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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Baby Driver, The House, Wish Upon, The Beguiled and more


Baby Driver – This year’s best action film wasn’t filled with spaceships or superheroes, but instead with a car driver named Baby. As implausible as that seems, Edgar Wright’s simple (yet brilliant) tale of a young getaway driver trying to get out of the criminal life is a masterpiece. Ansel Elgort is terrific in the lead role, and both Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm turn in terrific supporting performances. But it’s the action, and the way it’s choreographed, that’s the real star here. It’s thrilling, funny, energetic, and dazzling. Can’t recommend this one highly enough!

The House – There was a time when the idea of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler starring in a comedy together would have seemed really exciting. Now it just seems… tired. This comedy about a couple of straight-laced parents opening a gambling den to try and pay for their kid’s college bill isn’t outright terrible, it’s just uninspired. There are a couple of chuckles here and there, but basically, it’s just two veteran comedy actors mailing it in for a paycheck. I wish it had been more interesting.

Wish Upon – I’m going to skip the fact that I think Wish Upon is one of the worst movie titles I’ve heard in a long time (and probably helped doom this flick to a poor box office reception), and instead move right onto the movie itself. Which is, well, okay. It’s a pretty time-honored horror movie story, about a girl who gets a mysterious box that grants her wishes, which of course means bad things start happening straight away. I’ll be honest, I expect so little for the horror genre nowadays that when a movie that isn’t outright terrible comes along, it feels like a victory. So I guess this one is a win, even if it’s nothing special.

The Beguiled – Nicole Kidman, Colon Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning star in this period drama about lust and secrets. Sophia Coppola directs this tale of a wounded civil war soldier taken in by the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school. Unfortunately, his presence causes repressed desires to be released – and not just by Kidman. It’s a tense film with a nice visual flair, and Coppola again shows that she’s quite adept behind the camera. I can’t say it’s a film I truly loved, but it was an engaging enough viewing experience.

Sniper: Ultimate Kill – Chad Michael Collins returns for his fourth installment of the long-running Sniper franchise, and this time both original movie stars Tom Berenger and Billy Zane return for the first time since the original film back in the 90s. This time around, our hero sniper and his cohorts are tasked with bringing down a drug cartel while dealing with weaponry they’ve never seen before. As with the previous films, it’s a surprisingly good action film despite a lower budget. With a mixture of sniper suspense, hand-to-hand combat, and all-out gunfights, this series remains one of the better action series coming out these days.

Open Water 3: Cage Dive – Despite the fact that the original Open Water was actually a pretty terrible film (despite the solid box office buzz it generated), it’s now generated two pretty darn good direct-to-video sequels. Whereas the first movie was just a boring 90 minutes of two people arguing in the water, the sequels have upped the ante and the action, giving us some real tension and thrills. This latest entry sees three friends whose cage-diving boat is capsized and they have to survive in shark-infested waters. It’s no Jaws (or even 47 Meters Down), and I wish it didn’t go for the found-footage style, but it’s a solidly entertaining way to kill 90 minutes.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes – This is one of those movies that has a story to it. About a decade ago, I started seeing trailers for The Poughkeepsie Tapes in theaters. I probably saw it an easy dozen times, to the point where I just wanted the movie to come out already so I wouldn’t see the trailer anymore. It looked supremely creepy (marketed as a real documentary, a la The Blair Witch Project), and I assumed that since I lived in upstate New York (not two hours from Pougheepsie) that the film would get a lot of attention in my area. Instead, it completely disappeared. The film was never released, and it never even came to home video. Well, fast forward ten years and not only is it here, but it was also written and directed by John Eric Dowdle, who’s gone on to direct underrated horror/thriller gems like As Above So Below, Devil, Quarantine, and No Escape, all of which I’ve enjoyed greatly. This earliest film in his career is a found-footage style horror movie, and while it’s certainly not as polished as his later films, it’s still enjoyable enough. I don’t know why it was shelved for a decade, and I certainly can’t say it’s a great film, but fans of the director may want to check it out.

