With the insane games that the various streaming platforms are pulling in terms of removing content from their services (sometimes projects that were made specifically for those platforms), an added emphasis has been placed on home video. And with good reason. The only way you can insure that the movies you love will be around is by owning them on Blu-ray. Thankfully the home video labels have been stepping up their game, with deluxe packages overflowing with extras and feature films presented in their best possible format.
Here are the biggest and best releases on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K in August 2023.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”
Ready for one last ride? Writer/director James Gunn, who is now overseeing DC Studios at Warner Bros., returned for the third part of his “Guardians of the Galaxy” saga. This time around, the Guardians, led by Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and including Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista), are on a desperate mission to save their friend Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Along the way we get introduced to a new big bad, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) and get extensive flashbacks to Rocket’s tortured upbringing as a genetic experiment. It’s sad and very intense (and enough to have the movie earn a special award from PETA) but it deepens the experience in a profound and unexpected way. This might be the most radically pro-animal movie that Hollywood has ever produced and it’s housed inside a rollicking, superhero-adjacent space opera. There’s also a ton of unforgettable moments and gonzo visuals. When it comes to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” they really might have saved the best for last. And this deluxe home video release (the 4K is the one to get) features a gag reel, deleted scenes, some mini-docs and an audio commentary track by Gunn. That eases the pain of having to say goodbye at least.
“Rio Bravo” 4K
Howard Hawks’ 1959 masterpiece comes to 4K for the first time, thanks to this exemplary disc (part of the ongoing Warner Bros. 100 celebration). Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett (who would later write a draft of “The Empire Strikes Back” among other things), based on the short story by B. H. McCampbell, “Rio Bravo” follows a small town sheriff (John Wayne) who is tasked with holding an outlaw until the U.S. Marshals can arrive. He has to use the untrained townsfolk to hold off the man’s gang. (The all-star supporting cast includes Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan and Ward Bond.) The movie has probably never looked or sounded as good it comes equipped with a commentary track featuring John Carpenter and critic Richard Schickel. This is a total must-own disc.
“East of Eden”
The other big home video release from Warner Bros., another Warner Bros. 100 gem, is “East of Eden,” perhaps best known as one of the great roles for James Dean (as a lost young man desperate for the approval of his gruff father). “East of Eden” was directed by the legendary Elia Kazan, who was working for the first time in color and CinemaScope from the novel by John Steinbeck (Kazan had previously directed “Viva Zapata!” in 1952). With biblical themes that still resonate today and a supporting cast that included Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, and Jo Van Fleet, there’s a reason that “East of Eden” is rightfully considered a classic. And while the disc isn’t loaded with extras (there is but a lone commentary track by Richard Schickel), the movie looks and sounds better than it maybe ever has before. And sometimes that’s enough.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” 4K
August was a very good month for John Hughes movies in 4K (more on that in a minute). And “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” one of Hughes’ very best and most iconic movies, rightfully gets the deluxe treatment. The movie, about a mischievous youngster named Ferris (Matthew Broderick) who plays hooky from school with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and BFF (Alan Ruck), remains incredibly impressive – yes, it’s funny and there’s an aspect of wish fulfillment to the whole thing. But the quieter, more melancholy moments are what make the movie so powerful. And with the new 4K transfer, you’ve never seen (or heard) the movie like this before. Thankfully, too, almost all of the previous special features (including a John Hughes commentary track and archival footage) have been ported over. That makes this the ultimate “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” experience.
There was a time when you couldn’t even get a decent copy of “Nightbreed,” Clive Barker’s gonzo, monster-filled noir, on home video. And now we’ve got a glorious 4K Blu-ray of the theatrical cut, with a bonus Blu-ray of the fabled longer cut. If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s absolutely insane and follows a human (Craig Sheffer), who is mistaken for a serial killer (who is actually his doctor, played by David Cronenberg) and who falls in with a bunch of monsters who hide underground. (Just watch the movie.) This exceptional set from Shout Studios gives you a tremendous amount of material, from both versions of the movie (it’s a shame the director’s cut didn’t get its own 4K disc), plus a host of extras (including an entire bonus disc). “Nightbreed” has rightly been reclaimed as a lost cult classic and this set celebrates its oddness in all of its gooey glory.
