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 December 1st, 2020!
This week’s home video selection includes two HBO series, several 4K upgrades, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
What is it? A nuclear disaster unfolds, and the coverup begins.
Why see it? Five parts might seem excessive to some in telling the story of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but this HBO miniseries is a masterful exploration of the people and events that led to the tragedy — and that scrambled and suffered in the weeks, months, and years that followed. It’s never less than compelling, and the cast (including Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard) deliver powerful portrayals of people caught up in the horror and the lies. It may be set in the 80s in a nation on the other side of the world, but the lessons of a government capable of lying so deceitfully and dangerously to its people is as timely and relevant as ever for all citizens.
[Extras: Featurettes, interviews]
Beverly Hills Cop [4K UltraHD]
What is it? A Detroit cop heads to Beverly Hills to catch a murderer.
Why see it? Eddie Murphy’s filmography is filled with comedy hits, but for my money this action and laugh-heavy romp remains his best. A sharp script, smart direction from Martin Brest, and several top tier performances from supporting players make for an immensely entertaining movie that holds up across multiple rewatches. Murphy’s at his most natural here — see The Golden Child for him struggling to balance personas — and you buy into his wise-cracking detective delivering both put-downs and shootouts with equal ease. The film’s new 4K upgrade highlights its action and Los Angeles cinematography well.
[Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes]
Coming to America [4K UltraHD]
What is it? An African prince finds love in New York City.
Why see it? Eddie Murphy’s other huge 80s hit is getting a sequel in the coming months, and in celebration Paramount has reissued the original with a 4K facelift. It looks fine despite some of the makeup being a bit clearer, but the real thrill remains the variety of characters that Murphy and Arsenio Hall bring to life throughout the film. There’s just a fun creativity at play here, and while the romance story is standard stuff the laughs and antics make it a comedy classic.
[Extras: Featurettes, interviews]
Crash [Criterion Collection]
What is it? People are aroused by car crashes.
Why see it? David Cronenberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s oddball novel remains true to its source in delivering an oddball movie. It’s weird, dark, violent, and sexy too, and if you can get on its wavelength you’ll be rewarded with something truly unique. James Spader, Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette, and more star, but it’s Cronenberg’s cold brilliance that stands out from beginning to pitch-perfect final line. Your mileage may vary, but it’s a very funny film too, in a grimly black kind of way. Criterion’s new disc looks fantastic, and while Arrow UK’s 4K release lands the native 4K it’s an equally sharp contender.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, featurettes, commentary]
Leon: The Professional [4K UltraHD – steelbook]
What is it? A hitman befriends an orphaned girl in her quest for vengeance.
Why see it? Luc Besson’s American action breakthrough remains a modern classic populated with some pretty stellar set-pieces. Jean Reno and Natalie Portman do great work as the killer and the kid, but Gary Oldman walks away with every one of his scenes as the dirty detective causing all the mayhem. This new 4K upgrade looks fantastic and brings sharpness and depth to the drama and action, and with the inclusion of both cuts of the film this is as good as both have looked.
[Extras: Featurettes, theatrical and extended versions]
The Lord of the Rings – The Complete Motion Pictures Trilogy [4K UltraHD]
What is it? The best adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterwork that we could hope for.
Why see it? Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King are gold standards for bringing fantasy book series to the big screen. Their extended versions are great for fans, but even the theatrical cuts deliver big with all the adventure, drama, terror, and friendship of Tolkien’s tales. All three films, each available in both versions, are upgraded to 4K here with tremendous results even if some of the CG is already showing its age. The release is devoid of extras, but it’s the films you’re here for and they look crazy great. Now hopefully Jackson can focus his attention on his smaller, earlier, even better genre movies…
Perry Mason – Season One
What is it? A private detective fights the system.
Why see it? Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason is a lawyer firmly entrenched in pop culture, but this new HBO series explores his early days as a private dick with stellar results. Matthew Rhys stars as the title character pushing against the swill of early 30s Los Angeles, and the journey is as twisted as the mystery is twisty. A strong supporting cast including Shea Whigham and Tatiana Maslany help bring the story to life, and it’s a world you can’t help but immerse yourself within despite the violence and grotesque manipulations of its characters. This is fantastic television.
