Welcome to the second edition of the Midwest Film Journal 2021 Holiday Gift Guide. You can find the first guide here, which included the new Middle Earth 4K Box Set, the Daimajin Box Set and a dozen other 4K and Blu-ray releases that the Midwest Film Journal team reviewed and recommends for this holiday season.

This time we’re running down even more collector’s sets, 4K releases and Blu-rays, and even a few recommendations in the comic-book / graphic-novel realm. As always, I suggest buying these directly from the retailers if you’re able. Given our proximity to the holidays and the mail glut, you may not receive your items before the end of the month but, hey … January is a good month for retail therapy and watching movies.

Unfortunately, due to the volume of releases, full reviews are not available. Suffice to say, if it’s included here, it’s highly recommended.

Box Sets

Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977

Label: Arrow

This set contains Blu-ray restorations of Savage Three, Like Rabid Dogs, Colt 38, Highway Racer and No, the Case is Happily Resolved.

Giallo Essentials

Label: Arrow

This set contains Blu-ray restorations of The Fifth Cord, The Possessed and The Pyjama Girl Case.

Deep Red 4K UHD Limited Edition

Label: Arrow

This set contains the 4K remaster of Dario Argento’s Deep Red, with both the original and export cuts. The Limited Edition set also comes with a special booklet about the film and a gorgeous slipcover that gives it a prominent place on your Blu-ray shelf.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 4K UHD Limited Edition

Label: Arrow

The Cat o’ Nine Tails 4K UHD Limited Edition

Label: Arrow

Mad Max Anthology

Label: Warner Brothers

This set includes Blu-ray copies of all four films in the Mad Max series.

Sherlock Holmes: The Vault Collection

Label: Cinedigm

This set contains four newly restored films: 1931’s The Fatal Hour, 1935’s The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, 1937’s Silver Blaze, and 1933’s A Study in Scarlet.

Special features include a bevy of restored Sherlock shorts, including 1926’s Slick Sleuths, 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, 1918’s A Black Sherlock Holmes, 1928’s Sure Luck Holmes, 1913’s Cousins of Sherlocko, 1912’s The Copper Beeches, and 1954’s The Case of the Blind Man’s Bluff.

4K UHD Releases

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It 4K UHD

Label: Warner Brothers

The Outsiders: The Complete Novel 4K

Label: Warner Brothers

Dune (1984) 4K UHD

Label: Arrow

The Final Countdown 4K UHD

Label: Blue Underground

Maniac Cop 2 & 3 4K UHD

Label: Blue Underground

Read Evan’s review of the 4K set here.

Django 4K UHD

Label: Arrow

Children of the Corn 4K UHD

Label: Arrow

Misery 4K UHD

Label: Kino Lorber

Spaceballs 4K UHD

Label: Kino Lorber

Hard Target 4K UHD

Label: Kino Lorber

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly 4K UHD

Label: Kino Lorber


Revenge of the Shogun Women in 3-D

Label: Kino Lorber

Read Evan’s review of the Blu-ray here.

Comics & Graphic Novels

Reviews by John Derrick

Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin

Publisher: Marvel / Scholastic Graphix

Author & Artist: Written by Nadia Shamas, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Plot: Teens today have so many demands on their time. Case in point: Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, juggles school, superheroics, friendship, parental expectations, babysitting, writing fanfic and presumably publicity for her upcoming Disney+ series and appearance in Captain Marvel 2: Marvel Harder The Marvels. Will a series of attacks by a mysterious robot be the straw that breaks Kamala’s back? Obviously not, because that would be an ending far worse than that pun.

Review: I read Stretched Thin twice in quick succession — the first time just for me, the second time as a bedtime book with my 7-year-old son. He was all about Kamala’s adorable baby nephew. I loved seeing Ms. Marvel deal with an entirely familiar teen problem. Being overstretched is maybe an obvious metaphor for a book starring a teen hero with stretchy powers, but the execution is fun and funny, and sets a great example for kids, teens and probably the rest of us, too. As my son gets older, I hope he remembers the lessons here about online safety, letting the people we love help us solve problems and keeping the different parts of our lives in balance.

Black Widow, Vol 1: The Ties That Bind and Vol 2: I Am the Black Widow

Publisher: Marvel

Author & Artist: Written by Kelly Thompson, art by Elena Casagrande, Rafael de Latorre, et al.

Plot: Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow of the Avengers, does superhero spy stuff. Except when this book opens, she doesn’t. Instead, Natasha’s living an architect’s life in suburban San Francisco, with a fiancé and a baby. How this happened and why is a mystery that Natasha’s best friends are determined to solve.

