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 June 13th, 2023! This week’s home video selection includes John Wick 4, a Shaw Brothers collection from Shout Factory, new 4K reissues, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
John Wick: Chapter 4 [4K UHD]
What is it? The best action film of 2023.
Why see it? I mean, was there ever any doubt? This might also be the best movie of the year, period, so of course it’s our pick of the week. Keanu Reeves returns for a fourth entry, and the action, thrills, and visual delights are all ramped up to spectacular degrees. Some have complained that there’s “too much action,” but that’s a fool’s concern. Action choreography, filmmaking, and production design work to deliver beautifully crafted fights, shootouts, chases, and more. The cast is equally brilliant with the regulars joined by the likes of Scott Adkins and a deliriously good Donnie Yen. It’s just a magical ride, and it left me feeling the same way I did walking out of RRR last year — feeling as if I had seen something unforgettable and new. The film is just one highlight after another, and we’re lucky to have been alive to experience it. The disc is sadly missing a commentary, but we do get several featurettes digging into the production and the talents involved.
Insidious [4K UHD, steelbook]
What is it? A family is terrorized by a supernatural entity.
Why see it? James Wan has spearheaded no fewer than three horror franchises, and while Saw has the most entries and The Conjuring made the most at the box-office, my heart belongs to Insidious. Sequels are a mixed bag, but this first entry is just a masterclass in marrying old-school scares with a fresh voice. It’s a colorful, freaky, legit scary ride that’s unafraid to go places most horror films wouldn’t feel comfortable going. Wan’s also unafraid to let the imagery do the talking — he’s just as prone to stingers as the next horror director, but the film also lets scares appear onscreen without those audible cues. Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, and Leigh Whannell all shine and ensure laughs are served alongside the chills. The demon’s face pops in 4K, by the way, and that imagery alone makes an upgrade worthwhile.
Juggernaut [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A terrorist threatens to blow up a luxury liner.
Why see it? The 70s were a good time for fans of disaster flicks, and while there are plenty of highs we also got some terrifically solid fare that aren’t as well remembered. This entry from 1974 is a good example of that as it delivers an entertaining time that avoids flashy turns in favor of meaty antics, practical action, and a stellar cast. A passenger ship is fitted with bombs, and Richard Harris is dropped off — via a solid set piece — to defuse the threat. Omar Sharif, Anthony Hopkins, David Hemmings, and Ian Holm co-star, and there’s enough personality among them to ensure a worthwhile watch .
The Pope’s Exorcist
What is it? A rare possession film that avoids being bogged down in tropes.
Why see it? Possession films typically bore me for numerous reasons, but sometimes the combined talents deliver a fun, thrilling time anyway. Director Julius Avery and lead Russell Crowe are those talents this time out, and their film is an absolute blast. Crowe’s Vespa-riding priest is bursting with personality and charm, the film looks fantastic on the cinematography front, and the unfolding horrors are plenty bloody, mean, and fun. There’s just a lot to love here as the core tale grows to involve conspiracy, church antics, and a setup for a (recently announced) sequel. The heart of it all, though, is Crowe, and if you’re not onboard for this genre-loving stage of his career (see Unhinged!) then I don’t know what to tell ya.
Rain Man [4K UHD]
What is it? Two brothers travel cross country, one with a motive.
Why see it? Barry Levinson’s tale of brotherly love winning out over all else remains a good time, one fueled by two stellar lead performances from Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. The latter plays an autistic man with Cruise as his younger brother, and when their dad leaves a fortune to Hoffman it’s Cruise’s character who enters the picture prepared to let audiences hate him. It’s a brave turn for an actor, and it emboldens the journey of redemption and love between the two brothers. The new disc upgrades with a new 4K restoration, and it looks as vibrant and rich as you could hope. Three commentary tracks are included too offering a wealth of insight into the production from different perspectives.
[Extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scene]
Shaw Brothers Classics – Vol. 1 [Shout Factory]
What is it? Eleven relatively lesser known films from the Shaw Brothers catalog.
