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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Aladdin, John Wick 3, The Dead Don’t Die, Lock Up, Booksmart and more

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Aladdin – How did I not know that Guy Ritchie directed the live-action remake of Aladdin? Also, how did Guy Ritchie end up directing the live-action remake of Aladdin?!? The former Mr. Madonna, best known for gritty crime thrillers like Snatch and blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes, seems an odd fit for a PG-rated Disney family fantasy. Yet, for the most part, it works. Aladdin was not only a massive hit for Disney, but it’s a pretty good film overall. There’s a little bit of a lack of soul to it – it’s very shiny and fun, but the heart that the animated film isn’t entirely there for me. And for all the hubbub the internet generated when the first images of Will Smith as the Genie came out, he’s perfectly fine in the role. He’s no Robin Williams, sure, but he also doesn’t try to just copy Williams’ performance and instead makes the role his own, and ultimately I liked him in it. Aladdin isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty fun film with a good cast and some neat special effects wizardry. My kids really liked it (especially the songs, including two new ones), and that’s the most important thing.

John Wick 3: Parabellum – I’m one of the few people that was hugely disappointed with John Wick 2. While I loved the first film, I found the second entry to be a huge letdown, despite some neat story elements. I found it to be just an endless parade of Keanu Reeves shooting people in the head, with not a lick of creativity to any of the action scenes or deaths. So I was nervous that John Wick 3 would be more of the same, but I’m happy to report that it is a real return to form for the series. Still ultra-violent, yes, the film continues to build the John Wick universe mythology, while crafting action sequences that use multiple weapons, clever choreography, and a sense of fun to equal or surpass the excitement of the first film. In fact, the first major fight sequence of the film (in the antiques-type shop) is one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen this decade. In short, I loved this film. John Wick 3 comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and it absolutely sparkles on the premium format. The surround soundtrack is stunning, putting your right in the middle of the action, and the crystal clear picture quality and excellent shadow delineation ensure you never lose track of the action. It’s a fantastic presentation all around.

Aladdin – Also available this week is a new Disney Signature Collection edition of the original Aladdin, the 1992 animated masterpiece. The film has been released on Blu-ray before, and while there are a couple of new extra features, there isn’t that much different about this disc. I can’t say you need to rush right out and buy it if you already own it on Blu-ray, but if you only have it on DVD – or even VHS! – this is the perfect time to upgrade, especially since this new version includes both a Blu-ray and a DVD as well as a Digital Copy, which is the real bonus in my opinion. As for the film itself, well… I mean, come on. It’s Aladdin. It’s one of Disney’s greatest films. And as much as I enjoyed the new live-action version, this is still my favorite one.

Booksmart – When I first saw the trailer for Booksmart, I hated it so much it actually made me angry. Honestly, it’s the most unlikable and obnoxious trailer for a film I’ve ever seen. But then the film came out and critics raved about it almost universally. So I had no idea what to expect from this movie, which marks the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde. And ultimately, I have very mixed thoughts about the film. On the negative side, I found one of the main two characters incredibly annoying and bordering on unlikable. The rest of the characters are like caricatured versions of high school stereotypes (the obnoxious rich kid, the drama queen, the long-haired stoner, the too-cool teacher, and on and on.) There’s also a lot of dialogue that is incredibly unrealistic; it’s the kind of dialogue that only people in movies use. Real people don’t talk that way. All that said, the film did have some positive aspects, too. The performances by the two leads, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Deaver, are terrific, especially Feldstein (even if I hated her character.) There are a few scenes where the film finally gets real and breaks out of the ridiculous movie talk, and that’s where its heart shows through. Those were my favorite moments. Overall, I don’t know if I liked Booksmart exactly, but I definitely didn’t hate it like I did the trailer. And that’s a huge win for a film I didn’t expect much from.

