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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Murder on the Orient Express, Thor: Ragnarok, The Strangers and more

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Thor: Ragnarok – Hands down the single most fun movie of 2017, Thor: Ragnarok proved that even after umpteen Marvel movies, the House of Ideas is far from out of ideas. Packed with humor and some of the most spectacular visuals to grace the screen last year, Thor: Ragnarok sees the prettiest Avenger trapped on a gladiator planet, fighting the Hulk, and trying to prevent the destruction of Asgard. Tessa Thompson is a revelation as new character Valkyrie, and director Taika Waititi not only crafts a great film but also adds a lot of humor as the voice of Korg, a rock-like alien. The film is available on 4K Ultra HD (in addition to Blu-ray and DVD), and if ever there was a film made for the premium format, it’s this one. The colors are out of this world (literally!) and the imagery is razor sharp and has a nice depth to them. This one is a must-have from start to finish.

Murder On The Orient Express – Also out on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) this week is Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, in which he stars in the lead role while also directing the film. Now, I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan so I enjoyed this film with its all-star cast. I have a few minor quibbles with it, including the fact that there’s a major revelation that Poirot seems to just figure out with no real explanation of how he came to his conclusion. Still, overall it’s a gripping mystery with charm and humor, and the cast is outstanding. In the 4K format, the film looks and sounds terrific. The cool colors of the film are given extra life, and the definition is outstanding. This is a really good film, but I wish I truly loved it rather than liking it a lot.

The Strangers – Just in time for a new theatrical sequel (which I doubt has any real connection to the original), Scream Factory has a new collector’s edition of The Strangers, the sleeper hit horror film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. This new Blu-ray includes a ton of extra features and killer new cover art. It’s hard to believe this film is ten years old already, but I have to say it holds up extremely well. It’s still an incredibly tense and suspenseful film, and even though I generally don’t like Liv Tyler at all, she manages to work in this role. If you want to see the film that kicked off a nice little horror renaissance with movies like You’re Next and Lights Out, then look no further.

The Man Who Invented Christmas – I’ve been championing Dan Stevens as one of the best actors working today for several years now. And in The Man Who Invented Christmas, he does nothing to dispel that notion, even if the movie itself didn’t exactly blow me away. Along the lines of Saving Mr. Banks or Shakespeare in Love, this film tells the story of how Charles Dickens created the characters and crafted the tale of A Christmas Carol and Ebenezer Scrooge. Stevens is in fine form and a strong supporting cast is a help, but the film just didn’t get me excited. It’s a solid movie and might be worth watching at Christmas time, but I can’t say it blew me away.

Wonder Wheel – So, Woody Allen… you really think it’s a good idea to make a movie in which the main character finds her affections passed over for her much younger stepdaughter? Ooookaaayy. Regardless of the questionable subtext at work here, Woody Allen’s latest film does nothing to remind people that he was once a beloved filmmaker. Despite another excellent performance by Kate Winslet, Wonder Wheel suffered from some pretty savage reviews, and I have to say that I think they’re pretty well-founded. I’m not typically an Allen fan, especially his more recent oeuvre, but this is one you should definitely skip.

