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Wednesday, January 26th, 2022  

Under the Radar’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide Part 7: Blu-rays and DVDs (Part Two)

For Your Viewing Pleasure Featuring Classic Movies, Recent Hits, Full TV Seasons, and More

Dec 23, 2020 Holiday Gift Guide 2020
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This part two of our 2020 Blu-ray/DVD gift guide, it was too massive to fit in one post (check out part one here).

If you were smart and careful, you spent much of 2020 indoors thanks to the deadly pandemic. With many movie theaters closed much of 2020, with bars and restaurants often unavailable, with live music an impossibility; we all turned to home entertainment and that often meant our screens. Netflix and other streaming services can only offer so many choices and few people subscribe to every service, so 2020 was a good year to catch up on some DVDs and Blu-rays.

For the seventh installment of our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide we present a multitude of DVDs and Blu-rays worth giving or picking up yourself to help get you through the long, cold, socially distant winter. Most of the big movies set to come out after March were pushed to 2021, so this guide is light on 2020 films, but there are many classic movies to consider (some that never got their due when they were originally released), as well as some worthy 2019 films and TV shows.

Also check out the other parts of our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide: Part 1 on video games, Part 2 on drinking, Part 3 on table top and board games, Part 4 on collectibles, Part 5 on toys, and part 6 on books and graphic novels.

Read on to watch on.

The Circus (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $39.95

This delightful1928 silent film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin also features him as the accident-prone but endearing little tramp who, while pursued by the police, bumbles, stumbles and tumbles into a travelling circus where he not only becomes the star but also falls for beautiful fellow circus performer, portrayed by a charming Merna Kennedy. Comedy high points include his temporary entrapment in a lion’s cage and his frantic endeavor to impress his beloved while lurching along a highwire with several frisky monkeys clinging to his head and body.

Among the Blu-ray’s numerous off-cuts and special features is a particularly poignant interview with Chaplin’s son Eugene who recounts how Charlie, orphaned in childhood, learned his acting craft from street performers and his time as a real circus performer. It also includes fond images of an older Charlie and his wife Oona, daughter of famous playwright Eugene O’Neill. Even though she was only 18 when she married Charlie, then 54, their marriage was a long and happy one, producing several children who presumably greatly enjoyed seeing their father portray the little tramp. By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

The Great Escape (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $27.96

The all-time great prison breakout movie gets the Criterion Collection treatment. The 1963 classic featured a fantastic ensemble, headlined by Steve McQueen, but also starring James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, and others. They all play World War II prisoners of war plotting to escape a Nazi prison camp. They realize that the chances of making it home are slim, but if they can gum up the works and make the enemy expend energy on tracking them down and recapturing them then that distracts from the larger German war effort. In particular, our heroes dig tunnels under the fences. The film was inspired by a true story, but as the various behind-the-scenes special features reveal, American service men were granted greater importance in the screenplay than in the real story, to better appeal to U.S. audiences. The documentaries also reveal that the film was almost filmed in America before the producers realized there was no substituting Germany and give insight into the famous daring motorcycle jump towards the end of the film (even though McQueen was an accomplished motorcyclist, for insurance purposes stuntman Bud Ekins had to make the actual fence leap). It all comes in a handsome new 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural sound. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Public Eye (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

RRP: $14.97

The Public Eye features one of Joe Pesci’s best performances but remains criminally under-seen, making only $3 million upon its 1992 release. Thank goodness for Kino Lorber for finally putting it out on Blu-ray. Pesci plays Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein, a crime photographer in 1940s New York City. Armed with a police radio and a portable darkroom in the trunk of his car, each night Bernzy strives to get to crime scenes quickly enough to be the first one to photograph murder victims and sell the pictures to the newspapers. He gets embroiled in a film noir plot when he assists widowed nightclub owner Kay Levitz (Barbara Hershey), who needs help when mobsters come to collect debts they claim her late husband owed them. Meanwhile Bernzy is trying to get his work taken seriously by pitching an art-book featuring his photos and a tip from a criminal (Stanley Tucci) defecting from one mob family to another may grant him the picture of a lifetime. Bernzy was inspired by real-life crime photographer Arthur Fellig (more commonly known as Weegee) and many of Weegee’s photos double for Bernzy’s. The Public Eye has plenty going for it beyond Pesci’s performance, including great period detail, striking cinematography, and an evocative and jazzy score by Mark Isham. Alas special features are limited to the theatrical trailer and audio commentary from writer/director Howard Franklin and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Collection (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

