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Out This Week (In The US): Warcraft, The Shallows, Labyrinth, Bill & Ted, The Neon Demon and more

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bill-and-ted

Warcraft – Word on the street is that Warcraft is one of the better video game movies to come down the pike, so I was excited to watch it. And yes, it is better than most video games. But that is a really low bar. The sad fact is that Warcraft is perfectly okay. But it’s just that: okay. It looks nice and there are a few good action sequences, but by and large I just couldn’t get invested in the characters or the story. It’ definitely not a bad film, but I really wanted to like it more than I did. I’m sure fans of the game will enjoy it, but regular moviegoers will probably find that it falls way short of being a great movie.

The Shallows – Blake Lively, a reef, and a great white shark walk into a bar… Okay, not really, but I really enjoyed this tale of a girl versus a shark. Lively plays an American girl on a sabbatical to a deserted beach who gets trapped on a reef by a killer great white shark. Annnnd… that’s pretty much it. But what more do you need in a movie like this? The suspense is sharp, Lively’s performance is terrific, and the shark effects are great. The film ratchets up the tension as it goes, and it’s a really fun ride. It’s not a perfect film, nor does it break any new ground, but if you’re looking for a good (wo)man vs. animal thriller, it will definitely satisfy your craving.

Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection – Bill & Ted only starred in two movies (with a third on the way) and one of them was a total flop at the box office. Yet they’ve managed to remain relevant in the pop culture consciousness for 30 years. And there’s a reason for that. The first Bill & Ted’s is a classic comedy that has time-travel, rock n roll, and two endearing goofballs. The second film actually ups the ante (and is my favorite of the two) and takes things in a deliciously twisted direction. This new collection includes both films in high definition and a ton of bonus features, all wrapped up in some gorgeous packaging. In short, it’s a must have. Excellent!

Labyrinth: 30th Anniversary Edition – I’ve never been the fan of Labyrinth that a lot of other people are, and I think that’s because I never saw it until I was an adult. By the time I saw it, I was viewing it through different eyes than a lot of my peers did. I think David Bowie is great in it and of course it introduced the world to Jennifer Connolly. But I wanted to rewatch it because it has been quite some time since I saw it originally. And I can definitely say that I appreciated it more this time around, but I still don’t have the affinity for it that some people do. However, this new Blu-ray special edition features high def picture and some great extra features, so fans will be thrilled with it.

The Neon Demon – I don’t generally love Nichols Winding Refn’s films, even though I know people really like him. I enjoyed Drive but I don’t love it, and I really didn’t like his other films. The Neon Demon continues his trend of style over substance, and once again I can’t say that I enjoyed it overly much. As usual, the film looks great, but the story left me on the cold side. Refn will probably win over hardcore film geeks — which I usually consider myself to be — with this one, but he continues to make films that I just can’t get into.

Edge of Winter – Joel Kinnaman continues to impress in this thriller about a man and his two sons who end up stranded in the woods in the dead of winter. There’s more to it than that but I don’t want to give away any of the film’s suspense. Kinnaman is terrific as a father on the edge, and the film is both edgy and bleak. Tom Holland (who played Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War) also impresses as one of Kinnaman’s sons. This is the kind of direct-to-video thriller that reminds you that not every movie has to be released theatrically in order to be good.

Cell – John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson star in this terrific zombie thriller based on Stephen King’s hit novel. Okay, technically, they aren’t really zombies, but they’re zombies in the same way as the infected in 28 Days Later. This one sees a virus of sorts that’s transmitted through cell phone signals, which quickly infects most of the country. The story from there is fairly typical zombie film material, but it’s well-written and well-acted, and it has some nice tense moments, some good action scenes, and some solid drama. Plus, it has a nice gut-punch of an ending that I really enjoyed. Definitely check this one out.

