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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: American Fiction, Monkey Man, Manifest, Purple Rain, Matinee, Team America World Police and more

Jeffrey Wright stars as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison in writer/director Cord Jefferson’s
An Orion Pictures Release
Photo credit: Claire Folger
© 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The studios are gearing up for the July 4th holiday in the US by giving us a big group of titles this week. Next week, there won’t be a column as it’s both a small week due to said holiday and the fact that I’ll be on vacation. So dig in to this widely varied release week!

American Fiction

The Movie: While American Fiction only nabbed an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, it easily could have taken Best Actor (for Jeffrey Wright, who’s magnificent), Best Supporting Actor (for Sterling K. Shepard, playing a character type we’ve never seen him do before), and even Best Picture. It’s that good. The film falls squarely into dramedy territory, but it gets mashed up with a socially conscious satire, as it dissects how black culture is absorbed by the public at large, especially white people. But it’s also a family drama with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. The story follows Thelonious “Monk” Edison, a professor and novelist whose latest book is being rejected for not being “black” enough. When he writes a highly cliched “black experience” novel under a pseudonym in a fit of pique as a joke, he’s stunned when it becomes a media sensation. The film is incredibly sharply written, with outstanding dialogue and sharp commentary that is funny while also critical of societal tropes. Jeffrey Wright carries the film as he’s in almost every single scene, and he does so in masterful fashion. American Fiction is quite funny, but it also has real heart and depth to it. If I have one criticism of the film, it’s that I didn’t love the ending. I understand what the filmmakers are trying to say with it but I didn’t care for the way it was crafted. That said, it wasn’t enough to take away from a magnificent motion picture experience.

The Special Features: Aside from a digital code of the film, the disc surprisingly has no extra features. What a bummer.

The Wrap-UpAmerican Fiction is one of those movies that you might have to be in the mood to watch, or at least you might think so when considering whether to watch it or not. But much like the spiritually similar The Holdovers, it will have you engaged and interested from the very first scene. I highly recommend you check it out as soon as possible; you won’t be disappointed.

Monkey Man  

The Movie: Dev Patel was apparently tired of not getting offered action movie roles, so he created one for himself. He co-writes, stars in, directs, and co-produces Monkey Man, a new action film that wears its John Wick influences on its sleeves (and even references that movie franchise at one point.) The story sees Patel play a young man who is eking out a living fighting in the underground fight circuit in India, but with a purpose. He’s trying to develop his fighting skills enough to take revenge on the men who burned down his village and killed his mother. When he discovers a way into their high society world, he makes his way in undercover and then unleashes havoc on the people involved, almost getting himself killed in the process. What will he need to defeat the bad guys? Why, a spiritual journey, of course! I liked Monkey Man, but I didn’t love it. I hope the filmmakers got a discount on fake blood, because this movie has more blood in it than any movie I’ve seen since the Evil Dead remake in 2013. And that’s part of why I liked it rather than loving it: the action scenes are visceral and impressive, but they are also brutally violent. Like, uncomfortably brutal at times, which sometimes turns me off. Patel does a good job on both sides of the camera, but the film is dark and tough at times, and it gets to be a bit much at a little over two hours.

The 4K Video/Audio: Monkey Man is available on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD. It looks and sounds very good in the premium format, despite being a darkly-lit film. The color saturation is quite vibrant, image clarity is sharp, and shadow delineation is very strong, helpful in a film that features numerous nighttime scenes and dark moments. The surround soundtrack isn’t the most immersive ever, but it does a great job of bringing the crowded din of India into your living room and making sure the powerful bass channel makes every punch, kick, and uppercut rumble through your bones.

The Special Features: There’s an alternate opening and ending along with a half dozen deleted scenes that run about 20 minutes. There are also four making of featurettes that combine to run just under a half an hour. Finally there’s a commentary track with Dev Patel and several producers.

The Wrap-Up: Despite my reservations, if you’re an action movie fan, you’re definitely going to want to check out Monkey Man. It’s got a ton of action scenes that style themselves after the John Wick franchise, and even if Patel’s character might survive a few things that a normal human couldn’t, you just go with it. I wish they had actually toned things down just a little bit for my tastes, but most people will enjoy it quite a bit.

