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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Varsity Blues, The Flying Swordsman and The Blue Jean Monster

Varsity Blues

Well, it’s an almost non-existent week this week, with only three titles for review in my mailbox. This is relatively normal for this time of year, as the post-holiday sales boom has trickled to a stop. But we’ve got one well-loved US film and two Asian action movies out today, so here’s the full release slate:

Varsity Blues: 20th Anniversary Edition (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: Based on a popular nonfiction book and eventually leading to a critically acclaimed TV series, the movie version of Varsity Blues sometimes gets a little forgotten by the general public. Which is why I’m glad to see this new 20th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD release of the film from Paramount. The movie was a medium-sized hit at the box office, especially for a lower-budgeted film, and it holds up really well even after all this time. The fim takes a look at the lives and trials & tribulations of high school football players in Odessa, Texas, where the economy isn’t great but high school football is a religion. The movie stars James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Britton (who would go on to star in the TV show) and a slew of familiar-ish young faces, and it shows the pressures these kids go through as well as the weight of expectations from parents and the town population, all while mixing in some gritty football action, some high school romance, and some humor. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a highly enjoyable, fast-paced yet dramatic movie that hits above its weight class. It’s also got a killer soundtrack of ‘90s and early-2000s rock songs that will keep your foot tapping throughout.

The 4K Audio/Video: 4K Ultra HD releases of older movie can often be a bit of a mixed bag. The format offers up improvements over Blu-ray, obviously, but it’s not like you can magically transform the source elements from a movie that’s now 20 years old. However, this new 4K Ultra HD release has given Varsity Blues a fresh new sheen. Image clarity is razor sharp, colors pop nicely, and there’s enough film grain to retain the cinematic feel of the film. The Dolby Atmos surround soundtrack is a little front-channel heavy, but since the driving force of the film is the dialogue and the music, which makes sense. That said, the football action comes to life with bone-crunching low end and some solid surround activity. It’s a very nice presentation overall.

The Special Features: You get an audio commentary with director Brian Robbins and two producers, a making-of documentary, and three shorter featurettes.

The Wrap-Up: Varsity Blues is an enjoyable movie that hits a lot of different beats and holds up really well after two decades. If you haven’t revisited the film in a while – or if you’ve never seen it – it’s definitely worth tracking down, and this new 4K release is a great way to do so.

The Flying Swordsman

The Movie: While I generally prefer my Asian action films to be set in more modern times, sometimes a period action film comes along that grabs my attention. Such is the case with The Flying Swordsman a wuxia-style martial arts mayhem extravaganza. The film sees a group of assassins kill two honorable warriors while trying to steal a treasure, but the map to said treasure gets lost and prevents their success. Years later, the map turns up and the original assassins set out to recover the treasure, but a mysterious “flying” swordsman stands in their way. The film takes place largely in a snowy mountain setting, which gives it a distinctly different feel from many of the period films that are largely in colonial towns or monasteries or the like. The action in the film is spectacular; as much as the “flying” (i.e., wirework) aspect of wuxia films sometimes taxes my willing suspension of disbelief, this film offers up some terrific action choreography and swordplay, and it was constant enough to keep me engaged from start to finish.

The Special Features: There are no special features on this disc.

The Wrap-Up: My biggest complaint about this release is that Well Go USA – who releases 95% of their movies on Blu-ray – only gave this one a DVD release. Its an action-packed film with great visuals and watching it in standard definition really takes away from the experience for an a/v-phile like me. Still, The Flying Swordsman is a high-octane watch that’s worth checking out.

The Blue Jean Monster

The Movie: Also out in the Asian action genre this week is The Blue Jean Monster, an oddball 1991 Hong Kong movie getting a new Blu-ray release from 88 Films, who specializes in cult classic and popular Asian cinema releases on Blu-ray. This movie sees a policeman who gets killed while trying to stop a bank robbery… until a black cat jumps on his body and he gets struck by lightning, which reanimates him and gives him electric powers. He also needs electricity regularly to keep himself running, so he goes after the bank robbers as a sort of hybrid policeman-slash-energy-vampire. The film blends action with science-fiction and also black comedy; it’s got that weird sort of mix of over-the-top humor in the middle of a dark sci-fi actioner film that Chinese filmmakers seemed to really latch onto back in the ‘80s and ‘90s (and still continues to this day, only not quite as much so.) I found the film to be a bit mixed, honestly; there were parts that I enjoyed and parts that just seemed cheesy. It never quite seems to make up its mind what it wants to be, and while I can appreciate a genre mash-up, in this case it feels more like a lack of identity than anything else.

The Special Features: There’s an interview featurette with the film’s assistant director and a stills gallery.

The Wrap-Up: The Blue Jean Monster didn’t quite do it for me, but it’s not like it’s a bad movie. I can see where a lot of people will find it an offbeat and unusual offering and really adopt it as a cult favorite. This new Blu-ray release from 88 Films offers up a terrific version of it on home video for fans.

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