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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Shaft, Tell Me A Story, Charmed, China Beach and more


Shaft – I feel like the only reason a new Shaft movie got made was because of Samuel L. Jackson’s perpetual popularity. I mean, the original Shaft (well the original remake, not the original original) was a hit, but it wasn’t a massivehit, and I never thought it was all that great, personally. Luckily, this newest entry in the franchise, while not a hit at the box office, is a much more fun film. Samuel L. Jackson is back, and Richard Roundtree stars as his dad (a nice homage to the original Shaft films) and this time Jessie Usher stars as Shaft’s son. The trio work well of each other, and the film adds some humor and some family issues to what could be a by-the-numbers action flick. It’s not a slam dunk, as there are a few scenes that don’t quite click here and there, but overall it’s a good amount of fun.

The Death and Return of Superman: The Complete Film Collection – The DC Animated Universe released two Superman films in the past year, breaking into two parts the storyline that shocked the world back in the 1990s when Superman died. The classic Superman comic book storyline saw Superman killed by Doomsday, then resurrected (maybe?) as four different characters. In the films, this was split into two feature-length animated movies. Now, Warner Brothers has done like they did with parts 1 and 2 of the animated Dark Knight Returns film and edited both films together into one epic, seamless, three-hour film called The Death and Return of Superman. And while I liked the two separate films, I think they actually work better as one big film. And this new release also comes packaged with a small action figure of Steel, one of the main characters of the Return part of the film. If you don’t already have the first two releases, I would definitely recommend picking this one up.

China Beach: The Complete Series – This 19-DVD box set doesn’t mark the first time that the entire series of China Beach has been collected on DVD, but it’s been several years since it was available, and in this day and age of binge-watching TV marathons, it’s the perfect time to see the popular war drama back on home video. Led by the excellent Dana Delaney, the show looked at the Vietnam War through the eyes of the women involved and how it affected them, making it a much more character-driven show then many other Vietnam-era stories. This set includes all 62 episodes, but even better, it features all of the original music from the show, which has been a huge problem for many TV shows form the 80s and 90s due to rights issues. You also get over five hours of bonus features, making this box set (now repriced to a lower-price than ever before) a real bargain for China Beach fans.

Charmed: Season One – The original Charmed show was a surprise hit for the WB (now The CW), running for eight seasons and gaining millions of fans in the process. When the new version of Charmed was announced, I thought it was odd that the show was being rebooted so soon, and then I looked it up and realized that the original series ended THIRTEEN years ago! Holy cow, I’m old! With that in mind, it actually makes sense to see the show rebooted, as it has a huge built-in fan base. The new show follows the general storyline of the original show, with three sisters who also happen to be witches, only updated to a modern sensibility. This time around, we get to join Mel, Maggie, and Macy on their witchy adventures, and I think the show is destined to have another fan following like the first. I can’t say I’m an overly huge fan of the show, but it’s enjoyable enough. But it has a likable cast, solid stories, and enough of a similar vibe to the original that I think it’s going to win over audiences regardless of whether I was blown away by it or not. This first season collection features all 22 episodes as well as some nice extra features.

Tell Me A Story: Season One – I really like this dark anthology series from Kevin Williamson, the creator of Scream, The Following, The Vampire Diaries, and more. It’s not an anthology like it tells different stories from week to week, but rather it’s a new set of stories every season, with each season featuring three classic fairy tales re-adapted into modern-time stories that have connections to the original themes of the fairy tales. In Season One, the stories that are reimagined are The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. Now, I should be clear that watching this show isn’t like watching a fairy tale brought to life. They are current, dark, twisty dramas that have some horror elements to them, that just happen to correlate to classic fairy tales. Season One had a great cast that included James Wolk (Zoo), Billy Magnusson (Game Night), Danielle Campbell (Vampire Diaries), Paul Wesley (Vampire Diaries), and Kim Cattrall, and it’s a fun show that feels different from anything else currently on TV. It was aired originally on CBS All Access, so if you’re not a subscriber, now’s your chance to get caught up on this cool show.

The Addams Family: 2-Movie Collection – Just in time to tie in to the newAddams Family animated movie that’s hitting theaters this month, we have a new Blu-ray collection of the two hit Addams Family movies from the ‘90s. It’s fascinating that these movies worked as well as they did; I always lovedThe Addams Family TV show as a kid, but I thought it felt pretty mired in the ‘60s, and to see it adapted for the big screen and have people really take to it was a big surprise for me. Going back and rewatching the films, I was pleased to see that – while a little dated – they both hold up pretty well. In fact, there are still parts of the second film that I like better than the first. This is a nice, budget-priced collection of two fun throwback films, just in time for Halloween.

