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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Birds of Prey, The Good Place, Emma, Gretel and Hansel, Top Gun, and more

Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – DC has had a lot of ups and downs when it comes to their movie slate, but over the past few years, with efforts like Wonder Woman, Shazam, and Aquaman, they seemed to have been trending upward. Then came Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), an incredibly tone-deaf movie which manages to also be kind of dreadful. Let me get the good stuff out of the way first: I kind of liked the last 20 minutes of the film. Okay, that’s about it. Here’s how I picture the behind-the-scenes meetings going: “Het, we’re DC and we’re super edgy, so we made Birds of Prey R-rated because we’re cool and edgy.” “Great, now how will people know it’s R-rated and cool and edgy?” “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll just drop 27 F-bombs in the first two minutes so they’ll know it’s cool and edgy.” “Perfect!” Sigh. This could have easily been a PG-13 movie which might have helped its poor box office showing, but it’s not and you can feel it in every scene. But it never feels organic; the film just tries way, WAY too hard and succeeds way, WAY too infrequently. This one was a big miss for me.

The Good Place: The Complete SeriesThe Good Place is one of the best comedies of the last decade, and now you can own the entire series in one compact box set. And if you haven’t watched it yet, just do yourself a favor and go ahead and buy this set right now. You’ll be glad you did. The show is sort of a take on the afterlife, but there’s much more to it than that. I can’t go into too much detail, because the less you know about this show going into it, the better. But while I generally don’t like shows about terrible people, I genuinely enjoy shows about terrible people trying to become better people. Going on this journey with our five main characters (and Janet!) Is so much fun. The show has a wicked sense of humor, but stops shy of being just plain mean, and as it progresses, the characters learn and develop and grow and you basically fall in love with all of them. The entire cast is outstanding, but Ted Danson deserves especially high marks for playing Michael, the architect of The Good Place. This set marks the first time the show has been available on Blu-ray, so you can get all four seasons in one nice set I high def for a pretty low price point. What are you waiting for?

Top Gun, War of the Worlds, Days of Thunder (4K Releases) – The new Top Gun movie was supposed to be out right about now, so Paramount wisely scheduled a trio of Tom Cruise releases on the premium 4K Ultra HD format this week. Unfortunately, Top Gun: Maverick has been pushed back to December, but Paramount left these 4K releases on the slate so we can revisit some of his biggest hits while we’re home. Top Gun is, of course, one of the most iconic movies of the 1980s, so having it — and all its military jet fighting action — in Ultra HD is a welcome sight. Days of Thunder sees Cruise in the ‘90s tackling the world of stock car racing, and while I’m not a racing fan, I absolutely LOVE this movie. Then we get Cruise in the 2000s with the big-budget Spielberg-directed War of the Worlds. Despite the fact that it was a huge hit, I was always a little lukewarm towards the film, but revisiting it has made me realize it’s a pretty tense thrill ride. All three films have gotten the 4K upgrade, and there results are fairly similar throughout. You get more vibrant colors and sharper image resolution than ever before, but each film shows its age a little bit, and they don’t look exactly like brand new films. War of the Worlds, as the most recent in the bunch, probably looks the best, simply because the source material is still relatively recent. The surround tracks for all three films are exceptional, filling your living room with fighter jets, race cars, and space ships and utilizing all the channels while doing so. All three of these are excellent releases to add to your collection!

Emma. – This latest adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel tries to inject some new life into the story, notable even from the title (Emma. With a period.) and evident from the very first scenes of the film. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular character, the film is a brightly colored, light-hearted, slightly frenetic look at Victorian life and love. The rest of the cast (save for Bill Nighy) is made up of lesser-known actors, but that works to the film’s favor. It’s easy to get caught up in the various romances and escapades thanks to the film’s pacing, light tone, and good performances. I’m not an overly huge fan of Jane Austen’s stories and I can’t say this is my favorite film of the year or anything, but it’s a relatively good time and I think people will enjoy its irreverent tone.

Gretel and Hansel – Sophia Lillis (so good in the recent It movies) stars in this updated on a classic fairy tale that brings the horror elements inherent in the story to the forefront. The name of the film putting Gretel before Hansel (as opposed to the traditional “Hansel and Gretel”) is not just there to let you know this isn’t a happy-go-lucky fairytale; it’s also that way to show that this film sees Gretel as the main protagonist, being the older sister and showcasing that she’s a girl who can take care of herself. It’s a nice pro-equality slant to a film that is still, ultimately, about witches killing kids. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the film, but I found it to actually be pretty solid. It’s creepy and moody and it works better than I thought it would, and Sophia Lillis proves once again that she’s an exceptional young actor. This isn’t a new horror classic, but if you’re looking for something a little creepy to kill a few hours with, Gretel and Hansel should fit the bill nicely.

