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US Blu-ray and DVD releases: Skyscraper, Eighth Grade, The Man In The Iron Mask and more

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Skyscraper – This is one of those weird movies where the total doesn’t equal the sum of its parts, and I’m not sure why. I mean, you’ve got a likable proven action star in the lead role with Dwayne Johnson, excellent special effects, and some harrowing stunt sequences. So why does it all add up to such a mediocre movie? I mean, it’s enjoyable enough, but there’s just nothing about it that makes me want to watch it again. And sure, you can blame it on being “Die Hard in a building,” but I’ve seen a million Die Hard rip-offs and enjoyed many of them, so that’s not it. The film just seems to be lacking heart. That said, it’s not the worst way to kill a couple of hours. Especially if you watch the movie in 4K Ultra HD (the film is also available on Blu-ray and DVD). This is the kind of movie the premium high def format was made for, exhibiting exceptional colors, razor-sharp image clarity, and deep blacks, plus a surround soundtrack that fills the room. All in all, everything about Skyscraper is great, except for the overall movie itself.

Eighth Grade – Comedian Bo Burnham has been getting rave critical notices for his directing debut, Eighth Grade, and it’s easy to see why. I don’t know if Burnham has an eighth grade girl at home (or if he ever was one himself!) but he completely nails the angst, drama, and uncertainty that goes with being a middle school girl. Credit goes to Burnham for a strong script and direction, but it’s young Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton (who plays her dad) who really carry the film. That said, while I did like the film, I do feel like maybe it’s been getting a little too much hype. It’s good, but it’s not necessarily as great as I’ve been hearing. I also find the fact that it’s rated R a bit disappointing, especially since I think a lot of eighth graders would probably appreciate it.

The Man in the Iron Mask – This Alexandre Dumas adaptation came out not long after Titanic, and that early post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio backlash was already starting (although not among young women, mostly just among guys who were probably jealous of his instant worldwide heartthrob status.) However, The Man in the Iron Mask was still a solid success at the box office, and the reason is that it’s quite a good film. And with John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, and Jeremy Irons alongside DiCaprio, that’s no real surprise. This new 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition from Shout Factory sees a new Blu-ray version of the film loaded with extra features, and its a terrific package all around. You’ll enjoy revisiting this film, or if you’ve never seen it, now is the perfect time to discover a terrific adventure film.

House on Haunted Hill – Another Shout Factory special edition release, this one from their Scream Factory imprint brings us the 1990s remake of The House on Haunted Hill. The film came out right when the post-Scream horror resurgence was starting to die down and it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, but I think it’s one of the better horror films of its era. The terrific cast (Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, and Chris Kattan) add a lot to the proceedings, and the film has a bit of a sense of humor before things start to get really creepy. It’s not a particularly scary film, but it has enough creepy moments to give you a shiver now and then. With a number of extra features, this is another great release for fans.

Barry – I really like Bill Hader, so I’d probably have watched Barry just because he’s on it. But when you give me a concept of an ennui-filled hitman who discovers an interest in acting in a Hollywood acting class, well, I’m definitely interested. And turns out, the show is a lot of fun. Of course, Henry Winkler as the acting coach absolutely steals the show; probably why he won an Emmy for his role. And while Hader is understated — especially at first — as his character finds his footing and his interest in acting grows, he starts to come out of his shell. While it’s not really a laugh out loud show, I like the half-hour dramedy format and the show is a lot of fun overall.

Saved By The Bell: The Complete Collection – The extremely popular ’90s sitcom has been collected into a box set collection before, but this one goes above and beyond that. You see, mot only does it include the entire Saved by the Bell series, it also includes the original series that SBTB spun out of, Good Morning Miss Bliss, as well as the entire run of Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Add to that the SBTB TV movies and this really is The COMPLETE Collection for SBTB fans. Oh yeah, and it also has a ton of extra features, including two new documentaries and a 16-page booklet. I grew up watching Saved by the Bell, and even though it’s aged rather badly, it’s still a lot of fun to go back and revisit Zack, Screech, Kelly, and the whole gang. Going back and watching this show again has been a lot of fun.

Also available on home video this week:

  • The 100: The Complete Fifth SeasonThe 100 is one of my favorite genre shows of the past few seasons. While not a huge hit for the CW, it keeps earning enough buzz to bring it back season after season. It’s a great mash-up of The Lord of the Flies, Battlestar Galactica, and After Earth, set in the distant future where Earth is potentially uninhabitable. This season the show semi-resets, with a new storyline borne out of the events of Season 4 that takes place about five years later. As usual, the showrunners know what they’re doing and the changes work better than you might think. Check out this fifth season collection; it’s really fun stuff.
  • King Cohen – This excellent documentary about cult filmmaker Larry Cohen (Q The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive) includes contributions from some of the biggest names in filmmaking: Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams, Joe Dante, Rick Baker, John Landis, and many others. For the most part, there film is a pretty typical documentary filled with interviews, film clips, and the likes. However, the collection of talent discussing Cohen’s films is stellar, and the joy behind his cult classic films is evident. The Blu-ray also includes a soundtrack CD for a limited time, which is a nice bonus. Check this one out!
  • Sollers Point – McCaul Lombardi, Zazie Beetz, and Jim Belushi star in this gritty drama about a young man out on parole whose hard life in a poor area of Baltimore serves to challenge his ability to remain out of trouble. McCaul Lombardi, while largely unknown, carries the film largely on his own, although Beetz and Belushi bring some real chops to their roles as well. The film deals with some hard truths and doesn’t pull its punches, and as a result it can be tough to watch at times, but the realism is palpable, and that’s to the film’s credit. Worth a watch if you like hard drama.
  • Summer 1993 – Speaking of tough dramas, this heartbreaking Spanish film tells the story of a six-year-old girl who suddenly finds herself in her uncle’s care when her mom dies. Writer/director Carla Simón’s semi-autobiographical tale isn’t just about the pain of losing a loved one, but of transitioning into a new family that was already an established unit and now has to make room for an unexpected addition. The film plays it straight, and the performances are excellent. It’s not exactly a fun film to watch, but it is rewarding.
  • Making a Killing – Michael Jai White, Mike Starr, Christopher Lloyd and Sally Kirkland star in this direct-to-video thriller. The film is based on a true story; in fact, director Devin Hume actually knew some of the people involved, so that statement carries a little more weight than most movies that are based on a true story these days. The film is a mostly solid drama/suspense film that flags in places but is by-and-large engaging enough to keep you watching.
  • Strait-Jacket/Berserk Double Psycho Biddy Collection – This new Blu-ray double feature includes two later-period movies starring Joan Crawford. Strait-Jacket is notable because it features Joan Crawford in her only role that involved multiple axe murders, while Berserk is equally as interesting. That one sees Crawford as the owner of a traveling circus that is plagued by murders. While neither film is a stone cold classic, they both offer up some nice moments of suspense and they keep viewers guessing. This is a nice Blu-ray double feature that includes two fun classic horror films from one of the greats of her time period.
  • Joaquim Pedro De Andrade: The Complete Films – I’ll admit to knowing extremely little about Brazilian filmmaker Joaquim Pedro De Andrade, who was a pioneer of the Cinema Novo movement. This new collection includes both his feature films and his short films, and while they can be somewhat dense viewing for someone unfamiliar with his works or the movement, it was interesting to delve into an area of film I never had before. (The included booklet helps give some insights into the individual films.) The movies included are: Garrincha: Joy of the People (1963), The Priest and the Girl (1965), Macunaima (1969), The Conspirators (1972), Conjugal Warfare (1975), and The Brazilwood Man (1981), with an additional eight short films included. There’s a definite educational component to this set unless you’re already familiar with De Andrade’s works, but its good to delve into something new once in a while. Even if that something new is old.
  • I Married Joan: Classic TV Collection #4 – I remember watching I Married Joan in reruns when I was a kid. Back in my day, as they say, before there were 500 channels to choose from we mostly just had old sitcom reruns on during the day during summer vacations. I Married Joan was never one of my favorites (mostly because it just wasn’t geared at young kids in the ‘80s) but it would do in a pinch. Now we have a new DVD collection that gives us 10 episodes of the show, and they’re fairly enjoyable in a nostalgic kind of way. I do wish, however, that rather than just slapping 10 episodes in a case, they would have put out a full season or series set. Still, it’s a budget priced release, so for a dose of nostalgia, this will work just fine for a few bucks.
  • Dark Money – This powerful full-length documentary follows the money trail; the untraceable money trail that influences American politics and elections. Part of the focus is on a group called Citizens United and the supreme court decision that allowed for the use of corporate funds to influence elections. That’s a simplification on my part, and the film does a good job of taking complex material and making it easily digestible, allowing you to see just how much money influences our daily world. It’s not a fun film to watch, but it is an important one.
  • Hollywood’s Best & Brightest – This collection of 30 short biographical programs features a veritable who’s who of some of the biggest legends and superstars in Hollywood. Each program runs about 25 minutes and gives an overview of the highlights of big, big Hollywood stars like Warren Beatty, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Julie Andrews, Kim Basinger, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Jodie Foster, Goldie Hawn, Angela Lansbury, Shirley MacLaine, Barbra Streisand, Kathleen Turner and Raquel Welch, among others. As a special bonus, each show is available digitally as well, and the set is budget-priced so you can find it for under 10 bucks if you look hard enough,
  • Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden – I appreciate the fact that movies like this are made. While I had no idea who Egon Schiele was before this, the movie paints a picture of an artistic force in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century who faced scandal and notoriety. That said, it is a two-hour film in German that literally is the definition of an ART-house movie, so it might not be for everyone. While I appreciate the goals of the film, I can’t say it was exactly my cup of tea. There are good performances here and it creates a compelling picture of its time period and location, but this is a film for a certain kind of audience.
  • La Madre, el Hijo, y la Abuela (Mother, Son and Grandmother) – This Spanish-language drama is an interesting film. Broken into three intertwined chapters, the film follows a young man returning to his hometown after its devastation by a volcano. There he meets a woman and her mother, and the three share a bond borne of tragedy. The narrative structure gives the movie a unique feel, and fans of foreign dramas will be entranced by this moving film.

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