Motown 25: Yesterday Today Forever – This brilliant box set is actually available in a couple of iterations (including a 3-disc set and a single disc release), but this six-disc box set is the real deal. Packed with extra features and a collectible book (which is a lost art these days), the set also includes some of the biggest names in music performing live. You’ll know so many of the songs, and you’ll recognize so many of the performers as well: Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, The Miracles, The Temptations, Four Tops, Linda Ronstadt, Smokey Robinson, and Adam Ant, with a ton more. And there are hours of extra features that include interviews and documentaries, plus numerous featurettes. In short, this is a must-have for music lovers.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Lady in White – This is one of those movies that defines “cult classic.” Starring Lukas Haas, Alex Rocco, and Katherine Helmond, the film was never a hit, and there’s a good chance that even as you read this you have no idea what movie I’m talking about. The basic story involves a young man who sees a ghost that ultimately helps him try to catch a serial killer, but it’s not just a nuts and bolts supernatural plot. The film is steeped in atmosphere and tension, but also characters that you can get engaged in. It’s a really cool little film that makes its Blu-ray debut, and it’s definitely worth tracking it down.
  • Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition – There’s been no shortage of versions of Highlander on home video, but this newest edition includes a nice smorgasbord of extra features. It also has been released on Blu-ray, but unfortunately I only received the DVD for review so I can’t comment on the quality of the film itself, which could certainly have been upgraded. Still, you do get new extra features that include a new documentary and interviews, and those are the highlights of the disc on DVD. I love this movie and I would have loved to see what a restored high-def Blu-ray looked like, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.
  • Modern Family: Season 7 – Even seven seasons in, Modern Family remains one of the funniest sitcoms on TV. Everything about it is pitch perfect from the cast to the characters to the writing and everything in between. By now, you must have heard the hype about this show, and I can tell you that is well earned. Every single episode is hysterical, and there are also some touching moments, too. But what’s best about it is that you either know someone or are someone who is just like a character on this show, because they’re all so real. Me? I’m Phil, without a doubt. Modern Family is the quintessential sitcom, If you’re still not watching it, you should be. Simple as that.
  • Blue Bloods: The Sixth Season – I’m a huge Tom Selleck fan, and I have been since I was a kid, so of course I was going to watch Blue Bloods. And with a supporting cast that includes Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynihan, and Will Estes — all actors I like — I assumed this show would be a slam dunk. But it isn’t; at least not quite. Instead, 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, fans of the show get a good season, with a few new storylines along to keep things interesting, and I like catching up on DVD. I enjoy it enough for some good binge watching.
  • The Catch: Season 1 – I really like Mireille Enos, whether it’s in shows like The Killing or movies like World War Z. She’s always terrific on screen and elevates any project she’s in. In this show, she stars opposite Peter Krause as an investigator who falls for a con man and then tries to hunt him down — and succeeds — only to find that she’s still head over heels for him. The show blends humor, action, drama, and romance, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun. Enos and Krause have good chemistry on screen and I applaud the show for trying to do something a little different. It’s fun and worth a watch if you want a quick 10-episode binge watch.
  • Gunsmoke: The Twelfth Season, Volume One & Two – When a television show lasts a record-setting 20 seasons, there’s a reason for it. Gunsmoke is one of the most successful TV shows of all time, and it’s not hard to see why. It had a little of everything: drama, action, romance. This truly is a hard-hitting show, a drama that wasn’t afraid to get dirty – and this was in the 60’s during prime time TV. Before shows like Gunsmoke, these shows were mostly was considered stuff for kids of the stereotypical “Cowboys & Indians” variety. Is there a more iconic western show in the history of television? I don’t think so. While I’ve never been a huge fan of westerns in general, you can’t deny the quality of this historic series. Gunsmoke: The Twelfth Season is presented in two volumes, so it’s not a cheap set, but if you’ve been collecting up until now, there’s no reason to stop.
