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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Hobbs and Shaw, Batman Beyond, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark and more


Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw – I’m a huge fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, so of course, I was going to rush right out and see Hobbs and Shaw on opening weekend. And now that it’s on home video, I can relive it whenever I want, because it is a good amount of fun. Is it as much fun as a proper F&F movie? Well… close, but not quite. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham can certainly carry a movie, and Vanessa Kirby is a welcome addition to the family, but the movies are more fun with the extended cast. Also, Johnson and Statham’s constant sniping at each other – while true to their characters and sometimes amusing – does wear thin after a while. That all said, the movie is filled with over-the-top action sequences, fun character moments, and kinetic car chases. On top of that, Idris Elba makes for a super bad guy, and there’s even a mystery that will clearly carry over to the next film. All in all, it’s a really good time. Hobbs and Shaw comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the premium 4K format is an amazing presentation. Image clarity is razor-sharp and shadow delineation is strong. The vibrant colors are a bonus, although many scenes in the film are purposefully desaturated, so occasionally they are underrepresented. And the booming surround soundtrack really shakes the room. It’s a great film that looks and sounds even better.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Guillermo del Toro produced (but didn’t direct) this PG-13 horror movie based on the popular book series of the same name. You can feel del Toro’s fingerprints all over the film, most especially in the way that it is actually pretty scary at times, especially for the younger audiences the film was aimed at. The film takes a handful of tales from the books and blends them into one story that incorporates them all, and the result is a slightly jumbled horror flick that’s kind of like Goosebumps on steroids (and way scarier.) The special effects are pretty impressive, and while the film is enjoyable overall, I wonder if it won’t be too intense for some of the viewers it’s supposed to be made for.

Batman Beyond: The Complete Series – Last year we were treated to Warner Brothers’ excellent Batman: The Animated Series Complete Collection, a massive box set that brought the beloved cartoon to home video in one brilliant set. This year, we’re treated to the little brother series, Batman Beyond, which is now collected into another terrific box set on Blu-ray. The set includes all 65 episodes as well as the original, unedited movie Return of the Joker (which was somewhat controversial upon its release). On top of that, the set includes an incredible wealth of extra features, including multiple documentary features, commentary tracks, interviews, and more. Then the whole thing is wrapped up in a box that includes four postcard-sized 3D lenticular collector’s cards and a Funko Pop figure, a limited edition Chrome Batman Beyond that is gorgeous. But even with all those great bonuses, the real star of the set is the show itself. Batman Beyond, which sees an aged Bruce Wayne mentoring a young hero who comes across a high-tech Batman suit, is really, really good. It’s effectively just Batman in the future, and if that idea doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. As far as I’m concerned, this set is a must-have. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Charlie’s Angels (4K Ultra HD) & Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle – With a brand new Charlie’s Angels movie in theaters imminently, it makes sense to get new format re-releases of the original Charlie’s Angels movies from the early 2000s. Directed by McG, the two films star Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu as the three super-agents. The films are hyperkinetic, fast-paced, humorous, and feature women kicking ass, which is always underrepresented in the action genre. In a week where we get a new Fast & Furious movie on home video, it’s hard not to see at least a little of the Charlie’s Angels fingerprint on that franchise. Now, the release strategy for these two films is interesting. The first film is released on 4K Ultra HD, while the second film is only on Blu-ray. Luckily, both films include a digital copy, which is a nice bonus. The first film on 4K Ultra HD looks quite nice. The image clarity is pristine, while the vibrant color saturation really works well with the look of the film, which is in and of itself quite a colorful affair. The surround soundtrack is a good affair, although I can’t say that it seems like a huge upgrade over what was available previously. Still, it was fun to revisit these films, and – despite a few flaws — I enjoy them both.

