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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Logan Lucky, Misery, Acts of Vengeance and more

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Logan Lucky – Steven Soderbergh returns from his retirement (who didn’t see that coming?) with this heist/comedy film that sees Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig all lower their on-screen IQs by a couple dozen points each. Now, I’ve never been a particularly big Soderbergh fan – I think he’s one of the more overrated directors in Hollywood – but I actually enjoyed this film. Set during a NASCAR race, the film doesn’t really give you characters to root for, but you do anyway. Daniel Craig turns in a brilliant performance as a barely understandable recruit to the crew that’s trying to pull off an elaborate robbery during the race. It’s not a great film, but it’s more fun than I might have expected.

Misery – The classic Rob Reiner/Stephen King film that made a star out of Kathy Bates and rejuvenated James Caan’s career returns to Blu-ray with an all-new special edition courtesy of Shout Factory’s always-excellent Scream Factory imprint. This version includes new interviews with Reiner and multiple commentaries and featurettes, making it the ultimate edition for fans. As for the film itself, well, it’s a modern classic as far as I’m concerned. With an ever-rising level of tension and dread, it’s a horror movie that doesn’t tread in the typical horror movie locales. Truly great stuff.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in The Life: Season 1 – Okay, so I’m coming into this a little blind, as I never really watched The Gilmore Girls beyond a few episodes here or there for review purposes. It’s not that I don’t like the show or that it’s bad or anything, it was just never something I ever go into. So this four-episode return from Netflix is enjoyable, but I imagine it will really knock your socks off if you’re a fan of the show. With the return of all the major characters (including Jared Padalecki, yay!) I missed most of the nuances, but it’s a solid collection of episodes that I would imagine it would be hard for fans to be disappointed in.

Acts of Vengeance – I think I’ve watched four or five direct-to-video Antonio Banderas films in the past three months. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but he’s churning out a record number of DTV films. But here’s the thing: unlike Nicolas Cage who gives us one bad film after another, Banderas keeps making good ones. The latest one is Acts of Vengeance, which sees Banderas as a lawyer who takes a vow of silence until he finds and kills the men responsible for the murder of his family. Add in Karl Urban in a supporting role, and you’ve got a gritty action flick with mood and atmosphere to spare. I wish some of these films would get into theaters, but as long as Banderas is making good movies, keep ‘em coming!

The Defiant Ones – This HBO miniseries explores the relationship between Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, two music pioneers who would eventually launch the Beats line by Dr. Dre that’s made more money than most of their music combined. Over the course of four-and-a-half hours, we learn about the history and careers of the two, how they worked together, and how they shaped the music industry. With interviews with such luminaries as Bono, David Geffen, Eminem, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, the late Tom Petty, Snoop Dogg and Bruce Springsteen (among others), it’s a star-studded affair that’s extremely interesting and engaging.

