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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: 1917, Jumanji: The Next Level, The Grudge, The Wizard, April Fool’s Day, Bamboozled and more

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1917 – Rightfully deserving all of the critical acclaim and box office success it received, the worldwide hit 1917 makes its way to home video this week, and I highly recommend checking it out. By now, everyone has probably heard about how the film was made to look like one continuous shot, and while that could easily have been a gimmick, it turns out that it’s just another style of storytelling, and it works extremely well. While at first you might find yourself looking for where they cut or how they pulled off certain shots, by the end you are completely captivated by the characters’ journey, and if the final scene doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, I don’t know what will. Sam Mendes has crafted a beautiful war film, filled with emotion, action, suspense, and gritty realism, and I think it’s a near-masterpiece. 1917 comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the premium format really shines. The film’s imagery is razor-sharp, and colors are vivid and lifelike without appearing cartoony, keeping the film’s tone intact. The surround soundtrack really gives the speakers a work-out, bringing the sounds of war to your living room all around. It’s a terrific presentation for a film that really deserves one.

Jumanji: The Next Level – I was never a fan of the original Jumanji starring Robin Williams, but I thought the 2017 reboot was a lot of fun. I wasn’t really sure it needed a sequel, but you don’t have films that gross, like, a billion dollars and not get sequels to them nowadays. Luckily, Jumanji: The Next Level is every bit as much fun as its predecessor. The entire original cast returns, this time with some new characters inhabiting their bodies, which gives the film some newly fun hijinks to deal with. I don’t know that I would have had Dawyne Johnson do an “old guy from New York” accent for quite as long as he does, but it’s a minor quibble in a movie filled with big action, fun special effects, and witty humor. Jumanji: The Next Level comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and while it’s not the loftiest film ever, the premium format is best for movies like these. It’s big, colorful, and full of spectacle, so the super-vibrant color saturation and really sharp imagery enhance the picture quite a bit. The surround soundtrack also does a nice job of bringing the world of Jumanji to your house, surrounding you with ambient noise and directional effects. This one’s a winner.

The Grudge – Even during the original onset of Asian horror films, where the original The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Gellar became a box office hit, I was never really a fan of the franchise. I sat through a couple of American versions and the original Asian version, and none of them ever had much impact on me. So the idea of remaking it yet again, in an era when Blumhouse’s particular brand of horror has become so effective, just didn’t seem like a particularly smart move to me. Now, I know, technically it’s not a remake, as it sort of takes place alongside the previous American movies, but whatever. It’s a new film that didn’t really need to be made. And despite a rather outstanding cast filled with actors I like — including Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver and, of course, Lin Shaye — the film continues to further a franchise that just doesn’t do anything for me. Fans of The Grudge series might like this one, but there are many other better horror movies you could watch instead.

The Wizard: Collector’s Edition – This late ‘90s family adventure/comedy/drama movie is one I was always familiar with but had never watched before. Starring a young Fred Savage, the film follows two half-brothers — one of whom is never explicitly diagnosed but seems pretty clearly to be on the autism spectrum (and who also happens to be a video game whiz) – as they travel cross country to compete in a video game contest. Along the way, they meet a girl who joins them and becomes a part of their road-family (played by Jenny Lewis, now a musician in Rilo Kiley). And while at first, I was seriously questioning the behaviors of pretty much every adult character in the film (as any parent will, trust me), the film won me over by the end. It’s largely innocent, and there’s no real sex, violence, or swearing, but the story is engaging enough and the characters real enough to get drawn into. I can see why this film has something of a fan following; I think if I’d seen it as a kid, I would absolutely love it. Shout Factory has brought the film to Blu-ray as a Collector’s Edition, and it includes some nice new extra features including interviews and an audio commentary, plus some great new cover art. This one surprised me!

