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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: The Lost City of Z, The Fate of The Furious, Kong: Skull Island and more


Kong: Skull Island – This is probably my favorite film of the year so far. As a lifelong King Kong fan, I’ve waited almost my whole life for a movie that really gave me the King Kong I wanted. I love the 1933 classic and I think it’s a near-perfect movie. The 1970s version is too cheesy, and while Peter Jackson’s version looks amazing, it’s way too long and tells a story we already know. This reinvention of the legend gives us what we want: King Kong. In all his glory. The opening action sequence with Kong versus helicopters not only pays tribute to Apocalypse Now, but it’s one of the most visually stunning set pieces I’ve seen in years. With solid enough characters, some humor, amazing visuals, real thrills, and fantastic action sequences, I fell in love with this movie! Plus, make sure you watch all the way until the end of the credits for a really fun hint of things to come.

The Fate of the Furious – I love the Fast and the Furious movies. I’m an unabashed fan of this one. And even I’ll admit that the first half of this film isn’t the series’ finest. However, about halfway through, the action and stunts kick into really high gear, some cool characters from the past show up, and things go over the top in the way that I love. I wish some of the first half action sequences worked better, but the last hour or so of the film is so much fun that it made me forget the weaker first half. Paul Walker’s absence is felt for sure, but luckily the cast is so big at this point that it doesn’t take too much away from the film. I had the chance to see the movie in the 4K Ultra High Definition format, and it is the kind of movie the ultra-premium format was made for: the imagery is flawless and the soundtrack is as bombastic as they come. All in all, a great movie-watching experience despite a few first-half flaws.

The Lost City of Z – Based on the bestselling book, this real-life adventure film stars Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, and Tom Holland. It follows an explorer who becomes obsessed with finding a lost city in the Amazon. The film rightly doesn’t try to turn the story into some kind of Indiana Jones-styled adventure, but there is no lack of intensity in the film. All of the cast members are terrific, and while there are a few slower moments in the film, they all serve to propel the narrative. It’s an interesting story in its own right (I haven’t read the book, but now I want to!) and it makes for a compelling film.

The Smurfs: The Lost Village – After two “Smurfs meets live action” movies, the franchise owners decided to return to a more traditional Smurfs film (although still a CGI-animated one.) The result is a perfectly fine family film that failed to attract audiences at the box office. I don’t think because the film isn’t good, as it’s enjoyable enough, I just don’t know that the audience for The Smurfs is all that big these days. Still, if you have kids who liked the first two, they’ll probably enjoy this, and you’ll be able to sit through it with no problem.

The Promise – How do you release a movie with Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac (arguably two of the best actors working today) and have nobody even care? Well, you make a period romance epic set against the backdrop of genocide, I guess. The Promise tells the story of a love triangle (with Isaac and Bale both in love with Charlotte LeBon) that butts up against the Ottoman’s genocide of Christian Armenians in World War I. The film is powerful and beautifully shot, and the performances are top-notch across the board. In fact, The Promise is a good movie, but it’s the kind of film I never find myself in the mood to watch. Plus, at two hours and 15 minutes, it’s not a breezy view. Still, if you want something a little more in-depth, this fits the bill.

Song to Song – Who exactly is Terence Malick making films for these days? Because it’s not people who like watching movies, I’m pretty sure of that. I think maybe he’s making people who love to go to art museums, or maybe people who have a hard time sleeping. Because I can’t see any other reason for a movie like Song to Song, which takes the excellent cast of Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman and completely wastes them in a film that plays out like a college student’s art thesis. Sorry, I’m sure there are redeeming qualities to this film, but I prefer a narrative movie and not an art project.

Free Fire – Ben Wheatley – a very critically acclaimed director whose work I have yet to like – returns with Free Fire, which might be his most straightforward film yet. Perhaps it’s due to the influence of producer Martin Scorsese, but this lean 90-minute actioner follows an arms deal gone bad that results in one of the longest gun battles in film history. With Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley in the cast, there’s a lot of charisma on screen. And while the movie is mostly relegated to a warehouse setting (the Reservoir Dogs vibe is undeniable), it’s pretty engaging if a little silly by the end.

