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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Aquaman, Second Act, Pet Sematary, Street Fighter and more

Aquaman – One of the biggest hits of last year, Aquaman succeeded where so many other DC movies have failed because it finally decided to stop being thew anti-Marvel and just start copying Marvel movies. That’s not to say that Aquaman is as good as a Marvel movie is, but it certainly comes closer than any effort we’ve seen before. What really sets the film apart from so many other DC movies is just how much fun it is. Yes, it’s largely mindless and the story is your basic origin adventure, but at least the movie is enjoyable to watch, not some grimdark apocalyptic tale that offers barely-recognizable heroes. It’s big, stupid fun, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. Aquaman comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and if you have the premium format capability, I highly recommend it. This is a reference material disc; the movie you’re going to pull out to show off your 4K TV set-up’s capabilities. The film looks and sounds absolutely magnificent in the premium HD format, making that the version to own of this action-packed superhero extravaganza.

Second Act – Jennifer Lopez stars in this comedy about a street smart woman with no college degree who finds herself being held back because of her lack of formal education. Now, I’ve always found J. Lo to be an actor that kind of blends into the movie she’s in. I’ve seen her be pretty darn good in good movies, and I’ve seen her be… somewhat less than good in bad movies. She never really elevates the material, but she’s an age-appropriate character delivery device. Second Act is nothing special, but Lopez manages to be endearing and the film is just charming enough to be enjoyable, even if you’ll likely forget all about it the second it’s over.

Pet Sematary: 4K Ultra HD – Just in time for the release of the new Pet Semetery film in theaters, Universal re-releases the original film starring Dale Midkiff and Fred Gwynne on 4K Ultra HD. First off, let me say that the film gets a nice upgrade in the premium format, with nice shadow delineation that lets the darker scenes be more visible, plus deeper color saturation as well as a nicely active (if unspectacular) soundtrack. Then we have the film itself. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been the biggest fan of this film (in fact, I used to make fun of it quite a bit), but on revisiting it, I found that it’s not as bad as I remember and does have some redeeming qualities. Dale Midkiff’s stone-faced performance is not one of those qualities, but it’s still a better film than I gave it credit for back in the day.

The Street Fighter Collection – If you’re a fan of the Street Fighter video games, don;’t get too excited. This Blu-ray collection from Shout Factory has nothing to do with the popular arcade and console series. No, instead, this series of films comes from the 1970s and stars martial arts superstar Sonny Chiba. There are three films in the collection: The Street Fighter, where Chiba plays a mercenary doesn’t get paid, and you can imagine how well that goes over. In Return Of The Street Fighter, Chiba gets hunted when he’s hired to kill a friend and refuses. And finally, Street Fighter’s Last Revenge closes out the saga with Chiba on the run with stolen mob goods. The films are the perfect mix of martial arts action and ‘70s-era cheesiness; not brilliant, but fun. The set comes with a number of new extra features, including an interview with China himself. A great release for fans of a certain genre of films.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand – I’m a pretty huge Beatles fan, and I’ve read or seen just about everything there is to get my hands on about The Fab Four. So I have no idea how it was that I was completely unaware of this movie. Not only is it a film about The Beatles (in a roundabout way), but it also marks the directorial debut of one of my favorite directors, Bob Zemeckis (Back to the Future and so much more). The film is a slapstick comedy about four girls trying to sneak into the Beatles hotel when they hit the US to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, and it’s actually quite endearing and funny. There are a few cringeworthy moments (a Beatles obsessed nerdy guy is not a strong addition to the storyline), but I really enjoyed this film, which uses early Beatles songs exclusively as its soundtrack. This Criterion Collection Blu-ray sees the film completely restored and remastered, and it includes some great extra features, including two short films by Zemeckis and a 45-minute conversation between Zemeckis, screenwriter Bob Gale, and producer Steven Spielberg. Highly Recommended!

