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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Super 8, Tomb Raider, The Last Action Hero, The Father, Primal, The Vault, Long Weekend and more

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This week sees a lot of big catalog titles, some debuting in 4K Ultra HD, as well as a smattering of interesting new releases making their home video debut.

Super 8 (4K Ultra HD) – It’s funny, when Super 8 came out in 2011, I was a little disappointed in it. I mean, Steven Spielberg teaming up with JJ Abrams for an “alien on earth” movie? I was pretty much expecting the love child of Jaws, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so naturally, I was a little let down. Revisiting the movie over the years, though, I’ve really come around on it. It’s more of a cross between The Goonies and Cloverfield, with a group of kids in a small town in the late 1970s getting caught up in the chaos of an escaped space alien that’s laying havoc to their town. Without the crushing weight of unachievable expectations, I’ve found that the movie is really, really fun, and I’m glad it’s getting the 4K treatment. The film benefits greatly from the 4K upgrade. It’s a pretty dark movie (lighting-wise) and the improved shadow delineation really makes it easier to see what’s going on, while the deeper color saturation makes the film much more vibrant. The Dolby Atmos surround soundtrack also give the film a nice added oomph, with a great low end and excellent use of the rear channels to bring the action to life. It’s an excellent presentation of a great film.

Tomb Raider: 2-Movie Collection (4K Ultra HD) – Also debuting on the 4K Ultra HD format this week is the Tomb Raider 2-Movie Collection, which brings both of the Angelina Jolie movies from the early 2000s to the format. It was fun to go back and rewatch these movies after so many years. They’re not nearly as bad as some people make them out to be, although they do fall short of being the great action-adventure films I want them to be. But they’re fun, easy-to-watch movies and they look and sound great in 4K. Both films are pretty colorful affairs, and the hues are so vibrant here they seem to leap off the screen. Image clarity is impeccable, and the action is all clear as day (despite the best efforts of the editing). The surround soundtracks aren’t the most nuanced I’ve ever heard, but they do create an effective sound-field with some nice panning and atmospheric effects to envelop the listener. All in all, if you’re a fan of these films, this is definitely the format to watch them in.

The Last Action Hero (4K Ultra HD) – The last of the big 4K updates this week is the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero, which I maintain is a highly underrated film. Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) this action parody sees a young movie fan transported into an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, which is ripe for great comedic moments. There’s still a lot of great action (even more over the top than usual!), but there are also many jabs at Arnie’s persona, his characters, his films… it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, there are some clunky moments and it could have used a trim of about 10-20 minutes, but overall I still really enjoy this movie. Don’t be fooled by the bad rap it’s developed over the years. This new 4K Ultra HD edition comes in a nice Steelbook edition and it offers up what I call a “standard upgrade” over Blu-ray. What I mean by that is that the film is nearly 30 years old; there’s only so much they can do to spruce it up. Colors are a little more vibrant, image clarity is super sharp, and the surround soundtrack is pretty effective, but it’s not like an A/V revolution. Still, if you like this film as much as I do, having it on 4K in a cool-looking Steelbook case is a welcome addition to your shelf.

The Father – Anthony Hopkins received the Best Actor Academy Award for his role here, and it’s not hard to see why. In his role as an aging man succumbing to the ravages of dementia, he is at times vulnerable, angry, confused, warm, stubborn, and a whole host of other emotions. The way they play across his face is a masterclass of acting, and his performance is almost equally matched by Olivia Colman (herself a recent Oscar winner). As for the film itself, I have to be honest and say it’s not really my kind of thing. It’s a hard film to watch, seeing this man give in to his own mind, and the film has a narrative trick where the facts of the film shift based on his current state of mind, which leads you to wonder what exactly is real. It works well to put you into the character’s shoes, but it also makes the film feel emotionally heavy. It’s an excellently made and acted film, but it’s just not the kind of film I’m usually drawn to. Your mileage may vary.

The Vault – Freddie Highmore continues his quest to take on every kind of role imaginable in The Vault, a new heist thriller set in Madrid, Spain. Highmore plays your requisite super-smart engineering student recruited to help Liam Cunningham (of Game of Thrones fame) recover a bunch of gold he recovered from a shipwreck that was seized by authorities. The twist here is that the heist is scheduled during Spain’s World Cup games, ensuring chaos that should help the team get away with it. It’s a cool enough premise, and the film does just enough with it to make it worth watching, but not much more. It checks off every box in the “heist movie checklist” and doesn’t try to swerve outside the lines even a little. Highmore is good as usual and Cunningham and the rest of the cast are all perfectly fine, and it’s an easy way to kill a couple of hours (even if it’s a tad bit on the long side), but it’s ultimately pretty forgettable.

