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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, The Hero and more

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Wonder Woman – I know it was a massive hit, but for me, Wonder Woman was okay. Not great, just okay. Before everyone yells at me because I know it was massively beloved and popular, let me give my spoiler-free reasons below. First and foremost is this: When I watched Captain America, my favorite character was Captain America. When I watched Ant-Man, my favorite character was Ant-Man. When I watched Wonder Woman, my favorite character was Steve Trevor. Hmmm… if your lead character isn’t more interesting than a supporting character, there’s a problem. It was too long by half an hour, easily. Honestly, there were several parts where I was a little bored. Yes, the action scenes were terrific. Too bad about that music. That god-awful “DC electric guitar lick” motif that they keep forcing into their movies is crap and I hate it. Gal Gadot was terrific. She is the perfect choice for Wonder Woman. But the character had exactly two notes in this film: “I’m going to yell at people and do whatever I want no matter what, with no understanding of tact or patience whatsoever” and “I don’t understand how the modern world works.” Annnnd… that’s pretty much it. I would have preferred the character to have been a bit more nuanced. Kind of like Steve Trevor was. (See above.) Some of the special effects were a bit dodgy. Nitpicking here, but in some scenes the green-screening was way too obvious. Before you beat me up, I LIKED the movie. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t come out of the theater thinking, “I can’t wait to see that again.” Which is disappointing to me. Sure, it’s a cut above most DC movies, (which is not a high bar, admittedly) but it pales compared to just about every Marvel movie as far as I’m concerned.

The Big Sick – I’ve been a big fan of Kumail Nanjiani’s stand-up comedy since I first heard him several years ago. Since then, I’ve followed him from his X-Files podcast to his role on Silicon Valley to numerous other projects he’s been involved with. But The Big Sick sees Nanjiani taking his talents to a new level. Co-written with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, and based on real events, the film stars Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan as a couple kept apart by cultural differences and then a huge medical emergency. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano co-star, and Romano is absolutely brilliant here. The script is exceptional, and the movie is alternately gut-bustingly funny and extremely moving. This one is a huge win, and you should definitely check it out.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie – My son absolutely loves the Captain Underpants books. LOVES them. And I enjoy reading them with him. They’re silly and not exactly high-brow entertainment, but that’s okay sometimes. And this movie adaptation is exactly that: silly and not even a little highbrow. It’s also a lot of fun. My son absolutely loved it, and my daughter enjoyed it quite a bit, too, even though she’s never read the books. For me, what I appreciated was just how well the film captures the spirit of the books and worked in a lot of neat animated tricks that mimic the feel of the books (like flip-o-rama.) A fun one for the family, if not quite a true classic.

The Hero – Sam Elliott received a lot of critical acclaim for his performance in this film about an aging famous actor trying to reconnect with his daughter, and for good reason. I don’t think Elliott has ever turned in a bad performance, but it’s nice to see him in a lead role where he can let his acting take center stage (as opposed to a more action-oriented role). He’s completely incredible in this role, and I won’t be surprised to see awards talk start to buzz as the season comes around. Check this one out.

This is Us: Season One – NBC advertised the heck out of This Is Us before the start of last season, and I was completely uninterested. It just looked like melodramatic soap opera TV claptrap to me. But, of course, my wife wanted to watch it, so I figured I’d give it an episode and then let her watch it on her own. And boy, could I not have been more wrong about this show! It is absolutely, completely terrific in every way. Obviously, it was a huge rating hit, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Yes, the show is dramatic, and yes, I think I got teared up during pretty much every single episode of the season. But it’s also warm and funny, and charismatic and realistic. Every single person in the cast is award-worthy, but I think Sterling K. Brown (who plays Randall) is one of my new favorite actors, period. There’s nothing he can’t pull off. If you’ve heard the buzz but haven’t checked the show out yet, you need to do so now so you can get caught up for the impending Season Two.

