House of Hummingbird Blu-ray Review


  • Actors: Jihu Park, Saebyuk Kim, Seungyeon Lee
  • Director: Bora Kim
  • Format: Subtitled, Dolby, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Blu-ray Release Date: August 4, 2020
  • Run Time: 138 minutes
 


 

         As many great coming-of-age films are, House of Hummingbird draws inspiration from the childhood of its filmmaker. This element of realism adds a layer of melancholy to the proceeding, often feeling as though we are spying on someone’s intimate memories, and not always the ones that we might fill a photo album with. It is a film filled with universal experiences of growing up, but framed within a specific cultural moment in Seoul, South Korea.

 


Gundala Blu-ray Review


  • Actors: Abimana Aryasatya, Tara Basro, Bront Palarae, Ario Bayu
  • Director: Joko Anwar
  • Disc Format: Subtitled, Dolby, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Indonesian (DTS 5.1), English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Release Date: July 28, 2020
  • Run Time: 120 minutes


 

         With the worldwide success of Hollywood’s superhero franchises, not to mention the recent popularity of “cinematic universes,” it was inevitable that the genre would expand beyond the United States. As Indonesian action films have thrived in the past decade, it is unsurprising that they are the next to enter into the world of superhero cinema. Adapting a comic book character from the late 1960s to modern times for the first installment in Indonesia’s cinematic shared universe for superheroes, Gundala is a step in the right direction, even if there are still miles to go before achieving the scope and quality expected from the genre.

 


Samurai Marathon Blu-ray Review


  • Actors: Danny Huston, Takeru Satoh, Nana Komatsu, Mirai Moriyama
  • Director: Bernard Rose
  • Format: Subtitled, Dolby, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Release Date: July 21, 2020
  • Run Time: 104 minutes


 

        Samurai Marathon doesn’t resemble some of the samurai films that have been coming out of Japan in recent years, such as the Rurouni Kenshin franchise. These popular movies are jam-packed with action, stylized to the point of almost resembling superhero films (not unlike some wire-fu films in the kung-fu genre), and feature popular young stars in key roles. Because some of the cast from the Rurouni Kenshin films are also in Samurai Marathon, it is not surprising that some fans have noticed the shift in style. Samurai Marathon actually resembles a style from the recent past, most notably the films of Yôji Yamada (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade), which utilize a slice-of-life realism that is more concerned with character development that flashy action scenes.

 

Enter the Fat Dragon Blu-ray Review





  • Actors: Donnie Yen, Niki Chow, Teresa Mo, Jing Wong
  • Director: Kenji Tanigaki
  • Format: Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Cantonese (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Cantonese, English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Release Date: July 14, 2020
  • Run Time: 97 minutes

         When people are at the top of their game, that is usually when they have the urge to expand their range. This is clear in all fields, explaining Michael Jordan’s decision to play baseball, any number of actors who have transitioned into the world of music, musicians transitioning into the world of acting, or Kanye West’s apparent plans to try his hand at politics. It also explains why comedic actors inevitably try dramatic work at one point or another. While Enter the Dragon is a martial arts film like many others that Donnie Yen has made, the addition of slapstick comedy makes it the type of film one might expect to see Jackie Chan starring in. And though Yen is capable of the added element, this doesn’t save the film from being a bit derivative and tonally uneven.

 


Sniper: Assassin’s End Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Chad Collins, Sayaka Akimoto, Ryan Robbins, Lochlyn Munro, Emily Tennant
  • Director: Kaare Andrews
  • Producers: Vicki Sotheran, Greg Malcolm
  • Disc Format: Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Dutch, Norwegian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovene, Thai, Romanian, Arabic, Finnish, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Danish, German, Italian, Korean, Swedish, Latvian, Estonian, English, Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian, French, Greek, Spanish, Slovak
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     
     Restricted
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: June 16, 2020
  • Run Time: 95 minutes



        As the eighth film in the Sniper franchise is released on home video, it is becoming apparent that we will likely see this series stay in the family for as long as they can come up with clever titles and Tom Berenger is available for a brief appearance. And even when the original star is no longer available or willing, the series can continue with the next generation of Thomas Beckett in his son, Brandon (Chad Michael Collins). The cast is consistent from film to film, as is the unimaginative plotting.

Olympic Dreams DVD Review

  • Actors: Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas
  • Director: Jeremy Teicher
  • Disc Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Region: Region 1 
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     PG-13 
     Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: IFC Independent Film
  • DVD Release Date: May 19, 2020
  • Run Time: 82 minutes









         If I were to describe an independent film starring an actor known for his comedic roles who encounters and engages in a flirtatious friendship with a much younger woman while on a job in a foreign country, it would be easy to mistake my description for the 2003 hit, Lost in Translation. This just goes to prove that independent films, for all of their claims of creative originality, can also be guilty of formulaic plotting and derivative content, because the exact same description works for 2019’s Olympic Dreams. While it is a likable enough film, the only original element of this newer independent dramedy about two lonely souls meeting in an unfamiliar city is the setting. And while being the first film to be shot inside of the actual Olympic Village is a certain claim of originality, the filmmakers seem far more preoccupied with this element of the storytelling than the character development or dialogue.

