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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Ghost In The Shell, Warlock, Joe Versus The Volcano and more


Ghost in the Shell – Okay, I’m going to skip the whole “whitewashing” controversy surrounding Ghost in the Shell, because I’m not here to try and change Hollywood’s ways or debate political issues. What I’m most concerned with is, “Is the film any good?” And here’s what I’ll say about Ghost in the Shell: it’s better than I expected it to be. Now comes the caveat: I thought the trailer for GITS was a pile of hot steaming garbage. So this is a case where the film benefitted from EXTREMELY low expectations. As such, it certainly looks great, and the story is mildly engaging, but the film really isn’t all that terrific. It’ll work as a diversion for a couple of hours, but for a movie based on such a beloved anime property, it should have been better.

Unforgettable – Earlier this year, I made a New Year’s movie resolution to stop watching these kinds of thrillers. You know, the one where a man/woman becomes obsessed with their employer/ex/nanny/mistress/new love. Because they’re all the same. But this one had Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson, so I thought I’d give it a whirl, even though I was pretty sure I knew what I was in for. And while there are no boiled bunnies in this one, it really doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Heigl and Dawson are both very good, which elevates it a little, but we’ve all seen this film before.

Resident Evil: Vendetta – This latest Resident Evil film is not from the live action series with Milla Jovovich. Instead, it’s from a series of direct-to-video films that have been released that follow along with the storyline of the video games and are all computer-generated animation. As with the previous entries in this series, the story is a bit out there and the voice acting isn’t great, but with zombies and monsters galore rendered in stunning CG, who really cares? If you like the Resident Evil games, you’ll probably enjoy this film even more than I did.

The Warlock Collection – From Lionsgate’s Vestron Video imprint comes a new collection that horror fans will probably get excited about: The Warlock Collection. Starring Julian Sands (in the first two films, with Bruce Payne in the third film), Warlock was probably one of the great cult classics of the late ‘80s; not quite popular enough to be a true hit, but much more seen than many other horror films of the day. The first film also benefitted from being directed by Steve Miner, who is one of the great workman directors of the ’80s and 90s. Unfortunately, the franchise is a series of diminishing returns, but the first two films (and especially the first one) are a lot of fun. This set features all three films remastered, and it includes a bunch of new extra features. A must-have for fans!!

Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Seventh & Final Season – I know a lot of fans are upset that Pretty Little Liars has come to an end, but I think the show has run its course and this was a good way to go out on a high note. I’ll admit that I shouldn’t like Pretty Little Liars. It’s a soapy melodrama wrapped around central mysteries that grow ever more implausible as each season goes on. But… I do. It’s a lot of fun, and if you don’t take it too seriously and let yourself get sucked into the Nancy Drew-meets-Gossip Girl aesthetic of it all, it’s a fairly enjoyable show. Sure, there are moments where the dialogue will make you cringe, but the constantly ratcheting tension and plot twists are enjoyable, even if in a cheesy way. It’s not great television, but it’s good, entertaining fluff.

The 100: The Complete Fourth SeasonThe 100 is one of my favorite genre shows of the past few seasons. While not a huge hit for the CW, it keeps earning enough buzz to bring it back season after season. It’s a great mash-up of The Lord of the Flies, Battlestar Galactica, and After Earth, set in the distant future where Earth is potentially uninhabitable. One hundred under-18 “criminal” kids are sent to the Earth’s surface to see if it’s a viable place to sustain what remains of humanity. The show has a few moments of suspect dialogue and acting, but overall, it’s quite solid. And it takes some chances. There are some shocking moments that rival what a lot of more “mature” sci-fi shows are doing these days. Check out this fourth season collection; it’s really fun stuff.

Black Butterfly – I’ve been singing the praises of French cinema (specifically current French thrillers) for the better part of the last decade. Simply put, French filmmakers are making some of the best thrillers around these days the French film Papillon Noir that Black Butterfly is based on, but I definitely want to. This remake stars Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a nicely gripping thriller. It’s not without its flaws but it moves quickly and the tension ratchets as it goes. I don’t want to get too much into the plot, as it’s a simple set-up and the film’s success predicates on the growing tension and not knowing what’s going to happen. Suffice it to say, this is a pretty cool little flick.