Armed Response – Okay, I generally enjoy direct-to-video action films, but you add in Wesley Snipes and also a thriller/mystery element, and I’m there. With Anne Heche and Dave Annable in the cast as well, I found this film to be relatively enjoyable. Snipes plays a special ops agent who gets trapped in a prison run by an AI that shuts everything down. And then things get dangerous. It’s not quite a horror movie, but it is a thriller, and while there are some slower moments, there are enough action scenes to keep things moving. It’s not a slam dunk, but I enjoyed it well enough.

SpaceCamp – I love to see SpaceCamp get some home video love. I was obsessed with this movie as a kid. Of course, the idea of going to space camp in real life would have been a dream come true for me, but to watch a bunch of regular kids get to go up in space (albeit by accident)? It’s the perfect wish fulfillment movie for a kid. Now, sure. It’s dated a bit, especially in terms of the technology, but it’s a nice snapshot of the ‘80s and it’s still a really fun movie. While the Blu-ray release doesn’t offer up a revolution in terms of A/V quality, it’s a nice upgrade over the previous DVD release. I love it!

Also available this week on Blu-ray and DVD:

  • Kick-Ass 4K Ultra HD – As a huge fan of the Kick Ass comic books upon which the films are based, the first Kick Ass is one of those like-it-but-not-love-it films for me. The film was fun and spunky and different, but the end result left me wanting more. Revisiting it on 4K Ultra HD, I can’t say my opinion has changed much, but I do still enjoy it. Now, the film looks and sounds better than ever, especially. While it isn’t a huge-budgeted sci-fi epic, the colorful costumes and over-the-top-action scenes benefit from the Ultra HD upgrade. Everything looks crystal clear and sounds exceptionally strong, so even if it’s not the kind of film that necessarily needs an upgrade to 4K, it sure does look good in it.
  • Peanuts Holiday Collection 4K Ultra HD – An interesting choice to release in the 4K Ultra HD format, this Peanuts Holiday Collection includes three timeless Charlie Brown specials: It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Of course, all of these are favorites of the holiday season, and I love seeing them over and over again every year. The 4K Ultra HD gives a slight upgrade, mostly in the form of better colors, stronger blacks, and slightly more atmospheric sound, but it’s not like an A/V revolution happening here. Still, if you don’t already own these specials and have upgraded to 4K (or are planning to), it’s a great buy.
  • Pilgrimage – While many people might think this is overly similar to Martin Scorsese’s recent monk epic Silence, it’s a pretty different film. This one sees a young monk on a mission to deliver a holy relic to the Pope, but things start taking turns pretty quickly. While the plot gets surprisingly complicated, the film benefits from terrific performances by Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), on Bernthal (Daredevil, The Punisher), and Richard Armitage (The Hobbit). It also features gorgeous scenery, terrific cinematography, and some good action scenes. It doesn’t work on every level, and it does get deep and dense more than I expected (or wanted, honestly), but I’ve definitely seen worse.
  • House of Cards: The Complete Fifth Season – By now you must have heard the deafening hype about House of Cards. If you still haven’t seen it then the real question is, is the show any good? First things first: this is a political drama, and it’s heavy on the politics. If you don’t have at least a cursory interest in the goings-on in Washington, DC, you will likely get a little lost at times. But this look at the machinations, backstabbing, dirty dealing, and corruption in our nation’s capital is engaging, engrossing stuff. At the forefront of it all is Kevin Spacey, who is far and away the main character of this multi-character epic. His character, Frank Underwood lets us in on how things really work in Washington. Quite literally, too, as he breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to viewers throughout each episode. And Spacey is magnetic here; this is some of the finest acting he’s done in years. The whole thing blends together into an addictive, powerful show.
  • American Horror Story: Roanoke The Complete Season 6 – After some early seasons that were a little bit up and down, American Horror Story has rebounded and become a full-blown pop culture phenomenon. Season Six appeals to a certain kind of television viewer. Fans looking for a quick horror fix will probably be disappointed, and viewers who shy away from really, really dark material will probably find it too intense. It kind of makes Dexter look like a sitcom. But for those who really like complex, layered, disturbing material, this season and this show will fit the bill.
