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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week – The Man from Earth: Holocene, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell and more


The Maze Runner: The Death Cure – I’ve really enjoyed this franchise, and the final entry is no exception. Of course, it’s not the kind of movie that will make much sense if you haven’t seen the first two, so I recommend that if you haven’t seen the first two films, track down this whole trilogy right now. It’s a fun, exciting, action-packed series and the finale is big, emotional, and looks great. The young cast is terrific and the special effects are top notch, and the film packs some real heft to it. I’m glad The Maze Runner films did well enough to complete the trilogy, but I wish they’d been the bigger hits that they deserved to be. The film is out on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and it shines in the premium format. There’s a lot to like visually in this film, and everything looks bright and colorful, without losing visual acuity in the darker scenes. The soundtrack has a lot to work with and is amazing as well.

Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell – I’m as big a Tremors fan as they come, and I’ve dutifully watched every single film in the franchise – which, for those of you who aren’t in the know, numbers six films now – and this latest entry in the franchise is pretty much more of what we’ve come to expect. Big monsters, Michael Gross’s terrific Burt Gummer character, a low budget (but with some surprisingly good VFX), and nobody worrying about realism or accuracy. This time, Burt and his son (played by Jamie Kennedy) travel to the low-budget arctic to help a group of scientists (mostly made up of beautiful young women, naturally) defeat a graboid infestation. I had a lot of fun watching it, which is pretty much all I want from a Tremors movie.

Disney Zombies – Disney continues the high-school-set musicals trend with a new TV movie called Zombies (or Disney Zombies; I’m not quite sure what they consider the actual title.) This time around, we’re in a school where there are both regular kids and zombie kids, and obviously there’s a lot of tension between the two groups. Cue the Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance between human and zombie, and the ensuing bright and colorful song-and-dance numbers that follow. I’ve always really enjoyed these Disney musicals; I love the High School Musical trilogy and also the Rock Camp movies, so this one adding a horror movie genre that I love (although obviously played towards younger viewers) made it a lot of fun for me.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – Typically, when you see a May-December romance in a film, it’s an older man with a younger woman. This film, based on the real life of actress Gloria Grahame, instead focuses on her late-in-life love affair with a much younger man. Annette Bening stars as Grahame and Jamie Bell stars as the object of her affections, and (not surprisingly) they are both terrific in the lead roles. The film as a whole works pretty well, even if it didn’t really grab me from the outset. But the acting kept me engaged, and the movie won me over by the end. Worth a watch.

Kaleidoscope – I like psychological thrillers, but I like a certain kind of psychological thriller. I prefer films where you’re second guessing what’s happening, but not necessarily because the characters have no idea what’s real and what isn’t. The story is murky at best, so trying to describe it to you would take way too much time. Suffice it to say there’s a man with questionable mental health (Toby Jones, always excellent), his overbearing mother (played by the great Anne Reid with aplomb) and a new woman in his life that might upset the status quo. While I can appreciate the film for its sense of unease and some great performances, it wasn’t really my cup of tea.

The Man from Earth: Holocene – About ten years ago, a tiny little film called The Man from Earth came out to little fanfare. It was the story of a college professor who gathered a group of his erudite friends together and reveals to them that he’s 14,000 years old. The film was small, all set in one place, and featured a ton of genre TV and Star Trek stars in the cast (William Katt, John Billingsley, Tony Todd, etc.) And it was utterly fantastic. Despite its low budget and limited aesthetic, the film was well-received and has gone on to develop a very devoted cult following. So now, a decade later, we get a sequel in The Man from Earth: Holocene. This time, the main character has been discovered by a group of his students, who try and discover the truth about this undying man who may or may not have been Jesus Christ, among other notable historical figures. Like the first film, this one is terrific. While the ending isn’t quite as fleshed out as I like (although a post-credits scene does hint at an exciting third chapter), the film is still completely engaging and compelling right from the start. Lead actor David Lee Smith returns as John Oldman/Young and he’s terrific once again, and this time Michael Dorn and Vanessa Williams join the cast. William Katt also returns. You can actually watch this film without having seen the first one, but I can’t recommend highly enough tracking them both down and making a terrific double feature out of them.

