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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week – Annabelle: Creation, Castle in the Sky, Land of the Dead and more


Annabelle: CreationThe Conjuring juggernaut rumbles on with the latest entry in the franchise, a prequel to last year’s Annabelle. This time around, we learn how the Annabelle doll became haunted in the first place. Now, I haven’t been overwhelmed by this franchise, although I do respect the low-budget/high returns aesthetic of the whole series. However, with Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto on board, the acting at least helps elevate this above your typical direct-to-video horror. It’s a pretty cliched film overall though, filled with jump scares, loud musical cues designed just to scare you, and a few genuinely creepy moments. If you like the other films in this series, you’ll like this one as well.

Kidnap – Halle Berry stars in this thriller that offers up exactly zero unpredictability or originality, yet is still entertaining overall. Sometimes a movie is exactly what it is, and this is one of those cases. Berry plays a mom trying to save her child that’s been kidnapped, and it’s a pretty frenetic action flick from start to finish. Berry is perfectly good in the lead role, and it makes a nice spiritual successor to her previous action/thriller hit The Call. It’s nothing special, but there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Land of The Dead – While most people will cite George Romero’s original Living Dead Trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) as the ultimate in zombie movies, opinions vary as to his later output from the 2000s. And while his Diary of the Dead is pretty terrible, I actually quite enjoy Land of the Dead, which is out in a features-packed new Blu-ray edition from Scream Factory. The film fits right in with the original trilogy, combining slow-moving zombie action with social commentary on the haves and the have-nots. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s a really good zombie flick overall.

Slaughter High – This 1986 horror cult classic gets a new special edition release (and inaugural Blu-ray release) courtesy of Lionsgate’s terrific Vestron Video imprint. The story is simple, as it follows a group of high school friends (and enemies) reuniting for a ten-year reunion, only to be picked off one by one by a former classmate seeking revenge. It’s nothing original or groundbreaking, but it was made in the mid-80s, right smack dab in the middle of the greatest decade for slasher films. It’s dated and it’s cheesy, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

