For all the standard reasons physical media matters — the exclusive extras, the permanence compared to many streaming platforms — 2021 has added yet another: Audiences who for various reasons don’t feel secure about going into theaters can enjoy big-screen releases in the safety of their homes. After a hybrid release for “Black Widow,” Disney/Marvel went theatrical-only with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and it’s a gamble that paid off at the box office. But if you didn’t want to be among the throngs checking out the movie adaptation of the martial-arts superhero, this month’s Blu-ray release brings the movie to you, along with tons of deleted scenes and a commentary track recorded by director Destin Daniel Cretton and screenwriter Dave Callaham.
Also available: Unlike many a kid property brought to the big screen, “PAW Patrol: The Movie” (Nickelodeon/Paramount) had critics (including TheWrap’s Yolanda Machado) exploring its deeper meanings; “Respect” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) doesn’t rock the biopic boat, but Jennifer Hudson gives it her all as Aretha Franklin; Jessica Chastain has her own attempt at bringing a larger-than-life figure to life in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (20th Century Studios); The Rock and Emily Blunt strain their way through the overblown ride-adaptation “Jungle Cruise” (Walt Disney Home Entertainment), but the action-comedy obviously appealed to enough passengers, as a sequel has been announced.
One of those smaller-release movies that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of awards season — particularly since another film with the same title is just around the bend — Todd Stephens’ “Swan Song” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) features indelible performances by Udo Kier and Jennifer Coolidge (both given a rare opportunity to play against type), but it’s also an all-too-rare character study of a gay man who survived the AIDS era only to find himself facing aging and death without his friends beside him. This moving and funny tale of a legendary hairdresser’s final assignment ranks among the year’s smartest and most charming indies.
Also available: Believe the hype — Nicolas Cage gives a performance in “Pig” (Neon) that’s measured, powerful, and unforgettable; Ben Platt gets to play his own age in “Broken Diamonds” (FilmRise) as a writer forced to take in his mentally-ill sister, played by Lola Kirke; earthquakes, circumcisions, and yes, video games play major roles in the lives of four 1990s-era Filipino teens in “Death of Nintendo” (Altered Innocence).
Winston Duke leads an all-star cast in “Nine Days” (Sony Pictures Classics), a contemplation of souls jockeying for position to be born; a violinist and a movie star, both Americans, fall in love in Ireland in “Finding You” (Lionsgate); in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” (GDE), two women formerly involved in a polyamorous relationship cross paths and revive both passions and wounds from the past.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s acclaimed “Wife of a Spy” (Kino Lorber) offers the kind of espionage-based thrills you might expect, but it also asks deeper questions about the imperatives that compel people to act against their own nation’s best interests, in this case, the agendas of WWII-era Japan. And if that weren’t enough, Kurosawa also finds space to explore the details of a marriage, and what happens when one spouse gets swept up into the other’s dangerous activities.
Also available: Isabelle Adjani stars as one of a trio of French-Algerian “Sisters” (Icarus Films Home Video) who must put aside their differences to find their long-lost brother; Norwegian Oscar entry “Hope” (KimStim) stars Stellan Skarsgård as an artist who must contend with his ailing partner’s diagnosis; the horrific events of “Chernobyl 1986” (Capelight) force a group of firefighters to risk their lives in the hopes of preventing further catastrophe; Noémie Merlant stars in “Curiosa” (Film Movement) as poet Marie de Régnier, who embarks on a passionate love affair with fellow writer Pierre Louÿs.
Danish import “Wildland” (Film Movement) blends the gangster and coming-of-age genres as an orphaned teen confronts the dark truths about her extended family; Isabelle Huppert wickedly tackles the regal-matriarch role in the “Snow White” update “White as Snow” (Cohen Media Group); Suzanne Lindon (daughter of “Titane” star Vincent Lindon) made her debut as a writer-director at the age of 20 with the acclaimed “Spring Blossom” (KimStim), which premiered at Cannes; a teenager and his father experience the grim realities of WWI as members of Latvia’s national battalion in “The Rifleman” (Omnibus Entertainment).
A 37-year-old former tennis prodigy becomes determined to compete in the French Open in the sports drama “Final Set” (Film Movement); in the saucy “Who You Think I Am” (Cohen Media Group), cougar Juliette Binoche catfishes a sexy younger man; two married, middle-age men reunite and recall their tempestuous teen love affair in the Spanish LGBTQ drama “Isaac” (Breaking Glass Pictures); “Our Ladies” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) follows a group of 1990s Scottish Catholic school girls to a choir competition in Edinburgh, who use the trip to the big city as an opportunity to cut loose and get wild.
