I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. The kinds of things we recommend here are things I would be delighted to find under the tree.
Fox has put out a few good releases this year, and you really should think about putting some of this under the tree:
The Strain: The Complete Series
by Brent Lorentson
From creator Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade 2) based off a book he co-wrote, The Strain has been a horror series that has continued to impress as it revs up to begin its fourth season on FX. It’s a show that centers around a vampire outbreak that began at JFK airport when a plane arrived with all its passengers and crew “dead”, and then things quickly spiraled out of hand. If your eyes rolled at the thought of simply another vampire story, let me take a moment to explain. What del Toro and Chuck Hogan created is a very unique take on the vampire lore, having their creature of the night more a victim of a wormlike parasite that creates a mutation in the body, and as we discover in Season Three, in the brain as well. If Season One was the start of the outbreak, Season Three has the human species hanging by a thread, struggling to maintain their place in the world where the scales are precariously ready to tip and plummet in favor of the bloodsuckers.
For those who have their complaints about The Walking Dead being slow and not enough action, I recommend giving The Strain a shot. This is a show that manages to fill each episode with the right amount of action but also manages to develop the characters and plot along the way. Despite having a large cast of supporting characters, what’s fun about the show is you never know just how long characters will survive or when they may become infected.
Sleepy Hollow Season 4
“Welcome to The Vault, the most amazing library ever. An archive of the incredible. A repository of the impossible. A storehouse of secrets great and small. This is the untold history of America.”
Things have not been going so well for Ichabod Crane and his fight against the supernatural. The show has had trouble finding an audience as well as a footing. Season Four marks the second time the show has been re-tooled in order to tweak whatever keeps it from completely catching on. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough. The CW’s Supernatural is going into its 13th season, so we know there’s a market out there for this stuff. But it’s hard to pull off, as the many efforts that never made it out of their first few episodes could bear witness. But for these witnesses they made it to four short seasons, and you are now about to bear witness to the end of the fight as Fox delivers the last 13 episodes of Sleepy Hollow on DVD. Faith in the show had fallen so far that the show hasn’t been available on Blu-ray since Season Two. So DVD’s all you’re going to get here, and it’s going to have to be enough.
The retool begins with the location of the action. The series title becomes a bit problematic when Crane begins the season in federal custody being interrogated about the death of Abbie, who will not be a part of this final season. He escapes to find himself in Washington D.C. It doesn’t take him long to happen upon a decapitated Lincoln Memorial and a demon John Wilkes Booth who has already killed and is now confronted by Homeland Security Agent Diane Thomas, played by Janina Gavankar. Through the course of the investigation she finds Crane useful, and a new partner is joined. But Thomas is not a witness. That distinction falls to her 11-year-old daughter Molly (Yaffe). The investigation leads to a secret Smithsonian archive, the aforementioned Vault. Here all of those secret supernatural records and artifacts are stored. The area is watched over by Alex Norwood (Melvin) and Jake Wells (MacKinnon). Up until now they didn’t understand what they were working with. Crane is the key that turns on all of the lights. Returning from previous seasons, Abbie’s sister Jenny (Greenwood) relocates to D.C. to help Crane and train the young witness. Now we have a complete Scooby Gang. Alex and Jake were obviously brought in to add a hipper element to the series in the hopes of attracting the young teens that flock to Supernatural.
“I have found my way back from Purgatory, the catacombs, and New Jersey. We will return.”
Sadly, that is not to be. The season finale is an exciting couple of episodes and begins to set up yet a third re-tool in just four seasons. A fourth season would have had the team now answering secretly directly to the President. When a show needs to change this drastically so many times, it might be time to say goodbye. That’s exactly what we are doing here with these final 13 episodes on four discs with only deleted scenes as extras. For Ichabod Crane and Team Witness, one can only say, “Situation: Dire. Prognosis: Grim.”
Logan (Film Noir Edition) UHD Blu-ray (4K)
“I always know who you are. It’s just that sometimes I don’t recognize you.”
