Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide, Part 2: Classic Film & TV on Home Video | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 29th, 2024  

Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide, Part 2: Classic Film & TV on Home Video

The year’s classic film and television releases on 4K, Blu-ray, and more

Dec 08, 2023 Photography by Mark Redfern
Bookmark and Share

Our annual gift guide tradition continues as we look through some of this year’s biggest home video releases. It doesn’t matter if the person you’re buying a gift for prefers classic films, only watches new movies, or is looking for something more seasonal to watch over these next few weeks—we’ve got you covered with gift suggestions available on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD. In fact, we have so many suggestions on this year’s list that we needed to break it up across two posts! Below you’ll find holiday movies and classic films and television recently re-released for home viewing. Looking for newer stuff? Click here to check out our rundown of more modern film and TV releases that are now available on disc.

Keep checking back as Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide returns with the season’s hottest vinyl reissues, toys and collectibles, video games, and more. (Did you miss our tabletop gaming guide? Click here.) And while you’re in the giving mood, why not consider a gift subscription to Under the Radar? Your support can help keep our independent music coverage in print for years to come.

Holiday Movies

Elf 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $33.99

It’s been twenty years since Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell teamed up to make Elf, and it’s arguable that no other movie released since has made itself part of Christmastime canon the way it has. From around mid-October through the end of the year it’s unmissable—Elf merch is as omnipresent on store shelves as Rudolph and Hermie ornaments, Christmas Vacation station wagons, and A Christmas Story leg lamps. (And we’re betting you have someone in your Facebook timeline who regularly starts posting a photo of Buddy the Elf with an “X days until X-Mas” countdown as early as mid-July every year. We all know one of those people.)

But, you know what? We can’t complain. No holiday movie becomes this ingrained in seasonal pop culture by accident or force. Elf is great, plain and simple. It’s the role that Ferrell was born to play, and his supporting cast—James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart and Mary Steenburgen—perfectly ground his particular comic style. The story is wholesome in a way that’s practically old-fashioned, making it enjoyable for all ages. This new 4K UHD release gives the film a massive visual upgrade over its previous edition, which came out all the way back when Blu-ray was still finding its footing. Don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins by overthinking this—this is a movie that most fans watch at least once a year, and when a piece of home video has that heavy of a rotation, you owe it to them to make sure it looks and sounds as good as possible. This release of Elf is a boost in every aspect. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

The Nightmare Before Christmas: Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Disney)

RRP: $34.99

Whether you watch it while carving jack-o-lanterns or decorating the tree, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a staple which spans multiple holiday seasons. Henry Selick and Tim Burton’s stop-motion classic looks superb in 4K UHD, where keen-eyed viewers will be able to spot the craftsmanship in the puppets and sets: little details like seams and flocking that just have never been visible on previous formats. The HDR grading also does wonders for the colors in this movie—Zero’s nose actually shines, the mad doctor’s cauldron glows, and Christmas Town looks as warm and inviting as a home lit in old-school, incandescent bulbs. If you’re already a fan, you’re going to love the way the movie looks here. Jack Skellington and crew have received a well-deserved audiovisual upgrade for this 30th anniversary release. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Scrooged 4K UHD (Paramount)

RRP: $25.99

Scrooged is more of a cynical holiday classic than most movies you might rewatch every Christmas. After all, it opens with a trailer for a fake action movie starring Lee Majors as he saves Santa from terrorists invading the North Pole. Bill Murray is perfectly cast as a late ’80s version of Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, reworked as hardened TV executive Frank Cross who is overseeing a TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol. As the tale goes, he is visited by three ghosts, including a particularly amusing Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present and David Johansen of punk legends New York Dolls as the Ghost of Christmas Past, shown as a wisecracking New York City taxi driver. The film’s heart comes from love interest Karen Allen, Cross’ former flame who he tries to rekindle things with. Murray is in wisecracking Ghostbusters mode and Cross’ transformation from asshole to a guy who reclaims his humanity foreshadows Murray’s performance in the beloved Groundhog Day five years later. Special features include audio commentary from director Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon), recorded before his 2021 passing for a previous DVD release of the film, as well as various other behind-the-scenes documentaries. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Classic Films & Television

The Adventures of Batman: The Complete Collection Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $19.62

The Adventures of Batman was a 1968 cartoon series produced by Filmation, initially packaged as part of The Batman/Superman Hour. Each 12-minute episode has more in common with the campy 1960s live action series or the 1970s Super Friends era than the more serious 1990s Batman: The Animated Series (which is the greatest superhero cartoon of all time). Olan Soule voiced Batman and radio DJ Casey Kasem was the voice of Robin, roles they would also play in Super Friends, Scooby-Doo, and The New Adventures of Batman. The plots of each episode are pretty basic, with the masked heroes foiling yet another criminal plot by one of their rogues gallery (including The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin, and Mr. Freeze). But for Caped Crusader completists or those who long for a more innocent era, it’s nice to finally have all the episodes collected on Blu-ray. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

After Hours 4K UHD/Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $49.95

1985’s After Hours is probably Martin Scorsese’s funniest film. The director, then known for serious dramas such as Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and Raging Bull, was in pre-production of The Last Temptation of Christ when financing on that film was pulled due to its controversial subject matter (he would later make that movie several years later). Following the temporary cancellation of his historical epic, the filmmaker was looking to make a more stripped down production and took to the script for After Hours, which was being shopped by its star Griffin Dunne and Dunne’s producing partner, Amy Robinson. Scorsese was their first choice, but when he initially wasn’t available because of Last Temptation, Dunne and Robinson enlisted a young filmmaker known as Tim Burton to make his feature length film debut. Burton gracefully bowed out when Scorsese became available and went on to direct Pee-wee’s Big Adventure instead.