Manifest: The Complete Series

The Show: One of the few TV shows in the past decade that generated some real buzz, Manifest was never quite a ratings juggernaut, but it did garner enough of an audience for Netflix to pick it up and finish the series after it was canceled at network television. And you could tell when a new season dropped on Netflix because suddenly everyone was talking about Manifest again. The story follows a passenger jet that disappears mid-flight and then reappears five years later – but nobody on board has aged a day. That’s the hook, and to say more would spoil the surprises to come, of which there are many. While the show was on the air, I occasionally had issues with the fact that sometimes it felt like they were trying to fill episodes with enough events to make it through a whole season. But looking back at the series as a whole now that it’s over (and collected into a complete season DVD set this week), it plays out pretty well over the course of five seasons. With a great cast that includes Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas, Matt Long, and more, the show was always well-acted and well-written, so that even if not every episode was a slam dunk, season-by-season the show was very exciting.

The Special Features: Sadly, there are no extra features on this box set, which is disappointing.

The Wrap-UpManifest: The Complete Series is a 14-disc set that includes all 62 episodes from all four seasons. And while I wish the set had also been released on Blu-ray instead of just DVD, it’s still a great way to revisit a fun and intriguing series.

Team America World Police and South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (4K Ultra HD)

The Movies: Out this week from Paramount, we have two different theatrical releases hitting 4K from the team of Matt Parker and Trey Stone, the guys who created South Park. One is South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the 1999 movie that brought the kids of South Park to the big screen for the firts (and so far, only) time. Also out is the 2004 puppet-animated comedy Team America: World Police, which – while never as popular as South Park – has become something of a cult classic. Now, I’ve never been a big South Park fan, but I’ve seen the movie and even I have to admit it has some funny parts. For actual fans of the show I imagine this uncensored free-for-all is probably comedy heaven. Team America: World Police, on the other hand, I have an appreciation for. While I wouldn’t say I’m a BIG fan of the film, I find its ridiculousness quite amusing. An action film about a counter-terrorism unit that was made with marionette-stye puppets (think the old Thunderbirds TV series), the film is stupid and ridiculous… but also funny stupid and funny ridiculous. Some of the jokes land really well, some take things too far (just like in South Park), but it also gave us the quote, “MATT DAMON!” (if you know, you know), so it’s worth revisiting. Both films are making their 4K Ultra HD debut this week courtesy of Paramount, so if you’ve never had them in your collection before, now is the perfect time to add them.

The 4K Video/Audio: These 4K release are new editions of films that are over 20 years old, and to make it more interesting, they are animated and puppet-motion movies.  Now, obviously, South Park isn’t known for high fidelity graphics, but the 4K Ultra HD upgrade really shines in terms of color and clarity. The surround soundtrack doe sa good job with creating a suprisingly active soundfield, so even if the imagery is 2-D, the sound isn’t. Team America looks and sounds similar, with more vibrant colors than before and also quite clean and crisp imagery, and a solid audio track (with a nice low end) that brings the puppet action to life around you. Neither film is going to be what you show your 4K system off with, but they both look and sound rather good in the format.

The Special Features: Both films come with extra features, although Team America outweighs South Park in terms of the amount of content. South Park includes a sing-along version of the film, a music video, a commentary with Parker and Stone, and trailers. Team America, meanwhile, comes with an uncut version of the film, plus seven making-of featurettes, puppet test footage, dressing room test footage, deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, animated storyboards, and more.

The Wrap-UpSouth Park and Team America both appeal to a very distinct type of comedy fan, and if you fall into that category, then you will probably be very excited to see both films appear in 4K Ultra HD (and both include digital copies, which most previous home video editions wouldn’t have had). MATT DAMON!!

Purple Rain (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: While prince never made the transition from musician to full-on movie star, his 1984 musical Purple Rain remains a well-loved movie with both die-hard and casual Prince fans alike. This week, Warner Brothers has released the film on 4K Ultra HD, which really brings this wildly colorful film to life with new depth. The story sees Prince play The Kid (a loosely fictionalized version of himself) a rising music star who ends up dealing with a new romance, a rival musician, and tensions within his own band all while he starts to become famous. The movie isn’t cinematic genius, but it doesn’t need to be, either. It’s slick, sexy, and stylish, filled with loud ‘80s music (including may Prince originals), colorful styles, big hair, and excess all over. In short, it captures the ‘80s perfectly! Now out on 4K Ultra HD, the film looks and sounds better than ever, as detailed below.

