Streaming might be the future, but physical media is still the present. It’s also awesome, depending on the title, the label, and the release, so each week we take a look at the new Blu-rays and DVDs making their way into the world. Welcome to this week in Home Video for May 31st, 2022! This week’s home video selection includes Ilya Muromets, The Untouchables on UHD, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Ilya Muromets [Deaf Crocodile]
What is it? A Russian epic about a Russian hero.
Why see it? If you only know Aleksandr Ptushko’s film under the title The Sword and the Dragon (or via its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000) then you really don’t know it at all. The full film is an epic fable packed tightly into ninety minutes of beautiful Russian landscapes, action set-pieces, creative practical effects, and heroism. The tale is based on an old legend about a hero who holds back the Mongol hordes and their fire-breathing dragon, and it’s a fantastic time that feels like history jazzed up with silliness, sincerity, and Ray Harryhausen. Deaf Crocodile’s new 4K restoration is gorgeous, and their new Blu-ray release is a thing of beauty. Anyone who tells you older Russian films are dull has never seen this gem.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentary, booklet]
1776 [4K UHD]
What is it? A musical about the creation of the Declaration of Independence.
Why see it? The popular (at the time) stage musical gets an epic big screen adaptation with a TV-friendly cast (William Daniels, Ken Howard, etc), and the result is an odd mix of music, laughs, and sad truths. On that last count, the Continental Congress hits a wall on the subject of slavery, and a single Southern representative holds the Constitution hostage until they agree to drop the section that would have essentially freed them. The film is played for laughs at times, played for drama at others, and while the second act sags the film as a whole is an engaging look at the messed up founding of a messed up country. This new UHD features both the director’s and extended cuts in 4K and the theatrical on Blu-ray.
[Extras: Director’s cut, extended cut, theatrical cut, commentary, deleted scenes, screen tests]
The Boys – Seasons 1 & 2
What is it? Superhero shenanigans for adults.
Why see it? Eric Kripke’s wildly entertaining adaptation of the popular comic takes what has become a trope of its own — what if superheroes were assholes — and turns the dial all the way to eleven. Graphic violence, sexual situations, Nazis, death by super-long dick… this show is amazing stuff. It’s incredibly fun with its gags and over the top scenes, but it also lands a few punches in its commentaries and emotional situations. It’s a frequently surprising watch too as the characters and storylines take some highly unexpected turns. Those with strong stomachs and comfortably loose morals should catch up quick as season three is even more absurdly insidious.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, short film]
Buster Keaton Rides Again / Helicopter Canada [Canadian International Pictures]
What is it? A look at the production of Buster Keaton’s final short.
Why see it? The latest release from a terrific new label (Canadian International Pictures) pairs two short features from the 60s. First up is a documentary made during the production of “The Railrodder” which was Keaton’s final film, and it’s a must-watch for fans as it explores his life and career while documenting the man’s approach to comedy and film. Next up is a documentary about the vast beauty of Canada offering up some stunning photography and observations both entertaining and educational.
[Extras: New 2K transfers, commentary, short films, booklet]
Chan is Missing [Criterion Collection]
What is it? Two cabbies go looking for a missing man in Chinatown.
Why see it? Wayne Wang’s low budget character study from the early 80s is something of an indie noir. It’s incredibly raw with its black & white photography and mostly amateur cast, but there’s a low-key sense of humor and charm at play here as our two leads spread their search throughout Chinatown’s alleyways, hotels, and kitchens. More than that, though, the film becomes a near existential look at a search for the Chinese-American identity with the missing man as a stand-in for something far greater. It’s a quick, engaging watch offering an appealing look at the everyday streets of Chinatown in 1982.
[Extras: Documentary, interviews, booklet]
Double Indemnity [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A masterclass in film noir.
Why see it? Billy Wilder in the director’s chair already near guarantees a great time, and that’s only magnified by his script co-written by Raymond Chandler. Fred MacMurray plays a regular chump who gets sucked into the life and death shenanigans of a gorgeous dame (Barbara Stanwyck), and while the story delivers some dark turns there’s a satisfying nature to the grim truths. Much of that satisfaction comes in the form of deliciously wicked dialogue delivered with wit, speed, and salacious intent. This is the kind of 40s film that’s endlessly quotable and mean, and Criterion’s new Blu-ray is the way to watch (unless of course you opt for their 4K UHD version instead).
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentary, interviews, documentaries, radio adaptation, booklet]
The Films of Doris Wishman: The Twilight Years [AGFA]
What is it? Seven feature films from director Doris Wishman.
