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The thrill of watching Godzilla take on assorted monsters on the old “Creature Double Feature” has been, more or less, reproduced with the release of GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE (115 mins., 2024, PG-13; Warner). The latest “Monsterverse” effort manages to ditch the pretentious components of this series’ Godzilla standalone films, as well as any “adult” elements, in a movie that became one of the biggest hits in the series for a central reason: it’s for kids, and in this case, that’s not a bad thing.

Returning director Adam Wingard brings back “Godzilla Vs. Kong” lead Rebecca Hall as a Monarch scientist with Kaylee Hottle as Kani, her deaf, adoptive daughter from Skull Island who can still communicate with Kong – and soon senses a disturbance in “Hollow Earth.” While Godzilla begins behaving erratically on the surface, Kong discovers a whole slew of giant apes residing nearby including the vile “Scar King” and Shimo, a Godzilla-like creature being enslaved as a beast of burden. A number of skirmishes ensue before a big, delectable battle in Rio de Janeiro where the monsters fight for the right to see who’ll serve as the de facto Grand Marshall of Carnival.

At this point, you know what you’re in for with “Godzilla X Kong” and you either go full in for the ride or opt to stay far away. For anyone with halfhearted interest, at least, the movie provides big fun – an ideal movie for youngsters and the young at heart, a throwback to both the ‘70s Toho monster-mashes as well as ‘50s sci-fi where scientists would uncover a prehistoric world and go walking through the jungle, looking for ancient people and creatures.

With a brisker pace and tighter running time than its predecessors, Wingard here, at last, gets the formula for this material right: it’s not the humans who carry this movie, it’s mostly the monsters themselves. The expressive Kong and his CGI rendered animation is a major accomplishment, especially when you consider there are long stretches when the human cast (which also includes new member Dan Stevens and a returning Brian Tyree Henry) are nowhere to be found – it’s Kong and (to a lesser extent) Godzilla who carry the show, a smart move since it enables kids to get behind their heroes and not have to worry about surviving scenes with a, say, squabbling, dysfunctional family (a la “Godzilla, King of the Monsters”).

What’s there in the human cast is fine – Hall, her unflattering haircut aside, does a good job functioning as a narrative “traffic cop,” telling the audience who’s where and what monster is doing what, and Stevens is at least a lot more fun than his predecessors in the relatively thankless male lead role. I could carp about the sledgehammer like scoring, but no matter, “Godzilla X Kong” provides a great time for fans – even the audience broke into applause at the end when I saw the film.

Warner’s 4K UHD (2.39) is poised to deliver even more admirers when it streets on disc next week. As expected, the eye-popping Dolby Vision HDR renders colors and contrasts that will test the potential of your home theater set-up – it’s a gorgeous UHD of reference-quality courtesy of Warner. The Dolby Atmos sound is constantly active, with a Digital HD code, commentary from Wingard, and a number of featurettes offering a look behind the scenes.

Also New on 4K UHD

MUTE WITNESS 4K Ultra HD (96 mins., 1995, R; Arrow Video): Director Anthony Waller’s odd career incorporated just a couple of ‘90s features before rapidly sputtering out, with his first cinematic foray also being his best.

Admittedly, “Mute Witness” generated some borderline hysterical critical notices when it was first released – Peter Travers called it downright Hitchcockian – but it’s still a watchable, low-budget thriller with a heavy dose of Waller’s comedy, which is often as awkward as it is humorous.

Filmed on-location in Russia, “Mute Witness” finds a mute American make-up artist (Marina Sudina) stuck in a dingy studio after hours, where she ends up watching a snuff film being produced – and herself witness to the crime. Working with her sister (Fay Ripley) and her director boyfriend (Evan Richards) to stay alive, Sudina ends up in a virtual labyrinth of killers, KGB and Moscow police, with the bad guys forever on her heels.

“Mute Witness” moves quickly and offers some interesting atmosphere with Waller – who thought about shooting the film initially in Boston – embracing the international setting, though there seems to be something “off” with this movie from the second it starts. Maybe that’s because the music by Wilbert Hirsch seems occasionally disconnected with what’s playing on-screen, or that Waller undercuts tension with humor that only connects here and there – an attribute that would come into play with his heavily derided “An American Werewolf in Paris” which followed the production of this picture (a movie that ended Waller’s career nearly as quickly as it started).

Some of the set-pieces are well executed but perhaps all you need to know about the project’s eccentricity is that Waller’s celebrated Alec Guinness cameo (he’s billed as a mystery guest) was based on footage he shot with the actor nearly a decade prior – just a couple of minutes of material Waller kept until the ‘90s when he was able to get “Mute Witness” off the ground.

