Pages Navigation Menu

"No matter where you go, there you are."


US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Nightbreed, Swamp Thing, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Kandahar, River Wild, Rio Bravo, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 and more


Well, I was on vacation last week, so this week’s column includes some titles that hit streets while I was away. But we’re all caught up now with a wide selection of blockbusters, collector’s editions, and classic films!

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3

The Movie: I know I’m way in the minority on this, but I really didn’t care for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3. (I also didn’t like GotG Vol. 2 very much.) A large part of that comes from the fact that I think James Gunn is a filmmaker who makes movies I really don’t like, with the exception of the first GotG, which he accidentally made perfect. I recognize that most people liked this movie a lot more than I did. For my money, I thought the Rocket backstory stuff was interesting and had some emotional heft to it, but the rest of the movie was just painful to sit through. Now, before you fire a bunch of hate mail my way, let me point out a few obvious flaws: 1.) Everyone was yelling. For the entire movie. Nobody could just talk, everyone had to be yelling and screaming. It was exhausting. 2.) James Gunn’s mean streak continues. I’ve long said that Gunn’s films have a mean streak but I often have a hard time explaining what that means (although I don’t understand how other people don’t see it.) But in this film, it was obvious. Here’s an example: why did Mantis always have to land in painful, moronic ways? It was a cheap laugh at the expense of one of his characters, done over and over again. That’s part of Gunn’s mean streak: he unnecessarily tortures his characters, and I put heavy emphasis on the word “unnecessarily.” 3.) Why do we care about this “family” again? They all clearly hate each other. I mean, we’re supposed to believe they love and care about each other, but they can’t stand each other. They spend the entire movie shouting at each other, insulting each other, belittling each other, and second-guessing each other. Sure, I get that some families operate that way, but I go to the movies to escape the dreary realities of life, not live through them again in giant size. People make fun of the Fast & Furious movies, but this summer’s competing blockbuster Fast X was a much better portrayal of a family that cares about each other than GotG Vol. 3. 4.) Every character in these films now is either a complete idiot, a petulant child, a moron, or a rage-filled psycho. Who am I supposed to root for here? Remember that band of lovable misfits from the first movie? They’re no longer lovable. Look, I could go on, but you get the point. Still, all my complaints aside, people love these movies and I’m glad if you enjoy them more than I do. (Except for the first one, which is perfect.)
The Special Features: You get two making-of featurettes (ironically, one is on the family nature of the cast and characters, while the other is on how Rocket was brought to life), plus deleted scenes, a gag reel, and an audio commentary with James Gunn.
The Wrap-Up: There are pieces of a good movie in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, but Gunn spends so much time making his characters unlikable that I gave up on them very early in the film. Most people won’t feel the same as me, and that’s okay; I hope people enjoy it more than I did.


The Movie: The ever-reliable Gerard Butler stars in Kandahar, an action movie set in the middle east that is solidly enjoyable yet overly familiar. Butler plays an undercover CIA operative whose identity is revealed while in-country for an op that led to the destruction of an Iranian nuclear power plant at the hands of the U.S. government, requiring him to try and make his way across hostile territory with pretty much everyone out to get him. Now, I love me some Gerard Butler and I liked this movie just fine, but it’s also largely forgettable. What I mean is that it’s a well-made film with some good action sequences and a tense narrative, but it’s the kind of thing we’ve seen a million times before, and it doesn’t do enough to set itself apart to really stand out from the other films of the “desert war” genre. Butler is in fine form, though, as he’s clearly found a niche as the next Liam Neeson-esque Slightly Older Male Action Star. Kandahar is ultimately worth a watch, but I can’t imagine many people are going to be blown away by it.
The Special Features: Universal continues their recent trend of bare-bones releases with nary a single extra feature. Bummer. (You do at least get a digital copy, though.)
The Wrap-UpKandahar is a solid film; it’s got great production values, good cinematography, a solid script, good performances, and decent action. It’s a little slow to get going and it doesn’t do anything unique, but it’s a decent enough way to kill a couple of hours.

