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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Soul, News of the World, Godzilla, Event Horizon, The Undoing, Songbird and more

Soul – Disney/Pixar’s latest film didn’t get the chance to be the box office smash that Pixar’s films usually are thanks to the pandemic, but it was clearly a well-liked hit on the Disney+ streaming platform, and now it’s available on home video. The story follows a middle school band teacher who gets a huge opportunity in the music scene but accidentally ends up in “the before,” the place where souls are shaped and discover their interests and such. There he meets 22, a soul who doesn’t quite get it and he has to teach her about why being human is so great. Now, I’m not always a huge Pixar fan, but I did enjoy this film. There’s a nice charm to it, the voice cast is great (including Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, and Angela Bassett), and I really dig the unique concept of the story. Soul comes to home video on DVD and Blu-ray as well as the premium 4K Ultra HD format, in which the movie looks and sounds terrific. Colors leap off the screen, image clarity is superb, and the soundtrack brings the musics ambience and music to life with verve. A great presentation of a fun new film.

News of the World – Tom Hanks stars in his first western with News of the World, the latest film from Bourne series director Paul Greengrass. In the film, Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a newsman of sorts who travels from town to town and telling them about what’s going on in the world, since newspapers were few and far between and small frontier towns often had no idea what was happening outside their borders. When Kidd comes across a lone young girl who appears to have been raised by Indians (even though she is white), he decides he has to return her to people who can take care of her. Cue the Lone Wolf and Cub-style story, in which Hanks and his young charge journey across harsh lands and come up against some serious obstacles. While it’s not an out-and-out masterpiece, News of the World is still a terrific film, with an excellent performance from Hanks and a good pace that keeps things moving and never lets interest flag. It’s a well-made film that I think people will enjoy even if they’re not fans of the western genre.

Godzilla (4K Ultra HD) – Godzilla is an impressive film, especially the three minutes of the movie that Godzilla is actually in. Yep, Godzilla‘s a great monster movie that’s just missing one thing: the monster the movie is named after. The special effects are terrific, the building tension is solid, but by an hour and 45 minutes into a two-hour movie, when Godzilla had still only made a couple of cameo appearances, I was getting pretty pissed. This is a good-enough movie that could have been great if they had just put Godzilla in it more. Sigh. Well, now Godzilla has been re-released to home video (Just in time for Godzilla Vs. Kong) in the 4K Ultra HD format, and regardless of how you feel about the film, there’s no denying this is the best format to watch it in. It’s a very dark film, so the improved color saturation is noticeable, even if it doesn’t pop like on some brighter films. But the improved shadow delineation makes it much easier to see what’s happening on screen, and image clarity is at a premium. The surround soundtrack is a beast; it gives all of your speakers — especially the low-end — a real workout. If you’re a fan of this film, you’ll definitely want to make the upgrade.

Event Horizon: Collector’s Edition – Event Horizon is such an interesting film. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil series) and starring Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne, it’s one of the few films I can think of that qualifies both as a science fiction movie but also as a true horror movie. And I know some people who absolutely love this film, which makes this new Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory a no-brainer. Personally, I’m of two minds on the film. I like its originality and I think it really is creepy as hell. It’s also a bit too disturbing to feel like I really LOVE it, but it’s worth a watch every handful of years. For fans of the film, though, this new collector’s edition is a real gift. Sporting atmospheric new cover art, the film has been remastered and looks better than ever. There’s also a cornucopia of bonus features, including ten new interview featurettes with cast and crew, an audio commentary, a five-part making-of documentary, and much more. It’s a terrific release, but of course I would expect no different from Scream Factory.

