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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Dark Phoenix, Supergirl, Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns, The Case of Hana & Alice and more


X-Men: Dark Phoenix – I’ve always had a bit of a mixed relationship with the X-Men movies. While I liked (but didn’t love) the first two, the third film was a mess. Then I liked X-Men: First Class and I absolutely loved Days of Future Past, but Apocalypse was a complete mess. And then Dark Phoenix comes out — now renamed X-Men: Dark Phoenix for home video, presumably because of its dreadful showing at the box office. And honestly, it’s not that great. Is it as bad as a lot of people said it was? I don’t know about that, but it certainly has its problems. First and foremost is that it’s the second time Fox has tried to shoehorn the most epic X-Men story of all time (that played out over something like three years of comic books) into a two-hour movie. And because it’s so compressed, nothing seems right. The stakes are both too high and not high enough, characters act contrary to their normal behaviors, and the writing feels rushed and incomplete. That all said, it’s an easy enough watch, and there are actually a few good action scenes that see the mutants and their powers in full effect. X-Men: Dark Phoenix comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) and it is a terrific audiovisual presentation. The deep color saturation that 4K brings really lets the film pop and image clarity is razor-sharp. The surround soundtrack pulls its share of the weight, too, giving all the speaker channels a nice workout. It’s an excellent presentation of a somewhat decent film.

Supergirl: The Complete Fourth Season – In its fourth season, Supergirl

has really come into its own. Gone are many of the awkward moments that populated the first couple of years, and the show seems more self-confident and sure-footed now. Of course, much of the credit for that goes to Melissa Benoist, who is so charming, delightful, effervescent, and beautiful that it seems clear that nobody else could have played Supergirl but her. But the writing has finally caught up to her talent, and the show seems a lot smoother than it used to be. This fourth season collection includes crossover episodes with the other DC shows and a number of extra features (plus some pretty kick-ass cover art), making this set a must-have for fans.

Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns – This isn’t just a documentary about country music; it’s a Ken Burns documentary about country music. Which means instead of the typical hour-long puff piece with a few random interviews with almost-star musicians, you get an eight-hour miniseries that looks far beyond the hits and the stars to delve deep into the history of the genre, the people who shaped it, and how it’s changed over the years. It’s a terrific experience, as you would expect from Ken Burns, and I learned so much that I didn’t know about a music genre that I’m not really a fan of, but I can appreciate (even more so now.) There is also a bevvy of musical performances and songs, so you’re not just hearing about the music but you’re actually hearing it, and then you get a ton of extra features including even more interviews and music. Definitely check this one out whether you like country music or not. Documentary viewing doesn’t get much better than this, and having the series on Blu-ray (it’s also available on DVD) makes it even sweeter.

The Good Fight: Season ThreeThe Good Wife may be over, but The Good Fight goes on. This spin-off of the hit show sees Christine Baranski in the lead role as a lawyer forced out of her firm who takes on a job working at a prestigious African American–owned firm that’s gaining attention for tackling socially challenging cases. There’s a great supporting cast and the writing on the show is really sharp, although it definitely is not for people who want their TV to remain apolitical. The Good Fight originally airs on the CBS All Access app, so you can watch it there, but if you don’t have the app or you just want a physical copy of the show, this DVD collection includes the entire third season (10 episodes), and it’s a pretty easy binge-watch. I can’t say I was looking for another law show to watch, but if you are, this one is pretty good.

Midsomer Murders: John Barnaby’s Top Ten – This unendingly popular mystery show from across the pond, proves why British television does some of the best mystery shows on TV. Now in its 20th(!) season, the show is a police procedural, but there’s a personal side to it as well, as the Barnaby family sometimes get involved in solving crimes. In fact, the show even survived a lead change that saw one character (and actor) take over for another without missing a beat. This newest collection, John Barnaby’s Top 10, sees lead actor Neil Dudgeon pick out his ten favorite episodes. All of those are packaged together in a really cool collection that’s packaged with postcards and a map of Midsomer. Even better, Dudgeon introduces each episode and tells little anecdotes about each one and why he likes it, or what was fun about a particular scene, and things like that. It’s a really great set as it includes ten really strong episodes, collectible packaging, and even more extras, including an hour-long documentary feature. This one’s a real winner.