Scorsese was despondent at the time. Not only had The Last Temptation of Christ fallen through, but his last film, 1982’s The King of Comedy, was poorly received by audiences and Entertainment Weekly even labeled it as “flop of the year” (it’s now considered a classic and very much influenced the 2019 Oscar winning hit, Joker). The director was living in lower Manhattan, Tribeca to be exact, close to where After Hours takes place, and so he sparked to the idea of filming in his neighborhood with a minimal crew.

Dunne plays Paul Hackett, a fairly average computer programmer, who lives and works further uptown. A chance coffee shop meeting with a beautiful girl (Rosanna Arquette as Marcy Franklin) leads to him later that night going down to Soho to visit her. What follows is a series of hilarious misadventures all taking place in one night involving reckless cab drivers, eccentric artists, a rowdy punk club where they attempt to forcefully give Paul a mohawk, a neighborhood watch mob who think he’s a burglar, and a quirky ice cream truck driver. The film was shot all at night, even indoor scenes that could’ve been filmed during the day. And what a cast: Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, John Heard, Richard Cheech Marin, Catherine O’Hara, Will Patton, and Bronson Pinchot.

After Hours isn’t Scorsese’s best known film—it wasn’t a huge box office hit—but it did win him Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and has since developed a cult following and even inspired The Weeknd’s 2020 album of the same name. It’s a shame that Dunne didn’t get more leading roles of this caliber—I most remember him for his part opposite Madonna in the comedy misfire Who’s That Girl (which I still liked as a young Madonna fan)—although he has worked steadily as an actor, producer, and director.

Criterion’s new reissue of After Hours features a new conversation about the film between Scorsese and writer Fran Lebowitz, a new documentary on the look of the film featuring its costume designer and production designer, as well as seven deleted scenes, a previous making-of documentary, and commentary (from Scorsese, Dunne, Robinson, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and director of photographer Michael Ballhaus). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

American Graffiti 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Universal)

RRP: $20.99

Before Star Wars, there was American Graffiti. George Lucas’ nostalgic journey back to 1962—the year of his own high school graduation—follows a bunch of new graduates as they enjoy one last night together on the town full of sock hops, break-ups, hook-ups, and drag races. Featuring a bunch of fresh-faced actors in some of their earliest roles (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Le Mat, Mackenzie Phillips, Charles Martin Smith) and a perfect soundtrack full of golden oldie rock hits, the runaway success of American Graffiti put a lot of big-name talent on the map.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, American Graffiti hits 4K UHD with a Making Of featurette, a collection of screen tests (if you want to see these famous actors looking even younger), and a full-length commentary from George Lucas. It also comes with the film on a separate Blu-ray, and a digital copy—so that American Graffiti will have a spot in their collection in three different formats. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Barbarella Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD (Arrow Video)

RRP: $59.95

Roger Vadim’s 1968-released sci-fi sex comedy Barbarella comes to 4K via Arrow Video. Jane Fonda, at the time married to Vadim, stars as the title character, an intergalactic secret agent set by Earth to an alien planet to retrieve an inventor/scientist. The film is perhaps best remembered for Fonda’s opening titles weightless striptease and the image of John Phillip Law as the near-naked blind angel Pygar. Plus the film’s villain inspired the name of 1980s New Wave legends Duran Duran and the experimental electronic duo Matmos also took their moniker from the film.

Barbarella was based on a French comic series of the same name by Jean-Claude Forest and it certainly has an eye-catching and colorful look, with crazy set designs and costumes. The whole thing is soundtracked by a groovy score by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox. The plot is fully ridiculous, but Barbarella is a kitschy ’60s delight from start to climax.

Arrow’s limited edition reissue comes in handsome packaging, with a thick booklet on the film and a two-sided fold out movie poster. There’s also a second Blu-ray disc loaded with special features, including a two-hour discussion between film and cultural historians Tim Lucas and Steve Bissette, as well as an old making of documentary from 1968. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Carlito’s Way 4K UHD/Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

RRP: $59.95

Acclaimed film director Brian De Palma (Carrie, Blow Out, The Untouchables) was coming off a string of misfires when he made 1993’s Carlito’s Way. 1989’s Casualties of War didn’t do well, perhaps because audiences weren’t ready to accept the lovable Michael J. Fox in a gritty Vietnam War movie. 1992’s American psychological horror thriller film Raising Cain didn’t exactly turn out the way De Palma hoped after the film was re-edited in post (a director’s cut based on a fan edit was released on Blu-ray decades later). Worst of all was 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, considered one of the biggest flops of all time, despite being based on an acclaimed Thomas Wolfe novel and featuring an all-star cast that included Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Morgan Freeman.

