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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Middle Earth, The Outsiders, Jungle Cruise, Candyman, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Vanilla Sky and more

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Well, it already feels like the biggest single week of home video releases of the entire year, as all the studios try to make sure their products are front and center on store shelves for Black Friday. On top of that, there have been several major releases over the past couple of weeks that were delayed due to supply chain issues and delivery delays, so get cozy, because this week’s column is a long one!

Middle-Earth: 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition

I mean, where do you even start with this incredible box set? I’ve seen many studios use the term “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” and more often than not the end result is something less than ultimate. But this set absolutely lives up to its moniker. Spread across a whopping 31 discs is the entirety of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga: The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy. But that’s not even close to being all you get. First of all, each of the six films comes with both their theatrical cuts and their extended cuts. Now, I love the extended cuts; half an hour extra seems excessive when each film is already three hours long, but I really think the extended cuts are the better versions of the films. But sometimes you want the more compact versions, so I love that the theatrical versions were included. I hate when I can only get one version of a movie I know there are multiple different versions of. Then, each film is also included in 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray… and you get digital copies of both versions of each film as well. On top of that, you get a bonus disc with all-new extra features celebrating the LOTR trilogy’s 20th anniversary, a 64-page book, and seven double-sided art cards. The box set’s packaging is utterly fantastic; there are four different configurations you can transform it into, that change it from compact to display worthy, and it’s really neat. Even better, watching the films in 4K is a revelation; the movies have new life to them, with incredibly deep colors, razor sharp imagery, and strong contrasts and shadow delineation. The surround soundtracks are rich and full, and they’ll immerse you into Middle Earth even more than before. Honestly, if you’re a fan of the Middle Earth films — and who isn’t? — this is hands down the ULTIMATE home video collection. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Jungle Cruise

Sometimes a movie trailer gives you an incredibly clear picture of what you’re in for. I thought the trailers for Disney’s Jungle Cruise looked like a lot of fun, and I was not disappointed. Jungle Cruise was easily the most fun I had in a theater this year, and it remains a lock to make one of my top 10 films of 2021. It’s extremely funny, filled with lots of action and cool special effects, and Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt have surprisingly great chemistry on screen together. Throw in some actual surprises in the plot and even a little subtle social commentary, and the film just works on every level. Sure, it is a little reminiscent of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but in a good way. It doesn’t feel like it rips off that film, but it does feel like they took a little inspiration from it. I know some people passed up on this movie because they thought it looked silly or cheesy, but I’m telling you, its impossible to watch this movie without a big grin on your face. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Candyman

I want to say one really good thing about Candyman before I go into the movie all that much: the cinematography in the film is absolutely fantastic. This is easily the best-looking horror film I’ve seen in terms of camera work and scene composition in a long time. Now, unfortunately, all that excellent cinematography serves a pretty uninspired film. This new take on Candyman isn’t quite a sequel or a reboot; it’s more of a continuation of the franchise, with some nice callbacks to the original film. Unfortunately, it never feels all that scary or tense, and the characters are never as interesting as the writing tries to make them be. It’s not a terrible film by any stretch, it’s just the very definition of average. Candyman comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD, as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the premium format does give it a little A/V boost. The film has a lot of darker scenes, and the improved shadow delineation and strong contrasts make the onscreen action a little easier to see, while the daytime scenes get a little extra pop from the deep color saturation. The surround soundtrack doesn’t have a massive amount to work with, but you do get some moody and atmospheric activity in the surround speakers which gives the film a little added spookiness. A solid A/V presentation for a mediocre film.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

If you had told me at the beginning of 2021 that one of my favorite movies of the year would be a biopic of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I would probably have assumed you were crazy. If you further told me that said Bakkers would be played by Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield, I would have been SURE you were crazy. But lo and behold, we have The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an absolutely amazing film that chronicles the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, probably the most famous televangelists of the 1980s. (Also, don’t confuse it with the documentary of the same name from a few years back. I’m sure it’s great, too, but I haven’t seen it.) First of all, the film is worth watching just for Jessica Chastain’s amazing and transformative performance. If she doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar, than what even matters anymore? Not to be outdone, Andrew Garfield is also absolutely terrific in his role, even if Chastain gets the showiest scenes. You’ll learn a lot about the couple and their careers (both the good and the bad), and I found it utterly fascinating. It’s part drama, part comedy, part financial thriller, and all terrific. If all you know about the Bakkers is that Tammy Faye cried a lot, I can promise you this film will blow you away. I’m not religious in the least — and you don’t need to be to enjoy this film — and I absolutely loved it. Another surefire Top 10 of 2021 entry for me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Batman: Year One – Commemorative Edition

