I don’t know if you’ve noticed but … there’s a ton of movie-related merchandise out there. That’s probably bad news for the state of our materialistic society, but it’s potentially good news for the gift giver stumped by what exactly to get a movies-loving loved one. We’ve covered some top-of-the-line gift ideas on our 10 Great Gifts for Movie Lovers list, but we recognize that 10 is a small number. You may be super popular, with tons of friend. You may have a gigantic family. And what about the Secret Santas? WHO WILL LOOK AFTER THE SECRET SANTAS?!
Anyway, here’s a truckload of other gift ideas for your favorite movie buff.
The Perfect “Anniversary” Gift
The Big Lebowski 20th Anniversary Limited Edition on 4K (Universal Home Entertainment, $38.25)
As visual stylists go, the Coen Brothers are among the most original American filmmakers of the past 30-plus years and along with frequent collaborators cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell, have a knack at creating films that are often mostly believable while at the same time, completely absurd. Like a pocket dimension of reality where things are mostly like they are in the real world. This is where The Big Lebowski lives, along with some of the more oddball characters you’re ever likely to meet including, of course, The Dude (who is largely based on a real person. One of the most quotable and quoted films of all time, it’s hysterical, surreal, profane and profound, and even oddly touching. Visually, The Big Lebowski is an exceptionally well-crafted film. Carefully composed, full of color and shade and with a visual style that’s made for the 4K treatment and which takes full advantage of HDR. The set comes with a mini bowling ball bag, bowling ball pencil holder, a polishing cloth that really ties the room together and a teeny little Dude’s sweater for the blu-ray case. —M.R.
2001: A Space Odyssey 50th Anniversary (Warner Bros., $24.99)
Following on the heels of last summer’s limited release of a new 70mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Warner Bros. Home Video has released the film on 4K UHD in honor of the film’s 50th anniversary. The disc was mastered from the 65mm original camera negative and includes both a remixed and restored 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track, as well as the original 1968 six-track theatrical audio mix, formatted for 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. As with the vast majority of 4K releases (and I am definitely repeating myself, here), the UHD disc only contains the film and the commentary from Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, while the rest of the supplements are on the accompanying 1080p disc. While 2001 might not be the film you put on to occupy the kids during a long Christmas holiday, it’s certainly one that stands to benefit from the increased capacity of 4K. —M.R.
My Neighbor Totoro 30th Anniversary Edition (GKIDS, $44.99)
By now, Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have permeated Western culture to the extent that at least most folks have heard of them or at least recognize a film or two. For parents wishing to introduce their children to animated classics not from the House of Mouse, though, a little discretion is needed—your six-year-old will not be ready for Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away for a few years yet. No worries, there’s a wonderful, ideal Miyazaki film awaiting them (a few, granted)—My Neighbor Totoro makes for an entrancing, enchanted intro to the master. To celebrate the 30th year since the film’s release, GKIDS has released a limited edition anniversary edition that most adult fans will want in their own collection. (You can let the kids watch it, too.) The set comes with a 40-page essay book, a disc of the complete soundtrack, and a main disc with extras that include plenty of behind-the-scenes content (story-boards, locations, etc.). This is one of the few animated films that make my list of “automatic recommend/everyone should see it.” So, do it, already. —M.B.
Die Hard 30th Anniversary 4K (20th Century Fox, $14.96)
Fox has done an excellent job with this release, having newly re-mastered the film in 4K. As with most movies that are shot on film and given a decent UHD treatment (rather than simply up-converting a 2K DI), Die Hard looks incredible. When done right, 4K releases are as close as you’re going to get to watching a film print in a good theater and to have that possibility at home, on a reasonably budget, is a boon of the highest order. However, if you’re one of those weirdoes who like your films all smooth and heavy on the noise reduction (freak), you won’t like this. There’s plenty of the original grain on display but it’s not overwhelming. Alas, Fox has chosen not to upgrade the audio to DTS:X or Dolby Atmos, but the existing DTS-HD-MA 5.1 mix is perfectly fine.—M.R.
