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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Hustle, A Dog’s Journey, Arrow, American Gods, Ronja The Robber’s Daughter and more

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The Hustle – There are two things that surprised me about The Hustle. The first thing is just how closely it hews to the plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, of which it is a remake, but wasn’t advertised as such in any way, shape, or form. The second thing is how much less funny than the original it is. I think Anne Hathaway is terrific in it, but Rebel Wilson is starting to become annoying. She pretty much plays the exact same role she’s played in every single other movie she’s been in, and it appears she’s completely a one-trick pony. Even worse, the filmmakers seemed content to just let Wilson ad-lib every scene she appears in, and most of it is way less funny than you’d want it to be. There are some funny scenes in the film (mostly courtesy of Hathaway) and the film is an easy watch, it’s just rather silly and completely forgettable.

A Dog’s Journey – This sequel to A Dog’s Purpose sees Josh Gad return as the voice of Bailey, Dennis Quaid’s beloved dog who gets reincarnated through various incarnations. This time around, Bailey takes on the role of watching out for Ethan’s granddaughter, played with aplomb by Katherine Prescott. Quaid is joined by Marg Helgenberger and Betty Gilpin, but it’s Josh Gad who steals the show as the dog. Gad has such a great feel for effective voice overs that you really hear him AS Bailey, rather than as Josh Gad. The film is sentimental and occasionally melodramatic, much like the first film, and I imagine if you liked the original movie, you’ll enjoy this one just as much.

Arrow: The Complete Seventh Season – While there is still one more season of Arrow to come, it’s been announced that it will be a shorter, ten-episode season to finish up the show’s run. Which makes sense when you watch Season 7, because it definitely feels like things are coming to a close here. In Season 7, we see a lot of the major storylines that have been floating around for the past season or two get wrapped up pretty neatly. Not to say that there won’t be enough to put together a fun final season, but this one really feels like a natural climax to the show. As usual, it’s filled with great action scenes, mystery and intrigue, and a good amount of super heroics. Also as usual, there’s a nice collection of extra features, including the crossover episodes of the other CW series Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, and Supergirl. Fans won’t want to miss this one.

American Gods: Season TwoAmerican Gods is Starz making a serious bid for a Game of Thrones-like hit for the network. And it has a similar mix of great production values, strong performances, and wildly varied characters. And I know people who really love the show. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Despite being a big fan of author Neil Gaiman (upon whose book the show is based), there’s something in this show that doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if it’s too dark or too strange or maybe both, but I don’t love it. It’s intriguing and it looks great, but I had a hard time getting engaged. Maybe Season Three will grab me more.

Ronja The Robber’s Daughter: The Complete Series – The famous Studio Ghibli delves into a TV series (as opposed to their usual feature films) with this popular show, which has been streaming on Amazon Prime for a while but makes its Blu-ray debut this week. Now, it’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of Studio Ghibli’s films, and I can’t say that I had a much different experience with their TV outing. The 26 episodes are based on a book by the author of the Pippi Longstocking books, Astrid Lindgren. Ronja is the daughter of a thief who befriends a young boy from a rival tribe, which of course leads to conflict. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, the show utilizes computer-generated animation, which is a real departure for a Ghibli release. The show looks great and it’s not nearly as weird as most Ghibli movies are, but I found it to be slow moving and containing way too little actual story to take up 26 episodes. Still, I’m sure fans of Studio Ghibli films will probably find a lot to like.

