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 November 16th, 2021!
This week’s home video selection includes a newly released cut of Ragtime, two Charles Bronson classics from Kino, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Ragtime [Paramount Presents]
What is it? A snapshot of early 1900s America.
Why see it? E.L. Doctorow’s bestselling novel gets a luxurious and still-relevant adaptation from the great Milos Forman, and it’s difficult to find fault with any of it. The story sees an ensemble cast bring numerous characters to life, both real and imagined, and their stories intertwine in ways big and small. The common thread throughout is race — America’s biggest sin and a seemingly never-ending issue — with a focus on the kinds of casual, institutional racism that continue to hold so many Americans back. The cast is epic, and even at just shy of three hours it feels like a story you could continue watching. The theatrical cut alone makes this a worthy pickup, but it’s a must-own for fans as Paramount has also included Forman’s previously unreleased “director’s cut” workprint adding additional footage and character beats. Another terrific release from the studio’s new home video line.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, interview, commentary by Milos Forman, featurette, theatrical and workprint versions]
Breakheart Pass [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Murder on the Rocky Mountain Express.
Why see it? Train-set thrillers are a niche subgenre that I adore for numerous reasons, and there’s been a long history of great examples following in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s classic. Breakheart Pass isn’t based on Christie’s novel, and instead comes from Alistair MacLean, but it uses a similar framework to deliver the goods. Charles Bronson plays a convict being transported through the Rocky Mountains by train, but when passengers start biting it his knack for deductive reasoning and survival see him take the lead. A fun ensemble, some strong action beats, and an attractive landscape make this a keeper.
Chato’s Land [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A man is pursued by racist settlers after he kills a bad man in self defense.
Why see it? Charles Bronson’s first pairing with director Michael Winner (they would reteam five more times) is a grim, western tackling violence, race, and sexual assault — and it’s still rated PG! Bronson plays a mixed-race man whose act of self defense sees him targeted by a posse, and after his wife is dragged into things he kicks the violence up a few more notches. It’s a terrific watch taking full advantage of Bronson’s charisma and the American west. Jack Palance delivers one of his meaner villains as well.
[Extras: Commentary, interview]
Mad Max Anthology [4K UHD]
What is it? All four Mad Max films in beautiful 4K UHD.
Why see it? The four films in the Mad Max universe cover a range of quality — Mad Max is solid, The Road Warrior is an action classic, Beyond Thunderdome is a glossy misfire, and Fury Road is a modern masterpiece of beauty and carnage. The first and last have previously been released on 4K, but this set marks the debut of the two middle films. All four looks and sound fantastic and demand to be played as loud as you dare on the biggest screen at your disposal. The set’s only disappointment is in the extras department as we only get some archival tidbits for the second film. Still, these are beautiful, rugged, unforgettable films that never leave fans tired or weary.
[Extras: Introduction, featurette, commentary by George Miller (all on The Road Warrior)]
Maniac Cop 2 [4K UHD, Blue Underground]
What is it? A cop-killing cop returns to kill more cops.
Why see it? William Lustig and Larry Cohen follow-up their cult classic original by upping the action and stunts while still delivering the slasher-like thrills. The revenge-seeking madman returns and takes on all of New York City’s cops leaving dozens of them dead along the way — the police station slaughter rivals the one in The Terminator — and only a handful left to fight. This is a rare sequel that brings the protagonists back only to kill them in the first act. Good stuff! The stunts are legit thrilling with a terrific burn and some stellar car action, and Blue Underground’s new 4K UHD transfer is unsurprisingly terrific.
[Extras: Commentary, featurette, Q&A, deleted scenes]
Mulholland Drive [4K UHD, Criterion Collection]
What is it? A David Lynch mystery.
Why see it? Here’s the thing. This was the only remaining David Lynch film I hadn’t seen — I was in no rush as the only works of his I really like/love are Twin Peaks season one, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and The Straight Story. Happily, Mulholland Drive lands on the side of love as its blend of mesmerizing visuals, narrative, performances, and Lynch’s intentional bullshit combine to create a fantastic Hollywood tale. It’s a tragedy interwoven with black comedy, terror, drama, and cautionary commentary on the city of dreams. Criterion’s new 4K UHD release was the ideal way to watch as it’s a beautiful experience for the senses.
[Extras: Interview, deleted scene]
National Velvet [Warner Archive]
What is it? A girl with the dream of racing a males-only horse race pursues it to the finish line.
