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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: 21 Jump Street, Batman: Death In The Family, Whiplash, Requiem for a Dream, Vikings and more

We’ve got a big week this week, loaded with Halloween-themed movies and some higher-profile releases as we start to ramp up home video shopping for the holidays. Here’s what’s on tap:

Batman: Death in the Family – One of the most famous storylines in Batman’s history is A Death in Family from the late ’80s, where Robin was killed by the Joker. It was precipitated by a fan call-in number, where fans could vote whether he lived or died. Well, this new Blu-ray/4K release replicates that famous gimmick by making it an interactive animated movie. That’s right, you get to choose the events of the film at key points, leading up to seven different endings. Now, technically this is a short film, with the various endings affecting the running time. I clocked them as short as 15 minutes and as long as 30+ minutes. If you watch all the different branching storylines (which are significantly different from each other), you get about the same amount of material as a full-length movie, totaling about an hour and a half. In addition, as this is a “DC Short Film Spotlight,” you also get four bonus short films from the previous DC releases, including Sergeant Rock (which I believe is new), Adam Strange, Death, and The Phantom Stranger. I would have honestly preferred a direct full-length adaptation of Death in the Family, as it’s one of my favorite Batman stories, but this is a pretty cool movie/experience nonetheless.

Star Trek: PicardStar Trek: Picard got a LOT of attention from the fan community for giving us the return of the fan-favorite Captain Picard and the Next Generation universe. For my money, I was hugely disappointed in it. It was WAY too dark (with almost no humor), almost ALL of the characters are unlikable, and it introduces some new concepts and characters to the TNG universe that I didn’t care for (I can’t say exactly what because of spoilers, but let’s say the last two episodes were a bit much.) The premiere episode is pretty awesome, and the episode that sees Picard reunite with Riker and Troi is outstanding, but everything else was a big let down for me. I’m glad CBS/Paramount is keeping the Trek franchise alive, but I feel like this was taking the show in a direction I didn’t care for. I know I’m in the minority on that, but I gotta be honest. I hope the inevitable season two lightens up and gets better.

21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street (4K Ultra HD) – I was a huge fan of 21 Jump Street when it aired on TV in the ‘80s, and I was a huge fan of the two feature films made based on the show. Even though they are sort of a parody of the show’s original concept, they’re just so funny that I really loved them. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill made a great pair, and I had hoped the franchise would continue. (There are rumblings of another film in the works, at least.) Both films have now been released on 4K Ultra HD (available separately), and I’m pleased to see the movies in the premium format. Now, these are pretty recent films and they looked pretty good on their original home video releases, but they shine just a little brighter on 4K, with extremely vibrant colors that really fit the tone of the films. The surround soundtracks also add a nice layer of ambience to the movies. These aren’t really A/V-driven films, but they do benefit with a nice upgrade from the 4K format.

Whiplash (4K Ultra HD) – The second big 4K release is the format debut of Whiplash, the utterly fantastic film debut of Damien Chazelle (La La Land). Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the film tells the story of an aspiring drummer and the music teacher who attempts to lead him to greatness — through intimidation, terror, and bullying. It’s technically a drama but at times it almost feels like a horror movie — and it’s absolutely riveting. Both Teller and Simmons give amazing performances, and you literally can’t look away from the screen once the cat and mouse game begins. I absolutely love this movie! Now we have a new 4K Ultra HD release of the film, which lets you see it in all its glory. Not the most colorful film in the world, the increased color saturation does add a little more vibrance to the proceedings, but the image clarity is absolutely top-notch. The surround soundtrack also does an excellent job of capturing every drumbeat, every cymbal crash, and every handclap with crystal clarity and a nice use of the surround channels. It’s a very strong technical presentation, but I would expect no less with J.K. Simmons’ tyrannical teacher overseeing things!

