This week sees the release of a Marvel blockbuster, a major Academy Award contender, and an underwhelming horror franchise sequel. Read on for more!
The Eternals – I guess in a way The Eternals could be considered Marvel’s first big box office “miss,” although I still have a hard time considering a film that grossed $164 million in the US alone (and over $300 million worldwide) a “miss.” However, there’s no denying that it’s one of Marvel’s most divisive films, with some fans loving it and some fans… well, loving it a lot less. Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of it. And while I am a comic book reader, I’ve probably read about three Eternals comics in my life, so I’m not coming into it with any more knowledge than anybody else. I just really dug the film. Sure, it has some flaws, and yes it’s a lot of new characters to try and learn about in a short time, but I think Marvel fit an awful lot into one film and did it in a way that made it clear who everyone was and what they could do. And Gemma Chan, who I’ve liked for a while now, is a revelation as Sersi, truly standing out even amongst a terrific ensemble cast. And I think it gets better with repeat viewings, as some of the “Wait, which time period are we in here?” confusion from the initial viewing dissipates. I know not everyone loved it, but I would definitely recommend watching The Eternals. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but it’s still an awful lot of fun.
King Richard – Will Smith has received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his role as Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams in this new biopic. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (an also extremely deserving Aunjenue Ellis), Best Screenplay, and Best Editing. And while I generally have some pretty big problems with the Academy and their choices, this time they got it right. King Richard is utterly fantastic. The film focuses largely on Richard Williams and his plan for Venus and Serena to become tennis stars, which he crafted before they were even born. Throughout the film, we see the family’s struggles with poverty, racism, and the struggle for success. The film focuses more on Venus Williams’ ascent than Serena’s, as she entered the pros two years before her younger sister, but it’s equally about Richard and what he does to give them every opportunity to succeed. The film is funny, dramatic, touching, and exciting, with some great tennis sequences and some battles against everything from street gangs to hype to competitors to other parents. Will Smith is absolutely amazing in his role, but honestly there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, with the Williams sisters brought to life expertly by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton. Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal also deliver terrific supporting performances. There are some other great films in the Best Picture race this year, but King Richard is easily one of my frontrunners.
Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City – I’m about as big a fan of the Resident Evil franchise as you’ll find. I’ve seen all six movies multiple times, and even though I’ve never really played the video games, I’v always just loved the Milla-Jovovich-Versus-Zombies-and-Monsters films. If I believed in guilty pleasures, these would be mine. So you have to work pretty hard to make a Resident Evil movie that I’m not going to enjoy. Well, congratulations to the filmmakers of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, then, because they’ve done exactly that. This prequel to the first film has a good cast (that includes Neal McDonough, Robbie Amell, Kaya Scodelario, and Donal Logue), so it should have been a no-brainer, but the film is just bad. The script is mediocre at best, and I’m personally of the opinion that prequels are almost always completely unnecessary. But the biggest problem is with the filmmaking. The movie is so incredibly dark at all times that you can never tell what the heck is happening on screen. There’s one scene that is lit only by the muzzle flash of a machine gun, which sounds cool in concept, but it’s virtually impossible to tell what’s happening on screen. The film is basically a mess, and I’m certainly far from a tough critic when it comes to this franchise. Super disappointing.
Heels: The Complete First Season – I’m not a real wrestling fan, but I’ve always found the behind-the-scenes world of professional wrestling utterly fascinating. So of course, I wanted to watch Heels, the new Starz show focusing on two warring brothers in a small town Georgia wrestling league. Starring Stephen Amell of Arrow fame, the show focuses on Jack and Ace Spade, brothers who star in the Duffy Wrestling League, a rural Georgia small town outfit with dreams of going bigger. Jack feels the weight of his wrestling father’s legacy, while Ace wants the fame, the girls, and the money. Needless to say, tensions between the two are high. The show gives a realistic glimpse behind the scenes at how wrestling works: the storylines, the techniques, the injuries, and it’s all fascinating. But of course, what drives the show is the drama; not just between the two brothers, but with the wives, the fans, the hangers-on, and the various townspeople. It’s a really great show; lots of drama but also some humor and interesting characters. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, I think you’ll dig it quite a bit.
