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Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Part 3: DVDs and Blu-rays

From Classic Movies and TV Shows to Current Favorites

Nov 26, 2017 By Mark Redfern and Austin Trunick Web Exclusive
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Welcome to part 3 of Under the Radar‘s Holiday Gift Guide 2017. Just like your CD and vinyl collection represents you in some small way to friends and visitors to your house, so do the DVDs and Blu-rays you choose to own and display. Many films and TV shows may easily be streamed via Netflix, Hulu, and other services these days, but not everything is streaming, or it might be streaming on a service you don’t subscribe to, so there’s still definitely something to be said for owning your favorite movies. Over the holidays, for example, you may have visiting family or friends and when it comes time to relax and watch a movie it’s important to have a strong selection to offer. Beyond all that, most DVDs and Blu-rays contain fun special features not available elsewhere and Blu-rays are of a higher quality than the versions you’d stream online. For all these reasons, DVDs and Blu-rays still make great gifts.

Below we have highlighted some of 2017’s best Blu-ray and DVD releases, as well as an excellent new Samsung Blu-ray player to watch them all on. They include classic movies and TV shows either coming to DVD or Blu-ray for the first time or getting new reissues with fresh bonus features. There are also more current movies and TV shows hitting home media for the first time this year. There are handy links to buy each item. (For more DVD and Blu-ray gift guide recommendations, after reading this article then check out our supplemental post to this one, with an even longer list of additional ideas.)

We have already posted part 1 of our 2017 gift guide (for music reissues, music box sets, and vinyl), as well as part 2 (for board games). Over the next week and a half we’ll also be posting more gift guides relating to collectibles, toys and other gifts for kids, books and graphic novels, technology, and household items and apparel. And don’t forget that Under the Radar subscriptions also make a great gift (our Black Friday Sale continues through Monday, November 27). Plus donating to the charity of your choice is also a good way to go.

Beauty and the Beast Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

SRP: $39.99

Disney is making a good industry out of adapting its old animated movies into new live action ones. The new version of Beauty and the Beast is incredibly similar to the 1991 original, in terms of both the plot and also reusing most of the songs. But thanks to strong performances by Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as The Beast, along with a great supporting cast (Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Luke Evans), the film is the #1 movie of 2017 so far in terms of the domestic box office (although Star Wars: The Last Jedi, also a Disney film, hasn’t come out yet) and the 10th highest grossing film of all time. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. The Blu-ray comes loaded with special features, including deleted scenes featuring Stephen Merchant as a character understandably cut from the film, Monsieur Toilette, a servant who was turned into a toilet. This film appeals to fans of the original and current kids who dream of being a princess or a beast. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Being There Blu-ray (Criterion)

SRP: $39.95

Would Forest Gump exist without Being There? Both films feature simple men who wander through life rubbing elbows with the powerful and famous who believe him to be smarter than he is and add extra meaning to his words rather than taking them at face value. 1979’s Being There predated 1994’s Forest Gump by 14 years (plus the original Forest Gump novel came out in 1986 and the original Being There novel came out in 1970). Peter Sellers stars as Chance, a middle aged gardener who lives in a Washington, D.C. townhouse owned by an old wealthy man. Chance doesn’t read or write and has never driven in a car or even set foot outside the house. Instead he spends his days gardening and watching lots and lots of TV. When his benefactor dies, Chance is thrown out on the street. He is befriended by a sick elderly business mogul, Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role), who has the ear of the President (Jack Warden), and Rand’s younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Through a misunderstanding he becomes Chauncey Gardiner and is soon advising the President, meeting the Soviet Ambassador, and appearing as a guest on a national talk show. The last scene of the movie is famously open for interpretation. Being There was Peter Seller’s second-to-last role, he died of a heart attack the year after its release, in 1980, at the relatively young age of 54. It was also his last chance to win an Oscar, but lost to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Coming Home) directs. Some pundits have joked that President Donald Trump is a bit like Chauncey Gardiner, both being avid TV watchers and both made famous by TV. Wilco’s 1996-released sophomore album Being There is named after the movie.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray includes a restored 4K digital transfer supervised by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, a new making of documentary, a 1980 American Film Institute seminar with Ashby, 1980 TV appearances by Sellers, and deleted scenes, including an alternate ending. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Before Trilogy Blu-ray (Criterion)

SRP: $99.95

When 1995’s Before Sunrise was released who knew it would kick off a trilogy of acclaimed films spanning decades. Director Richard Linklater was following up Dazed and Confused and co-wrote the script Kim Krizan. The plot of the indie romance is fairly simple. Young American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke, fresh off Reality Bites) meets young French woman Céline (Julie Delpy) on a European train ride. They hit it off and he convinces her to get off the train with him in Vienna. He has to fly home to America early the next morning and planned to spend the rest of the night wandering around the city. The rest of the movie mainly features Jesse and Céline walking and talking, ruminating on life, ex-lovers, their relationships with their parents, and their hopes and dreams, with much of the dialogue improvised by Hawke and Delpy. The film was praised and spawned two equally acclaimed sequels: 2004’s Before Sunset took place in Paris and featured the couple meeting again after nine years and 2013’s Before Midnight takes place another nine years later, this time in Greece. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy seem open to revisiting the characters for a fourth time, presumably in 2022. With The Before Trilogy and the 10 years-in-the-making Boyhood (also starring Hawke), Linklater has proven a master of playing with time in cinema, showing characters age as the actors also age. This director-approved box set collects all three movies on Blu-ray and features a slew of special features, including a new discussion featuring the director and two stars and a new making of documentary about Before Midnight. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Big Sick Blu-ray/DVD (Lionsgate)

