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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Honest Thief, Cinema Paradiso, Sanditon, Roadkill and more

Honest Thief – Liam Neeson’s latest actioner is one of his better ones in recent years. In it, Neeson plays a bank robber who goes straight when he falls in love with a woman (a welcome Kate Walsh). He tries to turn himself and the money in to a skeptical FBI so he can live his life with her free of any lies, but when a couple of rogue agents steal the money and frame him for murder, Neeson has to go on the run and clear his name. It’s a simple enough premise for a film, but it works well because of a number of things. First of all, the rest of the cast (Jeffrey Donavan, Jai Courtney, Robert Patrick, Anthony Ramos) is excellent as well. The film also takes time to develop characters and give us a story, and not just 90 minutes of non-stop action (although there are some very strong action sequences.) And finally, the film has a strong tone. It’s certainly not a comedy and there are some very serious scenes, but the film overall has just a hint of lightness to it that makes it quite enjoyable to watch. It’s not an action masterpiece, but honestly, it’s one of the more enjoyable films I’ve seen recently.

Cinema Paradiso – Arrow Video continues their march towards Criterion-like status with their latest Arrow Academy release, a two-disc version of Cinema Paradiso, one of the most revered foreign films of the 1990s. Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film is a beautiful treatise on movies, life, and death, and it’s hard not to get sucked into this world that relates film to all of the great passages a person goes through in their lifetime. Now, the film has been available on home video before, but Arrow’s new special edition tops them all. First of all, it includes the theatrical cut of the film (which runs just over two hours) as well as the Director’s Cut (which comes in at nearly three.) In addition, there are two lengthy making-of features and a handful of other extra features. Cinema Paradiso is a bona fide classic, and Arrow Video has done a terrific job of making a bid for the definitive version of the film on home video.

Sanditon – This six-hour miniseries from PBS Masterpiece is based on Jane Austen’s final — and unfinished — novel of the same name. The story of a small fishing village that reinvents itself as a resort location, the show has all the hallmarks of Miss Austen’s works: a plucky heroine, an intriguing male romantic interest, and a wide variety of supporting characters. The cast features mostly “hey, that actor looks really familiar” faces, including Rose Williams, Theo James, Anne Reid, Kris Marshall, and Crystal Clarke. For my money, while I’m not a wild Jane Austen fan, I can appreciate her works and, more importantly, her characters, and I found Sanditon to be somewhat enjoyable. It wasn’t a slam dunk for me, but I liked it overall. Fans of movies based on similar works such as Little Women and last year’s Emma will likely find a lot to enjoy here.

