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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Tenet, Amores Perros, Crash, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Wolf of Snow Hollow and more

Tenet – Christopher Nolan returns with his most ambitious thriller yet: Tenet, a (sort-of) time travel big-brained thinkpiece masquerading as an action film. As with most Nolan films, I don’t want to say too much about the plot, in part because I don’t want to spoil anything, but also because, in this case, I’m still not sure I understood it. Tenet is cool; it’s twisty and complex and intricate and it looks gorgeous, while also delivering some astounding action set pieces. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are both terrific in the lead roles, and Kenneth Branagh plays a cool villain. But man, there are large parts of the film where I was scratching my head trying to figure out how it all worked. At one point in the movie, one character tells our protagonist, “You have to stop thinking of time as linear.” The problem is, as a regular human being, I have a hard time not thinking of time as linear personally, which means following what’s happening a tricky exercise. I liked the film, but it makes Inception’s complicated plot elements look like Dumb and Dumber by comparison. Tenet has been released on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and — not surprisingly — it is a near-masterpiece of audiovisual perfection. Nolan’s films always look unbelievable, and the premium format lets this one shine, coupled with a dynamic and active surround soundtrack that brings the film to life in 360 degrees around you. It’s an astounding presentation.

Amores Perros – The Criterion Collection specializes in important and noteworthy films, so it’s no surprise they selected Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s first film, the acclaimed Amores Perros, for inclusion among their catalog. The film showcases many hallmarks of Innaritu’s filmmaking: the handheld camerawork; the intertwined stories of strangers that seemingly have no connection; the gritty and near humorless subject matter. Innaritu’s films are never easy to watch (I mean, The Revenant is probably his MOST accessible film!), and Amores Perros is no exception to that (one plot thread deals with dogfighting), although it is still an incredibly impressive feat for a first-time filmmaker. As with all Criterion releases, the film has been restored and remastered, featuring dynamic picture and sound, and includes a host of extra features, including a new making-of documentary, multiple interview featurettes, and more. While I’m not a huge Innaritu fan overall, he’s a master filmmaker from a technical standpoint, and it’s interesting to go back and see how his work has been shaped since the beginning.

Crash – Another release from Criterion this week is Crash, but not the one that stole the Oscar from Brokeback Mountain back in 2004. No, this is the previous film called Crash, a psychosexual drama by David Cronenberg that came out in 1996. Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, and Elias Koteas, the film focuses on a man (and the people around him) who discovers a fetish among car accident victims after getting into a serious car accident. From there, we’re introduced to a world of people who get turned on by accidents, injuries, and pain. It’s an odd world to immerse yourself in, and the film was quite controversial at the time of its release. I don’t know that watching it in 2020 it still feels controversial, but I also can’t say I found it very enjoyable. It’s an interesting film, for sure, but there really weren’t any characters I could relate to, nor is the story interesting enough on its own to hold my attention. It’s visually interesting and somewhat of a curiosity, but not a film that I think most people will really “like.” Appreciate, maybe. Again, the film has been restored and remastered for premium audiovisual quality, and there’s a solid collection of extra features highlighted by a commentary track with David Cronenberg. Fans of the director will be happy to see the film added to the Criterion Collection, even if it’s clearly one of his lesser works.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (4K Ultra HD) – The iconic martial arts masterpiece returns to home video with a new Steelbook Edition 4K Ultra HD release. Crouching Tiger was actually released on 4K back in 2016, but it’s been reissued just in time for the holidays in a sharp Steelbook case, which will make it a nice addition to the shelves for those people who love the movie and like a nice collectible. And even though the film is now 20 years old, it still looks and sounds pretty great in 4K. It isn’t a complete transformation, but the film looks very clean, with nice, sharp lines and good image clarity, and the enhanced color saturation gives the film new life. Honestly, it’s the best I’ve seen the film look since I saw it in theaters. The surround soundtrack also gives the film new depth, utilizing the rear channels well. It’s not the most subtle or nuanced mix I’ve ever heard, but it puts the big action in the appropriate speakers, and that’s all I need sometimes. This is such a visually stunning film, it’s great to be able to watch it in the best format possible.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow – Despite being a genre with a rocky history littered with more bad films than good, I always get excited whenever I see a new werewolf movie on the horizon. I really like werewolf films (or at least the idea of them), even though they’re so often huge disappointments. So I was cautiously optimistic when I sat down to watch The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Written and directed by Jim Cummings (who also stars), the film is a horror/comedy hybrid that doesn’t go for out-and-out laughs, but instead elicits a wry smile or a knowing grin more often than not. Cummings got a lot of acclaim for his debut film Thunder Road (which I haven’t seen), but I can say after watching this movie that Cummings is clearly a talent to watch. The film is energetic and layered but also doesn’t forget to be a good old fashioned werewolf movie when needed. The script is sharp, and while the effects won’t win any awards, they get the job done. One of the better efforts in a troubled genre in the last decade.

