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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Creed II, The Favourite, Instant Family, The Little Mermaid, Kalifornia and more

Creed II – For my money, Creed II is one of the rare sequels that improves on the first film. Not that the first Creed wasn’t great, because it was, but I enjoyed this one even more. Without having to explain who Adonis Creed is or build his relationship with Rocky Balboa or with romantic interest Bianca, the film is able to move a little faster and breathe a little easier. Then you add in the return of Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (as well as Drago’s son as Creed’s nemesis) and you have pretty much everything a die-hard Rocky franchise fan could want. I really enjoyed this movie, and there are some great nods and cameos to the previous films that really keep the roots of the series firmly in place while branching out in new directions. Creed II comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the premium 4K format really allows the visuals and soundtrack to shine. Image clarity is near-perfect, and the vivid colors, bombastic soundtrack give the film a ton of — pardon the pun — punch. An excellent presentation all the way around.

The FavouriteThe Favourite was nominated for 10 Academy Awards — no small feat — and it won just one, but it was a big one: Best Actress for Olivia Colman. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Colman’s for a long time, and I’m thrilled to see her get recognition on such a big stage, and deservedly so, as well. As for the film itself, it’s… well, it’s interesting. Director Yorgos Yanthimos is well known for making extremely offbeat, unique films, and The Favorite is no exception. It’s not a stuffy drama like it might appear at first glance. Instead, it’s a frenetic, spirited drama/comedy/(thriller?) that is unlike anything else. I can’t say I loved it, but I can’t say I disliked it, either. I suspect this is a film that some people will absolutely adore and others simply won’t get what all the fuss is about.

Instant Family – Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne star in Instant Family, a family comedy about a couple who take in not one, not two, but three foster children all at the same time. Well, this will come as a huge shock to you, but it turns out they’re not 100% ready for what to expect just yet! I know, right?!? Okay, okay, I kid, but in all honesty, Instant Family is a perfectly enjoyable film that treads familiar ground. There’s nothing unique or groundbreaking about it, but it’s easy to watch, Wahlberg and Byrne are always likable, and the kids are endearing in just the way they should be. A fun movie to watch when you don’t necessarily need to be intellectually challenged.

The Possession of Hannah Grace – Shay Mitchell, best known for her role on Pretty Little Liars, headlines her own horror movie with The Possession of Hannah Grace. Mitchell is the best thing about the film, which at the end of the day is a pretty hackneyed horror flick with all the usual jump scares, plot holes, herky-jerky dead bodies, and such. It’s not terrible, but it’s really nothing special. The thing that makes it worth watching is that Mitchell is a good actress and she represents well here, making you more invested than you might be otherwise.

The Little Mermaid: Anniversary Edition – I love Disney, so I’m never upset to have to review a new Disney release, but the endless re-releases does sometimes make it a bit challenging to come up with much to say that’s fresh or interesting. This new edition of The Little Mermaid does do at least one thing right, in that it presents the film on the 4K Ultra HD format for the first time. Everything else about it is pretty much the same as previous versions, but with the premium HD format and the included digital copy, it’s a nice version for fans who may only have it on DVD or an older Blu-ray with no digital copy. The 4K transfer is stellar, and the deeper color saturation really does make more difference in animated films than almost any other genre. The soundtrack is quite active, although I didn’t compare it directly to the Blu-ray edition, so I’m not sure how much of that is an upgrade. Still, if you need a better copy of The Little Mermaid, this is the one to get.

Kalifornia – This early ‘90s thriller is one of those movies that somehow has escaped me over the years, even though I’ve always wanted to see it. Starring Brad Pitt, David Duchovny, Juliette Lewis, and Michelle Forbes, the film is a taut thriller that follows a couple who ride-share a cross country trip with another couple who have a little more experience killing innocent people than you might want. I was very impressed with Brad Pitt’s performance, and Duchovny, Lewis, and Forbes all fare quite well, but I wish I liked the film more than I did. It’s a bit slow in places and maybe 15 minutes too long, and while there are some exciting sequences, it just never quite jelled for me. This new Blu-ray edition from Shout Factory gives us some gorgeous new cover art along with a few new extra features, so if you’re a bigger fan of the film than I am, this one is for you.