Trading Places [Paramount Presents]
What is it? Two people switch places and a guy is shtupped by a gorilla.
Why see it? John Landis’ pseudo “body swap” movie remains an all-timer as the comedy is laugh out loud funny at times (and admittedly cringeworthy at other times). Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd swap lives to highly entertaining result, and with Jamie Lee Curtis along for the ride it becomes a fast-moving blend of relationship comedy and double crosses. I still don’t understand the shenanigans at the end (or what Curtis’ character sees in Aykroyd’s), but I don’t need to. It’s funny stuff.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Apache [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The Apache people see the end coming.
Why see it? Burt Lancaster is a talent with screen presence despite his single tempo acting style, but casting him as a Native American still stands out as poor judgement. Sure, it was the 50s and “red face” was still allowed, but it’s still unavoidably Lancaster in excess makeup for ninety minutes. All of that said, there’s some compelling drama here as it envisions a forced reconciliation between the Native people and their unavoidably new landscape. White men learn to accept them, they learn to accept peace, and a cautious happy ending unfolds. Director Robert Aldrich is a legend and captures some stirring action and stunning landscapes as well.
Attack! [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A cowardly commander risks the lives of his men and himself.
Why see it? The great Robert Aldrich directed more than a few stellar war films, and while this mid 50s effort isn’t up to their level it remains an interesting and well-acted watch. Jack Palance plays a rare protagonist of sorts against the calm authority of Eddie Albert’s commander, and the film becomes a tense battle of wills as danger becomes threat becomes action.
The Barbarians [Scorpion Releasing]
What is it? Orphan brothers grow up.
Why see it? Ruggero Deodato directed his share of exploitation films, genre pictures, and utter nonsense, and this R-rated fantasy fits the bill across the board. Designed as a vehicle for the Barbarian Brothers — Peter and David Paul — it’s a Conan-inspired adventure with swordplay, magic, monsters, and boobs. It’s a bit silly early on, but it kicks into even sillier gear once the now adult brothers start “acting” aloud. Still, the landscapes are impressive, the practical creatures are plentiful, and fans of goofy swords and sandals romps will have fun.
[Extras: New HD master, commentary]
Bugs Bunny – 80th Anniversary Collection
What is it? Sixty restored/remastered Bugs Bunny shorts.
Why see it? Bugs Bunny cartoons remain a source of joy, and while they’ve gotten a new lease on life with their arrival on HBO Max it’s good to look back at past classics too. This set collects and restores sixty of the sassy rabbit’s theatrical shorts from 1940 forward, and while there’s some tinkering to the opening credits at times the cartoons themselves remain intact. It’s a fantastic collection, and the new documentary offers some appreciation and insight into the character’s history and pop culture standing. The set is higher priced due to the inclusion of a Funko Pop, though, so if you’re not a fan of the figures you might be better served waiting for the eventual disc-only release.
[Extras: Limited edition Diamond Bugs Bunny Funko Pop, documentary, bonus cartoons]
Continental Divide [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A big city columnist finds love and adventure in the wilds of nature.
Why see it? The pedigree on this film is impressive and feels well out of place for a John Belushi vehicle, but that was kind of the point. Michael Apted directs, Lawrence Kasdan writes, and Steven Spielberg produces this romantic comedy/drama, and while the results are never mind-blowing the film exists as a solid watch for adults. Belushi does good work as a regular guy, and the romance is given time to build and bloom in realistic ways outside of the plot shenanigans. It’s a good film.
D.C. Cab [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A young man learns the cabbie game from a group of rascals.
Why see it? D.C. Cab was a favorite of mine as a kid/preteen, but as an adult — hell, as a person who respects women — it’s something of a challenge. There are still some laughs here, and the plot’s shift into kidnapping shenanigans continues to feel entertainingly out of place, but a lot of it falls flat now. The cast is eclectic as ever with Gary Busey, Adam Baldwin, Mr. T, Irene Cara, Bill Maher, Jill Schoelen, and more popping up throughout, but this is the definition of a cultural time capsule for both better and worse.
