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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Aftermath, Cure For Wellness, The Ticket and more

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Aftermath – Arnold Schwarzenegger continues his post-governor career with Aftermath, a film that’s quite a bit different from his usual fare. He plays a man whose family is killed in a plane accident, an accident caused by one man’s negligence. An angry Arnie then goes to confront him. Now this sounds like it could quickly become a violent action/revenge thriller, but instead it is more of a drama than anything else. The upside here is, while it might not be what typical Arnie fans are looking for, it marks one of his best performances yet (alongside the little seen Maggie, a flawed movie with an excellent performance as well.) I can’t say this is a great Friday night popcorn flick, but for a dark drama with some weighty issues at its heart, it’s worth watching.

A Cure For Wellness – Director Gore Verbinski is best known for Pirates of the Caribbean, but he also helmed The Ring, which is a truly frightening horror movie in its own right. So A Cure For Wellness isn’t completely out of his wheelhouse. Starring Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs, the film has a lot of echoes of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, mixed with more gothic horror elements. I like Dane DeHaan a lot, and he does a good job in carrying the film, even if he does look like he’s slept in a dumpster for the entire film (even before things start to go south.) The film is atmospheric and moody, and it could also be called just plain weird at times, but if you’re looking for something in the horror genre that’s not just another slasher or found footage flick, give it a try.

The Assignment – At first glance, The Assignment looks like just another direct-to-video action film that probably wouldn’t be that good. Michelle Rodriguez is a perfectly fine actress, but I won’t usually go out of my way to watch a film just because she’s in it. Then I looked closer and realized that Sigourney Weaver co-stars, and that adds a little value to the proceedings. Then I looked even closer and realized the film is directed by Walter Hill, one of my favorite movies and the man responsible for such cult classics as The Warriors, Streets of Fire, and Southern Comfort. Well, sign me up! Unfortunately, the film isn’t great. Sigourney Weaver is absolutely terrific in her role (no surprise there), but the film has a lot of flaws. Chief among them is Michelle Rodriquez playing a man. Yes, you read that right. The film tells the story of a mad scientist type who gets revenge on a hitman by turning him into a woman, played by Michelle Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to have the first 20 minutes of the movie with Michelle Rodriguez playing the male character before he gets transformed. Complete with fake beard and prosthetic full-frontal nudity shot. Yeeeep. It sadly doesn’t get much better from there. I was hoping for better from Walter Hill.

The Ticket – I love Dan Stevens, and I’ve been touting his talent as an actor for years now, so I’m glad to see he’s having some huge successes lately (especially in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast live action remake.) So, it’s no surprise that he is absolutely terrific in this movie as a blind man who regains his site, only to begin to leave his previous life behind. Now, if only the film was as good as Stevens’s performance. As opposed to being a thriller or a straight drama, the film seems more interested in being an art project, with distinct visuals, muted colors, and an on overarching darkness, visually speaking. Worth it for the performances, but don’t expect a really riveting film, sadly.