This month Criterion is highlighting hidden gems. And the very best among them is “Dum Sum: A Little Bit of Heart,” which was writer/director Wayne Wang’s follow-up to his indie movie sensation “Chan is Missing” (also released in a deluxe version by Criterion). “Dim Sum” might be even better than “Chan Is Missing,” a lovely story of immigration and spirituality, centered around a Chinese family living in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood. Anchored by touching performances from the real-life mother-daughter duo of Kim and Laureen Chew (she also memorably appeared in “Chan is Missing”) and the late, great Victor Wong (perhaps best known for his collaborations with John Carpenter), “Dum Sum” is a postage stamp-sized masterpiece. It’s a work of tenderness and artistic fearlessness and if you’ve seen “Chan is Missing” but missed out on this, it’s time to correct that. The Criterion edition is, of course, stacked with extras from the feature being a director’s cut that incorporates previously unseen footage (and still runs at a svelte 84 minutes) to a terrific interview with Wang to a 2004 interview with Lauren Chew, this will give you everything you want and then some. Time to heat up “Dim Sum.”
“Weird Science” 4K
The other big John Hughes release of this month (this time from our friends at Arrow Video). Hughes was perhaps best known as a kind of miniaturist, taking everyday moments from life and expanding them to truly cinematic events (Saturday detention, an oafish uncle babysitting your kids, your parents forgetting your birthday). “Weird Science” was a concept that was already big before Hughes got to it; in this case it was based on an E.C. Comics story that producer Joel Silver held the rights to. As such it is the least human of Hughes’ movies but it’s also one of his most ambitious, visually and comedically. And it stands out now as one of the weirder, more rewarding movies of his filmography. Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith play a couple of nerds who create an unstoppably hot babe (Kelly LeBrock) in their computer. Pretty weird concept right? It’s still a little problematic. But they don’t use her for sex, they use her to impress their other friends. This culimates in a classically Hughes-ian out of control party, which the sci-fi flourishes of the movie allow to get really wild. This disc features both the theatrical and extended cuts of the movie in 4K and the TV cut in HD but in boxy 4:3 (as it should be), along with additional scenes, interviews, archival material and marketing materials. It’s the best collection of stuff “Weird Science” has ever gotten and the best transfer to boot.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” 4K
As earlier releases of several LAIKA movies have proven, stop-motion looks stunning in 4K. And, as you can imagine, Disney’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” arguably the “Citizen Kane” of stop-motion animation, looks better than ever before. The images look so real that you feel like you could reach in and manipulate the puppets yourself. And the 7.1 mix (left over from an earlier home video release) nicely complements the visuals. All of the bonus features from previous releases are housed on an accompanying Blu-ray disc, leaving the 4K disc to just house the movie itself. And it is really a stunner. With Halloween around the corner, it’s the perfect time to revisit Henry Selick and Tim Burton’s classic.
Michael Crichton was a celebrated and hugely successful novelist but his career as a filmmaker was chronically undervalued. His movies, like his novels, were tense, terse affairs usually centered around some kind of speculative scientific breakthrough (and the unintended consequences that go along with it). “Coma” is easily one of his best, with Crichton adapting the work of fellow genre novelist Robin Cook, with Geneviève Bujold and Michael Douglas uncovering a vast medical conspiracy that involves organ harvesting or something (the specifics get a little muddy, not that it makes the movie any less enjoyable). Shout Factory, once again doing God’s work, gives the movie a beautiful new 2K restoration and a new commentary track featuring film critic/author Lee Gambin And novelist Aaron Dries, along with some marketing materials and a photo gallery. “Coma” is representative of the fun, smart thrillers that used to regularly be made with adults in mind. Ah, to go back.