50 Years of Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, $39.99)
The recent reboot of the Planet of the Apes series was justly lauded for the leap in animation and motion capture it represented (even as it continued the difficult work of clawing out more deserved respect for the acting chops of mo-cap specialists like Andy Serkis). But when it comes to dystopic visions of ape-ruled times, one doesn’t have to choose between the newer, sleeker Planet of the Apes series and the original—just grab this collection of all nine movies. Released for the 50th anniversary of the series, this collection includes Blu-ray and digital copies of all the Apes. (The recent trilogy is also available on 4K Ultra HD.) —M.B.
It’s a Big, Big World of 4K Offerings
As you might remember from last year, we have drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to 4K content and perhaps the format’s greatest quality is, when done right, how it can transform the viewing of older films. These following entries take advantage of the format in varying ways and are all worthy additions to your library. (All 4K discs reviewed in this guide were watched on a TCL 55P607 Roku TV, Sony UBP-X700 blu-ray player and a VIZIO SB36512-F6 36” 5.1.2 Home Theater Sound System with Dolby Atmos which we included in our Top 10 Gifts For Movie Lovers, last month.)
Grease: 40th Anniversary Edition 4K (Paramount, $17.21)
With Grease, I worried about how I was going to balance my fond childhood memories (I saw the original musical on Broadway and wore out the soundtrack record) with my more adult sensibilities. I hadn’t seen it in some time and remembered there being some troubling issues of gender politics in both song and plot and was fully prepared to equivocate in my write up. It turns out Grease is actually a nuanced and at times even feminist story. Yes, at times the film is less than subtle and sure, there are some issues treated less-than sensitively, but viewed as a whole, Grease is a much more subtle look at gender roles that one might think. As for the 4K treatment, the image looks fantastic and Dolby Vision HDR gives what was always a colorful movie a new life of vibrancy. A relative rarity with classic films, this edition comes with quite a few new extras, as well. —M.R.
Saving Private Ryan 20th Anniversary 4K (Paramount, $19.59)
Much has been said of the remarkable first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Kenneth Turan wrote in the LA Times, that “we are shown the invasion of France with a violence and an intensity that is almost beyond describing” and he’s not wrong. It’s not that the previous 1080p releases were bad. In fact, they are, by all accounts, astonishing. Paramount has done something remarkable then … they have improved on astonishing and much of the credit can go to the new Dolby Atmos sound mix and Dolby Vision HDR. This isn’t one of those films where you pop in the 4K and sit bolt upright, stunned at the transformation but it is one where, as you watch it, the cumulative affect of the added detail, both visual and auditory, blows you away. Based on what I’ve seen of Paramount’s 2018 4K treatments (including the exceptional Mission: Impossible collection, they’re taking this relatively new format very seriously. —M.R.
Superman: The Movie 4K (Warner Bros., $22.99)
This is a tough one to review, given the recent spate of exceptional comic book adaptations and the advances made in special effects over the past 40 years. For those born in the ’60s and ’70s, Superman: The Movie is a classic, and we all remember the wonder we felt seeing it in the theater. Prior to 1978, all we had for superheroes were cheesy TV shows and serials from the 1940s and while I loved TV’s Batman and The Adventures of Superman, Richard Donner’s big screen treatment was a whole other creature, entirely. The title sequence with John Williams’ iconic score is burned into my mind so much so that I find myself humming it from time to time, 40 years later. The talent on display is stunning. It stars multiple Oscar-winning actors Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, Oscar-nominees Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Valerie Perrine, Terrence Stamp and Susannah York and was shot by the late, great (2x Oscar-winner) Geoffrey Unsworth. Oh and Oscar-winner Mario Puzo (The Godfather, The Godfather II) wrote the original screenplay. On the other hand, there are a few optical effects and sets (the destruction of Krypton and Clark’s long march to the arctic) that are less-than flattered by the increased resolution, especially when compared to more modern fare but comparing those aspects of films made 40 years apart is a pointless exercise. The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a nice upgrade, and the Warner Bros. sound technicians have done a fine job using the newer format without overwhelming the viewer with needless bombast. Special note to those parents thinking about showing pre-teens one of your favorites from the past: While it is rated PG, Lois Lane’s death sequence is legitimately terrifying. —M.R.
