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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Get Out, The Great Wall, Vixen, Rock Dog and more

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Get Out – Now that it’s out on video, Get Out is sure to suffer the same backlash that many successful horror movies do, where everyone suddenly starts saying, “It’s not that scary,” or “I’ve seen better.” And I’ll say this: Get Out isn’t all that scary. But damn, is it one hell of a good movie. Much more of a thriller along the lines of a Stepford Wives or Village of the Damned type of film than a proper horror film, Get Out is utterly terrific. Jordan Peele is a revelation as a writer and director, crafting a film that has a strong script, and a visual style that is reminiscent of the best of 70s horror cinema. Add to that some truly fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener, and the result is a really great thriller. Ignore any backlash, check this film out, and discover why it was such a big hit in theaters.

The Great Wall – While The Great Wall was pretty much a humongous box office dud, I have to say that I chalk that up more to poor marketing than the film itself. The movie, which stars Matt Damon and Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal as mercenaries who end up helping the Chinese defend the Great Wall against monsters, is actually a lot of fun. Sure, there are some flaws; the first 10-15 minutes is kind of weak, and I don’t know why Matt Damon felt the need to try and tackle a pseudo-Irish accent (it’s distracting), but the action sequences are outstanding. That’s no real surprise considering the film was directed by legendary director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) who gives it the requisite visual flair. At the end of the day, it’s nothing all that different or groundbreaking, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.

You can listen to my interview with Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal about The Great Wall here.

Vixen: The Movie – This latest DC Animated Universe film is kind of a surprise, as it features a pretty unknown character in the lead role. Now, that said, it also includes characters from Arrow, The Flash, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and it takes place in that shared DC TV universe. Originally aired as 12 episodes on the CW’s website, they’ve been edited together into an 80-minute movie that features a lot of familiar voices from the DC TV shows. On the whole, like many of the more recent DC animated movies, it’s not all that great, but it’s not bad either. I don’t know that the character is interesting enough on her own to support a whole movie, but that’s why all the supporting characters are here. A fun distraction, but not much more.

My Life as a Zucchini – In this year’s Academy Awards, a lot of viewers were surprised to see some Pixar movies left out of the Best Animated Picture race while a little-known film called My Life as a Zucchini was in there instead. This stop-motion film from Switzerland is a moving and magical movie about a young boy who ends up in an orphanage of sorts and has trouble fitting in. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting movie in the world, but it’s got a lot going for it. It’s charming and cute and endearing and emotional; all the things that make up a great dramatic film. Don’t be fooled by the offbeat title or stop-motion animation: this is a film with a lot of heart. And the American voice cast includes Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, and Amy Sedaris, which adds some recognizability to this foreign film. Worth checking out!