Doctor Who: The Complete Peter Capaldi Years & Twice Upon a Time – There are two new Doctor Who releases this week. First up we have Twice Upon a Time, which is my favorite kind of Doctor Who story. As Peter Capaldi wraps up his run, he shares this story with the very first Doctor (the excellent David Bradley eerily channelling original Doctor William Hartnell). It also sees Pearl Mackie guest starring as Bill Potts, which fans will be excited to see. This latest Christmas special is one of the better ones of recent years and it has a terrific ending that introduces Jodie Whittaker as the next Doctor. Following that, we have Doctor Who: The Complete Peter Capaldi Years, a massive 14-disc box set that includes all of Capaldi’s run as the Doctor (even including a much earlier episode that he guest starred in as a completely different character.) The box set also includes a ton of extra features (all the originals plus a whole disc of new extras), including a concert, deleted scenes, a San Diego Comic-Con panel, and much more. You get almost 40 hours of episodes and extras, and it’s all at a very affordable price point that’s cheaper than buying all of the individual seasons. An excellent release for fans of the latest Doctor.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Novitiate – Melissa Leo leads a cast of lesser-known names (but no less talented actors) in this heavy drama about a young girl and her entry into the Catholic world of nuns, faith, and the church. Let me get the good stuff out of the way first: this is a solid drama, with excellent performances by the entire cast. It’s a serious movie and it’s well-made. Now, that said, this really isn’t my cup of tea. It’s too long by about half an hour, and the subject matter just holds very little interest for me. It’s a quality film, it’s just not my kind of movie.
  • The Outlaw, The Thomas Crown Affair, Crossing the Bridge / Indian Summer, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, The Aviator, The Master: The Complete Series – Kino Lorber has been making a run in recent years to rival companies like Shout Factory and The Warner Archive in bringing us excellent releases of a mix of classic films and cult favorites, and this is one of their finest batches yet. First up, we have the film that made Jane Russell a star, The Outlaw, making its Blu-ray debut. This is the movie that was famously directed by Howard Hughes (one of only two films he directed) and finished by Howard Hawks, and it’s a torrid, dark tale. It’s not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s a fascinating Hollywood historical piece. Also out of classic Hollywood is The Thomas Crown Affair on Blu-ray. I like the Pierce Brosnan version as much as the next guy, but I had never seen the original starring Steve McQueen. And Steve McQueen is one of the coolest actors ever, making this heist/con film a real treat. I still love the remake, but there’s no doubt that the original is a real treat. Next up is Blu-ray double feature of Crossing the Bridge and Indian Summer. These are the first two films by acclaimed writer/director Mike Binder, and while Crossing the Bridge isn’t all that memorable, Indian Summer is one of my favorite ‘90s films. A perfect dramedy that everyone can relate to, it has a stellar cast, a nice dose of humor, and some serious nostalgia. Speaking of nostalgia, Baby: Secret of the Lost legend was like a trip back to my childhood. Sure, this ‘90s film starring William Katt about a dinosaur discovered in modern times is a pretty cheesy outing, but I was obsessed with this film as a kid and going back to visit it – while painful at times – was a welcome trip. The Aviator is one of those non-Superman Christopher Reeve films that sadly never got much play. I don’t know why Reeves Superman success couldn’t translate to other films, but The Aviator doesn’t do much to further the argument. It’s a decent film, but it doesn’t have the punch that would have made it a hit. Finally, The Master: The Complete Series was the most exciting release in the bunch for me. Starring Lee Van Cleef as a ninja master, this ‘80s TV show was must-see TV for me when I was a kid. The fact that not only has it been released, but also on Blu-ray, is more exciting than I can say. Sure, the show has aged and there are parts that don’t hold up, but I had SO much fun revisiting this series. Kudos to you Kino Lorber!
  • Newton’s Law: Season 1 – Trying to explain the concept of Newton’s Law seems a bit futile. Yes, it’s a law show. Yes, it’s a dramedy. But it’s also got a lawyer dealing with two sets of cases, family issues, awkward ex-lovers, a basement office, and a whole lot of other stuff that makes summing it up fairly difficult. That all said, the show works well because lead actress Claudia Karvan is utterly charming and the show lets its humorous side shine, and shine brightly It has its serious moments of course; not everything is played for laughs. And while you might not be in the market for yet another legal show, I’ll say that this one nicely fills in the gaps left by shows like Private Practice and Ally McBeal.
  • A Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking Season 5 – PBS continues their cooking show domination with Moveable Feast With Fine Cooking – Season 5. Hosted by Pete Evans, Australia’s top celebrity chef, along with Curtis Stone and Michelle Bernstein, the show takes a journey across the globe looking at innovative dishes served in exotic locales, and also offers up tips on how to recreate the dishes at home. If you’re into cooking shows, you’ll enjoy this one
  • PAW Patrol: Sea Patrol – This is the newest DVD release of the popular new series for pre-schoolers. The show features six dogs and their 10-year-old friend who use cool vehicles to save the day and teach lessons about “good citizenship.” It’s a fun show, and the young ones will love it. Of course, as the title implies, this one has a water/ocean theme, which is nicely timed to tie in with the upcoming Summer season. This show is immensely popular, and I’m sure parents with Paw Patrol-obsessed kids (and I know there are many out there) will be happy to have a few new episodes to hit heavy rotation on their TV screens.
  • Sesame Street: Love to Learn 2 – If your child is a fan of the more recent seasons of Sesame Street, there’s plenty here to enjoy on Sesame Street: Love to Learn 2. Of course, Elmo takes centre stage, but that’s par for the course for Sesame Street releases these days. You get two hours worth of episodes with kindness, songs, Oscar the Grouch, and guest stars including Fifth Harmony, Tori Kelly, Amy Adams, and Jason Schwartzman. All in all, a pretty good collection of mostly recent segments of the classic children’s show.
  • 9 Lives Movie Collection, Robert Altman Presents Gun: A Six Film Anthology, Lords of Dogtown, Hammer Films Double Features: Volume Three and Volume Four – Finally, we have a number of new releases from Mill Creek this week. Mill Creek specializes in low-cost movie releases and collections, and they’ve got a wide spread of offerings this week. First up, the 9 Lives Movie Collection offers up nine films on three discs, most of which are of the action/adventure variety. The films included are: Movies Include: Last Action Hero, Maximum Risk, Into the Sun, W.A.T., Stealth, Vertical Limit, Blind Fury, Silent Rage, and White Line Fever. Pretty good for under $15, even if you only watch the four bigger-named films in the set, Stealth, Vertical Limit, The Last Action Hero, and S.W.A.T. Meanwhile, Robert Altman Presents Gun: A Six Film Anthology is a really cool release, collecting the six-episode miniseries overseen by Robert Altman. Each episode tells a crime-based story that all involve the same gun. With directors like Altman, Jonathan Demme, Jeremiah Chechik, and James Foley and actors like James Gandolfini, Martin Sheen, Carrie Fisher, Kirsten Dunst, Christopher McDonald and dozens of others, this is a lot of fun to revisit. Lords of Dogtown is a great little flick about the rise of skateboard culture starring Emile Hirsch and Heath Ledger, and as far as I know, this marks the film’s debut on Blu-ray. While it was never a big hit, it’s a solid film that has a decent fan following, so having it in high def is a welcome thing. Wrapping it up this week we have Blu-ray double features for the horror fans out there, Hammer Films Double Features: Volume Three and Volume Four. Volume Three includes Maniac and Die! Die! My Darling! while Volume Four includes Never Take Candy From a Stranger and Scream of Fear. Each release gives you two horror cult classics on Blu-ray for the first time from the beloved Hammer Horror studio. While none of the four films are out and out classics, they are fun ‘70s-era horror cult classics, and the price point can’t be beaten for two films on Blu-ray.

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