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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Alien: Covenant, King Arthur and more


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – I think we can all agree that the first Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty brilliant. I love it, I’m a huge fan. Writer/director James Gunn’s previous films (Slither and Super) have huge cult followings, but I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of either. Despite their comedic leanings, there’s a darkness to both that doesn’t really work for me. Unfortunately, GoTG Vol. 2 sees Gunn returning to form. I like Guardians 2, but I don’t love it. And a large part of it is that darkness that Gunn seems so fond of. It’s in there, deep in the film’s DNA, and it manifests in the way of a mean streak that doesn’t really fit in, a nastiness that the first movie managed to keep at bay. I loved the first 10 minutes or so and the last 10 minutes or so, but the rest of the film I just liked. It’s certainly not a bad film at all, and I love Kurt Russell being in it, but it wasn’t the sequel I wanted it to be. The film is available in the standard Blu-ray and DVD, but also 4K Ultra HD, which sees the impressive visuals looking absolutely astounding and a soundtrack that will have your walls shaking. Cool stuff.

Alien: Covenant – Also known as The One Where Smart People Do Really Stupid Things. After the trainwreck that was Prometheus, it looked like maybe Alien Covenant was going to get back to what we really wanted to see: people versus aliens. Instead, we get a little of that, but a lot more of Michael Fassbender’s homoerotic Nazi android ruminating on the origins of life. I hate to sound basic, but just let me for a minute: WHOOOOO CAAAARES?!? Ridley Scott, get this through your head: nobody cares where the aliens come from. Nobody cares where humanity comes from (at least not in the movie universe). The last 15 minutes of the film are pretty good, when we finally get alien versus human, but the rest of the movie is pretty much garbage. When will Fox take the franchise out of Ridley Scott’s hands and find a filmmaker who knows how to make an Aliens film people want to see again?

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – I’m not sure if Charlie Hunnam is a full-fledged movie star yet, but he certainly makes a case for it with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guy Ritchie’s over-the-top reimagining of the Arthurian legend. The film was a pretty huge bomb at the box office, and it’s got a lot of flaws to be sure, but I heard some critics savaging the film and that I don’t get. I appreciate that it tries to mix the larger than life elements with the idea of Arthur growing up in squalor, and the end result is a film that doesn’t entirely work but at least is fun to watch. Plus, Jude Law is always great in any role, and his turn as the antagonist here is no different. Worth a watch if you go in with tempered expectations.

The Walking Dead: The Complete Seventh Season – Apparently, the brutal season opener for the seventh season of The Walking Dead was a downer for a lot of people, as the show saw a pretty significant loss of viewers over the course of the seventh season. I’ll say this about the show. Season Seven delivered some of the worst episodes of the show so far (Tara’s solo foray into the Oceanside community), yet also some of the best (Eugene in Sanctuary, the Hilltop/cantaloupe fiasco, that season finale.) So it was an uneven season to be sure but it still had some great, great moments. If you’re one of those viewers who felt the premiere went too far and stopped watching, this is a great chance to go back and see what you missed, because I loved a lot of what I saw this season.

Ash Vs. Evil Dead: Season 2 – Speaking of great TV shows with the undead in them, Ash Vs. Evil Dead is pretty terrific. The first season was a ridiculous amount of fun, and the second season has continued the mix of overarching mythology, pure silliness, over-the-top cartoon gore, and, of course, Bruce Campbell. He slips into the character of Ash so easily and effortlessly that you can’t help but grin while watching it, no matter how much blood is flying. I love that this show exists, and as an Evil Dead fan, I can’t get enough of it. Highly recommended!

Supergirl: The Complete Second Season – Yes, Supergirl has its cheesy moments. And no, it’s not as good as The Flash, which for my money is one of the best shows on TV. But it has one secret ingredient that very few shows have: Melissa Benoist. Benoist is so charming, so delightful, so effervescent, and so beautiful that it seems clear that nobody else could have played Supergirl but her. And while the show definitely has some kinks to iron out in Season 3 (hopefully The CW — where it belonged anyway — will continue to improve the show), I have to admit that I still enjoy it, despite the cheesiness at times. If you like superhero TV and don’t mind giving it a few episodes, Supergirl is definitely worth watching.

Kill Switch – I’ll watch Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) in anything, but you put him in a cool-looking sci-fi flick and I’m definitely there. Kill Switch is an entertaining-enough sci-fi actioner with some neat special effects about a man who dimension jumps to an alternate earth that’s supposed to be deserted and providing our earth with unlimited power. Of course, things go wrong. The main problem with the film is that all of the parts on the alternate earth are shot in first person view, so you hear Stevens but don’t see him, and it makes the film play out like a video game. I’m not a fan of that. It’s still a watchable film, but I wish it had been more traditionally shot.

