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Review: This week’s releases feature courage and heart

This week’s releases include an expansion into a rich narrative; a haunted hotel; & a supernatural teen comedy

A scene from '1923: A Yellowstone Origin Story'
A scene from '1923: A Yellowstone Origin Story' courtesy of Paramount+
A scene from '1923: A Yellowstone Origin Story' courtesy of Paramount+

This week’s releases include a new expansion into a rich narrative; a haunted hotel; a supernatural teen comedy; expert monster building; a team’s last adventure; and some true stories.

'1923: A Yellowstone Origin Story' season 1 on Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment

1923: A Yellowstone Origin Story: Season One (Blu-ray)
From a whirlwind romance out of Africa to the rugged mountain frontier of Montana, the sweeping series chronicles the unhindered passion and the shocking truths of the American West. Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing post-war world, Western Expansion reveals the depths of human greed and the forced assimilation of Indigenous Peoples. The critically-acclaimed drama recounts the journeys of a multi-generational ensemble as they fight for their legacies to endure and hope that those they depend on will return to the places and people they call home.

It’s really quite special how these prequels carry connections between each other and their present-based predecessor. This series features direct descendants and older versions of characters that were in 1883, and Elsa continues to narrate her kin’s stories. The narrative unfolding at Yellowstone is very familiar to the franchise’s fans as Jacob and Cara Dutton (Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren) are literally fighting to maintain their piece of the Montana landscape, battling violence, greed and vengeance. The other half of the Dutton story follows Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), who embodies Elsa’s restless and adventurous spirit as he builds upon his reputation as an acclaimed hunter in Africa. Like his sister, he also embarks on an epic love story with a carefree aristocrat named Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer). The show’s other perspective is that of a young woman (Aminah Nieves) abused by the residential school system, shedding a light on the many hardships forced upon the Indigenous. Unlike the first prequel, this series will be back for a second season, which is great news as there’s still so much to explore and resolve.

Special features include: “Behind the Story” for each episode; “Unstoppable Change: The Adventure of 1923”; “I Am the Land: Teonna Rainwater”; “Reflecting Humanity: The Art & Craft of Editing 1923”; and “Inside the Series.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

'About My Father' on Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

About My Father (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Sebastian (Sebastian Maniscalco) is encouraged by his fiancée (Leslie Bibb) to bring his Italian hairdresser father Salvo (Robert De Niro) to a weekend get-together to meet her wealthy and eccentric family (Anders Holm, David Rasche, Brett Dier and Kim Cattrall). As the weekend turns into an outrageous clash of cultures, Sebastian and Salvo discover that the great thing about family is everything about family.

This narrative is based on Maniscalco’s real-life experiences with his partner’s wealthy relatives and De Niro’s character is based on his actual father, who the actor had the opportunity to meet. However, since these stories and people have been the subject of the comedian’s stand-up routines for years, the whole film plays like a series of sketches — which is fine at first, but grows tired as time goes on. All the actors are great in their respective roles, playing their quirky caricatures to a tee. At the heart is a father and son story as each have to learn to accept the other for who they are, but even that cannot save this mediocre family comedy.

Special features include: “One Big Happy Family: Making About My Father”; “Sebastian: The Big Stage to the Big Screen”; “About My Look: From Frugal to Fancy”; and theatrical trailer. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

'Are You Afraid of the Dark? Ghost Island' on DVD
Paramount Home Entertainment

Are You Afraid of the Dark? Ghost Island (DVD)
Four best friends and members of the Midnight Society get more than they bargained for when a fun summer vacation on a resort island turns into something sinister. They encounter genuine terror locked away in one of the rooms in their hotel and try as they might to enjoy their vacation, the kids are pulled back into the mystery of the island’s ghosts. This ultimately leads them to a terrifying and shocking revelation: many guests check in to room 13, but they never check out.

The television series frightened and fascinated a generation with its creepy tales of clowns, hags and doomed shopping trips. It’s heartening to see the show’s spirit live on in miniseries format with a single narrative unfolding over several episodes. This story will eventually be one the Midnight Society can share around the bonfire, but, in the meantime, they’re trapped in the middle of a real supernatural mystery. Rather than question why a bunch of teens are at a resort alone, audiences can wonder at their ability to still have a fun vacation as they switch between haunted and terrified, and carefree and oblivious from one hour to the next. Nonetheless, the series presents a solid ghost story with some unexpected developments, an unnerving villain and a satisfying though incongruous conclusion.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

'Assault on Hill 400' on Blu-ray
Shout Factory

Assault on Hill 400 (Blu-ray)
On November 14, 1944, the 2nd Ranger Battalion is tasked with laying siege to the German town of Bergstein, and its highly prized strategic position — Hill 400. Providing the Third Reich with high ground for its punishing artillery units, the Hill must be taken… at all costs.

