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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Waves, The Nightingale, Last Christmas, Playing With Fire and more


Last Christmas – It’s weird to see a Christmas movie topping the list of new releases in February. I know Last Christmas came out in December so this is the natural window of release, but a lot of times the studios will hold a Christmas film until the next holiday season to capitalize on sales. Not in this case, I guess, so if you’re looking for a fun and charming romantic comedy that just happens to be set at Christmas time, Last Christmas will fit the bill. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) star in this meet-cute Rom-Com that features the music of George Michael throughout. It’s got some good moments of awkward humor, likable leads, and (of course) a great soundtrack. It doesn’t reinvent the genre or anything, but it’s a fun and easy way to spend 90 minutes.

Waves – Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults has received a lot of acclaim for his movies so far. I didn’t see the first one, Krisha, but I did see his second film, It Comes At Night, ostensibly a horror movie (but not really one.) I didn’t care for that film, as it seems to fall right into the Robert Eggers/Ari Aster style of filmmaking that I just don’t like. Waves eschews the genre trappings and instead presents a family drama about an African-American family going through hardship and drama. The performances (especially by Kelvin Harrison Jr. and This is Us’s Sterling K. Brown) are terrific, and they help make the film memorable, but I can’t say I really loved this film either. It’s too long by a good half hour, it’s mood is overly intense, and I feel like… well, I won’t say style over substance exactly, but a lot more style than necessary, which undercuts the substance. Or something like that. Ultimately, it’s a deep, dramatic film with great performances, but it wasn’t for me.

The Nightingale – Director Jennifer Kent’s first film, The Babadook, was a critical and audience hit that’s become a serious cult classic. I’ll admit, I didn’t like the film nearly as much as other people – although I certainly didn’t dislike it – so I was more curious than anything else to check out her follow-up film, The Nightingale. The film stars Aisling Franciosi (from Game of Thrones) and Baykali Ganambarr, with Sam Claflin along in a different role than we’re used to seeing him. Franciosi and Ganambarr play a woman and an Aborigine who were both brutalized (in different ways) by British imperialists who team up to track down a particularly bad guy. Kent delivers here a dark, intense film, with a brutality that doesn’t hold back. It’s not an easy film to watch, honestly, and running over two hours means you have to really commit to being in a dark space for a good length of time. The performances are fantastic and the film is nothing like The Babadook, showcasing how talented Kent is, but man, this is a tough one to watch.

Playing With Fire – There’s a long tradition of action movie heroes starring in films with little kids, from Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop to Dwayne Johnson in The Tooth Fairy to the upcoming Dave Bautista vehicle My Spy. Well, John Cena gets his turn in Playing With Fire. Alongside John Leguizamo, Tyler Man, and Keegan-Michael Key, Cena stars as a firefighter who saves three kids and, in the course of trying to find their parents, become a de facto group of woefully-unprepared babysitters. What entails is the usual kind of family hijinks – some good laughs, some cheesy moments, some heartfelt scenes. Honestly, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but you know what you’re gonna get with these kinds of movies. It’s perfectly entertaining family film fare, nothing too serious or challenging, and sometimes that’s all you’re looking for.

Trauma Center – Bruce Willis and Nicky Whelan star in this direct-to-video action thriller, which isn’t a genre that has spawned a lot of confidence over the past decade or so. I’ll say this: Trauma Center is actually better than many I’ve seen lately, despite the anemic and uninspired title that makes it sound like a new CBS medical show. Whelan plays a witness to a crime involving crooked cops, and Willis plays the cop out to avenge his murdered partner. When Whelan ends up in the hospital, she has to go on the run from a couple of cops out to kill her. Willis kind of does his usual direct-to-video thing here, showing up for a few scenes while letting other people take on the bulk of the screen time. In this case, Whelan does a good job and is credible as an in-over-her-head woman trying to survive. The film has some tense moments, a few moments of action, and a relatively quick running time, and the end result is an easily watchable thriller that is more than good bad. I consider that a win!

