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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: Black Panther, It’s Alive, Peter Rabbit, Gladiator and more


Black Panther – Marvel’s first juggernaut of the year, Black Panther was like a warm-up to the success of Avengers: Infinity War. But of all the Marvel movies so far, Black Panther might be the one that stands on its own the most easily. You can watch this film without having seen a single other Marvel movie and you can follow along from the very first scene. You’ll also enjoy the hell out of it, because it’s a pretty great flick. Chadwick Boseman is perfect as King T’Challa (who’s also the hero known as the Black Panther), but it’s his supporting cast that helps make the film so special. Marvel just knows how to make great movies. Black Panther is available on 4K Ultra HD as well as DVD and Blu-ray, and this film is exactly the kind of flick the premium format is made to showcase. With incredible surround sound, razor sharp clarity, and deep color saturation, the film looks and sounds utterly fantastic.

Peter RabbitPeter Rabbit was a solid hit at the box office, and I think it came to video faster than any other movie I’ve ever seen. That’s not indicative of the film’s quality, it’s just an observation. As for the film itself, it’s a perfectly fine slice of family entertainment. Is it a great, timeless film that families will still be watching decades from now? I doubt it. But is it fun on the level of something like, say, Hop or Sing? Sure. Kids will like it, and parents will enjoy it overall. Peter Rabbit is available on 4K Ultra HD as well as DVD and Blu-ray. I don’t know how many kids will care about the premium format, but since it’s a bright, colorful film, it does shine in 4K and give the film an added sheen.

It’s Alive Trilogy – Shout Factory’s excellent Scream Factory imprint brings horror fans a title they’ve been waiting for for a long time, and not just one film, but a whole trilogy. It’s Alive (and its two sequels) were video store mainstays when I was a kid, but of course, I never got to see them when I was young (even though I wanted to.) But getting a chance to watch the entire trilogy about mutant babies b y cult horror director Larry Cohen is a really fun B-movie experience. The first film is the best (it’s pretty much parents versus mutant baby), while the third film (Its Alive III: Island of the Alive is so over-the-top crazy that it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.) This Blu-ray collection includes all three films plus a nice collection of extra features. A real treat for cult horror fans!

Gladiator & Braveheart: 4K Ultra HD – I’m in the very small minority of people who isn’t a big fan of either of these movies. But that’s okay because they’re not new, and most of you know exactly how you feel about both Gladiator and Braveheart. And chances are good you love either one or both of them. SO why am I reviewing them? Well, because they’re making their 4K Ultra HD debut, which will be a big deal to A/V fanatics. Now, both films already look pretty great on Blu-ray, but the 4K presentations add even more fine detail, sharper contrasts, and most notably, deeper colors. The surround soundtracks are excellent; I didn’t do a direct comparison to the Blu-rays, but there’s no denying that the surround effects are top-notch. Both of these are must-haves for the die-hard fans.