T.J. Hooker: The Complete Series – As a Star Trek fan since childhood, of course I was going to watch William Shatner in another TV series. So, when I was a kid, T.J. Hooker was one of my favorite TV series. And although Seasons 1 and 2 have been released a number of times, this is the first time the rest of the seasons have made it to DVD. This 20-disc set includes seasons three, four, and five for the first time. And I always loved this show; even though it’s dated now, it’s great fun to go back and revisit it! Shatner is great, I always liked Adrian Zmed even though his post-Hooker career was a bit DOA, and James Darren and Heather Locklear were great supporting characters. It’s not as sophisticated as today’s cop shows, but it is a lot of fun.

Stalker – Andrei Tarkovsky films are hard to review. First off, I’ll say this is a perfect release for The Criterion Collection. It is the very epitome of what Criterion does so well and what kinds of films they present. Stalker, a sort of post-apocalyptic arthouse melodrama, is a two-hour-and-forty-minute film that is gorgeously shot, but light on actual plot and events. It’s much more of a “mood” film than a “plot.” That’s not to say there’s no story, but Tarkovsky makes deep, heavy-thinking movies, and this one of them. This new Criterion version is restored and remastered audibly and visually. It also comes with a number of extra features including interviews with people who worked on the film.

Buster’s Mal Heart – It’s hard to explain the plot of this movie. Not only because I don’t want to give anything away, but also because it’s actually hard to explain. Watch the trailer, and you can see that it’s not a film that’s easy to summarize. But fans of USA’s Mr. Robot will be excited to see lead actor Rami Malek in a different role, and it’s one that showcases that his excellent acting in that show is no fluke. I can’t say that I out and out loved this film, but it’s at least extremely interesting.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • A Quiet Passion – It seems odd that there haven’t been more biopics of Emily Dickinson, one of the most prominent female writers in American history (also the author of my favorite poem). This latest one is from acclaimed British writer/director Terence Davies, and it stars Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle, both of whom are quite good. I don’t know that Dickinson’s life is the most fertile ground for movie material, but it at least gives us a nice overview of the most important parts of her life. Worth a watch mostly if you’re interested in Dickinson; if not, you can probably skip it.
  • Adventure Time: The Complete Seventh Season – I’ve never been an Adventure Time I just didn’t get it, couldn’t get into it, could never really see what people like about it. So, I haven’t watched it since the last DVD came out, but I pretty much knew what to expect. But as always, I pop in the DVD and hope for the best. I guess I can say it’s not completely terrible but I still don’t get what people love about it so much. I suspect that fans will love it, though.
  • The Untouchables: The Scarface Mob – The Untouchables is a show I remember from my youth — in reruns, of course. I remember many a Saturday afternoon where, with nothing better to watch, I settled into these “old” TV shows. I had always been fascinated by Elliot Ness and his Untouchables, so that was a show I enjoyed watching right from the start. While the show itself has been released on DVD in multiple configurations, this release is the original movie that launched the show as a stand-alone release. Revisiting it now, I have to say that it holds up fairly well. The Untouchables is interesting because it’s 1950s television set in the 1930s, so it comes across as both authentic and stylized-realistic at the same time. This is a nice addition to the fans who have collected the whole series already.
  • Tommy’s Honour – While the title makes this sound like a heavy drama or a war film, it’s actually a biopic of sorts about the two men (both named Tom Harris) who basically invented the modern game of golf. While the two leads are largely unknown in the US (Jack Lowden, Peter Mullan) the film also features more familiar faces like Ophelia Lovibond and Sam Neill. I have to say, while I’m only a casual golf fan at best, this is a really strong movie. It mixes in the history of the game, some of the early courses, the men who created it, and some class struggle all into its 110-minute running time. I would say even if you’re not a fan of the sport, this is an interesting film to watch.
  • La Vie de Jean-Marie – A nearly three-hour documentary about a Dutch pastor who tends to his spiritual flock in a couple dozen small villages in the French Pyrenees is a hard sell. I give the director credit for taking some six years to follow his subject and craft this film, but it needed to be at least an hour shorter, and I have to say, I’m just not the target audience for movies like these.

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