War movies require two things: great action sequences and believable actors. Unfortunately for this picture, it doesn’t quite meet the threshold for either. The Battalion is supposed to be a tight-knit group of guys who stormed Normandy together, yet some of their interactions are forced and lack the solidarity that would’ve formed over that period. Similarly, Michael Madsen and William Baldwin are stiff in their dialogue exchanges as they each mechanically deliver their lines in a trench away from the battle. The gunfights are too pedestrian with Nazis falling constantly and the Allies taking little injury, while stupid mistakes frequently result in unnecessary drama. It’s also hard to agree with them taking refuge in a field hospital, putting wounded at the centre of their war. The historic episode certainly has potential, but it’s not realized here.

Special features include: imagery gallery and trailer. (Shout Factory)

'My Best Friend is a Vampire' on Blu-ray
Vestron Video

My Best Friend is a Vampire [Collector’s Series] (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Shortly after high school student Jeremy Capello (Robert Sean Leonard) goes on a hot date, he finds he can’t stand garlic and can’t see his reflection in mirrors, but he can make a delicious raw-steak shake. As maniac vampire hunter Professor McCarthy (David Warner) stakes him out, Jeremy just wants to pursue his high school crush.

This is a typical 1980s picture featuring a stereotypical high school boy who wants to have sex, won’t talk to the girl of his dreams and relies on his best friend to help him out of a jam. Leonard would later become a doctor on House, but Jeremy is far from a smooth operator. The interesting aspect of this narrative is the arrival of his vampire guardian angel, who claims to want to show him the ropes of his new life and simplify the transition. McCarthy and his sidekick are pretty poor vampire hunters, noticeably stalking their targets and failing to detect real vampires. It’s not a pinnacle of the era or even the genre, but does manage a mildly amusing crossover between teen angst and the supernatural.

Special features include: commentary with director Jimmy Huston and film historian Nathaniel Thompson; “A Most Alternative Lifestyle,” a conversation with writer-associate producer Tab Murphy and production executive Ken Aguado; “Gabbing with Grimsdyke,” an interview with actor Paul Willson; still gallery; and trailers. (Vestron Video)

'Nightbreed' on 4K
Scream Factory

Nightbreed [Collector’s Edition] (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)
Boone (Craig Sheffer) may be a troubled young man, but his troubles are just beginning. Set up as the fall guy in a string of slasher murders, he decides he’ll hide by crossing the threshold that separates “us” from “them” and sneak into the forbidden subterranean realm of Midian – Boone will live among the monsters.

This twisted tale is unsurprisingly based on one of writer-director Clive Barker’s books, in which the line between hero and monster is blurred. Boone is trying to live his best possible life, but he’s haunted by horrific nightmares that very closely resemble grisly murder scenes. Nonetheless, his girlfriend loves him and is unwilling to accept he’s responsible for these terrible crimes. But in her search for the truth, she too finds the monsters of Midian. What’s most striking about this narrative is no matter how frightening the so-called monsters appear, the humans in the story are far more heinous and cruel. Notably, Boone’s transformation is not as upsetting or elaborate as most of his new friends’, which makes it a little easier for him to slip into the hero’s role and not completely terrify his girlfriend. That said, the top-notch creature designs are both mesmerizing and repulsive, elevating the film to a level it would not have reached otherwise.

Special features include: theatrical and director’s cuts; commentary with writer director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Allan Miller; commentary with film critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint; deleted scenes; “Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed”; “Making Monsters”; “Fire! Fights! Stunts!”; “Memories of Midian,” an interview with actor Nicholas Vince; “Walking the Line Between Heaven and Hell,” interview with critic Kat Ellinger; “Speaking Up for the Monsters,” an interview with critic Kim Newman; “Monster Prosthetics Masterclass”; “Cutting Compromise”; “The Painted Landscape”; “Matte Painting Tests”; makeup tests; stop motion lost footage; rehearsal test; still galleries; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

'The Venture Bros.: Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart' on Blu-ray
Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment

The Venture Bros.: Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Doc’s latest invention will either bankrupt Team Venture or launch them to new heights, as Hank searches for himself, Dean searches for Hank, The Monarch searches for answers, and a mysterious woman from their pasts threatens to bring their entire world crashing down on them.

In lieu of a final season, co-creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were able to bring their characters to the screen one last time in a feature-length movie. Beginning with Hank and Dean not only physically separated, but emotionally divorced is an odd place to be for Team Venture — though the reasoning is revealed to be valid. The Monarch is on a quest of his own and the missing piece to his puzzle makes total sense immediately, even though it wasn’t obvious to anyone. This film is not a departure for the characters, but rather a chance to take them on one more extended adventure that ends with everything intact.

Special features include: Commentary by co-creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer; Publick and Hammer answer fan questions (commentary); “Hodgman and Friends,” John Hodgman digs deep with Publick and Hammer to learn more about the making of Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart and untold tales about their series. (Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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