It’s a SUPER week this week, as we’ve got not one, not two, but three separate Superman-themed releases. But don’t worry, there’s also some other great releases, including a fantastic new horror movie, a classics collection, and a familiar FBI agent making their debut on the small screen. Read on!
Smallville: The Complete Series – As a big Superman fan, I couldn’t be happier about the multiple Superman-themed releases this week. First and foremost, however, is a massive new box set collecting one of my favorite shows on Blu-ray in its entirety for the first time, Smallville: The Complete Series. This 42-disc box set collects all ten seasons on Blu-ray for the first time, and it’s an incredible viewing experience. Smallville focused on Clark Kent’s years as a teenager in Smallville, Kansas, along with his first love, Lana Lang, and his good-friend-turned-archnemesis Lex Luthor. Tom Welling is one of the definitive Clark Kents in my opinion, and Michael Rosenbaum delivers my favorite onscreen Lex Luthor ever. Over the course of ten seasons, we see Clark transform from a shy teenager to a true hero, all while only ever giving us a glimpse of him as Superman proper in the final episode. Like most great sci-fi shows, Smallville gave us great villain-of-the-week episodes while also delivering season-long mythology storylines that took us deeper into the Superman mythos. This set not only gives you the entire series, but it also includes all of the extra features from the original home video releases, equalling hours of extras to sort through. Below, I’ve included a link to the 20th Anniversary Conversation with Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum from last weekend’s DC Fandome event, which includes some cool behind-the-scenes footage as well. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Superman & Lois: The Complete First Season – Even though I’m a huge Superman fan, for some reason I wasn’t all that interested in Superman & Lois when it debuted on TV last season. I think I found the trailers a little lackluster, and I basically skipped the show. But of course, when the review copies come in, I have to dive in, and I’m happy to report that I was completely wrong about this show. I really, really enjoyed Superman & Lois. In this version of the man of steel, he and Lois have two teenage sons: twins Jonathan and Jordan. Jonathan is the all-American good-looking quarterback, while Jordan is the broody, moody, troubled son. The show starts with the family moving back to Smallville so Clark can connect with his sons more as they come of age. Will they develop powers? I won’t spoil it, but I’ll say that I like the way the show handles it. Tyler Hoechlin is terrific as Clark/Superman, and Elizabeth Tulloch grew on me as Lois within the first two episodes. I also really like the relationship between the two brothers. Actually, I like all of the relationships on this show; they feel real. If Smallville was the pre-Metropolis Superman, this show is sort of the post-Metropolis Superman (but don’t worry, there’s still enough costumed action to keep fans interested.) And while the show isn’t a direct sequel to Smallville, taking place in a separate universe, there is some spiritual DNA that the shows share, and I like that. I love Superman, and I’m excited to see him get another high quality TV series to carry on his legacy. RECOMMENDED!
Injustice – It’s funny, a few days before I received my review copy of Injustice, the newest DC animated movie, I read an article online about how fans of the Injustice game on which the film is based hated the movie so much they were going on social media to trash it. (Why this was newsworthy I have no idea, because people go on social media to complain about movies they hate all the time.) But what struck me the most is that not only did I really enjoy Injustice, it’s one of my favorite DC animated movies in the last few years. Now, maybe that’s because I’ve never played the video game, but this alternate take on the DC universe — where Superman begins to police the world through force after a major tragedy — was a really cool alternate history take on one of my favorite heroes. I mean, I didn’t love the costume designs (which I imagine were inspired by the game), but other than that, I found the story to be gripping, the action scenes excellent, and the use of lesser-seen characters like Mr. Terrific and Plastic Man to all be points in the film’s favor. Apparently some people hated this film, but I loved it. Injustice comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and the premium format treats the animation extremely well, with deep, rich colors and dark, solid blacks. The surround soundtrack has a lot to work with and it gives your speakers a real workout. RECOMMENDED!
