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The Lighthouse Blu-ray Review: A Shining Beacon of Excellence

A two-hander where your two hands will be firmly embedded in your armrests.
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I wasn’t at all familiar with director and co-writer Robert Eggers until this masterful sophomore effort, but immediately added his debut, The Witch, to my must-see queue after falling under the spell of The Lighthouse. The film really shouldn’t work, and yet it’s about as close to perfection as I encountered in last year’s film slate. It’s a dialogue-rich two-hander that is so stage-ready it’s just missing spotlights, it’s a twisted cerebral thriller with some insane freak-out moments, and it’s filmed on actual film in black and white in a nearly-square 1.19:1 aspect ratio that legitimately makes it seem like

Joker Blu-ray Review: A Gritty Origin Story for Batman's Most Iconic Villain

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a strong performance as the Clown Prince of Crime.
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Numerous actors have depicted Batman’s most famous villain, the Joker, over the years, all with different takes on the evil clown. Joaquin Phoenix is the latest in a long line of actors that includes Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and Heath Ledger. Phoenix’s Joker is an emaciated, mentally ill, very psychotic, yet somewhat sympathetic character. His performance highlights the strong, yet controversial Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker, the highest-grossing Rated-R movie of all time, is set in early '80s Gotham City, where a garbage strike has led to an infestation of super rats. Gotham’s prognosis is bleak and

Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll Blu-ray Review: It's Good to Be the King

Hail! Hail! tells an important, albeit incomplete, story of an American music legend.
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Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll pays tribute to the man many consider the King of Rock 'n' Roll, through testimonials from peers and famous fans, from a drunken Jerry Lee Lewis, who makes the claim for he and his mama, to John Lennon appearing through archival footage on The Michael Douglas Show. The film also documents the 60th birthday celebration concert held in his honor, which takes up the last half of the film. Unfortunately, it doesn't paint a complete picture of Berry's life as he cuts interviews short when touchy subjects are broached. In 1986, Berry was

Blue Collar Blu-ray Review: Workingman's Blues

Paul Schrader's directorial debut gets a nice new release from Kino Lorber.
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After finding great success as a screenwriter on such movies as The Yakuza (directed by Sydney Pollack), Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese) and Obsession (Brian De Palma), Paul Schrader had the clout to demand the ability to direct his own scripts. His first film as director was Blue Collar, a down and dirty drama about three guys working on an assembly line at an auto plant who decide to rob their own union and find themselves over their heads. It is a realistic portrayal of the lower middle class and how big business and big unions can grind a person down

The Magic Sword Blu-ray Review: Dragons, Princesses, and Basil Rathbone

A film so bad the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 called it "pretty good."
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Poor Basil Rathbone. After finding great success on stage and the screen, after becoming a huge star playing Robin Hood, after being nominated for two Oscars, and portraying the definitive Sherlock Holmes (at least until a certain Mr. Cumberbatch came along), he ended his career mostly hamming it out in drek. In the last decade of his life, he made films like Hillbillys in a Haunted House, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, and this rather silly sword and sandals fantasy. The Magic Sword is probably best known today as one of the many films ridiculed on Mystery Science Theater

Trapped (1949) Blu-ray Review: Great Restoration of a B-movie

Previously only available in murky, ugly prints, pretty good crime thriller Trapped has been beautifully restored in HD.
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Film noir are crime movies, but not all crime movies are film noir. There has to be an element of tragedy to the film noir - of a normal person (criminal or not) who takes an opportunity to do indulge their worse nature, and their world falls apart around them because of it. A real film noir needs to be about a failing of moral choice. There has to be some chance that the main character could have acted in a different way, may have wanted to, really, but they had their moment of weakness. An itch they just had

Very Bad Things Blu-ray Review: What Happens in Vegas Doesn't Always Stay in Vegas

A difficult, but hilariously dark morality tale about men behaving really, really badly.
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After Pulp Fiction (arguably the film that defined the 1990s) came out, it changed the dynamic of how violence was depicted in the movies back then. It kind of signaled a genre that could be called the "Violent New Wave," where some films used violence just as a selling point, while others used it as an important piece of the puzzle to show how far society has fallen. Actor-turned-director Peter Berg's polarizing 1998 black comedy, Very Bad Things, can be placed in between the two. On one side, it's about how masculinity can take some really unsavory turns; the other,

Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s, Volume 2 Blu-ray Review: The Love Triangle Continues

