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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Yesterday, Anna, The Stand, Elementary and more


Yesterday – What an interesting film. I’ll admit, as a die-hard Beatles fan, I was extremely curious about this movie in which a man wakes up one morning to realize he’s the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles. It’s a fun concept, and add to it the fact that it’s directed by Danny Boyle – a tried and true auteur – and you have what should be a slam dunk. But the film is written by Richard Curtis, who has made some terrific films in his time (Love, Actually for example), but he also writes very Richard Curtis-y movies. And the end result is a fun film that I enjoyed but didn’t quite love the way I wanted to. Himesh Patel is very likable in the lead role and delivers multiple Beatles covers with gusto, but the love story is a little too heavy-handed and cliched, and I didn’t love the way the ending played out; it felt rushed and incomplete. Overall I enjoyed the movie, it just wasn’t quite the home run I wanted it to be. Yesterday comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and it’s a pretty terrific audiovisual presentation. The surround soundtrack really highlights the music above all else, while the heavy color saturation brings the visuals to life. It’s a great presentation overall.

Anna – Luc Besson is one of those filmmakers that people love, but he’s really been a completely hit-or-miss filmmaker. For every Fifth Element or The Professional he’s made, he also gives us a film like Lucy that’s filled with promise but underdelivers. So as someone who isn’t necessarily a huge Besson fan, I wasn’t overly excited to watch Anna. The movie is a spy film starring newcomer Sasha Luss (ably supported by Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, and Cillian Murphy) that starts out in the vein of something like Atomic Blonde or Red Sparrow but quickly sets itself apart. The film combines over-the-top (and, quite frankly, breathtaking) action sequences with a Pulp Fiction-esque narrative style that constantly changes time periods to reveal twists and turns as the film goes along. I started off sceptical, but by the end, the film won me over and I ended up really enjoying it. Anna comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and it’s a top-notch presentation. The color saturation shines in certain scenes and the razor-sharp image clarity keeps all the action unobscured. Meanwhile, the surround soundtrack makes sure every punch, kick, and gunshot is felt, not just heard. It’s an absolutely outstanding presentation of the film.

Stephen King’s The Stand – For years, Stephen King movies were like the kiss of death at the box office. I don’t know why it took so long, but for many years, King adaptations were relegated to B-movie purgatory, often low-budget affairs that were poorly made and generally disliked. With rare exceptions (like The Shining), the 1990s miniseries of The Stand marks one of the first major efforts to adapt a Stephen King work and give it the treatment it deserved. Starring Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Laura San Giacoma, and many others, this four-episode miniseries tackled one of King’s most ambitious novels (and probably my favorite book of all time). With a new The Stand miniseries on the horizon (it’s due in 2020), Paramount has wisely re-released The Stand on home video, but this time it arrives on Blu-ray for the first time, with a remastered picture to boot. It looks and sounds great, better by far than any of the DVDs we’ve gotten over the years, and I was really jazzed to revisit this miniseries for the first time in several years. I was pleased to see how well it holds up after all these years, and I found it a welcome addition to my Blu-ray collection.

Holocaust – I’ll be honest, I do not remember this eight-hour miniseries from 1978. Now, that’s probably because it’s a little before my time, but it’s not even one I remember hearing about after the fact. I can’t imagine it didn’t get replayed during the 1980s, the golden age of TV miniseries, but regardless, this was my first exposure to it. The miniseries stars Meryl Streep and James Woods (as well as Michael Moriarty and a host of well-known actors) all looking extremely young. The story follows a Jewish German family through the horrors of World War II and the Nazis, and it’s fairly edgy stuff for the time period. While I don’t always love the running time associated with TV miniseries, it would be hard to follow these characters through so many momentous events involving World War II and Nazis in just a two-hour film. I don’t think it would have quite the same impact. Now, Paramount has released the miniseries on Blu-ray for the first time; there was a DVD release about 10 years ago, but I am sure this is a better audiovisual presentation. If you’r elooking for a historical epic with a star-studded cats, this one really fits the bill. It’s not exactly cheerful viewing, but it is well-made and well-acted.

