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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The King of Staten Island, Deep Blue Sea 3, The Terror, The Trip to Greece, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, and more

The King of Staten Island – Okay, I’m going to give you a string of complaints before I tell you how much I liked this movie. Bear with me. First of all, I’m not a huge fan of Judd Apatow, who directed this film, and I don’t understand why he’s incapable of making a movie under two hours. The King of Staten Island clocks in at two hours and 17 minutes long. Did it need to be? Absolutely not. Which leads to my second biggest complaint about the film; the first 20 minutes or so is nearly unbearable. It’s unlikable people saying and doing unlikable things and it made we want to quit watching the movie almost instantly. In fact, it takes a good long while before Pete Davidson’s main character becomes even remotely tolerable. But once Bill Burr (quickly becoming one of my favorite supporting actors) enters the picture, the film drastically improves. And by the end, it becomes a really endearing dramedy about an aimless young man looking for a father figure. I did end up really enjoying The King of Staten Island, but man, Judd Apatow, you have GOT to learn that comedies don’t need to be more than an hour and 40 minutes, tops. This film could have been a masterpiece if Apatow could have just trimmed out some of the nonsense. That said, though, if you stick with it, it’s incredibly rewarding, especially for the performances by Burr and Marisa Tomei. A great film, but be wary of those first 20 minutes.

Deep Blue Sea 3 – The second direct-to-video sequel to the classic shark thriller Deep Blue Sea, this entry works as sort of a sequel/not-sequel at the same time. What I mean is, it briefly refers to the events of the first movie and Deep Blue Sea 2 (which had almost nothing to do with the original anyway), but we get all new characters in an all-new setting, so you don’t need to have seen a single second of the previous films to understand this one. It’s basically a humans-vs-super-smart-sharks film, and that’s all you need to know. Is it great? No. But is it enjoyable? Yeah, it pretty much is. It’s a definite step above the usual low-budget dreck we get on SyFy and the like, and the special effects are solid if unspectacular. The movie’s set is actually really impressive, and there’s enough action and also enough character development to keep you interested. I mean, I think most people know what they’re getting with a direct-to-video sharks movie, even a higher profile one like this, but if you love shark movies (and so many of us do), this is one of the better offerings of late.

The Terror – Infamy: The Complete Second Season – The first season of The Terror was set in a frozen Arctic wasteland, so it might surprise some people to see that the second season is set in a Japanese-American community in the days leading up to the Pearl Harbor bombing. AMC has decided to follow in the same vein as American Horror Story, and make The Terror an anthology series, so we have a whole new set of characters and circumstances this time around, focusing on various Japanese-Americans in a time when their country was slowly turning against them. Oh yeah, and ghosts. Of course, there are ghosts. This season is another moody, atmospheric horror jaunt, although a little more grounded than the first season, which was drenched in isolation. This season focuses more on spiritual isolation rather than physical isolation. I was glad to see George Takei in the cast, not only because I’m a Star Trek fan, but because he actually lived in Japanese internment camps as a young child in America and brings a nice weight to the story. This still isn’t my favorite show, but Season 2 is just as effective as the first.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie – Shout Factory’s excellent Scream factory imprint returns with the Blu-ray debut of Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, a 1990 horror anthology that boasts an impressive amount of “would go on to be famous” actors in the cast. In just an hour and a half, we get before-they-were-famous Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi, as well as already-famous Christian Slater and Debbie Harry. The film tells four stories, with entries from Stephen King, George Romero, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) among them. A lot of anthology films can be hit or miss within the various segments, but each of these is pretty solid. The perfect hour-and-a-half running time keeps each entry short, and there’s a lot of fun to be had. This is one of those films that I saw when it came out back in the ‘90s and haven’t watched since, and it was a heck of a lot of fun revisiting it.

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation – It’s so interesting what they decide to make direct-to-video sequels to these days. The original I Am Vengeance came out in 2018 (and may have been direct-to-video; I’m not 100% sure but I know it didn’t show in theaters around me) and I didn’t think it made any kind of splash at all. But I guess it gained more of an audience than I realized, because here we are two years later with a sequel. And it’s not just slapping the same title on a generic action movie, either. No, this one sees the return of Stu Bennett as former Special Forces operative John Gold, and while the stories aren’t all that connected, you do get more of the action and violence that made the first film memorable for at least some people. This one, like the first one, isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s an engaging-enough action film to hold you over for a bit in search of your next adrenaline fix.

The Trip to Greece – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return for their swan song (maybe?) in the semi-reality-based (but not really) The Trip series, which started in 2010 with The Trip, continued in 2015 with The Trip to Italy, and now gives us The Trip to Greece. (There were also four seasons of TV episodes scattered in there over the years.) In these films, Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves, traveling, eating, sharing life and laughter and frustration with each other. This time around, they head to Greece and take a trip that supposedly follows in the footsteps of Odysseus, which means we get out of the restaurants and venture out into the country more. As usual, it’s the interplay between Coogan and Brydon that drives the film, and I suspect if you like the other films (and episodes) in this series, there’s nothing here you won’t like either.

