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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Braveheart, Evil, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Pennyworth and more

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Braveheart – Ever one of Paramount’s most popular catalogue titles, this new 25th Anniversary Edition of Braveheart marks the title’s second release on the premium 4K Ultra HD format, but it’s a beauty to be sure. Now, I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest Braveheart fan in the world. I think it’s a good film, but it’s a bit too long and there are places where I feel it bogs down a little, although I accept that I’m in the minority on that opinion. Still, seeing the film brought to new life in 4K Ultra HD certainly added to my appreciation of it. The enhanced color palette brings everything to life, from the landscapes to the battle scenes, and the impeccable image clarity means you can see every streak of war paint, every blade of grass, every drop of blood in near-infinite detail. The surround soundtrack, likewise, gives the film another dimension, filling your living room with the sounds of battle but also giving like to subtler things like the winds blowing or background chatter. Put it all together in a beautiful Steelbook case (and add in a digital copy) and this is pretty much the perfect release for any Braveheart fan.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War – DC’s latest Animated Universe feature-length film is a pretty darn good one. I’ve been a little hit or miss with DC’s direct-to-video movies. I loved the early ones, but I feel like they’ve gotten a little repetitive of late. This one changes things up, giving us a rag-tag team of Justice Leaguers in a future wherein Darkseid and his war-planet Apokolips have pretty much destroyed the earth and killed off most of the superheroes. It’s got a different feel from some of their more recent efforts, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. That said, I still question DC’s decision to make some of these recent films R-rated. Yes, it’s pretty violent and bloody, and yes, it has some solid swearing in it, and those things are fine when warranted. But I still feel like if you’re going to make an animated movie about superheroes, why cut out a huge chunk of your younger audience when just a few tweaks could have kept it PG-13 without affecting the story at all? Just a personal gripe, but aside from that, this is a better-than-average entry in the DC Animated Universe franchise.

Evil: Season One – If you miss the X-Files but feel like it didn’t have enough religious symbolism in it, well then, have I got good news for you! Evil: Season One brings us 13 episodes of supernatural mystery with Katja Herbers starring as a skeptical psychologist (who is NOT named Scully) and Mike Colter (from Marvel’s Luke Cage) as a priest-in-training who team up to investigate everything from angel sightings to demonic possessions. It’s a fairly tried and true formula, so it’s hard to really find much to complain about with the show. Herbers and Colter work well together and both deliver fine performances, the mysteries are intriguing, and the show has a nice atmospheric vibe for what is, ultimately, a procedural. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s solidly entertaining viewing.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – It’s not often that a current film makes its home video debut and goes directly to The Criterion Collection, but that’s exactly what Portrait of a Lady on Fire did. Now, this is as artsy as an art film can get, so it’s not a huge surprise to see it get the Criterion treatment. This period French drama tells the story of a young female painter in the 18th century who is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of a young bride-to-be. Passions flare and, well… the rest is cinematic history. This is a lush and beautiful film, filled with gorgeous cinematography, terrific performances, and lingering passion. It’s also a bit on the long side for my tastes (but I’m a heathen, I suppose.) The film received a lot of critical acclaim and it’s easy to see why, even if it’s not for everyone. If you like deep dramas that evoke strong feelings and you don’t mind subtitles (which for the record, I don’t mind at all), then this is a film you will definitely appreciate.

