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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Black Hawk Down, The Guns of Navarone. The Sonny Chiba Collection, Spirited Away: Live on Stage, Le Mepris, A Bullet for Sandoval and more

The Guns of Navarone

It’s a smaller week this week, focusing mostly on catalog titles. But there are still a few great offerings for cinema fans. Read on for the full slate.

Black Hawk Down (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: Out this week in a shiny new Steelbook 4K Ultra HD edition, Ridley Scott’s harrowing desert war film Black Hawk Down sees its first new home video re-release in quite some time. I’ll be honest, I saw Black Hawk Down in theaters and I pretty much hated it. Despite the technical filmmaking prowess at work, I found the characters indistinguishable from one another and the action just a series of mind-numbing machine gun battles that seemed endless and repetitive. And that was the last time I watched the film, until this new 4K Steelbook edition came out for review, and I figured it was time to revisit it and see if my opinion has changed at all in the 20 years or so since the film came out. And the answer is… yes. Somewhat. I mean, I still think my original criticisms are valid; the characters are often hard to tell apart and the endless gun battles are never really presented in any different ways, making the film feel like one endless stream of machine gun fire. That said, watching it on home video, I found it easier this time around to track who was who and what was happening, and I definitely had a more positive reaction to the film. I still don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but I can appreciate it much more now than I ever have before.
The 4K Audio/Video: Ridley Scott is known for his technical ability and making visually-dazzling films, so it’s no surprise that Black Hawk Down looks and sounds amazing in 4K Ultra HD. While the film takes place in the desert lands of Mogadishu, the more vibrant color palette offers up much more subtlety and nuance to the many similar shades of brown and grey, making the film much more visually appealing. Black levels are near-perfect and image clarity is superb. The surround soundtrack really takes advantage of all of the speakers and fills your living room with the chaos of war; it’s an incredible effect that fully immerses you in the film. All in all, this is a heck of an A/V presentation.
The Special Features: Holy cow, this is one of the most features-packed discs I’ve seen in a long time! I know most of them are archival ones from the pre ious releases, but still! First off, you get both the theatrical and the extended cuts of the film. Then you get three audio commentaries (one with Ridley Scott) and a feature-length making-of documentary plus a History Channel special and a PBS Frontline special on the real events the movie is based on. Then, you also get eight deleted scenes with optional commentary, three Q&A live events, six other featurettes or interactive features, a music video, photo galleries, trailers, and more. A+ stuff!
The Wrap-UpBlack Hawk Down was a big hit and was well-received by both critics and audiences upon its release in theaters. I was never a huge fan but this new Steelbook 4K UHD release has given the film a new life in my eyes. Worth the upgrade or the first-time purchase.

The Guns of Navarone (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: I’ve told the story before of how, for many years, the extent of my knowledge of The Guns of Navarone came from a joke on The Dick Van Dyke Show where Dick falls asleep in the movie theater during The Guns of Navarone and, after the theater is robbed, he ends up getting questioned by the police. Every time he tells them that he didn’t see anything because he fell asleep, someone exclaims, “You fell asleep during The Guns of Navarone?!?” I always “got” the joke, but for years I had never seen the movie, so it always made me laugh but I didn’t have the full context for it.  But eventually I saw the movie, and now I appreciate the joke even more. The film, which gets a fancy new Steelbook 4K Ultra HD this week is a big-scale epic war film, full of action and drama and suspense, all driven by an all-star cast. Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, and James Darren lead the team on an impossible mission, and it’s considered a classic for a reason. It’s an outstanding film that feels even bigger and more epic in 4K.
The 4K Audio/Video: This is one of those movies that clearly benefits from the 4K upgrade; image clarity is sharp and colors are natural and lifelike, while the print is nice and clean (which is paramount for an older movie like this.) Black levels are solid and there’s a nice depth of field that makes the film feel very textured. The surround soundtrack relies on a booming low end to anchor some incredible battle sequences, and while it might not be the most nuanced or directional surround soundtrack ever, it does make nice use of the whole soundfield overall. It’s a nice upgrade over previous home video versions.
The Special Features: This release comes packed with a surprising number of features considering the age of the film. There are two commentaries and three documentaries on both the making of the film and the historical events behind it, plus an additional eight making-of featurettes, and then there are a couple of additional interactive features.
The Wrap-UpThe Guns of Navarone is one of those films that sort of falls between traditional Classic Hollywood and the more modern Hollywood of the 1970s and ‘80s. But once you see it, you can totally understand how unlikely it is that anyone could fall asleep watching it. If you’ve never before added it to your collection, this terrific 4K Steelbook release is the perfect way to do so.

