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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Home Again, Game of Thrones, Zoo, Wolf Warrior 2 and more


Home Again – It really says something for me to give a glowing review to a movie with Reese Witherspoon in it. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but I just have never been a fan of hers as an actress. But I was charmed by the trailer for this romantic (sort of) comedy so I decided to give it ago. And I have to say, while the film has its flaws, it won me over. Witherspoon isn’t exactly reinventing herself here (it’s kind of maybe a spiritual sequel Sweet Home Alabama), but there is something comfortable about her playing the type of role she knows so well. But it’s the three supporting actors (Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, and Jon Rudnitsky, along with Michael Sheen who is always terrific) who really make the difference, giving Witherspoon a terrific support system to play off of. This is a fun movie, and I enjoyed it.

Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season – It’s easy to feel like you’re sick of hearing about Game of Thrones, especially if you’ve ever been on the internet. But it’s hard to deny that the show is extremely impressive. It’s like a big-budget fantasy epic film that happens to be split up into hour-long chapters. After a season-long wait, Season Seven has finally been released on Blu-ray and DVD. As I only watch this show on disc and have to avoid spoilers all year long, it was nice to go in and find some surprises and still enjoy watching the show. This was a fascinating season. While it’s only seven episodes long, each one is basically a movie-length epic, and the events happen fast and furious. This might be the most epic and action-packed season yet. And that’s saying something! While I’m not the massively obsessed fan that some people are, there’s no doubt that I really enjoy Game of Thrones.

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival – The Monterey Pop Festival film has been released on video before, but this is by far the most complete package of the seminal music festival ever released. In addition to the original film, you also get two complete films that capture the entirety of both Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding’s sets. On top of that, you get additional performances by The Association, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Al Kooper, the Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Simon and Garfunkel, Tiny Tim, and The Who, among others. Then you get the whole Criterion Collection treatment: restored and remastered sound and picture, plus tons of new extra features including audio commentaries, interviews, a photo essay, and more. Simply put, this box-set-styled release is all a classic rock fan could want.

Zoo: Season Three – For the past three seasons, Zoo was one of my favorite television experiences. The story of a team of scientists trying to stave off a mysterious change in the wildlife world that sees all the animals in the world turning against humans, Zoo is popcorn television at its finest. And here’s the thing: it’s riddled with flaws, and I absolutely don’t care. For example, the science in the show seems about as authentic as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. And problems get solved way too easily. But the show is campy fun, and it also takes way more chances than you would expect a major network show to take. However, this marks the final season, and as much as I enjoyed it, I think it ran its course and ended when it needed to, before it got so silly it wasn’t fun anymore. Still, a little sad to see it go.

Wolf Warrior 2 – While this may look like just another Asian action film, it’s actually quite noteworthy. You see, Wolf Warrior 2 has officially become the highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME in China. Yep, you read that correctly. This is the Avatar, the Titanic, the Star Wars of China. Now, I like this type of over-the-top action flick, and this one is really enjoyable, with some great action scenes. Add in American actor Frank Grillo (a favorite of mine) as the bad guy, and the film is plenty of fun. But can I see exactly what’s so special about it that it grossed THAT much money in China? No. It’s a fun film and some of the action scenes are breathtaking, but it doesn’t exactly reinvent the genre or anything. Go figure.