Tea with the Dames Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith
  • Format: Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: IFC Independent Film
  • Release Date: May 5, 2020
  • Run Time: 84 minutes




         Four legendary British actresses from stage and screen, all of which have been given an honorary Dame status, have been friends for over 50 years. Apparently Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright all keep in touch by spending weekends together reminiscing in a country getaway one of them owns, and allowed a film crew to intrude on one of these sessions for the documentary, Tea with the Dames. The title was originally Nothing Like a Dame, which can still be seen several times in the film itself, as the production becomes a part of the film. The change wasn’t made because the beverage they drink (they have champagne, but no tea), but because of the direction of the conversation, which contains some gossip from their classic days of stage and screen.

Better Days Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Zhou Dongyu, Jackson Yee
  • Director: Derek Tsang
  • Format: Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Release Date: May 5, 2020
  • Run Time: 135 minutes



         Narratively speaking, there is nothing particularly original about the themes and structure of the Chinese melodrama, Better Days. In terms of being a story taking place in high school, involving bullying that leads to both suicide and a murder, which is presented as something of a mystery, Better Days often feels like a feature-film variation on the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why.” However, it is in the differences of the narratives that Better Days finds its distinct voice, and the film may have been more successful had those elements been favored more.

Ip Man 4 Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Donnie Yen, Scott Adkins, Wu Yue
  • Director: Wilson Yip
  • Disc Format: Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1), Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Cantonese (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Mandarin Chinese
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Release Date: April 21, 2020
  • Run Time: 105 minutes



         The Ip Man franchise has long been dedicated to themes of Chinese pride, as displayed by the telling of the Wing Chun master’s story. In the first film, it was the Japanese occupying force that our Chinese hero dispelled, and in a later entry it was the British. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the film in which Ip Man takes on America would prove to be the most transparently nationalistic in the franchise, once again allowing him to take on another nation’s military. Depiction of the United States is often so negative that the film flirts with full on nationalistic propaganda, but fortunately the fight choreography is still pretty good.

The Song of Names Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Tim Roth, Clive Owen
  • Director: Francois Girard
  • Disc Format: NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     PG-13 
     Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: Sony Mod
  • Release Date: March 24, 2020
  • Run Time: 113 minutes




         There is something to be said about filmmaking that is bold, but choices also need to work for the audience. The Song of Names offers up a predictably emotional narrative which is not so much about the Holocaust as it is about the aftermath. While this is far from original, the decision to center the story on an extremely flawed character is a new addition to an otherwise obligatory tragic tale. This decision alone could have made for an interesting character study, but the film refuses to give insight into the most questionable decisions made by the characters, particularly the one at the center. Our protagonist is a round character, fully formed, but unfortunately he is not the center of the narrative, and simply the one attempting to understand the enigmatic character that is.

1917 Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden
  • Director: Sam Mendes
  • Writers: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Producers: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver
  • Format: NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French Canadian (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French Canadian, Spanish
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: 
     
     Restricted
  • Studio: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: March 24, 2020
  • Run Time: 119 minutes



         The brilliance of 1917 works on multiple levels. Simple as it may be, the film tells an effectively gripping story of fortitude during wartime. The manner in which this story is told may not leave much room for expansive plot or historical background information, but it makes up for that by giving the audience a gripping experience in which it is impossible not to feel the urgency. Staying tied to a single character for the run-time also creates empathetic involvement unlike any war film I have ever experienced. But as brutally horrific as the film makes war appear, this is also a remarkably beautiful film. Beyond the poetry of the wartime themes of sacrifice and loss, 1917 is a technical marvel. Three times in my life I have been brought to tears by filmmaking, separate from the story being told, and this is the second time this experience has come from a Sam Mendes film.

Abigail Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Eddie Marsan, Tinatin Dalakishvili
  • Director: Aleksandr Boguslavskiy
  • Disc Format: Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Blu-ray Release Date: March 17, 2020
  • Run Time: 110 minutes



         Abigail is clearly an attempt by Russian filmmakers to create a film with transnational appeal, which makes sense considering the production company, KinoDanz (KD Studios), cast Antonio Banderas in a previous release. In making Abigail, they seem to have had the actors say their lines in English, which must not have sounded good enough for North American distribution on its own, because there is English dubbing laid over the English-speaking Russian actors’ voices. The result is a film that looks like a major Hollywood studio release (the film is distributed by 20th Century Fox CIS), but comes off as poor imitation once the characters begin speaking. Unfortunately, good special effects with sloppy character/plot development are fast becoming the trademark of Hollywood, and in that sense, Abigail isn’t a terrible imitation.

