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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Black Phone, Dirty Dancing, Vivo, American Carnage, Dog Soldiers, Jurassic World: Dominion, Ferngully and more

The Black Phone

Okay, admittedly I was off for a couple of weeks while I was on vacation, but the last two weeks of August are absolutely jam-packed with huge releases! We’ve got blockbuster movies, hit TV franchises, collector’s editions, 4K Ultra HD catalogue titles, and much more. Read on to see the whole list!

Jurassic World: Dominion

One of the biggest movies of the year so far is also, sadly, one of the biggest disappointments. Now, I’m not one of those snobby movie critics who turns my nose up at popcorn fare and crowd-pleasing blockbusters. In fact, I love big hit blockbusters! But the Jurassic World franchise has been a series of diminishing returns. I absolutely loved the first one, the second one was a little bit of a let down, and this third entry was really disappointing. With the exception of one spectacular action sequence in the middle of the film I(the one n a middle eastern bazaar), the film is kind of dull. It’s great to see Sam Neill and Laura Dern again — although Jeff Goldblum gets way less screen time than you’d hope for — but the meeting of the original franchise stars and the new franchise stars is underwhelming. Also, the climax of the film feels like a complete retread of the climax of the first JW film. I’m definitely filing this one under “missed opportunities.” Jurassic World: Dominion comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and this edition does offer up an extended edition that includes 13 extra minutes of footage added back into the film. And while the film might be a let down, the 4K transfer is anything but. This is an excellent audiovisual presentation of a huge-budgeted film, so everything looks pristine, with vibrant colors and crystal clear imagery. The surround soundtrack will rock your living room, with exceptional surround effects. It’s worth watching the film just to see and hear it in 4K if you’ve got a good home theater set-up.


The Black Phone

I’ve been kind of out on horror in recent years as good horror films seem to come further and further apart, but I was excited when I found out The Black Phone was written and directed by Scott Derrickson, who gave us the first Doctor Strange film (one of the best entries in the Marvel Universe canon.) And I was not disappointed; the film is fantastic. It’s barely a horror film; instead, it’s more of a dark thriller with supernatural elements. The film focuses on young teen Finney who is abducted by The Grabber, a man in a black van and a creepy mask who is kidnapping kids in a small town community. When he finds himself trapped in a basement, a mysterious black phone rings and on the other end are The Grabber’s previous victims, who want to help Finney survive. The film is tense and taut, but it also takes enough time to build up good characters. Young Mason Thaw is terrific in the lead role, although he’s almost overshadowed by the outstanding Madeleine McGraw, who plays his younger sister and is a real standout. Of course, Ethan Hawke shines in his first-ever role as a bad guy, with his face mostly or partly obscured by a creepy mask throughout the whole film. The Black Phone is released on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and it looks and sounds quite good. While the film is intentionally toned down in terms of colors, it looks crisp and clear and feels like it comes straight out of the ‘70s (which is when the film is set.) Likewise, the surround soundtrack has limited means to work with, as the film isn’t chock full of action, but it does provide a nice atmospheric mix that enhances the film. I highly recommend you check The Black Phone out ASAP.


Dirty Dancing: 35th Anniversary Edition

I like to joke that while this is the 35th Anniversary Edition of Dirty Dancing, it’s probably also the 35th home video edition of the film that’s been released, as it’s a perennial favorite and constant best seller for Lionsgate. However, this one marks the debut of the film on the 4K Ultra HD format, so that makes it pretty noteworthy. I don’t know if I have to say much about the film itself, honestly. At this point, it’s a true classic. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey are terrific, the dancing and music are great, and, I mean… “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” What more do I need to say? As far as the 4K transfer of the film goes, it’s a definite upgrade over previous editions. Keep in mind that the film is 35 years old, so it’s not like it’s suddenly an A/V powerhouse, but colors pop a little more, the imagery is nice and sharp and the soundtrack makes sure the music sounds lively and full. The set includes a number of extra features including multiple featurettes, deleted scenes/outtakes, and two audio commentaries (all previously released), but this is still easily the best version of Dirty Dancing yet.


Vivo

I’m a little surprised Sony decided not to release Vivo in theaters. I know that COVID was still depressing box office grosses when the film was officially released in August of 2021, but as the studio’s first-ever musical CGI animated feature, I would have thought they’d want to try and get as big an audience as possible. Instead, the film debuted on Netflix and is now available on home video. It’s especially surprising to me considering that Lin-Manuel Miranda not only stars in the film but also wrote several songs for it. Let’s face it, the guy does good things at the box office, and while Vivo isn’t a masterpiece, it’s a perfectly fun family film that could have easily grossed $50-$150 million at the box office, especially in a time when cineplexes were hurting for kids’ entertainment. The story sees a musical kinkajou on a journey from Cuba to America to help his late human companion’s song get to the love of his life. (A kinkajou is a raccoon-like marsupial, by the way; I had to look it up.) With a heavy focus on Latin culture as well as Gloria Estefan in the voice cast, again, I think this movie would have been a least a moderate hit at the box office. Oh well, it’s available on multiple platforms now, and I think kids will enjoy it for the most part.