The Young Pope – It might seem silly to call Jude Law an underrated actor, but I really believe he is. Sure, he’s pretty famous. And sure, he’s been in some pretty successful films. But I think when people compile lists of current best actors, his name never seems to be in the mix. But for my money, he’s one of the best actors working today, tackling everything from kings to rough-and-tumble gangsters to – in this case – the pope. Now, I’ll say this about the show: it’s not the most linear, traditional narrative in the world. That said, if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. And Law is absolutely searing in the lead role. Add in Diane Keaton and a largely unknown (but talented) supporting cast, and the result is some pretty compelling television. Check it out.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Kingdom: Seasons One & Two – I know that seeing Nick Jonas as one of the main actors in Kingdom might not be the most exciting prospect for some people, but don’t let that deter you from watching this fierce fighting drama. Also starring Frank Grillo (who I’m a big fan of), the show follows a family of fighters (MMA, mostly) and their trials and tribulations (and bare-knuckle brawls), the show is filled with some brutal action, strong familial drama, and interesting characters. Unfortunately, the currently airing third season is slated to be the last, but this is still a show that is worth tracking down, and this new DVD set contains both of the first two seasons in their entirety.
  • Beauty and the Beast (2012): The Complete Series – The CW’s fan-favorite (but ratings-challenged) Beauty & The Beast has finally come to an end, but the entire series comes to DVD for the first time in one set this week. I’m not sure why the show never made it bigger with The CW’s viewers (who seem like the prime target for a show like this), but I do like what the show runners did with the series. Admittedly, season one started off slow, but the series really found its footing along the way and made some great story strides. Plus, Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan were a great pair onscreen. This massive box set includes all four seasons on 20 discs, and it makes for some pretty great binge-watching.
  • Numb3rs: The Complete Series – I always loved Numb3rs. And that’s coming from a guy who hates math. So, when you can take a series that’s like a version of CSI using math theorems and formulas instead of DNA and fingerprints and make it compelling viewing, I’m impressed. David Krumholtz, Rob Morrow, and Judd Hirsch made a great team as a family who all played their parts in solving crimes: Krumholtz as the mathematical genius; Morrow as the tough special agent who could bust down doors; and Hirsch as the patriarch who offered inspiration and emotional support when needed. This huge, huge box set features all six seasons over 31 discs, and the best part is that it includes all of the copious extra features that were created for each season’s individual DVD releases, giving you hours of extra viewing material to dig into. I really enjoyed revisiting this great TV series!
  • Becker: The Complete Series – Ted Danson was always a great TV presence. Obviously, Cheers was a success because of its terrific ensemble cast, but there’s no denying that Danson was a huge part of that. Now, I never really watched Becker when it was on, so this was a new experience for me. Turns out (and you may already be aware of this), Becker is a show about a curmudgeonly doctor with the usual sitcom cast of supporting characters. In this case, that includes Terry Farrell, Shawnee Smith, and Nancy Travis. The show is nearing 20 years old now, and while I can say that it is somewhat enjoyable, having never seen it before, it definitely didn’t win me over enough to consider myself a fan. It’s a fun distraction, but it’s not the kind of show I’m going to go back and watch again. This box set includes all six seasons of the show on 17 discs. For fans, this is a nice affordable box set, but for people who aren’t into the show, I don’t know that it’s going to win you over.
  • JuiceJuice is one of those movies that I remember always being in video stores when it came out, but that I never got around to seeing. Now, it’s been 25 years (!) since it came out, so we are treated to a new anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray. Starring Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur, the film follows four young men who are trying to make their mark in the world, whether that be through crime or DJ-ing. I’d always heard that the movie was good so I was excited to sit down and watch it (finally), and I really enjoyed it. It’s got a good intensity, and both Omar Epps and Tupac (as well as the rest of the cast) are in top form here. The release also includes a number of extra features, both new and vintage, which gives a unique perspective on the making of the film and its legacy.
  • The Last Word – I feel like this is the week of great performances in so-so movies, and The Last Word is just the latest in that stretch. Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried star in a story we’ve seen in various iterations before. MacLaine plays a retired businesswoman who wants to write her own obituary, while Amanda Seyfried plays the reporter who gets swept up in her hurricane of a personality. MacLaine plays a role that’s very familiar to her, the firecracker of a lady who is all bluster and personality but has a good heart underneath it all. Seyfried plays the harried but talented younger woman who learns An Important Life Lesson along the way. It’s the stuff of Hallmark movies (but with a bigger budget) and it’s certainly not bad, but it wasn’t exactly my own cup of tea, either.
  • Dredd, Ex Machina, Snitch 4K Ultra HD – Lionsgate brings us three movies in the relatively new 4K Ultra HD format: Dredd, Ex Machina, and Snitch. I get Dredd, as it’s a great sci-fi actioner with a huge cult following, and Ex Machina is a strong sci-fi thriller with terrific performances and Oscar-winning visual effects. I’m not sure why Snitch (which looks like an action film but is really a drama) made the cut, beyond the fact that I suspect it might be Lionsgate’s only Dwayne Johnson title in their catalog. The 4K Ultra treatment works wonders on all three films, although the two sci-fi flicks have the most impressive visuals. Ex Machina benefits the most, especially during the VFX-intensive scenes. Dredd also looks spectacular, although the film is meant to have kind of a grimy, dirty feel, and that’s in full evidence here. The surround soundtracks are maxed out, and that’s the one where Dredd steals the show. If you’re a cinephile looking for the best A/V presentation, all three of these shine.