Bo Widerberg’s New Swedish Cinema box set
On the introductory disc of this new, excellent box set from the Criterion Collection, director Ruben Östlund (whose “Triangle of Sadness” joined the Collection earlier this year) states that Bo Widerberg, in his estimation, has been “inheriting the tradition of Bo Widerberg.” In Sweden, Östlund says, there were two filmmakers – Ingmar Bergman and Bo Widerberg. “It was an important for Bo Widerberg,” who Östlund said started as a critic, “to create something that was authentic.” And if you’ve never heard of Widerberg, this box set is the perfect place to start. The box set contains four of his very best films (“The Baby Carriage,” which Östlund said was the first Widerberg film that he saw and was indeed Widerberg’s first film), “Raven’s End,” “Elvira Madigan” and “Ådalen 31.” The set contains new restorations of the films and extras like Östlund’s intro documentary, Swedish interviews with Widerberg from the 1960s, a short film with an introduction by Jan Troell, behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the films and new interviews with actor Tommy Berggren and cinematographer Jörgen Persson. If you weren’t aware of him before, very soon you will be well acquainted.
Recently restored by Janus Films (where it was promptly heralded as a lost classic), “Drylongso” is another esoteric marvel rescued by Criterion for home video this month. Originally released in 1998 and shot on 16 mm in and around Oakland, California, “Drylongso” is a snapshot of a particular moment in time and the cultural that surrounds it (in this case Black communities before the turn of the millennia). But it’s also an uncanny thriller. Toby Smith plays a young woman who is working on a project to document the lives of young Black men, who she believes are an “endangered species” (because of incarceration, drug use, murder and the like). She also believes there’s a serial killer who is actively claiming victims. Co-writer/producer/director Cauleen Smith is very clearly working in the DIY space (Criterion calls it “rediscovered treasure of 1990s DIY filmmaking” on the box) but the lack of professionalism only adds to the movie’s power; it never takes away. This disc contains several short films by Smith, a new conversation between Smith and film scholar Michael B. Gillespie and, of course, that recent restoration of the film itself. Ready to discover “Drylongso?”
While “The Flash” wasn’t the blockbuster that Warner Bros. probably wanted it to be, it is still a ton of fun, with Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) traveling back in time to try and save his mom and clear his father of murder charges. In doing so he winds up in an alternate universe where Bruce Wayne is retired (and is played by Michael Keaton, no less). All sorts of multiverse shenanigans ensue and the whole thing is a joyful, visually rich romp. And if you loved “The Flash,” this disc is particularly rewarding (we recommend the 4K option, obviously). Not only does it look and sound like a million bucks but it is festooned with special features, including a multipart podcast series (with Max Greenfield as the Flash), deleted scenes, making-of documentaries (including one about bringing Keaton back), and breakdowns of some of the key action set pieces. If for some reason you missed it in the theater, give it a whirl on home video. It’s enough to make you think, Why wasn’t this a bigger hit?
“Bride of Chucky” 4K, “Seed of Chucky” 4K, “Curse of Chucky” 4K, “Cult of Chucky” 4K
The four latter canonical Chucky movies (we do not acknowledge the 2019 “Child’s Play” remake and neither should you) are making their high-def debut. “Bride of Chucky” is a legit postmodern masterpiece, bringing the franchise into the “Scream” era with aplomb and a fair amount of hyper-stylization courtesy of director Ronny Yu. The disc has a new documentary, along with commentary tracks and a new collection of deleted scenes that appear in TV versions of the movie. “Seed of Chucky” doesn’t totally work but is still fun and marked the first time screenwriter Don Mancini took over the director’s chair. The disc has some great new features, including a mini-doc featuring John Waters along with a ton of pre-existing features. “Curse of Chucky” and “Cult of Chucky” are the two most recent movies, which lead into the “Chucky” TV series, and both discs feature brand new special features. If you love the franchise and these movies in particular, these are all no-brainers. They look and sound fantastic and have a ton of great supplementals. They’re scary good.
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