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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: The Post, The Commuter, Paddington 2, Den of Thieves and more


The Commuter – Admittedly, The Commuter is Liam Neeson squarely in the middle of his comfort zone. In fact, it’s almost a straight remake of Non-Stop, just set on a train instead of a plane. So in terms of great art or sheer cinema, it’s not great. That said, I have to admit I found it highly enjoyable. The central mystery is fun, the action sequences are pretty good, and Neeson does what Neeson does best, playing a slightly-better-than-average man trapped in extraordinary circumstances. It’s nothing for the ages, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and fun way to kill two hours. The film is released on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD, as usual), and while it certainly looks and sounds great, this isn’t the kind of film that gets by o its visuals. The picture is crisp and clear with vibrant colors, but the film itself is rather drab and visually average. So the premium format is a little wasted here.

The Post – I love journalism movies. Give me a movie set in the world of journalism and chances are good I’m going to love it. Give me a movie set in the world of journalism directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and… well, I think the outcome is pretty much guaranteed. While the film is a drama (and based on a true story) there are moments where it plays more like a thriller, as we follow the Washington Post’s crusade to bring to light certain facts that the government doesn’t want public. Without a doubt, Streep and Hanks are terrific here, even if they’re both in familiar territory. Spielberg’s having a great year between this and Ready Player One; make sure you see them both.

Paddington 2 – I absolutely adored the first Paddington film. It is a lovely, charming, funny, and endearing family film that is every bit as fun for adults as it is for children. So, of course, there’s no way the filmmakers could recapture that magic in a sequel, right? I mean, they’re always inferior, aren’t they? Well, turns out that isn’t the case. Because Paddington 2 is every it as delightful as the first film was. The entire cast of the first film is back, with Hugh Grant thrown in for good measure this time, and I had so much fun watching it, as did my kids. I mean, if you don’t love these movies, you’re really missing out.

Den of ThievesDen of Thieves got savaged by critics and was pretty much D.O.A at the box office, but I kind of liked it. It’s not great (far from it, in fact) and it’s trying way too hard to be an urban, gritty update of L.A. Confidential or Heat, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get some enjoyment out of it. Gerard Butler is at his most Gerard Butler-iest as the leader of a group of cops (who are far from angels themselves) who are out to take down an ultra-skilled crew of bank robbers. The film is too long and takes itself a little too seriously at times but it’s also got some good action scenes and a pretty neat heist concept at the center of it. I think the key to this movie is to go in with tempered expectations. I wasn’t expecting much, so I enjoyed it. If you think you’re going to get a really great film, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Outlander: Season Three – I’ve never read the Outlander series of books that Starz’s hit show is based on, but from hearing every blow-by-blow detail of them from my wife (who’s a huge fan) I feel like I have. That said, regardless of whether you’ve read the books or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to fall in love with Outlander. The story follows a World War II nurse who gets mystically transported back in time to the 1700s in the Scottish Highlands. There she meets a man and falls in love with him, but what of her husband waiting back in the 20th century? While this sounds like it could be weepy melodrama, it’s anything but, filled with action, humor, romance, drama, and mystery. And with lavish production values, the show looks like a feature film. No wonder this is such a big hit for Starz. This third season sees Claire and Jamie separated by 200 years for the first few episodes, and while that may seem like it might be a misstep, it really sets up some terrific drama for the rest of the season. This remains one of the best shows on television.

Grease (4K Ultra HD) – Okay, this marks about the 3,000th time Grease has been released on home video, so I don’t have a lot to say about it. Yes, it’s the 40th Anniversary, but the main thing about this release is that it marks the film’s debut on the premium 4K Ultra HD format (which also includes the film on Blu-ray and digital.) Now, the 4K format has differing effects on older catalogue titles, and while it doesn’t make the film suddenly look brand new, the revitalized colors are a real treat. This is a colorful film that has appeared faded and drab on some home video releases, so the upgrade works well. Plus, the music sounds lively and full. While the 4K format doesn’t reinvent the presentation of the film, it does look and sound exceedingly nice.