RRP: $59.97

Philip Francis Nowlan’s Buck Rogers character first debuted in pulp magazines in 1928, hitting comic strips a year later and debuting on the silver screen with a film serial starring Buster Crabbe, but for kids who grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s it is Buck Rogers in the 25th Century that comes to mind. The show only lasted two seasons from 1979 to 1981, but still made a cultural impact. The series was launched in the wake of the success of Star Wars and began with a theatrical movie doubling as its pilot. It was successful enough for Universal to greenlight a series. Gil Gerard plays Buck, a NASA astronaut who in 1987 gets frozen in his spaceship due to a malfunction in the life support system. He awakens 504 years later, in the year 2491, to return to an Earth that survived a nuclear war that happened soon after he went into space. Society has been rebuild and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate. Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) helps him adjust to the 25th century and also becomes a love interest.

The show comes off as incredibly dated now, with disco-influenced music and fashions. Some of the episode titles might give you a sense of what to expect: “Planet of the Slave Girls,” “Vegas in Space,” “Planet of the Amazon Women,” “Cruise Ship to the Stars,” “Space Vampire,” and “Space Rockers.” And yet, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century has a certain retro charm, especially if you grew up watching it. And there are also some amusing guest stars, including Jack Palance, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gary Coleman, Dennis Haysbert, Jerry Orbach, Peter Graves, Mark Lenard, Markie Post, various former Batman stars (Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Julie Newmar), and the original Buck Rogers himself, Buster Crabbe. Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray box set includes both seasons and the theatrical movie. Special features include audio commentaries on 10 select episodes by film/TV historian Patrick Jankiewicz (author of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion) and interviews with Erin Gray and Thom Christopher (who played Hawk in season two). The theatrical movie is also available separately. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Bill & Ted Face the Music (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $14.99

It’s party on time, dudes, for William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore “Ted” Logan (Keanu Reeves) who we first met as teenagers 31 years ago in their Excellent Adventure and then again in 1991 in their Bogus Journey. Now the two middle-aged slacker dudes are facing a real challenge: how to produce a piece of music that will unite the world before it is destroyed. Perhaps inadvertently following the example of Doctor Who, they leap into a magical phone booth which carries they back and forth in space and time in a search for the answer to their challenge, meanwhile trying to avoid the threat of the possible end of their marriages and awkward encounters with their future selves. Luckily, they are aided by their two savvy young musician daughters who convince the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to come along for the ride. And of course the film includes a trip to hell to convince a disgruntled former band member, The Grim Reaper, to rejoin.

The long-in-the-works Bill & Ted Face the Music was one of 2020’s few notable films not to be pushed back to 2021 because of the pandemic, coming out in those movie theaters and drive-ins that were open, but also being available to watch at home via VOD. Special features on the Blu-ray include the film’s 2020 San Diego Comic-Con panel, which was done remotely and virtually as part of their .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

Play Misty For Me (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

RRP: $17.97

In his 1971 directorial debut you’ll meet a totally different Clint Eastwood than you have come to expect in the leading role. Gone is the hard-bitten, tough-talking cop or Western gun-slinger; in his place in this psychological thriller is womanizing, slightly world-weary California radio disc jockey Dave Garven.

At first intrigued by the female fan who regularly phones in her request to “play ‘Misty’ for me” and then turns up in seductive mode as Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) in the local bar, he becomes increasingly alarmed—with good reason—as she attempts to inject herself into every aspect of his life. Things become increasingly fraught when the real love of his life, Tobie Williams (Donna Mills), reappears in Carmel-on-Sea, not only the film’s location but Eastwood’s long-term home (he was the town’s mayor for two years). Particularly powerful is Walter as Dave’s deranged stalker: she was nominated in 1972 for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress–Drama. And then there is that wonderful title song composed by Earl Garner… you just can’t get it out of your head. Move over Clint—I’m on the way! By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

Until the End of the World (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $27.96

Until the End of the World, from acclaimed German director Wim Wenders, was met with mixed reviews when a 158-minute cut of the film was originally released in 1991 and it was a complete box office flop, grossing less than a million dollars against a $23 million budget. But the film has grown in stature over years, in part thanks to much longer cuts of the movie, with a near-five-hour (287 minutes) director’s cut being the favored version that makes it a magical, mystical, and unmissable road movie.