  • Timeless: Season OneTimeless wasn’t an out-and-out hit for NBC last season, but it did well enough and got a strong enough fan reaction to warrant a second season. Personally, I really enjoyed the show. The winning cast is a big part of it, but I really like the idea of traveling to a different historical event every episode. It reminds me (spiritually, anyway) of a show I loved when I was a kid called Voyagers. This show manages to combine the time travel of the week story with a larger overarching mythology (no surprise from Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural) and it’s a lot of fun. I hope it has time to develop into a long-running series.
  • Vikings: Season 4, Volume 2 – I know that Vikings is insanely popular, and I can see why even if ultimately, I’m not really a fan of the show. It’s dark and gritty and certainly doesn’t veer away from Game of Thrones territory and that usually equals a hit these days. And it’s not as if there’s anything in particular about the show that I can point to that I dislike. It just never gets me excited. It’s a perfectly fine show, and fans will enjoy having the second half of Season Four on home video, I just wish I could get as excited about it as everyone else.
  • Dudes – While she’s most well-known for directing Wayne’s World, Penelope Spheeris is much more of a cult filmmaker than a mainstream one. Fittingly, one of her cultist-of-cult films, the aptly titled Dudes, finally makes its home video debut. It’s a hard movie to explain, but it stars Jon Cryer and Daniel Roebuck as friends who get wrapped up in a series of misadventures on their way to California. This is a snapshot of the 1980s, but it’s kind of like a snapshot that’s slightly off-kilter, with the framing askew, and the shot composition a bit creative. I mean that as a metaphor, the film is technically proficient. But it’s an oddball, and I think people watching it for the first time could have a very love it or hate it reaction.
  • Fallen – So this is where we’ve come to with movies based on hit teen-reader books: direct-to-video adaptations. Something tells me this one was supposed to hit theaters, but sadly it didn’t. And while this story of love and angels and humans might not be a Twilight-level blockbuster I actually rather enjoyed it. Yes, it has its cheesy moments and sure there’s a bit of melodrama, but the mix of romance and supernatural is always fun and I liked the young cast. Worth a look if you like this kind of movie.
  • Reign: Season 4 – The CW’s hit period romance show Reign: Season 4 comes to DVD, which should make fans happy. The show is driven by its three young, attractive, and talented leads, plus the hint of supernatural that pops up occasionally gives it a bit of mystery. I’m not sure how well the show will play outside of its target audience of teenage girls, but it seems to be doing well for the network, and I like it well enough for what it is.
  • Night of the Living Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition – This release isn’t quite the anniversary extravaganza it might appear to be, but it does mark the debut of George A. Romero’s zombie classic on Blu-ray for the first time in the US. The film is actually in the public domain, so anybody can release it, but Mill Creek have gone ahead and given us a high def version. Of course, it’s still a 50-year-old love-budget black and white movie, so it’s not like it suddenly looks brand new, but I’ll take it. As for the film itself, well, it’s a classic for a reason, and we wouldn’t have modern day zombie flicks or The Walking Dead without it.
  • Justice League Action: Season 1, Part 1 – To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a new Justice League cartoon out. This fun animated series is geared for younger kids but not in a way that makes it unenjoyable for older viewers. I’d call it ‘family friendly.’ The show is packed with action (hence the name) and it features most of the Justice League characters we’ve all come to know and love, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, among others. This first half of season one includes 13 episodes, and I dug watching them.
