We don’t have any new mega-hits on par with last week’s ‘Black Panther’ arriving on Blu-ray this week, but a couple of classic blockbusters get upgraded to Ultra HD. That is, if calling a 25-year-old movie a “classic” doesn’t make you feel ancient, which it kind of does for me.
New Releases (Blu-ray)
‘Game Night‘ – Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a hyper-competitive couple who mistakenly believe that the very real kidnapping of Bateman’s brother (Kyle Chandler) is part of a role-playing mystery game and blithely set out with their friends to solve riddles and crack the case, unaware that real danger is afoot. Playing off its leads’ likeable screen personas, the comedy received generally favorable reviews and was a solid box office hit. That’s something of a vindication for co-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, whose reboot of the ‘Vacation’ franchise a few years ago flopped pretty badly.
‘Red Sparrow‘ – Have you ever watched ‘The Americans’ on FX and thought the show could really use some graphic nudity? Jennifer Lawrence and her ‘Hunger Games’ director Francis Lawrence (no relation!) apparently did. The actress stars as a deep-cover Russian operative who uses her sexual wiles to seduce a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton). Although based on an acclaimed novel by an actual former CIA agent, the film version didn’t much impress critics, who complained about its turgid pace, excessive length, and sordid fixation with rape and sexual violence. Audiences didn’t have a lot of interest either and the movie was a box office disappointment.
‘The 15:17 to Paris‘ – I didn’t realize the military now teaches drama classes in Basic Training. Clint Eastwood tries to parlay some of his ‘American Sniper’ cred into another bio picture about American heroism. This one tells the true story of two American servicemen and their friend who foiled a terrorist attack on a train while vacationing in Europe. Hoping for some sort of verisimilitude, Eastwood cast the real men as themselves to re-enact this terrible trauma, which I’m sure did great things for them psychologically. Warner Bros. lost faith in the movie early and refused to screen it for critics. Those who did see it condemned its amateur acting and clumsy execution. Because the studio barely advertised it at all, most audiences weren’t even aware that it existed. Now 88-years-old, it’s uncertain how many more movies Eastwood will be able to make, but he seems determined to keep at it until he drops. We’ll see if he can bounce back from this failure with the next one.
‘A Fantastic Woman‘ – This year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film is a Chilean drama about a trans woman struggling with societal bigotry when her older boyfriend dies and she’s prevented from mourning him properly by a family that wishes to write her out of the man’s life and by local police who seem determined, for no other reason than prejudice, to prove that she must have had something to do with his death. The subject matter is certainly topical today, and trans actress Daniela Vega was widely praised for her sympathetic performance.
‘Early Man‘ – ‘Wallace & Gromit’ creator Nick Park hadn’t directed anything in about a decade. He returns with a new Aardman Animations stop-motion comedy about a Bronze Age caveman who has to defend his home by challenging an invading tribe to a game of soccer… err, football. (You see, the title is a pun about early Manchester.) By most accounts, Park seems a little rusty at feature-length storytelling and the movie loses its way when it turns into a straightforward sports picture, but still has enough delightful bits to keep viewers entertained.
‘Wonderstruck‘ – Todd Haynes, the art house auteur behind such coldly intellectual films as ‘Safe‘ and ‘I’m Not There’, tries his hand at making a kids’ movie. Well, sort of. Naturally, it still has plenty of his pretentious artistic flourishes. Adapted from a book by the same author as Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’, the story follows two narratives in different timelines 50 years apart, as a young girl in the 1920s and a young boy in the 1970s each run away from home and their respective quests to find an absent parent intertwine with one another. Reviews were mixed to positive.
The only day-and-date title to debut in 4k is ‘Red Sparrow‘, which also gets a SteelBook at Best Buy. The catalog front is a lot more active, however.
Our reviewer Michael was hugely impressed with Warner’s Ultra HD edition of ‘The Matrix‘, which boasts a new and improved video transfer and a rocking Dolby Atmos soundtrack. (The standard Blu-ray in the case is remastered as well!) Something tells me that if the sequels ever get upgraded, you’ll have to rebuy the first movie in a trilogy box set to get them.
Universal takes the opposite approach with ‘Jurassic Park‘, forcing fans of the first movie (the only good one!) to buy three of its sequels with it in a so-called 25th Anniversary Collection. Expect an even bigger box later this year to add ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ too. If we’re lucky, a standalone copy of the original will follow at some point.
Also from Universal is a SteelBook repackage of Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’ follow-up ‘Serenity‘, which first hit UHD last October.
Sony focuses on historical war adventure with Mel Gibson in ‘The Patriot‘ and Brad Pitt in ‘Fury‘.
Now entering the Criterion Collection are Paul Schrader’s acclaimed 1985 bio-pic ‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters‘ and the 2012 Romanian drama ‘Beyond the Hills‘.
Twilight Time revisits one of the most “problematic” movies in history with D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent epic ‘The Birth of a Nation‘. The film is a technical masterpiece and a seminal building block in the foundation of motion picture language, and also a repugnantly racist celebration of the Ku Klux Klan. Griffith himself came to regret the movie and apologized for it later, but it’s too important a work to dismiss outright.
Other Twilight Time limited editions include the 1956 melodrama ‘Hilda Crane‘, Paul Mazursky’s autobiographical 1976 dramedy ‘Next Stop, Greenwich Village‘, and Walter Hill’s 1993 Western ‘Geronimo: An American Legend‘.
Kino double dips on the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western ‘A Fistful of Dollars‘. Be warned that, unfortunately, the video transfer is based on a recent “restoration” from L’Imaggine Ritrovata, which imposed the same sort of weird yellow tint on it as the controversial 2014 Blu-ray edition of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘.
Finally, Universal repackages old Blu-ray editions of ‘The Blues Brothers‘, ‘The Game‘, ‘Children of Men‘ and ‘Serenity‘ into new SteelBooks.
Note: A Collector’s Edition copy of David Lynch’s ‘Wild at Heart’ from Shout! Factory that was scheduled for this week has been pushed back to August 21st due to an authoring problem with the disc.
‘Game Night’, ‘Red Sparrow’ and ‘Early Man’ all seem like things I can wait to catch when they eventually hit cable, which probably won’t be too long for any of them.
I’d be inclined to buy the UHD of ‘The Matrix’ just to get the remastered Blu-ray with it, but the current price seems excessive and I think I’ll wait for a trilogy box set. Conversely, I’d wait for a standalone edition of the first ‘Jurassic Park’. (Note: I am not sure if the Blu-ray packaged with that one is also remastered – probably not.)
‘Mishima’ will go on my wish list along with ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (for its historical value). I saw ‘Geronimo’ in the theater and don’t recall especially liking it, but would be willing to give it another shot sometime.
Will you buy anything new this week, or are you content to just watch ‘Black Panther’ again?