The film takes place eight years in the future, in 1999, as the world is bracing for disaster with an Indian nuclear satellite falling from orbit. Where will it land and will it set off a nuclear explosion when it does? Narrated throughout by her discarded lover, Eugene (Sam Neill), mysterious, hedonistic Claire Tourneur (intriguing French actress Solveig Dommartin) races around the world as she first becomes a courier for stolen bank notes and then meets and becomes obsessed with cryptic Sam Farber (William Hurt). Escaping from his own demons, he too is on the run as he seeks to capture images for his blind mother (the legendary French actress Jean Moreau) on a fantastical camera invented by his dictatorial father (Max von Sydow), who is based in a cave, surrounded by aborigine and scientific helpers in Outback Australia. Periodically accompanied by the two bank robbers and pursued by a would-be assassin, a bounty-hunting detectives, and Eugene himself, Claire and Sam journey through Paris, Berlin, Moscow, China, Japan, and Australia. The first half of the movie is breathless journey around a future world that never was (complete with video phone booths, although Wenders did correctly predict GPS units in most cars). Until the End of the World imagines a future where Talking Heads are still together but The Rolling Stones have finally broken up. The second half is a more somber (and hypnotic) meditation on family, memory, and addiction.

Perhaps better known than the movie itself is its soundtrack. Wenders reached out to many of his favorite musicians at the time and asked them to create new songs in the style of what they thought their music would sound like in 1999. To his surprise, almost everyone he approached said yes, and so the soundtrack features fantastic original music by U2 (the title track), R. E. M., Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Can, Julee Cruise, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Neneh Cherry, and more. The soundtrack was a hit and is considered one of the best soundtracks of the ’90s (or perhaps of all-time). With the director’s cut finally out on Blu-ray thanks to The Criterion Collection, hopefully more will discover (or rediscover) the actual film. Special features include new interviews with Wim Wenders, including a joint conversation between the director and singer David Byrne (formally of Talking Heads). Until the End of the World is a long trip but certainly worth the journey. By Mary Moore Mason and Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Good Place: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)

RRP: $55.97

Few long-running TV shows get the timing right in terms of when to bow out gracefully and end the show. Many are either cancelled too soon or milk it for too long. No doubt some fans of The Good Place might have wished that it could’ve gone beyond four seasons, but really there was nowhere left to go, all the characters had grown and come to their natural end, and extending it further would’ve seemed forced. The show’s ending was poignant, sad, and life affirming (or should we say “death affirming”), but was fully earned.

For those not in the know, the basic concept of season one is that Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a not particularly great person who dies and ends up in a nice little neighborhood of heaven run by Michael (Ted Danson). But there’s been some error and Eleanor realizes that she’s an imposter, they think she’s a different Eleanor Shellstrop, one who was a much better person and actually deserved a place in heaven. With the aid of Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), a deceased professor of ethics and moral philosophy, she tries to learn how to become a better person while trying not to be found out and sent to the Bad Place. The amazing ensemble is rounded out by Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and D’Arcy Carden. Future seasons of the Michael Schur-created show reveal lots of different twists and turns, flipping the pilot’s basic concept on its head several times over. Now Shout! Factory has collected all 53 episodes in one set. It would make a nice gift for friends who have yet to experience the show, which was nominated for 14 Emmys and will surely go down as one of the best comedies of its era. Bonus features include a 2019 San Diego Comic-Con panel and a finale special hosted by Seth Meyers. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The War of the Worlds (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $27.96

