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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Halo, Top Gun: Maverick, Infernal Affairs Trilogy, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Elvis: Blue Hawaii and more

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

It’s not the biggest week ever, but there are some great titles dropping, including the biggest box office hit of the year (which hit shelves a few weeks ago but we just got our review copy), some classic Christmas titles on 4K, and a few other gems. Check it out!

Top Gun: Maverick

I’ve watched almost 400 movies this year, and Top Gun: Maverick is easily my favorite. It’s the only one I watched three times, and I loved it just as much every time I watched it. It is, for my money, an absolutely perfect film. I can count on one hand the number of times a sequel that comes out decades after the original film lives up to expectations, and Maverick doesn’t just live up to them, it blows them out of the water. The film treads familiar ground, but also takes things in a new direction. Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell is now – not by his own choice – a flight instructor to a group of hotshot pilots who are already the best of the best, gearing up for a near-impossible mission. Complicating matters is the presence of Rooster, the son of Mitchell’s late best friend, Goose. There’s a massive amount of tension between them, and that drives the emotional core of the movie, along with a romance between Cruise and Jennifer Connelly that could feel forced but somehow works to perfection. I would honestly like to see the film get nominated for Best Motion Picture at the Academy Awards (and Cruise nominated for Best Actor), as I really believe it has everything you need for an Oscar movie: great performances, strong drama, excellent writing, and incredible cinematography. Speaking of, I haven’t even mentioned the action scenes yet, which are utterly mind-blowing. Shot in real planes with very little CGI, the movie is one of the most stunning action films I’ve seen in recent years. Like I said, it’s a perfect movie. Top Gun: Maverick comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and it looks and sounds utterly fantastic in the premium format. Picture quality is off the charts, with vibrant colors and crystal-clear imagery, while the surround soundtrack will give your speakers more of a workout than any other home video release this year. This one is simply a must-own for anyone who likes movies.

Elf, A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (4K Ultra HD)

Warner Brothers celebrates the holiday season with not one, not two, but four new classic catalogue titles making their 4K Ultra HD debuts this week. It’s hard to deny these are all well-loved Christmas classics, and I can see a lot of people just picking up all four. First of we have Elf, one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. My family watches two movies every single year at Christmastime, and one of them is Elf (the other is It’s A Wonderful Life). It’s the funniest Christmas movie ever, and one of my all-time favorite comedies of any genre. Then there’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, one of the few sequels from the 80’s that rivals the original film in the franchise. There are so many classic moments in the film it’s hard to know where to start (the lights, the cat, Cousin Eddie?), but I think most people would consider themselves fans of Christmas Vacation, and rightly so. Next up is A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”), which I’ll admit I’m not as big a fan of as most people, but there’s no denying that this is a truly beloved film by generations of people and it will continue to be so for generations more. Then there’s The Polar Express, the 2006 Tom Hanks-led animated film by Robert Zemeckis. Despite a slight creepiness to the characters (the uncanny valley is strong in this one), the film is still a fun and endearing family Christmas movie. Each film comes to 4K Ultra HD (with a Blu-ray and digital copy included), and you’ll see a nice A/V upgrade for each. None of the movies have been completely reinvented from a visual or audio standpoint, but you’ll notice brighter colors, clearer imagery, and stronger black levels and shadow delineation in each film. The surround soundtracks are all relatively good, as well; you don’t get as much surround activity from the older films like A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation, but Elf and The Polar Express give your speakers more to work with. Any of these films that you don’t already own would make a worthy addition to any collection.

Halo: Season One

It’s no secret that video game-based movies are often… well, not all that great. That’s changed a little in recent years, but there’s a long history of video game adaptations that range from disappointing to out-and-out disasters. So what happens when you take one of the most popular video games of all time and make it into a TV series instead? Well, you get Halo: Season One, a Paramount+-exclusive show that’s now making its debut on Blu-ray and DVD. I’ll be honest, I’ve never played a single second of a Halo game, and while the show seems to be adapting the games’ storylines for its own needs, I can’t say there weren’t times when I feel like having a better grip on the universe would have served me well. The show follows Master Chief (the main protagonist from the games; I know THAT much) as he deals with military command, conspiracies and, oh yeah, aliens. The show is a fairly uneven affair; on the one hand, there are some good action and sci-fi sequences, and on the other hand, the story often gets bogged down and there are some definite writing issues on the show. It might just be typical Season One finding-its-way woes, but I was hoping to be blown away by the show and, unfortunately, I wasn’t. I didn’t dislike it either, so I think it has room to grow and we’ll have to see what the inevitable second season brings.

