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US Blu-ray and DVD releases: Deadpool 2, Book Club, Upgrade, American Animals, The Ray and more


Deadpool 2 – This movie is a lot of fun. When it hit theaters, I saw a lot of people saying it was even better than the first one. Well, that’s just not true. It is maybe close to being as good as the first one in that it still has all the requisite R-rated humor and tons of action, but the first film had more heart, a better bad guy, and was more streamlined. This one has some amazingly funny sequences, and it can play off the success of the first film, but the “bad guy” in question isn’t as interesting to me, the CGI special effects go a bit too far occasionally and there’s a serious story mistake in the first act that bothers me. Admittedly, it seems to deal with that in an absolutely brilliant post-credits sequence, but I feel like it was a misstep. (Can’t go into more details, unfortunately, because spoilers.) The home video offers up the Super Duper Cut, which gives us 15 more minutes of jokes and scenes added back into the film, and it’s a lot of fun as well, although there’s nothing essential here. I really did love this movie; it’s a lot of fun to watch, but it’s not quite the first one.

Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection (4K Ultra HD) – I’ve been a fan of the Jack Ryan movies since The Hunt for Red October back in 1990. While the franchise has seen some ups and downs and some long down times, it’s been a solid performer and has delivered five movies that I really enjoy. This new five-film collection sees each movie in the 4K Ultra HD premium format (and also includes copies on Blu-ray and digital, giving a lot of bang for your buck.) The audiovisual quality of the films varies; Hunt for Red October, for example, can’t escape the fact that it’s nearly 30 years old, and there are visual issues that are noticeable. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, however, from just a few years ago, looks almost impeccable. All five films offer up immersive soundtracks that will give your speakers a workout. While most people will come for the Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford entries, the Ben Affleck and Chris Pine films are also strongly worth watching. A great collection and a nice value for the money.

Book Club – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen… with a cast like that, you know you’re at least going to get some good comedic performances. Book Club might not be the most far reaching film this week in terms of audience demographics, but it does work quite well for what it is. The film follows a group of friends in a book club who meet and discuss the Fifty Shades of Grey books. Of course, that’s just a framework for their developing stories which involve relationships, romance, etc. It’s not a particularly plot heavy film, or even anything we haven’t seen before, but it has its charms, and a lot of that comes from the four fantastic ladies who lead the charge. A fun film, even more so for people in the target audience.

Upgrade – I didn’t really know what to expect from Upgrade, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by it. The film plays out kind of like a cross between The Matrix and Robocop, but in a much more low-key way. It’s not a huge special effects extravaganza, but rather a smaller story of a man in the near future paralyzed by criminals when his wife is murdered who allows a new artificial intelligence to give him movement and enhanced abilities to track down his wife’s killers. Logan Marshall-Green does a terrific job in the lead role, and the film is well directed by Leigh Whannell (best known for writing some of the Saw and Insidious movies), who doesn’t go overboard and instead delivers a taut, tense, sci-fi thriller. Definitely worth tracking down.

The Flash: The Complete Fourth SeasonThe Flash continues to be one of the more fun superhero outings on TV with another rock-solid season. As always, Grant Gustin is terrific in the lead role, and the show has felt sure-footed from the very first episode. And while it started out very villain-of-the-week at first, the show has morphed into one where the overarching storyline has turned The Flash into one of the most compelling shows on TV. We still get new villains and threats in many episodes, but there’s a season arc to each year that carries us through, and the fourth season sees a new main bad guy and some new supporting characters. It’s funny, action-packed, dramatic, complex, and exciting — everything good television should be. I love this show, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you really need to. You’ll love it too.

Freedom Fighters: The Ray – This latest DC Universe Animated movie focuses on a lesser-known DC hero who made his first big splash in the ‘90s: The Ray. With his light-based powers and cool costume, The Ray has been a periphery player for years, but now he gets the spotlight. Arrow and Flash show up in supporting roles, but the more interesting part of the film is the villains from an alternate earth: evil versions of super heroes from a world where the Nazis won World War II. The film is pretty typical of the past few years’ of DC releases, with slightly more focus on character (Ray struggles with coming out in this film), but it’s a sold watch, if nothing overly exciting. Which is pretty par for the DC course these days.

