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 March 28th, 2023! This week’s home video selection includes Mexican Gothic: The Films of Carlos Enrique Taboada, Gerard Butler’s Plane, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Mexican Gothic: The Films of Carlos Enrique Taboada [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? Three films from a Mexican filmmaker skilled in genre.
Why see it? Carlos Enrique Taboada is well-known in Mexico for a career filled with genre tales, but his American presence is quite slight. Hopefully that starts to change as Vinegar Syndrome’s new three-film set offers up a fantastic introduction to his work. Poison for the Fairies is a brilliant, slow burn coming of age story about two friends and their draw towards witchcraft. It unfolds like a nightmare in the Peanuts world as our time with the children leaves all of the adults’ faces offscreen. Darker Than Night brings four young women to a possibly haunted mansion where their transgression against a cat seals their doom. This one’s far more traditional, but it succeeds with strong atmosphere, cinematography, and a killer ending. Finally, Rapina forgoes the horror elements and instead delivers a tale about a dirt poor man who finds the wreckage of an airplane and soon sees his life corrupted by greed, violence, and desperation. All three films are fantastic and showcase Taboada as a master of the craft. Here’s hoping Vinegar Syndrome has more of his films on the way.
[Extras: New 2K restorations, video essays]
Breathless [Fun City Editions]
What is it? A small time crook flies too high.
Why see it? Jim McBride’s loose remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s acclaimed original takes some, uh, liberties… and it’s the superior film? Richard Gere is just a magnetic marvel as the devil may care, highly immature star of his own universe, and his journey is both entertaining and depressing. Things feel a bit surreal at times, and his fascination with the Silver Surfer feels like something a non-Disney film couldn’t get away with these days, but it’s ultimately a satisfyingly weird watch. It’s silly, sexy, and far from serious, but it’s also hard to take your eyes away from it all.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, interview, deleted scenes, commentary]
Chilly Scenes of Winter [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A man struggles letting go of his ex.
Why see it? The eternally underrated John Heard plays a man clinging onto hope that his ex (an equally fantastic Mary Beth Hurt) will return to him. Heard occasionally breaks the fourth wall as we jump back and forth in time looking at their relationship, and the film delivers both minor laughs and honest truths. It’s occasionally mean but always truthful, and supporting turns by Peter Riegert, Kenneth McMillan, Mark Metcalf, and others give it a warmth throughout. This may seem like an odd comparison, but Joan Micklin Silver’s fantastic late 70s anti-rom-com feels every bit like a template for 500 Days of Summer, albeit one without all of that film’s visual styling, omniscient narration, and needle drops. Kudos to Criterion for celebrating Silver’s filmography.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, featurette, documentary, interview, original ending]
Dawson’s Creek – The Complete Series
What is it? The teen years we all wanted.
Why see it? Kevin Williamson is best known in cinema circles as the writer behind the Scream franchise, but television fans know he also created this soapy teen tale of a movie-obsessed teen, his circle of friends and first loves, and the small town he called home. James Van Der Beek plays the title character, and in a cruel twist of fate he ended up with the slightest career after the show ended while Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson, and Michelle Williams went on to quite a bit more. That said, all four are fresh talents here capturing teen angst with all the drama, humor, and embarrassment that comes with it. This set features all 127 episodes from its six seasons. Later ones lose steam, but that’s to be expected.
[Extras: Featurettes, interviews, commentaries, deleted scenes]
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead [Imprint Films]
What is it? An ex-gangster returns home after his brother’s death.
Why see it? Mike Hodges’ 2003 crime drama is something of a revisit for the filmmaker behind 1971’s Get Carter, but it quickly finds its own identity and soul. Clive Owen stars as a man with a past who wades back into the life he left behind after his brother’s suicide. The film becomes something of a rape/revenge tale, but a highly atypical one given those involved, and while it leaves some threads open the central one is closed with stark certainty. It’s a fascinating, moody watch, and highly recommended for fans of crime stories slightly off the beaten path. Imprint’s new region-free Blu-ray is a must own, especially as there’s currently no US release.
[Extras: HD presentation from Paramount Pictures, commentary, documentary, deleted scenes]
Return to Paradise [Imprint Films]
What is it? Two young men are faced with an incredibly difficult choice.
Why see it? The premise of this American remake is rock solid — three guys meet, hang out, and score some drugs together during a fun month in Malaysia, but two years after two of them return home they’re contacted by a lawyer for the third. He was arrested the day they left, and in one week he’ll be executed for the drugs that were found in their shack. If they willingly return and serve their share of the sentence, his life will be spared. Joaquin Phoenix is the one rotting in jail, and Vince Vaughn plays one of the others. It’s a compelling drama offering up some fascinating “what if” scenarios and conversation starters.
[Extras: HD presentation from a 4K scan, interviews]
Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection [Severin Films]
What is it? Five Italian crime films from director Umberto Lenzi and star Tomas Milian.
Why see it? Thugs kidnap a rich man’s daughter triggering an onslaught of bloodshed in Almost Human. A biker seeks revenge against warring crime families in Syndicate Sadists. A cop and a convict team up to take down a baddie in Free Hand for a Tough Cop. Thugs and cops collide with deadly results in The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist. All hell breaks loose in Brothers Till We Die. The singular issue with this new box set is that it doesn’t include Lenzi’s and Milian’s fourth collaboration, The Tough Ones, but as that has a fine release elsewhere it doesn’t stop this from being a necessary pick up for genre fans. The films all look fantastic, the extras are informative, and the movies themselves are filled with thrills, action, and cruel personalities. One of the year’s best home video releases.