Why see it? Doris Wishman passed away in 2002, and while she never found mainstream success she left behind a filmography of cult favorites. The folks at the American Genre Film Archive have collected 2K restorations of seven films — The Amazing Transplant (1970), Love Toy (1971), Keyholes are for Peeping (1972), Deadly Weapons (1974), Double Agent 73 (1974), The Immoral Three (1975), and Let Me Die a Woman (1977). They’re super low-budget and extremely rough around the edges at times, but Wishman’s ability to pair exploitation and somewhat progressive ideas makes for engaging films. There’s an importance to this collection that arguably transcends the overall quality of the movies — again, they’re very low-budget features — and there’s added value in the inclusion of five commentary tracks featuring both production details and knowledgeable observations.
[Extras: 2K restorations, commentaries, booklet]
A Fistful of Dollars [4K UHD, KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A stranger arrives in town, and trouble follows.
Why see it? The first collaboration between Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood might not get the love of the two that followed — although it’s the second best of the trilogy — but it’s every bit the western classic. The story is a direct lift from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and pits Eastwood’s stranger against two rival gangs in a small border town. Intense action, menacing looks, an Ennio Morricone score, gorgeous vistas — this is a good one. Kino’s new 4K UHD features several supplements, but the big selling point is the picture which shines with rich colors and depth.
[Extras: 4K restoration, shot-by-shot color grading, commentaries, interview, featurettes]
Inspector Ike [Factory 25]
What is it? A detective searches for a murderer.
Why see it? Graham Mason’s terrifically fun riff on the TV mystery movie stars a wonderfully dry Ikechukwu Ufomadu as New York City’s greatest detective. The cast plays up the smartly crafted dialogue with deliciously exaggerated performances, and it delivers numerous laughs along the way. The initial inspiration is a Colombo-style show where we see the murderer and then watch the detective figure out how to catch him. It’s low-key fun, and I demand a follow-up.
[Extras: Featurettes, commentary, booklet]
No Resistance [Saturn’s Core]
What is it? A low-rent Strange Days!
Why see it? Shot-on-video (SOV) movies aren’t typically my bag as they often feel clunky and amateurish even beyond their budget restraints. This sci-fi gem transcends that though — it’s still an extremely cheap film, but the script, performances, and execution make for a compelling thriller. The setup feels familiar to Strange Days (even tho this indie preceded Bigelow’s movie) as it features a law-skirting individual with illegal tech he uses for profit that land him in trouble. It’s an engaging watch with smart world-building.
[Extras: Commentaries, interview, music videos]
Thriller: A Cruel Picture [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A woman is savaged but seeks a brutal revenge.
Why see it? As exploitation pictures go, this Swedish effort is fairly renowned and for good reason. Its original release was modified by the addition of some hardcore inserts that add nothing to the film but ugliness. The smarter play is to watch the They Call Her One Eye cut which avoids that while still wallowing just enough in the dark and grimy world of sex trafficking and forced prostitution. The revenge violence comes more slowly as the film affords its lead character time to plan, learn, and train in the various arts she’ll eventually use towards her vengeance. It shows the ugliness of the situation without actually being ugly, if that makes any sense, and delivers with some cathartic kills. Vinegar Syndrome’s new 4K UHD/Blu-ray release is terrific featuring three discs and a ton of extras alongside a restoration that does wonders with a 16mm negative.
[Extras: New restoration, commentary, documentary, alternate English edit, interviews, Q&A, music tracks]
The Untouchables [4K UHD]
What is it? Eliot Ness goes toe to toe with Al Capone on the mean streets of Chicago.
Why see it? Easily Brian De Palma’s most commercial and accessible film, The Untouchables remains a fantastically entertaining look at the rough and tumble times of Prohibition. Kevin Costner shines as a goody two-shoes forced to get his hands dirty if he wants to make a difference, and Robert De Niro is equally compelling as the brutal Capone. Add in Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, and more familiar faces, a kick-ass score by Ennio Morricone, sharp cinematography, and a smart David Mamet script, and you have a great time. This new 4K UHD release probably won’t blow you away, but it’s quite clearly the best the film has looked on home video.
Almost Summer [Scorpion Releasing]
What is it? A high school endures a rough race for class president.
Why see it? Teen comedies have never gone out of style, and while some are obviously better than others there’s no shortage of the mediocre ones. The highlight in this late 70s comedy is the casting with Bruno Kirby, Lee Purcell, Tim Matheson, and John Friedrich all doing fun, fresh work. The story pits candidates against each other while offering some some minor lessons in morality, and the character beats take precedence over T&A which is kept to a minimum. It’s a perfectly okay movie.
[Extras: New 2K master, interviews]
The Coca Cola Kid [Fun City Editions]
What is it? A hotshot American heads to Australia to help boost business.