River Wild

The Movie: Honestly, it wasn’t even on my radar that there was a remake of the 1997 thriller The River Wild (starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon), but here we are. The original film is an enjoyable thriller about a mom and her kids whose white water rafting trip is interrupted by a pair of criminals on the run who force them to take them downriver at gunpoint. This new version changes things up a little bit (I don’t want to say how to avoid any spoilers), but ultimately it still ends up with a group of people being forced downriver by a bad guy with a gun. I wasn’t really expecting much from the new film, because remakes are usually not that great, but I actually quite enjoyed this one. The film stars Leighton Meister and Taran Killam (who were so great together on the too-short-lived sitcom Single Parents) as brother and sister and Adam Brody as their childhood friend. I don’t think Adam Brody gets enough credit for what a great actor he is; seriously, every movie he’s in is better because he’s in it. The film veers back and forth between tense thriller and action movie, and I found it engaging from start to finish.
The Special Features: Universal strikes again. Not only are there no extra features, there’s not even a digital copy for this one. What the heck, Uni?
The Wrap-Up: The thing about remaking The River Wild is that the original film was good, but it’s not a classic. I was okay with the changes made this time around because it’s not like I have an emotional investment in the original. Ultimately, River Wild (despite an unnecessary dropping of the definite article in the title) is a really enjoyable action thriller that is worth tracking down.

Rio Bravo and East of Eden 4K

The Movies: Warner Bros. continues its 100th Anniversary celebration with two more classic catalogue titles hitting 4K Ultra HD for the first time, John Wayne’s Rio Bravo and James Dean’s East of Eden. Both are classics, but one I love and one I… respect. Let’s start with the one I love. Rio Bravo is one of the acclaimed pairings between director Howard Hawks and screen icon John Wayne, and it’s one of the better westerns of the time, in my opinion. In the film, Wayne plays Sheriff Chance, who has to defend the jail when he arrests a powerful rancher’s brother. His only help? The town drunk, an old deputy, and a wet-behind-the-ears cattle hand. Meanwhile, the rancher has dozens of hired guns at his disposal. What makes the film so great to me is that it’s a western, yes, but it’s also one of my favorite kinds of films: the ragtag team of warriors up against overwhelming odds of survival. It also has a great cast, with not just Wayne but also Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, and Claude Akins. It’s a terrific western action outing, and a classic for a reason. Now, then we have East of Eden, one of the three films James Dean made before his tragic death. This film sees Dean and Raymond Massey playing brothers who are both desperate to win their hard-nosed father’s love – to limited success. It’s a well-made movie with a terrific performance from Dean, but, man, is it bleak. It’s one of those films that just seems to have tragedy after tragedy, bad luck after bad luck. So, I respect  the film for what it is, but it’s honestly not a movie I can watch very often just because it’s such a downer.
The 4K Audio/Video: Like last month’s similar release from WB, Rebel Without a Cause, both films have been remastered and restored for their inaugural 4K presentations, and they both look and sound astounding for movies pushing 70 years old. The colors are vibrant, the imagery is crystal clear with fine details, and shadow delineation is excellent in the nighttime scenes. The Dolby Atmos surround soundtracks offer up more use of the discrete channels than you’d expect from films from the ‘50s, and the entire presentation on each disc is terrific. It should be noted that both releases include a 4K disc and a digital copy, but no Blu-ray discs, which is disappointing.
The Special Features: Both discs come solely with audio commentaries by film critic Richard Schickel. The Rio Bravo commentary adds John Carpenter to the mix, who is a big Howard Hawks fan. Warner has been really letting the extra features slide recently, too, in a trend I’m not liking from the big studios.
The Wrap-UpRio Bravo and East of Eden are both classics with a lot of star power, and there’s a reason they’re always reissue whenever a new home video format comes along. You can’t go wrong with either of these releases.

