We’ve got some big name comic book titles kicking us off this week (Batman! Walking Dead!) and then a mix of really interesting titles including classics, low-budget fare, mysteries, and one action standout!
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One – DC has produced so many DC Universe animated movies at this point that — while their track record is largely very good — they tend to vary in quality from time to time. The latest is Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One, based on a 13-issue miniseries by comics superstars Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and it’s an incredibly popular story in the Batman mythos. And while I’d love to be able to blankly say it’s either great or terrible, it actually varies in quality throughout its running time. The opening credits, which invoke Sale’s artwork, are a thing of beauty. Then the film drags along for the first hour, at which point the only thing keeping me from mentally checking out was the film’s incredible production quality. Not only is the animation more stylized, not as bland as the usual animation style DC has settled into, but the actual cinematography is stunning. Unique camera angles, the use of shadows, camera movement… it just looks stunning. But then, the last half hour of the film is actually pretty riveting, leading up to a nice cliffhanger ending that leaves you champing at the bit for Part 2 (which is coming in July, so it’s a short wait.) So while it’s not a perfect film, the payoff is worth it, just be aware that, at least for me, the first two-thirds are relatively slow going.
Walking Dead: World Beyond – Billed by AMC as a “Two Season Event Miniseries,” you can’t help but wonder if that was always the plan for this second spin-off series of cultural juggernaut The Walking Dead, or if the poor ratings quickly reshaped how AMC marketed the show. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that two seasons feels about right for World Beyond. The show is supposedly about growing up in the zombie apocalypse, and we follow a group of teenagers living on a fortified college campus who have spent the last ten years in the world of TWD. There are a lot of flashbacks in the show, but we still have never seen a show that really shows the beginning of the outbreak in an extended fashion. (Supposedly Fear the Walking Dead was that show, but in my opinion it quickly went full-apocalypse and turned into TWD-lite.) The show is solidly okay; the universe feels familiar and comfortable, and the characters are likable enough. But the show moves at a zombie’s pace for the first several episodes, and by the time it picks up late in the season, I wonder if many people will have stuck around long enough to see it.
Nobody – Bob Odenkirk started his career firmly in the comedy world, but in the past several years, thanks largely to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, he’s morphed into a dramatic actor, and he puts those chops to work in the new action film Nobody. In it, he plays Hutch, an average, ordinary guy who works an average, ordinary job and has an average, ordinary family. Until a home invasion awakens things long dormant within him. There’s actually a solid-sized spoiler from there, so I won’t say too much more about the story, but suffice it to say that Odenkirk not only delivers a powerful performance, but he also handles the action scenes with aplomb, giving Liam Neeson a run for his money. The film is highly stylized, ultra violent, and occasionally quirky, and while that can be a disaster for some action films, it’s incredibly exhilarating here. While sometimes the bloody violence borders on squirm-inducing, I have to say, I had an absolute blast watching it. The editing never obscures the action, the story is interesting enough to keep you guessing, and the whole vibe of the film is just terrific. I really enjoyed this one! The film has been released on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital), and this is one of those movies that looks and sounds a little better on 4K but isn’t a huge upgrade over Blu-ray. It’s not a particularly colorful film, although the improved shadow delineation does help in the many scenes taking place at night. Still, the overall look and sound of the film is very strong. RECOMMENDED!
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete (4K Ultra HD) – This animated film is set squarely in the Final Fantasy world, which of course is one of the most popular video games of all time. It was originally released in 2009, and then a newer version of the film was released in 2016 that added 26 minutes back into the story and fleshed out the plot. That second version is largely considered a masterpiece by FF7 fans, and it’s that version that gets a new 4K Ultra HD release this week. Now I’ll say this: if you’re not a Final Fantasy fan, you have virtually no shot of understanding what’s happening here. The events of the film take place two years after the end of the game, and it’s all indecipherable without the game as a precursor; I honestly had no idea what was happening. That said, if you’re a fan, you will likely love this movie, and the new 4K release shows it off in ways never before seen. The animation was already incredible, but now the picture quality shows it off even further, with stunning image clarity, deep and vibrant colors that give the film new life, and rich, inky blacks. The surround soundtrack also give the film a lot of presence in your surround speakers, bringing the world of Final Fantasy to life in your living room. I’m not a fan of the film, but the technical presentation is nearly flawless.
Your Honor – Bryan Cranston returned to dramatic television with this 10-episode miniseries from Showtime that got no small amount of critical acclaim, and it’s easy to see why. Cranston plays a judge in New Orleans whose son is involved with a hit and run that gets him wrapped up with an organized crime family. From there, things rapidly descend into a murky gray area that will call into question the judge’s morals, choices, and instinct to protect his son. Over the course of ten episodes, you can feel Cranston’s desperation increase as his complicated maneuverings seem to sink him deeper and deeper into the mire rather than freeing him and his son. It’s a tense, dramatic show, earmarked by terrific performances from Cranston and young Hunter Doohan, who plays his son. And I’m glad that it was just a miniseries. The show is terrific, but it doesn’t really need to extend into three or four seasons. A top-notch production from Showtime.
