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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Back To The Future, The Hit, The Haunting, Space Ghost, NOS4A2, Star Trek and more

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Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy (4K Ultra HD) – Well, the holidays are upon us and with a lack of major new theatrical titles hitting home video, we are at least getting some great new catalog releases. This week, that kicks off with this terrific 7-disc 4K Ultra HD box set from Universal Studios. Now, before you stop reading if you’re not one of the people with a 4K player, don’t worry; this set comes with each movie on both 4K and Blu-ray, so this is still an excellent way to get the whole trilogy of one of the best movie franchises of all time. In addition to the three films, you get all the original extra features from the first box set iteration (and there are plenty) plus some new extra features, including audition videos, a special YouTube program about BTTF, a look at the films’ props and memorabilia, and more. But of course, if you’re buying for the 4K versions of the films, how do they stack up in the premium format? After all, these films are 30 years old, so do they look brand new? Well, no, but I do have to compliment Universal for really delivering a terrific picture quality here. I just watched these films on Blu-ray a few months ago, so viewing them now on 4K, I was amazed how much vibrant and colorful the films are, especially how the past and future-era Hill Valleys appear. Image clarity is razor-sharp, and I feel like the films take on a new life. The surround soundtracks, likewise, really max out the use of the various channels, giving even seemingly insignificant sound effects a proper place and immersing you in the action. Yes, there have been several BTTF box sets before, but this is hands down the best yet.

The Haunting – The new Paramount Presents line continues with The Haunting, Jan de Bont’s 1999 haunted house flick starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor. This is an interesting release for this line, which has been focusing thus far on big hits and critically acclaimed or award-winning films. To my knowledge, The Haunting (based on the classic The Haunting of Hill House) is neither of those things. But since I hadn’t seen it since 1999, it was a fun film to revisit. The cast is great, of course, and the film does a nice job of building some suspense before launching into a final third that is just full-on haunting/ghost mayhem. Is it a great film? Not really. But it’s a perfectly entertaining haunted house romp that is easy to watch. It also features some of the most incredible set decoration I’ve ever seen on film. Honestly, if for nothing else, watch this movie to marvel at the incredible sets and the detail that goes into literally every single room of this incredibly large house. It’s astounding.

The Captains Collection – In the 2000s, William Shatner took on a new role as sort of the “Steward of Star Trek,” crafting a number of documentaries about the Star Trek franchise and phenomenon. Most notably, he sat down for a series of one-on-one interviews with all of the various captains of the different shows, including Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine. Over the course of four discs, you get the following features: The Captains (the film version featuring Shatner talking to all five captains); The Captains Close Up (A five-episode miniseries using extended interview material that wasn’t in The Captains, one episode for each captain); William Shatner’s Get a Life! (a really fun documentary in which Shatner looks at Trek fandom) and Chaos on the Bridge: The Untold Story Behind Trek’s Next Generation (Shatner’s look into the creation of the second iconic series.) You also get a number of extra features that give you extra interviews, featurettes, and the like. I’ll be honest, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you really need to have this collection on your shelf. It’s one of the best collections of programs about Star Trek I’ve ever seen, and Shatner’s films are all terrific. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

NOS4A2: Season 2 – Let me start by saying that I had to play rapid catch up on NOS4A2 after not having been sent Season 1 for review. So I’m not the most knowledgeable person about the world of this show as I didn’t watch it when it originally aired and kind of had to rush through the episodes to prep for this season. Because, boy, this is one of those shows where you really need to have the full context of the events to follow what’s going on. NOS4A2: Season Two picks up eight years after the end of Season One, and I’m not going to even try and explain to you what happened in that first season. It’s a pretty complicated show, with magic, vampires (sort of), and darkness, and this season we have a new character in the form of Vic’s son, Wayne. So, I’ll say this: I think this show is well-acted and has great production values. I found the first season somewhat interesting, but the second season kind of lost me. Maybe because I’m not a hardcore fan, but I found the story kind of uninteresting and the writing largely uneven. If you’re a fan, this season might be up your alley, but it didn’t do much for me.

The Hit – The Criterion Collection never fails to bring the best in cinema to home video, and this month we get the release of The Hit, the debut feature film from director Stephen Frears. Now, Frears might not be quite a household name, but he’s an accomplished director with some great films under his belt, such as Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity, and Philomena. The Hit was a 1984 crime drama starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth, and Jim Broadbent. Now, I’d never seen the film before, but it turns out it’s a sharp movie, especially for a debut. Stamp plays a retired mobster who ratted out his colleagues a decade before. One day, two hitmen show up to drive him to Paris to face the music, but… well, let’s just say that things don’t go all that smoothly. There are some parts where the film drifts a bit, and it could be a bit more tightly edited in places, but overall, it’s en enjoyable romp. As usual for Criterion, the film has been restored and remastered under the supervision of Frears himself and comes loaded with top-notch extra features. Definitely worth tracking down.

