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US Blu-ray and DVD releases: The First Purge, Halloween, The 12th Man, The Catcher Was a Spy and more

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The First Purge – I like the Purge movies quite a bit, and this newest entry — which takes things back to the night of the first Purge, back when it was still an experiment limited to Staten Island — is a solid one, even if it’s probably the weakest one since the first movie. Also, did you know Marisa Tomei was in this movie? I sure as heck didn’t. And while I like seeing how the whole thing started, it really becomes just like any of the other movies pretty quickly. In fact, people start wearing weird masks and uniforms pretty early on, which seemed a little silly to me. Still, if you like the other films, you’ll like this one. The First Purge is available on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray & DVD, and the A/V presentation is pretty stellar, even for a lower-budgeted film.

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy – The latest direct-to-video Death Race sequel treads pretty familiar ground. This one stars Zach McGowan with supporting performances by Danny Glover (really?) and Danny Trejo. The plot is pretty much one we’ve seen a dozen times already; what you’re really here for is what you get, fast cars, faster women, explosions, race-related deaths, and general mayhem and badass-ery. It’s not great cinema, but it’s an easy way to kill 90 minutes.

Halloween (4K Ultra HD) – There is no shortage of home video versions of Halloween. Aside from maybe the Evcil Dead films, I think the early Halloween movies have been packaged and repackaged more than just about any other movie series I can think of. Now, I’m not an expert, but the video quality of this film has been tinkered with on pretty much every version and fans have been less than thrilled with some of them. This version looks pretty good to me, and the 4K premium format does help it quite a bit. The colors are well saturated, the blacks are inky but you can still see what’s going on, and the surround soundtrack is quite good, although I don’t believe it’s any different from the previous release. Clearly, this is only a release for die-hard completists or A/V geeks; luckily, I’m a bit of both.

The 12th Man – While it’s a tad bit on the long side, The 12th Man is nonetheless a harrowing take of bravery and survival. Thomas Gullestad is riveting as a Norwegian resistance fighter during World War II who escapes the nazis and goes on the run through some incredibly harsh elements. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as the Nazi hunting him down, and his performance is equally steely, especially considering that he speaks in German, something which — to my knowledge— he didn’t do before this role. The film could be 20 minutes shorter, but it’s still a thrilling true-life tale.

The Catcher Was a Spy – The cutesy title (which plays off of Catcher in the Rye, clearly) belies a serious, solid movie. I was a little worried about this film when I realized that a movie starring Paul Rudd, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce, Mark Strong, Siena Miller, Paul Giamatti, and Tom Wilkinson was being released on DVD only, not even on Blu-ray. That seems like a mistake from a commercial standpoint, so I worried that maybe the movie is terrible, but it’s not. Rudd plays a baseball player — an extremely smart one — who goes to work as a spy for the US government. The film is evenly paced, but the performances are great and the story is interesting enough to keep you engaged. A solid film that’s mostly enjoyable to see Rudd tackle a dramatic role.

Tales From the Hood 2 – This sequel film (some 23 years after the original Tales From the Hood) isn’t really a sequel at all. Instead, it’s a follow-up anthology that features horror tales with an urban twist on them. We get four stories, executive produced by Spike Lee and written and directed by Rusty Cundieff (Chappelle’s Show) and Darin Scott (Menace II Society). Keith David stars as the narrator and we get stories about robots, ghosts, vampires, sexual predators, and the like. I don’t always like anthologies and this one is no different from most. It’s uneven, with a few fun moments, but it’s not exactly a great horror film. I expect fans of the first one will like it, but that’s about it.

Punisher War Zone (4K Ultra HD) – This sequel to Thomas Jane’s The Punisher sees Ray Stevenson take over the lead role, which removes pretty much any humanity or character from the film. This movie instead tries to be just a straight-forward action flick, and I guess in that it succeeds. It’s kind of a bad film, but it’s also kind of fun at the same time, especially the scene where the Punisher takes out a parkour-ing gang member with a rocket launcher! Punisher War Zone is available for the first time on 4K Ultra HD, and there’s a definite improvement in A/V quality as a result. The color saturation is markedly improved, and the. Many dark scenes are much more visible. The surround soundtrack provides plenty of oomph as well. I don’t know that this was a movie people were beating down the door for in 4K, but it’s here now with a vengeance.

