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 20th, 2023! This week’s home video selection includes new UHDs of Ronin and The Manchurian Candidate, James Cameron’s spectacular Avatar: The Way of Water, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Ronin [4K UHD, KLK Studio Classics]
What is it? A group of thieves come together for a job that immediately goes sideways.
Why see it? John Frankenheimer was a master filmmaker delivering more than a few unforgettable masterpieces. This film, released just four years before his death, shows him going out at the top of the game with a thrilling cat and mouse thriller filled with stunning car chases, memorable characters/performers, and a ton of antihero fun. Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, and Stellan Skarsgard headline, but the real stars are the action set-pieces delivering some epic car chases. One of them is arguably a top three car chase ever — it’s a fist-clenching masterclass in crafting four-wheeled thrills. The film has always looked good thanks to DP Robert Fraisse, but it pops beautifully with this new 4K UHD as sharp details bring it all to life.
[Extras: New 4K master/scan, commentary, interviews, featurette, alternate ending]
Avatar: The Way of Water
What is it? A spectacle for your eyes, ears, and heart.
Why see it? My thought on the first film are below, but for now let’s just say it’s a visual treat that leaves me cold. This follow up, though, is an improvement in every possible way. The visuals feel even more impressive as they immerse viewers into a wet, new world, but the real change comes in the character and thrills. Even with an epic running time, there’s no feeling of downtime slog here, as instead the film keeps a sense of momentum and urgency throughout. Part of that comes in the stronger characters this time around with even good ol’ Jake Sully/Sam Worthington winning your interest and concern. The film’s final hour is an extended battle/chase that delivers one rousing beat after the last, and don’t be surprised if it wrings a tear or two from you along the way. Just amazing stuff. The extras are basically a ton of featurettes exploring every facet of the film’s production, and it’s a fascinating watch for fans.
The Game Trilogy [Arrow Video]
What is it? Three films starring Yusaka Matsuda as a hitman who wants out of the business.
Why see it? These late 70s action/thrillers are making their proper debut outside of Japan, and it’s difficult to see why it’s taken so damn long. They may not be lost classics, but each of the three films — The Most Dangerous Game, The Killing Game, and The Execution Game — brings the goods in the form of atmosphere and stylish action antics. Gunplay and roughhousing excite while the central character, a grim antihero who crosses more than a few lines on his journey, holds the attention with his desire to leave squashed at every turn. The action is sometimes sparse, but the attitude is constant, and whether touching on noirs or yakuza thrills, the films are terrific finds.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews]
The Manchurian Candidate [4K UHD, KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A veteran begins to suspect his former commander may be a sleeper agent.
Why see it? John Frankenheimer rarely misses, and that was evident even way back in 1962 when he delivered this tense thriller about a squad of American soldiers captured behind enemy lines and hypnotized with deadly intent. One of them has become a ticking time bomb awaiting orders to kill, and only Frank Sinatra holds the key to stopping him. Add in Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, and a deliciously evil Angela Lansbury, and you have a stellar thriller capturing the paranoia and mistrust of a nation. The remake is okay, but the original remains a masterpiece, and this new 4K UHD brings it home with bold shadows and crisp details.
[Extras: New 4K scan/master, commentary, interviews, outtakes]
A Zed & Two Noughts / The Falls
What is it? Two films from Peter Greenaway.
Why see it? Zed & Two Noughts tells the story of twin brothers who lose their wives in a car accident and soon descend into a twisting interest in decay. They begin to focus on creating, crafting, and documenting decay of other lifeforms, and that simmering madness only grows — but rather than shift into horror, Greenaway finds a darkly humorous humanity at its core. The Falls is a pseudo-documentary about victims of a fictitious event, and its 194-minute running time is used to introduce each survivor and their story. It’s a challenging watch, due as much to that length as to its scattered structure, but the pieces come together in some intriguing and humorous ways to paint a final picture on humankind.
[Extras: Commentary, shorts]
Avatar [4K UHD]
What is it? A heartless sci-fi riff on Dances with Wolves.
Why see it? I’m clearly in the minority on this one seeing as the film is the highest grossing movie of all time, but it’s never been more than a glorified tech demo for me. Looks brilliant — even more so now in 4K — but it overstays its welcome, the characters ring hollow, and the funky clunkiness of it all keeps it from ever approaching your heart. Rewatches reveal it to be even more of a slog. The sequel (see above) addresses all these issues and delivers a flat-out masterpiece, but this original still limps along solely on the power of its admittedly impressive visuals.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A pilot struggles during the Korean War.
Why see it? William Holden stars as a weary pilot tasked with delicate and dangerous bombing runs during the Korean War. As a World War II vet, he knows what’s what, but the toll weighs heavy on his mind and family life (via wife Grace Kelly). This adaptation of James Michener’s celebrated novel is a solid film offering a glimpse at the ugliness of war beyond the casualties on the battlefield, but its pacing can leave a little to be desired. Still, war film fans are well served by aerial footage and combat beats.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary]
I Am a T-Rex
What is it? A kung fu flick with dinosaurs (and minimal kung fu).
Why see it? Okay, the kung fu may not actually be onscreen, but the film very much follows the tradition of so many kung fu flicks as a young dino is run “out of town” after a real badass arrives to kick everyone’s ass and take over. Our hero goes away, trains, and then returns to take down the big bad. That’s all well and good, but the animation here is so janky that you’d be forgiven from thinking it was produced in the late 90s. It wasn’t, of course, and there’s really no excuse.
Mr. Wong Collection [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A collection of five films starring Boris Karloff as… a celebrated Chinese sleuth.
Why see it? All five films — Mr. Wong, Detective, The Mystery of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong in Chinatown, The Fatal Hour, and Doomed to Die — were produced over a three-year period from 1938 to 1940, so while the yellowface is regrettable it’s also a product of the times. It’s understandable if that’s a dealbreaker, but if you can get past it the films are fun little thrillers headlined with Karloff’s engrossing performances. Street thugs, elusive killers, master thieves, and more fill the streets, and bringing them down is an entertaining time.
Red Sun [Radiance Films]
What is it? A man discovers he’s shacking up with a quartet of female killers.
Why see it? Even that premise suggests something more, and less, than you’ll find in this German curiosity from 1970. Our protagonist hooks up with an old flame only to discover that her and her three friends have formed a pact to kill new boy toys after five days. There’s a fascinating setup there, from the ticking clock to the social commentary on gender roles etc, but the film isn’t really interested in either one of those aspects. Some rough acting and filmmaking don’t help, and the end result is a film that never quite finds its footing. That said, the included essays offer some insight into the period and the talents, and that approach informs the film as relevant for its time. An interesting watch if not a wholly successful one.
[Extras: Scene-specific commentary, video essays]
Also out this week:
The Covenant, The Firm [4K UHD], Medicine for Melancholy [Criterion Collection], Polite Society, A Radiant Girl, Red River [Criterion Collection], Rin Tin Tin: Clash of the Wolves/Where the North Begins, Rodeo, Servant [Criterion Collection], Skinamarink, Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Vanilla Sky [4K UHD]
Related Topics: Home Video