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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Fifty Shades Darker, The Space Between Us, Streets of Fire and more

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Fifty Shades Darker – Allow me to offer up perhaps one of the few useful reviews of Fifty Shades Darker. Perhaps you saw the first movie and were a fan, or maybe you just thought it was okay. “Hmmm… should I check out the second one?” you think to yourself. So, you go online to check out reviews, only to find that pretty much every single one of them proclaims Fifty Shades Darker (and its predecessor) the worst movie ever made. Well, this is where I step in, then. Is this the kind of movie that critics will like? Absolutely not. But who cares? If you’re a fan of the books or the first movie, will you like this sequel? Absolutely. I liked the first movie just fine (it’s not great, but it has some enjoyable moments), and I actually think this sequel is the better film. It improves on everything in the first film, with a more confident script, better performances, and a meatier story all around. There’s a suspense/action sequence near the climax that is a bit too rushed, but I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit. So, if you’re wondering if you should check the second film out… the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – I’m a huge fan of the Resident Evil franchise. I’ve never played the games, but I love the movies. This latest movie, dubbed “The Final Chapter” (Friday the 13th had a “Final Chapter, too, which was followed by a half-dozen sequels), is a bit of a let down from the past two, which were both a lot of fun. I still enjoyed this film, but the hyper-editing style is so over-the-top that honestly, for most of the movie, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. There are probably three cuts a second during the action scenes, giving you no chance to even figure out what’s happening at any given moment. That said, there are some fun moments and it’s not like it’s a bad film, it’s just a letdown after the last three or so were so much fun.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage – The original xXx wasn’t really all that great of a movie. As much as I like director Rob Cohen as an action director, the film was way too long (over two hours) and took itself way too seriously. This new sequel, released fifteen years after the original film came out, fixes both of those problems. This time around, it runs 105 minutes (still just a tad too long) and is very self-aware of the fact that it’s a big-budgeted B-movie and nothing more. It’s certainly not a great film, but Vin Diesel looks like he’s having a little bit of fun at least, and Nina Dobrev is a revelation as something of a comic relief element (a nice contrast to her overwrought role on Vampire Diaries.) While it tries hard to be a Fast & Furious movie, it’s still a xXx movie, but it’s certainly a step up from the first one.

The Space Between Us – Noted British film critic Mark Kermode has called this film “The Fault Between Our Mars,” and honestly, it’s hard to come up with anything better to say about the film than that. A teen romance movie with a sci-fi twist, the film stars Asa Butterfield (ugh) and Britt Robertson (yay!) as — quite literally — star crossed lovers. Gary Oldman and Carla Gugino co-star and are, as usual, welcome additions to the proceedings. While the film is geared for teens, it’s still enjoyable enough for adult viewers, and while the film didn’t fare that well at the box office, it’s a sweet film with some nice moments.

Streets of FireStreets of Fire is one of those movies that’s been on my “need to watch” list for a very long time. I remember the film being a staple of the video stores I would frequent as a child, always on the shelves yet never making it into my rentals. Of course, since it’s directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours), who’s become one of my favorite directors over the years, I really wanted to see it. Newly released on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of Shout Factory, this rock n roll epic action film is an incredible amount of fun. While Michael Pare doesn’t light the screen up with his charisma, seeing performances by a very young Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, and Bill Paxton is a lot of fun. The film has great action scenes, terrific music, and it’s all wrapped up in that Walter Hill style. In short: I loved it!

Wonder Woman: Commemorative Edition – While you might get excited to see a new DC Universe animated movie, be aware that this is simply a re-release of the original Wonder Woman animated film from 2009 starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. It’s a pretty typical origin story but it’s definitely from before the DC animated movies started to go downhill, which they have in recent years. This new version is mostly the same as the old one, just with a few new extra features, so if you already have that one you won’t need this one. If you’ve never seen it or don’t own it, this is a great version to get before the new movie comes out.

