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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Fighting With My Family, Happy Death Day 2U, Apollo 11, Backdraft 2 and more

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Fighting with My Family – We’re almost halfway through the year, and Fighting With My Family remains one of my three favorite films of 12019 so far. I have no doubt this will be in my Top 10 at the end of the year, maybe even my Top 5, depending on what the rest of the year has to offer. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant (a great comedic talent in his own right), the film is a biopic about Paige, one of the WWE’s biggest female stars. Now, here’s the thing: I know some of you reading this aren’t into wrestling, and that’s okay; neither am I. Neither is my mother or daughter, for that matter, and both of them loved this movie when we saw it in theaters. It’s not about wrestling; it’s about family and perseverance and talent and desire. And on top of all that, it’s incredibly funny, more than a little heartwarming, and it’s a feel-good movie through and through. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Happy Death Day 2U – I loved the first Happy Death Day. Taking the Groundhog Day concept and applying it to a slasher film was a lot of fun and it worked really well, even if I figured out who the killer was way too early. And while the film didn’t necessarily need a sequel, I can’t argue that it’s still a lot of fun a second time around. Instead of picking a new character to follow or having her go through a second repeat day, this time college student Tree finds herself back in the original day, only this time, it’s not her that’s the target, but everyone around her. It’s a clever twist on the first film and it allows for some great meta humor and some really fun moments. It might not be quite as fresh as the first one, but it’s still a really good time.

Apollo 11 – At its core, Apollo 11 is a documentary about the NASA mission that first landed men on the moon. But saying that it’s JUST a documentary about the moon landing is like saying Titanic is JUST a movie about a boat. Instead, Apollo 11 pulls from a treasure trove of newly discovered video and audio footage (literally thousands of hours worth) that has never been seen before to recreate the moon landing mission in a way we’ve never before experienced. And yet, with all that material, what could have become a tedious or overlong film is instead a tight 90-minute movie that feels at times like an adventure film more than a doc. This is THE space documentary of the decade.

Backdraft 2 – I’ve never been a fan of the whole “direct-to-video sequels to legacy films” thing because more often than not, the new films have nothing to do with the old films at all, they just have the name slapped on to try and generate some extra cash. Backdraft 2, while dropping some 28 years after the original, is actually more of a real sequel than 99% of the other ones we get. The story follows Sean McCaffrey, now-grown son of firefighter Stephen McCaffrey (played by Kurt Russell in the original film). Sean is an arson investigator who gets caught up investigating a pretty big scheme involving several buildings, a government cover-up, and more than a few victims. William Baldwin reprises his role as Brian McCaffrey, and Kurt Russell’s character looms large, even though he only appears in a photograph. Joe Anderson, a highly underrated actor who I like quite a bit, is perfectly good in the lead role, but the film just never feels like there was a real reason for it to get made. The story isn’t that essential, and while I’m glad it ties into the original, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of weight to it. It’s an easy way to kill 90 minutes, but sadly it’s ultimately nothing special.

Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition – I’ve always wanted to like Studio Ghibli’s slate of critically acclaimed and well-loved films, but for some reason, they’ve just never done anything for me. I realize these are fantasy movies, but Miyazaki’s worlds are always populated by such oddball creatures and weird concepts that — for me, anyway — it always takes away from the central story. Now, we have a brand new Collector’s Edition re-release of Princess Mononoke, one of the studio’s most popular and successful films. It includes the movie on Blu-ray with all the extra features from the previous release, but it comes in bigger-than-the-standard-case package that includes a collectible book and a copy of the film’s soundtrack on CD. It’s not something I personally am excited about, but fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli will really enjoy this one.

