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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: A Star Is Born, The Girl In The Spider’s Web, Robin Hood, Overlord and more

A Star is Born – I liked A Star is Born. The music is good, the performances are good, and Bradley Cooper looks like he’s going down the Ben Affleck road of being a good actor (yes, I said it) who is also an exceptional director. But here’s the thing: I’ll cry at the drop of a hat in almost any movie. Hell, I’ll cry at a good Hallmark commercial. And while my wife was sobbing by the end of this film, I was completely dry-eyed. And I don’t know why, because I did like the movie, but I have to imagine that on some level I just wasn’t THAT emotionally invested in the characters or the story. I can’t say why that is because, like I said, it’s a very solid film. Go figure. A Star is Born arrives on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and it truly shines in the premium format. The picture looks impeccable (although it’s not the most colorful movie in the world) and the soundtrack is near-perfection for a movie with live concert performances in it. A very strong presentation of a good film.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – I’m not sure if I’m in the minority or not, but I really liked David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo film from a few years back. While it underwhelmed at the box office here in the US, I certainly wasn’t opposed to a sequel. Unfortunately, we did get a sequel — with a completely new cast and director — and it’s a massive disappointment. The film just seems lifeless; as cold as the Nordic setting the film takes place in. And while Claire Foy’s performance as Lisabeth Salander is fine, there’s something missing. Rooney Mara’s Salander was just as damaged and frigid, but there was some sense of vulnerability there. Foy’s Salander is just… mean. I really wanted to like this film, but it’s missing something: any kind of heart at all. The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and it is an excellent presentation. Again, the film is all about stark contrasts (whites, blacks, grays) more than it is colors, but image clarity is impeccable. It’s a great A/V presentation, it’s just a shame the film isn’t better.

Robin Hood – This newest version of Robin Hood was D.O.A at the box office, but that’s a shame as it’s actually a really fun film with a great cast. Taron Egerton (from the Kingsmen movies) is terrific as a young Robin Hood, all charm, swagger, good looks, and empathy, while Jamie Foxx takes on the Azeem/Little John role. The film is basically Robin Hood as told by the love child of Guy Ritchie and Baz Luhrman, but that’s part of the fun. The costumes and technology have an incredibly modern flair to them, even though the film takes place during medieval times, but it gives the movie its own identity. Also, the bow-and-arrow duels are staged like swordfights, giving the film some incredibly kinetic and fun action sequences. With Jamie Dornan, Ben Mendelsohn, and Eve Hewson (Bono’s daughter) all equally good in their roles, this is a really enjoyable film that was unjustly ignored at the box office.

Overlord – J.J. Abrams produced but didn’t direct this movie, which is more of a straight-up horror film than I expected. Although, with that said, of course because Abrams is involved, it’s anything but a straight-up horror film. (I know, I know… stick with me here.) The movie follows a small squad of U.S. soldiers behind Nazi enemy lines during WWII who discover a secret lab that is building Nazi super-soldiers; think zombie/vampire hybrids, or something like that. The film is action-packed, gory, and suspenseful, and the last third is pretty intense. I can’t say I out-and-out loved the film, but I enjoyed watching it overall. Overlord comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and this is a film that benefits from the premium format. Much of the film takes place in dark locations, and the strong shadow delineation and image clarity make it much easier to see the onscreen action. The surround soundtrack is also exceptional, bringing the film to life in your living room.

The Front Runner – I was excited to watch The Front Runner not only because I thought the story was interesting and I like Hugh Jackman, but also because I’ve really become a fan of director Jason Reitman’s movies over the couple of years. With a great trailer and Reitman at the helm, I figured I was in for a really fun film. Unfortunately, for some reason, Reitman decided to channel Robert Altman with this film, and that’s really what it is: a Robert Altman movie directed by someone else. It has all the Altman trademarks: a sprawling cast, too many characters, multiple storylines at once, constantly overlapping dialogue, far-off long shots, etc. The result is a jumbled film that I could never get invested in at all. Hell, it was half an hour into the film before I even got to see Jackman speaking more than a sentence or two in a row. I get that filmmakers like to experiment and I know that Altman is a beloved director, but I would have preferred if Reitman had just applied HIS trademarks of charming characters, good humor, and great performances. This one was a huge disappointment for me.

