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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Rocketman, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Walking Dead, Brightburn, The Banana Splits Movie and more


The Banana Splits Movie

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – I don’t know why the makers of the American Godzilla films are so resistant to putting him in their movies. 2014’s Godzilla featured the title character for a whopping ten minutes of the film. This time around, Godzilla gets a little more screen time, but he’s largely absent for big parts of the movie. And while there is plenty of monster action (and some great special effects) his absence is felt, especially in the wake of – once again – a group of characters that are dour and uninteresting. What’s missing from these movies is any sense of fun. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is available on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and I will say that as far as the technical presentation goes, the disc is a killer. Picture quality is ridiculously good, with more vibrant colors than I expected – especially considering the muddy palette the film showcases. The surround soundtrack is also extremely immersive, so if you do like the film, you’ll love the way it looks and sounds on 4K Ultra HD.

Rocketman – I really, really wanted to like Rocketman, especially after the recent spate of successful music biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Straight Outta Compton. However, the filmmakers’ decision to turn the film into a more traditional musical, filled with fantasy-like musical sequences (as opposed to just Elton John playing songs in concert, in studio, etc.) gives the film a really weird feel. It’s much less based in reality and while it does tell his story, it does so through a fantasy lens that I just didn’t care for. The music is great, and Taron Egerton’s performance is utterly terrific, but the film as a whole left me cold, which was very disappointing. Rocketman is available on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and it’s a very strong presentation. The film is very bright and colorful and the 4K presentation pushes those aspects to the forefront. The surround soundtrack also ensures that the music sounds crystal clear while also utilizing all the surround channels. I didn’t love the movie, but it does look and sound great in the premium format.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 – I seem to be one of the few people who didn’t like the first Secret Life of Pets Although, judging by the huge drop off in box office gross from the first film to this one, maybe less people liked it than I thought. So personally, I didn’t see the need for a sequel, but since the first one was a big hit, I’m not surprised we got it. Ultimately, I guess if you liked the first film you’ll probably like this one as well, and if – like me – you didn’t love the first film, I don’t know that this one is going to change your opinion. There are two new mini-movies included on the home video release, including a new Minions short, and there are some other bonus features that kids and adults both will enjoy.

The Walking Dead: The Complete Ninth Season – I know that a lot of people have kind of fallen off of the Walking Dead train, and I get that. The last couple of seasons haven’t been the highest points in the show’s run. But while I was flagging in my enthusiasm a little bit, Season 9 brought me back into it. With the first half focusing on the final episodes of Rick Grimes, the second half really got me excited. It felt like the show was back on stride, and I was digging it. Then the season finale hit and it was… terrible. Honestly, the Season 9 finale was one of the worst episodes of the show ever. So I don’t know what that means for Season 10, but I’m hopeful the finale was just an anomaly, because I like being a fan of the show again. If you didn’t watch Season 9, now is a great chance to get caught up.

Brightburn – Produced by Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, Brightburn is pretty much a What If horror movie: what if Superman discovered his powers as an adolescent and instead of becoming a hero, he became a pretty bad guy? It’s a neat concept for a film, and overall I really liked the film. As typical for almost every James Gunn related movie, the film has a dark streak that results in a few scenes that are way over-the-top with the gore, which I personally didn’t care for. But aside from that, the idea of basically taking a slasher horror film and couching it in a superhero origin story is a lot of fun. Definitely worth a watch, as long as you know what you’re getting into.

The Banana Splits Movie – Warner Brothers has been ramping up their Direct-to-Video offerings lately, with movies like a relaunched Critters franchise and now this, The Banana Splits Movie. This is a really interesting one, as the studio has taken a beloved children’s show from the ‘80s and turned it into a horror movie. Which is, let’s face it, kind of weird. But it’s also a little bit brilliant. And the movie knows better than to take itself seriously. It’s basically a slasher flick with four animatronic animal puppets doing all the killing. If you loved the Banana Splits as a kid (Like I did), you’ll get a kick out of how subversive and perverse the concept is. If you don’t remember the Banana Splits, you can still enjoy it as a simple horror movie about robots gone bad. Either way, I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I think you will too.