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions – The first Escape Room film took me by surprise. What I expected to be a cheap and nasty horror flick was actually an incredibly suspenseful and innovative thriller that I instantly fell in love with. With the new Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, I found my expectations once again defied. I assumed we’d see a typical drop in quality that is so often found in horror sequels. Instead, what I got was an excellent film that equals the first one and furthers the mythology of the Escape Room universe. Honestly, this is a franchise that could easily go for several movies without getting stale, because in addition to the central conceit of deadly escape room challenges, there’s a deeper story at play about a cabal of evil games masters that subject innocent people to their live-streamed death traps. It’s juicy stuff, and I love it, just like I love how both films have managed to be scary and intense without resorting to excessive gore or cheap jump scares. The home video version of Escape Room: TOC includes an extended cut that adds (or more accurately changes) a whopping 25 minutes of footage in the film, including an alternate ending and alternate beginning. Amazingly, it’s almost a completely different film, with different characters and subplots, and I found the whole thing a fascinating experience. In terms of bonus features on a home video release, getting a whole new version of a film is a pretty darn good one! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 2 – Columbia drops the second volume of a massive box series this week that will please cinema fans immensely: The Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 2. This multi-disc beauty that includes new 4K Ultra HD versions of six classic films from the Columbia vaults, all making their 4K debuts. The films included are: Anatomy of a Murder, Oliver!, Taxi Driver, Stripes, Sense and Sensibility, and The Social Network. The set includes a brand new 4K Ultra HD disc for each film, but also includes each film on Blu-ray, ensuring that all of the original extra features are included in this set. Each film has been restored and remastered in the Ultra HD format, and despite the age range of the films, by and large each one has been wonderfully revitalized in the new format. Taxi Driver, for example, looks better than I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve seen the film on both DVD and Blu-ray previously. Oliver and Sense and Sensibility both sparkle with bright new colors and improved clarity. Anatomy of a Murder is in black and white, but it showcases brilliant contrasts and excellent shadow delineation. The Social Network, as the newest film in the set, already looked pretty great, but seeing a David Fincher film in Ultra HD is the way you want to watch his movies. Technically speaking, you can’t beat the job Sony has done with these transfers. II can understand the complaints some people have had about the movie selection for these sets (maybe Taxi Driver fans and Oliver! Fans don’t share much of a Venn diagram), but most of the choices were drawn from a poll Sony took of movie watchers, so it does reflect what people want to some extent. Ultimately, it’s a nice mix of stone-cold cinema classics and newer classics that deserve a place in the movie pantheon. This is a terrific set overall, and I hope we’ll see another excellent set like continuing this series in the near future. Oh yeah, and it’d make a heck of a great holiday gift! RECOMMENDED!
Clarice: Season One – I’m as big a fan of Silence of the Lambs as there is, both the classic film and the original novel by Thomas Harris. I was curious to see how a TV show about Clarice Starling with no appearances by Hannibal Lecter (he’s only mentioned briefly) would turn out. And while I will say it took me a couple of episodes to get into it, by the end of the first season I was hooked. This is one of those shows that literally got better with each episode, as Clarice and her team deal with serial killers, abductions, and the like. But there’s a narrative mystery that runs through the season and builds to a climax in the finale that really drives the drama, and it’s twisted and creepy in all the right ways. I also like that the show brought in other elements from the original film, such as the damaged character of Catherine Martin, the young woman that Clarice saves from Buffalo Bill in the film. It’s a complicated and layered show, and it is often unsettling and suspenseful, but I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see what’s coming in season two! RECOMMENDED!
Demons I & II – This terrific new Limited Edition Set from Synapse Films collects the two Demons horror movies from the 1980s, both directed by Italian horror master Lamberto Bava and produced and co-written by the legendary filmmaker Dario Argento. The first film sees a group of moviegoers trapped in a movie theater and set upon by ravenous demons, while the second film ups the ante and sees an entire high rise apartment building under attack by demons. Think The Raid, but with demons instead of hired guns. Here’s the thing: both of the films (which are in Italian) are plagued by low budgets, plot holes, questionable acting, and mediocre scripts… but none of that matters. These aren’t movies you watch for brilliant cinematography and Oscar-worthy performances. They’re gonzo Italian horror (a genre which has a very clear identity) and they feature murder and mayhem and, obviously, demons, and they’re very atmospheric and a lot of fun. This two-disc set includes both films on Blu-ray (there is also a 4K edition available) and each film comes loaded with special features like documentaries, interviews, commentary tracks, essays, and more. It’s a terrific package for fans of Argento, Bava, and their entire genre.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- No Man of God – Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby star in this drama recounting the final years of serial killer Ted Bundy’s life and his relationship with the FBI agent who was the only person he would reveal his secrets to. Kirby plays Bundy, while Elijah Wood plays real life agent Bill Hagmaier. In the latter half of the 80s, Hagmaier recorded a series of conversations with Bundy, which fuels the narrative of this film. The film works best when it’s Wood and Kirby going at it mano y mano in a simple room; their back and forth is energetic and captivating. When the film ventures outside of these confines, it flags. The movie is interesting enough to be worth watching, but it’s not a slam dunk, save for the performances which are uniformly excellent.