The Great: Season One – Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult star in the first season of The Great, a series about Catherine the Great on her way to becoming, well, Catherine the Great. But this isn’t just a rehash of The Crown; whereas that show is uber-serious, The Great is more of a black comedy than anything else, and I suspect (and the show sort of confirms) that it’s veeerrryyyy loosely based on history. This isn’t a show that’s trying to act as a docuseries in drama form; it’s meant to have fun with Catherine the Great’s life and her rise to power, and it wants to make the proceedings soapy, scandalous, and sexy. And for the most part, it works. Fanning and Hoult are terrific, and whereas I personally find The Crown boring as heck, this show moves at a good clip and keeps things interesting. Fans of history should check it out but be aware that it’s not concerned so much with factual accuracy.

Space Ghost & Dino Boy: The Complete Series – I love Space Ghost, both the original animated series and the later, more comedic offerings from Cartoon Network/Cartoon Planet. This new Blu-ray release from the Warner Archive (WAC offerings can be found via warnerarchive.com and your favorite online retailer.) This Blu-ray set collects the entire 1966-1967 series that features three-part episodes. It also features character designs by the great Alex Toth, which is part of what makes the show so great. Yes, it has that somewhat cheesy (some would say classic) ‘60s aesthetic, but I loved watching this show in various forms (as reruns) as a kid, and its great to go back and revisit them after many years. There’s also a cool extra feature focusing on Alex Toth, which is a real bonus for a comic art fan like myself. This is a great release that I’m really excited to have in my collection!