The Witch: Subversion Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Choi Woo-shik, Kim Da-mi, Cho Min-soo, Park Hee-soon
  • Director: Park Hoon-jung
  • Disc Format: Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Korean (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • DVD Release Date: March 10, 2020
  • Run Time: 127 minutes



        Although missing from the home entertainment releases, the IMDB title for this film is The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion, implying a continuation of the story. In fact, the film is rumored to be a part of a trilogy which makes a great deal of sense considering that this two-hour film feels mostly like set-up. It is somewhat like watching an extended pilot to a television series, which only finally establishes what the ongoing narrative will be by the end. Unfortunately, this works much better when there is the guarantee of a season of additional episodes to continue the story, which this film does not have. As a result, the experience is somewhat disappointing, and the reveal in the final act is not exciting enough to make up for the first 2/3 of the narrative, which feels inconsequential by the end. It ends up feeling a lot like the filmmaker wasted time trying to fool the audience, and seems unlikely that an audience treated like fools will be excited to come back for more, should a sequel ever be made.

Ne Zha Blu-ray Review

  • Director: Jiao Zi
  • Disc Format: Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Mandarin Chinese (DTS 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Mandarin Chinese
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Release Date: March 3, 2020
  • Run Time: 110 minutes



        I don’t have extremely high expectations from animated children/family films. Even the titans of American animation, Pixar, have been hit-or miss in recent years, often making films that feel more designed for success than creative risks (which was not always the case). Add to that my growing impatience with the manner in which Chinese cinema has been dumbed down in the past decade, while the industry has steadily been rewarded for this behavior in the same manner as Hollywood has with their endless stream of brainless sequels and reboots (and the fact that I used their nonsense word rather than ‘remake’ shows the influence of their idiocy), and you will understand why I feel hesitant to praise the mild artistic success of Ne Zha. While it is certainly admirable that China has entered into the world of internationally viewed animated films, the result feels more like something I would have expected from a children’s TV network than a narrative I felt obliged to see in theaters. Like much of the entertainment fed to younger audiences these days, the message feels obvious and the execution unimpressive.

The Climbers Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Wu Jing, Zhang Ziyi, Zhang Yi
  • Director: Daniel Lee
  • Disc Format: Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Mandarin Chinese
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • DVD Release Date: February 25, 2020
  • Run Time: 125 minutes



         The process of reviewing recent Chinese releases (particularly blockbusters) is becoming somewhat redundant. With each film, I find myself criticizing the same two points; bad effects and worse nationalism. And with their industry quickly surpassing Hollywood as the most profitable, there are absolutely no incentives for them alter the formula I am just as quickly tiring of. Even with the dramatic retelling of historical events, it is not uncommon for there to be an overreliance on poorly executed CGI. The Climbers insists on making its characters inhumanly heroic in their abilities, which is almost as ridiculous as the transparent Chinese nationalism that runs through every scene of dialogue. It almost seems as though the absurd abilities the CGI gives the heroic characters is meant to solidify this idea that Chinese patriotism is paired with superhuman abilities. In a genre film, this could be forgiven as escapism, but in The Climbers, it is only in service of bad melodrama.

Queen & Slim 4K Ultra HD Review





         Queen & Slim is one of those films that seems like a dream project, featuring the visuals of a Grammy-winning director and a screenplay from an Emmy-winning writer. And at times it meets the expectations of such talent, even boasting a cast that is more than capable of making the material (and the moments in-between) come alive. Other times, it feels like a wasted opportunity, not because the dialogue, acting, or visuals fail, but because some of the base story points lack the same subtlety. If you are able to look past the contrivances of the plot, there is a great movie here. At the same time, it also feels like a lot of talent was wasted on a project that never feels fully cohesive.

Frankie Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear
  • Director: Ira Sachs
  • DiscFormat: NTSC, Widescreen
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: 
     PG-13 
     Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: Sony Mod
  • Blu-ray Release Date: February 18, 2020
  • Run Time: 100 minutes




         Watching Frankie gave me feelings of déjà vu, proving that there are most definitely formulaic elements to many independent films. It is not enough that there are countless of them in beautifully historic European settings, or countless more that deal with the intricacies of family melodrama, and even more still that have a terminal illness at the center of the storyline; Frankie combines all of these cliché independent elements into one film, somehow doing justice to none. This is not to say that Frankie is a poorly made film, but it is most certainly a slight and forgettable one.

First Love Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani
  • Director: Takashi Miike
  • Disc Format: Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Japanese (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: 
     NR 
     Not Rated
  • Studio: Well Go Usa
  • Blu-ray Release Date: February 11, 2020
  • Run Time: 108 minutes



         Takashi Miike is the type of director whose reputation and past films have me automatically bracing myself when I see his name before the credits of a film. You never know what you may get from Miike, from the unexpected brutal second half of Audition, which most definitely affected the entire torture porn movement in horror, to his batshit crazy yakuza films like Ichi the Killer and Gozu, and even the less violent but equally absurd zombie-musical-comedy, The Happiness of the Katakuris. Even though many of Miike’s recent releases that have found their way overseas have been rather restrained samurai classics adapted with respect, First Love strikes the balance between that tone and his familiarly insane earlier films. Although it may not be as expertly made as some of his dramatic turns, and not as crazily memorable (not always in a good way) as some of his earlier exploitation films, First Love finds a balance that is more than watchable. This may be Miike’s most enjoyable/crowd-pleasing film in some time.