Beyond The Gates – This ‘80s influence horror film sees two brothers (whose father has disappeared) discover an interactive VHS game that, once they play it, brings about some horrifying experience. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I really loved the ‘80s homages and the feel that takes it back to that decade. On the other hand, the low budget sometimes works against it, and the beginning is a bit on the slow side. However, for fans of horror (especially ‘80s horror flicks), it does offer up a little something different, and that’s always nice to see in such a derivative genre.

Willard & Ben – Two cult classic horror films from the 1970s, Shout Factory’s excellent Scream Factory imprint brings us the Blu-ray debuts of Willard and its sequel, Ben. While some people might be more familiar with the Crispin Glover-led remake of Willard from a decade ago or so, the original film is a well-loved story about a boy who can communicate with a rat, and the havoc he wreaks with the help of the rat and his rodent friends. Ben, the follow-up (with an Oscar-nominated theme song by Michael Jackson – really!), sees the rat from the first film take center stage. (No, I’m not making this up.) These are fun films that are cult popular for a reason, even if they are certainly a bit dated by now.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • The Godfather & The Godfather Part II – Celebrating the 45th Anniversary of The Godfather, Paramount has released two new Blu-ray editions of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. They feature nice new cover art but really, these are just simple re-releases with no new extra features, no remastering, and nothing special about them. If you don’t already own the films, they’re available at a pretty low price point (although you can’t get a matching Godfather III to go with them), but I imagine most people who want them already have them by now. An odd release, to be sure.
  • Ice: Season One – Cam Gigandet and Jeremy Sisto star in this TV series about diamond dealers in deep with the wrong people that also stars Donald Sutherland and Ray Winstone. I actually like Cam Gigandet, even though he’s often critically panned, and he does a perfectly fine job of carrying this show as one of the leads. The main problem with the show is just that it’s simply not that exciting. It’s a solid drama, with good performances and an interesting-enough story. But does it make me want to set my DVR for it and watch it every week? Not really. People looking for a new bingeworthy show could do worse than Ice, but I don’t know that it’s worth going out of your way for.
  • Digimon Adventure Tri.: Reunion – I don’t know much about Digimon. I guess I’m getting old, but as soon as I start hearing names like Kuwagamon, Alphamon, and Digimon DigiDestined, I tend to start zoning out. This new release is a feature-length movie, running just over 90 minutes, and apparently it’s the first of a trilogy. While the story didn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me, I will say that the animation is quite good and looks better than what I’m used to seeing from these kinds of shows. This is one of those releases that I’m sure is a big deal to the existing fan base, but I can’t say it’s going to do much to create new viewers.
  • A Mermaid’s Tale – Not to be confused with the dystopian Handmaid’s Tale, this squeaky-clean family movie stars a few unknown younger actresses alongside co-stars Jerry O’Connell and Barry Bostwick. The film sees a tween girl making friends with a mermaid, while a fishermen-mermaid feud continues on. Yep, a fishermen-mermaid feud. It’s like Romeo & Juliet only without the romance and with more, well, mermaids. It’s obviously aimed at a young audience, and I’m sure kids will enjoy it. It’s pretty harmless and it has some fun moments.
  • Martin Clunes: Islands of Australia – While Martin Clunes’ most famous role is as the grumpy doctor in the hit show Doc Martin, this show instead reveals Clunes as a fun, amiable personality. He plays tour guide here as over the course of three episodes he takes us on a tour of over a dozen locations in Australia, almost exclusively on the small islands that surround the continent. I generally like travel shows to begin with and I’ve long found Australia a fascinating place to go, so I really enjoyed this show and Clunes is a terrific host. With only three hours of the show so far, I can only hope there’s more planned.
  • Welcome to Happiness – This movie features a ton of actors who aren’t household names, but are all familiar faces to viewers like me who are movie & TV junkies. Kyle Gallner, Olivia Thirlby, Josh Bremner, Paget Brewster, Molly Quinn, Frances Conroy, Nick Offerman, and Keegan-Michael Key are all among the faces you’ll recognize in this movie. All of these terrific talents just add to a film that is a charming, magical little flick. It’s got a touch of the kind of fantasy of something like a Being John Malkovich, but it’s a much less cynical film than that. I don’t want to say too much because I think going into it without knowing much about it is a big boon to it, but suffice it to say that this is a really fun little film.
