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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Isn’t It Romantic, Greta, Trading Paint, To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar and more

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Isn’t It Romantic – On the one hand, I’m a little surprised that Isn’t It Romantic didn’t fare better at the box office, and on the other hand, I’m not entirely surprised by it, either. I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. Rebel Wilson plays a cynical woman who finds herself trapped in a romantic comedy, complete with all the tropes, songs, and life lessons that accompany it. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this concept, and everyone involved is game to quip, dance, and sing when called for. But I also can see that people might not have wanted to shell out big screen bucks for the film, partly because you don’t know if it’s one of those films that delivers all its laughs in the trailer. I’m happy to report that that isn’t the case, and while it isn’t a particularly deep or complicated film, it is a really fun way to kill 90 minutes.

Greta – Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz star in this incredibly tense thriller from director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With The Vampire). Chloe Grace Moretz plays a naïve young woman who befriends a lonely older woman. However, it soon becomes apparent that the titular Greta may be harboring an obsession that borders on unhealthy. The film has the signature Neil Jordan feel: heavy on atmosphere and character, deliberate pacing, and a tension that rises throughout. The film starts a bit slowly, but once it becomes clear that things aren’t entirely kosher, the suspense increases constantly. Moretz gives a terrific performance, while Huppert is transcendent in her role and brings a quality to it that few other actresses could have pulled off. I wasn’t burning with desire to see this movie but I’m really glad I did, as it is quite the exciting and intense thriller with a couple of real “Holy crap!” moments. Definitely worth tracking down.

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar – It’s funny to look back on To Wong Foo all these years later. Here we have two male actors known for their traditionally macho roles in Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes, along with a comedic sidekick in John Leguizamo, all dressing up in drag for a road trip movie. Of course, the real fun begins when their car breaks down in a small town, but it’s impressive to see these action movie stars taking on roles like these and throwing themselves into them with relish. Patrick Swayze, in particular, gives a top-notch performance, highlighting what a loss it was when he died way too young. This new Blu-ray release of the film from Shout Factory includes a nice collection of extra features, making it a must-have for fans of the film.

Trading Paint – It seems like there’s a bit of a trend of later career actors starring in race car movies (think Sylvester Stallone in Driven or Steve McQueen in LeMans) and John Travolta is the latest actor to do so. Trading Paint sees Travolta as a run-down racer who was once a legend who gets drawn back in when his estranged son begins racing for a rival crew. Cue the father/son fireworks, some intense racing sequences, and a decent amount of melodrama. I still think Travolta has a little gas left in his tank (pun very much intended) and while this isn’t a role that will win him an Oscar or anything, it’s a decent film that’s easily watchable.

