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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: All The Money In The World, Molly’s Game, Phantom Thread and more


All the Money in the World – This film by Ridley Scott got more publicity for replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer – barely a month before the film’s release in theaters – due to the scandal that Spacey faced in the media last year. And there’s no denying, that’s an incredibly impressive feat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite save a film that is just a bit too much Ridley Scott to be really enjoyable. Like most Scott films, it looks beautiful, is way too long, and is utterly devoid of anything even resembling humor. (I recognize that it’s a serious subject matter, but there were opportunities for a little mood lightening here and there.) The performances are excellent across the board, and the film isn’t bad, but it bogs down in the middle and could easily have been 40 minutes shorter. Worth a watch, but not a slam dunk.

Molly’s Game – Probably my second favorite film of the year after Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the fact that Molly’s Game disappeared at the box office is a real shame. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (yet surprisingly non-Sorkin-esque), this based-on-a-true-story drama about a former champion skier who begins running the biggest poker games in the country is riveting from start to finish. Jessica Chastain turns in a powerhouse performance, but it’s more than just an acting showcase. The film plays out almost like a thriller, and the story is completely fascinating. I know the trailers didn’t make this movie look like a must-see, but trust me, it absolutely is. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Phantom Thread – I remember seeing the trailer for Phantom Thread a few months back and thinking, “that looks like the most boring movie ever.” Well, in this case, the trailer doesn’t oversell anything: it really is the most boring movie ever. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but this movie is a chore to sit through. The story is almost non-existent: a celebrity tailor is really, really terrible to his muse, yet somehow she loves him anyway. Annnd… that’s it. Sure, the performance by Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific, but he’s such an unlikable character, it makes it hard to care. I don’t know what happened to Paul Thomas Anderson. He used to be one of my favorite filmmakers. Now, he just makes pointless movies that go on and on and on with no purpose (See also: The Master.) Avoid this one unless you’re a die-hard PTA fan.

Insidious: The Last Key – Oh, another Insidious movie? Excuse me while I find someone who’s still interested in this franchise. Okay, I’m sure there are still some fans out there, but really, four chapters in, what you get here is more of the same. Elise returns to her childhood home which is haunted once again, and once again you get darker-than-black scenes that are hard to see and jump scares that do nothing to actually make the movie scary. I lost interest in this franchise around the second half of the first film, and this entry didn’t do anything to change my mind.

Father Figures – Sometimes you see a movie with a great trailer and then the movie is terrible. Sometimes you see a movie with a terrible trailer and then the movie is great. And sometimes, you see a movie with a terrible trailer, and then the movie is every bit as terrible as you thought it would be. It’s this last category into which Father Figures predictably falls. I mean, let’s skip past the part where Ed Helms and Owen Wilson play the least believable twin brothers ever (I know they’re not identical, but come on), and then we have to follow a ridiculous plotline where every thing that goes wrong could have prevented with about an ounce of thought or just asking a simple question. I’ll say this, though: the very end of the movie is sweet. So, there’s something positive.

Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay – It makes sense that DC would pick the Suicide Squad to get a spotlighted animated film (without even Batman this time around) after the monstrous success of the live action film last year. I’m a little surprised that they went with a more comics-oriented team, rather than an animated version of the live-action characters. Either way, I wish I had better things to say about this film. The DC animated movies have been going downhill in my eyes for the last several films and this one doesn’t reverse that trend. We get Deadshot and Harley Quinn and a bunch of B-list villains in search of a mystical card, all while going up against Vandal Savage and his forces. There’s just nothing interesting about it; the animation is generic, the story is uninteresting, and the action feels stale. I wish DC would get back to the quality of their early movies.

Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke: 40th Anniversary Edition – Some movies are timeless. Some are dated almost the minute they come out. See if you can guess which category Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke falls into? There are still some laughs to be had as this film turns 40 years old, but there’s no denying that it’s not quite the same experience that I assume it was back in 1978. For fans of the film (or Cheech & Chong’s oeuvre in general), that the film is released on Blu-ray for the first time will be exciting news. But if you’re not a fan already, this might be a hard one to get into if you’re watching for the first time.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Push (4K Ultra HD)Push is an odd little film. Sort of an indie take on super heroes that came out before the Marvel explosion really changed the cinematic super hero world forever. (For the record, Iron Man came out in 2008 and this came out in 2009, but I would bet it was in production before Iron Man came out.) Chris Evans stars as a young man with telekinetic powers who is on the run from shadowy forces, while Dakota Fanning plays a young clairvoyant who might be able to help him defeat them. It’s a darker film than what we’re used to nowadays, but it’s also non-stop action and special effects, and it’s pretty cool. The film makes its 4K Ultra HD debut, which is an interesting choice. It’s not a big-budget film, and while it certainly looks and sounds quite good, I don’t know that the upgrade is so big that it’s all that noticeable. Still, for fans, it’s nice to have it in the premium format. Recommended for fans of NBC’s Heroes.
  • Vice Principals: The Complete Series – I really don’t like Danny McBride. I haven’t liked him in pretty much any role he’s ever played, nor have I liked any movie he was in. I wasn’t a fan of Eastbound & Down because I couldn’t take watching Danny McBride week after week. And now we have Vice Principals, which stars… Danny McBride. Of course, it also stars Walton Goggins, who I’m a big fan of, so… what to do? Well, of course I watched it. And I hate to be predictable, but I really didn’t like this show. McBride plays the typical McBride alpha male, and the humor just seems like the kind of thing we’ve seen too many times before. Crass, boisterous, and annoying: am I describing McBride or the show? Yes. This complete collection collects both seasons of the show, which seems like just about the right length of time for a show like this to run.
  • Full Moon High – Well now. Some years before Teen Wolf gave us a basketball-playing werewolf, this low budget film attempted to give us a football-playing werewolf. Full Moon High stars Adam Arkin (son of Alan Arkin, who also shows up) as a high school student who turns into a werewolf. Now, werewolf movies are notoriously hard to pull off, and werewolf comedies are ten times harder. (Go watch Teen Wolf. It doesn’t really hold up.) This film unfortunately doesn’t break that curse, and it’s aged pretty poorly. Fans of B-movies will get a chuckle out of it, but as a film on its own, it’s not all that good.
  • Along with the Gods: Two Worlds – Imagine if Defending Your Life was remade as an Asian action/special effects epic and… wait, you don’t have to imagine. You can just watch Along with the Gods and you’ll get to see exactly what it would be like. This unique film is a mix of genre trappings and actual emotion as we follow a deceased fireman and his three guides as a he tries to navigate the underworld to prove his worth for reincarnation. It’s not the kind of movie we usually get in this genre, but I have to say I enjoyed it overall.
  • Jasper Jones – I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between Jasper Jones and Stand By Me, and while the film isn’t quite the classic that Stand By Me is, it certainly is a hidden gem. Starring Levi Miller (one of the best young actors working today) along with Hugo Weaving and Toni Collette, the story involves a young boy who is led to a dead body (hence the Stand By Me comparisons). What follows is a mystery, coming-of-age story, and romance all mixed into one. Based on the popular book by Craig Silvey, this is one of those films that flies under the radar but is definitely worth tracking down.
  • Puppy Dog Pals: Volume 1 – While my kids have aged out of fare like Puppy Dog Pals, I can certainly watch most kids programming with a pretty objective eye, since I’ve spent the last decade watching everything from Barney to The Wiggles to Phineas and Ferb to YouTube videos of Minecraft Puppy Dog Pals is a new Disney Junior show that is extremely cute and fun, and pre-schooler through elementary-aged kids will really enjoy it. The show follows two pug puppies, Bingo and Rolly, and basically, they go on adventures, get into trouble (but not too much), and have good, clean wholesome fun. The animation is fun and colorful, the characters are endearing, and the voice cast is terrific. A great show for the kidlets!
