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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Hidden Figures, A Dog’s Purpose, Rings, Gold and more

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Hidden Figures – Hidden Figures pretty much has it all: inspirational story (and a true story to boot!), terrific performances, Academy Award nominations, and a great message. Plus, you know, Spaceflight. Even better than all that, the filmmakers were smart to make the movie with a PG rating. There’s really no reason that families shouldn’t be able to watch this movie together, so I’m glad they didn’t throw in a bunch of unnecessary swearing or other PG-13 elements. This is a movie that will not only be enjoyed by families for years to come, but also can be shown in classrooms for years to come too. Obviously, the film was a big hit, but it’s important to note that it was a big hit not just because of hype or awards, but because it’s a really good film. And that fact shouldn’t remain hidden.

A Dog’s Purpose – I’m going to avoid the controversy regarding the supposed mistreatment of animals on the set of A Dog’s Purpose. It’s not really what I’m here to talk about; I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that. As for the film itself, what you have here is a family film that is filled with heartwarming moments (and a welcome performance by Dennis Quaid) that also has an equal amount of tear-jerking moments. Definitely bring a full pack of tissues to this one, because you will need them. It’s hard to fully recommend this film to dog lovers because it does have some sad moments, but by and large it’s a movie that celebrates the impact dogs have on people’s lives, and that’s a message I can get behind.

Rings – I’ll stand by my original assessment that The Ring remains one of the scariest movie experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. I know that people who watched it later on home video didn’t have the same experience, but I think something gets lost in translation, especially since I saw the same exact reaction to The Blair Witch Project. After a middling sequel, the Ring franchise disappeared, until a few months ago when the series attempted a relaunch with Rings. Unfortunately, much like the equally unsuccessful Blair Witch relaunch, Rings isn’t particularly good. Whereas The Ring was fresh and new at the time, this just feels like every other horror movie that’s out these days, with nothing original to set it apart. Unless you’re a die-hard fan, you can skip this one without missing anything.

Gold – Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard star in this interesting movie that isn’t quite successful, but isn’t quite terrible, either. The movie follows a businessman-turned-treasure-hunter in search of what could be the biggest gold stash found in this century. Loosely based on a true story, the film is wildly uneven. McConaughey’s performance (and even his physical presence) is utterly fantastic, but the film starts off a bit slow and isn’t quite sure where it’s going for a while, before ending in a pretty interesting way. It’s kind of worth sitting through to get to the end, although there are many issues throughout. Worth a watch, but don’t go in with high expectations.

Saturday Night Fever – This seminal film of the 1970s starring John Travolta is obviously most closely linked with disco music, and while that’s obviously completely fair, the film is about much more than just disco music and dancing. It’s a coming-of-age film with some really dark circumstances involved, and the dancing just provides an out for these kids going through a tough time in their lives. Travolta has almost never been better, and he’s almost unrecognizable here to people who know him mostly as a balding, overweight “Adele Dazeem”-er. This one’s a classic for a reason, and this Blu-ray debut not only gives us the film in high def, but as the Directors Cut it also adds in just a few extra scenes that will be a welcome addition for fans. This is a great release, and the film is worth revisiting.

The Comedian – Robert De Niro returns to the landscape he first mined some 40 years ago in The King of New York, although this is a very different film. In it, De Niro plays a former TV star turned stand-up who is remanded to community service when he gets in a fight with an audience member. He then meets Leslie Mann, and the two find a connection. One of those films that falls squarely into dramedy territory, the performances and cast (which also includes Harvey Keitel, Danny Devito, and Edie Falco) carry the film, and I found the story to be pretty engaging. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s better than some pf the movies De Niro’s been putting out of late.

Expendables & Expendables 2 4K Ultra HD – I love these movies. Honestly, I actually liked The Expendables 2 better than the first film. Not only does it tone down the over-the-top bloody gore of the first film (while remaining every bit as violent), but it has a little more fun with itself. But really, both of these films are a lot of fun. There are some great nods to the ’80s films that launched the careers of most of these action icons, and as someone who grew up watching those ’80s films, it’s hard not to revel in the sheer joy of it all. While Expendables 3 was released on 4k Ultra HD upon its initial release, the first two are just now coming out in the new format. The film looks and sounds terrific in 4K. The action is spectacular, and colors are vibrant, imagery is razor sharp, and the picture as a whole is very alive and bombastic. The surround soundtrack is nearly as over the top as the film, but the sounds never let up from the first scene to the last. Don’t go into The Expendables movies expecting anything more than silly, over-the-top action flicks that go way over the top and stay there and you won’t be disappointed.