Elementary: The Complete Series – Okay, I have to admit that I’ve always been underwhelmed by Elementary. I never thought it was a bad show, but I’ve always enjoyed Sherlock Holmes and this was a spin on the classic detective that I could just never get excited about, largely because it always felt like Just Another CBS Procedural more than an actual Sherlock Holmes show. However, it turned out to be a big hit for CBS, lasing seven seasons, all of which have now been collected into one giant box set. Revisiting some of the episodes now, I can see the show’s positives: I do like Jonny Lee Miller a lot, so I’m happy to see he found a hit show, and he and Lucy Liu did play off each other well. Their rapid-fire back-and-forth was evocative of Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Sherlock Holmes, which isn’t a bad thing. I can see why people like this show, I just wish I could have gotten more into it. I love mysteries, and I love Sherlock Holmes, but I only kind-of liked this show. Still, for fans of the series, this is a nice, bulky box set that includes every episode from all seven seasons plus special features, for hours and hours of entertainment.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Fourth Season – This spin-off from The Flash (and Arrow, technically) is almost as much fun as The Flash, although in a different way. With a full ensemble team of super-powered characters, this mish-mash of DC Universe heroes has managed to find its identity in relatively short time. With a number of familiar faces from the other DC shows the show does a lot with a somewhat limited budget and pulls off the time travel conceit at its core better than you’d expect. Now into its fourth season, the show has shaken off a lot of the growing pains associated with the first season, which could be a little clunky at times. This set also includes the crossover episodes with Arrow and The Flash among the copious bonus features, so you get all parts of the story. It’s a fun superhero show and I like having a big team of characters.
  • Madam Secretary: Season Five – I always thought it was a bit surprising that Madam Secretary became a hit, but it’s lasted five seasons so far, so I guess people like it. And while I don’t consider it must-see TV for me personally, I can see why people enjoy it. The show sees Tea Leoni — who I always find enjoyable — a a former CIA analyst who gets thrust intothe role of Secretary of State. Of course, five seasons in, her learning curve is less than it used to be, but the showrunners still find plenty of conflict. It’s a well-done series that skips a lot of the shock and over-the-top story elements that a lot of the shows rely on nowadays, although that’s not so say it doesn’t have its twists and turns. The cast is good, the storylines are solid, and while I’m not a regular viewer, I like to catch up with it some when it hits DVD.
  • Billions: Season Four – Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis return in the fourth season of the hit Showtime series. The show, which has apparently found an audience, is about drama and high stakes manipulation in the world of high finance. This is one of those shows that I can appreciate more than I actually like. The production values are terrific without a doubt and the actors are all firing on all cylinders. So I can’t say it’s not a good show, it’s just that I personally can’t get into it. I don’t generally love stories set in the financial world, and while there are some good stories here, it’s just not quite my cup of tea.
  • Pavarotti – Ron Howard, who made the excellent Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week, returns to documentaries with Pavarotti, another feature film doc about the world’s most famous opera singer. Now, if I’m being 100% honest, was I champing at the bit to watch a movie about Pavarotti? No, I was not. However, Howard has proven that he’s not just a master at weaving fictional narratives, but also highly adept at presenting us with real life stories as well. The film is entertaining and in-depth without boring us with minutia that the casual viewer won’t care about. Pavarotti comes across well, and in the end I’m glad I watched it and I hope Howard tackles more documentaries in the future.
  • The Tracker – Dolph Lundgren stars in this action/suspense thriller about a man whose wife and daughter were abducted and held for ransom ten years in the past, and who now has a chance for revenge. I’ve always liked Lundgren and I’ll give most of his movies a watch if I come across them. The Tracker, while well-made compared to some of his low-budget direct-to-video fare, is a little lackluster. The story is okay and there are some good action scenes, but it’s not an action film per se, and there are moments where it drags. It’s not a bad film and Lundgren fans will like seeing him in the lead role, but it’s not a particularly memorable film.