I was surprised to see a commemorative edition of Batman: Year One hit home video this week, because I feel like I just watched the movie for the first time a couple of years ago. I was even more surprised to find out that the movie came out ten whole years ago! Man, time flies! But it makes sense, with the upcoming live-action Batman drawing heavily from the Year One comic story, it’s a good time to introduce this film to a whole new generation of viewers. This DC Animated movie adapts Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s seminal and influential Year One storyline, where we see a young, inexperienced Bruce Wayne make his first forays into crimefighting. The film captures the look and feel of the comics with aplomb, and it’s one of the stronger Batman animated entries. Batman: Year One comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and the premium format treats the animation extremely well, with deep, rich colors and dark, solid blacks. The surround soundtrack has a lot to work with and it gives your speakers a real workout. An excellent presentation.

Hacksaw Ridge (4K Ultra HD) Steelbook Edition

Andrew Garfield makes his second appearance in this week’s releases with the new Steelbook edition of Hacksaw Ridge on 4K Ultra HD. Available exclusively at Best Buy, this new version of the film gives us the previously released 4K Ultra HD/ Digital Copy of the film, packaged in a brand new Steelbook with a nice translucent slipcover. Now, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Hacksaw Ridge. I think the first half of the film, where Desmond Doss tries to make it through basic training without breaking his vows not to lift a weapon, is absolutely amazing. Truly moving stuff. Then there’s the second half, where all the action is. Yes, it’s incredible to see Doss’s acts of heroism, but director Mel Gibson is a little too focused on making sure the horrors of war are visualized, and the battle scenes are so incredibly gory and bloody that it feels overly brutal. I’m sure it’s a realistic portrayal of what World War II warfare was like, but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable viewing experience. Still, for fans of the film, this new Steelbook Edition is a terrific new packaging of the film.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

I’ve never been shy about the fact that I generally am not a person who loves documentaries. I often find that the films don’t live up to the subject matter, or they’re never as interesting as they sound like they’re gonna be. And then you have The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?, which doesn’t necessarily sound that interesting but is absolutely amazing. Even if you’re not a Bee Gees fan, you should definitely watch this film. It’s an open and in-depth look into not just the band’s musical success, but their unheralded songwriting career as well as the personal conflicts that come from three brothers working in the same band and experiencing mega-stardom together. It’s fascinating, moving, heartfelt, honest, and raw and polished at the same time. This is the way documentaries should be made, period.

Vanilla Sky: Paramount Presents

When Vanilla Sky came out in 2001, I was hugely disappointed in it. After all, it was Cameron Crowe’s follow-up to Jerry Maguire, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. I think subconsciously I was hoping for Jerry Maguire, Part II, but instead I got something very, very different. The film is kind of hard to boil down to a one-sentence plot description, but it’s more of a psychological thriller than anything else. I was excited to revisit the film, as I know that it was more my heightened expectations that led to my disappointment than anything else when I originally saw it. And while I don’t know that I’m ever going to proclaim this film a masterpiece, I definitely appreciated it more this time around than I did 20 years ago. Tom Cruise’s performance is top-notch, and the film’s story works much better for me now that I’m 20 years older. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. This new Paramount Presents Edition gives the film nice new artwork under a sharp gatefold cover, includes all of the numerous original extra features, and gives you a digital copy of the film alongside the Blu-ray, all of which is a huge upgrade over previous versions of the film on home video.

The Outsiders: The Complete Novel (4K Ultra HD)

This new 4K Ultra HD release actually gives you two versions of the seminal 1980s movie The Outsiders that gave us most of our leading men for the remainder of the ‘80s. You get both the original theatrical cut as well as the 2005 re-edit by director Francis Ford Coppola that added in about 20 minutes of deleted footage and hews closer to the story of the novel by S.E. Hinton. I actually like both cuts of the film; the longer one does flesh out some of the characters and story points a bit more, but it can feel a little bit inflated here and there. The original cut is the one we grew up with and still works perfectly fine for me. Of course, what’s great about the film is watching so many soon-to-be-famous actors: Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Emilio Estevez all started this movie as little-known actors and all went on to be huge stars. This new 4K edition of the film gives it a nice upgrade, but at almost 40 years old, the movie doesn’t look brand new even in 4K. Instead, you get more deeply saturated colors and sharper imagery, along with a relatively active surround soundtrack (but not an incredibly nuanced one.) It’s definitely the best A/V presentation of the film on home video, but don’t expect a cinematic revolution.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (4K Ultra HD)