There have been many adaptations of H.G. Welles’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds—on the big screen, on TV, on radio, as a concept album—but one of the most memorable is the 1953 theatrical film produced by George Pal, directed by Byron Haskin, and starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. The film updated the Victorian novel to the 1950s and changed the location to America, but the concept of Martian aliens invading Earth remained the same. Other alien invasion movies of the era look cheap by comparison, but The War of the Worlds is positively lush in its Technicolor filming and wholly cinematic, especially in its climax as our hero Dr. Clayton Forrester (Barry) traverses Los Angeles as it’s being attacked by the aliens, in search of his love interest Sylvia van Buren (Robinson). The scene where survivors are gathered in a church, praying as the city around them is destroyed, is particularly affecting. And the new 4K restoration of the film looks stunning, especially when compared to earlier video and DVD releases of the film (as pointed out in the various special features). Other special features include an interesting 1940 radio interview between H.G. Welles and Orson Welles, two years after Orson’s infamous radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which caused a panic when the public thought Martians really were invading (Orson’s original radio version is also included as a special feature). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season One (Showtime/CBS DVD)

RRP: $35.99

The original Penny Dreadful lasted for three seasons and was a gothic drama mainly set in Victorian London and featuring many of the iconic horror characters of the era, including Dracula, Victor Frankenstein and his creature, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, Jekyll and Hyde, Van Helsing, and others, but it was headlined by the original character Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green, who was robbed of an Emmy for her astounding performance). This year’s Penny Dreadful: City of Angels has little to do with the original series and features none of the same characters, it being set many decades later and an ocean away, but it does maintain the spirit of the original and also comes from creator John Logan.

The complex show takes place in Los Angeles in 1938 and deals with pre-World War II politics and race relations, while adding in a supernatural element. Daniel Zovatto stars as Tiago Vega, the first Mexican-American detective of the Los Angeles Police Department, with Nathan Lane as his aging partner Lewis Michener and Kerry Bishé as Molly Finnister, a popular radio evangelist who is known as “Sister Molly” and is Tiago’s love interest. The plot centers around a Mexican-American neighborhood in East LA being destroyed to make way for a new freeway, but also concerns a series of murders, Nazi spies, corrupt politicians in the closet, race riots, and much more. Natalie Dormer of Game of Thrones plays Magda, a demon who can take various forms (essentially allowing Dormer to play three different parts) and who manipulates many aspects of the volatile situation, causing chaos in her wake. Interestingly, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels would almost work just as well without the supernatural elements, the intrigue of the more down-to-earth plot points is compelling enough. Alas, Showtime opted not to renew the show for a second season and while season one is fairly well wrapped up in the season finale, there are some dangling threads that would have been interesting to explore in season two. The DVD release includes various behind-the-scenes featurettes and could make a suitable gift for fans of the original Penny Dreadful who have yet to check out this interesting follow-up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Onward (Disney)

RRP: $19.96

Onward is one of the more quirky Pixar films and never really had a chance at the box office, considering it came out on March 6, only weeks before COVID-19 shut down the economy, including closing almost all indoor movie theaters for awhile. It was the last film I personally saw in an indoor theater, watching it with my excited 7-year-old daughter (we both loved it). The film was put on Disney+ at no extra expense to existing subscribers on April 3, less than a month after its release, and hopefully more audiences were able to discover the delightful film there. Onward takes place in a world much like our own—with chain restaurants, malls, and schools—except that it’s populated by mystical characters. On his sixteenth birthday elf Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) goes on an epic quest with his older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) to complete a spell that will briefly bring back to life their dead father, so that they can finally say goodbye to him. Sure the funny and touching film is on Disney+, but it’s also nice to own on Blu-ray for the special features and the moments you might not have access to Disney+ (if you have it at all). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Frozen II (Disney)

RRP: $18.98

Frozen II came out in November 2019 so its release wasn’t as impacted by the pandemic. Still, Disney nicely put it on Disney+ earlier than expected near the start of the lockdown, to help parents and kids stuck inside take a break from virtual learning. The film was six years in the making, following 2013’s megahit original film. The consensus was that it was generally worth the wait and the second big screen adventure featuring sisters Anna and Elsa and Olaf, their magical snowman friend, went on to become the 10th highest grossing film of all-time, the second highest grossing animated film of all-time (behind The Lion King remake), and the third biggest film of 2019 (behind Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King). Frozen II is interesting because it doesn’t feature an out and out villain, instead the film is concerned with a quest to reconcile the past. And yes, like Onward, the film is already available on Disney+, but the Blu-ray release features several special features, including a sing-along version of the film. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)