Infernal Affairs Trilogy

The Criterion Collection specializes in bringing important and critically acclaimed films to home video, which – much as I hate to admit it – means it also exposes gaps in my film history knowledge, as very often a new Criterion release is of a film I’ve never seen or even ever heard of. However, I was pretty darn excited when they announced the Infernal Affairs Trilogy was joining their hallowed halls. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Infernal Affairs is the 2002 Hong Kong film that was remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 as The Departed. I saw Infernal Affairs back in 2002 and it not only spawned a renaissance in Asian action/crime films at the time, but it also opened my eyes up to Asian cinema in a new way and led to two decades of seeking out great Asian films. For my money, Infernal Affairs has always been better than The Departed; sure, I know the major Hollywood cast will skew more people to prefer Scorsese’s joint, but Infernal Affairs is a much more streamlined film, and I think blow for blow, it’s the better movie. It remains one of my favorite films of the early 2000s, even 20 years after I first saw it. This new Criterion release is a three-disc box set that also includes Infernal Affairs II and III, a pair of prequel/sequel films that tried to capitalize on the success of the original to mixed results. The end of the first film makes it hard to do a true sequel, so the filmmakers took things to the past and future to continue the saga. While I enjoy the sequels, they don’t compare to the original. Still, this new collection offers up all three films in one terrific package, with the usual Criterion collection of excellent features and an in-depth essay and photo booklet. This one is definitely worth tracking down.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton star in this intriguing new film from director George Miller, whose career has spanned everything from the Mad Max films to the animated penguin movie Happy Feet. In this film, Tilda Swinton plays a scholar visiting Istanbul who buys a bottle that ends up unleashing a genie, played by Idris Elba. Rather than simply taking her three wishes, Swinton wants to learn more about the genie, leading us to learn his story through action-packed flashbacks. Effectively, it’s Interview with The Genie. It’s a bit of an odd film, with tones that kind of run the gamut from drama to comedy to action to heartbreak. There are times when it works exceptionally well, and times where you occasionally wonder “What exactly am I watching here?” But on balance, I liked the film more than I didn’t, and Swinton and Elba’s performances definitely give the film a boost. It’s worth a watch, even if it might not be a slam dunk for all viewers; I suspect most people will find it at least entertaining.

Elvis: Blue Hawaii

Making its 4K Ultra HD debut from Paramount, one of Elvis’s most popular movies was Blue Hawaii. While it fits firmly into the traditional Elvis movie formula, its combination of charm, beautiful scenery, and catchy music makes it a really fun watch. I’ll be honest, I haven’t always been a huge Elvis fan, but in recent years I’ve become much more interested in him and have been watching as many movies of is as I can. This one sees him as a young man fresh out of the army who goes to work for a Hawaiian tour company with his girlfriend rather than going into the family business like his parents want him to. Angela Lansbury has a supporting role as Elvis’s mother, and the soundtrack features not only the title song but also Can’t Help Falling In Love, which would of course go on to become a timeless classic. Paramount has released Blue Hawaii on 4K Ultra HD as part of their terrific Paramount Presents line, which gives us two discs (one 4K and one Blu-ray), a few extra features, and sharp gatefold slipcover packaging. The film looks and sounds great in 4K, with the colors of Hawaii nearly popping off the screen and the music sounding bright and vibrant thanks to a strong soundtrack. This is one of Elvis’s best movies, and this is a great way to watch it.

