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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Lion King, Stuber, Scarface, Matewan, The Blob and more


The Lion King – Disney once again struck box office gold with the “live-action” version of The Lion King. I put the words “live-action” in quotes because all of the characters in the film are computer-generated. So in a sense, the film is kind of animated. But, ultimately, that’s neither here or there. The film was a massive hit at the box office, and even though Disney is burning through live-action remakes of their animated hits at an alarming rate, that hasn’t yet deterred audiences. And it’s fair because the film is quite enjoyable. Is it as good as the original, but it is a fun adaptation of a great movie? Absolutely. The Lion King comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), but there’s no denying that the 4K edition looks and sounds absolutely spectacular. The deep color saturation really brings the Serengeti to life, and the imagery is crystal clear. Meanwhile, the surround soundtrack brings the sound of the jungle to life in all of your speakers. It’s a superb presentation.

Stuber – I’m a huge Kumail Nanjiani fan. He’s one of my favorite comedians, and I’ve really enjoyed him in movies like The Big Sick, which he also co-wrote. Now we have Stuber, which sees Nanjiani pair up with Guardian’s of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, and which also has one of the worst movie titles of all time. It comes from a mash-up of Stu (Nanjiani’s character) and Uber (which his character drives for). I’m sure that seemed clever on paper, but it makes for a truly awful title for a film, and it’s easy to think that it’s a large part of why the film stumbled at the box office. As for the film itself, I actually liked it. It’s nothing great, but it’s an easy 90 minutes to watch and Kumail Nanjiani really made me laugh throughout. Is it a comedy masterpiece? No. But if you’re looking for a fun weeknight movie, Stuber might fit the bill, despite its stupid title.

Scarface – There are no less than three different versions of Scarface available for your consumption this week. First, you have a standard Blu-ray (plus digital) edition with new extra features. Then you have the 4K Ultra HD release, which offers the best picture quality of the film yet. And then you have the Limited Edition collection, which features all of the following: Scarface on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital; the 1932 classic version of Scarface (and more my money, the better film) on Blu-ray; and a replica of the “three women” statue that looks surprisingly nice. Which means, this collection would be absolutely perfect if Universal had bothered to include the 1932 Scarface on digital, which they sadly neglected to do. (However, it’s the only place to get the film on Blu-ray, as up to now it’s only been out on DVD.) Any of the options will be a must-have for fans of Brain DePalma’s ultra-violent 1980s crime opus, but the limited edition set is the real stand-out here. Not only do you get the extra features, the statue, and the original film, but the 4K Ultra HD edition of the film offers up a clearer picture and better color saturation than I’ve ever seen on the film before. A trio of great releases!

Matewan – The Criterion Collection presents a new edition of John Sayles’ seminal film Matewan, and as usual it’s been restored and remastered to present the finest sound and picture available. The film is a historical drama, based on a true story about a coal town in West Virginia where workers tried to form a union, only to be met with violent opposition. This was one of those films I’d always heard about but never had a chance to see, and when I sat down to watch it, I was amazed to see a parade of familiar faces on screen: Chris Cooper (in his first film), James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, and David Strathairn, among others. The movie is a powerful and engaging piece, and it’s clear to see why John Sayles was so respected for so long. This new edition also comes with a bevvy of extra features, including a new documentary that gets participation from Sayles and all of the main cast members, which is truly fantastic.

The Blob – I know that the 1950s version of The Blob is the original and probably the better of the two films, but I have a real soft spot for the 1980s version, which gets a terrific new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray this week from Shout Factory’s excellent Scream Factory imprint. Starring Kevin Dillon, the remake is a near-perfect slasher film, only the slasher this time is a giant blob of pink goo. But – as produced in the ‘80s – it features a lot more deaths and creative kills than the original 1950s film, and as such, it’s just a lot of fun. It may not be a masterpiece, but I love it. This new edition includes a slew of new extra features, including two new audio commentaries and no less than 11 new interviews with many of the cast and filmmakers. This is one of my favorite home video releases of the year!

DreamWorks Ultimate Holiday Collection – This is an interesting new collection of holiday specials from the Dreamworks universe. Admittedly, the main stars of the show are the holiday shorts (20-25 minute episodes that originally aired on TV) from the likes of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon. But then Dreamworks sneaks in a full-length movie, with Rise of the Guardians, an underrated animated Holiday action-adventure film that I like quite a bit. But since you get nine stories (eight short-form and one feature-length) and almost five hours of content, this is a great one to bring home for the kids to watch during their holiday break.

It’s a Wonderful Life (4K Ultra HD)It’s a Wonderful Life makes its 4K Ultra HD debut this week, and it’s a welcome addition. Now, the film is 70 years old, so while the 4K update does give the film a new sheen, it’s not like it suddenly looks like a brand-new film. I do get a kick out of the sticker on the front of the package that boldly proclaims “Featuring HDR for brighter, deeper, more lifelike colors,” which would be great if the film wasn’t IN BLACK & WHITE! To be fair, there is a colorized version of the film included on a Blu-ray disc (which is absent the B&W version, which is a mistake in my opinion), but the 4K disc features the original film, which is how it should be seen. You also get a digital copy of the film, which I love, because I didn’t have it in my digital collection until now. A flawed release (I don’t like when they put different versions of the film on different discs; they should all be available in all formats), but still a worthwhile part of any collection, as the film is a masterpiece.