For Carlito’s Way, De Palma returned to his roots, reteaming a decade later with his Scarface star Al Pacino (fresh from winning an Oscar for Scent of a Woman) for an epic crime drama set in 1975 New York City. Based on the novels Carlito’s Way (1975) and After Hours (1979) by Judge Edwin Torres, Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, newly released from jail after serving five years of a 30-year sentence. His attempts to go straight are derailed by the corrupt efforts of his coked up lawyer and best friend, David Kleinfeld (a nearly unrecognizable Sean Penn, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his showy performance). The film is led by a fantastic disco soundtrack and evident chemistry between Pacino and his love interest Penelope Ann Miller as Gail, a dancer turned stripper (Pacino and Miller reportedly had an off-screen affair at the time as well). There are several bravado De Palma sequences, most notably a pool hall shootout and chase and escalator shootout at Grand Central Station, bringing to mind The Untouchables.

Following Carlito’s Way, De Palma teamed with Tom Cruise to make the first Mission: Impossible film in 1996 (a franchise that’s still going strong today under the direction of Christopher McQuarrie), but then he started to lose his mojo with 1998’s Snake Eyes and alas hasn’t had a well-received hit this century. No matter, his filmography is legendary regardless. Arrow’s new limited edition reissue of the film includes several newly made special features on top of archival documentaries. It comes in a nice slipcase that includes an extensive booklet on the film and a double-sided fold out poster. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here and here.)

Cool Hand Luke 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $18.99

One of the all-time great Paul Newman roles lands on Ultra HD as part of Warner Brothers’ 100 year anniversary celebration. Cool Hand Luke (1967) tells the tale of Luke Jackson, an aimless young man who is caught drunkenly sawing the tops of parking meters and sentenced to two years of prison service. Assigned to a chain gang run by a cadre of cruel bosses, Luke ingratiates himself to his fellow prisoners through his cheeky disobedience and unwillingness to lay down before authority. Despite his relatively short sentence, Luke becomes determined to escape—and the bosses resort to harsher punishments to make an example of him.

Cool Hand Luke featured not only a great role for Newman, cast largely against type here, but is one of the best-ever showcases for classic characters actors with superb faces: Luke’s fellow inmates are played by people like Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Anthony Zerbe, and Joe Don Baker. Plus, we get one of the best performances of George Kennedy’s career—his “no man can eat fifty eggs” is one of the best one-off reaction shots in film history, if you ask me. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Death Wish 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

After a savage attack on his family, mild-mannered architect Paul Kersey finds himself a changed man. At night, he stalks the most crime-ridden areas of New York and strikes back at the thugs who’ve turned the Big Apple into a dangerous place. His anonymous efforts have earned him a nickname—“The Vigilante”—as well as both admiration and infamy. As he cracks down on crime by taking the law into his own hands, the police are forced to turn their sights on him.

Starring Charles Bronson in his most famous role, Death Wish (1974) will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary next year. Remastered in 4K with HDR and Dolby Vision, this is easily the best that Death Wish has ever looked on home video. Even more exciting, though, is the newly-recorded commentary by Paul Talbot, author of the Bronson’s Loose! books, and *the* authority on all things Bronson. Talbot’s track is full of insight into the film’s production—and at this point, no Bronson video release feels complete without his scholarly input. This Death Wish 4K is the ideal gift for the Bronson fan you know—might we suggest pairing it with one of Kino’s other fine releases from his filmography, such as Mr. Majestyk or The White Buffalo? By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Devil in a Blue Dress 4K UHD/Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $49.95

There was a hope that Devil in a Blue Dress would launch a series of movies starring Denzel Washington as private detective Easy Rawlins. There were plenty of other Rawlins novels by Walter Mosley to pull from and the film was critically acclaimed. Unfortunately Devil in a Blue Dress didn’t find enough of an audience, grossing only $22 million worldwide against a $27 million budget, to justify further installments. Period neo-noir films were apparently a tough sell in 1995.

Devil in a Blue Dress, set in Los Angeles 1948, features too many twists and turns to easily summarize. Carl Franklin’s steady direction shores up yet another strong performance from Washington, but the film is also noted for the breakout turn by Don Cheadle as Rawlins’ unpredictable and violent friend Mouse. Just two years earlier Cheadle was co-starring in the failed Golden Girls spinoff The Golden Palace, following Devil in a Blue Dress he was appearing in high profile projects such as Boogie Nights, Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, and Hotel Rwanda, before eventually joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as James Rhodes/War Machine.

Criterion’s new reissue of Devil in a Blue Dress features the film in both 4K and regular Blu-ray, a new conversation between Franklin (who also wrote the screenplay) and Cheadle, a new discussion between Mosley and author/screenwriter Attica Locke, Cheadle’s original screen test, and much more.

Almost three decades later and Easy Rawlins has yet to grace our screens again, even though the character is beloved (former President Bill Clinton once cited Mosley as one of his favorite authors, for example). There have been various failed attempts to bring Rawlins to the small screen, the most recent announced in 2021. Here’s hoping it happens. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Fugitive 4K UHD (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $33.99

Movies based on old TV shows are often terrible. For every Mission: Impossible, The Addams Family, 21 Jump Street, Star Trek, Wayne’s World, The X-Files, and The Naked Gun, there are countless other misfires: The Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, Baywatch, Inspector Gadget, Wild Wild West, The Flintstones, Thunderbirds, The Dukes of Hazard, Starskey and Hutch, CHiPs, Bewitched, The Honeymooners, and so many others. So The Fugitive had no business being as good as it was, but sometimes a movie just works.

