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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Detective Pikachu, Alita Battle Angel, The Curse of La Llorona, Missing Link, Weird Science, Batman: Hush and more

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Alita: Battle Angel – With James Cameron producing his long-in-gestation project and Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Spy Kids) directing, Alita: Battle Angel should have been not only a smash hit, but an amazing film. Sadly, it wasn’t quite either The film did okay but not great at the box office, and while it does offer up some spectacular special effects and a few great action sequences, I can’t say that I overly loved the film, despite the fact that I’m a huge fan of both Cameron and Rodriguez. The film looks great, but I found it hard to get very invested in the characters, and there are moments that are just a bit overly weird. It’s a solid enough movie to make it an entertaining watch, but I wanted it to be something truly special, and it falls short.

The Curse of La Llorona – The latest entry in the overarching The Conjuring universe (The Conjuniverse?), The Curse of La Llorona ties in in only the most tangential of ways. If you haven’t seen the other Conjuniverse movies, don’t worry, as you can watch this film completely independently. And while it does fit in from an aesthetic point of view, it’s better than some of the other entries I’ve sat through. Loosely based on a Mexican folktale, the film sees a family led by a single mother being haunted by a vengeful spirit. But despite all the jump scares and forced atmosphere, a solid cast led by Linda Cardellini and sure-handed direction make this one a pretty good ride overall.

Detective Pikachu – I’m not a Pokemon fan in any way, shape, or form. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like Pokemon, I just don’t have any interest in it. Which makes the fact that I found Detective Pikachu so enjoyable all the more surprising. Even though the film takes place in a world where Pokemon are everywhere, I could completely follow the film’s storyline even though I knew next to nothing coming into it. There’s humor, great special effects, and even some good action sequences. Of course, Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu is really what pulls it all together, and the end result is a really fun film that you can enjoy even if you’re not a fan of the franchise.

Missing Link – The latest film from Laika Studios, who brought us the masterful Kubo and the Two Strings, is a lighter affair about a couple of exotic animal experts and the oddly charming yeti who’s trying to make his way back to the Himalayas. As usual, Laika creates their movies using some of the most incredible stop-motion animation you’ve ever seen, and what they can accomplish in that format is truly stunning. The film is a lot of fun, and the voice cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, and Zach Galifianakis brings the action to life with panache and charm. Kids will like this one, but equally importantly, adults will too.

UglyDolls – I had pretty low expectations for UglyDolls, for a couple of reasons. One, I’m clearly not the target audience for the film. Two, I have no real interest in the UglyDolls toys, and I didn’t think there was a lot of need for a movie based on them. So I was more than a little surprised to see that the film is actually pretty good. It’s got a great voice cast made up mostly of musicians (Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae, Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Wanda Sykes, Bebe Rexha, among many others), but more importantly it’s got a really great message that a lot of kids could use, about being yourself and dealing with what other people think of you. The film is fun and colorful and fast-paced and has a real heart to it, so I think a lot of parents might also find themselves surprised like I was.

Batman: Hush – I’ve had mixed feelings about DC’s slate of direct-to-video animated movies lately. In the beginning, I thought they were all pretty fantastic, but over the past couple of years, I’ve found them to be getting a little stale and formulaic. Batman: Hush, which is based on one of my all-time favorite Batman stories (serialized in comics by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee), straddles the line between great and mediocre. On the one hand, it’s a great story and it has some terrific action scenes and a strong core cast of characters. On the other hand, the animation is in the generic DC animated style that they’ve used for the last several movies rather than trying to capture the feel of Jim Lee’s art. It also is the umpteenth animated DC Universe movie focusing on Batman, so it doesn’t feel like something we haven’t seen before. Overall, I enjoyed it, but if you watch this one and like it, check out the original Hush comics (available in collected format) and you won’t be disappointed.

Weird Science – Arrow Video continues their bid to become the less-artsy Criterion Collection, giving us truly special editions of well-loved and cult classic mainstream films. Weird Science, one of the most well-loved teen comedy hits of the 1980s, now joins the ranks of the Arrow canon. Available in a regular edition and a Steelbook edition (the content on both is the same), this new Blu-ray comes packaged with gorgeous cover art and a bevy of extra features. Of course, the real attraction is the film itself, which sees Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchel Smith as a high school kids who accidentally create their dream woman (who also happens to have magic powers.) Co-starring Kelley LeBrock, Robert Downey Jr., and Bill Paxton, and of course written and directed by John Hughes, it’s a true ‘80s comedy classic.