The 4K Video/Audio: Purple Rain looks and sounds pretty great on 4K Ultra HD, especially considering that the movie is 40 years old. The transfer is clean and clear with impeccably sharp imagery and color saturation that gives the movie a really nice pop. The surround soundtrack really brings the music to life, giving it a real emphasis in the mix without ever overpowering everything else going on. It’s a great presentation of a fun film.

The Special Features: There’s an audio commentary with the film’s director, producer, and director of photography, plus a making-of featurette and eight Prince music videos.

The Wrap-Up: I’ll be honest, I never saw Purple Rain back in the day. As someone who was never a big fan of Prince, it just stayed off my radar for many years. Now, however, I’ve come to appreciate the film as a musical snapshot of a decade unlike any others, and a great chance to see how talented Prince really was.

Dexter’s Laboratory: The Complete Series

The Show: I feel like a lot of Cartoon Network shows develop a cult following outside of their original broadcast window, and while I’m sure Dexter’s Laboratory has its dedicated fans, I feel like it’s sort of faded from the public consciousness a bit. The first major success of Genndy Tartakovsky’s career (he who would go on to create Samurai JackPrimal, and Star Wars: Clone Wars), Dexter’s Laboratory is a comedy show about a young boy named Dexter who is a boy genius, always involved in one science experiment or another, and his annoying sister who more often than not derails his projects. It was more of a kids’ cartoon than many other of Tartakovsky’s other works, and therefore much less serialized than you might be used to from him, but it was also wickedly funny. And to be fair, the storyline did grow and develop as the show went on, making Dexter’s world expand with each consecutive season. I always loved Dexter’s Laboratory, so I was super excited to see it arrive on DVD this week in a Complete Series collection that collects all 78 episodes that aired on Cartoon Network between 1996 and 2003. Almost none of the series has been available on home video before, so getting the whole show in one affordably-priced set is a real treat.

The Special Features: Sadly, there are no extra features in this box set.

The Wrap-Up: I hope that this set reminds people of how much fun Dexter’s Laboratory was. Genndy Tartakovsky has gone on to become a super-creator in the animation world, but he’ll always be associated with Dexter’s Laboratory in my mind. This set is a great way to revisit a terrific show!

Matinee (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: I always have a soft spot for Matinee, even though it was never a hit movie. A good chunk of the film was shot in my hometown and several of my friends were extras in the movie, so I have an affinity for it from that perspective. That said, though, I’ve always really loved this movie on its own merits, and I was excited to revisit it thanks to the excellent new 4K Ultra HD release from Shout Selects, Shout Factory’s label that releases cult and classic (and cult classic) films that they’ve curated for discerning viewers. Matinee tells the story of the residents of a small Florida town that has a big B-movie premiere coming to town at the same time as some cold war fears are starting to escalate, and we see it all through the eyes of a teenage boy and his friends. The movie manages to deftly blend a coming-of-age story with an exploration of 1950s nuclear war fears and then mix in a brilliant B-movie parody/homage (Mant!), and the result is a sweet, funny, and charming film. Also, a great cast that includes John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Kellie Martin, Robert Picardo, and Dick Miller, there’s no shortage of characters in terms of actors or on-screen characters!

The 4K Video/Audio: 4K Ultra HD releases of older movie can often be a bit of a mixed bag, but this new 4K Ultra HD release has given Matinee a fresh new look. The movie has been restored and remastered under the direction of director Joe Dante, and the end result is a very nice one. Image clarity is clean and sharp, colors are warm and natural yet still pop nicely, and there’s enough grain to retain the cinematic feel of the film. The surround soundtrack is a little front-channel heavy, but since the driving force of the film is the dialogue and the music, that makes sense. It’s not a barnstormer, but it is a very nice presentation overall.

The Special Features: There are some nice extra features here, including an audio commentary with a pair of movie critics, a new interview with Kellie Martin (which I was thrilled to see!), a new interview with actor David Clennon, archival interviews with the filmmakers, deleted & extended scenes, an archival making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes footage, still galleries, and more.

The Wrap-UpMatinee didn’t really go anywhere at the box office, but it clearly has its fans because it keeps getting released on home video every time a new format comes out. I’m one of those fans and I’ll revisit it whenever I get the chance, so whether you’re a longtime fan like me or somebody who’s never seen it before, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s not an action spectacle or anything like that, but it’s a really fun movie with a lot of heart.