The Dead Don’t Die – What a waste of a cast. Imagine Wes Anderson making a zombie movie, and you have some idea what to expect from The Dead Don’t Die. (and in case you’re a Wes Anderson fan, know that I am not, so the idea of a Wes Anderson zombie movie is a terrible one to me.) But when you get a movie and put Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Carol Kane, Chloe Sevigny, Rosie Perez, and musicians Iggy Pop, Sturgill Simpson, RZA, and Selena Gomez and you can still come up with a movie as lifeless and boring as this one, you’re doing something wrong. And the film has no idea what it wants to be. Early on it breaks the fourth wall in a way, going completely meta, which gave me hope the movie was going to be kind of clever, and then it just drops any hint of meta-humour or clever writing for the next hour. It’s a complete mess, it’s boring, it’s not funny, and it’s a waste of the considerable talent involved.

Lock Up (4K Ultra HD)Lock Up has somehow always been considered one of the lesser entries in Sylvester Stallone’s film canon, although I’m not sure why. It’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s a tense action film and a dark drama mixed together, and I’ve always had a fondness for movies and shows that take place in prisons. This 1989 actioner sees Stallone as a man with only six months left to serve in prison for a minor crime when he’s transferred to a maximum-security prison ruled by a sadistic warden (played with relish by Donald Sutherland). Cue Stallone going into survival mode in a brutal environment, culminating in a major confrontation. Sure, it’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a film I find myself watching every few years because it’s just a good, fun ‘80s action film starring one of my favorite action stars. Lock Up is now released on the premium 4K Ultra HD format (which includes a digital copy, a nice addition.) While it’s not the kind of movie that really gains a ton from the format (the superb color saturation, for example, doesn’t do as much in a drab grey prison setting) but the image clarity is top-notch and the improved shadow delineation makes the darker scenes (of which there are many) easier to see. The surround soundtrack doesn’t see a lot of difference, but it’s still relatively active, especially during the more action-oriented scenes.

Supernatural: The Complete Fourteenth Season – Long one of my favorite shows on TV, I continue to be impressed by just how good Supernatural is, well after it has any right to be. Let’s be honest, most shows that make it to 14 seasons are either pretty awful by that point, or simple procedurals where the story doesn’t really matter because it’s all about solving a crime-of-the-week. Somehow, even though Supernatural treads some familiar ground here (a mix of monster-of-the-week and mythology episodes), it still remains extremely fun and enjoyable every episode. This season included the show’s landmark 300th episode, and there’s at least one special guest star that fans were over-the-moon for. (I won’t spoil it here for anyone who doesn’t know who I’m talking about. But if you watch the show… you know.) As always, this terrific Blu-ray collection from Warner Brothers includes every episode, a number of quality featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel. A must-have for any fan.