  • Bubble Guppies: Super GuppiesBubble Guppies is a fun Nickelodeon cartoon that my kids used to absolutely adore when they were younger, and I think it’s pretty clever, too. From the creators of The Backyardigans — which is one of my favorite kids shows from when my kids were younger — Bubble Guppies is basically like The Backyardigans It’s a good show with a good mix of lessons for the little ones. This disc includes a good number of episodes, running a little almost two hours total. There are some superhero-themed episodes in the mix here, which is perfect for kids who are about to be inundated by superhero movies and TV shows all summer.
  • Duck Dynasty: The Complete Series and The Final Season – I am running out of things to say about a show I just don’t care that much about. Duck Dynasty is basically car wreck television. That’s what I call shows that are like car wrecks: you know they’re horrible, but you still can’t turn away. Duck Dynasty isn’t quite horrible, but it is predictable, typical reality TV fare. It’s basically like the Kardashians, just with a bunch of hillbilly, long-bearded duck call makers instead of semi-beautiful, vapid bimbos. Duck Dynasty is simple reality TV, and I can see how it would become addicting if you watched enough of it. But I think I’ll pass. If you are a fan, you have two new buying choices this week: you can buy just the final season in a complete set if you already own the rest. Or if you’re sad about the show going off the air and you want to relive it in all its glory, you can purchaser the brick-like box set Duck Dynasty: The Complete Series, which includes each and every episode.
  • Africa’s Great Civilizations – It would be impossible to cover the entire history of Africa in six hours, but Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (best known for his hit show Finding Your Roots) gives it his best shot. Encompassing natural history, society, arts, religion, and culture, this six-episode series is pretty wide-ranging. This will come as a surprise to just about no one, but Africa’s history is quite fascinating, and this program does a good job of picking some of the most impactful points in the continent’s history to give a comprehensive view of the land’s thousands of years of history. Entertaining and educational, this would be a welcome addition to any classroom as well.
  • Man of La Mancha – Shout Factory releases the beloved musical to Blu-ray this week. The Man of La Mancha tells the story of Don Quixote and is based on the classic work by Miguel de Cervantes. This version is probably the most well-known as it stars Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren, and it was directed by Arthur Hiller. While I’m not a huge fan of musicals overall, I do love the story of Don Quixote, and O’Toole and Loren work well together on screen (even if neither of them are natural singers.) This is definitely one of those releases that’s geared specifically for fans of the film, but for those people, it’s nice to have it on Blu-ray.
  • Starlight – Looking at Iggy Pop makes my brain hurt. I find him so incredibly unpleasant to look at, so seeing him plastered shirtless on the cover of Starlight didn’t really get me all that excited about watching this movie about love triangles within the world of a circus. It turns out this is a French art film, and Iggy Pop plays, essentially, a guardian angel. And honestly, I don’t know what more I can say about this film beyond that. It’s a weird, arty, trippy flick and it is definitely not the kind of movie I typically go for. So, if you like weird, arty, trippy films, check it out. If not, skip it.
  • A Street Cat Named Bob – I knew absolutely nothing about this film before it came across my desk, but with a cast that includes Luke Treadaway (Attack the Block), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and, well, Bob The Cat, I figured it was worth a look. It turns out the film is based on a true story about a low-down drug addict who adopts a street cat that he finds (and nurses to health), and the journey they go on together from there. I don’t want to spoil the story by saying more, but suffice it to say it’s one of those movies that will leave you feeling good despite the rough start for the main character. This is a charming little film.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Twilight and Starlight – This latest DVD release of MLP: FIM includes two separate two-part episodes: the finale of Season five and the lead-off of Season 6. While I as an adult viewer prefer complete season sets, this is a terrific release for kids. I’ve always found the two-part episodes in most kids’ shows have a bit more stakes to them than a typical episode, and here you get not one but two. That makes for some pretty exciting My Little Pony magic for your youngsters.
