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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Atomic Blonde, Wind River, The Paul Naschy Collection II and more


Atomic Blonde – I really wanted to like Atomic Blonde. I mean, it’s an action film with Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. Theron proved how kick-ass she can be in Mad Max: Fury Road, while James McAvoy is absolutely one of my favorite actors in movies right now. With a killer trailer, I expected great things from this movie. But somewhere along the line, it didn’t work for me. While the action scenes are pretty good, the film is cold and heartless, and there’s something about it that’s missing. That said, visually speaking it’s a standout, and that’s evidenced on the 4K Ultra HD release of the film, which is quite striking, with razor sharp imagery and contrasts. Atomic Blonde isn’t terrible, but I wish I liked it more than I did.

Wind River – Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jon Bernthal star in this terrific thriller from director Taylor Sheridan (mostly known as an actor so far.) It’s a cold film, both in tone and setting, as we follow a green FBI agent and a hunter/tracker trying to find a killer on a very remote Native American reservation. Not surprisingly, both Olsen and Renner are terrific, and the film – while not a blistering action movie – is filled with atmosphere and mood. It reminds me a bit of a movie like Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. While the film received a lot of critical acclaim, it didn’t get much traction at the box office, so check it out now that it’s on home video.

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature – The first Nut Job movie was a moderate hit and kids seemed to like it just fine, but I can’t imagine a world in which someone thought it needed a sequel. But, this is 2017 Hollywood, so a sequel we got. And much like the first film, it’s perfectly fine, but ultimately nothing special. This time around the stakes are higher and the cast of characters is bigger, but the film isn’t particularly smarter or better. It’s just… okay. Your kids will probably enjoy it well enough, but I can’t imagine it’s one they’ll want to be revisiting over and over again.

Amityville: The Awakening – Okay, so Amityville: The Awakening isn’t the greatest movie in the world, but I actually found it quite a bit of fun for a modern horror film. I don’t find much to like about horror movies these days, so any time one tries to be even a little bit creative, that wins points with me. This time around, we get a meta take on the Amityville legend, as a family moves into the Amityville house – as in the actual house that’s already famous in the movie’s world because it’s famous in real life. The previous movies are addressed as fiction and the film references the real events that created the legend of the Amityville house, which is a neat take. With Bella Thorne and Jennifer Jason Leigh in the cast, this one goes above being poor man’s horror. Don’t let the fact that it was delayed by a few years sway you; that had to do with rights and isn’t because it’s a bad film.

Preacher: Season Two – I’ve been a fan of the Preacher comic books since the very first issue hit the shelves back in 1994. I read the series religiously, and I’ve re-read the collected versions more than once over the years. So I was pretty excited when the show was announced, although that was tempered slightly by the involvement of Seth Rogen, of whom I’m not typically a fan. But still, I remained optimistic. Unfortunately, I really don’t like the show. I really really wanted to like it, but I just think it gets everything wrong. And I’m not one of those fans who’s always like, “Oh this happened differently in the comics.” I just think it gets the tone, the spirit, and the characters all wrong. It doesn’t feel a thing like Preacher to me. I absolutely love Dominic Cooper – he’s one of my favorite actors – and he doesn’t feel like Jesse Custer to me. Even worse is Ruth Negga as Tulip. I think Negga is extremely talented, and I couldn’t care less that she’s of an ethnic background, but she doesn’t feel at all like the character of Tulip. I don’t see any of the chemistry between the two of them that’s going to lead me to believe that they’re going to become one of the great love stories of all time. Admittedly, season two hews closer to the comics than the first season did, but it’s too little, too late for me.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman – Lily Tomlin stars alongside Charles Grodin and Ned Beatty in this wacky comedy from 1981. It eschews the usual action/adventure that goes along with a conceit like a character shrinking or turning invisible, and instead turns it into a comedy with some commentary on society. Plus, there’s a gorilla. I remember this movie from when I was a kid, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen it since the early ‘80s. Watching it thirty years later, I can see the charm and the humor, but there’s no denying that the film has aged. Still, it’s nice to have it on Blu-ray for the first time, courtesy of Shout Factory’s excellent Shout Selects imprint. Worth the buy if you’re a fan.