Swamp Thing 4K

The Movie: The original Swamp Thing movies are low-budget creature feature flicks that aimed higher than their origins, and I have to admit to having a real soft spot for them, despite their inherent cheesiness. This week, Lightyear Video brings us a new 4K Ultra HD Edition of Swamp Thing, the original movie that kicked off a run that would include a sequel, two television series, and even an animated cartoon show. The film is cheesy fun with lots of great practical creature effects, and Dick Durock’s turn as Swamp Thing remains the definitive one for my money. This new version of the film comes in two versions, a standard release (that is still loaded with extra features) and a Steelbook Edition, which sadly I did not receive for review. But for Swamp Thing fans, there’s a nice choice between just the quality release and a more collectors-oriented release. On either release, you get the theatrical cut of the film (rated PG) as well as the Unrated International Cut of the film, which is terrific.
The 4K Audio/Video: The new 4K Ultra HD sees the film presented in the highest quality A/V yet on home video, and it is a nice upgrade. The fact is that the film is 40 years old, and while some older movies can look brand new in 4K, Swamp Thing doesn’t quite hit that level. It does, however, boast clearer imagery than ever before and improved colors, giving the film new life. The surround soundtrack is similarly limited by the age of the film, but the dialogue is clear and there are some decent surround effects to be found to build the film’s atmosphere.
The Special Features: In addition to the two different cuts of the film, there’s an audio commentary with the late Wes Craven as well as one with make-up artist William Munns. Then there are five making-of/interview featurettes that feature cast members and creators and focus on both the filmmaking and t he comic books that inspired it. Finally, there are a few photo galleries and then film’s trailer, and a mini-poster included in the case.
The Wrap-UpSwamp Thing is a true cult classic, and deservedly so. It’s the best kind of B-movie, and while there have been several high-quality releases on home video before, this is the best overall version I’ve seen so far. Highly recommended for Swampy fans!

Nightbreed 4K

The Movie: Clive Barker’s Nightbreed is a fascinating film to me. I didn’t see it for years after its release because, quite frankly, I really had no interest in it. See, I’ve never really been drawn to grotesque monsters and the like, I’m not really a Clive Barker fan, and the movie came out when I was kind of young. So when it came out, I was intimidated by it and chalked it off as being too scary or gross for my sensibilities. Then, because it wasn’t a hit, it sort of faded from the popular consciousness before I was old enough to really get interested in seeing it. But eventually I decided to check out the film and it turned out to actually be pretty cool. It held my interest from start to finish, and I was impressed by the visual flair writer/director Clive barker brought to the screen. Now, Scream Factory has the first new home video version of Nightbreed in several years with the film’s debut on 4K Ultra HD. This is a full-on Collector’s Edition, too, so you get the film itself upgraded, but you also get a sweet collection of extra features. Even better, this release includes both the Theatrical Cut of the film as well as the (in my opinion) superior Director’s Cut of the film, which boasts over 40 minutes of new/different footage and makes the movie even better. There’s four discs of content here, and it’s hard to argue with that!
The 4K Audio/VideoNightbreed has been restored and remastered for the 4K format and it looks and sounds quite exceptional for being a lower-budgeted film that’s now 30 years old. Usually, when you get older catalogue titles on 4K they get a slight upgrade from their last Blu-ray transfer. But Nightbreed has new life breathed into it. Not just in the deeper color saturation, which is quite vibrant, but in the image clarity which gives everything added crispness, texture, and depth. There’s also a marked improvement in shadow delineation, which really helps the onscreen action in the many darker scenes become easier to see. Then add to that a strong Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which offers new nuances in the surround channels. It’s not a perfect mix; there are occasional scenes where the action sounds a little flat, but by and large, it really fills the room nicely.
The Special Features: In addition to the Theatrical Cut on 4K UHD, you also get the Director’s Cut (on Blu-ray only, understandably, as they had to work from many elements to piece together the Director’s Cut.) There’s also an audio commentary with Clive Barker and a really great feature-length making of documentary. In addition, you get half a dozen making-of featurettes, B-roll and test footage, and still galleries. Finally, on top of all that is a 30+-page color booklet packed with photos and info.
The Wrap-UpNightbreed is one of those movies that I never expected to like but won me over once I sat down and watched it. I got easily caught up in the whole world of Midian and its monsters, and if you’ve never seen the film before, it’s worth checking out. If you are already a fan of the film, this is easily the ultimate fan edition on home video and is well worth the price!

