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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week – Fantastic Beasts, Silence, Patriots Day, Wishmaster and more

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – I’m what you would call a casual Harry Potter fan. I’ve seen all the movies, read a couple of the books, and I like the franchise as a whole. But was I staying up late at nights waiting for a new Harry Potter book or film (or even stage play)? Not really. Now, of course Fantastic Beasts isn’t a Harry Potter movie per se; instead it’s a prequel of sorts that takes place in the HP universe, with Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander taking center stage. I can be hit or miss with Redmayne as an actor, but I liked him here quite a bit. The film itself is also pretty darn good, filled with spectacular visuals, interesting characters, and a solid story overall. I’m sure die-hard HP fans will absolutely love it, and I think even the more casual fans like me will find a lot to like about it.

Silence – Admittedly, I’m not a particularly big Martin Scorsese fan. Also admittedly, I’m not a religious person. And, once again, admittedly I don’t love period dramas. So, how does this reviewer fare sitting through a near-three-hour Scorsese film about Christian persecution in 18th century Japan? Not all that well. I’ll say this: the movie does get interesting at some point. But for the first 45 minutes of the film, I was bored to tears. And when you have a film that runs two hours and forty minutes, well… it’s pretty easy to do that math. This is a movie that is well shot and well-acted, and while I may have philosophical issues with it, if the movie was a good hour shorter I certainly would have enjoyed it more.

Patriots Day – Mark Wahlberg reteams with Peter Berg (Berg2?) for the third based-on-true-events movie in a row. Following up Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, the two have come together to create Patriots Day, which is based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt. As with the previous two films in this unofficial trilogy, Patriots Day is a perfectly good film, even if it stops short of being really great. It’s a powerful story, told in clear fashion, with solid performances and some nice visual flair. The story structure is workmanlike, and the film builds to an action climax, which seems to be Berg’s M.O. in these films. I liked it, it’s worth watching, but it’s not really a repeat-viewing kind of film.

20th Century Women – Mike Mills previously brought us Beginners, which was a pretty good film that won Christopher Plummer a well-deserved Oscar. His newest film takes place in the 1970s, and it features an all-star cast that includes Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup. Much like his previous film, there is a lot to like in 20th Century Women, most especially the performances which are uniformly excellent. The overarching story is more character-driven than plot heavy, as the characters live intertwine and intersect. I can’t say it’s a move that I fell in love with, but it’s pretty enjoyable overall and the performances are terrific.

A Monster Calls – You look at the description of A Monster Calls on IMDB and it’s hard to imagine that this film is much good: “A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother’s terminal illness.” It sounds like a bad SyFy Channel movie. However, as helmed by J.A. Bayona (director of The Orphanage and The Impossible) and starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, and Liam Neeson, this is not a monster movie nor is it cheesy creature flick. Instead, it’s a drama filled with heart that takes a different tack on the story of a child dealing with grief. To say more would be to spoil the story, but go watch the trailer, see what kind of movie this really is, and then go watch it. It’s worth it.

Wishmaster Collection – Sometimes movie fans’ wishes come true… and never has that been more apt than with the new Blu-ray Wishmaster Collection from Lionsgate. This series of four films has never been released on Blu-ray before, and now they’ve all been collected into one nice box set that’s part of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video series (which is somewhat akin to Shout Factory’ Scream Factory imprint, bringing cult classics out in high quality releases.) The series itself is a lot of fun, with an evil Djinn granting wishes, usually with deadly results. Andrew Divoff is a lot of fun as the villain in the first two films, but the third and fourth films suffer from severe Cheapsequelitis, with Divoff absent and the production quality lowered in relation to the budgets. Still, fans of the series who have been waiting a long time to get the films in high def now get the entire series along with a plethora of great new extra features. A top-notch release for fans.

Wolf Creek: Season 1 – Wolf Creek was a fairly popular horror movie from 2005 that had enough success to warrant a sequel. Now, I liked both films just fine, but neither of them was so great that I thought to myself, “Hey, I wish this was a TV series!” Well, apparently, someone did feel that way because now Wolf Creek is a TV show. The first season (apparently, it’s been renewed for a second) sees the tables turned on serial killer Mick Taylor as one of his would-be victims sets out on a mission of revenge against him. I like the fact that this is a horror show, as it’s a genre which doesn’t get a ton of representation on network television (although obviously, that’s changed somewhat over the past decade or so.) I also like the fact that it’s only six episodes, which keeps things taut and tense; I can’t imagine how bad this would be if it stretched out to 16 or 22 episodes. Worth a look if you’re a fan of the films.