The Harder They Come: Collector’s Edition – This is an interesting release. This 1971 Jamaican film stars Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a young man who wants to become a Reggae star, but he gets tangled up in corruption and drug pushers through his record producers. But he’s not going to sit back and let them manipulate him, and that’s when things get interesting. I can’t say I was really familiar with this movie, but it apparently has quite a large cult following, and Shout Factory has reached out to the fans with this Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, which sees the film presented via a new 4K scan from the original negative. It also comes loaded with over SIX hours of extra features, including an entire second film, the long-lost No Place Like Home (complete with its own disc and its own extra features), as well as a third disc with a number of additional documentary features. This is a real treat for fans.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Blue Bloods: The Ninth Season – I’m a huge Tom Selleck fan, but I’m not a huge Blue Bloods fan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very solid cop drama, with relationships at the heart of it, but ultimately, I can’t get passionate about the show. I’m not sure what it is, either. The quality of the writing and the acting is very good, and the production values are good, but I never feel like this is must-see TV for me. Still, I usually pop in the DVD every season when it comes along for review, and I can tell you that fans of the show get a good season, with a few new storylines along to keep things interesting. I enjoy it enough for some good binge watching, just not enough to really get that involved in following it.
  • NCIS New Orleans: The Fifth Season – While I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole NCIS franchise, it’s been a constant presence on the television landscape for almost two decades now. Which leads us to NCIS: New Orleans. Much as I like Scott Bakula, you can probably guess my reaction to this show. Yep, it’s more of the same. Just like I could never get into any of the CSI spin-offs beyond the original, I just can’t get into this show. It’s just a retread of the original show (which is a retread of CSI anyway) with a different cast. Oh well.
  • Jamestown: The Complete Third Season – I didn’t get the opportunity to review the first two seasons of Jamestown, so I came into this third season of the show a little out of the loop. From what I can gather, it’s a pretty solid period drama about life in Colonial America that will probably appeal to fans of shows like Outlander and other PBS drama series. There are a few familiar faces in the cast such as Max Beesley and Jason Flemyng, but for the most part the actors are lesser known, although all are quite talented. It seems like a decent show, but I’d recommend tracking down the first couple of seasons first.
  • The White Crow – Ralph Fiennes takes on the director’s chair for this biopic of famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Oleg Ivenko gives a strong performance as the dancer who would defect from the USSR in the 1960s. The film focuses on the young man as he decides to make the move and the time leading up to his defection. Fiennes also takes on a co-starring role, and the film is a pretty solid effort overall. It is a drama that at times masquerades as a thriller, and it’s quite gripping for the most part. I personally think it could have been a little shorter, but overall, it goes beyond the dancing to present an engrossing tale.
  • The Beatles: Made on Merseyside – There’s no shortage of documentaries on The Beatles, and many of them lack real content that might appeal to Beatles fans. Almost none of them feature music or live performances by The Beatles, and sometimes that really works against a film. In this case, it doesn’t The Beatles: Made on Merseyside is a neat spin on the Beatles mythos, focusing on the band’s early, pre-record contract years. We learn about the formation of the band, their skiffle origins as The Quarrymen, their time in Hamburg at the Cavern Club, and so on. There new interviews with people who were there at the time (although none of the Fab Four themselves), including the original drummer Pete Best; Quarrymen members Colin Hanton and Len Garry; Brian Epstein’s business associate Joe Flannery; The Beatles’ first secretary (and fan club ambassador) Freda Kelly; and even roommates of young John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. It’s not the end-all, be-all of Beatles docs, but I like that it takes a different approach from the usual efforts.
  • The Assault – Tom Sizemore returns to the Direct-to-Video World with The Assault, an action film co-starring Kevin Nash and Jordan Ladd. Sitting on the shelves for the past two years (and originally released as Blue Line), the film isn’t particularly great, coming across like a sort of low budget female-led version of Heat that fails more often than not. While the film itself isn’t particularly good, Tom Sizemore actually shines in the lead role, seemingly decided that he wants to act again and actually giving his performance a good amount of effort. Despite that, however, the rest of the film falls flat.
  • American Experience: Woodstock, Three Days That Defined a Generation – This terrific feature-length documentary gives us a terrific look at the Woodstock, the most famous music festival ever held. The film features tons of actual footage from the concert, usually shown with interviews laid over in audio form. So you’re seeing the festival while hearing about it from the people who were there, which is pretty incredible. It’s not a concert film, which is fine because there’s already a pretty famous concert film out there from Woodstock. This approach gives you much more of a dive into the feel of being there, and I found it quite fascinating.