The Blind

The Movie: Right off the bat, I should confess that I’m not a Duck Dynasty fan. I don’t hate the show or anything, it’s just not something I ever got into. So I really wasn’t sure what The Blind was when it hit theaters earlier this year until a colleague of mine who is a Duck Dynasty fan filled me in. It’s a faith-based biopic about Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family, and his wife Kay, when they were young. Before he became a reality television star, Phil battled with alcoholism that affected his marriage to Kay, and this film tells the story of the couple’s trials and tribulations and how Phil’s faith in god helped him through the turmoil. Honestly, it plays out just like most faith-based films that I’ve reviewed, with a basic script, half-decent acting, and a heavy emphasis on Christianity and how faith in god can you help you overcome all things. It’s not really my cup of tea, but the basis in real people whose lives I have at least a little knowledge of did make it just a touch more interesting.
The Special Features: There’s a collection of deleted scenes as well as a retrospective making-of feature with the real life Robertson family the film is based on.
The Wrap-Up: With as popular as Duck Dynasty was and the fact that the film actually debuted high in the top 10 box office returns the week it was released, I won’t be surprised if The Blind finds a big audience on home video. Ultimately, the target audience – Christians and Duck Dynasty fans – will really enjoy this movie. Everyone else can easily skip it.

The Sonny Chiba Collection: Vol. 2

The Movie: While he never achieved the same level of fame of someone like Bruce Lee, Sonny Chiba was one of the first martial arts superstars, first in his native Japan but eventually across the whole world. Shout Factory, who excels at preserving catalog classics, gave us the first Sonny Chiba Blu-ray Collection last year, and they return to the actor’s catalog this year with The Sonny Chiba Collection: Volume 2. This new four-disc set includes seven Chiba films on Blu-ray, most of which have never been available in the United States before. The seven movies included this time around are: The Defensive Power of Aikido13 Steps of MakiKarate WarriorsThe Great Okinawa Yakuza WarKarate for LifeGolgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, and The Okinawa War of Ten Years. Several of these are movies set in post-war or wartime Japan, while some are period pieces. My favorite entry is easily Golgo 13, a spy thriller that I believe is either based on a series of comic books or was adapted into a series of comic books. Either way, I’ve read the comic books and really enjoy them, and seeing Chiba playing Duke Togo in a contemporary spy film was a lot of fun.
The Special Features: While I would have hoped for more, there are three audio commentaries included, all featuring authors and historians, and they come on the films Karate WarriorsGolgo 13, and Karate for Life.
The Wrap-Up: As with any collection of films from various years in an actor’s filmography (these are mostly from the 1970s), there are hits and misses, but The Sonny Chiba Collection: Volume 2 is a pretty solid collection of action films from a renowned international superstar. It’s a great collection for fans, both old and new alike.

Ultraseven: 55th Anniversary Anthology

The Movie: Specialty distributor Mill Creek continues their excellent line of Ultraman franchise home video reviews with their first new Ultraman-related title in a while: UltraSeven 55th Anniversary Anthology. This Blu-ray collection, as the title implies, is a six-disc anthology celebrating the 55th anniversary of UltraSeven, one of the most popular Ultraman-related characters. In it, you get no less than 55 episodes of various Ultraman shows featuring UltraSeven. First up, you get two discs of the original UltraSeven series in what I believe is its entirety. Then, the remaining four discs offer up eight to ten episodes each of various Ultraman series such as Ultraman AceUltraman Leo, and Ultraman Taro that feature UltraSeven. You also get a few random episodes form other series, as well as two movies also featuring the character. It’s an insane amount of content for a surprisingly low price. Now, most of these episodes have been released in their respective series sets, but if you don’t have those or only have a few, there are episodes from over a dozen different shows from the past 55 years included here. It’s incredibly comprehensive and impressive.
The Special Features: Sadly, there are no extra features on this release. It does, however, offer up a huge amount of episodes for a low price, so it’s hard to complain too much. Also, unfortunately, this release doesn’t include digital copies — which many of the earlier releases from Mill Creek did — and I’m not sure why. There is, however, a nice 16-page collector’s booklet,
The Wrap-UpUltraman fans have seen Mill Creek’s content slow down over the past couple of years, but this excellent new anthology is a typically high quality release. Ultrafans, make sure to add this to your collections!

Spirited Away: Live on Stage


The Movie: I’ve never been shy about the fact that I am not a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s films or the general Studio Ghibli output. I recognize that they are visually impressive films, but they’re just so weird and out there and they never work for me. So I had no idea what to expect going into Spirited Away: Live on Stage, which sees one of Studio Ghibli’s most popular and acclaimed films adapted into a stage play and filmed live for home video release. In fact, you get two entirely different versions of the stage play on two discs, one with each of the two casts that populate the show. (The decision was made to use two casts since there are so many showtimes, the producers didn’t want to exhaust the cast.) The stage show – which has been running at Tokyo’s historic Imperial Theatre — was directed by no less than John Cairn, who won a Tony for bringing Les Miserables to Broadway, so he knows a thing or two about big stage musicals. And yes, it’s a musical, which adds to the running time, as the play is nearly three hours long. Now, I can’t say I loved the stage plays, as Spirited Away still isn’t a story that I love, although I was very impressed by how well the film was translated into a live performance on stage. However, I suspect that fans of Ghibli and Miyazaki will absolutely love it.
The Special Features: I was a little surprised that there were no extra features on this release, but I guess you can count an entirely different second performance as a bonus feature if you want.
The Wrap-UpSpirited Away: Live on Stage is a complex and well-designed stage show, and the fact that you get two completely different performances with two completely different casts means you get a ton of bang for your buck with this new Blu-ray release. Fans should be thrilled.

