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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Black Widow, F9, Cruella, Unbreakable, ParaNorman, The Boss Baby: Family Business and more

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Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Well, after a year and a half with very few new movies, this summer saw a lot of theatrical blockbusters, and now they’re all starting to hit home video at the same time. We also have some popular and cult classic TV shows hitting the shelves this week, so there’s definitely something for everyone!

Black Widow

The Marvel theatrical juggernaut finally returned with Black Widow, the solo Scarlet Johansson that we should have gotten about five years earlier. Set in between the second and third Avengers movies, Black Widow is an action-packed romp that introduces Natasha’s sister, a fellow super-spy named Yelena. We also meet her extended spy family and get a glimpse into her origins before everything turns into the Marvel version of a Fast and Furious film. I enjoyed Black Widow, but I also have some issues with it. The action sequences are fantastic, Florence Pugh is great as Yelena, and the film looks gorgeous. But I don’t generally like prequels and I wish this had come out in order, as I think it would have been more effective. I also felt like the story is fairly slight. The film has no shortage of action, but the story really isn’t terribly interesting, in my opinion. All in all, it’s a good film, but it’s definitely second-tier Marvel material, not the cream of the crop.

F9: The Fast Saga

I’ll make no bones about the fact that I am a HUGE fan of the Fast and the Furious franchise. I know people like to make fun of them for the “Family” stuff and the fact that they’re ridiculously over-the-top, but that’s exactly what I love about them (and I suspect it’s the same for most fans of the franchise.) F9 introduces John Cena as Vin Diesel’s brother, and the film gives us a look at their youth and what drove them both to become the men they are. And then there’s car chases, explosions, super-trucks, rocket cars, and all kinds of nonsense. It’s glorious fun, even if you’re best served by checking your critical thinking skills at the door. I’ve loved every Fast and Furious movie so far and this one is no different. F9: The Fast Saga comes to home video on the 4K Ultra HD format (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and the premium format treats it very well. Colors are vibrant and vivid, image clarity is terrific, and the surround soundtrack will have every speaker in your arsenal working overtime. Pop in this film, crank up the volume, kick back, and have a blast!

Cruella

Cruella quietly became one of the first blockbusters of the post-COVID era, grossing over $85 million in the US and over $200 million total worldwide. While I’ve seen some pundits calling the film a financial failure (due to its large budget), the fact is that in a post-COVID world, that’s a rousing success for a film without the star IP power of something like a Marvel or James Bond film. Sure, the 101 Dalmatians franchise has been successful, but it’s not exactly a continuously-running box office powerhouse. Credit Emma Stone with a wonderful performance as a young Cruella De Vil, and credit Disney for crafting a film that is a prequel but still manages to tell its own story. The film looks great, and while it’s a tad long for my tastes, I found it quite enjoyable. More importantly, everybody I know who saw it raved about how much they enjoyed it. It definitely was a crowd-pleasing film, which is a huge win. Cruella comes to home video on the 4K Ultra HD format (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and the premium format was pretty much created to make Disney movies sparkle. The film’s colors pop right odd the screen, giving the live-action proceedings an almost 3D quality to them. The surround soundtrack isn’t the most intricate affair I’ve ever come across, but it does its job very well and immerses you in the film nicely. A fun movie that gets a terrific home video release!

The Boss Baby: Family Business

Now, I know I’m not the target audience for these films, so I’m not going to be overly harsh about them, but my kids had to convince me I had seen the original Boss Baby films because I was 100% sure I hadn’t. And the reason I was so sure I hadn’t seen it was because I could not remember A SINGLE THING about it. Finally, after much prodding, I finally clicked onto one or two scenes and realized I had actually watched it when it came out. But that speaks to the problem with the Boss Baby movies: they’re completely and utterly forgettable. Are there some laughs to be found in The Boss Baby: Family Business? Sure. Will I have any clue I watched this movie when the inevitable third entry comes out in a few years? I highly doubt it. The Boss Baby: Family Business also comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and animation always shines in this format. Colors are superb, image clarity is razor sharp, and blacks are deep and inky. The surround soundtrack places a lot of the comedic chaos in your various speaker channels, creating a nicely immersive experience. Kids will enjoy this movie and parents will get a chuckle out of it, but ultimately it’s nothing super special.