Director Andrew Davis had just made the enjoyable Steven Segall starring Die Hard-on-a-battleship movie Under Siege, but nothing in his previous filmography, which included a Chuck Norris action pic and an early ’80s slasher film, indicated that his next film would be nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. The Fugitive is one of those rare awards contenders to also be a massive hit (it was third highest grossing movie of 1993). A lot of what makes the movie work is the chemistry between Harrison Ford, as the wrongly accused man on the run, and Tommy Lee Jones as the U.S. Marshall tracking him, even though they don’t share too many scenes together, and the taunt action scenes, including the spectacular train crash that aids in Ford’s escape and a foot chase during Chicago’s St. Patrick Day’s parade, which was filmed during the actual parade, with Ford and Jones weaving through the real crowd.

All of this came together in a somewhat hurried and chaotic fashion, with the script (especially the dialogue) being rewritten daily on the set by Davis, additional screenwriter Jeb Stuart, and the cast (Ford’s interrogation scene was largely improvised). Plus there were only 10 weeks between the last day of shooting and the release date, not leaving much time for post-production (and yet the film’s team of editors were still nominated for an Oscar). Thirty years on, none of this matters, as The Fugitive is still a superior action thriller, the kind that the major studios don’t really make anymore, and it looks great in the new 4K transfer. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 (1976-1982) Blu-ray and The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 2 (1983-1993) Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)

RRP: $99.98 each

Before becoming a household name in America thanks to films such as the Rush Hour trilogy, Shanghai Noon, and The Karate Kid reboot, martial arts icon Jackie Chan was a huge star in Asia. Chan got his start as a child actor way back in 1962 and was a stuntman opposite the legendary Bruce Lee in 1972’s Fist of Fury and 1973’s Enter the Dragon, before eventually headlining his own films.

Shout! Factory have put together two box sets that collect many of Chan’s films on Blu-ray. Vol. 1 features seven films, starting with 1976’s The Killer Meteors, which Chan is barely in. Shaolin Wooden Men better shows off his talents, especially when Chan braves the gauntlet of wooden men. Most of the films on Vol. 1 are period kung-fu films. The most interesting one might be 1980’s Battle Creek Brawl (also known as The Big Brawl), which was Chan’s first attempt to break into Hollywood. It takes place in 1930s Chicago, in which Chan’s Jerry Kwan tries to single-handedly take on the mob. Former Playboy Playmate Kristine DeBell effortlessly plays Chan’s love interest. Chan had to learn to speak English for the film, which has a bit of a ridiculous plot involving roller derbies and a climatic street-fighting tournament in a small Texas town. But it’s fun to see Chan in an American setting for the first time. The film failed to launch Chan’s Hollywood career and he returned to making films in Asia for a bit longer.

Vol. 2 features eight films, all of which have a contemporary setting and in which Chan continues to develop his comedic style. As it turns out, Chan was not the successor to Bruce Lee but rather to Buster Keaton, with the star developing elaborate set pieces and stunts (all done himself, way before Tom Cruise drew headlines for actually jumping out of planes and off cliffs). 1984’s Wheels on Meals is an amusing action comedy, but the final fight between Chan and American kickboxer Benny Urquidez is considered one of the greatest ever committed to film.

1985’s The Protector was Chan’s second attempt to break into Hollywood. Unlike Chan’s usual lighthearted fare, it was a serious and violent cop drama that partially takes place in New York City, as well as in Hong Kong, and co-stars Danny Aiello as Chan’s partner. The Blu-ray includes both versions of the film, the American one by director James Glickenhaus, and a Hong Kong version that was re-edited by Chan to take out the nudity (one scene includes fully naked women working in a drug factory) and profanity, and also tightens up the fight scenes. It’s hard to say which version is better, but it’s interesting to see Chan in a more serious action picture. 1993’s Crime Story is also a straight-faced action drama, one based on the real life kidnapping of Chinese businessman Teddy Wang in 1990. 1986’s Armour of God and 1991’s Armour of God II: Operation Condor (released in America not until 1997 by Miramax, with 15 minutes deleted, and with a new dub and score) finds Chan in globe-trotting Indiana Jones territory, with lots of tongue-in-cheek humor to accompany the elaborate set pieces, such as a climatic fight in a wind tunnel of sorts. Vol. 2 ends with 1993’s incredibly silly City Hunter, which is based on a famous Japanese Manga and is kind of like Die-Hard on a cruise ship with all the seriousness removed. One sequence even makes fun of the Street Fighter video game, with Chan in drag at one point. It’s all a bit too early ’90s and very over the top, but is an amusing way to pass 100 minutes.

Both box sets are loaded with special features, including new audio commentaries on each film and archival interviews with Chan. Of course Chan also made other films during the periods covered by these box sets, the great Police Story movies aren’t included for example, but The Jackie Chan Collection is still a great showcase for the tireless talents of Jackie Chan. By Mark Redfern (Buy Vol. 1 here. Buy Vol. 2 here.)

