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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Power Rangers, CHiPs, Trainspotting 2 and more

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Power Rangers – I was never a huge Power Rangers fan, not because I didn’t like them, but simply because I was already into my tween/teen years when they came out. I always liked the concept, and I even enjoyed the original movie from the 90s, but I never watched the show or followed it beyond a casual familiarity with it. So I was hoping for a fun movie experience with Power Rangers, and that’s mostly what I got. The film benefits from likeable lead actors, a pretty good script, some solid humor, and some pretty impressive action sequences. There are a few flaws in the film, however. For one thing, you don’t even get a glimpse of the kids as Rangers until an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie. Which is fine for adults but kids might get a bit antsy. Also, for younger kids, there are a few moments that might be a bit too intense or scary. Still, overall the film is fun and enjoyable, at least for this casual fan.

CHiPsCHiPs got some pretty brutal reviews and it was a total bomb at the box office, so it must be terrible, right? Well, sort of. I mean, it’s very far from being a great movie, but it’s also not nearly as terrible as many people have made it out to be. There are as many jokes that miss as there are that hit, and the film can’t quite find its tone. It also takes a little while to get going and for the two main characters to gel, but once they do, it’s at least somewhat enjoyable. It’s one of those films that I kind of liked, but also spent a lot of my time rolling my eyes at it. The real shame is that it doesn’t really pay tribute to the classic CHiPs TV show, of which I’m a huge fan (save for one welcome cameo.) I wouldn’t say you need to go out of your way for this one, but it’s not all that bad either.

T2 Trainspotting – Did Trainspotting really need a sequel? Absolutely not. But we got one anyway. Here’s the good news, though: with the entire main cast returning and director Danny Boyle once again behind the camera, fans have little to worry about. It’s not so much a sequel in the traditional sense as it is a look in on the same characters two decades down the road. Obviously, it doesn’t live up to the original, but it was never going to, was it? The cast is terrific and Danny Boyle is always a terrific director, so the end result is a film that’s still quite enjoyable for what it is.

The Pink Panther Collection – Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies are classics of comedic cinema, and while they’ve been released on home video before, this newest collection is the first time that all six films have been released on high-def Blu-ray in one full set. A few of the films are making their Blu-ray debuts as well. I remember watching and loving these films as a kid, and then I spent many years not re-watching them. They just sort of never came up for me, it’s not like I was avoiding them. Revisiting them on Blu-ray, it was extremely easy to fall in love with them all over again. Of course, the first two or three are the best, and then the quality starts to slide, but even at the series’ worst, Sellers is still a revelation. The set even includes The Trail of the Pink Panther, which was completed after Sellers’ death using unused and repurposed footage from earlier movies. It’s not great, but it’s nice that it’s included. Add to the films a bevy of extra features (most from previous DVD releases), and the result is pretty much the definitive Pink Panther package.

The Unholy – Lionsgate’s relaunch of the Vestron Video line sees this latest release of another cult classic from the ‘80s, The Unholy. Presumably made in the wake of the success of The Exorcist and The Omen, this film sees a priest travel to a church where two other priests have been murdered. Of course, this is no mere human murderer at work, but instead something demonic. The film works pretty well, even if the 80s trappings are in full effect. This new Blu-ray edition includes a huge collection of extra features, making it a real treat for fans of the film.

Grey Lady – Eric Dane and Natalie Zea star in this slow-burning but engaging murder mystery. Interestingly, it was written and directed by John Shea, who you might remember as playing Lex Luthor on the 90’s Superman show The Adventures of Lois & Clark. The story follows a cop who sees both his sister and his partner/lover murdered, and he follows a lead to Nantucket (the titular Grey Lady), where he finds himself wrapped up in the lives of the locals while he hunts a killer. It kind of reminded me of Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone mysteries, with a similar mood and setting. I liked this film; it’s a little too long, but overall it makes for a pretty good mystery.

Dirty Dancing – Okay, enough with the remakes already! This live NBC musical followed in the footsteps of other live hit musicals like Grease and Peter Pan. The difference being that Dirty Dancing is pretty much a sacred film to its legion of fans, and it absolutely didn’t need to get remade. I wish I could say that it’s so much better than you’ve heard, but unfortunately most people got this one right: it’s just not very good. If you’re a die-hard Dirty Dancing fan, avoid this one as it will just make you angry.

American Epic – This amazing documentary series comes from executive producers T Bone Burnett, Robert Redford and Jack White, and it explores something that we generally take for granted as consumers of popular music: how it started being recorded onto a permanent medium. We travel back to the 1920s to learn about how popular music became as popular as it did thanks to the advent of electronic recording technology. Not surprisingly it’s utterly fascinating. There’s also a disc solely dedicated to performances, with artists such as Alabama Shakes, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Los Lobos, Elton John, Taj Mahal and Steve Martin and Edie Brickell recording on antique original recording equipment from this era. A terrific package all around.