10 Minutes Gone – Sigh. I don’t know why Bruce Willis has settled for playing supporting roles in these direct-to-video action thrillers in which he does the same thing over and over again, but 10 Minutes Gone is more of the same. The standout part of it this time is that Michael Chiklis takes on the lead role, and he’s always enjoyable, but seriously, look up any movie Bruce Willis has made in the last 10 years and you could swap it out for this one without even noticing. Let’s get back to acting, Bruce!

Strange But True – A strong cast including Margaret Qualley, Amy Ryan (constantly terrific, constantly underrated), Blythe Danner, Brian Cox, and Greg Kinnear star in this interesting film about a woman who surprises her deceased boyfriend’s family by telling them she’s pregnant with his child. This might not be considered that shocking until you consider that her boyfriend has been dead for five years. I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to discover, but it’s an intriguing film that really succeeds on the strength of its performances. It takes some surprising turns, and it also avoids the trend of being overly long, with its 96-minute running time lends to the film’s strengths. Worth a watch.

The Art of Self-Defense – Jesse Eisenberg takes a detour from his usual type of film to star in this quirky black comedy that also stars Imogen Poots and Alessandro Nivolo (who steals the show as a karate instructor.) Eisenberg stays comfortably in his wheelhouse as a scared man who wants to learn karate to toughen up, but where things go from there is pretty atypical. The film has a snarky tone and a dark streak to it that will probably turn some people off and make other people instant fans. I found that there were parts I really liked and some parts that didn’t quite work for me, but overall it’s a solid little film. Nivolo brings a fun energy to his role that really stands out among other talented cast members.

