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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Crown, Game of Thrones, Josie and the Pussycats, A Rainy Day in New York and more

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Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection (4K Ultra HD)Game of Thrones is kind of like – if you’ll excuse the football analogy – the 2007 Patriots. They went 18-0 through the regular season and the playoffs, then dropped the ball in the Super Bowl and lost it all. Well, I see a clear parallel with Game of Thrones. One of the most successful and well-loved shows of all time, fans had to wait two years after the end of Season 7, by which point most people considered this pretty much the best show in the history of television. Then Season 8 shows up and – what happens? Pretty much everybody hated it. That said, the show as a whole was a stunning success, becoming a major cultural touchstone and pop culture juggernaut. And now you can relive the entire series in one nice, chunky box set, and it looks and sounds better than ever in the premium 4K Ultra HD format. The 4K transfer is gorgeous; if ever there was a show that deserved the 4K treatment, it’s Game of Thrones. It may have faults in finishing a story, but awe-inspiring cinematography is never one of them. The surround soundtrack is also excellent, bringing every battle scene, mob, and dragon flight to life and filling in your living room with sound from every direction. The set comes loaded with all of the original extra features, as well, so this is a set that should keep you buys for a long time to come. Even if you do decide to skip that last season!

The Crown: The Complete Third Season – This popular television series is back on home video for those who missed it on air or who just want to relive the drama. Olivia Colman is fantastic as Queen Victoria II (replacing Claire Foy, who played her as a younger woman). Supported by Outlander stand-out Tobias Menzies, this is one of those productions where everything clicks on multiple levels — especially the performances — but it doesn’t click with me. With lavish production values, sharp writing, and flawless acting, this show takes a subject matter I really don’t care all that much about (historical drama/biopics have never been my favorite genre) and turns it into a TV show I really don’t care much about. I just find it terribly boring, despite the quality of the production.

Josie and the Pussycats: The Complete Animated Series – There’s nothing I love better than when my childhood comes back to visit me, and this week I get a dose of that. Josie and the Pussycats: The Complete Animated Series is out on DVD and Blu-ray and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Before I continue, I should point that out that the DVD set is available at regular retail, while the Blu-ray release is limited to the Warner Archive print-on-demand service (https://www.warnerbros.com/collections/warner-archive) and participating online retailers. Back to the show itself, this spin-off from the Archie comics line is about an all-girl rock band who travel the world and get into zany adventures. It isn’t high art, but it’s a lot of fun and features some catchy, kid-friendly tunes. The Blu0-ray set is the preferred one for my money, as the animation looks quite sharp and colorful in high def, but either set isn worth having if you remember the heyday of Saturday morning cartoons.

Catherine the Great: An HBO Limited Series – Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke star in this four-episode HBO miniseries about the 18th-century Russian monarch and her life, trials, and tribulations. Each hour-long episode brings us a chapter from the embattled leader’s life (mostly the later chapters, obviously), with Jason Clarke playing Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine’s love interest and sometime foil. Now, admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of historical drama, but there’s no denying this is a high-quality production, with excellent production values and terrific performances from not just Mirren and Clarke, but virtually the entire cast. I’m glad they decided to make this a miniseries, too; it could have been stretched out into a two-or-three season show, but this way it is concise and interesting. Worth a look if you like this kind of stuff, but I’m not sure it’s going to win over people looking for more popcorn-oriented fare.