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Wild Africa/Tiny Giants 4K Ultra HD – This release marks the first 4K Ultra HD disc by BBC, who is of course known for their renowned nature programs. It contains two films: Wild Africa and Tiny Giants. Wild Africa is new to home video and it takes viewers on a whirlwind tour of Africa in just about 45 minutes. The footage is breathtaking and the 4K Ultra format makes it even more astounding than on Blu-ray (although Blu-rays are included as well.) Tiny Giants, meanwhile, focuses on a chipmunk and a grasshopper mouse, and the trials and tribulations they go through to survive a harsh natural world. Like Wild Africa, the 4K treatment brings this world to life in unprecedented glory. It’s also around a 45-minute movie, and apparently it was cobbled together from a much-longer BBC release. Still, getting two programs on one, both in stunning HD, is terrific.
  • Masterpiece: Dark AngelDownton Abbey’s Joann Froggett (one of the best actresses on a show filled with amazing talent) takes on a different kind of role here as one of England’s first female serial killers. You may not be familiar with Victorian-era poisoner Mary Ann Cotton, but this film will give you a dramatic crash course on her. It’s a relatively disturbing tale, but the film itself isn’t the kind that’s going to make you want to crawl out of your skin, presenting the events in a more dramatic fashion. Froggatt is terrific here, of course, and I found the entire thing quite fascinating.
  • DC Super Hero Girls: Intergalactic Games – My daughter and I love this franchise. This latest DC Super Hero Girls animated movie is fantastic. It’s female superheroes in a film made for young girls, which is awesome! My daughter’s enjoyed superhero comics for a long time, but she’s always had limited options when it came to comics for her to read or shows for her to watch. DC Superhero Girls captures everything that’s great about superheroes, but makes it girl-centric enough for her to really relate to, without alienating male parents. It’s fantastic, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for parents of young girls.
  • Outsiders: Season Two – I honestly had no interest in watching this show originally, where it seems like every character looks like a reject from Mountain Men or The Hills Have Eyes. However, when I found out it had David Morse, Ryan Hurst, and Kyle Gallner in it, I decided to give it a go. The show is about an off-the-grid mountain family that basically has its own way of life and its own laws, and it Don’t Like No Outsiders! It’s clearly meant to fill the hole left by Sons of Anarchy, as it’s a tough show populated by tough characters, but I have to say, it’s pretty solid. I don’t know that it’s the kind of show I’d set my DVR for, but as a quick binge watch on DVD, it’s entertaining enough.
  • Max 2: White House Hero – I’m all about movies that show dogs as heroes. I love dogs, and I never get tired of good dog movies. Unfortunately, GOOD dog movies are few and far between. Max 2: White House Hero isn’t a bad movie per se, but it’s far from great. Clearly geared more for kids than as a true family film, the movie suffers from some poor acting and even worse writing. The younger audience members won’t notice, but the adults watching along will cringe from time to time. Of course, Max himself does a great job on camera, and he’s really the main star, so that’s something.
  • Rock Dog – Luke Wilson and J.K. Simmons lend their voices to this fun animated movie that’s kind of like a mash-up of Kung Fu Panda and Sing (if you can imagine that.) At the end of the day, it’s a relatively typical tale of following your dreams and such, but the talented voice cast (which also includes Eddie Izzard, Mae Whitman, Kenan Thompson, and Lewis Black) keeps things fun and there are some decent gags in the movie, enough to keep you at least chuckling every so often. Kids should enjoy it, and parents will probably like it as well, which is always a good thing.
  • Voodoo Black Exorcist – The Film Detective imprint has done a nice job over the past few years of taking public domain titles that have appeared on numerous cheap home video releases and turning out definitive Blu-ray editions of them. I like what they’re doing, but I’m not quite sure why they picked Voodoo Black Exorcist. I guess it’s kind of a cult classic (a Spanish mummy on a cruise? That’s fun!) but it’s a pretty bad flick. The technical side of things is pretty weak and the story, acting, and script don’t make it much better. Still, if you are a fan of the film, this is easily the best edition yet to grace home video.
  • Welcome to the Loud House: Season 1, Volume 1 – I’d only just recently even heard of this Nickelodeon cartoon and suddenly I’ve got it on my desk in DVD form. This two-disc, five-hour DVD follows an unusual family with eleven kids: ten girls and one boy. The boy, Lincoln Loud, is the focus of the show as he navigates his way through a house with ten sisters. The show didn’t really sound like something I would like, but I have to admit it’s pretty clever and written with a good mix of intelligence and heart, and it won me over. Which is pretty high praise for a kids show these days. Plus, I really dig the throwback animation style.
  • Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster – Now, this is the kind of documentary I really like. Most people have at least heard of Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist film from the early part of the 20th And while I imagine many people also know of the controversy surrounding it, this fascinating special dives really deep into the controversy, the legal battles, the racism, and the impact of the film. It’s really interesting stuff, and the perfect 60-minute running time means it’s both engaging and informative in a perfect capsule form.
  • Shake the Dust – Now, I am far from an expert on break dancing, but I was a round in the ‘80s so I remember when it was the biggest thing on the planet. And it’s never really gone away, as we see in the new documentary Shake the Dust, from executive producer (and famous rapper) Nasir “Nas” Jones and journalist/filmmaker Adam Sjöberg. It’s a great look on how breakdancing isn’t just a style of dance but also a cultural movement. The film features its fair share of documentary tropes, but it also features some really amazing footage of breakdancers working at the highest level of the art. Pretty cool stuff.
  • George Bellows, Arcimboldo: Nature & Fantasy, Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, Gauguin: Maker of Myth – This series of five DVDs presents short documentaries about famous painters that have all had a massive impact on the art world. Admittedly, I was only really familiar with Gauguin and Rousseau before I got these, but each one gives you a nice overview of the artist in question. Running a half hour each (and available for under $10 in many outlets) these aren’t meant to dive deep into each artist’s entire canon, but it gives you a nice overview of the person and their major works of art. A neat option for those interested in art.

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