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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: It, Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, The Lego Ninjago Movie and more

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It – Stephen King’s It was a massive box office success. So successful, in fact, that it took almost everyone (box office pundits included) by surprise. But it makes sense. Not only is it one of the most popular novels from one of the world’s most successful authors, but just look at the make-up of it: a bunch of kids go up against a force of evil in a small town. What does that sound like to you? Yep, Stranger Things. I’m not saying that Stranger Things is solely responsible for It’s success, but I think it certainly had a huge impact on it. It looked and felt like Stranger Things (it even features on that show’s stars) and people were hungry for more Stranger Things. Add to that the fact that it’s actually a really good movie, and of course it was going to be a hit. I know some audiences were divided on the film, but I loved it. It’s extremely creepy, the young cast is fantastic, and the film is that perfect level of horror that’s scary but not overly gory or relying solely on jump scares. It’s a lot of fun. The film is out on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD. I got to view the 4K version, and it looks and sounds terrific. Deep blacks and shadows and impressive detail bring the picture to life in a way that enhances the creepiness. A total package all around.

Blade Runner 2049 – Did we need a Blade Runner sequel? No. Did anybody want a Blade Runner sequel? I doubt it. So why does this film even exist? I have no idea. Now, sometimes, an unneeded, unwanted sequel can be great. In this case, it’s… good. I liked Blade Runner 2049, but I didn’t love it, and even though it’s not directed by Ridley Scott (he produced while Denis Villeneuve directed), it features all of his hallmarks: it’s visually stunning, too long, has no sense of humor, and is a real slow burn. Ryan Gosling is terrific and Harrison Ford is a welcome face when he finally shows up, but this is a hard film to get excited about, especially with a near-three-hour run time. Also available on 4K Ultra HD as well as DVD and Blu-ray, the 4K picture is absolutely stunning. Honestly, this is the kind of film the new format was made for, and if you have the capability, I strongly recommend upgrading to the premium format. It’s worth it.

Happy Death Day – I REALLY enjoyed this slasher-film-meets-Groundhog-Day film. It’s extremely fun, it’s got a great concept, there’s a few nice twists and turns, and with a PG-13 rating, there’s literally no gore to ruin a fun experience. Written by comic book luminary Scott Lobdell, the film follows a college student who keeps getting murdered by a masked assailant, only to wake up and live through the same day again. How can you go wrong with that? A group of likable no-name young actors anchor the film, and I watched the film with a smile on my face from start to finish because it’s just so much fun. Highly recommended!

The Snowman – Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson are two of my favorite actors working today, so a serial killer thriller starring the two of them was right up my alley. Based on hit Scandinavian author Jo Nesbo’s popular novels, the film tells the story of a serial killer who comes out with the first snow of the season and the people who are hunting him. Now, I’d love to report that this is a slam-dunk thriller, up there with the likes of Silence of the Lambs. Unfortunately, I can’t say that. It’s a decent film, but it’s slow-moving, and it doesn’t seem like anyone really wants to be there. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just never clicked for me. Shame, that.

The Lego Ninjago Movie – [NOTE: This title came out in December, but I just got my review copy this week.] I enjoyed The Lego Ninjago Movie overall, but it’s a definite comedown from the highs of The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. Those two films are near-comedic-genius. The Lego Ninjago Movie is, by contrast, kinda funny. I think part of the problem comes from being set in the Ninjago world, which simply has a much less diverse fan base than the entire Lego universe or the world of Batman. But the film just isn’t as clever and inventive as the previous ones. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, it just lacks some of that magic we’ve gotten used to. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra, the 4K release offers up some of the most robust colors you’ve ever seen on a home video release, with impeccable image clarity that shines in a CGI film like this.

Crooked House – Based on an Agatha Christie story and released in the wake of the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, this multi-character mystery features an all-star cast that includes Christina Hendricks, Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Max Irons, Terence Stamp, and Julian Sands. This is a great example of what Christie does best, which is to take a large cast of characters and keep you guessing about each one’s motivations until the very end. I didn’t find it to be her most compelling mystery, but the cast and sure-handed direction results in a solidly engaging viewing experience. Fans of the author (or just a good mystery) should enjoy this one.