Also available on home video this week:

  • Dynasty: Season One – I heard so little about this show, I had honestly forgotten it existed until the DVD came across my desk for review. Grant Show, Nicolette Sheridan, Elizabeth Gillies, and James Mackay star in this current reboot, which sees the Carringtons and the Colbys up to their usual tricks. Now, I’m not a huge soap opera watcher, even nighttime soaps, but I can appreciate this show for what it is. And what that is is melodrama, pretty people, sexy situations, and more melodrama. What more do you need to know?
  • The Originals: The Fifth and Final Season – With this being the final season of The Originals, the Vampire Diaries saga on TV has officially come to an end. And while I’ve never been a regular viewer, what I’ve always liked about this show is that it feels like part of the Vampire Diaries world, yet it has its own distinctive flavor as well. You didn’t need to watch Vampire Diaries in order to watch this show. Once you’re enmeshed in the world of The Originals, you can watch it as a stand-alone show or as a companion to TVD. This season works hard to wrap up storylines at the end, and while I can’t say everyone will get what they wwant, fans should at least be satisfied with most of the endings.
  • Super Sentai: Chojin Sentai Jetman – The Complete Series – Before the Power Rangers there was Super Sentai. This is one of the original Asian series that inspired the Power Rangers in its raw, unadulterated form. It’s wacky, over the top, and cheesy, but for adult fans of the Power Rangers (and I know there are more than a few out there), it’s an interesting look behind the history of the show. With 8 discs and 15 hours of programming, there’s a lot of bang for your buck here, weird as the buck may be.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth SeasonThe Beverly Hillbillies is not great television, but I do have a soft spot for it. When I was a kid, after morning cartoons were on, the local affiliates all played 1950s-1970s television. So I grew up on a healthy diet of The Beverly Hillbillies, CHiPs, Leave it to Beaver, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and so many others I can’t even remember them all. The adventures of Jed and Granny and Mr. Drysdale and Ms. Hathaway are old hat to me. Granted, I haven’t actually watched the show in probably 20 years or so, but I can still appreciate it on some level. It’s all a bit silly and dated now, but I can see why I enjoyed it as a kid. With several semi-official Beverly Hillbillies DVD releases over the years ranging from special episodes to best-of collections, Paramount now continues its Official Season releases, bringing the fifth season in its entirety to DVD.
  • Soul Food: The Complete Series – It may never have been a juggernaut ratings hit, but Soul Food ran for five seasons, which is certainly respectable. The prime reason for that longevity, in my opinion, is the terrific cast, which includes Nicole Ari Parker, Vanessa A. Williams, Malinda Williams, Rockmond Dunbar, and Boris Kodjoe. Over the course of 74 episodes (all included in this chunky box set), we watch three sisters as they navigate kife;s trials and tribulations, often resulting in laughs, and just as often ending in tears. It’s not a show I’ve ever gone out of my way to watch, but I can appreciate it, and this box set is a nice one to have for fans of the show.
  • Molly – This tough, frenetic action film features a breakout performance by Julia Batelaan and a final half-hour that has to be seen to be believed. The film is a sort of post-apocaluyptic/Mad Max/Tank Girl kind of flick with crazy people and zombies and danger at every turn, and then the final half hour of the film shifts into what is essentially one big, uninterrupted, single-camera action sequence, which is quite literally breathtaking. The film as a whole is a bit much at times, but it’s certainly a lot of fun for the most part and very visceral throughout.
  • Feral – Speaking of zombies, Feral takes a neat turn on them by combining a zombie suspense/psychological thriller with your more basic kids-camping-in-the-woods horror film. The result is a zombie film that feels fresh (a rarity these days) and that has actual drama and characters that you can get invested in. It’s not a perfect film but I like the concept and the performances are stronger than usual for the genre, so that’s a win.
  • DC Superhero Girls: Legends of Atlantis – My daughter and I love this franchise. This latest DC Super Hero Girls animated movie is fantastic; this time around, the ‘Girls travel underwater to Atlantis and meet up with Mera and Siren. It’s female superheroes in a film made for young girls, which is awesome! My daughter’s enjoyed superhero comics for a long time, but she’s always had limited options when it came to comics for her to read or shows for her to watch. DC Superhero Girls captures everything that’s great about superheroes, but makes it girl-centric enough for her to really relate to, without alienating male parents. It’s fantastic, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for parents of young girls.
  • Billions: Season Three – Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, and Malin Akerman return in this hit Showtime series about drama and high stakes manipulation in the world of high finance. This is one of those shows that I can appreciate more than I like. The production values are terrific and the actors are all firing on all cylinders, but I just can’t get into it. I don’t generally love stories set in the financial world, and while there are some good stories here, it’s just not quite my cup of tea.