The impressive work put into making these cartoons available in high definition should be commended and make one hopeful for future animated releases from Warner Archive.
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After a disclaimer about the unfortunate ethnic and racial depictions that occur in a few shorts, Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s, Volume 2 presents the next 15 titles released in chronological order, which debuted during the years 1946 and 1947. For those who don't know the cartoon series, the stories make frequent use of a basic template. Popeye has a girlfriend named Olive Oyl, or at least that's what he thinks the nature of their relationship is. Bluto (or his stand-in) catches her eye and she runs off with him, but then when he gets sexually aggressive with her, she

IT Chapter Two Blu-ray Review: We All Bloat Down Here

In which Pennywise, the shapeshifting killer clown, strikes back! And scares no one.
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IT is back. The Losers Club, a tight-knit group of kids—good kids—with chips on their shoulders, humiliated Pennywise the dancing (and shapeshifting) killer clown (Bill Skarsgard), forcing him to hide in his hole. Now, 27 years later, Pennywise (he, she, “IT”) wakes from its slumber, hungry for flesh. Loser flesh. As conceived by director Andy Muschietti, Pennywise always looks and sounds demonic. But IT Chapter Two and its 2017 predecessor over-telegraph the evil. IT’s mouth drools. The head is bulbous, spider-like. The blood-tear makeup is sinister. Skarsgard goes all in to give us all kinds of creep. By contrast, the

Stick Blu-ray Review: Burt Reynolds Should Have Stuck to Acting

A sluggish, limp and completely uninteresting Elmore Leonard adaptation.
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More than half of Elmore Leonard’s novels have been turned into movies (and more than a few were adapted twice, not to mention television shows based on his work). It is easy to see why. Leonard writes like he’s got a movie in mind. His books are full of actions, his characters well-drawn, and he’s got an ear for dialogue. Sometimes, he’ll break long sections of dialogue down like a script with the character's name written out at the beginning of each line followed by what they say. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on a character’s inner dialogue

Universal Horror Collection, Volume 3 Blu-ray Review: Not Quite Scary

Volume 3 of this ongoing collection features four lesser films from the Universal Horror archives which will thrill any fan.
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Universal horror will always be synonymous with a handful of monsters and the dozens of films the studio made starring them. We’re talking Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Wolf Man. These are the enduring staples of a genre that lasted from the 1920s through the 1950s and whose legacy lasts even today. But Universal Studios made loads of other horror films staring dozens of other monsters, murderers, and villains. Most of these have long been forgotten, but now Scream Factory is bringing them back in high definition in their

She (1984) Blu-ray Review: Post Apocalyptic Nonsense

A low budget, low frills, completely ridiculous, and totally awesome early '80s masterpiece.
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I wonder if you could draw a line from the sword and sandal epics from the early 1960s to the post-apocalyptic movies of the 1980s. In other words, did movies like Spartacus and Hercules in the Haunted World influence films like Mad Max, The Beastmaster, and the movie I’m currently reviewing, She. All of these films feature both men and women in revealing costumes, whether it be form-fitting togas, short skirts with those feather-looking pterugas (and who says you don’t learn new words when writing movie reviews?), or general leg- and navel-bearing clothing. They do battle against hordes of evil

A Sunday in the Country Blu-ray Review: A Day in the Life

A loving portrait of country living, and a life full of regrets.
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Never was a film so aptly titled as A Sunday in the Country. The only way to make it more accurate would be to call it "Very Little Happens on a Sunday in the Country." Or perhaps "An Old Man’s Family Visits Him in the Country and Nothing Much Happens." As you might surmise from my snark, A Sunday in the Country is a film in which the plot is inconsequential. It isn’t about what is happening on screen but rather the mood it evokes, and the emotions it characters are feeling. The old man is Monsieur Admiral (Louis Ducreux),

Judy (2019) Blu-ray Review: A Look at Life After the Rainbow

Renee Zellweger's outstanding performance is the sole reason to see this otherwise formulaic biopic.
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There is no denying that all of the praise and awards attention that Renee Zellweger has been receiving for her performance as Judy Garland is justified. Zellweger disappears into the role of the troubled star in her final days when her acting career was behind her and she turned to performing at various venues to try to get by. It’s a devastating performance, and it wouldn’t be a shock if she took home all of the awards. I just wish the movie surrounding her performance was as captivating as she is. Director Rupert Goold brushes through so many aspects of

Tunes of Glory Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Acting Tour de Force

Alec Guinness (with a Scottish brogue) squares off with John Mills in this military drama.
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I have been on a bit of an Alec Guinness kick of late. He’s an actor I knew and loved from epic dramas like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia and of course as the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films. It has been a true treat then to dive deeper into his filmography and find so many wonderful performances. He was known to me mostly as a dramatic actor and so it has been a delight finding what a charming comedic actor he also was in films like The Man in the