Also Available This Week on Home Video –

  • Bonanza: The Official Ninth Season, Volumes One & Two – Just four short years after the last release (slow down, CBS!), this new two-volume set continues the release of this popular western on DVD. These two volumes collect the entire eighth season. Watch Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe help Ben Cartwright battle cattle thieves and old west injustice in all of its original glory. This set once again comes loaded with extra features including commentary tracks (including one with guest star Wayne Newton!), vintage featurettes and promos, and interviews. If you’re a fan, this is a terrific release as usual. It’s just too bad that at the rate CBS is putting them out, you won’t be able to finish your collection until sometime around 2046.
  • The Donna Reed Show: Seasons 1-5 – Even though I’m not entirely sure what to make of this box set, let me first say that it’s a terrific collection overall. All 186 episodes included from seasons 1-5 appear in their complete and unedited form, and they’ve also been remastered. What I don’t quite get is the timing and format of the release. This box set collects the first five seasons of the show in their entirety. Which is great, except the show ran for eight seasons, so why release what looks at first glance like a “complete series” set that isn’t actually complete? Is this a rights issue (where maybe MPI Home Video doesn’t own the rights to the last three seasons) or is it just MPI being impatient and trying to grab some cash now (but if that’s the case, why not wait until Christmastime, when box sets traditionally sell better?) Those questions aside, this box set is great for fans, and in addition to guest stars like Cloris Leachman, Buster Keaton, John Astin, Ted Knight, and Esther Williams, the box set also includes a nice collection of extra features that include new featurettes & interviews with cast members, vintage promos and commercials, interviews, song outtakes, and much more. It’s a great package, just be aware that there are three more seasons out there waiting for a home video release.
  • American Exit – Comedian (and sometime actor) Dane Cook takes on a dramatic role in the drama/thriller American Exit, about a man on the run with his estranged teenage son (the always terrific Levi Miller). Complicating matters is the fact that the person after them is a Real Bad Guy, played with understated menace by Udo Kier. Now, I like Dane Cook, and while he’s actually quite serviceable I the lead role, it’s not like he’s exactly in the contention for winning an Oscar anytime soon. The film itself is okay; it has some good, tense moments and some slower moments. There are parts of a good movie in here, but it’s not all put together exactly how you’d like it.
  • Valentine: The Dark Avenger – This Indonesian superhero film (that’s in English) sees a female Batman-esque vigilante who starts off as a stunt for YouTube views and ends up becoming a real crimefighter. While not a perfect film (the writing isn’t the greatest), the film has its heart in the right place. I like that the superhero is a female instead of a more traditional male character, the visuals and the costume look pretty good, and there are some nice action sequences. The lower-budget shows occasionally, and there are some forced moments of humor that don’t quite work, but hey, I’ve seen worse superhero movies from major studios, so it’s hard to fault this one for that. Worth a watch if you want something comic book-y but different. Or at least while you wait for the home video release of Avengers: Endgame so you can watch it for the 17th time.
  • Life Like – An incredibly flawed film (with an outstandingly WTF twist), Life Like stars Drew Van Acker and Addison Timlin as a husband and wife who inherit a fortune and a business, so of course they hire a robot butler. And, of course, you know what happens when you hire a robot butler: things go wrong. In this case, it looks as though there may be feelings developing between said robot butler and said wife, which, of course, should be impossible. But don’t forget about that twist! There’s a sort of delirious glee to Life Like which is sadly hampered by the fact that — up until the twist — the film is rather uninteresting. Yes, the ending gets interesting, but that doesn’t make up for the poor first half of the film, despite a likeable cast.
  • Link – Following the theme of “Butlers Gone Wrong,” Link is a slasher thriller with a twist: the killer is an ape. (And yes, this movie has a chimpanzee butler in it, so it fits my theme.) A young Elizabeth Shue stars here alongside Terence Stamp as we see a young graduate student assisting an oddball zoology professor (who do you think has the chimp butler?) with a couple of brilliant monkeys in the house. Cue mayhem, murder, and money business! Plus Eliabeth Shue getting stalked by a killer chimp. Yes, it’s silly, but it’s also the right amount of fun, and this release marks the first time the film has been available on Blu-ray, and as a bonus it comes with a nice collection of extra features as well.
  • Becoming Evil: Serial Killers – This two-disc, seven-episode series from Mill Creek is a new documentary about serial killers, which should perk the ears up of any of the legion of true crime fans that are out there. Offering up a general overview of serial killers as well as profiles of notorious serials such as John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Aileen Wuornos, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy, among others, the show is factual yet chilling. Each episode is just under an hour, and while it’s nothing that you can’t get elsewhere, it’s a nice way to take a deep dive into one of the more chilling aspects of society at large.