April Fool’s Day: Collector’s Edition – Speaking of Collector’s Editions from Shout Factory, this week we also have a new version of April Fool’s Day, a cult classic horror flick from Scream Factory (and imprint of Shout.) This is one of the lesser known 80’s slashers (in terms of box office success) but it has a pretty solid cult following thanks to a memorable movie poster, a really fun ending, and a cast of largely unknowns who are game for the ride. I think I had seen this film once before a long time ago, but I completely enjoyed watching it again. Sure it’s dated and a bit cheesy in places, but it is extremely enjoyable and the ending really kicks it up a notch. This new Collector’s Edition comes with great new cover art, and a really great collection of extra features, making it a must have for horror fans.

Bamboozled – I’ve been filling in my Spike lee back catalogue over the past few years, because honestly, there’s a lot more of his movies that I haven’t seen than that I have. So I was excited when the new Criterion Collection edition of Bamboozled came across my desk, because it’s one of his lesser-seen films. The story is an interesting one, following a TV executive who’s charged with increasing ratings, so he decides to bring blackface back to the mainstream, which turns into a surprising success. Lee’s films have never shied away from dealing with race, obviously, but this might be one of his most directly confrontational films. And there are some parts of it I really liked, with clever satires and messages about the entertainment industry, but there are also parts where I felt like the film was unfocused or dragging things out. At two hours and 15 minutes, I definitely feel like it could have been a good half-hour shorter. But then, I feel that way about a lot of Lee’s films; I think he just needs a really good editor, personally. (I also rail against all overlong films in general, so it’s not just Lee who needs a great editor. The new Criterion Collection Blu-ray (also available on DVD) comes with a nice collection of extra features and it’s also been restored and remastered, making this a real treat for fans of the film or its director.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • The UnXplained: Season 1 – This new History Channel show features William Shatner as host and echoes shows such as Unsolved Mysteries and the late ‘70s/early ‘80s show In Search Of…, which ironically was hosted by Shatner’s Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy. In each of the 10-episodes in this two-disc set, Shatner takes us into various unexplained phenomena such as predicting the future, surviving disasters, voodoo, cryptozoological creatures, and even the famous mountain known as Devil’s Tower. As with most shows of this ilk, there are a lot more questions than answers, but there are some fun and spooky segments, some that take on a more scientific approach, and even a few that might just have you rolling your eyes a bit. But on the whole, it’s a fun show and fans of the paranormal will probably enjoy it.
  • Hunter’s Moon – Thomas Jane stars in this new direct-to-video horror offering that also sees Jay Mohr and Sean Patrick Flanery. This is an interesting film, in that it’s sort of a mash-up of home invasion thriller and werewolf film (a genre that hasn’t fared well on film in recent years.) And despite its low budget, the film plays to its strengths well, namely having a good cast, a solid premise, and filmmakers who know how to keep the tension ratcheted up. The wolf effects are nothing special, but they aren’t terrible either, and the film wisely goes the Jaws route and shows just enough to be interesting but not enough to really be able to dissect the costume’s weaknesses. This is a fun little thriller that’s worth tracking down.
  • Love & Temptation: 3-Film Collection – This new three-film collection includes three Lifetime movies based on books by NY Times bestselling-author Jane Green. The three films are Tempting Fate (starring Alyssa Milano), To Have and to Hold (starring Erika Christensen), and Family Pictures (starring Elisabeth Rohm). Each one fits squarely int the domestic family thriller category, with most of them involving killer spouses, hidden lives, infidelity, and the like. Now, I like these kinds of movies, even though they tend to run a bit on the cheesy side, but having high-caliber, well-liked actresses in the lead roles makes them easy to watch, and they’re each juicy and suspenseful. A certain amount of fun for a certain kind of audience.
  • Cunningham – I wish I had more to say about Cunningham than I do, but it’s a documentary about a dancer, and I don’t really enjoy dance very much and I’m extremely picky about my documentaries. So while I’m not the best judge of this particular documentary, which tells the life story of dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, I will say that it’s well-made with good production values, it runs a respectable 90 minutes so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and people who like the art of dance will probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. It is definitely not a bad film by any means, it’s just not really my thing.

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