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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Gothic, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and more

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Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, and Connie Britton star in this film based on the life and love(s) of the man who created Wonder Woman. Despite the heavily-Wonder-Woman-themed marketing and the success of last year’s Wonder Woman feature film, this one hardly made a blip on the radar. For me, it’s kind of a tough sell (comic books, infidelity, and sex don’t always play to middle America), but I liked the film. Luke Evans is terrific as always and the women of the title are all fantastic. Plus the story is pretty interesting, even if there might be some doubts about the veracity of it all. Worth a watch, especially if you’re interested in the origins of one of the most famous comic book characters of all time.

Boo 2! A Madea Halloween – Ahhh, Madea. I wish I could say that I don’t see why Tyler Perry bothers to continue making Madea movies, but it’s pretty obvious why: they’re still very popular. I think Perry’s actually a good actor (see: Gone Girl) and I think he can make a perfectly fine career for himself as an actor. But the Madea films continue to come out and make significant amounts of money, almost always opening at number one. So why would he stop making them? Now, I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the films; the ones I’ve seen haven’t really impressed me. Boo 2: A Madea Halloween is pretty much more of the same we saw in the first film: Tyler Perry in drag. A solid ensemble cast. A thin plot. That all said, this is probably one of the better ones of the (admittedly few) Madea films I’ve seen. If you like the character and the first film, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Class of 1999 – Oh man, how much do I love this movie? Imagine The Terminator crossed with The Principal or Lean on Me, and you get Class of 1999. Directed by B-movie legend Mark Lester (who also directed Schwarzenegger’s Commando), the film features a largely unknown cast but also Malcolm McDowell and Stacy Keach. And while the film has a distinctly 1980s vibe to it, it actually came out in 1990, which puts in rarified company as one of those great cult classics that’s got hallmarks of both 80s and 90s sci-fi cinema. Yes, the film is dated, but it’s a lot of fun to revisit, thanks to Lionsgate’s Vestron Video imprint Blu-ray release.

Gothic – Also out from Lionsgate’s Vestron Video imprint this week is Gothic, which is a fun flashback film but not quite as good as Class of 1999. This one details – albeit very loosely – the weekend getaway that saw Mary Shelley create Frankenstein, except this time there are visions and sex and mysterious forces at play. Directed by Ken Russell (Altered States), the film stars Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson, and Timothy Spall. It certainly fits well in Russell’s oeuvre, although it might just be a little too out there for me.

Ray Donovan: Season Five – I really want to like Ray Donovan. I’m a big fan of Liev Schreiber, and the concept of a Hollywood-based “fixer” seems interesting enough. And it’s not like I dislike the show, I just wish it was better. Schreiber is intense and charismatic in the lead role, but the show as a whole just has a “feel” that isn’t for me. And I’ve never really liked John Voight, so even with him playing Donovan’s dad here, I don’t really enjoy watching him. This is one of those shows that people definitely like, but it’s not quite my cup of tea.