[Extras: New 2K scans, interviews, commentaries]
Attack Force Z [Severin Films]
What is it? An Australian commando unit faces an impossible task during WWII.
Why see it? This 1980 feature is a solid little wartime adventure, part drama and part action romp. Those two halves don’t always mesh perfectly, but each has its strengths as we watch young men head into combat on foreign soil. The big draw here, of course, is the presence of Mel Gibson and Sam Neill as two of the leads alongside a supporting John Phillip Law. The film is based on a true story which adds some weight to the drama side of things, but the action beats serve it better with some well-crafted battles and outcomes.
[Extras: New 2K scan, interviews]
What is it? A young man falls prey to an older wacko.
Why see it? Also known as The Ordeal, this French slice of Christmas horror is focused on the belabored ordeal of a young man abducted and mistreated by an unstable innkeeper. It’s cruel and occasionally suspenseful, but it’s also too much of a slog at times as the torture takes over the narrative. You can see the appeal as part of the so-called French Extremity movement, but it can’t touch the likes of Martyrs, High Tension, Sheitan, or others.
[Extras: Introduction by director, commentary, interview, featurettes]
Code of the Assassins
What is it? A warrior with a mechanical arm undertakes a deadly mission.
Why see it? The setup here could fit any time period as the fresh assassin fails and is forced on the run, but here it’s transported into a wuxia adventure of sorts. I say of sorts, because while we get plenty of wire work and such we’re also inundated with CG effects and backdrops. It’s the film’s chosen style and will work for some, but the Marvel-fication of the wuxia subgenre has never been something that appeals to me. That said, for those who dig it, Daniel Lee’s latest is a well-produced adventure.
Dead Silence [4K UHD, Scream Factory]
What is it? An urban legend comes to life.
Why see it? I’m in the minority on this one, but Dead Silence is easily the weakest of James Wan’s horror films. I’ve given it a few watches over the years, but it’s something of a one-note gag with pieces that don’t always fit and an abundance of scares that fall flat. The visuals are good, but it’s all a bit too silly without fully recognizing that about itself. All the elements are there, and Leigh Whannell’s script goes for broke at times, but the beats struggle. All of that said, it looks great, especially via this new 4K master, with Wan’s use of colors and shadows bringing the goods.
[Extras: New 4K master, theatrical and unrated cuts, interview, deleted scenes, featurettes]
Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A troubled teen meets an even more disturbed young woman.
Why see it? Matthew Bright’s unrelated follow-up to his own trashterpiece exists several steps down from that Reese Witherspoon-led flick. Sure, Natasha Lyonne is always worth watching, but this is a mess of a tale that tries to ape Natural Born Killers but neglects real purpose or aim. It’s violent and sleazy, but it’s unable to find either the fun or the heavy cruelty that might come with it. It’s just messy and inconsequential while trying poorly to say something about the system, race, abuse, and other issues that deserve better.
[Extras:New 4K restoration, documentary, interviews]
The House of the Spirits [Imprint Films]
What is it? An epic spanning generations and ideals.
Why see it? Isabel Allende’s South American-set novel gets a sumptuous adaptation starring mostly white actors, but luckily for us the cast includes Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Antonio Banderas, Vanessa Redgrave, and Maria Conchita Alonso. The story involves class and revolution with a touch of the supernatural — something that’s introduced and then kept mostly on the backburner — as it follows a family through love, violence, betrayal, and more. Intriguing performances, grand themes, and the shifting winds of fate follow. Fans will want to pick this up as it’s yet to hit Blu-ray in the US and is a region-free release.
[Extras: HD presentation from Paramount Pictures, theatrical and international versions, commentary, interview]
What is it? A teen uses technology to search for her missing mother.
Why see it? Some of the folks behind Searching are back with another “screen life” thriller about someone desperately looking for a loved one by way of technological tools. Email, video, account logins, reverse number searches, and more are used by young Storm Reid in search of her missing mother. It feels every bit like a Harlan Coben novel brought to life with its numerous twists, turns, and reveals, and while far too many of them are easily predictable there’s an energy here that keeps things interesting.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
What is it? A plane crash leaves crew and passengers in desperate trouble.
Why see it? The simple promise of the title is followed up with an equally straightforward thriller, and both of those things are positives. Plane is a clutter-free survival tale about a plane crash that leaves its occupants stranded on an island with violent rebels excited at the prospect of carnage and hostages. The script wisely avoids unnecessary complications like secret villains or corrupt corporate executives, and instead just powers forward on the strength of the survival story. It works, and both Gerard Butler and Mike Colter leave you excited for their next adventure whether it be called Ship, Train, or Blimp.
Primal Rage [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A mad scientist accidentally causes a monstrous outbreak on campus.
Why see it? The 80s saw a few examples of Italian filmmakers hitting Florida streets for an American horror movie, and this is the one starring Bo Svenson. The first half is pretty standard as goofy college kids release a contaminated baboon which kicks off a viral nightmare, and it’s all generic enough. The second half, though, kicks things up a little with some fun, bloody shenanigans. It becomes fun enough for a watch, and Vinegar Syndrome’s new 4K UHD is the way to do it as the details are sharp and clean.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, documentary, interview]
Also out this week:
All Quiet on the Western Front, The Assassin of the Tsar, Beautiful Things, Border River, Demon of Paradise, Knockabout, Son, Tomahawk