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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Upside, Cold Pursuit, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Funny Games and more


The Upside – While it never made a big box office splash here in the US, one of my favorite films of the past decade was a French movie called The Intouchables. It was a heartwarming and funny film, and it also served as the basis for the American remake The Upside, starring Kevin Hart and Brian Cranston. Now, I wasn’t particularly upset that they decided to remake the film, nor was I overly excited about it. However, with Brian Cranston and Kevin Hart playing the lead roles, I felt like it would at least be an entertaining film. And I’m happy to report that they crafted a worthy remake that is, if not quite as good as the original, at least a highly enjoyable and well-crafted film. Both Cranston and Hart are terrific, and the film gets the tone right from the original, and manages to keep both the humor and the more emotional moments intact. The film did pretty well at the box office, but if you didn’t catch it in theaters, I definitely recommend you track it down now. And then make sure you also track down The Intouchables, because it’s a beautiful film.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – The How to Train Your Dragon Trilogy has been somewhat of a surprise since the very beginning. The first film was more fun than I expected, the kind of movie that kids and adults could both enjoy. The second film built on the mythology of the first, adding new characters and settings and proving the first film wasn’t a fluke. Now we have the third film in the trilogy, and once again it’s a really impressive effort. The addition of a new dragon and possible love interest for Toothless along with a new villain and stakes that seem bigger then ever all add up to one heck of a family film, filled with adventure and humor and characters we’ve come to know and love. How to Train Your Dragon 3 is available on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the premium 4K format is definitely the way to go if you have the capability. The film looks absolutely astounding, with crystal clear imagery and colors that seem to leap off the screen, all coupled with an incredibly immersive surround soundtrack.

Cold Pursuit – I’m not entirely sure what to make of Cold Pursuit, but then, I suspect the filmmakers weren’t all that sure, either. Rarely have I seen so unclear of its own identity as I have this one. The film wants to be a comedic thriller, but it’s really not funny enough to land the comedy part, nor is there enough action or intrigue to really qualify it as “thrilling,” either. Liam Neeson seems like he’s sleepwalking through the film, and the ending is completely unsatisfactory. I feel like there’s a good film in here somewhere, but it’s pretty far from the surface. It’s not entirely unenjoyable (Tom Bateman is a heck of a lot of fun as the film’s main antagonist), but it just never lands on sure footing. For a film that takes place largely in the snow, I was a little surprised how good Cold Pursuit looks in the 4K Ultra HD format. (It’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD.) The transfer pulls out colors you didn’t even know were there, and what could have been a bland and lifeless picture is instead bustling with vibrant energy. The surround soundtrack also is a little better than I expected. While the movie has action in it, it’s not an action film per se, yet the surrounds were constantly active. A very nice presentation.

13 Reasons Why: Season Two – Netflix’s much-buzzed-about series about a teenager who commits suicide has come to DVD to allow all those non-subscribers out there to finally experience it. (Side note: are there still people without Netflix subscriptions?) This season, one of the main characters goes on trial in relation to the events of season 1, and a number of characters move in new directions, as the season picks up five months after Season 1 ends. Here’s what I’ll say about this show: it’s extremely well done. I don’t know that it’s the kind of thing I would have chanced upon without all the buzz about it, but it’s very well written, strongly acted, and currently topical. If you don’t have a Netflix subscription but want to catch up, now’s your chance.

Funny Games – Some of you may remember Funny Games, a somewhat meta-thriller from 2007 starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Well, that film, directed by Michael Haneke, was a remake of a German film from 1997, also directed by Michael Haneke. Yes, the acclaimed German filmmaker basically remade his own film for Hollywood. Now, I like the original quite a bit, but for those of you who like to dig a little deeper, The Criterion Collection has now issued the original film in a new Blu-ray (and DVD) edition. There’s isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two versions, actually – aside from the language, of course – as this one also tells the story of a small family taken hostage by two well-dressed young men – who then chastise the viewing audience for their voyeuristic ways that are evidenced by watching. Like the remake, it’s a fascinating and thrilling film that is a little uneven, largely because the fourth-wall breaking scenes never really worked all that well for me. Still, there’s something more visceral about this original version, and I’m glad I got to watch it This new Criterion edition comes fully restored and remastered, and it included a nice collection of extra features as well.

The Seduction – This 1982 steamy thriller marked the big screen debut of Morgan Fairchild, and it’s a lot of fun. Yes, it’s dated and, yes, it’s aged quite a bit, but if you love ‘80s movies in general, you’ll enjoy this one. In the film, Fairchild plays a newswoman who becomes the prey of a dangerous stalker, and – surprise, surprise!! – the police are the usual amount of help. Cue Fairchild transforming from victim to fighter. Sure, it’s a by-the-numbers thriller, but it has the ‘80s patois to it that is equal parts excess, silliness, and sincerity, resulting in a film that would feel right at home on late-night pay-TV channels, but is somehow elevated beyond that. This new Blu-ray edition (the film’s debut in high def) comes courtesy of Scream Factory, and it includes a nice collection of extra features as well as terrific new cover art.