  • Fear No Evil – Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint brings us the Blu-ray debut of Fear No Evil, a 1981 cult classic horror film about archangels fighting the return of the devil, who happens to be inhabiting the body of an 18-year-old young man here on earth. The film isn’t particularly well known, and part of that comes from the lack of any really recognizable actors in the cast. It also isn’t the most memorable film I’ve ever seen. It’s actually not bad, especially considering its early-80s origins. I’ll admit that I’ve never seen it before, so I was interested to check it out and see a different kind of ‘80s horror flick (not just another ‘80s slasher), so I found it entertaining enough, but it’s not a slam dunk.
  • A Score To Settle – Well, this is an interesting one. Nicolas Cage stars as a man with a terminal illness who’s released from prison after almost 20 years and has two main goals: reconnect with his son, and get revenge on the people who wronged him. I won’t go into any of the twists and turns that follow, but suffice it to say there’s one or two doozies along the way. Cage turns in a pretty solid performance: it’s very Nicolas Cage-y, but while sometimes he can be terrible, here he manages to represent well. The film has moments of action, moments of boredom, moments of surprise. Honestly, it’s a bit of a mixed back and a little bit schizophrenic at times. I’d say this one is for die-hard Cage fans more than anyone else.
  • The Black String – Believe it or not, Freddie Muniz is still acting. (Wait, Freddie Who? You know, he was the star of Malcolm in the Middle!) Well, he’s back in a new thriller that debuts on video this week. It’s an interesting film, too, kind of a spin on body horror trope with a contracted-by-sex foundation that gives the film a creepy crawly vibe in the right way. Muniz is surprisingly good in the lead role, not afraid to appear unglamorous, and I was quite impressed with him. I knew he was a good actor, but I’m so used to him in comedy roles that it was nice to see him take on a dark, deep role here. The film isn’t perfect, but horror fans will likely appreciate that it’s trying to do something a little different than the norm.
  • The First King – This is a historical epic with a twist; the whole film is in Latin (or to be clear, a sort of pre-Latin language that was apparently recreated by linguists to provide historical accuracy.) The movie is the story of famed brothers Romulus and Remus and the empire they founded, supposedly one of the mightiest of all time. At just over two hours, we see brother vs brother conflict, and then we also get plenty of elaborate action scenes, all wrapped up in this unusual lingual choice. The film strives for accuracy, taking place in the 9th century, and overall it achieves it. I don’t know if the language choice was necessary, but it certainly adds to the feel of the film. History buffs might really got for this one.
  • Pitching In: Series One – Acorn Media offers a wide variety of programming, but if they’re known for anything, in my opinion it’s their crime dramas from all over the world, predominantly the UK and Australia & New Zealand. But I like when they offer up other kinds of shows, and Pitching In is an enjoyable new family drama that has a lot to offer. The cast is largely unknown to US viewers, although Hayley Mills (remember her from the original The Parent Trap?!?) shows up in a supporting role. The show deals with family, aging, romance, and more, but I don’t want to ruin the fun by telling you who’s up to what. It’s a short season, though; this set includes four hour-long episodes. But they’re good ones.
  • JoJo Siwa: Sweet Celebrations – So chances are you either have no idea who JoJo Siwa is, or your a parent who’s had more than your fill of her. I’m not here to knock JoJo. She’s a bubblegum sparkle personality who’s kind of the kid version of being famous for being famous, sure. But young kids like her and her music and who am I to be negative about that? This birthday special DVD follows JoJo for 24 hours as she celebrates her birthday with friends and special guests and music, and the DVD also includes six episodes of her animated YouTube cartoon. There’s not much here for parents, but who cares? If your kids like her, there’s way worse things they could be watching, and this will give you something new from JoJo for them to watch.
  • Momo: The Missouri Monster – So this is an interesting film. It’s sort of a rockumentary, sort of not. The film focuses on a 1972 monster sighting in Missouri of Momo, a Bigfoot-like creature. The movie presents footage of a “lost” film from the mid-7o0s about Momo, only said film never actually existed. However, the film isn’t completely fake, as the whole Momo thing apparently really happened. It’s an odd mix of fact and fiction, but the thing that works is that the movie’s heart is in the right place. It’s not making fun of Momo and the hysteria that surrounded it, but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. And on a mostly unrelated note, I just realized my last two reviews in this week’s column were about JoJo and MoMo. Huh.

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