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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Vice, On The Basis Of Sex, Holmes and Watson, Project Blue Book and more

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Vice – Did the world need a Dick Cheney movie? I don’t know for sure, but I’m glad that — if we did — this was the Dick Cheney movie we got. Written and directed by Adam McKay, who’s really come into his own as a filmmaker, Vice got most of its notoriety for the fact that Christian Bale (under heavy make-up) was playing former Vice President Dick Cheney. What got lost in all that talk about how unrecognizable Bale was is the fact that Vice is also a really good movie. It’s got a good sensibility, slick editing, and wry political statements, but it also has terrific performances, a strong central biopic story, and some impressive visuals, more than you’d expect from a film like this. While Bale does the heaviest lifting, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Guy Rockwell, and Jesse Plemons all deserve co-MVP awards for their terrific roles as well. Even if you’re not interested in politics or are a fan of Cheney (and I think it’s safe to say not a lot of people are), this is a terrific film that’s worth watching.

On the Basis of Sex – Speaking of biopics with terrific central performances, On the Basis of Sex — despite what sounds like a titillating title at first (hint: it’s not) — is a sharp, smart film that brings the early life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the screen. Felicity Jones shines in the role, playing a young Ginsburgh as she strives for equal rights for women, despite facing an uphill battle every step of the way. As with most biopics, I’m sure there are some liberties taken and some truths stretched, but by and large, it’s an enjoyable film about an incredibly important figure in American history. Definitely worth a watch.

Holmes & Watson – Okay, so all I heard about Holmes & Watson upon its release was how bad it was. Critics savaged it, audiences scored it low, and word on the street was that the film was nigh unwatchable. And while I’ll admit that it is far from an intelligent or clever film, I was pleasantly surprised to see it’s not anywhere near as bad as people make it out to be. Yes, Will Ferrell does pretty much what he always does, but John C. Reilly really steals the show as Watson. There are some funny one-liners and physical gags (and there are also some awful ones) and the plot is almost an afterthought. I’m not saying this is a comedy classic or anything, but really, I’ve seen much, much worse movies than this. I laughed more than I expected to, and that makes it okay in my book.

Man on a Ledge 4K – It’s a shame that Man on a Ledge came out when it did. If this movie had been released in the ‘90s, I bet it would have been a big hit. Unfortunately, it came out in 2012, and by that time, ensemble suspense auctioneers like this just weren’t generating much heat at the box office. It’s a bit high concept: a falsely accused cop (Sam Worthington) stages a suicide drama atop a tall New York skyline building so he can distract people from someone trying to find evidence of his innocence. But with a supporting cast that includes Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harries, and Ed Burns, the film is an easy watch that moves quickly and is pretty entertaining. This new 4K Ultra HD release marks the film’s debut in the new premium format. It’s a nice upgrade — with good clarity and deeper colors — but it’s not the kind of film that explodes with visual fireworks just because it’s in Ultra HD. Still, it’s worth a look, especially in 4K, if you’ve never watched it before.