Predator 4-Movie Collection 4K (20th Century Fox, $54.99)
This is another set that follows the recent trend of including films that are only available on 4K as part of the set. As with the Jack Ryan Collection we included in this year’s Top 10 list, this set contains some films that are not available as single discs, so if you want Predator 2 or Predators, you have to pony up for either this set or the 3-Movie Collection released earlier this year. (Only you know how much of a completist you are.) Predator remains one of the best sci-fi action films of the ’80s and reportedly it and Predator 2 received new 4K scans for their upgrade to UHD. Well, it shows. Fox’s transfers are exceptional and restore the original grain, while the HDR takes advantage of the format’s increased resolution to take advantage of muted jungle color palette of the first film, where previous releases were … murky. Unfortunately, Fox chose not to upgrade the sound mixes to Dolby Atmos. This year’s The Predator does have an Atmos mix, however. As with most 4K releases (especially with older films), almost all of the extras are only included on the accompanying 1080p blu-rays, with the first three films in the series only including the commentary on the 4K discs. (I wasn’t able to inspect the 4th film at press time, but the press release does seem to indicate that the extras will be included on that 4K disc.) —M.R.
Old Reliable: Six from the Criterion Collection
Since their curation and execution are generally exceptional, it’s impossible to cull a “best of” from the Criterion Collection’s yearly output. And while I will always have my “Hey! What about….” films (Local Hero and Miller’s Crossing top that list), Criterion remains a cinephile treasure trove. —M.R.
Bull Durham (Criterion Collection, $22.97)
Bull Durham is the best baseball movie ever made. Fight me. I understand that cases can be made for films such as The Pride of the Yankees or Field of Dreams, but it ain’t gonna work. Not only does Bull Durham get the baseball right (Tim Robbins’ woeful pitching motion, notwithstanding) but it manages to be a sports movie that romantics can love and a romance that sports fans can’t help but fall for. It’s an odd and rarely successful combo to be sure, but at its heart, baseball, especially at the minor league level, is as quirky as they come, which is probably one of the reasons Bull Durham works so well. I watch it at least twice a year. Criterion has done their typical excellent job on this, with a new 4K transfer, supervised by director Ron Shelton and a new conversation between Shelton and film critic Michael Sragow, along with a long list of excellent, previously available, extras.
My Man Godfrey (Criterion Collection, $21.12)
Depression-era Hollywood produced some excellent films that reflected on the socio-economic conditions of the times and openly questioned the prevailing idea that capitalism and the never-ending desire for wealth was a good idea. Films like Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It with You and this one from Gregory La Cava raise some questions about the validity of the American Dream and class system and while they can be somewhat simplistic—we are talking about Hollywood, after all—they’re still interesting snapshots of the times and exceptionally entertaining. My Man Godfrey was the first film to receive Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories and is both funny and a stinging rebuke to the idea that good behavior and propriety can be ignored if you’re rich enough. The 1936 film received a new 4K digital restoration as well as the typical mini-film school worth of extras expected of The Criterion Collection.
Some Like It Hot (Criterion Collection, $27.99)
Over time, some films age poorly, others hold up quite well and still others gain a newfound layer of meaning or importance due to current events or how modern society views history. There’s a fair amount of film scholarship out there praising Some Like It Hot as being ahead of its time in regard to how it portrays things like cross-dressing and (inadvertently, or not) homosexuality, but as Sam Wasson writes in the included essay, director Billy Wilder likely wasn’t trying to make that point. In every instance where a modern sensibility might see Wilder or writer I.A.L. Diamond as having a more evolved sense of gender roles or sexuality, they were, in fact, probably just going for the laugh. Regardless of intent, the film was ahead of its time in many ways, and were it not a comedy, I find it hard to believe that a studio in 1959 would have made a film with these themes. Wasson also states that one’s appreciation of Some Like It Hot can’t get better over time because it’s brilliant right out of the box. (I mostly agree.) Both during her tragically short life and for decades afterwards, Monroe was largely portrayed as a bimbo who lucked into roles or slept her way to the top, but in recent years there’s been something of a reappraisal of Monroe. She was a remarkable woman with exceptional talent, none of it accidental, and if you had the old impression, watching Some Like It Hot again may give you a new appreciation for the film as a whole. Some Like It Hot is a masterpiece, plain and simple.
