Columbo: The 70s – Seasons 1-7 [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The first seven seasons of one of the great detective shows.
Why see it? Peter Falk headlines this fantastic series as Lieutenant Columbo, a dogged detective with the Los Angeles Police Department with a habit of talking his way through every case to a satisfying conclusion. Columbo works the case out loud, often to the suspect themselves, and there’s an eternally entertaining method to his madness. Each episode shows us the crime first, so these aren’t mysteries, but the fun comes in watching Columbo slowly tighten the noose around the villains’ necks. A who’s who of 70s stars, usually playing the baddies, bring additional fun including Robert Culp, Patrick McGoohan, Robert Vaughn, Ray Milland, Mariette Hartley, Ida Lupino, Leslie Nielsen, Dean Stockwell, Roddy McDowall, John Cassavetes, Vera Miles, Leonard Nimoy, Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Conrad, Janet Leigh, William Shatner, and more. There are no real extras to speak of here, but having the first seven seasons, remastered across twenty Blu-rays, is all you really need.
[Extras: New 4K remasters, both pilot films, episode guide booklet]
Avatar: The Way of Water – Collector’s Edition [4K UHD]
What is it? A superior sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time!
Why see it? The world of Pandora, a lush planet that’s home to blue giants and something called unobtainium, finds new life in this sequel to Avatar that sees our heroes making new ocean-based friends. The visuals are even more incredible this time around with locations and objects you’ll swear are real and action set-pieces that thrill even on multiple rewatches. Even better, James Cameron gets the drama, dialogue, and characters right this time too meaning you’re invested from the first frame to the last in a compelling tale of one family’s fight for survival. It’s a beautiful movie and an adrenaline-fueled ride that also finds time to tweak some tears from your eyes, and this new collector’s edition is a slick delight featuring the film on UHD and Blu-ray alongside two additional Blu-ray discs packed with extra features. Highly recommended.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Elegant Beast [Radiance]
What is it? A family of scammers and schemers deal with problems of their own making.
Why see it? Yuzo Kawashima’s early 60s feature is something of a comedy of manners as a family of four — a father, mother, and their adult son and daughter — deal with an influx of visitors to their tiny apartment. Each new arrival has taken issue with one member or another over some scam or the next. Their complaints are valid, but they’re no victims, and while the results aren’t necessarily laugh out loud funny there’s a deliciously dark thread of humor running throughout. The cast is strong, but the standout is Ayako Wakao as an accountant with more than a little scheming of her own. The entire film takes place inside the apartment giving things a play-like feel, but Kawashima keeps things lively with camera changes and a sharp script by Kaneto Shindo.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, interview, appreciation, visual essay, booklet]
Made in Hong Kong
What is it? A young couple, an independent Hong Kong, both doomed.
Why see it? Fruit Chan’s late 90s feature is tied to the handover of Hong Kong (from the UK to China) in both time and space. An independently produced drama working on a minimal budget, the film follows a young man heading towards an unavoidable end and the woman who loves him. Their journey is fueled as much by hope as by the unavoidable truth that things will not be working out for them, and the parallels to Hong Kong’s own fate add an additional weight to the tale. It’s beautiful but devastating, ugly but optimistic, and this new Blu-ray release is a keeper.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentary, interviews]
World Noir Vol. 1 [Radiance]
What is it? A collection of three films touching on the idea of the noir.
Why see it? It’s a good time to be a noir fan as numerous labels have been releasing box set collections exploring the myriad facets of the genre. Radiance gets into the game with their own approach, and it’s a winner. The three films here, all from outside the U.S. — the arguable birthplace to noir — touch on the genre without ever feeling like fully formed noirs. The most traditional of the three is Koreyoshi Kurahara’s I Am Waiting (1957), the story of a boxer and a woman going up against the mob. It’s familiar enough and won’t surprise you, but it’s an important film for the time and for Japanese cinema. Pietro Germi’s The Facts of Murder (1959) is probably the popular entry here, and it’s a great time as a detective (also Germi) works a robbery case that is quickly followed by murder. It’s a noir-ish procedural moving at a compelling pace and pairing its unfolding story against shadowy visuals and atmosphere. The winner here, for my money, is Edouard Molinaro’s Witness in the City (1959). A man kills the man who murdered his wife, but his meticulous plan is thwarted when a taxi driver sees him exit the dead man’s home. Silencing the driver seems the only option, but doubt, opportunity, and an army of cab drivers aren’t making it easy. Terrifically tense and suspenseful, thrilling with chases and violence, rich in character and expectation, this is a brilliant film and one of the great discoveries for me this year. Bring on Volume 2!