What We’ve Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek Deep Space Nine – A fantastic crowd-funded documentary, this film celebrates the 25th anniversary of the best of all the Star Trek series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While the film was paid for by fans on IndieGogo, that doesn’t mean it’s just some cheap fly-by-night fan-made documentary. Instead, this is a professionally crafted documentary feature film that’s largely spearheaded by DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr and features the participation of virtually every cast member, both regular and recurring, the show ever had. Many of the show’s crew (such as writers, directors, and production designers) sat for interviews as well. What makes the film even better is that it’s not just talking heads interviews. There’s also a throughline in which the show’s five main writers (including Outlander’s Ronald D. Moore) break down an imaginary Season Eight, picking up 20 years after the end of DS9. These sequences are presented in animated storyboard format, which gives the film a whole new dimension. But wait, there’s more! There’s some 22 minutes of footage from DS9 in the film, and all of it has been remastered in high definition for the first time. Trust me, the Dominion War space battles looked like I’d never seen them before on the big screen! If you’re a fan of Deep Space Nine, I can’t recommend highly enough that you track down this film at your earliest convenience. It’s a love letter to DS9, a reminiscence of something special, a glimpse at what the characters could be up to now, and a great film in its own right.

Also Available This Week on Home Video –

  • Glory (4K Ultra HD) – The Civil War drama that netted Denzel Washington his first Oscar nomination makes its 4K Ultra HD debut this week. With an amazing cast and a moving story, Glory is one of those movies that was a big enough hit that you can‘t call it a cult classic, but I feel like its popularity has only grown since its release 30 years ago. Now we get the film in the premium 4K Ultra HD format for the first time and it’s a nice upgrade to the audio and visual quality of the film. Deep and vibrant color saturation gives the picture new life, while razor sharp clarity gives the action some real impact, while the surround soundtrack gives your speakers something to do at almost all times. The movie doesn’t look like it was made yesterday, but it’s the finest presentation of the film I’ve ever seen.
  • The Good Place: The Complete Third Season – Kristen Bell and Ted Danson star in one of the most original network comedies in quite some time. The show is sort of a take on the afterlife, but there’s much more to it than that. I can’t go into too much detail, because the less you know about this show going into it, the better. Suffice it to say that it has a metaphysical bent to it, but it manages to deliver everything you want from a sitcom at the same time. Kristen Bell is terrific, the entire supporting cast is great, and I really love the humor of this show. Check it out and be surprised by it… you’ll have a lot of fun doing so. However, I do recommend starting with the first two season firsts; they’re brilliant and Season Three will make much more sense if you watch it.
  • An Angel At My Table – Jane Campion’s second film comes to the Criterion Collection this week. The director of The Piano and Portrait of a Lady had made one movie before this, but it’s An Angel at My Table that put her on the map, sweeping the New Zealand film awards and earning her the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. The film is a biopic of acclaimed New Zealand author Janet Frame, telling her life story over three periods of her life from childhood into young adulthood. Kerry Fox gives a terrific performance, and while the film is a bit long at two hours and 40 minutes, it’s still an impressive feat. Now on Blu-ray and DVD as part of the Criterion Collection, the film has been restored and remastered with Campion’s supervision, and it comes with a very generous collection of extra features. A top-notch release for sure.
  • From the Earth to the Moon – Just in time to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the Moon Landing, HBO has rereleased their seminal miniseries From the Earth to the Moon on Blu-ray for the first time (the release also includes a Digital copy for the first time.) Nowadays, in the age of Game of Thrones getting all the headlines for the past decade, original programming on HBO is seen as a given, but when this miniseries came out in the 90s it was pretty groundbreaking. A historical drama about the space race and man landing on the moon produced by Tom Hanks, the series mostly features recognizable faces but not big stars, but it featured episodes directed by some real all-stars including Hanks himself, Sally Field, Gary Fleder, Jon Turtletaub, Frank Marshall, Jonathan Mostow, and others. It’s a terrific and high quality series, and having on Blu-ray and digital is a long-awaited bit of good news.
  • The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume 2 (Sherlock Jr. / The Navigator) –This terrific new release from Cohen Media marks the second volume in what is hopefully a collection that will span a number of releases. With this disc, you get two Buster Keaton silent classics, Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator. Sherlock General sees Keaton as an amateur sleuth out to prove his innocence when he’s accused of stealing his girlfriend’s father’s pocketwacth. The Navigator, meanwhile, is also a very strong comedy in its own right, also never released on Blu-ray before, making this a real treat for Keaton Fans. It’s a really fun outing with Keaton as a man who ends up on a deserted cruise ship with his unawares girlfriend. 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.
