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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Split, Sleepless, The Founder, and more



Split – While there were some mixed reactions to M. Night Shyamalan’s last film, The Visit, it was a bona fide box office hit (and personally, I really enjoyed it.) Split managed to get the box office hit part down without even doing the mixed opinions bit, as everyone seemed to love it. As a huge fan of James McAvoy, I was thrilled to see him dive into such a meaty role, playing a killer with a couple dozen personalities. But what makes the film even better is the ending, which reveals that Shyamalan may be planning bigger and better things within a shared universe. I don’t want to say any more and spoil anything, but Split is a lot of fun and it’s nice to see Shyamalan returning to the world of making good movies again.

Why Him? – People often forget that before Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston was a brilliant comedic actor on Malcolm in the Middle. So it’s great to see him return to the comedy world in Why Him. The film is sort of a millennial-generation update of Father of the Bride or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (although without the racial aspect), although please know that I’m not comparing it to those two classic films. It’s a solidly decent comedy, with some funny moments and some stupid moments. I can’t say you have to rush right out and see it, but it’s a fun enough way to kill 90 minutes.

Sleepless – Usually when films are remakes of foreign movies, I haven’t seen the original film. I actually watched Sleepless Night, the French thriller that Sleepless is based on and I loved it; the French have been quietly making some of the best action/thriller films of the last decade. Now, Sleepless is a much more traditional American-style film than the movie that inspired it, but while it wasn’t a big hit at the box office, it’s a pretty tight action flick overall. Jamie Foxx has the chops to handle the lead role in an action film, and while I don’t the film has the intensity of its predecessor, it’s hard not to watch and get at least a little caught up in the events. Worth a watch.

The Founder – Michael Keaton turns in yet another stellar performance as Ray Kroc, the small-time salesman who turned the McDonald’s restaurant into a worldwide chain and a success story unlike just about anything else in the world. Most people don’t know the story behind the ubiquitous fast food chain, and while The Founder may not be as hard-fact-based as a true documentary, but it tells the story of Kroc and the McDonald Brothers in an entertaining way. Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, and Patrick Wilson round out the supporting cast to make this one of those movies that’s not a blockbuster but is still largely entertaining nonetheless.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract – The DC Animated Universe continues their original animated movies with this film based on one of the Teen Titans most popular storylines from the 1980s. Unfortunately, it’s been updated to include current characters like the new Robin, Damian (who I absolutely abhor), and the new version of Blue Beetle who literally has an alien beetle attached to his back. Ugh. While there are some cool parts to the flick (I love seeing Starfire on screen) and Deathstroke makes a great villain, the new characters just don’t work for me. Not bad overall, but not great either.

Planet Earth IIPlanet Earth II is amazing. In related news, the sky is blue. I mean, honestly, is anyone surprised that Planet Earth II is nothing short of breathtaking? The original series was not only a monster hot but also something of a cultural touchstone, raising the bar for nature documentaries thereafter. Of course, the second series would have a lot to live up to, and it doesn’t disappoint. Whether it’s footage of animals or landscapes, it’s all amazing. This time around, the episodes are broken into themes based on locales: islands, mountains, cities, etc. Each episode is like a movie filled with some of the most wondrous imagery you’ve ever seen, and each one also has a complete narrative and “story,” if you will. It’s been a long wait since Planet Earth, but it was totally worth it.

Mars – A TV miniseries from National Geographic, I think I would have liked this one better if it was just a movie. See, it’s a combination of scripted drama and talking-heads-style documentary, with the documentary parts sort of setting up/supporting the scripted parts. While the drama features some neat special effects and a cool look at what a mission to Mars might look like, I would definitely have preferred just a straight-up fictional narrative to this hybrid which runs on way too long for my tastes. Science geeks will probably go ape for it but it didn’t quite work as well as I wanted it to.

A League of Their Own: 25th Anniversary Edition – “There’s no crying in baseball!” One of Tom Hanks’ most quotable moments in his storied career arrived in this fantastic film about the real-life short-lived female professional baseball league back in the depression era. Co-starring Madonna, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell, the film is a really fun movie with a nice message about female empowerment. Even better, the film is rated PG, which I had completely forgotten about, which makes it a nice family film (just a few moments of language.) This 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray presents the film in high def but also adds some nice new extra features. This is a great film to revisit and a great release overall.