Why see it? This is a fairly odd concoction (American star! Serbian director! Australian locale!) that doesn’t always work but finds some charm all the same. Eric Roberts plays a tough executive who heads to Australia to help bolster local sales of Coke products — the film was in no way supported or approved by Coca Cola — but he finds romance, quirkiness, and a new approach on life instead. There are some humorous beats here as cultures clash, but it’s sometimes played maybe a bit too strange for its own good as the tone and content wobble. Add in some gratuitous Greta Scacchi nudity and it feels like a movie that isn’t quite sure how to sell itself.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, interviews, commentary, booklet]
For a Few Dollars More [4K UHD, KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Two bounty hunters join forces.
Why see it? The second film in Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy — a trio of spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood and scored by Ennio Morricone — pairs Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef. They both bring style and differing approaches to their badass bounty hunter characters, and the film allows each room to shine on their way to a third-act shootout. It’s a good flick even if it can’t touch the other two (in my opinion, but this is my column so what did you expect), and Kino’s new 4K UHD release is a solid presentation more often than not.
[Extras: 4K restoration, shot-by-shot color grading, commentaries, featurettes]
Game of Survival [Culture Shock]
What is it? Aliens bring nine humanoids to Earth for a battle royale.
Why see it? The 80s were a wild time, and that includes the multitude of low budget genre films fighting for our attention. This one takes a familiar premise — strangers thrown together to fight to the death — and executes it with a $5 budget. Fans of just such endeavors will probably enjoy, but there’s not really enough here to justify looking past its shortcomings. The action is the one spot where it needed to thrill, but it’s underwhelming and less exciting than the hair and costumes.
[Extras: Introduction, interviews, commentary, music video]
Horror High / Stanley [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A pair of early 70s horror titles.
Why see it? Horror High kicks off with a familiar premise as a nerdy “teen” is bullied to the point of taking a monstrous vengeance. It has its Jekyll & Hyde charms, but there aren’t any real memorable beats here as our protagonist works his way through the bullies to the point of his own demise. It’s light on atmosphere and gore as well. Stanley is a different kind of exploitation with its story of a Native American man in tune with nature whose love of snakes finds him targeted by baddies seeking their skins. There are some fun beats here, but hoo boy do they violently brutalize some very real snakes in the process. It’s cruel enough to lessen the film’s entertainment value across the board. All of that said, Vinegar Syndrome has done their usual magic here so fans will be pleased.
[Extras: New 2K scans, commentaries, interviews, documentary, Q&A]
King Car [Darkstar]
What is it? A young man can speak with cars.
Why see it? The hook here is the lead character’s ability to communicate with cars, but the bigger theme at play involves class warfare, gentrification, and the shifting of society. Uno finds himself fighting against a law prohibiting older cars, and his ability comes into play in some minorly intriguing ways. The ideas are interesting, but the execution, whether due to creativity or budget, never quite click into high gear leaving the film something of an underwhelming drama.
[Extras: Short film, deleted scenes, featurette]
The Little Hours [Gunpowder & Sky]
What is it? Shenanigans at a nunnery!
Why see it? While it may not aim for the level of sexual antics we get in something like Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, this silly romp still allows its nuns to get naughty in their words, thoughts, and actions. Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci, and Molly Shannon are joined by Dave Franco, John C. Reilly, Nick Offerman, and more for a period piece that eases you in before unleashing some creatively foul language and saucy suggestion.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurettes]
Scared to Death [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A monster stalks human victims in Los Angeles.
Why see it? Director William Malone would go on to bigger and better genre efforts (Creature, House on Haunted Hill), but there’s some gritty genre charm to his debut. Unfortunately, it’s limited to the creature design with manages a lot with a minimal budget. The rest of the movie is something of a slog with rough acting, dialogue, and production design keeping things from ever rising above something like The Dark — a late 70s LA-based horror film about a monster roaming the streets — which coasts on some cool beats and the always fun William Devane. As is always the case, though, fans will love this release from Vinegar Syndrome.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary, documentary, featurette, music video]
Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century [Code Red]
What is it? A giant yeti is found, exploited, and feared when it escapes.
Why see it? Knock-offs can be good fun on their own merits, and this Italian riff on King Kong is just that — fun. A gorilla is out and a large, hairy Italian with striking eyes is in, but the story is pretty familiar beyond that change. They catch him, he escapes, he bonds with a human woman, and then the world comes after him. This one has a happier ending though!
Also out this week:
The Devil You Know, Gomorrah – Fifth and Final Season, Kinky Boots, Lucifer – The Complete Fifth Season, Passing Strangers and Forbidden Letters: Two Films by Arthur Bressan Jr., Poupelle of Chimney Town, Row 19, Strawberry Mansion, Videophobia
Related Topics: Home Video