- The Night House – Interestingly, last week I reviewed a movie called The Awakening, which starred Rebecaa Hall in a boarding school house that may or may not be haunted. That film was from 2011, and I guess it was enough time between horror films, because this week we have Rebecca Hall once again starring in a film where she plays a woman in a house that may or may not be haunted. Of course, the tone and details of the movie are quite different, this time Hall playing a woman whose husband has recently committed suicide. As she goes through his things, she starts to realize there was a lot about her husband she didn’t know, and also that he might not be 100% gone from her life. It’s a solid haunted house thriller; this is not a gory, splashy horror flick. It is instead a quiet, moody thriller with a few intense jump scares and a lot of atmosphere. Hall’s performance is — predictably — terrific, but the film moves a little slow at time for my tastes. Still, worth a watch if you need something good to watch around Halloween.
- Coppelia – Sometimes you have to rely on a film’s synopsis to describe the plot, and Coppelia is one of those films: “When everyone in town falls under the spell of charismatic cosmetic surgeon Doctor Coppelius, feisty Swan must save her sweetheart Franz before his heart is used to spark life into Coppelia, the robot-woman the Doctor has created.” So, basically, this film is a hybrid between animation and live action ballet, which makes it pretty unique. It also features no dialogue, so it’s kind of like a musical, but with no songs or spoken word. The film starts out much like a stage play, but as the story progresses and the animation becomes more prevalent, it starts to feel like its own unique work of art. The film is certainly impressive visually. I can’t say I got too caught up in the story or the characters, as ballet leaves me a little cold, but I think there’s definitely an audience for this film.
- Corridor of Mirrors – This 1948 film was the debut feature of Terence Young, who would go on to launch the James Bond franchise with Dr. No in 1962. This unusually moody and atmospheric movie focuses on a man who lives trapped in the past, collecting renaissance art and making his house into almost a museum. When he becomes convinced that a woman is the reincarnation of a past-life lover, things start to get more and more intense. It’s a bit of an oddball film, but it really feels so different from other movies of the era that I was quite impressed with it. There are no big main stars in the film, but it does feature a young Christopher Lee in one of his earliest roles, which is kind of cool. Worth a look if you want something a little bit out there and a little bit unusual.
- Dolly Parton & Porter Waggoner & Friends: Country Legends – This two-disc set is a treasure for Dolly Parton fans. Now, I didn’t know much about this part of her history, but this set filled in some gaps for me. Apparently, she was hired in 1967 to be on Porter Waggoner’s show, which she did for a decade before moving on to her own career heights. This set sees one disc collecting a number of musical features from Porter Waggoner’s show from 1967-1974, all of which feature Dolly and several other musical guests (admittedly, most of whom I’ve never heard of.) The second disc sees Dolly seemingly having become a bigger star and the performances here all come from 1976. There are some familiar faces joining her here, such as KC and the Sunshine band, who appear on several numbers. The fashion and hairdos will either thrill you or terrify you, but either way, you can’t deny the musical talent on display here and the wealth of rare footage on display in this two-disc collection.
- Final Set – This sports drama from France is both quite formulaic and also quite good. The film follows a former tennis prodigy, now 37, in questionable physical shape, and full of unfulfilled ambitions. He enters the qualifying round of the French Open in hopes of one last shot at glory and living up to his potential. Starring Alex Lutz and Kristin Scott Thomas, the film doesn’t really break any new ground, but the performances are strong and the story does keep you wondering how far this athlete will go. I wish the sports sequences were a little more dazzling, but all in all, it’s a worthy dramatic entry.
- The Rifleman – Not to be confused with the long-running classic Hollywood TV series, this new war film comes from Latvia. I don’t get a lot of Latvian films to review, so this was an interesting one to dive into. The film is about a young man and his father both drafted into the army in World War I, only to discover that — surprise! — war is hell. While I found some of the drama and politics not entirely interesting to me, I have to say that the war set-pieces were extremely impressive. I wasn’t sure what Latvian cinema would offer in terms of budget or production value, but clearly they know some things about making big, epic, war films.