The Maltese Falcon 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $18.99

No one’s cooler than Bogie, and Bogie’s never been cooler than he was playing Sam Spade: Dashiell Hammett’s slick, pragmatic private eye. When a troubled dame (Mary Astor) stumbles through his office door and hires him to find her sister, Spade’s partner takes the job—and is found shot dead a few hours later. Suddenly a suspect in his pal’s murder, he has to seek out the girl to clear his name and in doing so is caught up in a caper that stretches from Istanbul all the way to San Francisco, involving an impossibly valuable stolen treasure known as the Maltese Falcon: the “things dreams are made of.”

One of the quintessential Hollywood noirs, The Maltese Falcon (1941) pitted Humphrey Bogart against Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet—the latter of whom he’d meet again one year later in the classic Casablanca. With a 4K restoration that really pops off the UltraHD disc, The Maltese Falcon joins WB’s 100-year celebration line with more than two hours of bonus features, and is a no-brainer gift for the classic Hollywood movie fan in your life. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

The Manchurian Candidate 4K UHD (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

“Why don’t you pass the time with a game of solitaire?”

John Frankenheimer’s sizzler of a political thriller plays just as well in 2023 as it did all the way back in 1962. Frank Sinatra plays Major Ben Marco, a Korean war veteran and one of the few survivors from a captured platoon. Although no one remembers the details of their affair, the men recommend their fellow soldier, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), to receive the Medal of Honor for saving their lives. The stepson of a prominent, McCarthy-esque senator, Shaw has been brainwashed to become an assassin for an alliance of Cold War communist powers. Marco is the man tasked with proving it—a tall order, considering no one remembers exactly what happened during their brief capture, has any idea what nefarious plot Shaw has been prepared to enact, or knows who is behind it.

The Manchurian Candidate looks absolutely stunning on Kino Lorber’s UHD release: Lionel Lindon’s black-and-white photography looks out-of-this-world with the monumentally improved contrast that comes with HDR. The film’s lost none of its tension over the last sixty years—and an excellent supporting cast of Angela Lansbury, James Gregory, Janet Leigh, and Henry Silva makes this one hard to pass up. This is still one of the greatest thrillers of all time. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Marathon Man 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

“Is it safe?”

Dustin Hoffman is ‘Babe’ Levy, a doctorate student at Columbia who can’t escape the shadow of his father—a disgraced academic accused of being a communist sympathizer during the McCarthy era. Unbeknownst to Babe, his brother Doc (Roy Scheider) works for a shady organization known only as The Division, who do the jobs that FBI and CIA won’t dirty their hands with. One of his assignments was working as a go-between for the infamous Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), a sadistic Nazi doctor who fled Berlin for South America at the end of WWII, sending a fortune in diamonds with his brother to be locked up in a New York City safe deposit box. When Szell comes to retrieve his diamonds, Babe is mistakenly viewed as a threat—and the poor student has to fight to not be killed as part of a conspiracy of which he had no knowledge.

The 4K of this globe-spanning thriller makes a big upgrade over prior releases of the film, providing a sharp picture and offering some great views of mid-‘70s New York and Paris. With a trio of great actors at its center, Marathon Man holds up very well after half a century. Bonus features include an all-new, scholarly commentary track; rehearsal footage; a dozen radio and TV spots; and two documentary featurettes. These discs are stuffed! By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Night of the Hunter 4K UHD (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

“Would you like me to tell you the little story of right hand, left hand? The story of good and evil?”

Like the wolf in fables of old, the charming Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) rides into a small, West Virginia town, on the hunt for prey. There he befriends a comely widow (Shelley Winters), the mother of two young children, whom he quickly courts and marries. Little does anyone know, but Reverend Powell is no man of the cloth—he’s a sadistic serial killer who did time at the state penitentiary with his new wife’s late husband. The only person who sees through his disguise is his new stepson, John, who’s vowed to safeguard the money his father stole in a bank robbery and stowed away just before he was arrested and hanged for his crime. The Reverend knows about the cash, though, and will do anything—and hurt anyone—to get his hands on it.

Night of the Hunter remains shocking to this day, so you have to wonder how incendiary it felt all the way back in 1955. It pits two small children against a cold-blooded killer—dressed as a clergyman, no less—in a fight for their lives. Super-stylized in both its black-and-white photography (which looks fantastic here in the ultra-high contrast of HDR/Dolby Vision) and the over-the-top wickedness of Mitchum’s performance, Night of the Hunter plays like a Great Depression-era fairy tale. Stunningly, it was Charles Laughton’s first—and only—foray into directing.

Night of the Hunter can be divisive, with those who love it embracing how dark and weird it is—and forgiving the sudden, sharp tonal shifts. But its fans consider it an all-time classic, and it’s never looked better than it does here. Aside from its impressive transfer of the film, the disc also boasts an all-new commentary, an isolated score track, and three new retrospective featurettes. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Point Break (Collector’s Edition) 4K UHD (Shout! Factory)