Sniper: Rogue Mission

The Sniper series continues with the latest direct-to-video entry. I’ve been a huge fan of this series since the beginning, starting with the original Tom Berenger/Billy Zane theatrical release. When Sony rebooted the franchise with Chad Michael Collins in the lead role, I started following it again and have really enjoyed every offering. In this latest outing, sniper Brandon Beckett (now a CIA agent) goes rogue with a few of his colleagues from previous movies to help break up a human trafficking ring. This series continues to impress me; for being a direct-to-video franchise, the films look great, feature real action sequences, and bring us suspenseful stories that are exciting and enjoyable. This latest film sees writer/director Oliver Thompson channeling his inner Quentin Tarantino; the film’s soundtrack is much more funky and prevalent than usual, and there are a few action sequences that definitely seem out of the QT playbook. There’s also more of a sense of humor in this entry than any of the previous ones, as the films have always been pretty straitlaced. All of that added up to me enjoying this film even more than usual for a franchise I’m already a big fan of. Track it down!


American Carnage

I didn’t really know what to expect from American Carnage, and I also don’t really know how to discuss the film without giving away the twists and turns in the film. Basically, it’s a semi-horror/political satire which sees the governor of an unnamed state (that is clearly Texas) call for mass deportation of all immigrants in the state. A group of young hispanic people are given a chance to help their families, however, by going to work in a elderly-care facility. But something is… off at said facility, and that’s about all I can say without giving away too much. But what I will say is that I really enjoyed the film. The writing is sharp, the political satire isn’t subtle, and the cast is really strong. The ending of the film leaves just a little to be desired — in that I would have liked a little more follow-up with some of the characters — but it’s not like it’s a bad ending per se. It clearly takes some inspiration from things like The Purge series but it also has plenty of humor, and the end result was a really fun, enjoyable ride.


Naomi: The Complete Series

This HBO Max show is based on a comic book from DC Comics, written by superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis. I was a huge fan of the original Naomi comic series, so I wasn’t surprised when it was quickly optioned for a TV show. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a miniseries or if it just didn’t do well enough to support a second season (I suspect it’s the latter), but it’s a pretty good show. Unfortunately, it starts off a little confusing; the show is set in a world where Superman is just a comic book hero, but then he appears on the scene. It takes a little while to figure out what’s going on in that respect, because we know it’s a DC series, so it would have been better if they made it clearer right off the bat that this isn’t set within existing DC superhero continuity. It took me a few episodes to really get where the show was coming from. That complaint aside, Naomi is fun and energetic, as high school student and adoptee Naomi McDuffie tries to figure out who she is and where she’s from… and why that seemingly involves her having superpowers. The series was developed by filmmaker Ava Duverney, so it’s a high quality endeavor that looks great and plays out well over the 13 episodes in this set.


Back to the Beach: Paramount Presents Edition

Back in the 1960s, teen idols Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon starred in a series of hit Beach Party musical movies, the most famous of which is probably Beach Blanket Bingo. Well, in 1987, they made a nostalgia-tinged reboot which saw Frankie and Annette star as adults heading back into the beach scene, and there are a lot of popular ’80s stars who join the proceedings in supporting roles. I was oddly obsessed with this movie when I was a kid, although I never ended up seeing it when it came out in theaters in the 1980s. I was a huge fan of classic Hollwood movies when I was young, and this film being a throwback to those beach movies I’d see on TV got me really excited. And then I just never ended up seeing it, even though it was a modest hit. So getting a new Paramount Presents Blu-ray edition of the film was a super fun way to experience it for the first time. There’s not much for extra features, which isn’t entirely surprising, but you do get the film on digital, which is a nice addition. This is a really fun movie that’s a snapshot of the 1980s, much like the original beach musicals are a snapshot of the 1960s.


Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

30th Anniversary Edition – In this day and age, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when it was exceptionally rare for animated films made by any studio other than Disney to be a hit. The number of successful non-Disney animated films from the ‘80s and ‘90s is largely relegated to a few cult classics like The Secret of NIMH, The Last Unicorn, and Anastasia. Right smack dab in the middle of those films is 1992’s Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, a well-loved movie that wasn’t a huge box office hit at the time but is remembered very fondly by a generation of kids. The film sees a rainforest populated by sprites and fairies that is being destroyed by humans, so fairy Crysta shrinks one of the humans down to sprite size so he can learn about why the rainforest is so important. So yes, the film has a message, but that doesn’t take away from its charm and humor. With Robin Williams in the cast as a goofy fruit bat, there’s a lot of humor and adventure in the film, and the hand-drawn animation — while typical at the time — seems to stand out as beautiful throwback animation. This new 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray sees the film remastered from a new 4K scan of the original film elements, and it also features a new introduction as well as several archival special features such as a making-of, an audio commentary, and more. The film has been available on Blu-ray before, so if you already own it you probably don’t need to buy it again. But if you don’t have it now is a good time to revisit it as it looks better than ever.


Starhunter Redux: The Complete Series

There’s a lot of cult favorite TV shows in the sci-fi genre, and one of the cultiest is 2000’s Starhunter. The show only lasted two seasons, but it gained a fan following as viewers watched a ragtag group of bounty hunters tracking down criminals among Earth’s outer space colonies some 300 years in the future. Fast forward to 2017, and the show was completely remastered; offering fans new cuts of each episode with deleted storylines restored, updated special effects, and more. Now, that updated series makes its way to home video with its inaugural Blu-ray release. This new 10-disc set includes all 44 episodes in the Redux format, as well as a nice collection of extra features such as making-of featurettes and the like. It’s a great package for fans, and the only home video release of the Redux version of the show that I’m aware of. The show itself is solidly okay; watching it in 2022, it definitely feels a little dated and the low budget is evident, even with the updated effects. Michael Pare has never been my favorite actor, but the show does have that low-budget-yet-charming sci-fi vibe that you can find in other well-loved shows like Farscape, Time Trax, Mutant X, and the like. Existing fans should be very excited about this top-notch release.


Belle: Collector’s Edition

This 2021 anime film plays out a little bit like a cross between Beauty and the Beast and Ready Player One. In a world where an online platform has become where everyone hangs out (but not quite full on reality like in RP1), a shy girl named Suzu accidentally becomes a worldwide phenomenon as Belle, a singing powerhouse that captures the world’s attention. She meets a “beast” in the virtual world and begins to suspect that they might need help in the real world. I was excited to watch Belle because the trailer was extremely impressive, and there’s no denying that it’s some of the best animation I’ve seen in recent years. The story is good as well, with several plot points that are surprisingly heavy and representative of real-world issues. But it also runs over two hours, which is way too long, and it lost my interest at a few points. I liked the movie overall, but I think being a good half hour shorter would have made it an absolute powerhouse. Still, there’s a lot to like and I can definitely see this being a movie that anime fans will flock to. This new Collector’s Edition Box Set sees the film in a beautifully-illustrated slipcover that houses the Blu-ray and DVDs as well as a gorgeous 60-page collector’s book, a mini-poster, a set of art cards, and a sticker sheet. It also includes no less than five new making-of/interview featurettes not included on the original release, making this one a must-have for fans!


Dog Soldiers (4K Ultra HD)

One of the most overlooked horror gems of the past several years, the under appreciated Dog Soldiers was the debut film by director Neil Marshall, who directed another horror classic in The Descent, and then went on to become a regular director on Game of Thrones. The story of a cadre of elite soldiers who go up against a family of werewolves in a remote house in the Scottish Highlands, Dog Soldiers is easily my favorite werewolf movie. Low-budget though it may be, the film is a fantastic exercise in what you can do with a little money and a ton of talent. The film is intense, exciting, and visceral, and it’s been one of my favorites for years. Plus, with Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, and Liam Cunnigham in the cast, you know you’re in for a good time. Now, the film makes its 4K Ultra HD debut from Shout Factory’s Scream Factory Imprint (which also includes the film on Blu-ray). The film was a pretty low-budget affair to begin with, so the 4K transfer really works best at sharpening up the imagery and giving us stronger blacks and better shadow delineation, which is helpful since almost the entire film takes place at night. You also get all of the great extra features included for the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition, which is excellent. I highly recommend this one!


Cat People (4K Ultra HD)