Requiem for a Dream (4K Ultra HD) – Our final 4K Ultra HD release this week is Darren Aronofsky’s ultra-dark Requiem for a Dream. This is an interesting film; the performances are incredible and the film’s visuals are stunning, but it’s not a movie I particularly like. I don’t care for dream imagery in fiction, and this film is less a narrative story than a series of interconnected dream sequences that embody the downward spiral of addiction. I think it’s an affecting film, but it’s not one that I really enjoy. That said, if you like this film, the 4K Ultra HD is absolutely worth the upgrade. The aforementioned visuals look almost otherworldly, with deep and inky blacks, bursts of color that leap off the screen, and sharp contrasts. The surround soundtrack utilizes the rear channels for atmosphere and ambience, swallowing you up with our main characters. If you want to capture some of the feeling of what the characters are going through, this disc will definitely give you that.

Vikings: Season 6, Volume 1 – I know that The History Channel’s series Vikings is insanely popular, and I can see why even if ultimately, I’m not really a fan of the show. It’s dark and gritty and certainly doesn’t veer away from Game of Thrones territory and that usually equals a hit these days. And it’s not as if there’s anything in particular about the show that I can point to that I dislike. It just never gets me excited. It’s a perfectly fine show, and fans will enjoy having the first half of Season Six on home video, I just wish I could get as excited about it as everyone else. This new set includes 10 episodes on 3 discs, and it’s available on both Blu-ray and DVD.

The Doorman – Ruby Rose and Jean Reno star in this action thriller that really brings the action. Rose plays an ex-marine who works as a doorman at a New York City apartment building. When a gang of thieves led by Jean Reno sets their sights on one of the families inside (with a connection to our heroine), Rose’s Ali is the only thing that stands between the bad guys and her estranged family. Here’s the thing: this is a perfectly watchable action film. Ruby Rose knows her way around an action scene, and Jean Reno is always a welcome addition to any cast. But there’s literally nothing memorable about the film. The characters are cardboard cut-outs, the story is very familiar, and the action is good, but not groundbreaking. Is it an easy way to kill 90 minutes? Absolutely. Is it a stand-out action film that you’ll want to rewatch? Probably not.

Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite – The original Cats & Dogs was a theatrical feature film that basically gave us a spy movie with household pets; they used technology, saved the world, etc. It was a goofy kids movie, but it wasn’t without its charms. Now, with the second direct-to-video sequel, we see the animosity between the two species kick off again after a ten-year-truce, thanks to a mysterious signal that turns cats and dogs into enemies once more. I wish I could say this movie was better, but it’s not great. Sure, voices like Melissa Rauch, Max Greenfield, and George Lopez are nice additions, but the film isn’t particularly funny or charming. However, my guess is that the kids who are the target audience will find it perfectly enjoyable, even if parents spend much of the running time rolling their eyes.