The Red Turtle – The latest Studio Ghibli animated film is yet another departure from their usual stories involving supernatural storylines (although there is a minor supernatural element – sort of.) This time, the film (which is a Japanese/French co-production) focuses on a man trapped on an island in the middle of the ocean who is completely alone. At first. To say more would be to spoil some of the film, but it’s quite an endearing film, told completely without dialogue and relying solely on some amazing imagery and beautiful artistry. I don’t always love Studio Ghibli films, but this one is quite a treat.

I Am Not Your Negro – How do you fit the entire history of racism into a two-hour movie? I don’t know, but director Raoul Peck’s adaptation of James Baldwin’s unfinished tome certainly seems to achieve it. This deep, meaningful film shines a harsh light on how white people have treated black people in this country over the last t wo centuries, and the results ain’t pretty. The shame of it is, chances are good that the people who would benefit the most from watching this film are probably the last ones who would. Still, as narrated by Samuel Jackson, filled with clips from popular films, and the words of James Baldwin echoing in our ears, it’s hard to ignore what a powerful message this movie conveys.

Saving Banksy – This fascinating documentary poses an interesting question about graffiti and art: at one point does one become another, and who should profit off of it? The film got its genesis when Brian Greif wanted to preserve a side-of-a-building painting by Banks in a museum. However, once it came down, things got really complicated, with everybody wanting a share of the profits once they learned it was a Banksy. The film explores the intricacies of dealing with the grey area of graffiti art, which is, technically illegal. Banksy’s art is quite impressive, and while he’s obviously not present in this film, his spirit is never far from the proceedings. It’s a fascinating and engaging film, and I really enjoyed it.