The Princess Bride (Criterion Collection, $20.83)
It’s not hyperbole to refer to The Princess Bride and one of the most beloved films of all time. In fact it’s inconceivable that there are people out there who don’t love this film, although I suppose that there may be people with no sense of romance, whimsy or humor. So quotable that at times it seems like every line of the film has entered the public consciousness, The Princess Bride is one of those films that you watch when you’re happy and want to stay that way, as well as something you reach for when you’re sad and need a little lift and it never, ever gets old. There are precious few movies that truly fit that bill. For this release, Criterion has pulled out all the stops, providing a new, magnificent 4K restoration, as well as a new program about William Goldman’s screenplay, a new interview with art director Richard Holland and a new program about the tapestry based on the original novel that author Goldman commissioned, all presented in special packaging made to look like a storybook.
The Tree Of Life (Criterion Collection, $26.08)
Terrence Malick is probably the American filmmaker who could most be described as inscrutable. After his first two features, 1973’s Badlands and 1978’s Days of Heaven—both widely considered masterpieces—he virtually disappeared, not directing another film for two decades. He returned in 1998 with The Thin Red Line and has directed seven more features in the ensuing 20 years. 2011’s The Tree of Life is one of his more lauded recent efforts, a stunning achievement, presented here in a two-disc special edition which includes a new 4K digital restoration and the first release of the long-awaited 188-minute extended edition, as well as the original 139-minute cut. Nominated for three Academy Awards, The Tree Of Life is an ambitious film in every way. A nonlinear, largely experimental rumination on the meaning of life, it’s a visual, intellectual and metaphysical feast, shot by three-time Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant). I don’t suppose a couple of hundred words in a gift guide are going to hook someone who isn’t already pre-disposed to Malick’s work, but if there ever was a time to buy this film on BD, this is it. In addition to many previously released extras, the set also includes a new interview with star Jessica Chastain and senior visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, as well as two new video essays and a gorgeous 43-page booklet featuring essays by critics Roger Ebert and Kent Jones.
A Dry White Season (Criterion Collection, $26.99)
Starring Donald Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Zake Mokae, Jürgen Prochnow and Marlon Brando, Euzhan Palcy’s A Dry White Season is a film of firsts: The first major studio film directed by a black woman, the first U.S. film about Apartheid South Africa by a black filmmaker and the first time Brando was directed by a woman. Brando emerged from retirement to appear in the film for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, while he, Sutherland and Sarandon all cut their salaries in order to get the film made. A groundbreaking film in many respects, Criterion is releasing this film as a Director Approved Edition, with a new 4K digital restoration and a new interview with director Palcy by film critic Scott Foundas, as well as a 1989 interview with Donald Sutherland, and many other extras.
Give a Gift that Makes them Shout!
If you’ve read these guides over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed a few distributors and retailers that make repeat appearances and there’s a simple explanation for that: They do excellent work. If there was a Cool Media Hall of Fame, Shout! Factory would be a charter inductee and chief among the reasons would be their Shout Select imprint. From noteworthy films making their first appearance on BD (Valley Girl, Murder By Death) to classics with new scans and new extras (The Jerk, Get Shorty, City Slickers) Shout Factory never disappoints. —M.R.
Valley Girl (Shout! Factory, $24.93)
Shot for $350,000 in just 20 days, Martha Coolidge’s Valley Girl is the standard-bearer for the ’80s teen dramedy. While it had much less of an impact on the national consciousness than, say, The Breakfast Club, for a certain subset, the alt-urban teen if you will, Valley Girl was nothing less than a revelation. Leads Nicolas Cage (in his first film using that name and cast before Coolidge knew he was actually a Coppola) and Deborah Foreman are simply note-perfect. A deft play on Romeo and Juliet with a touch of The Graduate, Valley Girl was about reaching outside your subculture and questioning what makes you truly you. Valley Girl helped lovestruck Punks, Rude Boys and Goths realize that maybe their social life wasn’t limited to the mosh pit and inspired more than a few kids to venture over their own Santa Monica Mountains to see what was going on in the seedier side of town.Thirty-five years later, Valley Girl holds up. The new 4K scan looks fantastic and the disc is loaded with extras, including a fascinating conversation between Coolidge and Cage from 2003.