Review: Opening a new Black Widow series with the title character living an action-free life and making her circumstances a puzzle for other heroes to solve is a bold move that pays off big time, setting up tough choices that drive Natasha forward through the rest of this still-ongoing series. And if you dug the dynamic between Natasha and fellow Widow Yelena in this year’s Black Widow film, you’ll love the Natasha-Yelena partnership that becomes the core of this series by Vol. 2.

Avengers Assembly #1: Orientation (published 2020) & Avengers Assembly #2: The Sinister Substitute (2021)

Publisher: Marvel / Scholastic

Author & Artist: Written by Preeti Chhibber, art by James Lancett

Plot: Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl) and Miles Morales (Spider-Man) are students at the Avengers Institute, an after-school training program for teen superheroes.

Review: Middle-grade Avengers stories in the Wimpy Kid vein. My 7-year-old and I both love this series, which presents the young heroes’ warm, witty adventures through a motley assortment of diary entries, text messages, school documents and comic strips. A third volume, due early next year, will follow our heroes on an x-change semester with the X-Men!

Far Sector

Publisher: DC Comics

Author & Artist: Written by NK Jemisin, drawn by Jamal Campbell

Plot: Sojourner “Jo” Mullein, a former cop who walked away over the police response to racial justice protests, is now the newest Green Lantern — a space cop trying to keep the peace between three different alien races sharing a planet in a distant corner of the galaxy.

Review: Novelist N.K. Jemisin’s Far Sector is an epic space-opera detective story, gorgeously drawn by Jamal Campbell, starring a new Black queer superhero with a look partially based on Janelle Monáe. The whole 12-part series is now available in one volume, and while Jo Mullein’s adventures in the DC Universe continue in other Green Lantern comics, Far Sector pulls off that rarest of comic-book hat tricks, with a perfectly executed beginning, middle and end.

Nightwing: Leaping Into the Light (available Dec. 14, 2021)

Publisher: DC Comics

Author & Artist: written by Tom Taylor, art by Bruno Redondo

Plot: Dick Grayson, Batman’s original Robin, fights to protect the city of Bludhaven while trying to figure out the best way to spend a very, very large amount of money.

Review: If you’ve ever argued with a friend or loved one about why being a billionaire is inherently unethical, or wondered if Bruce Wayne could find better things to do with his money than build bat-shaped planes, this is the comic for you. If you were super into Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on Hawkeye, with its precise art, fantastic action choreography and adorable dog, this is also the comic for you.

The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast

Author & Artist: Drawn by Chad Sell, written by Chad Sell et. al

Plot: 2018’s The Cardboard Kingdom introduced a neighborhood full of kids who create fantastical identities and costumes for themselves out of cardboard and other household supplies. Now, the kids return to determine the identity of the mysterious monster who frightened one of their friends shortly before Halloween.

Review: Where the original Cardboard Kingdom was primarily an anthology of interconnected vignettes focusing on different characters, Roar of the Beast weaves all those same characters together in one big adventure. My 7-year-old and I loved both books, but we raced through this new volume much faster than the first, as my son was eager every night to unravel more of the mystery. A fantastic “Please, Daddy, can we do one more chapter?” read.

App: Marvel Unlimited

Subscription Price: A seven-day free trial and then $9.99 / month or $69.99 for a year. There’s also a $99.99 annual “plus” plan, which includes an exclusive action figure, a pin designed by Skottie Young and a few other collectibles.

What Is This? Essentially the Netflix of Marvel Comics. (I’m sorry, I’ve just been told the producers would like me to use, “The Disney+ of Marvel Comics.”) It’s an online library of thousands of Marvel comics from throughout the company’s history. Issues of current series are now uploaded six months after their release (it used to be six).

Why and Why Now? Marvel Unlimited launched in 2007, and while its library has steadily grown, what finally got me to subscribe this year was the launch of new exclusive titles. A Jonathan Hickman X-Men series tying into the current X-Family of titles seems to be a selling point for many, but in my house, the hands-down hit has been It’s Jeff. Writer Kelly Thompson and the artists collectively known as Gurihiru create an adorable and mostly silent weekly strip about the adventures of Kate Bishop’s pet land shark. There’s also a great Captain America miniseries by Jay & Miles Xplain the X-Men cohost Jay Edidin, an ongoing Giant Size Little Marvels series written by Skottie Young and drawn by Dax Gordine, and a Hulkling & Wiccan series written by Josh Trujillo with art by Jodi Nishijima. There are many others; those are just my personal favorites. New content is added weekly and makes use of the vertically scrolling “infinity comic” format to tell stories in fun new ways.

What Else? Once the exclusive comics got me in the metaphorical door, I had a great time searching the app for my favorite creators, saving titles to my library and building a reading list of things I’d been meaning to read for years, or stories I never knew existed, plus more great all-ages comics to read with my 7-year-old. You can also search by character, and follow characters and creators so the app will provide recommendations or reading lists.