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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Life, The Lawnmower Man, Table 19 and more

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LifeLife may not be a perfect film, but it’s better than any film in the Aliens franchise that we’ve gotten since the 90s. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson, the film is a fun, tense sci-fi thriller that is clearly influence by the Aliens franchise, but manages to find its own identity. It’s not a complete slam dunk, but I will say that I absolutely loved the ending. I like these kinds of films and this one does a pretty good job of keeping you guessing, although some of the who lives/who dies aspect is a bit predictable. The special effects are terrific, and while some of the characters are disposable, the small cast means that each character at least gets enough time to feel like a real character. If you like a good sci-fi thriller, then this one is a fun ride that’s worth checking out.

Laugh-In: The Complete Series – I’m not old enough to have watched Laugh-In when it originally aired, but I grew up watching it on Nick at Night repeats as a child. My parents were the perfect age to be fans of the show, so it was a staple in my house and I became a big fan. Laugh-In was basically one of the first sketchy comedy shows, and it was filled with an amazing roster of talent including Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Gary Owens, and even a young Robin Williams. This massive box set includes all six seasons’ worth of episodes on 38 discs, which gives you a whopping 160 episodes, plus hours of bonus features (including interviews with many of the show’s luminaries.) There’s also a nice 32-page book with liner notes and photos. Digging into the show, I found it to still be an incredibly fun time. It’s great to see all the old stars again, and the humor is still right on point. Sure, not every single sketch or bit still works, but the humor is largely timeless, and I had a really good time revisiting what was a huge part of my childhood.

The Lawnmower Man – I loved this movie when it came out back in 1992, but that might have had more to do with the fact that I saw it on my first date with a girl who would then become my longtime girlfriend. Watching the film again some 25 years later, it hasn’t aged particularly well. Obviously, what were cutting edge special effects at the time now look quite dated, but that’s not the real sticking point. The film itself just isn’t all that great. I even watched the Director’s Cut, which does add some 20 or 30 minutes of extra footage added in, in hopes that it would flesh out the story and make a better movie. Really, it just makes it longer. This inaugural Blu-ray edition includes a ton of extra features and both versions of the film, so it’s a great package for fans, but it’s not a great movie.

The Paul Naschy Collection – I’ll admit, my knowledge of Paul Naschy is pretty limited. So this new five-film collection from Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint is not only a cool collection of fun movies, but also a really terrific primer on a major movie figure in another country. Called “Spain’s answer to Lon Chaney,” Naschy not only played iconic characters such as The Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein (or his monster, for you nitpickers out there), and Dracula, but he also wrote, produced, and directed many of his own films. This five-disc collection includes the following movies: Vengeance of The Zombies, Horror Rises from The Tomb, Blue Eyes of The Broken Doll, Night of The Werewolf, and Human Beasts. While this set doesn’t include any of those horror icons in it, we do see Naschy as a murder suspect, a mystic, a mercenary, and even a warlock. The films are in Spanish and subtitled in English, and while they are all from the 70s and 80s (and therefore are somewhat cheesy at times), they are a lot of fun, and a neat glimpse into the career of a Spanish film icon.

The Paradine Case – It’s no secret that I’m a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan, but there are still a number of holes in my Hitchcock filmography viewing. The Paradine Case was one of those holes until this excellent new Blu-ray edition of the film was released by Kino Lorber. Starring Gregory Peck as a lawyer who falls for his client, an alluring woman with a mysterious past accused of murdering her husband. It’s prime Hitch territory, as the film has all of his trademarks: steely gents, femme fatales, a driving mystery, and ratcheting suspense. Peck is fantastic as always, and Charles Laughton co-starring is a terrific addition. This new version of the film (it’s Blu-ray debut) includes a number of extra features, and while there’s no denying the film’s age, it looks and sounds terrific for a movie well over a half-century old. This one is a must-have.

Workaholics: The Complete Series – Comedy Central has some hit shows that I don’t understand the popularity of, and Workaholics is one of the key offenders. Man, if this is what passes for comedy on that channel nowadays, I weep for the future of the network. The show wants to be Office Space crossed with The Hangover, but it’s basically just a trio of stoner idiots working a crappy job and trying to find ways to drink, smoke, and get laid more. Hooray. After one episode, I wanted to break my television. After two, I was pretty sure I’d lost enough brain cells to slip into a coma. I know there are people out there who will think this show is hilarious, but I am definitely not one of them. I know Workaholics has an audience, because it’s lasted six seasons. What I can’t figure out is what those people see in the show.

