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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: The Zookeeper’s Wife, Monster Hunt, Money and more


The Zookeeper’s Wife – This moving film is based on the true story of zookeeper and his wife who help save the lives of some 300 Jews marked for death after the Nazis invade Warsaw, Poland during World War II. Jessica Chastain takes on the lead role and, in completely unsurprising news, she’s utterly fantastic. Nut not to be overlooked is the always-terrific Daniel Bruhl who takes on the role of a Nazi villain this time around. I love Bruhl, and while his character isn’t the most interesting he’s ever played, the film is always at its best when he’s on screen. While this isn’t a light film or the kind of movie you pop on with a big bucket of popcorn on a Friday night, it’s still worth watching.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog – The Criterion Collection continues it’s releasing of important classic films with The Lodger, notable for being Alfred Hitchcock’s first full-length film (although technically it was his third film.) This silent film from 1927 isn’t one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, but it’s certainly an important piece of his filmography and is surprisingly watchable almost a hundred years later. As a special bonus, not only does this Blu-ray release include a number of extra features (plus remastered sound and picture), but it also includes another 1927 silent film by Hitchcock, so you’re really getting two for the price of one.

Money – This little-seen thriller stars Jamie Bamber, Jesse Williams, Kellan Lutz and Jess Weixler is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to go direct to video. That’s not a slight per se, it’s just that the film is like a lot of other DTV films I’ve seen. Following two corporate executives who have sold corporate secrets for a huge sum of money which is then stolen from them, the film has some good tense moments and a few likable cast members, but it also has a few less-effective performances and a script that has a few weaker moments. It’s not a bad film, and it’s a decent way to kill 90 minutes or so, but it’s nothing special at the end of the day.

This Beautiful Fantastic – Another film that, if it isn’t direct-to-video, at least had a limited theatrical release, this one stars Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown-Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, and Andrew Scott. The basic story of the films isn’t all that original, in that it sees a reclusive young woman who meets her cranky older neighbor and – surprise, surprise! – he teaches her a few things about life. But the story does take a few twists and turns along the way to keep it from being cliched, and the film is actually quite charming, largely thanks to the platonic chemistry between Brown-Findlay and Wilkinson. It’s a sweet and enjoyable film, worth a look for sure.

Monster Hunt – If Monster Hunt sounds familiar to you, it might be because you heard some of the news surrounding its success in China. Made for about $50 million, the film grossed almost $400 million is China, making it – for a brief time – the highest-grossing film of all time in that country. Now, this live-action film (with plenty of CGI) — from one of the lead animators of Shrek – takes place in a sort of ancient China where humans and monsters co-exist (although separately). When a human and a monster produce a baby, all heck ensues. Now, the film has some cute moments and some funny moments, and even some good action sequences. But do I think it’s good enough to become the highest grossing film of all time in any country? Not so much. Still, it’s a fun viewing experience.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends – I have always loved Johnny Carson. I’m old enough to remember when he retired and to have watched The Tonight Show on occasion, but also young enough to where the show was on too late for me to watch most nights because of school. As such, I’m always super excited when I get to watch any Johnny Carson programming, because he was just so fantastic and I’ve never seen most of it. This new release focuses on Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy, with each actor getting three episodes from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Packed with complete and unedited episodes, this is a must have for any fans of the original King of Late Night as well as fans of Martin, Murphy, and Williams.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Smithsonian: Mummies Alive – At first, I thought this was just a typical 60-minute special, but it turns out it’s not a documentary film but rather a series, with six episodes that run nearly an hour each, all focusing on mummies, both famous and obscure. So you’ll see Otzi the Iceman alongside some much less known mummies such as the pharaoh Seqenenre Tao. I’ve always found mummies and Egyptian culture (and not all of the mummies here are Egyptian, but obviously there are a few) fascinating, so I enjoyed these shows quite a bit.
  • Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story – This isn’t actually a documentary about Batman, just in case you thought it was. What it is instead is a documentary about one of the very first Batman fan films, a movie called Batman: Dead End, that became a viral video sensation and is largely credited with starting the whole fan film phenomenon. So, this movie tells the story of how that 8-minute film came about, and how it changed modern-day fandom, and it’s pretty cool stuff.
  • Food: Delicious Science – This three-episode series features hosts Michael Mosley and James Wong pretty much exactly what the title indicates: the science of food. We learn about how physics, chemistry and biology affect the food you eat and how you enjoy them. From the science behind cravings to how food tastes to what makes food healthy, the show combines science with yumminess and presents a pretty interesting three hours of television.
  • Frontline: The Fish on my Plate – Another food-related release from PBS this week, this Frontline special is a 60-minute program that’s less science oriented and more, well, fishy. In the special, host (and author) Paul Greenberg spends a year of his life eating only fish for his meals, and he travels the world in search of all kinds of different fish meals. We see him in a number of locales eating a wide variety of fish-related meals, and he manages to make it interesting and engaging. Like most Frontline specials, it might not seem like it’s something everyone would be interested in, but it’s surprisingly enjoyable.
  • Navy Seals V Demons – I don’t even know what to say here. Some films just don’t need to be made, and I think this one qualifies. With a budget of about 35 cents, the film features poor acting, poorer special effects, and an even poorer script. I wish there was something I could recommend about this film, but unfortunately, there’s nothing there.

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