Masterpiece: Victoria Season 2 – My main interest in watching Victoria was for the fact that Victoria herself (as in Queen Victoria) is portrayed by Jenna Coleman, better known as Clara Osgood Oswald from Doctor Who, and of whom I’m a massive fan. She’s so fun and cute and effervescent that I’ll watch her in just about anything. And while she’s excellent in this new period drama TV series, she also feels very restrained. Of course, I understand that that’s her character and the arc that she goes through, and while she has moments of personality, it’s not the same as watching her in something like Doctor Who. I’m not the biggest fan of period dramas, and while I found Victoria to be a bit dull at times, it looks absolutely stunning, with amazing production values and top-notch cinematography. Worth a look if you like this genre.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – On the one hand, it’s great to see a true cult classic like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes get released on Blu-ray. On the other hand, it’s still a film about, well… killer tomatoes. I mean, this is one of the cultist of cult classic movies, but watching it now, it’s hard to take it seriously. Of course, it was played for laughs, so it’s still a certain amount of fun , but don’t go into this film expecting cinematic genius. This new special edition Blu-ray comes with a ton of extra features, including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, multiple featurettes, and much more. A great release for a slightly less great movie.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Legend of the Naga Pearls – This lavish Asian action-fantasy epic is a pretty impressive effort overall. With a story dealing with a group of Unlikely Heroes on a Quest, a Winged Tribe, and a magical pearl, the film offers up a bit of a dichotomy: on one hand, there are some amazing visuals, some fantastic special effects, and some terrific action sequences. On the other hand, you also get some cheesy moments, some forced humor, and some special effects that aren’t quite as effective as others. Still, overall, I found the film entertaining on the whole, and it’s worth watching if you like this type of fare.
  • Napping Princess – Okay, I’ve never liked dream sequences in any way, shape, or form, so when you give me a film where a large part of it hinges on events inside a dreamworld, you have to work twice as hard to retain my attention. This lavishly illustrated anime film is set against the 2020 Olympics, and it mixes together a young girl’s dream world, corporate espionage, and a murder mystery to come together into an odd little film that somehow works overall. I can’t say I loved it, as I just don’t dig on dream stuff, but it was better than I expected, and more mainstream anime fans will probably love it.
  • The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Vol. 1 – I could not be more excited about this release, which collects 20 classic Depatie-Freling Pink Panther animated cartoons on a single Blu-ray release, giving us over two hours of great laughs and smart comedy. I grew up watching this cartoon, and it was always one of my absolute favorites, and now I can share it with my own kids. I wish that Kino Lorber had just put out a big box set with every Pink Panther cartoon on it, but I’ll happily take this one until that time comes.
  • Steven Universe: The Complete First Season – I’ll be the first to admit that I just don’t get most of what Cartoon Network does these days. Maybe I’m old, maybe I’m out of touch, but you can name just about anything that’s been popular on Cartoon Network in the past decade and I’m generally not a fan. Steven Universe is, sadly, no exception to that. It’s not a bad show per se, I just don’t get what people are all excited about. This four disc set, however, collects all 52 episodes of the first season, so if you like magical gem creatures and weird anime-influence characters, then this is the show for you. If you’re already a fan, this release is the perfect way to collect the entire first year of the show.
  • East West 101: Series 1 – Don Hany and William McInnes deliver a pair of searing performances as Australian police partners who are on opposite ends of the personal spectrum. Much of the conflict comes from Hany’s Zane Malik being a devout Muslim in the post-9/11 world. But of course, that all come secondary to being police detectives, and in that both of these men excel. I didn’t know much about the Muslim community in Australia, and while I’m sure much of what is shown here is fictional, it does give an insight into a section of the world we know little about. This first season set collects the first six episodes of the show and is an excellent launching point.
  • Old Stone – Asian director Johnny Ma makes his debut with Old Stone, a slightly new take on the action/drama genre which the Asian filmmaking community seems to excel in. Briefly, we follow a cab driver who suffers a series of mishaps that lead to his life becoming more and more dangerously involved in, well, bad things. I don’t want to say more, because this isn’t a typical action film, even though it has some action sequences. It’s more of a dark crime thriller/drama. It’s a touch too long at a full two hours, but for the most part it will keep you engaged throughout the entire film.
  • Nella the Princess Knight – Nickelodeon continues along the niche they’ve carved out over the past few years by delivering another new show geared to young kids, and girls in particular. Fitting nicely alongside similar kids fare like Disney’s Sofia the First (and maybe somewhat inspired by it), this show is cute, fun, and harmless in the way good kids’ programming should be. This inaugural DVD release includes the first eight episodes of the show, and your kids will likely really enjoy it.
  • Rendel: Dark VengeanceRendel is notable for being the first Finnish superhero movie ever, but I wish I could give it credit for being the first great Finnish superhero film. It reminds me – tonally – of Jet Li’s Black Mask, a 1990s superhero action film that should have been awesome but was instead kind of terrible. Rendel is a spiritual sequel to that film; very dark, poorly acted, and badly written, but with a handful of stand-out action sequences. It wasn’t the film I wanted it to be, but maybe it will be the springboard for more Finnish superhero films in the future.
  • Red Krokodil: Directors Cut – I don’t know if Red Krokodil counts as a body horror film, but for me it certainly qualifies. The film involves the apocalypse, drugs, drug-induced hallucinations, body decay, and more drug-induced hallucinations. It’s an atmospheric, dark, and disturbing film that definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. However, the visuals and atmospherics will definitely appeal to people who still think David Lynch is a good filmmaker.
  • My Art – For those of you who thought Be Kind Rewind was too mainstream, now we have My Art, which sees a lonely, aging woman recreating scenes from movies like Some Like It Hot and A Clockwork Orange. Along the way, a trio of men who are enlisted to help her begin to develop feelings for her. The lead role is played by director Laurie Simmons, who is also the mom of Lena Dunham (who appears briefly). I can’t say I really enjoyed this film; it all feels a bit self-indulgent. But I feel like there’s a segment of the filmgoing population who will find it stimulating.
  • Nova: Bird Brain, Frontline: Putin’s Revenge, Killer Floods, Killer Hurricanes – PBS releases four documentary discs this week. Bird Brain is a surprisingly interesting hour-long special about birds and their intelligence. The title of the show, of course, refers to the slang term “bird brain,” which indicates people of low intelligence, or at least more scatterbrained. Turns out, birds are a lot smarter than you might think. Interesting stuff. Next up, and more politically charged, is Putin’s Revenge, a two-hour Frontline special which documents the charges of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, how the US has responded, and how Putin’s involvement has shaped the face of modern politics. It’s important viewing, even if it’s also slightly depressing. Finally, Killer Floods and Killer Hurricanes are two hour-long specials about, well, floods and hurricanes. They look at the science behind these weather phenomena, how they can be predicted and dealt with, and feature some pretty amazing footage. I love extreme weather footage, so these were both a big hit for me.

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