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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Game of Clones Bruceploitation Collection, Glory, Chinatown + The Two Jakes, and Welcome Back Kotter


I guess the movie studios are hoping you’re going to the theaters to beat the heat, because they certainly aren’t putting out a lot of home video titles this week. It’s a little bit of a specialty week, meaning every release will appeal to a different section of fans than the next one. But hey, that just means there’s some variety of choices! Check out the full breakdown below.

Glory: 35th Anniversary Collection (4K Ultra HD Steelbook)

The MovieGlory, the Civil War drama that netted Denzel Washington his first Oscar nomination makes its return to 4K Ultra HD this week. (It was previously released on 4K a few years back, and now it has been repackaged in a dazzling Steelbook case.) With an amazing cast and a moving story, Glory is one of those movies that was a big enough hit that you can‘t call it a cult classic, but I feel like its popularity has only grown since its release 30 years ago and has attained something that feels like a cult classic level of popularity. Also starring Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and Cary Elwes, the story focuses on the first group of all-African-American soldiers in U.S. history. Despite facing racism and horrid conditions, the unit was an integral part of the North’s attack on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The film mixes great character development with an amazing climactic battle sequences, all while telling an important story about racism in our country’s history. This new Steelbook edition has been released to celebrate the film’s 35th Anniversary.

The 4K Video/Audio: Glory looks and sounds pretty great in the premium 4K Ultra HD format. It’s a nice upgrade to the audio and visual quality of the film, even if you won’t think the movie looks like a brand new feature film. Deep and vibrant color saturation gives the picture new life, while razor sharp clarity gives the action some real impact. Meanwhile, the surround soundtrack gives your speakers something to do at almost all times, while dialogue remains firmly anchored and never lost in the mix. Again, it’s not a complete reinvention of the movie, but it is the cleanest and clearest presentation of the film I’ve ever seen.

The Special Features: While. The bonus features are carried over from the last release, it’s still a pretty nice complement of extras. There is a video commentary featuring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and director Edward Zwick, as well as an audio commentary with Zwick, a collection of deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a documentary on the true story the film is based on, an interactive map, and more.

The Wrap-UpGlory is a powerful movie that has remained popular with audiences even after 35 years. This new 4K Ultra HD Steelbook edition is a great reminder of why the film is so well-loved and is worth a pick-up if you don’t already own it.

The Game of Clones Bruceploitation Collection – Volume 1

The Movies: Severin Films has really been impressing me lately. They’re quickly becoming one of the more notable boutique home video labels, and I think The Game of Clones Bruceploitation Collection – Volume 1 might just become their signature release. So, first, a little bit of background: in 1973, Bruce Lee died just weeks before Enter the Dragon would make him a superstar. The public was clamoring for more of his movies, and so the international film market decided if they couldn’t have Bruce, they may as well have the next best thing: Bruce Lee imitators. Over the next decade or so, literally hundreds of low-budget action movies were released with names that featured the words “Bruce” or “Dragon” or some play on the names of his movies like Game of Death or Fists of Fury. They featured actors with names like Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Dragon Lee, and other creative nom du guerres. The Game of Clones Bruceploitation Collection – Volume 1 is the first collection of these movies, and it’s an absolutely incredible set. First, it kicks off with Enter the Clones of Bruce, a brand-new documentary all about the Bruceploitation phenomenon. It includes interviews with many of the most famous original imitators and really dives into a number of the most notorious of the knock-off films. Then, the seven-disc set includes 12 Bruceploitation movies, with the Severin webstore exclusive version (available at adding an additional disc with two more films for a total of 14 feature films all together. Those films feature a mix of the various most famous imitators, with a couple features each from Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Dragon Lee, and a handful of other actors. The films included are: The Clones of Bruce Lee (1980), Enter Three Dragons (1978), Enter the Game of Death (1978), Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death (1975), The Dragon Lives Again (1977), Bruce and the Iron Finger (1979), Challenge of the Tiger (1980), Cameroon Connection (1984), Super Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1974), The Dragon Lives (1976), The Dragon, The Hero (1980), and Rage of the Dragon (1980). The bonus disc adds The Big Boss Part II (1976), and The Black Dragon Vs. The Yellow Tiger (1974). Now, obviously, the movies themselves are of various quality; a number of the earlier ones act as sort of biopics of Bruce Lee (with some healthy fictionalizing added), while many of the later ones are more traditional action/adventure movies. A few of them veer into sillier territory, such as The Clones of Bruce Lee, which brings together no less than three of the main imitators to each play a clone of Bruce Lee who team up to beat the bad guys. The box set remastered each film and also includes a copious amount of extra features, making this a treasure trove for fans of B-movie (that’s for Bruce-movie!) goodness.

The Blu-ray Video: I usually reserve A/V breakdowns for 4K Ultra HD titles, but I wanted to give Severin a shout-out for their remastering efforts here. Obviously, these were low-budget films made 40-50 years ago, so there are some issues with some of the prints that can’t be removed, but they’re pretty few and far between. The movies were all remastered from scans of their original negatives, and the result is video quality that is much, much better than it has any right to be. Colors are vibrant, imagery is clear, and specks and dust are at a minimum. Again, there are some occasional blemishes or artifacts that are in the source material, but I was incredibly impressed by how great these movies look.