I, Daniel Blake – The Criterion Collection releases Ken Loach’s latest take on a working-class hero with this 2016 film. Loaded with extra features and remastered sound and picture, this is a typically excellent Criterion edition. Now, Loach is a very well-loved filmmaker, but I’ve never quite warmed to him (although admittedly I’ve seen very few of his films.) I don’t think this one reaches the heights of some of his earliest works, but fans should still find a lot to like about it. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the film itself, the extras that include a commentary track and a feature length career retrospective on Loach make it a worthwhile purchase.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Girlfriends: The Complete Series – Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Persia White, and Jill Marie Jones starred in this hit comedy series for eight seasons, and while the show was never the type of hit that made it a household name, you can’t really argue with any show that lasts for eight years these days. For those unfamiliar, the show was sort of a typical sitcom about four friends, Joan, Maya, Lynn and Toni, and their trials and tribulations. Sure, you could compare it to Sex and the City but the feel is pretty different. This huge box set (in a compact case) includes all eight seasons along with a number of previously-released extra features, including featurettes, audio commentary tracks, and a bonus episode of the spin-off show, The Game (which was also relatively popular.) A nice budget pick-up for fans of the show who have never bought it on DVD before.
  • November Criminals – Ansel Elgort and Chloe Grace Moretz star in this interesting mystery/drama that has gone pretty under the radar so far. And I can see why it didn’t get a lot of attention; it’s a hard film to sell. It’s not an action movie or a thriller. Instead, it’s a story of a high school student obsessed with trying to solve his friend’s murder when the police write it off as gang violence. Elgort and Moretz turn in great performances, and although the film is a slow burn, I found it engaging enough to stick around to the end.
  • The Tiger Hunter – This charming dramedy follows an Indian engineer who comes to America in the 1970s, only to find that his job skills aren’t exactly in high demand. Stuck in a menial job, he has to fake a life to impress the girl he’s in love with. You’ll recognize a lot of familiar faces in this film, including lead actor Danny Pudi (Community) and Karen David (Galahad). The film has a quirky feel to it but a straightforward narrative, and the comedy is disarming and low-key. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.
  • Better Call Saul: Season Three – As someone who’s never quite gotten around to watching Breaking Bad past the first season, I wasn’t terribly interested in Better Call Saul, mostly to avoid spoilers (since I do plan on finishing BB one of these days.) But when the DVDs crossed my desk for review, I decided the time had come. The show obviously follows Saul Goodman, Walter White’s lawyer, in the time before he got caught up with White’s criminal empire. Here, he’s finding his place in the lawyering world, and he’s not always successful. I never thought I’d see Bob Odenkirk anchor his own show, but he represents well here. It’s not Breaking Bad, and hopefully most people won’t expect it to be. Better Call Saul carves out its own identity, and that’s a good thing.
  • Cook Off! – Despite an all-star comedy cast (Melissa McCarthy, Diedrich Bader, Wendi McClendon Covey, Niecy Nash, and – in a welcome return – Markie Post!), this mockumentary about a bunch of low-class, low-intelligence cardboard characters in a cooking contest fails o deliver. It’s clear that much of it is ad-libbed (or at least loosely scripted) and it’s very much from that throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. There are a few chuckles, but overall this film was a big whiff for me.
  • The Taking of Beverly Hills – I really loved this movie. A handful of you will remember the TV show Wiseguy from the early 90s. Well, I am and have always been a huge fan of the show, and unfortunately, its star Ken Wahl, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident and retired from acting. This film was clearly made right after Wiseguy hit, and it sees Wahl in his prime making a bid as the next big action star. And while the film isn’t cinematic genius, Wahl has a very Stallone-like charm to him that makes me wonder what could have been. The film sees a group of corrupt cops and criminals shut down Beverly Hills with a fake gas leak, only to see Wahl’s football star character try and take them down (almost) single-handedly. So, yes, it’s Die Hard in Beverly Hills. But it’s a lot of fun, and it was great to see Wahl shine in a lead movie role. Fun fun fun.
  • Yor, The Hunter from The Future: 35th Anniversary Edition – I love that we live in an era where I get to see Yor: The Hunter from the Future get a 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release. This was a movie I remember seeing as a child (probably before I was old enough to) and it’s always been in my memory. I had pretty much assumed I’d never see it again, and then… voila! Mill Creek gives us a deluxe 35th anniversary release! Whaaaat? And on top of that, we even get a commentary track with the film’s star, Reb Brown! This is like B-movie geek heaven! Does the film hold up? Well, not really, but I don’t think it was ever that good to begin with. But as far as high-cheese-factor B-movies go? I love it! Thanks, Mill Creek!
  • Macon County Line – This cult classic gets the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Shout Factory. Starring Max Baer (best known as Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies), the film sees a few free-wheeling teens in the 1950s getting mistakenly fingered for murder by a tough sheriff (and the victim was his wife). Well, you can guess what happens from there. This 1970s film fits right alongside fare like Walking Tall and the various ‘70s revenge thrillers. It’s not the hardest hitting movie in the world, but it’s a decent watch, especially if you like that genre.