Halo: The Complete Video Collection – The Halo video games are a pop culture phenomenon, and a big part of their popularity is the advertising and multimedia culture they’ve created. From short films online to animated movies and live-action specials, the world of Halo has long gone beyond just video games. Now, this six-and-a-half-hour collection gives us the complete video collection of pretty much all of the greatest video efforts made by the Halo team. Halo Legends presents eight short animated films that explore the Halo universe at large. Halo 4: Forward unto Dawn is a live-action special which sees a group of cadets meet up with the iconic Master Chief as they fight for their lives, running almost two hours total. Halo: Nightfall, a five-episode series which was produced by Ridley Scott, is another live actioner that gets a little murky plotwise, but has some cool action and special effects. Finally, Halo: The Fall of Reach gives us an animated origin story for Master Chief, and this was my favorite of the programs included. It’s cool, exciting, and it paints in a back story for the character that’s defined this saga. This collection is a real treat for Halo fans.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • CMA Awards LIVE – Okay, I’m not a giant country music fan, but I do like some of it and above all, I can appreciate a great live performance. And that’s what this 10-disc collection offers us: over 125 live performances from the entire history of the Country Music Awards from the 1960s to the current day. I mean, just look at the list of SOME of the included performers: Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, Loretta Lynn, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Glen Campbell, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood, and Dwight Yoakam. And that’s just a PARTIAL list! Honestly, if you’re a country music fan, I can’t think of a better collection than this.
  • RememoryRememory is a whodunit wrapped up in sci-fi trappings. It’s also one of the last films of the late, great Anton Yelchin, of whom I’m a huge fan. Add in Peter Dinklage (who’s always terrific) and the result is a pretty watchable film that doesn’t quite live up to what my hopes for it were. Dealing with memories (as is probably obvious by the title) and a machine that can extract them, the thrust of the story deals with trying to figure out who killed the machine’s creator. It’s a solid film if a bit familiar in places, and it’s worth a watch if you like the cast, which also includes Martin Donovan and Julia Ormond.
  • Woodshock – If you liked recent critically acclaimed/little seen films like A Ghost Story and Melancholia, then there’s a good chance you’ll like Woodshock. Kirsten Dunst turns in another terrific performance in a not-so-terrific movie (just like in the aforementioned Melancholia) as we follow a woman on a journey of loss, heartbreak, and experimental drugs. Less a plot-driven movie (or even a movie at all it seems like) than a collection of atmospheric, moody scenes, this one wasn’t for me, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there for it.
  • The Wrong Guy – I can’t even tell you what a big fan I am of The Wrong Guy, a little seen comedy film from the 2000s starring Dave Foley (NewsRadio, The Kids in the Hall) and Jennifer Tilly. The story is pretty simple: Nelson Hibbert, a pushover big company employee, finds his boss murdered and then goes on the run until he can prove his innocence. There’s only one problem: nobody thinks he’s guilty. It’s a chase movie without the chase, a whodunit where we know whodunit. And it’s absolutely comedy gold. Dave Foley has never been funnier, and no matter how many times I watch this movie, I laugh out loud every time I see it. If you haven’t seen it before, do yourself a favor and track it down. And now that it’s available on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber, there’s no better time to check it out.
  • The Woman in Red – Kino Lorber releases this ‘80s comedy on Blu-ray for the first time. Starring Charles Grodin, Gene Wilder, Kelly Le Brock, and Gilda Radner, and it’s a film I haven’t seen in a very, very long time. Gene Wilder also wrote and directed the film, which was a surprise to me as I revisited the film. I have to say, I do enjoy this film, even though it’s definitely showing its age. Wilder and the entire cast are terrific, and it’s easy to see why Kelly LeBrock became a household name after the film’s release. And while the Blu-ray doesn’t exactly reinvent the film in visual terms (it is a comedy from the 1980s, after all), it looks better than your worn-out VHS copy does, that’s for sure.
  • WB Archive: Night School, Hell on Frisco Bay, Scarecrow, Wide Open, The Washington Masquerade, and Stage Mother – The Warner Archive (warnerarchive.com) print-on-demand service brings us six new releases this week, three on Blu-ray and three only on DVD. First up is Night School, which sees Rachel Ward making her film debut (and the movie making its Blu-ray debut). I really liked this film from 1981 which combines elements of slasher films but is really more of a mystery/thriller flick. It’s not too gory or salacious, and it takes itself seriously even though it involves female students being decapitated. This is one that horror fans should track down. Next up we have Hell on Frisco Bay, a classic revenge-based film, starring Alan Ladd as an ex-cop/ex-con who wants revenge against the man who set him up and Edward G. Robinson (one of my favorites!) as a vicious mobster. It’s a taut, exciting film that evokes heavy film noir overtones. This Blu-ray release is a gem. Scarecrow follows, and this one has the most notable cast in the entire line-up, with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman co-staring in the lead roles. And while the cover art hints at an action film, this character study is more of a drama. I can’t say I loved the film overall, but there’s no denying the terrific performances by Pacino and Hackman. This one’s on Blu-ray, too. Now on to the DVDs. Wide Open is a pre-code comedy from 1930 starring mostly actors that modern-day audiences have never heard of, such as Edward Everett Horton, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Louise Fazenda. It’s a brisk film, running just 69 minutes, and while it’s not the best of what the pre-code era has to offer, it’s a fun enough outing from a bygone time. Meanwhile, The Washington Masquerade sees Lionel Barrymore as a principled lawyer who gets steered to the corrupt side of politics by… what else? A woman. It’s a fascinating film from 1932, and Barrymore turns in a heck of a performance. Finally, Stage Mother sees Alice Brady, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Franchot Tone in a 1933 melodrama which deals with parenting, romance, bitterness, blackmail, and celebrity. It’s a dark tale, and while it’s not a perfect film, it’s certainly an interesting way to kill 90 minutes.

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