Cyborg – I’ve never been the biggest Jean Claude Van Damme fan. I like him just fine, but I never was someone who went out of my way to watch any and everything he ever made. But I seriously loved this movie, which is saying something considering I’ve never seen it until now. The reason that’s noteworthy is because the film is almost 30 years old, and low budget sci-fi action flicks that are three decades old don’t typically age well. But Cyborg is a lot of fun, packed with cool action sequences, an extremely young Van Damme, and a neat aesthetic to it. The low budget isn’t exactly hidden, but it somehow works for the film instead of against it and makes the run-down future world feel more authentic. This great Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory comes packed with extras, making this a terrific package from top to bottom.

Doctor Detroit – There was a time when Dan Aykroyd headlined his own movies (believe it or not) and while not all of those movies were big hits, nor were they all high art, there’s a certain charm to young Dan Aykroyd that’s undeniable. Doctor Detroit sees Aykroyd playing a mild-mannered professor who has to masquerade as a sort of chivalrous pimp. Yes, I see how ridiculous that looks in writing, but the film has some fun notes in it. It’s clearly aged and not entirely well, but I like Aykroyd in the lead role, the female cast members playing the hookers are a lot fun, and the film is kind of a throwback to the types of ‘80s and ‘90s comedies we don’t see much of anymore.

