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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Blockers, Escape Plan 2, The Cured, The Virgin Spring and more

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Blockers – This is one of those films that’s a lot of fun and has a lot of funny moments, yet it’s completely forgettable. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not the kind of comedy that’s going to stand the test of time and become a well-loved classic. But it sure is an enjoyable way to kill 90 minutes. John Cena, Leslie Mann, and the always-excellent Ike Barinholtz are all terrific, game for some extremely silly comedy. That’s the thing with this film; you can’t take it seriously. It’s ridiculous and unrealistic and over-the-top and just plain silly, but that’s half the fun. Check your brain at the door, and you can sit back and have some good laughs for an hour and a half.

Escape Plan 2: Hades – I really enjoyed the first Escape Plan, which starred Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their first co-starring roles. (I don’t count the Expendables movies as they were more ensemble pieces.) Even with Schwarzenegger absent this go around, I was still looking forward to this direct-to-video sequel, which sees Dave Bautista step in for Arnie. Unfortunately, it’s a complete mess. The story goes in an unnecessary sci-fi direction, the production values look like a TV movie, and Stallone and Bautista are barely in it, instead leaving all of the action to a much less interesting team that includes Jesse Metcalfe, Jaime King, and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson. Honestly, it’s terrible. I have to imagine this was just an easy paycheck for Stallone. What a disappointment.

Beirut – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike and Dean Norris star in this dramatic thriller about an American agent taken hostage by Lebanese radicals. There’s a good movie somewhere to be found here, but it gets buried too often. Jon Hamm is terrific in the lead role, starring as a former American ambassador who is drawn back in to mediate the hostage release. But the story veers off into Lebanon/Palestine/Israel politics a little too much (without ever explaining it enough for people unfamiliar with the intricacies of it all to understand) and it could be tighter. It’s not a bad film, but I feel like 20 minutes less atmosphere and poorly-executed exposition would have made for a much more effective film.

7 Days in Entebbe – Rosamund Pike stars in her second period terrorism-themed film of the week with this thriller based on a real-life hostage drama. She stars alongside Daniel Bruhl, who is one of my favorite up-and-coming actors, and the two of them are standouts in a solid-yet-not-entirely-effective dramatic thriller. There’s a weird thing the film does where it builds the climax of the hostage crisis intercut around scenes of a dance performance that I’m not sure entirely works. It’s kind of a mixed bag of a film, but it’s at least worth watching for the good performances and some nicely tense moments.

The Cured – Most zombie movies end with, well, more zombies. It’s not often that you come across a zombie movie that sees a happy ending or the elimination of the zombies. Well, that’s where The Cured comes in. More of a drama set in a post-zombie world than a zombie film proper, the film gives us a world that had a zombie outbreak that was then cured. And now, the cured undead are being reintegrated into society. It’s an interesting premise, and while the film is often quiet and dour, it picks up as it goes and raises some interesting questions along the way. Ellen Page stars in one of the lead roles, and she adds a familiar face to a cast of largely unknowns. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s certainly an interesting new tale on a tired genre.

The Virgin Spring – New from the Criterion Collection, Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film based on a 13th-century Swedish ballad makes its Blu-ray debut. Now, there are arthouse films that I really like, and there are arthouse films that I can appreciate. This is definitely one of the latter. It’s a gorgeous film, with amazing cinematography by the great Sven Nykvist (the first time Nykvist and Bergman officially collaborated). But it’s also dark, ponderous, bleak, and steeped in religion. Obviously, Bergman is a legend for a reason, and I can absolutely appreciate his talent, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a fun viewing experience. As always with Criterion, the movie has been remastered and restored (and it looks absolutely gorgeous), and it comes with a nice variety of extra features.

Don’t Grow Up – This new thriller is an enjoyable take on the zombie/rage virus genre. In this film, all of the adults (presumably in the world, but at least on the residential island the film is set on) have turned into rage-induced monsters, a la 28 Days Later or The Crazies. That leaves us with a group of dysfunctional teenagers who live in a group home and only find out what’s happening when they’re thrown into the thick of it. Overall, the film is pretty formulaic, but it’s also often thrilling and tense, and while you don’t like any of the characters at first, they win you over throughout the course of the events on screen. With good production values and strong acting from the young cast, I really liked this one. Check it out!