The Mindy Project: Complete SeriesThe Mindy Project was never the biggest hit of a show, but I always found it extremely enjoyable. Over the course of six seasons, Mindy Kaling and a terrific supporting cast (Chris Messina, Ike Barinholtz, and Adam Palley especially) delivered laughs on a consistent basis. Ultimately, the show is a typical sitcom set in a doctor’s office, but Mindy Kaling is a delightful and charming lead, the show’s writing was sharp, and the characters are quirky and funny without becoming obnoxious or annoying. Now, the entire season is available in a 10-disc set from Mill Creek, all at an affordable price. You get all six seasons in one slim and shelf-friendly box set, and this is a really fun show to binge. Fans of other sitcoms like Superstore or Single Parents will really enjoy this one.

Rabid – One of David Cronenberg’s lesser known films is a low-budget horror flick from 1977 called Rabid. While it isn’t well-known, it does have a solid cult following. Now, the film has been remade by the Soska Sisters, who have been carving out a reputation as some of the better horror filmmakers working today. I haven’t had much experience with their films, so I thought I’d see what all the hype was about. Rabid stars Laura Vandervoort as a young fashion designer who gets into a motorcycle accident that leaves her horribly scarred. When she gets put back together with some questionable methods, her life begins to start to change for the better, even as she begins to take on vampire-like qualities. The film is rather nasty with some scenes that are pretty unpleasant, but there are also some moments of humor to be found, which is appreciated. The Soska Sisters’ have a definite aesthetic to their filmmaking, and while I didn’t love the film, I can at least appreciate what they’re bringing to the horror genre.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Mon Mon Mon Monsters! – This Asian horror film isn’t really a horror film. In fact, it’s more of a social commentary drama, it just happens to have a couple of monsters who eat people in it. BUT! (And this is where the social commentary), it doesn’t take long to realize that the humans in this film are the real monsters, and the monsters are the only ones in the story who have any sense of humanity. Now, while I can appreciate the message here, the end result is a surprisingly bleak and depressing movie. What I thought was going to be a good creature thriller is instead filled with unlikable characters doing unlikable things and no real protagonists to root for, except for the monsters who, let’s not forget, do eat people when they have to. This one just didn’t work for me.
  • The House That Jack Built – Once upon a time, Lars Von Trier made actual films, not just overly long experimental arthouse projects. The House That Jack Built is definitely the latter, however. Starring Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, and Bruno Ganz, the movie is the story of a serial killer broken down into five chapters, and – as usual – it’s loaded with imagery, symbolism, controversy, and brutal violence. It’s also two and a half hours long, which is much, much longer than it needed to be. Matt Dillon gives a great performance, and that’s something, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a Von Trier movie and liked it. This one doesn’t do anything to change that opinion.
  • White Snake – What looks like a giant snake creature flick based on the cover art is actually an anime film based on a legendary romantic fairy tale from Chinese culture (as I understand it; I can’t swear that that’s a 100% accurate description.) As such, the film is much more about identity, demons, love, magic, and, well, big fantasy creatures. The anime style is different from what I think most people will expect, with a more colorful, yet slightly more abstract style to it than I’m used to seeing. The film is well-paced, running just over an hour and a half, but there are parts I liked and parts that didn’t work for me as well. I can’t say I disliked it, but it didn’t get me excited, either. Fans of the genre will probably enjoy it, however.
  • Arctic DogsArctic Dogs was a huge misfire at the box office, but I think that’s more due to poor marketing than anything else. After all, there’s no denying this is an A+-list voice cast: James Franco, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Anjelica Huston, John Cleese, Heidi Klum and Michael Madsen all lend their voices to this animated tale. Now, I’ll be honest, this story of an arctic fox who wants to join the “big dogs” as part of the delivery service that power’s the arctic town’s economy is far from innovative or exciting. Parents probably won’t be blown away by this film. But I can see young kids really enjoying it: it’s not overly complicated, the characters are appealing, there are some fun and energetic scenes, and it’s an easy watch. No, it’s not a classic, but it’s an easy way for kids to kill an hour or two. I might feel for parents who sat through this with their kids in theaters, but on home video it’s the perfect thing to throw on for the kiddos while you’re getting some laundry done.
