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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Bullet Train, Casablanca, Euphoria, Honk for Jesus Save Your Soul, Def Comedy Jam, Aqua Teen Forever: Phantasm and more

Brad Pitt stars in Bullet Train.

It’s another big week this week, with a couple of brand new movies, some really fantastic catalog titles (including my favorite movie of all time), and a bunch of holiday and Christmas titles starting to hit the scene. Read on!

Bullet Train 

I feel like if Bullet Train had come out in the late ‘90s, it would have been a massive box office hit. It’s an over-the-top action thriller with a terrific ensemble cast, Quentin Tarantino-esque dialogue, and some fantastic action sequences. It’s the kind of movie that, in the wake of something like Pulp Fiction, probably would have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. As it is, it was a mild box office hit, but this is a movie that deserves a bigger audience. Brad Pitt stars as a mercenary for hire who’s having an existential crisis; he’s convinced he’s followed by bad luck and is trying to remove violence from his life. What starts as a simple snatch-and-grab of a mysterious briefcase on a bullet train in Japan quickly turns into a convoluted trial-by-fire that sees competing assassins, a mysterious gang lord, an anime character, a snake, and much more. Brad Pitt is terrific in the lead role, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson steals the show as one of a pair of assassin brothers. There are also some great cameos in the film, although I won’t spoil them here. The movie also does that thing where it starts out with disparate characters and plot elements that all eventually start to tie together, and the way everything unfolds and melds together is done rather brilliantly. I really enjoyed Bullet Train, and I suspect that I’ll like it even more upon repeat viewings.

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul 

I’m all for satires of religion, but Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul forgets one major thing: the comedy. It’s a weird film; ostensibly billed as a comedy, the movie just isn’t funny. And I don’t mean that, like, the jokes don’t land; I mean, it’s not even trying to be funny for most of the movie. In fact, if anything, it’s a pretty hard drama in many places. The film is shot as a mockumentary, and it follows the married heads of a mega-super-church in the wake of a sexual scandal as they try to relaunch their church. Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown star as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs, characters obviously based on real-life megachurch figures like Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Joel Osteen, and the like. And the two of them absolutely carry the film with performances that are absolutely exceptional. But the scandal weighs on them and their marriage, and there are more scenes with really heavy material than there are ones that are even trying to be funny. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the film; there are too many scenes that go on for far too long, the characters are kind of hard to root for, and ultimately, I found it a little on the boring side. I had high hopes for this film, but unfortunately it was a big disappointment.

Casablanca (4K Ultra HD)

I love so many movies that it’s hard to rank them in any meaningful way, but for many years now I’ve claimed Casablanca as my favorite film of all time. I always tell people that Casablanca isn’t what they expect it to be (because a surprising number of people have never seen it). I think most people expect an overwrought black-and-white melodrama, but what I think people don’t expect is how many elements it has to it: there’s a wicked funny streak in the film, more than a little suspense and tension, and, yes, of course, there is romance. Frankly, it’s as near to perfect as a movie gets. Now, we get Casblanca making its debut on 4K Ultra HD, and the film looks absolutely beautiful in the premium format. While it is black-and-white — so we don’t get the typical 4K color saturation bump — the tones of the film are sharply contrasted and nicely nuanced. Image clarity is razor sharp, and the film just seems to pop off the screen like never before. The soundtrack is working with limited means (the film is 80 years old, after all), but fidelity is high, dialogue is clear, and music never sounds shrill or tinny. There is also a nice collection of extra features, most all of which are ported over from previous releases. There are very few movies that are considered both genuine classics and crowd pleasers, but Casablanca has to rank as the best of them all. There’s a reason this film is still considered one of the most well-loved and well-respected movies of all time after 80 years and that’s because it is truly one of the greats.

Euphoria Seasons 1 & 2

HBO’s hit series Euphoria has gotten a lot of attention over its first two seasons, largely due to its extreme depiction of teenagers and the hijinks they get up to. This isn’t a teen comedy like Saved by the Bell; instead, it’s a highly R-rated drama about modern day teens dealing with modern day issues and pressures like sex, drugs, relationships, violence, and identity. With a cast that includes Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, Eric Dane, Alanna Ubach, and Maude Apatow, the show is filled with great performances, but it’s not always an easy watch. I’ll be honest, as the parent of two kids in high school, this show is the last thing I want to see. I mean, I can take a macro look at it and recognize that while a lot of the issues are real ones that teens face, it’s also highly Hollywood-ized. But if you’re a parent, it’s a hard watch at times; this show is more 50 Shades of Grey than My So Called Life. Still, it’s compelling stuff with interesting characters and great performances. Both seasons 1 and 2 (for a total of 19 episodes) are collected in this DVD set. I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t a Blu-ray version, but if you’ve been hearing the buzz about this show and want to check it out, this is a good way to do so.

Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm

Okay, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the popular cartoon show from Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network that’s been around in some form or another since 2000. After a theatrical film in 2007, the ATHF gang returns to feature film territory once again with Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm. Effectively, the film simply continues the adventures of our main characters Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad. This time around, they’ve basically broken up as a crime-solving trio but they reunite to face a new threat. The bottom line here is that if you liked the show, you will absolutely like this movie. ATHF’s creators, Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, are in the drivers’ seats, writing and directing the film, while all the main voice actors are back as well. If, however, you aren’t a fan of the show, I can’t see this as the thing that’s going to win you over. Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray), and it does benefit from the 4K treatment, with bright, vibrant colors, solid blacks, and clear imagery, plus a surround soundtrack that gives a surprising amount of speaker activity to anthropomorphic fast food. The disc also includes a mini-poster inside the packaging as a bonus. A great experience for fans, a little less so for non-fans.

Rankin Bass: Classic Christmas Specials Collection (4K Ultra HD)

With the fourth quarter upon us, the holiday offerings are hitting shelves, and this one is a perennial favorite. Now, the Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials get repackaged pretty much every year or two, but this latest collection is one of the best. This time around, we get the Rankin Bass Classic Christmas Specials Collection on 4K Ultra HD in a six-disc set. This set includes the three most popular and perennial Rankin-Bass Christmas specials on 4K (as well as each film on Blu-ray): Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, and Frosty the Snowman. Now, each film still shows its age, but the 4K upgrade is pretty cool; the films have always all had that slightly faded look of shows that are 50 years old but the 4K HDR color saturation really gives each show new life thanks to much more vibrant colors. Image clarity is sharp and the prints are clean, too. The soundtracks don’t fill your speakers with sound, but everything sounds clean and clear, which is nice. With Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town being stone-cold stop-motion animation classics and Frosty the Snowman a 2-D animation classic, it’s hard to argue with the quality of these specials from yesteryear.The set also includes a nice handful of extra features such as making-of featurettes, animation tests, and commentary tracks. A perfect gift for the holiday season!

Ed, Edd, & Eddy: The Complete Series and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends: The Complete Series

New from the now-sadly-defunct Cartoon Network are two fantastic animated series collections: Ed, Edd, & Eddy: The Complete Series (a 10-disc set) and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends: The Complete Series (an 11-disc set). These long overdue collections take two popular series from the early 2000s and compile their entire runs into two compact box sets. Ed, Edd and Eddy ran for six seasons (totaling 80 episodes), while Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends ran for 82 episodes (also six seasons). Both shows are comedies, with Ed, Edd and Eddy focusing on a trio of friends getting into mischief and scheming to make money to buy jawbreakers with, while Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends follows 8-year-old Mac who takes his imaginary friend to a sort of hallway house for imaginary friends whose children have outgrown them. I never really watched either show when they were on (I wasn’t a kid at that point and wasn’t watching a lot of cartoons at the time), but I’ve come across them both since then and getting to sit down and dig into them with these two excellent collections has been a lot of fun. I probably lean more toward Foster’s, but both shows are endearing and I can see why kids liked them so much. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are now teens and twentysomethings who will be very excited to go back and revisit some favorites from their childhood.

Def Comedy Jam: All Stars Volumes 1 & 2

Russell Simmons’ long-running stand-up comedy show was a Friday night staple on HBO back in the 90s and now it gets a new collection. A really fantastic new set, this 12-disc box collects some of the best All-Star episodes of Def Comedy Jam, giving us live stand-up sets from beloved comedians such as, Dave Chappelle, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, Bill Bellamy, D.L. Hughley, Queen Latifah, and many others. Now, these aren’t full episodes; they are the “All Star” collections, meaning it’s kind of a “greatest hits” approach, giving us the best of each comedian’s routines. This allows the set to jam-pack a lot of content into each episode, most of which range from 20-30 minutes. But it’s great to see all these established and superstar comics (many of whom have gone on to become major movie and TV stars) on their way up, when they were still making a name for themselves as stand-up comics. This set gives us 11 discs of episodes, plus a bonus disc that features Shaq & Cedric the Entertainer Present: All Star Comedy Jam, a comedy special hosted by Cedric the Entertainer and featuring sets by Kevin Hart, Tommy Davidson, Aries Spears and DeRay Davis. There’s also a nice, full-color booklet included in the box, which is just the cherry on top of the nearly 24 hours of comedy material you get on the discs. This one is a slam dunk for fans of stand-up comedy.