The most amazing thing about Final Fantasy: TSW is that it came out just nine years after Terminator 2. I mention that because Terminator 2 was considered a special effects bonanza, using CGI in a way that had never been done and basically putting computer generated imagery on the map and launching a digital revolution. Then, just nine years later, we get this movie, a completely CGI-animated movie that is photorealistic and features some of the most mind-blowing visuals put to screen up to that time. What’s unfortunate is that the film’s story is so incomprehensible. I was hoping that revisiting this film 20 years later would change my opinion of it, but while I still think it’s absolutely gorgeous, it remains a murky mess of a plot that leaves me cold. Too bad. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within comes to home video this week in 4K Ultra HD (which includes a digital copy.) The 4K treatment is absolutely what you want to see with a film like this; image clarity is razor sharp, and the many varied colors of the film are all vibrant and vivid. Black levels are deep and solid, and the overall effect is to see the film like never before. The surround soundtrack also offers up a full workout for your speakers, giving the rear satellites plenty to do throughout the film’s running time. While I don’t love the film, I do love the way it looks and sounds in the premium format.

Younger: The Complete Series

I actually got into Younger through my wife, who started watching the show a couple of years ago. While it is a series from Darren Starr, the creator of Sex & The City, she stumbled across it more by accident and liked it, and I kind of got sucked in as she went. The show, which ran for seven seasons, sees a fortysomething mom trying to reinvent herself, so she takes a job as a marketing pro and passes herself off as a twentysomething to fit into the role. Well, as you can imagine, keeping up the pretense is more difficult than imagined, especially once relationships come into play. The show is a fun dramedy with a terrific and camera-friendly cast, and it’s a super easy binge watch. This new box set includes all 84 episodes in one collection for the first time, and if you’ve never seen the show before, this is a fun way to dive in and have fun with it.

Ragtime: Paramount Presents

This 1981 film was largely unknown to me. I think I’d heard of it before but only just, and I definitely had never seen it before this review copy came across my desk. The film features Howard Rollins Jr. as a musician in early 1900s New York who gets mixed up in the affairs of an upper class white family. The supporting cast is amazing, including none other than James Cagney in one of his last roles, as well as Elizabeth McGovern, Mandy Patinkin, Brad Dourif, Mary Steenburgen, and Jeffrey Demunn. While I’d never seen the film before, I’m glad I have now, because I found it a flawed but fascinating story of wealth, racial equality, family drama, and murder. Directed by Milos Forman, the film runs a little longer than needed, but overall I found it quite enjoyable. This new Paramount Presents Edition gives the film nice new artwork under a sharp gatefold cover, comes with a few new and archival extra features (including deleted scenes and an audio commentary), and gives you a digital copy of the film alongside the Blu-ray, which I believe the film has never been available on before. This one is definitely worth checking out.

The Guns of Navarone (4K Ultra HD)

I’ve told the story before of how, for many years, most of my knowledge of The Guns of Navarone came from a joke on the Dick Van Dyke show where Dick falls asleep in the movie theater during The Guns of Navarone and ends up getting questioned by the police, and every time he tells them what happened, someone exclaims, “You fell asleep during The Guns of Navarone?!?” But eventually I saw the movie, and now I get the joke even better. The film, which gets its 4K Ultra HD debut this week (along with a digital copy) is a big-scale epic war film, full of action and drama and suspense, all driven by an all-star cast. Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, and James Darren lead the team on an impossible mission, and it’s considered a classic for a reason. It’s an outstanding film that feels even bigger and more epic in 4K. The film looks crisp and sharp and features rich and vibrant colors, and the surround soundtrack delivers a nice, booming low end that puts the explosions and gunfire right inside your living room. It’s a terrific presentation of a terrific film.

Snowpiercer: The Complete Second Season

With a presumed Season Three on the way, this week brings us the second season of TNT’s hit show Snowpiercer on Blu-ray (and DVD). Starring Jennifer Connelly and Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs, the show takes place in a future in which the world has frozen, and all of humanity survives on a mega-train with 1,001 cars. Throughout these cars, we have pretty much all of society from the poor and the downtrodden to the rich and the spoiled. The show expands upon the original film (and the comic it was based on), and gives us a good mix of class warfare and dystopic fiction in each episode. It’s a dark show, not a cheerful one with a lot of humor, but if you’re looking for something meaty to sink your teeth into, Snowpiercer definitely fits the bill. This second season introduces a rival train and also adds Sean Bean to the cast. As Hollywood’s most-killed actor, will he live? Will he die? Well, I’ll leave it for you to find out. The show is still a challenging watch; it’s dark and complex, but I can definitely see what people like about it. This two-disc set includes all ten episodes from the second season, plus a nice collection of extra features.

