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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Darkest Hour, The Florida Project, Hangman and more


The Florida Project

Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman turns in an astounding performance as Winston Churchill in this film which has been rewarded with many award nominations. And while I think Oldman absolutely deserves the nomination (and maybe even a win) for his role, the film as a whole isn’t quite as good as Oldman is. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just a little more of a typical biopic (albeit one focusing on a very short period of time in Churchill’s life.) Much like The King’s Speech didn’t quite live up to Colin Firth’s performance, this is a similar situation. That said, it’s still a good film and is definitely worth watching.

The Florida Project – The type of limited release film that manages to capture your attention, the little seen gem The Florida Project is about people’s lives in the shadow of Disney World. How does one find happiness in poverty while surrounded by sunshine, wealth, and The Happiest Place on Earth? Well, the residents of The Magic Castle, a motel/residence in central Florida, attempt to do just that. With terrific performances from a trio of young girls and also Willem Dafoe – who likes to remind us once in a while what a great actor he can be – the film isn’t cheerful or “fun,” but it is an incredibly affecting watch. Check this one out to see a really powerful film that’s off the beaten path.

Hangman – I really enjoyed this direct-to-video serial killer thriller starring Al Pacino, Karl Urban, and Brittany Snow. It’s nothing original, just cops (and a reporter) hunting a serial killer, but I found it quite a bit of fun, delivering exactly what you want from a serial killer movie. It’s a shame that Al Pacino is actually the worst part of the film. It’s not that he’s bad per se, but he uses a pretty bad southern gumbo accent that adds nothing to the film and is completely unnecessary. But I love Karl Urban and Brittany Snow, and the film is an easy way to kill 90 minutes. Worth a watch for sure.

Lady and the Tramp – Disney continues to strip-mine their catalog releases with yet another special edition of Lady and the Tramp. This edition includes a Blu-ray and a DVD of the film, plus a digital copy. I’m a little surprised that Disney is putting out special editions like this and not bothering to put the films on 4K Ultra HD, which would make more sense. It’s packed with extra features and looks and sounds great… just like the last Blu-ray release. A great purchase if you don’t already own the film, otherwise, hold out for an actual upgrade.