Red Heat & Universal Soldier (4K Ultra HD) – This week sees the release of two classic ‘90s action films in the 4K Ultra HD format. First up is Red Heat, a classic by director Walter Hill that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi. This isn’t upper-tier Arnie (such as the Terminator films, Total Recall, and Commando), but it’s a pretty good time nonetheless. It’s your typical buddy cop formula, with Schwarzenegger playing a ruthless Russian cop and Belushi a loosey-goosey American cop who team up to catch an international criminal. It’s half-action, half-comedy, and it has that ‘80s/’90s vibe that you don’t get as much these days. Universal Soldier, meanwhile, stars Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as enhanced soldiers who end up trying to kill each other. It’s also notable for being the debut of director Roland Emmerich, who would go on to destroy the world many times over in Independence Day, 2012, and The Day After Tomorrow, among other things. It’s actually a better film than I remember, and I enjoyed revisiting more than I expected to. Both films look pretty good on 4K Ultra HD, but both films end up with basically the same issue: the age of the films. While they both look terrific, with clear imagery, good shadow delineation and vibrant colors, they don’t have quite the same “pop” as a brand new movie. Likewise, the surround soundtracks sound like pretty standard surround fare; your speakers will get a workout, but I don’t know that there’s any huge upgrade from previous releases. Still, both films do look better and you get digital copies, making these an easy purchase.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Ophelia – Daisy Ridley takes on a decidedly un-Star Wars role with Ophelia, in which she shows us the other side of the events of Hamlet, with Ophelia herself taking the lead role. Naomi Watts and Clive Owen co-star, and the performances are certainly one of the stars of the show here. While I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare in general, I do like that this story not only gives us a new twist on a familiar story, but it also updates the language so that it’s not ye olde English. I won’t say it’s my favorite film this week, but it’s certainly the most that I’ve enjoyed a Shakespeare adaptation in quite some time, and that’s something.
  • Snow Falling On Cedars – This 2000 film is part drama, part social commentary, part murder mystery, and all atmosphere. Featuring a pretty strong cast (Ethan Hawke, Richard Jenkins, Richard Cromwell, Sam Shepard, Max Von Sydow), the film blends a story about World War II Japanese-Americans and the racism they dealt with into a story about a murder that might have some racial component to it. It’s an ethereal film, with a less concrete style of storytelling than a film like this might normally have, but it does work somewhat within the genre of film it lives in. Personally, I found it a bit slow at times, but it’s a nice-looking film with great performances, and I’m sure it has fans who will enjoy this nice Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory.
  • Undercover Brother 2 – 2002’s Undercover Brother was a surprisingly funny pseudo-parody of the spy genre mashed up with blaxploitation films of the ‘70s. So now, 17 years later, we get a direct-to-video sequel, which I guess is something people have been waiting for(?). This time around, Michael Jai White replaces Eddie Griffin as our main character, and this time he’s been frozen in suspended animation for 16 years, as has his younger brother. As with so many sequels that are made over a decade later and go straight to video, the connections to the original film are present but not really important. More important is that the film half-succeeds, half-fails. Are there some funny scenes? Absolutely. Are there scenes that fall flat? Also absolutely. It’s a solid okay, even though I really like Michael Jai White and he’s doing his best here.
  • Ambition – Robert Shaye, who was a producer on the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, steps behind the camera for a stab at directing with the horror-thriller Ambition. Mr. Shaye may want to consider a return to producing, because Ambition is not a very good movie at all. The film follows an ambitious college student who is getting ready to audition for a prestigious violin role when her competition starts dying off. From there, it’s pretty typical fare, only with bad dialogue, inane plot twists, weak characters, and performances from an unknown cast that are average at best. In short, Ambition is everything that’s not great about the horror genre today.
  • Yellowstone: Season 2 – I’m a huge fan of Kevin Costner, and even though he isn’t the box office star he once was, I actually think he’s moved into a more interesting phase of his career, one where he’s become such a value-added player that he instantly makes every project he’s in better. Which is what makes Yellowstone such a disappointment for me. It’s his first starring role on a TV series, and as much as I hate to say it, I don’t like the show at all. It’s a dour, overly serious show that deals with money and politics in the ranchlands of Montana. All of which would be fine, even if it’s not the kind of thing I usually watch, if it wasn’t all so dreadfully boring. Costner is terrific, naturally, and the supporting cast all give good performances, but I can’t get into this show at all. What a shame.
  • Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries Series 1 – This spin-off series from the popular Australian TV show Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries updates the timeframe to the 1960s and sees the original Miss Fisher’s niece, Peregrine, taking up the mystery-solving mantle. So you get four feature-length episodes featuring great music, solid mysteries, and a likeable cast that occasionally veers a bit into “quirky” territory. I don’t know that this show has quite the charm of the original series, but then the slightly more modern trappings might attract a different audience. Either way, fans of mysteries will probably find something to like about this show.
  • Mike Wallace Is Here – This documentary focuses on the news force that was Mike Wallace. The 60 Minutes alum spent decades in the journalism field, and he was a major influence on generations of broadcasters and investigative journalists to follow. This 90-minute documentary takes us through Wallace’s career and gives us some historical perspective to show why he has so much impact. It’s a good film about a great man.
  • Cinderella & The Secret Prince – This new animated movie takes a slightly different spin on the Cinderella story, wherein Cinderella discovers that the real prince has been turned into a mouse and replaced by an evil impostor. Is it the most necessary story change veer? No. But then again, since we’ve seen the Cinderella story about a billion times already, it’s kind of fun for kids to get a slightly new version of it. This isn’t a Disney-level quality film, but for no-name animation, I think it’s actually not bad. Kids might enjoy it more than adults will, but I’ve definitely seen worse.
  • Nekromantix: 3 Decades Of Darkle – I knew literally nothing about the “Danish-American Psychobilly heroes” called Nekromantix, and after watching the live concert that makes up this limited Blu-ray release, I can’t say I will probably be seeking out more of their work. That said, however, if you’re a fan of the group, this three-disc set is sure to please, as it includes the live concert video on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as including an accompanying CD version as well. You get bonus features and nice digipak packaging, so while it wasn’t my cup of tea, fans should really be able to dig into this release.

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