- WB Archive Spotlight – This week we have several new releases from Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive (www.warnerarchive.com). Each of these films is making its Blu-ray debut here and can be ordered directly from the Archive or through online retailers such as Amazon. First up is A Night at the Opera, the classic Marx Brothers comedy. While often times Warner Archive releases lean towards the “only a few people will remember this film”, A Night at the Opera is a bona fide comedy classic. Reportedly Groucho Marx’s favorite film, this comedy adventure sees the brothers involved in an opera insurance scam of sorts, but really, plot is secondary to a Marx Brothers film. This is the Brothers at their peak still, and the comedy is as sharp as ever. There are a few major comedic sequences throughout the film that will have you rolling. This is one of the best Warner Archive releases in a while. Next up, we have a more modern film with 1978’s Straight Time, starring Dustin Hoffman and Theresa Russell. This is one of those films that never did very well at the box office but is worth tracking down. Hoffman plays a paroled convict who goes on a crime spree, and his performance is absolutely searing. He’s nuanced and intense, and it’s some of the finest work I’ve seen from him, and that’s from a guy who’s got a career full of amazing performances. Check it out and fall in love with Dustin Hoffman’s acting ability all over again. Next, we have The Window, a 1949 film noir about a boy who witness a murder, but no one believes him. Now this is one of those movies I had never seen before, but I was quite impressed. The story is gripping, the performances are all solid, and the film has no small amount of suspense. Starring Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, and Bobby Driscoll, it doesn’t have any big names attached, but it’s definitely the kind of classic movie more people need to discover. I’m glad the Warner Archive is making it available for more people to experience. Turning towards the western side of things, we have Santa Fe Trail, a 1940 film starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and directed by the great Michael Curtiz (Casablanca). In it, we see Flynn as a soldier trying to pacify the west so the railroad can be built. It’s pretty boilerplate fare for the time, but Flynn and de Havilland make an excellent on-screen pair, and Curtiz brings a nice energy to the proceedings. Not a masterpiece, but a worthy enough viewing experience for fans of classic Hollywood. Finally, we have The Naked Spur, a 1953 film that sees none other than Jimmy Stewart playing a bounty hunter caught between his prisoners, a couple of witless helpers, and revenge. It’s like a film noir western, and Stewart’s performance is dazzling as he plays a man on the edge, unlike many other roles I’ve seen him in. With Janet Leigh along for the ride this is another film I was pleased to discover.
- PBS Spotlight – We have several documentary features from PBS this week, and as usual, they are all of the high quality that PBS programming brings to its non-fiction outings. First up Ship That Changed the World, an hour-long Nova episode that looks at the evolution and innovation in ship building that happened five centuries ago, and how it revolutionized travel around the world in the pre-modern era. It’s interesting enough stuff, although not my favorite this week, as there were other films I found a little more interesting. One of them is Great Electric Airplane Race, another hour-long Nova episode that introduces us to the concept of emission-free electric planes. While not a brand new invention, I’ll admit I knew nothing about them. The show explores the planes themselves and how they might contribute to reducing pollution and waste in the future. Quite interesting stuff. Shifting gears away from the hard science, we have Discovering Your Warrior Spirit With D.J. Vanas. Now this one is for the more spiritual/mindful viewers, but in it, D.J. Eagle Bear Vanas teaches us how to use Native American traditions and philosophy to aid you in your everyday life. While I don’t buy into every program like this, there are some neat philosophies and approaches that I did like, so I can see how people would benefit from the ideas here. Moving on to more challenging topics, we have Mysteries of Mental Illness, a fascinating but occasionally tough four-episode series about mental illness. It gives us a history of mental illness and how it was treated, how we’re treating now, and what types of innovations there have been in the science of psychology and how we can help people dealing with a variety of mental ailments. It’s an in-depth look at an issue that is more important today than ever, and I found it a valuable viewing experience. If you need a palate cleanser after that deep dive, then you might want to check out Lives Well Lived, a fun hour-long program with a variety of senior citizens between the ages of 75 and 100 sharing their secrets to long, happy, healthy lives. It’s spritely and spirited, and the people on screen are interesting and charming. Besides, if you want secrets to long life, take advice from the people who have lived a long time! Finally, we have Downing of a Flag, a two-part series that explores the history of the Confederate Flag and the events that led to its removal from South Carolina buildings in the wake of racially charged events in 2015. It also serves as a bit of a history of the south in the wake of the Civil War, so it’s a pretty-wide ranging subject matter, thus the need for two hour-long episodes instead of just one. Valuable viewing, for sure.