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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Fabelmans, Warm Bodies, Strange World, Project Wolf Hunting, On The Come Up and more

The Fabelmans

It’s another solid week with some A-list releases alongside the usual catalog, indie, and television titles. Read on to see what’s on shelves this week.

The Fabelmans

Even though I’ve been reviewing home video releases for over 20 years, I always like to say that I’m not a movie critic, I’m a movie reviewer. I know it’s a fine distinction, but I feel like there’s an artsy component to being a critic, as well as a need to find fault in a lot of things. I love mainstream popcorn fare much more than I love a good arthouse film, so I’ve never felt like the “critic” moniker fit me. I say all this as preamble because based on the critical reception and the numerous Oscar nods that Steven Spielberg’s thinly veiled biopic The Fabelmans has garnered, you should probably be expecting me to heap praise on the film. However, that’s not what’s going to happen here. In fact, I actively disliked The Fabelmans. Ostensibly telling the story of Spielberg’s youth and the dissolution of his parents’ marriage (through a dramatized lens), the film features strong performances across the board by Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Gabriel Labelle. The problem was, Spielberg did a little too good of a job in making his entire family unlikable. There isn’t a single character in the film that I truly liked or rooted for. It’s also surprisingly un-humorous, and while I recognize that it’s a tough subject matter, I feel like there were plenty of opportunities to lighten things up a bit. It’s just not a fun movie to watch in any way, and while I can recognize that it’s well shot and well-acted, I found it slow, boring, uninteresting, and an unpleasant viewing experience for the most part. The Fabelmans comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and – not surprisingly – the film looks and sounds excellent in the 4K format. The picture quality is crisp and clear, and while the film has a very distinct color palette, the saturation is warm and lifelike. The surround soundtrack isn’t filled with explosions and car chases, but dialogue is clear, music is lush, and the surround channels provide a realistic ambience. I find that Spielberg films usually range from good to great, very rarely dropping below that, but The Fabelmans just didn’t wok for me. Your mileage may vary.

Strange World

Disney’s latest animated adventure was a bit quiet at the box office, and while I hate to start off with two down reviews in a row, I can kind of see why. To be clear, Strange World is a perfectly fine film, it’s just unexciting. It tells the story of the Clade family, whose patriarch Jaeger was an explorer who disappeared twenty years ago trying to find out what was beyond the mountains that surround their land. His now-grown son, Searcher, is forced to go on an adventure to try to save the land’s power supply, a plant called Pando that provides electricity. Searcher and his family end up aboard an exploratory ship that finds itself in a strange world filled with wondrous and dangerous creatures, and they must survive the trip and save the energy source. The problem with the film is that, ultimately, it’s just not very interesting. It has great visuals but cookie cutter characters, and while there are great voice performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid, at no point in the film did it find that magic that makes a film go from average to something special. It isn’t particularly inventive (beyond the world and creature designs, which are pretty cool), the characters are nothing new (save the teenage son being homosexual, which is relatively new for Disney films), and the script is fairly pedestrian. Strange World is an easy watch, and I’m sure that kids will enjoy it, but I watched it and then almost instantly forgot about it.

Warm Bodies: 4K Ultra HD Steelbook

Zombie movies are a lot of things but they’re not usually something I would describe as “fun.” Then there’s Warm Bodies, which is one of the most fun movies in any genre that’s come out in the past decade or so. Now, I love zombie films to begin with, but Warm Bodies isn’t really a zombie film, it’s a straight up romantic comedy; it just happens to have zombies in it. Even better, it manages to be completely different in tone and storyline than Shaun of the Dead, which is, of course, the ultimate zom-rom-com. The story is a zombified update of Romeo & Juliet, except in this case, our Romeo happens to be one of the undead, and our Juliet is a living girl. In this universe, though, zombies do maintain some semblance of their personalities, and R (as he comes to be called) has just a bit more than the rest. He actually narrates the film, and it’s from the narration that much of the humor comes. Credit also to Nicholas Hoult, who gives R just the right blend of humanity and zombie-anity, and really does a great job carrying the film, even though he has almost no onscreen dialogue. Warm Bodies has been released home video before, but now it’s getting as 4K Ultra HD release with a sharp-looking Steelbook case (which is a Best Buy exclusive.) The film gets a nice 4K Upgrade, with brighter colors and sharper picture quality than the previous Blu-ray release, plus a surround soundtrack that won’t set your ears on fire but at least gives your speakers something to do throughout the film. Warm Bodies was a medium-sized hit when it came out, but you don’t hear a lot of people talking about it these days, which is shame. It was and remains really terrific stuff and this is the perfect way to revisit it.

Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Seventh Season

The Walking Dead’s reign as the champion of television popularity is clearly waning, with the mothership show having concluded its run and the upcoming Season 8 of Fear the Walking Dead announced as its last. While Fear never reached the heights of the main show, it lumbered along as an interesting diversionary series to watch while waiting for the main show to return. Season 7 takes things in a new direction, with our characters (led by Lennie James’s Morgan) try to survive not just the walking dead, but also nuclear fallout from a weapon detonation in Texas. Meanwhile, Morgan and Victor Strand – one of the only characters who’s survived since the very first season) come to odds with each other over how to survive. Fear strayed from the initial concept of the show – which was supposed to detail the initial days of the outbreak – very early on, and now it’s really just its own animal. This season comes in at the usual eight episodes, which feels exactly right. I don’t know that I care enough to try and sit through 16 or 22 episodes about these characters, but eight episodes that I can binge pretty quickly once a year or so is the perfect amount.