Unbreakable (4K Ultra HD)

M. Night Shyamalan’s second film (and the genesis of the shared cinematic universe he would eventually revisit with Spilt and Glass) makes its 4K Ultra HD debut this week. I was happy to get the chance to revisit this film, because it’s been a while since I’ve watched it. As with a lot of people, I remember being disappointed in it after the heights Shyamalan hit with The Sixth Sense. But in revisiting it over the years without the crushing expectations for Sixth involved, I’ve become quite a fan of the director’s take on an unusual superhero origin story. Unbreakable, Split, and Glass make for a unique trilogy of superhero films, and while I can see how it’s not what everyone wants in a world where we regularly get megagiantsuper-sized Marvel and DC movies, I like this different spin on the genre. Unbreakable is over 20 years old now, and the 4K format gives it a definite audiovisual upgrade, but be aware it is not a complete transformation. The biggest upgrade is in shadow delineation. This is a dark film with a lot of nighttime scenes, and they are much easier to discern action in with this new version. The surround soundtrack doesn’t have a ton to work with, as this is a very quiet film, but it works hard giving us ambient sounds and background noise throughout the mix; it’s subtle, yet effective. If you’re not an Unbreakable fan, it’s probably worth revisiting, and if you are a fan, this is a nice version to own that also includes a digital copy so you can add it your library.