Muhammad Ali: A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon

The Ken Burns (and his team) name is synonymous with one thing: excellent documentary filmmaking. Burns picks his subjects carefully and usually delivers a multi-hour miniseries that dives deeper into said subject than any previous film ever has. Well, such is the case with Muhammad Ali, the newest Burns docuseries. This four-episode, eight hour documentary is an absolutely engrossing exploration of Ali’s life and career, from his start as amateur boxer Cassius Clay to his olympics medal, his signature fights, his conversion to islam, the Supreme Court overturning his conviction, the Rumble in the Jungle, and so much more. Whether you’re a boxing fan or not doesn’t even matter, this series is a chronicle of history and it goes so much farther than just boxing or sports. Terrific stuff, truly.

L.A. Story

One of Steve Martin’s most underrated films, L.A. Story is a perfect snapshot of life in Los Angeles (and to some extent, America) in the 1990s and also a terrific comedy in its own right, and it makes its Blu-ray debut this week. The film follows Harris K. Telemacher, a TV weatherman who’s at a spiritual crossroads. With the help of some magical freeway signs, a young model, and a healthy dose of introspection and life experience, he may just find something real in one of the fakest towns in the country. I love this movie, honestly. It’s Steve Martin at his best: quippy and snarky but without being mean or overly needy. The film is a little offbeat and isn’t afraid to be silly, but it also has a real heart to it. It’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s time people rediscovered it. This week’s Blu-ray release marks the film’s debut in high def and includes a digital copy as well as a surprisingly robust collection of extra features. Nice!

Maniac Cop 2 & 3 (4K Ultra HD)

Blue Underground has carved out a nice niche in giving us elaborate new home video versions of cult classic films, and this week they take on one of the more notorious cult classic franchises out there. Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence make their 4K Ultra HD debuts in two new 2-disc sets. (Unfortunately, the first film’s rights belong to another company, so you’ll have to track that one down separately.) These revenge driven action/slasher films each star the great Robert Davi (and Babylon 5’s Claudia Christian in Part 2!), and each features copious amounts of violence in the way that only ‘80s B-movies can deliver. Each set includes the individual film on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, and each comes loaded with extra features including audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, collectible packaging, and more. The 4K Ultra HD format only has so much to work with here; these are low budget actioners from 30+ years ago. But you do get relatively sharp imagery and solid color saturation as well as solid surround soundtracks that throw some sounds into the rear channels. These movies are ridiculously fun if you like good B-movies, and these are the ultimate home video versions of them. A must-have for fans!

