Magic is in the air with Blu-ray this week. A number of notable titles will hit the format. Trouble is, those little suckers like to hide. Let’s see if we can help you find them.
New Releases (Blu-ray)
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them‘ – It’s both a ‘Harry Potter’ spinoff and a big-budget ‘Pokémon Go’ adaptation in one! Set decades before The Boy who Lived… ummm… lived, Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne stars as a nerdy wizard who travels to 1920s New York City and accidentally lets loose a host of magical creatures into the Muggle (or “No-Maj” this time for some reason) world. Now he has to scour the city for these pocket monsters and collect ’em all before bad wizard Colin Farrell can get his hands on them. Directed by David Yates (who did the last four ‘Potter’ pictures) from a screenplay by J.K. Rowling herself, Warner Bros. intends this to be the launch of a major five-part franchise. ‘Potter’ fans came out in force, though critics’ reviews weren’t quite as enthusiastic for the spinoff as they were for the original series. Now on video, you can get the movie in a variety of flavors, including 2D, 3D, UHD, and several retailer exclusives. The Best Buy SteelBook has UHD and Blu-ray discs in it, but no 3D. If this one’s photographed as crushingly dark as Yates’ ‘Potter’ movies, I doubt 3D will be of much benefit anyway.
‘Patriots Day‘ – Following ‘Deepwater Horizon’, this was the second (and arguably more offensive) of Peter Berg’s two 2016 movies that turn real-life tragedies into Hollywood action schlock. This one focuses on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and stars Mark Wahlberg as a (totally fictional) beat cop who single-handedly takes down the Tsarnaev brothers and saves the rest of New England from being eradicated in a giant multi-state fireball of explosive destruction. Fuck yeah, Marky Mark! Boston Strong, baby! YEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!
‘Why Him?‘ – Bryan Cranston returns to comedy as a frustrated father whose young daughter brings home a hippie-dippy boyfriend (James Franco) that he absolutely loathes. It’s not exactly an original premise (if you subscribe to Amazon Prime streaming, the British sitcom ‘Cuckoo’ is basically the same thing with Andy Samberg in the Franco role), but the cast is said to bring some decent laughs to it.
‘A Monster Calls‘ – J.A. Bayona, director of ‘The Orphanage’ and ‘The Impossible’, adapts a popular fantasy novel about a young boy who copes with his mother’s terminal illness by befriending a giant tree monster voiced by Liam Neeson. Reviews were mostly favorable and some viewer response was even over-the-moon for it, but the movie didn’t get much of a theatrical release and faltered at the box office. Phil liked it for the most part, but described it as “Guillermo del Toro-lite.”
‘20th Century Women‘ – Despite a last-minute surge of awards buzz, Annette Bening failed to secure an Oscar nomination for her performance as a mother with some unconventional parenting choices for her teenage son in the late 1970s. The film is an autobiographical coming-of-age drama from ‘Beginners’ director Mike Mills. It was well-received, but got lost in the year-end shuffle.
‘Silence‘ – Martin Scorsese’s long-in-development passion project stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as a pair of 17th Century Jesuit missionaries whose faith is tested when they travel to feudal Japan, where their Christianity is outlawed, in search of a mentor (Liam Neeson) who has renounced his religion. With ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and ‘Kundun’, this forms an unofficial trilogy about faith for Scorsese. And like those two movies, it was little seen aside from critics, many of whom rapturously praised it, while others (and the few audiences who bothered with it) called it a dreary slog. Any Oscar hopes also fizzled when the movie was only nominated for Best Cinematography, which it lost to the much cheerier ‘La La Land’.
‘The Handmaiden‘ – Park Chan-wook caused a bit of a sensation on the festival circuit last year with a naughty period piece about a young maid in 1930s Korea who secretly plots to swindle her employer, an heiress, until erotic complications and revenge machinations ensue. Hopefully this is more of a piece with his ‘Oldboy’ and less of his ‘Stoker’. Because ‘Stoker’ sucked, is what I’m saying.
‘Planet Earth II‘ – British naturalist Sir David Attenborough returns to narrate a sequel to his famous documentary miniseries showcasing gorgeous nature photography from around the world. This time, the production ups its game by shooting in 4k.
The Ultra HD scene is quite busy this week, with day-and-date editions of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them‘, ‘Patriots Day‘, ‘Why Him?‘ and ‘Planet Earth II‘.
The last four ‘Harry Potter‘ movies also move up to 4k to piggyback off ‘Fantastic Beasts’. Reportedly, the earlier entries will follow later this year.
As promotion for the impending theatrical sequel and reboot, respectively, we also get the last two ‘Fast & Furious‘ flicks and 2011’s ‘The Smurfs‘.
Last released by the label back in the Laserdisc days, Michelangelo Antonioni’s arty mystery thriller ‘Blow-Up‘ finally rejoins the Criterion Collection. David Hemmings plays a photographer who discovers a terrible secret hidden in an innocent photo he snapped in a park. The film was Antonioni’s first English-language production, one of his most mainstream-friendly efforts (let’s be honest, one of his very few mainstream-friendly efforts), and a genuine masterpiece.
If you’re not on board the UHD train yet, Universal has also bundled all of the first seven ‘Fast & Furious‘ movies into a new box set called the Ultimate Ride Collection. This is gonna seem a lot less “ultimate” when Part 8 hits Blu-ray later this year and we get an Even More Ultimate Collection shortly afterwards.
The Warner Archive digs up another cheeseball 1950s B-movie. Advertised as “CinemaScope’s first science-fiction thriller,” ‘World without End‘ finds a team of square-jawed American astronauts accidentally propelled into the distant future, where they discover a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by mutant beast-men. Rod Taylor stars, because of course he would. Featuring model rockets on strings, oversized puppet monsters, and a bunch of sexy ladies in short skirts, this looks all kinds of amazing.
Fans of vintage 3D can savor another fabulous restoration from the 3-D Film Archive. Released in 1960, the treasure-hunting adventure picture ‘September Storm‘ was both the first 3D film shot underwater and in full color, and also the last dual-strip 3D feature from the 1950s 3D craze. Our reviewer Matthew says it’s undemanding but fun. For added value, the Blu-ray’s supplement section also throws in a couple of unrelated 3D short films from the era.
The FX network’s new ‘Feud’ miniseries may have revived some interest in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’, but that movie’s been available on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. for a few years already. In its stead, Scream Factory has pulled out the 1972 knockoff ‘What’s the Matter with Helen?‘, starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters as crazy and eventually murderous dance school teachers.
Lionsgate expands its Vestron Collector’s Series with the ‘Wishmaster Collection‘, which compiles not just one, not just two, but four Wishmasters. Who knew there were so many evil genies that needed vanquishing? I’ll be honest, I assumed that this entire movie series was from the 1980s, and was kind of shocked when I looked up the details and found that the first one was made in 1997. Doesn’t this stretch the purpose of the Vestron series? The actual Vestron Video closed up shop in 1992.
For some genuine ’80s cheesy, Vinegar Syndrome conjures up ‘Witchtrap‘. With a title like that, I imagine that the plot has something to do with trapping witches, perhaps? A copyright notice on the original VHS release actually felt the need to explicitly state that the movie is not a sequel to the same director’s earlier ‘Witchboard’, which of course means that it totally is.
‘Blow-Up’ is my must-buy title of the week. I also put in an order for the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ SteelBook. I’ll try to rent ‘Silence’ and ‘The Handmaiden’ at some point. ‘World without End’ sounds like a fun guilty pleasure.
Which of this week’s titles do you find the most interesting?