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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Wonder Woman 1984, Monster Hunter, Gattaca, Defending Your Life, Secrets & Lies and more

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Wonder Woman 1984 – Okay, I have not always been a fan of DC’s big screen outings, but the first Wonder Woman movie was definitely one of their better efforts. So I was at least a little excited for the sequel, which of course was delayed by COVID-19 but finally premiered in January in select theaters and on HBO Max. I wish I could rave about this film, but it’s… weird. There are parts of the film that I liked (once again, Chris Pine is the best part of the film), but it’s got a lot of problems as well. Pedro Pascal is a terrific actor, and I appreciate his unique take on Maxwell Lord, but it’s an odd fit in a Wonder Woman movie. The fact that the film is set in 1984 for no actual reason that I can discern is odd, although there are a few laughs as a result. But the whole tone of the movie is offbeat, and the bloated two-and-a-half-hour running time doesn’t do it any favors. I didn’t hate it, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Wonder Woman 1984 comes to home video on DVD and Blu-ray as well as the 4K Ultra HD format, and that version is absolutely pristine from an audiovisual point of view. This is an extremely colorful film to begin with, and they virtually leap off the screen thanks to the high dynamic range of the color spectrum. Image clarity is razor sharp, and the surround soundtrack is effective and nuanced when it needs to be. The film looks and sounds absolutely spectacular, even if it has its flaws.

Monster Hunter – What could have been a huge box office hit is instead relegated to (what I hope will be) future cult classic status. Reteaming director Paul W. S. Anderson and actor Milla Jovovich (they did the Resident Evil movies together) and adding martial arts superstar Tony Jaa to the proceedings, Monster Hunter is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. Based on the global hit video game series of the same name, the film sees a team of soldiers accidentally transported to another world where monsters roam freely and are incredibly deadly. From there, it’s a battle for survival against insurmountable odds. What’s great is that the film is unabashedly a huge monster action movie. It rarely gives you a chance to breathe, and there is no shortage of completely awesome action sequences. There’s just enough character development to be interesting, and then it’s right back to tiny humans vs. giant monsters. And it’s glorious!! Monster Hunter arrives on home video on DVD and Blu-ray as well as the 4K Ultra HD format, and the 4K presentation is spectacular. The film is filled with gorgeous special effects and they shine here, and the soundtrack features a booming low end and some great use of the rear satellite speakers. This one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Gattaca (4K Ultra HD) – Making its 4K Ultra HD debut this week is Gattaca, which is one of those quiet little movies that most of you are probably like, “Oh I’ve heard of that movie.” For me, Gattaca is one of my all-time favorite films. Is it a sci-fi film? A drama? A murder mystery? A commentary on the human drive to succeed? The answer is yes to all of those, and so much more. It’s a beautiful film, with amazing performances by Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, and I will sing its praises any time I get a chance. This is one of those chances, so if you’ve never seen Gattaca, do yourself a favor and track this new release down. Not only does it come in 4K Ultra HD, but it also comes packaged in a terrific steelbook case, making it a nice addition to any movie collection. Now, the film is 20 years old at this point, so the 4K upgrade isn’t instantly noticeable; this is a fairly monochromatic film, relatively speaking. But the improved shadow delineation and image clarity really give the film a sharpness that wasn’t there before, and I love the way it looks. It’s also a relatively quiet film, so your surround speakers don’t exactly get a workout, but the sound quality is quite good overall. This is a near-perfect movie, and this is the best I’ve seen it looked sound on home video, so this one is a no-brainer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Defending Your Life – The first of two new releases from the Criterion Collection this week, I was more than excited to see Defending Your Life earn a place in the esteemed Criterion halls. This is the film that made me an Albert Brooks fan, and I saw it by accident. I was actually trying to sneak into an R-rated movie when I was a teenager but I got caught and was forced to watch the movie I bought a ticket for instead. That movie was Defending Your Life, and I fell in love with it. Albert Brooks’ story of a selfish man who dies and has to prove his worth in the afterlife is a funny, charming, delightful film. Meryl Streep co-stars, so you know she’s great, but Albert Brooks steals the show, bringing his signature nebbishy charm to the fore and winning over the audience (and maybe the powers that be in heaven, too.) It’s a terrific film, and now it’s gotten the home video treatment it deserves, with restored and remastered sound and picture, plus a nice collection of extra features. Without a doubt, this one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Secrets & Lies – Also from the Criterion Collection this week, we get Mike Leigh’s well-loved film, the acclaimed Secrets & Lies. The winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie follows Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s Hortense as an adopted African-American woman who begins the search for her birth mother. She is more than surprised to find out that her mother is a white woman, played by Brenda Blethyn. The impact of this family reunion has ripples that travel far and wide, and the film deftly explores familial relations, race, and, well, secrets and lies. I’m not a Mike Leigh devotee but I do like some of his films and I can say that I had actually never seen this one until now. I was impressed by the power of the film — the performances are outstanding and the writing is sharp — and I can say it’s definitely one of the best films I’ve seen by Leigh. As usual with Criterion, the film has had the sound and picture restored and remastered, and there are a few nice extra features as well.