Daybreakers (4K Ultra HD) – Written and directed by The Spierig Brothers, Daybreakers is an incredibly underrated vampire thriller starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill. What’s great about this film is not only does it look great and feature some terrific action sequences, but it also has a great concept to it. What happens when vampires have taken over the world and the human blood supply starts to run out? Well, that’s the question that Daybreakers tries to answer, and it does so in ways that will surprise you. While the film wasn’t a hit at the box office, it’s gained a little notoriety on home video, and it’s well deserved. I really like this film a lot. Daybreakers now comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD, and the premium format does nice things for it. There are a lot of dark scenes in the film, and the improved shadow delineation makes them easier to see. The colors are more vibrant, although it’s not a particularly colorful film so the upgrade there is negligible. The surround soundtrack is nice and atmospheric, utilizing the rear speakers to bring the film to life. All in all, it’s a great presentation of a great movie.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Echo in the Canyon – I like music-based documentaries when they’re good, but so often they just fall short. Echo in the Canyon, however, is a solidly good music doc. The film focuses on the pop music “California Sound” that was birthed in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon in the mid-1960s and its impact on the music scene of the time. Now, admittedly, I like that style of music, but it’s hard to argue with the line-up of talent the film’s producers have lined up to talk about the era, including many people who were there and creating the sound. We see interviews with Ringo Starr, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, David Crosby, Beck, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Jakob Dylan, and so many others. A lot of the contemporary musicians also team up with Dylan to do cover performances of some of the songs of the era, giving the film a half-doc/half concert sort of vibe. Not a perfect film (and some fans might not like the cover performances) but I enjoyed it overall.
  • Into the Badlands: The Complete Third Season – AMC does a great job with The Walking Dead. Not only is it a terrific show, but it’s also a massive hit. Unfortunately, that seems to have made the network think it can make other great TV shows… and that hasn’t been the case as of yet. Into the Badlands looked like it had everything it needed to be awesome: set in a dystopic future, a samurai-like warrior has to fight for honor and justice in a lawless land. Cool, right? Unfortunately, it’s more about how the audience has to fight to stay awake. Yes, the action sequences are cool. But everything else about the show — the characters, the settings, the scripts, the drama – are dreadfully boring. Honestly, I don’t know how you can film such gripping fight scenes and then fill the rest of the show with stories and characters I literally couldn’t care less about. Judging by how little buzz this show generated, I’m guessing I’m not alone in my opinion of it. I believe this is the last season, and while I wish I could have gotten into it, I’m not sad that I won’t have to review it anymore.
  • Scars of Dracula – Christopher Lee returns as Dracula for the fifth time in this 1970 Hammer horror classic. This time around, he’s joined by Patrick Troughton in a supporting role (best known as the second Doctor Who.) The film is a pretty basic Dracula story; a young man and his girlfriend wind up at Dracula’s castle and, well… you know, vampire-y things start to happen. Being a Hammer production, the film is a little bit creepy, a little bit cheesy, a little bit atmospheric, a little bit silly. It’s a pretty typical Hammer film, but Lee always brings a great energy to the role of Dracula and the film looks great. It also looks nice in high definition, making the Blu-ray a must-have if you’re a fan of Hammer Horror.
  • The Alienist – Daniel Bruhl — while not a household name yet — is one of my favorite actors. Every single thing I’ve seen him in, he’s been terrific. So at this point, I’ll watch pretty much anything he’s in. So even though the trailer for The Alienist looked dark and weird and not entirely like my cup of tea, with Bruhl in the lead role (and the always-awesome Luke Evans co-starring), I wanted to see what it was all about. Based on the Caleb Carr novel, this 10-episode miniseries is set in ye olde New York City, and Bruhl’s “alienist” is an early psychologist who tries to understand the criminal mind, in this case a person who is murdering young boy prostitutes. It is a dark show, and despite the good performance and high production values, it’s a little grim for my tastes, although I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all. Let’s just say that I’m glad it’s a miniseries and not a regular series.
  • Seal Team: Season Two – David Boreanaz returned to TV quickly after the end of the long-running Bones, taking on an action-adventure role in SEAL Team. While I would maybe have liked this show more if it was on a cable network like FX or HBO and a little more gritty, it’s perfectly fine CBS-style television. And while the ensemble cast is quite good, there’s no denying that it’s Boreanaz who carries the show, and he does so effortlessly. There’s a reason he’s been a leading man on TV for most of the last two decades. If he wasn’t in the show, I doubt I’d be as interested in it. As it is, it’s perfectly watchable, occasionally exciting network TV. This collection includes the entire second season just in time to catch up for season three!
