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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Holdovers, Avatar, The Sandman, The Man In The Iron Mask, Last Man Standing and more

Avatar: The Way of Water

We’re back into the swing of things with a pretty normal week that mixes some newer titles, some catalogue titles, and a couple of unique titles as well. Check out the full slate of releases below!

The Holdovers

The Movie: I generally try and go into every movie with an open mind, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my expectations for The Holdovers were pretty low. I can be very hit or miss with director Alexander Payne’s films, often leaning towards the “miss.” (For example, I can’t stand Election, a movie many critics love), I tend to be very lukewarm towards most of his movies (DownsizingNebraska, etc.) But The Holdovers took me by surprise. Sort of a riff on Dead Poets Society, the film sees three people stuck at a boarding school over the holidays while everyone else is on vacation: a stuffy, intellectual professor, a troublesome teenager, and a grieving mother who is the school’s cook. Together, they have to learn to get along, and maybe learn a little about themselves and each other along the way. Paul Giamatti takes on the lead role, and it’s his finest performance in years. Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph round out the trio, and the three actors gel into a sharp ensemble. The film isn’t quite a comedy, but it’s also not a heavy drama, with a light touch throughout. Sure, there are some serious moments, but overall the film is pretty fun, and I found that I enjoyed it quite a bit.
The Special Features: There are two making-of featurettes, a collection of deleted scenes, and a short alternate ending.

The Wrap-Up: I’ve seen The Holdovers showing up on a LOT of people’s Top 10 Films of 2023 lists, and I’ll be honest, there’s a good chance it’s going to end up on mine too. Definitely check it out!

Avatar & Avatar: The Way of Water: Collectors Editions

The Movies:  James Cameron’s home video releases never come without a little bit of drama. For several years, some of Cameron’s most well-loved movies were not available on Blu-ray, let alone 4K Ultra HD. The Avatar sequel in 2022, however, required a 4K and Blu-ray release, and that seems to have opened the floodgates, with new editions of some of those previously unavailable films (I’m looking at you, The Abyss and True Lies) slated to hit 4K/Blu-ray later this year. Not surprisingly, when Disney is the financing behind your movies, you know it’s not going to be long before they capitalize on home video. So this week we are treated to both the original Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water as brand new four-disc 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Editions (both of which also include a Blu-ray disc plus a digital copy.) Avatar was, of course, the highest-grossing movie of all time for several years, so I don’t think I have to say too much about that. But personally, I feel like Avatar: The Way of Water has been kind of… ignored. I know that sounds silly when the film made almost $700 million domestically and topped $2 billion worldwide, but it seems like a lot of people and critics sort of defaulted to summing the film as, “Great visuals, too long, the story was so-so,” and left it at that. Well, I’m here to present a different point of view — I am obsessed with Avatar: The Way of Water. Like, seriously, I love, love, love, love, LOVE it. I don’t think the film got nearly enough attention for just how amazing it is. Literally every single scene in this movie contains something you’ve never seen onscreen before, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. And maybe it’s because I’m a parent and this story focuses heavily on family, but I didn’t find the story lacking at all. I found it engaging and moving and exciting, and I was completely sucked into the film for its entire three-hour-plus running time.
The 4K Audio/Video: Not surprisingly, two of the most visually dazzling film in decades – created by a filmmaker who invents new technologies to make his movies – look and sound utterly incredible in 4K Ultra HD. It’s like you have been transported to Pandora watching the films, with colors that are incredibly vibrant that add to the depth of the images. Image clarity is razor sharp and black levels are deep and inky, and watching them in 4K is like being in the theaters all over again. The surround soundtracks take advantage of every speaker in your array, creating an immersive, in-depth aural experience that puts you in the forest or underwater in a way that you have to hear to believe. A top-notch effort for both films.
The Special Features: These discs are loaded. On Avatar, you get over TEN hours of making-of materials, some of which is new for this release, which includes multiple making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, and three retrospective documentaries, among other things. It also includes (for the first time on 4K UHD) all three cuts of the film, the Theatrical Version, the Special Edition, and the Collector’s Extended Cut. Avatar: The Way of Water gives you a huge number of featurettes as well, totaling over eight hours of material, which includes a dozen never-before-seeen deleted scenes. Both films also come in gorgeous packaging that feature foil-enhanced fold-out sleeves.
The Wrap-Up: At this point, with how great both of these films are, I am ALL IN on the world of Avatar; it’s my new Star Wars, my new Lord of the Rings. Give me ALL the Avatar, James Cameron! All of it! I’m here for it, and at this point I cannot wait for the next films in the franchise to come out. If you haven’t seen the films yet or just want to revisit the world of Pandora because it is so freaking amazing, you don’t have to wait any longer.