Also available this week on home video:

  • Another Wolfcop – The first Wolfcop was a low-budget horror/action/comedy about a cop who was also a werewolf, which sounds like exactly the kind of B-movie mash-up that I love. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly good. So I was surprised to see that it earned a sequel, which comes to us in the form of Another Wolfcop. And I have to say, it’s pretty much the same film as the first one, albeit slightly improved. It’s kind of like the difference between Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 (although this one is more of a proper sequel, and not a straight remake.) Kevin Smith shows up as the town’s mayor, which is fun, and the film feels a little more cohesive than the original. It’s still not great, but it’s fun enough.
  • Spetters – One of Paul Verhoeven’s first films, this Dutch-language drama might look like a sci-fi film (based on the painted cover art), but is instead a coming-of-age drama/love triangle film. With supporting roles by Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé, the film focuses on three young men who race motorcycles whose small-town lives are disrupted by a new girl in town. Which sounds kind of like a Hallmark movie, but remember, this is from the director who brought us Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct, so it’s quite a visceral experience. This new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber sees the first high-def release of the film, and it includes an audio commentary by Mr. Verhoeven himself. A great release for fans of the director’s work, which I definitely am.
  • Shark Week: 30th Anniversary Edition and Shark Week: Sharktacular Adventures – Every year, we get one or two new Shark Week collections from The Discovery Channel’s annual feeding frenzy of shark-themed programming. This year is no different, with two new releases. Shark Week: 30th Anniversary Edition is a Blu-ray release, featuring over six hours of programming, with the highlight being How Jaws Changed the World, a look at the impact Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece had on society. There’s also the DVD-only Shark Week: Sharktacular Adventures, which gives you 18 individual episodes of varying programs, including Michael Phelps’ infamous “race” against a great white shark. With episodes focusing on Bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, prehistoric sharks, and all sorts of unique and titillating shark programming, it’s hard to not to enjoy the heck out of these great collections. Shark fans and shark-obsessed kids will love them.
  • Striking Out: Series 2 – Acorn specializes in British television (and in this case, Irish), which means they bring viewers a lot of three kinds of shows: mysteries, cop procedurals, and lawyer shows. Striking Out is the latter, following an extremely likable Amy Huberman as a big-shot lawyer who leaves her big-shot firm after learning that her big-shot lawyer fiancée is cheating on her. She opens her own firm, working out of a coffee shop and hiring an ex-con to assist her. It’s a really engaging show, improved upon by a terrific cast. The legal cases are fairly standard for this type of show, but there are some creative cases among the mix. This is a fun show that’s worth watching.
  • Delicious: Series 2 – I love Iain Glen (Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Jack Taylor) and I’ll generally watch anything he’s in, so this was an easy watch for me. This show focuses on the ex-wife and widow of a Cornwall-based Chef who was known for being a bit of a rogue. Watching these two women have to work together to run the business left behind by their former husband offers up no small amount of scandal, humor, and some genuinely heartfelt moments. This is a neat expansion of the story from season one, and I’m glad they’re not afraid to take chances. A great second season, I’m looking forward to seeing more in Season Three.
  • Frat Pack – Danny Trejo takes center stage on the cover art for this film that’s squarely out of the mid-2000s mode of road trip comedy (like, err, Road Trip), but he’s a supporting actor here. Instead the film follows a reserved British student who gets dragged on a road trip across the US. From there, it’s teen comedy trope after teen comedy trope, but the film is helped by a likeable cast that is made up of actors you may not quite now, but you’ve definitely seen before (Kevin Farley, Hana Mae Lee, Robert Knepper, Lochlyn Munro, and of course, Danny Trejo.) It’s not a good film, but somehow it’s mildly enjoyable anyway.
  • Ismael’s Ghosts – Acclaimed French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin returns with a film featuring an all-star cast (Marion Cotillard, Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Gainsbourg). Ostensibly, it’s a drama with a mystery at the center of it, but what it really is is a little too deep within itself. Not only is a major conceit of the film a movie-within-a-movie (that leads to a lot of questions), but apparently there are also a lot of connections to Desplechin’s other films (which admittedly I didn’t pick up on, having not seen his previous films). The end result is a film that feels too precious and more than a little inaccessible. There are some good performances here, but the film is really best left to the Desplechin fans out there.