Murder By Death (Shout! Factory, $19.97)
“Jamesir Bensonum.” “Double negative, and dog.” “Moose, moose, you imbecile!” If you’d seen Murder By Death, those phrases, even out of context, would have you laughing out loud and as dying to re-watch this under-known classic as I am. There are few films that boast a cast of this caliber, fewer still that are comedies and no other that is as start-to-finish funny as this film written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore. I dare you to try to list the bold-faced names in this one in one breath: Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote (in his only major acting appearance), James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood (in her final role) and James Cromwell (in his first feature film role). Combined, they have a whopping 22 Academy Award nominations and five wins (and Capote received a Golden Globe nomination). A scathingly funny satire of classic detective fiction, the film features send ups of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sam Spade, and is a delightful mix of sight gags, slapstick, wordplay and copious racial and class satire.
The Jerk 40th Anniversary (Shout! Factory, $24.93)
A new 2K remaster and some great new extras accompany the 40th anniversary edition of this classic 1979 comedy, which kicked off a run of four memorable films from the genius pairing of Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. (The Man With Two Brains, All of Me, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid followed.) While there are devotees of Dumb and Dumber and it certainly has its moments, it simply wouldn’t exist without Martin’s 1970s stand-up act and The Jerk. While I appreciate the base humor of the Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels film, it lacked the sharp-witted satire and emotional heart of The Jerk. The new 25-minute conversation between Martin and Reiner is alone worth the price of admission.
Get Shorty Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, $28.43)
What would you get if you took The Player and made it funny, while adding some of the style of Out of Sight and one of the masters of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard? Well, Get Shorty, really. Considering the DNA that the latter two films share, that’s no surprise. The ensemble cast of John Travolta, gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo and a pre-Tony Soprano James Gandolfini is exceptional, and the script by Scott Frank (Out of Sight) is as sharp and witty a satire of both Hollywood and gangster films that might just take themselves a little too seriously. Travolta is at the height of his “resurgence,” smooth and confident without being cocksure, his strut on full display, while DeVito is note-perfect as a vain and phony mega Hollywood star, one of the more brilliant satirical elements in the film. While the only new feature is a new a new 4K transfer, the rest of the extras are great, especially a commentary with the always entertaining director, Barry Sonnenfeld.
City Slickers (Shout! Factory, $24.99)
If you’re like me, City Slickers falls into the category of movies you liked when they came out, but you’re not sure if they hold up. Are the jokes dated? Were they funny when I was 22, but not so much now? Well, rest easy. Sure, there are a few jokes that might be a little juvenile and Billy Crystal’s shtick is a tad over the top now and then, but for the most part, this is a film with a well-crafted screenplay and actors who know when to improvise to great effect. Daniel Stern reminds one why he’s one of the best (and most underused) comedic actors around (the birthday party scene is side-splittingly funny), and the late Bruno Kirby (whose life was tragically cut short at 57 due to Leukemia) was simply one of the most versatile actors of his generation. This Shout Select release boasts a new 4K scan, as well as copious existing extras, including a hysterical commentary with Crystal, Stern and director Ron Underwood.
Give the Gift of Horror
Here’s a little secret of about your friends who love horror—they love the genre throughout the year, not just during the month of October. So why not show you care for their love of scare? Here are some newly gathered sets of creepy crawly cinema.
The [REC Collection] (Shout Factory, 47.97)
The found-footage approach to horror is one of those “innovations” that went from “exciting” to “played out” in the blink of an eye. Of course, all that means is that the economies in play that make found-footage irresistible for studio and filmmaker alike also happen to yield plenty of less inspired efforts. The first [REC] film stands out in the category, however, as its simple premise—a reporter and her team “embedded” with a group of firefighters encounter unexpected and terrifying things inside an apartment builing. Shout Factory collects the original film and its three sequels in one found-footage extravaganza. The set include oodles of extras, including extended and deleted scenes, making-ofs and behind-the-scenes featurettes and audio commentary with the writers and directors. —M.B.
The Critters Collection (Shout Factory, $55.97)
In the annals of small, vicious beings causing trouble, the titular critters of, well, Critters were, alas, destined to play second carnivorous fiddle to Joe Dante’s gremlins. Still, the 1986 sci-fi horror comedy fared decently enough both critically (3 out of 4 stars from Ebert) and financially ($13 million in box office versus a $2 million budget) to get more sequels than Gremlins. And in the course of its four films , the series contains some early appearances from Leonard DiCaprio and Angela Bassett. Shout Factory’s collection features new 2K scans of the films, as well as “Making of” docs on all four films, along with the usual assortment of trailers and audio commentary.