RRP: $39.99

On New Year’s Eve 2019, as we were welcoming 2020 oblivious to the pandemic that was soon to grip us all, I was in London celebrating with my wife Wendy, our then near-seven-year-old daughter Rose, and my 80-something mom. We had chosen to avoid the crowds and watch the fireworks from Primrose Hill, as it overlooks central London and we were promised spectacular views in a relaxed setting. Alas plenty of other people had the same notion and the hill was packed with drunken revelers, some who ended up sliding down a muddy part of the hill as if they were at a summer music festival, despite the frigid temperature. And when the fireworks finally went off they were underwhelming to say the least—they were far away and their sound was muted. If that wasn’t all disappointing enough, getting home was a real nightmare. All the buses were so full they weren’t even stopping to pick up new passengers, there were no cabs or Ubers to be found, and the nearest tube station (or subway station for you non-Brits) was closed, giving us a long, cold walk to the next station, with me carrying a very sleepy and heavy daughter. We finally made it home close to three in the morning and with Rose tucked in, we collapsed on the couch, still too wired from the whole ordeal to sleep, and turned on the TV to find Point Break starting. As my mom had never seen it, we watched the whole thing, and since then it’s now become our family tradition to watch Point Break after midnight every New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day), including this past one, when Wendy ended up in the emergency room with a severely sprained ankle after tripping in a ditch on the way to the car after a New Year’s party.

Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action film classic is now finally available on 4K, via Shout! Factory’s Shout Select imprint, meaning our annual viewing this year will be greatly enhanced. The film stars Keanu Reeves as fresh from the academy FBI Agent Johnny Utah, who goes undercover to track down a bank robber gang suspected to also be surfers, led by Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi.

Originally, Ridley Scott was going to direct Point Break in 1986, with Matthew Broderick, Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer, and Charlie Sheen all considered for the Utah role. It all fell through at the last minute and it wasn’t until four years later that Bigelow got her hands on the script, alongside executive producer James Cameron (then Bigelow’s husband). Bigelow had to fight with the studio to cast Reeves, who was untested as an action star at the time, but of course went on to appear in action classics such as Speed, The Matrix films, and the John Wick series.

The film features some spectacular action sequences, including one of the best foot chases ever committed to celluloid and a bonkers moment where Utah jumps out of a plane without a parachute, hoping to catch up to Bodhi, who is wearing one. All the special features seem to be ported over from a previous release and include various behind-the-scenes documentaries that heavily feature Swayze. Since the actor/dancer left us all too soon at the relatively young age of 57 in 2009 due to pancreatic cancer, it’s bittersweet to see him reminiscing on a film he clearly loved making. Swayze reveals that, years before Tom Cruise’s crazy stunts, he actually jumped out of the plane himself. The insurance company would only allow him to do it if it was one of the last things they shot. Hopefully our New Year’s is a bit more incident-free this year and we’ll get to revisit Point Break with minimal stress, beyond the adrenaline spikes from watching the exciting film. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Rebel Without a Cause 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $18.99

Jim Stark (James Dean) is the new kid in town—something he’s found himself being many times before, as his parents pick up and move to a new city every time he gets in trouble. They don’t understand him, and don’t even try; they deflect or deny there are issues even when he seeks their guidance. And so, the cycle seems doomed to repeat itself for Jim in his new Los Angeles home, where he’s scooped up by police for public drunkenness and given a slap on the wrist. On his first day of school, though, a pretty girl (Natalie Wood) catches his eye, and he wonders if this time things could be different. But, she’s arm candy for the leader of the resident juvenile gang, who make Jim the target of their bullying. It kicks off a chain of events that lead to the single worst day of Jim’s young life.

Nicholas Ray’s 1955 coming-of-age picture is a chilling portrayal of adolescent isolation: all three of its young leads—Dean, Wood, and a fellow outcast played by Sal Mineo—have been abandoned in their homes, literally or emotionally. Dean’s performance here is legendary, and deservedly so: even if the young star had not been tragically killed in a crash before the film’s release, we’d probably still be talking about his powerful turn as a desperate, strung-out teen all these years later.

Warner Bros.’ 4K UHD release of the movie looks excellent, and does great justice to the movie’s colorful CinemaScope cinematography. Bold colors pop—especially Wood’s red coat in the opening scene, Dean’s famous red leather jacket, and the film’s title cards—and blacks are deep, which is appreciated in a film with a lot of dimly-lit scenes. Audio options include the original stereo track and a Dolby Atmos (!) mix, which might seem like overkill for a 70-year-old movie but actually sounds very nice. The bonus Blu-ray disc includes more than three hours’ worth of featurettes brought back from the previous edition, plus a full-length commentary. This is an incredible (and budget-friendly) re-release of the rare teen film that has never grown outdated, and will find a place in any classic film collection. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Serpico (50th Anniversary Edition) 4K Ultra HD (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

Al Pacino was still early in his career when he starred in 1973’s Serpico. The Godfather, his first big film, had come out just the year before. Pacino plays Frank Serpico, an honest New York City undercover police officer who stands against the rampant police corruption in NYC at the time. The film is based on a true story and a book co-written by the real life Serpico. The film opens just after Serpico has been shot and flashes back from there, covering an 11-year period. Over that time Serpico gets increasingly frustrated as his efforts to expose the corruption has little effect.

Pacino met the real Serpico several times while preparing for the role, although director Sidney Lument asked Serpico not to hang out on the set once they started shooting, as he feared it would make Pacino self-conscious. Pacino garnered his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor for the role (he had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather). Serpico was also a hit with audiences.