Released theatrically in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, “Mute Witness” has been licensed from the movie’s owners (including Waller himself) and includes a new 4K restoration (2.35) in HDR10. The transfer offers some occasionally noticeable HDR enhancement though the movie’s rather drab visual design isn’t the kind that’s necessarily going to translate to strong colors and contrasts. Extras include Waller’s commentary; another commentary with Wilbert Hirsch and production designer Matthias Kammermeier along with the late Lee Gambin; a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; another visual essay from Chris Alexander; test footage of the proposed Boston filming locations; the “Snuff Movie” footage in its entirety; and all of Alec Guinness’ scenes (just 2½ minutes worth!) as they were filmed in the mid ‘80s.

BLUE VELVET 4K Ultra HD (120 mins., 1986, R; Criterion): David Lynch’s controversial “Blue Velvet” may have been the subject of wildly mixed reviews – mostly raves with a few offended notices from the likes of Rex Reed – but the one thing it did do is set its helmer, then coming off the disappointment of “Dune” (1984), on a path paved by his own storytelling.

To that end, this tale of depravity lurking underneath the surface of average, everyday America is one of Lynch’s most straightforward thrillers, following college-aged, “square” lead Kyle MacLachlan and Nancy Drew-esque Laura Dern as they track down the relationship between a seductive lounge singer (Isabella Rosselini) and the creep (Dennis Hopper) who seemingly controls her.

A production of Dino DeLaurentiis himself, Lynch brought back a number of his “Dune” cohorts for this visually spellbinding but certainly disturbing picture which, like much of the director’s work from this point forward, was geared more towards hardcore devotees of the filmmaker than mainstream viewers. For those aficionados, Criterion’s 4K UHD, out June 25th, includes a potent 4K restoration with Dolby Vision HDR (2.35) that adds new layers to the stylized widescreen compositions of Lynch and his long-time cinematographer Frederick Elmes. The 5.1 audio is the same DTS MA track previously heard on past releases, while extras offer an abundance of goodies for the Lynch hardcore.

These include nearly an hour of Lynch-assembled deleted/alternate takes; “Blue Velvet Revisited,” Peter Braatz’s on-set documentary; a 2019 doc featuring interviews and location revisits; Lynch reading from his 2018 book “Room to Dream”; and the DVD-era “Mysteries of Love” documentary, which balances older interview clips of Lynch with then-newly conducted interviews with Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, and co-producer Fred Caruso among others.

THE VALIANT ONES 4K Ultra HD (106 mins., 1975; Eureka): Kung Fu may have supplanted the wuxia genre in Hong Kong cinema by the mid to late 1970s, but that didn’t stop a few “old school” efforts from trickling out of the Far East – including genre master King Hu’s 1975 production “The Valiant Ones.”

Beautifully restored in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR, “The Valiant Ones” was shot in luscious widescreen and packed with both historical intrigue and occasional action. The story finds a veteran general (Tu Kuang-chi) enlisted by the Emperor to ward off Japanese pirates trying to invade China’s coastal regions; to that end, the general assigns a band of elite warriors, including a married, sword-wielding couple (Pai Ying and Hsu Feng), to take on the vile “wokou” in a variety of exciting fight sequences.

Filmed in the classical “wuxia” style, “The Valiant Ones” looks dynamic with its HDR grading (2.35) from Eureka. The visuals of the movie have been superbly enhanced with extras including a new commentary by Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng; interview with Tony Rayns; a video essay from David Cairns; interviews with stuntman Billy Chan and actor Ng Ming-choi; assorted archival interviews; a collector’s booklet; and a limited-edition O-card slipcase featuring new artwork from Gregory Sacre. Highly recommended for HK and wuxia enthusiasts!

KUNG FU PANDA 4 4K Ultra HD/Blu-Ray (93 mins., 2024, PG; Dreamworks/Universal): Amiable continuation of the Dreamworks animated franchise finds the Jack Black-voiced Po on track to become the new Dragon Warrior when he’s tasked with a final mission: joining up with a fox thief named Zhen in order to find out what’s behind the reappearance of villains Po has fought in the past. Laughs, fast-moving action and a kid-friendly tone make “Kung Fu Panda 4” a good bet for younger viewers, and Universal’s 4K (2.39) includes a smashing Dolby Vision HDR presentation with Dolby Atmos sound. An exclusive original short, “Dueling Dumplings,” is included in Universal’s BD/UHD combo pack along with deleted scenes, commentary, the Blu-Ray, Digital HD code, and ample featurettes on the movie and its production.

