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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Blumhouse of Horrors, Pitch Black, Ghost In The Shell, Ghost Ship, Shivers, Jesus Shows You The Way to the Highway, and more

Okay, I’m covering a LOT of titles this week as I’m still playing catch up from being out of action for a week due to having some surgery. So buckle up, because here we go!

Blumhouse of Horrors: 10 Movie Collection – I’m not always a fan of multi-movie collections, because they can often be a really mixed bag of good and bad titles. But this new 10-Movie Blu-ray box set from Blumhouse Pictures is a winner from top to bottom. Blumhouse has single-handedly revitalized the horror genre, making low-budget horror flicks into massive box office successes, and they do it with a mix of good storytelling, great atmospheres, a scary-not-gory aesthetic, and PG-13 ratings. I can’t say I love every Blumhouse movie, but by and large, they hit a lot more often than they miss. This 10-disc set includes the following movies on Blu-ray (and digital, yay!): Get Out, The Purge, Ouija, Split, The Visit, Unfriended, Truth or Dare, The Boy Next Door, Happy Death Day and Ma. Now, out of that bunch, I absolutely loved Get Out, The Purge, Split, The Visit, Truth or Dare, and Happy Death Day, so that’s a pretty good base. Ouija and The Boy Next Door are perfectly enjoyable if uninspiring. The only two I’m not that big a fan of are Ma and Unfriended, but neither are out-and-out terrible, and I’m sure there are people out there who like them. Each disc includes the films’ original extra features (and the aforementioned digital copies) so you get a lot of bang for your buck with this great box set, just in time for Halloween! RECOMMENDED!

Pitch Black – If you read my column regularly, you know what a huge fan of Arrow Video I am. They have quietly created a Criterion-level quality brand for cult classics and genre films, and this time they bring their considerable talents to Pitch Black, Vin Diesel’s star-making sci-fi actioner. Not only is the film a fun twist on the Aliens franchise which hold up extremely well, but the disc and all its extra features are a thing of beauty. There are several newly recorded interviews with cast and crew, there’s a bunch of making-of featurettes and documentaries, but then you get things like Dark Fury, a feature-length animated film starring Vin Diesel as Riddick, that was the first official follow-up to Pitch Black. You also get a motion comic, archival features, a television special that s surprisingly cool (trust me, check it out), and much more. It’s pretty much the end-all, be-all of special edition discs for fans of Pitch Black or Vin Diesel. Simply put: I love this release!!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Ghost in the Shell (4K Ultra HD) – One of the most popular and influential anime films of all time, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and what better way to commemorate that than with a new 4K Ultra HD release of the film. Chances are if you’re an anime fan, you’ve already seen this movie, but if you haven’t you really should check it out. Yes, the story is occasionally a bit tricky to follow, but overall it’s a terrific cyber-thriller that is a visual feast for the eyes. And now, that aspect of the film shines even more in the premium 4K Ultra HD format. The colors really pop off the screen, giving the film an almost 3-D look, and the outlines are razor-sharp, giving the animation a crispness that is stunning. The surround soundtrack is atmospheric and humming with life, and the overall A/V quality is outstanding, especially for a film 25 years old. This one is a must-have for fans o the film or anime in general.

Ghost Ship – Shout Factory’s always-excellent Scream Factory imprint brings us a new Collector’s Edition of Ghost Ship, the 2002 haunted-cruise-liner film starring Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Karl Urban, Ron Eldard, and Isaiah Washington. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this film. I think the opening sequence is utterly fantastic, and the film itself does a great job of giving us a fun ensemble of characters and some genuinely creepy ghost stuff, only to lose it all with a silly and uninteresting ending. And while that’s a shame, it’s still a relatively fun film to watch. It’s just a shame the ending wasn’t better, because I think it could have been a really great film if the last third of the film lived up to the first two-thirds. Still, for fans of the film, this new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray comes loaded with extra features, including a new audio commentary, three new making-of features, and several archival extra features. It’s a terrific disc overall, and fans will really enjoy it.

The Good Fight: Season Four – At this point, I bet most viewers have forgotten that The Good Fight was a spin-off of The Good Wife. And while that original show might be, The Good Fight goes on and it seems to be quite successful, seeing as how this is the fourth season already. This CBS All Access series focuses on Christine Baranski in the lead role as a lawyer working at a prestigious African American–owned firm that’s gaining attention for tackling socially challenging cases. As with the previous seasons, there’s a great supporting cast and the writing on the show is really sharp, although it definitely is not for people who want their TV to remain apolitical. This latest DVD collection includes the entire fourth season (10 episodes), and it’s a pretty easy binge-watch. I can’t say I was in the market for another law-centric series to watch, but if you are, this one is pretty good.