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal: The Complete First Season – Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars, returns with his latest animated epic: Primal, which comes to Blu-ray and DVD with a first season collection that includes all ten episodes out so far. The show is pretty simple: a caveman (“Spear”) and a Dinosaur (“Fang”) pair up after the loss of their respective families and try to survive in a slightly mythical prehistoric world. If you know Tartakovsky’s works, you know he doesn’t typically pull any punches, so if you think a show with a caveman and a dinosaur is probably pretty brutal, you are dead on. In fact, at times I feel like the show should have been called Brutal, because it’s also an apt name and descriptor for the show. But the animation is absolutely gorgeous, the action is visceral, and the characters manage to become engaging despite not a single line of dialogue between them. And somehow, there is even the groundwork for a story arc that will carry into the second season, mostly visible in the season finale. It’s an impressive show that is developing a huge fanbase, so get in in the ground floor now.

Long WeekendLong Weekend is a new rom-com with a cast made up mostly of lesser-known actors. Sure, some of you will recognize lead actors Finn Wittrock and Zoe Chao, but they are far from household names. However, it’s partly that lack of recognizability that helps Long Weekend work so well. The film is about a couple who are in love but both harbor secrets that could damage the relationship. To say more would be to spoil the twists that keep the film fresh and unique, but suffice it to say that Long Weekend succeeds in making the rom-com feel new and different, and that’s not an easy feat in the era of cookie-cutter filmmaking. Jim Rash, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Damon Wayans Jr. show up in supporting roles, but it’s Wittrock and Chao who do all the heavy lifting, and they’re both terrific. If you like a good romantic comedy, but especially if you want to see something a little different in the genre, you’ll definitely want to check out Long Weekend.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Spare Parts – If you enjoyed Robert Rodriquez’s half of Grindhouse — Planet Terror, in which Rose McGowan was fitted with a machine gun for a leg — then I’ve got some good news for you. Spare Parts is a new B-movie about an all-female punk rock group who are touring the country only to end up abducted and have their arms replaced with, well, a different kind of arms: bladed weapons like swords and axes. Why? Well, in order to fight in a sadistic cult’s battle arena, of course. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately the film’s execution doesn’t do it any favors. It’s low-budget fare, which isn’t bad per se, but it has so many low-budget hallmarks, such as mediocre acting, a poor script, and an overindulgent emphasis on blood and gore, that the end result is not particularly great. I’m sure there’s an audience for this movie — if you’re a fan of grindhouse B-movie films, you’ll likely love it — but it wasn’t really my cup of tea.
  • The Bloodhound – Arrow Video continues to bring out top-notch collector’s edition Blu-rays that are modeled on The Criterion Collection’s high end releases, just focusing more on cult classics and genre fare. Their latest offering is The Bloodhound, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher by first time director Patrick Picard. In the film, we see young Francis called to visit his friend JP and his twin sister Vivienne. From there… well, weird stuff starts to happen. It’s an atmospheric film, which packs a lot of mood and atmosphere into it’s short 72-minute running time, but it’s a little light on the narrative side of things. For some reason, it reminds me a lot of 2013’s Stoker, a critically acclaimed but little seen film by Park Chan Wook. I like my films a little more involved than The Bloodhound is, but it’s certainly a promising debut for a first time director. As with most of Arrow’s Collector’s Edition releases, this one features premium sound and picture quality as well as a nice collection of extra features. These include an audio commentary, four short films by the director, and a 45-minute making-of documentary, plus a booklet in the first print run. It’s a terrific release overall, even if the film wasn’t quite my thing.
  • It Happened Tomorrow – The Cohen Film Collection brings us a classic Hollywood comedy to Blu-ray that is quite a little gem. It Happened Tomorrow is a film by French director René Clair, best known for his classic film I Married a Witch, and starring Dick Powell. In this one, a reporter mysteriously starts receiving tomorrow’s newspaper today, allowing him to scoop his rivals and get all the news before it happened. When he gets a headline predicting his own death, he has to race to try and prevent it from coming true. It’s a charming film that’s a lot of fun, and it’s different from so many of the films of the time period that were relegated to either romantic comedy or hard drama. With a 4K scan restoration, the film looks terrific, and while I had never seen to before, I’m glad to have discovered it thanks to this new release.