SRP: $19.99

The Big Sick was the sleeper hit of the summer, grossing $43 million domestically (and another $11 million in the rest of the world) on a budget of only $5 million. Real life married couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon wrote the script based on their real life romance, in which she fell into a coma early in their relationship. Nanjiani plays himself, with Zoe Kazan filling in for Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are standouts as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry, who meet Kumail for the first time at the hospital and are also dealing with their own marital issues. Don’t be surprised if the fiery Hunter gets some Best Supporting Actress nominations this awards season (on top of the Independent Spirit Awards nomination she’s already gotten) and if the screenplay also gets some nominations (also already nominated for an Independent Spirit Award). Romantic comedies are a lot art and this is one of the best ones in years. Special features on the Blu-ray include deleted scenes, a making of documentary, a look at the real story that inspired the film, and a 2017 SXSW Film Festival panel. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Cinematic Titanic: The Complete Series DVD (Shout! Factory)

SRP: $42.95

Formed by Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein, Cinematic Titanic was one of two movie-riffing ventures launched by MST3K alumni during the show’s 18-year hiatus. The show will feel familiar for anyone who’s seen any Mystery Science Theater 3000, from the questionable quality of the b-movies they lambast to the blacked-out silhouettes covering part of the screen-even the voices are the same (for obvious reasons.) These are practically bonus episodes of MST3K, minus the framing device of the ‘bots, Satellite of Love, and the host segments. It’s everything boiled down to pure movie riffing. For MSTies, this DVD set-which collects the entirety of Cinematic Titanic‘s output-gets our no-brainer recommendation. (Read our earlier full review.) By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

DC Universe: 10th Anniversary Collection Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

SRP: $299.99

Fans of DC Comics may have had a mixed response to their big screen efforts (namely Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Justice League), but for the last decade Warner Bros. have also been making a lot of well-received straight to DVD animated movies. But these are no kids cartoons, most are rated PG-13 and a few are even R-rated, and the majority are faithful adaptations of specific comic books/graphic novels, including such iconic stories as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman, and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. This new deluxe box set celebrates a decade of these animated films and collects on Blu-ray 30 feature length movies and five short films. It includes this year’s Justice League Dark, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, and Batman and Harley Quinn, as well as new commemorative editions of 2008’s Justice League: New Frontier and 2009’s Wonder Woman. The set also features over two hours of new special features, including a documentary about Mark Hamill’s praised decades long voice acting portrayal of The Joker and a tribute panel to the late great Canadian comic book writer/artist Darwyn Cooke (Justice League: New Frontier), who passed away last year. There are also three collector coins (one each for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) and a 40-page adult coloring book featuring the covers of the original DVDs. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Doctor Strange Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

SRP: $22.99

It’s somewhat understandable that The Jungle Book won the Academy Award the Best Visual Effects in 2017, considering almost all the characters are computer generated, but an easy case can be made that Doctor Strange deserved the award. Scott Derrickson’s film sported several scenes of awe-inspiring visuals, seamless and trippy effects that leave the audience wondering “how’d they do that.” Despite being the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the filmmakers found a way to bring a fresh perspective and energy to the superhero genre (which should really be played out by now), mainly by focusing on the mystic arts. Marvel does magic. The cast features Oscar nominees Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams, alongside Oscar winner Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen, all of whom help sell the potentially ridiculous material. Cumberbatch is Stephen Strange, a brilliant surgeon whose hands are damaged in a car accident, making it impossible for him to operate again. Having exhausted every other option, he heads to Nepal for alternative treatments and is taken in and trained by the Ancient One (Swinton), learning how to become a sorcerer and manipulate reality. The amazing New York City chase scene, in which skyscrapers bend and wrap around the heroes, is enough to recommend the movie, as is the incredibly cool climatic fight which occurs while time is reversing around the adversaries. There have been a lot of superhero films in the last decade and so it’s always refreshing when one finds a more unique approach. The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, director’s commentary, a gag reel, a Thor short film, and other behind-the-scenes documentaries. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Fall: Complete Collection Blu-ray/DVD (Acorn)

SRP: $69.99

Before he was Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades franchise, Irish actor Jamie Dornan starred in the far more interesting British-Irish TV series The Fall. Dornan plays serial killer Paul Spector, with Dana Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, as DSI Stella Gibson, the police detective tasked with tracking down the killer and eventually proving Spector’s guilt. The show is set in Northern Ireland and was created by and written by Allan Cubitt. Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) joined the cast for season two. Season three ended the Spector story arc, but both Anderson and Cubitt are open to bringing back Gibson for a fourth season in a few years. The BBC series streamed on Netflix in America, but now all three seasons of the gripping and complex show are available in one DVD (or Blu-ray) set from Acorn. It includes all 17 episodes, along with 18 minutes worth of deleted scenes and 33 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Flatliners (SteelBook Edition) Blu-ray/DVD (Mill Creek Entertainment)