The Paul Naschy Collection II – I’ll admit, my knowledge of Paul Naschy was pretty limited before Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint released a five-film box set earlier this year, serving as a really terrific primer on a major movie figure in another country. Called “Spain’s answer to Lon Chaney,” Naschy not only played iconic characters such as The Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein (or his monster, for you nitpickers out there), and Dracula, but he also wrote, produced, and directed many of his own films. This second five-disc collection includes the following movies: Hunchback of the Morgue (El Jorobado De La Morgue), The Devil’s Possessed (El Mariscal Del Infierno), The Werewolf and The Yeti (La Maldición De La Bestia), Exorcism (Exorcismo), and A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (Una Libélula Para Cada Muerto). While this set doesn’t include all of his major horror icons in it, we do see Naschy as a werewolf, which is pretty iconic. The films are in Spanish and subtitled in English, and while they are all from the 70s and 80s (and therefore are somewhat cheesy at times), they are a lot of fun, and a neat glimpse into the career of a Spanish film icon.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express – In the wake of the big screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous work, Acorn Media gives us a great re-release of a previous adaptation. It’s not the more famous 1970s version, but rather a more recent TV version starring David Suchet (the quintessential Poirot. It also stars Jessica Chastain, David Morrissey, Toby Jones, Barbara Hershey, and Hugh Bonneville. Suchet played Poirot more often (and better) than anyone else, so this feature-length adaptation is extremely good, and the terrific cast makes it breathe with life. While it’s not as big budget as the new film, it’s every bit as entertaining.
  • The Best of Agatha Christie: Volume 1 & 2 – These two new Agatha Christie collections feature three stories/films in each set, which means you get a set of six TV movies/miniseries between the two sets. Volume 1 includes And Then There Were None, a recent miniseries starring Charles Dance, Sam Neill, and Miranda Richardson; Five Little Pigs, starring David Suchet (as Poirot) Rachael Stirling, Toby Stephens, and Aidan Gillen; and Death on the Nile featuring Suchet once again, alongside Emily Blunt. Volume Two gives us The Witness for the Prosecution, starring Toby Jones, Kim Cattrall, and Andrea Riseborough; Three Act Tragedy—with Suchet and Martin Shaw; and Hallowe’en Party, starring Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker, and Timothy West. There isn’t a bad film in the bunch, and really, this is some of the greatest mystery fiction ever written. I really enjoyed going through some of the films I hadn’t seen yet, and these are terrific DVDs to pick up if you get inspired to dig into Agatha Christie a bit more after watching the new Murder on the Orient Express big screen film.
  • Unlocked – Noomi Rapace, Michael Douglas, and Orlando Bloom in a film directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist)? Sign me up! I KNOW it’s a direct-to-video thriller, and I KNOW it’s got the most uninspired title ever, but I’m gonna watch it anyway. And the end result is a very familiar movie (special agent goes on the run from the agency that may be trying to eliminate her, handsome rogue helps her survive), I have to admit that I enjoyed it. A large part of that is due to the cast, which is filled with great, talented faces at every turn. It’s not a slam dunk, but for a direct-to-video actioner, it’s surprisingly good.
  • Rake: Series 4 – I think there was an American remake of this show a season or two ago. I say “I think,” because it was so short-lived, I can’t even remember for sure. This original series stars Richard Roxburgh (best known as the bad guy in Moulin Rouge, but completely unrecognizable as the same actor here) as a “rakish” defense lawyer who defends some of the worst of the worst. He also has to survive his own self-destructive behavior and the fact that most people either love him or hate him. I haven’t seen Roxburgh in any leading roles that I can think of, but he’s utterly terrific here and he carries the show with aplomb. Worth a look if you need a new show to binge on.
  • In This Corner of The World – This Studio Ghibli-styled animated drama tells the story of a young woman in World War II-era Japan who leaves her home town of Hiroshima for an arranged marriage. You can probably guess from there that the story is going to take a dark turn. And while it’s not a telling of the events of Hiroshima, they do weigh heavy on the storyline. The first half of the film has some humor and lighthearted moments, and there’s no shortage of romance, but the film does become quite emotional. It looks gorgeous and the English dubbing is better than usual, making this a pretty good film overall.
  • Nightkill – Kino Lorber is delivering some great cult classics on Blu-ray these days, and Nightkill is one of them. Starring Jaclyn Smith, Mike Connors, and Robert Mitchum(!), this thriller sees an adulterous wife trying to kill her rich husband, while avoiding suspicion form the private detective she hired to find him. (It makes sense, believe me.) Now, this isn’t a classic by any means, but Jaclyn Smith is a great screen presence (even though she never went on to much success outside of Charlie’s Angels) while Robert Mitchum is… well, Robert Mitchum. He makes this film hard not to watch because he’s just so great, even when he phones it in. I loved discovering this little B-movie gem.
  • Harmonium – This is one of those films that is better when you know less about it, so I’m not going to say too much about the plot. In short, it’s about a family whose life is upended by the appearance of a stranger from the past. Over the course of two hours, the mystery and the drama unfolds. The film is directed by acclaimed director Koji Fukada, and it won major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and the Asian Film Awards, plus was selected to screen at numerous festivals across the world. It’s a well-crafted film, and although it’s a tad too long at just over two hours, it’s still an engaging film.