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish – I don’t know if this film is titled the way it is in hopes that it will conjure up memories of the 2004 Hillary Duff/Chad Michael Murray Vehicle, but it’s really a standalone film. The movie is basically an updated version of Cinderella, except that this time it shoehorns in the Christmas holiday, meaning this film could play on the Hallmark Channel for the last few months of the year and nobody would complain. Laura Marano (TV’s Austin & Ally) and Gregg Sulkin (Hulu’s Runaways) may not have the star power of Duff and Murray, but they’re both likable actors with good chemistry on screen, and the film is quite a bit of fun if you like these kinds of films. Luckily, I do, so I enjoyed it for what it is.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Two Evil Eyes – This interesting film gets a new three-disc limited edition release from Blue Underground. Co-directed by George Romero and Dario Argento (although it’s more of an anthology than a collaboration), two of the masters of gory horror, the film stars Harvey Keitel and Adrienne Barbeau. And to be honest, it’s an okay movie, reminiscent of Creepshow, Stephen King’s Cats Eye, or John Carpenter’s Body Bags. That said, though, for fans of the film, this release is a treasure trove. Not only do you get the film on Blu-ray and DVD, you also get an accompanying soundtrack CD, and then on top of that there are hours of extra features including an audio commentary, multiple interviews with cast & crew (including Romero and Argento), a tour of make-up maestro Tom Savini’s home, and a collectable booklet. It’s really a terrific package for horror fans.
  • A Discovery of Witches – Based on the bestselling Agatha Harkness novels, A Discovery of Witches is an eight-episode event starring Theresa Palmer and Matthew Goode, two actors I enjoy a great deal. So I was already interested, and then you tell me the show features a witch and a vampire who embrace science and try to discover the reason for the decline in magical creatures in the world, well, I’m interested. Oh yeah, there may be a little bit of romance in there as well, which is never a bad thing. Apparently there’s another series in the works based on the second book, and I’m all for that!
  • David Crosby: Remember My Name – Produced by Cameron Crowe, this documentary is a great look back at the life and career of David Crosby, founding musician of both The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Director A.J. Eaton lets Crosby do most of the talking, mixing interviews with the musician with archival footage, and we learn about his entire career, with some focus on how he’s reinventing himself in his late ‘70s. I’m not a huge fan of Crosby’s music, but this is an interesting documentary that doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at 90 minutes and staying interesting for almost all of it.
  • The Devil Rides Out – Scream Factory gives us the first Blu-ray edition of the Hammer Horror cult classic The Devil Rides Out, starring one Christopher Lee. Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, this 1968 film features black magic and satanic rituals, and it fits right alongside most other Hammer Horror films of the time. It’s not my favorite, personally, but fans of Lee and the Hammer catalogue will be happy to see the film on Blu-ray.
  • Queens of Mystery: Season One – This quirky British mystery show follows a new police detective who has three aunts that happen to write mystery thrillers. Well, guess who steps in to help Detective Sergeant Matilda Stone… whether she wants them to or not? You guessed it! The show sounds like a riff on Murder She Wrote, but the tone is completely different, as this show features a lot of lighter and more humorous moments. The characters are endearing, the mysteries are mysterious, and the setting is charming. A great new find for fans of cozy mysteries.
  • Legend of the Demon Cat – This month’s obligatory Asian Period Piece Action Extravaganza comes to us in the form of Legend of the Demon Cat from Well Go USA. This film set during the Tang Dynasty sees a general’s wife getting possessed by a demon, which somehow leads to a poet and a monk on a mission to rescue the bedeviled woman. Now, to be fair, this is less of an Action Extravaganza and more of an offbeat mystery, but maybe that’s part of the problem with the film. While I wanted to get interested in it, I found it a little on the slow side. And at over two hours, it could have been a half-hour shorter easily and I think I would have enjoyed it more. But the film looks nice and fans of the genre might enjoy it more than me.
  • The Return of Martin Guerre – Cohen Film Collection continues their Classics of French Cinema line with this drama starring Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye. Based on a true story, the film focuses on a man who comes back from 7 years at war and is so much more composed and together than he was when he left that the people of his village begin to suspect identity theft. For a French film from 1982, I found it to be surprisingly engaging, and Depardieu gives a terrific performance. Bonus points for Tcheky Karyo appearing in the film as well; he’s one of my favorite character actors (you’d know him if you saw him.) A little bit of a surprise, this one.
  • Masterpiece: Press – This six-part Masterpiece series shows us the lives of the people who put together two competing British newspapers, The Herald and the Post. It’s a fictional show, but I’m sure many of the subplots and events of the show are drawn from real-life happenings. The show is fast-paced and occasionally frenetic, but the script is excellently crafted and the cast really shines, even if most of them are unknown in the U.S. Think The West Wing but set in journalism instead of politics and you’ve got some idea what to expect.
  • Madness in the Method – Jason Mewes stars in this comedy that he also wrote and directed. It’s a meta-comedy about Jason Mewes (yes, the actor himself) trying to become taken seriously as an actor, so he sets out to track down a secret method acting book The story isn’t all that deep, but Mewes – best known as the “Jay” half of Jay and Silent Bob – enlists a lot of his friends to cameo and bring some star power to the film. Look for appearances by Kevin Smith, Danny Trejo, Vinnie Jones, Gina Carano, Brian O’Halloran, Stan Lee, Dean Cain & Teri Hatcher, Zach Galligan, Casper Van Dien, and Judd Nelson. It’s worth watching for all the guest appearances alone, even if the film itself is a little all over the place.
  • VeggieTales: The Best Christmas Gift – This newest offering from the only cartoon series that features vegetables talking about god will make a lot of parents happy. It’s not just a collection of previously released material, but instead a fully-fledged, all-new Christmas special, with a one-hour running time. The special keeps the VeggieTales formula intact, with cute little vegetable characters and a religious-themed message that doesn’t beat kids over the head. If your kids dig the VeggieTales crew, they’ll really enjoy this new show.
  • Sisters of the Wilderness – This documentary follows five Zulu women in Africa, who set out with just backpacks of supplies on their backs into the wilderness for a journey of self-reflection. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of documentaries, so while I wish I could say I loved this film, I found it just okay instead. There is a great message of empowerment and some terrific scenery, but I think you have to be more invested in the genre or the message to really get into this one.
  • Mehsampur – Ummm… okay. So, this is a… unique film. It starts off seemingly pretty normal, with a filmmaker in India trying to create a documentary about a folk-singing husband and wife who were killed. That’s the most normal thing about the film, as it then morphs into a meta-mockumentary-drama-absurdist-surrealism movie. It’s honestly hard to get a handle on all of it, and while there are some really unique moments, it was a bit much for me. Maybe if it wasn’t filmed in three languages I would have been able to decipher it better, but it’s an oddball for sure.
  • PBS Spotlight – PBS has three noteworthy new releases this week. First up is Magical Land of Oz, which is actually not about the world of The Wizard of Oz, but it actually a documentary series about the wildlife of Australia. We get one episode on sea creatures, one episode on land animals, and one episode on animals that have adapted to live near humans in Australia’s teeming cities. It’s a really interesting show that features some amazing animal footage, and at three hours in total length it’s perfect to watch the episodes individually or binge them in one marathon session like it was a feature film. Next up is America’s Test Kitchen: Home for the Holidays, a holiday-themed episode of the immensely popular cooking show. This is a bit of a different approach for the show, with the hosts and cast hanging out in a pretty relaxed setting, sharing reminiscences and holiday recipes. It’s laid-back, it’s Christmas-y, and it’s fun. Finally, Raul Julia: The World’s a Stage is a biography of the late actor, a special presentation from the American Masters series. This 90-minute film focuses on his life and career, but also his Puerto Rican heritage and it features new interviews with luminaries such as Jimmy Smits, Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos, James Earl Jones, Angelica Huston, John Leguizamo, and others. It’s a nice tribute to a talented actor.

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