The Special Features: This box set is loaded with extra features. First of all, every movie includes a Severin’s Kung Fu Theater intro which features Michael Worth, a Bruceploitation expert who worked on the box set, introducing each movie and giving a little context for the individual entries. Then, each movie also includes an audio commentary, almost all of which feature Worth (who’s incredibly knowledgeable and a good listen) and often feature another participant such as Bruceploitation experts, film critics, and even directors and actors from the original films. Additionally, several films include featurettes, interview features, deleted scenes, trailers, location tour features, and more. All told, it’s something like 23 hours of extra features.

The Wrap-Up: If you’re a Bruce Lee fan, chances are good you’ve already seen his four (or five, if you count Game of Death) actual movies countless times. And while none of the imitators or the films they starred in can rival Lee’s output, they are all great martial artists in their own right and many of the films include some pretty outstanding action/fight sequences. This box set is well-designed, well-packaged, thoughtfully put together, and includes both terrific A/V quality and copious extra features. It’s a must have for fans of Bruce Lee and his imitators!

Chinatown + The Two Jakes (4K Ultra HD) 

The Movie: So I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’m not a big fan of Jack Nicholson. He’s just never done it for me as an actor, with the exception of a couple of his earliest films, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining, I feel like he just plays Jack Nicholson over and over again, and his persona does nothing for me at all. That said, there aren’t many Jack Nicholson movies that I actually like. I recognize that I’m in the minority on that opinion, but that’s how I feel. I say all that as preface to the fact that Chinatown, while largely considered a classic of its era and a critical and audience darling, is not a film I have any special affinity for. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, I’d probably like it better if somebody other than Jack Nicholson played the lead role. The film is a hard-boiled mystery set in L.A. in the 1930s, with Nicholson playing a detective who finds himself in over his head while investigating what should have been a simple adultery case. Directed by Roman Polanski, the movie has style to spare and Nicholson is in fine form – for him – and the central mystery is quite good. I know this movie is well-loved, so it’s for those fans that Paramount has released this new 4K Ultra HD version of the film. As a special bonus (and almost completely absent from the outer packaging), this set also includes The Two Jakes, the sequel film directed by Nicholson himself that came out 16 years after the original in 1990. While I at least have some appreciation for ChinatownThe Two Jakes is a lesser film in my opinion. That said, I’m glad that Paramount included it in this set so fans can just have the entire saga in one place. (I should note, however, that only Chinatown is in 4K; The Two Jakes comes on Blu-ray.)

The 4K Video/Audio: 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 50 years old. Or so I’ve always said. The video quality of Chinatown will make you reconsider that idea. This 4K Ultra HD release has given Chinatown a complete makeover. Image clarity is razor sharp, colors pop nicely, and there’s enough film grain to retain the cinematic feel of the film. It’s completely devoid of blemishes or artifacts, and yet never appears artificial or overly processed. The surround soundtrack is a little front-channel heavy, but since the driving force of the film is the dialogue, that makes sense. That said, the ambient surround activity does create a sense of atmosphere that works surprisingly well. It’s an excellent presentation overall.

The Special Features: There are a few new extra features and a bunch of returning extras. The new ones include an audio commentary with screenwriter Robert Towne with director (but not of Chinatown) David Fincher, as well as a retrospective featurette with author Sam Wasson and a feature on The Trilogy That Never Was. The other extras include five additional featurettes that focus on the filmmaking and reception to the film.

The Wrap-UpChinatown and The Two Jakes may not be favorites for me personally, but I know a lot of people like this franchise and like Jack Nicholsn. Paramount has crafted a great release here with both films collected in one set in (and one of them in 4K Ultra HD) for the first time. A great pick-up for fans!

Welcome Back Kotter: The Complete Series

The Show: Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back! If you sang that song in your head when you read those words, then you’re probably someone who grew up watching Welcome Back, Kotter, either when it originally aired or in reruns. In this case, we’re welcoming the show back to DVD! Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series gets a new box set treatment replacing the previously released one (from another studio) in a much slimmer and sleeker case. To many, Welcome Back, Kotter may mean nothing more than the springboard for John Travolta’s career in the same way that 21 Jump Street launched Jonny Depp’s career. Yet, while Travolta is clearly the breakout star of the show — especially judging by audience reaction to his on-screen entrances — Gabe Kaplan steals every scene he is in with his expert comic timing, impressions, or even when he “gets serious.” Watching the show now, even though the fashions and haircuts are incredibly dated, I was struck by how well it still works due to sharp writing, a terrific ensemble, and great individual performances. This new version of the box set includes all four seasons – 95 episodes in total – on 12 discs.

The Special Features: Sadly there are no extras on this release.

The Wrap-Up: Fans of the 70’s, high school sitcoms, or just good television in general should all either revisit or discover this excellent show.

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