The Skulls Trilogy – Mill Creek continues their dominance of the catalog home video market with a release that I personally was very glad to see. This new Blu-ray collection brings us all three of The Skulls films from the early 2000s. The original film starred Paul Walker and Joshua Jackson, and it’s a really terrific ‘90s-vibe thriller, about a college student who gets in over his head with a secret society at an Ivy League school. It’s a fun, exciting thriller; nothing deep, but a really good time. Now, the two follow-up films were direct-to-video releases that basically mirror the structure of the first film with a few deviations, so while they’re not great per se, they’re still fun, easy viewing experiences. The Skulls II features Robin Dunne in the lead role, while Buffy’s Clare Kramer anchors The Skulls III. What’s great is that Mill Creek puts out budget-priced releases, so you basically get all three films for the price of one regular Blu-ray, and the first movie alone makes this set worth having. This is a nice throwback release that’s a fun way to revisit some films that you might have forgotten about.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Paranoiac: Collector’s Edition – Shout Factory’s horror imprint Scream Factory reaches back to yesteryear with there latest release, a Collector’s Edition of Paranoiac. This 1963 flick may not be the most remembered thriller of its era, but Scream Factory has done a good job of making a case for its inclusion in their line-up. Starring Oliver Reed and Janette Scott, the film tells the tale of a man long believed dead who returns after eight years to claim his family inheritance. The only problem is that the surviving brother is scheming to drive his sister insane so that he can get the inheritance for himself. It’s a surprisingly good thriller from a time when the genre could often be more just cheesy schlock than anything else. This new Collector’s Edition sees the film get a new high def scan, and also includes some great extra features such as an audio commentary, a making-of feature, and a few interview featurettes. This is a film most people probably haven’t heard of, but it’s a fun watch that’s worth tracking down.
- Summer of Soul – Acclaimed musician Questlove (of The Roots) delves into filmmaking with this hybrid documentary/concert film. Back in 1969, filmmakers captured The Harlem Cultural Festival in Mount Morris Park on film. This festival attracted hundreds of thousands of people and featured acts such as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and others, and it should have been a cultural touchstone. But instead, it was largely forgotten. Well, Questlove has decided — and rightfully so — that all of that footage needs to be seen, and so he brings us Summer of Soul. The film features some stunning performance footage from some of the biggest names in R&B and soul music of the 1960s mixed with interviews about the impact of the event and people’s memories of the times. It’s a terrifically balanced film with some incredible musical performances, and it’s definitely worth watching, even if you’re not a fan of the genre of music that’s featured in it.
- Ghostriders – MVD’s Rewind Collection is quietly doing a great job of bringing out excellent Collector’s Editions of cult classic and little-seen films. Their newest release is Ghostriders, a B-movie horror flick from 1987. Made on a low budget with no real stars, the film is a western-themed horror movie about a group of outlaws who were hanged in the 1800s whose spirits come back to take revenge on their modern day ancestors. Now, it’s not a great film; heck, it’s not even really a good film. It’s mostly just people running around getting shot at and shooting back at bad guys dressed like cowboys, and it misses a lot of opportunities for fish-out-of-water humor with the ghosts by taking the action out of the town almost right from the start. But if this is one of those movies that you used to catch on repeat on HBO or Cinemax late at night, then at least MVD has brought you a good Collector’s Edition of the film, which is released on Blu-ray for the first time. It also includes a number of extra features including a new making-of documentary, an audio commentary, and various other extras. It’s a great package, even if the film itself is not so great.
- Seobok: Project Clone – This new Korean sci-fi action film is a solidly entertaining movie that stops short of being good enough to really win you over. The film sees a special agent brought in to protect the first human clone from the various bad guys/governmental types who want to claim him because he may hold the secret to eternal life. The resulting chaos gives us a few good action sequences and a pretty good ending that make the film overall enjoyable. But it’s nearly two hours, which feels about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be, and the film has some pacing issues. The action is good hen it happens, but there could have been more of it. The film is well shot and looks great, and I think people will like it if they don’t let their expectations get away from them.
- Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia – This Lifetime movie is a biopic of legendary singer Mahalia Jackson, who was both a beloved gospel singer and a civil rights activist. Perhaps best known for her civil rights rally performances of We Will Overcome, she led an interesting and often heartbreaking life beyond that. This biopic spans Jackson’s life and shows us the highs as well as the lows, most of which came from the men in her life, who often stole her money and left her heartbroken. It’s not a high budget affair and there are no big name stars in it, but it’s an easily watchable film that gives us a Hollywood-ized version of her life.