Kino Lorber’s 50th Anniversary Edition of Serpico presents the film in both 4K and Blu-ray. It’s loaded with special features, including various archival interviews with Lumet, who died in 2011. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Silent Running 4K Ultra HD (Arrow Video)

RRP: $49.95

Douglas Trumbull was behind the pioneering special effects in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 space epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which still hold up to this day. For 1972’s Silent Running, Trumbull sat in the director’s chair for the first time. The picture also took place in space, but had a fraction of the budget to 2001, costing just over a million dollars to make. To achieve the look of a spaceship on the cheap, they filmed on a redressed decommissioned Korean War aircraft carrier, the USS Valley Forge. And it worked, Silent Running looks like it cost much more to make than it did.

The film takes place in a future where all plant life on Earth has been destroyed and a fleet of spaceships contain preserved forests in geodesic domes. Bruce Dern plays Freeman Lowell, the botanist on one of the ships, who goes rogue with the aid of three robots when orders come in to blow up all the forests. Silent Running has a unique environmental slant and has since become a cult classic.

Arrow Video’s new 4K reissue includes a fresh audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, original commentary by Trumbull (who died in 2022) and Dern, and various behind-the-scenes documentaries, including one filmed on the set in 1972. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Targets Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

RRP: $39.95

Targets has a fascinating genesis. The 1968 film was the theatrical directorial debut of actor/director Peter Bogdanovich (who would next direct the 1971 classic The Last Picture Show). Producer Roger Corman, known for his low-budget cult films, gave Bogdanovich the chance the write/direct Targets under several conditions. Monster movie legend Boris Karloff (best known for playing Frankenstein’s monster) owed Corman two days of filming left over from a previous project, so he had to appear in the film, but could only be shot for two days. Corman also wanted Bogdanovich to somehow recycle footage from his 1963 film The Terror, a gothic horror movie starring Karloff and Jack Nicholson.

Even though The Terror was set in the 19th century, Bogdanovich figured out how to work the footage into a film set in contemporary times. He made it a film within a film, with Karloff playing an aging horror actor (quite a stretch) Byron Orlok looking to retire and Bogdanovich portraying a young film director (another stretch), Sammy Michaels, hoping to lure him to do one last movie. But the meat of the plot actually centers on Tim O’Kelly as Bobby Thompson, a disturbed young man who embarks on a mass shooting. Bogdanovich and his then wife, producer/writer Polly Platt, were inspired by Charles Whitman, who perpetrated the University of Texas tower shooting in 1966 at a time when mass shootings were rare. The two stories are parallel, with the one centered on Bobby particularly chilling as he murders his family and then tries out his sniper riffle on the freeway. The two stories converge at a Los Angeles area drive-in theater, where Byron is making a personal appearance at the screening of one his old films (accompanied by Sammy) and Bobby is ready to carry out his deadly final plan.

Targets is a terrific debut picture, but had the misfortune of being released just after the shooting deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, so Paramount buried the film, giving it only a limited release, despite rave reviews. Still, it launched Bogdanovich’s directing career and when Paramount bought the rights to distribute the film, Corman made a profit on it before it was even released. Viewed through a modern lens, in which mass shootings are alas all too common, Targets is more relevant than ever before.

Special features on Criterion’s reissue of the film includes a 2003-recorded introduction and commentary by Bogdanovich, a 1983 audio recording of Platt discussing the film with students at the American Film Institute, and a new interview with director Richard Linklater (the Before trilogy, Boyhood) about the film.

Considering Target’s complicated origin, it’s amazing the film turned out so well and is so compelling 55 years later. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a 1974 comedy crime film featuring the dream pairing of Clint Eastwood and a young Jeff Bridges as two criminals who team up for an elaborate heist. The film also features George Kennedy (14 years before co-starring in The Naked Gun), Gary Busey, and Catherine Bach (five years before her iconic performance of Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard). Eastwood and Bridges have a true chemistry as performers, it’s a wonder they didn’t work together more. It is the directorial debut from writer/director Michael Cimino. He had previously worked with Eastwood on 1973’s Magnum Force, the second Dirty Harry film, which Cimino co-wrote with John Milius.

After Easy Rider was a hit, road movies were en vogue and Eastwood was eager to make one. Eastwood liked the script so much that he was tempted to direct Thunderbolt and Lightfoot himself, but instead decided to give Cimino his big break and the director later credited his career to Eastwood.

Arrow Video’s new release presents the film in both 4K and on a Blu-ray disc. Special features are light and include a featurette with Cimino and audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

3 Days of the Condor 4K UHD & Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

Robert Redford plays Joe Turner, a CIA agent code-named “Condor.” His job wasn’t supposed to be a dangerous one—he spends most of his time reading books in search of foreign codes, resembling more a librarian than James Bond. When he returns to his office to find all of his colleagues murdered, Turner must suddenly go on the run. As he does all he can to stay alive and find out just whom his friends and enemies are, the conspiracy he finds himself caught in begins to unravel.