RRP: $18.99

Critics and fans have been split on every Star Wars film since 1999, when Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was such a colossal disappointment (but even it was its champions). Only the original trilogy is universally beloved. Some fans found the more recent trilogy fully entertaining, others felt like it ruined the franchise. 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the best reviewed of recent Star Wars films, but among fans it also might be the most divisive film in the recent trilogy. This is what happens when fictional worlds are treated as religion, but everyone needs to relax. 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was a whole lot of fun. You can get up in arms about how the mythology was altered or how this character should be kissing that character or be related to that other character. You can legitimately complain about characters who didn’t get enough screen-time. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the ride and the spectacle. That’s what my 7-year-old daughter did. If you hadn’t grown up loving and re-watching the original trilogy, it might be easier to poke holes in those films too. Just like those who first saw the much-hated prequels as kids appreciate them much more than those who were cynical adults when they came out. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Scoob (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $18.95

It all started in 1969 with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the iconic Saturday morning cartoon series. That led to various follow-up series that included encounters with Batman and Robin and new characters such as Scooby’s nephew Scrappy-Doo. Since then the semi-anthropomorphic Great Dane and his mystery solving teenage friends have appeared in many movies, including live action big screen outings and countless straight-to-DVD tales. This year the characters were due to return to the silver screen in the computer-animated Scoob, but COVID-19 had other plans, meaning it was released direct to VOD in the U.S. (with a theatrical release in a few select other countries where the pandemic wasn’t quite as bad). Scoob tells the story of how Scooby-Doo and Shaggy first met and how they met the rest of the crime-solving team (Fred, Daphne, and Velma), but also shows them as a fully fledged team and features other Hanna-Barbera characters such as Dynomutt, Blue Falcon, Dick Dastardly and Muttley, and Captain Caveman. It got mixed reviews, but we rented it and my 7-year-old daughter and I enjoyed it well enough. In lockdown, a manic and fun new adventure featuring an iconic cartoon creation was more than enough to distract from this terrible year. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)

RRP: $13.99

My dad wasn’t the sporty type. When I was a kid we never really played catch much. He never took me to a sporting event and didn’t watch many of them on TV. There was one exception: Formula 1 motor racing. He died in 2014 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, but every so often in the years since a movie or TV show will come out that I just know he would’ve loved. 2019’s Ford v Ferrari is one such movie. It’s not about Formula 1, but is based on the true story of how in the 1960s Ford tried to design a car that could win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance car race held in France every year, in an effort to make Ford a sexier brand and to show up Ferrari, who rebuffed Ford’s offer to buy the cash-strapped Italian luxury carmaker (playing Ford to get a better offer from a rival company). American driver/designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon)—a former Le Mans winner whose heart condition now prevents him from driving—is tasked by Ford to build the right car. Shelby brings onboard Ken Miles, a hot-tempered and difficult British racer and struggling mechanic, to help. The James Mangold-directed film was a hit with critics and audiences alike, and was nominated for four Oscars (including Best Picture), deservedly winning Best Editing and Best Sound Editing. Some European audiences will know it by the title it went by across the pond, Le Mans ’66. Blu-ray special features include an eight-part making of documentary. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Glengarry Glen Ross (Shout! Factory)

RRP: $18.97

David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize–winning play Glengarry Glen Ross was finally adapted into a movie in 1992, with Mamet also writing the screenplay and James Foley directing. The film has limited locations and retains much of what made the play so acclaimed. It chronicles two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen, whose jobs are put in jeopardy when the corporate office sends a trainer (played by Alec Baldwin in one very memorable scene) to motivate them to do better, threatening that the two with the lowest sales that month would be fired. And what a cast. On top of Baldwin, the film features Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce. Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor but instead won Best Actor the same year for Scent of a Woman. It’s all about the beats of the wonderful dialogue and in the special features Arkin reflects that it was a difficult movie to make, as every line and sigh was scripted and had to be followed exactly, but it makes for a dynamic and claustrophobic piece of art. Special features on Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release includes a new 4K transfer from the original camera negative and a new conversation with director James Foley, as well as various bonus features ported over from an earlier release, including an interesting documentary where real salesmen (and women) reflect on their craft and comment on the movie. And remember: always be closing! By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

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