  • The Sense of an Ending – Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling are two very talented actors that I generally don’t love watching. You know how some actors are admittedly very good but for some reason you just don’t dig them? Well, these two fit the bill for me. Luckily, The Sense of An Ending also features Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) in a leading role, and I think she’s utterly terrific. This quiet film is based on Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize-winning novel, and while I haven’t read the book, I have to imagine it’s a better format for this story than film is. The movie is slow, atmospheric, and moody, but it’s not a strong narrative experience. And the ending is a little too ambiguous for my tastes. This one is simply for a different audience than myself.
  • Land of Mine – One of last year’s nominees for the Best Foreign Picture Academy Award, Land of Mine is the harrowing and brutal story of a couple thousand WWII prisoners of war (German soldiers held by the Danish) who were sent in to clear some two million landmines from the coast of Denmark. Based on the true story, most of the soldiers involved aren’t hardened, grizzled war criminals, but rather young men who were barely more than boys. The tension is palpable, and while the characters don’t really get time to develop, the film really is a sobering affair that also comes with no small amount of thrilling dread.
  • Sky on Fire – Sometimes the cover art for a movie is too good. Such is the case with Sky on Fire, the cover art for which makes the film look like some kind of sci-fi or disaster epic. Instead, it’s a pretty standard Asian action film, albeit a high-quality, high-octane one. Directed by superstar action helmer Ringo Lam, the film sees a medical cure at the heart of the action, as one man tries to decide who it will best reside with. It’s not a plot-heavy film, but Lam knows his way around an action sequence, and the film looks slick and sharp.
  • Operation Mekong – Another Asian actioner hits streets this week, although this one has a very different feel than Sky on Fire. In this film, we see a Chinese Special Ops force take on a drug cartel, and the film is much less city-based than a lot of current Asian action films. What’s nice is the film isn’t reliant on CGI or over-the-top effects as much as many other films in the genre. Instead, it focuses on hard-hitting action, gunfights, explosions, and the like… you know, everything that makes a good action flick.
  • RWBY: Volume 4 – From the creators of the hit web series Red Vs. Blue comes RWBY: Volume 4, a new entry in the anime franchise that some fans love, some don’t, and I remain somewhere in the middle on. With a mix of CGI (that looks like CGI) and CGI (that looks like traditional hand-drawn animation), it isn’t the most polished film in the world, but it’s still an entertaining enough film the fourth time around. There’s definitely been a lot of improvement in both the animation and the voice acting since the first entry in the series. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the franchise, but I also sit down and watch each time a new installment comes out, so clearly I’m a little bit interested.
  • Those Redheads From Seattle – This classic 3D movie marks one of the early forays into 3D during the classics Hollywood heyday. This one marks the first 3D musical, and while many of these early 3D films were more like B-pictures, this one stars name actors like Rhonda Fleming, Gene Barry, and Agnes Moorehead. It’s a fun film, which combines musical and comedy with a murder mystery, something you don’t see every day. The 3D effect certainly won’t rival what’s in megaplexes nowadays, but it’s well-composed and the 3D effects are surprisingly good. This is kind of a forgotten film, but it’s a lot of fun to revisit.
  • Warner Brothers Archive: Ride the High Country, 36 Hours, From Hell It Came, Spencer’s Mountain, and Wheeler Dealers – The Warner Archive print-on-demand service features several new films making their Blu-ray debuts. Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea play aging cowboys in the dramatic adventure film Ride the High Country directed by the great Sam Peckinpah. I love Joel McCrea and I found this different from your typical western, and it’s one of my favorite releases this week. 36 Hours is another standout starring James Garner, Eva Marie-Saint and Rod Taylor. Garner plays an amnesiac soldier who is being duped by the Nazis in order to reveal sensitive information. It’s a gripping thriller and I really enjoyed it. The epitome of cheesy ‘50s monster movies, From Hell It Came features none other than TABONGA! Who is Tabonga? Why, just an atomic Polynesian monster, of course. It’s really a movie that can only be loved by the most die-hard B-movie lovers, as it’s really not great, but there is that charm to it that you could only get in this era’s B-movies. I dig it. Spencer’s Mountain stars Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara in this story based on the same book that served as the inspiration for The Waltons. It’s not really my cup of tea, but I’ll give it credit for good performances from Fonda and O’Hara. Finally, Wheeler Dealers also stars James Garner (this time with Lee Remick) in a rom-com that has a serious Doris Day/Rock Hudson vibe to it. It’s light and frothy but a lot of fun, and fans of that era’s rom-coms will enjoy it immensely.
  • Wentworth: Season 3 – If you crossed Orange is the New Black with Oz, you’d get Wentworth. Set in a women’s prison, the show could draw comparisons to OITNB, but the tone is deadly serious, much more along the lines of Oz. Layered and complex, the show follows Bea Smith, and this season finds her with a new rival in the form of the bad-ass The Governor after she’s returned to Wentworth after her escape last season. The show is extremely intense and well-acted, and it will draw you in from the very beginning. Be aware that it’s darker than something like OITNB, but it’s equally compelling television.
  • Hee Haw: Pfft! You Was Gone! – Another “classic” TV release from Time Life, this is a two-disc collection of the hit country comedy and variety show. This latest disc of the countrified variety show features performances from Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Marty Robbins, among others. I’m not sure that this show has aged all that well, but I did watch it as a kid and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some nostalgic enjoyment to be had here. With over three hours of content and a number of great songs, this is a terrific disc for fans, but be aware that the content is included in the Hee Haw complete series box set.
  • Sesame Street: Elmo Loves Animals – Parents, get ready for everyone’s favorite red muppet! This latest release of the kids’ perennial favorite TV show, Sesame Street: Elmo Loves Animals is a collection of several Elmo-centric episodes of the beloved show. As with most Sesame Street episodes, you get learning, letters, numbers, and fun, and in this case, lots of animals! Even better, this time around that includes dinosaurs, and we all know that kids love dinosaurs! With over three hours of content, you get a lot of bang for your buck for the little ones.

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