Project Blue Book – It’s no surprise that History Channel’s Project Blue Book scripted series is pretty darn good; it’s from the mind of Robert Zemeckis, after all, the director who’s brought us so many great movies including Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away, Forrest Gump, and so many others. This series starring Aiden Gillen and Neil McDonough takes a look at real-life documented UFO cases and tells them in a dramatized manner. The end result, while not perfect, is pretty entertaining, and the 10 episode format allows it to be exciting without going on too long.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Ray Donovan: The Sixth Season – I really want to like Ray Donovan. I’m a big fan of Liev Schreiber, and the concept of a Hollywood-based “fixer” seems interesting enough. And it’s not like I dislike the show, I just wish it was better. Schreiber is intense and charismatic in the lead role, but the show as a whole just has a “feel” that isn’t for me. And I’ve never really liked John Voight, so even with him playing Donovan’s dad here, I don’t really enjoy watching him. This is one of those shows that people definitely like, but it’s not quite my cup of tea.
  • Golden Job – It’s not often that you plan a heist of a truck and get upset when you find out it’s carrying a huge supply of gold on it, but that’s what happens in Golden Job, the latest Asian action flick on Blu-ray from Well Go USA. “Why would anyone be mad about that?” you might ask. Well, when you’re expecting to find a trunkful of pharmaceuticals for an African village in need, I guess I can see why it’s a problem (although you’d think with all that gold, they could just buy the drugs, no?) Still, Golden Job is a pretty solid action/heist flick with some good action sequences and a perfect running time. A good one for when nothing else is catching your eye.
  • The Great Buster – This fantastic documentary focuses on one of the pioneers of comedy in film: Buster Keaton. This Cannes award-winning documentary features not only interviews with comedy superstars and filmmakers like Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, Dick Van Dyke Carl Reiner, Cybill Shepard, Leonard Maltin, and Johnny Knoxville, but it also features a wealth of clips and scenes from Keaton’s movies. For me, Buster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, represent the apex of classic comedy, so I was thrilled to see such a well-crafted documentary on such a worthy subject.
  • We Die Young – It’s not that I think Jean Claude Van Damme can’t make good films anymore, it’s just that he so often seems not to. Admittedly, the offers he gets nowadays probably aren’t all A-list projects, but I wish he’d sometimes hold out for slightly better movies. We Die Young is such a typical direct-to-video action flick that it feels like we’ve seen it a million times before. It’s got gangs and slums and drugs and guns and gangbangers and Van Damme occasionally kicking someone’s ass. It’s not utterly awful, but it’s just tired at this point.
  • The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires – How do you describe with a tag line like “Black belt versus black magic”? I don’t know that you can. Peter Cushing stars as Van Helsing in this ‘70s era B-movie treat (It was originally released in the US under the title The Brothers Meet Dracula.) Hammer Films specialized in lower-budget but memorable horror offerings, and this one fits the bill to a T. This first Blu-ray release for the film includes a number of extra features, including new interviews and a commentary track, making it a perfect release for fans of the film or the genre.
  • Enigma – This little-seen 1982 suspense film makes its debut on Blu-ray this week (and it might even be the film’s home video debut, at least on disc). It’s a little surprising that this film is so completely forgotten by the public at large considering it boasts an impressive cast that includes Martin Sheen, Sam Neill, and Derek Jacobi. It was also directed by Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2, Supergirl). The film is a spy thriller focused around a code-breaking machine and impending assassinations of Soviet dissidents, so it’s pretty squarely an ‘80s production, but it’s actually not a bad film. It’s not brilliant, but the strong cast keeps it afloat. An interesting curiosity that’s been long forgotten.
  • Mrs. Wilson – Ruth Wilson plays the title role (which I imagine she didn’t get simply because she shares a last name with the character) in this interesting mystery/drama from PBS and Masterpiece. Based on a true story, this three episode series also stays Iain Glen, Fiona Shaw, and Keeley Hawes, and it tells the story of a 1960s widow who discovers that her husband had a secret life. The show’s a bit of a slow burn; this isn’t an action-packed affair, but the performances and the central mystery will keep you watching through the end, especially since it’s just three episodes.
  • Cam Girl – Italian director Mirca Viola is a former Miss Italy turned model-actress and now director, and for her new feature film, she turns her lens towards, well, other lenses. This steamy drama has plenty of sultry scenes (it is about a woman and her friends who start a webcam business, after all), but there’s also a real story dealing with the business side of webcam girls as well as creepy clients who might want to get a little too close to the girls. In all, it’s an intriguing mix of steaminess and suspense, so it’s worth a watch, so long as you don’t mind Italian subtitles.
  • The Aspern Papers – Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Vanessa Redgrave, and Joely Richardson star in this slow-moving drama based on a Henry James book. Redgrave and Richardson are terrific, but Rhys Meyers’ performance seems… off somehow. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but he just doesn’t work for me in the lead role. He plays a man obsessed with tracking down the letters of a poet, which just doesn’t make for the most interesting story for me. Fans of art-house lovers and moody melodramas might enjoy this film, but it wasn’t a hit for me.
  • Hal, Columbus, On Her Shoulders – Oscilloscope has three new independent film releases out on Blu-ray this week. First and foremost is Hal, a sharp biography about Hal Ashby, the director who made such beloved films as Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Coming Home, and Being There, yet whose name has faded from the public consciousness of many film lovers. The film details Ashby’s life and works through a number of different mediums, and the result is a loving tribute to a talented director. Next up is Columbus, which stars John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson (currently giving a masterful performance in theatres with Five Feet Apart). Filmed in its namesake of Columbus, Indiana, this is a small movie about a small town, and it’s really about characters connecting and dealing with circumstances beyond their control, their hopes and dreams, and what it’s like to be bound by family and tradition. Great performances from both Richardson and Cho elevate the material here. Finally, we have On Her Shoulders is a tough documentary by Alexandria Bombach about Nadia Murad, a woman who survived genocide of the Yazidis Iraq and escaped ISIS, and who fights before the UN and gives empowering speeches, among other things. I’m all for films that show the difference a single person can make, so this is an important release.
  • Matriarch – It’s bad enough when your car breaks down and you’re forced to find refuge with a pair of unfriendly people in their farmhouse. It’s even worse when you realize their daughter is not what she seems. But then to go into labor on top of all of that? Well, then you’re officially having a bad day. That’s the basic set up of Matriarch, an indy horror film that stars mostly unknowns. It isn’t the most original film in the world nor is it the best, but there’s a scrappy energy to it that gives it an edge, and the tension that ratchets throughout it is palpable.
  • At the Drive-In – As a movie lover, I was pre-disposed to enjoying this documentary about one of the last drive-in theatres in America. (Yes, I know they are still around, but it is definitely a dying breed.) The Mahoning Drive-in is effectively run by fans and people who grew up watching movies there, and they face a crisis involving money and digital cinema. The film follows them as they new ways to keep their beloved drive-in theatre open, and anyone who’s spent a summer night watching a big screen in their car will find something to like here.
  • PAW Patrol: Ultimate Rescue – This is the newest DVD release of the popular Nickelodeon 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. This disc gives you five full episodes and runs a little over an hour and a half. 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.

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