Most Wanted – Josh Hartnett and Jim Gaffigan have supporting roles in Most Wanted and get prominent placement on the Blu-ray cover, but the main star of the film is the relatively unknown Antoine Olivier Pilon, who turns in a really strong performance (as do Hartnett and Gaffigan, actually.) The film is based on a true story and it kind of tells two stories. One is about a man who was framed by cops on a heroin bust and sentenced to life in a Thai prison, and the other about the crusading reporter trying to expose the truth. I love movies about journalism, and while this one has a true-crime element to it, it’s still pretty engaging overall. There are a few slow moments that keep the film from really being a slam dunk, but the performances help carry a lot of it.

Shivers – Lionsgate has created the Vestron Video imprint to bring out high-end releases of cult classics and genre favorites, and this week we have two new titles from them. The first is Shivers, David Cronenberg’s feature film debut. The movie is a low-budget affair from the 70s about the denizens of a high-rise apartment building being taken over by parasites and becoming sex-crazed maniacs. Fun! It’s a pretty impressive film for a debut feature, but I’ll be honest that I’m not the biggest fan of body horror, which of course is Cronenberg’s specialty. There are definitely a few parts of the film that will leave a bad taste in your mouth. That said, I’m glad I watched it, as it’s one of his films I’ve never seen before. This new Blu-ray edition includes a digital copy as well as some terrific extra features, including two new audio commentaries, four new featurettes, and a handful of archival extra features. Plus, the new cover art is pretty great! A must-have for Cronenberg or horror fans.

Little Monsters – The second Vestron Video releases this week is Little monsters, the family-friendly monster movie starring a young Fred Savage and Howie Mandel (in heavy monster make-up). This 1989 movie also stars Daniel Stern and it was a massive box office flop, but it has garnered a pretty solid fan following in the years since. This may be the film’s US Blu-ray debut, but there are a handful of previous DVD releases that show how well-liked the film is. For my money, I found it to be an enjoyable if uneven film. It seems clear to me that the filmmakers wanted to make a darker, scarier movie while the studio (or someone involved with the production) wanted to make it a family-friendly film, so there are times where the tone is all over the place. That said, watching it as an adult, it’s still pretty fun. This new Blu-ray comes packed with extra features, including a new audio commentary, five new making-of featurettes, and archival features. Top-notch!

Alejandro Jodorowsky: 4K Restoration Collection – Google “Alejandro Jodorowsky” and see if you can find anything written about the auteur that doesn’t read like a third-year doctoral student’s philosophy thesis paper. It’s almost impossible. Well, I’m not a philosophy student, so I’m gonna try and keep this as straightforward as possible. I feel like there are three kinds of movie fans: those who are Jodorowsky fans, those who have never heard of Jodorowsky, and those who have heard of him but never seen a single movie of hi. I would guess most people fall into that last category. I’ve actually seen one or two of his films but I’m far from an expert, so this new box set was a deep dive for me. The six-disc set includes four Blu-rays and two soundtrack CDs (for El Topo and The Holy Mountain), giving you four films. Three of them (El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Fando Y Lis) are classic Jodorowsky works that are remastered on 4K (but presented on Blu-ray, so you don’t need a 4K player to watch them), and are probably his most well-known films, while the fourth one, Psychomagic: A Healing Art is his most recent film. Without delving into philosophy too much, here’s what I’ll say about the films in the set: they are visually striking, and watching them and exploring some of the bonus features is a bit like going to film school for cheap. But did I actually enjoy watching any of his movies? Ehhhh… not so much. These are esoteric, surreal works, and if you’re more a fan of narrative-based cinema, you’ll struggle to find something to latch on to. If, however, you like experimental filmmaking and art, I can’t recommend this set highly enough for you.

Ultraman Ginga / Ginga S + Ultra Fight Victory: Series & Movie – Mill Creek has done a terrific job with their Ultraman complete franchise release series so far, and this latest release is no exception, although it is a little confusing. So what you get here are two complete series, a movie, and a miniseries, all in one six-disc Blu-ray set (that also includes digital copies). The Ultraman Ginga series sees young Hikaru Rido take on the Spark Dolls (which are big monsters) with the help of the Ultras. Ultraman Ginga S, meanwhile, is a second series, which picks up two years later and features both new and returning characters. Ultraman Ginga S: The Movie is a movie in which Hikaru and his compatriot Sho become Ultraman Ginga and Ultraman Victory to thwart a cosmic menace. And them, you have Ultraman Victory, a miniseries focusing more on Ultraman Victory. You get an awful lot of bang for your buck in this set, and if you’ve been grabbing the Mill Creek Ultraman Blu-ray series so far, you’re not gonna want to stop now.