SRP: $29.98

Flatliners was remade this year with a new movie starring Ellen Page and Diego Luna, but it was savaged by critics, with only a 5% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 27/100 on Metacritic, and also faired poorly at the box office. Instead stick with the 1990 original, which has been reissued as a Blu-ray/DVD combo set by Mill Creek probably to time with the remake. Directed by Joel Schumacher (Lost Boys, Falling Down) at his most stylish and atmospheric, the first Flatliners featured a strong cast of young ‘80s stars, all playing medical students who flirt with death to discover the secrets of the afterlife, but end up bringing back demons from their past. Kiefer Sutherland was still riding high off the success of The Lost Boys and the two Young Guns movies. Kevin Bacon had been a star since 1984’s Footloose, but Julia Roberts’ star was just rising, haven broken through in Pretty Woman earlier in 1990. William Baldwin and Oliver Platt also star. And this was all before Schumacher’s track record took a beating after directing two poorly received Batman films later in the decade (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin). Flatliners deals with weighty issues of what lies beyond death, and while it relies too heavily on horror movie tropes, it’s still a fun and fascinating picture, aided by a strong cast. This new SteelBook Edition comes in a nice metal case and has the film on both Blu-ray and DVD, but it does feature zero special features. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Ghost World Blu-ray (Criterion)

SRP: $39.95

Terry Zwigoff’s well-liked 2001 indie cult comedy comes to Blu-ray thanks to Criterion. Based on Daniel Clowes’ comic book of the same name, it stars Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca, two teenage girls whose friendship is tested when Enid takes interest in an older record collector named Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Zwigoff was a documentary filmmaker before Ghost World, having made a name for himself with Crumb in 1994. Ghost World remains his most acclaimed film (although 2003’s Bad Santa was a bigger box office success). And of course Johansson has gone to much bigger things. Although it’s too bad we haven’t seen much of note from Birch in recent years. Criterion’s new director-approved edition features a restored 4K digital transfer overseen by Zwigoff; audio commentary from Zwigoff, Clowes, and producer Lianne Halfon; new interviews with Birch, Johansson, and co-star Illeana Douglas; deleted scenes; new cover art by Clowes; a mini reprint of a Ghost World comic from 1993; and more. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Good Place: The Complete First Season DVD (Shout! Factory)

SRP: $19.97

The Good Place was one of the breakout new shows of the 2016/2017 television season, partly because there’s no other show like it on the air, but also because of the strong writing and good chemistry between its cast. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bells) dies and finds herself in a particularly nice neighborhood of the afterlife, one reserved for the best of the best. The problem is that Eleanor wasn’t all that great a person and it’s clear there’s been a mix up and she’s not who they think she is and doesn’t belong in “The Good Place.” Not wanting to go to ” The Bad Place” she keeps up the ruse, but at what cost? Ted Danson plays Michael, an angel of sorts who designed this particular neighborhood of heaven. Michael Schur (co-creator of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) hatched up The Good Place, which ensures a good deal of honest laughs amongst the deeper questions or what lies beyond death, what does it mean to be a good person, and can people ever really change who they are? With season two currently airing and the show already renewed for a third season, now is a good time to catch up on (or revisit) season one. Shout! Factory has released the whole thing on DVD and it also includes audio commentary, a live table read, a gag reel, and a behind the scenes look at the show’s fun special effects. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

SRP: $39.99

No one expected Guardians of the Galaxy to be such a monster hit when it was released in 2014 and went on to become the third biggest film of that year. Sure, Marvel already had a good track record at that point, but a film featuring relatively obscure comic book characters and starring Andy from Parks and Recreation (Chris Pratt, who got in shape for the role), wrestler Dave Bautista, a foul mouthed, gun-totting raccoon, and a walking tree who only says one phrase over and over again, and released at the end of summer, didn’t seem likely to fare so well. But Marvel did it again, combining the superhero drama with space opera, large doses of comedy, and a retro cool soundtrack. This year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was pretty much just as fun as the original and was an even bigger box office success. Kurt Russell joined the cast as Peter Quill’s long lost alien father, but the highlight for children of the 1980s was a cameo by David Hasselhoff in full Knight Rider mode. The Blu-ray includes a music video starring the Hoff, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a making of documentary, and commentary from director James Gunn, who is already planning Vol. 3 for a 2020 release. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Hart to Hart: The Complete Series DVD (Shout! Factory)

SRP: $95.99

Late 1970s/early 1980s mystery adventure series Hart to Hart is definitely a product of its time, complete with an opening titles narration that explains the concept behind the show, which is essentially this: a rich married couple solve crimes (or, as the intro puts it, “their hobby is murder”). Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers play Jonathan and Jennifer Hart and it would be easy to be annoyed at a couple of one-percenters jet-setting around the world in private planes and expensive sports cars, all while aided by their butler Max (played by Lionel Stander), but Wagner and Powers have another charm to sell the concept. Plus this was in the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Dynasty and Dallas, “greed is good,” Regan-era, where being rich was more celebrated than ever. Novelist Sidney Sheldon created the show, which was executive produced by Aaron Spelling, although Tom Mankiewicz (who wrote several James Bond movies and co-wrote Superman: The Movie) rewrote and directed the quirky pilot, which has a Bond-ian plot with a health farm run by Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) hypnotizing patients and getting them to commit crimes. Now Shout! Factory has collected the entire series in one nice DVD box set that includes the pilot and all 110 episodes from the charming original series that ran from 1979 to 1984. (Missing are the reunion TV movies from the 1990s.) By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Series DVD (Shout! Factory)