The Sandman: The Complete First Season

The Movie: I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic books since the 1990s, reading the series as it came out issue-by-issue, and then of course revisiting and rereading it over the years. And while it had been rumored many times as a potential movie or TV series over the years, it always seemed like a… well, like a dream. And then Netflix put it into production and it was like, “Okay, but, like, how good can it possibly be?” This is, after all, a series about the embodiment of mankind’s ability to dream. And the answer is that it’s spectacularly good. I was blown away by how much I love The Sandman. Not only is it an incredible accurate adaptation of the source material – which I figured would be nearly impossible to achieve – but it’s also simply compelling television. I honestly believe you can watch The Sandman without ever having picked up a single comic book and follow it perfectly. It’s dark and moody and visually exciting, but it also has a sense of humor and a real heart. In short, I found it nearly perfect.
The Special Features: There are two featurettes included here; one focuses on the making of the show, and the other focuses on Dream and his siblings, The Endless.

The Wrap-Up: I can’t recommend The Sandman highly enough. Whether you like comic books or not, don’t sleep on this amazing show. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) It’s utterly fantastic and I can’t wait for Season Two.

The Man in the Iron Mask (4K)

The Movie: This Alexandre Dumas adaptation came out not long after Titanic, and that early post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio backlash was already starting (although not among young women, mostly just among guys who were probably jealous of his instant worldwide heartthrob status.) However, The Man in the Iron Mask was still a solid success at the box office, and the reason is that it’s a really, really good film. And with John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, and Jeremy Irons alongside DiCaprio, that’s no real surprise. The film tells the story of the cruel King Louis XIV of France, who keeps a secret twin locked away. A faction of soldiers has a plan to swap the twin out for the evil king in order to restore peace and prosperity to France, but doing so will mean kidnapping the King. What results is part adventure movie/part drama/part thriller, and it really is a better film than I think a lot of people give it credit for being.
The 4K Audio/VideoThe Man in the Iron Mask looks and sounds terrific in 4K. Colors saturation is deep and rich, and you also get impeccably sharp imagery, and deep, rich black levels. The print, of course, is devoid of any blemishes or debris. The surround soundtrack has a lot to work with and it doesn’t waste any opportunities to fill your living room with constant surround activity. There’s also a nice low end bass channel that gives many of the scenes an effective rumble that you’ll feel in your chest. It’s a terrific technical effort.
The Special Features: All of the extra features here are archival, but that doesn’t take away from what a solid collection of bonus materials you get. There’s an audio commentary with writer/director Randall Wallace, two interview featurettes, and three making-of featurettes.
The Wrap-UpThe Man in the Iron Mask isn’t really a film that comes up when discussing Leonard DiCaprio’s illustrious career or acting achievements, but as a movie, it’s an extremely enjoyable romp. With this new 4K Ultra HD release, you’ll enjoy revisiting it, or if you’ve never seen it, now is the perfect time to discover a terrific adventure film.

Last Man Standing 

The Movie: Writer/director Walter Hill has made some absolute cult classics (The WarriorsStreets of FireSouthern Comfort), some outstanding action movies (48 HoursRed HeatBullet to the Head), and a few clunkers (The AssignmentSupernova) in his career. And then he’s also made a few films that fall outside of those categories, and Last Man Standing is one of them. Making its Blu-ray debut this week, Last Man Standing is a 1996 actioner that sees Bruce Willis (still in his post-Die Hard trilogy glow) as a drifting gunman in the Prohibition Era, who finds himself caught up in a mob war in a dying town. I remember being really excited for the movie when it came out and feeling let down by it, but revisiting it on Blu-ray some 25+ years later, I can see that it’s actually a pretty solid action movie. It doesn’t hit the heights of Hill’s best work (or the early Die Hard movies), but it’s certainly a very watchable flick with Willis in fine form and a solid supporting cast that includes Christopher Walken and Bruce Dern.
The Special Features: Sadly, you only get the film’s trailer.

The Wrap-UpLast Man Standing is one of those movies that got a home video release shortly before Blu-ray hit the scene and just never got revisited in the high-def format, but now it’s finally available on Blu-ray for the Walter Hill or Bruce Willis fans out there.