It’s Alive Trilogy (Shout Factory, $39.97)
It’s probably fair to say that no critical reevaluation looms for Larry Cohen’s cult trilogy of mutant babies and the people who love, are killed by or try to kill them. Still, that doesn’t mean that It’s Alive! and its two sequels do not have plenty of fans, and for them, Shout’s new 2K scans are just the thing. Along with the usual extras, the trilogy collection also contains the featurette, “Cohen’s Alive: Looking Back at the It’s Alive Films,” featuring interviews with the writer/director/producer himself. —M.B.
Candyman Deluxe Edition (Shout Factory, $34.99)
With the announcement of Jordan Peele’s “spiritual sequel” to Bernard Rose’s 1992 slasher/horror film starring Tony Todd and Virginia Masden, it’s a good time to grab Shout Factory’s deluxe edition of Candyman. This two-DVD set includes interviews with most of the principals, including Todd and Masden, along with interviews with members of the crew, including Production Designer Jane Ann Stewart and several member of the FX crew.
A Reminder that a DVD Totally Fits into a Stocking…
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $22.99)
One reason why the MCU enjoys such a commanding lead over DC’s cinematic endeavors? Its filmmakers seem to know exactly how to mix the funny, the action and the impending universal doom. Not all Marvel heroes may be created equal, but Ant-Man is a riot. Scott Lang is irreverent by nature and is still new at the hero game, leaving plenty of opportunities for yuks and seriously, what’s funnier than a giant ant playing drums while wearing an ankle monitor? The key is easing off the slapstick when it matters and Ant Man and the Wasp does a great job of weaving in some pretty heavy themes, including the loss of a parent, young children of divorce and oh, the concept of being lost forever in a subatomic universe. While still big-budget action films, the two Ant-Man entries have a more intimate and “local” feel to them, much like Marvel’s Netflix series did and that’s not an easy feat to pull off. —M.R.
BlacKkKlansman (Focus Features, $17.96)
This is a Spike Lee movie, so the straightforward story you might have gotten from Get Out’s Jordan Peele—who was originally going to make this film as his follow up but instead produces here—keeps taking all sorts of detours, mostly with the intent of reminding you that there’s a direct line between the shithead Klansmen of this time period and the shitheads in Charlottesville … and the White House itself. The movie is unbalanced, constantly fluctuating and as uneven as you’d expect from Spike Lee, but this time that works for the film rather than against. There’s a nationwide emergency, and Spike Lee, with BlacKkKlansman is screaming in your face for action at every turn. Of course, this is what Spike Lee has been doing for 30 years. It’s just that now, we’re finally listening. —Will Leitch
Crazy Rich Asians (Warner Bros., $14.99)
Two of this year’s best-reviewed and highest grossing films were ground-breaking affairs for groups that are vastly under-represented in Hollywood and I’m not talking about talking raccoons and sentient trees. While there’s still a “wait and see” feeling out there (it’s been 25 years since Joy Luck Club), worldwide combined grosses for Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther that are north of $1.5 billion will, I hope, clue the studios in to the fact that audiences are ready for a more diverse viewing experience and have been for years. Not only is Crazy Rich Asians a huge moneymaker, but it’s an exceptional film. You know the old saw, “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me?” Well, that applies. It’s a gorgeous, well-written, impeccably acted and hysterical (at times, screwball) rom-com that was instantly added to my “I need to cheer up” list. —M.R.