On the Come Up

Based on a novel by Angie Thomas (who also wrote The Hate U Give, which was also adapted into a movie), this new drama sees actress Sanaa Lathan stepping behind the camera (and also co-starring) to tell the story of Bri, a young female rapper who rises to fame and faces controversy and hard decisions along the way. The story is nothing new, but through the lens of 16-year-old Bri (whose father was a rapper whose life was cut short by gang violence), we see the events through a different lens. While the main cast is largely unknown, there are some familiar and welcome faces in the supporting cast, including Lathan, Method Man, and Mike Epps. But it’s Jamila Gray in the lead role who carries the film, and she does so in impeccable fashion, delivering a powerful performance while also leaving us no doubt that she could pull off being a rapper if she chose to. On the Come Up is a bit uneven at times in its writing and editing, but it’s a solid drama that caters to an underserved audience, and I think people will like it overall.

Project Wolf Hunting

This new Asian action film is kind of like a 2023 update of Universal Soldier, the ‘90s action classic starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, only with the blood and violence factor multiplied by 100. The film sees a cargo ship filled with worst-of-the-worst type criminals being transported for a prisoner exchange, but – surprise! – they get loose and start killing the people guarding them. And then – even bigger surprise! – a deranged super soldier that was unknowingly also on the ship is loosed and starts killing everybody. I’m almost surprised that when I opened the Blu-ray case fake blood didn’t come gushing out, because this movie has got so much blood in it it’s actually insane. It’s hyper-violent and there’s just blood everywhere. Now I like these kinds of action movies and I’m not opposed to blood and violence in action films, but honestly, Project Wolf Hunting was exhausting; by the end of its two-hour running time, it felt like I was on that ship being pummeled, too. I think there’s a fan following out there for this movie, I’m just not a part of it.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • The King of Laughter – This Italian biopic focuses on an Italian theater star and playwright named Eduardo Scarpetta. While people outside of Italy might not be familiar with him, in his native land he’s apparently a household name. Toni Servillo stars as Scarpetta in this film that follow’s the man through his life as an actor and writer, including dealing with his family and legal proceedings brought against him during his career, among other highlights. And while the film is a drama, there is a lighter mood to it at times that keeps it feeling vibrant and enjoyable and not too heavy. Servillo is absolutely terrific in the lead role, and even though I’d never heard of Scarpetta before this, I can see why he was worthy of a biopic. The film might not be for everyone, but anyone looking for a high-quality foreign film would do well to check The King of Laughter out.
  • Shepherd: The Story of a Hero Dog – Based on the award-winning novel The Jewish Dog, this 2020 drama features an international cast in an emotional story set during World War II. Originally called Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog upon its release (and boy, there’s a lot to unpack with that title change, but we won’t get into that here), the film focuses on young Joshua and his German Shepherd Kaleb. When Berlin laws forbid Jews from owning pets, Joshua and Kaleb are separated and Kaleb is trained to be an SS guard dog. (Un)fortunately, the pair are ultimately reunited in circumstances that are very unfortunate. The film is a bit of a mixed bag; the story itself is interesting and it reveals things that many people didn’t know about how Jews were treated in Germany during World War II. However, the performances are a bit all over the place (save for Kaleb the dog, who is great) and the script is solid but uninspired. Ultimately, I found the film to be just okay but other people may take more away from it than I did.
  • Love on the Ground – Cohen Film Collection brings us the Blu-ray debut of this acclaimed 1984 French film from beloved director Jacques Rivette. I’ve seen a few Rivette films now thanks to Cohen Film Collection, and I always dread trying to summarize them; Rivette is not a filmmaker who goes after narratively cohesive material. In this film, a pair of actresses are recruited by a writer/director to come perform his new play in his house, which is about a pair of actresses performing a play in a house. So it’s a story within a story within a story sort of set-up, and at its heart are themes about acting, reality, and relationships. At least, I think. I’ll be honest, deciphering movies like this has never been my specialty, and at well over two hours, it taxed my ability to pay attention. Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin give strong performances and the cinematography is terrific, it’s just a hard film to wrap your brain around. At least, it was for me.
  • Belle and Sebastian: The Adventure Continues – Following up on 2013’s Belle and Sebastian (a movie about a boy and his dog), we now have the sequel, 2015’s Belle and Sebastian: The Adventure Continues, which takes place a couple of years later and was originally released in 2015. This time around, Sebastian goes on a search for his adopted grandfather’s lady friend, whose plane has crashed in the alps, along with his dog friend Belle and his long-lost father, Pierre. As the search for the plane’s survivors, they face the usual peril one would expect in a movie like this, such as an encounter with a bear, getting trapped, and facing a fire. The film is in French with English subtitles, which might be its biggest sticking point, mostly because it’s clearly a family film and younger viewers may struggle with trying to read the subtitles while also taking in all of the action. That said, it’s a perfectly enjoyable film for younger viewers if they don’t mind subtitles. Adult viewers will probably enjoy it as well, although it’s a little cliched in a lot of places and probably won’t blow anyone away.
  • Children of the Mist – Well, this new documentary is a tale of two halves. Filmed over the course of three years, the movie takes place in a remote Hmong village in Vietnam. It follows Di, the first girl in the village who – at 12 years of age – is the first child in the village to get a formal education. We get to know her and learn about her experience. So far, so good. However, the film eventually shifts tones, as it then begins to explore the tradition in the village of “bride kidnapping,” which is exactly what it sounds like. And that sees a dramatic shift in the emotions of the film, especially when we see the effect on Di’s family. It’s sobering and difficult to watch, even though it’s an important subject matter. The film come sin at about 90 minutes, which works well to keep things brief enough so as not to belabor things. But it’s definitely a hard watch, so just go into it with your eyes open.

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