Lethal Weapon: The Complete First Season – I really wanted to love Lethal Weapon. I’m a huge fan of the movies, and I thought it would be fun to have a really great action show on TV again. And before I go any further, let me say that I do LIKE Lethal Weapon, but I don’t LOVE it. I really enjoy Clayne Crawford, and while he’s not trying to mimic Mel Gibson in the role of Riggs, I think he was a great choice for the role. And his chemistry with Damon Wayans is quite good. The show works best when it focuses on the action and cop stuff, though. The personal moments, especially with Riggs’s family, just don’t work for me. They’re a little forced and cringeworthy at times. I will say, though, that I’m glad the show was renewed for a second season as it’s pretty good overall and I think it has room to improve and become a really great show.

The Vietnam War – Ken Burns. The Vietnam War. If the thought of those two things combined doesn’t send chills up your spine, then you haven’t been paying attention to documentary filmmaking. At this point, Ken Burns is the undisputed master of documentaries, and his take on The Vietnam War – which isn’t as far from people’s memories as you might think – is searing, moving, and intense. This ten-disc, 16-hour opus brings us all the Ken Burns hallmarks: personal stories, amazing photos and video footage, and an in-depth dive into a well-traveled subject matter that somehow still reveals hours of stories you’ve never even come close to hearing before. I’m not what you would consider a “war buff” or military aficionado, but I do find war films fascinating when they’re done well, and this one is a near-masterpiece. Highly recommended.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Tenth Season – One of television’s most popular shows returns to Blu-ray and DVD this week. I’m always amazed that this show is such a big hit, but it’s nice to see the geek culture get some love from the mainstream. As usual, Season Ten doesn’t see too much change in the way of cast dynamics or storylines, although the season finale certainly offers up some surprises. But this show does what it does so well that you don’t really need massive change for it to be awesome. Even if you watched every episode as it aired (like I did), this is still a set worth owning, because this show is still funny on repeat viewings.
  • Arrow: The Complete Fifth Season – One of my favorite series — and admittedly I’m a comic book geek — this show based on DC’s Green Arrow comic books is an action-packed hit. With great action, tons of in-jokes for the comic book crowd, a charismatic leading man, and a few twists and turns along the way, Arrow works on just about every level. Arrow is like Smallville on an adrenaline rush, and I love it. Season Five sees a stripped-down team (along with a new addition to the show), changing the status of several characters, and expanding they overarching mythology. If you’re not watching Arrow, you’re missing out on some of the most exciting genre programming on television.
  • Empire: Season 3 – Fox’s hit TV show returns with a vengeance in Season Three. I’m not the huge fan of this show that some people are, but I like it. I enjoy it for the melodrama and the over-the-top nature of it, and the music is pretty awesome too. Taraji P. Henson is a powerhouse in the lead role of Cookie, and the supporting cast (of mostly unknown actors) is also top-notch. It’s addictive television, but in a pretty disposable way. Still, if you missed season two or want to catch up before season three starts, this is the way to do it.
  • Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and Chicago P.D.: The Latest Seasons – Chicago Fire was apparently so popular, there’s already two spin-offs. Chicago P.D.: Season Four hews even closer to Dick Wolf’s typical territory than Fire, but I do like this show, mostly because of the cast. Jason Beghe has been a favorite character actor of mine for a while now, and it’s good to see Sophia Bush back in a hit show. The show isn’t must see TV for me, but I like binging on it when the DVD sets drop. Back to the mothership. Chicago Fire: Season Five is very much a typical Dick Wolf show, so I can see why it’s so popular. Compelling story lines, lots of soap opera plots, solid action sequences, an attractive cast… it’s got a little something for everyone. And then there’s Chicago Med. Another Chicago show? I guess having the fire department and police covered weren’t enough, so we also needed to have a hospital represented. Now, I don’t really watch any of these shows regularly, and if I’m going to, anything medical-related is probably going to be the lowest on my list, as it’s a genre I don’t generally care for. I’ll say that this show is perfectly good for what it is; if you like medical dramas, you’ll like it just fine.