ParaNorman

One of Laika Studios’ first hits, ParaNorman is an underrated family film that mixes horror elements with comedy and adventure to create a unique film that kids should love (but not too young; it definitely has some creepy moments.) Laika specializes in stop-motion animation movies that look absolutely amazing; I swear with some of them, you’re convinced you’re watching CGI. Along with studio mate films like Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, ParaNorman is a terrific movie that looks utterly amazing while still delivering with great characters, a fun story, and plenty of excitement. In this movie, young Norman can commune with the dead, yet no one believes him except for his new (and offbeat) friend, Neil. Together, they have to save the town from a witch’s curse, and you’ll be glad they do, because the film is so much fun along the way. Like I said, it might be too scary for the younger kids, but older kids (and their parents) will love it. While the film has been released on home video before, this isa new Laika Studio edition that includes new artwork, a nice slipcover, and some new extra features including making of featurettes, test footage, photo galleries, storyboards, and more. If you’ve never seen ParaNorman, I definitely recommend tracking it down.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • SEAL Team: Season Four – Well, four seasons in and it’s pretty clear: David Boreanaz has found yet another hit show to star in. After BuffyAngel, and the long-running Bones, taking on an action-adventure role in SEAL Team is a perfect fit for the congenial TV mainstay. I like SEAL Team; it’s not a favorite for me but I find it quite enjoyable. While I would maybe have liked this show more if it was on a cable network like FX or HBO and a little more gritty, it’s perfectly fine CBS-style television. And while the ensemble cast is quite good, there’s no denying that it’s Boreanaz who carries the show, and he does so effortlessly. There’s a reason he’s been a leading man on TV for over two decades. If he wasn’t in the show, I doubt I’d be as interested in it. As it is, it’s perfectly watchable, occasionally exciting network TV. This collection includes the entire fourth season just in time to catch up for season five!
  • Magnum PI: Season Three – As a die-hard fan of the classic Tom Selleck TV series, I didn’t see the need for a remake of the show, but I wasn’t opposed to it, either. I get how TV and movies work these days, and I know that everything gets recycled. Three seasons in, and I’ll say this: I still feel like it falls into the typical CBS procedural formula, but it’s come a long way. Jay Hernandez — while no Tom Selleck — has really made the role his own and there’s no denying that he’s plenty charming. If you like most of CBS’s other shows — especially Hawaii Five-O, which still feels like a similar series — you’ll probably like this one, but if you’re looking for something different, you’re in the wrong place. That all said, Season Three comes along and offers up more of what the first couple of seasons gave us: crimes, flirting, Ferraris, a solid supporting cast, and no small amount of the aforementioned charm.
  • Young Sheldon: The Complete Fourth Season – I recently finished a rewatch of the entire 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory with my family, as it’s long been one of my favorite sitcoms. I know not everyone likes it, but I think it was top notch comedy every week. That said, I’ve never warmed up to Young Sheldon, even four seasons in. The wit and charm and characters that made Big Bang so fun are missing for me. I’ll give credit to young (but getting a little older) Iain Armitage, as he does the best he can with the material and I think he’s a very talented actor, but the show’s writing is a little sophomoric for me. Sheldon Cooper by himself is obnoxious; what made him work in Big Bang was the other characters acting as foils for him. That’s present here, but the characters don’t work nearly as well for me, so the show is a miss. Seeing as how we’re four seasons in and I haven’t heard anything about cancellation, I’m guessing I’m in the minority in that opinion, so if you’re a fan, now you can own every episode from the latest season to add to your collection.
  • The Ultraman: Complete Series and Ultraman 80: The Complete Series – Mill Creek has done a terrific job with their Ultraman complete franchise release series so far, but these latest two releases are a little different from the previous ones. I’ve seen some fan grumblings online, because Ultraman 80: The Complete Series and The Ultraman: The Complete Series are available only on DVD, whereas all the previous releases have been on Blu-ray. Apparently. Mill Creek was unable to locate masters of high enough quality to create a high def Blu-ray but didn’t want to leave fans with a hole in their collection, so they made the decision to release them only on DVD. Honestly, I’m totally cool with that. I appreciate Mill Creek not just putting crappy transfers on Blu-ray and charging us more money for sub-par Blu-ray quality. The Ultraman is a neat spin on the franchise, as it’s an anime version of Ultraman, fully animated and a lot of fun. Ultraman 80 is a series from 1980 that I guess isn’t the most popular in the franchise, but it does feature much improved special effects over some of the previous series. I can’t say the subtitles seem like they’re top-notch translation quality, but that’s my biggest complaint. Despite the format being DVD instead of Blu-ray, if you’ve been grabbing the Mill Creek Ultraman series so far, I doubt you’re gonna want to stop now.
  • Biography: WWE Legends, Volumes 1 & 2 – As a casual wrestling fan, I’m more fascinated by the people involved and the behind-the-scenes mechanics than the actual wresting events themselves. So I was excited to dive into this two-volume Biography set that features eight feature-length biographies of some of the most popular and influential wrestlers of all time. Over two two-disc sets, we get to meet and learn about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Booker T, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Ultimate Warrior and Bret “the Hitman” Hart. Now, I’ll say this: these biographies are terrifically entertaining and do give us several glimpses into the hearts and minds of these wrestling legends. That said, the shows were created and produced by the WWE, and as such, you can definitely tell there are some areas that are glossed over a little, with very little criticism of the WWE itself. That doesn’t make them bad, but they are maybe a little more polished and shiny than a typical warts-and-all bio. I’m not saying that it’s all filler and no killer, just be aware that these are a little more “produced” than you might be used to with biographies. If you’re a WWE fan, of course, overly-produced packages probably feel very familiar, and the end results are still a lit of fun.
  • Girls Night In Double Feature: Meet Joe Black/Wimbledon – I’m a little annoyed that this Blu-ray double feature is billed as a “Girls Night In Double Feature.” I get that these are films that are marketed largely to women, but I actually like both these movies quite a bit. Meet Joe Black was kind of love-it-or-hate-it flick for a lot of people, but I’m firmly in the “love it” camp. I know it has its flaws, but for some reason, I’ve always really enjoyed the film. It’s a fun movie with some great romance and a lot of emotions, and a great cast that makes it easy to watch. And sure, Wimbledon is a pretty typical rom-com, but it’s got the great Paul Bethany in it and it takes place in the world of championship tennis, which isn’t a setting you see in films all that often. Both films come together in this new Blu-ray double feature from Mill Creek, which can be found for a low price point pretty easily. For my money, it’s a lot of romantic bang for your buck, even if you’re not a girl.
  • Frost/Nixon – Another Mill Creek release, Frost/Nixon gets a new, lower-priced Blu-ray catalogue release this week. The critically acclaim, multiple-award-nominated drama (It is, after all, a movie that is ultimately about a television interview) shouldn’t have worked, but with amazing performances by Frank Langella as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as journalist David Frost, as helmed by the great Ron Howard, the film is often electrifying. It’s amazing what you can do with just a few characters, a powerful story, and incredible acting. Howard takes what could be a boring film and turns it into something fascinating and engaging. If you’ve never seen the film or owned it before now, this new budget-priced Blu-ray is the way to go.
  • The Power – A new Shudder-exclusive horror film, The Power is set in a creepy hospital in 1974, and the film’s title has more than one meaning. Yes, early in the film, the hospital’s power/electricity is in question as striking miners are shutting down power across London. Then it also deals with the powers that be that run medical care and the hospital, and the how said power is often abused. And then, of course, there’s the supernatural powers that are possibly haunting the hospital. Written and directed by Corinna Faith, the film isn’t entirely successful, but it’s not all bad, either. Ultimately, it falls somewhere into that middle range. There are a few creepy moments and the film tackles some bigger subjects than just ghosts in a hospital. On the flip side, haunted hospitals are a bit overdone in my opinion, and the film never feels particularly scary. I’ll take a thoughtful film like this over endless blood and guts any day, though.
  • Last Call – Jeremy Piven, Taryn Manning, Zach McGowan, Jame Kennedy, and Bruce Dern star in this new film about a successful real estate developer (Piven) who returns to the town he came from for a funeral, only to find himself reconnecting with his roots (and his childhood crush) and ultimately having to decide whether to save or demolish the family bar. Piven is always enjoyable to watch, but let’s be honest; we’ve all seen this film a thousand times. It doesn’t do anything original or interesting. That said, it’s an easy watch, so it’s not bad per se, but it also doesn’t stand out in any way, shape, or form. It’s perfectly fine to throw in late at night or when you’re folding laundry, but at the end of the day, Last Call is nothing special.
  • Black Magic Live: Stripped – This new feature-length documentary film is about Black Magic Live, Las Vegas’s only all-black male strip revue. Only a few years old, the establishment has struggled to carve its place into the city’s nightlife, and this film details those travails. At the heart of it is a group of the male strippers who highlight the show, including a former prison inmate and a college football star who’s NFL career was derailed by injury. It’s these guys that make the film so compelling; you’ll come for the stripping but you’ll stay for the people and their stories.

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