Why see it? Elizabeth Taylor headlines as the young teen with ambition and moxie to spare, and Mickey Rooney joins as the young man who sees her skills and helps encourage what’s to come. The bond between the girl and the horse is evident and affecting, and there’s real suspense in the final race as this underdog team challenges the status quo. It’s a film that manages real warmth, and it’s easy to see it as being a wholesome family favorite.
Ran [4K UHD Steelbook]
What is it? Three sons vie for their father’s power.
Why see it? Akira Kurosawa’s mid 80s masterpiece is a William Shakespeare adaptation moving King Lear to feudal Japan with fantastic results. An aging warlord passes his kingdom to his three sons, but rather than take and learn by his example the brothers descend into manipulation and chaos. Kurosawa stages epic battle sequences as beautifully as he does the quieter, stage-like moments of silence and solitude. His colors pop, especially in this new 4K restoration from Studio Canal, and while clarity is improved dramatically the new transfer retains the appropriate grain. It’s a beautiful film given a fitting treatment. This Best Buy exclusive steelbook is gorgeous on the outside as well, and while it’s light on special features fans will hardly be disappointed.
Some Came Running [Warner Archive]
What is it? A real prick comes home to break hearts.
Why see it? Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, and Dean Martin headline this affecting drama, and their presence alone is enough of a reason to seek it out. Happily, it’s also a damn fine drama about a bad man and the woman who loves him. It’s sexual politics are a product of their time, but with that understanding there’s real power to the relationships leading to a third act that delivers emotional interactions and performances, particularly from MacLaine. It’s not a happy film, but sometimes pain is necessary.
Vanilla Sky [Paramount Presents]
What is it? A man’s life goes to hell after surviving a car accident.
Why see it? Cameron Crowe may have stopped making movies — fine, he hasn’t actually stopped, but you can’t defend the likes of Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo, and Aloha — but happily he made some great ones earlier on. His last film before saying goodbye to his talent is also his second-best feature, Vanilla Sky. A remake of the Spanish film Open Your Eyes, the movie is an affecting mash-up of drama, genre, and conversations on the meaning of life itself. It’s a fantastic film, attractively shot, home to a terrific soundtrack, and features a great turn by Tom Cruise in an atypical role. Kurt Russell shines in a supporting turn too.
[Extras: Featurettes, commentary, interviews, music video, deleted scenes]
Wife of a Spy
What is it? A woman discovers her husband hides a secret life in 1940s Japan.
Why see it? Kiyoshi Kurosawa continues to be an endlessly impressive filmmaker, and while my personal tastes see me preferring his genre efforts most his dramatic work is never less than satisfying. His latest is a dramatic thriller that follows a young woman’s (a terrific Yu Aoi) discovery that her husband might be involved as a spy working against their homeland. More of a character piece than a full-on thriller, the film is at times suspenseful, sad, rewarding, and devastating.
The Accused [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A woman kills a man in self defense then tries to cover it up.
Why see it? There’s a solid little thriller here focused more on character and morality than suspense or dark acts, and it’s a good watch. It’s not a mystery and there’s no active killer on the loose, but the tension comes from what the woman does and the risk she faces of getting caught. The initial attack is pretty scary stuff for the late 40s, and it puts you immediately in her corner.
Among the Living [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A man discovers the twin brother he thought long dead is alive and killing people.
Why see it? John has been away from home for years, but when his father passes he discovers that his twin — who he thought died years prior — is not only alive but also on a slight murder spree. He heads back home only to be caught up in the mob mentality that’s hunting the madman down. Hijinks with identical twins typically come in the form of comedies, but here it’s played straight for suspense and tension. It’s a pretty good little film that touches on the Southern Gothic with its dark family secrets and terrors
Candyman [4K UHD]
What is it? An urban legend finds new life.
Why see it? Clive Barker’s original tale already reached the screen in the early 90s and was followed by two sequels, and now a new take on the story arrives from director/co-writer Nia DaCosta. It’s a solid enough movie, but the script (co-written by Jordan Peele) tries too hard with its themes and subtext — they’re relevant and land with dramatic impact, but the film stumbles trying to give the narrative equal footing. Basically, the story and characters don’t get the attention they deserve. Still, it’s a strong debut for DaCosta, looks quite good, and features a solid lead performance from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? A British soldier goes undercover to take down a murderous cult.
