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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Justice League, Wonder, The Shape of Water and more


Justice League – What was supposed to be one of the biggest movies of the year was instead… well, not. And I have to say, it’s all DC’s fault. They’ve built up a hollow universe filled with mediocre-to-bad movies, and then when all the big players came together, audiences just didn’t care all that much. Which makes it ironic that Justice League – while far from great – is one of the better DC Comics movies so far. Yes, it has a ton of flaws (weak story, Henry Cavill’s CGI face, that same Zack Snyder visual style that just won’t go away), but the movie at least tries to find a little humor, and there are some good action sequences. Sadly, even the best DC movie isn’t as good as the worst Marvel movie, but this one isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. If you enjoy the movie, let me recommend the 4K Ultra HD release (it’s also on Blu-ray and DVD.) While I don’t love the visual style of the movie, this premium format release offers up truly amazing sound and visuals.

Wonder – Before I get into any details about the film, let me just say that on my film podcast, After the Ending, I selected Wonder as my Number 1 film of 2017. It’s THAT good. Now, with that out of the way, here’s my advice: just start bawling openly as soon as the trailers start. Trust me, it will make watching Wonder a lot easier. I say that with as much love as possible, because you WILL cry while watching this film, especially if you’re a parent. But it’s crying in the best possible way. Not just from sadness, but from happiness and hope and empathy and compassion, too. Wonder is a such a warm, funny, heartfelt, endearing, charming movie, that you want to cry just because you’re enjoying it so much. I don’t even need to say anymore, just go watch this movie and watch it now. You’ll thank me for it.

