Here’s a look at a new action film and classic spooky comedy just released on the ultra-high definition format.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Cinematic Universe Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 1.90:1 aspect ratio, 132 minutes, $39.99) — The 25th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings to light one of the more minor superheroes in the famed comic book universe, but he’s a guy loaded with martial arts power.
Specifically, the Master of Kung Fu aka Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is the son of a power-hungry Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) who found the 10 mystical rings that gave him immortality and god-like powers.
After the murder of his mother by a rival gang, Shang-Chi is trained by his father to become an assassin, but his first assignment, to take revenge for his mother’s death, is his last as the traumatized son moves to San Francisco and hides from his former life.
Changing his name to Shaun, he becomes a parking attendant who hangs out with his co-worker and best friend Katy (Awkwafina), singing karaoke in the night.
However, when dad pulls him and his talented sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) back into the family, he tells them that their mother is not dead but being held captive in the magical village of Ta Lo. Dad demands that they storm the village, but all is not as it seems in the realm.
As told through flashbacks, we not only get a film about the bonds of family loyalty and a dysfunctional father-and-son relationship but a dynamic martial arts film featuring explosive fight choreography.
Better yet, viewers even get a healthy dose of Chinese mythology brought to life through interactions with mythical creatures such as the Phoenix-like fenghuang, guardian foo dogs and faceless bundles of fur, the six-legged hunduns.
Comic book fans will also not be disappointed. Reference the geek moment of Dr. Strange’s assistant Wong (Benedict Wong) fighting the Incredible Hulk’s archenemy the Abomination, and for the MCU fans, Ben Kingsley returns as Trevor Slattery, the actor who played the villainous Mandarin in “Iron Man III” and is now a prisoner of Xu Wenwu.
The upscaled 4K presentation shines often especially when watching a fight on the side of a skyscraper’s bamboo scaffolding; a scene of water spraying from a series of dragon relief paintings forming a liquid map of a bamboo forest; and an encounter with the Dweller-in-Darkness. (I just fought this guy in the video game “Guardians of the Galaxy.”)
Best extras: Viewers first get director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton and co-writer Dave Callaham feeling uncomfortable as they deliver their first optional commentary track. We get some honesty and tons of production details and occasional scattered conversation, with the pair being respectful to not always talk over the film as they unload on some definite gushing.
Details include their disbelief that Mr. Leung agreed to do the film, discussing the Great Protector, the importance of practical effects and live production design, creating a bus fight inspired by the work of Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton, and the director’s love of the song “Hotel California.”
The extras are rounded out with a gag reel and a pair of short featurettes that cover the history of Marvel’s Asian superhero and the overall production (roughly 16 minutes in total).
The Addams Family: With More Mamushka! Edition (Paramount Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 1.90:1 aspect ratio, 132 minutes, $39.99) — Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s brilliant live-action homage to Charles Addams’ creepy and kooky cartoon family finally debuts in the UHD format to celebrate its 30th anniversary in this special edition.
This blackest of horror comedies covers the everyday life of the familiar clan while Gomez Addams laments the loss of his brother Fester in the Bermuda Triangle.
When Fester mysteriously returns during an annual séance, the Addams questions his authenticity, rightly so. However, as the supposed imposter attempts to steal the family’s fortune, he also begins to appreciate their lives and maybe Gomez might have actually found his lost sibling?
To state the film had a perfect cast is an understatement led by Raul Julia as daddy Gomez Addams, Angelica Huston as mommy Morticia, Christine Ricci as daughter Wednesday, Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Carel Struycken as the butler Lurch, Judith Malina as Grandmama, Christopher Lloyd as the embodiment of Uncle Fester and Christopher Hart’s hand as Thing.
The effort so captures the essence of the cartoonist’s work through the character designs, skits (pouring boiling oil on carolers, for example) and the often inspired dialogue, embracing the Addams’ morbid sensibilities, i.e., reference early on Morticia telling her husband, “Don’t torture yourself, Gomez. That’s my job.”
Restored and remastered under the supervision of Mr. Sonnenfeld, the film also now includes the full choreographed musical dance number between Fester and Gomez, the Mamushka explained in an introduction by the director.
Suffice it to report, the 4K screen-filling version allows viewers to fully appreciate the exceptionally twisted production design of the Addams’ mansion filled with torture devices, antiques and cobwebs, Gomez’ awesome model train set and the vault glistening with gold from the family’s fortune.
Also, the costumes and make-up have a fresh new visual life as seen in the facial paleness of Morticia offset by her blood-red lipstick; the rain-soaked head of Fester (go ahead and count the drops); and the purple satin smoking jacket of Gomez or his garish striped suits.
I’ll forgive the outstanding clarity that sometimes also reveals the magic behind the Thing’s special effects.
Fans of the family or anyone with a twisted sense of humor will absolutely love the latest and greatest edition of “The Addams Family.”
Best extras: Viewers get a brand new, 16-minute Filmmaker Focus with the director in a slightly fuzzy, Zoom-like presentation.
He reminisces about his love of the Addams’ cartoons as a youngster; his satisfaction with being a cinematographer; the problems with production (going over budget and even fainting on the set); the actors; Miss Ricci getting him to change the ending; the low-tech special effects; and the scene he is least proud of.
Also, the disc includes a seven-minute vintage promotional featurette on the production with some interviews from the director, cast and crew.