Hansan: Dragon Rising

While a few reviews above I mentioned how much I love Asian action cinema, I will admit that one of my blind spots is the historical action epic that seems to take up so much real estate in Asian cinema. Often overlong and set in the ancient past, it’s probably my least favorite subgenre of the action realm. This South Korean film is apparently a prequel to another movie called The Admiral: Roaring Currents, which I don’t recall having seen before. It’s set in the late 16th century and it tells the tale of the real-life Battle of Hansando, wherein a Korean admiral takes on the invading Japanese forces with its superior warships. But the admiral has a secret weapon up his sleeve. Coming in at over two hours, the film is a solid-enough movie, but it does fall prey to some of my usual complaints about these period epics: it’s too long, and it saves up most of its action for a massive climactic battle at the end. Now, to be fair, that battle is extraordinary, and it’s the kind of sequence that will blow people away, it just takes a little too long to get there for me. Overall, it’s a good film, but I might have been a little more down on it because I just don’t love the genre. Your mileage may vary.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Amazing Grace: Country Stars Sing Songs of Faith and Hope – The latest Time-Life music-themed megaset is a terrific 10-disc box set that sees some of the biggest country music stars of all time giving performances of classic gospel songs, faith-based pop songs, and songs with a message of hope and inspiration. Now, I’ll admit I’m not really a country or gospel music fan, so while this wasn’t a set I got personally invested in, I don’t need to be in order to tell you what a great quality set it is for fans of those genres. With over 150 inspirational live performances from the likes of Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Barbara Mandrell, The Oak Ridge Boys, Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, and so many more, this is a who’s who of country music. But the twist is that it’s not just a collection of them performing their hit songs, which are probably available dozens of other places. Instead, we get songs like Wings of a DoveAmazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, I Saw The LightDaddy Sang BassLove Lifted MeHe Touched Me, and more. You get 10 discs of performances, plus a full-color booklet that serves as a guide to the music and the artists, plus the venues they performed at, which includes none other than the Grand Ol’ Opry. If you’re into country music and faith-based songs, you’d be hard pressed not to be blown away by this set.
  • Lifetime 12-Movie Set: A Very Merry Christmas Collection Volumes 3 & 4 – The world of seasonally-popular Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas movies has expanded beyond just the holiday season. I know more than a few people who like watching these holiday-themed romances all year round. Regardless of if you want to watch them in during the holidays or in the middle of the summer, Lifetime has two massive new collections (both packaged in a single DVD-sized case) that will keep you busy for days. Following up on last year’s popular sets, we have two new releases this week: Lifetime 12-Movie Set: A Very Merry Christmas Collection Volumes 3 & 4. As the titles indicate, each of these Wal-Mart exclusive releases includes a dozen holiday romances, giving you about 18 hours of entertainment each. Now, I’ve been vocal in the past that I unironically love these movies; the combination of predictable romance, attractive leads, and a holiday setting make them enjoyable and irresistible to me, so I love these sets. Volume 3 includes A Fiancé for Christmas, A Picture Perfect Holiday, Baking Spirits Bright, Holiday in Santa Fe, Merry Liddle Christmas Baby, Miracle in Motor City, Mistletoe in Montana, Under the Christmas Tree, Welcome to the Christmas Family Reunion, Writing Around the Christmas Tree, An Ice Wine Christmas, and Candy Cane Candidate, while Volume 4 includes Match Made In Mistletoe, Rebuilding a Dream Christmas, Saying Yes to Christmas, The Holiday Fix Up, Toying With the Holidays, You Make It Feel Like Christmas, A Christmas Dance Reunion, Christmas Movie Magic, Dancing Through the Snow, My Favorite Christmas Melody, and Reba McEntire’s Christmas In Tune. Whew! That’s a lot of holiday romance, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
  • Ultraman Nexus: Series + Special Combo – Mill Creek continues their march through the Ultraman catalog with their latest box set, Ultraman Nexus: Series + Specials. One of the more recent shows in the canon, Ultraman: Nexus came out in 2004, and it’s one of the more interesting takes on the legend in my opinion. In this series, Kazuki Komon joins the Night Raiders, an organization that fights monsters on earth. However, Kazuki discovers that the group sees Ultraman – who saves Kazuki’s life – sees Ultraman as a threat to Earth, putting Kazuki at odds with his group and his faith in Ultraman. This six-disc DVD set collects all 37 episodes of the series plus includes a bonus movie (also from 2004) called Ultraman: The Next. As always, Ultraman gives us the usual mix of superhero-type action, kaiju-like monsters, and a fair amount of fun cheesiness. Being one of the newer shows (compared to some of the previous releases from the 70s and 80s), the show feels a little less cheesy than usual and features some better effects. It’s a solid entry in the franchise and Ultraman fans should enjoy it.
  • Unidentified – This Romanian police mystery thriller from 2020 makes its home video debut in the US this week courtesy of Film Movement. The film follows a haggard, overworked police detective determined to solve the case of two hotel fires that killed several people, despite being ordered to drop the cases. The chief suspect is an employee of the hotel who is a Roma (the accepted term for what we used to refer to as “gypsies”), which introduces an element of racism to the story, as in some cultures, people of Roma descent are looked down upon. The film is dark and infused with noir trappings, and while it’s a little too long, overall it’s a pretty compelling mystery, if you don’t mind a main character who looks like he slept in a dumpster the night before. Definitely worth a look for fans of foreign cinema.
  • Queen of Glory – This new dramedy from writer/director Nana Mensah (who also stars in the lead role) follows Sarah, a young doctoral student who is about to follow her married boyfriend to a new state when her mother suddenly passes away. Her mom leaves her a Christian bookstore that serves a community of Ghana-ian immigrants in the Bronx. With her father returning to the picture after a strained relationship, Sarah finds herself trapped in the middle of a whirlwind of events that set her plans on their end. I wasn’t familiar with Nana Mensah before this, but I was certainly impressed by her filmmaking debut. It manages to navigate familial drama, cultural comedy, and character development in a balanced way, and that’s no small feat. She also turns in a really strong performance, which can’t be easy as a first-time director. This is one of those smaller films that’s worth seeking out to see a new talent on the rise.
  • Adieu Godard – This film from Indian filmmakers is an intriguing effort that is, in some ways, about cinema and its effect on people. The story revolves mainly around a small village man who often watches pornography DVDs with his friends, but one day accidentally brings home a DVD of a Godard film instead. While his friends reject it, he becomes obsessed with the revered filmmaker, to the point where he wants to set up a Godard film festival in his small village. And I’ll be honest, that part of the film I enjoyed quite a bit. But there’s a secondary story that runs through the film, set in the present, focuses on the man’s daughter telling the tale of her childhood in the village and her relationship with her beau, and that’s where the film falters, as it’s not as compelling as the main story and takes away from the overall impact of it. The film only runs 73 minutes, so it’s not the end of the world, but it results in an uneven effort that could have been really strong all around if it kept the focus on the more engaging part of the film.

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