My Best Friend is a Vampire

The Movie: There are few images seared into my mind from my childhood video store trips than the cover art to My Best Friend is a Vampire. You can probably picture it, too but in case you can’t, see if this rings a bell: a row of high school lockers, with the one in the middle shaped like a coffin, with a pair of sneakers sticking out from under it. (Google it if you can’t picture it; if you ever stepped foot in a video store in the ‘80s, I guarantee you’ll recognize it.) Now, as many times as I saw that VHS tape cover, I never actually watched the movie until years later. It’s a comedy about a teenager who is seduced by a female vampire and finds himself turning into a vampire. Robert Sean Leonard, an actor I’ve always enjoyed, plays the lead character, Jeremy, and he brings a lot of charm to the role. Now the movie has gotten the special edition Blu-ray treatment from Lionsgate’s Vestron Collector’s Series, and it’s a great way to go back and revisit a minor comedy gem from the ‘80s.
The Special Features: In addition to a director’s audio commentary, you also get two interview featurettes with writer Tab Murphy and actor Paul Willson, respectively, plus two trailers and a still gallery.
The Wrap-Up: Watching My Best Friend is a Vampire nowadays, it’s clearly aged well in some places and not so well in others. That said, it remains a fun, charming comedic romp with a great young talent in the lead role. Add to that the terrific collection of extra features and this is another great release from the Vestron imprint.

Ancient Aliens 17

The Show: I can’t believe this show has been on for 17 seasons now. I don’t even know what to say about it anymore. Honestly, I find Ancient Aliens mildly interesting but that’s about the extent of it. It explores everything surrounding the possibility of aliens visiting earth in the past, and while some of it comes off as the theories of crazy people, most of it is approached from an academic point of view. I’ve made this complaint before, but while Ancient Aliens is easily watchable, the lack of any concrete answers or hard evidence can get frustrating, and it keeps the show from being something I can get it. The seasons have gotten shorter, though. Whereas previous seasons were into the high double digits and often arrived on home video as multi-disc sets, this collection is just ten episodes on two discs. If you’re a die-hard fan, this latest season will round out your collection.
The Special Features: There are no extra features, but that’s pretty typical for this series.
The Wrap-UpAncient Aliens is actually on Season 19, so that means there are at least two more home video collections coming. Like I said earlier, I actually find the show relatively interesting and easy to watch, but it’s more of a “random episode late at night” kind of viewing experience for ma than a “watch every single episode” experience. Your mileage may vary.

Assault on Hill 400

The Movie: William Baldwin, Michael Madsen, and Eric Roberts get their pictures on the cover of this direct-to-video World War II film, but as usual Madsen and Roberts are just minor supporting players. Really, that’s okay, though, as neither of them are at their acting peak anymore. Baldwin at least has a bigger role, although it’s unknown actor Collin Arend who’s really the lead. The film sees a U.S. army battalion laying siege to a small German town and trying to secure Hill 400, a strategically important German stronghold. Which could be a good film, if it weren’t so poorly made. You know how there’s all this talk with the writer’s strike about AI taking over filmmaking? If I didn’t know better, I’d think that was already happening, because the script for this movie is the most homogenous, bland, cliched hodge-podge of bad dialogue I’ve seen in such a long time, I could easily assume it’s been written by a computer. Assault on Hill 400? More like Assault on Good Dialogue.
The Special Features: Just a trailer and an image gallery, but somehow I’m okay with that.
The Wrap-Up: War movies are hard to make well on the cheap, and unfortunately Assault on Hill 400 doesn’t do much to dispel that notion. Approach with caution.

Previous PostNext Post