  • Deceived, Consenting Adults, Bad Company – Kino Lorber continues to put out a great collection of cult classic or underappreciated films on Blu-ray. This time around, we’ve got three ‘90s thrillers, all of which brought back nice nostalgic memories for me. I love this genre of films, and while none of these are out and out masterpieces, they’re all enjoyable to one degree or another. Deceived sees Goldie Hawn in a rare suspense role, and the film isn’t shy about its Hitchcockian influences. Hawn is good in the lead role, and John Heard is always a terrific supporting actor (as always). Consenting Adults is a sexy thriller from back when Kevin Spacey was an exciting new actor and not a headline, and Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio round out a top-notch cast. Directed by the great Alan J. Pakula, it’s not one of his best films, but it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for. Finally, there’s Bad Company, which is probably the weakest of the three, and stars Ellen Barkin and Laurence Fishburne Jr. From Damian Harris (who also directed the aforementioned Deceived), the film is a little more of your typical neo-noir sex-charged thriller, and while it’s not bad. It’s not great. It is entertaining enough to kill 90 minutes with, though.
  • Mill Creek Releases – Mill Creek continues releasing quality movies and TV shows at budget prices. This week, we get the Blu-ray debut of For the Love of Benji, one of the Benji sequels that sees the famous dog get caught up in a caper involving spies, secret formulas, and bad guys. The film is presented on Blu-ray for the first time, in widescreen, with an audio commentary by the director. Fun! The 6 Degrees Collection is a Blu-ray with six films, all of which feature Kevin Bacon. You get The Big Picture, Flatliners, Hollow Man, Trapped, In The Cut, and Where the Truth Lies for under $15. All of the films are varying degrees of watchable, but this set is worth it for Hollow Man and Where the Truth Lies Mother May I Sleep With Danger? Double Feature is probably one of my favorite DVD releases this year. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the original Lifetime movie Mother May I Sleep With Danger for about 20 years now (don’t ask.) This double feature includes the original PLUS the sequel with James Franco that brings Tori Spelling back! Whaaaat? That is so much awesome in one place. I know it sounds like I’m making fun, but I’m really not. I love these movies. A Study in Terror gives us the Blu-ray debut of a semi-forgotten (but pretty good) Sherlock Holmes film, which stars John Neville and Donald Houston (as well as Dame Judi Dench.) I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, so I enjoyed it quite a bit, as I did also enjoy Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century: The Complete Series. This is a cool ‘90s cartoon series that sees a suspended animation Holmes get revived in the 22nd century, teamed with a female partner, and given a robot with Dr. Watson’s personality. It’s a little kooky, sure, but it’s actually kind of fun. This collection includes every episode along with digital copies.
  • PBS Releases – First up, we have Masterpiece: The Child in Time, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch. Despite the science-fiction-sounding title, the film is instead about a child that goes missing and the havoc that wreaks on the parents’ marriage. It’s tough stuff to watch, although Cumberbatch is predictably excellent. We’ll Meet Again features noted journalist Ann Curry as she navigates people who went through life-changing experiences together (think 9/11) and are now reuniting for the first time. It’s powerful and emotional stuff, if occasionally a bit maudlin. Worth a look, but keep some tissues nearby. Secrets of the Dead: Scanning the Pyramids is a neat scientific look at the Great Period of Khufu. But rather than just talking heads interviews, this program features infrared cameras, 3D scanners, and something called a cosmological particle detector to go inside the pyramid in a way we’ve never been able to before. Fascinating stuff. Finally, Caillou Goes Camping and WordWorld: Let’s Eat offers up a couple of discs aimed at the pre-school set. Caillou Goes Camping is the latest DVD release of the popular cartoon, with a good handful of episodes. As always, young Caillou has adventures in parks and playgrounds (and this time, on the campground), and learns lessons about everything from friendship and helping to sharing. Meanwhile, WordWorld: Let’s Eat takes on a food theme. This is a cute little kids’ show where all the characters and items are made out of their actual words. It’s an educational show for pre-schoolers, and while my kids are too old for it now, they enjoyed it when they were young, and your kids probably will too.

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