The Golden Child [Paramount Presents]
What is it? A private eye (of sorts) is tasked with rescuing a very important child.
Why see it? Look, action comedies are a fantastic genre, but they can’t all be winners. And that includes efforts from talents at the supposed top of the game like Eddie Murphy. He plays a man whose job it is to find missing kids, and when a mystical child is abducted he becomes the chosen one to bring him back. Murphy can’t quite balance his comedic persona with the character’s seriousness, and the script isn’t much of a help. There’s still some fun here, particularly once the supernatural elements rear their head, but it’s no lost gem.
The Hobbit – The Complete Motion Pictures Trilogy [4K UltraHD]
What is it? A tale stretched well past its limits.
Why see it? Hollywood creates magic sometimes, but sometimes their quest for cash gets in the way in epic fashion. After the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the studio decided to stretch The Hobbit into three films too. There are some thrilling sequences and impressive effects along the way, but the trilogy suffers greatly from an epic amount of filler and downtime. A single film would have been an all-timer, but spread across three films the magic loses its luster. That said, this new 4K upgrade looks undeniably stunning and fans should add it to their library immediately (unless they’d rather wait for the six-film collection next summer with new special features).
The Night Porter [UK]
What is it? A young Jewish woman crosses paths with the Nazi officer who tormented her during the war.
Why see it? There’s no way this film and this premise weren’t going to be controversial, especially once it’s made clear which direction things are going. This isn’t a tale of revenge — it’s a love story, and that’s trouble for viewers trying to rationalize what they’re seeing. Instead, you’ve got to take these characters on their own merits and see this as a tale of obsession on both of their parts. It makes for a disturbing watch as the two rekindle the sexual, sadistic relationship they began in an internment camp, and it remains just as bleak all the way through. This new Region B release is the “definitive” one as it sources a sharp 4K restoration that doesn’t lose any of the cinematography’s soft focus. It’s an ugly film despite its attractiveness.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, interviews]
Panic [Code Red]
What is it? An experiment creates a monster.
Why see it? Ah, Italian horror from the 80s. The icky creature feature sees a scientist damaged by his own experiment to the point where he’s a gross, pulpy mess with a penchant for the ladies. The police are determined but dumb, the women are frequently naked, and the slow-moving shambler is endlessly difficult to catch. It’s not great and is instead exactly what you’re expecting from this entire description, so yes, it’s good fun.
What is it? A deformed sailor fights for his woman.
Why see it? The cartoon classic got a feature adaptation from an unlikely source in Robert Altman, but there’s no doubting the commitment to the character and his world here. Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall star as Popeye and his squeeze Olive, and the film captures plenty of antics, gags, and dialogue beats that bring the comic to life. It’s odd — sometimes sweet, sometimes humorous, sometimes action-heavy, but always odd.
The Rental [Scream Factory]
What is it? Two couples spend a deadly weekend in a cabin.
Why see it? There’s no arguing with this cast — Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand — that director Dave Franco brings together for his debut, but their talents aside the story is a lesser riff on the likes of 13 Cameras and other truly indie horror films. The script is overwritten and delivers wholly unlikable characters whose imminent demises are okay by us leading to an unsatisfying ending. Franco’s direction is fine, but hopefully next time he leaves the writing to someone else.
Top Gun [4K UltraHD]
What is it? A brash young Navy pilot proves his worth.
Why see it? Top Gun is an 80s classic and one of Tom Cruise’s many blockbuster hits, but it’s not necessarily a great film. I know, I love director Tony Scott and the supporting cast (Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, Meg Ryan, Tom Skerritt, Tim Robbins, Anthony Edwards) too, but the hero here leans a bit too cocky to earn our respect and interest. The flying scenes remain thrilling, though, and they’re where this 4K upgrade truly shines as the action is fast, furious, and sharp.
[Extras: Featurettes, commentary, interviews]
Also out this week:
Blade [4K UltraHD], Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon [4K UltraHD], LA Bounty [Scorpion Releasing], Werewolf
Related Topics: Home Video