Julieta – It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve seen a new film by acclaimed auteur Pedro Almodovar. While I’m not a huge fan of Almodovar, I do like some of his films. This latest effort is a much more serious outing than what I’m used to from the director (although admittedly I’ve only seen a handful of his films, so maybe he detours into more serious territory more often than I think.) While the performances by Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez are both excellent, the story of a rift between mother and daughter in the wake of the family patriarch’s death is a heavy one, and I found it hard to get engaged with.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • A Kind of Murder – A fine cast headlines A Kind of Murder, including Patrick Wilson (whom I’ve always enjoyed quite a bit), Jessica Biel, Vincent Kartheiser, and Eddie Marsan. The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and the cover art proudly proclaims that “Hitchcock would be proud!” Except… he probably wouldn’t. The performances are good and the basic story premise is interesting enough, but the film is paced glacially and sometimes a bit murky – which admittedly, is what I’ve found to be my reaction to most Highsmith adaptations. Maybe I’m just not a Patricia Highsmith fan.
  • Arsenal – Am I the only one who finds a cast that includes Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Adrian Grenier, and Johnathon Schaech both very strange and yet also making a certain kind of sense? Well, either way, this direct-to-video thriller about a local businessman trying to get his brother back from a vicious mobster is relatively decent for what it is. Director Steven C. Miller has crafted a nice career for himself in making DTV thrillers, and after realizing I’ve seen about a half dozen of them by now, it’s clear that he’s one of the better people working in low-budget films starring former big stars. Worth a watch when there’s nothing better on.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXVIII – This latest collection brings us four new riffed-upon movies: Invasion, U.S.A., Colossus and the Headhunters, High School Big Shot, and Track of The Moon Beast. As always, there really isn’t anything here that you won’t find on many other MST3K releases out there, although I do like these box sets over the single movie releases. You get four movies, copious extras, and plenty of laughs. Hard to argue with that. Bonus points for the inclusion of the ‘80s cheesfest classic Invasion U.S.A., which I actually just watched recently, making the re-watch in MST3K style even more fun!
  • Drunk History: Season Four – I know Drunk History has a pretty big fan following, and I can see why with its plethora of big name guest stars. But personally, I’m just not a fan. There’s not a whole lot of Comedy Central’s original programming that I like these days, as they clearly are targeting a much younger frat-boy demographic than I fit into. Still, if you like the show, this season does bring you episodes featuring Billie Joe Armstrong, Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Ed Helms, Ronda Rousey, Elizabeth Olsen, Live Schreiber, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dave Grohl, and Patton Oswalt, among many, many others.
  • Marco Polo: The Complete Miniseries – Ian Somerholder takes on the lead role (based on the popular game that kids play in the pool) in this miniseries that is actually a biopic of sorts about the famed explorer. BD Wong and Brian Dennehy come along for the ride, and this TV miniseries is – like so many are – just a bit too long. It’s also not all that great, It’s not terrible, and I do like Ian Somerholder, but I don’t know that he really embodies what I think of when I think of Marco Polo. It is a budget release, so if your curious you can see it pretty inexpensively.
  • What Planet Are You From? – This high-profile misfire from 2000 features a terrific cast and a strange premise, and it makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Mill Creek (and at a budget price, no less!). Gary Shandling, Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, John Goodman, and Greg Kinnear star in this comedy from Director Mike Nichols that focuses on an alien played by Garry Shandling coming to earth to impregnate an earth woman and bring the baby back to his male-only planet. While the film was a massive bomb at the box office and wasn’t well-received by critics, it’s actually not a bad movie at all. There are some really funny moments, and the cast is terrific across the board. It’s been long enough now that most people have forgotten the negative buzz around the film; check it out at this budget price for a laugh.
  • Heidi – Despite being a classic and quite well-known story, what I know about Heidi boils down mostly to the fact that the movie version was responsible for one of the most famous NFL games in television history (Google it if you have no idea what I’m talking about.) This new version of the story (about the 20th time it’s been adapted) stars Bruno Ganz as Heidi’s grandfather. The story is very similar to many other works of 19th century literature (displaced youngster, stern caretakers, finding love and acceptance, possible ghost story) but I guess I can see why it’s considered a classic.
  • Suspects: Series 5Suspects is another fine show in a long line of quality television releases from Acorn. This modern-day cop show sees a trio of detectives solving crimes (which seems fairly obvious as this is a detective show.) Where this series differs from the rest, however, is that it takes a sort-of documentary-style filmmaking approach to the filmmaking, giving it a fresh and unique twist. With terrific performances, this will really be right up your alley if you’re a procedurals junkie.
  • Monster High: Electrified – The popular Barbie-as-monster-teenagers series returns with an all-new animated movie that sees the gang in new outfits that I’m preeeetty sure just happen to tie in to new toys that are on store shelves as we speak. There’s the usual mayhem, fun, and teenage hijinks that you’ve come to expect from Monster High movies by now. I’m very far removed from the target audience for these films, but for what they are they’re pretty good. Plus, I like that Universal puts them out on Blu-ray and not just DVD like so many other studios do with kids’ releases.
  • Mickey and The Roadster Racers – This newest iteration of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse sees Mickey and the gang racing in roadsters at Hot Dog Hill, where they run a super-cool garage. My kids loved MMC when they were young, and I’m sure if they were age-appropriate, they’d have fun with this one, too. Combining the classic Disney characters with positive messages, lessons, and, well, race cars, makes for a show that’s lots of fun. Typically high quality pre-school programming from Disney.
  • Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors: The Complete Series – This release is like pure nostalgia heroin for me. I absolutely loved this show when I was a kid, and even though it was never as popular as I wanted it to be, being able to have the ability to go back and watch every single episode of it is a real treat. Sure, the show isn’t as good as I remember it being, but it’s still a lot of fun. If you liked things like Voltron and Starriors, then you definitely need to revisit the world of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, especially considering that this is a budget release, meaning it can be found pretty darn inexpensively.
  • Spacepop: Power Princess – I’m not entirely sure what to make of this one. It’s an animated film which seems to draw inspiration equally from Bratz, Equestria Girls, and Barbarella (okay, not entirely.) It’s a musical sci-fi girl power cartoon and it features singing, cute animals, and pop music. It seems a little to me like the creators just took pieces of every currently-popular brand and threw them all together to try and capitalize on that, but it’s actually not too bad. The animation isn’t overly impressive, but when you stack it up against all the other shows aimed at young girls right now, it’s neither better nor worse than the majority of them.

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