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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Nightmare Alley, The Godfather, The Flight of the Phoenix, 6:45, Millennium Actress and more

There are some big-name home video releases this week, including an Oscar nominee and one of the most beloved film franchises of all time. Read on!

Nightmare Alley

I’d imagine most people aren’t aware that Guillermo del Toro’s award-nominated movie is actually a remake. That’s no slight on the film, I just think it’s interesting because the original movie is something of a lost cult classic, unavailable in any way for decades until The Criterion Collection released it on home video last year. I think the original is a true masterpiece of classic Hollywood, so I was excited to see it get remade by one of my favorite directors and with an all-star cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, and Toni Colette. The film tells the story of a carnival mentalist who parlays his act into huge success, eventually teaming up with a manipulative psychiatrist to start fleecing important and wealthy people. And del Toro does a terrific job with the film, justifying its extended running time (it’s a good half hour longer than the original) by fleshing out certain characters more and letting the beautiful cinematography shine through. Do I think it’s better than the original film? In some ways yes, in some ways no. I feel like the relationship between the two main characters is much stronger in the original (no slight on the performances by Cooper and Mara) and there’s a subplot in the new version about Cooper’s father that is both unnecessary and unsatisfying. I love the original film, but there’s no denying del Toro has crafted an excellent drama here that is definitely worth seeing. But after you watch it, consider tracking the original down as well; it’s worth watching both versions.


The Godfather Trilogy (4K Ultra HD)

As long as there’s home video, there will be new ways for Paramount to repackage the trilogy of one of their most beloved and successful franchises of all time: The Godfather Trilogy. This time around, though, the move is justified, as we get the entire trilogy on 4K Ultra HD in one set for the first time, just in time to celebrate the first film’s 50th Anniversary. This terrific box set set includes The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (which is the re-edited-by-Coppola version of The Godfather, Part III, but don’t worry, the original theatrical cut is included as well.) Now, oftentimes these catalog releases are just thrown together to make a quick buck, but this is a truly remarkable effort from Paramount, who apparently spent three years restoring each of the three films frame-by-frame. The result is the best the films have ever looked on home video. To be clear, they won’t be mistaken for movies that were made in the last five years, but the picture quality is absolutely stunning compared to some previous home video versions. You also get almost an hour’s worth of new extra features (which includes a look at said restoration work), as well as most if not all of the previously released extra features (and it also includes the 1991 re-edit of The Godfather Part III, giving you no less than three versions of the film.) There is also a Collector’s Edition box set available which includes three art prints and a hardcover book, but unfortunately I didn’t get it to review. It’s hard to find any fault with this set, and it’s easily the best and most complete Godfather-themed home video release to this day, and that’s no small feat considering how many of them there have been.


The Flight of the Phoenix

The 1965 classic gets The Criterion Collection treatment this week, and it’s a welcome addition to their line-up. This adventure/survival film stars Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, and George Kennedy, and it’s an absolutely terrific outing. The film follows an oil company’s plane that crashes in the desert, harsh conditions for survival. Realizing there’s little hope of rescue, the survivors work to construct a newer, smaller plane out of the wreckage of the original aircraft. The film was remade in 2004 with Dennis Quaid, and while I do actually enjoy the remake quite a bit, the original is a near-perfect classic Hollywood movie. Stewart is terrific, taking on a much saltier role than his usual nice-guy persona, and the supporting cast is great across the board. Even though the movie inches past the two-hour mark, it has excellent pacing and you never get bored. This new Criterion Collection edition of the film sees restored and remastered audio and video, and the film looks and sounds terrific. It also includes a few new extra features, as well as the customary essay booklet that all the best Criterions have. This is a terrific film, and if you’ve never seen it, definitely track this release down!


6:45

It’s funny, because I first saw the trailer for this Groundhog-Day-style thriller in theaters shortly after they reopened from COVID and I took in a bunch of movies in short order. I ended up seeing the trailer over and over, which is a little surreal when you’re watching a trailer for a film where the same events keep happening over and over. 6:45 follows a couple, Jules and Bobby, on a winter weekend getaway to a largely empty island community. When Jules is murdered at the end of the day, Bobby wakes up next to her again, reliving the day over. Of course, it keeps repeating, and he keeps trying to figure out how to keep her alive. For a lower-budgeted film with no name actors in the cast, 6:45 is quite engaging. The characters are realistic (they’ve had some troubles in the past, and part of the trip’s purpose is to rekindle their romance) and the days repeat without getting repetitive to the point of being boring. My biggest problem with the film is the third act, which takes the story in a direction I didn’t love. No spoilers here, and I think some people will really like the film’s climax, but it just didn’t quite click for me. Still, it’s a fun thriller that’s an easy watch.