Roadkill – Also from PBS’s Masterpiece, this four-episode series stars Hugh Laurie as a popular politician who is well-liked by the common man. He’s known for exposing corruption, but — surprise — tunes out he’s got some stuff in his past he’d rather not be known to the public. And then, of course, a new secret emerges, one which threatens his career. That’s about all I can say without giving away the juicy stuff, but it’s definitely worth checking out regardless. Laurie is in fine form and delivers an excellent performance, while the story’s twists and turns will keep you engaged. Be aware, the series ends on something of a cliffhanger, so I assume that means that Season Two is forthcoming soon.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Garfield: Cartoon World 2-Movie Collection – This new Garfield release features not one but two CGI films starring everyone’s favorite lasagna-eating, Monday-hating orange tabby cat. The two films included are Garfield Gets Real and Garfield’s Fun Fest. Each film runs about an hour and 15 minutes, and while neither one is an animation masterpiece, it’s fun to see Garfield stay somewhat current. The CGI format works well for the character, and while none of the voice talent from the original cartoon series are present, I think kids will enjoy these films and parents who grew up with Garfield will be able who watch them without cringing, so it’s hard to argue with that. I’ve always enjoyed the Garfield cartoons, so seeing these new, updated versions of everyone’s favorite fat cat were fun to watch.
  • White Riot – This music documentary focuses on the Rock Against Racism movement in England in the 1980s, which admittedly, I knew nothing about before this DVD crossed my desk. It focuses on the efforts of punk rock bands to combat the National Front, an organization that was promoting far-right beliefs. Enter The Clash and several lesser-known bands who used their voices to combat racist thinking, culminating in a big concert designed to raise money and awareness for the cause. This feature-length documentary looks at the movement and the concert, and while I’m sure readers in the UK are familiar with the events from back in the day, it was an eye-opening story for me. Good stuff!
  • PBS Spotlight – We have a number of new PBS releases this week to look at, and this week’s theme is definitely geared more towards science and nature. For example, first up, we have The Age of Nature, a three-part documentary narrated by Uma Thurman. This sobering doc features some stunning and beautiful footage of locations around the world that have been affected by human beings, and not usually in a positive way. But we also see how these places can bounce back when they aren’t being polluted or otherwise ruined by human populations. Definitely worth a watch. Next up is Hacking Your Mind, a four-episode series about how society “hacks your mind” or injects undue influence on you, and how you can protect yourself from it. It tells you about how our minds go into auto-pilot mode, and how that opens us up to manipulation from outside sources. Honestly, it’s quite fascinating stuff, and there are some really good tips for helping to retain your free thoughts. Speaking of minds, how about the Secret Mind of Slime? This one-hour documentary introduces us to slime molds, a substance that’s not really a plant or an animal, yet somehow is smart enough to make its way through a maze. Who knew? It’s probably not for everyone, but if you dig science stuff, it’s really interesting. Finally, Human Nature, is a feature-length documentary on CRISPR, a technology you may have heard of that has the potential to let us edit human DNA (think the world of Gattaca.) This film looks not only at the technology itself but also the moral and ethical implications of what it might entail. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking (and maybe a little bit scary) subject, and it should be watched by anyone concerned with what the future might hold.
  • Warner Archive Spotlight – We have a few new releases this week from The Warner Archives, Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand boutique home video service. The titles released this week are all making their debut on Blu-ray, and they are all available at First up this week is an excellent release of The Curse of Frankenstein, the 1957 updating of the classic Frankenstein story. This one stars Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster. Now, Warner Archive usually tends to lean towards pretty spartan releases, but this one comes as a two-disc affair, giving you three different versions of the film designed to satisfy all A/V audiences. The first two versions feature different widescreen aspect rations, and the third one is a full frame presentation. While full frame is mostly a thing of the past these days, this movie apparently gained most of its audience due to repeat television presentations, so this recreates that experience for people who grew up watching it on TV. There are a handful of other extra features as well, so this is really a very nice release for fans of the film. Next up is The Mortal Storm, a 1940 drama starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. The story follows a German family in a small mountain village whose town is taken over by Nazis. What’s interesting is that, while the film takes place in 1933 and details the rise of the Nazi party, it’s hard not to see parallels between this film and the world today and what’s happening in politics and society. For me, that gave the film a real immediacy that made it surprisingly powerful. Plus, I love Jimmy Stewart, so it’s definitely worth the watch. Next up is Tennessee Johnson, a 1942 biopic of President Andrew Johnson starring Van Heflin, Lionel Barrymore, and Ruth Hussey. Johnson isn’t one of the most notorious presidents, although perhaps he should be, considering he took over the presidency after Lincoln was assassinated and was the first president to deal with impeachment. The film itself is solid if unspectacular, but the performances are good. Finally, we have Tex Avery’s Screwball Classics: Volume 2. This Blu-ray release features 21 classic cartoons from Tex Avery (one of the architects of the Looney Tunes universe) after he moved to MGM and created characters such as Droopy, Screwball Squirrel, Spike, Red, and The Wolf. In addition to the almost three hours of terrific cartoons you get, Warner Brothers has taken the time to restore and remaster them, meaning these cartoons that are 80 years old look almost like they’re brand new. It’s a fantastic effort and fans of classic Hollywood and animation should seek this one out ASAP.

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