New on Blu-Ray

MEET JOHN DOE Blu-Ray (123 mins., 1941; ClassicFlix): Growing up I remember running into Frank Capra’s 1941 drama “Meet John Doe” in video stores all over the place – mostly VHS bargain bins – and for a good reason. Having fallen into the public domain, Capra’s adaptation of a 1922 short story (“A Reputation”) by Richard Connell became a mainstay of thrifty sell-through home video labels, the kind that used to release, re-release, and then re-issue again movies like this, “Nosferatu,” “Africa Screams” and “Night of the Living Dead.”

If you wanted to see a quality presentation of the movie, your options were slim – which was unfortunate, because Capra’s sentimental, occasionally heavy-handed yet still appealing picture offers solid chemistry between stars Barbara Stanwyck – essaying a newspaper columnist just handed her pink slip – and Gary Cooper, a former baseball player she hires to play a fictional “John Doe” she concocted as a means of generating attention (and her old job back). Cooper successfully embodies Stanwyck’s distraught creation (who intends to end his life on Christmas Eve), but complications ensue once her publisher (Edward Arnold) decides to push the story for his own political gain.

That makes ClassicFlix’s new Blu-Ray restoration of “Meet John Doe” so worthwhile: working mostly from the “best” material housed at the Library of Congress, the label’s high-definition master is a massive enhancement on that old bargain-brand VHS or DVD you might’ve watched years ago. Some speckles or damage in the source is unavoidable, as the Library of Congress nitrate print was damaged to the degree some material had to be derived from a BFI source, yet compared to what you’ve likely seen before, this 1080p (1.37) AVC encode is going to be a revelation.

ClassicFlix’s now-available Blu-Ray includes a restoration comparison and English subtitles.

INTO THE BLUE Blu-Ray (110 mins., 2005, PG-13; Capelight): Director John Stockwell’s uncredited remake of “The Deep” (though Peter Guber is notably listed as an executive producer) serves up colorful locales plus Jessica Alba and Paul Walker as the treasure-seeking couple who stumble upon a fortune in cocaine while diving along the bottom of the sea. Scott Caan is Stockwell’s brother and Ashley Scott portrays his main squeeze, while James Frain appears as the drug czar in search of his lost cargo.

Despite being a box-office disappointment, “Into The Blue” nevertheless offers an entertaining slice of escapism. Alba and Walker look the part, and the Matt Johnson script fortunately doesn’t really require either to do much in the way of acting. The Shane Hurlbut cinematography is just right and Stockwell edits a few effective action sequences along the way. A real guilty pleasure, “Into The Blue” is just the right tonic for tropical escapism, with attractive leads and enough action to get by.

An early-format Blu-Ray release from Sony, “Into the Deep” makes a welcome return to the format from Capelight. This MGM-licensed title (2.35, 5.1 DTS MA) offers an improved technical package than the old Sony disc, including superior AVC encoding, besting its predecessor’s use of the ancient MPEG-2 codec. Extras are carried over from the original release, including commentary from John Stockwell, no less than 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary, screen tests, a Making Of featurette and the trailer.

BACKWOODS DOUBLE-FEATURE: COMMON LAW WIFE/JENNIE, WIFE/CHILD Blu-Ray (both 1963; Film Masters): The folks at Something Weird Video have cooked up a down-home “Backwoods Double Feature” sporting a pair of low-budget, independently made films from the early ‘60s: in “Common Law Wife,” Goerge Edgley plays a old codger who wants to dispose of his girlfriend for his younger niece, only for the old ball and chain to figure out she’s legally his wife. Jack Lester, meanwhile, plays a farmer who wants Beverly Lundsford to be his wife in “Jennie, Wife/Child,” only for her to have the hots for younger hand Jim Reader in another old-fashioned “backwoods” affair. Both movies have been “newly restored” in 1080p (1.85 B&W) transfers with extras including commentaries on “Common Law Wife” by Millie DeChirico and Ben Cheaves, plus DeChirico solo on “Jennie.” There’s also an archival commentary with director Larry Buchanan and Nathaniel Thompson on “Common Law Wife”; a Ballyhoo documentary “That’s Hicksploitation: The Origin of Southern Cinema”; an essay by Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci; and a restored ‘63 trailer for “Common Law Wife” (available June 25th).

CAT BALLOU Blu-Ray (96 mins., 1965; Sony): Hugely enjoyable western romp stars Jane Fonda as a young lass, just graduated from finishing school, who finds out her father’s ranch is coveted for its location by both the town and a posse of bad guys. Just as “Cat” strikes up a friendship with an outlaw (Michael Callan), his associate (Dwayne Hickman) and a top – albeit drunken – gunfighter (Lee Marvin), the vile Tim Strawn (also Marvin) kills Cat’s father, leading to the group vowing revenge and causing a ruckus against the townspeople who conspired against him.