Van Wilder – Believe it or not, the 2002 R-rated comedy starring Ryan Reynolds has never been released on Blu-ray. Until now, that is. With Deadpool 2 about to hit theaters, what better time to capitalize on Reynolds-mania? (Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch.) I remember watching this film when it came out 16 years ago, and then never watching it again. Popping it in the ol’ Blu-ray player, I have to say that I enjoyed it ay more then I expected to. It really holds up well. There are one or two sequences that go too far and are more disgusting than I care for, but by and large, the film is still pretty darn funny. Plus, there are some great before-they-were-famous appearances by actors who we know and love now, including Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Sophia Bush (One Tree Hill), Emily Rutherfurd (The New Adventures of Old Christine) and Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory.) This one was a nice surprise. Or re-surprise, I guess.

Dear Dictator – An utterly charming film that has gotten no attention from anyone, this is one of my favorite movies of the week. Starring Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, and Odeya Rush (one of my favorite young actresses working today), the film tells the story of a rebellious high school girl who becomes pen pals with a third world dictator. When he is deposed rom his rule, he ends up in her garage and takes her under his wing, fomenting rebellion at her high school. Ignoring the fact that Michael Caine plays a Fidel Castro-esque dictator from what is clearly an island nation, the film is a really good time. It’s not necessarily laugh-out-loud movie, but it’s one of those films that you kind of smile at throughout. Katie Holmes is truly game as a semi-white-trash mom, Caine is… well, Michael Caine, and Rush makes a terrific lead for a high school-set film. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a hidden gem that’s worth tracking down. Shame it wasn’t released on Blu-ray, though.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Once Upon a Time – I’m a hit-and-miss fan when it comes to Wiuxia films and Asian Action High Adventure movies. Some of them are a lot of fun, but many others are over-the-top, too long, or too fantastical. Once Upon a Time had me a little worried when I found out it was based on a novel called Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, which is a bit of a mouthful. But I found the film pretty enjoyable overall. It’s under two hours, the action scenes are spectacular (as are the special effects) and there’s a love story at the heart of it which gives it a nice grounding. It’s a nice fantasy adventure, and fans of the genre will enjoy it a great deal.
  • Dear Murderer: Series 1 – This BBC series is based on the real-life story of Mike Bungay (Mark Mitchinson, The Hobbit films), a raucous lawyer with a self-destructive streak who seems to be the true inspiration for any number of TV lawyers such as Bull, Rake, Better Call Saul, and the like. Now, this show is certainly entertaining; there’s no denying that Bungay is a real character. But I think your enjoyment of the show may depend on how much you like unlikable characters. For me, I found it a decent diversion, but not a show I can really invest in. You get five episodes that run about 45 minutes each or so. Proceed with caution.
  • Half Breed – Douglas Fairbanks (senior) stars in this 1916 silent film about a man with mixed ethnicity (half Native American and half white) who falls in love with a debutante in high society. Not surprisingly – especially considering the time period — scandal ensues. Coming in at a lean 72 minutes (which was actually fairly lengthy for a silent film) it’s a bit melodramatic, but it’s also a pretty good film. I like silent movies, and Douglas Fairbanks was a great silent star. This Blu-ray debut of the film also includes a second film, The Good Bad Man (also from 1916 and also starring Fairbanks), which runs 50 minutes, making this a nice double feature. Worth a look if you like classic/silent cinema.
  • The Insult – It all starts with an insult, and then escalates from there. That doesn’t sound like anything that could actually happen in 2018, the age of social media, does it? This timely film from Lebanese writer-director Ziad Doueiri sees a verbal confrontation between a Christian Lebanese and a Palestine refugee/resident turn into a court case. It’s a highly politicized film, and it addresses issues that might not be familiar to most US viewers. The film is in Arabic, but that doesn’t impact the powerful lead performances. It’s an interesting movie, and while I can’t say I loved it, it was certainly unique.