The First Slam Dunk

The Movie: Anime tackles a wide variety of subjects, but for decades its largely been sci-fi and fantasy topics. Over the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen a lot more anime movies take on slice-of-life stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime film about basketball before. Until now, that is, with The First Slam Dunk, out on Blu-ray this week from G-Kids. In some ways, it’s a pretty typical sports story, focusing on high schooler Miyagi Ryota, who’s trying to lead his underdog high school basketball team to victory and glory. But with the specter of his sadly deceased older brother hanging over him, Ryota also has to deal with questions about deeper topics, like what the purpose of life is. Not something you often see in a traditional basketball movie. (Admittedly, the sports/victory angle takes a front seat while the deeper questions are more of an underlying theme.) Still, The First Slam Dunk surprised me for being both an exciting sports film and a character-driven drama that works as well as many live-action movies in the genre.

The Special Features: A lot of US anime releases seem to come bare bones these days, but not this one. There is an interview with the film’s director, a featurette on the English dubbing, commentary with the dubbing team, and trailers.

The Wrap-Up: I don’t think I mentioned above just how remarkable the basketball sequences are in The First Slam Dunk. The film uses more than one animation technique to bring the games to life, and they are visually dazzling and extremely exciting. I was surprised and impressed by this film that I didn’t really have any substantial expectations for.

Nowhere Special

The Movie: I don’t normally rush towards movies that involve a terminally ill main character who has a three-year-old child, but the beauty of reviewing movies is that sometimes you’re forced out of your comfort zone. Nowhere Special follows John, a single father of young Michael. The boy’s mother is long gone, and John – whose whole life is devoted to raising Michael – has just found out he only has a few months to live due to cancer. Now he has to try and find an acceptable family to take in Michael while keeping the harsh reality from the young boy, which is no easy feat. Now, this sounds like the kind of overly melodramatic fare that I avoid like the plague, but the film is played in an understated manner which makes it not only believable and endearing, but powerful and moving at the same time. James Norton shines as father John, while young Daniel Lamont steals the show in an uncanny performance you wouldn’t expect from an actor so young. The film has its emotional moments for sure, but it’s never manipulative or cloying, and it really surprised me.

The Special Features: You get a making-of feature, interviews with the cast, and the movie’s trailer.

The Wrap-UpNothing Special is, well, something special. (And I’m sure that makes me reviewer number 3,086 to make that joke or one similar to it. But it was too easy not to.) I know that the subject matter doesn’t make this a Friday-night-friends-and-popcorn movie, but for a quiet night in, it’s definitely worth tracking down.

Founders Day

The Movie: In the realms of the horror genre, slasher films are one of the staples. And I feel like most people either love slasher films or hate them, I don’t know if there’s a lot of room in-between. Me, Iove them, so I’ll watch almost any slasher movie that comes along, even if these days my expectations are pretty low for most of them. So color me surprised that Founders Day, by filmmakers (and brothers) Erik and Carson Bloomquist, is an absolute delight. Sure it’s a littie gory for my tastes – I know, I know; I’m a slasher film fan who doesn’t really like blood and guts – but man, does this film know what it’s doing. The story takes place in a small town called Fairwood where a highly contentious mayoral race is coming to a head. Enter a slasher killer dressed like the town founders, with a black robe, powdered wig, and a mask. The film not only pays homage to many classic slasher films, but it also uses the political backdrop of the election race to work in some great political satire and skewer (sometimes quite literally) the types of extreme political people we all encounter on the regular and who drive us batty. It’s a fun movie that – despite a no-name cast and a small budget – really hits above its weight class.

The Special Features: Indie films sometimes offer up a treasure trove of extras, and such is the case here. There’s a commentary track with the Bloomquist brothers, a collection of interviews, a time-lapse production video, a still gallery, an Intro, a concept trailer with commentary, and more.

The Wrap-Up: I wasn’t expecting much from Founders Day but it is a surprisingly enjoyable film that you can probably find on Blu-ray relatively affordably. It may be more of a sleeper hit than a bona fide classic, but I think slasher fans will find it eventually, so why not track it down now before all your friends are telling you about it?

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