Georgetown – Christophe Waltz (who also directed), Annette Bening, and Vanessa Redgrave star in this dramatic thriller based on true events. In it, Waltz plays a social climber who marries a wealthy older widow in an attempt to climb the social and political circles of Washington DC, the US’s seat of power. As his fraudulent behavior and lies become more and more convoluted, Waltz’s Ulrich Mott begins to become slightly unhinged, leading to potentially deadly results. While loosely based on true events, I don’t think this is a story most people are familiar with. And Waltz carries the film with his charismatic and hinged-swinging-towards-unhinged performance. Redgrave and Bening are terrific too, but the film lacks any real bite. It’s interesting enough but it never makes the leap to truly engaging or even riveting. Worth a watch, but not a film that will have a major impact on you.
Last Train from Gun Hill: Paramount Presents Edition – I’ll freely admit that I’m not a huge fan of westerns; I don’t blanketly dislike the genre, I just find a western has to have something really special to it to grab my attention. And apparently, Paramount thinks Last Train From Gun Hill has that something special, as they’ve inducted it into their prestigious Paramount Presents line, which takes some of the studio’s most-loved films and gives them an upgraded presentation on Blu-ray, including remastered sound and picture, a gatefold slipcover, and a digital copy. The 1959 film stars Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, and Carolyn Jones, and sees Douglas as a lawman trying to arrest the son of a powerful magnate for rape and murder, only to find people turned against him everywhere he goes. It’s a solidly exciting film, reminiscent of Gary Cooper’s classic High Noon (there’s a train leaving in six hours that Douglas wants to be on with his prisoners), and it goes beyond many of the usual western tropes, plus Douglas and Quinn deliver terrific performances. A worth inclusion in the Paramount Presents banner for sure.
French Exit – Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a terrific performance in a highly uneven film in the new dramedy French Exit, directed by Azazel Jacobs. The film follows an aging Manhattan socialite whose fortune is drying up who moves to France to fade into the background. Along the way she reconnects with her son and they meet a coterie of new acquaintances, one of which provides the film’s other bright spot, Valerie Mahaffey. She plays Madame Reynard, and she brings such a delightful energy to the film that it almost rescues the whole movie. The film definitely has its charming moments, but ultimately the meandering storyline keeps it from really hitting for me. That said, Pfeiffer and Mahaffey make it worth watching for their performances.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Ultraman: UltraGalaxy Mega Monster Battle – Series + Movie – Mill Creek specializes in budget releases of well-liked ands semi-popular films, but every once in a while they lock into something that they can truly claim as their own, and Ultraman is one of those things. The popular movie and TV show franchise originated in Japan and spanned some 20+ television series from the 1970s on, and spawned a number of movies as well. There are already over a dozen terrific releases in Mill Creek’s Ultraman Blu-ray series, and this month give us another one with UltraGalaxy Mega Monster Battle: The Series + Movie. Now, this one based on a popular arcade card game from Japan, and it takes things into space. This new collection gives you three entries: the 13-episode first season of UltraGalaxy Mega Monster Battle from 2007, the 13-episode second season (subtitled Never Ending Odyssey) from 2008, and the follow-up film UltraGalaxy: The Movie from 2009 that wraps up the saga. As one of the more recent shows in the franchise, UltraGalaxy is still delightfully cheesy, but it looks a little more robust than some of the earliest Ultraman outings. Ultraman fans, don’t miss out on adding this one to your collection.
- Problem Child Double Feature – Problem Child was a surprise hit back in 1990, starring John Ritter as a family man who adopts a young boy who turns out to be a holy terror. It’s a slapstick comedy that saw Ritter just trying to keep his head above water, and it’s a pretty funny flick. Of course, with hit status comes the unavoidable sequel, and Problem Child 2 adds a little sister but fails to find the funny the same way as the original, although it has a few fun moments. Now, Mill Creek has released both films as a DVD double feature, giving you both entries at a low price. You can usually find these for less than ten bucks, and while I would have preferred a Blu-ray release, the films are a fun ‘90s throwback and it’s good to see the late John Ritter on screen again, so it’s worth the price of admission.