A “Greek Chorus” of “shouters,” played by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, provide the musical narrative – thanks to Mack David and Jerry Livingston’s songs – for this energetic adaptation of Roy Chanslor’s reportedly more dramatic novel, brought to the screen with a light touch by writers Walter Newman and Frank R. Pierson.

The ensemble performances are all spot-on, but it’s Marvin in a dual role who generates the most laughs in director Elliot Silverstein’s much-admired 1965 Columbia release – a lively, thoroughly entertaining film that manages to poke fun at the genre without being overtly campy and silly. The songs are terrific, the performances marvelous and the entire film infectious from start to end.

Sony’s new Blu-Ray of “Cat Ballou” follows Twilight Time’s out-of-print 2016 release. It carries over a similarly strong transfer (1.85) with 5.1 stereo or mono sound and most of its extras: these include commentaries with Callan and Hickman, plus historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo, the trailer, and an archival 12-minute interview with Silverstein.

THUNDERHEART Blu-Ray (119 mins., 1992, R; Sony): Slow-moving drama set on a South Dakota Indian reservation, where the FBI sends one of its agents (Val Kilmer) with mixed heritage to investigate the murder of a tribal council member. “Thunderheart” was produced by Robert DeNiro, scripted by John Fusco (the “Young Guns” films) and directed by Michael Apted, who brought along a peerless production team including cinematographer Roger Deakins and James Horner to score the film. Despite all of that – and a great cast with Sam Shepard, Fred Ward and Graham Greene backing up Kilmer – the end result is a plodding, downbeat film that never captivates the viewer, bogged down in socio-political commentary with a mystery that’s just not interesting. “Thunderheart” debuts on Blu-Ray in a new Sony catalog disc (1.85, 5.1 DTS MA) with the trailer and Fusco’s commentary included.

DOGMAN Blu-Ray (116 mins., 2023, R; Universal): Not to be confused with the recent “Monkey Man,” Luc Besson’s latest film takes a sharp turn away from conventional thrillers as it tells the story of a paraplegic man (Caleb Landry Jones) who, after a traumatic childhood, trains dogs to carry out his biding – whether it’s theft or helping the helpless. Oh, and he also performs as a drag queen in his spare time! Easy to see why this New Jersey-set drama didn’t net a wide U.S. release, with most of the movie shot in Paris and subject matter that’s just too eclectic for the masses. Jones, at least, is solid in this picture which boasts Besson’s slick visuals and, of course, a score by Eric Serra. Universal’s no-frills disc is out this week (2.39, 7.1 DTS MA).

BLIND WAR Blu-Ray (108 mins., 2022; Well Go USA): When a SWAT team captain is blinded during an unexpected exercise, he finds himself helpless when his beloved daughter is kidnapped – and needing to do a virtual “Daredevil” in training his senses to save her. “Blind War” offers capable action sequences and star Andy On has ample charisma, though the film doesn’t offer a lot of surprises and has to pack quite a bit of story into its run time. Well Go’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Mandarin audio with optional English subtitles.

Quick Takes

MANIFEST – The Complete Fourth and Final Season DVD (917 mins., 2022-23; Warner): NBC series carries a compelling premise – what happened to a missing flight and its passengers from the night it disappeared through its sudden reappearance five years later, with none of its occupants having aged – yet struggled to develop a coherent drama in the span of its first season. However, bits and pieces of the supernatural (“Lost”) melded with a government conspiracy plot and “Touched by an Angel”-esque drama in a show that held onto its central mystery long enough to maintain its core audience for some four seasons, ending in a Netflix-funded final season that wrapped up in 2023. That season is new on DVD from Warner featuring 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.

NCIS: SYDNEY Season 1 DVD (6 hours, 2023-24; Paramount): While the “NCIS” crew closed down their Hawaii spin-off, they debuted an international variant with the Indo-Pacific set “NCIS: Sydney.” Shot on location, this series, predictably, still spins a comfortably formulaic assortment of adventures, this time set against Aussie location work. A show that debuted on Paramount+ with a second season on the way, “NCIS: Sydney” premieres on DVD with competent 16:9 transfers and 5.1 sound.

THE SALES GIRL DVD (123 mins., 2024; Film Movement): Mongolian import focuses in on a college student who takes a temp job in a sex shop, where its goofy owner helps her “open up.” A quite interesting effort from director Sengedorj Janchivodrj, heavy on character development and cultural components. Film Movement’s DVD includes a 16:9 (2:1) transfer with 5.1/2.0 sound, in Mongolian and Russian with English subtitles.

NEXT TIME: THE BURGLARS comes to Blu-Ray! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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June 14
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