Also Available This Week on Home Video –

  • Power: The Complete Fifth Season – I’ve watched sporadic episodes of this urban ganglord drama series, and while it’s not a bad show, for the most part. I’ve never really been able to get into it. Honestly, I’m a little surprised it’s lasted for five seasons, but I guess that’s one of the benefits of being on a pay channel; like Starz. For me, I don’t find the characters particularly likable, which makes it hard to embrace the show. Still, it is a solid drama and a compelling show overall with great performances, so fans of things like The Wire and The Shield will probably enjoy it quite a bit.
  • Big Brother – Asian action superstar Donnie Yen returns in his latest actioner, which is little less action-y than many of his previous films. This time around, we get to see Yen’s take on Kindergarten Cop, as he plays a former soldier hired to teach a group of teenage delinquents. Okay, so it’s probably more Lean on Me than Kindergarten Cop, but you get the point. Now, I’ve always found Yen to be a little short in the charisma department, and while this film didn’t completely reverse my opinion, at least he gets to have a little more time to show character and heart than in many of his previous roles. It’s not a slam dunk of a film, but I t’s an easy and enjoyable watch overall.
  • The Image Book – If you didn’t know that Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most celebrated director’s from the French New Wave movement of the 1960s was still making films, don’t worry, you’re not alone. But, it turns out he is. This 2018 film is… well, it’s interesting. It’s not a narrative storyline. Instead, Godard takes bits and pieces of celebrated and beloved films from the past century of filmmaking, stitches them together, then alters them through photochemical and digital means. All the while, he narrates his frame of mind in doing so. The end result is an image-heavy, philosophical, and at times meandering treatise on life as viewed by a celebrated auteur. Now, I can’t say it’s particularly my cup of tea, but those of you who are Godard fans or prefer much more arthouse fare than I do will most likely be captivated by it.
  • RKO Classic Romances & RKO Classic Adventures – Kino Lorber brings us two new collections of classic RKO films (RKO was what the studio was called before it became Universal Studios) from the golden age of Hollywood, with all of the films making their debuts on Blu-ray. RKO Classic Romances features five pre-code movies that, obviously, focus on romance, although they’re not all weepy melodramas. I mean, some are, such as the first film in the set, Millie, starring Helen Twelvetrees. Other films in the set include Kept Husbands (with Joel McCrea), The Lady Refuses (which deals with prostitution), The Woman Between (starring Lester Vail), and Sin Takes a Holiday (featuring Constance Bennett). My favorite film of the bunch is Kept Husbands, which has a good sense of fun to it and a great performance by Joel McCrea, who I always like. Meanwhile, RKO Classic Adventures offers up three adventure movies: The Painted Desert (which features a young Clark Gable in his sound film debut); The Pay-Off (a gangster movie) and The Silver Horde, which once again stars Joel McCrea. I’m not sure why the Adventures set only has three films to the Romance set’s five, as there’s no real difference in movie lengths for the most part, but both are worthwhile collections for those who like to dig deep into classic Hollywood filmmaking.
  • Independent Spotlight – We have three new independent releases this week. First up is White Chamber, starring Oded Fehr (from The Mummy movies) and Shauna McDonald (The Descent). What starts off as a seeming riff on a movie like Cube quickly turns into something much more serious, with political overtones. The story follows a woman in near-future England who wakes up in a white room and being tortured for information. The question, of course, is does she have the information, and who exactly is the good guy? It’s an interesting enough movie with some slower moments and some intense moments, plus two very strong central performances. Next up, we have A Dark Place, an intriguing mystery about a young man on the spectrum who becomes obsessed with a missing persons case involving a small child. However, when he tries to solve it, he finds more and more obstacles – including some unexpected ones – getting in his way. Unfortunately, despite a really strong performance from Andrew Scott in the lead role, the mystery often takes a back seat to more slice-of-life concerns. And while those concerns make up some of the better moments in the movie, I would have liked a more cohesive seam between the two narrative arcs of the film Finally, Mission of Honor is a World War II fighter pilot action/drama starring Milo Gibson (Mel Gibson’s son). With a mix of character drama and aerial dogfights, the movie falls into that “just okay” camp. I’ve certainly seen worse, but I’ve also seen much, much better. The plane fights aren’t as exciting or cohesive as I’d have liked, and the end result is a film that’s decent, but far from memorable.
  • PBS Spotlight – We have three new releases from PBS this week, two non-fiction programs and a kids’ show. First up is Nicholas and Alexandria: The Letters, a two-part docudrama which tells the story of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Empress Alexandra. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about these two, but after watching this, I don’t feel like I know much more, as it feels like it really only takes a surface dive into the subjects. I’d have rather had a tight one-hour documentary than this docudrama, which feels overwrought and underdeveloped. Next, we have NOVA: Rise of the Rockets, a terrific Nova special about the rise of rockets and the current state of space travel, especially what role civilians might play in it. There’s a lot more going on in rocketry and space travel than I knew about, and this sharp, smart special shed s a lot of light on it all. Finally, we have Splash and Bubbles: The Kelp Forest. This popular show for preschoolers comes to DVD with a collection featuring six episodes and running just a tad under an hour-and-a-half. While my kids are too old for it now, I can see how this is the kind of show they would have loved when they were the right age for it.

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