The Legend of Tomiris – Loosely based on a true story, this Russian film tells the story of Tomiris and her band of Amazonian warriors, an all-female cadre of soldiers who fought against the Persians in the sixth century BC. Now, a quick Google search will show you that there has been some controversy regarding the authenticity of this Khazakstani film, but when the events of a film happened almost 3000 years, I’m okay with some liberties because it’s not like you can really fact check all that much about the events. What’s good about this film is that it gives us an unflinching strong female lead character who seriously kicks ass, and it has pretty solid production values that give us some impressive action sequences. I have never heard of Tomiris before and I don’t feel like I know a whole lot about the real-life events, but I enjoyed watching the film, and usually, that’s all I’m looking for.

Sanctuary – This suspenseful thriller series is an eight-episode series (with room for a second season?) that is pretty darn interesting. Our lead character Hel goes to visit her estranged twin sister, only to wake up and find out that her twin has switched places with her — and no one believes her that she’s the normal twin now stuck inside a mysterious mental health facility. That’s the basic gist of the show, but to go more into it would spoil the twists and turns, of which there are plenty. Josefin Asplund turns in an amazing performance in dual roles, while Matthew Modine is always a welcome face as a supporting actor. The show is creepy, dark, and sometimes disturbing, and it’s definitely not for there faint of heart, but if you’re looking for something along the lines of Orphan Black meets Black Mirror, this might be the show for you.

To Your Last Death – An impressive voice cast bolsters this definitely-not-for-kids animated horror movie. Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise, William Shatner, and Bill Mosely lend their voices to this unique horror film, which is about a young woman who gets a chance to survive her father’s death games all over again thanks to some help from a supernatural entity. Okay, the story is a bit weird, but what you’re really watching for is all the classic slasher film tropes in animated form. The animation is similar to an animated comic book, that sort of thick-outline, half-animated style, where it’s like one picture shifting quickly to another, more than traditional animation. There’s plenty of blood and guts, and I guess it’s entertaining in a certain way. I don’t know, it didn’t do all that much for me, and at 95 minutes it felt longer than it needed to be. I think there are some horror fans who will like it, but it wasn’t quite my thing.

Jesus Shows You The Way to the Highway – Ummm… huh. Sometimes the best way to tell you about a film is to let said film’s description speak for itself. “What do you get when you cross Afro-futurism, Cold War paranoia, the dystopian world of Philip K. Dick and 60s exploitation cinema, along with a hefty dose of Lynchian surrealism? The answer: Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, Featuring encounters with an Irish-accented Joseph Stalin, a kung-fu-fighting Batman, and Jesus Christ himself, to name but a few, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is absurd, audacious and like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.” I mean, that about sums it up. This is one bizarre film, and while there are parts of it enjoyed (and parts of it I didn’t, If I’m being honest), and its purposeful low-budget aesthetic makes it look like a cross between a Roger Corman movie, an episode of Power Rangers, a 1980s arcade game, and an LSD hallucination. I can totally see why this film might become a cult classic in the future, but it’s a bit out there for me. That said, Arrow Video has put together one of their stellar two-disc special editions for the film, and it is terrific, packed with extra features, cool artwork, a poster, and a collectible booklet. Neat!

Also Available on Home Video This Week:

  • Let It Snow – I was excited to watch Let It Snow, because it’s a mash-up of survival thriller and slasher film, two of my favorite genres. This Russian film tells the story of a brother and sister at a snowy European resort who get separated out on the snowboarding slopes. Before you know it, our heroine is not only trying to survive the bitter cold and snow, but also a masked snowmobiler who’s out to kill her. Great premise, sign me up! The execution, however, leaves a little to be desired. Look, the film isn’t awful. There are some decent moments of suspense and it’s a relatively easy watch. But it quickly becomes repetitive, and the character of Mia spends more time running away from the killer than doing anything proactive. In the end, the film falls squarely into the “utterly average” category.
  • Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America – Okay, I will freely admit that when it comes to hip-hop and rap music, I’m a casual fan at best, and I’m far from up on the most current artists. So I was excited to watch this six-episode miniseries about Hip Hop songs that had a cultural impact on America. And it’s actually quite enjoyable, I just have to wonder about the song choices. They make a good case in each episode for why the songs they chose had an impact, but I feel like there are songs out there that were much bigger, much more impactful, and much more noteworthy. For context, the songs included (and tackled one per episode) are: Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” Run-D.M.C.’s “Rock Box,” Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First,” Outkast’s “Elevators,” and Marley Marl and MC Shan’s “The Bridge.” And I will say that each episode makes a case for why these songs have something important to say, so they’re probably better choices than some of the songs I would have chosen. But where’s “F$&# Tha Police”? “Walk This Way” (by Aerosmith and Run DMC)? “99 Problems”? I guess it’s all a matter of choice, but there’s no denying that this is a top-notch music documentary series that’s worth checking out.
  • Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs – This new animated film takes the classic Snow White story and gives it a twist. Originally a Korean production, the film has been given a star-studded English-speaking voice cast that includes Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Claflin, Gina Gershon, and Patrick Warburton. The Shrek influence is all over this film, but whereas Shrek was charming, funny, and original, Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs is… not. The film sees seven princes turned into Dwarfs and a homely girl transformed into a pretty one by a pair of magic shoes, and the film sends some questionable messages about appearance and beauty. But worse, it’s just never really very funny, even though it’s clearly trying to be. This one is a swing and a miss for me.
  • First Cow – You don’t see a lot of movies centered around cows these days, so I was intrigued by the new film First Cow. And okay, it isn’t really about a cow. It’s about a pair of strangers-cum-partners who devise an unusual scheme in 1820s America: secretly milking the first cow in Oregon to make delicious cakes, resulting in good financial fortunes. Okay, so this isn’t big-screen blockbuster material, but director Kelly Reichardt infuses the film with a sweetness and a curiosity that makes it much more endearing than I had any right to expect. The lead actors (John Magaro and Orion Lee) are largely unknown, but there’s a terrific supporting cast that includes Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Alia Shawkat, and the late, great Rene Auberjonois. If you’re in the mood for something enjoyable and a little off the beaten path, check out First Cow.
  • Beckman – Faith-based films are usually weepy dramas or sports/overcoming adversity flicks, so the unusual Beckman is a welcome addition to the genre. This is an out-and-out action film with a Christian undercurrent. The story kicks off with our main character Beckman, an assassin-for-hire, who ends up gravely injured and finds himself in a church. From there, he builds relationships and — when the people he cares about get hurt — goes on a mission of revenge. There are gunfights, blood, and action aplenty, and while it’s not a top-notch action film, it’s solidly decent, and it’s a nice option for people who want to indulge in their faith but get away from movies with Kirk Cameron or people crying about their marriages. William Baldwin, Burt Young (He’s still alive?!?), and Danielle Moinet (WWE’s Summer Rae) round out the cast.
  • John Lewis: Good Trouble – Politician John Lewis gained some measure of fame for being a staunch leader in the fight for Civil Rights, marching on Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr., and even publishing a graphic novel about his life experiences. When he passed away earlier this year, he was rightfully honored as a person who truly made a difference in the world. The new biographic documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble, is a terrific feature-length film that tells his story, Obviously, it’s hard to fit a whole life into 90 minutes, but the film does a good job of hitting the highlights and showing us who John Lewis was as a person and a politician.
  • Indie Spotlight – We have several new indie releases this week, with kind of a wide range of tones, sunbelt matters, and even languages. First up is Amor Amor, a Portuguese romantic drama about a group of friends and lovers whose entanglements are much more complicated than they seem at first glance. Interestingly, the film kind of reminds me of Love Actually, except it takes place on New Year’s Eve instead of at Christmastime. And it’s also more serious in tone, but there’s something there that feels like they come from the same DNA. Worth a watch if you like foreign dramas. Next up is Babyteeth, a Dramedy of sorts starring Ben Mendelsohn and Eliza Scanlen, who both give terrific performances. But this quirky family story feels like it’s all atmosphere and no real story, and performances alone aren’t enough to carry it. Sadly, not my cup of tea, which is unfortunate because I’m a huge Ben Mendelsohn fan. Switching gears, I Am A Dancer, is a strong documentary about famed dancer Rudolf Nureyev. It’s a decent film, but it was made in 1972 and it feels like it. It is making its Blu-ray debut, so if you’re someone who has fond memories of the movie, you can now own it on a high-quality format. There are some new extra features and a booklet, which are nice additions, but I would have liked to see maybe some new additions in actual content. Another documentary that I really enjoyed is Pizza: A Love Story. Now, this film presupposes that New Haven, Connecticut is home to the best pizza in the world, and it tells the story of the three places known for being the best of the best: Sally’s, Pepe’s, and Modern. A mix of travelogue, pizza documentary, and social commentary, and it’s really pretty enjoyable. Warning: it will make you hungry!

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