  • Big Hero 6: The Series – Of all the recent Disney movies, Big Hero 6 perhaps best lends itself to an animated television series. I mean, it’s a team piece, it’s got bright and colorful characters, superheroes are super popular, plus you have the coolest robot to hit the screens in the past few decades. What’s not to like? This first DVD release of the show includes the first six episodes of the new Disney cartoon, and it’s a lot of fun. This is a really cool world to play around in, and as much as the movie did a terrific job of immersing us in it, it was limited by its two-hour running time. With more time to branch out, we really get to enjoy the characters and the city of San Fransokyo. Fun for kids of all ages!
  • Nella the Princess Knight: Royal Quests – Nickelodeon continues along the niche they’ve carved out over the past few years by delivering another new show geared to young kids, and girls in particular. Fitting nicely alongside similar kids fare like Disney’s Sofia the First (and maybe somewhat inspired by it), this show is cute, fun, and harmless in the way good kids’ programming should be. This latest DVD release includes the first eight episodes of the show, and your younger kids will likely really enjoy it.
  • PBS Releases: The Jazz Ambassadors, Going to War, Rwanda: The Royal Tour – PBS has three new documentary-themed releases on DVD. First up is The Jazz Ambassadors. This is a fascinating look at America in the 1950s and 60s, when a number of famous jazz musicians were recruited by the US government as ambassadors, touring the world and playing music. Of course, there was still racial and civil unrest in the U.S, which was the cause of some conflict within the program. It’s an interesting look at a part of history I knew very little about. Next up is Going to War, from noted writer Sebastian Junger and director Karl Marlantes, this special gives us a glimpse into what it’s really like to be a soldier in a war, by having real war veterans share their experiences. It’s moving and impactful, and a bit heavy; not exactly popcorn fare. Finally, we have Rwanda: The Royal Tour. This terrific show sees host Peter Greenberg being taken on a tour of a country by one of its leaders; in this case, he’s taken around Rwanda for a week by the country’s king, Paul Kagame. Over the course of an hour, we see the duo travel to Volcanoes National Park, Lake Kivu, Nyungwe Forest National Park, and Akagera National Park, where they jet ski, go on safari, and learn about the land and culture of Rwanda. For a country that is probably known to most westerners for its political strife, this is an excellent opportunity to see what a beautiful country it is.
  • Mill Creek Releases – Mill Creek Entertainment specializes in bring us movies and collections at a bargain price point, and they have several new releases this week. First up is the Action 9 Movie Collection, which is clearly being marketed at the Fast and Furious Sadly, the movies included aren’t at that level of fun. Here’s what you get in this Blu-ray set: Vehicle 19 (starring Paul Walker), You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, Gridiron Gang (starring Dwayne Johnson), The Hard Corps (starring Jean-Claude Van Damme), Double Team (starring Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, and Mickey Rourke), Maximum Risk (Van Damme), Second in Command (Van Damme), and Universal Soldier: The Return (Van Damme and Michael Jai White). So it’s kind of like a JCVD box set with some other stuff thrown in. Next up is Crime Time: Hot Streets & Cool Cops, which is a great collection featuring the complete first seasons of Miami Vice and Knight Rider (the classic 80s version, of course) on DVD. I wish the episodes were on Blu-ray, but it’s still a really fun flashback to revisit these classic shows. Gridiron Gang: Special Edition is a new Blu-ray version of the Dwayne Johnson drama that sees him working with teenage delinquents and reaching them through football. This new version adds a digital copy to the previous release. The Awesomes: The Complete Series is a fun animated show from the mind of Seth Myers, which is sort of an adult take on superheroes that aren’t all that super. There are a LOT of recognizable voices here (mostly SNL alums) and while the show didn’t last very long, it’s a lot of fun to binge it on DVD. Finally, The 10th Kingdom returns to Blu-ray with a new edition that adds a digital copy. I watched the The 10th Kingdom when it originally came out and it turned out to be a really terrific miniseries. The cast is terrific, the story is fun, the make-up effects are great, and I’m always happy to give it some attention so a new generation of viewers can discover it.

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