Castle in the Sky & Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – Two more Blu-ray special editions from Studio Ghibli continue the new re-releases from GKIDS. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is one of the highlights of Studio Ghibli’s output, telling the story of a sort of post-apocalyptic world (but not in the typical way) and the young girl who tries to restore the balance between humanity and the earth. Meanwhile, Castle in the Sky is about two young protagonsits who search for a, well, a castle in the sky, and come up against many adventurous obstacles in their quest. Both films rank among my favorites of the Studio Ghibli output (which admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of overall), and these new Blu-rays are terrific special editions of each film.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Humans 2.0Humans may be under the radar right now, but I won’t be surprised if it develops the kind of following that fellow BBC programming like Orphan Black Taking place in a world much like ours, the world of Humans has one major difference: here, robotic humans called Synthetics are commonplace. These robots become like part of the family for some people, but other people still don’t trust them. That’s a very oversimplified explanation of the plot of this series, which is a character drama with some interesting social commentary mixed in. It also follows a number of different characters in the way that the best TV shows do. Compelling, fascinating, and well-acted, this is a show that’s worth tracking down.
  • Red Christmas – Dee Wallace stars in this future cult classic as the mother of a family having a holiday gathering that’s interrupted by a strange young man named Cletus. While he’s quickly sent away, it’s clear that he has some connection to the family, and before long he returns to exact his revenge for reasons that become clear as the film goes on. Despite having a relatively large cast, most of the actors aside from Wallace are unknown, and in this case it actually works for the movie, as you can buy them as a family. The film has some good kills, some decent scares, and is a pretty good amount of fun overall.
  • Broken Sword Hero –Thai actor (and Muay Thai kickboxer/welterweight) Buakaw Banchamek stars in this action flick from Thailand. It’s apparently based on a real-live muy thai warrior (or at least a muy thai warrior legend) from several centuries ago. The film follows his training and the usual overcoming of superior forces, all wrapped up in the trappings of plenty of horseback riding, bare knuckle (and bare-shirt brawls) and down-and-dirty/fast-and-furious action sequences. I don’t know that it needed to hit the two hour mark, but it’s a pretty solid flick within the genre.
  • Young Doctors in Love – A who’s who of B-level (yet extremely familiar) actors make up the cast in this hospital parody film from director Garry Marshall. Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap), Sean Young (No Way Out), Hector Elizondo (The Flamingo Kid), Harry Dean Stanton (Paris, Texas), Dabney Coleman (9 to 5), Patrick Macnee (TVs The Avengers), Ted McGinley (Married with Children), Crystal Bernard (Wings) and Michael Richards (Seinfeld) all show up in this goofy comedy from 1982 that is like Grey’s Anatomy on laughing gas. Sure, it’s dated but I love these old ‘80s parody films and I had a lot of fun watching this one, which makes its Bu-ray debut from Kino Lorber.
  • Richard Simmons: Sweatin to the Oldies – The Complete Collection 30th Anniversary – Sure, this might seem like a gag, but, boy, is it a fun snapshot to the past. Anybody of a certain age will remember Sweatin’ to the Oldies, Richard Simmons’ workout videos that sold millions of copies and whose infomercials were omnipresent on television for several years in the 80s. This anniversary collection features all four original Sweatin’ to the Oldies videos and pairs them with a newer fifth STTO video, as well as a sixth disc of bonus materials (including an interview with Richard Simmons) and a full-color book. Simmons obviously has a lot of fans, and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy and do these workouts still today. Plus, you get the whole collection cheaper than it’s ever been available before. Fun!
  • Warner Bros. Archives: Wolves at the Door, I Love You Again, Manhattan Melodrama, Big Business Girl, Beauty for the Asking – The Warner Brothers print-on-demand service ( releases six new catalogue rarities this week. Wolves at the Door is a taut little horror film in the vein of The Strangers or You’re Next, this time around starring Katie Cassidy (Arrow) and Elizabeth Henstridge (Agents of SHIELD). It’s nothing original, but I had a lot of fun watching it. Next up is I Love You Again, which stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. While the duo is best known for their starring roles in the Thin Man series, this romantic comedy is fun, convoluted, and charming. Loy and Powell are terrific together (no surprise) and the film is a good amount of fun. Manhattan Melodrama also stars Loy and Powell, but this time no less than Clark Gable is along for the ride. The film is a bit notorious because it’s the last movie that famous gangster John Dillinger saw before he was killed by the FBI. But beyond that, it’s also a great film about two boyhood friends who remain friends even as one of them grows up to be a lawyer while the other grows up to be a gangster. Big Business Girl is a pre-code comedy starring Loretta Young, and it’s surprisingly before its time, dealing with a woman’s inequality in the workplace and sexual discrimination. While the film has some weak spots (actor Frank Albertson, the co-lead, isn’t a strength for the film), it’s an easy watch and a great slice of classic Hollywood. Finally, Beauty for the Asking stars Lucille Ball as a manicurist who is shocked when her boyfriend suddenly marries a millionaire-ess. While it sounds like the set-up for a typical rom-com, it’s really more of a drama, and it’s nice to see Ball get a chance to show off her dramatic acting chops, which are quite good.