  • Donten: Laughing Under the Clouds 3-Film Collection – This trilogy of anime films is now collected into one Blu-ray set from Shout Factory. You get three anime films on two discs in this set: One Year After the Battle, The Tragedy of Fuuma Ninja Tribe, and Conspiracy of the Military. The three films are based on a hit Japanese Manga and animated by the studio behind the incredibly popular Attack on Titan series. (Don’t be confused with the anime TV Series that was based on the same manga; these are the films, not the show.) The story follows three brothers who have a tie to a mythical creature that – due to a nefarious plot, naturally – may be rising again soon. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge anime fan, and I can’t say that I was blown away by this series, but there is some pretty cool fantasy action, some humor, and some real emotional moments, so I can see it’s appeal. Shout Factory has done a nice job by collecting all three films together for their first-ever US release, and you get three mini-prints representing each film in the package, making it a nice release for fans.
  • FLCL: Progressive/Alternative – Warapping up the new anime trilogy of releases this week, we have this new collection of an Adult Swim anime show and its sequel that both stemmed from a previous FLCL series (Fooli Cooli, I believe it was called) that was quite popular. I don’t recall seeing it, so I’m not sure how much you have to know going into this one to follow along. I’m also not quite sure how much following along you could do either way. The shows are pretty out there, involving a teenager who can turn into a robot, various friends and hangers-on, and storylines that aren’t the most coherent thing I’ve ever encountered. The shows feature some fun visuals and great soundtracks, but I couldn’t really get engaged with the characters or story, so ultimately it wasn’t quite my thing. Fans of the original show will probably be happy to have a new entry of some sort in the series, especially since it’s been over 15 years since the previous series. And for fans, you get over four hours of content on two discs, which should give you something fun to dig into.
  • Mob Town – David Arquette, Jamie Lyn Sigler, and Jennifer Esposito star in this crime thriller based on a true story which sees Arquette taking a rare dramatic role. He’s almost unrecognizable here, playing a stand-up cop who sets out to take down a mob summit that happened in upstate New York in 1957. The film has some good parts: Arquette is good in the lead role, and Sigler, Esposito, and Robert Davi are all predictably reliable. The film’s script could have used a little polish and I don’t know that director Danny A. Abeckaser needed to take a supporting role, but it’s a solid enough movie to watch on a day when you can’t find anything else to occupy your attention.
  • High Strung: Free Dance – Apparently there was a dance movie in 2016 called High Strung. I can’t say I remember it, but I guess enough people saw it to warrant a follow-up (of sorts), which results in the new film High Strung: Free Dance. The first film saw a violinist and a dancer come together and form a relationship and an artistic partnership. This time around, a choreographer teams up with a dancer and a pianist on a hit Broadway show and – surprise! – romance stirs things up, which just might bring it all crumbling down. Now, I’m clearly not the target audience for this film as I just don’t dig on dancing, but my wife and daughter watch all the dancing shows, so I can at least recognize top choreography and impressive dance/music numbers, which this film has. The storyline is straight out of the Step Up school of filmmaking, but that’s not a bad thing for fans of the genre.
  • Keeping Faith: Series 2 – Eve Myles of Torchwood fame stars in the second season of this dramatic mystery series that evokes memories of similar fare like Broadchurch. Myles stars as Faith Howells, a woman on maternity leave while her lawyer husband runs the law firm where she also used to practice. Then one day, he doesn’t show up to work. And then he doesn’t show up at all. That’s where the show kicked off in its first season; where it goes from there is part of the fun. I think Eve Myles is terrific, and this is certainly an intriguing show, even if it never reaches the highs of something like Broadchurch. This two-disc set gives you all six episodes from the second season.
  • Hanging With Mr. Cooper: The Complete Third Season – Courtesy of Warner’s print-on-demand service, Warner Archive, the third season of the popular sitcom is now available on DVD. Hanging With Mr. Cooper was never a massive hit, but it seems to be well-loved even two decades after it went off the air. This season is more of what we’re used to (with at least a few new storylines), with substitute teacher Mr. Cooper quarreling with the school principal (played by TV icon Nell Carter), coaching the basketball team, and dealing with family members and students. This season is now 25 years old, and it shows in the fashions and the hairstyles, but it’s still a show with a lot of charms. It’s not an all-time great, but it’s enjoyable in that mind-90s kind of way, and fans of the show will enjoy revisiting it.