Damages: The Complete Series – As one of FX’s most heavily-hyped TV shows, I was always surprised by how good Damages was. On the surface, it looked like another slick, smarmy stop-at-nothing lawyer show, mixed with a complicated overarching storyline. And while Damages may be everything I described above, it’s also really compelling television. Sure, it’s filled with law-show clichés, but it also has an energy and a killer instinct that I had found to be missing from legal dramas for quite a while. Even with an amazing cast of big-name stars like Glenn Close, John Goodman, and Ted Danson, the real standout from the beginning was Rose Byrne, who was almost completely unknown when the show started. No wonder she became a star. This new Complete Series collection from Mill Creek collects all five seasons on Blu-ray in one package for the first time, which is a terrific thing. Damages works because, while it embraces law show traditions, it challenges your expectations at the same time.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • The Vanishing – Gerard Butler stars in this film about three lighthouse keepers on a remote island who have to deal with betrayal, strangers, and danger when a boat washes ashore with a cache of gold in it. Supposedly based on a true story (although it’s pretty clear that very little is known about what actually happened) the film sounds intriguing from the description. It’s a shame, then, that the film is such a tedious affair. It’s slow moving, dour, dark, and overly serious, and the end result is that watching it is a chore more than anything. I like Gerard Butler (and his performance is perfectly fine) but the film was a huge let down.
  • The Clovehitch Killer – What happens when a teenage boy begins to suspect that his dad is an infamous serial killer? Well, that’s what The Clovehitch Killer sets out to discover. It’s not a concept we’ve never seen before, but it’s also not one that’s overplayed. Charlie Plummer is quite good in the lead role, and Dylan McDermott is excellent casting as the everyday dad who may or may not be hiding a terrible, terrible secret. I dug this film; it’s not perfect but it’s a good, suspenseful ride and it does keep you guessing in places. Worth a watch.
  • Burning – While Walking Dead fans may be enticed to watch this Korean film due to the presence of Stephen Yuen (who played Glenn on TWD), I would suggest you first look into whether it’s really a film for you or not. Ostensibly a romantic thriller, the film concerns a young woman who goes missing, the guy who’s into her becoming obsessed, and a handsome new man in her life who may or may not have had something to do with her disappearance. So far, so good, right? But here’s where it goes awry. The film is two-and-a-half hours long, and let me tell you, it doesn’t earn that running time at all. I don’t mind the fact that it’s in Korean (with subtitles) but I know a lot of viewers don’t like that. It would be worth it if the film was more engaging, but it’s at least 45 minutes too long. So, Walking Dead fans, buyer beware.
  • Liz and the Blue Bird – This is a different spin for an anime movie. At heart, it’s a coming of age story about two friends, their relationship, and the pressure they come under in their musical training and performance. But there’s also a story within a story which sees the film take on a completely different art style, which adds another layer to the proceedings. I’m always hit or miss with anime releases, and while I appreciate that this one is definitely doing something different, I don;’t know that it was entirely my thing. At 90 minutes, though, I give it props for not being overly long, and at the end of the day, it’s more enjoyable than not, so I know there’s an audience out there for it.
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 5 – Even if it is a little bit formulaic in its approach (big city detective relocates to small town, doesn’t quite get along with new partner), the show still works because the mysteries are engaging, the cast is terrific, and the characters are interesting enough to draw you in. This release features a few feature-length movies (or episodes, technically), and you’ll definitely find yourself sucked in by the end.
  • When Calls The Heart: The Greatest Blessing – This DVD is the latest release in the popular Hallmark When Calls the Heart series. Starring Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin and Jack Wagner., the show is pretty typical romantic drama/Hallmark fare. I’ve said this before, but you don’t see a lot of romances where one of the main characters is a Canadian Mounty. Well, in this case you do. Now, I’m well known for my love of Hallmark Christmas movies, so I’m not opposed to shows like this, but it’s not one of my favorite Hallmark offerings. That said, I imagine the target audience will enjoy it.