Deadpool 2: Super Duper $@%!#& Cut 4K (20th Century Fox, $19.99)
As with Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Deadpool franchise occasionally mixes genres and does it well, but with the latter films that mix is more … extreme? Where the former is a seamless blend of superhero action, comedy and heart, the latter is … different. The Merc with a Mouth spends much of his time gleefully dismembering bad guys and making an endless stream of jokes that practically define NSFW. He probably moved past “rude” in the third grade and by now is firmly ensconced in the politically incorrect, offensive and downright shocking realm. Whatever label you can think of that your mother might have strongly disapproved of, applies and absolutely nothing is sacred. Once again, however, pretty much every line works like a charm, and once again, the filmmakers manage to work in a few genuinely moving scenes. It’s funny how we can get emotionally attached to someone who’s such a serious bastard, 95% of the time, isn’t it? A movie for the kiddies this ain’t. Nor is it something your devout Mormon cousins are likely to watch after church. It is an uproariously funny adult comedy that even saves some room for a sweet and sexy love story. Excuse me while I hold my breath until we’re certain that the Mouse House isn’t going to cut off Wade Wilson’s junk once the merger goes through. (Although I guess the joke would be on them, as it would just grow back.) —M.R.
Incredibles 2 4K (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $22.96)
Sometimes it pays off to avoid jumping right into a sequel, and when the creator says he needs time to work out a good enough story, it’s nice when the studio listens. Who knows, maybe going off and making Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the somewhat underrated Tomorrowland was exactly what Brad Bird needed. Whatever happened in the intervening 14 years, the resulting film is pretty much a masterpiece of American animation. Incredibles 2 takes full advantage of 4K with HDR’s ability to produce truer, inkier blacks and the increased pop of the colors is fantastic, especially when there are multiple supers doing their thing and when Jack Jack really gets going. The Dolby Atmos mix is top notch. I know I don’t have to twist anyone’s arm to buy this film, but if I achieve anything with these write ups, it’s that I can convince some of you to take 4K seriously enough. The price difference is negligible and you really don’t have to be a videophile to notice the difference. —M.R.
Isle of Dogs (20th Century Fox, $13)
Isle of Dogs may be the closest Wes Anderson will ever get to a sci-fi film. Of course he would use stop-motion animation to make it. Set 20 years from now, amidst the ultra-urban monoliths of Megasaki City—a Japanese metropolis that also seems to be Japan, or at least a Westernized idea of the small island nation—the film begins care of a decree by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) that banishes dogs to a quarantined island. From there, a viewer’s impression of the film may depend on whether one views Anderson’s usage of Japanese culture as evidence of inspiration or fetishization. Regardless, the emotional weight of Isle of Dogs depends on knowing exactly what that bond between dog and human can mean, how deeply and irrationally it can go. —Dom Sinacola
Mamma Mia! 2-Movie Collection, Sing-Along Edition (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, $25.49)
Is it just me, or are sequels getting better? (Yes, I know that this is both a sequel and a prequel.) I feel like for every Grease 2 there are three or four films like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that manage to capture everything that was good about the first one and in this case, improve on the original. So often sequels have half-baked scripts or a completely different cast and lack whatever made the first film special. While is was obvious that the cast of Mamma Mia! had a ball making that film, there’s no guarantee that lightning will strike twice, but strike it did. Maybe the secret is that ABBA songs are timeless or that the cast are so talented and charming that they could read from the phone book and make it appealing or that writer/director Ol Parker captured a similar feeling in the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films. Then again, maybe waiting 10 years so that actors and characters have time to age, so that a proper story that makes sense can be crafted, did the trick. But really, who cares. Sure, it’s ridiculous but it’s a movie musical. “Ridiculous” is in the category description. —M.R.
Pixar Short Films Collection 3 (Multi-Screen Edition) (Disney, $19.99)
The short films before Pixar’s main event movies have been an additional signature of the studio from the very beginning, and with Pixar now under the Disney umbrella, there was never really too much danger of those shorts not being packaged for the masses. (Lucky us!) The third collection of these shorts include “Bao,” “LOU,” “Piper,” “Lava,” “Sanjay’s Super Team,” “Riley’s First Date?”, “The Radiator Springs 500 1/2,” “Party Central,” “The Blue Umbrella,” “The Legend Of Mor’du” and “Partysaurus Rex,” along with two bonus mini-movies. These shorts nicely round out one’s home Pixar collection.