American Animals – This film is based on the true story of four college students who decide to rob one of their school’s libraries of rare books worth some $12 million. Of course, college students planning a heist means thins will probably go wrong, and they certainly do. I wasn’t a huge fan of the trailer for this film, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. It’s an interesting structure: the dramatic events are interwoven with short clips of all four of the real-life college students (now much older, obviously) talking directly to the camera and telling a little bit about what they were thinking or how they were feeling It works better than I expected to, and it anchors the film a bit. Evan Peters (Quicksilver from the X-Men films) gives a tour-de-force performance, and the film is quite engaging and enjoyable. Check it out.

Higher Power – Ron Eldard stars in this sci-fi film that looks like a much bigger production than it is. Directed by Matthew Santoro — a special effects producer with major movies to his credit — the film was made on the cheap but at times looks like a big-budget affair, thanks to Santoro’s obvious savvy with special effects. The film tells the story of a regular guy who is being manipulated by a mad scientist type to become a sort of superhero/science-god-being in time to save earth from a rogue gamma wave that could kill all life on the planet. Or something like that. Honestly, story and character aren’t the film’s strong points (neither is writing, sadly) as it’s the visual effects and sequences that are the spotlight here. It’s neat to look at, but not much else.

RBG – Somehow, over the past couple of decades, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become not just a supreme court justice with a legacy, but something of a popular culture phenomenon. While this film focuses more on the former, it does give you some glimpses into the latter as well. With a mix of archival footage, interviews, and the like, the film pieces together a nice portrait of Ginsburg’s life and career. While it will probably appeal mostly to people already familiar with RBG and her ideals, there’s definitely something to be learned by anyone who watches it.

Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder – Michael Rooker, Tony Todd, and Kevin Zegers star in this 1998 low-budget horror film about a demon sent to kill a young boy before he can become a saint. What relation it has to any work by Bram Stoker is unknown, but we’ll just chalk it up to marketing. Rooker is game in the main role, while Tony Todd doesn’t get much to do. The special effects are unfortunately from that time where CGI was just starting to become affordable, but you couldn’t get any good stuff without a big budget, so they don’t hold up very well. There’s a certain schlocky charm to the film, but it will mostly appeal to B-movie aficionados.

Also available this week on home video:

  • Criminal Minds: The Thirteenth SeasonCriminal Minds is a show that I really like that I don’t watch during the season anymore because it always seems to conflict with other shows on my DVR schedule. However, I love when it comes time to release on DVD because it really is some fun television. Sure, the adventures of the Behavioral Analysis Unit are ultimately just another procedural show, but the fact that it focuses on serial killers really gives the show an edge. It’s dark stuff and it’s not always pleasant to watch, but it is extremely addictive. The team has a great chemistry and the show has an easy rhythm; the producers clearly know what they’re doing by this point. Thirteen seasons in, even if the show is a little predictable in how the episodes play out, I still find the journeys to stopping the killers very rewarding.
  • The Blacklist: The Complete Fifth Season – Even after five seasons, The Blacklist remains more fun than it has any right to be. While I would have expected it to run out of steam after the first season or two, it continues to be intriguing and interesting. The fifth season once again takes things in a new direction which gives us Red Reddington as much more of an all-out bad guy — except when it comes to Elizabeth Keen, of course. I like that this show keeps shaking things up, and James Spader remains so much fun to watch week after week.
  • Lucifer: The Complete Third Season – What happens when the devil comes to Los Angeles for a little business and pleasure? Well, all hell breaks loose. Literally! (Ha ha, I couldn’t resist.) The best part about the show is actor Tom Ellis, who is perfectly cast as Lucifer. He’s got the whole “devilish grin” thing down pat, and he really is what makes the show work. My favorite part of Season 3 is the fact that Smallville’s Tom Welling joined the cast. It’s great to see Welling on a regular show again, and while he’s not Clark Kent here, his character brings a new dynamic to the show that I enjoy. Once again, this is a show I enjoy visiting on home video, although I wish they’d put it out on Blu-ray and not just DVD.
  • Brainscan – Edward Furlong and Frank Langella star in this entertaining horror film about a killer video game that uses its player to kill people in real life. Frank Langella is a welcome presence because he’s great in everything, but he’s underutilized here, while Edward Furlong does that whole sort-of good acting thing that defined his career after Terminator 2. The film starts off strong, but once the computer program comes to life as a clown-demon-thing, it loses steam. A decent enough watch, but dated and not all that great overall, sadly.
  • Autumn In New York – Richard Gere and Winona Ryder star in this 2000 drama that serves as part of MVD’s new Marquee Collection. Available on Blu-ray, this drama is about a rich playboy who finally falls in love, only the much younger woman he falls for is terminally ill. Cheerful, no? Well, luckily the film isn’t just a maudlin drama, as it tries to fit in themes about living life to the fullest, and that’s a good message. With a strong supporting cast that includes Anthony LaPaglia, J.K. Simmons, and Vera Farmiga, the film is a solid watch, even if it’s not ultimately my kind of movie.
  • Unikitty: Sparkle Party – Unikitty, one of the scene stealers from The LEGO Movie, now gets her own cartoon show. And it’s— well, let’s just say that kids will probably like it. It’s a bit too… well, too Unikitty for me to sit and watch entire episodes back to back. The show expands on the Unikitty world, with new characters like Puppycorn, Hawkodile, and Master Frown. The show features some neat animation, clearly done by computer but with a more traditional hand-drawn feel, so it has its own identity from the world of the LEGO movies. It’s frenetic and fast-paced and VERY colorful, but I think kids will have a lot of fun with it. Parents, maybe a little less so.
  • Woman Walks Ahead – Jessica Chastain and Sam Rockwell star in this historical drama based on real-life events starring famous Native American chief Sitting Bull. Chastain plays 19th-century artist/Native American-rights-activist Catherine Weldon who comes to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull while a treaty is being negotiated. Of course, there’s plenty of fish out of water moments and American imperialism on display, and frankly, the story isn’t that arresting. But the performances by Chastain and Rockwell (as well as Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull) are all quite fantastic, and the film looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s a decent film dressed up as much better one.
  • Blast – This ‘90s action movie has the single most Die-Hard “inspired” cover art I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, despite how much the film wants to be Die Hard, it’s not even close. Hell, it’s not even close to Die Hard 5, which is a petty bad movie. This film sees a swimming team taken hostage, and a janitor in the building who’s being guided by a counter-terrorism agent in the form of Rutger Hauer. A bunch of other B-movie stars are along for the ride, also, including Linden Ashby, Andrew Divoff, Tim Thomerson, and Shannon Elizabeth, all of which make the film a little bit of fun, but it’s really nothing worth writing home about.
  • Crazy Six – Another release from the MVD Marquee Collection, this action film stars Rob Lowe, Mario Van Peebles, Ice-T, and Burt Reynolds, and was directed by Albert Pyun, who also directed Blast above. To enjoy this movie, you have to be able to buy Rob Lowe and Mario Van Peebles as leaders of major Russian mafia cartels. If you can do that, then there’s a lot of B-movie cheap thrills to be found here. I like the cast and I enjoy bad ‘90s cinema, so I had fun watching this, but it’s not what I could call high art.
  • PBS Releases – PBS has several new releases out this week, including documentaries, kids’ releases, and even television dramas. First up is Outback, a special that takes us through Australia over the course of three hours (or a year, in real life.) We meet the land, the people, and the animals, and it’s quite exhilarating, plus the scenery can’t be beat. Next up is Hillary, which has nothing to do with presidential candidates. Instead, it’s a dramatized series about the life of famed explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, most famous of course for being the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Over the course of six episodes, we learn about Hillary’s life and career, and of course we get to see him attempt to summit Everest. It’s an enjoyable show with a good cast. Next up, the sobering UN Sex Abuse Scandal explores the massive abuse of power among UN peacekeepers and the literally hundreds of rape and abuse cases that have gone largely unpunished. These cases often involve children, and the result is an important program that is intensely difficult to watch. Basquiat: Rags to Riches is a very typical PBS biography of acclaimed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who rose to fame in the ‘80s and died at a very young age. I’ve seen a few programs on him lately, so it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it is an extremely informative and effective profile. Moving into the kids realm of things, we have Garfield’s Halloween Adventure. This is a budget-priced and Halloween-themed DVD starring everyone’s favorite lasagna-eating, Monday-hating orange tabby cat. Overt the course of 48 minutes, we see Garfield’s and Odie get into some trick-or-treating trouble. I’ve always enjoyed the Garfield cartoons, so this was a fun one to watch. Finally, Ready Jet Go!: Jet’s First Halloween sees the young alien on earth gearing up for his first Halloween (with a little help from his friends, of course.) There are a few science lessons mixed in as always, and I find this show to be a charming educational experience for young kids.

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