Yellowstone: Season Three – 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, even three seasons in, I just 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. Still, a disappointment for me, even though I know it has a lot of fans.

Masterpiece: Victoria: The Complete Seasons 1, 2 And 3 – My main interest in watching Victoria was for the fact that Victoria herself (as in Queen Victoria) is portrayed by Jenna Coleman, better known as Clara Osgood Oswald from Doctor Who, and of whom I’m a massive fan. She’s so fun and cute and effervescent that I’ll watch her in just about anything. And while she’s excellent in this new period drama TV series, she also feels very restrained. Of course, I understand that that’s her character and the arc that she goes through, and while she has moments of personality, it’s not the same as watching her in something like Doctor Who. I’m not the biggest fan of period dramas, and while I found Victoria to be a bit dull at times, it looks absolutely stunning, with amazing production values and top-notch cinematography. If you are a fan of the show (or know someone who is, as this set would make a great gift), the first three seasons have now been collected into this nice box set, which gives you all 25 episodes on nine discs, which is a great way to binge-watch the show.

The Opening Act – It makes sense that a film about stand-up comedy would be a comedy, but it seems like more often than not films set in the world of stand-up veer more into drama territory. And while there are some serious notes in The Opening Act, it doesn’t shy away from trying to be funny, which I appreciate. The film stars Jimmy O. Yang, Alex Moffatt, and Cedric the Entertainer, and it focuses on aspiring stand-up comic Will Chu, who gets an opportunity to open up for and introduce one of his favorite comics. Of course, the experience quickly becomes a warts-and-all exposure to the real world of stand-up, which Will finds isn’t nearly as glamorous as it seems. It’s a simple enough and familiar story, but Yang is an extremely likable lead and he carries the film well. There are some moments that are laugh-out-loud funny, while there are others where the jokes don’t land 100%, but overall it’s an enjoyable film that will keep you chuckling throughout.