  • Mickey Mouse: Merry & Scary – My kids absolutely love these new Mickey Mouse: cartoons, even if it’s taken me a little while to warm up to them. Basically a modern take on classic Mickey, Donald, and Goofy cartoons, this is like Disney by way of Ren & Stimpy. But like I said, my kids think its utterly hysterical, and anything that makes them laugh that hard is okay by me. This new collection features two episodes (for a running time of about 45 minutes), one with a Halloween theme and one with a Christmas theme (perfect marketing!) Kids should love it.
  • Deep – This underwater adventure about an octopus and his friends trying to bring help to their home is perfectly fine fare for younger kids. It doesn’t stray too far from the likes of Finding Nemo (but it’s not a rip-off, either) and the underwater world is filled with colorful and fun characters. Parents might get a little bored, but it’s not cringeworthy, either, which is a plus for kids’ entertainment. A good one to put on when the kids are stuck in the house on a rainy day.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Ninth Season – I used to dislike Spongebob, but then my kids started watching the show and I’ve grudgingly come to like it — at least sort of. It’s still far from my favorite kids’ show, but I can at least now see the appeal. I even find it funny sometimes. This newest collection was a particularly big hit with my kids, as it collects all of the episodes featured in Season Nine, rather than being a release with just a few episodes on it. It’s a much more rewarding viewing experience to be able to tackle a whole season versus just chunks of it every few months.
  • Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas – I think by this point we all know what you get when you purchase a Sesame Street DVD, and that’s a good thing. Parents know it’s one of the most time-honored shows for kids in the history of television. This DVD release focuses on Christmas, and kids should love the Christmas theme now that the holidays are getting closer. And of course, there’s plenty of Elmo!
  • Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story – This is a fascinating and endearing documentary about Harold and Lillian Michelsen, he a storyboard artist and she a film researcher. Together they worked on films for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks, Stanley Kubrick, and Roman Polanski and helped shaped some true Hollywood classics. The film also focuses on this married couple and their life together, giving it a personal feel beyond just a Hollywood documentary. As someone who loves filmmaking and is a sucker for romance, I really enjoyed this film.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: Once Upon a Murdoch ChristmasMurdoch Mysteries is a forensic procedural (think CSI or Bones), but it’s set in 1890’s Toronto, right on the cusp of the age of scientific discovery. The show is fun and endearing, filled with good mysteries, excellent acting, great guest stars, and amazing period-era production values. This release features a movie-length Christmas episode, as opposed to being a full season collection. I wish they would just include these in the season sets, but this should hold people over who are waiting for more new episodes.
  • Escape Room – This is a pretty good horror film, especially considering its low-budget nature. A group of friends enter an escape room attraction, only to find out it’s no attraction and is instead quite deadly. I like that the film largely skips over blood and gore and instead builds suspense as they try to solve puzzles to save their own lives. There are some internal logic flaws, but the largely unknown actors are all pretty good, and there are some neat puzzles to be solved. I wish the ending was a little stronger, but overall I liked it.
  • Warner Archive: My Blue Heaven, The Man with Two Brains, Night Moves, Undercurrent, The Law & Jake Wade, Freebie & The Bean – The Warner Archive has a ton of new Blu-ray releases available now through their dedicated webstore. First up is a double dose of Steve Martin making their Blu-ray debuts with My Blue Heaven and The Man With Two Brains. I absolutely love My Blue Heaven; it’s a fun romp with Martin and Rick Moranis in which Martin gets to ham it up as a mobster living in small town suburbia in the Witness Protection program. It’s really terrific, one of Martin’s best. The Man With Two Brains, however, is one of his earlier films, and while it does have some truly funny moments, it is also over-the-top and a bit much at times. On a more serious note, Night Moves also makes its Blu-ray debut. The film is a well-regarded thriller starring Gene Hackman that also features extremely early screen appearances by James Woods and Melanie Griffith. It’s an interesting detective noir but it’s a bit dark and too long for my tastes. Two more films make their Blu-ray debuts as well: The Law & Jake Wade and Freebie & The Bean. Jake Wade is a classic western with Robert Taylor and Richard Widmark, from the director of The Great Escape. It’s a tried and true tale of a former outlaw trying to escape his former life, only to get sucked back in when the past comes calling. Freebie & The Bean is an action/comedy starring James Caan and Alan Arkin. The film is notable for featuring “over 100 car crashes,” and it features an equal number of wisecracks and car crashes. It’s not the greatest film in the world, but Caan and Arkin carry it.