  • Time to Die – What looks like a typical B-movie from the past stands out a bit more when you discover that it was screenplay by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez and legendary novelist Carlos Fuentes. The result is an atmospheric Mexican western from 1966 that is a B-movie, but also has a definite cult classic feel to it. Now the film has been released on Blu-ray in a special edition with new extra features, including an interview with the director. A great release for fans of the people involved.
  • Slamma Jamma – Okay, there are some really impressive basketball moves and slam dunks in this film about a young basketball star who goes to jail after a bad turn, then gets out and tries to redeem himself via a slam dunk contest. And the lead actor, Chris Staples, is a real-life slam dunk champion. And that’s kind of where the good stuff I have to say about this film runs out. It is, unfortunately, rather predictable, poorly-acted, and features mediocre-at-best writing. There are a few fun moments, but it’s not a great film overall.
  • Hamilton: Building America – It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that there’s a new documentary about Alexander Hamilton, considering the runaway success of the Hamilton Broadway show. This 84-minute film is a pretty standard documentary (it’s pretty light on musical numbers) that features interviews with Ron Chernow (whose biography of Hamilton was the basis for the play), Tom Brokaw and Maria Bartiromo, among others. It’s interesting stuff, although it might have been a little better if it had just a FEW musical numbers in it.
  • Indiscretion – Mira Sorvino and Cary Elwes star in this Fatal Attraction-esque thriller which treads pretty familiar ground, except this time it’s the wife who cheats and gets caught up in dangerous circumstances instead of the husband. It’s relatively middle-of-the-road stuff and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but I found it a decent enough way to kill 90 minutes. I like Mira Sorvino and Cary Elwes is terrific as always so while you’re not going to be overly excited by it, it’s a perfectly fine late-at-night-and-I’m-bored viewing experience.
  • Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You – When I first heard about this animated movie, I was afraid we were going to be subjected to an animated version of Mariah Carey running around the screen for 90 minutes. Luckily, that’s not it. While the main character (a little girl who wants a dog for Christmas) is named Mariah, and the film does feature three Mariah songs on the soundtrack, that’s really where it ends. From there it’s just a typical Christmas-themed animated film, filled with cute moments, a cuddly dog, and some decent songs. Good for the kids, maybe less so for Mariah Carey fans.
  • Albert: A Small Tree with a Big Dream – This 60-minute kids’ animated film is about a Christmas Tree. Who is, you know, alive. And this particular Christmas Tree wants to be a big star, which results in a road trip. Yes, this is a movie about a Christmas tree on a road trip, but it works. In fact, it’s actually quite a bit of fun. Running just about an hour and starring Bobby Moynihan, Rob Riggle, and Judah Friedlander, the film actually marks Nickelodeon’s first original Christmas movie. I have to say, I found it endearing, and I think kids will really enjoy it. I’m not sure if it’s a future Christmas classic, but it’s certainly enjoyable.
  • Satan’s Cheerleaders – You wouldn’t expect to see veteran character actors like John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, and John Carradine star in one of the schlockiest films of all time, but, well, here we are. Satan’s Cheerleaders is a B-movie exploitation flick about cheerleaders versus Satanists and… well, I mean, really that’s it. You get lots of cheerleaders, cheap nudity, nothing even remotely scary (except for the acting), and about a 35-cent budget. Still, for every film there’s an audience, so for people who love truly cheesy camp classics, this inaugural Blu-ray release will tickle your funny bone.
  • Tam Cam: The Untold Story – This Vietnamese film is basically a retelling of the story of Cinderella (although it is based on a Vietnamese fairy tale actually called Tam Cam, I believe). And while it strongly resembles Cinderella, it’s seen through the filter of Vietnamese culture and myth. As such, it’s much more ornate and regal throughout than you might expect from a Cinderella story. With a cast unknown to US viewers, there are some good performances, so it’s relatively enjoyable even if it’s not a full-on home run.
  • Free to Rock: How Rock & Roll Brought Down the Wall – Kiefer Sutherland narrates this excellent documentary about how the pre-Wall-coming-down Russia was so afraid of rock and roll music and how it permeated the culture of the country, eventually helping lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over the course of an hour, we hear from everyone from President Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev to the Latvian President and a former KGB General, plus we hear music from Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Scorpions, Cyndi Lauper, and Metallica. As a bonus, there’s a second disc with a film documenting the creation of the main film which runs two hours in length and is almost as interesting. Worth a watch.
  • Whose Streets? – This documentary focuses on the events in Ferguson, Missouri that arose after the shooting of Michael Brown. With an obvious focus on race and activism, the film is less of the usual style of talking-heads doc and more of a slice-of-life look at people who were involved in the events. We see a lot of cell phone footage, and we do get some interviews as well, although they’re not the main thrust of the film. I don’t know that it’s the most in-depth film we could have gotten, but it is powerful and engaging.

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