Scooby Doo: Return to Zombie Island – Warner Brothers has been churning out Scooby Doo movies direct-to-video for several years now. The last few years have seen an influx of special guest stars like rockers KISS, wrestlers from the WWE, and even chef Bobby Flay. This latest full-length movie skips the guest stars in exchange for serving as a sequel to a Scooby movie from 1998 called Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. It was one of the better Scooby movies and it clearly has been a fan favorite for a long time, since Warner decided a sequel some two decades later was warranted. Unfortunately for those fans, Return to Zombie Island is probably not the sequel they were hoping for. It’s not a bad film per se, it just lacks any real creativity or originality. It’s an easy way to kill 72 minutes, but it doesn’t have that something special that makes Scooby Doo so special to so many people.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Life With Lucy: the Complete Series – This is an interesting release.Life With Lucy was a sitcom starring an older Lucille Ball that tried to re-start her television career back in 1986. It was canceled after 8 episodes, leaving five unaired episodes in the can. I think the reason for the show failing was pretty simple: it’s just not that great. Despite Lucille Ball’s immense talent and the presence of Gale Gordon (a TV staple at the time), the show was pretty poorly written and just not that funny. There are a few standout moments here and there where you can see that classic Lucy genius shining through, but for the most part, the show is pretty weak. Now, the good news is, for fans of the show, this set includes not just the eight episodes that aired, but also the last five that never saw the light of day, meaning you can see – for the very first time – material from Lucille Ball that’s never been seen before. That’s kind of neat.
  • Inside Man: Most Wanted – This direct-to-video movie acts as a sequel of sorts to Spike Lee’s hit film Inside Man starring Denzel Washington, a movie I absolutely love. And while they do mention Denzel’s character and have a picture of his face show up at one point, it’s really an independent film with no real ties to the original. But what it really is is a heist film inspired by Lee’s original, filled with twists and turns (or at least attempts at twists and turns, as some of them are a bit predictable.) We have all new characters and actors, but the feel of the film is similar, and it’s clear that the filmmakers are trying to appeal to fans of the original. It doesn’t quite work and sure doesn’t compare to the original, but for a direct-to-video heist thriller, it’s entertaining enough to kill a couple of hours when you have nothing better to watch.
  • Light of My Life – Casey Affleck and Elizabeth Moss star in this dark drama about a father and his young daughter living in a world that is set 10 years after a plague wiped all women off the planet. Affleck disguises his 11-year-old as a boy, but they are in constant danger and often on the move. Now, this might sound like an action film, but tonally it has much more in common with something like The Road. It’s a dark, deliberately-paced drama spiked with tension and dread. The film centers mostly on these two main characters and uses dialogue to propel the story. It’s a solid film, if a bit slow in places, but the performances are pretty darn good. This won’t be a film for everyone, but I suspect there are people who will really like and respect it.
  • Jarhead: Law of Return – Devon Sawa, Robert Patrick, and Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break) star in this latest direct-to-video sequel to the 2005 Jake Gyllenhaal movie, which I think marks the third DTV sequel. Which is pretty surprising when you consider that the original film wasn’t even a particularly big hit at the box office. Of course, the sequels (including this one) have amped up the action, even though the whole point of the original film was that there was no action, but I guess this really isn’t a sequel. It’s just another war/action movie that they slap the Jarhead name on to get more attention. I get the reasoning behind this, but don’t get sucked in if you’re still a fan of the original. This is a solid-if-unspectacular direct-to-video action film.
  • Kung Fu Monster – I was excited when I saw that Kung Fu Monsterwas directed by Andrew Lau, who also helmed Infernal Affairs, one of my all-time favorite crime thrillers. However, it’s been a long time sinceInfernal Affairs came out, and Kung Fu Monster is a far cry short of that masterpiece. This period action/comedy sees a man tasked with recovering a mythical creature that looks harmless at first but hulks out when it gets mad. However, he quickly decides that the creature should be free and not weaponized, and the action starts from there. Unfortunately, the comedy doesn’t work at all, the creature effects are okay but not great, and the action sequences don’t feel fresh or original. I wish I had liked this film more, but it didn’t do much for me.
  • Wedding Guest – Dev Patel stars in this interesting dramatic thriller about a man on his way to a wedding… but instead of bringing wedding gifts, he’s bringing duct tape and a shotgun. What sounds like it could be an over-the-top-violent actioner is actually more of a cat-and-mouse film, as Patel goes on the run with a kidnapped bride, but there is more to it than meets the eye. I’ll admit, I really like Dev Patel, I think he’s a terrific actor, and while this movie didn’t force him to turn in an Oscar-worthy performance, he’s still a commanding lead. The story is interesting enough, and even though the film doesn’t fire on all cylinders from start to finish, I found it more enjoyable than not.
  • WB Archives Spotlight – Warner Brothers’ print-on-demand service has several notable new releases out, all of which are on Blu-ray. First up is The Witches. This cult classic film is based on the work of Roald Dahl, directed by Nicholas Roeg (Young Sherlock Holmes) and featuring work by Jim Henson. That’s quite the pedigree! It’s a family film with a dark streak and some inventive make-up sequences, and fans who remember it from the ‘80s will be thrilled to have it on Blu-ray for the first time. Next up is one of the quintessential films of the 1930s,The Thin Man. Blending screwball comedy and mystery thriller, the film introduced the world to Dashiell Hammett’s creations Nick and Nora Charles (played to perfection by William Powell and Myrna Loy) that launched a franchise that would run for a decade. It’s so much fun, and it’s great to have it in high def. Next up is Merrill’s Marauders, a World War II film debuting on Blu-ray. The film features an ensemble cast, most of whom aren’t that remembered today, with Claude Akins as the standout name. It’s a pretty epic film considering it runs just over an hour and a half, and it looks pretty darn good in high def. Bette Davis won the 1938 Best Actress Academy Award for her performance inJezebel, which debuts on Blu-ray. Davis plays a southern belle who feels scorned and isn’t going to take it sitting down. It’s a melodramatic movie but a fierce performance by Davis, one that was justly rewarded by the Academy. Next up is The Letter, which also features Better Davis, and once again offers up an impressive performance. This time around she plays an adulteress up against a murder conviction, and the film earned seven Academy Award nominations. The film is based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham, adding a little weight to the proceedings. Finally, Popeye the Sailor: The 1940s, Volume 3, which collects the next batch of Popeye cartoons from the 1940s. You get 17 short films, all of which were theatrically released at the time, and all of which appear in color. I’ve always enjoyed the Popeye cartoons, and this is the golden age of them for me, so it’s nice to see the Warner Archive committed to collecting and archiving them in order. With over two hours of cartoons, it’s a good value.

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