The 4400: The Complete Series – What a great show. If you’ve never seen The 4400, there’s no better time to do it than now. The basic premise is this: when 4400 people who have been missing from anywhere from weeks to decades suddenly reappear, the world doesn’t know what to make of it. When some of them seem to develop superhuman powers, things get even more intense. Though it only lasted four seasons, the show mined a lot of territory in the time it was on, and it not only introduced the world to recent Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, it also featured a really terrific ensemble cast and some terrific deep-thinking science fiction stories. This excellent box set includes all four seasons’ worth of episodes in one slim box set that will barely take up more room than two DVD cases on your shelf, all at a bargain price. This one is a winner through and through.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • The Salesman – This Academy Award winning film probably got as much attention for the political situation surrounding it as for the film itself. For those of you who missed it, director Asghar Farhadi chose to boycott the Oscars in protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban, even though his film was considered a frontrunner to win. Well, it did win, and deservedly so. The film has loose ties to Death of a Salesman (sort of), and even though it’s in a foreign language, don’t discount what a powerful impact this drama has. Terrific performances, deft direction, and an intriguing story add up to a winner in more ways than one.
  • 3:10 to Yuma 4K Ultra HD3:10 to Yuma is a good film. What I really wanted it to be, however, was a great film, and it falls short in that respect. Still, it clearly has a strong following as it seems to always be one of the titles Lionsgate puts out first in new formats: it was an early Blu-ray release, it was on formats like the UMD for PSP, and now it’s an early title on 4K Ultra HD. So, if you’re a fan of the film, now you can own it in an ultra-premium format. The film looks and sounds great on 4K Ultra HD, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know that I noticed enough of a difference to necessitate an upgrade from Blu-ray if you already own it. If you don’t, however, it definitely looks and sounds spectacular.
  • Rugrats: Season One & Two – If you’re a Rugrats fan, you have GOT to be excited about these two DVD releases. Season One gives you over five hours of the popular ‘90s NickToon while Season Two offers up ELEVEN hours of Rugrats! Now, personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the show in the world. I don’t dislike it, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I was a tween/teen by the time the show began, and so I never really got all that into it as I wasn’t into kids’ cartoons at that time. Watching it now, I can see why people liked it as it does have its charms, but I don’t have that rabid nostalgia-tinged fan appreciation that a lot of people do. Still, these sets can be found for around ten bucks apiece, which is a ridiculously incredible value. Rugrats fans: get excited!
  • MindGamers – I like Sam Neill and he’s always a welcome screen presence, even in a direct-to-video sci-fi thriller. MindGamers, however, is less of a movie than an experience. See, a few months ago, this was one of those live movie events you see advertised (like Fathom Events’ concerts and operas and such) and the idea was that people would connect all over the country and their brainwaves would be measured through watching the film (using a neuro-headband thing). Great, that’s cool. The problem is, watching the movie at home and trying to have a narrative experience with it is underwhelming. I don’t even know if there IS a narrative here. I’m sure the live experience was cool, but this is one of those that doesn’t survive the translation, unfortunately.
  • Tunnel – Not quite the disaster film some audiences may be hoping for, Tunnel does start with a disaster but then the film shifts into more of a drama. The story follows a man who is trapped in his car in a collapsed tunnel. But what unfolds afterward is more an exploration of the cost of rescuing a single man. There is a fraught wife, unprepared rescue workers, and of course, political machinations as the film stretches from days to weeks. While there are some tense moments, this isn’t the action thriller some people may be hoping for but it’s a pretty effective film overall.
  • The Shadow Effect – I like Cam Gigandet, and Michael Biehn (and to a lesser extent Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), but they are all pretty much B-movie kings at this point. All three of them together in one film tells me this was probably going to be the ultimate B-movie. And that’s exactly what it is. That said, it’s also pretty enjoyable, with Cam Gigandet (who I maintain is a better actor than people give him credit for) taking on a pseudo Jason Bourne role. The result is a so-so storyline with some pretty cool action scenes but some not-so-special effects. It’s an easy watch and a fun way to kill 90 minutes, but it’s not going to win any awards.
  • The Free Man – I Wasn’t sure about this movie at first, but it’s a hard film not to get caught up in. The film follows a group of extreme athletes (think real life Point Break) as they do things that most normal people would find insane. Flying suits, tightrope walking between two hot air balloons, etc. – all without nets or safety devices. Of course, it’s not just a collection of extreme footage (although there is plenty of it and it looks amazing), there is a lot of talk about living without fear, overcoming limitations, the spirit of man, etc. So it gets a little crunchy granola at times, but overall it’s pretty impressive stuff.
  • We Are X – I remember a year or two ago, the New York Comic Con announced an appearance by Yoshiki and it was apparently a very big deal. Like most Americans, I had almost no idea who he was, so I didn’t bother to see him there, but a lot of people were probably ecstatic to see him. It turns out that Yoshiki is the mastermind behind X (as well as the drummer, pianist, composer, and producer), which is one of the biggest bands in the world, having sold tens of millions of albums everywhere… except the US. This film follows Yoshiki and X and portrays what it’s like to be globally popular. It’s a neat introduction for those of us who aren’t fans and a terrific time capsule for those viewers who are.
  • Wild Weather – This is a fantastic documentary that chronicles some of the most extreme weather in the world, but takes a new approach to it. Rather than just an hour of footage of tornadoes and lightning and such, this program attempts to use science to recreate these devastating weather events so we can learn about them. We see man made hail, lightning, and tornadoes, and it’s some really fascinating stuff. Highly recommended if you like anything to with extreme weather.
  • WB Archive: Little Nikita, Punchline, World Without End, The Richest Girl in the World, The Girl and the General, A Girl in Every Port – All of these titles are available exclusively through Warner Brothers’ online print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive (www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive). First up is Little Nikita, a great ‘80s thriller starring River Phoenix and Sidney Poitier. Phoenix plays an American FBI agent who finds out his parents might be Russian spies. It may be dated in the way the film looks, but it’s a surprisingly timely thriller thirty years later. Punchline is a comedy starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field, and while it was a bit of a bomb when it came out, it’s fun to see a lesser known Tom Hanks film. It’s not great, but it’s not as bad as it could be, either. The Richest Girl in the World is a really fun classic Hollywood film starring Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea, about a supremely rich woman who can’t find a suitor who isn’t after her money until she pretends to be penniless. It’s a formulaic rom com from the olden days, but it’s terrific. The Girl and the General is a World War I film starring Rod Steiger as an Austrian officer who is captured first by a bumbling soldier, and then a comely peasant girl. It’s a solid mix of drama and humor and while it’s not a film I was familiar with before this DVD release, I’m glad I got to watch it. Finally, A Girl in Every Port is one of the seemingly rare Groucho Marx films that don’t feature the other Marx Brothers. It’s a really unique film, with story elements involving the Navy, horse racing, gangsters, mistaken identity (on purpose), and – of course – romance. It’s not a slam dunk, but it has some pretty fun moments, and as it was Groucho Marx’s final film, it’s a neat historical footnote.

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