Welcome to this week in home video!
Pick of the Week
What is it? A giant game of Risk.
Why see it? HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin was a risk when it first launched, but the combination of violence, sex, intrigue, deception, and a massive cast of characters quickly won over both audiences and critics alike. It faced its fair share of criticisms early on too, a reaction that would return for the series’ conclusion, but bumps and scrapes aside this remains a monumental achievement. All eight seasons are collected here along with all of the previous extra features collected over the years, and while it makes for one hell of a gift it’s also just a damn fine show worth having on your shelf. Story lines are dense and twisted, characters are constantly at risk of death, and the visual beauty offers a counterpoint to the character ugliness. It’s an epic in every sense of the word, and this Blu-ray collection gives it the beautiful HD home it deserves. Fans with extra change in their pocket should seek out the limited edition version, but for the rest of us this compact and complete set is perfect enough.
[Extras: Reunion special, commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, interviews]
What is it? A trucker finds trouble in Chinatown.
Why see it? John Carpenter’s action/effects-heavy comedy is still every bit the modern classic it was when the film first premiered to disinterested audiences back int he 80s. Fools. Kurt Russell shines as the big talking wannabe hero whose intentions are good even when his execution is off, and the supporting cast is equally game with terrific turns by James Hong, Dennis Dun, Victor Wong, and others. It’s very funny, the martial arts action is solid, the mystical magic and creatures are glorious, and it’s a movie that never fails to lift spirits and entertain like gangbusters. Scream Factory’s new Blu adds plenty of new special features to an already packed release, and while it lacks a 4K restoration it’s still more than worth the upgrade for fans.
[Extras: Commentaries old and new, interviews new and old, featurettes, deleted scenes, music video, gag reel]
What is it? A robot designed to improve productivity instead improves his own kill count.
Why see it? Look, sometimes it’s fun to add comedy into a genre film to ease tension, keep viewers on their toes, and deliver an entertaining watch, but FYI to all involved… it needs to actually be funny. This sci-fi romp fails on that last bit despite a near constant roll-out of intended laughs. The genre elements fare slightly better once the violence starts, but low budget CG is never worth getting all that excited about.
[Extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, featurettes, interviews]
Battle of Leningrad
What is it? War is hell.
Why see it? World War II films are nothing new, but the majority of ones released in the West focus the US and its European allies. This Russian entry explores an event experienced by its own people as a barge filled with evacuating civilians finds tragedy in both bad weather and German attack. Lots of drama and big f/x sequences fill the screen, and it’s a solid enough feature for war movie fans. Just be sure to change the settings — it defaults to English dubbing, but the dramatic effect is stronger with subs and the original Russian language performances.
Dog Day [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? An American crook hides out in rural France with messy results.
Why see it? What an odd movie this is. The core story here sees Lee Marvin on the run from the authorities, and it’s a gambit that sees plenty of bloodshed and violence as he tries to hide his stash and himself. So far so good, but director Yves Boisset seems more enamored with naked women and domestic violence. Both speak in their way to the community where Marvin’s character is hoping to lay low, but they’re given almost as much screen time which seems like a strange choice when you have Lee freaking Marvin at your disposal. Happily, despite the choices made the film is never dull and well worth a watch for late career Marvin fans.
What is it? A family struggles to reunite under a vile regime.
Why see it? Animation is too frequently used for kids films only, but it’s a fantastic medium for telling more complex tales too. This personal tale of survival follows a woman’s separation from her family as their country falls under the control of the Khmer Rouge, and the emotional impact of it all is clear and evident. The animation is well done, colorful, and electric when necessary, and while it’s an intimate story the narrative is far bigger.
What is it? A teen struggles to move on from his mother’s death.
Why see it? The Goldfinch is a critically acclaimed bestselling novel, but this adaptation stumbles bringing it all to the screen. The case is certainly on point with lead Ansel Elgort supported by the likes of Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Jeffrey Wright, and others, but the drama of the boy’s journey can’t help but feel cluttered and melodramatic when it should feel direct and powerful. It’s far from a Serenity-like fiasco, but it just never lands.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Jake Speed [Arrow Video]
What is it? A pulp paperback hero is real.