The Long Arm of the Law: Parts I & II

The Movie: I’m a pretty big fan of Asian action movies, especially the ones set in modern times (as so many of them can be period pieces, which generally isn’t my thing.) So anytime a studio releases new home video versions of older Asian action films, I get excited, because chances are pretty good I haven’t seen them and this is a chance to expand my repertoire. The Long Arm of the Law: Parts I & II is a new Blu-ray release from 88 Films, who specializes in bringing the best of Asian cinema to home western home video. This new two-disc set includes the first two films in the four-part Long Arm of the Law series, but that’s only half of the story. In a lot of cases in Asian cinema, these films that share a series name aren’t related at all, and that’s the case here. Each of the movies in the series is pretty much an individual action movie with no real connective tissue to the others. Long Arm of the Law follows a trio of bank robbers on the run for killing a cop and planning a heist while being hunted by a driven police officer. Long Arm of the Law Part II follows three undercover police officers trying to take down a violent crime wave. Both films are pretty good action flicks, although Part I is easily the more gritty and realistic of the two.

The Special Features: Part I features both the Hong Kong Cut and an International Cut of the film, plus an audio commentary on the Hong Kong Cut. You also get four interview featurettes and the film’s trailer. For Part II you get an audio commentary, four interview featurettes, and two trailers.

The Wrap-Up: For ‘80s films, I was pretty impressed with both of these movies. They’re realistic and yet stylized, and the action sequences avoid a lot of the cheesiness that was prevalent at the time. This is a great new Blu-ray collection for fans of Asian action cinema.

The Inspector Wears Skirts

The Movie: Also from 88 Films, we have another new Asian action Blu-ray release this week, although one with a very different tone than the ones listed above. The Inspector Wears Skirts is an action/comedy from 1988 that sees the Hong Kong police create an all-female squad of officers. Of course, they clash with an elite male squad as both genders try to prove their dominance. The film features a lot of the trademark slapstick comedy that’s so prevalent in Chinese action films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, while also showcasing some really strong stunts and fight scenes. Is it a masterpiece? No. But is it a fun action romp that will keep you entertained throughout? Absolutely.
The Special Features: There are two interview featurettes, two trailers, a stills gallery, reversible sleeve artwork, and a booklet with liner notes (always a welcome addition!)

The Wrap-Up: Originally released as Top SquadThe Inspector Wears Skirts is another film that eventually would become part of a four-movie franchise, even though the movies themselves weren’t really related. Still, it’s a great throwback action flick with a nice dose of comedy that I enjoyed quite a bit.

The Ghost Station

The Movie: Korean horror films have carved out a nice niche in the horror genre, and there are people out there who are devout fans. I can’t say I’m one of them, but I can appreciate any good horror film when done right. The Ghost Station starts off with a huge scary moment, and then it sadly devolves into a pretty cliched horror offering. The film follows a journalist who hears about a train station that’s causing people to commit suicide in it, and of course that leads to some supernatural dealings. It’s a solid premise for a film, but the problem is the execution. Sadly, the filmmakers rely on a jump-scare formula, so we get a bunch of people talking and then… BAM! Something loud and scary happens, and then we settle in for more people talking until we get another jump scare. The ending is also a bit of a letdown.
The Special Features: Unfortunately there are no extra features on the disc.

The Wrap-UpThe Ghost Station isn’t a bad movie per se, it just reeks of “been there, done that.” However, if you’re a die-hard fan of this style of horror movie, you’ll probably find this one enjoyable.

Battle Kaiju: Ultraman Vs. Alien Baltan

The Movie: Mill Creek has been devotedly putting out Ultraman releases for the past few years, tackling many of the franchise’s most popular series and films in complete sets. Now, they’re dipping into a “greatest hits” style package with the Kaiju Battles series, of which this is Vol. 2: Ultraman Vs. Alien Baltan. The Baltans are alien ninjas with huge crab-like claws who went up against the various Ultramans in a number of different series. This new two-disc collection collects 11 Alien Baltan-featuring episodes from the various Ultraman series, plus two movies: Ultraman X: The Movie and Ultraman Cosmos: The First Contact. If you have all the other Ultraman releases Mill Creek has released, you probably don’t need this set, but seeing as how there’s a couple dozen of those releases, if the Alien Baltan are a favorite of yours, this is still a cool way to get all of their appearances in one convenient space
The Special Features: The Blu-ray release includes a slipcover with gorgeous artwork from Marvel Comics’ Ultraman comic book by superstar comic book artist Art Adams, and it also includes a 12-page episode guide booklet inside, which I love. There are no other extra features, however.