Upside Down Magic – This Disney Channel original movie is aimed squarely at the tween market and is based on a series of popular books with the same name. Now, I’ve never read the books, so I don’t know how much of this comes from the source material and how much of it is from the filmmakers, but there’s really no denying how similar this film is to the Harry Potter franchise. The story focuses on young Nory (and her BFF Reina) who go to the Sage Academy for Magical Studies, where Nory’s oddball magical skills get her labeled as a user of “Upside Down Magic,” which is generally frowned upon. Cue coming-of-age, prove-your-worth, name-your-trope story that is actually quite enjoyable, even if it feels very familiar. Younger viewers (and older viewers who have watched the Harry Potter films multiple times and want something new) will enjoy this one, but it probably won’t strike anyone as startlingly original.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • The Dark and The Wicked – Sometimes reviewing horror films can be challenging. There’s not a lot I can tell you about the film without giving things away, but I will say it is set in farmhouse where a husband is dying and the wife is grieving. Cue the return of their adult children, who quickly realize that all is not as it seems and somewhat less quickly realize that dark forces are at work. That’s about all I can tell you, but you can sort of get the idea from there. What’s interesting about the film is the tone and pace of it, which starts off moving at a deliberate pace and a heavy atmosphere, and then quickly shifts gears into a much faster-paced film with no shortage of jump-scares and plot twists. It doesn’t all work 100% of the time, but it’s a largely effective thriller that will keep your heart beating pretty fast for most of its running time.
  • Alone – This is the second film I’ve reviewed in the past two months called Alone, so I’m thinking maybe it’s time to find a new name for movies where a character ends up… well, alone, for large chunks of the running time. The film is a relatively tense thriller starring Jules Wilcox as a woman on a cross-country trip who finds herself menaced by a stranger in a menacing jeep. When the menace becomes more than just road rage, our heroine finds herself on the run in the woods in the middle of nowhere. In large part, the film is scary because the events are realistic enough to induce a sense of panic in viewers who realize this could happen to them if they picked the wrong day to go for a drive. Where the film flags a bit is in the pacing, which sometimes feels forced to justify a longer running time and results in some of the tension (which is, at times, quite effective) dissipating. It’s an effective thriller; not a home run, but worth a watch to get the heart pounding a bit.
  • Echo Boomers – Michael Shannon, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Pettyfer, and Patrick Schwarzenegger (yes, Arnie’s son) star in this film which might appeal to Millennials, although I suspect they might find the same faults with the movie as older viewers will. The story focuses on a group of college graduates who feel slighted by the world and disenfranchised by their lack of opportunities to get ahead. So they turn to, what else, crime. It’s sort of a modified Robin Hood story: rob from the rich to give to the poor, but in this case, the poor is a group of mobile young twentysomethings who spend the money on baubles and goodies, not food and survival. And sure, there may be something to be said for some of the ideas the characters have, but the film doesn’t really strive to make them relatable characters beyond one or two of the main ones. While the performances are fine thanks to some experienced cast members such as Shannon and Warren, the film just never really quite gels. It’s an easy enough watch, it just never clicked for me.
  • World Series 2020 – Are you a Los Angeles Dodgers fan? Then you’ll definitely want to pick up this new 2020 World Series release (released on Blu-ray and DVD). World Series 2020: Los Angeles Dodgers is a 90-minute highlights film that gives you the movie-length version of the Dodgers’ journey to their exciting championship in a year where sports were anything but guaranteed. It recaps the entire series and includes all of the biggest plays and most exciting scores. Then there are even a few bonus features, including Season Highlights, Clinching Moments, and a “How They Got There” Featurette. This is a must-have for die-hard fans!
  • Dragon Soldiers – If the words, “From the director of Snake Outta Compton” get you excited, then you are in for a treat here. Actually, even if you’re not excited by those words, you might still have something here. See, I was all ready to rag on a film that tries to deliver something as big as a dragon on a shoestring budget, but here’s the thing… Dragon Soldiers actually isn’t bad. I mean, it’s not a masterpiece, but the special effects for the dragon aren’t terrible, and the story gives us something new, with a modern-day two being troubled by a dragon and a group of mercenaries hired to kill it. Whereas director Hank Braxtan’s previous films were more parodies of popular monster genres, this one is a straight-laced action/fantasy film, and it’s kind of fun to watch soldiers go up against a big dragon in modern times. Keep in mind this is SyFy-level stuff and not a Lord of the Rings-quality film and you’ll probably have a good time with it. I did.
  • Dream Factory – This German film is set in 1961 and at first it starts off like your typical romance, with film extra Emil falling in love with Milou, a dancer he meets on the set. So far, so good. And then… tragedy. The Berlin Wall goes up and Emil and Milou end up on opposite sides. But that won’t stop Emil from trying to find his new love; he launches into a plan to act as a film producer to try and reunite with her, and of course, things do not go smoothly. What could be a dark film or a cheesy rom-com is instead a delightful movie that will leave a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart. Yes, it’s in German (although there is an English dub for those who prefer to skip the subtitles, although I can never recommend a dubbed track), but if you can get past that fact, it’s quite a charming little film.

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