Paramount Presents: Flashdance – Paramount continues its new imprint called Paramount Presents, which brings to mind Shout Factory’s Shout Selects line. Last month we had three new Blu-ray releases from Paramount’s vaults (Basic Instinct, To Catch a Thief, and King Creole) and this month we have the fourth entry in the series, Flashdance, a quintessentially ‘80s film if ever there was one. Jennifer Beals stars in (and became a sensation in the ‘80s because of) this story of a young female welder who dances at night but dreams of getting into a prestigious dance conservatory. Cue lots of ‘80s music, dance montages, and “You can do it!” moments. This new version of the film is released on Blu-ray with archival extra features as well as a new extra feature featuring an interview with director Adrian Lyne. As with last month’s releases, however, I feel I have to point out that there is no digital copy included. This has been an annoying trend with Paramount and their catalog releases in the last year or two. Just because I want to have the film on Blu-ray and get the new extra features doesn’t mean I wouldn’t also like a digital copy of it. As with before, the film looks and sounds really good and features some nice extra materials. I just wish Paramount would go the whole distance with releases like this.

The Postcard Killings – Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Famke Janssen star in this misery thriller based on a book by James Patterson. I haven’t read the book personally, but I’ve read enough Patterson novels to know what you usually get, and I can only assume that the book is better than this slog of a film. Morgan turns in a great performance in the lead role but the film’s pacing is so slow; there’s an interesting story here, but it just takes so long for anything to happen. There’s never any sense of excitement or… well, thrills. Which, for a thriller, is a pretty big let down. The film is about an hour and 45 minutes, and I feel like 25 minutes or so of it could have been easily edited out, It would have made for a short movie, but it would have been a much more engaging one. I like Patterson’s books and I think there are plenty that are ripe for the movie treatment, but I hope future endeavors are better than this one.