The Good Wife: Complete Series – A surprisingly good crossbreed between law show and straight-up drama, The Good Wife is simply great television. Smart cases, terrific characters, and interesting storytelling add up to make this a really engaging show. The legal cases are certainly interesting enough on their own, while the character dramas are easy enough to figure out as you go. As always, I would start at the first season, but you can jump in here at the start of the sixth season and feel pretty caught up in short order. With a growing cast that added more and more talented actors every season, this show was such a big hit for a reason. Now available in a massive box set, The Good Wife: The Complete Series includes all seven seasons plus extra features in one cube-like box that isn’t super-compact, but won’t take up y our entire shelf, either. Nice.

Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Series – Book ’em, Dano! Hawaii Five-O fans can rejoice because this MASSIVE box set collects all 12 seasons into one huge box set that includes every single episode of the well loved show. For my money, Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Series is technically good TV. I use the word “technically” because while there is obviously good production value, acting and stories at work here, this is a show that just hasn’t aged all that well. There is not a chance that someone in their twenties today will stumble across this show and fall in love with it. Even with the interesting plots, the show runs into problems with its hour-length run-time. There just aren’t enough thrills and action for it. There’s too much talking back and forth that never really leads us anywhere that takes place throughout the story when we should just be getting down to brass tacks in a half-hour format. I can see why Hawaii Five-O was such a successful show back when it aired but compared to the caliber of storytelling and action of today’s standards it just can’t hold up. There are a few stories scattered throughout that, with some editing, really could have been something special but there is no serious draw into this television show if you didn’t watch it when it first aired. That said, I don’t think many people who aren’t already fans of this show would bother with this set anyway. It’s clearly aimed at fans, and those fans should be thrilled. The packaging is gorgeous, and having the whole show in one easily contained box set is the way to go.

Tales from the Hood – Even though this urban-themed horror anthology is over 20 years old, the themes within are surprisingly current. Racism, police brutality, drugs…? Yep, all still problems in 2017 America. This film (executive produced by Spike Lee) presents four shorter horror stories and includes a cast that features David Alan Grier, Clarence Williams III, Wings Hauser, and Corbin Bernsen. Now, while the film’s themes are still current, the film itself is not, meaning it has its fair share of cheesy moments. It’s not a terrible movie but it’s not a great one either; however, I know there are a lot of fans out there of the film, so they should be thrilled to have this extra-features laden Blu-ray release.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Speaking of movies from the past that are current today, The Handmaid’s Tale has seen a huge resurgence since Donald Trump was elected president. Based on the famed Margaret Atwood novel about a future where women are conscripted to breeding services for powerful men, this 1990 adaptation stars Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern, and Robert Duvall and it makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout Factory. The film has a few clunky moments but is largely effective, presenting a pretty terrifying tale that also isn’t so farfetched as to be outside of believability. Consider it a once-again relevant cautionary tale.