Bad Mothers: Season 1 – After watching Australian dramas like A Place to Call Home and Playing for Keeps, my wife and I have pretty much decided that if we get a new Australian drama series to watch, we’re diving in headfirst. I don’t know why, but the Aussies seem to make really great dramatic television, easily rivaling anything America puts out. This new show is sort of an update of Desperate Housewives, giving us a group of moms as our main characters, and then adding a murder mystery to the proceedings. So you get the usual inter-character drama (love, infidelity, clashing personalities, etc.), but then you also have a central mystery that drives the season. This DVD collection includes all eight episodes of Season 1, and — not surprisingly — it’s engaging and addictive right from the first one. The cast is mostly unknown in the US with the exception of Melissa George, but they’re a great ensemble and they really make the show a lot of fun to watch.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Before the Fire – The concept for this movie is pretty darn eerie, especially considering that is was released in April of this year, meaning it was clearly filmed before 2020. In the film, a young actress leaves L.A. in the midst of A GLOBAL PANDEMIC(!), heading off to a small town to stay with her boyfriend’s family. While there, a mixture of events causes a creeping tension to set in. Her boyfriend’s brother is particularly unfriendly; there’s a militia that wants to arm up against an unknown enemy; and Ava finds more and more things taking an ugly turn. It’s an oddly prescient film, although ultimately it has more of a dystopia-in-the-making feel to it than it does an outbreak film. Once Ava travels to the small town where she’s staying, the pandemic storyline takes a back seat. Still, it’s an odd coincidence. The film itself is solid; it’s not great, it’s not bad. It’s a serviceable dramatic thriller with a few uneven performances and a story that loses focus occasionally, but it might be worth a watch, if for nothing else than eerily prescient opening scenes.
  • Broil – It wouldn’t be October without horror films, and this week we get Broil, a pretty intense outing that suffers from a terrible title. The film follows a 17-year-old Chance who is sent to live with her wealthy grandfather. When other family member hires an offbeat assassin to kill the patriarch, all hell — sometimes literally — breaks loose. That’s a pretty broad description but honestly, I don’t want to give any spoilers, and this is a film that will keep you guessing as to what’s going to happen next. It has some echoes of Ready or Not and the ‘90s black comedy The Last Supper, but it’s really its own film, and it’s quite a bit of fun. Also, a now grown-up Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire) plays a big role, and it’s interesting to see him as an adult! I wish they had given it a better title, but Broil is still a fun treat for Spooky Season.
  • Seized – Scott Adkins and Mario Van Peebles star in this direct-to-video thriller that sees Adkins play a former Special Forces operator. When his son is kidnapped, he’s forced to go on a one-man war against three violent crime syndicates if he wants to see his boy again. But of course, Scott Adkins isn’t just going to play by YOUR rules, Mr. Bad Guy! I joke, but Scott Adkins is kind of the king of B-movie action thrillers for a reason. He’s not a great actor but has enough charisma to justify watching him for 90 minutes, and his martial arts and combat skills are top-notch. There’s nothing about Seized that you haven’t seen a hundred times before in an Adkins flick, but chances are good that’s WHY you’re watching.
  • Burt Sugarman’s The Soul Of The Midnight Special – Okay, so the seventies isn’t exactly my favorite era of music. In fact, it’s probably my least favorite. But even I have to admit that Midnight Special is chock full of awesome! This five-disc set includes more music than you can shake a record player at, and the collection of talent here is astounding. And while there are some lesser-know artists in here, you’d be surprised how many of the artists in this set have stood the test of time. While there have been other Midnight Special releases (including a 10-disc set that I believe this five-disc release is culled from), you still get over 70 live performances of classic soul and R&B music. Performers include Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Gladys Knight, Barry White, Ray Charles, Kool & The Gang, and so many more it’s unbelievable. With classic songs like Lean on Me, Johnny B. Goode, Ain’t No Sunshine, Georgia on My Mind, and In the Midnight Hour (among so many others) any fan of The Midnight Special or soul music in general will love this set. Currently you can find it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.
  • Mill Creek Spotlight – Mill Creek specializes in rereleases of classic and cult favorite films at a low price, and they have some noteworthy new multi-film releases this week. First up is a Blu-ray triple feature: Incognito / Diabolique / The In Crowd. These three ‘90s thrillers make a pretty nice complement to each other. Diabolique is the headliner, as it’s a juicy murder mystery starring Sharon Stone, while Incognito is an intriguing thriller starring Jason Patric. The In Crowd is probably the least known of the films, but it’s actually pretty good, and it has an attractive cast of “hey, I recognize that person!” stars that will keep you watching. Next up is the Imaginary Crimes / Silent Fall Blu-ray Double Feature. Now, I can’t say I was familiar with 1994’s Imaginary Crimes (which stars Harvey Keitel along with a slew of well-known stars), but Silent Fall was a staple in the video stores back when we had video stores. Just seeing the cover art with Linda Hamilton, John Lithgow, and Richard Dreyfus took me right back to the mid-90s. Both films are solid suspense/drama films; neither is a stand-out, but for a cheap way to kill a few hours, you could do worse. Finally this week, we have Crooner Classics: 4 Films, a DVD collection featuring four Dean Martin and/orFrank SInatra movies. Pal Joey and Contract on Cherry Street stars Frank SInatra, while Who Was That Lady? and How To Save A Marriage (And Ruin Your Life) star Dean Martin. It’s an interesting mix of films in a way, because three of the films are from the ‘50s and ‘60s and are pretty well known films, while Contract on Cherry Street is a late-era Sinatra TV movie from 1977 in which he plays a New York City Detective. Kind of an odd fit, but it’s still a pretty good set overall.