I like that Scream Factory has two 4K Ultra HD releases for us this week and they are literally made up of cats and dogs! Nastassia Kinski stars in Paul Schrader’s oddball horror film Cat People, available on 4K Ultra HD for the first time (and including the Blu-ray disc as well.) A not-really remake of the Val Lewton classic Hollywood horror film of the same name, Cat People sees the Kinski as a young woman who’s sexual coming of age is directly related to her discovering that she transforms into a panther. It’s kind of like a werewolf movie, but with cats of prey rather than wolves. It’s not a great movie per se, but it is a cult classic and has some pretty steamy moments. Much like with Dog Soldiers, the 4K release has limited elements to work with, as the film is 40 years old. But colors definitely pop more than the previous home video version, and the imagery is nice and sharp. You also get a huge collection of extra features with multiple featurettes, interviews, audio commentaries, and more. It’s a very strong release, even if the film isn’t quite a horror classic.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • South Park: The Compete Twenty-Fourth Season – I’ve never been a big South Park fan, but I always revisit it when it comes out on home video. At this point in time, even though I know I’ll never love the show, I also know I’ll get a few chuckles out of the the show’s timely and irreverent parodies of real world events. With Season 24 released this week, we get to see the South Park gang take on COVID-19 and vaccinations. Honestly, calling it a season is a bit of stretch; it is literally just two (admittedly longer than usual) episodes, The Pandemic Special and The South ParQ Vaccination Special. And they definitely don’t pull any punches; you can expect the usual raunch, swearing, and spot-on humor about the pandemic and people and booster shots and stuff like that. And as usual for me, while I still don’t love the show, there were definitely some jokes that had me laughing out loud. Id you’ve collected the previous 23 seasons. I see no reason to stop now.
  • Blue Bloods: The Twelfth Season – Blue Bloods returns to DVD for its twelfth season. I’ve always been a big Tom Selleck fan, and even though I’m not a regular watcher of the show, I always like to drop in and check out a few episodes here and there when I get the DVDs. Season 12 sees the show keeping up its status quo; while there are a few minor narrative through lines that bridge episodes, for the most part, the show works on an episode-by-episode basis, with a new central issue or crime or mystery each episode. You get the usual dirty cops, scared witnesses, tough cases, and questioning of career paths, which is what fans want from the show. This season gives us 20 episodes, and I can tell you that it’s a strong series still; all of the episodes I watched were engaging and kept me interested. Fans of the show will want to add this one to their DVD shelves for sure.
  • NCIS: The Nineteenth Season & NCIS Los Angeles: Season 13 – The NCIS juggernaut just keeps on rolling with two new DVD Releases this week. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole NCIS franchise, it’s been a constant presence on the television landscape for two decades now. This week, we get the latest home video releases of two of them: the flagship show, NCIS, and the most popular spin-off, NCIS Los Angeles. At this point, I can’t imagine what I could say that would convince you to either watch or stop watching either of the these prime-time staples. You get very solid seasons of both. Season 19 of NCIS sees the Season 18 cliffhanger resolved as the team searches for the missing Mark Harmon, before going on to more traditional episodes that include a murder on a cruise ship and a fight against terrorists. Meanwhile, over in Los Angeles, we see some previous recurring characters return, we get more of the LL Cool J/Chris O’Donnell bromance, and we even get an investigation into a kidnapped K-9 unit dog. It’s all status quo for both shows, but fans will be excited to add the latest 20+ episodes of each show to their collections.
  • Murder at Yellowstone City – Isaiah Mustafah, Zack McGowan, Gabriel Byrne, Nat Wolff, Thomas Jane and even Richard Dreyfuss star in this new western that adds a murder mystery to the proceedings. When a prospector is murdered the same day he discovers gold in a formerly prosperous boomtown, a lot of secrets from a wide range of characters are in danger of being exposed. It then becomes a matter of solving the murder before more trouble comes to town. The film is definitely more of a murder mystery than a straight-up western, with not much action until the end of the film. On the one hand, the film works hard to give the strong cast enough screen time for their characters; on the other hand, the film is often slow. It’s a solidly okay film that could have been pretty good with a firmer hand in the editing suite.
  • Symphony for a Massacre – While the American title sounds like a horror movie (it was apparently called “The Corrupt” in its native France), this 1963 thriller is a crime drama instead. Starring several French cinema powerhouses (including Jean Rochefort, Claude Dauphin, and Michel Auclair), the film sees a group of career criminals decide to pool their money for one major drug buy, to nab that one big score that would let them retire. Of course, as one would expect, things don’t go as planned when one of the men betrays the others and it leads to murder and mayhem. French cinema from the 1960s has a reputation for brilliance for a reason; Symphony for a Massacre is a taut and exciting thriller, with gorgeous cinematography and top-notch performances. It’s not a film I was familiar with prior to receiving this Blu-ray for review, but it definitely deserves a viewing if you’ve never seen it before.
  • The Burned Barns – Speaking of French crime cinema, don’t overlook 1973’s The Burned Barns, also out from Cohen Media Group this week. Starring French legend Alain Delon alongside the equally well-renowned Simone Signoret, the film sees the murder of a young woman being investigated at a remote farm, which casts suspicion on the owner’s family. Delon is absolutely perfect in his role, but Signoret is his equal, and the interplay between the two as the search for the truth continues is the heart of the film. Another one I’d never heard of before this (although admittedly I’m not an expert in French cinema), both this and Symphony are available on Blu-ray for the first time this week, and both are worth watching.

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