Logan is perhaps one of the most interesting, endearing, and popular characters in the Marvel universe. Wolverine has the distinction of having been created by someone other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. While they invented the X-Men team from which the adamantium-clawed warrior was born, he was actually created by the team of Len Wein and John Romita, Sr. in the mid 1970’s. Since that time the character has taken on a life of his own, a life that is as much owed to actor Hugh Jackman as anyone else. The funny thing is that Jackman is really nothing at all like the comic book character, who was actually quite short. But it’s Jackman who has come to personify the wirily Cannuck. He’s appeared, if only briefly, in each of the X-Men films except for one and two less-than-stellar Wolverine films. It all comes to a rather fitting close with one of the best Marvel-character films to date. Logan is pure comic book film noir and an emotional ride from start to finish.
Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart deliver some of the best performances of their careers to this movie. The relationship between these characters makes the film, and the actors dig into every reservoir of chemistry they’ve ever had to bring us quickly into a world we never get to see set up. If ever there were Oscar-worthy performances in a comic book film, both of these thespians deserve the consideration it is unlikely they will receive. The film uses a few memories from previous films to help cement that bond, but honestly, it wasn’t necessary. The two play this father-and-son-like relationship out to it’s highly emotional end. And make no mistake, this is the end of the road for both characters. As much as I would like to see them play these characters for years, it just wouldn’t feel right for any of them to appear again.
You couldn’t script a better goodbye for both Logan and Xavier. But James Mangold managed to do just that. He worked with Jackman on the better of the two earlier films, and the two obviously developed some chemistry of their own. You get the idea that both of these men understand who this character is at his core. More than that, they’re fans themselves who have developed a bond with the character and the fans, and you can see it was important to both men to deliver something special. Ryan Reynolds wants very much to team Deadpool with Wolverine in an attempt to make up for the mess that was the Origins film. I understand why he’d want to do that, and for a long time I was hoping it would happen. Not anymore. Once you’ve seen Logan, you won’t want it anymore, either.
Here you sacrifice some of that razor sharpness and texture for heightened atmosphere and texture of an entirely different nature. Here shadows dominate. This is not a high-contrast black & white image, but rather something you might find in the old gangster pictures. I found this presentation accented the performances, which were already pretty solid. The bit rate here was a notch higher in most places. Certainly there are missed moments. The green fluid isn’t green, and some of the bruises don’t show as well. But you get incredible atmospheric moments. A great example is a scene of Laura looking out of a rain-drenched car window as a Vegas-like strip of casino lights pass by. It’s just one of those moments that reach down and grab that mix of movie-goer who loves comic films but also has a spot in their heart for the vintage filmmaking of decades ago.
I love the character, and even more I love what Hugh Jackman has brought to him. It’s a real disappointment to me that Wolverine never got to team up with the other Marvel heroes. He had some wonderful adventures with Spider-Man in the comics and spent many years with the Avengers. I’ll regret never getting a “fastball special” or to see those interactions. But it’s too late for all of that now. Mangold and Jackman managed to bring out two very conflicting feelings. This movie will leave you wishing for more but glad it’s the end. “This is what life looks like.”
War For The Planet Of The Apes (UHD Blu-ray) (4K)
“All of human history has led to this moment. The irony is we created you. And nature has been punishing us ever since. This is our last stand. And if we lose… it will be a Planet of Apes.”
I was always a fan of the original Planet Of The Apes series of films. While they often flirted with a camp style, I was impressed with John Chambers’ makeup effects and the performances of Roddy McDowall as both Cornelius and Caesar. Then came the television show, and I was just as enchanted, and that was helped along by McDowall’s appearance as a third ape, Galen. The show didn’t last a season, and before long the Apes franchise was left in some kind of limbo. Then along came Tim Burton, and I was excited to see what he could do with the material. Could this be the beginning of a new series of films? No, it was horrible, and the franchise suffered another lingering death. I had now given up hope that the Apes would ever return. Then came Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and I was suddenly enchanted once again. Little did I know that combined with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and now War For The Planet Of The Apes, science fiction’s greatest trilogy would emerge. Where will they go from here?
It has been many years since Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Caesar (Serkis) hasn’t been heard from in many years. He and his ape civilization have become something of a mythology to the soldiers who are on constant patrol hoping to find and eliminate the ape threat once and for all. One such patrol comes upon the ape settlement, and a firefight results. The apes prevail, and then Caesar does something unexpected. He allows the surviving human captives to return to their camp with a message that he wants peace and is willing to coexist with humans. That really isn’t going to work for a character we know only as The Colonel (Harrelson). The conflict escalates, and Caesar finally realizes he must confront this human once and for all. What happens next is both unexpected and amazing for the viewer.