  • Savannah Sunrise – What do you get when you cross an “efficiency expert” and a “Free spirited mother-in-law”? Well, you get Savannah Sunrise, of course. Shawnee Smith and Pamela Reed star in this flick that takes a pretty time-worn movie trope and gives it a new spin. Or, well, a spin, anyway. There’s not much new about this film. It’s not bad, although I’m clearly not the target audience for this Lifetime/Hallmark-style story. Still, even though it checks all the boxes, the film is enjoyable enough and the leads give good performances. Worth a look if you fit the target demographic.
  • Keep Quiet – This is a complicated film. The story follows a man named Csanád Szegedi who was a leader in a far-right political group in Europe that was notable for things like denying the holocaust. When he finds that his that his maternal grandmother was actually a Jew who had been deported to Auschwitz, he begins a journey to become an orthodox jew and a new man. But does he really change or is he just playing a part? That’s the crux of the film, which stops just short of making a judgment on the man and his motivations. It’s an interesting story, and it makes you want to believe that he’s really a changed man. I guess only time will tell.
  • Frontline: Out of Gitmo – We’ve all heard of Guantanamo Bay, whether it be through films like A Few Good Men or just, you know, in the news for the past several years. This Frontline special gives us the entire history of the prison in Guantanamo Bay in 60 minutes. Admittedly, you have to have some interest in the material, although I found this interesting enough that I think most people will get something out of it.
  • Viva Puerto Rico – Another PBS documentary, this Nature special is another hour-long program about Puerto Rico, but rather than focusing on the history or the people, this one focuses on the crazy wildlife and amazing animals that populate the island. From sea life to amphibians to land animals, you get a sense of all of the unique wildlife this tiny nation has to offer. You’ll be surprised by how diverse the wildlife is in such a small area. Very cool.
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Tiger Family Trip – This latest installment of the popular PBS kids’ show features seven episodes of the popular series, with the usual positivity theme taking the forefront, of course. This time around, however, the show is vacation-themed, which is perfect for, you know, the upcoming summer holiday. This DVD makes for a great treat for the kiddies, and at a nice, low price. Parents of pre-schoolers will find these DVDs endearing and their kids will enjoy them as well.
  • Mill Creek Collections – Mill Creek specializes in low-priced movie releases, and one of the things they do best is put together collections of anywhere from two to ten movies, usually priced for under ten bucks. They have four new releases this week. First up, we have Global Invasion: 4 Movie Collection which sees four direct-to-video/TV-movies that you would think are about alien invasions; turns out only one is. The four movies included are Remnants (starring Tom Sizemore), Solitary, Stranglehold, and Another Kind. None of them have any name stars in them, but I like this kind of sci-fi schlock, even if they’re more cheesy than not. The Murder 101 Collection has Dick Van Dyke on the cover, so that should tell you something. It turns out that Murder 101 was a series of TV movies that Van Dyke made after Diagnosis Murder ended, and this collection includes two of them: Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses and Murder 101: The Locked Room Mystery. I honestly didn’t know there were any kung fu/zombie mash-up movies, much less seven of them. But Kung Fu Zombies: 7 Movie Collection showed me the error of my ways. The set includes: Kung Fu Zombie, Kung Fu From Beyond the Grave, Shaolin vs. Evil Dead, Shaolin vs. Evil Dead: Ultimate Power, Spirited Killer 2, Spirited Killer 3, and We Are Going to Eat You. Finally, Sharks: Danger in the Sea Collection is a little different from the other releases this week in that it presents documentaries about sharks as opposed to low-budget movies. The specials included are: Danger in the Sea – Sharks: The Killing Machines; Danger in the Sea – The Unreasoning Shark; The Ocean World of John Stoneman – In Search of Sharks; The Living Sea with John Stoneman – Encounters with Sharks; Sharks: The Silent Killers, and The Death Zone.

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