  • Plus One – Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid (son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan) may not be big stars, but if their roles in Plus One are an indicator of their potential, they both have big futures ahead of them. While I didn’t love the film itself all that much, Quaid and Erskine are terrific together and bring a lot of verve and energy to the film. The story follows a couple of twentysomething friends who go through that year where they have a ridiculous amount of weddings to attend. The movie is a bit crass, a bit negative, and a bit profane, which can be fine if it’s got heart behind it, but I found it lacking. Aside from Quaid and Erskine’s chemistry, I found the film lacking.
  • Body At Brighton Rock – The cover blurb on Body at Brighton Rockpromises that the film “blends survival horror with psychological, physical, and beyond.” Now, that gets me excited, because survival films are one of my favorite genres, and adding in some psych and physical horror gets me psyched up. Unfortunately, BABR doesn’t quite live up to the lofty praise it garnered. The story, about a young woman who discovers a body on a rough mountain trail and has to survive the night until help can come, is solid enough. But the character makes questionable decisions, the writing is lackluster, and the acting is okay but nothing memorable. The end result is a pretty mediocre flick that I wanted to like more than I did.
  • Project Ithaca – I hate to take films to task that have a lot of good things to offer, but I can’t give Project Ithaca a pass. Despite the fact that it features much better acting than you should reasonably expect and some pretty impressive sets and production values, the film itself just isn’t all that good. Even at just 84 minutes, it finds ways to slow down in places, and the “strangers waking up together in a strange location and not knowing how they got there” story has been done before too many times without adding something to it to spice things up. The pure sci-fi plot adds a little something, but I wish the sum of the whole was equal to the parts here.
  • Knightfall: Season 2 – The big news about season two of Knightfallwas Mark Hamill joining the cast as Talus, a grizzled veteran knight who trains the Templar Knights that survived season one. Whereas season one wasn’t afraid to embrace some more fantastical elements, season two seems to be all about getting down with the grim, gritty, and (somewhat) more realistic. Hamill is a great addition to the show, playing basically what Luke Skywalker might have become if he let a little bit of the dark side in. What’s nice is that he makes the role his own and doesn’t just play Luke Skywalker in a different costume. It’s an intense show, and while season two is pretty dark stuff it remains entertaining for the most part.
  • Penguin Highway – Sometimes, especially when it comes to anime, you just have to let a product speak for itself. So for example, the online description for Penguin Highway reads, “A fourth-grader, Aoyama-kun, investigates the mysterious reason behind the sudden appearance of penguins in his village, which is somehow related to a power from a young woman working at a dental clinic.” I mean, if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about what kind of movie this is, it should. And yes, the film plays out very much like a Studio Ghibli film (even though it’s not) and while I’m not a big fan of Studio Ghibli, I found this movie a little more charming than the usual Ghibli fare. It’s a bit too long at two full hours and it’s a little out there in places, but it’s a cute little film.
  • Gloria Bell – Julianne Moore turns in – surprise! – yet another masterful performance in this so-so drama. Moore plays a fifty-something divorcee mom who starts a new relationship with John Turturro (also excellent) while trying to deal with her family and ex, who largely ignore her. Moore and Turturro’s performances are stellar, but they’re also the best things about the movie. It’s a bit too long, the characters are hard to like (even though they’re easy to relate to), and despite some light moments the film often feels you leaving down. An exercise in acting does not necessarily a great movie make.
  • A Vigilante – Olivia Wilde takes a decidedly unglamorous turn in A Vigilante, a movie that had a lot of promise but fails to live up to any of it. Ignoring the fact that the trailer and much of the advertising promises an action movie (which this most definitely is not), the movie is just poorly developed. Wilde plays an abused woman who begins to help other women in similar situations. While I didn’t need this to be Death Wish or The Equalizer, I was hoping for at least some decent action. Wilde is outstanding in the lead role (and she has plenty of chances to show off her acting chops, especially crying), but I wish the film were more compelling. This is an important subject matter and it needs to be addressed, but I don’t think people are going to find this film engaging enough to ensure they sit through it and confront the issue of abuse that’s rampant in society.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: Series 12 – The popular show returns! By now you know that Murdoch Mysteries is a forensic procedural, but it’s set in turn of the century Toronto, right on the cusp of the age of scientific discovery. This setting gives it a feel that’s different form your typical NCIS or Criminal Minds show, plus the fact that it’s British gives it a unique charm of its own. This season kicks off with a bang — quite literally — involving a microwave oven prototype. The show is fun and endearing, filled with good mysteries, excellent acting, great guest stars (this season sees roles by Colin Mochrie, and former olympian Elvis Stojko), and amazing period-era production values.
