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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Dunkirk, mother!, Detroit, Leatherface and more


Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan proved with Dunkirk that no matter what kind of movie he makes, it’s going to be a hit. And Dunkirk is a well-made film, for sure. But I have to say, I didn’t really like it all that much. For me, it’s probably my second least favorite Nolan film (after The Dark Knight Rises.) While it’s a technical marvel, I have a few main problems with it. First of all, for a story about 400,000 men on a beach, not once did I gt a sense of scope from the film. I never felt like there were more than a thousand or so soldiers on that beach. Plus, most of the characters were largely interchangeable. More than a few times I lost track of what was happening to which characters. It’ is NOT a bad film by any stretch, but I wish I liked it more than I did. Available on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), the film looks and sounds blisteringly amazing in the premium format, with a soundtrack that will rattle the living room. It’s still a film worth watching, but it’s not quite the masterpiece some people have made it out to be.

Mother! – There are few films in recent memory that were as polarizing as Darren Aronofsky’s latest, Mother! Critics loved it and audiences… well, this seems to be a film that nobody likes except for a small group of people that like it. Personally, I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I quite severely disliked it. Supposedly it’s the story of the Bible, but to me it was just two hours of close-ups of Jennifer Lawrence looking mad, sad, and confused, on rotation. It’s a pretty unbearable watch. Yes, the performances are good, but the story is not a story but rather a stream of consciousness of emotion that supposedly represents all the major events of the bible. Okay, sure, whatever. This is an interesting release on 4K Ultra HD (also available on Blu-ray & DVD), as it’s not the kind of film that noticeably needs a super-uber-ultra high definition picture to enjoy it. That said, it certainly looks impeccable in the premium format.

Detroit – Despite some first act issues (I would have really liked more insight into how a single protest turned into large-scale riots in the span of seemingly seconds), Detroit is a powerful and well-made film filled with terrific performances by a cast of actors that are familiar but not superstars. Led by the pretty-recognizable-by-now John Boyega (Finn from the Star Wars movies) and Anthony Mackie, the film tells the story of racism, corruption, civil rights, and personal strife, and it does so in a way that is both personal and far-reaching. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Oscar winner for The Hurt Locker) the film has a gritty, handheld (but not entirely – it doesn’t feel like a found footage movie) feel to it, and it lets you feel often like you’re right in the middle of the proceedings, which is pretty damn intense. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it is incredibly rewarding.

Victoria & Abdul – Much less intense but equally rewarding is Victoria & Abdul, starring Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, which is a more lightweight film but one that is quite enjoyable. Telling the story of the later years of Queen Victoria’s rule and the friendship she forms with a young Indian clerk, it’s one of those films that doesn’t need flash or special effects or action or sex, it just tells a charming and quirky story and it does so with fantastic performances and a tight script. This is a cute little film to watch when you want something that’s got a decent amount of heft to it but isn’t overly taxing.

Leatherface – Oh yes, please, do give us a film that tells the origin of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s iconic villain, Leatherface. Because everyone wants to see a young Leatherface, and we’ve all learned by now that prequels can never go wrong. Okay, I’ll give the filmmakers credit for casting Stephen Dorff and Lili Taylor to give the movie some actual talent, and I’d be lying if I said it’s the worst horror movie ever, but I can’t say there was any point at which I was all that interested in what was going on. And Texas Chainsaw remains one of the more disturbing/disgusting horror franchises, and this prequel doesn’t do much to change that. For die-hard TCM fans only.

