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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Bad Boys For Life, Call of the Wild, Fantasy Island, The Photograph, and more

Bad Boys For Life – I generally think sequels that are made a decade or two after the original films are a bad idea, and Hollywood history is littered with examples of why they usually are. However, Bad Boys for Life manages to buck that trend, and it does it with style. The story picks up as if time has actually gone by, meaning Will Smith and Martin Lawrence aren’t pretending they’re 25 years old. In fact, the idea of them aging becomes a major plot point in the film, which works for it and not against. The story is fairly slim, involving a revenge killing (or series of killings) that involve Mike and Marcus. But even with Michael Bay not behind the camera, the action drives the film here and it works exceptionally well. Even with aging stars, the film knows how to craft exciting action sequences that flirt with going beyond reality but remain largely grounded (at, least, for Hollywood). The film retains the humor of the original, and for my money, it’s actually far superior to the very disappointing Bad Boys II. It’s not hard to see why Bad Boys for Life is the top-grossing movie of the year so far (admittedly in a limited selection of films), and was a surprise hit that far exceeded box office projections. I really enjoyed it, and I think anyone who’s a fan of the original films will enjoy it, too.

Call of the Wild – I thought the trailer for Call of the Wild looked pretty good, although I was admittedly surprised that the filmmakers chose to go with a fully CGI dog rather than a real dog with CGI enhancements. But after seeing the film, I completely understand why they made the choice they did. Not only is the dog in literally every scene of the film and also asked to do some incredible things, but the special effects in this movie are SO good, it makes total sense. There are a number of animals in this film, and they all look incredibly realistic, managing to do things to carry across human-like behaviors and yet never seeming to break the reality of what animals can do. Honestly, I absolutely loved this film. It’s exciting, funny, moving, charming, technically impressive, and it’s just a good, fun watch. It really works on so many levels. I expected from the trailer that I’d enjoy the film, but I really had no idea how much I would enjoy it. I highly recommend viewers of all ages track down this delightful movie.

Fantasy Island – Okay, so Blumhouse’s new spin on the 1980s television classic wasn’t a hit at the box office. And it wasn’t loved by critics, either. But dang it, I had fun with it. It’s much less of a horror film than the trailer might indicate, and more of a sci-fi thriller (sort of) with horror overtones. I guess it’s kind of a mind-bending sci-fi action comedy horror drama, if you want to label it. Now, I can see where critics might have had problems with it. It’s not exactly heavy thinking material, and it goes for some easy jump scares and some easy laughs when it can, but I found it really fun, in that mindless PG-13 way. There’s a lot of familiar faces in the cast who seem to be having a good time, and the film’s twists and turns are a bit more complicated than you might expect, but it all makes sense by the end. I’m glad they didn’t decide to just make a slasher film on an island because that would have been boring (and it was done excellently already, with the underrated TV miniseries Harper’s Island). But if you’re looking for a fun, silly, twisty romp to kill 90 minutes with, Fantasy Island will fit the bill nicely.

The Photograph – Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae star in this nice romantic drama that doesn’t reinvent the genre, but doesn’t really need to, either. Taking a few notes from the Nicholas Sparks playbook, the film sees Issa Rae’s Mae as a woman who finds a photograph of her recently deceased mother, which leads her on a journey of understanding that ends up with her meeting Lakeith Stanfield’s Michael. Romantic sparks fly, but issues from her past could stand in the way. The rest is the stuff of which romantic dramas are made, but it works and it works rather well. I like that the film isn’t afraid to fit some humor in; this isn’t one of those movies that’s overly serious, although it certainly has its dramatic and moving moments. Both Issa Rae and Lekeith Stanfield turn in terrific performances, while a strong supporting cast that includes Lil Rel Howery, Chante Adams, Courtney B. Vance, and Y’lan Noel carry the rest of the film with aplomb. It’s a good film that’s worth tracking down.

I Still Believe – Based on a true story, I Still Believe is a faith-based drama starring K.J. Apa (from Riverdale), Britt Robertson, Gary Sinise, and Shania Twain. The film tells the story of a young Christian musician who falls in love, only to find that the love of his life has a terminable illness. Cue lots of praying, soft-focus close-ups, and acoustic faith-based songs. Now, I’m not really a faith-based films kind of guy, but I’ve watched a number of them for review purposes over the years. I’m glad to see that at least they’re being made better than they used to be. For a long time, faith-based films were low-budget, cheesy affairs with no-name actors (or Kirk Cameron). Now, they get well-known actors and have strong production values, and I Still Believe is a well-made, well-acted film that the target audience will likely resonate with strongly.

Downhill – Will Farrell and Julie Louis Dreyfus star as a married couple with kids who narrowly escape death by avalanche at a ski resort. When Will Ferrell reacts by trying to save himself with no thoughts of his family, it sparks a, well, an avalanche of repercussions as the relationships start to fray at the seams. The idea of Ferrell and Dreyfus together seems like comedy gold, but the film is from the writers of The Descendants, so it’s really much more of a dramedy. However, it’s tinged with awkward moments and an uneven tone. There are some mildly moving moments, but also a lot of moments where you dislike the people on screen. The running time is short (86 minutes), and that feels like a blessing because I don’t know that I would have wanted to spend any more time with these people. This one’s a letdown, but I suspect there are people that will find the dark humor appealing and enjoy the film.

The Mask of Zorro/The Legend of Zorro – The two swashbuckling Antonio Banderas-starring adventure films are released on 4K Ultra HD this week, and I for one am glad to see them. I’ve been a huge Zorro fan since I was a kid, and I enjoyed both of these movies immensely. They seem to have fallen out of the public consciousness a bit, so I’m glad to see them hitting home video once again so they can maybe revitalize interest in the masked crusader. Both films work on their own merits; the first one is a great origin tale, helpful for the many people who are unfamiliar with the legend of The Fox. The second film — with the origin material out of the way — is a much more straightforward action/adventure film, and there are things I truly enjoy about both of them. The films benefit nicely from the 4K Ultra HD upgrade, although neither film looks brand new. They are almost 20 years old at this point, but the increase in image clarity and the much more deeply saturated colors give the film new life. The surround soundtracks work well; they’re to the most nuanced mixes I’ve ever heard, but the action scenes come to life and utilize all the surround speakers, giving the action a nice sense of depth. Overall, both of these are strong presentations of two very enjoyable films.

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