Packaged with the new CD version of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts” (Sony Music/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) comes a Blu-ray of all 13 songs in their set, presented for the first time in their entirety and newly remastered. By comparison, only three of Springsteen’s songs made it into the original 1980 documentary “No Nukes.” The event marked the first time that Springsteen and his band had been captured on film — as well as the first time “The River” had ever been performed for an audience — and it’s a rare opportunity to see the 1970s version of these legendary musicians. (What constitutes their “heyday” would be up to hardcore fans to decide.)
Also available: Other notable music-based releases this month include a pair of Kino Lorber releases — the concert film “Genesis: When in Rome: 2007” and a documentary about the planning of a tour that never happened because of COVID-19, “Genesis: The Last Domino?” — and two HBO documentaries, “Tina,” about newly-minted Hall of Famer Tina Turner, and “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” both demonstrate the upsides and the disadvantages of making documentaries that involve the direct participation of their subjects. The access is great, and the music gets to be included, but both films leave you wondering about the questions unasked and the topics unbroached. A much franker take can be found in “Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly-Glenn Copeland Story” (Greenwich Entertainment), about the groundbreaking trans composer.
Ken Burns turns his attention to one of the 20th century’s most dynamic and controversial figures, “Muhammad Ali” (PBS); “Let Them Eat Dirt” (Icarus Films Home Video) suggests that modern parenting is depriving children of the ability to build strong immune systems; Jeffrey Schwarz’s insightful “Tab Hunter Confidential” (FilmRise) adapts the Hollywood icon’s autobiography, capturing the glamorous Hollywood closet that imprisoned the leading man for much of his career.
If “Citizen Kane” and “Mank” left you wanting to know more about media mogul William Randolph Heart, “Citizen Hearst” (PBS) is here with answers; take an immersive look at the denizens that make a forest a forest in “The Hidden Life of Trees” (Capelight); the forests and all of nature’s wonders can be a dining room as the celebratory “Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan” (Greenwich Entertainment) attests, capturing the work of the man who took al fresco eating to new heights.
“In Balanchine’s Classroom” (Zeitgeist Films) captures the life and work of the genius behind the New York City Ballet; a one-of-a-kind music venue is celebrated in “Enormous: The Gorge Story,” and a one-of-a-kind musician is celebrated in “Karen Dalton: In My Own Time” (both Greenwich Entertainment).
Since the guiding factor of what titles get released in 4K UHD is, “What movies can we get collectors to buy, yet again?”, a certain amount of canonical stodginess can sometimes seep into what does and doesn’t get made available in the format. So it’s exciting to see something as eccentrically brilliant as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) make the cut. Director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter take the Cold War conformity of the original movie and brilliantly update it to Me Decade–era San Francisco, and the results blend biting satire with genuine dread and chills. This new release packs its pods with extras, including two commentaries and various interviews and featurettes.
Also available: Nia DaCosta’s remake of “Candyman” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) didn’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a provocative take on the material that incorporates unsettling deep-focus cinematography and even shadow puppetry; even after his death, director Wes Craven remains an essential figure in contemporary horror, and his fans can snag new bonus-packed editions of “The Hills Have Eyes” (Arrow) and “Deadly Friend” (Scream Factory); take in an entertainingly sleazy double feature of Mexican genre cinema with “Night of the Bloody Apes” & “Doctor of Doom” (VCI Entertainment).
A teenager and his friends spend the “Summer of 84” (Gunpowder & Sky) spying on the police office next door, who may well turn out to be a serial killer; D’Arcy Drollinger stars in and directs the drag-packed action extravaganza “S—t & Champagne” (Utopia); the hijinks continue at H.P. Lovecraft’s institution of higher learning in “The Resonator: Miskatonic U” (Full Moon Features); Japanese folklore gets wild in Yokai Monsters Collection (Arrow), the first Blu-ray collection of these memorable films, including Takashi Miike’s “The Great Yokai War.”
It’s pimps versus a maniacal cult in the French free-for-all “Mania Killer” (Full Moon Features); the 1980s cult comedy “Dirty Laundry” (MVD Rewind Collection) boasts an unusual cast that includes pop singers (Frankie Valli and Sonny Bono), Olympians (Carl Lewis and Greg Louganis), and TV veterans (Leigh McCloskey and Robbie Rist); a group of senior citizens resort to extreme, and even homicidal, measures to save their apartment building in the horror-comedy “Homebodies” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); Sundance midnight movie “Coming Home in the Dark” (Dark Sky Films) sets a family off on the worst road trip imaginable.
There’s no chandelier, but “Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge” (Arrow) puts a mercantile spin on the classic tale; the death of the emperor leads to upheaval in the martial-arts saga “The Emperor’s Sword” (Well Go USA Entertainment); an orphan in Sao Paulo’s Japanese community learns that she is a “Yakuza Princess” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) and travels halfway around the world to claim her birthright; gonzo Japanese genius Sion Sono makes his English-language debut with “Prisoners of the Ghostland” (RLJE Films), starring Nicolas Cage.