Solo: A Star Wars Story 4K (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $22.99)
While the stories of what a dud this film was littered the media (adjusted for inflation, it is solidly the worst performing of the 10 Star Wars films to date) that doesn’t mean it isn’t an excellent film. The Phantom Menace is the 18th highest grossing film of all-time and I’d argue it wasn’t even the 18th best film that opened that month and Solo ranks, more or less, in my top five of the franchise. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t approach the creativity of the best this series has to offer and it played some things a little too safe and at times had a paint-by-numbers feel. However, I did watch it twice in two days and will likely reach for it about as often as I do The Last Jedi. The HDR 10 certainly improves detail, but it is a disappointment that Disney didn’t go with Dolby Vision. It has become readily apparent to those who pay attention to such things that Dolby Vision is the superior format. I only hope it doesn’t end up like the VHS-Betamax war, with the inferior product winning out. —M.R.
Teen Titans Go! to the Movies (Warner Bros., $22.99)
If you’re looking to convert a skeptic of the Teen Titans GO! TV series —or even just looking to extract an admission it’s not all bad—this is your best bet. If you’re an older fan of the DC universe, the movie, like the series, possesses its share of deep cuts and obscure character references to chew on and enjoy. And if you really enjoy seeing the characters and conventions of a genre mocked and subverted, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies has you covered there, too. —M.B.
The Gift of Reading … about Movies!
Appreciating movies can be a mixed-media activity. Here then are three very different volumes that may catch the eye of the film lover in your life.
In Pieces, by Sally Field (Grand Central Publishing, $19.72)
Celebrities don’t often write their own stories. Their autobiographies are often “as told to…” or “with…” a professional writer and so it is a pleasure and surprise to report that Sally Field has written a top-notch memoir. Her style is eminently readable, engrossing and illuminating, and the content is often breathtaking, with much of her life being revealed in these 416 pages for the first time. In one early section, she tells of her stepfather’s sexual abuse that ended when she was 14, writing not only about the abuse itself but also of her complicated—and at times, conflicting—thoughts, with the passages almost reading as if she’s acting as her own therapist. It’s particularly revealing and utterly heartbreaking. In Pieces isn’t a celebrity tell-all. It’s not a self-aggrandizing PR stunt, and it’s not a “here’s all the fun I had being famous” beach read. It’s one woman’s deeply personal, compelling and illuminating look inside her own life. The fact that Field is one of the greatest living actors is simply a part of the story, not the reason for the telling.
As an important addendum, if you really want to get the full impact of the book, Field reads it herself on the audiobook. I dare you to stay dry-eyed.
Hitchcock’s Heroines (Insight Editions, $20.96)
A lovely and hefty hardbound hardback volume, Caroline Young’s Hitchcock’s Heroines takes a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s often notorious (har!) relationships with women, including their on-set treatment and on-screen depictions. The internet is littered with essays and opinion pieces decrying his portrayal of women and his mistreatment of actors, but the truth is rarely found at either end of the spectrum. Through sourced interviews with both Hitchcock and his leading women, a significantly more nuanced and intriguing portrait of the director and his motive operandi emerges. In addition to the sourced interviews with Hitchcock, his stars and other collaborators, Young delves into the role that costume design played in Hitchcock’s process and, perhaps more importantly, how the audience viewed these women, in part because of their on-screen clothing. His work with iconic Hollywood designer Edith Head is the stuff of legend, and it added immeasurably to the success of his films. The book is loaded with production stills, on-set and candid photos and copious gorgeous costume sketches. Hitchcock’s Heroines will appeal to any fan of the man’s work and to film fans in general.
James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction (Insight Editions, $17.33)
Released as a companion piece to AMC’s six-part mini-series of the same title, James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction may, at first blush, have rather a grandiose title. After all, it can’t really be the whole story of science fiction … and it’s not. It’s James Cameron’s story, and as it turns out, unsurprisingly, the man knows his shit. The book contains interviews with Cameron, Guillermo Del Toro, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg, with Cameron interviewing all but himself. That duty falls to science fiction writer (and frequent Cameron collaborator) Randall Frakes. Interspersed with the interviews are essays on various sci-fi related topics, including “Alien Life” by Gary K. Wolfe, “Outer Space” by Brooks Peck, “Time Travel” by Lisa Vaszek and “Dark Futures” by Matt Singer. It’s not a deep dive as far as current science fiction creators go, with these seven ahem men among the titans of the field of the past 30-40 years, but it’s engrossing nonetheless and gives the fan a bit of a background on the origins and underpinnings of the history of the genre.