The Case of Hana & Alice – I tend to like anime films once in a while, but a lot of them tend to leave me uninterested. This one I actually enjoyed, as it’s different than the usual anime fare. In this film, Alice is a middle school student who transfers to a new school and hears that a student who used to live next door to her was murdered by their fellow students. Enlisting the help of a reclusive fellow student named Hana, the two become friends and try to solve the mystery, even though neither one of them knows anything about detective work. The story is more character driven than usual and the character sin this case are interesting and endearing, and so the story works rather well. I won’t spoil what happens, but there’s a lot to enjoy here despite some minor flaws along the way.

Also Available on Home Video This Week:

  • Dead Water – B-movie regulars Casper Van Dien and Judd nelson star in this thriller set on the water, although Judd Nelson really just shows up for about ten minutes at the end. I wanted to like this film because I like both Judd Nelson and Casper Van Dien, and to be fair, they both give solid performances. But the film itself is just lacking in any real suspense or tension. You’d think a film with three people on a boat and some perhaps nefarious goings-on would equal at least a little suspense, but the film is mostly talk with an action-filled ending tacked on. The one bright spot is lead Brianne Davis, who gives her role some real oomph and is clearly a talent I expect we’ll see more of in the future.
  • Bottom of the 9th – Real-life couple Joe Manganiello and Sofia Vergara star in this baseball-themed drama. Manganiello stars as a man who was a baseball prodigy when he was young but ends up spending 20 years in jail due to a youthful mistake. When he gets out, he works to rebuild his life, including his potential as a baseball player. Now, this isn’t really a great film, but it does do the thing that it does quite well. Meaning, it’s a solid enough film that has some good messages of positivity and hope, even if it’s a bit clunky along the way. If you’re looking for an easy-to-watch redemption story, this one will fit the bill, even if it’s not – wait for it – a home run.
  • Noir Archive Volume 3: 1957-1960 9-film Collection – This terrific three-disc set is the third volume in the Noir Archives from Kit Parker Films, which gives us nine of the lesser-known Film Noir movies from the late-1950s into 1960. This set contains the following films on Blu-ray: The Crimson Kimono(1959), The Lineup (1958), Man on a String (1960), The Shadow in the Window (1956), The Long Haul (1957), Pickup Alley (1957), The Case Against Brooklyn (1958), and She Played with Fire (1957). This volume features a few more well-known actors than Volume 2 did, with appearances by Victor Mature, Ernest Borgnine, Eli Wallach, Anita Ekberg, Colleen Dewhurst, and Darren McGavin, among others. The films are all pretty standard mid-budget noir fare, but there are a few standouts, such as Pickup Alley and Man on a String. I also especially enjoyed The Lineup (starring Eli Wallach) which was directed by Don Siegel, who’d go on to helm Dirty Harryand Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was also written by classic Hollywood great Sterling Silliphant. While these aren’t the most famous noir films out there, it’s nice to get a collection of well-made but lesser-seen classic Hollywood films on Blu-ray.
  • Kung Fu League – Oof. This action-comedy is a real stretch to watch. So, let me see if I can sum this one up succinctly: A comic book artist needs help defeating his personal bad guys and get the girl, so he summons four ancient martial arts masters (based on, I believe, legendary historical figures) to teach him the skills he needs. These figures include Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung, Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (who has been portrayed in a series of movies of his own), Chen Zhen (the character Bruce Lee played in Fist Of Fury), and martial artist Huo Yuan Jia. Now, you’d think this would all add up to make for a fun movie, but honestly, it just gets more ridiculous as it goes. The protagonist isn’t particularly likeable, and while there are some decent action sequences, the whole film is just silly and cheesy. This one is just a miss from the word go.