Filmed and abandoned in 1984, the cult curiosity “New York Ninja” (Vinegar Syndrome) makes its Blu-ray debut in a complete HD restoration, boasting a genre all-star cast that includes Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Linnea Quigley, Michael Berryman, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Ginger Lynn, and Cynthia Rothrock; babysitting has never been anything like what happens to the hapless hero of the creepy “Caveat” (Shudder/RLJE); Arrow offers two cornerstones of Italian horror cinema, Giorgio Ferroni’s 1960 “Mill of the Stone Women” and Dario Argento’s iconic “Deep Red.”
The Criterion Collection is getting into the 4K business, launching the venture with a troika of essential American classics: Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” and Albert and Allen Hughes’ “Menace II Society.” Collectors will want to snap them up, but anyone looking for new extra features should be advised that there are none on the Lynch and only one new interview on “Menace.” The “Kane” collection, as befits its status in cinema history, comes loaded with new goodies as well as vintage favorites.
Also new from Criterion this month is a breathtaking box set of Tsui Hark’s “Once Upon a Time in China” series, featuring five films (and scads of extras) on six discs, as well as a Blu-ray of “La Strada,” making its debut as a stand-alone after being included in the label’s Fellini box.
Also available: Once misunderstood by critics, the brilliant song-packed satire “Josie and the Pussycats” (Mill Creek Entertainment) gets a 20th anniversary Blu-ray; as a film director, Stuart Gordon is best known for horror films like the splattery “Re-Animator,” but he was also one of the stage’s foremost interpreters of David Mamet’s work, something he finally got to do on screen with “Edmond” (MVD Marquee Collection); whether it’s good planning or supply-chain issues inspiring you to shop early for Christmas presents this year, pick up the new 4K box set “Star Trek”: The Original Four Movies (CBS/Paramount) for a fan you know (or for your own library).
As a film historian, I’m excited that 100th-anniversary editions are going to become more and more of a thing in the decades to come, with the Paramount Presents release of the Rudolf Valentino classic “The Sheik” whetting my appetite for more; Kino Lorber offers up three classic W.C. Fields comedies, “The Bank Dick,” “It’s a Gift,” and “The Old Fashioned Way” (Kino Lorber); fans of “Minari” should absolutely pick up the new Film Movement box set “The Early Films of Lee Isaac Chung” or at least grab “Munyurangabo,” “Lucky Life,” and “Abigail Harm,” each also available separately, and watch the development of an acclaimed filmmaker.
It’s not a defensible comedy by any means, but “National Lampoon’s Movie Madness” (MGM/Code Red) is one of those films for which I’ll always have a soft spot after repeated 1980s cable-TV exposure; three of Gloria Stuart’s suitors spend the night in a chamber where multiple murders took place in the pre-Code thriller “The Secret of the Blue Room” (Kino Lorber); Basil Rathbone stars as “The Mad Doctor” (Kino Lorber) who marries and murders her female patients for their money; George Peppard has “One More Train to Rob” (Code Red) in Andrew V. McLaglen’s Western comedy.
At long last, we get a Blu-ray release of the delectable all-star comedy whodunit “The Last of Sheila” (Warner Archive Collection), written by the legendary team of Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim; Montgomery Clift stars as “Freud” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) in John Huston’s biopic; Pierce Brosnan is a British soldier going undercover to investigate the Thuggee cult in India in the Merchant Ivory production “The Deceivers” (Cohen Film Collection); one of the last Hollywood films from noir master Robert Siodmak was “Deported” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), starring Jeff Chandler as a crime lord sent back to Italy, where he gets involved with the black market and possible romance.
Susan Hayward and Frances Farmer co-star in the Southern Gothic noir “Among the Living” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); action fave “Breakheart Pass” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) stars Charles Bronson as a prisoner who may be the only one to stop a string of murders aboard a locomotive in the Old West; Bronson and Jack Palance face off in another Western, “Chato’s Land” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics).
Not to be confused with the Parker Posey comedy, the first “Party Girl” (Warner Archive Collection) is a Nicholas Ray crime drama, featuring Cyd Charisse as the dancer who tries to get mob lawyer Robert Taylor to go straight; not to be confused with the Jodie Foster drama, “The Accused” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) stars Loretta Young as an assault victim who faces trial for committing manslaughter in self-defense; when bank robber Barbara Stanwyck gets sent to women’s prison, she becomes one of the “Ladies They Talk About” (Warner Archive Collection) in this tough, pre-Code crime drama.
