It’s kind of a light week this week, with no major theatrical releases to headline. Instead, we get a couple of A-list catalogue titles (including a beloved family movie and a popular kids’ show) and a handful of catalogue and indie releases. Read on!
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (4K Ultra HD) – I have a confession to make: I’m not a particularly big fan of 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, as a kid I loved it like most kids do, but when I went back to revisit it as an adult, I find that it’s more like an acid trip than a functional narrative movie. That said, I know it is a well-loved movie, and so I’m sure there are lots of fans who will be happy to see Warner Bros.’ new 4K Ultra HD release of the film. Boasting a new transfer but the same audio soundtrack as the previous Blu-ray release, this version also includes the film’s Blu-ray and a digital copy. Now, I will say that Warner has done a terrific job with the visual upgrade of the film. Image clarity is terrific, and color saturation is a work of art. In a bright colorful film like this, it’s easy to overdo the colors so it looks like an easter egg factory threw up on screen. Instead, we get vibrant colors that pop but still look natural and lifelike, and the result is terrific. The disc also includes a number of carried-over extra features, but between the improved picture quality and the digital copy, this is an easy purchase for fans of the film.
Rugrats: The Complete Series – If you’re a Rugrats fan, you have GOT to be excited about this brand new DVD releases. This new 26-disc box set gives you all nine seasons of the popular ‘90s NickToon (including five specials). Now, personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the show in the world. I don’t dislike it, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I was a teenager by the time the show began, and so I never really got all that into it as I wasn’t into kids’ cartoons at that time. Watching it now, I can see why people liked it as it does have its charms, but I don’t have that rabid nostalgia-tinged fan appreciation that a lot of people do. With a new series debuting on Paramount+, interest in the Rugrats is about to shoot sky high! While this set doesn’t have much in the way of extra features or any added value, it is a pretty affordably-priced way to get the whole series in one nice, compact box set that will transport you right back to your childhood!
Boogie – You’re probably most familiar with Eddie Huang as a chef/restaurateur; if memory serves me correctly, he was featured in one of PBS’s Mind of a Chef shows which focused solely on his food-based skills. Now, he’s also added movie writing and directing to his resume with Boogie, a coming of age/sports drama about a second generation asian teenager who excels at basketball but struggles with his life. And while I think this is an important story to tell and I’m glad to see it, I wish I liked it better. My biggest issue with it is that the lead actor, Taylor Takahashi, fails to give us a character we can find truly engaging. I don’t know if it’s how he chose to portray the character or Huang’s direction and script, but the main character of Boogie isn’t somebody I found particularly likable. In these kinds of movies, I think wanting the main character to succeed is a key element of their success, and I don’t feel like Boogie made that easy for me. That said, I think there’s a generation of young Americans who will probably relate to this film more than I did, and that’s probably what’s most important.
Visions of Eight – Are we getting the Olympics again anytime soon in the post-COVID world? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know for those of you who are missing the Olympic Games, the Criterion Collection has wisely delivered a new home video version of Visions of Eight, an innovative film from 1973 that focused on the 1972 Olympics. What makes it unique is that it featured eight acclaimed directors from all over the world creating short films about any aspect of the Olympics they wanted to, giving us a sort of tonal pastiche that captures all different aspects of the world’s biggest sporting event. Arthur Penn, John Schlesinger, Miloš Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Juri Ozerov, Mai Zetterling, Michael Pfleghar, and Claude Lelouch all contributed short films that come in around ten minutes long, focusing on everything from gymnastics to marathon running to weightlifting. What doesn’t get a focus point is the terrorist murders that happened at the ’72 Olympics. The tragedy is largely ignored, only getting a brief mention. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is noteworthy. As usual, Criterion has done a great job delivering remastered and restored audio and video, as well as a nice collection of supplemental features. This isn’t a narrative film per se, but if you’re a fan of the Olympic Games, this is a different kind of look inside them.
Pickup on South Street – Another Criterion entry this week, Pickup on South Street is a terrific film noir from director Samuel Fuller and starring Richard Widmark and Jean Peters. The set up for the film kicks things off with a bang: when a convicted criminal picks the pocket of a young woman, he has no idea that he’s actually stealing a microfilm with US secrets on it that both the good guys and the bad guys want. While the film has a pretty heavy handed Red Menace anti-communist message, it doesn’t lessen the film’s impact watching it today at all. Widmark is electric, playing a completely unsympathetic character, and the film doesn’t pull any punches, delivering a few savage moments that are almost surprising to see make it into a film from 1953. There are only a few extra features on this one, but that’s to be understood with a film that’s 70 years old and wasn’t a massive box office hit. It’s a terrific film that deserves the Criterion treatment.