  • Mill Creek Spotlight – Mill Creek specializes in lower-priced catalog titles and B-movie fare, and this week they have a pretty nice sampling of a little of everything. First up, we have a trio of budget-friendly catalog releases on Blu-ray: I Spy, Duplicity, and True Believer. I Spy stars Owen Wilson, Eddie Murphy, and Famke Janssen. It’s an action-comedy that doesn’t quite work as well as it should, but it does have a few fun moments and I like Murphy and Wilson together. It was fun to revisit, even if it’s a flawed film. Duplicity stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, and it’s one of those twisty-turny caper comedies that see Owens and Roberts trying to stay one step ahead of each other, leading to double cross after double cross. It’s a bit long at just over two hours, but it’s a fun enough film with game performances from the leads. True Believer is actually a film I’d never seen before, but I liked it quite a bit. It stars James Woods as a sleazy (but once honorable) lawyer and a young Robert Downey Jr. as his naïve assistant, taking on a case that’s Too Big To Win. Woods’ ponytail is ridiculous, but he and Downey Jr. are both in fine form and it’s an engaging film from start to finish. Moving on, we have Do or Die, Mill Creek’s latest Andy Sidaris film debuting on Blu-ray. Sidaris is a low-budget filmmaker with a cult following thanks to his formula of gunfights, nudity, and exploding helicopters. Do or Die isn’t a great film, but it checks all the boxes (and features a late-career performance from Pat Morita). Fun, in a certain way. Lastly, we have two collections of low-budget SyFy Channel TV movie fare. The Houses of Hell Collection includes The Dunwich Horror (starring Jeffrey Combs and Dean Stockwell), House of Bones (starring Charisma Carpenter and Corin Nemec), Mask Maker (starring Nikki Deloach and Treat Williams) and American Horror House (starring Morgan Fairchild and Allesandra Torresani). Meanwhile, the Savage Nature Collection includes Flu Birds (starring Lance Guest), Headless Horseman (starring Richard Moll), Monster Wolf (starring Robert Picardo, Leonor Varela, and Jason London), and WolvesBayne (starring Jeremy London, Marc Dacoscos, and Yancy Butler). These are all relatively cheesy offerings, but if you like SyFy movies, you should know what you’re getting yourself into, and getting four movies for somewhere around ten bucks is hard to argue with.
  • PBS Spotlight – This week we have several new documentary features from PBS, who of course brings us some of the best documentary programming on a regular basis. First up we have 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, a terrific program about the original moon landing that combines archival footage, archival audio, and new computer-generated imagery to give us a glimpse of what it was like to land on the moon. It’s pretty cool stuff, and it runs about 90 minutes, so it’s feature-length instead of just an hour-long episode like many of their shows are. Next up is the moving and gripping Tiananmen: The People Vs The Party, which recounts the events of the late 1980s when China’s citizens fought and died to try and gain democracy. There’s a lot of footage that’s never been seen before, and this program goes deeper into the whole event than anything I’ve ever seen before. Next up is Ancient SkiesNow, I’m not sure I needed to know what the skies and stars looked like to our ancestors, but the CGI at work here does offer up some beautiful imagery of celestial beings in the sky throughout the ages. It’s an intriguing program with some great visuals, even if it’s not required viewing. I really enjoyed the next release, When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time. This fascinating two-hour special teaches us about prehistoric versions of creatures we know and love, such as whales, crocodiles, birds, and elephants. It turns out that millions of years ago, these animals were VERY different (hence the title, When Whales Walked). It’s a neat glimpse of some creatures I knew nothing about that seem like mystical fantasy creations. Finally, World War Speed is an hour-long Secrets of the Dead special that looks at the use of narcotics or speed during World War II. We know that the Nazis used it to keep their soldiers awake and alert, but this program looks into the US’s and England’s use of the drugs as well. It’s interesting stuff… and a little bit scary.