Crime! Cross-dressing! Feminism! Blimps! “Filibus” (Milestone) has it all; Audie Murphy stars as himself in the WWII action saga “To Hell and Back” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), based on his memoir; “The Conqueror” was a bigger debacle, but John Wayne and mogul Howard Hughes didn’t fare much better with “Jet Pilot” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), although Janet Leigh’s Soviet aviatrix ranks among the Duke’s most memorable leading ladies; Nazis capture a touring American orchestra (conducted by Charlton Heston) in “Counterpoint” (Scorpion Releasing).
Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, and Dean Martin put Rat Pack shenanigans to the side for the dramatic “Some Came Running” (Warner Archive Collection), directed by Vincente Minnelli; Edward G. Robinson is a stage musician tormented by visions of the future in “Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); Sylvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy star in “Fury” (Warner Archive Collection), Fritz Lang’s searing anti-lynching drama; young Elizabeth Taylor ascended to stardom in “National Velvet” (Warner Archive Collection) and stayed there forever.
Decades before becoming a Broadway hit, Dickens’ unfinished novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) was adapted into a 1935 horror film starring Claude Rains; after “Rocky,” director John G. Avildsen crafted another plucky-underdog tale with “Slow Dancing in the Big City” (Scorpion Releasing); it’s a singing cowboy’s alpha and omega — Roy Rogers Double Feature: “Under Western Stars” & “Mackintosh and T.J.” (MVD Visual) collects the legendary star’s first and last feature-film appearances; Ben-Hur meets Lucille Bluth in “Number One” (MGM/Scorpion), a 1969 football drama featuring the unlikely pairing of Charlton Heston and Jessica Walter.
Gale Sondergaard vamps it up as only she can in “The Spider Woman Strikes Back” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); probably the cinema’s first gay sequel, “La Cage aux Folles II” (MGM/Scorpion) gets its lead couple mixed up with spies; it’s a little too white and a little too bougie, but “L.A. Story” (Lionsgate) does have some hilarious insights on the titular town.
If you’re a fan of Darren Star’s brand of female-focused narratives, mixing aspirational glam fantasy and quotidian workplace drama, clear a shelf for all the physical media coming your way: “Sex and the City”: The Complete Series + 2 Movie Collection (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), which gives you everything you ever wanted, plus “Sex and the City 2”; Star’s more recent hits are reflected in “Younger”: The Complete Series (Paramount Home Entertainment) and the thoroughly fluffy “Emily in Paris”: Season One (Paramount Home Entertainment), all of which will float you through the upcoming grim months of winter.
Also available: The 1993 Disney Channel version of “Heidi” (FilmRise) features Jason Robards, Jane Seymour, and Patricia Neal; have a little Stephen King comparison and contrast with “The Stand”: The Definitive 2-Series Collection (CBS/Paramount), featuring both miniseries adaptations of his post-apocalyptic doorstop novel; whether or not you’re buying the 4K “Star Trek” movie set (see above), why not spring for the beautiful steelbook box set of “Star Trek”: The Original Series (CBS/Paramount)?
George C. Scott took another crack at the historical figure who won him an Oscar in 1986’s “The Last Days of Patton” (FilmRise); they’d barely closed the sets on “Supernatural” before Jared Padalecki turned around and signed on for “Walker”: Season One (CBS/Paramount); speaking of classic-series reboots, get your kicks with “Kung Fu”: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment); it doesn’t get the love of “The Twilight Zone,” but Rod Serling’s subsequent anthology series “Night Gallery”: Season One (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) has its moments, including a creepy episode featuring Joan Crawford (at the end of her career) and directed by Steven Spielberg (at the beginning of his).
“Gomorrah: The Series”: Season 1 (Kino Lorber) kicks off the global hit based on the true saga of the Neapolitan crime syndicate; young Richard Burton stars in a 1950s live-TV version of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” (Liberation Hall), preserved from a kinescope recording of its one broadcast; speaking of the early days of TV, Paul Newman Trilogy (Liberation Hall) features a troika of early small-screen appearances (“The Army Game,” “The Rag Jungle,” “Five in Judgment”) featuring the legendary actor; while we patiently await news about a possible fourth season of “Hannibal,” we can attempt to slake our desire with “Clarice”: Season One (CBS/Paramount).
“Snowpiercer”: The Complete Second Season (TNT/WB) reminds you once again not to eat those protein bars; the ongoing release of the Japanese superhero saga continues with “Ultraman Dyna” (Mill Creek Entertainment); so charming and yet so problematic, “I Dream of Jeannie”: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment) captures a brand of sitcom whose like will probably never be seen again; those ragtag superheroes are at it again on “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”: The Complete Sixth Season (DC/WB).