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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Captive State, Earthquake, I Am The Night, Magnum P.I., The Andromeda Strain and more

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Captive State – John Goodman and Vera Farmiga co-star along with a cast of unknowns and “Hey, I recognize him/her” actors in this political-charged alien drama that was D.O.A at the box office a few months ago. Unfortunately, that was a fate that was well-deserved as the movie is dour, confusing, way too dark, and largely missing aliens. The film had a good trailer and a solid concept: it’s years after an alien race has effectively taken political control of earth and an insurgence is both trying to disrupt the alien control and stay undiscovered. That could have been a good movie, but it takes a really long time before you even figure out what’s going on in the film, and while you’re doing so, the film is a largely unpleasant experience. This is one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in a while.

Earthquake – The 1970s disaster epic starring Charlton Heston and an all-star cast makes its Blu-ray debut, and what a terrific package Shout Factory has put together for it. Not only does the film make its high def debut, but the film comes in two versions in the package: the original theatrical edition, and the Extended TV Version, which adds some 20 minutes of footage that was created for the television broadcast back in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Now, I love this movie, but I had never seen the extended edition before, so I was thrilled to watch it. I can’t say it’s a noticeably better film for the extra footage, but it’s also not one of those movies that suffers for a bunch of extra stuff thrown in that’s mostly filler garbage. As an added bonus, there’s a nice collection of extra features that makes this THE definitive edition of one of the great disaster films of the 1970s, the genre’s heyday. Well done, Shout Factory! RECOMMENDED!

I Am The Night – Chris Pine stars in this miniseries from TNT that takes a whole new approach to one of the most famous murders in history: the Black Dahlia. Inspired by a book written by a doctor who has made a compelling case for his dad being the murderer in the Black Dahlia case, I Am The Night works its way around to the Black Dahlia case in roundabout fashion; it’s really more about a young woman trying to find out about her past, only to discover that her family history has more secrets in it than she expected. The miniseries is produced by Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman (and who also directs the first two episodes) and while it has some flaws, overall its more interesting than not. Plus, I’ll generally watch Chris Pine in anything, so this was up my alley.

The Brady Bunch: 50th Anniversary TV & Movie Collection – If you’re a Brady Bunch fan, this is finally the single most comprehensive and complete collection ever put together. Far from being a simple Complete Series collection, this massive 31-disc collection includes the entire original series, plus all of the following: The Brady Kids Animated Series, The Bradys, and The Brady Brides, the latter two of which have never appeared on DVD before. Then, on top of that, you also get all five Brady Bunch movies, which includes the two theatrical releases from the ‘90s, plus the two direct-to-video sequels, A Very Brady Christmas and The Brady Bunch in the White House as well as the behind-the-scenes-centric Growing Up Brady. Honestly, it’s an insane amount of material, especially considering you can easily find the set for under $75 online, this is a great way to finally own pretty much every official Brady show/movie ever released in one place.

Magnum P.I.: Season One – As a die-hard fan of the Tom Selleck classic TV series, I didn’t see the need for a remake of the show, but I wasn’t opposed to it, either. I get how TV and movies work these days, and I know that everything gets recycled. So I watched this new show and while it’s not bad and I certainly don’t hate it, I do have one major problem with it: it’s so much less Magnum and so much more another typical CBS procedural. Honestly, watching it feels exactly like watching an episode of Hawaii Five-O; there’s almost no difference in the tone of the shows or the story structure or the cinematography. While Jay Hernandez is plenty charming, there’s just nothing special about it to make it live up to the name Magnum. If you like most of CBS’s other shows, you’ll probably like this one, but if you’re looking for something different, you’re in the wrong place.

Swing Time – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in Swing Time, which makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of the Criterion Collection. This was the fifth or sixth collaboration between Rogers and Astaire, and it’s easily one of their best. The dance numbers are astounding, and the film is notable for debuting the song The Way You Look Tonight. Not only is the dancing great, but the film itself is fun as well, with Astaire playing a gambler who bets on whether or not he’ll marry his jilted fiancée. It’s an enjoyable classic Hollywood romantic musical comedy. The film has been restored and remastered and it looks and sounds better than ever. There’s also a nice collection of extra features to round the package out. Another terrific release from Criterion!

Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Series – I was really glad to see this Complete Series set from Mill Creek, as Drop Dead Diva was a show I really enjoyed. A fun series from Lifetime, this underrated show managed to be part comedy, part drama, part legal/trial show, and part metaphysical quirkiness, and always a lot of fun. Don’t let the fact that it aired on Lifetime scare you away. Sure, it’s a little woman-centric (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but anyone who liked shows like Desperate Housewives, The Good Wife, or even Chuck will find a lot to like about this. Lead actress Brooke Elliot is fantastic as the lawyer with a dead blonde dimwit living inside her body, and the entire supporting cast is terrific as well. Even though the show can be predictable on occasion (Jane doesn’t usually lose her cases), the show is a lot of fun and will usually leave you smiling. This Complete Series set collects all six seasons onto 12 discs and it’s definitely worth picking up.