[Extras: New restorations, booklet, commentary, documentaries, visual essays, interviews]
Avatar – Collector’s Edition [4K UHD]
What is it? The highest-grossing film of all time gets a fantastic 4K collector’s edition.
Why see it? James Cameron’s #1 worldwide hit remains a miss for me outside of some action and those stellar visuals, but this new collector’s edition makes a strong case for adding it to your collection. The film, already a stunner on the visual front, absolutely pops in 4K with colors and details to spare. You’ve already seen it, so I’ll move onto this release’s extras which include three cuts of the film and numerous special features. This set includes everything the previous release did alongside some new extras including additional deleted scenes. The digipak is a slick one, magnetically connected with sleeves for each of the four discs. While the sequel is a must-own for the film alone, you may as well pick up this one two as they look great side by side.
[Extras: Theatrical, special edition, and collector’s extended cuts, featurettes, deleted scenes]
The Exorcist: Believer [4K UHD]
What is it? A legacy sequel that no one asked for.
Why see it? Regardless of where you stand on David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy — I myself am not a fan outside of the gory kills — the decision to have him direct a trilogy sequel to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was always suspect. (And the response to this first film has seen that grand plan shrink some…) Take it on its own merits, though, and, well, it’s still a misfire. Green lands some horror beats thanks to a combination of factors, but the drama and character work between them too often falls flat.
The Ghost Station
What is it? A subway station reveals a ghostly past.
Why see it? Asian cinema is rife with ghost stories, and the latest is a solid enough chiller from South Korea. A ghostly child is glimpsed at a subway station, and the witness is soon dead. A traumatic past, a deadly curse, and innocents doomed! It’s a creepy enough affair, but the film is hurt by an over-reliance on on loud jump scares. Nearly every scare, and there are a ton, is accompanied by a smash cut and a loud music cue. Accept that, and it’s an entertaining chiller with an engaging, heartbreaking tale at its core.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
What is it? A prequel to Stephen King’s classic.
Why see it? As much as I love King’s Pet Sematary and Mary Lambert’s film, both her sequel and the recent remake leave me cold. This prequel, though? Unnecessary as it may be, it succeeds at delivering a fun little horror tale giving feature length life to Jud Crandall’s short monologue from the original about his own brush with the deadly cemetery. It makes his later warning all the more half-hearted, but again, on its own merits this is a solid flick that finds some entertaining and creepy beats.
Sinner [Kino Cult]
What is it? One woman seeks the truth about the other woman.
Why see it? Jess Franco is a filmmaker whose work almost always turns me off. The genre elements and copious nudity have their place, but he’s so often a sloppy director — intentionally so — that those beats can’t survive the mess they’re a part of. It’s all subjective, of course, and Franco has many fans, but for me, no. For all of that, this 1973 effort mostly avoids that messy trapping to deliver a compellingly bleak (yet still sexy?) story about the pains of life. Kino’s new Cult label is new but has already been heavy on Franco, and for now at least this is the best of the Franco bunch.
[Extras: Commentary, interviews]
Underworld [4K UHD, Kino Cult]
What is it? Clive Barker’s first feature.
Why see it? Co-written by Barker and based on his own idea, Underworld is an early effort that already teases themes that would go on to become his favorites. Grotesquely deformed people live in the sewers and kidnap a beautiful young woman, and an ex gangster is hired to find her. The “monsters” are actually the good guys here, and their interests soon see them going head to head with gun-toting gangsters. It’s a genre mash-up, and while it doesn’t always work it’s rarely less than stylish on a budget. It’s incredible that the film, never on disc here previously, is now on 4K UHD, so thank you to Kino for this fantastic release. The director followed this up a year later with Rawhead Rex, also available in 4K from Kino.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary, featurettes, alternate and longer Transmutations cut]
The Wandering Earth II
What is it? A prequel to the first!
Why see it? The whole premise behind the Wandering Earth films is pretty stellar — our sun is dying, so humans band together to build giant engines to literally move Earth to a new solar system. Fucking wild stuff, and those big beats continue to impress with some terrific CG and explosive action. The character elements aren’t quite as strong, though, as the film’s melodramatic approach at times leaves long stretches of this long movie feeling as if they drag. The whole is still a solid endeavor, and paired with the first offer up an engaging universe the likes of which U.S. sci-fi hasn’t yet tapped. Our closest are probably the films on Roland Emmerich’s resume, but while some of those are more fun than they deserve to be they rarely land with anything resembling human emotion. So yeah, give this franchise a go!
Also out this week:
The Dead Zone [4K UHD, Scream Factory], JFK [4K UHD, Shout Select], Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, The Retirement Plan, Shaw Brothers Classics: Volume 4 [Shout Factory], Underworld [4K UHD, KL Studio Classics], What Happens Later