MacGyver: Season 1 – A MacGyver reboot? That will never work! Well, it worked well enough to get at least a second season, so I guess I was wrong in my initial assessment of the show. And while Lucas Till is no Richard Dean Anderson, he does have a certain likability, and I was happy to see CSI’s George Eads show up as a TV regular again. It’s a different feeling show, with modern technology giving MacGyver’s craftiness a new spin, and while it doesn’t live up to the classic series for me, it’s enjoyable enough for what it is.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider & Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (4K Ultra HD) – Just in time for the Alicia Vikander-led theatrical reboot, the original Angelina Jolie films are now re-released on 4K Ultra HD. It’s a shame that the Jolie films never quite lived up to their potential, although both are enjoyable enough. For my money, I actually enjoy the lesser-seen sequel to the original, as I think it’s a better film without the weight of an origin and the father-storyline that weighed down the first film. These are movies that benefit greatly from the 4K Ultra upgrade. Both are great looking films, with solid special effects that largely hold up, and the increased color saturation and impressive image resolution show off the visual side of the films with aplomb. If you’re a fan of these films, the upgrades are worth it.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • The Sect – There’s not a lot of pedigree to this cult horror film, but it was produced (But not directed) by horror maestro Dario Argento, and it stars Kelly Lee Curtis (sister of Jamie Lee). And that’s pretty much where the noteworthiness ends. It’s not a terrible film, but it has definitely aged, and I can’t help but think it wasn’t maybe all that great of a film even when it came out. It does have some charms, but they’re all in that B-movie way. A decent watch for fans of cult cinema, but not one you need to rush out and watch right away.
  • The Gate IIThe Gate was one of those cult-favorite 80s horror movies (for kids) that a lot of people have a real love for. There aren’t a lot of horror movies geared for kids, and The Gate managed to pull off being scary enough to creep kids out but not so scary as to keep them up at night (well, maybe) or be inappropriate for young viewers. As a moderate hit at the box office, of course a sequel was inevitable, and now it makes its Blu-ray debut. While the film doesn’t have much of the cast from the original film, it is by the same director and sort of picks up where the original left off. It’s not as much fun as the first film, but fans of the original might like this second helping.
  • Black Eagle – This cult classic film sees Jean Claude Van Damme playing both second fiddle and bad guy to Asian film legend Sho Kosugi. This film is the most 80s-ish of 80s action films, and it is glorious. I mean you get a crashed US plane with sensitive technology, a Russian bad guy, and a martial arts action hero!! What more could you ask for? This new 2-Disc release of the film from MVD’s Rewind Collection includes both a Blu-ray and DVD, as well as a bevvy of extra features, including two versions of the film, interviews, and making-of featurettes. A lot of fun!
  • Rebecka Martinsson: Series 1 – Acorn Video tends to specialize largely in great TV releases from Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, but now they’re branching out with Rebecka Martinsson, a Swedish mystery show that is dark, mysterious, and engaging. Based on a series of books, the show sees the titular character leaving the big city of Stockholm to return to her small-town home to help investigate a murder. Lead actors Ida Engvoll and Eva Melander deliver excellent performances, and even though the show is subtitled, you’ll be happy you decided to watch it.
  • Designing Dogs, American Masters: Tyrus, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Copyright Criminals: The Funky Drummer Edition – There are a handful of new documentary features out this week. First up is Designing Dogs. If you haven’t heard of dog breeds like Puggles, Schnoodles, and Labradoodles (although Labradoodles have been around for a while), this documentary explores how new dog breeds are coming about and what kinds of dogs are out there. WARNING: this documentary may make you want to buy a dog! American Masters: Tyrus is an 80-minute biography of artist Tyrus Wong, who become one of the pioneers who worked on Bambi, in a time when Chinese immigrants were not often found in successful positions in the arts. It spans his whole life and is a fascinating portrait of a man who rose up from poverty and anonymity to become a successful art legend. Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, giving us a historical perspective on the impact of traditionally black universities in American culture, arts, and history. Running 83-minutes long, the film is especially timely in today’s current sociopolitical climate. Finally, Copyright Criminals: The Funky Drummer Edition explores the phenomenon of sampling and its effects on the music industry, with a special focus on hip-hop music. Despite the low-rent looking cover art, it’s interesting stuff.
  • Warner Brothers Archive: Judgment Night, The Flight of Dragons, The Hanging Tree, Chances, I Like Your Nerve, Goodbye Again – Warner Brothers’ print-on-demand Warner Archive service has a slew of new releases out this week. First up we have a widescreen DVD re-release of one of my favorite movies, Judgment Night. (No Blu-ray, Warner? Come onnnnn!) Starring Emilio Estevez, Jeremy Piven, Cuba Gooding Junior, Stephen Dorff, and Denis Leary, Judgment Night is one of those movies I have loved ever since the first time I saw it. It is an incredibly tense, edge-edge-of-your-seat-thriller, and I’m happy to see it get any kind of attention (But seriously, Warner… give us a Blu-ray!) The Flight of Dragons is a Rankin-Bass animated fantasy film, and if you are familiar with Rankin-Bass productions, then you know exactly what you’re going to get with this film, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s got a great voice cast (Victor Buono, James Gregory, James Earl Jones, Harry Morgan, John Ritter) and it’s a good, fun, family animated adventure. And… it’s on Blu-ray! (Thanks, Warner!) Also on Blu-ray is The Hanging Tree, a 1959 western drama starring Gary Cooper and Maria Schell. This semi-typical western features a doctor, a preacher, a miner, and an immigrant, and while it’s not a great film, it’s solid enough to be enjoyable. Chances and I Like Your Nerve both star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Chances is a somewhat melodramatic World War I romance flick, while I Like Your Nerve is a much more fun comedy-tinged romance movie that really sees Fairbanks Jr.’s charm shine on screen. Finally, Goodbye Again stars Warren William and Joan Blondell and was directed by Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca). It’s a fun screwball comedy that is extremely short (only 66 minutes) and has quite a complicated story in such a short time. William and Blondell are fun together, and while the film isn’t a classic for the ages, it’s a quick and enjoyable watch.
  • PBS Kids: Outer Space Adventures, PBS Kids: Ocean Adventures, Garfield: Nine Lives, Dinosaur Train: Big Pond Adventures – PBS brings us four kids’ releases this week. First up is a pair of anthology releases, PBS Kids: Outer Space Adventures and PBS Kids: Ocean Adventures. Each one offers up ten themed episodes (either space or the ocean, obviously) from eight popular PBS kids shows, including: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Caillou, WordWorld, SuperWhy, Dinosaur Train, The Wild Kratts, Reading Rainbow, and more. For a super-low price point, these are great releases for your pre-schoolers at home. Garfield: Nine Lives is a budget-priced DVD starring everyone’s favorite lasagna-eating, Monday-hating orange tabby cat. Over the course of 48 minutes, we see Garfield’s nine lives from prehistoric times to the future. I always enjoyed the Garfield cartoon, so this was a fun one to watch. Finally, Dinosaur Train: Big Pond Adventures is a fun little cartoon on PBS that my kids really enjoyed when they were younger. It follows a family of dinosaurs (mostly Pteranodons, but with one young adopted T-Rex thrown in for good measure) in prehistoric times, with a dinosaur train that takes them all over the land for new adventures. As with most PBS kids shows, the series mixes positive lessons about family, friends, sharing, behavior, etc. with a good dose of humor and adventure. There are also real lessons on dinosaurs as interstitials between halves of episodes, which feature a real-life paleontologist. Fun stuff!

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