SRP: $95.99

Homicide: Life on the Street shouldn’t have lasted for seven seasons and 122 episodes from 1993 to 1999, its rating were never all that great. But NBC president Warren Littlefield was reportedly a big fan of the show and stuck with it. Thank God he did. Homicide was definitely ahead of its time, a thoughtful and character-based police drama that these days would surely air on FX or HBO. Set in Baltimore, it was based on the 1991 non-fiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon (who would go on to create the acclaimed HBO shows The Wire, Treme, and Show Me a Hero), which was adapted by Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco, House). Big time movie director Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Bugsy) directed the pilot and was an executive producer at a time when movie directors didn’t have as much to do with TV. The show introduced us to future Oscar winner Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter) and Andre Braugher, who won an Emmy for his role as Detective Frank Pembleton and can now be found as precinct captain Raymond Holt in the comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Many notable actors (and some future stars) guest starred on Homicide, including Robin Williams, Steve Buscemi, Chris Rock, a young Jake Gyllenhaal, Eric Stolz, J.K. Simmons, Lily Tomlin, Bruce Campbell, Elijah Wood, James Earl Jones, Paul Giamatti, Edie Falco, Alfre Woodard, Jason Priestly, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Donovan, Neil Patrick Harris, John Waters, Jay Leno, Julianna Margulies, and most memorably Vincent D’Onofrio, who starred in a intense Peabody winning episode as a dying man pinned between a subway car and the platform as the detectives try and work out who pushed him. This DVD box set includes all the episodes, as well the 2001 TV movie that wrapped up the series and several episodes of Law & Order that Homicide crossed over with. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away Blu-ray/DVD (GKIDS/Studio Ghibli)

SRP: $25.00 Each

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the true auteurs of film animation (or even just film in general). The Japanese director has been working since the late 1960s and directed his first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro, in 1979. It was his mid to late ‘80s films that started to garner him attention outside of Japan-1986’s Castle in the Sky, 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro, and 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. 1997’s historical epic Princess Mononoke was, at the time, the biggest film ever in Japan, a feat matched by 2001’s fairly scary Spirited Away. John Lasseter of Pixar (a big Miyazaki fan) helped oversea Spirited Away‘s English translation and in 2017 The New York Times named it the second best film of the 21st Century So Far (and in a 2016 poll of 177 film critics worldwide it came in at #4 in their list of the best films of the 21st century so far). It also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Disney previously released the films of Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki’s company that releases not only his films, but also other Japanese animated films in a similar style), but now GKIDS, the New York-based distributor of award-winning animated films, has taken over and re-released Miyazaki’s films on Blu-ray. His movies usually feature a young girl as the protagonist and involve fantastical elements. 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro features two young girls, sisters Satsuki and Mei, who in 1958 have to move to the countryside with their father to be near their sick mother, who is receiving treatment in a nearby hospital. They befriend a giant rabbit-like creature in the forest they name Totoro. The superior 2005 English language version features the voices of real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning. 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a 13-year-old trainee witch Kiki and her talking black cat Jiji. Kirsten Dunst voiced Kiki in Disney’s 1998 English dub of the film. 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle takes place in a fictional land where both magic and 20th century technology exist and two kingdoms are at war with each other. The English dub features the voices of Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, and others. 2008’s Ponyo is about a magical goldfish from the ocean who falls in love with a five-year-old human boy and longs to become a human girl. The English dub features an all-star voice cast, including Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Liam Neeson. Each Blu-ray is loaded with special features and these timeless gems will appeal to both current children and their parents. By Mark Redfern (Buy Howl’s Moving Castle here, buy Kiki’s Delivery Service here, buy My Neighbor Totoro here, buy Ponyo here, buy Princess Mononoke here, and buy Spirited Away here.)

The Incredible Shrinking Woman Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

SRP: $23.99

Before Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig chose to get miniaturized in this year’s Downsizing and Paul Rudd played the tiny superhero Ant-Man in 2015, there was 1981’s The Incredible Shrinking Woman. It the directorial debut of Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Flatliners), taking over from John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places), who left the production due a budget dispute after only a few days of shooting and went on to make An American Werewolf in London instead. Lily Tomlin plays Pat Kramer, an ordinary housewife who begins to shrink after being exposed to an experimental perfume. It puts a strain on her relationship with her husband Vance Kramer (Charles Grodin), but she also becomes famous, appearing on talk shows and the like. She eventually shrinks so small that she has live in her kids’ dollhouse and continues to get smaller and smaller. Tomlin also plays two other characters (three if you’re watching the TV version, where she also plays a little girl named Edith Ann) in this off-kilter comedy, which was written by Jane Wagner, Tomlin’s long term writing partner and wife. Previously it was only available as a low quality DVD, but now Shout! Factory has released the cult classic on Blu-ray. There are various special features, including a conversation with Tomlin and Wagner, interviews with Schumacher, cinematographer/visual effects supervisor Bruce Logan, and composer Suzanne Ciani, and the Edith Ann deleted scene. By Mark Redfern (Read our earlier full review.) (Buy it here.)