Salvation: Season One – I love disaster flicks. Love love LOVE them. I’m a huge fan of the genre, and I’ll watch just about any movie in it. But this is the first time I can remember the disaster film as a TV Series, and I have to say that I like it. Salvation tells the story of a meteor heading towards earth, and the efforts the earth’s governments go to try and save the planet. Think of it as Deep Impact: The Series. Now, part of the trade-off here is that you don’t really get a lot of typical disaster movie destruction (that would sort of defeat the purpose of the show), but it still manages to be engaging and satisfy a lot of my disaster movie cravings. It’s not a perfect show, but I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Blood Money – Ellar Coltrane and John Cusack star in this thriller, which is sort of like Shallow Grave meets The River Wild. The difference here is that you have cult filmmaker Lucky McKee (mostly known for his horror offerings) behind the camera, which gives us an uneven but largely enjoyable little flick about a group of friends who find a large sum of money, and end up distrusting each other while also on the run from the man whose money it really is. Cusack phones his performance in – like he’s been doing for the past several years – but overall the film is more fun than not and it’s both familiar yet unique. I’ll take it.
  • Interstellar – Christopher Nolan makes his second appearance on this week’s list with the 4K Ultra HD release of Interstellar. Interstellar is not Christopher Nolan’s best film. But it is a big, bold, epic filled with ideas. In short, it’s what you wish more movies were like. Visually spectacular, emotionally challenging, and solidly intellectual, the film doesn’t pander or stoop to a lowest level. And while it’s set in space and filled with some spectacular set pieces, this is a film that is — first and foremost — about family. Even though I have some issues with it, I really enjoyed it. And I suspect it’s one of those films that will benefit from repeat viewings, something I’m more than happy to do. Especially now that it’s released in Ultra HD, which is a format that movies like Interstellar is made for. It looks absolutely breathtaking and the surround sound is booming and expansive. I can’t think of many movies that would be better formatted for 4K Ultra HD.
  • Fargo: Year 3 – I appreciate a TV show that knows when to let things go. As great as the first season of Fargo was, trying to continue the story directly would have been a disaster. Instead, the show runners have gifted us with a new cast and new characters each season, and it’s a format that works really well. This time around, Ewan McGregor takes the lead role – both of them actually! – playing brothers on both sides of the law. Like the first two seasons of Fargo, this one is darkly offbeat and equally involving. I liked the new cast and I found the storyline engrossing, and I love that FX has figured out how to do this series and not just repeat itself season after season.
  • Fuller House: The Complete Second Season – Full disclosure: I was never a huge Full House Don’t take that the wrong way; I liked the show just fine when it was on. But I was a casual watcher at best, never catching more than a few episodes a season. I never watched it religiously or regularly, so I come at Fuller House without the haze of nostalgia that many fans might have. Standing on its own merits, then, Fuller House is a perfectly acceptable family sitcom, but it’s nothing special. It’s fun to see the cast all grown up (and the guest appearances by some of the original adult cast members are nice as well), and the show does manage to keep the feel of the original series (this isn’t borderline R-rated comedy like Two Broke Girls or Two and a Half Men.) Fans will probably enjoy it, everyone else can easily ignore it.
  • George Gently: The Complete CollectionGeorge Gently is an extremely popular British mystery show that ran for several seasons. This cop show is set in 1960s and 70s England, and the period trappings will make it more interesting to some viewers and less interesting to others, but overall I do like the show. This is a solid series with good performances and interesting cases that bring the societal aspects of 1960s Britain into the workings of the show, but I don’t find it to be quite as engaging as some other British cop shows. What makes the show work the best is Martin Shaw, who plays the titular character and brings that mix of solemnity and charm to his role. This new box set (available on Blu-ray and DVD) collects all eight seasons, which gives you 25 complete movie-length episodes of proper mystery fun.
  • Doc Martin: Series 8Doc Martin: Series 8 is either a dramatic comedy or a comedic drama, but either way, it’s a pretty good television, with an excellent lead performance by the expertly wry Martin Clunes. Now, I’m not always a fan of shows with overly gruff/unlikable main characters, and Doc Martin certainly qualifies as that, but I do find a lot to like about this show. Martin Clunes is really a top-notch actor, and the family drama and strong characters at the heart of it all are both engaging and complex, but never too much so. I don’t know if you’ll want to jump in with Season 8 if you’ve never watched it before, but it’s definitely a solid show.
  • A Town Called Panic: The Collection – So, you may or may not be familiar with A Town Called Panic, especially when it gained some cult popularity on the internet a few years back. Basically, it’s the story of three friends, Cowboy, Indian, and Horse, and their lives together in modern day society. The twist is that the stories are told via stop-motion animation with classic old-style plastic action figures (think more of green army men than actual action figures). It’s an interesting device, and while it can be a bit strange at first, the more you watch it, the more you get into it. This new release includes a ton of extra features including a ton of short films, so it’s a nice release for fans.
  • Valley of Bones – You don’t see a lot of movies these days about “disgraced paleontologists,” but now you have Valley of Bones, starring Autumn Reeser (who does not make the most credible paleontologist I’ve ever seen, it should be noted.) At the heart of the film is a search for a dinosaur fossil, but this isn’t a science-fiction or science-fact film. Instead it’s a western, filled with dusty landscapes, crusty characters, and musty plotlines. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little rhyming.) It’s not a bad film, but with the exception of the paleontology slant, it’s a film we’ve seen plenty of times before. Still, that said, it’s a perfectly serviceable way to kill 90 minutes.
  • Nova: Ghosts of Stonehenge – This PBS release is the latest special to try and solve the mystery of Stonehenge. This hour-long special uses forensic science to try and discover who built Stonehenge and why. Not surprisingly, it’s fairly interesting stuff, but of course, it’s not as if the mystery gets definitively solved. There are some credible theories thrown around and it’s an enjoyable and educational watch, but it’s not exactly going to put any debate over Stonehenge’s purpose to rest. Still, quality stuff as usual from PBS.

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