Whale Rider: 15th Anniversary Edition – While her post-Whale Rider career hasn’t been overly stellar, young Keisha Castle-Hughes is a star for sure in this moving drama about a Maori village that’s male leadership heir dies young, leading 12-year-old girl Pai to strive to gain acceptance as the new rightful leader. It’s one of those films that received a ton of critical acclaim yet remains quite underseen, so this 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is a great way to correct that if you’ve never seen it. Good stuff.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • The Blacklist: The Complete Fourth Season – Even after four seasons, The Blacklist remains better than it has any right to be. While I would have expected it to run out of steam after the first season or two, it continues to be intriguing and interesting. The show has so many more layers than you’d expect. What seems at first like it will be a villain-of-the-week show quickly revealed itself to have a number of mysteries that would keep you guessing. The fourth season once again takes things in a new direction (which is sort of an old direction!) I like that this show keeps shaking things up, and James Spader remains so much fun to watch week after week.
  • NCIS Los Angeles: The Eighth Season – Even though I don’t like NCIS, I’ve always really wanted to like NCIS: Los Angeles. It’s an incredibly popular show, I like Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J and it’s a more action-oriented show. And it is a better show than NCIS, by far. The writing is better, O’Donnell and LL Cool J have a good chemistry, and the show definitely is more action-packed. Yet I still don’t love it. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of NCIS, but there’s something about the whole franchise that just doesn’t do it for me. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a style and a feel to the NCIS shows that just don’t work for me.
  • Blue Bloods: The Seventh Season – I’m a huge Tom Selleck fan, and I have been since I was a kid, so of course I was going to watch Blue Bloods. And with a supporting cast that includes Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynihan, and Will Estes — all actors I like — I assumed this show would be a slam dunk. But it isn’t; at least not quite. Instead, it’s a very solid cop drama, with relationships at the heart of it, but ultimately, I can’t get passionate about the show. I’m not sure what it is, either. The quality of the writing and the acting is very good, and the production values are good, but I never feel like this is must-see TV for me. Still, fans of the show get a good season, with a few new storylines along to keep things interesting, and I like catching up on DVD. I enjoy it enough for some good binge watching.
  • Lucifer: The Complete Second Season – It takes a little while for Lucifer to get off the ground, but once it does, it’s a pretty fun show. What happens when the devil comes to Los Angeles for a little business and pleasure? Well, all hell breaks loose. Literally! (Ha ha, I couldn’t resist.) The best part about the show is actor Tom Ellis, who is perfectly cast as Lucifer. He’s got the whole “devilish grin” thing down pat, and he really is what makes the show work. I’m curious to see what Smallville’s Tom Welling can bring to the upcoming Season 3.
  • Dominion Creek: Series 2 – If you’ve ever wondered what life was like in the Yukon during the 1890s Gold Rush, well wonder no further. This familial drama reveals the harsh climes, harsh times, heartbreak, and hard life that went along with staking your claim in the late 19th While the cast is largely unknown to US viewers, there isn’t a bad actor in the bunch. This second season builds on the set ups crafted in the first season, and sees a lot of changes many of the characters. This isn’t a show that wants to rest on its laurels and maintain the status quo.
  • 800 Words: Season 2, Part 2 – This charming Australian television drama doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly enjoyable. When a newspaper columnist’s wife dies unexpectedly, he packs up his teenage kids, leaves Sydney, and relocates to a picturesque small town in New Zealand. Honestly, we’ve seen this show a hundred time before, but that doesn’t stop it from being a winner. The cast is terrific, the quirky characters are endearing, and the show gets the tone right. Sometimes familiarity isn’t a bad thing, and this show is a perfect example of that.
  • The Great British Baking Show: Season 4 – I love cooking competition shows as much as the next guy or gal, but The Great British Baking Show is a cultural phenomenon. There’s not a lot of reality shows that make the journey across the pond, but this show has taken off here in America. And I certainly can see why people like it: it’s got all the classic cooking competition show ingredients (pardon the pun) yet it has a distinctly British charm to it. This set is great for people who are looking to fill in the hole left by the recently-wrapped The Next Food Network Star.
  • Beggars of Life – I love Blu-ray releases of obscure classic Hollywood cinema, and Kino Lorber’s new debut of Beggars of Life is a welcomed release. This 1928 silent film was directed by the great William A. Wellman (A Star Is Born, The Public Enemy) and it stars Louise Brooks as a female hobo who dresses as a boy to survive. It also stars Wallace Beery and is a surprisingly effective film. I like silent movies but I’m not a blindly-loyal viewer who will proclaim every silent film a masterpiece, but Beggars of Life is a really strong film that holds up very well.