Ultraman R/B: The Series & The Movie and Ultraman R/B: The Movie Select! The Crystal of Bond – Mill Creek has done a terrific job with their Ultraman complete franchise release series so far, and these latest two releases are no exception, although there is a little overlap. So what you get here are first is Ultraman R/B: The Movie Select! The Crystal of Bond, a feature film from 2019. But there is also Ultraman R/B: The Series & The Movie, which gives us the preceding TV series as well as the movie (the same movie that’s available on the stand-alone disc.) The show (and the movie) focuses on two brothers who get the Ultraman powers and become a red and a blue version of Ultraman to fight the usual big, bad monsters. The series (from 2018) ran for 25 episodes and then culminates in the follow-up movie that’s part of the set. You get an awful lot of bang for your buck in this set, and if you’ve been grabbing the Mill Creek Ultraman Blu-ray series so far, you’re not gonna want to stop now.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Grant: The Complete Miniseries – This history channel miniseries about Ulysses S. Grant was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and is based on the best-selling biography Grant by Ron Chernow. Over the course of three episodes (running a little over four hours), we get a mix of dramatic recreations, interviews, photos, and documentary material to bring us Grant’s story. The recreations star largely unknown actors Justin Salinger, Francis Chouler, and Carel Nel, and the documentary parts feature a variety of historians and experts. Now personally, I’m not a fan of this format all that much. I prefer either a full-on dramatic take on the story or a full documentary; I don’t love the mix of the two. But Grant is at least interesting and features pretty good production values, so history fans should be pretty into it.
  • Quiz – Michael Sheen and Matthew Macfadyen star in this three-episode miniseries based on a true event. While it rings familiar to the Robert Redford film Quiz Show, this is actually about a different game show scandal that happened in the UK, in much more recent times. It’s actually quite an interesting story, and this three+ hour teleseries does a nice job of taking viewers through what happened and how. Interestingly, the miniseries was directed by Stephen Frears, who I wrote about above (his first film is being re-released by Criterion.) Because of his sure hand, you get a strong story, terrific performances, and great production values. While definitely a drama and not a thriller, there are some decidedly suspenseful moments in this miniseries, and it’s definitely worth watching.
  • The Vanished – Peter Facinelli wrote and directed this thriller (he also has a supporting role) and it’s interesting to see the dependable actor move behind the camera for this abducted child thriller. Thomas Jane and Anne Heche star as parents who bring their ten-year-old daughter on an outing in their RV, and it doesn’t take long before she goes missing. Facinelli packs the film with oddball characters, suspicious suspects, and twists and turns, and while it might be a little much early on, I have to say that it all pays off nicely in the end. Jane and Heche give good performances, and it’s clear that Facinelli has some real talent as a filmmaker and not just an actor. Don’t get me wrong, there’s room for growth, but if he’s going to start making more movies behind the scenes, I’ll be along for the ride.
  • The OwnersGame of Thrones’ Maisie Williams stars in this new horror-thriller that has echoes of films like Don’t Breathe and The People Under the Stairs. In it, a group of young people set out to rob a house that’s empty for the night. When the elderly couple who own the home show up unexpectedly, things get surprisingly dangerous. I don’t want to say more to avoid any spoilers, but this is a good, taut horror flick. It’s not terribly original, but sometimes I don’t nee da horror movie to be all that unique as long as it does what it’s supposed to well. Here we get a likable cast, some good surprises, and some decent bloody mayhem. And sometimes, especially two weeks before Halloween, that’s all I want.
  • Scare Package – Another horror offering this week is Scare Package, an anthology horror film. This one features seven horror vignettes, all housed under the threading device of a lonely horror aficionado recounting the rules of horror films. And while I usually find anthology movies to be a hit or miss proposition, this one is pretty solid overall. It helps that it leans towards horror-comedy more than straight horror, and it also wears its influences on its sleeves; there are numerous references throughout o well-loved horror classics. Each of the different short films tackles a different subgenre of horror, and the whole thing plays out like a cross between a parody of and a love letter to the last 40 years of horror flicks. Fun!
  • The Amityville Harvest – Continuing with the horror theme (because, obviously, it’s almost Halloween!), we have The Amityville Harvest. Now, there’s a long line of Amityville movies that started with The Amityville Horror, and as near as I can tell, this movie has nothing at all to do with them. It’s not about the house in Long Island that a real-life family left behind. Instead, it’s a low-budget horror flick about a group of filmmakers who end up in a funeral home with a mysterious attendant. And, of course, things start to go haywire. I don’t want to give away the film’s major reveal, but honestly, it’s sone of the only things going for it. This is a low-budget horror flick, and unfortunately, it’s not the good kind of low-budget horror flick. It’s poorly written, paced, and edited, and the performances leave a lot to be desired as well. I’d have to advise you to skip this one, sadly.
  • SpreeStranger Things’ Joe Keery (who plays breakout character Steve on ST) stars in this satirical-thriller-slash-horror-flick. Keery plays an Uber driver who’s obsessed with getting more likes for his online video content. Desperate, he decides to start murdering his passengers and live-streaming it. Yep, you read that right. As the film goes on and Keery becomes more unhinged, the craziness of the events continues to grow. It’s a clever take on the horror genre; fast-paced and manic, with a touch of social commentary regarding people and their online obsessions. Keery is delightfully over the top, but never loses you in a way that makes the character unrealistic or annoying. It’s a fun, dark thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
  • Cut Throat City – Directed by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (who moves from scoring films to making them), Cut Throat City is a heist film set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the film, four friends find themselves desperate in the aftermath of the tragedy, and they end up wrapped up in a heist trying to find a way out. The film is split into two parts, with the first third letting us get to know the characters before Katrina hits land and the remainder of the film taking place afterwards. The film eschews being a straight action movie, giving the drama weight, and the characters aren’t afraid to talk about racism, money, and other topics that reflect modern society. It’s an interesting film that showcases that RZA has some talent behind the camera.
  • Indie Spotlight – Wrapping up this week, we have a number of indie films hitting DVD. First up is A Regular Woman, a dark drama in German and Turkish. The film follows a woman from a strictly conservative and devout Turkish family who tries to set out on her own, only to find that her family doesn’t want to let her go. This tough drama deals with the subject of honor killings, something most of us probably don’t know much about but is a dark aspect of certain cultures in the world. It’s a difficult film to watch, but I think there’s an important message here, and it is an affecting drama when all is said and done. On the flip side of that (but with a similar tough-to-watch aesthetic) is the documentary Rewind, in which filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger uses old home video to explore the sexual abuse he and his sister suffered as children. He interviews his family, psychiatrists, and police to recreate his childhood and figure out exactly how it all happened. It’s not an easy watch, but it does draw comparisons to the acclaimed Capturing the Freedmans, and it is a fascinating (if horrible) story. Not exactly Friday night popcorn fare, but a moving viewing experience. Next up, we switch gears completely, with Boobs: The War on Women’s Breasts. This is a documentary that wants to shed light on mammograms and the fact that some people out there find them unnecessary and more detrimental than helpful. I’m not sure if it’s going to find a big audience, but for people who like to explore all sides of an issue, there may be some interest there for them. Finally, we have Botero, a documentary/biography of the acclaimed artist Fernando Botero. Clocking in at 84 minutes, this 2018 film makes its home video debut this month. I can’t say I was overly familiar with Botero’s work, but as the film went on, I realized I recognized more of his art and his style than I realized. The film is your pretty typical doc, mixing photos, interviews, video footage, and the like to paint a picture (no pun intended) of the artists’ life, works, and art. It’s a solid film, and I appreciate that the compact running time keeps it from getting bloated or overdone.

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