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Prisoners of the Ghostland – The front cover of this home video release has a quote from the film’s star, Nicolas Cage: “The Wildest Movie I’ve Ever Made!” That’s saying something, if you take a minute and consider some of the movies Cage has made. And he’s probably not wrong. Prisoners of the Ghostland is a wild and weird dystopic future Asian western flick… but wild and weird doesn’t necessarily equal good. Cage plays a bank robber in a future land where almost everyone is twisted and almost everyone is Asian… except for the main characters, who are mostly white. He’s forced into tracking down the governor’s missing daughter, or else he’ll get blown up. Then we get Cage riding a bicycle, mannequin people, blown-up testicles, sword fights, and all sorts of craziness. Sure, it’s out there, but it’s not particularly good. I think there’s a subset of viewers out there who will really like this film specifically because of all of the weirdness, but I just found it tedious.
  • Steel Dawn – Usually when you watch a low-budget post-apocalyptic move from the ‘80s, it either stars some actor you’ve never heard of, or some badly dubbed Italian guy that you’ve only heard of because they starred in a bunch of low-budget post-apocalyptic movies in the ‘80s. But that’s not the case with Steel Dawn, the latest Vestron Video release from Lionsgate, which stars none other than Patrick Swayze. Now, I had assumed this was one of those movies he made before he became famous, but Steel Dawn came out after Red DawnThe North and the South, and Youngblood, so it’s not like he was an unknown actor. Still, I applaud him for taking on this film, which is kind of like a Waterworld or The Postman, just set in the desert. It co-stars Anthony Zerbe, Brion James (you’ll recognize him the minute you see him), and Swayze’s wife, Lisa Niemi, plus a young Arnold Vosloo who would go on to play The Mummy in 1999 opposite Brendan Fraser. It’s not a particularly great movie, but for a B-movie sci-fi actioner, it’s actually quite a bit of fun. This new special edition Blu-ray includes cool slipcover art and some neat new extra features including multiple interviews and a commentary track. Good times!
  • Josie and the Pussycats: 20th Anniversary Edition – Admittedly, I’ve been an Archie Comics fan since I was a kid, but I feel like Josie and the Pussycats never got a fair shake. Making its debut on Blu-ray this week, J&TP is a fun rock and roll comedy starring Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson. The film follows a popular girl group that gets caught up in a conspiracy to deliver subliminal messages through popular music, and while it’s not exactly cinematic genius, it’s a lot of fun to watch and has a pretty cool soundtrack. There’s a ton of recognizable faces in the supporting cast and cameo roles, and while the film wasn’t a hit, I think it’s worth a revisit. This new Blu-ray from Mill Creek marks the film’s first time on Blu, and it includes a nice collection of extra features to boot.
  • All Creatures Great and Small – This new PBS Masterpiece series is based on the classic novel series by James Merriot, and this new collection features the first seven-episode season in its entirety. The show follows new veterinary assistant James Merriot (named after the author, obvs) as he ventures out into the veterinary world and his new family, both blood related (his veterinarian brother) and not. Herriot is raw and new to the ways of the world, and it’s that naïveté (coupled with knowledge in his field) that makes the character charming. The supporting characters are good, and while the show has its share of conflict, it’s a little more toned down than some of the high-melodrama shows out there, which makes it kind of a nice change of pace. It’s not a full-on slam dunk for me, but I enjoyed it more than I expected to.
  • Tina – While Tina Turner may not be the pop culture force now that she once was, she’s still the subject of much fascination. This new HBO feature-length documentary dives into the pop diva’s life and career over the course of two hours packed with interviews, photos, and live concert footage. Turner herself sat down for extensive interviews, which really gives the film an air of immediacy and authenticity, while other luminaries such as Angela Basset and Oprah Winfrey share their two cents. There are even brief archival clips with big name stars such as Johnny Carson and Lucille Ball. Most people know Tina Turner’s songs, but not as many people know her story besides her career starting with Ike Turner and then her 80’s emergence as a true rock star. It’s what happened in between that’s really interesting, and those events are not glossed over here. It’s a powerful and in-depth look at a true musical icon.
  • Future Boy Conan: The Complete Series – This 1978 Japanese animated series makes its US home video debut (at least in a complete series configuration) with this new Blu-ray set from GKids. Now, you might think to yourself, “Ehhh… anime from 1978, I can skip it.” However, this series — about a young boy named Conan in a post-civilization world and his adventures with his new friend, Lana — marks some of the earliest animation work from one Hayao Miyazaki, also known as the founder of Studio Ghibli and director of some of the most beloved and acclaimed animated films of the past 30 years. Think Princess MononokeSpirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle, to name a few. Miyazaki mostly worked as a designer and layout artist on this show, but even in his pre-directing days, his influence is felt. The show looks fantastic, and the animation and design is far beyond what I would expect from an animated show from the 1970s. The series itself is interesting; there were some episodes I liked quite a bit, some I found a little slow, but fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli will definitely want to seek it out. This new collection includes all 26 episodes of the show on four discs and includes a booklet as well.
  • Coming Home in the Dark – A fairly brutal and violent exercise in horror, I give Coming Home in the Dark credit for not just being another run of the mill horror movie filled with jump scares and maybe-ghosts. Instead, this film follows a teacher and his family set upon by a pair of drifters who put them through a night of hell, and which might not be a coincidental happening. It’s certainly an intense film, and I think a number of people will like it, but it’s also awfully cruel and unsettling at times. People who like the films of Rob Zombie will probably take to it, but people looking for something more akin to more mainstream similar fare like Kurt Russell’s Breakdown might find it a bit too much.
  • The Concubine – I was a little surprised by this 2012 Korean period drama. I expected a pretty typical drama about a woman who was chosen to become her king’s concubine and the romantic and political machinations that followed. What I didn’t expect was the film to be quite so naked and quite so bloody. Yes, there’s a fair amount of nudity, but also a fair amount of nasty bits in this film, including the making of characters into eunuchs… yuck! The film is getting an American release after nine years largely because the film’s lead actress, Yeo-jeong Cho, was one of the main stars of Parasite, Bong Joon Ho’s mega-smash hit Oscar winning film. This one wasn’t for me, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there for it.

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