Backbeat – Stephen Dorff (always an underrated actor in my opinion) and Sheryl Lee (aka Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks) star in this film about the early days of the Beatles, which makes its Blu-ray debut (finally!) courtesy of Shout Factory. The film is less about The Beatles per se and more about Stuart Sutcliffe, the original “fifth Beatle” who falls in love with Astrid Kirchherr (a name well known to Beatles fans) and life in the group and his friendship with John Lennon. So people looking for a Beatles biopic will be disappointed, but those who want a solid character-based drama set around the early days of the world’s most beloved rock band will enjoy revisiting this 1990s-era cult classic.

Also Available on Home Video This Week:

  • American Vandal: Season One – Netflix’s true crime mockumentary is now available on home video for the seven people left on earth who don’t have a subscription to the streaming service. And ultimately, that’s a good thing, because American Vandal is a perfect sesend-upf the true crime genre which is not only popular everywhere, but seems to have made a particularly noticeable impact on Netflix. The show follows a group of high school kids who investigate a vandalism crime at their high school, and the story is told through the eyes, cel phone cameras, chat windows, and instant messages of this kids. It really captures the feel of a true crime documentary series, while at the same time perfectly parodying it. Fun stuff!
  • Backtrace – While Sylvester Stallone features prominently on the cover of Backtrace (and was the main reason I even wanted to see the film), he’s really barely a supporting player in this dreary crime thriller. Instead, Matthew Modine takes on the lead role as a criminal with amnesia who undergoes an experimental drug treatment (thanks to some shady people) to try and remember where he hid millions of dollars. This is one of those indie films where the main actors all give good performances, but all the minor roles (like news reporters, police officers, etc.) are played by, I dunno, the boom mic operator or craft service personnel? Anybody who’s not a main actor comes across as someone who’s never acted before in their life, and it’s distracting. Plus, the movie just isn’t very good. Bummer.
  • Iceman: The Time Traveler – Asian action superstar Donnie Yen stars in Iceman: The Time Traveler, a very unnecessary sequel to the 2014 time-travel action flick Iceman that I had high hopes for but was pretty disappointed in. The story is about a warrior from medieval China and three of his enemies that are frozen in ice in the 1400s and then thawed out in modern day, where they resume their fight. Sounds like fun, right? Well, sadly it wasn’t and yet somehow this sequel makes the original look like a masterpiece. The film’s plot is overly complicated and almost incomprehensible, the action is lacking, and the first film wasn’t all that great anyway, so why give us a sequel no one wanted? This one is ice cold. (And that pun is still better than anything in the movie.)
  • Sgt. Will Gardner – While Sgt. Will Gardner has a strong supporting cast that includes Robert Patrick, Omari Hardwicke, Gary Sinise, Elizabeth Rohm, and Dermot Mulroney, the star of the show is Max Martini, who wrote, directed, produced, and takes the lead role in the film. Martini stars as the titular character, a war veteran suffering from PTSD who goes on a motorcycle road trip to find himself and hopefully start to heal as well. It’s a labor of love, and while it’s probably not going to win any filmmaking awards, it’s a solid drama that treats its characters and situations with respect.
  • The Last Race – I can’t say I’m much into racing, but this documentary isn’t just about stock car racing. It’s about people who support racing and the passion it engenders, and a couple of people who keep their small race track alive because of love of the sport and what it means to the community. It’s as much a portrait of the eccentric everyday people who keep the race community alive as it is a look at racing. Interesting stuff, but probably more so to racing fans and documentary fans.
  • Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask – Sometimes you have to let a film’s packaging do the talking, and this is one of those cases. “Innovative film biography Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask explores the preeminent theorist of the twentieth century anti-colonial movement, and a man whom Jean-Paul Sartre recognized as the figure ‘through whose voice the Third World finds and speaks for itself.’ Yeah, so that whole sentence is a lot smarter than I am, as is this film, which ties together dramatic performance, interviews, and documentary footage. Intellectuals and theorists, seek this one out. Everyone else, use your discretion.
  • American Masters: Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me – This feature-length American Masters documentary gives us an in-depth look at Sammy Davis Jr.’s life and career. The film spans from Davis’s youth during the depression to his heyday in the ‘60s to the end of his life in the 1980s (he died in 1990). Obviously, Davis was a gifted performer and a huge star, but I can’t say I ever knew that much about it him, so it was interesting to learn more about his story.
  • Miniseries Masterpieces: Scarlett, Cleopatra, Lonesome Dove, The Titanic, The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mill Creek Entertainment has a slew of re-releases of classic television miniseries. Each one runs three to six hours and comes packaged with a slipcover featuring new art. My favorite is Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With the Wind starring Joanne Whalley and Timothy Dalton. I’m a huge fan of GWTW, and while this is obviously not a real sequel to the film (in the traditional sense), it’s fun to see what might come next for the characters. Cleopatra stars Leonora Varela (from The Mummy movies) and was aired in 1999. With some decent production values and a cast of familiar “I know that guy” faces, it’s a fun watch. Lonesome Dove is the famous western miniseries, one of the most successful in the history of the medium. With a cast that boasts Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Robert Urich, and a ton of other big names, it’s easy to see why it was so popular back in the day. The Titanic is a solid retelling of the doomed ocean liner, this one also boasts a hell of a cast, including Peter Gallagher, Catherine Zeta Jones, George C. Scott, Eva Marie Saint, and Tim Curry. Plus it aired in 1996, or a year before James Cameron’s film became king of the world. Finally, we have The Five People You Meet in Heaven based on the hit book. This was probably my least favorite of the bunch, just because I don’t get into spiritual stuff as much, but the great cast helps top carry it.
  • WB Archive: Judgment Night, The Giant Behemoth, Tarzan’s Three Challenges, Tarzan Goes to India,, The Prize, Pacific Liner – Warner Bros.’ Manufactured-On-Demand service The Warner Archive continues to bring some of the best obscure and cult classic titles those video for discerning collectors. This week, we get several films on Blu-ray for the first time, along with a few making their DVD debuts. First off, we finally — FINALLY! — get the Blu-ray debut of action/suspense classic Judgment Night. This one of my favorite 90’s movies, and it’s never been available on Blu-ray until now. Starring Emilio Estevez, Jeremy Piven, Cuba Gooding Junior, Stephen Dorff, and Denis Leary, Judgment Night is one of those movies I have loved ever since the first time I saw it. It is an incredibly tense, edge-of-your-seat-thriller and I’m thrilled to have it in high def. Next, we have The Giant Behemoth on Blu-ray. This is a solid 1950s B-movie creature feature, but it features stop motion animation by the legendary Willis O’Brien, the man who brought the 1933 King Kong to life. It’s a fun flick and it’s nice to have it in high def so you can really appreciate the stop motion. Next, up we have two Tarzan films making their Blu-ray debuts, Tarzan’s Three Challenges and Tarzan Goes to India. They both feature Jock Mahoney as Tarzan and while I enjoyed them both, I think Tarzan’s Three Challenges offers up more action and adventure, while Tarzan Goes to India offers up more of a message about animal protection and the like, as Tarzan sets out to save a group of elephants. Next up is The Prize, a cool Hitchcock-light thriller starring Paul Newman and Edward G. Robinson, also debuting on Blu-ray. Newman is in fine form here, and I’m always happy to see Edward G. Robinson, so this is one of my favorite releases from this batch. Finally, we have Pacific Liner, which is out on DVD only. This suspenseful drama follows a ship and its passengers that falls prey to cholera. There’s romance, suspense, and death, and while it’ snot a classic, it’s at least worth a watch.

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