Why see it? Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins may be the better version of this tale, but there’s fun to be had in this slightly meta adventure that sees a woman discover the hero of a series of pulp novels is actually real and available for missions. It’s goofy fun, at least until a certain stunt clearly goes wrong as two stuntmen try to get away from a door before a Jeep comes crashing through. Lead Wayne Crawford also co-wrote, and he’s better suited for the latter job as his onscreen presence is a bit light for such a character. The two included interviews offer some interesting insight into the production as well.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, interviews]
What is it? A man finds himself on the run from killer cops.
Why see it? This is a fairly low-key and familiar action/drama, but it succeeds well enough to warrant a watch for fans of the genre or lead Liam Hemsworth. We get some solid action beats leading up to a fantastic ending (just ignore the nonsensical onscreen text), and while the film won’t necessarily stick with you long after it’s an entertaining little thriller.
Konga [KL Studio Classic]
What is it? A mad scientist turns a chimp into a King Kong knockoff.
Why see it? The trailer states it’s not to be confused with King Kong, but there’s very little chance of that happening as this is mostly about a regular sized gorilla — grown from a chimpanzee? — that doesn’t turn super big until the final ten minutes. Until then the ape is choking out people on the scientist’s hit list before being caught up in a love triangle that ends his life. To be clear, the ape’s not in the love triangle, but he is a casualty. There’s fun here as the ape suit is terrible and Michael Gough is chewing through his scenes like he hasn’t eaten in years, but it’s no gem.
[Extras: New 2K scan]
The Magic Sword [KL Studio Classic]
What is it? A sorcerer, a knight, and a damsel in distress!
Why see it? Bert I. Gordon brings his particular skill set to the sword & sandal meets stop-motion magic arena, and the results are iffy fun. Basil Rathbone stars as the creepy magician — creepy as he watches a girl from afar while crushing on her — and the less charismatic Gary Lockwood plays the heroic knight. The adventure offers up some minor fun, but it’s far from the most entertaining effort from any of them.
[Extras: New 2K remaster, commentary]
What is it? A cop struggles with loss and revenge.
Why see it? This Hong Kong flick takes a familiar setup — cops ambushed by bad guys and left for dead, but one survives to cross paths with the killers again — and bumps it up some with a wild and wintry setting in rural China in the dead of winter. The landscapes are appealing and isolating, and the action delivers a handful of gun play and fight scenes to keep genre fans happy. The women are shafted, as is too often the case, but it all works well enough.
What is it? A cop makes a desperate choice to help his brother.
Why see it? Jai Courtney’s no longer being pushed on the world as leading man material, so it makes perfect sense that now is when he’d deliver his best lead performance. He plays a US Marine turned cop whose younger brother is (somewhat) wrongfully convicted and sent to prison where things don’t go well, so when the opportunity arises a breakout becomes the plan of the day. The drama between Courtney and Nat Wolff works as does the action and suspense making for a solid thriller with heart.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Slaughterhouse-Five [Arrow Video]
What is it? A man becomes unstuck in time.
Why see it? Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel gets an interesting adaptation from director George Roy Hill (The World According to Garp), and while it’s not wholly successful it is fairly respectful to the novel. The story follows a man who essentially shifts through time — his consciousness more than his body — from World War II to Upstate New York to an alien planet where he’s on display with a porn star, and it’s both jarring and somewhat engaging. Arrow’s new Blu-ray is a gift for fans, though, as the picture has never looked sharper and the included extras offer plenty of insight into the film’s production history.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentary, interviews]
Also out this week:
Boar, Camille Claudel [KL Studio Classics], Candy [Shout Select], She [KL Studio Classics], The Story of Temple Drake [Criterion Collection], Tunes of Glory [Criterion Collection]