  • Reign: The Complete Third Season – The CW’s hit period romance show Reign: Season 3 comes to DVD, which should make fans happy. The show is driven by its three young, attractive, and talented leads, plus the hint of supernatural that pops up occasionally gives it a bit of mystery. I’m not sure how well the show will play outside of its target audience of teenage girls, but it seems to be doing well for the network, and I like it well enough for what it is.
  • Barbarians Rising – This is pretty typical History Channel material, but there’s nobody that does what the History Channel does better than they do. This nearly six hour DVD set focuses mostly on four barbarians of historical note: Hannibal, Spartacus, Boudica, and Attila the Hun. Through the usual mix of interviews and recreation footage, this series explores how these Barbarians pretty much ruled the world in their day. I don’t know that I needed six hours of it, but it’s pretty cool overall.
  • Two Films By Douglas Sirk: A Scandal in Paris / Lured – Douglas Sirk is one of those classic Hollywood directors who isn’t quite as well known as he should be. Sure, among cinephile circles he’s still a pretty big name, but the general public isn’t very familiar with him. With films like Imitation of Life, Bourbon Street, and All That Heaven Allows, Sirk crafted some of classic Hollywood’s most memorable movies. This two-movie collection includes a couple of his lesser known films: A Scandal in Paris and Lured. A Scandal in Paris is a drama starring George Sanders as a charming thief, while Lucille Ball stars in Lured, a serial killer mystery. These are earlier films from Sirk’s career, and while neither is a masterpiece, they are both solid films that are quite interesting to watch.
  • The Wonder Years: Season 6 – One of the most beloved shows of the 80s/90s, The Wonder Years concludes its run on DVD with the The Wonder Years: Season Six on DVD. There is also a limited edition set of the entire series available through StarVista online, but this set includes just the entire sixth season. One of the best things about this release is that the distributor went through and secured the rights to ALL of the music in the set, so the show’s indelible soundtrack is intact. What better time to welcome Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper back into your home?
  • Patterns – This fascinating film historical nugget stars Van Heflin and makes its Blu-ray debut, but what really makes it noteworthy is that it’s one of the few films written by Rod Serling, he of Twilight Zone fame. Now, technically it was a TV movie (way back in 1955), but it earned massive success and the first of six Emmys for Serling. This one is less Twilight Zone-esque than you might want, as it’s a drama set in the world of big business. But it’s not a dull drama; rather it has elements of a thriller film woven into it, and there’s no small amount of tension to it. Even though it’s half a century old, the subject matter is timely and the film is really quite good.
  • Power Rangers Dino Charge: Rise – This latest collection of the hit kids show features the current series of the Power Rangers, which wisely mixes dinosaur-shaped zords back into the mix. Obviously this is for kids, but I think as far as entertainment for youngsters go, there’s a lot worse than this. The show is still cheesetastic as all get out, but that’s me saying that with a critical adult eye. Kids should eat it up.
  • Jericho Series 1 – Not to be confused with the Skeet Ulrich post-nuclear war series, this British western show is set in the 1870s. I don’t recognize any of the stars myself, but I imagine they’re probably better known to British viewers. Set in a small frontier town, the show focuses on a widow and her children and the variety of people that populate the town. It’s more of a drama than anything else, so don’t come to the show looking for Deadwood. It’s well acted and well written overall, but I’m not a huge western fan and this didn’t do much to change that opinion.
  • Howard Lovecraft and The Frozen Kingdom – A kids’ movie based on H.P. Lovecraft? Erm… okaaayyy. Still, with Christopher Plummer and Ron Perlman in the voice cast, this had to have something going for it, right? Well, the movie isn’t bad, and it sees a young H.P. Lovecraft opening a portal to another world and taking on a monster as a pet. So I guess that’s cool, but it’s an odd thing to aim for. I mean, if your kids are young enough to enjoy this movie, they’re way too young to read Lovecraft. Still, I guess it makes for a kids movie that parents can find something enjoyable in, so that’s something.