Trial & Retribution: The Complete Series – This incredible 18-disc box set includes the complete run of Trial & Retribution, and incredibly strong British crime drama. While British TV has no shortage of crime procedurals and dramas, what sets T&R apart is that each feature-length episode gives us a mystery that starts at the scene of the crime and runs all the way through the trial and the verdict. It’s basically like getting 22 movies in one box set, except this one has recurring characters as well as an amazing slate of guest stars that includes Rosamund Pike, Michael Fassbender, Iain Glen, Hugh Dancy, and many others. You also get a couple of hours’ worth of bonus features, so while this may not be a show you’ve heard that much about, you can rest assured that it’s easily worth the price.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • When A Stranger Calls Back – Carol Kane and Charles Durning star in this sequel to the cult classic When A Stranger Calls, making its debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory. This film is a direct sequel to the original, with a returning director and returning stars, which is something of a rarity considering that it was released 14 years after the original and debuted as a TV movie sequel to a theatrical release. Perhaps because of its theatrical origins, the film fares better than some direct-to-TV thrillers of the era do, and it makes for an enjoyable watch. Plus, Shout Factory always includes some nice extra features, and this release is no different, which makes for a nice bonus.
  • South Park: The Complete Twenty-Second Season – I’ve never been a big South Park fan (Season 22 is out on Blu-ray and DVD this week. 22 Seasons… Holy cow!!), but I always give it a try when it comes out on DVD (or in this case, Blu-ray) to see what I’ve been missing. Everyone goes on about how great their parodies are, but I’ve never found the show that funny. And, well, I still don’t. They get their parodies on the air quick, but the show is still mostly just construction paper-looking cutouts of kids swearing. Yay. I may not get this show, but fans will be happy to have another season’s worth of episodes to revisit. And hey, I guess that’s a good thing. Relatively.
  • Blood: Series 1 – Another British crime drama, this one follows a woman named Cat Hogan who returns to the small town she came from in the wake of her mother’s death. Of course, as these things tend to go, some things don’t add up and Cat begins to suspect her father, a well-respected physician. Carolina Main is striking in the lead role and Adrian Dunbar is also terrific as her father The show has gotten a lot of comparisons to other hit crime thrillers, but one I haven’t seen is to Sharp Objects, the excellent Gillian Flynn novel (and somewhat less excellent HBO miniseries), to which I feel there’s a spiritual connection to Blood. Available on Blu-ray and DVD, this new release from Acorn is worth checking out.
  • Ruben Brandt, Collector – It’s hard to describe this movie, but if I had to give it a go I’d peg it as an animated psychodrama with surreal overtones, all wrapped in an arthouse film that’s masquerading as a mystery. Yes, this movie is animated, but not in a tradition style. In fact, the animation mirrors the unnatural styles of many famous paintings, which just so happen to be what are being stolen in the heist parts of the film. There’s a psychological component to the film, and the end result is quite exhilarating, but it’s a challenging watch at times. Overall, I enjoyed it, but be wary of glowing reviews, as this is the kind of movie that critics are bred to love. I don’t know that that will automatically translate to Joe Moviegoer finding it quite as interesting.
  • Boom! – Shout Factory brings us the Blu-ray debut of this somewhat forgotten melodrama starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Based on a Tennessee Williams play, Taylor stars as the wealthiest woman in the world who retires to her private retreat, while Burton plays a poet who notoriously romances elderly wealthy women. Apparently the film was a notorious bomb upon its release and has since become a cult camp classic. I can’t speak too much to that as I was largely unfamiliar with the film, but it’s easy to see that while it most definitely something of a mess, it’s also a strangely fascinating mess. Nobody is giving their all here, yet somehow that works within the confines of the story. It’s an interesting film, and this Blu-ray might give it new life yet again.
  • Shoah: Four Sisters – In 1985, Claude Lanzmann made a nine-hour documentary about the Holocaust called Shoah, which featured survivors telling their stories. This new release is culled from those interviews, and it comprises four films (totaling 4 ½ hours) and it follows four women from different corners of the Holocaust who all ended up surviving under very different circumstances, although all of them went through incredible hardship and tumult. As with the original Shoah, each film is moving and occasionally hard to watch, but also extremely important viewing. History teachers looking for something different to present on World War II and the Holocaust, take note.
  • General Commander – Oh boy. Steven Seagal is back with yet another generically-named action thriller straight to DVD. This time around, Seagal plays a CI agent who – shock upon shock! – goes rogue when the CIA refuses to sanction revenge against the man that killed one of Seagal’s team members. Seagal shows up sporadically and the film is pretty much exactly what you’ve come to expect from him in his later career, as he clearly isn’t much of an action figure any more. This one is for die-hard fans only.