Table 19 – Sometimes a great cast can save a movie, and sometimes a great cast stars in a movie that makes you think, “How did this go so wrong?” Table 19, starring Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, and Stephen Merchant, isn’t the latter, but it’s not quite the former, either. It’s a good movie that’s not great, and it is made better by the terrific cast. It’s a pretty simple set-up, with a group of strangers all lumped together at the cast-off table at a wedding, and the interactions that go on between them as they get to know each other and their foibles, follies, and various issues. It has its charming moments, it has its slower moments, it has a lot of potential to be great. As it is, it’s mostly just good, and that’s okay, because you really enjoy everyone involved, so that makes up some ground.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • All Nighter – If you’re going to make a movie about a guy stuck on a 24-hour road trip of sorts with his ex-girlfriend’s dad, then that dad better be played by J.K. Simmons. Luckily, All Nighter (which stars Emile Hirsch as the aforementioned guy) does just that, and so the film works better than you might expect. Simmons and Hirsch play an odd couple on the search for a woman they both know, and their search takes them to some pretty out-there places. Much of the reason the film works is Simmons, who is excellent in pretty much every role he’s ever taken on. It’s not the greatest comedy in the world, but it is more fun than I expected it to be.
  • Altitude – Denise Richards in the lead role of an action movie? Sure, why not. This film (which also stars the great Dolph Lundgren and MMA star Chuck Liddell) sees Richards as a hostage negotiator on a plane when its hijacked. The hijackers have a motive (money, of course) and Richards has to save the day, but the film suffers from too much Richards (who’s just not a commanding screen presence) and too little Dolph Lundgren. I generally like these kinds of B-movie thrillers, but this one just never gets off the ground (pun very much intended.)
  • Railroad Tigers – It’s been a while since we had a really great Jackie Chan movie, and while this one doesn’t rank up among his greatest, it is definitely his best movie in a while. Chan plays a railroad worker who leads a band of men to hijack a military train filled with provisions they need to survive. The story isn’t anything special, but there are some great action sequences on the speeding train, and the claustrophobic setting makes for some cool moments. It’s not quite classic vintage Jackie Chan, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you like Chan’s films.
  • The Borgias: The Complete SeriesThe Borgias was yet another pay channel TV show that attempted to take us back to the past and get us wrapped up in the intrigues of another society. This one focused on the 16th century and the machinations of the Borgia family, who rose to papal power through no small amount of scheming. For the kind of show that it was, it wasn’t bad, with Jeremy Irons chewing the scenery every chance he gets in the lead role. It didn’t really last all that long, though, and I think that the glut of shows like Rome, Deadwood, and The Tudors (none of which lasted more than a few seasons) has taught Showtime not to invest in yet another period drama for a while. As with most of those shows, this one is well-acted and has great production values, but at the end of the day it’s a bit on the dull side. This collection compiles all three seasons into one low-priced and slim-profile set, so fans of the show can now own it pretty easily.
  • The Andy Griffith Show: Return to Mayberry – I always loved television reunion movies, so while Return to Mayberry may hearken back to an earlier time in television history, I really enjoyed it, I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show in reruns, and I remember when this movie aired back in the 90s. Going back to revisit it, I was reminded why I enjoyed it so much originally. It’s a great follow-up/tying up loose ends to the show, and it lets us see the Happily Ever After that most of the characters were living. Sure, it’s only for die-hard Andy Griffith Show fans, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.
  • Archie’s Weird Mysteries: The Complete Series – I’ve been a big fan of everything Archie since I was a kid. With Riverdale becoming a hit for The CW this past season, it’s the perfect time for Mill Creek Entertainment to release this complete collection of a slightly oddball animated Archie series from the turn of the 21st It collects 40 episodes of Archie and the Riverdale gang solving mysteries a la Scooby Doo (although not as good) that sees them going up against mummies, werewolves, sea monsters, and even alien potatoes. Yep. It’s not the greatest show in the world, and it’s not a classic like Scooby Doo, but as an Archie fan, I enjoyed revisiting it.