  • Masterpiece: Indian Summers Season 2 – This show has been billed as Downton Abbey in India, and for good reason: it IS Downton Abbey in India. I mean, sure, there are some differences, but basically it’s the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy set in India in the 1920s, with a cast of British characters playing transplanted Englanders when the country was still under British rule. It’s not as charming as Downton, but it does have its moments. It’s at east good enough to hold you now that Downton has retired for the evening.
  • How to Dance in Ohio – This moving film is a real-life look at a group of students at a high school in Ohio where a group of developmentally challenged youths are preparing to attend their school’s Spring Formal. It’s a sweet, supportive film that doesn’t shy away from showing the challenges these kids are going through, but I’ll be damned if you won’t be won over by them by the end of the film. We see them go through all of the traditional rites of passage – picking outfits, voting for king and queen, etc. – and the culmination of it all with the Spring Formal. It’s an endearing little film that should be shown in all high schools, in my opinion.
  • A Dangerous Game: Donald Trump vs. the Environment – From the director of You’ve Been Trumped — the documentary about Donald Trump’s attempts to put up a golf course in a town that didn’t want it there — comes this follow-up film which looks closely at the damage that Trump’s golf resorts have done to the environment. Like You’ve Been Trumped, the film is very one-sided and not objective at all… but that’s exactly the film it wants to be. This is a movie that is out to condemn Trump for his actions, and after watching both of these films, it’s hard not to agree with the opinions put forth here. Trump supporters probably will ignore this one, but it’s an interesting film no matter which end of the political spectrum you sit on.
  • Scarred But Smarter: The Life and Times of Drivin N Cryin – I was disproportionately excited to watch this documentary, especially considering that I’m not a Drivin N Cryin fan. It’s not that I don’t like them, I’ve just never really listened to them. But when I was in high school, I’ll never forget the day that two of my best friends showed up to school wearing the exact same Drivin N Cryin t-shirts on the exact same day, completely by accident. I had never even heard of them at that point. Over the years, I learned that they have a rabid fan base, but I’ve still never gotten into them. This film is about exactly that: why aren’t they a bigger band than they are, despite their rabid fan base? It’s a fascinating look at band that did just fine without me (thank you very much) and I really enjoyed it.
  • City of Gold – What sounds like an adventure film is actually a documentary about Jonathan Gold. Who’s Jonathan Gold, you ask? He’s a food critic in Los Angeles of some renown, and this film sees him seeking out exotic cuisines in a quintessentially American city. Now, I’ll say that it’s a perfectly fine film, but I feel like maybe it was better suited for a Food Network series than an actual feature film. That said, it’s enjoyable enough, and if you’re caught up on you DVR-ed episodes of America’s Next Top Baker Worst Chef Cupcake Warrior, then it’s worth a watch.
  • A House Is Not a Home – A new movie starring Richard Grieco? Sign me up! Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a Richard Grieco fanboy. As a huge fan of 21 Jump Street (and Booker), I’ve always had a soft spot for the Greek-ster (a nickname I just made up), so even though this movie really didn’t look like my kind of thing, I had to watch it. And you know, it’s got some other B-movie stars like Bill Cobbs and Eddie Steeples in it, too, so why not? Now, this story of a family in a house where things are quickly going insane is nothing new, and while it’s certainly not great filmmaking, there is a certain lo-fi charm to it. Grieco is only in a supporting role (which I expected), but it’s still good to see him again, and although saying “I’ve seen worse” sounds like damning with faint praise, in the horror genre it’s still a pretty high compliment.
  • Chasing the Devil – A found footage possession/haunting film, Chasing the Devil gets an A for effort but a D for execution. I applaud the filmmakers for putting together a cohesive narrative film on what is clearly a very limited budget, but I found very little to excite me about this film. It’s got all the requisite jump scares and current horror movie tropes, but it’s at best mediocre in terms of writing and acting, and the somewhat creepy vibe isn’t enough to carry it.

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