Why see it? We’re living in a home video golden age for fans of martial arts cinema, and the love from labels continues with a new box set featuring eleven films — The Assassin, The Thundering Sword, The Golden Swallow, The Jade Raksha, The Bells of Death, The Sword of Swords, Killer Dart, The Invincible Fist, Dragon Swamp, The Flying Dagger, and The Golden Sword. While Arrow Video’s Shaw Brothers collections throw together otherwise unrelated titles, Shout Factory’s first foray (hopefully of many) into the famed Hong Kong studio’s filmography shows a tighter focus. All eleven movies were released between 1967 -1969, and in attention to sharing a handful of traditional themes (revenge! honor!) we get some returning masters with four Chang Cheh films and two from Lo Wei. As with any collection, the quality varies some throughout, but there are some major highlights here starting with The Bells of Death. Chang’s 1968 feature builds off the expected revenge plot, but it tackles the premise with heart and some truly stellar action. It’s a standard wuxia in some ways, but it’s shot with an aggressive beauty and an eye for memorable set pieces. Chang’s The Assassin, released the year prior, has some clear common threads with another Jimmy Wang Yu movie, but it’s still its own highly entertaining beast that finds epic highs and a grand atmosphere. The set comes in a sturdy box with each film getting its own disc (while most come two discs per case), and most of the films feature new commentaries and interviews. Old school kung fu movie fans are eating well these days.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews]
Time Bandits [4K UHD, Criterion Collection]
What is it? A boy is swept off on an adventure with giants, monsters, and adults half his size.
Why see it? Terry Gilliam may be something of a knob these days, but the dude made some all-timers once upon a time. Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King… and this absolute blast of time travel, comedy, and the fate of the world. Our heroes move in and out of history as thieves with an Evil Genius — the always terrific David Warner — hot in pursuit, and both the laughs and the wonder come through beautifully. The film shines even more thanks to this new 4K restoration that sees the adventure pop off the screen.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentary, featurette, interviews]
The Venture Bros. – The Complete Series
What is it? Seven seasons, eighty-one episodes, and more!
Why see it? First off, if you already own the individual season releases there’s no added bonus to upgrading here as there are no new extras. There is the benefit of taking up less shelf space tho… that quantifier aside, this is a great set for fans as it’s absolutely loaded from top to bottom. Every episode is here alongside bonus eps like Christmas and Halloween. We also get tons of commentaries offering fun details and origins behind several of your favorite gags and story beats. Additional featurettes offer a look behind the scenes over the show’s seven season run. Each season comes on two DVDs, and the case sees each plastic “page” hold two discs. The show itself is part Archer, part riff on the likes of Johnny Quest, and it’s a frequently laugh out loud adventure as its nonsense is addictive.
[Extras: Commentaries, bonus episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? A two-man sniper team faces an unknown threat while on a mission.
Why see it? There’s a notable splash of Predator in this indie effort, and while it can’t muster the energy, creativity, or thrills of that classic it finds a bit more success on the character front. Guilt, trauma, and PTSD inform the sniper’s struggles, and it offers the film at least a minor focal point. The creature itself is pretty mediocre CG, but small action thrills make it all minimally watchable for genre fans.
Dr. Caligari [Mondo Macabro]
What is it? A psychosexual therapist (?) kicks around some new theories.
Why see it? Others have approached remakes of the 1920 German film with more traditional narratives, but if you’re looking for something a bit outside the box, well, this late 80s oddity might be the ticket. The film is an expressionistic explosion of color, flesh, and gonzo production design, and all of it embraces a staged approach in its set design. Forget anything resembling realism, this is a theatre romp aimed directly at the theatre kids, for better and worse. It’s visually unlike things you’ve seen before, but its dreamlike pacing also leaves it feeling like it’s dragging with little to no momentum. Either way, it’s great to see Mondo bringing the cult classic home with a slick new Blu-ray.
