently Pickford wanted to support some important causes with her fame, and Sparrows was one of the resultant films from that. The release doesn’t feature any real extra features — not surprising for a film that’s a century old — but there is a new musical score and it’s an important preservation effort.
- Final Justice – You know when your movie has a main character named Thomas Jefferson Geronimo, you’re in for a certain kind of good time. Following up his star-making turn in Walking Tall, Joe Don Baker once again takes the action hero role in Final Justice, a 1984 movie that is ripe for watching as long as you know what you’re getting into. Baker plays a Texas sheriff who is escorting a prisoner overseas to Malta. When the prisoner escapes, well… you know what happens. Violence. Sheriff Geronimo is a more single-minded character than Baker’s Buford Pusser in the Walking Tall movies, and the film itself is not great. It’s a little too cheesy and lacks any subtlety, nuance, or creativity. However, if you’re looking for a low-grade ‘80s actioner to scratch a particular itch, this new MVD Rewind Collection entry will fit the bill. The Blu-ray includes a new commentary and making-of, plus a mini poster, so fans will find this a worthwhile release.
- The Girl Who Believes in Miracles – Mira Sorvino, Kevin Sorbo, and Peter Coyote all appear as top billed stars with smaller parts in this direct-to-video faith-based film. The story follows a girl who hears that prayer is powerful, so she begins to pray and people in her town start to find themselves cured of various maladies. I don’t mind all faith-based movies, but this one seems to posit that things that are not medically possible are possible through prayer. And while I don’t want to start any arguments, it’s a bit of a big pill to swallow for non-religious audiences. I would say this film will give exactly what it wants to devout viewers, but everyone else should steer clear.
- Chicago Double Feature: Now More Than Ever/The Terry Kath Experience – Chicago, one of the most popular and enduring rock and roll bands in music history, is the subject of this new Blu-ray double feature from MVD. The first film, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is a 2019 documentary that traces the bands career from 1967 to the present (as of 2019). It’s a pretty standard music doc, but it does give you a pretty nice timeline of thebans and their accomplishments. The Terry Kath Experience focuses on guitarist Terry Kath, an amazing guitar virtuoso who died young. The film was made by his daughter, who dove into the family film vaults and presents a lot of rare footage and interviews with people who knew Kath best. It’s actually the better film in my opinion, but both being packaged together is a nice get for Chicago fans.
- Mosley – This new lower-budgeted direct-to-video animated film features the voice talents of Lucy Lawless, Temeura Morrison, Rhys Darby, and John Rhys Davies, although the lead role is played by the film’s writer and director, Kirby Atkins. The film follows Mosley, a “thorphant” (think an elephant crossed with a yak) who decides to break free from his human captors and go in search of a group of his kind who he believes can help him. I don’t usually expect much from these animated films that are kind of churned out for the DTV market, but this probably one of the better ones I’ve seen from this genre. It’s fun enough and the animation is pretty solid, plus the voice cast is a lot of fun. Smaller kids especially will likely enjoy this one the most.
What’s New on Home Video – December 21st/28th – James Bond, The Sopranos. Wes Anderson, & More!
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