A Rainy Day in New York – After setting his last few films in foreign settings such as France and England, Allen returns to his home territory with the Manhattan-set A Rainy Day in New York. Originally filmed in 2017, the film has been stuck on the shelf after it was delayed due to Allen’s legal woes. Getting to watch it now, the film feels like a return to vintage Allen, which I guess is a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about his films. This is a dialogue-driven, low concept rom-com set on the streets of New York, which feels a lot like Allen’s output from the ‘70s and ‘80s. There are some good performances and some sharp dialogue (and one quite obviously-named character named Gatsby), but it also feels a little bit familiar. The fact that it’s three years old already doesn’t help it feel any fresher than it comes across, either. Still, if you’re a die-hard Allen fan or you just want to see something of a return to form for the auteur, you might want to check this one out.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • The Spongebob Musical: Live on Stage – This is a pretty cool release. Spongebob Squarepants has obviously transcended being just a kids cartoon and has gone on to morph into a full-fledged pop culture sensation. That culminated in the Broadway show, The Spongebob Musical. Well, since many people can’t get to Broadway (and, of course, Broadway is currently shut down due to COVID-19) you can now watch the show in its entirety, filmed live on the Broadway stage. Now, personally, I’m not a huge fan of musicals, and honestly, while I like Spongebob just fine, I’m not one of those people who just loves the show. So I can’t say this is the kind of thing I’m gonna watch over and over. But Spongebob fans, Broadway fans, and kids who love Spongebob should all find something to like here. I like releases like this that offer up something a little different for fans of a particular franchise.
  • Guest House – A new Pauly Shore movie? In 2020?!? What is happening? Well, I’m not sure how we came to this, but yes, Guest House is indeed a new Pauly Shore film. In it, Aimee Teegarden and Mike Castle play a couple who buy their dream house, except it turns into a nightmare, thanks to Shore, a burnt-out drug addict who lives in their guest house and refuses to leave. And it’s kind of a weird overall effort. I mean, Shore isn’t exactly stretching his acting chops, playing… well, basically playing the same character he’s always played, just many years later and not doing so hot. It’s nice to see Aimee Teegarden acting again (remember her from Friday Night Lights?), and while there are some funny parts, Pauly Shore is pretty much every bit as annoying as I found him back when he was a popular comedic actor. There are a ton of cameos and small roles by well-known people (Lou Ferrigno, Steve-O, Billy Zane, Chris Kattan), but most of them are just there for a couple of quick jokes and that’s it. I dunno, it’s not the worst comedy I’ve seen in recent months, but it’s a far cry from a great film.
  • Mortal – I was excited to watch Mortal not just because I like Nat Wolff quite a bit (he has the lead role), but because the director, Andre Ordeval, brought us Trollhunter and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit. Here, we get an origin story of sorts, as Wolff plays a young American man in Norway who wakes up with mysterious powers and finds himself getting in more and more trouble. It’s like a comic book movie without the comic book, and it’s actually a pretty neat film. It’s a lower-budgeted affair, but it still looks pretty good, thanks to Ordeval’s talent behind the camera, and the story is familiar yet feels fresh. The film sets us up for a sequel and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to see more of what’s going to happen with these characters. It’s a neat little film and if you’re looking for something to hold you over until we finally get a Marvel movie again, you might want to track this one down.
  • Hosts – This is a somewhat new twist to the home invasion thriller (it has a bit of a science fiction element to it), but the story unfortunately comes second to the blood and gore the filmmakers wanted to revel in, which isn’t usually my cup of tea. The film takes place at Christmas as we see a family dinner with some guests. However, not everyone is exactly what they seem, and things soon turn violent. I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but that’s okay because there really isn’t much more of one than that. The rest of the film is chasing, hiding, and killing, and if the filmmakers had just toned the gore down a bit, I think it would have been more to my liking. That said, I know there is a definite audience who likes their films more bloody than not, so for them, this flick is probably right up their alley.
  • Marona’s Fantastic Tale – This is a really unique animated movie, but be warned that just because it’s about a dog doesn’t mean that it’s for young kids. In the film, we meet Marona, a dog who begins to flashback through her life and all of her various owners. And believe me when I tell you that it doesn’t pull any punches. If The Fox and the Hound made you cry, you’ll probably want to bring your tissues for this one. One thing that lessens the blow a little is the more abstract, arty style of animation. This doesn’t look like a Disney cartoon, but rather a European art film in animated form. It’s a charming and touching film, and it has plenty of humor and heart, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to throw your pre-schoolers in front of while you’re doing laundry. It’s a mature tale with a complex emotional center to it.
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: The Complete Collection – The original Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series (which has since seen a spin-off show and a movie) gained a fan following all over the world. Part mystery, part adventure serial, the original show only ran for a few seasons but it was a lot of fun, and fan interest remains high, which led to a crowdfunding campaign to fund a movie that served as a sort of wrap-up for the series. Now, just in time for the holidays, we have Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: The Complete Collection, a 12-disc box set in beautiful packaging that includes all three seasons, the Crypt of Tears movie, and even a fun magnetic paper doll set featuring Miss Fisher herself. I imagine this is the type of show a lot of fans will want to have in their collection, and now you can own it in its entirety in one nice collection.
  • Monogamy: Season 1 – UMC (Urban Media Channel) has been churning out TV shows in recent months (at least on DVD), and their latest effort is… well, it’s interesting. In a way, it’s like a dramatized version of Wife Swap. In this six-episodes series, four couples travel to L.A. for an unconventional (and unknown to them) new method of couple therapy: swapping spouses. Of course, as you can imagine, things don’t go smoothly from the jump, with the various new couples experiencing conflict and drama. Of course, as the show progresses, you start to realize that there are lessons to be learned and that the pairings aren’t as random as they seem at first. It’s a unique concept for a show, and it works overall. There are parts where things get a little melodramatic (understandably so, considering the set-up), but overall, it’s kind of juicy and kind of fascinating; a little bit of train-wreck television, because you can’t look away.
  • Charlie’s Christmas Wish – This Hallmark-style Christmas movie sees a military vet come home after suffering PTSD, only to find his family’s attention squarely focused on their new dog, Charlie. Cue the cute-dog-has-to-win-over-the-curmudgeonly-owner storyline. This one mixes in a subplot about veterans and what happens when they don’t have the support they need, so it’s kind of a message movie as well, but it wears its heart on its sleeve and isn’t overly complicated. It’s predictable as all get-out, but if you like Hallmark Christmas movies, then you know what you’re in for and you’ll probably enjoy this one, too.
  • Secret Zoo – There is apparently a popular series of young-reader books called The Secret Zoo, but be aware that this movie has nothing to do with them. Instead, this Korean comedy is about a lawyer who tries to help a failing zoo, only to discover that most of the animals are gone. So he hatches a scheme to have the zoo’s human employees dress up as animals to give the public something to look at, and things go unexpectedly haywire from there. It’s kind of a fun concept for a movie (Be Kind, Rewind in a zoo?), but honestly, it just doesn’t seem to know what tone it wants to have. The film isn’t as silly or funny as it needs to be, but it’s also to offbeat to really work as an effective dramatic story. It’s not a bad film at all, and it has its charms, but I wish it had a more confident tone from the start.

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