Pennyworth: Season 1 – With Gotham off the air, how do you make another Batman TV show without Batman in it? Well, you go back in time. Luckily, the comic books have well established that Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, was a British special forces soldier in his past. Well, Pennyworth mines that and gives us the adventures of young Alfred Pennyworth, now out of the army, and working as a “security consultant” who comes across Thomas Wayne (as yet unmarried and without children.) The show is set in the 1960s, and it has sort of a James-Bond-set-in-the-Batman-Universe feel to it. While it eschews costumes and gadgets, for the most part, the villains are colorful and the solitary-soldier vibe is reminiscent of Batman in just the right way. This new set that collects the first season includes all 10 episodes and it’s a good watch. Fans of Batman and people who just want something James Bond-esque will probably both enjoy this rousing action show.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations – It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a new Laurel & Hardy collection to look at, but Kit Parker Films has pulled out all the stops for Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations, a four-disc set that is sure to thrill fans of the iconic comedy duo. On this set (available on Blu-ray and DVD), you will find two feature films (Sons of the Desert and Way Out West) and no less than 17 comedy shorts, which is really some of the truly special material. It’s hard to find good collections of shorts like this, as they’re often just thrown together, but that isn’t the case here. All of the materials in this set have been restored and remastered in 2K and 4K from their original film negatives, meaning the picture quality is better than I’ve ever seen it. Add to that a plethora of special features including commentary tracks, interviews, photo archives, rare audio, and much more. It’s not a complete collection of the duo’s works, obviously, but if you’re a fan of Laurel & Hardy, this is simply a must-have for your collection.
  • Head of the Class: The Complete First Season – One of the classic ‘80s sitcoms makes it’s home video debut (finally), courtesy of the Warner Archive. (WAC offerings can be found via warnerarchive.com and your favorite online retailer.) Howard Hesseman, best known at the time as Johnny Thunder on WKRP in Cincinnati, stars as a put-upon high school teacher in charge of a class of gifted students. Of course, with ten students you have ten different personalities, and the interchange between Hesseman and his charges was comedy gold. Sure, there are some echoes of Welcome Back Kotter, but in this case, instead of the Sweathogs, we get the brains, the nerds, the geeks, and the drama kids. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this show would hold up after three decades, but while the hairstyles and fashions are wildly ‘80s, the characters and the jokes still work, and I enjoyed the heck out of revisiting this first season. Here’s hoping the Warner Archive brings us the rest of the seasons in short order!
  • 30 Rock: The Complete Series30 Rock was one of those shows that seemed like everyone watched or talked about, but was never a runaway smash success. It never seemed like the ratings darling that a show like Modern Family or Friends was, but season after season, 30 Rock seemed like the show that all the cool kids watched. For my money, 30 Rock falls solidly into the “pretty good” category. I always liked watching it when it was on, but I never went out of my way to make sure I didn’t miss it. That said, I was pretty psyched to dive into 30 Rock: The Complete Series because it gave me a chance to fill in all the gaps, which makes for a much more rewarding viewing experience. This is definitely a show that benefits from binge-watching. This new Complete Series collection from Mill Creek (available on either Blu-ray or DVD) contains all seven seasons on 20 discs, all for a pretty low price point. It also includes all of the original bonus features from the original DVD releases, and I’m almost positive this is the first time every season has been available on Blu-ray, so for fans, this is a great chance to own the whole show in one nice, compact set.
  • Stuck With You: Season One – So, I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of the UMC Network before this DVD set crossed my desk. It turns out, it’s the Urban Movie Channel, which is an African-American centric network, and apparently, they don’t just air movies, but they create original content. The first show that I’ve seen from their line-up is Stuck With You, a fun romantic drama about a Hollywood “It” couple; she a former R&B star, he a Hollywood leading man, who have drifted apart but decide to continue playing a couple in public to protect their brand. As they try to live separate lives under the same roof, they converge and diverge and, well, things occasionally get messy. This first season collection is only six episodes, but the show is quite good. The cast is mostly unknowns, but they’re all great in their roles and the show presents realistic-yet-dramatic situations that re somehow both over-the-top and completely believable. As far as first seasons go, while short, this one is certainly good enough to warrant interest in a second one.
  • Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears – This feature-length movie sees a return to the original Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that gained a fan following all over the world. Part mystery, part adventure serial, the original show has been off the air for several years now, but fan interest remains high, which led to a crowdfunding campaign to fund Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a movie that serves as a sort of wrap-up for the series (unless it does well enough to warrant a sequel.) The plot is pretty world-spanning and involves kidnapping, curses, and priceless jewels, all mixed together with our dashing heroine. The low-budget of the film is evident at times, but I have to give the film credit for doing the best it can with what it has. Longtime fans will be happy just to see their favorite characters again, even if it isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all of what they might want.
  • Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash – I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been a dramatic version of the tragic plane crash that took the lives off multiple members of Lynyrd Skynyrd before now. I’ve seen several documentaries about the band and the crash, but this is the first film I know of that takes a dramatic look at the events. The film focuses on drummer Artimus Pyle (who also contributes to the soundtrack) and portrays the events of the crash as well as the aftermath for the survivors. And while the production definitely has a made-for-TV-movie feel to it, I have to say for a lower-budgeted film with mostly unknown actors in it, it’s actually pretty solid. It’s an interesting story, it’s told efficiently, and the cast isn’t bad at all. Worth a watch for fans of the band or music history.
  • Corpus Christi – Okay, a two-hour Polish film about a convict who convinces a small town that he’s a priest might sound like a bit of a stretch for people who watch mostly mainstream fare. But for those who like to venture outside of there multiplexes — which admittedly I’m not always in the mood for — will be rewarded with Corpus Christi. It is at times both dramatic and charming, it has some real surprises in it, and the lead performance by Polish actor Bartosz Bielenia is searingly good. The film has a religious setting but it isn’t a film that is about religion in the same way that faith-based dramas are. This is a movie that has a feel and a tone all its own. It’s a bit of work to watch it — the film IS in Polish, after all, and it’s not exactly brisk — but the end result is worth it.
  • White Crane Chronicles – David Carradine returns to his Kung Fu roots with this TV movie from 2008 that sees him team up with his Kill Bill co-star Darryl Hannah. Originally tilted Kung Fu Killer (which is a pretty awful name for something that isn’t a slasher film), the film takes place in China in the 1920s and it sees Carradine as a man whose compatriots are slaughtered by a drug lord’s gang. He quickly sets out on a mission of revenge, enlisting Darryl Hannah’s help when she isn’t busy crooning lounge act music. The film isn’t great, but it is a certain amount of fun; there’s plenty of action and violence and it looks pretty great overall. If you don’t mind some major plot contrivances and lazy writing, you can just go along for the ride and have fun with it.
  • Mill Creek Blu-ray Double Features – Also this week from Mill Creek, we have three new double feature Blu-ray releases, which pair up lesser B-movies and give you two for the price of one. That’s a solid deal and, if I’m being honest, the best way of packaging these kinds of movies. I’m not saying that to be rude, but none of the films included here are classics, and most of them are unknowns. I can’t see a lot of people paying full price to own them, but when you get two films in one case for a low price point, well, that makes it a little more enticing. First up is Classic Crime Double Feature: Hollywood Story & New Orleans Uncensored, giving us two noir-tinged crime thrillers from the 1950s. While neither one has any major stars in them you do get appearances by Beverly Garland, Jim Backus and Henry Hull. They’re pretty standard pulp thrillers, but I like those kinds of movies so they were an easy watch. Next up we have The Man From The Alamo & They Came to Cordura, two westerns from the ‘50s, and this time around we get some real screen icons: Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, and Tab Hunter populate these two films. Now, I’m not a westerns guy, so these weren’t particularly up my alley, but fans of the genre will enjoy two solid oaters on Blu-ray for the first time. Finally, Sci-Fi Double Feature: The H Man & Battle in Outer Space gives us two late-‘50s Japanese kanji films, meaning you get all the rubber monster suits you can handle for just a few bucks. Both films are on Blu-ray for the first time, and b includes both the Japanese edit and the American edit. Again, double the cheesy fun for half the price.

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