  • PBS Kids Spotlight – PBS also has two kids-themed releases out this week. First up is one I’m particularly fond of, The Berenstain Bears: Tree House Tales, Volume 1. Of course, I grew up reading the Berenstain Bears books myself as a kid, but my kids also grew up with them and watched the Bears cartoon on DVDs when they were young. I have to say, I find this show very endearing, filled with characters we love, good life lessons, and some solid humor. This “best of collection” includes 26 episodes, giving you over five hours of terrific kids’ programming for a low, low price. Also out this week is Dinosaur Train: Dinosaurs Big & Small, which is a fun little cartoon on PBS that my kids really enjoyed when they were younger. It follows a family of dinosaurs (mostly Pteranodons, but with one young adopted T-Rex thrown in for good measure) in prehistoric times, with a dinosaur train that takes them all over the land for new adventures. As with most PBS kids shows, the series mixes positive lessons about family, friends, sharing, behavior, etc. with a good dose of humor and adventure. There are also real lessons on dinosaurs as interstitials between halves of episodes, which feature a real-life paleontologist. Fun stuff!
  • Indie Spotlight – We have a good number of new indie releases dropping this week. First up is Nightwish, a cult classic horror film from Unearthed Films, who has dropped a new line called Unearthed Classics which takes some of their more well-loved movies and gives them really nice new releases with new cover art, extra features, and premium packaging. Nightwish comes to Blu-ray (as well as DVD) and stars Brian Thompson of The X-Files and Kindred: The Embraced fame. The story is pretty simple, with a professor and his students investigating an old mansion with supernatural happenings going up against all manner of nasties. It’s a fun flick if you don’t mind low-budget genre fare, but Brian Thompson’s presence goes a long way to making it more enjoyable. Next up is a charming foreign film called In The Aisles. This fun little German film follows a pair of co-workers who develop a relationship, and it really shines thanks to the performances of the two leads, Franz Rogowski and Sandra Huller. Don’t let the fact that it’s in German dissuade you, it’s a sweet film that has a lot to offer, even if its run time is an unforgivable two hours and five minutes. I stuck with it through the end, so that tells you something. Next up is a documentary called Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me, which basically tells Pendergrass’s story from his major chart success to his tragic accident that left him paralyzed to his comeback performance that thrilled his fans. While I’m not a Pendergrass fan per se, it’s a solid film and it really gives you appreciation for the man as a musician and a person. Kids Table, meanwhile, sees four twentysomethings delving into the world of… bridge. Yes, the card game bridge, which seems to have solely existed in senior citizen’s centers for the last several decades. I like stuff like this, as I often find myself wondering about things that fall outside of the mainstream, so I was pleased to see these kids learning what has effectively become an old people’s game. It’s an interesting game and an interesting film. Moving on, I found Chicago Cab to be an oddity. Despite having an unknown actor in the lead role, the film boasts guest appearances by some pretty big name talent, including John Cusack, Gillian Anderson, Julianne Moore, Michael Ironside, and Laurie Metcalfe. Turns out, the film originally came out in 1997 but has been in limbo since, and really, it’s kind of an anthology movie with people getting in and out of a taxi and essentially enacting short vignettes before a new fare comes along. I like a lot of the people involved and the film was better than I expected it to be, but it does feel a bit more like an experiment than a film at times. Also more enjoyable then I expected is Mock & Roll, a sort of Spinal Tap-esque mockumentary about a burned out band trying to get to the SXSW Festival. Trust me when I say that things don’t go as you’d expect. The film features music from Foghat and Black Owls, and it’s more fun than you might expect. Finally, Cassandro The Exotico! is a documentary about Cassandro, famed for being a Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler who is even more famous than he already would have been for being the first openly gay wrestler. Even if you don’t think you know Cassandro, you’ll probably recognize him once you see what he looks like, as he’s kind of well-ingrained in the pop culture consciousness. It’s a moving and fascinating look at a different kind of pop icon.

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