  • PBS Spotlight – The full title of our first PBS release this week is Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, although calling it a “film” is a bit of a misnomer. With three episodes and a six-hour running time, it’s really more of a miniseries. But Ken Burns is the premiere documentarian of our age, and he turns his lens towards Hemingway in this exceptional biography. Narrated by Peter Coyote, the series mixes together warts-and-all interviews and discussions of Hemingway’s works and life with passages of his writing read by celebrity guests, including Jeff Daniels, Meryl Streep, and Keri Russell. It’s a terrific look at the writer that goes beyond just talking about how great he was and really delves into his life, his flaws, his works, and his legacy. Great stuff. Next up is Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Opry, a 90-minute concert film featuring Dolly Parton celebrating 50 years of performances at the Grand Ole Opry. She rips through a varied set of songs and welcomes some big-name guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams Jr. It’s a terrific showcase of Ms. Parton’s music and her personality, and it’s a nice tribute to a true country music legend. Next, we have The Masterpiece Triple Feature, which is a nice budget three-pack giving us three terrific Masterpiece outings for one lower price. The set includes the film The Chaperone (starring Elizabeth McGovern and written by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes); the four-episode drama Flesh and Blood (starring Imelda Staunton); and Mrs. Wilson, a three-episode miniseries (starring, ironically, Ruth Wilson). All three are really strong programs, although The Chaperone stands out as my favorite, largely due to McGovern and Haley Lu Richardson starring and the sharp script by Julian Fellowes. You get almost ten hours of high-quality Masterpiece programming in one set, which is hard to argue with. Speaking of Masterpiece, also new this week is Atlantic Crossing, an 8-episode miniseries starring Kyle MacLachlan and Sofia Helin. Helin takes the lead as Princess Martha of Norway, who was desperately trying to get the Allied Powers to help Norway during World War II, while MacLachlan does an impressive job playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The series focuses on the Princess of Norway and her international efforts as well as her struggle with her marriage to the crown prince, and it tends to slide between being really engaging at times and a little bit slow at times. Overall, thought, it’s a well-put-together production with some impressive performances. Switching gears a bit, we have Looking for Life on Mars, a 60-minute Nova episode focusing on the 2020 Mars Rover mission and the search for signs of any kind of life on Mars. Not surprisingly, it’s excellent, with some amazing footage from a story that captured a lot of our imaginations in 2020, and if you like space-based programs, you’ll definitely want to watch this one. Finally from PBS this week, we have PBS Kids: 15 Sports Stories. With an obvious sports theme, this collection gives you episodes of some of PBS Kids’ most popular shows, including Daniel TigerThe Wild KrattsMolly of DenaliArthurPinkalicious, and more. You can usually find these DVDs for just a few bucks, and they give you hours of entertainment for your pre-schoolers and elementary schoolers. I loved these compilations when my kids were little and I’m sure you and your kids will too!
  • Acorn Media Spotlight – Wrapping up the week, we have three new releases from Acorn Media, who specialize in bringing British, Australian, and New Zealander programming to DVD. First up this week is Des, a three-episode miniseries starring David Tennant as real-life British serial killer Dennis Nilsen. This series focuses more on Des’s psyche and motivations than it does on the mystery of who is doing the killings, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. At this point, David Tennant is so brilliant, I’ll watch him in anything, so it’s no surprise that he is typically fantastic as the mercurial Nilson, who killed over a dozen young men in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Chilling stuff, but easily worth the watch. Also this week we have One Lane Bridge, a six-episode mystery series set in Queensland, New Zealand. Focusing on a mysterious death on the town’s infamous One Lane Bridge, the show follows a Maori detective trying to fit in to the small town police force after being transferred from the big city. The case triggers a series of spiritual visions that he hasn’t had in years, giving the show a slightly supernatural flair. Personally, I thought there was enough conflict, character and mystery that the visions were unnecessary, but they don’t detract from the show, either. A solid mystery genre entry. Finally, we have Bang: Series 2. Set in South Wales, this crime thriller is both cliched and fresh. On the one hand, you’ve got the whole, “one sibling is a cop, one is a crook” trope that’s been done a million times before. However, in this case, the cop sibling is a woman, and the crook sibling is her brother who gets in way over his head, rather than the cliched mob boss or brutal enforcer we usually see in these types of shows. Bang offers up six episodes of intense drama and action, and cop show junkies would do well to track it down.

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