  • LEGO Ninjago: The Complete Seventh Season – In the wake of the LEGO Ninjago movie, it’s no surprise that we have another season of the LEGO Ninjago series hitting DVD. This collection of episodes continues to journey of Cole, Kai, Mia, and Zane, and of course, Lord Garmadon. The show isn’t as funny or energetic as the film was, but it’s still pretty enjoyable, and more importantly, my son loves it. And really, that’s all that matters.
  • A Woman’s Life – This film is adapted from the novel Une vie by Guy de Maupassant, a writer I’ve always admired. This period French drama was shot in the decidedly un-widescreen 1.33:1 format, which gives it a nicely old-school feel. The film is a relatively typical period melodrama, with a woman married to an unfaithful, miserly man and the emotional journey she goes through. It’s well acted and well directed, so if you don’t mind your dramas in French, you will want to track this one down.
  • The Real Story: Pirates of the Caribbean & Platoon – These two releases from PBS – which sound like making-of documentaries but aren’t – purport to tell the true stories behind the movies Platoon and Pirates of the Caribbean. In the case of Platoon, the program explores actual events in the war and how they relate to the film’s events. Oliver Stone himself is interviewed, which gives it a nice legitimacy. The Pirates episode looks at the more general world of pirates and what their lives were actually like. Both are pretty good and fun enough to watch, but I wish they were a little longer than just 45 minutes.
  • The Wiggles: Go Santa Go – It’s been a while since I’ve watched a Wiggles DVD, s this one was a really fun throwback for me. I love The Wiggles. No, really! When my kids were about two, my son was absolutely obsessed with them. We watched them every single day for a few years, and I really grew to like them. While not the powerhouse they once were, they still make quality children’s entertainment with catchy songs. Of course, I only recognized one of them now (Anthony, always my favorite), so it was interesting seeing the group with a girl Wiggle and two new guy Wiggles, but I like the diversity. For Preschool age kids, I really do think The Wiggles are great entertainment.
  • The Honeymooners, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Frasier, The Brady Bunch: Christmas Compilations – CBS releases four budget-priced Christmas compilation DVDs from four of their most loved TV shows. The Honeymooners: Christmas Laughter includes almost three hours of episodes; Sabrina The Teenage Witch: The Christmas Episodes gives you two hours’ worth; The Brady Bunch: A Very Brady Christmas features a stand-alone 90-minute TV reunion movie that sees the original cast back together; and Frasier: Christmas Episodes gives you eleven seasons’ worth of holiday laughs in a three-hour collection. All can be had pretty easily for under $15 bucks too. Nice stocking stuffers or just if you’re looking for something fun to watch this holiday season.
  • Wild Kratts: Wild Winter Creatures! – I have to say, as far as kids shows go, The Wild Kratts is one of the better ones. It manages to combine animals and superhero-style adventures into one fun animated series that is both entertaining and educational. And, of course, not only do I find it enjoyable, but my kids also really like it, which is what’s really important. The show focuses on the Brothers Kratt, animal experts and adventurers, who use creature power suits to take on the traits of various animals and interact with them in their habitats. Along the way, a variety of villains, predators, or obstacles will show up, and the Kratt Brothers have to save the day. The show mixes in humor, action, and cool suit designs, plus it has a good supporting cast of characters that kids will like. The Kratt Brothers write, direct, produce, and provide voices for the show, and they’re pretty good at doing all of them!

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