  • The Commander: The Complete Collection – This show based on the books by award-winning writer Lynda La Plante, who also created the extremely popular Prime Suspect follows New Scotland Yard’s highest-ranking female officer, Commander Clare Blake. Over the course of seven feature-length mysteries, we see Commander Blake lead the Serious Crime Group and the Murder Review Team to doggedly solve some serious crimes. As with the best British mystery shows, we get a strong mix of the personal side of her life and personality alongside the more evidence based investigations. This complete series collection includes every episode and will give you notable guest stars like guest stars Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), James D’Arcy (Dunkirk), Saskia Reeves (Wolf Hall), David Patrick O’Hara (The Departed), and many others.
  • W.A.T.: The Complete Series and S.W.A.T. – While the S.W.A.T. movie starring Colin Farrell and LL Cool J wasn’t all that memorable, it does get a budget Blu-ray release courtesy of Mill Creek to go alongside a much more interesting release, S.W.A.T.: The Complete Series. This popular show from the 1970s has been collected in its entirety, although sadly that’s just one season. The show, which starred Robert Urich and Steve Forrest, followed the Special Weapons and Tactics team in a California city, and I never realized until now that it only lasted just a single season. I always thought it was a big hit show that ran for years, but it wasn’t. Still, I’ve always liked Robert Urich and this was a fun show, even if it’s not as hard-hitting as something like, say, the current TV incarnation of S.W.A.T. Still, it’s a fun throwback.
  • The Lion Guard: The Rise of Scar – This latest film/episode of the new Lion Guard franchise continues along nicely in terms of tone and quality. This time around we have a new adventure featuring Kion, Simba’s youngest son, as he leads the Lion Guard with a cast of returning characters from the previous film: Bunga the honey badger, Fuli the cheetah, Beshte the hippo and Ono the egret. In this new chapter, we see the (possible) return of Scar (or at least his spirit) as well as the introduction of a new character, Rafiki’s friend, Makini. This new franchise doesn’t sully the memory of The Lion King, but it’s nowhere in the same league as it, either.
  • Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! Season One Part Two – A few years back, there was a new Scooby Doo series that was the closest I’ve seen to the original shows (I can’t remember which series it is now, sorry.) It was clever and funny and full of nods to the original. This new show is — much like a lot of the current crop of cartoons on TV — clearly aimed at a younger audience, employing a looser style of animation and a sillier sense of humor. It’s not necessarily my favorite version of Scooby, but I can see why kids will enjoy it quite a bit. This two-disc set includes the second half of Season One.
  • Alibi – Michael Kitchen, Phyllis Logan, and Sophie Okonedo turn in extremely impressive performances in this engaging mystery thriller. When a woman finds a successful businessman with the body of his wife’s lover, she agrees to help him cover it up when he claims it’s an accident. Of course, things never go that smoothly, and pretty soon there’s danger, intrigue, police, and plenty of suspense. Even at two-and-a-half-hours, the film moves quickly, although British viewers be warned that apparently there are some scenes missing from the original broadcast. Still, for a gripping thriller, Alibi will fit the bill.
  • Jerry Lewis Triple Feature, Hollywood’s 50 Greatest Screen Legends, Street Sharks: The Complete Series – Mill Creek has three budget-priced collections out this week. First up is the Jerry Lewis Triple Feature, which includes three lesser-known comedies by the late comedic heavyweight. They are Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968), which sees Lewis as an American in London with crazy schemes and plans, almost all of which go awry in some zany fashion or another. Next up is Hook, Line, and Sinker (1969) where Lewis plays a man who thinks he’s about to die so he goes crazy and racks up a huge debt, only to find out he isn’t actually sick after all. Cue a fake death, a plot against him, and Anne Francis. Finally, Three on a Couch (1966) sees Lewis team up with Janet Leigh as he impersonates the perfect guy for her three insecure female patients. While none of these are stone cold classics, they’re all a lot of fun and have some great co-stars. Hollywood’s 50 Greatest Screen Legends is a really cool collection of short biographies (about 25 minutes apiece) about all of classic Hollywood’s most notable luminaries. Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, James Cagney, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, James Stewart… you name it, they’re in here. As a huge fan of classic Hollywood, I really enjoyed diving into this set. Finally, Street Sharks: The Complete Series is a re-release of the cult classic 1990s animated series, but this time around you not only get four discs and 12 hours of Street Shark goodness, but you also get the entire series on Digital Copy, which is a nice bonus, especially since the set is readily available for under 10 bucks.
  • 100 Men – This documentary sees a filmmaker track the last 40 years of homosexual civil rights through the lens of his sexual encounters over the past four decades. So he tracks down many of his former lovers and talks with them about how life has changed for homosexual men in the past several years. While the film obviously has a target demographic, it is also a good overview of historical events told through a more personal device. An interesting film overall, but one that will likely resonate even more so within its target market.
  • Caillou: Caillou’s Kitchen – This is the latest DVD release of the popular cartoon, with a good handful of episodes. This show is kind of your basic kids’ show. A young boy has adventures in parks and playgrounds and such, and learns lessons about everything from friendship and helping to winning and losing. Of course, this time around, the playgrounds and parks share screen time with food and cooking stories, hence the name Caillou’s Kitchen. It’s pretty typical kids fare for the younger set, but that’s not a bad thing. Plus, the low price point is a bonus looking for kids’ entertainment. You get an hour’s worth of episodes, and young kids will enjoy it.

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