  • L7: Pretend We’re Dead – One of the pre-eminent grunge musical acts of the early 90s, L7 never quite hit the big time like many of their male-led contemporaries. This documentary, while not solely focusing on the all-female make-up of the band, doesn’t shy away from exploring the hardships the band faced as an all-female group in a male dominated landscape, either. You get interviews, behind the scenes footage, live performances, and all of the usual documentary tropes as you watch the band’s rise and the struggles they endured. Interesting stuff, even if you’re not a fan of the band.
  • The Good Catholic – This faith-based movie features supporting roles by Danny Glover and John C. McGinley, who elevate the material. The story follows a young priest who falls in love and then has to face a conscience of faith as he tries to decide whether to follow his heart or his calling. I’ve said before that I’m not the target audience for these kinds of movies, but I can at least respect it for what it is. With Glover and McGinley aboard, there are some likable characters, and newcomer Wrenn Schmidt is quite charming. If you’re a fan of faith-based films, this one is one of the better ones I’ve seen.
  • La Chinoise & Le Gai Savoir – Two films by French filmmaking legend Jean Luc Godard make their debut on Blu-ray this week. La Chinoise follows a group of French students who decide to become a revolutionary Maoist group, while Le Gai Savoir takes a more atmospheric approach as two young militants debate the use of language and even the word itself. However, the plots here are secondary, as Godard has never been a filmmaker about overly complex plotlines. Instead, the films are most striking for their visuals, filled with signature Godard close-ups and montages. Philosophical discussions fuel the plots more than any real actions do, so while some audiences might not find the films very compelling, students of filmmaking will find them quite educational.
  • Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive – Narrated by Kathleen Turner and starring Tony Award-winning actor Denis O’Hare portraying Edgar Allen Poe in recreation scenes, this 84-minute film goes beyond the usual hour-long documentary format to bring us into the life of the famed author. The film explores Poe’s reputation as an alcoholic and something of a madman, and it’s quite gripping stuff. I like the sort of artsy approach that still remains rooted in fact; this isn’t a biopic, it’s a documentary with flair.
  • Dawson City: Frozen Time – This is an interesting and unique film from filmmaker Bill Morrison. For the most part, it’s a largely silent film with most of it taken from clips from a huge collection of 533 long-lost nitrate film prints from the early 1900s that was discovered, marking one of the largest rare film finds in history. These film clips then tell the story of Dawson City, which was a town just south of the Arctic Circle that was settled in 1896 and served as the epicenter of the Canadian Gold Rush that resulted in the population of the area. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the past, and while the silent format might not be to everyone’s tastes, it’s truly a unique experience.
  • Hermia & Helena – Okay, I’m not the exact target audience for this film from acclaimed Argentinian filmmaker Matías Piñeiro, seeing as how it’s largely rooted in the world Shakespeare (and I’ve never been a Shakespeare fan.) And it’s definitely artier fare, eschewing a purely cohesive narrative for a more atmospheric approach, which results in a film that I know many people will probably enjoy, even if I can’t quite count myself as one of them.
  • Person to Person – Michael Cera and Philip Baker Hall are probably the biggest names in this ensemble cast/multiple character film, which is a sort of pseudo-drama/mystery movie (although I don’t think that really describes it well.) The film follows a disparate group of people throughout different events, not all of which appear to tie together. The film has a visual style that makes it look like it was made in the 1970s, and I guess that works for the multiple story format, but the end result is a film that’s just okay. It’s not bad, not great, just perfectly fine. Worth a look if you want something slightly off the beaten path.
  • Evil in the Time of Heroes – Oh, Billy Zane. What hath you wrought? Zane stars as a mysterious savior in this Greek zombie film that is low, low, LOW on budget and high on B-movie tropes. It’s got a certain charm if you’re one of those people who like to watch SyFy at 3 in the morning, but other than that, it’s a hard film to take seriously. This is definitely not one for zombie purists.
  • Visions of New York City & Visions of Puerto Rico – Sure, I’d love to take a tour of the world, but I can’t afford it. However, these two hour-long DVDs are a nice substitute for the time being. Giving us aerial and panoramic views of a number of hotspots in New York City and Puerto Rico (obviously shot before this year’s hurricane devastation), this program lets us see everything from the streets to the city centers to the architecture (including the NYC skyscrapers) and everything in between. We go from sky to street and – with some informative narration along the way – we get a nice quick trip into the heart of a bustling metropolis and an island paradise. Excellent for fans of travel documentaries.

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