  • Maya The Bee 2: The Honey Games – This sequel to the 2015 film Maya The Bee is an animated film for pre-schoolers that mashes up all your previous famous insect films: A Bug’s Life, Bee Movie, Antz, and a few others, then takes out any and all of the scary or clever parts. It’s a perfectly cute little movie for the target audience, even if parents won’t find much to watch for. It’s fun, colorful, and has a positive message for youngsters, so parents can let their little ones watch it with nothing to worry about.
  • PAW Patrol: Summer Rescues – This is the newest DVD release of the popular new series for pre-schoolers. The show features six dogs and their 10-year-old friend who use cool vehicles to save the day and teach lessons about “good citizenship.” It’s a fun show, and the young ones will love it. Of course, as the title implies, this one has a summer theme, which is nicely timed to tie in with the upcoming Summer season as kids start to wrap up their school years. This show is immensely popular, and I’m sure parents with Paw Patrol-obsessed kids (and I know there are many out there) will be happy to have a few new episodes to hit heavy rotation on their TV screens.
  • Followers – This found-footage horror film goes a little it meta with its concept: a YouTube-famous couple go into the woods for a weekend retreat, only to find themselves stalked by t wo guys who are making a documentary about how easy it would be to use social media to stalk and kill social media stars. Okay, I’m with you so far. From there, however, the film is pretty typical found footage fare, complete with bad acting and several “why are you still filming?” moments. I’ve seen worse and I can appreciate the concept, but I’ve definitely seen better.
  • Scared to Death: Horror Movie Collection and 80’s Overdrive: 6 Movie Collection – Mill Creek has two new DVD/Blu-ray collections out this week. First up is Scared to Death: Horror Movie Collection, a 21-movie DVD collection that starts off strong with a string of solid theatrical horror films from the ‘90s and 2000s (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Vacancy, When a Stranger Calls, The Cave, White Out), but then follows that up with a dozen or so movies you’ve never even heard of (Vinyan, Insanitarium, Night Fright, etc.) But you can find it online for under 10 bucks, so that’s hard to complain about. 80’s Overdrive: 6 Movie Collection is a Blu-ray collection that includes The Legend of Billie Jean (Helen Slater, Peter Coyote), Little Nikita (River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier), Hardbodies, Spring Break (Perry Lang), Perfect (John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marilu Henner), and Private Resort (Johnny Depp, Rob Morrow). This is a fun group of mostly-cheesy 80s comedies and dramas. Little Nikita and The Legend of Billie Jean are quality films, while the rest are more of your typical ‘80s teen/beach comedies. Still, this is a fun set that’s available for a low price, so worth picking up if you’re looking for a little nostalgia.
  • PBS Releases: Spying on the Royals, First Face of America, Nature: Sex, Lies and ButterfliesSpying on the Royals tells the untold true story about a controversial espionage operation in 1936, in which both the British and US governments spied on King Edward VIII and American lover Wallis Simpson. We learn how they were bugged, wire-tapped, and followed, which is pretty shocking if you think about it. I don’t know that Royals watchers will want to be privy to this darker side of the governments involved, but it’s a pretty interesting story. Next up, The First Face of America is an extremely fascinating Nova special about the discovery of an attempt to understand a 13,000-year-old skeleton discovered underwater. I won’t spoil any of the revelations (and a fair amount is speculation, of course), but I found this one to be completely engrossing. Finally, Sex, Lies and Butterflies is the latest Nature special about, obviously, butterflies. And while the “sex” part of the title is more a clever marketing ploy than anything to do with the show, it does follow the fascinating life cycle of these winged insects. Interesting stuff, with some beautiful butterfly footage.

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