- Soumaya – This intriguing French film is based on a true story of Soumaya, a practicing Muslim woman, who is abruptly fired from the Parisian law firm she’s worked for for 14 years. When she finds out that she is being erroneously linked with terrorist organizations in the wake of 2015’s Paris attacks, she has to decide whether or not to fight back. Unwilling to just give in, she takes the case to court in an effort to prove that she was the victim, of profiling and discrimination. It’s an interesting story and the fact that it’s based on real events makes it even more fascinating. The performances are excellent and the story is gripping. Worth a watch for sure.
- Marionette Land – This new documentary focuses on Robert Brock, a man who runs a marionette puppet theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Not only does he run it, but he writes and stars in and puppets all of the shows as well. The film focuses on Robert, who lives above the little theater with his mother, and the troubles they’re going through as they prepare for the theaters 30th anniversary. It’s a charming little film, and Brock — who sounds like he could just be a weirdo — is oddly endearing. Worth a look if you’re interested in something a little bit different.
- They Say Nothing Stays the Same – This 2019 Japanese film is the very definition of “arthouse.” And I’m sure that some people will love it because of that, but honestly, the only positive things I can say about it are that it’s well-made and well-acted. It’s also incredibly long and dull. The film follows a ferryman in a small Japanese village who helps people and their goods across the river. But when he finds out a bridge is being built, he realizes he will soon be obsolete. Thing change even more when he resumes a mysterious young woman from the river. That’s about as much of a plot as the film has. Its two-hour running time is filled with long, silent shots with very little happening; it’s much more a film about atmosphere and scenery than plot or character. It’s kind of like a visual poem. It looks great, but I personally didn’t find a lot of substance worth diving into, personally.
- WB Archive Catalog Spotlight – The Warner Brothers Archive (www.warnerarchive.com) has several new release out, bringing us some terrific classic Hollywood films on Blu-ray for the first time. First up is National Velvet, the film that made a star out of Elizabeth Taylor. Also starring Mickey Rooney, this 1944 film is the original a-girl-and-her-horse movie, with a young ingenue and an experienced jockey grooming a wild horse for racing greatness. The film won two Oscars and made Elizabeth Taylor a household name, and it’s a pretty good classic Hollywood feel-good drama, too. Next up is The Thin Man Goes Home and Song of the Thin Man, the fifth and sixth films in the Thin Man series. One of the quintessential film franchises of the 1930s and 40s, the series blended screwball comedies and mystery thrillers, based on the books by Dashiell Hammett. William Powell and Myrna Loy return to play Nick and Nora Charles, and this time around, the duo try to solve a murder case in Nick’s hometown in The Thin Man Goes Home and try to solve a murder on a gambling boat in Song of the Thin Man. They’re so much fun, and it’s great to have them in high def. Following that, we have Some Came Running, a 1958 drama starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine. The film follows a returning soldier and the women in his life, as well as internal struggles as a failed writer. Directed by Vicente Minnelli, the film sees Sinatra giving one of the most searing performances of his career, and Martin and MacLaine are no slouches either. It’s a surprisingly good film that hits hard and has an impact. Perhaps my favorite of this current batch of releases is Angels With Dirty Faces, the 1938 gangster film that was an early blockbuster for James Cagney, one of my favorites. The film sees a priest trying to stop Cagney’s gangster character from corrupting a group of street youths, and it’s electric. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who brought us the greatest film of all time with Casablanca (and Angels also stars Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role), the film is one of the great gangster movies of the era, and I’m super excited to have it on Blu-ray. Another big name film making its Blu-ray debut is Ivanhoe, the 1952 epic starring Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband, Robert Taylor. This medieval action adventure film features some truly great action sequences (most notably the castle siege), but also manages to squeeze in a little bit of social commentary for the time. And they fit it all in in just under two hours! Fantastic! Finally, the last release is Stage Fright, a 1950 mystery starring Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich, and directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. While not one of Hitchcock’s marquee big name films, it is nonetheless a taut thriller filled with the signature cinematography that made Hitchcock so revered. I’m not sure why this one didn’t get a full retail release, because a Hitchcock film is something to be celebrated, but it’s still great to have it on Blu-ray finally.
What’s New on Home Video – February 15th, 2022 – Marvel’s Eternals, Resident Evil, King Richard, Heels, & More!
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