- The Stylist – Arrow Video drops another entry in their terrific Collectors Edition series with The Stylist, a future cult classic in the making. The 2020 film focuses on a hairdresser who is not quite all there, who eventually ends up scalping her victims and wearing their hair like wigs. When she gets roped into doing hair for a wedding (and the inevitable social interactions that follow) things start to get — sorry, I can’t help myself — hairy. What makes The Stylist standout is that the film, while it does have some gory moments, isn’t over-the-top in the blood and guts department. It’s much more interested in exploring our flawed main character and how she tries to stop herself from going full psycho stylist, and that makes the film compelling. Najarra Townsend turns in an excellent performance, especially for a horror film, and she really helps carry the film. The excellent Arrow Video Collector’s Edition Blu-ray includes multiple making-of featurettes, an audio commentary, a booklet, and more, making this release a treat for horror fans that want something new and interesting.
- The Paper Tigers – I have to admit, the concept for The Paper Tigers really grabbed me. When a Wise Old Martial Arts Teacher is murdered, it’s up to his three prodigy students to solve his murder. The twist? They’re all former child prodigies, now firmly middle-aged men, dealing with pulled muscles, divorces, terrible jobs, and the like. It’s a recipe for a comedic action film that largely works. Yes, some of the jokes are a little bit cheesy or overdone, but the overall tone of the film is light and fun, while still managing to fit in some really strong action/fighting sequences. If you’re looking for a relatively family-friendly action movie, The Paper Tigers will definitely fit the bill. I enjoyed it quite a bit!
- Camino: Special Edition – Zoe Bell and Nacho Vigolondo star in Camino, which gets a Blu-ray re-release this week courtesy of Bleiberg Entertainment. Interestingly, Vigolondo is best known as a director (he brought us the cult classic Timecrimes), but he represents well here. Still, the star of the show is Zoe Bell, stuntwoman-turned-actress who plays a photojournalist that discovers the squad she’s followed into the jungle is up to no good. Of course, they can’t have that information getting out, so her assignment goes from taking pictures to staying alive against a group of soldiers determined to silence her. The result is a very strong action thriller that takes enough time to develop the characters to give the film some heft, while still delivering some punishing action moments. It’s not a big film or a high-budget production, but it looks great and has some real impact. Worth a watch for sure.
- Feed The Gods – This was an interesting one. It’s a new horror movie about a pair of brothers led back to their mysterious hometown, only to find that something monstrous may exist in the woods. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the set up; it’s pretty familiar territory and I don’t want to spoil what surprises there are. And while the film does have its charms, it suffers from an uneven tone that works against it because it feels like the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Sometimes it’s deadly serious, other times it devolves into almost farcical comedy. Then there’s a dose of family drama thrown into the mix as well. There are parts of the film I liked, especially considering its low-budget origins, but I wish it could have made up its mind what kind of movie it wanted to be.
- HP Lovecraft’s The Deep Ones – Speaking of horror films with a familiar feel to them, The Deep Ones is another new low-budget horror film about a couple who rent a vacation getaway in California, only to find strange things going on in town thanks to a cult that may or may not worship a Lovecraftian Sea God. There’s no denying that the budget has an impact on the film, and how much you love B-movies will have a definite effect on how much you like the movie. There is at one point a monster that looks like a slight upgrade over a Roger Corman rubber monster. But the film has some tense scenes, a game cast, and is easily watchable, as long as you’re not looking for big-screen budget thrills. A fun little B-movie to pass the time with.
- Acorn Media Spotlight – Acorn Media specializes in bringing us the best TV shows from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (along with other locales on occasion), and this week we have three new releases to discuss. First up is Wisting: Season 1, an effective and cold thriller series starring Carrie Anne Moss and Sven Nordin. Nordin plays William Wisting, a detective in the Norwegian police force who discovers an American serial killer taking victims on his home turf. Enter Moss’s American FBI agent, and. The pair team up over ten episodes to catch the serial killer, but that’s not the end of the story, with Wisting caught up in some twisted events in the latter half of the season. It’s a gripping and engaging show, and I’m looking forward to a second season. Next up we have The South Westerlies, an Irish show about a woman named Kate who’s sent to a town to try to gauge the resistance to her company’s planned wind farm being placed there. The only hitch? She’s got history in the town and with some of the people, a fact that she tries to keep secret as she effectively works undercover. Now, that longline sounds rather serious, but the show is actually rather lighthearted, focusing more on relationships and the tricky situation Kate finds herself in rather than corporate espionage or anything like that. Finally, we have The Sounds, and eight-episode miniseries starring Rachelle LeFevre about a couple from Canada who move to a small town in New Zealand to get away from the husband’s overbearing family, only for him to disappear. And as so often goes with these types of shows, once he’s gone, a lot of information about him comes to light that LeFevre’s Maggie didn’t know. It’s an intriguing mystery and it does come to a conclusion, which I like, although there’s certainly room to continue some of the characters’ stories, so maybe we’ll still see a return trip to The Sounds.
What’s New & Noteworthy on Home Video June 22, 2021 – Batman, Walking Dead, Final Fantasy & More!
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