Paramount 10 Best Pictures: The Essential Collection – I’m not always the biggest fan of the types of collections, because you usually get such a wide range of movies that it’s hard to please everyone. That said, Paramount’s new 10 Best Pictures Essential Collection is one of the better movie box sets I’ve seen in a while. The films included are: Wings, My Fair Lady, The Godfather, Terms of Endearment, Forrest Gump, The English Patient, Titanic, American Beauty, Gladiator, and No Country for Old Men. What I like about this set is that eight of the ten films are from the 70s or later, giving the film a more cohesive feel. Sometimes you get these sets with such a wide range of genres and time periods that it feels a little disjointed. This set leans heavily towards dramas (Gladiator is the most action-oriented film, and even that one has a strong dramatic component to it), and so it all seems to gel. Not only do you get all ten films on Blu-ray, all with extra features, but you also get digital copies of each film, which is a huge bonus. If you’re a fan of Oscar-type movies, this set will make a nice addition to your collection.

The Undoing – Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman got some good notices for their performances in this HBO original miniseries. Set over the course of six episodes, the story follows Nicole Kidman’s Grace Fraser, who befriends a new mom who doesn’t quite fit in at the affluent school their kids attend. Grant plays Kidman’s oncologist husband who’s away for a conference. When a murder rocks their town… well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say there’s a lot of suspicions raised as we try to unfold the events that led to the victim’s death. The Undoing works and it works well, largely because of the miniseries format. So many other networks would have tried to make this into a three-season series or a 24-episode season. Instead, the story gets told over the course of six-episodes, meaning things move enough to maintain your interest from start to finish. Kudos to HBO for a solid mystery genre entry!

Songbird – KJ Apa may be best known for playing Archie on TV’s Riverdale, but I think he’s quite a talented young actor. Now, he takes the starring role in a new thriller called Songbird, which sees American in the grips of… a deadly pandemic. Yep, this film is about COVID-23, which feels both incredibly timely and incredibly exploitative at the same time. Admittedly, this movie sees a post-pandemic world that is much darker than the one we’re currently in, but still, I can imagine there is a large part of the audience out there who don’t want to watch a film about the dark side of our future as a result of a pandemic. The film sees Apa out to rescue his girlfriend from being sent off to a quarantine from which no one returns (he’s immune), but it’s a bit disjointed and largely incomplete. There are a lot of characters who show up and disappear before we get to really know them, and there is a sense of cohesiveness that’s missing from the film as a whole. I wish I could say it was better, because I always like a good thriller, but Songbird comes up lacking.

Breaking News in Yuba County – A terrific cast anchors this new movie that, honestly, I’d never heard of until the review copy crossed my desk. Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Juliette Lewis, and Regina Hall star in this crime thriller/black comedy that’s directed by Tate Taylor. Taylor is an interesting director. His filmography includes a blockbuster dramedy (The Help), a mediocre horror film with a terrible title (Ma), a so-so thriller (The Girl on the Train), and a somewhat uneven actioner (2020’s Ava with Jessica Chastain). This time around he’s crafted a film about a put-upon wife whose inattentive husband dies in an extramarital tryst and after burying the body, she decides to report him missing. Of course, it turns out the husband was involved in some shady stuff, bringing Sue more attention than she originally wanted. It’s one of those films that features multiple characters and various storylines and plot points, and while it isn’t a complete mess, it’s also not a particularly strong showing. It feels a little schizophrenic, and it wears its influences (ahem, Fargo, ahem) on its sleeve a little too clearly for me.

The Dam Busters, Dunkirk, Ice Cold in Alex – These three films, all classic British war movies, were originally released on Blu-ray for the first time as part of a five-film Blu-ray collection. Now, Film Movement has released the three best-known (and best, in my opinion) films as individual Blu-rays. Dunkirk (the original, not the Christopher Nolan film), The Dam Busters, and Ice Cold in Alex are now available as stand-alone releases, although all three are worth watching. The Dam Busters is a solid war film about a new type of bomb needed to defeat an entrenched German stronghold, but for my money, Dunkirk and Ice Cold in Alex are standout films. Dunkirk fixes a lot of the problems with Nolan’s effort, keeping the story more cohesive and giving a much better narrative picture of the events. Ice Cold in Alex is one I hadn’t heard of until last year, when my After the Ending film podcast co-host Phil Edwards turned me on to it. It’s a tense and taut tale of survival in the desert during wartime, and it’s one of those films that’s little-seen but deserves a wider audience. If you didn’t pick up the previous box set, you should definitely seek these Blu-rays out.