Stand By me (4K Ultra HD) – I was extremely excited to get the new Stand By Me 4K Ultra HD release. While the film has been on Blu-ray and DVD for years, this marks its debut on the premium format 4K. However, I was greatly disappointed to see that while this release includes a 4K disc and a Blu-ray discs, there’s no digital copy included. Which I just don’t get and it seems like a huge wasted opportunity. Aside from that, however, the 4K presentation is pretty terrific, especially considering how old the film is. It’s got a nice new sheen to it, with vibrant colors, razor sharp clarity, and good shadow delineation. The surround soundtrack isn’t the most active one ever, but it does make good use of all of your speakers and the overall effect is quite pleasing to the eyes and ears.

The Sun is Also a Star – The latest movie based on a YA novel, The Sun is Also a Star is a sweet romance about two young people who meet right before one of them may have to leave the country. What follows is a treatise on love and romance and fighting for what you want. Lead actors Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton carry the film, and their performances are pretty great. The film also manages to avoid devolving into the type of melodrama that makes you cringe. Sure, it’s full of some clichés and no small amount of drama, but the film earns what it gets and I think it will definitely find a bigger audience on home video than it did in theaters.

Spongebob Squarepants: The Best 200 Episodes Ever – The best 200 episodes ever… and also the only 200 episodes ever. I kid, because this monster box set is a behemoth, but it does basically collect the entirety of the first nine seasons of Spongebob Squarepants into one big box set that contains 32 discs (collected in two big plastic cases within the box.) I’ll admit it, I didn’t used to like Spongebob, but my kids have really gotten into him, and over the years I’ve begrudgingly come to enjoy the show. If you’re a fan of SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, and Mr. Krabbs, but you’re frustrated by the fact that only a few seasons are available on the streaming services, this is your chance to own every single episode and revisit Bikini Bottom at your leisure.

LEGO Batman: Family Matters – While the LEGO Batman movie was a big hit in theaters, there was already a successful direct-to-video line of DC Comics-based LEGO movies that was out before the big-screen film hit. This latest Batman LEGO film continues in that vein, giving us a full-length movie loaded with humor and LEGO cleverness. This time around, we see LEGO iterations of Batman villains like The Red Hood (a personal favorite of mine) and while it’s far from the gritty Gotham City people might want, it is a lot of fun. Kids who love the LEGO movies will enjoy this one quite a bit.

Cruising – Al Pacino’s most controversial role comes from earlier in his career, with this 1972 crime thriller from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection). Pacino plays a rookie cop who is tasked with going undercover in the gay club scene to catch a murderer, and he finds himself getting a little lost in the role. It’s not a film Pacino talks about much, which is kind of a shame, because it’s one of his better roles. Friedkin was still at his prime and the combination of a great actor and a great director set in the framework of 1970s cinema results in a pretty intense film. Arrow Video, who is coming on strong by bringing well-loved and cult classic films to new, high-quality Blu-rays, does another bang-up job here, giving us a restored & remastered film loaded with extra features. It’s a terrific film and fantastic presentation, making this one highly recommended!