The Andromeda Strain – Arrow Video continues their bid to become the next great home video purveyor with their new release of The Andromeda Strain, the 1971 film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s hit novel. Directed by the great Robert Wise, this science thriller follows a team of scientists battling a deadly virus that has a secret origin. It’s a terrific film, even if the effects and hairstyles are a bit dated. But not content to just issue the film on Blu-ray, Arrow Video has created a great Collector’s Edition for fans, that comes with a great collection of extra features, including a new audio commentary, archival documentaries, and other goodies that explore the film further. RECOMMENDED!

The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume One – This terrific new release from Cohen Media marks what is hopefully a collection that will span a number of releases. With this disc, you get two Buster Keaton silent classics, The General and Steamboat Bill. The General is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time (and features the most expensive shot in film history up to that point, a famous train wreck you’ve probably seen before), and while it’s been released on Blu-ray before, there were complaints about the video quality and it’s now out of print. Steamboat Bill, on the other hand, is also a very strong comedy in its own right, but it’s never been released on Blu-ray before, making this a real treat for Keaton Fans. There are a few extra features, but the real attraction is the two main films which have been restored and remastered and look better than any previous version. Definitely recommended for fans of Keaton or classic silent comedies.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (4K Ultra HD) – Michael Bay’s rare-of-late non-Transformers film makes its debut on the 4K Ultra HD format, and there’s a huge difference between the quality of the film and the audiovisual presentation. Now, I’m not a big fan of the movie itself, but it’s hard to argue that this 4K disc is outstanding. The picture quality is insanely good, with razor-sharp imagery, amazing colors, and terrific shadow delineation that lets you see what’s happening in the darker moments. The soundtrack, likewise, is impeccable, with extremely active surround speakers. While the film is suspect, the 4K presentation is second-to-none.
  • Forrest Gump – Paramount has apparently decided that Forrest Gump is their go-to title for releasing over and over again. This latest Blu-ray release is the 25th Anniversary Edition, and for the most part, it’s not all that different from previous editions. The disc boasts a 2K restoration which gives you better picture quality, but it’s not like the old Blu-ray looked terrible, plus there’s a 4K Ultra HD version available for people who are REALLY invested in picture quality. The extra features (of which there are about three hours’ worth) are all culled from previous releases, so while this is a perfectly good release of a movie that I do enjoy, there’s really not much here for people who already own the film.
  • Orange is the New Black: The Complete Sixth Season – I don’t think Netflix ever expected Orange is the New Black to be the huge it that it became, but it remained one of the most talked-about comedies on the internet video provider all the way through this, its final season. It’s easy to see why, too. The show has a great cast, and the creators have wisely cast actors who fit the roles, not all beautiful super-models, so it feels a lot like what you imagine real prison to be like. It’s a fun show with some great dramatic moments, and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit so far. Now those of you who don’t have Netflix can get caught up on the last season.
  • Jeffrey – Shout Select brings us the Blu-ray debut of a beloved cult classic of a different kind; instead of the usual horror or sci-fi cult classic, this one is a gay drama/comedy that has a good number of fans out there. Starring Steven Weber, Patrick Stewart, and Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey was one of those films that got a limited release in theaters in the ‘90s but slowly gained a fan following on DVD. Based on the play by Paul Rudnick, the film offers up laughs, tears, and a little bit of everything in between, and it also features some terrific performances. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth tracking down, as it’s both a good film and a chance to see some actors you love in roles that are a bit different than what they usually play.
  • The Entity – Barbara Hershey stars in this horror film from the early ‘80s, which gets its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Scream Factory. Wrapped in a gorgeously painted new slipcover, the film is an effective if dated paranormal thriller, with a woman and her two kids moving into a house where things go bump in the night. It’s a surprisingly creepy film considering it came out in 1982, and Barbara Hershey and her co-star Ron Silver are both terrific. This new Blu-ray from Scream Factory comes with some very cool extra features as well, so fans of the film should be thrilled with this new release.
  • Frankenstein Created Woman – Also from Scream Factory this week we have Frankenstein Created Woman, a Hammer Horror film starring Peter Cushing. The film is a bit of a trip and probably hard to explain, but let’s just say it deals with Dr. Frankenstein transferring souls into other bodies and – inevitably – the disastrous results that follow. This was the fourth film in the loosely connected Frankenstein series from Hammer, but you can easily watch it without having seen the previous films, and Cushing is always great in the Hammer films.
  • Norm of the North: King Sized Adventure – It’s not easy to make a successful animated film these days if you’re not one of the big studios like Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks. I didn’t think the original Norm of the North qualified as a hit, although it did have a short run in theaters, but there have now been two sequels. In this newest one, Norm and his lemming buddies go off in search of a stolen artifact, while racing in time to get home for a werdding. As with the previous ones, the film is a fun family movie that is geared for slightly younger viewers and is enjoyable enough to keep them entertained. Should make the kids happy.