The film goes completely against expectations and is a more thoughtful and contemplative film than the title implies. Matt Reeves has worked wonders with this franchise, and he continues to astound with each film. The technology continues to improve to the point that these apes are as real as any of the human characters, and honestly more relatable in the end. The film is ultimately about family and unity, and at its core it’s about survival. Reeves has demonstrated something that people like Michael Bay seems to have forgotten. You can put millions of dollars of effects on a screen and make it all a crucial part of an emotional story. Here those amazing digital wonders blend flawlessly into a narrative where you aren’t supposed to marvel at technology; rather it just becomes a part of the story. The strings are invisible here, and that makes a world of difference. Within minutes I stopped thinking about effects at all. Reeves allowed the film to absorb me totally with no distractions or “look at me” moments. This may not be an accurate look at Earth’s future, but I hope it’s an accurate look at the future of f/x and story. “Apes together strong.”
Prison Break: The Event Series (Blu-ray)
“Freedom has a price. I died 7 years ago. Left behind a brother, a wife, a son, but the dead talk if you listen. They’re there with you. Reaching out. Trying to tell us something. Because not all deaths are the same. Some are real. Some are a story. Question is: do you believe the story? Was the man who died who you thought he was? The dead talk. If you listen…”
The same can be said for dead series. Fox has been riding a wave of series revivals that have brought shows back from the dead in a limited-run event series format, and it has actually been doing well for the network. 24 was revived a couple of times. These episodes were used to take us from one lead character into another it was hoped could lead the way for a renewed franchise. While the series worked, the full revival did not. Perhaps the best example of Fox’s event series is the six-episode return of The X-Files after so many years. It was a bit inconsistent, and six episodes were too few to tell a real good X-Files story arc. The series will return again with a slightly longer run. The most recent event series at Fox was Prison Break. At nine episodes it turned out to be just the right fit to tell another story of the brothers and their cohorts. It’s now available on Blu-ray, and it’s worth a look, but only if you have watched the first four seasons of the show’s regular run. Otherwise things can get a bit confusing, and some of the nice subtle nods won’t really pay off for you at all. But if you’re a fan, it’s worth the space on your video shelf.
It’s seven years later, and Michael has been dead and buried. Sara (Callies) has married Jacob Ness (Feuerstein), and they have settled into a new life. All is quiet until T-Bag (Knepper) gets a mysterious communication. He appears to have a benefactor who gives him a state-of-the-art new hand. But that’s not all he gets. He is given a photograph that appears to show Michael alive in a Yemen prison. He tries to let Sara know about the photo, but before too long all the old familiar faces are facing attempts on their lives. For Lincoln (Purcell) it all adds up to a rescue mission to Yemen to find out if his brother is still alive. But he arrives only to find Michael is using another name and claims to not know Lincoln. So what’s going on here? That’s the question that drives the 9-hour story.
So far I have been liking the idea of short event series runs for shows that just couldn’t be brought back for 20+ episodes a year. I think the people at Fox are onto something, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other shows eventually return under this format. So if your favorite Fox show ends up getting the event return, “Now you know where you got it from.”
Bones: The Final Chapter
“I believe you. Trust me. Listen, you know what, we’re gonna help you. You understand? You’ve served your time.”
We’ve all served 12 years together. Bones has proven itself to be the little show that could. While it has never been exactly a ratings superstar, the show pulled in quite a loyal fanbase that kept it on the air for a surprising 12-year run. There were few years the show didn’t finish on the bubble, and they were starting to wrap up everything last year in what was going to be the last. The characters actually went different ways but were brought back together for a shortened Season 12 encore. And that’s how you have to look at this final season of Bones. It’s a planned encore that should finally satisfy what has been a somewhat shrinking, albeit rabid, group of fans. Season 12 gets an appropriate 12 episodes that actually do not lead to the group splitting up this time. It is an explosive finale that certainly resets the world, but you’re not going to get to see how that reset looks. You’ll have to satisfy your final Bones jones with the release of the final season on DVD.
The writers and filmmakers always took pride in offering the most bizarre of crimes and victims. You can expect a gross body in each episode. There is also a good share of interesting cases to go with those bodies.
You get all 12 episodes on three discs. The only extra features are a retrospective and short gag reel. The show could always return as a film or one of Fox’s special events series. They’ve done that with at least four shows in recent years, and Bones might be a good candidate for that. “I advise you not to get your hopes up.”