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • The Flash: The Complete Fifth 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 fifth season sees a new main bad guy and some changes in the status of the 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.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles: The Tenth Season – Even though I don’t like NCIS, I’ve always really wanted to like NCIS: Los Angeles. It’s an incredibly popular show, I like Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J and it’s a more action-oriented show. And it is a better show than NCIS, by far. The writing is better, O’Donnell and LL Cool J have good chemistry, and the show definitely is more action-packed. Yet I still don’t love it. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of NCIS, but there’s something about the whole franchise that just doesn’t do it for me. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a style and a feel to the NCIS shows that just don’t work for me.
  • Mayans MC: The Complete First Season – While the uber-popular Sons of Anarchy has come to an end, this spin-off series offers up many of the same things you may have wanted from SOA, albeit with a slightly more Hispanic flavor. Similar to SOA, we follow a few key members of a motorcycle gang, and the ride is filled with drama, suspense, crime, romance, and more. I was never really into Sons of Anarchy, and while it’s clear that Mayans MC is a well-made show with a lot of similar qualities to it, it’s also not my cup of tea. I think fans of FX’s programming and shows with a darker undercurrent will probably like it, though, so it might be worth delving into.
  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco – This moving film really got my attention. Jimmie Fails stars in this drama about a young man trying to save the house his grandfather used to live in in San Francisco. There’s more to the story than that, but that covers it in broad strokes, and the discovery is part of what makes this film great. Fails is absolutely terrific in the lead role and director Joe Talbot, making his feature film debut, shows a real talent behind the camera, bringing San Francisco to life in a way I can’t remember seeing before. While this isn’t the most plot-driven movie in the list this week, it’s got a feel to it that sets it apart from the rest and I think some people will really take to it.
  • All is True – I’ve never been a Shakespeare fan, and although I’m a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh, even his Shakespeare adaptations leave me cold. But I thought this new film of his, All is True, might be different because he plays Shakespeare in a dramatic take on the later years of the Bard’s life. Despite a terrific cast that also includes Judi Dench, Anne Hathaway, and Ian McKellen, the film just couldn’t get me invested in the characters or the story. Branagh directs as well as stars as Shakespeare himself, and while his talent remains undeniable, this just wasn’t the film for me.
  • The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume Three – This fantastic new release from Cohen Media marks the third volume in what looks to be a collection that will span a number of releases. With this disc, you get two Buster Keaton silent classics, Seven Chances and Battling Butler. Seven Chances sees Keaton as a man trying to get married before 7 PM in order to get $7 million. It’s kind of neat to see Keaton’s take on a storyline that has been redone over the years in similar films like Brewster’s Millions and The Bachelor. Battling Butler, meanwhile, is a switching places/mistaken identities comedy, and I really enjoyed it. There are a few extra features, but the real attraction is the two main films which have been restored and remastered and look better than any previous version. Definitely recommended for fans of Keaton or classic silent comedies.
  • Aniara – This trippy sci-fi film from Sweden is… well, different. The basic plot sounds pretty straightforward, with a transport ship leaving earth for Mars getting knocked off course and drifting aimlessly with no repairs in sight. Then the film takes off in directions we don’t usually see. We get time jumps into different periods in the ship’s near future, but there’s a machine that creates something like virtual reality memories for the passengers, which leads to a lot of dreamlike sequences. The film also isn’t shy with the sexual content, but it’s all framed in this ethereal quality that will leave filmgoers who like more linear, coherent works a little cold. For me, while I can appreciate the cinematography and performances, as a whole the film didn’t get me excited.
  • Get Out Your Handkerchiefs – This French film starring Gerard Depardieu gets a new Blu-ray edition to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary. Winning the Best Foreign Film Academy Award in 1978, this tragicomedy sees Depardieu as a man who can’t understand his wife’s depression but wants to help her, so he gets her a lover. However, he isn’t what she’s looking for either, and ultimately she enters into a strange love affair with a young teenager. It’s a film that has some weird connotations in 2019, although it’s not as creepy as it might sound. It’s fast and furious at times, and sly and meandering at others, but the performances are great and there are some laughs to be found. Fans of foreign cinema will be pleased with this new edition.
  • Killers Anonymous – A poor man’s Seven Psychopaths, Killers Anonymous features supporting turns by Jessica Alba and Gary Oldman (apparently looking for an easy paycheck) but a mostly unknown cast of main characters. The film features a support group for assassins who end up trying to figure out who killed one of their own. And while that sounds like a great concept on paper, it’s really poorly executed. The editing is hyper flashy but it’s all to cover up the fact that there’s not much good going on in the film. The characters are cookie-cutter, the story is bland, and the reveals are uninspired. This one doesn’t live up to its potential, not even a little.