Backstabbing for Beginners – Theo James continues to show his range as an actor (he played Mr. Pamook in Downton Abbey before starring in the Divergent trilogy) in this film based on the real-life UN oil-for-food scandal. Something of a cross between a drama and a thriller, the film works for the most part, delivering a somewhat engaging narrative while loosely giving us the skeleton of a real story. James is extremely good in the lead role, and the supporting cast includes Ben Kingsley (chewing the scenery, as usual) and Jacqueline Bisset. Not a classic, but an entertaining enough diversion.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Ruby Gentry – Charlton Heston and Karl Malden star alongside lead actress Jennifer Jones in this melodrama from classic Hollywood that makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Kino Lorber. Directed by the great King Vidor, the film tells the story of a wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl who falls in love with a well-to-do man and the scandal that ensues in the wake of their relationship. It’s soap opera-esque but in all the best ways, and while Jennifer Jones isn’t a household name in today’s cinema culture, she delivers a roundhouse punch of a performance here. Worth a watch.
  • Digimon Adventure tri: Loss – I don’t know much about Digimon. I guess I’m getting old, but as soon as I start hearing names like Kuwagamon, Alphamon, and Digimon DigiDestined, I tend to start zoning out. This new release is a feature-length movie, running just over 90 minutes, and apparently, it’s the fourth film in a series (that I believe is going to be six films total.) While the story still doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me, I will say that the animation is quite good and looks better than what I’m used to seeing from these kinds of shows. This is one of those releases that I’m sure is a big deal to the existing fan base, but I can’t say it’s going to do much to create new viewers.
  • Wacky Races: Start Your Engines: Season 1 Volume 1 – This is a fun reboot. When I was a kid, Hanna Barbera’s Wacky Races was one of those elusive favorite cartoons for me. I always enjoyed watching it, but it was never on regularly where I lived. For the most part, it would just occasionally just show up some Saturday mornings, but whenever it did, I loved it. So now it’s been rebooted in a modern update, and all of the classic characters (Penelope Pitstop, Dick Dastardly, and Muttley) while also giving us a new slate of characters, such as Patty Pending, Princess Mimi, and Captain Crankshaft and his Skeleton Crew. This disc includes ten episodes, and with voice over all-stars like Diedrich Bader, Tom Kenny, and Billy West in the mix, it’s a lot of fun.
  • The Final Year – This documentary may seem like a glimpse into the life of Barack Obama, but that’s not quite accurate. Instead, the film follows Obama’s foreign policy team for the last year of his presidency. And while Obama does show up in the film, more of the focus is on Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Adviser and presidential confidant Ben Rhodes, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. The film is a pretty solid documentary, and it takes political events and makes them interesting, but I will say that I think if you’re not interested in politics at all, I don’t think this film will win you over.
  • Liquid Sky – Sometimes you have to let a movie speak for itself. Or in the case of Liquid Sky, at least, let the movie’s cover description speak for itself: “Margaret (Anne Carlisle) is a fashion model with dreams of stardom, whose alter ego and rival, Jimmy (also Carlisle), abuses and takes advantage of her to satisfy his rampant drug addiction. Unknown to them, tiny, invisible aliens have landed on the roof above the bohemian squalor in which they live and begin killing anyone Margaret has sex with to feed on their pleasure giving neurotransmitters. All the while, a German scientist attempts to capture and study them.” So, yeah. There you go. Now, this film from 1982 is like a proto-cult classic, meaning I don’t even know if it has enough fans to qualify as a cult classic. But if you are a fan, you get the film in high definition for the first time ever alongside 2 ½ hours of extra features. I don’t know that I really dug this film, it might be just a bit too out there for me, but I can see the type of B-movie fan who will love it.
  • Warner Archive: Harper, The Drowning Pool, The Chastity Belt, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Hotel Berlin – Warner Brothers’ print-on-demand catalog service has a number of new releases out this week. First up is a double feature of Paul Newman on Blu-ray with Harper and The Drowning Pool. In one of the rare “franchises” Paul Newman starred in (and I use the term loosely), Newman plays a rakish private eye named Harper, first in 1966’s Harper and then reprising the role nine years later in The Drowning Pool. Newman takes what could have been average films and makes them a lot more enjoyable, simply with his presence. The Chastity Belt (DVD only) is a fun release starring Tony Curtis and Monica Vitti. You don’t see a ton of Medieval romantic comedies, and this one might not be a complete slam dunk, but it’s got a nice light tone, some playful bits, and Curtis and Vitti shine on the screen. A lot of fun! Back to Blu-ray, we have Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine and directed by the great Fritz Lang, this terrific film noir is utterly fantastic. I mean, how do you beat a story where a journalist frames himself for murder to reveal inequities in the justice system, only to have the man who can prove his innocence die suddenly? You can’t! Superb film noir! Finally, Hotel Berlin (also DVD only) stars mostly unknowns, with the exception of a fifth-billed Peter Lorre. The film is sort of an ensemble piece that follows a lot of loosely connected plotlines that all revolve around the end of World War II. It’s based on a novel by Vicki Baum, and it’s a pretty entertaining flick.
  • PBS Releases – PBS has a slew of new releases out this week (and last week, which a few of these are from). First up, we have Bill Nye: Science Guy, a feature-length profile of the world’s most beloved scientist (you heard me, Nei Degrasse Tyson!) Over the course of 100 minutes, we learn about Nye’s path to success, and also hear directly from him on a number of interesting topics. Masterpiece Mystery: Unforgotten – Season 1 is a six-episode mystery series that starts with the unearthing of a long-buried body. Starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, the show is quite good, even if it feels a bit like the type of mystery procedural that BBC TV can do in its sleep. Still, it makes for a good binge watch. Nature: The Last Rhino and Nature: Animals With Cameras are two animal-themed specials. The Last Rhino focuses on Sudan, the very last male Northern White Rhinoceros. It’s a sobering special and also quite fascinating. Animals with Cameras, meanwhile, is utterly fascinating, as we follow a cheetah, a chimpanzee, and a seal who are all fitted with tiny cameras, and we get to see life from their points of view. Fascinating stuff, with some amazing imagery. Frontline: Exodus – The Journey Continues is another deep and serious outing, which follows migrants and their journey to the United States, most of which are anything but easy. Understanding the Opioid Epidemic treads similar ground. Nova: The Impossible Flight and Nova: Black Hole Apocalypse are more science-oriented, not surprisingly. The Impossible Flight follows two aviators who fly the first solar-powered plane around the world, which is exactly as difficult as you would think it might be. I really enjoyed this one. Black Hole Apocalypse is a little dense (see what I did there), but I’ve always found astronomy quite interesting, so I think science geeks will enjoy this one. Finally, Impossible Builds, Volume 1 is really a lot of fun, as we see how three “impossible-to-build” structures are built. This first volume (running three hours) explores The Scorpion Tower, a skyscraper with an exoskeleton; Europe in the Desert, a collection of six sand islands transformed into a holiday paradise; and The Floating House, a home built on – and below! – the water. This is one you shouldn’t pass up.

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