The Shape of Water – I’m a pretty big Guillermo del Toro fan, and he’s never made a film I don’t like. But there are definitely two kinds of del Toro films: those I LOVE (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy II, Crimson Peak) and those that I LIKE (Hellboy, Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth). Surprisingly, The Shape of Water falls into the latter category for me. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but I didn’t quite connect with it like I do some of his other films. Which makes it all the more baffling to me that it won the Best Picture Oscar, especially in a year when Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (the best film I’ve seen in years!) was also in the running. SO, yes, The Shape of Water is good, it’s a solid Beauty & The Beast-styled fairy tale. But is it the best movie of the year? Not for me, at least.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Women in Love – Criterion Collection releases are always welcome additions to my collection, and this latest disc comes from the filmography of director Ken Russell. I haven’t seen nearly as many Russell films as I should have, so it was good to be able to dive into his world a bit. This film, based on the D.H. Lawrence novel, is about sexuality and desire, and it’s a pretty sexually charged film. While the cast isn’t filled with big names (Oliver Reed stars with the lesser known Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson, and Jennie Linden), the performances are on point, and while the film wasn’t ultimately my cup of tea, there’s no denying the quality of the film. As usual, the restored and remastered sound and picture are top notch, while the disc is packed with extra features.
  • Robot Chicken Walking Dead Special: Look Who’s WalkingRobot Chicken does what it does like nobody else. I mean, sure, nobody else is really using stop-motion of action figures to make parody cartoons, but even if they were, I doubt anyone would do it as well as the Robot Chicken folks do. This time around, they turn their toy cameras towards the pop culture juggernaut known as The Walking Dead. As always, the humor is spot on, a mix of clever send-ups of the show’s scenes and characters and just some base lowest common denominator humor that still manages to be quite funny. While you only get about a half hour of actual show, there are some fun extra features to round this DVD out.
  • The Outer Limits: Season 1 – While The Outer Limits has always seemed to live slightly in the shadow of the more famous and popular Twilight Zone, it’s still a classic sci-fi anthology show in its own right, and this new package from Kino Lorber really celebrates the show’s legacy. While the show has been available on DVD before, this marks its first release on Blu-ray, and if you’ve seen the show, you know you want it in it’s best possible form. With a mix of monster-of-the-week episodes and introspective sci-fi episodes (often with a twist ending), the show is a terrific slice of both classic Hollywood TV and Twilight Zone-esque storytelling. Plus, just in the first season alone, you’ll see familiar faces such as Ed Asner, Dabney Coleman, Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Carroll O Connor, Donald Pleasence, and Martin Sheen, among others. With audio commentaries and an 80-page booklet included, this is the package that die-hard fans have been waiting for.
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – God, I love this movie. And chances are, you’ve never heard of it, but you should have. A low budget film that was released in the mid-2000’s, I’m thrilled to see this new collector’s edition from Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint. The film is a mockumentary about a classic movie-styled slasher killer – mask and all – who allows a film crew to follow him around as he stalks his victim. The film manages to perfectly parody slasher films, while also offering up some solidly scary moments in its own right, and everyone knows that horror/comedy is one of the hardest genres to pull off. Well, this film does it with aplomb. This new collector’s edition sports not only awesome new cover art, but also a whole second disc’s worth of extra features that will keep fans busy for hours. Highly recommended!!
  • The Last Movie Star – Burt Reynolds stars in this film about an aging movie star (not a huge stretch, admittedly) alongside Modern Family’s Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, and Chevy Chase. It’s hard not to see the parallels with the story of the film and Reynold’s career, as both of them seem to be filled with missed opportunities and varying levels of film. I’m not quite sure if it’s a love letter to Reynolds, but it’s certainly not too far from that. As usual, Reynolds turns in a fine performance, and the supporting cast is quite likeable, making this a fun, bittersweet movie experience.
  • Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures: Season Two – LEGO and Star Wars have become amazing partners in everything from toys to video games to original movies and TV. While most of the previous LEGO Star Wars movies have stemmed from the existing movies, this series features a group of new characters and takes place in between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I really enjoy this little show. It manages to have the LEGO sense of fun and silliness while also presenting a serious-enough story that makes it worth watching for Star Wars fans. The new characters have that endearing Star Wars quality to them (even though they’re in LEGO form) and the show really shines because it’s not afraid to have fun. That makes it a winner in my book.
  • A Fistful of Dynamite, Joan of Arc, The Soldier – Kino Lorber offers up three classic catalogue releases on Blu-ray this week, and it’s an extremely diverse slate. First up, we have A Fistful of Dynamite, a Sergio Leone spaghetti western (set in more modern times) starring Rod Steiger and James Coburn. There’s motorcycles, explosions, counterculture, and an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, so what more can you ask for? Sure, it’s cheesy nowadays, but it’s also a lot of fun. Next up is Joan of Arc, starring Ingrid Bergman as the titular character. Directed by Victor Fleming, who brought us Gone with the Wind, this sweeping epic was nominated for a ton of Oscars, and it’s a pretty good film, even if it’s a bit heavy-handed at times. Of course, Ingrid Bergman shines, even in a role a little outside of her usual wheelhouse. Finally, I was really excited to watch The Soldier, which stars Wiseguy’s Ken Wahl. A few months back, Kino Lorber released another Ken Wahl gem called The Taking of Beverly Hills, which I loved. This film, however, is pretty awful. It was made in 1982 and it plays like an extremely low-budget poor-man’s Chuck Norris film. Disappointing, but still a neat curio for Ken Wahl fans.
  • The Thousand Faces of Dunjia – Two of the biggest names in Asian cinema, Yuen Wo Ping and Tsui Hark, team up to bring us this wuxia adventure film. The story has all of the usual wuxia trappings: incredible wirework, a healthy dose of fantasy elements, impressive martial arts fight scenes, and a story that’s more slight than in-depth. I like these kinds of films on occasion, and this one is a fun entry in the oeuvre. I don’t know that it will have much appeal outside of its genre, but fans should enjoy the ride.
  • Dolores – PBS brings us this excellent documentary (available on Blu-ray and DVD) that tells the story of Dolores Huertas, one of the most important activists in American history. Best known for originating the “Yes We Can!” chant, Dolores was a champion for racial equality and labor rights, and this 90-minute film explores her life and her impact on the world. I don’t always go for documentaries, and this one could maybe have been an hour, but it’s still a pretty good film for the most part. More to the point, it’s a pretty important story of a true historical figure, and it’s still quite timely today.
  • Peyton Place: Part Three – The show that made Mia Farrow a star returns to DVD after a nine-year hiatus. Yes, it’s been nine years since Seasons 1 and 2 were released on DVD, but the show is back now. Also starring Ryan O’Neal and Dorothy Malone, the show was classic prime-time soap opera soapiness. And it has definitely aged, so while there’s still some quality melodrama to be had here, there’s no doubt that the show will probably work better for nostalgic fans rather than new viewers. This collection includes 33 episodes, which is sure to please long-suffering fans.
  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day – This is one heck of a collection. We all know Mr. Rogers. We all love Mr. Rogers. Well, now we can all relive Mr. Rogers. This terrific two-disc set from PBS includes a whopping 30 classic episodes of the beloved series, spanning the entire show’s run. It also includes (in black-and-white) the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ever, which is a real treat. A cross between a release that’s great for kids and a real nostalgia trip for adults, this one is a real winner. Highly recommended!
  • Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 4 – Even if it is a little bit formulaic in its approach (big city detective relocates to small town, doesn’t quite get along with new partner), the show still works because the mysteries are engaging, the cast is terrific, and the characters are interesting enough to draw you in. This release features a few feature-length movies (or episodes, technically), and you’ll definitely find yourself sucked in by the end.
  • Love, Lies and Records – This offbeat series takes place (mostly) in a British General Register Office, which I guess is kind of like a county clerk’s office here in America. It’s a dramedy that features a mix of light-hearted moments and actual serious drama. The show works mostly due to an excellent cast which is headlined by Ashley Jensen (Ugly Betty, Extras), whom I absolutely adore. She’s terrific in the lead role and her supporting cast is excellent as well. This set includes six one-hour episodes, and they will definitely win you over.
  • Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – This fun little-animated show works as sort of a sequel to the original Wizard of Oz. In it, Dorothy has become the Princess of Emerald City, and she faces off against her new nemesis, the niece of the original Wicked Witch. Along for the ride are The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion, plus of course Toto. Each episode is pretty standard cartoon fare for younger viewers, but the animation is cute and pleasing to the eye, the stories are fun for kids, and the show has a charm that works. This DVD collection gives you almost two hours’ worth of episodes for a low price point, so it’s perfect for the kidlets.

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