Moonrise – This an interesting one from The Criterion Collection. To be honest, I’m not 100% why it made the cut for inclusion in Criterion. It’s a perfectly fine crime-drama with shades of noir flecked throughout, but overall I found it to be a little mundane. It’s a later film from acclaimed director Frank Borzage, so that gives it some heft, but while I enjoyed the film, I didn’t find it particularly special. This Blu-ray release sees the film restored and remastered, but it’s a little light on extra features for a Criterion release. Still a worthwhile addition to any classic Hollywood collection, this one is a bit of a puzzler for me.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • The Shannara Chronicles: Season Two – I used to read Terry Brooks’ Shannara books when I was a kid, but I honestly haven’t picked up a fantasy novel in at least 20 years. Still, I remember being so into the Shannara books that when MTV (of all networks!) announced a full-on fantasy TV series adaptation of the books, I had to check it out. And despite the fact that this show is clearly aimed at a teenage audience base – I like it quite a bit. The show looks pretty good, has a few talented actors in the cast (and a few less so), and presents a fantasy show unlike much of what else is on the air at the moment. It might not satisfy die-hard fans of the books, but for a casual or non-reader, it’s pretty enjoyable. This second season has already been released on DVD and now it makes its Blu-ray debut.
  • Bent – Karl Urban, Andy Garcia and a very out-of-place Sofia Vergara star in this satisfying crime thriller about a cop fresh out of prison trying to solve a mystery and maybe prove his own innocence in the crime he was convicted of. The film is based on the books by novelist J.P. O’Donnell, and Urban – of whom I’m a huge fan – and Garcia are terrific in it. The downside is Sofia Vergara, who I enjoy quite a bit on Modern Family, who just doesn’t work as a tough special agent. Still, the film is pretty enjoyable overall; it’s nothing special but it’s a decent way to kill a couple of hours.
  • Rick and Morty: Season 3 – Ugh. I’ve heard Rick & Morty compared to everything from Back to the Future to Doctor Who to Futurama to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and in reality, it’s kind of a mash-up of all of those things, just in animated form and with a seriously PG-13 sense of humor. Unfortunately, it’s also terrible. I know people love it, and the show has a serious fan following, but I just don’t understand why. I find it incredibly annoying to watch and not funny in the slightest. Sigh.
  • The Forgiven – Forrest Whitaker and Eric Bana star in this dramatic story based in part on the life of Bishop Desmond Tutu, and specifically the interactions he has with an imprisoned assassin in post-Apartheid South Africa. Now, obviously, with Whitaker and Bana in the lead roles, you know you’re getting strong performances. Unfortunately, I found the film itself to be slow-moving and just not terribly engaging.
  • The Monkey King 3 – Despite being the second sequel to a hit Donnie Yen film, this movie has little to do with the original, including a lack of Donnie Yen himself. Aaron Kwok reprises his role from the second film, and once again it features gods, monks, epic quests, and – of course – martial arts. I’ve said many times before that these aren’t my favorite kinds of films, however, there are some nice visuals, some strong special effects, and moments of non-stop action. If you like a good martial arts movie and don’t mind the number after the title (which is mostly arbitrary anyway), this one might be up your alley.
  • Thank God It’s Friday: 40th Anniversary Edition – This long-forgotten film is now being treated to a 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release. Is that a notable occasion? Probably not, as I imagine most people have no idea this film exists. But with Jeff Goldblum in a lead role, there’s definitely a curiosity factor to it. There’s no denying that the film has aged poorly; it’s a disco-set film without the underlying story and pathos of a film like Saturday Night Fever. There are some fun moments and I’m glad it was released on Blu-ray, but it’s not a great movie.
  • Went to Coney Island on A Mission from God, Be Back by Five – This interestingly-titled film is one I’d never even heard of before, which is surprising because of both its unusual title and its strong ‘80s-centric cast, which includes Jon Cryer, Ione Skye, Judy Reyes and Frank Whaley. Released on Blu-ray from MVD’s Rewind Collection, which is a terrific new line of cult classics getting features-filled releases, I enjoyed digging into this drama about friendship, life, and Coney Island. It’s a bit dated, sure, but it’s an engaging film despite its flaws.
  • Bruce’s Deadly Fingers – In the wake of Bruce Lee’s death, a whole genre of faux-Bruce-Lee films was created. This is one of those exploitation films starring “Bruce Le,” who is most assuredly not Bruce Lee. I’m not sure if this film has even been available on home video before, but now it’s available on Blu-ray. The film itself is extremely cheesy and very 1970s-esque, which will strongly appeal to a certain segment of viewer. But be aware that on its own merits, this isn’t exactly a great film, even if it’s kind of fun as is.
  • The Manor – Former wrestler Kevin Nash and The Craft’s Rachel True star in this horror-tinged direct-to-video film that doesn’t really tread any new ground. I mean, it throws everything it can find against the wall, including psychiatric hospital patients, an actual manor (that may have evil forces at work in it), strange visitors, cultists, and demonic forces. I wish I could say that it was a better film, but it’s pretty typical DTV horror fare, which means it’s not great.
  • Unforgotten: Season 2 – Even though Season 1 was just released on DVD and Blu-ray a month ago, PBS wants us to get caught up quick, and so we get Season 2 of the hit British mystery series. The central mystery this season involves some disturbing child abuse, and while it’s very intense, it’s also extremely effective. 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.
  • LEGO DC Super Hero Girls: Super-Villain High – My daughter and I have really been enjoying the DC Super Hero Girls comics and cartoons, and she’s also gotten a few of the LEGO sets they’ve put out. Now, DC has once again combined all of the above with a LEGO movie based on the DC Super Hero Girls. With the signature humor of the LEGO films (although not as much as the big-screen outings) plus the character stylings of the DC Super Hero Girls materials, this full-length movie is quite a bit of fun.