[Extras: New 4K transfer, commentary, interviews]
Gorky Park [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A Russian investigator searches for the truth behind the Iron Curtain.
Why see it? The pedigree on this early 80s feature is pretty impressive. Michael Apted directs an adaptation of a Martin Cruz Smith novel, and it stars William Hurt, Brian Dennehy, Joanna Pacula, and Lee Marvin. The story is interesting enough as a triple homicide leads to conspiracy and more killings, but the entire film is tanked thanks to Hurt’s blisteringly bad and unintentionally humorous performance. It’s just abysmal, folks. A shame, too, as both Marvin and Dennehy are endlessly watchable here.
What is it? A Texas Ranger heads to the UK in pursuit of justice.
Why see it? Thomas Jane is a compulsively watchable actor in my opinion, and here he takes on a bedraggled hero role talking like Jeff Bridges and getting his butt kicked on two continents. John Malkovich costars, although I don’t believe he ever actually shared breathing room with Jane despite sharing a few scenes “together.” The film itself comes from reliably DTV filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson, and it’s perfectly okay. He’s at his best working with martial artists, but this is a serviceable effort that finds minor thrills along the way.
[Extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
The Package [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A routine assignment opens the door to an assassination conspiracy.
Why see it? Gene Hackman retired nearly twenty years ago, and while it was a baller move and I hope he’s enjoyed every second of it, I miss seeing the guy’s mug on the screen. Lucky for us us he’s left a deep filmography full of gems worth rewatching and rediscovering. This late 80s action/thriller is a solidly reliable movie pitting a wonderfully belligerent Hackman against a cold John Heard, a playfully villainous Tommy Lee Jones, and the misguided might of the authorities. Director Andrew Davis went on to make bigger and arguably better genre pics, but this remains a well-crafted and entertaining ride.
[Extras: Commentary, interview]
What is it? A wrongfully accused bandit discovers his true beginnings.
Why see it? There’s no one I enjoy watching fight more than Donnie Yen, and while his advancing age has shown limitations in recent years, he’s still a rapid-fire master of the beatdown. Just look at John Wick 4 above. His latest lead feature, also his latest directorial effort, is a wuxia tale about roving bandits, secret truths, and the power of duelling fight styles. We get wire work and exaggerated movement (leaps, spins, etc), and it thrills in part due to Yen’s exuberant choreography, set pieces, and camerawork. It’s impressive stuff, but the downside is it’s scattered amid stretches of far less interesting elements in an increasingly convoluted narrative. The third act is stuffed to a laughable degree, and while beauty and thrills precede it, the balance isn’t ideal. Still, Yen is a marvel to watch throughout.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie [4K UHD]
What is it? The video game come to animated life.
Why see it? Thirty years after an ill-advised live-action adventure, Mario is back via CG animation for a far more successful time. Successful at the box-office, I mean, not as entertainment. Sure it made bank, but the movie really only works for big fans of the character and games, and since I wasn’t a Nintendo kid it’s all gibberish to me. As an outsider, the inside jokes and references fall flat leaving me with the characters and narrative, none of which excites. Again, though, I’m not the target audience.
[Extras: Featurettes, music video]
The Witches Mountain [Mondo Macabro]
What is it? A couple finds witchy trouble while on vacation.
Why see it? This Spanish film kicks off beautifully with a real attention-getting scene — a woman returns home to discover a young girl has killed her cat, so she takes the child out to the barn and sets her on fire. It’s pretty great! What follows, though, is something of a slog as a couple wanders, talks, and eventually run afoul of some local witches. The ending finds a little bit of life, but it’s far too little far too late.
[Extras: Interviews, documentary, commentary, visual essay]
Also out this week:
The Great Train Robbery [KL Studio Classics], Killzone [MVD Rewind], The Man from Toronto, Mexico Macabre: Four Sinister Tales from the Alameda Films Vault, The Oyster Princess, Tommy Guns, Witchcraft [MVD Rewind]
Related Topics: Home Video