The Trip to Spain – In this third chapter of a trilogy that I’m sure no one expected to become a trilogy Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star in The Trip to Spain, the second sequel to the meta comedy The Trip. Playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves, this largely-improvised film sees the pair travel through — where else? — Spain. Together, they eat, make impressions of famous people, and generally just chat. If you liked the first two, you’ll like this one as well.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Brannigan, Code of Silence, China Moon – Kino Lorber is making a run at becoming one of the premiere labels for bringing cult classics to Blu-ray that have either never appeared in high def before or have been but have gone out of print. This week, we have three great action-slash-thriller films returning to Blu-ray. Brannigan is probably the most interesting of the three, with a late-era John Wayne starring as a grizzled Chicago cop escorting a criminal back to London and teaming up with a British police officer. It’s nice to see Wayne in a non-western role, and this is a fun film from the ‘70s. Code of Silence is a classic Chuck Norris film, this time with the internet-breaking action star as a cop going up against a couple of warring drug lords. This has long been considered one of Norris’s best films, and I think that’s due to it being directed by Andrew Davis, helmer of The Fugitive and a bunch of other good action films. Finally, China Moon is a suspense film starring Ed Harris and Madeleine Stowe, along with Benicio del Toro and Charles Dance. Ed Harris is always terrific, and I was excited to see him in a film I’d never watched before. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers thriller, but I dug it for what it is.
  • Heat and Dust – From director James Ivory of Merchant/Ivory, this two-hour epic follows two generations of women: one who had an affair with an Indian prince, and one who is trying to discover the truth of that relationship two generations later. The film stars Christopher Cazenove, Greta Scacchi, Julian Glover, and Susan Fleetwood, and while I will admit that it’s not my usual cup of tea, it’s an extremely well-made film: shot beautifully, well-acted, and with a solid story and script. If you like character-driven dramas but aren’t looking for a three-hour epic, Heat and Dust is worth checking out.
  • IMAX: Mysteries of China – In just 40 minutes, this IMAX-original film takes us through China’s history, or at least the major events that shaped the country into what it is today. The film touches on Ancient China, the First Emperor, the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors, the Tomb of the First Emperor, and much more. As you would expect from an IMAX film, the cinematography is breathtaking, with stunning imagery showing what an amazing country China really is (politics aside.) Even though it’s only 40 minutes and you’re not watching it on an IMAX screen, it’s hard to argue with what a cool film this is.
  • Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Final Chapters – This latest collection of Nickelodeon’s hit animated series collects the last episodes of the current TMNT animated series. This last season took on the “Tales of the TMNT” approach which removed the overarching stories from the previous seasons and gave us a bunch of standalone episodes (alongside a few multi-part stories, such as one starring comic book favorite Usagi Yojimbo.) I’ve said before how much I love this show, and while these episodes could be a bit uneven, it was fun to see a few different storylines floating through that weren’t hampered by continuity. A great show until the end.
  • Viceroy’s House – Gillian Anderson and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville star in this period drama about Lord Mountbatten and his wife traveling to India in 1947 to oversee the return of the country’s leadership from British to Indian rule. Alongside that A-story, there’s a B-story about Lord Mountbatten’s assistant, a young Indian man in love with a woman who is betrothed to another man. The whole thing has a bit of a Downton Abbey-meets-Romeo and Juliet vibe to it, and while it’s somewhat enjoyable, it’s not a slam dunk. There’s nothing outright wrong with it, it just didn’t really grab me like I wanted it to. Solid, but uninspired.
  • All Saints – How do you save a church that’s about to be shut down? With the help of a group of refugees from Myanmar, of course. John Corbett stars in this film as a salesman-turned-pastor who tries to save a struggling congregation and gets help from an unlikely source. It’s a faith-based film (which seems fairly obvious) which is never really my cup of tea, but I think if you like movies from that genre, this one is a solid drama.
  • Cops and Robbers – Michael Jai White takes lead here, supported by Tom Berenger and the acting heavyweight that is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. White plays a hostage negotiator on his first day back on the job, so of course things go south quickly. There are actually a few surprises (or at least less obvious story choices) so I won’t say too much more, but this is a pretty standard direct-to-video action-thriller. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing special, either.
  • Once Upon a Time at Christmas – There’s a decent horror film to be found in Once Upon a Time at Christmas, but it’s a bit buried. With a fun premise (psychos dressed as Santa and Mrs. Clause go on a killing spree) and some well-shot sequences, it’s better than some direct-to-video horror fare. My biggest problem with the film is that the killers are SO over-the-top and cartoonish that there’s nothing scary or suspenseful about them. They make Woody Harrelson and Juliet Lewis in Natural Born Killers look subtle by comparison. I wish they were approached differently, because I think this could have been a really fun movie otherwise.
  • Nova: Secrets of the Shining Knight – We’ve all heard of the proverbial “knight in shining armor,” but who made that armor and how exactly was it crafted? That’s what this 60-minute Nova episode explains. I love programs like these, because you never really think about how armor was made, but it turns out it’s quite a fascinating process. But rather than a drab two-hour program, you get a quick hour-long look at what goes into it, and the result is a truly engaging special. Definitely check this one out, especially if you have an affinity for medieval times.
  • Bad Lucky Goat – If you think that I was surprised that a Creole-language film from Colombia about a dead goat, a pair of teenagers, and an occasional witch doctor that’s barely over an hour long would charm the pants of me, well, you’d be right. I had no idea what I was getting into with Bad Lucky Goat, but I have to say, it really charmed me. It’s offbeat and quirky and crazy and strange, but in all the best ways. I can’t really tell you any more about it than I already have, suffice to say that if you like a fun movie that’s off the beaten path, this one’s for you.
  • The Rift: Dark Side of The Moon – Cool title, crap movie. I hate to be mean, but this sci-fi story of a potentially alien astronaut crashing with a satellite to earth is low-budget schlock from start to finish. The acting is mediocre, the script is weak, and the special effects are not all that special. I give the filmmakers credit for trying to make something out of nothing, but it doesn’t always work. For B-movie junkies only.
  • Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards – Pssst… he doesn’t really make shoes FOR lizards to wear. That would be silly. Well, at least not regularly. That said, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is a biographical documentary about Manolo Blahnik, the man whose name has become synonymous with high-end, super-expensive shoes. With interview with luminaries such as Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Paloma Picasso, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Rupert Everett, Karlie Kloss, Isaac Mizrahi, and others, this is a must see for fans of Project Runway and the like.

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