  • Stephen King Triple Feature – For the budget price this DVD release is marked at, it’s hard to argue with the quality. You get three awesome Stephen King miniseries in one package: The Langoliers, The Golden Years, and The Stand. I think The Golden Years and The Stand are pretty well regarded on their own right, but I’m also a huge fan of the The Langoliers. Despite its cheesy special effects, the film is fun and suspenseful. The Stand is a pretty faithful adaptation of my favorite Stephen King novel of all time, and The Golden Years was an original miniseries King developed that wasn’t based on a novel. I remember watching all three of these when they originally aired, and watching them on DVD takes me back to that age when TV miniseries were events to get excited about.
  • Stan Lee and Kevin Smith Save the World – This budget priced collection includes hours and hours of great programming for Kevin Smith fans (and to a lesser extent, Stan Lee fans.) The main portion of the disc are An Evening With Kevin Smith 1 and 2, each of which run over three hours and feature Smith (with some help from Jason Mewes) live on stage just riffing and talking and generally being friendly. Basically, it’s his podcasts live before he was doing podcasts. The other third of the programming consists of Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels, which is a lengthy two-part film with Smith interviewing Stan Lee about his legendary career. Obviously, Smith is the centerpiece here, but this should be a hit for comic book fans of all kinds.
  • Showing Roots – Currently available only at Wal-Mart, Showing Roots is an engaging movie starring Maggie Grace (Lost) and Uzo Adube (Orange is the New Black.) The film is an engaging drama with lighter moments about two women – one white and one black – in 1977 who try to integrate their small town after being inspired by the TV miniseries Roots. Both Grace and Adube are terrific, and while the film certainly has a bit of a Hallmark Channel feel to it at times, it’s surprisingly effective. It’s a moving story and I think it can reach a pretty broad audience.
  • Everybody Loves Somebody – Karla Souza is one of the best actors on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder (even if her character isn’t always treated that well), but I’d never seen her in anything else, so it was fun to see her in this romantic comedy. The story is pretty simple: a success-driven doctor has to choose between two men when she returns home for a wedding. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but Souza is effervescent in the lead role, and both of her male suitors are unconventional leads as opposed to the usual beefcake hunks or Matthew McConaughey-types. It’s not a complete home run, but it’s a cute little film that will appeal to rom-com fans.
  • Audubon, Nature: Hotel Armadillo & Nature: Forest of the Lynx – PBS brings us two hour-long nature specials that focus on unique and interesting animals: the armored armadillo and the fascinating feline lynx. I love Armadillos, but Hotel Armadillo focuses not just on them, but on the incredible amount of different special of animals and insects that inhabit their burrowed-out tunnels once they move on. Forest of the Lynx focuses on the mysterious animals return to the forests of Austria, which signals the return of life to a desolated area. So you get to learn about both the animals and their environments. Audubon, meanwhile, is a fascinating portrait of a man whose name many people know but who most people know little about. This naturalist, writer, and painter that made studying birds his life’s work was quite the interesting figure, and this two-and-a-half-hour documentary explores his life and works in detail. It might seem too long, but it’s actually very interesting stuff.
  • Head to Head: Seagal v JCVD (8 Films) – While this is supposed to be a Steven Seagal “versus” Jean Claude Van Damme collection, it’s heavily skewed in JCVD’s direction. The eight films included are Universal Soldier: The Return (JCVD), Second in Command (JCVD), Maximum Risk (JCVD), The Hard Corps (JCVD), Knock Off (JCVD), Double Team (JCVD + Dennis Rodman), Attack Force (Seagal), and Into The Sun (Seagal). So that’s 6 to 2 in favor of JCVD, which makes the whole “versus” concept a bit of a no-brainer. Of these films, the only ones that are really worth watching are Maximum Risk, Knock Off, and Double Team, which are all JCVD vehicles and while none are great, they mark when Van Damme films at least were still made with theatrical releases in mind. Still, for the cheap price of this set, it’s hard to argue with eight action flicks.
  • Amar Akbar & Tony – A Sikh, a Muslim, and an Irish Catholic walk into a bar…. It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually the premise of this quirky British film. Okay, it’s not actually the whole premise, it just made for a good introduction. Riffing on a famous Bollywood film called Amar Akbar Anthony, this movie has a bit of an identity crisis, veering from coming-of-age comedy to violent action in the blink of an eye. The film mixes Bollywood with British crime comedies and bro-comedies, and the end result isn’t entirely satisfying or unsatisfying. It’s somewhere in between.

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