Millennium Actress: Steelbook Anniversary Edition

Not long ago, I reviewed an anniversary edition of director Satoshi Kon’s anime film Perfect Blue, one of his most well-loved works. Now, we get a new Steelbook Collector’s Edition of his other most seminal film, Millennium Actress, also an anime. This one is a less cohesive tale, following an actress and the film crew that gets sucked into her memories and discovers some of the mysterious secrets of her past. Like with many anime films of the time period, Millennium Actress is a gorgeous looking film but the story left me cold. Admittedly, I am decidedly not a fan of dream sequences in any form, and this whole film has that sort of dreamlike quality to it, so I might not be the best judge. Fans of more esoteric anime works might find a lot to like here. This new edition of the the film comes packaged in a gorgeous Steelbook case, and it includes a 16-page full color booklet as well, so fans will love this package.


The Madame Blanc Mysteries: Series 1

This new British cozy mystery show changes things up a little bit by moving the locale to the French town of Saint Victoire. In the show, lead character Jean White is an antiques dealer whose husband suddenly dies. With next to no money, Jean relocates to their last remaining property, a French cottage, where Jean starts investigating her husband’s death. Which, of course, leads to other mysteries as well. The show is definitely a more lighthearted show than some BBC sleuthing fare; it’s not a comedy, but it has a lighter tone than some of the serious or grim programming we see in the mystery world. I found the show to be largely solid but unspectacular; I like the tone of the show and it’s engaging enough, but it’s not overly compelling and there are some moments where the writing and performances aren’t top-level quality. It’s an easy watch, though, for fans of the genre, and this two-disc set delivers all six episodes from Season 1. Worth a watch if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Bryan Loves You – This 2008 horror film coming to Blu-ray for the first time manages to be both unique and cliched at the same time. Supposedly based on a true story (which I question), the film follows a therapist who begins to suspect that his town has been taken over by a cult. As he tries to discover the truth, things go worse and worse for him. Okay, so that’s an interesting concept for a film, not one we’ve seen too often (although the Body Snatchers parallels are clear). Unfortunately, the film uses the found footage style to tell its story, which kills a lot of the energy of the film and has been done to death, even by 2008. The film is very low-budget and it shows, although the found footage aspect makes that less jarring than it might be (and is probably why it was chosen as the film’s style). It’s also got some major plot issues and some poor writing. There is a semi-recognizable cast that includes George Wendt, Tony Todd, Tiffany Shepis, Brinke Stevens and Daniel Roebuck, so that’s something. This is a cult classic type of film, and if you’re a fan, this new Blu-ray edition does include several hours of new extra features, including interviews with the cast members. But if you’re looking to discover a new favorite horror film, you may have to keep looking.
  • Monkey Kung Fu & Shaolin Mantis – 88 Films has kind of come out of nowhere as a new boutique home video distributor (that I believe is a part of the MVD umbrella) that specializes in cult classic films on Blu-ray. Their latest series of releases is taking the Shaw Brothers catalog of 1970s martial arts films and bringing them to home video in high quality collector’s edition releases. B-movie cinema fans are probably familiar with the Shaw Brothers, who were effectively the Roger Cormans of the Asian action film scene in the 1970s, churning out low-budget action films one after another for an insatiable audience at the time. This week, we get two new Blu-ray release:  Monkey Kung Fu & Shaolin MantisMonkey Kung Fu is a fast-paced adventure film about a prisoner who receives a mysterious memento from a fellow prisoner who’s about to die. Determined to find the other half of the memento, he breaks out of prison and goes on a quest to find it, all the while pursued by some really bad guys. Meanwhile, Shaolin Mantis is a period actioner that leans to the dramatic side, which sees a scholar’s mission from the emperor start to unravel when he falls in love with the clan leader’s granddaughter. Both films are a lot of fun, although I definitely enjoyed Monkey Kung Fu more, and each one comes with new extra features such as audio commentaries and cast interviews. Fans of ‘70s chop-socky films will enjoy both of these high quality releases.
  • Pinocchio: A True Story – This new animated version of Pinocchio tells an updated version of the classic story, this time using CGI. Though the film was originally made in Russia, it’s been given an American voice cast for the English-language release that includes Pauly Shore, John Heder, and Tom Kenny. The film updates the Pinocchio story a little; it’s definitely not a remake of the Disney version. There’s a bit of a dissonance to the film, though, as it tries to feel hip and modern but also tell an old school tale; so jokes about the Ninja Turtles feel out of place in a story that takes place hundreds of years ago. Also, Pauly Shore is an incredibly odd choice for voicing Pinocchio, although it seems like the filmmakers were trying to make Pinocchio’s sexual preference a little more fluid so in that respect I guess he fits that mold well. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the film, although I suspect younger viewers will be less critical of it. Still, you’re probably better off with any number of better-constructed animated films.
  • 23rd Century Giants: The Story of Renaldo & The Loaf – Admittedly, I’d never heard of Renaldo & The Loaf, so I wasn’t sure if this film was an actual documentary or a mockumentary, but apparently it’s based in reality. Back in the late 1970s, British teenagers Brian Poole and David Janssen became Renaldo & the Loaf, a musical act that made music using anything they could find: household appliances, tape loops, singing while inhaling, and the like. Frankly, the music is pretty bizarre to me. But even though they spent 20 years broken up, they reformed in 2017 thanks to the internet giving the group new life. This documentary explores the band’s career and music, and it is predictably offbeat. Interesting stuff, for sure.

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