Also Available This Week on Home Video – 
  • Devil’s Workshop – Radha Mitchell and Timothy Granaderos star in this intriguing new horror film that is never all that scary but certainly gets intense. Granaderos stars as Clayton, an actor who’s hoping to land a major role as a demonologist who goes to a real demonologist, Eliza, for research. Shutting the two of them away, she forces him to confront his past, partake in rituals, and even sacrifice a goat. As Clayton gets sucked further and further in, Eliza’s true intentions towards him become murkier and murkier. The film never really reaches “scary” territory, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. Mitchell’s performance especially is terrific, and you will find yourself feeling the intensity growing as the movie goes on. I don’t know that the climax lives up to the film that precedes it, but all in all it’s a worthwhile watch.
  • The Witch 2: The Other One – Not a sequel to the (criminally overrated) 2015 Robert Eggers film The Witch, this Asian sci-fi/superhero movie is actually a sequel to a film called The Witch: Part 1: The Subversion, which saw a teenage girl imbued with super powers and under attack by the Powers That Be. This film serves as a sort-of follow up to that one, with a new girl with powers on the run from various factions that are after her. While it sounds repetitive, the film actually does a good job of not just repeating the events of the first film, with new characters and new plot devices that keep this sequel feeling fresh. I had honestly forgotten I had seen the first film until I started watching this one, but I do remember enjoying the first one somewhat, and I felt the same way about this one. The sci-fi and superhero tropes are fun, and some of the special effects are pretty cool (while some are also kind of terrible). It’s not a masterpiece, but if you watched the first film, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.
  • The Nun and The Devil – Anne Heywood and Flash Gordon’s Ornella Muti star in this 1973 horror-exploitation film from Italian director Domenico Paolella. Originally titled Le Monache di Sant’Arcangelo, this Italian film is set in the 16th century and sees a nun named Sister Julia who is determined to become the new Mother Superior of her abbey. She’s so determined, in fact, that she will resort to all sorts of ungodly acts to cement her power. This is where the exploitation side of things comes into play, especially with Ornella Muti, a well-loved Italian actress whose character is Sister Julia’s niece and who is subjected to terrible things in Juila’s quest for power. This is not a film I was familiar with before this new Blu-ray from Twilight Time came across my desk, but I suspect it has a cult legion of fans out there. This Blu-ray features gorgeous packaging and a handful of extra features, so it’s a real treat for fans of the movie or the genre.
  • The Most Dangerous Game – It’s the attack of the B-movie all stars! I kid, but there are a lot of once-popular actors who are now staples of the direct-to-video movie market all starring together in this new adaptation of the classic prose story, The Most Dangerous Game. Casper Van Dien, Judd Nelson, Tom Berenger, and Bruce Dern star in this low-budget thriller, which sees a man and his son shipwreck on an island that turns out to be a hunting preserve owned by a man who likes to hunt other humans. It’s a classic story, and it’s actually one of my favorite prose stories, so I’m always game for a new adaptation. This one is solidly okay; there’s no denying that the low budget is a factor, but on the other hand I like a lot of the actors involved and no one is phoning things in. It’s a pretty typical direct-to-video release: an easy way to kill 90 minutes but ultimately nothing all that great.
  • Love in Wolf Creek/Christmas in Wolf Creek/Christmas in Rockwell – You can tell the holidays are nearing because we’re starting to get the Christmas movies on home video. A staple of the DVD market, the Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas romance movies (and the films that just follow that formula, like these) are starting to hit, and this week we have three… errr, two and a half. Here’s what I mean: we get Christmas in Rockwell and Christmas in Wolf Creek, two bona fide romantic Christmas films. But we also get Love at Wolf Creek, which is the set up for Christmas at Wolf Creek but isn’t actually a Christmas film. Love at Wolf Creek sees Nola Martin as Sam, the owner of a wildlife refuge who is trying to keep her doors open. Tim Rozon (Mutt on Schitt’s Creek) stars as the handsome stranger in town who helps her when a rare white wolf gets injured and threatens the sanctuary’s status. Christmas in Wolf Creek is one of the rare follow-ups to a film like this, in which we see Sam and Austin at Christmastime searching for a missing reindeer while dealing with their rocky relationship. Both films are classic romance TV-movie formula efforts, but that’s what makes them so great. They’re perfectly enjoyable, and as a Schitt’s Creek fan, it’s great to see Tim Rozon in a different role. Meanwhile, Christmas in Rockwell sees former WWE wrestler Trish Stratus as a former actor returning to her hometown who meets a charming guy there who she absolutely is not going to fall in love with. I’m kidding, obviously. Stratus probably won’t win an Oscar anytime soon, but she actually does fine in this role and carries the film well. Again, it’s a perfectly enjoyable Christmas romance movie, and if you like these films, you’ll like this one too.
  • Sesame Street: My Favorite Holidays – The latest Sesame Street DVD collection delivers two hours of learning to your pre-schoolers, with a focus on the holidays. With repeat appearances by Elmo, Abby, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster, this one sees a lot of favorite characters get screen time. Real-life celebrity guests include musicians Andersen Paak and Leon Bridges. As a special bonus, the Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas special is included as a bonus feature. This DVD give you two hours of Sesame Street content, which should keep your little ones happy for a good chunk of time, and it’s nice to have a good holiday DVD for the kids at this tine of year.

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