Sydney Pollack’s classic 1975 thriller hits 4K UHD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics—who, let’s face it, appear to have cornered the market on reissuing the Seventies’ best thrillers in luxe packages. Along with its crisp HDR/Dolby Vision master, 3 Days of the Condor can be viewed in 5.1 surround or lossless stereo. The second disc (Blu-ray) contains an HD copy of the film plus two commentaries, nearly 90 minutes’ worth of featurettes, and trailers. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

12 Angry Men 4K UHD (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $39.95

Twelve jurors enter deliberation on one of the summer’s hottest days. It should be an open-and-shut case: a young man from a poor neighborhood stands accused of stabbing and killing his father during an argument. After the first round of voting, there are eleven count for a guilty judgment—only one juror (Henry Fonda) refuses to lay down the same sentence. While a unanimous decision would send all twelve jurors home and back to their normal lives after an extended trial, it will also send the accused to the electric chair. As they’re forced to discuss every angle of the case, the men’s tempers flare—and buried prejudices are exposed.

A regular contender on lists of the best films ever made, Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957) resonates as strongly today as it did 71 years ago, when it was nominated for three Academy Awards. With tension that leaps from the screen courtesy of a dozen strong performers, who each instill their unnamed juror with his own individual principles and conviction. Kino Lorber’s 4K UHD release of the film is restored from a new negative scan, and mastered in HDR and Dolby Vision—although the film is almost entirely set in a drab conference room, we can see the sweat running down the actors’ foreheads, adding to the movie’s already-sweltering vibe. Extras include two full-length commentaries, two archival featurettes, and—for comparison’s sake—the 1997 remake of the film by William Friedkin, starring Jack Lemmon. This is the definitive edition of an all-time classic, and would fill a hole in any movie collector’s collection. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Weird Science 4K UHD (Arrow Video)

RRP: $49.95

Weird Science is certainly the quirkiest of all of John Hughes’ 1980s teen comedies and it’s definitely not a movie that would get made today, but children of the ’80s still remember it fondly. Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith are Gary and Wyatt, two loser teens who some “create” the perfect woman, Lisa (a sultry Kelly LeBrock), with their computer. Lisa sets out to turn the zeros into heroes, by making them popular and getting them real girlfriends. More like strange magic than weird science, as none of the plot makes much sense if you think about it. Hughes would’ve been better off to explain away Lisa’s powers by making her a modern genie, but if you just go with it, much ridiculous fun is to be had. Only a few years later Anthony Michael Hall was the buff bully in Edward Scissorhands, but here he’s still in lovable nerd mode as in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club (both also written and directed by Hughes). Ilan Mitchell-Smith ended up retiring from acting and becoming a university professor.

Arrow Video’s new reissue of Weird Science includes the theatrical version of the film in 4K, an extended cut with two extra scenes (that can also be watched separately), and the TV cut of the film if you want to show it to the kids without exposing them to boobies and swearwords. There are also a slew of the behind the scenes documentaries, including an interview with casting director Jackie Burch, where she reveals that after the original choice for Lisa, Robin Wright, backed out, it came down to Kelly LeBrock and a pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone. There’s also a nice booklet on the film and a fold out poster. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Witness Limited Edition 4K UHD (Arrow Video)

RRP: $59.95

Both star Harrison Ford and director Peter Weir had something to prove when making 1985’s Witness. At the time, Ford was mainly known for effects spectaculars such as the original Star Wars trilogy, the first two Indiana Jones movies, and the box office misfire Blade Runner (now considered an all-time classic). He was looking to prove himself as a serious dramatic actor in a film that didn’t involve fighting Nazis, running away from giant boulders, or maneuvering away from enemy spaceships. He wanted to make a movie apart from his regular collaborators, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Weir, an Australian filmmaker, had found success in his home country, but felt ready to break into Hollywood. Ford signed on first, but Weir only became available months later when financing fell through on The Mosquito Coast (a film he’d eventually make with Ford the following year).

Witness is about a young Amish boy, Samuel Lapp (played by Lukas Haas), who is visiting Philadelphia with his widowed mother, Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis, in only her second movie), when he witnesses a murder in a train station bathroom by a corrupt cop, Lieutenant James McFee (a pre-Lethal Weapon Danny Glover). Ford plays Detective Sergeant John Book, who takes Samuel and Rachel back to Amish country to protect them. It is one of Ford’s very best performances, full of sensitivity, nuance, and power. McGillis was still working as a waitress when she got the part, her co-workers’ mouths were on the floor when Ford and Weir showed up at her restaurant to meet with her about the part. The following year she would star opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

The initial draft of the script was much longer, but Weir cut a lot of dialogue while shooting, relying on stolen glances to display emotion, including the ending of the movie, where two pages of dialogue was cut between Ford and McGillis. While the Amish community wasn’t exactly supportive of the film, Witness did paint the Amish in a sympathetic light.

Witness was a huge hit with both audiences and critics. Ford of course still played Han Solo one more time and Indiana Jones in three more films, including this year’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, but Witness also opened the door to films like The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games, and The Mosquito Coast. Weir went on to helm acclaimed Hollywood movies Dead Poets Society, Fearless, The Truman Show, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World before eventually retiring.

Arrow Video’s new reissue of Witness finally presents the film in 4K. It features a new interview with cinematographer John Seale, new audio commentary from film historian Jarret Gahan, and a new visual essay by film journalist Staci Layne Wilson. There are also plenty of archival special features, including a five-part documentary from a previous DVD release featuring Ford, Weir, McGillis, Haas, and Viggo Mortensen (whose role in Witness is one of his first). There’s also a fascinating deleted scene that was included in the TV version of the film. It comes with an extensive booklet on the film, a collection of collectible film still postcards, and a fold out movie poster. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.