Here Are the Young Men – A coterie of semi-recognizable young actors — including The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy — headline this new drama about a group of young Irish men who celebrate high school graduation a little too hard and end up in a downward spiral of drugs, bad decisions, and mental health issues. The film gets awfully heavy awfully fast and isn’t afraid of a little melodrama, but it never really connected for me. Maybe it’s because the characters keep making one bad decision after another, or maybe it’s just because I didn’t find any of them all that likable, but the film never really feels like it earns its anguish. The performances are strong, even if not everyone gets enough screen time, it just wasn’t the film for me.
Just a Gigolo – The late David Bowie dabbled in acting, most notably with the sci-fi cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth. Much less well known is Just a Gigolo from 1978, which makes its Blu-ray debut this week courtesy of Shout Factory. In the film, Bowie plays a German soldier who returns to Berlin after World War I and finds the country in shambles, so he turns to becoming a gigolo to pay the bills. Romancing a surprising cast of ladies, including Kim Novak and Marlene Dietrich, Bowie becomes a gentleman caller who largely achieves nothing. It’s kind of an odd film, with a good performance by Bowie but an aimlessness that leaves me wondering why exactly this film needed to be made. Still, for Bowie fans, it’s a worthwhile performance and certainly a curiosity, if nothing else.
Also Available on Home Video This Week:
- Toy Soldiers/December Double Feature – Mill Creek loves a good double feature, and this new Blu-ray double feature is a pretty solid one. On the one hand, you have Toy Soldiers, one of my favorite 90s movies, abut a bunch of prep school kids who have to fight off terrorists who take over their school. With a sort of second generation Brat Pack in the cast (Wil Wheaton, Sean Astin, Keith Coogan), it’s a really fun film that I loved as a teenager and still have a soft spot for. Coupled with Toy Soldiers is December, which shares some odd DNA in that it also stars Will Wheaton, is also set in a prep school, and also came out in 1991. This film also stars Balthazar Getty and Jason London, and it focuses on a group of friends in a prep school when Pearl Harbor happens, and they each have to diced whether to stay safe in school or sign up for war. It’s a solid drama that isn’t as much fun as Toy Soldiers, but maybe has a little more weight to it. Still, two good movies for one low price is hard to pass up!
- Adam Resurrected – Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe star in this film which I admittedly had never heard of before this new Blu-ray edition crossed my desk. Which is even more surprising considering that it was directed by Paul Schrader, an acclaimed director in his own right. The film is a powerful and odd outing; Goldblum plays a soldier who was tormented by a Nazi commander in a prison camp, and then spends a decade and a half in a mental health facility, at limes lucid and charming, at times falling apart. When he connects with a unique patient, he starts to finally begin the healing process. The film is rather dark and occasionally veers into surreal territory, but Goldblum’s performance is absolutely stunning. The film came out in 2008, so I’m not sure how it’s become so forgotten so quickly, but fans of Goldblum’s who want to see a different side than the quirky, funny guy he’s sort of morphed into in the last decade or two would do well to check this one out.
- Nosferatu in Venice – Also called Vampire in Venice, 1988’s Nosferatu in Venice serves as a follow-up to 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampire, which saw notorious actor Klaus Kinski playing the titular vampire from the 1922 silent film, Nosferatu. Kinski returns one again for this not-really-a-sequel, and this time he’s joined by both Christopher Plummer and Donald Pleasance, both welcome additions, if slightly wasted in a film that is kind of a trainwreck. I don’t know much about this movie, but from the little research I did, apparently the filming of it was a nightmare, and that is kind of evident in the finished product. The film gets a Blu-ray release from MVD’s Severin Films imprint, so fans can finally own a good version of the film on home video.
- Action U.S.A. – I mean, you kind of have to know an action movie is from the ‘80s when it’s just flat out called Action U.S.A. It’s not like that has anything to do with the plot, it’s like they literally just said, “Hey, people like action movies and we’re pro-USA, so… Action U.S.A.! Perfect!” And honestly, the name tells you everything you need to know. The film doesn’t have any recognizable stars (although there is one actor named Rod Shaft in the cast), and the story is pretty simple, with the mob after a dead thief’s girlfriend to try and recover some stolen jewels. That leads to car chases, explosions, gunfights, and a massive barroom brawl that’s both hysterical and a little bit epic. It’s ridiculous in all the right ways, and if you don’t take it seriously, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. This new Blu-ray release from MVD’s Rewind Collection comes with a nice collection of extra features, making this disc a must-have for B-movie connoisseurs.
- Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement – In the mid-70s through the mid-80s, a punk rock movement formed and flourished in Washington DC, of all places. Did punk music take root there as a response to the American government housing its power there, or was it just a congregation of like-minded musicians and music fans? Well, maybe a little of both. This new documentary explores the near-decade long prevalence of punk music in the US’s capital city, with a decent focus on some recognizable names like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Henry Rollins, and Jello Biafra, among many others. There are dozens and dozens of musicians and people who lived the scene interviewed for the film, and we even get to see some music clips from the era. It’s a pretty engaging documentary, even if you’re not a punk music fan, and that’s the mark of success for me for a music doc.
- Puzzle – This 1974 Italian crime thriller takes a heavy dose of inspiration from the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The film concerns a man with amnesia who begins to suspect his life was not exactly normal as he gets involved in an international crime caper and is followed by a mysterious woman (played by Anita Strindberg.) The film is pretty effective; sure, it’s got the 1970s trappings, but the direction is tight, the performances are good, and the story will keep you guessing while injecting some excitement into the proceedings every now and again. This new Blu-ray edition from VCI includes a great collection of extra features, too. Cool!
- Horrorpops: Live at the Wiltern – I’m not familiar with Horrorpops, but when the packaging of this Blu-ray/CD/DVD combo pack described them as “80’s new wave, punk, rockabilly, surf, and ska,” my curiosity was piqued. It tuns out, this female-fronted pop-punk rock band has some killer tunes that are super catchy, and their live show is extremely energetic. This live concert package gives you a CD with 18 songs, and the gives you the video version of the show on Blu-ray and DVD. While the shock-rock nature of their song titles (Psychobitches Outta Hell, Girl in a Cage) doesn’t do all that much for me, the music is quite catchy and upbeat, and I dug it. This was a fun one to discover, and it’s a terrific release for fans.
- PBS Spotlight – Wrapping up this week, we have several new PBS releases hitting DVD this month. First and foremost, we have a new release of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns. This newly restored version of the hit miniseries explores the origins and history of America’s Pastime, and it does so in that inimitable Ken Burns style. The series was originally released on DVD in 2004, before the era of high definition, and it has now been restored and remastered in high def and released on Blu-ray (along with a new restored DVD version as well.) It’s 11-discs of sports and history, and it looks and sounds better than ever before. Highly recommended for fans of either the game of baseball or Ken Burns’ excellent documentaries. Next up, we have a pair of nature documentaries with The Leopard Legacy and Life at the Waterhole. The Leopard Legacy is a one-hour Nature episode about a leopard and her two young cubs, and the trials they face trying to survive in the harsh lands near Zambia’s Luangwa River. Meanwhile, Life at the Waterhole is a fascinating three-episode arc of Nature that I found utterly fascinating. We follow a team as they build the world’s first man-made waterhole in Africa equipped with numerous cameras designed to capture footage of the various animals that stop by there for water. And boy, do we get a ton of different species, which we learn about while watching them all interact at this great equalizer of nature. It’s really a terrific program, and well worth watching. Next up, we have a science-based documentary, Human: The World Within, a fascinating six-episode series. Now, at first glance, this seems like just another science documentary series about how our bodies work: our hearts, our brains, our nervous systems, etc. But what the show does is it intertwines these aspects of our biological systems with the stories of real people who use their experiences to illustrate how our bodies work. It’s a really engaging and effective narrative style that lets us learn a lot without ever once feeling like we’re learning a lot. Very cool. Wrapping up, we have a pair of social/historical documentaries. The Blinding of Isaac Woodward is a feature-length documentary about how a racially charged incident left a black man blind and his white aggressor acquitted, and more importantly, how the outrage over that crime led to President Truman’s efforts at desegregation. It’s an interesting story, but it’s also an important one, and I would bet most people have never heard of Isaac Woodward, but his tale needed to be told. Finally, American Oz is a terrific feature length biography of L. Frank Baum, the author who created the wonderful world of Oz and influenced probably every one of our childhoods. I loved Baum’s books, and I found this a terrific and thorough look at his life and career. Definitely worth a watch!
What's New & Noteworthy on Home Video June 29, 2021 - Willy Wonka, Rugrats, & More!
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