La La Land Blu-ray/DVD (Lionsgate)

SRP: $29.99

No, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian Wilder was not trying to “save jazz” as some cultural critics have complained about La La Land. He was simply trying to bring back his favorite jazz club, which had been turned into a Samba/tapas bar. And while jazz musicians are primarily African Americans, there have also been plenty of incredible Caucasian players, including Buddy Rich, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, and… Kenny G (well maybe not that last one), so branding Wilder a “white savior” wasn’t entirely accurate either. When anything is as acclaimed as La La Land, and the film was greeted with rave review upon rave review when it first screened at movie festivals, it’s bound to be met by a cynical backlash. But why complain that it’s not as good as Singing in the Rain, when you should be celebrating that in 2016 there was a joyous film almost as good as the classic movie musicals, a rarity in our time.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone continued the fabulous chemistry they developed in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love (remember that Dirty Dancing scene?) and Stone certainly deserved her Best Actress Oscar. Of course the Oscar moment everyone remembers is when La La Land was mistakenly named Best Picture over Moonlight. But forget all of that and just give in to the delightful glamour and romance of the movie, from the audacious opening number in a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam, all the way to the bittersweet but realistic ending. This Ultra 4K/Blu-ray combo edition includes a look at how they closed down the freeway, the original demos for the songs, a behind-the-scenes featurette on Gosling learning to play the piano, and more. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Meantime Blu-ray (Criterion)

SRP: $39.95

1984’s Meantime is technically a television film, produced for England’s Channel 4, although it did also screen at both the London Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. It is notable for its director, Mike Leigh, and its stars Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Alfred Molina, all fairly early in their careers. At that point Leigh had only made one theatrical feature film, 1971’s little seen Bleak Moments, and had mainly worked in TV since. Of course he would go on to make such acclaimed movies as 1990’s Life Is Sweet, 1993’s Naked, 1996’s Secrets & Lies, 1999’s Topsy-Turvy, 2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky, and 2014’s Mr. Turner, among others. His films are incredibly honest and close to real life, aided by the lengthy rehearsal and improvisation techniques Leigh employs with actors. Meantime takes place in a tower block in London’s East End, as working class people struggle in a recession in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s era. This new director-approved Blu-ray includes a new conversation between Leigh and musician Jarvis Cocker, among other special features. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Moana Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

SRP: $24.96

As the father of an almost 5-year-old girl I can personally attest to the popularity of Moana amongst young girls (both my daughter and her friends are obsessed with it). The beautifully animated film features Moana, the daughter of a Polynesian tribal chief, embarking on an ocean quest with the aid of demigod Maui (a very amusing Dwayne Johnson) to save her village by reuniting a mystic relic with a goddess. The movie is refreshing for focusing on a culture largely ignored by Hollywood (except as side characters in Hawaii Five-O), plus the songs (partly written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame) are damn catchy and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement plays a singing giant crab. The Blu-ray edition includes deleted scenes, a deleted song, and various featurettes about the film’s music, costume design, and how the heritage of the islands influenced the story. After your child (or Disney fan friend) thanks you for this gift, you can sing your response in the voice of Maui: “You’re welcome.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Penny Dreadful: The Complete Series Blu-ray (Paramount/CBS/Showtime)

SRP: $34.74

If Penny Dreadful wasn’t a horror show then perhaps Eva Green would have won the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy that she so definitely deserved. The incredibly intense scene in season one’s “Possession” episode in which Green’s Vanessa Ives is possessed by the devil himself should’ve clinched the nomination at least. But while well received by critics and no doubt having a cult following, the three seasons of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful seem criminally under-appreciated and under-watched. Set in Victorian London, Penny Dreadful brings together many iconic horror characters of the era, including Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadway), Frankenstein’s monster (Rory Kinnear), Lily Frankenstein (Billie Piper), the Wolf Man (Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler), Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif), Dracula (Christian Camargo), Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), and others. It’s a similar basic concept to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but much darker, sadder, more romantic, and deeply poetic. Timothy Dalton (surely up there with Sean Connery and Daniel Craig as one of the best James Bonds) finally gets a meaty role again as Sir Malcolm Murray, whose daughter Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn) has been kidnapped. Hartnett hadn’t had a notable film or TV role in several years prior to Penny Dreadful (despite working steadily), but was very welcome back in the spotlight as Chandler, a moody American gunslinger who has a startling transformation whenever there’s a full moon. And Kinnear gave us the most vulnerable and human Frankenstein’s monster yet. This Blu-ray set collects all three seasons, all the way through to the tragic series finale, and includes special features galore, including documentaries on the literary influences on the show and the history of the Victorian era. If you’ve never seen this visually stunning and truly haunting show, then now’s your chance. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