  • Effects – This release marks the Blu-ray debut of the somewhat notorious Effects, which was made in the ‘70s by a bunch of George Romero’s friends, but never saw release until the mid-2000s. It’s most notable for starring effects guru and cult actor Tom Savini, but it has its charms. The film focuses on a group of low-fi filmmakers who decide to shoot a horror flick, only to become unsure of if the killings are real or not. It’s not a great film, but it has a neat concept and the last half hour or so is the most interesting part.
  • The WB Archive Blu-rays: The Sea Chase, Where the Boys Are, Blood Alley, Running on Empty – The Warner Brothers archive delivers four new releases of classic films this week. The Sea Chase is a John Wayne & Lana Turner vehicle that makes its Blu-ray debut, which is a nice treat. It’s a wartime thriller that sees John Wayne as a German freighter captain (!) who has no love for the Nazis but is being pursued by the British navy with a Nazi spy on board. It’s a really solid film and I enjoyed seeing The Duke in a non-western setting. Blood Alley is an excellent companion piece (also on Blu-ray) that also stars John Wayne as a sea ship captain and was also directed by William A. Wellman. This time, Wayne’s co-star is Lauren Bacall, and instead of being up against the British Navy, he’s pursuing Red Chinese forces and saving Chinese refugees, resulting in similarly classic-Hollywood-themed goodness. Where the Boys Are is not the 80s spring break comedy, but rather the original film it was loosely based on. Starring George Hamilton, Connie Francis, Jim Hutton, and Paula Prentiss, it might just be the original Spring Break comedy. Sure, it’s of a different time and age, but that’s what makes it so fun. Finally, Running on Empty is a terrific ‘80s film starring the late River Phoenix, Christine Lahti, and Judd Hirsch. Lahti and Hirsch play ex-hippie activists who have been on the run from the government for years, while Phoenix plays their son who – coming into his own as a teenager – doesn’t want to live that life anymore. It’s a surprisingly effective drama and it holds up very well, especially on its Blu-ray debut.
  • Shimmer & Shine: Magical Pets of Zahramay Falls – My kids have grown out of most of the Nick Jr. shows, so I don’t really get to see any of them anymore, which means now there are starting to be series on the network that I’d never even heard of. Until these DVDs started crossing my desk last year Shimmer and Shine was one of them. Turns out it’s a really cute little show about a girl named Leah who has two genies-in-training who try to help her out. With emphasis on the “in-training” part, things often go wrong. It’s a fun series that younger kids will definitely enjoy, and this DVD includes 7 episodes.
  • Jumanji: The Complete Animated Series – Hey remember that Jumanji animated series? No? Well, I’ve got news for you: neither do I. This is one of those releases that literally caused me to do a double take. But yes, it turns out there was a cartoon series based on the Robin Williams film (and the book that inspired it) that lasted three episodes. This budget release from Mill Creek collects all 40 episodes on three discs, and it sees the kids in the movie moving back and forth between the real world and the jungle world of Jumanji. It’s not great, but I’ve seen worse, and I’m sure it will be a nice nostalgia pick-up for some readers of a certain age.
  • Bannon’s War – While you might want nothing more to do with politics – since you can’t escape it in the news cycle these days – this might not be your cup of tea. But if you want to know more about Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s recently ousted advisors, this hour-long documentary will paint a pretty clear portrait of him.
  • Kiki – I haven’t seen a single review of Kiki that didn’t reference the iconic 1991 film Paris is Burning. However, since I’ve never seen that film, I can’t draw any direct comparisons. This new movie is a documentary about young LGBTQ people in – of all places – Harlem. It’s an area that sees a lot of turmoil in the gay community, and this movie explores the lives of a number of teenagers. It’s a moving documentary and while I don’t know how it stacks up against Paris, it presents a compelling subject matter in its own way.
  • Jane’s Addiction: Alive at Twenty-Five – Yes, I know that Jane’s Addiction Alive at Twenty-Five is a music release. But it also includes a Blu-ray, so that’s worth mentioning. This live concert performance sees the band performing the entirety of their Ritual de lo Habitual album along with a number of hits and deep cuts. The included Bu-ray in this 3-disc release gives us the high def video version of the concert, which is a treat for fans. I’ll admit, I generally don’t like Jane’s Addiction at all, but this is a nice package for fans.
  • Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin – Like the release above, Divas Live is a music release, but it also includes a DVD. This infamous tribute concert from 2001 features the Queen of Soul in concert with numerous acts that were at the top of the charts in 2001, including Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, the Backstreet Boys, and Kid Rock. This release includes the CD of the concert, plus now you can watch it with the companion DVD. A great release for fans of Aretha Franklin.

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