Le Mepris [Contempt] (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: A film about filmmaking directed by French legend Jean-Luc Godard and starring influential director Fritz Lang (as a version of himself)… what could go wrong? Well, honestly, not much does, but Le Mepris (also known as Contempt) is still anything but an easy watch. Godard’s 1963 big-budgeted film follows the production of a movie, the people involved, and the deal that involves a screenwriter and his wife being torn apart at the hands of a devious producer. But it clearly has layers within layers, and people much smarter than myself have dissected this film a hundred ways to Sunday. That’s never been my specialty. I watch most films with the end goal being an answer to one simple question: did I enjoy watching that film? And while it’s hard to deny the filmmaking prowess of Godard and the great performances by Jack Palance and Michael Piccoli, and the drop dead sex appeal of screen icon Brigitte Bardot, the film still feels a little more like a homework assignment for a film studies class than I movie I would watch for sheer enjoyment. This week sees the seminal movie making its 4K Ultra HD debut courtesy of Allied Vaughn, and it certainly does look better than a 60-year-old film should.
The 4K Audio/Video: Deliberately shot by Godard along with his director of photography Raoul Coutard, who oversaw the remastering of the film, Le Mepris looks utterly amazing on 4K. Color saturation is deep and rich and shaves 30 years off the film’s age. Image clarity is excellent and fine details are impeccable, and the end result is a beautiful film-like experience. The soundtrack is a 2.0 stereo track (common for films of this era) that nonetheless presents clean and clear dialogue with little to no distortion that comes with age on many older films. It’s about as good as a movie from 1963 could look and sound, in my opinion.
The Special Features: There is just a brief introduction from Colin MacCabe, but you do get a digital copy of the movie.
The Wrap-Up: Jean-Luc Goadard is studied in film schools for a reason, and this is – despite my reservations – one of his best films that I’ve seen. It doesn’t hit the heights of Breathless, but it’s a must-see in the director’s canon, and this is a great way to see it.

A Bullet for Sandoval

The Movie: VCI Entertainment brings us a new Blu-ray for a Spaghetti Western from 1969 starring Ernest Borgnine called A Bullet For Sandoval. It’s an incredibly dark and tough western, as Borgnine plays Sandoval, the patriarch of a young woman in love with a man named John Warner (played here by George Hilton.) When she dies in childbirth, Sandoval exiles Warner and the infant to the wilderness, where the infant does not survive. Warner sets out for revenge on the man who was responsible for the death of his young son. That’s a little heavier than much of the usual cowboys and Indians fare of westerns of the era, and it’s an intense watch at times. It’s also exhilarating at times, as there’s a rawness to the action and the characters that is absent in many of the more polished westerns of the time. As this was a Spanish-Italian co-production, you have audio options that include an English-dubbed soundtrack or the original soundtrack which is predominantly in Spanish.
The Special Features: I was surprised to see any extra features on this release, so I’m happy to report that there is a Spanish-language version of the film, plus New Extended English Dialogue Sequences and the film’s trailer. But the real highlight of the extras is an audio commentary by Alex Cox, best known for directing Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. Very cool!
The Wrap-UpA Bullet for Sandoval isn’t a light, airy film, and it wasn’t what I expected, but Borgnine’s performance is terrific and George Hilton carries the movie well, also. Worth tracking down if you’re into the darker side of the Western genre.

Holiday 3-Film Collection: Christmas in Maple Hills/Christmas in Big Sky Country/Christmas with the Knightlys

The Movie: 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, and if you’re one of those people, then having them on DVD seems like a good idea. Regardless of if you want to watch them in during the upcoming holidays or in the middle of the summer, Mill Creek has a new three-movie collection that will warm your holiday heart. 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 this release. None of the three films feature any well-known actors (usually you get your B-list stars or TV actors who are a little past their prime), but that doesn’t really affect your enjoyment of them at all. They’re all formulaic, but as a result, they all work. In Christmas with the Knightlys, a school teacher finds herself in a fake relationship with a wealthy man right before the holidays. Will it lead to love? In Christmas in Big Sky Country, a woman needs an oil company employee’s help to bring her brother home safely from an oil rig. Will it lead to love? In Christmas in Maple Hills, a woman teams up with a veteran to try and save her family’s land. Will it lead to love? Obviously, we all know the answers to those questions, but who cares? These movies are perfect the way they are!
The Special Features: As is usually the case with these types of releases, there are no extra features included.
The Wrap-Up: These are all what I’d call middle-tier holiday romance movies. They’re not the ones that really stand out and stick in your memory, but they’re not the ones that make you cringe, either. Instead, they’re perfectly enjoyable Christmas romances that viewers who love these kinds of movies will enjoy.

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