  • The Goldbergs: Season 3 and 4 – Set squarely in the ’80s and with a comedy dynasty cast that includes George Segal and Wendi McLendon-Covey (one of the most underrated comedy actresses today), The Goldbergs is a lot of fun. It’s a funny, goofy sitcom that anyone can enjoy, but for those of us who grew up in the ’80s, there’s an extra slice of funny watching all of the things we know and love reappear in the TV screen. This isn’t one of those shows that’s particularly deep or sentimental, but it will make you laugh — out loud and often.
  • Code Black: Season 2 – I generally don’t like Marcia Gay Harden (she’s a very good actress, there’s just something about her that bugs me), and I generally don’t like medical dramas, so there was little chance that I was going to like Code Black. And I don’t, but only because it’s not my cup of tea and not because it’s a bad show. I mean, despite the fact that Luis Guzman plays a character named Mama, the show ticks all the boxes of an intense medical drama. It’s well-acted, well-written and should be good viewing for fans of shows like ER and Chicago Hope.
  • Madam Secretary: Season Three – A somewhat surprising hit, Madam Secretary sees Tea Leoni return to the small screen, and I always find her enjoyable. She plays a former CIA analyst who suddenly becomes the Secretary of State, and she has to learn to navigate the world of politics while doing her best to protect the country. Three seasons in, the learning curve is less than it used to be, but the showrunners still find plenty of conflict. It’s a well-done series that skips a lot of the shock and over-the-top story elements of a show like Scandal. This is much more of a West Wing-styled show, and I can see why people like it.
  • Cartels – The latest Steven Seagal flick comes direct-to-video, as all of his films do nowadays, and it’s pretty much the exact same as every film he’s made for the past ten years. Fellow B-movie stalwart Luke Goss is along for the ride here, and the result is a pretty standard DTV film. The story involves a crime boss-turned-witness but really, the story is pretty irrelevant here What you get are a few half-decent action scenes, a lot of bad acting, and Seagal. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then go for it.
  • The Prison – So, this isn’t what you would call a truly great film, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for prison flicks. I don’t know why, I’ve just always found the genre fascinating. This Korean film takes the genre and gives it a twist, by having a former police inspector sentenced to hard time after an accident of sorts who discovers that the prisoners have formed a gang that breaks out at night to commit crimes, with the perfect alibi of course. It’s filled with action and prison clichés, and while that might not appeal to all viewers, it’s right up my alley.
  • The Moderns – Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Genevieve Bujold, Linda Fiorentino, and Wallace Shawn star in this film which makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout Factory Select, which tries to draw attention to classic and underseen films. Which is good, because not only have I never seen this film, I’d never even heard of it before this. It’s a story set in the art scene of Paris in 1926, following a group of Americans living there. The film is deliberately placed and occasionally wry, and it’s not really a plot-heavy film, instead relying on atmosphere and romance to carry the film. It’s a solid movie. I can’t say I was blown away by it, but it was certainly interesting enough to hold my attention for a couple hours.
  • The Real Story: Scream & Close Encounters of the Third Kind – These two releases from PBS – which sound like making-of documentaries but aren’t – purport to tell the true stories behind the movies Scream and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the case of Scream, the program explores the Gainesville murders of the early ‘90s, which does correlate directly to Scream in some ways. The CET3K episode however, looks at the more general world of alien abductions and UFO sightings, and so it isn’t quite as interesting to me. Both are pretty good and fun enough to watch, but the Scream episode was the better one for my money.
  • Elena Of Avalor: Celebrations to Remember – This latest DVD collection comes from the hit Elena of Avalor animated series, a newer show from Disney that expands the Disney Princess line for younger viewers. The show exists in the same universe as Disney’s popular Sofia the First, which makes it kind of a neat spin-off (of sorts). In it, young Princess Elena learns how to rule the kingdom on her way to becoming Queen. Along the way, she is joined by her friends (which include a wizard and magical flying creatures called Jaquins) and has to face some bad guys who aren’t threatening enough to be scary to little kids. Perfect for young children looking for a new show.