  • Hawaii Five-O: The Ninth Season – Even in its Ninth season, Hawaii Five-O remains an hour-long chunk of satisfying procedural television, thanks to its solid action sequences, and the interplay between Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan. The show has lots of humor, solid mysteries, and doesn’t shy away from an expensive action sequence when it’s needed. The Hawaiian scenery adds to the show’s visual charms, and I understand the ladies don’t mind looking at Alex O’Loughlin all that much, either (At least my wife doesn’t seem to.) Season Eight of Hawaii Five-O sees some new cast members join, which might be jarring to some viewers at first, but after a few episodes they fit right in. Another good season of a show I enjoy.
  • Kids Spotlight – I’ve loved Curious George since I was just a little kid, so even though his TV show and movies are geared for the little ones, I never mind having to watch one. Curious George: Royal Monkey is a brand new animated feature-length movie (released straight to video) that is sort of a take on The Prince and The Pauper, as George accidentally switches places with a king’s snooty monkey named Phillippe. It’s a fun little movie with a Curious George take on a classic story, so while it’s not as enjoyable as the theatrical George film starring Will Ferrell, it’s still a good deal of fun for kids. Next up is Paw Patrol: Ready, Race, Rescue, which is actually also a feature-length movie rather than the usual collection of episodes of the show. In this adventure, the crew gets involved in a car race, and of course there are rescues to be had! It suns 44 minutes, so “feature length” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s certainly more than just an episode. I know that Paw Patrol is ridiculously popular with young kids, and this movie makes it easy to see why: it has lots of action, cute characters, positive lessons, and it’s bright and colorful and fun. What more can you ask for? NOTE: At the moment, this is a Wal-Mart exclusive disc. Finally, The Adventures of Dally & Spanky satisfies this month’s A Girl and Her Horse requirement, except this time it’s a Girl and Her Miniature Horse and the Horse’s Best Friend, a Jack Russell Terrier. Believe it or not, this family movie that features Denise Richards and Trace Adkins in supporting roles is based on a true story about a miniature horse and a dog that become friends and (with the humans’ help, of course) develop a sort of circus act that quickly becomes very popular. It’s typical fare from the Girl and Her Horse genre, but it’s friendly enough and it makes for good family viewing, especially for houses with younger children.
  • Indie Spotlight – We have several new independent releases this week. First up is Mayday, a thriller starring Michael Pare and Chanel Ryan. The film is about a passenger airplane that starts to have passengers disappear midflight. Is it a ghost? A terrorist? A haunted bathroom? Well, I’m not going to spoil it here, but I will say that for as much as this is the very definition of a low-budget direct-to-video thriller, I actually enjoyed. I like these kinds of movies, and it reminded me of a 1970s TV movie that I love called The Horror at 37,000 Feet. It’s cheesy, but it’s fun, and sometimes that’s all I want. Next up is The Third Wife, a deep and moving film about a teenage girl in 19th century rural Vietnam who becomes the third wife of a wealthy landowner. When she realizes she can assert power by birthing a male heir and then becomes pregnant, she begins to see a different future for herself. But things are from easy for her, and the story offers up no small amount of heartbreak and adversity. Winner of several international movie awards, the film is directed by Ash Mayfair, who evidences some real skill behind the camera, especially from a visual standpoint. The film is a bit of a tough watch, but it’s a rewarding one as well. Next, we have The Iron Orchard, a drama set in the oilfields of Texas in 1939. The film focuses on a young man and the adversity he faces as he tries to rise in his social and business standing, make his mark, and find true love. The performances by lead actors Lane Garrison and Ali Cobrin are good, but I can’t say the film was a knockout for me. It’s solidly made, but I never found myself all that engaged in what was happening on screen. Moving into the documentary realm, Hesburgh focuses on the longtime president of the University of Notre Dame, Reverend Theodore Hesburgh. I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of Mr. Hesburgh before this film, but it turns out he’s an intelligent, politically savvy, passionate religious and civil leader who has guided not only the university of Notre Dame but the attitudes of society as well. With a heavy focus on the civil rights movement, it’s hard to watch this film and not come away impressed by the man. On the flip side of the religious spectrum (but not really), we have The Mad Adventures of “Rabbi” Jacob. Okay, so this isn’t a documentary at all. Instead it’s a slapstick comedy from France about a bigoted man kidnapped by an Arab rebel leader who then poses as a Rabbi to avoid being killed. He has to avoid assassins, rediscover his home country, convince his family he’s not crazy, and much more. This 1978 film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Golden Globe, and it is now available on Blu-ray for the first time. There’s no denying the film is dated, but it did have some moments that made me chuckle. I don’t know that watching it for the first time in 2019 is going to make a lot of people converts, but fans of the film will be happy to have a nice, new version available on Blu-ray. Finally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Dead Don’t Die in Dallas, a low-budget zombie comedy, is being released on video the same day as the much more well-know The Dead Don’t Die which I reviewed above, but don’t confuse the two. Dead Don’t Die in Dallas is a much more low-budget affair, with no stars to speak of, save for trans actor William Belli. The film sees LGBTQ people stuck with anti-gay protestors during a zombie apocalypse, which gives the film a nice dose of social commentary. It’s not a great film, but I respect that it has fun with itself while trying to get a serious message out there and I think there are people who will enjoy it.

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