  • Shimmer & Shine: Legend of the Dragon TreasureShimmer & Shine is a really cute little show about a girl named Leah who has two genies-in-training who try to help her out. With emphasis on the “in-training” part, things often go wrong. It’s a fun series that younger kids will definitely enjoy, and this DVD includes 6 episodes and runs about an hour-and-a-half.
  • The Wild Kratts: Creepy Creatures – As far as kids shows go, The Wild Kratts is one of the better ones. It manages to combine animals and superhero-style adventures into one fun animated series that is both entertaining and educational. The show focuses on the Brothers Kratt, animal experts and adventurers, who use creature power suits to take on the traits of various animals and interact with them in their habitats. The show mixes in humor, action, and cool suit designs, plus it has a good supporting cast of characters that kids will like. This time around, the Brithers Kratt are gearing up for holiday and kids learn about some “creepy creatures” like bugs and bats. I wish they’d give you more than just a couple of episodes per disc, but they’re pretty cheap, so it’s still a good buy if your kids are into this show.
  • WB Archive Spotlight – Warner Brothers’ manufacture-on-demand service has several noteworthy releases this week, all available through their website and other major online retailers. First up, we have the infamous Corvette Summer, which has the distinction of being both the first film starring Mark Hammill to come out after Star Wars and also being a huge box office bomb. It’s an interesting little footnote for Star Wars fans, and while I’ve long heard of the film, I’d never had the chance to watch it before, and now we get it on Blu-ray! Not surprisingly, it isn’t a masterpiece, but it isn’t nearly as bad as some would have you believe. It’s fun to see a young Hamill in something outside of Star Wars, and Annie Potts is a terrific co-star. It’s a flawed film but it has some fun scenes. Next up is Bronco Billy, which the description on the back of the Blu-ray informs us is Clint Eastwood’s favorite of his own movies. Directed by and starring Eastwood, the film sees the grizzled veteran take a lighter turn as a wild west show sharpshooter whose fortune might change due to the appearance of a high society lady with an interested eye. This marks the first time the film has been released on Blu-ray outside of a larger collection, and it’s a sweet little film that’s pretty different for Eastwood fare. Gaslight, meanwhile, stars Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton and is directed by the great George Cukor, and it makes its Blu-ray debut. The film has a very Hitchcockian vibe, made all the better by some really strong performances including an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her film debut (earning an Oscar nomination) while Bergman earned her first Oscar for her role. This one is a real treat. Wrapping up the Blu-ray debuts isFootlight Parade, a musical starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell. The story is rather slight, but the dance sequences are outstanding as directed by the great Busby Berkely. It’s a visual treat and worth a watch if you like the genre. Finally, we get a DVD release of The Best of Pete Smith Specialties: Volume 1. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t particularly familiar with Pete Smith before this, but he made comedy shorts in the 1930s and 40s and was apparently wildly popular. This collection includes some 75 short films over four discs, and apparently there’s another 75 or so waiting in the wings for an inevitable volume 2. The shorts can be hot or miss (as is understandable considering the sheer volume) but the ones that hit are really pretty funny. Fans will enjoy having this and the next volume (when it comes out) to have the complete Pete Smith collection.
  • Indie Spotlight – We have several new independent releases out this week. First up is A Dark Place, starring Luke Baines. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive a review copy of this dark thriller, but the trailer looks promising. The story involves a twentysomething young man who discovers a secret that sends his life into a self-destructive spiral. Might be worth a look. Next up is Damned Summer, a coming of age drama with a hedonistic slant. This Portuguese film is a bit long for my tastes, clocking in at over two hours, but the drug-fueled, listless characters ring true and an effective soundtrack bolsters the drama. Not for everyone, but I can see people liking this one. After that we have Anti-Nowhere League: We Are The League, a documentary about “a biker, a skinhead, a grammar school boy and a Persian exile” who came together with no musical skill, formed a punk band in 1980, and scored a breakout single and legions of fans. It’s an interesting enough doc, although I think it’s really aimed squarely at the band’s fans. As a nice bonus, the Blu-ray release includes a 19-track CD that includes unreleased live performances from the band from 1982. Finally, continuing the music trend, we have Peter Paul & Mary: At Newport 1963 – 1965. This DVD release includes 18 live performances from the iconic Newport folk Music Festival from the mid-1960s. While this release doesn’t come with a CD included, the music has also been released on a CD only release, so you can watch the DVD and then pop the CD in to listen to it when you’re away from your TV.

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