D-Day: Normandy 1944 – This documentary was filmed for IMAX screens, and as such, it’s one of the shorter films like you typically get with IMAX films, running about 45 minutes. And while that might not seem like enough to give us everything we need to know about D-Day (or the invasion of the beaches at Normandy that changed the course of World War II), it’s still a pretty dynamic film. Narrated by Tom Brokaw, the film has to recreate a lot of the information presented, as there is almost no real footage from the actual attack. They don’t rely on cheesy dramatic recreations, though, instead using new footage, maps, photos, and other infographics to take us through the events of D-Day in quite a bit of detail. It’s a far cry from Saving Private Ryan (the opening scenes of that film take place on D-Day) but it’s a good film for history buffs and the sort running time keeps it interesting for the more casual viewer. The film was available on DVD last year, but it now it makes its home video debut on the 4K Ultra HD format, which makes the film shine. Everything looks crisp and clean and the color saturation gives life to the proceedings (except for the black and white photos, obviously.) The surround soundtrack is just good, not overtaxing your speakers but not leaving them hanging, either. It’s a good presentation for the film, ultimately.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • World on Fire: Season One – Speaking of World War II, Masterpiece’s newest dramatic series takes place during the great global conflict. Sean Bean, Lesley Manville, and Helen Hunt are the big-name actors involved, even if their characters are not the main characters of the show. With Hitler’s march across Poland being the driving event that kicks the series off, in many ways this is your typical Masterpiece multi-character drama. We follow a number of characters as they deal with the ramifications of there war spreading across Europe and the rest of the world. We follow regular people, military personnel, family members, and others as they try and survive and thrive in times of immense turmoil. The show is solidly okay; there are times at which it’s quite gripping, and times at which it’s rather slow. The cast of characters is quite sprawling, so it’s easy to lose track of who’s doing what and when. I get that’s sort of inevitable with a show that takes place during a conflict like World War II, but it keeps it from being a great show in my opinion. However, fans of dramatic television and Masterpiece-style shows will find a lot to like.
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 6 – Nobody brings mysteries to home video like Acorn Media, and Brokenwood Mysteries is a prime example of what they do well. This New Zealand-produced (and set) procedural continues to be popular after six season s, and now those of you who have been waiting for the latest season can enjoy it at home on DVD or Blu-ray. Even if it is a little bit formulaic in its approach (big city detective relocates to small town, small town is plagued by murders and mysteries), the show still works because the mysteries are engaging, the cast is terrific, and the characters are interesting enough to draw you in. This release features the usual four feature-length movies (or episodes, technically), and you’ll definitely find yourself sucked into the events of the show, the lives of the characters, and the interesting crimes being solved. Another strong season of an enjoyable show!
  • Better Days – This Chinese film operates as sort of a Neo-noir romantic thriller melodrama, and if that description leaves you scratching your head, trust me, it will make sense when you watch the film. The story follows a high school student who’s being bullied who ends up connecting with a young criminal, and the pair then gets involved in a murder investigation. There are echoes of Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance to be found, although tonally the films are very different, with Better Days having a much more nihilistic approach. The film is pretty interesting, and the mash-up of genres (which can sometimes be disjointing) actually works well here. The running time is a problem for me, though; at two hours and 15 minutes, the film suffers from some bloat and could have been a good deal shorter. Overall, though, I can definitely see this movie gaining an audience on home video.
  • Serie Noire – This 1979 film by acclaimed French director Alain Corneau is an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel A Hell of a Woman. The title translates in English to “Black Sequence” and that’s kind of fitting as this is a dark film with dark overtones (hell, and undertones). The film deals with murder, betrayal, and teen prostitution, so it’s not exactly a light comedy. Frankly, it’s a bit too dark for me, although I found the overall story to be pretty interesting. The film was released in 1979 and was a hit in France, and now it’s been restored for it’s first-ever Blu-ray release. The film looks pretty good for a movie that’s over 40 years old; it doesn’t look brand new, but it certainly looks better than you might expect a film to look from this time period. I don’t know how well this film is known outside of France, but fans of foreign cinema, especially darker fare, will want to track it down.
  • Promare – It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve had a new anime title to review, so I was curious to see what the oddly-titled Promare was all about. And… well, it’s about 99 minutes long, I can tell you that. From there, it’s a little fuzzy! Basically, the film takes place a few decades after an mutant race called the Burnish burned half of the earth, and now there are resistance cells popping up, which leads us to our main characters, Galo and Lia, who may or may not clash instantly. The film is definitely anime, but it has a unique look and feel to it; the animation style isn’t quite the anime style you’re used to. It’s… well, it’s hard to describe in words, but it’s somehow both softer and more angular at the same time. I’m always a little hit or miss with anime films, and this one is interesting enough. There are some fun sequences of action, but I can’t say I got too wrapped up in it. Anime fans looking for a new fix will probably want to give it a whirl, though.
  • PBS Spotlight – Finally this week, we have several new releases from PBS, and I have to say, this is a particularly strong slate. First and most noteworthy is Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos (which is available for sale on Amazon; I checked!) This two-hour documentary is a warts-and-all look at Bezos’ rise to become the richest man in the world, and the timing is impeccable as he’s just about to become the world’s first-ever trillionaire. It’s not a puff piece, and it confronts many of the criticisms that Amazon regularly deals with. As an Amazon customer who has some moral qualms about the company from time to time, I found this a fascinating and enlightening documentary. Definitely check it out, unless you don’t like thinking about where the things you buy are coming from. Next up, we have a trio of nature-based programming. The Mighty Weasel is a surprisingly interesting program about a surprisingly interesting animal, the weasel. Known more nowadays as a euphemism for an untrustworthy person than as an actual animal, I found these fuzzy little guys incredibly interesting! Wild Florida is, sadly, not about the world-famous Florida Man, but instead about the wildlife of Florida (think manatees, alligators, etc.) and how the encroaching human population is affecting them. Then, Earth’s Sacred Wonders is a three-episode series exploring some of the world’s most holy sites. Filmed on 5 continents and over a dozen countries, the show features both amazing footage of places that are beyond belief as well as an explanation of each site’s importance to its local religious population. You’ll be amazed what some of these places look like! Switching gears to more social and scientific issues we have two final titles this week. Blood Sugar Rising is a two-hour documentary about Diabetes that focuses on the human side of the disease, introducing us to real people who suffer from the disease rather than relying solely on data and science. The result is a moving film that offers up more of an understanding of Diabetes than I’ve ever had before. Finally, East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story is a feature-length documentary produced by none other than Ken Burns (the master documentarian!), about an impoverished neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia that’s residents found creative ways to try and revitalize. There are some difficult and disturbing stories here, but there are also some uplifting ones. It’s not light viewing, but it certainly tells and important story.

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