  • Marquise – Sophie Marceau stars in this French film, a period drama that also stars notable French actors Lambert Wilson and Patrick Timsit, The film takes place in the 1600s and follows a young woman who’s not afraid to use her sexuality to her advantage as she quests to become an actress. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the basic gist of it. The film features terrific performances, lavish sets, and great production design, and it really does feel like you’re watching the 1600s come to life. I’m not a huge fan of period dramas so I can’t say I loved the film, but that’s not because it’s poorly made, because it’s exceptional in that regard. It’s just not my kind of thing.
  • 100 Yards – While the cover art makes this look like it has a heavy sports theme, this faith-based movie is less about sports and more about a serious of very bad things that happen to a young man who happens to play football. Of course, said very bad things are challenges that he has to overcome, and of course his faith helps in that regard. I’ll say that the film isn’t overly heavy handed with the religion, which is a plus for non-religious viewers like me. Also a bonus is that Sean Patrick Flanery has a starring role in the film, and I’m a big fan of his. It’s solid movie, and people looking for a good (but occasionally heavy) faith-based drama will find a lot to like.
  • Of Fathers And Sons – There are films that sometimes catch you by surprise, and I strongly suspect that Of Fathers and Sons will definitely be that film for people who choose to watch it. While the subject matter might be seen as controversial by some, this documentary follows a radical Islamist family in Syria, and it basically shows how children can be radicalized over the course of a couple of years. It’s heavy, sobering, frightening, saddening, moving, and intense, and it also has some important lessons to be gleaned from it. Just be prepared for a film that isn’t an easy-to-swallow experience. This one kicks you in the gut and you feel it.
  • Queens of Scream, Donnie Brasco, Barb Wire, The Rundown, The Legend of Billie Jean – Mill Creek, who specializes in budget releases of movies you know and/or love, has several new releases out this week. First up is Queens of Scream, a triple feature on Blu-ray that features three female-centric horror films: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Vacancy, and When a Stranger Calls. While I Know What You Did Last Summer is my clear favorite here (it was the next big horror film out after Scream and it’s still a lot of fun), I find both When a Stranger Calls and Vacancy to also be quite enjoyable for what they are, making this set a steal for under 10 bucks. Next up, we have three new re-releases of Catalog titles, most of which have been released by Mill Creek before. This time around, they come with a new slipcover and are released as Blu-ray/DVD combo packs, so that’s kind of neat, although digital copies would have really sealed the deal. Donnie Brasco is actually one of my favorite movies, so I can’t recommend that one highly enough. The Rundown marks one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s earliest films (alongside Seann William Scott) and while it’s not an action classic, it’s a pretty fun ride overall. And then there’s Barb Wire, the Pamela Anderson actioner (based on a comic book) that was D.O.A. at the box office. Unfortunately, it bombed for good reason: it’s just not that good. Pamela Anderson is quite fetching in it, but the film isn’t great and she’s not a really strong actress, so the end result is just okay. Finally, we have The Legend of Billie Jean, which is part of Mill Creek’s Retro VHS Collection, which gives the Blu-ray-only release a VHS-styled slipcover. This ‘80s cult classic is a fun throwback, but it’s not exactly a great film. Still, it always gets re-released, so fans are definitely out there.
  • Top Wing: Eggcellent Missions, Nick Jr: Meet the Baby Animals, Pinkalicious & Peterrific: Pinkatastic Pets – Nickelodeon and PBS have a few new kids’ releases out this week for your pre-school and grade schoolers. First up is Top Wing: Eggcellent Missions, which gives us seven episodes of Nick Jr.’s latest show for kiddies. In it, we follow four bird cadets, Swift, Penny, Rod and Brody, as they learn to become rescue birds at Top Wing Academy. Kids will like their cool vehicles and high-tech gadgets, and of course, there are positive messages throughout. Nick Jr: Meet the Baby Animals, is a collection of various shows, which of course includes episodes that have baby animals in them. You get seven episodes total: two from Paw Patrol, two from Shimmer & Shine, and one each from Bubble Guppies, Top Wing, and Blaze and the Monster Machines. Finally, Pinkalicious & Peterrific: Pinkatastic Pets is the newest collection of the show based on the popular books. My daughter used to read the Pinkalicious books religiously when she was younger, and I wish this animated series had come out about six years ago, because she would have been all over it! Still, it’s 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.

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