  • Catalog Spotlight – There are a number of great catalog re-releases this week. The first come from Mill Creek, who specialize in affordable catalog titles. First up is John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, which is released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. I’m a huge John Carpenter fan, and even though this is one of his later works and doesn’t reach the heights of his classics like Halloween or The Thing, it’s still a lot of fun and it has a great cast. The second title released this week with the word “Mars” in the title is Eyes of Laura Mars, a thriller starring Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Irving Kershner (best known for directing The Empire Strikes Back). It’s a tense and effective thriller about a photographer who seems to see killings in her mind’s eye and the detective who tries to help her and stop the murders. I’ve heard of this film but never seen it before and I quite enjoyed it. I also believe this may be the U.S Blu-ray debut of the film, which is cool. The final Mill Creek release is Anaconda. Now, I love this movie; it’s a terrific B-movie creature feature with a terrific cast. But I think Mill Creek has released it about 27 times already. SO yes, it’s the first time they’ve done it as a Blu-ray/DVD combo, but still. Next up, we have four catalog titles from MVD Video. First up is The Big White on Blu-ray, a Coen-Brothers-Esque comedy starring Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Woody Harrelson, and Giovanni Ribisi, among others. It’s a fun little movie that I had never seen before and has some nice thriller aspects to it as well. Next up is a Blu-ray release of Artie Lange’s Beer League, a crass comedy that aims low and hits even lower. It’s one of those movies that you laugh while you’re watching it, even as you recognize that it’s not particularly good. Next we have the action/drama Boogie Boy, part of MVD’s top notch Rewind Collection, which also marks the film’s Blu-ray debut. The cast includes Marc Dacascos, Joan Jett, Michael Pena, and Traci Lords, and it definitely has that late-‘90s post-Pulp Fiction feel to it. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course The disc also comes with a nice selection of new extra features. Finally, we have Mortuary on Blu-ray, a 2005 horror film from Tobe Hooper. Now, I’ve discovered over the years that Tobe Hooper is actually kind of a terrible director, who just happened to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and become a horror legend. The bottom line here is that this is not a great flick, so only die-hard fans should watch out for it.
  • PBS Spotlight – PBS has several new releases out this week, mostly documentaries, but with one kids’ title thrown in for good measure. First up is Henry IX: The Lost King, an hour-long profile of Henry Fredrick Stuart, who would go on to become one of the major figures in England’s Stuart Dynasty. I was mostly familiar with the Stuarts from watching Outlander, so it was nicer to get some real world historical perspective on the true stories. Next up is Best of The World’s Greatest, which gives us six episodes of The World’s Greatest, exploring everything from lost cities to volcanoes to coral islands. Per usual, it’s typically immersive PBS programming, with some incredible views, fascinating subjects, and entertaining educational material. The Nero Files is a new episode of Secrets of the Dead, focusing on the legendary Roman Emperor. Interestingly, they bring in a criminal psychologist to study the man who burned Rome to the ground and committed several murders. While this is an hour-long special, it could easily have been longer. Korea: The Neverending War is a two-hour documentary on the legacy of Korea, the Korean War, the aftermath of the war, the split between North and South Korea, and the countries’ places in the world today. Important and serious stuff, but also quite interesting. Finally, on a lighter note, from PBS Kids we have Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Won’t You Be Our Neighbor? Rather than the usual collection of episodes, this release is more of a Daniel Tiger movie, running 102 minutes and having a story that runs throughout. All of your favorite Daniel Tiger characters appear, and kids who are ready for something a little heftier than the usual short episodes will eat this up.
  • Independent Spotlight – We have a number of new independent releases this week from various studios. First up is Nina, a big foreign film festival winner from Poland. It’s a story about two women whose relationship becomes romantic, which causes problems in their existing relationships and social circles. The performances are very strong, but the film clocks in at over two hours, which makes it a bit overwrought for my tastes. Still, it’s a quality flick, and the awards it’s won overseas bear that out. Next up is Kiss Kiss, which most assuredly will not be winning any awards. This B-movie (although even that’s being generous) is about a group of girlfriends forced to fight each other to the death. Oh yeah, and it co-stars Robert Wagner, but not THE Robert Wagner, so be aware of that of you think it must be decent because he’s in it. Next up is Moses the Lawgiver, which is a TV miniseries from 1974 that stars Burt Lancaster as Moses. It runs five hours and covers most of the big events in Moses’ life, all filmed in the deserts of Israel and Morocco. I don’t go for biblical stuff much and it’s easy to see this is from the ‘70s, but Lancaster gives a strong performance and it takes its subject matter seriously. Surviving Birkenau: The Susan Spatz Story is a dramatic and at times terrifying gut-wrenching documentary about Susan Spatz, a woman born in 1922 who survived three years at one of the most infamous Nazi Concentration Camps. We hear from Spatz herself, which is what gives the film its immediacy and potency. The Shape of Now is a heady documentary that looks at war, how different people see it, and how it is recorded from different memories and points of view It’s a lot to cram into its 72-minute running time, and I feel like people interested in more intellectual pursuits will take more away from it than I did. Bosch: The Garden of Dreams tackles legendary painter Hieronymus Bosch’s famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, with newly unfettered access to the painting itself. This is a fascinating piece of art, and this 90-minute film delves into its history, the theories about it, and much more, all shared through talking-head interviews as well as a more detailed examination of the physical painting itself. Interesting stuff. Joe Louis Walker: Viva Las Vegas Live is a music release from MVD, offering up a 2-disc CD/DVD combo of the bluesman’s signature guitar-based blues music. Bonus features include an interview with Walker as well. I can’t say I’m a fan of blues music in general, but fans of his will definitely want this terrific live release. Finally, Banjos, Bluegrass & Squirrel Barkers is a short documentary (just 48 minutes) about the San Diego bluegrass scene, where many of the genre’s most notable musicians hailed from. Once again, not really an area of music I gravitate to, but fans of bluegrass will likely find some value here.

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