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 – So, apparently there’s real life online puzzle called Cicada 3301, which some people think is a recruiting tool for the CIA or maybe some kind of marketing ploy, or perhaps something more sinister. Well, this new film from writer/director Alan Ritchson (who also co-stars, he’s been an actor for several years) posits that it’s a puzzle posted online by a secret society that figures if you’re smart enough to crack the code, you should be one of them. The resulting film is a mish-mash of conspiracy thriller tropes that tries to fit some awkward humor into the proceedings. iIt’s not a great film, but I will say that it’s an easy watch; if you want to kill 90 minutes without having to think too hard, Dark Web: Cicada 3301 might fit the bill.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Cosmoball – This new Russian sci-fi movie looks at first glance like a remake of Rollerball but with aliens, and while that isn’t really an apt description, it also isn’t entirely unjustified. In the film, years after an intergalactic war, one of the bright spots for humanity is Cosmoball, a sort of futuristic soccer game played at breakneck speeds. But it turns out that Cosmoball is actually helping keep the earth safe from destruction, and it’s this territory that the second half of the film veers into. Cosmoball isn’t really a good film, but it does have some good special effects and it moves quickly, so it’s easily watchable even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Throw it on in the background and tune in when the action gets exciting. 
  • Jekyll and Hyde – This 10-episode TV series from 2015 sees Tom Bateman as the titular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in an updated take on the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. This time around, the series takes place in the 1930s, and our Jekyll is the grandson of the original doctor who ends up discovering his grandfather’s secret formula and, of course, begins to undergo his own transformation. I get the sense that this show was supposed to become ongoing series but it doesn’t appear to have gone beyond this one season. I can kind of see why. It’s not bad per se, but it’s also not great. Bateman does a good enough job in the title role(s), but the show can’t quite seem to decide who their audience is (kids? families? adults?) And it just never quite worked for me. Personally, I feel like if you’re going to update the story, why not bring it into today’s world; why set it in the 1930s? Still, if you liked this show when it aired, now you can revisit the ten episodes in one nice DVD set. 
  • The Interrogation – This powerful German film — helmed by an Israeli director — tells the true story of Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, who was the commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II Germany. After his capture in 1946, he was interrogated at length, and that’s where the bulk of the film takes place, recreating that interrogation to tell the story of Auschwitz from someone who had access Toit like no one else on earth. It’s a harrowing, sometimes disturbing film, but it’s well-made, well-acted, and it tells an important story. It’s not exactly Friday-night-popcorn-viewing, but if you want to see a film that tackles an intense subject in an artful way, The Interrogation is worth seeking out. 
  • Anne of Green Gables: Three Movie Collection – My knowledge of the actual stories of Anne of Green Gables is surprisingly non-existent. Of course I’ve been aware of the novels (and their many, many filmed adaptations over the years) for as long as I can remember. But I’ve actually never read the books or watched a movie version of any of them until the first entry in this series came out a couple of years ago. The filmmakers went on to make three films in the series: Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables; The Good Stars, and Anne of Green Gables: Fire and Dew. With each film featuring the words “L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” in the title, it seems to me these TV movies were striving to stay truer to the source material than previous adaptations, although having not read the books, I can’t say if they succeeded or not. Still, each of the three movies are entertaining period pieces, and I think both younger viewers and adults can enjoy them. Overall, the films are enjoyable enough and I imagine that fans of the books will enjoy them quite a bit.
  • Finding Your Roots: Season 6 – Finding Your Roots: Season 6 sees a number of popular celebrities researching their family trees and coming up with some genuinely interesting results. This season features noted names such as Jeff Goldblum, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, Gayle King, Sterling K. Brown, Marc Maron, Queen Latifah, Melissa McCarthy, Rupaul, and a ton of other famous faces, and it’s fascinating stuff. Admittedly I find genealogy very interesting, but this show also has some emotional moments and some “detective” work that’s a lot of fun to watch. This three-disc set includes ten hours of programming, and I like the blend of great celebrities and genealogical history quite a bit. 