  • The Love Boat: Season Four, Volumes 1 & 2 – Now this is a piece of my childhood! I absolutely loved (no pun intended) The Love Boat as a kid, and revisiting it now – while still filled with cheesy moments – is an awful lot of fun. Split over two DVD releases, the fourth season is the pretty typical Love Boat: A swath of A-to-B-list guest stars join the cruise ship with their various problems or adventures, and within an hour, they’re all solved and back in love. If you can’t have fun with that, I don’t know what to offer you. Guest stars in this season include: Tom Hanks, Robert Culp, The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Robert Stack, Loni Anderson, The Village People, Erin Gray, Dirk Benedict, Jeffrey Tambor, Charo (of course!), David Hasselhoff, The Pointer Sisters, Debra Winger, Joseph Cotten, and so many others. Come aboard, they’re expecting you!
  • Housewife – This trippy psychological thriller follows a woman who has been plagued by nightmares her whole life. So, who do you turn to to help you with that? Why, a cult leader, of course! I’ll admit, I prefer films that are a bit more linear in structure and don’t focus as much on dreams, so this wasn’t predisposed to be up my alley, but it isn’t a bad film by any stretch. The performances are solid and the short running time is a bonus.
  • Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like – This 60-minute special on Mister Rogers might be a little redundant if you’ve recently watched the award-nominated Won’t You Be My Neighbor feature-length documentary, but on its own merits it’s still a good program. I mean, how can you go wrong learning about Mister Rogers, one of the greatest forces for good in children’s television history? You can’t, simple as that.
  • Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series: Volume 4 – This latest installment of the celebration of one of erotic cinema’s foremost voices includes three films. First up is Confessions of a Young American Housewife, which sees a spouse-swapping weekend upended by the arrival of one of the participants’ mother, who may not be as turned off by the idea as you’d expect. Sin in the Suburbs has a housewife theme to it as well, following a woman who enters into an affair and the world of sex clubs to relieve her malaise. Finally, Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures follows a trio of college girls trying to break into showbiz and discovering the seedier side of the business instead. While none of the films are masterpieces, it’s easy to see the appeal of Sarno’s work and it’s nice to have the films on Blu-ray.
  • Saving Faith – Amy Grant, Vince Gill, and Victoria Jackson star in this faith-based drama about a young woman trying to save her theater by staging an all-star Christmas concert in the middle of the summer. Of course, it’s not hard to guess whether things will work out or not, especially if you have a little faith. I don’t get too into Christian films, but for what it is, this one is lively and has lots of music, and I think genre fans will enjoy it.
  • The Carol Burnett Show: The 50th Anniversary Special – This DVD is a must-have for fans of The Carol Burnett Show. It allows you to add the 50th Anniversary Special from the end of 2017 to your collection, and it’s a real treat. Not only do you get the full broadcast special, you get a bunch of extra features that extend the enjoyment, such as interviews and red-carpet footage. Plus, look at the names of just SOME of the guest stars involved: Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Kaley Cuoco, Bill Hader, Steve Lawrence, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Amy Poehler, Tracee Ellis Ross, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Tom Selleck, among others. Great stuff!
  • Kids Favorites – Nickelodeon and PBS bring us a good half dozen kids’ releases this week.First up, we have two new collections from Nick Jr.: Top Wing & Snow Awesome. Snow Awesome is one of the themed collections that Nick puts out pretty regularly, this one giving you three episodes of Shimmer and Shine, two episodes of Nella the Knight, and one episode of Sunny Day, each with a winter/holiday theme. Meanwhile, Top Wing gives you seven episodes of Nick Jr.’s latest show for pre-schoolers. In it, we follow four bird cadets, Swift, Penny, Rod and Brody, as they learn to become rescue birds at Top Wing Academy. Kids will like their cool vehicles and high-tech gadgets, and of course, there are positive messages throughout. Super Why: The Adventures of Little Bo Peep & Her Sheep is a fun cartoon that my kids really enjoyed when they were young. The show focuses on a team of super readers (kind of like kid superheroes) whose mission usually involves some kind of reading/letter activities. This disc features a Little Bo Peep episode, naturally. Elmo’s World: Elmo Explores is the latest collection of Elmo-centric Sesame Street spin-off episodes. This themed collection sees Elmo, well, exploring the world around him, for a total of two hours’ worth of episodes. Finally, Pinkalicious & Peterriffic: Best Pink Present is the newest collection of the popular show based on the books. My daughter used to read the Pinkalicious books religiously when she was younger, and I wish this animated series had come out about five years ago, because she would have been all over it! Still, it’s fun to see it brought to animated life. The show is cute and funny and captures the feel of the books well, so I expect young kids will love it.

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