The Ten Commandments (4K Ultra HD) – Probably one of the most famous movies of all time (and certainly one of the most famous stories of all time), The Ten Commandments makes its way to home video this week in a new format: 4K Ultra HD (the film’s debut in the format.) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this monster epic tells the story of Moses in Egypt and the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, and it does so in epic fashion. Over the course of nearly four hours, we marvel as an all-star cast (Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, and Yvonne De Carlo) brings one of the bible’s greatest tales to life, and it’s fantastic. The parting of the Red Sea might be one of the most famous sequences in film history, and not it looks better than ever. 4K upgrades of older classic films aren’t always hugely different, but the improvement in colors and the upgrade in image clarity give this epic new life. The surround soundtrack isn’t the most detailed one I’ve heard, but it does bring the film to life with some good surround enhancements when needed. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this one!

Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth – Also from Cecil B. DeMille this week, we have the Blu-ray debut of 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth, probably the greatest movie of all time about the circus. Once again featuring an all-star cast (Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, James Stewart), this one is a little less epic in scope, running only two-and-a-half-hours in length. It’s that classic Hollywood blend of romance, crime, spectacle, and drama, as we follow a number of players in the world’s largest traveling circus. It’s a sharp blend, with enough of every story element to keep people interested no matter what kind of movies they like. This new Blu-ray is released as part of Paramount’s top-notch Paramount Presents line, which features gorgeous new fold-out cover art and a new extra feature hosted by Leonard Maltin. A nice Cecil B. Demille double feature with The Ten Commandments. (I mean, if you have half a day to kill.)

Our Friend – Based on a true story, Our Friend is a moving and emotional story of a young family that is devastated by a terminal cancer diagnosis. Casey Affleck and Dakota Fanning star as Matt and Nicole Teague. When Nicole is diagnosed with terminal cancer, their whole life is upended. Enter Jason Segel as Dane, the couple’s best friend, who steps in to help out as Matt becomes more and more overwhelmed with being a caretaker. It’s definitely a tough film to watch at times, as we all know how devastating cancer can be, but it is tempered by some nice lighter moments as well. That said, make sure you bring some tissues, because you ARE going to need them. All three actors deliver excellent performances, and I found the film to be effective and moving. Worth a watch if you can handle the heavy subject matter.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Journeys Through French Cinema – In 2017, director Bertrand Tavernier gave us My Journey Through French Cinema, a three-hour-plus documentary film that served as a primer to the acclaimed world of French cinema. Apparently, he didn’t get it all out of his system, however, because now he’s returned with Journeys Through French Cinema, and eight-episode series that goes even deeper into understand and appreciating the works that come from France. Spotlighting acclaimed filmmakers and actors including Jean Pierre Melville, René Clément, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Julien Duvivier, Henri Decoin, and Claude Autant-Lara, among others. He also gives each episode a theme, such as legendary directors, film songs, composers, war-era films, the new wave, and more. It’s an incredibly in-depth look at a world of films outside our own sphere, and there are a number of groundbreaking and acclaimed films showcased here. Definitely a must-watch for cinephiles anywhere. 
  • 1942: Unknown Battle – This new war film comes from Russia, and tells the story of a depleted Russian Army platoon after a battle with the Nazis. Now, the commander of the surviving soldiers faces a dilemma: does he follow orders and lead his men to certain death, or does he retreat, thus saving their lives, resulting in charges of treason that will lead to their executions? I’ve seen a couple of war films out of Russia in recent years, and I’ll say they definitely have a skill at making them. 1942: Unknown Battle is a harrowing film, not entirely action but not all drama, either, and it does have some incredibly intense moments. If you don’t mind subtitles and you want to see a slightly less glamorized war film than the usual Hollywood fare, you might want to track this one down. 

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