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US Blu-ray and DVD releases: Crazy Rich Asians, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, Elf, Dog Days and more

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Crazy Rich Asians – Now, you may be wondering what all the hype about Crazy Rich Asians was for. Is it really THAT good of a film to have not only been a big hit, but also a film that everyone was talking about for a month straight? Well… yes and no. I mean, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It’s a funny, charming, romantic comedy with a great cast. But is it anything groundbreaking or completely original? No. But that doesn’t really matter. “This is a case of a film that’s really good that serves an under-served audience, and all audiences reacted in kind. The film is good enough that it would likely have been a hit regardless of the ethnicity of the main characters, but it’s nice to see some diversity in the film world, so it gets a thumbs up from me.

Kin – This is an interesting film. Co-starring Zoë Kravitz, James Franco, and Dennis Quaid but led by two relatively unknown actors, the film follows two brothers as they go on the run with a mysterious science-fitctiony weapon in their possession. To say more would spoil the fun, but it’s basically a sci-fi/road trip/action/family drama kind of film, which you don’t see every day. I liked the film overall, but it’s a bit uneven at times. It doesn’t seem to be quite sure if it wants to be made for a slightly younger audience or a full-blown adult audience. That said, though there are some cool action sequences, and the film feels different from anything we’ve seen recently, so that’s a plus.

Dances With Wolves – There’s been no shortage of home video releases of Dances With Wolves, but this new Steelbook Limited Edition from Shout Factory is the first one that’s really complete. It includes both the theatrical version and the extended Director’s Cut, both of which have been released before. BUT, here’s the thing: the theatrical version had never been released on Blu-ray before, only the extended version. (and it’s not like this is a short film to begin with.) Add to that a bevy of extra features and the slick steenbok packaging, and you’ve finally got a complete, worthy edition of a really terrific movie. I’m sold.

Urban Legend & Urban Legend: Final Cut – Courtesy of Scream Factory, we have new Blu-ray collector’s editions of two great slasher flicks from the late ’90s. I really love the first film especially; it’s one of the post-Scream self-aware horror flicks that combines a fun slasher storyline (people are being killed in the same ways as famous urban legends) with a familiar and likable cast, some humor, and a great soundtrack. The end result is a really fun slasher flick that’s always been highly underrated in my book. Then you have the sequel, Urban Legend: Final Cut, which is also enjoyable, if not as good as the original. Both films come in new editions on Blu-ray, and each is loaded with extra features, although the first film gets more love, with hours of extras and a nice slipcover with new artwork. Both of these are worth picking up, though.

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (Commemorative Edition) – This latest release from the direct-to-video DC Animated Universe is a re-release of a film that came out in 2015, timed to coincide with the Aquaman movie hitting theaters in just a couple of weeks. The film introduces Aquaman to the Justice League. It’s based on comic book superstar Geoff Johns’ graphic novel of the same name, and they couldn’t have picked a better source material. The story sees Aquaman discover who he is and try and bridge a peace between the surface world and Atlantis, which is being manipulated into war. Add in Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Cyborg, and you’ve got one heck of a fun ride. Plus, as usual, the disc is loaded with extra features, including four Aquaman-centric classic DC cartoons. Sweet! This release is also available in the premium 4K Ultra HD format, and it looks and sounds pretty spectacular, with amazing colors and deep, rich blacks, making the animation truly shine.

Elf: Buddy’s Sing & Cheer Along Edition – Warner Brothers will never run out of ways to revisit the hit Christmas movie starring Will Ferrell, and I’m mostly okay with that. At this point, Elf is a holiday tradition in our house, and nothing will change that. But it’s nice to get something new in the world of Buddy and his friends, even if it’s just a sing-along version of the film. (there’s also some animated “quote-along” moments, trivia bits, and more.) My biggest gripe is that the studio chose to release this only on DVD, which I’ll basically never watch a DVD on if a Blu-ray is available. Still, Elf is always worth watching because it’s the best, even in standard definition!

Dog Days – This cute, sweet, and saccharine romantic comedy features a number of different characters who find their lives affected by… you guessed it, dogs! (Does that make it a Dog-Com? I dunno.) The film has a terrific cast that includes Eva Longoria, Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Thomas Lennon, Adam Pally, Finn Wolfhard, and Ron Cephas Jones, and while the human characters are a little cookie cutter, the intertwining storylines combined with the cute dogs make the film pretty easy to watch. And with a tame PG rating, it’s perfect to watch with the family, if the family includes, say, an 11-year-old girl who is obsessed with Hallmark Christmas movies. I’m just saying, that’s one example, I don’t know where I got it from. Since I also like Hallmark Christmas movies, I enjoyed this very predictable dog-themed romance flick.