  • How Long Will I Love You – This interesting romantic comedy from China sees a couple separated by 20 years suddenly end up sharing an apartment thanks to a “timequake.” Think The Lake House, but with more direct contact and more laughs. While it’s not an out-and-out comedy (in fact, if I have a major complaint it’s that I wish there were more humor as some of the set-ups are quite clever), overall it has a lighter tone that make it an enjoyable watch. Liya Tong and Jiayin Lei are endearing in the lead roles and it’s fun to watch them annoy the crap out of each other at first and slowly come around on each other, with some fun twists and turns along the way. It’s a different take on the rom-com, and while it could be funnier, it’s pretty enjoyable.
  • Girls of the Sun – This war film sees an all-female band of rebel soldiers in Iraq trying to fight for freedom while being followed by a journalist. This subtitled film is hard-hitting and doesn’t pull any punches. Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani delivers a powerful lead performance, and while the film has some flaws, it’s largely a pretty intense and moving affair. The film blends action and character drama so we get more than just women kicking ass, but they do that in spades, too. Not a film for everyone, but for fans of more challenging filmmaking, this will fit the bill.
  • Vidago Palace: Season 1 – Acorn TV usually brings us fare from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, but Vidago Palace is a Portuguese soap drama in the mold of Downton Abbey or A Place to Call Home, only with the melodrama turned up to 11. The show follows a formerly-wealthy young woman named Carlota about to marry to save her family from bankruptcy when she falls in love with a working class man. The usual trials and tribulations ensue, and while the main drama is compelling, some of the supporting characters are a bit cartoony. It’s a solid show but the uneven tone takes away a little from it for me.
  • Jesus: His Life – While I don’t typically go for religious programming, I can at least respect that Jesus: His Life tries to take a new approach to telling the story of Jesus Christ, a man whose life has been chronicled, ohhh, once or twice before. In this eight-episode History Channel miniseries, each episode is told from a different person’s point of view, so we see the events of Jesus’s life unfold through the eyes of Joseph, Mary, Judas, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, and others. The cast is largely unknown, but they give good performances and the show as a whole is well put together. If you’re looking for a good biopic of Jesus, check this one out.
  • Indie Spotlight – We have some notable independent releases this week. First up is The Outsider (available on Blu-ray or DVD), a western starring Trace Adkins, Sean Patrick Flanery, Danny Trejo, and martial artist Jon Foo. It’s a solidly okay film. Trace Adkins works in these kinds of roles even though he’s not a natural actor, and I always enjoy seeing Trejo and Flanery. John Foo offers up a fresh flavor we don’t see in westerns too often (he plays a railroad worker who ends up in trouble with the wrong people.) I’ve seen better westerns and I’ve seen worse. Next up is The Fate of Lee Khan (also on Blu-ray or DVD), a 1973 wuxia martial arts film with fight choreography by Sammo Hung. This release marks the first time the film has been available on Blu-ray in the US, and fans will enjoy seeing it in high def. It’s a decent film overall, but it is punctuated by some really great action sequences mixing martial arts and wire work, the hallmarks of wuxia filmmaking. Wildlandcomes to Blu-ray and DVD, and this powerful documentary by Alex Jablonksi and Kahlil Hudson follows a wildfire firefighting crew for one season of fires. Think of it as a real-life version of Only the Brave. At just under 80 minutes, it’s a well-paced film, and while the focus is more on the men than the fires, it still offers up a nice portrait of men who do some truly heroic work. Mountain Rest (on Blu-ray or DVD) stars Natalia Dyer (who plays Nancy on Stranger Things) and Frances Conroy in a film about a mother and daughter who go to visit the family’s estranged grandmother in her mountain cabin. What sounds like the start of a horror film isn’t really, but it is an unusual and occasionally seemingly dream-fueled drama. The performances are excellent across the board (Frances Conroy especially shines), but I can’t say the film was my cup of tea. Creating Woodstock comes to DVD and it’s a very interesting documentary about what went into pulling the original Woodstock music concert together. It’s a refreshing take because it’s not so much about the music and bands, but rather the creation of the event, the problems it faced, and the logistics of pulling it all off. Some of the concert’s original promoters are interviewed and it’s all rather fascinating. Finally Hail Satan? Comes to DVD, and while it is ostensibly a documentary on The Satanic Temple (or the church of Satan, basically), it’s not meant as a serious deep dive into the group. Instead, it’s an uproarious, often funny, and usually controversial film about the members of the Satanic Temple pointing out the hypocrisies in organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. It’s an entertaining watch, even if some of the Temple members are a bit pompous and obnoxious.

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