  • PBS Spotlight – We have a slew of new PBS releases this month, and here are a few of the most notable ones. First up is Prehistoric Road Trip, in which host Emily Graslie takes us on a journey back to the prehistoric era through fossils found in the middle of the country. Over the course of three episodes, we learn about the Earth, dinosaurs, and fossils, which makes for some pretty engaging viewing, and Graslie is an amiable host. Good stuff! Next up is And She Could Be Next, and extremely timely two-episode docuseries about women of color running for office, with particular focus on Rashida Tlaib and Stacey Abrams, Over the course of almost four hours, we learn about these two candidates as well as women running for office and the challenges they face, especially women of color. This is pretty important viewing, especially in this day and age. Also riveting is Frontline: Opioids Inc., a one-hour episode of the topical show which focuses on Insys Therapeutics, a company that pushed a Fentanyl-based rug that did way more harm than good. It’s both shocking and expected to see this kind of behavior from a major corporation, and you’ll find yourself shaking your head, but it’s definitely worth watching. Just in time for the holidays, we have Lucy Worsley’s 12 Days of Tudor Christmas, a really fun program. In it, host Worsely recreates what Christmas was like and how it was celebrated 500 years ago, which is rather fascinating actually. My biggest complaint is that it’s only 55 minutes long, and it could easily have been longer. I hope she does more of these from different eras. Getting into more specific topics, Let’s Talk Menopause is exactly what it sounds like, an exploration of Menopause. Now, I’m not exactly the target audience for this show (although there are parts of the show that will interest men, too), but I will say that the host, Dr. Tara Allred is quite knowledgeable and personable, and she makes for easy viewing. Finally, we have Easy Yoga For Everything With Peggy Cappy. Cappy is a yoga master, with DVDs featuring all kinds of yoga (for managing pain, for better balance, etc.) This ten-disc set includes almost eleven hours of yoga in ten different programs, collecting pretty much all of her previous releases. As usual, Peggy takes you through yoga routines that focus on a number of different areas. I actually like Yoga, and Peggy has a nice cadence for leading it, so if you’re looking for a new workout routine, this is definitely worth the price considering how many different routines you get.
  • Indie Spotlight – Finally this week, we have a number of indie releases. First up is Carmilla, which is a gothic tale that’s part vampire story, part coming-of-age drama, and all atmospheric. The film stars relative unknowns Hanna Rae and Devrim Lignau , but also boasts Outlander’s Tobias Menzies in the cast. The film is based on a 19th century novel by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, although I’d never heard of it before this. This is one of those movies that’s heavy on mood and features some nice cinematography, but it’s a bit slow-moving for my tastes. Still, vampire fans will appreciate a new offering. Next up is the Polish epic, Sword of God. Hoo boy, this one is intense. It features some astounding visuals and a few good action scenes, but it’s really about two different approaches to spreading the gospel to native people. It also features a mani character two sews his mouth shut, which is high on my list of things that gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s a dark, grim, bleak film, and while it looks great, you really have to be in the mood to watch something like this. Moving on, I hate to boil The Pale Door down to outlaws versus witches, but at times, well… that’s what it is. With a largely unknown cast, the film tries to mix genres, and ends up with mixed results instead. There are parts of the film I liked (the opening scene is pretty intense) but there are parts where it just doesn’t work. The unknown cast is solid if unspectacular, and the film is just okay at best. Then we have The Harvest, an odd documentary from Georgia (the country, not the state) that is in Georgian with English subtitles. It’s about how the country has become a hotspot for cryptocurrency, whereas once it was known for idyllic countrysides. It’s a little bit fascinating, but the Georgian language does make it a tougher watch than it might have been otherwise. Luckily, it only runs 70 minutes, so it can keep your interest throughout. Finally this week, we have Seniors: A Dogumentary, a heartwarming and charming documentary about a dog sanctuary in Tennessee for older canines. And let me tell you, if you don’t find yourself charmed by Chaser the Border Collie (the “smartest dog in the world”) then I got nothing for you. The film is directed by Gorman Bechard and features the photography of Jane Sobel Klonsky, and trust me when I tell you you’re going to want to adopt a senior dog after watching this film.
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