  • Legend of the Mountain – Director filmmaker was a well-known creator in the action-packed wuxia genre, but here we get a film from his later years, when he apparently wanted to channel Terence Malick, delivering a dream-like piece of poetry on film. Sure, the film looks great, but storywise (or lack thereof), the film wasn’t quite my cup of tea. For people with loftier artistic minds than mine, this might be up your alley.
  • Pinkalicious & Peterrific: Pinkamagine It! – My daughter used to read the Pinkalicious books religiously when she was younger. I wish this animated series had come out about five years ago, because she would have been all over it! Still, I have fond memories of the popular kids’ books, and so it was fun to see it brought to animated life. The show is cute and funny and captures the feel of the books well, so I expect young kids will love it.
  • Beuys – I’ll admit that I’d never heard of the subject of this documentary, artist Joseph Beuys. Apparently, he was an artist known for his groundbreaking ideas, that he applied to many forms of art including performance art, sculpture, installations, and graphic design. This not-quite-linear film gives us a portrait of the artist up until his death some three decades ago. It’s an interesting film if a bit – well, artsy – for my tastes. And at almost two hours, it feels like it could have been trimmed down a bit. Still, for art fans, I’m sure it will be of interest.
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney has previously explored the Catholic church, and now he tackles the Church of Scientology in this expose-styled documentary. Featuring interviews with former members of the church, the film pulls back the curtain on the religion that has captured big names like Tom Cruise and John Travolta while still being very mysterious to the average joe. This film does a great job of going in-depth into everything from the celebrity members to the financial structure of the church, and frankly, it’s fascinating.
  • It’s Not Yet Dark – A powerful story of overcoming debilitating circumstances, It’s Not Dark Yet tells the story (narrated by Colin Farrell) of Simon Fitzmaurice, a young Irish filmmaker with ALS (MND) who is directing his first feature film through the use of his eyes and eye gaze technology. I am in awe of people who can use this technology to communicate and create, and this film is both a fascinating portrait of an artist overcoming difficult odds and also a lesson in perseverance and grit. I love that Colin Farrell narrates, giving the film the perfect voice, and it’s a great movie for fans of filmmaking or just good human stories.
  • PBS Releases – There are several new documentary features from PBS this week. The Art of the Shine is a documentary about shoe shiners, and how some people make their living shining shoes. Which doesn’t sound groundbreaking, but as someone who is fascinated by unusual professions, I found it quite compelling. NOVA: Prediction by the Numbers is a solid science program about predictions; specifically how we can use numbers, statistics and probability to “predict the future.” Not in a fortune teller kind of way, of course. Worth a watch, but a little numbers-heavy for some people. GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a portrait of Jewish soldiers in the American military during World War II. Over the course of 90 minutes, we learn about the half-million Jewish soldiers in the US armed forces, the anti-Semitism they faced, and their experiences fighting for their country. A great war documentary with an interesting spotlight perspective. Finally, Frontline: The Gang Crackdown explores the country’s most dangerous gangs, including the notorious MS-13. It also explores the crossover between gang members and illegal immigrants, including how some immigrant teams have gotten swept up in gang round ups. I find this world fascinating, and this is an effective hour-long exploration of it.
  • Mill Creek Releases – Mill Creek specializes in bringing us budget-priced movie collections and re-releases, and this week they have a slew of new offerings. First up is Charles Bronson: 4 Movie Collection, a Blu-ray set that includes four of his lesser known movies (including one directed by the great Walter Hill): Hard Times, The Stone Killer, The Valachi Papers, and Breakout. There are no out-and-out classics, but it’s a fun collection for the low price. The John Travolta 4-in-1 Drama Collection is a bit of an oddball as it gives us one film from 1985 (Perfect, with Jamie Lee Curtis and Marilu Henner) and then three films from the mid-2000s (Basic, with Samuel L. Jackson and Connie Nielsen; Love Song for Bobby Long, with Scarlett Johansson and Gabriel Macht; and Lonely Hearts, with Salma Hayek and Jared Leto. Interesting mix, but I like Basic and Lonely Hearts as late-night popcorn fare. For fans of Hallmark mystery movies, the Mary Higgins Clark Collection gives us 14 movies on six discs, with a huge number of recognizable faces (mostly female) in the lead roles. So you get some fun mystery films, and you get stars like Sean Young, Gabrielle Anwar, Jill Clayburgh, Patsy Kensit, Nastassja Kinski, Nicolette Sheridan, Lesley Ann Down, and Erika Eleniak. Fun! While William Castle’s name is mostly synonymous with low budget cult classic horror films, he also produced a number of westerns, as evidence in The Fastest Guns in the West collection. You get eight westerns here, most of which you’ve never heard of: Klondike Kate (1943), Conquest of Cochise (1953), Masterson Of Kansas (1954), Jesse James Vs the Daltons (1954), Battle of Rogue River (1954), The Gun That Won the West (1955), Duel on The Mississippi (1955), and Uranium Boom (1956). The Big Box of Kids Favorites collects three previously released set into one box set: The Paddington TV series (so endearing!), the Hey Vern, It’s Ernest series starring Jim Varney as his popular Ernest character, and the animated Johnny Test While the age ranges are spread out a bit, it’s hard to argue with literally hundreds of hours of family programming at such a low price. Finally, Sea Wolf: The Complete Miniseries & Lady Musketeer give us two television miniseries. Sea Wolf stars Sebastian Koch, Neve Campbell, and Tim Roth and offers up some high seas adventures, while Lady Musketeer offers up a more land-based adventure tale with Nastassja Kinski, Michael York, John Rhys-Davies, and Gerard Depardieu. Both of these re-releases include digital copies for the first time.

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