The Critters Collection – The Critters movies are the epitome of horror/creature flicks from the ‘80s: cheesy, low-budget, fun movies that offer a series of diminishing returns. In these flicks, the critters — little fur ball alien monsters that eat everything in sight — go up against humans (and alien hunters) and mayhem ensues. They’re not great movies, but they’re a lot of fun if you grew up in the 80s, and they have pretty good casts. A pre-fame Leonardo DiCaprio headlines Critters 3, while the other films include familiar faces such as Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett, Scott Grimes, Dee Wallace, and Billy Zane, among others. This box set from Scream Factory includes all four films on four Blu-rays, and each comes with a litany of extra features as well. This is a great collections for fans of the franchise or cheesy ‘80s flicks in general.

Succession: The Complete First Season – HBO rarely makes out-and-out bad television, and while Succession certainly isn’t what I would consider bad television, it’s not a show I really like, either. Well-acted and well-written, the film follows a Rupert Murdoch like corporate magnate and his four children who are in varying degrees of jockeying for his power when he passes away. While the cast is terrific (featuring Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, and Matthew MacFadyen) it’s hard for me to really find much common ground with characters who are so rich they can’t even count their money. This show is like an HBO version of Dynasty, which I’m sure there’s an audience form, I’m just not it.

Also Available on Home Video This Week:

  • Memories of Me – Quick! Name a Billy Crystal movie that everyone on the planet has forgotten even exists! If you said Memories of Me, well, then you guessed right. This newest release from MVD’s Marquee Collection is a perfect example of what the studio line does so well; take movies that most people have forgotten (but probably still have fans) and release them on Blu-ray. This early ‘90s comedy starring Crystal and Alan King is about a New York Doctor and his father (a professional movie extra) who just don’t get along, but try to find a way to reconcile. It’s funny enough, in that early-90s kind of way, and Crystal and King play off each other well. This is the film’s Blu-ray debut, and I’m sure there are some people out there who remember this film and have been waiting for a roper release. Well, now they have it.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – This five-hour miniseries is the latest adaptation of the popular Australian novel about a group of girls and their governess at the turn of the century. Starring a terrific cast that includes Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Don Hany, Samara Weaving, Anna McGahan, and Yael Stone, this expanded telling of the story is a dark and intense version of a tale that has been told on paper and film, and it’s quite good. The story is intriguing, the performances are excellent, and the running time — while long — isn’t over the top. Recommended if you’re a fan of the source material, and even if you aren’t.
  • Jack Irish: Season 2 – Guy Pearce stars in Jack Irish, a fierce Australian-set crime drama based on Australian writer Peter Temple’s award-winning novels. The show sees Jack, a lawyer who is grieving after the murder of his wife, become a sort of investigator-for-hire, fighting not only bad guys but his demons, often with a bottle of liquor to aid him. It’s dark and well-written, but of course the real star here is Guy Pearce, who is utterly terrific in the lead role. Worth a watch if you’re in the mood for something gritty and gripping.
  • Skate Kitchen – While Jaden Smith is the “name” actor in this indie drama, don’t let that dissuade you from watching as he’s more of a supporting player. The real star is Kabrina Adams who plays a teenage girl who falls in with a girls group of skateboard kids and tries to find her way as a girl in a male-dominated world. The film has a documentary feel (although it’s a fictional narrative) and it also features a lot of real characters, real skateboarding, and a low-fi feel that fits it quite well. I won’t be surprised if it draws some comparisons to Jonah Hill’s mid90s, even if they’re distinctly different films.
  • MDMA – Written and directed by Angie Wang (and based on the events of her own life) MDMA stars Francesca Eastwood, Elisa Donovan, and Yetide Badaki and tells the story of a college girl who gets her financial aid cut off and starts using the school’s science lab to manufacture ecstasy, which she sells to pay her tuition. Yes, it sounds a little Breaking Bad-esque, but tonally the film couldn’t be more different from the hit TV show. Annie Q. And Francesca Eastwood (daughter of Clint) shine I their roles, but the film can be a bit uneven, sometimes exciting and moving, other times cliched or slow-moving. Still, overall, it’s a pretty impressive film debut for Wang and the cast elevates the material.
  • The Woman in White – Jessie Buckley and Ben Hardy headline a cast that also includes Dougray Scott and Charles Dance in this PBS adaptation of the novel by Wilkie Collins. This adaptation is a miniseries, which allows it to expand on the previous versions and hew closer to the novel, from what I understand (I have not read the book myself.) The story sees a wealthy man come across a ghostly woman who turns out to have escaped from a mental asylum; not exactly the cream of society back in the gothic era in which the film takes place. The cast is in fine form and the miniseries is pretty good overall, if a little long for my tastes. Fans of the book, however, would be thrilled to have a faithful adaptation.
  • D.O.A., Gun Shy, High Heels and Low Lifes, It’s Pat: The Movie, Kazaam – Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line has a number of great fan favorites hitting Blu-ray (many for the first time) this week. Up first we have D.O.A., the 1988 remake of the classic film noir starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. While the film wasn’t a hit in theaters, it marks one of the few onscreen pairings of the then-married couple, and it’s a film I have a real soft spot for. I love the central mystery of a man trying to solve his own murder when he finds out he’s been poisoned and has a short time to live. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. Gun Shy is a mixed-bag dramedy that stars Liam Neeson, Sandra Bullock, and Oliver Platt, at a time when all of them were less of a box office draw than they are now. The film follows an undercover cop who becomes afraid of violence and needs his therapist’s help to overcome his issues and bring down a mobster. There are some fun moments in the film, but it’s a bit uneven, although Neeson and Bullock make it worth watching. High Heels and Low Lifes is a terrific crime-comedy flick that I discovered when I reviewed it back in 2001. The film stars Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack, and while it’s clearly trying to do a female-led Tarantino-esque kind of thing, it’s also a lot of fun. It’s a little seen film that I hope more people discover. Then you have It’s Pat: The Movie. Based on the Saturday Night Live sketch from the ‘90s (which was such a great sketch), the film suffers from the same fate as a lot of SNL movies: it doesn’t work as well as an 80-minute feature as a four-minute sketch. Still, there’s something nostalgic about Pat, so I enjoyed revisiting him/her, even if it isn’t really a great movie. And finally, we have Kazaam, a box office stinker starring Shaquille O’Neal as a genie. If you’re not sure why the film bombed at the box office, go back and re-read that last sentence. Still, while I’m not a huge fan of the film (admittedly this was my first time watching it), I can imagine there are a lot of people who were kids in the ‘90s that have fond memories of this one who will be happy to see on Blu-ray.
  • Elizabeth I and her Enemies – This feature-length “docudrama” film brings to life the events that shaped Elizabeth I in a way that plays out like it could easily air on The History Channel, but also like you could see it in a movie theater. Lily Cole shines in the lead role, and this is no cake walk of a role, either, as she has to deal with rebellions, treason, assassination attempts, and much more (all in just two hours!) It fits in that running time because this isn’t a full biopic of Elizabeth, focusing mostly on her enemies (as the title implies) and the plots against her. The film features both narration and dramatizations, which may work more for some people than others, but I found it an interesting film overall.
  • Agony – This is one of those films where I can’t say much about it for fear of spoiling the story, but suffice it to say that it focuses on two young men, one of who is almost certainly a disturbed killer. But which one? Well, that’s what the film reveals, but not before it makes you question the motives and inner workings of each character. The film is an indie and it looks it, but the performances by Samuel Schneider and Alexander Srtschin make the material feel more weighty than it is. Worth a look if you’re into indie dramas with a suspenseful flavor.
  • Crackdown: Big City Blues – This 1990 docudrama about the crack epidemic makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of The Film Detective, a niche line of releases that specializes in some of the cult-iest of cult films. The film was produced by Berry Gordy and written and directed by independent filmmakers was written and produced by Paul DeSilva and Frazier Prince, the latter a retired police officer who served as a “20-year veteran narcotics detective with the NYPD and the key liaison and technical advisor to Fox’s Americas Most Wanted for more than ten years.” While the film is dated now, it also offers a gritty snapshot into the drug culture of there late 1980s, and there’s an authenticity there that can’t be replicated. Flawed, but intriguing.

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