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Brighton Beach Memoirs – Neil Simon adapted his own Broadway smash for this filmed adaptation of the hit play Brighton Beach Memoirs. Starring Jonathan Silverman (a few years before Weekend at Bernie’s made him a much more well-known actor.) and Blythe Danner, the film takes place in the World War II era and is basically a family dramedy. I’ve always been aware of this film but had never had a chance to watch it until this new Shout Factory Blu-ray came out, and I’m glad I did. The film is funny, heartfelt, and enjoyable, with a great script (no surprise there) and a likable cast that isn’t filled with big names, just solid actors instead. A very enjoyable film.
  • The Body Snatcher – I mean, you really don’t get much more of a pedigree than you do with B-horror movie The Body Snatcher. I mean, it stars two of classic Hollywood’s biggest names, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff; it’s based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson; it’s produced by Val Lewton, one of the pioneers of the horror genre back in the day; and to top it all off, it’s directed by Robert Wise, who went on to helm West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. So it should be a masterpiece, no? Well, it might not be that, but it is certainly a good film, especially for the era it was made in, when horror films were most definitely B-movies (although to be fair, this is less a traditional horror story and more of a crime thriller.) Still, I’m happy to see the film get a Blu-ray release thanks top Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint, and even more happy to see it comes with a nice array of extra features.
  • Perfect Blue – This 20th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of Perfect Blue marks two decades since the release of the seminal anime film. While it may not be a household name, in the world of Asian cinema and anime, it’s a highly acclaimed film. I think part of that comes from the fact that it’s not the usual anime genre film that adds some combination of robots, imaginary creatures, monsters, children, witches, and so on. No, this is the story of a pop star-turned-actress who may for may not be being stalked by a killer, and who also may or may not be suffering some sort of mental breakdown. It’s a visceral work, with several very R-rated scenes, and while I wouldn’t say it was a pleasant viewing experience per se, there’s no denying that it’s a powerful film.
  • The Vault – James Franco, Francesca Eastwood, Q’orianka Kilcher, Taryn Manning, and Clifton Collins Jr. star in this supernatural bank heist thriller that’s a certain amount of fun. The story follows a pair of sisters forced to rob a bank who get sent down to a lower level of the bank and come up against, well… something. I don’t want to say anything more because there are some surprises along the way, and unravelling what’s going on is part of the fun. The film isn’t exactly a slam dunk, but the cast is game, the tension is strong, and the film has some fun moments. James Franco plays a more serious role (which is nice to see, as it seems he forgets he can do that sometimes) and the end result is a film that is probably better than it should have been.
  • Vengeance: A Love Story – Nicolas Cage stars in this thriller that borrows a page heavily from the Death Wish playbook, playing a detective who goes on a streak of vengeance when four men viciously assault a single mother in front of her 12-year-old daughter. Now, we all know that Nic Cage movies can be real hit or miss these days, and having watched some of his more awful efforts of late, this one actually isn’t bad. It’s not for the faint of heart, as some of the assault scenery is quite visceral, but Cage doesn’t veer too far into “Crazy Nic” territory and the story is a tried-and-true action genre trope. Not great, not terrible.
  • The Miseducation Of Cameron Post – Chloe Grace Moretz turns in a terrific performance in this drama about a gay teenage girl who is sent to a Christian conversion camp to try and “pray the gay away.” This was a personal film for Ms. Moretz, as she has two gay brothers, and it’s clear she takes her role very seriously. (I’m not just conjecturing there; I heard her talk about it recently in an interview.) Not surprisingly, she’s fantastic in the lead role, as she’s a great actor and it’s nice to see her tackle a really meaty role. With a good supporting cast, a strong script, and a timely storyline, this is a smaller film that’s really worth tracking down.
  • Nemesis: Sequel Trilogy – Okay, on the one hand, I really applaud MVD’s Rewind Collection for releasing the three sequels to the cult classic sci-fit flick Nemesis on one Blu-ray, and for including extra features for each film. That’s pretty awesome, especially if you’re a Nemesis fan. On the other hand, I wish they could have just gotten the rights to the original film to go with it, to make this a fun franchise set. It’s a little odd to buy a set of three movies that are parents two three, and four of a saga. (Okay, maybe saga is a strong word for a four-film series about cyborg wars in the future with a budget of about $35 a piece.) That all said, these are really cheesy and really fun movies from the 1990s, but you have to know what you’re getting into. These are super low budget sci-fi flicks, and so you can’t take them too seriously. Think of films like The Guyver and Millennium and you’re in the right ballpark. Still, three whole films for one low price is hard to resist, especially with the sweet cover art and cool extra features.
  • Life After Flash – This terrific documentary profiles the life of actor Sam J. Jones in the aftermath of cult classic Flash Gordon. It’s no secret that Jones did not become a household name superstar after the film came out in 1980, and this film details his trials and tribulations, his successes and his failures, and his battles in Hollywood. Jones is an affable character and the film does a good job of painting a portrait of a man who had a taste of success and then had a varied career afterwards. With interviews with luminaries such as Jones himself (obvs), Stan Lee, Brian Blessed, Brian May of Queen, Barry Bostwick, and many others, this feature-length documentary is a must-watch for Flash Gordon fans.
  • USS Indianapolis: The Final Chapter, NOVA: Apollo’s Daring Mission, NOVA: Pluto and Beyond, Victoria and Albert: The Wedding, NATURE: Equus – Story of the Horse – PBS has a number of notable documentary releases out this week. First up is USS Indianapolis: The Final Chapter, which is one of my favorite documentary programs of the year so far. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the USS Indianapolis, the ship that delivered the A-Bomb during World War II and then was sunk in shark-infested waters. It was famously soliloquized about by Robert Shaw in Jaws. The ship’s wreck was discovered just last year and this program explores the ship’s legacy and discovery. It’s fascinating stuff. Next up is NOVA: Apollo’s Daring Mission, a two-hour documentary film about the Apollo 8 mission (also known as the mission that put a man on the moon.) It features interviews with living engineers, astronauts, and mission personnel that were there to make that historic flight possible. For the most part, it’s very interesting stuff, and I love the space program so I found it doubly rewarding. It’s a double feature of space-related material as we also have NOVA: Pluto and Beyond, an hour-long special about the New Horizons satellite that flew past Pluto and took some incredible imagery of the former planet. This special shares some of those images and also explains what New Horizons is up to now that it’s past Pluto. Once again, it’s extremely interesting stuff. Man, I can’t get enough of PBS’s space programming. Coming back down to earth, we have Victoria and Albert: The Wedding, a two-hour program detailing the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which apparently set the stage for centuries of weddings to come by basically inventing what we think of as the modern wedding. There’s more to the story than that, of course, and this show takes a deep dive into their courtship, their relationship, their engagement, and their wedding. Finally, we have the surprisingly interesting NATURE: Equus – Story of the Horse, a two-part documentary that uses computer imagery to introduce us to the horse’s ancient ancestors from some 45 million years ago or so in the first part, and then introduces us to all the modern horse breeds in the second part. I’m not a big horse guy so I didn’t have big expectations for this one, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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