November may have fizzled out there at the end, but the beginning of December sweeps in with a huge flood of new Blu-ray releases vying for your holiday shopping dollars. Do any of them look like must-buys to you?
New Releases (Blu-ray)
‘The Secret Life of Pets‘ – The new animated comedy from the director of ‘Despicable Me’ looks… cute. That’s about all I have to say. It’s about what our cats and dogs and other household pets do when we humans aren’t looking, which isn’t exactly the most original premise for a kids’ movie. (It’s basically ‘Toy Story’ with animals.) Even so, if it’s as tolerable for adults to watch as the ‘Despicable Me’ movies, it could be good for a few laughs.
‘Jason Bourne‘ – The original three ‘Bourne’ movies with Matt Damon formed a cohesive trilogy with a satisfying ending. The attempt to extend the franchise with Jeremy Renner was largely seen as a failure. Now Damon and director Paul Greengrass are back to reclaim the series. From most accounts, they didn’t have any good reasons to do so. Fans and critics came away disappointed. This thing’s so bereft of ideas that they couldn’t even come up with a better title for it than to slap the character’s name on the poster. How about ‘The Bourne Redundancy’? Seems fitting.
‘Phantasm: Ravager‘ – One of the weirdest horror/sci-fi franchises around returns after an 18 year break since the last entry. Original creator and director Don Coscarelli takes a step back to Executive Produce, but star Angus Scrimm got to make one more appearance as The Tall Man before he passed away earlier this year. This seems to have been made for fans only, so if you’re not already up on your ‘Phantasm’ lore, it’s perhaps not the best place to start.
‘Don’t Think Twice‘ – I quite enjoyed comedian Mike Birbiglia’s directorial debut, 2012’s ‘Sleepwalk with Me’. His latest is another semi-autobiographical tale drawn from his years working as a stand-up comic. This one’s about how the members of an improv troupe cope when only some of them get a big break but the others don’t. The movie has a pretty strong cast, including Birbiglia himself (naturally), Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs and Kate “Oates” Miccucci.
‘For the Love of Spock‘ – Leonard Nimoy’s son, TV director Adam Nimoy, makes a biographical documentary about his father. The elder Nimoy passed away midway through production, which reportedly shifts the film into a eulogy and leaves it with a lot of gaps in his story that are either glossed over or ignored. Still, nostalgic Trekkies might shed a tear or two.
‘Heart of a Dog‘ – Musician and artist Laurie Anderson uses the death of her beloved pet as a springboard into her wide-ranging thoughts on life, religion, philosophy, politics and more. Described as part documentary, part tone poem collage, the movie received rapturous reviews from critics. As an art film, it didn’t get much distribution until this video debut from the Criterion Collection.
In addition to the standard Blu-rays, Universal delivers Ultra HD editions of both ‘The Secret Life of Pets‘ and ‘Jason Bourne‘, and also upgrades the earlier four ‘Bourne’ movies to 4k.
Warner Bros. digs into its catalog a little to bring ‘Goodfellas‘, ‘Argo‘, ‘The Town‘ and ‘I Am Legend‘ to the format.
Criterion’s second release this week (following ‘Heart of a Dog’, mentioned above) is Luis Buñuel’s surrealist classic ‘The Exterminating Angel‘. This is the famous film in which a group of dinner party guests find themselves unable to leave a room because… well, they just can’t. As their predicament drags on over days and weeks, it becomes an allegory for the deterioration of bourgeois society. (Yes, nerds, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ did an episode in homage to this.)
The Merchant/Ivory adaptation of ‘Howards End‘ was formerly a Criterion title, but the movie’s distribution rights have now shifted over to Cohen Media, which is reissuing it on Blu-ray with a new 4k restoration. The Criterion Blu-ray was lauded when it came out in 2009, but I always found it a little excessively grainy. I’m curious how the new version compares, but I’m not really a big enough fan of the movie to double-dip on it.
If you’re not on board the UHD train yet, and also don’t happen to already own any of the earlier Jason Bourne movies, Universal’s ‘Bourne Ultimate Collection‘ is available in standard Blu-ray too.
The so-called “Black & Chrome” edition of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘, which is the same movie as before but in black & white now, finally gets a Blu-ray release. Before you ask, no, turning down the Color setting in your TV isn’t the same thing. That’ll give you really poor gray scale tonalities. A proper black & white movie needs to be graded for black & white. That said, its vivid color palette was one of the better features of this movie, and I’m not sure what the purpose of watching it in black & white would be, other than a silly gimmick to get you to buy another copy.
You can get that either on its own or in a High-Octane Collection box set bundled with the earlier ‘Mad Max’ movies. Similarly needlessly expensive is the ‘Batman v. Superman‘ limited edition gift set, which shoves a copy of ‘Man of Steel’ in the box along with some comic books and trading cards.
Shout! Factory’s previous box sets of Bruce Lee movies were criticized for video and audio quality issues. The label promises new 4k restorations on the reissued copies of ‘Fists of Fury‘ and ‘The Chinese Connection‘.
Well Go USA won’t miss an opportunity to release the original ‘Phantasm‘ in conjunction with the new sequel.
Dark Sky Films offers a 30th Anniversary Edition of the disturbing ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer‘.
Film Movement visits ‘The Quiet Earth‘, a well-regarded 1985 sci-fi movie about the end of the world.
Fox released the ’80s raunch comedy ‘Porky’s’ on Blu-ray back in 2012. Now Kino throws together a double-bill of its sequels, ‘Porky’s II: The Next Day‘ and ‘Porky’s Revenge‘. I’m sure somebody out there has been waiting for these.
Remember how much fun the first season of ‘Prison Break‘ was? Remember how bad the following seasons were? Fox allows you to relive that heartbreak with individual box sets for each season. Looking at it a different way, perhaps this makes it easier to own just the first season without getting stuck with the other three.
Also available is the first season of MTV’s fantasy series ‘The Shannara Chronicles‘.
I’m undecided on whether I should rent ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ or just wait for them to show up on cable. I’ll probably do the latter.
‘Heart of a Dog’ sounds interesting, but it also seems like a dangerous blind buy. I’ll put ‘The Exterminating Angel’ on my list for the next big Criterion sale.
We have a huge list of titles up there, so I’m sure I probably missed something good. Fill me in at the Comments below.