  • Family Spotlight – This week, we have four new DVD releases that will keep the kids busy on Spring Break. First up is Hero Dog: The Journey Home. Steve Byers stars as a blind man whose guide through tough wilderness territory falls ill, leaving him stranded. With only a malamute dog to guide him, Byers has to make his way through arctic terrains to get back to his family. While it’s nothing terribly original in terms of story, I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. It’s a solid adventure/survival tale, the dog, Chinook, is great, and the suspense is solid enough to keep me watching from start to finish. Next up is Sherlock Holmes and the Great Escape, a new animated film that sees Sherlock Holmes as a wolf/dog in an anthropomorphic world. In the film, Holmes has to track down a former criminal he’d imprisoned who has escaped from jail, but there may ben more to the story than Holmes first thought. Originally a Chinese animated feature, it’s now been released in English on DVD. Now, I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and while this one plays pretty fast and loose with the world of Holmes, I’m a fan of anything that introduces the world’s greatest detective to kids. It’s a fun little film that I think kids will enjoy. Next up, we have one I’m particularly fond of, The Berenstain Bears: The Complete Collection. Of course, I grew up reading the Berenstain Bears books myself as a kid, but my kids also grew up with them and watched the Bears cartoon on DVDs when they were young. I have to say, I find this show very endearing, filled with characters we love, good life lessons, and some solid humor. This five-disc Complete Collection includes all 80 episodes, giving you over 17 hours of terrific kids’ programming for a nice, low price. Really, this is just a great show for the family! Finally this week, we have Play Time With Pinkalicious, the newest collection of the show based on the popular books, this time with an outdoor/playing them to it, just in time for Spring. My daughter used to read the Pinkalicious books religiously when she was younger, and I wish this animated series had come out about eight years ago, because she would have been all over it! Still, it’s fun to see it brought to animated life. The show is cute and funny and captures the feel of the books well, so I expect young kids will love it.
  • PBS Documentary Spotlight – We have six new PBS documentary releases out from PBS this week, covering a wide range of topics. First up is a science doc, Secrets in Our DNA. This Nova episode explores what happens to our DNA once we send it off to one of the genealogy websites like Ancestry or 23 and Me. How is it decoded and what might it reveal about us? It’s pretty interesting stuff, especially if you have or plan to send off your own DNA. Next up is a more sociopolitical documentary series, The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song. Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (who will be familiar to PBS viewers and actually also hosts Finding Your Roots mentioned above), this four-hour documentary explores the history of the black church and delves into the politics, music, and conflict that have surrounded it from the 1800s through today. It’s an in-depth and thoughtful history piece that delivers a thorough history. Meanwhile, American Experience: The Codebreaker is a fascinating biographical portrait of Elizebeth Smith Friedman. Now, you’ve probably never heard of Friedman, but she was an amazing cryptanalyst whose codebreaking skills likely changed the course of American history, both in the war efforts and in domestic crime matters. I love learning about people I knew nothing about, so I enjoyed this one immensely. Switching to more of a natural science doc, we have The Alps, a feature-length two-part documentary focusing on Europe’s famed Alps, a mountain range that’s host to a wide range of animal wildlife. That wildlife tales center stage here as we learn how they survive in some ever-changing and often volatile settings. Very interesting stuff! Shifting gears again, we have next American Masters: Flannery, a feature-length biography of noted writer Flannery O’Connor. Now, I’m familiar with O’Connor although I’ve never read any of her works, which include number of famed short stories with a Southern Gothic setting. Admittedly, I might have enjoyed this more if I was a fan of her work, but it was interesting enough even without being a fan. Finally this week, we have American Experience: How it Feels to be Free, another feature length documentary, focusing on African American women who have had a huge impact on American culture. In this case, the program spotlights Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier, all extremely talented performers. It’s a well-structured documentary, giving each performer her due time without feeling the need to stretch out to six hours in length. Definitely recommended for fans of music and movies. 

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