RobocCop 2 and RoboCop 3 Blu-ray (Shout! Factory/Scream Factory)

SRP: $21.99 Each

There’s no question that 1987’s RoboCop is superior in every way to its two sequels or the misguided 2014 remake. Still, the sequels are interesting oddities genre fans might be curious to check out or revisit. 1990’s RoboCop 2 is more faithful to the spirit of the original movie, although the humanity Robocop seemed to reclaim at the end of the first movies is somewhat wiped away. Comic book writer Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) came up with the story and co-wrote the script, which centers on RoboCop taking on a drug wave for a designer controlled substance called Nuke while Detroit is going bankrupt and crippled by a police strike. RoboCop 2 is incredibly dark and violent, the villains include a gun toting fowl mouthed kid and a drug-addicted cyborg, so it’s a bit of a surprise that it was helmed by Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, in what proved to be his final feature film as director. Still, some of the first film’s black humor, such as the fake futuristic TV commercials (including a car alarm that electrocutes the thief), remains. 1993’s RoboCop 3 was less successful, neutering the edgy franchise with a PG-13 rating and a more family friendly tone. Peter Weller declined to return as RoboCop (instead starring in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch), although Hal Hartley regular Robert John Burke was a decent replacement. Fred Dekker, director of 1980s cult favorites Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad, took over the franchise in what would also be his last feature film as a director (although he’s continued as a writer). The film was a failure with both critics and audiences, only making $10.6 million domestically. Matters weren’t helped that its studio Orion Pictures was going bankrupt at the time, which delayed the film’s release by over a year (with the video game adaptation thus coming out a year before the film). Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-rays are loaded with new special features, including new commentary tracks and making of documentaries. By Mark Redfern (Buy RoboCop 2 here, buy RoboCop 3 here.)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

SRP: $17.99

Imagine that, a Star Wars prequel that works and was well-received by both fans and critics. George Lucas’ original prequel trilogy upset most fans and eventually he sold all the Star Wars rights and his company Lucasfilm to Disney. Since then they have released two much more liked Star Wars films without Lucas’ involvement, 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (the long-awaited sequel to Return of the Jedi) and last December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (with The Last Jedi about to be released). Rogue One scratched an itch Star Wars fans didn’t know they had and answered a big question perhaps few had thought to ponder: how did Princess Leia get her hands on the plans to the Death Star at the beginning of the first Star Wars movie (A New Hope)? The film features mainly all new characters, save brief appearances from Darth Vader, C-3PO, Princess Leia, and a few other smaller characters, including Grand Moff Tarkin, who was brought back via motion capture since original actor Peter Cushing is long since dead. Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso, who along with several other Rebel fighters, is tasked with stealing the Death Star plans from an Empire database. Complicating matters is the fact that Erso’s own father, Galen Erso (played by Hannibal Lecter himself, Mads Mikkelsen), was reluctantly one of the designers of the Death Star. While Disney plan to continue on with Star Wars sequels every other year, on the off years they hope to have these one off films (such as next year’s Han Solo origin story) and Rogue One got that concept off to a thrilling and successful start (it made over a billion dollars worldwide). Having characters that don’t need to stick around for a sequel raises the stakes and Rogue One is by far the most adult and least kid-friendly Star Wars movie. The Blu-ray includes various behind-the-scenes featurettes on how the movie came together. By Mark Redfern (Read our earlier full review.) (Buy it here.)

Serial Mom (Collector’s Edition) Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

SRP: $27.93

John Waters’ 1994 black comedy comes to Blu-ray thanks to Shout! Factory. Kathleen Turner stars as Beverly Sutphin, a seemingly average suburban housewife married to dentist Eugene Sutphin (Sam Waterston) and with two teenage kids Misty (Ricki Lake) and Chip (Matthew Lillard), but secretly she’s a serial killer who murders for the slightest of reasons. The film, and especially Turner’s performance, was fairly well-received by critics at the time, but it wasn’t a box office hit. As with many of Shout! Factory’s releases, it’s now regarded as cult classic. This Blu-ray includes a new commentary from Waters, Turner, and Mink Stole, as well as a making of documentary and an earlier commentary from Waters and Turner taken from the original DVD release. One of the big takeaways from Serial Mom: don’t where white after Labor Day. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Complete Series) Blu-ray, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (The Complete Series) DVD, Star Trek: Voyager (The Complete Series) DVD, and Star Trek: Enterprise (The Complete Series) Blu-ray (Paramount)

SRP: $117.30 (The Next Generation), $85.55 (Deep Space Nine), $90.80 (Voyager), and $74.29 (Enterprise)

With the recent success of Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Star Trek TV series since 2005, and Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek: The Next Generation homage The Orville, not to mention last year’s well-received Star Trek Beyond movie, the time is ripe to revisit some previous Star Trek series. Paramount has you covered with new Blu-ray and DVD collections of the complete series of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Star Trek: The Next Generation brought Star Trek back to TV in a big way in 1987, 18 years after the original series was cancelled (although there were Star Trek movies at the time, with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home having come out about a year before). Set around 100 years after the original series, The Next Generation introduced a whole new crew, led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart. Stewart, a serious British Shakespearian actor, was reluctant to commit to an American TV show, but his agent assured him that the show probably wouldn’t last more than a year, as bringing back a classic TV show was very tricky to get right. Boy was he wrong. Instead it lasted for seven seasons, won Emmy awards (and was even nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, the only syndicated show to be nominated in that category and also the rare sci-fi show to get such a nomination), and was critically acclaimed as being equal or better to the original series. The show also spawned four feature films, although only 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact is particularly beloved outside of die-hard Trekkies.