The Wrap-Up: All in all, if you’re an Ultraman or Alien Baltan fan and you aren’t the completist who already owns every single home video collection, then this one is a no-brainer.

Billy Idol: State Line – Live at the Hoover Dam

The Movie: For the first ever concert at the Hoover Dam, the obvious first choice of musician would be… Billy Idol?? Well, sure, why not. This new concert release (on Blu-ray or DVD) sees the punk rock icon kick off his 2023 concert tour in front of the Hoover Dam and the suspension bridge nearby, making for an incredible backdrop for the show. It was a special set with only 250 people in the crowd, and Idol played 16 songs, with all of his hits represented. So you can look forward to Cradle of Love, Mony Mony, Rebel Yell, Dancing with Myself, Eyes Without a Face, and White Wedding, alongside almost a dozen other tracks. The supporting band features longtime Idol guitarist Steve Stevens (who is amazing) and No Doubt bass player Tony Kanal, and it’s a pretty rocking set for a guy who isn’t exactly young anymore. As a bonus, the film features some incredible cinematography that captures the band but also lots of shots of the dam and the bridge lit up that really makes it a visual feast as well as an aural one.
The Special Features: You get a three-song acoustic set with Idol and Stevens at the very foot of the Hoover Dam, as well as an audio Q&A with Stevens.

The Wrap-Up: I’m definitely more of a “greatest hits” Billy Idol fan, but I really enjoyed Billy Idol: State Line – Live at the Hoover Dam. If you’re a fan, you should definitely track this unique concert video down.

Daddy Daughter Trip

The Movie: So, the good news is that Rob Schneider is still making movies. The bad news is… that Rob Schneider is still making movies. Once a Saturday Night Live stalwart and a regular guest star in Adam Sandler movies, Schneider enjoyed his own brief run of hit movies with comedy outings like Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo and The Animal. Out of the limelight for several years, Schneider returns with a new family comedy that is also a family affair; he directed and produced it (as well as starring in it), while his wife Patricia Schneider co-wrote it. His daughter Miranda Scarlett Schenider plays his daughter in the film, and it even features a cameo by his other daughter, popular musician Elle King. The film sees Schneider as a man trying to provide the dream vacation to his young daughter when he’s flat broke, using creative ways to make events seem special or exciting. When they meet up with a pair of travel bloggers, their fortunes might just start to change. The good news is that the movie has a sweet center; Schneider’s character really does love his daughter and wants to give her her dream vacation. The bad news is that the film just isn’t funny and it never really gets where it needs to go. And, man, Schneider looks rough these days; he’s honestly kind of hard to watch at times.
The Special Features: I was surprised to see a decent amount of extra here. You get a collection of deleted scenes, a set of bloopers, a music video and a trailer. It’s not a ton of material, but oftentimes movies like this come with nothing at all, so I’ll take it.

The Wrap-UpDaddy Daughter Trip was shot in Arizona and played exclusively in an Arizona movie theater chain before getting this home video release, but effectively it’s a direct-to-video movie and it feels like it. I wish I could say it was better.

Divine Influencer

The Movie: Pureflix is a streaming service that offers up faith-based movies on demand, a Netflix for the religious set, if you will. This week, we get a home video release of one of their exclusive movies, a drama called Divine Influencer. The film sees Lara Silva play Olivia, a spoiled rich online influencer who all at once loses her online status and her family’s wealth. She ends up working at a homeless shelter and – surprise surprise – she begins to learn lessons about her life, her faith, and her purpose in the world. As far as faith-based movies go – which I am definitely not the target audience for – this one isn’t bad. Silva is a very good in the lead role, and Jesse Metcalfe and Ryan Burkey offer up a few familiar faces in the cast as well. The target audience should find this one quite enjoyable.
The Special Features: There are no extra features on this release.

The Wrap-Up: If you’re looking for a faith-based drama that actually incorporates some modern trappings into it (the idea of a social media influencer being the main character is a step forward for these kinds of movies, in my opinion), then you should find a lot to like with Divine Influencer. It’s not a great movie, but it’s pretty solid for what it is.

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