Universal Horror Collection: Volume 6 – Once again, Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint brings us some of the best-forgotten horror movies from Universal’s huge catalogue. The Universal Horror Collection returns this week with its sixth volume, bringing us four more movies on Blu-ray for the first time (and some of them making their home video debut on any format.) This time around, the set includes The Black Castle (Doctor versus madman!), Cult of the Cobra (Women, snakes, & rituals, oh my!), The Thing That Couldn’t Die (Devil head in a box!), and The Shadow of the Cat (Kitty wants revenge!) Are these films great? No, they’re B-movie from a bygone era. But there is a certain sense of fun to them and we do get return appearances by Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr., which is always welcome in these classic horror flicks. As with this previous sets, each film gets its own disc, and the package is housed in a nice slipcover. Another top-notch effort from Scream Factory.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Emperor – I’m not sure if this movie was supposed to come out in theaters or not, but since it’s a Universal release, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn it was originally slated for the box office before getting derailed by the Coronavirus. The film features largely unknown actors in the lead roles (with supporting roles by familiar faces such as James Cromwell and Bruce Dern) and tells the true story of Shields Green, also known as “Emperor,” a descendant of African kings who would go on to become a pivotal force in slave uprisings in Civil War-era United States. I’ll be honest, I had never even heard of Shields Green before, and while I’m sure there are some liberties taken for Hollywood, I found his story compelling. The film moves quickly and gets you wrapped up in its events in short order, so not only do you learn about an important historical figure, but you’re never bored while doing so. I just wish Universal had given the film a Blu-ray release. It’s only available on DVD, which is a shame.
  • One Night in Bangkok – So this is an interesting one. Mark Dacascos, who is mostly an action star but is also known for being The Chairman on Iron Chef America, stars in this remake of the Tom Cruise/Jamie Foxx film Collateral. Now, Collateral is a film by Michael Mann, meaning it’s an incredibly sharp-looking production, and there’s no denying that this is a somewhat lower-budgeted affair, but it also has a nice energy to it. Dacascos is good in the lead role (the Tom Cruise one), while Jamie Foxx’s character is played by a woman, Vanida Golten. Obviously, the setting has also been moved to Bangkok, which gives the film a significantly different feel. I doubt many people will see this as a superior film to Collateral, but it is a cool new take on a good story.
  • Dead Still – Acorn Media specializes in European crime dramas (Mostly British, but also Scottish, Irish, and New Zealand…ish?), and this week we have a new one set in Victorian Ireland. Dead Still, a six-episode miniseries, takes a slightly different approach, with the focus this time on photography. Michael Smiley plays the unlikely-named Brock Blennerhasset, a “post-mortem photographer” who gets pulled into local murder mysteries that may have some connection to his work. Each of the six episodes gives us a complete story while also furthering the overarching story that works in the background, and the show mixes in some nice suspense and some decent humor. If you love good crime shows and want something a little different from just cops and CSI-work, you will probably enjoy Dead Still.
  • Playing For Keeps: Season 1 – While technically you could qualify Playing For Keeps as a mystery show (there is a mystery that drives this first season), the show is more akin to something like Desperate Housewives, where the central mystery drives the drama, and it’s the characters and their various stories that really keep you watching. This show is set in the world of professional football (soccer for American readers) and focuses on the players’ wives, so we get a lot more high society and jet-setting than we usually see in shows like this. The cast is largely unknown to American audiences, but Madeleine West, Annie Maynard, Cecelia Peters, Olympia Valance, and Isabella Giovinazzo are all excellent, giving the show a vibrant energy that hooks you in almost instantly. I love this show’s vibe, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Season Two has to offer. Another hit from Acorn!
  • Gold Digger – Our third release from Acorn Media this week is Gold Digger, which stars Julia Ormond as a woman celebrating her 60th birthday who meets the much younger Ben Barnes and falls into a romance with him. The catch, of course, is that Ormond is rather wealthy, and so the question becomes: is he in it for love or for money? Over the course of six episodes, we see family clash, romance blossom, questions asked, fights escalate, and much more. Ormond and Barnes are both dynamic in the lead roles, and the show serves up a nice dose of melodrama but in a way that doesn’t feel… well, melodramatic. Worth a watch, especially if you’re looking for something a little different from the normal romance story.
  • Biography: Kenny Rogers – I’ve been a huge Kenny Rogers fan since I was a kid, even though I don’t really listen to country music. But even though I’ve been listening to his music for decades and I’ve seen all of his The Gambler movies — heck, I’ve even eaten at Kenny Rogers Roasters! — I generally don’t know all that much about him as a person. Or at least, I didn’t. Biography: Kenny Rogers gives us a 90-minute look at the man behind the music, with all kinds of photos and archival video, as well as interviews with some of Kenny’s contemporaries, most notable Dolly Parton. We get some nice musical performances and a recap of his life and career; it’s the perfect amount of information about a titan of the country music industry.
  • Enter the Forbidden City – This gorgeous film is a feudal-era set epic Asian drama about honor and opera. Now, you don’t see a lot of movies about opera, especially ones set in ancient China. The film is directed by award-winner Mei Hu, and it is visually impressive, with some cinematography that really dazzles. But as for the film itself, while it is well-made and well-acted, I can’t say I ever got caught up in the drama of it. I’m sure there are people out there who will like it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
  • Einstein’s Universe – Okay, so the science-minded among you will probably be the most interested in this title, b ut the whole point of it is to open up Einstein’s world — er, universe, I guess — to the layman, so you don’t have to be a science geek to get this. Originally released in 1979, this documentary was produced by WGBH and the BBC (two extremely highly-acclaimed documentary-creating entities) and it sees faculty and staff at University of Texas McDonald Observatory taking viewers through Einstein’s science and theories in a hands-on way designed to make it make sense to the average person. I won’t like and say there weren’t moments where I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but I was able to understand big parts of it, so I think it succeeds in its goal. Hosted by actor Peter Ustinov, the film makes its Blu-ray debut in a new edition, bringing it into the 21st century.

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