Deep Space Nine and Voyager were both spinoffs of The Next Generation. Deep Space Nine is the only Star Trek series to be set at a stationary space station, rather than a starship, and was the first to have its captain (or in this case, Commanding Officer) be black, Benjamin Sisko (played by Avery Brooks). The well-received show dealt with complex and dark themes, including religious issues and the consequences of war. It also ran for seven seasons, from 1993 to 1999. Voyager was the first Star Trek series to feature a female Captain, Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew), and was considered something of a feminist show. Its plot featured the starship Voyager being stranded in the previously unexplored Delta Quadrant, a 75-year journey from Earth even with Warp engines. It also ran for seven seasons, from 1995 to 2001.

Star Trek: Enterprise is probably the least beloved of the Star Trek series and it only ran for four seasons, from 2001 to 2005. Unlike the other Star Trek shows of the era, it was a prequel, taking place 100 years before the events of the original series. It featured the adventures of Starfleet’s first Warp 5 capable starship, also called Enterprise. Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap played Captain Jonathan Archer. Its fourth season is considered its best, but perhaps the whole series is worthy of reexamination.

Star Trek was rebooted by J. J. Abrams as a well-received new movie series in 2009, featuring new actors as the classic series characters Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura, with a fourth movie possibly in the works. While you wait for that, or for the second half of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season to air, there are 624 episodes of Star Trek to discover or rewatch across these four shows. By Mark Redfern (Buy The Next Generation here, buy Deep Space Nine here, buy Voyager here, buy Enterprise here.)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Blu-ray/DVD (Lionsgate)

SRP: $39.99

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has long been a pet project of French director Luc Besson (The Professional/Leon, Lucy). Based on the 1960s French comic book series Valerian and Laureline that Besson read as a kid, it was heralded as Besson’s return to wide screen futuristic science fiction 20 years after he directed The Fifth Element. At a budget of $180 million, it is both the most expensive non-American film and the most expensive independent film. Alas the film was a box office bomb, earning only $40.5 million in America, debuting at #5, with a worldwide box office total of $225.2 million. But perhaps the film is a future cult classic. Even most of its detractors agreed that it was a visually stunning film. The movie, which fittingly opened with a sequence cut to David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity,” had some fun set pieces. Dane DeHaan is space and time traveling agent Major Valerian, Cara Delevigne is Sergeant Laureline, his partner and love interest. The duo fight to save Alpha, once a space station orbiting Earth, but now a huge traveling space city inhabited by creatures of thousands of planets. Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer, John Goodman, and musicians Herbie Hancock and Rihanna also star. Fans of space epics would do well to judge Valerian for themselves. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Vice Versa Blu-ray (Mill Creek Entertainment)

SRP: $8.99

For some reason there were three body switching comedies in 1987 and 1988, including 1987’s Like Father Like Son (where Dudley Moore, the father, switched bodies with Kirk Cameron, the son) and 1988’s 18 Again! (which featured George Burns switching bodies with his grandson). 1988’s Vice Versa was probably the best of these. The concept was based on an 1882 novel of the same name, written by British writer Thomas Anstey Guthrie, although the book isn’t credited. Overworked divorced father Marshall Seymour (Judge Reinhold, of Fast Times and Ridgemont High and Beverly Hills Cop) often lets his job as the vice president of a big Chicago department store get in the way of his relationship with his son Charlie (Fred Savage of The Princess Bride), so things get complicated when an ancient magical skull stolen from a Buddhist monastery in Thailand causes them to switch bodies. Charlie has to deal with the pressures of his dad’s job and navigate his father’s relationship with his girlfriend Sam (Corinne Bohrer), whereas Marshall is stuck being 11 again and facing the politics of middle school, including being picked on by older kids. The film is silly and dated, but it has a lot of heart and a few laughs. Plus Savage and Reinhold are convincing as their switched selves. Besides a great review from Roger Ebert, Vice Versa didn’t particularly wow critics and was enough of a box office disappointment to put an end to Reinhold’s leading man prospects (although Savage did just fine that year starring as Kevin Arnold in six seasons of the critically acclaimed and nostalgic 1960s-set TV dramedy The Wonder Years). Some who grew up in the ‘80s may have their own nostalgia for Vice Versa (perhaps seeing it on VHS if they weren’t one of the few who caught it in the movie theater) and now it’s finally on Blu-ray. Mill Creek’s edition is as bare bones as it gets, with no special features apart from subtitles. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Watch Around the Clock in Color (Mill Creek Entertainment)