Incorporated: Season One – From executive producers Matt Damon and Benn Affleck… so why had I never heard of this show before this DVD crossed my desk? Well, regardless, this show turns out to be a new SyFy series, and while the lead actor (Sean Peale) is largely unknown – although quite good – the supporting cast includes Dennis Haysbert, Julia Ormond, and Dennis Herriman (Best known as Dewey Crowe on Justified.) The show takes place in 2074 and follows a man trying to find his lost-love in a post climate change world that sees huge corporations basically taking over as the government. It’s a pretty good show, if not compelling enough to become an obsession. Bit for a good TV distraction, this one is enjoyable enough.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Midsomer Murders: Series 19, Part 1Midsomer Murders is yet another mystery show from across the pond. Man, those Brits sure do like their cop shows! This very popular, long-running series is based on a series of novels by Caroline Graham. While this is a police procedural, it’s a bit more Murder She Wrote than CSI, as the Barnaby family sometimes get involved in solving crimes, and the show eschews gritty visuals for a more down-home feel. It still has some grisly moments, though. This newest collection is available with the first half of the nineteenth season, and you get the usual four feature-length mysteries this go around.
  • Power Rangers: Dino Super Charge – The Complete Season – This latest iteration of the hit kids show features the current series of the Power Rangers, which wisely mixes dinosaur-shaped zords back into the mix. Obviously, this is for kids, but I think as far as entertainment for youngsters go, there’s a lot worse than this. The show is still cheesetastic as all get out, but that’s me saying that with a critical adult eye. Kids should eat it up. This time around, instead of the usual four-episodes-per-disc formula, we get the whole of the 23rd season, which gives you 20 episodes in one nice package. A treat for kids and fans of the show.
  • Bunnicula: Season 1 Part 1Bunnicula is one of my favorite books of my childhood. I absolutely love it. So, I knew when Boomerang announced a Bunnicula animated series, I wasn’t going to get a straight adaptation of this beloved classic. It’s a short book, and you can’t stretch it out into a series. Instead, this fun kids’ show is more like The Continuing Adventures of Bunnicula and Friends, and in that respect, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a bit wacky, a bit zany, a bit more inspired by Looney Tunes than the source material, but kids will like it and I enjoyed it too.
  • Striking Out, Series 1 – Acorn specializes in British television (and in this case, Irish), which means they bring viewers a lot of three kinds of shows: mysteries, cop procedurals, and lawyer shows. Striking Out is the latter, following an extremely likeable Amy Huberman as a big-shot lawyer who leaves her big-shot firm after learning that her big-shot lawyer fiancée is cheating on her. She opens her own firm, working out of a coffee shop and hiring an ex-con to assist her. It’s a really engaging show, improved upon by a terrific cast. The legal cases are fairly standard for this type of show, but there are some creative cases among the mix. This is a fun show that’s worth watching.
  • Masterpiece: King Charles III – This fascinating political drama is sort of a “What If,” following Prince Charles after the fictional death of Queen Elizabeth as he becomes King Charles. The film is based on a Tony-nominated play, and it focuses not just on politics but also things like what happens when Prince Harry falls in love with a girl with some controversy surrounding her. It’s extremely well-acted, and while the cast isn’t filled with big names that will be recognizable to most American viewers (nor will all the politics), it’s extremely interesting and makes for some fascinating predictions about the future of the UK.
  • NOVA: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, Chinese Chariot Revealed, and Building Chernobyl’s Mega Tomb – PBS releases three new NOVA specials this week, with some pretty serious subject matters worked in. Holocaust Escape Tunnel tells the story of a city in Lithuania that was ravaged by the Nazis (and later the Russians.) Modern day archaeologists search for a rumored Nazi escape tunnel, which makes for an exciting history dig. Chinese Chariot Revealed is really neat, as it explores the ancient Chinese chariot, which it turns out was a much bigger deal in their unification and warfare than I think most people know. This show recreates and explores the ancient chariots, which is pretty cool. Finally, Building Chernobyl’s Mega Tomb is absolutely essential viewing. It explores how a giant wall-like structure was erected back in 1986 to try and contain the leaking radiation. Now, as that wall is beginning to crumble, engineers once again race to build a new containment structure. It’s the kind of Nova program I love best, full of amazing imagery and a look at what goes into creating some of the most amazing engineering feats on earth.
  • The Story of China with Michael Wood – While you can’t cover the entire history of a country the size of China in just six hours, you can certainly make a pretty huge dent. This excellent documentary series covers the history and culture of China from ancient times to modern day. It generally avoids things like current day politics, but it does capture the beauty and grandeur of the country itself, as well as the people that populate it. I wish the show was available on Blu-ray, because there is some really beautiful imagery at play here. This is a fascinating show for anyone who loves history, nature, and culture.
  • Dinosaur Train: Dinosaurs Take Flight!Dinosaur Train is a fun little cartoon on PBS that my kids really enjoyed when they were younger. It follows a family of dinosaurs (mostly Pteranodons, but with one young adopted T-Rex thrown in for good measure) in prehistoric times, with a dinosaur train that takes them all over the land for new adventures. As with most PBS kids shows, the series mixes positive lessons about family, friends, sharing, behavior, etc. with a good dose of humor and adventure. There are also real lessons on dinosaurs as interstitials between halves of episodes, which feature real life paleontologist Dr. Scott Sampson. You get four episodes; there are no real extra features, but the DVD is priced pretty affordably, so it’s hard to complain.
  • Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary – Narrated by Robert Redford, you say? I’m interested! Oh wait, it’s a film about famous counterculture icon Timothy Leary and his relationship with spiritual guru Ram Dass? Weeellll… I’m still interested. I guess. But less so. This documentary is about a part of pop culture and religion that I’m generally not very interested in. However, it’s a well-constructed film that doesn’t outstay its welcome at a tight 90 minutes long. With Redford’s narration along, the film was better than I expected, even if it’s not quite my cup of tea overall.

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