Long Day's Journey into Night (2018) Blu-ray Review: A Beautiful Dream

An incredible feat of filmmaking that left me breathless and confused.
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You gotta love marketers. They can make you lots of money and screw you at the same time. Bi Gan’s second feature film Long Day’s Journey into Night (which has nothing to do with the Eugene O'Neill play) was marketed in his homeland of China as a romantic event. For its opening night on New Year's Eve, the film was scheduled so that it would end as the clock struck midnight. It was suggested its closing scene, which involved two people engaged in a romantic kiss, would make a perfect time for couples to bring a kiss into the new

Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection Blu-ray Review: Becoming a Master

Five early Hitchcock films come to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and show the Master of Suspense learning his craft.
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From a very early age, Alfred Hitchcock knew he wanted to be in the filmmaking business. He read the trade papers and went to the cinema and knew that's what he wanted to do. He landed his first job in the industry at age 20 in 1919 as a title card designer. From there, he began co-writing scripts and working as an art director and then a production manager. By 1922, he was set to direct his first film, Number 13, but financing ran out after only two reels had been shot and production was shut down. Sadly, all footage

Christmas in July Blu-ray Review: A Gift in Any Month

It's impressive how much ground Preston Sturges' story covers in its brief 67-minute runtime while neither feeling overstuffed nor rushed.
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Christmas in July, the second outing for Preston Sturges as a writer/director, is based on his play A Cup of Coffee. Despite the film's title and artwork containing a wreath, this is not a Christmas movie. It's an entertaining comedy and the message it contains about the value in believing in one's self and having the belief of others is a gift to audiences. Maxford House Coffee is holding a slogan contest with a first prize of $25,000. The jury is deadlocked on picking a winner because of lone holdout, Mr. Bildocker (William Demarest). One of the entrants is Jimmy

The Anne Bancroft Collection Blu-ray Review: Prepare to Be Seduced

A lovingly curated (if cheaply put together) collection that highlights one of the all-time great actresses' careers.
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Anne Bancroft landed her first film role in 1952 as a lounge singer in Don’t Bother to Knock. For the next 50+ years, she worked steadily on both the big and small screen and on stage. In that time, she won an Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globes, two Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards plus a slew of others and garnered many more nominations. Today, she is mostly known as Mrs. Robinson, the older woman trying to seduce a young Dustin Hoffman (though in reality, she was just six years older than him) in The Graduate. But the

Hustlers Blu-ray Review: Hustles the Audience

Aside from some energetic performances, the film shows very little hustle.
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Inspired by a true story, Hustlers follows a group of conniving strippers as they turn the tables on their clients for illicit gains. The film aspires to be some sort of postmodern female-empowerment tale, but has such a paper-thin plot, weak character development, and wan direction that it ends up being an utterly bland, disposable affair. Even the casting of this film is a bit of a hustle, since Jennifer Lopez is clearly the biggest name and draw in the cast but acts as a secondary character in the story told from the perspective of Constance Wu’s newbie stripper character,

Road Games (1981) Blu-ray Review: Today's Roadkill, Tomorrow's Bacon

Fans of this 1981 Ozploitation nailbiter claim it is worthy of Hitchcock's best. They are not wrong.
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From scene one of Road Games, the film grabs us. There is an extended moment, however, when we realize we are in the hands of a director who knows exactly what he wants and has the chops to pull it off, and it comes several minutes into the picture: Stopping at a diner in the Australian outback to fuel up and stretch his legs—but most importantly call the cops—a well-read trucker, Quid (Stacy Keach), tries in vain to be heard over the other customers. Reception on the line is bad. Shifty-looking dudes play a loud tune on the jukebox, and

Millennium Actress Blu-ray Review: Animated Japanese Film Fantasia

Satoshi Kon's second anime feature film about an actress' pursuit of a lost love intertwines fiction and reality.
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It's a love letter to film, a historical overview of early to mid-century Japan, and a biography of an actress told through scenes from her films. Millennium Actress is an incredibly ambitious, assured, and unconventional animated film, but it's unconventional in a different way than most out-there animated films. The animation isn't abstract or particularly mind-bending. There's no bizarre shock scenes or wild camera movements that would be impossible in the real world. Watching just individual scenes, one would think it could be made as a live action film without substantially changing a single shot. But Millennium Actress has such

The Fly Collection Blu-ray Review: Be Excited, Be Very Excited to Own This

Scream Factory brings the entire The Fly series into a terrific boxed set that makes a perfect Christmas gift.
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It is a deceptively simply story. A man invents a machine that can instantly teleport matter from one place to another (like the transporters on Star Trek). At first, he teleports inanimate objects then moves on to animals and eventually himself. It is that last bit where things turn horrific. While teleporting himself, an innocuous house fly accidentally flies into the device, causing it to fuse both man and fly into one horrifying beast. But that simple (and let’s be honest, kind of silly) concept which initially came into existence through a short story became a 1950s science fiction movie