SRP: $17.45

Since time machines haven’t been invented yet (that we know of), this is your chance to relive a full broadcast day from the golden age of television, complete with commercials of the era. This four-DVD set offers 24 hours of classic TV, from morning cartoons to afternoon movies to evening prime time TV to late night movies, with shows ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s. To be clear, this isn’t one actual specific day of television (can you imagine the nightmare of hurdles involved in getting the rights to recreate that?). It all starts with childhood icons Popeye, Casper, and Gumby. The daytime movies include 1978’s Rescue From Gilligan’s Island. The prime-time favorites disc features The Lone Ranger, The Lucy Show, Bonanza, and Mannix. The three midnight movies star the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, and Ava Gardner. There’s also a bonus disc of five extra hours worth of Christmas episodes from The Beverly Hillbillies, The Jack Benny Program, and Sherlock Holmes. One suggestion: have a 1960s themed party and put it on in the background. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Westworld: Season One: The Maze Limited Edition Tin Blu-ray (HBO/Warner Bros.)

SRP: $64.99

Westworld is one of HBO’s best and most acclaimed new dramas in years. Jonathan Nolan (Christopher Nolan’s brother, who co-wrote The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and was also behind TV’s Person of Interest) and his wife Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies, Burn Notice) created the show, basing it on the 1973 film of the same name written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton. Westworld is a giant theme park, a video game (more specifically Red Dead Redemption) come to life. The visitors enter the Old West, dusty towns and outposts populated by androids that have no idea they are androids and really in the modern day. They are programmed to have certain personalities and responses and can’t hurt or kill any of the guests, but can be “killed” by the visitors, meaning they are patched up and have their memories wiped. Slowly some of the androids start to become self-aware and remember the traumatic experiences they’ve had. This obviously causes problems. That is, perhaps, an overly simple way to describe the show’s plot, it’s much deeper than that, but we don’t want to give away any of its surprises. Standout performances abound, from Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and James Marsden as androids to Ed Harris and Jimmi Simpson as the park’s guests to Anthony Hopkins as the park’s creator and Jeffrey Wright as his protégé and programmer. Like the Blade Runner films, Westworld tackles big themes of what it means to be human and truly alive. The show was nominated for seven Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series (a rarity for a science fiction show) and won five Creative Arts Emmy Awards. With season two planned to debut early next year, now is a good time to catch up on the first season. This Ultra HD Blu-ray is packaged in a steelcase and includes a slew of special features, including a look at how they made that fabulous main titles sequence. It also includes a replica Handbook for New Employees. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Whose Streets? DVD (Magnolia Home Entertainment)

SRP: $26.98

Filmed in the wake of 18-year-old Michael Brown’s shooting outside St. Louis in August of 2014, Whose Streets? provides an eye-level view of the Ferguson protests as they were happening. This critically-acclaimed documentary sheds a personal light on one of today’s biggest issues, and by showing it at the human level, does so in the most powerful way possible. Bonus features include scenes and interviews that don’tappear in the final cut. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Wind River Blu-ray/DVD (Lionsgate)

SRP: $34.99

Wind River was something of a surprise hit this summer, making $40.3 million worldwide on an $11 million budget. So far it’s the fourth highest grossing indie film of 2017. Taylor Sheridan’s movie was one of the most poetic and deeply felt crime thrillers in awhile and it also shed further light on a struggling segment of our population. Jeremy Renner stars as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert who discovers the frozen body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming in the dead of winter. Rookie FBI special agent Jane Banner (Renner’s Avengers Age of Ultron co-star Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to determine if it’s a murder, but since the local medical examiner says that although she was raped, she technically died from exposure to the sub-zero air, and he can’t officially declare it a murder. This means Banner can’t call in an additional FBI investigative unit, leaving her and Lambert to solve the crime. As well as being a tense and effective crime thriller, the film shows the struggles of Native Americans living on Indian Reservations, especially in brutal winters, and also highlights violence against Native American women. Ironically the film was originally put out by The Weinstein Company (although they did not produce the film and Harvey Weinstein had nothing to do with its production), but after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal Wind River‘s producers successfully untangled the movie from The Weinstein Company, with this Blu-ray released by Lionsgate instead. The Blu-ray is light on special features, but does include some deleted scenes. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Samsung UBD-M9500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player

SRP: $399.99

If you need something to watch all of these fabulous Blu-rays and DVDs we’ve been telling you about on, then we recommend Samsung’s UBD-M9500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player. Samsung is already regarded as the makers of some of the finest HD TVs around and they call this their flagship Blu-ray player. It’s capable of playing 4K Blu-rays and offers twice the color range of existing conventional Blu-ray players and 64 times higher color expression. In other words, the films look more vibrant and better than ever. The player has a wireless feature where you can stream content from any Bluetooth enabled mobile device direct to your TV and also watch Blu-rays on your mobile device. You can also view 360° pictures and videos on your TV via the player, using your remote to navigate all angles. It also works with wireless headphones if you’d like to watch a film without disturbing other family members and friends who might be sleeping, working, or watching things on other devices. All-in-all it’s pretty much everything you could possibly want in a contemporary Blu-ray player and would make a very strong gift for the modern cinephile. If you’re a collector of Blu-rays, you owe it to yourself to own a top of the line player such as this one. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

For more DVD and Blu-ray gift guide recommendations then check out our supplemental post to this one, with an even longer list of ideas.


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