Why see it? Pierce Brosnan in the lead and a production from one half of the Merchant Ivory team are enough of a reason to give this one a spin, The film manages some fine historical drama and some moments of excitement and suspense, but one big setback involves Brosnan’s method of going undercover — he’s in brownface for several scenes. Even beyond it being possibly problematic for some, it’s also pretty ludicrous as it’s difficult to buy the illusion. Still, accept that and it’s a solid tale.
Josie and the Pussycats
What is it? A popular cartoon gets a live-action redo.
Why see it? This 2001 comedy bombed in theaters and was considered a dud for years, but fans old and new have since turned it into a cult favorite. The plot and setup are fairly straightforward as a pop band realize their music is being used to deliver subliminal messages, but it grows into the silly adventure you’d expect for a movie based on a cartoon about a girl band prone to solving mysteries — they were basically the Scooby gang with musical talent. The joy of the film, though, comes from some unexpectedly sharp dialogue and observations on pop culture. It’s a fun, brightly colored romp with some enjoyable tunes.
[Extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, music video]
What is it? A mismatched pair go looking for treasure.
Why see it? Maybe theme park rides shouldn’t be turned into movies? Just spitballin’ here. Anyway, this one aims for Pirates of the Caribbean-like thrills, but it can’t touch Gore Verbinski’s adventurous gem. The chemistry is lacking between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt (an issue he’s familiar with), and the thrills only manage to sputter along thanks in part to an excess of CG backdrops preventing viewers from ever feeling as if we’re actually on a jungle cruise. Still, there are minor beats throughout that manage smiles and a little bit of excitement, so that’s something.
[Extras: Featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes]
Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence [4K UHD, Blue Underground]
What is it? The undead cop returns, but this time he’s killing for love.
Why see it? Okay, the recently deceased (as of two movies ago) Officer Cordell isn’t actually after love, but he does want his own Bride of Frankenstein arrangement. Does that make for a good plot? Not really, but the bigger issue here is the production’s numerous troubles that left it with half the needed budget, an AWOL director, and a producer forced to step into the chair with mixed results. The action managed by William Lustig still delivers, but too much of the film is dialogue heavy and filled with flashbacks to the previous film. It’s meh, but Lustig’s commentary with producer/director Joel Soisson — the pair under the name Alan Smithee — is a great listen.
[Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes]
National Lampoon’s Movie Madness [Code Red]
What is it? An anthology with three segments.
Why see it? Imagine being National Lampoon and deciding to follow up Animal House — a monster hit — with Movie Madness. There are three segments here, none of them connected, and while the first and last offer very, very mild entertainment, the middle story is something in a league of its own. A down on her luck college grad is assaulted (offscreen) with butter stick-wielding CEOs from the dairy industry, and she gets an elaborate revenge over the next three days involving margarine. It’s absurd, funny, and Ann Dusenberry is terrific. Maybe skip the other two and just watch this one?
Never Back Down: Revolt
What is it? A woman is forced into a high society fight club.
Why see it? The Never Back Down franchise has taken a couple turns over its run, and the latest sees its focus turn to female MMA fighters. That’s great in theory, but the various fights scattered throughout the film generally fail to impress. Layering a fairly dull tale atop the mediocre action doesn’t help, but on the plus side it does end with an entertaining and mildly satisfying slaughter. Michael Bisping does good work as a very bad man.
Sailor Suit & Machine Gun [Arrow Video]
What is it? A teen inherits the mantle of yakuza chairman.
Why see it? The premise here is undeniable as a high school girl is orphaned when her father is killed only to learn that his role as chairman to a yakuza clan now passes to her. No rules on age or gender means the tough gangsters are now under her command, and with rival clans hot on their heels at the sign of weakness it’s a sometimes wild ride. It’s also too often a very sedate and straightforward one, though, It’s never dull, but there’s far more downtime than you’ll probably want in your yakuza tale. Still, it’s an interesting watch.
[Extras: Theatrical version and “complete” version, documentary]
Also out this week:
Curiosa, Deported [KL Studio Classics], Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within [4K UHD], Night Has a Thousand Eyes [KL Studio Classics], Once Upon a Time in China [Criterion Collection], Prisoners of the Ghostland, Slow Dancing in the Big City [Scorpion Releasing], Wildland
Related Topics: Home Video