The Goldfinch Blu-ray Review: A Beautiful but Messy Underachievement

The Goldfinch boasts an impressive cast and gorgeous cinematography, but fails to capture the intensity or depth of its adapted novel.
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Every few years, a book comes along that everyone reads. Every book club picks it as a must-do, and it becomes a cultural capstone. Books like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Road become shoe-ins to be adapted into films. One of these books was Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. The book nears 800 pages, winning the Pulitzer Prize and several other "Book of the Year" awards across publications and organizations. It polarized critics and audiences alike, becoming a source of dinner table conversation in the end of 2013 and through 2014. With a book of that magnitude, there

The Fan (1981) Blu-ray Review: Bloody '80s Stalking Thriller

Michael Biehn is a creepy but underdeveloped stalker obsessed Lauren Bacall in '80s New York.
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The Fan was made in 1981. It's about a deranged man who kills people. He uses a special weapon to do so...and yet, somehow it is not a cheap, cheesy slasher movie. This is against all odds (and apparently against the film's best efforts). A psychopath obsessed with a woman in the early '80s by all cinematic law should defy laws of physics, find new and interesting ways to kill all his victims, and should be implacable, speak no dialogue, and have a catchy name in case we need The Fan II. Instead, The Fan becomes an often interesting, if

Now, Voyager Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Superior Tearjerker

A beloved 1942 Bette Davis classic gets a stellar release from the Criterion Collection.
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With her saucer eyes, unparalled intensity, and unbridled non-vanity, Bette Davis has been and still is regarded as one of the greatest stars in Hollywood history, and rightly so. She always brought her signature style to every role she portrayed, even the lesser ones, with honesty and unapologetic passion. Arguably, her performance in Irving Rapper's celebrated 1942 adaptation of Olive Higgins Prouty's novel of psychotherapy and family dynamics: Now, Voyager, was her at the pinnacle of her gifts, at least until her most cherished role as Margo Channing in All About Eve. She plays Charlotte Vale, a nervous and neurotic

All About Eve Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: All the World's a Stage

The legendary Oscar-winning film arrives in a brand-new 4K restoration, just in time for its 70th anniversary.
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Best Picture Oscar winners don’t always age well, but as All About Eve approaches its 70th anniversary, it’s every bit as entertaining and relevant as ever. The film garnered six well-deserved Oscars out of a lofty total of 14 nominations, including two wins for Joseph L. Mankiewicz as writer and director. The plot is a fascinating study of betrayal, as a young up-and-coming actress named Eve (Anne Baxter) seeks to supplant her idol, aging stage star Margo (Bette Davis). The story should be required viewing for every aspiring actor as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of success, although its

Jake Speed Blu-ray Review: When Indiana Jones and Brendan Fraser Aren't Available, Call Jake Speed

Action, adventure, romance! What more could a teenage boy want?
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My mother likes to call the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies “a poor man’s Indiana Jones.” What she means is that both series star attractive, charismatic male leads who embark on thrilling adventures dealing with archeology and ancient myths, but that the Mummy series doesn’t have quite the high quality as the Indiana Jones films. Like a Big Mac, The Mummy might satisfy a certain type of hunger, but they’ll never be as satisfying as a good steak. Well, if The Mummy is a poor man’s Indiana Jones, then Jake Speed is a poor man’s Mummy. It is the Taco Bell

The Fare Blu-ray Review: Groundhog Day in a Cab

Low budget sci-fi thriller has some interesting ideas, but can't quite pull it off.
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A taxicab driver named Harris (Gino Anthony Pese) gets a call to pick up someone in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing on the radio except alien conspiracy theories and discussions on the female orgasm. Dispatch calls to ask his ETA to the fare. A few minutes later, he picks up Penny (Brinna Kelly). They talk amicably for awhile then she disappears. Poof! Gone. He slams on the brakes and looks around, but she is nowhere to be found. His seatbelt won’t unfasten. He calls in to dispatch but only gets questions about his sobriety. Being a good cabbie,

Funan Blu-ray Review: A Genocide Through the Eyes of One Family

A beautiful telling of a tragic story.
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In the mid to late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia as one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. Led by Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge wanted to take Cambodia back to what they called “Year Zero” or an egalitarian, agrarian society cleaned from what they thought to be the terrible influences of capitalism. On a practical level, this meant emptying the cities and marching everyone into rural collectives where they would be forced into slave labor. Anybody thought to be an intellectual (including those who wore glasses or spoke a second language) were summarily executed.

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