  • WB Archive Spotlight – Speaking of the Warner Archive, the print-on-demand service also has several new motion picture releases this week, all of which make their Blu-ray debut. First up is an intriguing thriller called The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, starring Harry Belafonte and Mel Ferrer. The film tells the story of a man trapped in a cave-in who emerges to the surface to find the world has been decimated by a nuclear holocaust. He finds another survivor, a woman, and they live together until a mysterious stranger shows up and changes the balance of things. It’s a surprisingly dark concept for a movie from 1959, and I have to say, I really dug it. It’s got a real modern feel (despite its age) and fans of post-apocalyptic fare will enjoy it quite a bit. Next up is Operation Crossbow, 1965 war thriller starring Sophia Loren and The A-Team’s George Peppard. The film follows a group of allied spies trying to infiltrate a Nazi rocket missile research facility. There’s some good tension, a likable cast with recognizable faces, and some neat twists and turns, making this another surprisingly good lesser-seen film from the ‘60s. Switching gears a bit, we have Penelope, a comedy from 1966 starring Natalie Wood. Wood stars as a kleptomaniac who robs a bank of $60,000… a bank that happens to be run by her own husband. It’s a fun concept for a film, and while it has some cringeworthy moments and is ultimately rather silly, Natalie Wood is effervescent and she makes it worth watching. It’s a frothy little film that’s fun when you’re in the mood for something you don’t have to think about it. After that, we have Cimarron, a western starring Glenn Ford and Anne Baxter. This isn’t your usual cowboys and Indians, flick, though; rather, it tells the tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush, which sees conflict over land, oil, and ideals. It’s a bit too long at two-and-a-half-hours, but western fans will probably enjoy the great cinematography and sweeping story. Finally, Underwater! (exclamation point included) is not to be confused with the recent Kristen Stewart sci-fi actioner. Instead, this 1955 adventure film stars Jane Russell and sees treasure hunters discover a wreck that might be filled with treasure, only to have to fight off pirates, sharks, and more, all before the wreck falls off an underwater cliff. It’s very typical 1950s adventure fare, but that’s also the decade that really knew how to put adventure on the big screen, and while the effects and production values don’t compare to today’s big budget fare, it’s still a fun, enjoyable romp.
  • PBS Spotlight – We have a number of new PBS documentary (and kids) releases this week. Many of the documentary programs have a technological or societal subject matter, meaning we get some particularly interesting shows. First up is Nova: Look Who’s Driving, an hour-long Nova episode that outlines the rise of the self-driving car and the technology (and safety) behind them. It’s neat to see what makes these sci-fi cars a reality, and I enjoyed this one. Nova: Why Bridges Collapse, which stems from a tragedy (a bridge collapse in Italy) and looks at collapses in the US: what caused them and how we can prevent it in the future. It’s a serious subject matter, but I have a strange fascination with bridge collapses, so it was really interesting to see some of the science behind it. Following that, we have Frontline: In the Age of AI. This two-hour documentary looks at the current state of Artificial Intelligence: where it’s at, where it’s going, h ow it’s shaping the wear, and even the politics behind it. It’s a lot to take in at two hours of material, but science types will like it a lot. Next up is Nova: Dead Sea Scroll Detectives, a look at the infamous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947. The focus here is on using new technologies to try and reveal the unreadable parts of the scrolls, which makes for an engaging hour-long special. Switching things up a bit, next we have American Masters: Rothko – Pictures Must Be Miraculous, a biography of Mark Rothko, an abstract expressionist and renowned artist. The program (which runs just under an hour) look’s at Rothko’s life and artwork, including his bouts of depression. I’ve heard of Rothko but am not familiar with him, and this paints a nice picture (no pun intended) of the man and the artist. The last two PBS releases in this week’s column are two new DVDs for the young kids. First up is one I’m particularly fond of, The Berenstain Bears: Tree House Tales, Volume 2. 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. Finally, Pinkalicious And Peterrific: A Pinkatastic Valentine’s Day is the newest collection of the show based on the popular books, this time with a Valentine’s Day theme (or at least a Valentine’s episode.). My daughter used to read the Pinkalicious books religiously when she was younger, and I wish this animated series had come out about six years ago, because she would have been all over it! Still, it’s fun to see it brought to animated life. The show is cute and funny and captures the feel of the books well, so I expect young kids will love it.

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