  • Catalog Spotlight – Kino Lorber continues to quietly put out the best collection of cult classics on Blu-ray, and this week brings us another half dozen top-notch releases. First up is Nixon, starring Anthony Hopkins and an all-star supporting cast. Released on two discs (because Oliver Stone never met a running time he couldn’t blow up), this release includes both the theatrical and the director’s cut, as well as a ton of extra features. Hopkins’s performance is terrific and the cast is uniformly great, even if the movie is too long by half. Next up, we have Black Moon Rising. Words cannot describe how excited I was to watch this movie. I mean, a futuristic car actioner starring Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton, with a script co-written by none other than John Carpenter? Shut up and take my money. And while this 1986 film clearly shows its age, it’s also a good amount of cheesy fun in that way that only ‘80s flicks can be. It also proves my theory that Tommy Lee Jones was never young, he was just born at 55 years old. Next up we have The Bedroom Window, an early film from director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) starring Steve Guttenberg and Isabelle Huppert (making her second appearance in this week’s column). This ‘80s thriller seems like the typical fare of its era, but the story is quite good and Curtis Hanson, even several years before the masterpiece that is L.A. Confidential, offers up a sure-handedness of skill behind the camera that elevates the film. In a similar (yet different) vein, we have Bitter Moon, an erotic drama starring Hugh Grant, Peter Coyote, and Emmanuelle Seigner, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Like The Bedroom Window, what could be a by-the-numbers flick is elevated by Roman Polanski’s presence behind the camera. Plus, I dig the sexy cover art. Going back a bit further, we have The Nightcomers, a late-period piece featuring a central performance from Marlon Brando. Loosely based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, this suspenseful drama features a fine performance by Brando but is probably my least favorite release of this week’s catalog offerings. It’s tonally offbeat, and the Victorian setting is never one of my favorites. Finally, La Prisonniere is the third sexually charged catalog release this week, and it also features a renowned director in the form of noted French auteur Henri-Georges Clouzot. This 1968 movie is the director’s last work, and while there is some beautiful imagery and a good erotic charge running through it, it didn’t quite ring my bells. Still, I’m always happy to delve further into the works of a revered director such as Clouzot.
  • Indie Spotlight – MVD has three darker releases out this week, all with a horror/thriller/mystery element to them. First up is Lords of Chaos, which features the most notable cast, including Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, and William Skarsgard. Directed by celebrated music video auteur Jonas Akerlund, the film tells the (somewhat) true story of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, who devolved into a church-burning media magnet. Culkin gives a reserved but powerful performance, and while there’s an element of dramatism to the film, it is an interesting story, even if it’s not all entirely factual. The Blu-ray release also comes with a soundtrack CD, which is a nice bonus. Next up is Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders, another based-on-true-events film, this time based on the life and mysterious death of NY Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders. While there aren’t really any recognizable actors in the cats, this low-budget affair clearly sees a cast and crew giving it there all, and that counts for something. This three-disc release includes a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a bonus soundtrack CD as well. Finally, A Record of Sweet Murder is a Korean film about a serial killer, the journalists interviewing him, and the possibility that killing everyone on his list will actually bring all of his victims back to life. The film actually came out in 2014 but makes its US Blu-ray debut, and while it’s an interesting concept and it’s pretty well-paced, I can’t say it was exactly my cup of tea.
  • PBS Spotlight – PBS has a few new releases this week, and it’s an exceptionally strong release slate. First up is Masterpiece: Les Miserables, starring no less than David Oyelowo, Olivia Colman (recent Oscar winner for Best Actress), Dominic West, and Lily Collins. This miniseries adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic work spans seven hours over two discs, and the production values are top notch. Of course, great production values don’t do you much good without a great cast, but this is a fine ensemble of actors who knock it out of the park. I’m not a huge Les Mis fan overall, but this is a terrific production of it. Next up, we have Frontline: The Trial of Ratko Mladic, a one-hour profile of the Bosnian war criminal, and his ultimate trial and sentencing. It’s a frank depiction of his actions and crimes, and while people are familiar with the broad strokes of his atrocities, this gives a much clearer picture of why it’s a good thing the man is now in prison for life. Finally, Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom is an hour-long special examining the origins of the real-life King Arthur, skipping over the Sword in the Stone stuff and instead looking at where he came from, where he led, and whether his legacy is based in fact. Interesting stuff for sure.

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