Shooter: Season One – Ryan Phillipe and Omar Epps star in this show based on the Mark Wahlberg movie that was an unexpected hit at the box office a few years back. In the show, Phillippe plays a sniper who is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s not exactly the kind of role you would expect from Phillippe, but I like him and he’s actually quite good here. Bonus points for finding a role for One Tree Hill’s Shantel Van Santen (who I’m a big fan of) as Swagger’s wife. The show isn’t exactly must-see television, but it’s entertaining enough that it’s worth watching if you’re looking for a new binge.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

Girls: The Final Season – Despite the fact that I really don’t like Lena Dunham, I keep reviewing Girls, just in case it gets better. After all, the show has been such a hit and gotten such good reviews, eventually, I’d have to figure out why, right? Umm… no. In fact, not only is Girls: The Final Season is more of the same, but it’s basically the exact same thing as the first three seasons. A self-absorbed and obnoxious New York twentysomething and her self-absorbed and obnoxious friends live their lives and ruminate on boys, work, and life, but they do so in completely annoying, unlikable, and narcissistic ways. Dunham’s brand of “comedy” does nothing for me, and I still find the show unbelievably annoying. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I really, really, REALLY don’t like this show. Even if Kylo Ren is in it. But hey, at least it’s the last season so I don’t have to review it anymore.

Masterpiece Mystery! Grantchester Season 3Masterpiece Mystery: Grantchester is the BBC doing what the BBC does best. They’ve had shows about people from all different professions solving mysteries, from cooks to doctors to authors to gardeners and everything in between. Now we have a small-town Vicar in 1950s England joining the sleuths club. Grantchester isn’t particularly innovative or original – in that it’s another British mystery show — but it does have its charms and will definitely appeal to people who love the BBCs particular style of mystery storytelling.

WB Archive: Joe Versus The Volcano, Vision Quest, Seven Days in May, Protocol, and Pink Flamingos – The Warner archive has several new print-on-demand titles available this week, including some great and cult classic films making their Blu-ray debuts. First up is Joe Versus the Volcano. This first team-up between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is an interesting one. I hated it when it came out, but watching it now I found it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember. I’m glad it’s on Blu-ray, too, as I think it looks better than I think it ever has Before. Vision Quest is another 80s film that’s probably more remembered for Madonna’s song Crazy for You than it is for the actual movie itself. It stars Linda Fiorentino and Matthew Modine and it’s a classic high-school-wrestler-slash-rebel-love story. It’s dated, but it’s still fun to revisit. Seven Days in May has one hell of a pedigree. It’s directed by John Frankenheimer and written for the screen by Rod Serling, and it stars Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Fredric March. It’s a tense thriller that’s really enjoyable, and I wish it was on Blu-ray as well instead of just DVD. Protocol is another 80s flashback, this time starring Goldie Hawn as, and I quote, “a spirited DC cocktail waitress who, through a series of comic misadventures, becomes an overnight celebrity as a protocol official for the State Department.” It’s pure ‘80s all the way, but it’s a film I remember liking as a kid (not sure if I should have been able to) and I had fun revisiting it here. Finally, we have Pink Flamingos, which is the head scratcher of the group. Not just because John Waters’ film is a bizarre entity in and of itself, but because the film is readily available in different configurations on DVD already. Why it was rereleased by the Warner Archive as a DVD and not as a Blu-ray (which it is not yet available on) remains a mystery to me.

The Final Master – This film has “From the writer of The Grandmaster” emblazoned above the title. That’s not a bad thing, but watching the film, it’s easy to see that the two films are from the same writer. It’s not like a copycat film, but both movies have a very similar feel. Set in 1930s China, the film is an action/drama, with a nice dose of characterization before some intense action sequences. I’m a little played out on period/epic martial arts films, but it’s a pretty good flick overall.

Frontline: American Patriot – This fascinating Frontline special gives us an in-depth look into a subject that got a lot of press attention but that most people still know very little about. In 2014, an armed militia of some 200 men stood up to the federal government over – of all things – cattle grazing. The resultant stand-off was described as everything from freedom fighting to domestic terrorism. This show looks at the events and the aftermath of the Bundy stand-off in Bunkerville, Nevada, and it’s quite fascinating. Worth a watch for sure.

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story – This terrific documentary is a biography of Stan Lee, the man who co-created some of the biggest superheroes in history. Spider-Man, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Avengers… you name it, Stan Lee had a hand in creating it. This film takes us from Lee’s early days through the heyday of Marvel to current times. Full disclosure, the movie actually came out about six years ago. This is a budget re-release, but if you haven’t seen it before, it’s definitely worth watching.

Devil’s Domain – I knew I was in trouble when I read the back of the Blu-ray case and it was riddled with typos. I know that the filmmakers themselves aren’t necessarily typing out film synopses, but that’s not usually a good sign. This cheapie horror flick is about a school girl who makes a deal with the devil to get rid of the other students who are tormenting her. It’s not the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t really do anything all that interesting, either.

Glass Coffin – This Spanish-language horror flick is about an actress who gets into a limousine on her way to a premiere, only to have that limo quickly turn into a prison with a sadistic captor (who’s just a voice) that forces her to do more and more demeaning things to survive. I generally like these films that take place in one claustrophobic setting, and this film isn’t bad, but it’s not one of the better in the genre, either. There are parts where it gets a little uncomfortable and extreme, and while that will probably work for many people, it didn’t make for a slam dunk for me.

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