Buena Vista Social Club – Wim Wenders never seems to make the same kind of movie twice. While he’s well known for hardcore drama and action films as well as fascinating documentaries about everything from bears to caves. But a movie on old-school jazz/roots/Latin music? Sure, why not? BVSC is not only an arresting documentary in its own right, it was also an incredibly successful film, birthing a hit soundtrack and a resurgence in the music and artists featured within. Wenders makes a film that’s equally about music and people and it is – of course – fantastic. Now available in a terrific Criterion Collection edition, with remastered and restored picture and sound, this is the version to own of this terrific film.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Ocean Waves – Studio Ghibli continues its forays into more realistic storytelling with Ocean Waves, a story of adolescence and coming of age in a small town while the big city calls your name. Now, I’ve been pretty vocal about not being a fan of Studio Ghibli’s output over the years, but I do like this new direction. While I’m sure they’re going to continue putting out wild fantasy films, seeing them take the time to visit real life from time to time is quite rewarding.
  • Masterpiece: Home Fires Season 2 – What was life like for the women who stayed behind while the men went off to war in World War II and the Battle of Britain? Home Fires explores that idea, following the ladies of a small English village in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s as the Nazis rose to power. (Season Two focuses exclusively on 1940.) There are male characters too, of course, but the focus is on characters such as Frances, the leader of the Women’s Institute, and Sarah, whose husband is on the front lines. It’s solid drama, and while it’s not entirely my cup of tea, the strong writing and performances ensure a good viewing experience.
  • Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume Two – I’ve been a Bruce Lee fan for a really long time, but after you’ve seen all his movies there’s not really too many places left to go. Sure, I’ve seen some documentaries and also read some books about Lee (plus I love the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story), but that’s about it. So I was pretty excited when this show came across my desk. A dramatized version of Lee’s life, this first season spans ten episodes and covers Lee’s early career. Danny Chan is very good in the lead role and also bears a striking resemblance to Lee, which adds to the authentic feel of the show. I’m sure much of the drama has been fictionalized, but I’d be lying if I said that really mattered to me. The show is fun to watch and is a neat look at (a version of) the life of a movie icon.
  • John Lewis: Get in the Way, American Experience: Ruby Ridge, NOVA: Ultimate Cruise Ship, NOVA: Search for the Super Battery, NOVA: Secrets of the Sky Tombs – PBS releases a slew of new documentary-themed DVD releases this week. John Lewis: Get in the Way is a terrific biography of the well-respected politician, Representative John Lewis, who marched on Selma with Martin Luther King. Jr and has even written a series of graphic novels. It’s a fascinating look at the life of a piece of history. American Experience: Ruby Ridge attempts to recreate the actual events of the Ruby Ridge massacre in 1992, using interviews from witnesses, people close to the events, and law enforcement officials. It’s a really interesting look at a defining American event. NOVA: Ultimate Cruise Ship is my favorite of this bunch, as it walks viewers through the building of one of the biggest cruise ships in the world. I’m endlessly fascinated by cruise ships, so seeing what goes into building one was pure enjoyment for me. NOVA: Search for the Super Battery is more than just a documentary on how batteries work (although it covers that, too.) We learn about what makes batteries good and bad, current battery technology and the problems with it, and all sorts of other interesting battery-related tidbits. A lot of fun for science and gadget enthusiasts. Finally, NOVA: Secrets of the Sky Tombs takes us to the Himalayas, where we visit some of the most inhospitable areas of the earth and learn about the people who lived – and died – there. Not my favorite of the group, but still pretty interesting stuff.
  • Mia and Me: Season 1: Volume 1, Arctic Adventure: On Frozen Pond, A Cowgirl’s Story, Bigger Fatter Liars – There are several new kids/family titles out today. First up is Mia & Me, a cute Nickelodeon show for young girls (and boys, if they’re interested.) While there have been a couple of DVD releases before, this marks the first half of the season collected into one release which includes 13 episodes. Arctic Adventure: On Frozen Pond is a new animated movie starring Ambyr Childers and Jon Lovitz, as well as the two guys who created Smosh, a popular YouTube presence. This 90-minute adventure features frog characters and while it’s really nothing special, younger kids might get a kick out of it. Moving on to live action films, A Cowgirl’s Story is this month’s requisite “Girl + Horse = Family Drama” movie. Starring Bailee Madison and Pat Boone (Yes, THAT Pat Boone), it’s straight from the girl/horse movie playbook, with a lonely girl making friends with a horse and conquering all of life’s problems as a result. It’s pretty much more of the same, but it’s okay for what it is. Finally, remember the movie Big Fat Liar with Frankie Munoz? No? Well, neither does anybody else. Which is why it’s so baffling that now we get Bigger Fatter Liar, a semi-sequel that really just tells the same story over again, about a kid getting back at the guy who stole his hit video game idea. Really? Meh.
  • Isolation, Mad Families, Chupacabras Territory – Three new direct-to-videos hit shelves today, and one is worth watching. That one is Isolation, a fun thriller that reminds me a bit of a great movie called A Perfect Getaway from a few years back. This one has a great cast that features Dominic Purcell, Luke Mably, Marie Avgeropoulos, Tricia Helfer, and Stephen Lang. It’s nothing all that new or original, but it’s got some good moments and a solid sense of tension throughout. Mad Families, however, is not so good. Despite a solid supporting cast that features Leah Remini, Naya Rivera, Finesse Mitchell, and others, the fact that Charlie Sheen is in the lead role should tell you something. It’s ostensibly a comedy, but sadly it isn’t very funny, just crass, loud, and obnoxious. Finally, Chupacabras Territory is a new horror film that is actually not bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s a found footage film. I understand that that’s a budget-friendly format but it’s really a genre I don’t like. Which is a shame, because there are some decent performances and some solid filmmaking at work here. The pacing of the film is good and the action starts early, so it’s a good thriller in a bad genre.
  • Kidnapped – Armand Assante stars in this 1995 TV movie based on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Is it bad?? Not really. Is it good? Not really? It’s a pretty typical 1990s TV-movie, which means you get a solid, serviceable adaptation of a great story, with decent performances and a budget that never allows it to look like a real full motion picture. Worth a look because it’s a budget release, but it’s nothing special.

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