  • Can’t Stop the Music – Yes, Virginia, there was a Village People movie. It’s true! This early 1980s musical/comedy stars and is (sort of) about The Village People. The film also stars Valerie Perrine, Bruce Jenner, and Steve Guttenberg, so as you can imagine, this is not exactly a work of cinematic genius. It is, however, a fun flashback to and snapshot of the early 1980s/late 1970s. There’s some fun music and some solid dance sequences, but the film also suffers from its running time, which at two hours and four minutes is WAAAAAY too long. Fans of The Village People will love having this video not just on home video but Blu-ray, especially considering the paucity of movies with or about The Village People.
  • Sara Stein: From Berlin to Tel Aviv, The Complete Series – This multi-lingual TV series (it features Hebrew, German, and English) is more of a series of TV movies, with four film-length episodes included in this two-disc set. The films follow the titular Sara Stein, an Israeli detective, as she tracks down terrorists on missions that take her around the world. Katherine Lorenz excellently plays the main character, and while the dense plot and multiple languages probably won’t be for everyone, for people who like material that’s a bit more challenging or has an international flair to it will appreciate this series.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: The Demon Portals Saga – This new release from Mill Creek Entertainment offers up a collection of 39 episodes of The animated series Jackie Chan Adventures, a mystical cartoon series focused around Jackie Chan as a hero fighting demons and magical talismans and the like. Surprisingly, the show ran for five seasons in the early 2000s, and while this release doesn’t include the whole series, it does give you one giant storyline that stretches over 39 episodes total. And because it’s a Mill Creek release, it’s available at a budget price. The show itself is okay; I can’t say I find it as engrossing as some of the more intricate animated series, but it’s not entirely terrible either. For fans of Chan or this show in particular, this one of the best (and one of the few) DVD releases of the show so far.
  • Prom Night: Original 1980 Motion Picture Soundtrack – While not a DVD or Blu-ray release, this is a neat new offering this week for movie fans. Available for the first time on CD, this 34-track release offers up all of the music used in the 1980 cult classic slasher film starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The songs are split between orchestral scores and pop/disco tunes, and among those 34 tracks are a good dozen or more that were recorded for the film but that went unused in the final product, making this a dream come true for completists. It’s an interesting mix of music and I suspect it will appeal more to fans of the film than people looking for some new music to jam out to, but it’s a top-notch package altogether.
  • Indie Spotlight, Part 1 – We’ve got a huge slate of indie releases out this week. In this first section, we’re going to look at the documentaries that are out. First up is Screwball, a doc by the maker of the acclaimed film Cocaine Cowboys that sees the filmmaker looking into the baseball doping scandal, focusing on its Florida connections. I don’t love baseball or documentaries, but this is a pretty interesting film. Another sports-related documentary is Wrestle, a documentary about high school wrestling that is surprisingly powerful and emotional. Following four high-schoolers in less-than-ideal situations, the film mixes all the emotions you’d expect from a sports doc and is a winning film as a result. Also quite engaging is Constructing Albert, a documentary about Albert Adria, brother of Ferran Adria, a master chef at el Bulli, a restaurant that was at one point considered the highest peak of culinary success. It’s one of those films that paints food as so much more than just food, and while it’s a bit pretentious at times, it’s also pretty interesting. If that’s the appetizer, the main course could be Michelin Stars: Tales From the Kitchen, which focuses on the world of Michelin Star restaurants on the whole, presenting a number of stories and tales from the world of high flying haute cuisine. Both are interesting looks into a part of the food world most of us almost never cross paths with. Finally, Felix Austria is an esoteric film that features colorful main character in Felix Etienne Edouard Pfeifle, who’s obsessed with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which leads him all over the world. I don’t know that we really needed a film about this guy, but history buffs and academic aficionados might find something here to like.
  • Indie Spotlight, Part 2 – Switching gears to fictional fare, The 27 Club is a low-budget horror entry that plays off the famous “27 Club” (which makes note of the many famous people who died at the age of 27 such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.) It’s an interesting concept for a horror film, although I don’t know that the end result lives up to said concept. Neat packaging, though. Kinky, meanwhile, is a sexually charged thriller starring mostly unknowns with a few recognizable faces thrown in for good measure such as Vivica A. Fox and Obba Babatunde. It’s not a subtle film, but I’ll say that it does try and develop the characters enough to at least have a basis beyond simple titillating thrills. All You Ever Wished For is an interesting romantic comedy starring Glee’s Darren Criss as an American who gets kidnapped, ends up lost in the mountains, and eventually finds himself in a village under a spell where he falls in love with an Italian beauty. Kidnappings, the mafia, love spells, and remote villages… what more could you ask for? Turning to more serious affairs, The Sower is a unique film about a small village in the alps that lost all its men to a political uprising, leaving just women who are desperate to continue their family lines. So when a man comes upon the village, things get… interesting. Foreign film arthouse fare that might not be for everyone, but is certainly going to pique some viewers’ interest. Speaking of arthouse fare, I’m not even sure how to describe Cielo, a less-than-structured film that focuses more on mood and visuals than any sort of information-conveying. Not quite my cup of tea. Keeping on the heavy drama track, Woman at War is an Icelandic film about an ecoterrorist who discovers that her adoption request is being granted, causing her to change her radical approach to life. It’s an intense film with a strong central performance and some occasional touches of humor.

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