  • Road Less TraveledAmerican Idol’s Lauren Alaina lays – what else? – a country singer in this Hallmark-esque movie about a young star with writer’s block and wedding woes as she tries to choose between her fiancée and her old beau. What I do like is that the back of the DVD case asks, “Will she do as she’s expected? Or take the Road Less Traveled?” I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that – since the name of the movie is Road Less Traveled – I might (just MIGHT!) know the answer to that before even watching the film. That said, it’s perfectly fine for what it is, and if you like Hallmark movies, you’ll enjoy this one.
  • The Heart Guy: Season 1 – This show feels familiar and different all at the same time. An Australian drama, the series follows an arrogant but gifted heart surgeon who ends up working as a general practitioner in his rural hometown after an incident fueled by drugs and alcohol brings him down. Of course, family and exes abide, and the result is a fish-out-of-water, Doc Hollywood type story that manages to carve out its own unique take on a story we’ve seen before. It’s enjoyable, although I will admit I don’t tend to watch medically-based shows So I might not be a regular viewer, but not because it’s not well done.
  • Glory – This Bulgarian film has been repeatedly called “Kapra-esque: in the press materials, and honestly, it’s not hard to see why. The film tells the story of a run-down railroad man who finds a huge sum of money and instead of keeping it, turns it in to the authorities who reward him with a shiny new watch. When the watch stops working and the authorities can’t find his old watch (which has major sentimental value), well… that’s where the film’s drama comes in. While the film is in Bulgarian and subtitled, I have to admit that it is effective and quite winning. Worth a watch if you are open to foreign films.
  • Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark – This fascinating three-part, three-hour documentary series follows dedicated photographer Joel Sartore as he quests to photograph endangered species around the globes. He visits zoos and animal sanctuaries, but also journeys into the wild to capture elusive and rare animals, all to create an “ark” of sorts, or a living record of photographs of animals most people will never see in their lifetimes. It’s the best kind of documentary: interesting, informative, and entertaining.
  • Hana-Bi – Written and directed by and starring legendary Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano (Battle Royale, Ghost in the Shell, Violent Cop), this film from the late 1990s makes its Blu-ray debut this week. It’s an intense crime drama that involves the Yakuza, family illness, an ill partner, bank robberies, and much more. Kitano is searing in the lead role, and this isn’t just a shoot-em-up, but rather a more layered film which is punctuated by moments of high intensity. I’d never seen this film before, but it was cool to be exposed to it.
  • Dare to Drum – This heady musical documentary follows composer Stewart Copeland, best known as the drummer for The Police, and his collaboration with D’Drum, a Texas-based world percussion group, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra with Maestro Jaap van Zweden. We follow this diverse group as they begin their work together and follow them through to their debut performance, which is threatened to be derailed by some sever weather. With a bonus feature that includes a full performance by the ensemble, this is a great release for fans of music that goes beyond the pop hits on the radio.
  • Odd Squad: Villains The Best of the WorstThe Odd Squad is a fun little show for kids that my own children enjoy. It reminds me (more in a nostalgic way than because of any actual similarities) of shows I watched when I was a kid such as 3-2-1 Contact and the like. It’s a group of kid sleuths who solve mysteries and teach kids about real life math applications, although in a subtle way. This hour-long collection features a spotlight on some of the show’s “villains.” Which is a lot of fun and kids should enjoy it.
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines: Wild Wheels – In case you were worried that your pre-schooler didn’t have enough vehicle-based shows to watch, now we have another new Blaze & The Monster Machines This is one of Nick Jr.’s most popular shows, which follows a young Monster Truck and his friends in the world of Monster Truck racing. Of course, there are learning components as well. This show is perfectly fine for the youngsters, if a bit redundant.

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