  • Straight Forward: Series 1 – This co-produced series from Denmark and New Zealand sees a Danish con artist uprooted when she gets into trouble and relocating to a new country. But, of course, her past follows her. That’s a simplification of the plot, but that’s because while I usually trust Acorn Media’s offerings, this one was a letdown. A crime thriller series that’s largely missing the thrills, this set brings us the first eight episodes of the show. I found it largely kind of dull, with a lot of crime TV clichés and characters we’ve seen dozens of times before. This one was a disappointment for me.
  • NOVA: The Planets – NOVA brings us a terrific series on the planets of the solar system over the course of five episodes. We get two episodes on the inner planets (including earth) and the outer ice planets, then individual episodes dedicated to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The show uses a mix of real footage from satellites and spaceships mixed with computer-generated imagery based on scientific exploration of our galaxy to give us an in-depth look at each planet. There are also interviews with notable scientists, giving us a complete picture of each world and what it has to offer. There are some gorgeous visuals and some great information, and as a bit of a space geek, I ate this series up. It’s available on Blu-ray as well as DVD, but I highly recommend the high-def presentation on Blu-ray; it looks terrific.
  • Teen Titans Go!: Season 5, Part 1 – The popular kids’ superhero cartoon returns and this is the latest collection. This zany, anime-inspired cartoon follows a young superhero team made up of Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy, and Starfire (kind of a mini Justice League of sorts). After ending in 2009, the show returned a couple years ago, and it features the same voice cast as the original series, which fans are sure to love. This two-disc set includes 13 episodes, which is a nice improvement over the four-episode discs the original show would pump out. Still not my favorite cartoon, but kids are crazy over it.
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines: Ninja Blaze – This is the latest release from the well-liked pre-school-based show. This is one of Nick Jr.’s most popular shows, which follows a young Monster Truck and his friends in the world of Monster Truck racing. Of course, there are learning components as well and kids seem to really like it. This newest release has five episodes, two of which are ninja-themed, hence the name of the disc. This show is perfectly fine for the youngsters, if a bit repetitive after a while.
  • Indie Spotlight – We have a number of new independent releases out this week. First up, on DVD only, is Miss Arizona, an interesting comedy about a bored-housewife-slash-former-pageant-queen who takes a group of abused women under her wing and ends up going on a sort of forced road trip with them. While it’s not a perfect film, I enjoyed the spirit of the film, and the performances are endearing. Add to that a few good laughs and some heartfelt moments, and I liked the film more than I expected to. Next up is Babylon (on Blu-ray as well as DVD), which has a quote on the cover proclaiming it “One of the greatest British films!” I mean, I don’t know about that. It’s the story of a hungry young musician fighting against racism and other conflicts as he chases his dreams. The lead actor is Brinsley Forde, better known as the frontman of the British music group Aswad, and he gives a pretty good performance. It’s an okay film, but I can’t say I loved it. After that, we have The Vanishing Shadow, which I quite enjoyed. This 12-part serial from Universal Studios has been released on Blu-ray by VCI International, marking the first time it’s ever been available on home video. The story follows a man who goes up against the mob to avenge his father’s death and ends up using robots and laser guns (plus a vanishing belt!) to do it. It’s dated and silly, but it’s also a lot of fun. Following that, we have Pixelia, a really unique drama about a cab driver (who longs to be a graphic novel creator) and a transgendered person (who wants to adopt a child), and their interaction. The film is short (just 70 minutes), but as it’s largely driven by conversation (with some interesting visuals mixed in here and there), that feels just right. Two strong lead performances give the film some weight, and I think it will find an audience. Next up is Doublecross, which marks the DVD debut of a 1956 crime thriller that could probably be classified as film noir, or at least film-noir adjacent. Donald Houston stars as a boat captain who takes on passengers who are secretly criminals, and it becomes a tense game of cat-and-mouse as he tries to survive their journey. Another film clocking in at 70 minutes, this taut thriller is light on star power but is engaging nonetheless. Don’t confuse Child’s Play with the latest Chucky film that hit theaters recently. This is an odd little film from the 1950s, seemingly a sci-fi version of the Our Gang flicks, in which a group of kids end up with some atomic chemicals and invent a new form of popcorn. It’s ostensibly a comedy, but it’s uneven and dated and a little offbeat to begin with, so it’s more of a curiosity than a fully formed movie. Conflict of Wings (also known as Fuss of Feathers) is another classic-era drama about a small village that gets up in arms when they find out the government wants to turn a nearby island into a munitions range. The film has a certain charm to it and anyone who remembers the movie will be happy to have it on DVD for the first time, but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. Finally, Ladyworld is an intriguing thriller about eight teenage girls celebrating a birthday party when the house they’re in sinks underground due to an earthquake. Tensions quickly rise and things quickly escalate, and suffice it to say that not everyone will emerge unscathed. The most notable thing about the film is the presence of Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, who recently made a huge splash as a new cast member in Stranger Things: Season 3. It’s a claustrophobic film but it has some good tense moments and some solid performances, so it might be worth a look.

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