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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: They Live, Prince of Darkness, The 100, Manifest, Dreamland, Wander and more

They Live and Prince of Darkness (4K Ultra HD) – This week, Shout Factory brings us two beloved John Carpenter classics in the 4K Ultra HD format, They Live and Prince of Darkness. They Live is an unadulterated cult classic, in which Rowdy Roddy Piper utters the immortal line, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubble gum.” Plus, it gives us the longest fistfight in cinema history! Meanwhile, Prince of Darkness is a mid-career John Carpenter film, and it’s completely underrated. Admittedly, when you have Simon and Simon’s Jameson Parker in one of the lead roles, you’re not exactly guaranteeing a huge box office draw, but I feel like Prince of Darkness is an oft-overlooked entry in Carpenter’s canon. The film is a sort of devil/zombies/possession flick, not quite fitting into any one genre easily. What it is, however, is a lot of fun. It’s got plenty of Carpenter’s hallmarks, and it’s also got some pretty creepy moments. Both films come as Collector’s Editions in the 4K Ultra HD format. Of course, these aren’t brand new films, so the A/V upgrade, while noticeable, isn’t a complete transformation. The color saturation on both films is noticeably improved, image clarity is solid, and shadow delineation looks much better, which is nice since John Carpenter films have a lot of scenes that take place in the dark (I mean, one film is actually called Prince of DARKNESS…) The surround soundtracks are more robust than previous efforts, but you’re not getting the type of immersive soundscape you would with, say, the latest Star Wars movie. These are both great film, and I’m thrilled to see them on the premium format.

The 100: The Seventh and Final SeasonThe 100 started off as one of my favorite genre shows of the last decade. It was a great mash-up of The Lord of the Flies, Battlestar Galactica, and After Earth, set in the distant future where Earth is potentially uninhabitable. Unfortunately, it started to lose me after about three seasons; honestly, it just became so dark and grim and gritty that it took the enjoyment out of it for me. The show delighted a little too much in killing off main characters, and it lost any sense of fun that was present in the earlier episodes. That said, the show finally comes to its conclusion, an amazing seven seasons after it started. For a show that was never a huge numbers generator, that’s an incredible run, and its fans are as die-hard as they come. This final season is available on Blu-ray via Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive.

Manifest: The Complete Second Season – One of the few TV shows in the past couple of years that’s generated some actual buzz, Manifest is the kind of show that I really like but I wish the format could be tweaked. The story follows a passenger jet that disappears mid-flight and then reappears five years later – but nobody on board has aged a day. That’s the hook, and to say more would spoil the surprises to come, of which there are many. If I have any problem with the show, it’s the aforementioned format, by which I mean the fact that it’s a continuing series that will presumably have a third season coming soon. Like so many other high concept shows I can think of (Prison Break, Under the Dome, and Zoo all come to mind) I’m worried that the show is going to have a gangbusters first couple of seasons, and then fall off a cliff fast because it’s hard to keep these kinds of stories going plausibly. Still, the first season was terrific and Season two is a decent ride, so I’ll go along with it for now. This second season set is available on Blu-ray via Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive.

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story – I am not a huge fan of either Bob Dylan or Martin Scorsese, so a Bob Dylan movie directed by Martin Scorsese was not high on my list of movies to track down. However, when the Criterion Collection adds a film to their oeuvre, I’m always going to check it out. This concert/documentary film chronicled Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour, in which he hit the road with fellow musicians and artists such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuin, and even writer Alan Ginsburg. The resulting film mixes music performances, interviews (including Sam Shepard and Sharon Stone, as well as Dylan himself), and behind-the-scenes footage and is, actually, quite fascinating. The concerts were more of a traveling Vaudevillian road show than a traditional concert, and seeing so many legendary performers in their prime is captivating. While I’m not a huge fan of all of the musical talents involve, it’s still a snapshot of an incredible moment in American history.

Legacies: The Complete Second Season – This is the second spin-off show from The Vampire Diaries, although it seems pretty far removed from that original show. In this series, the offspring of some of the original characters from TVD and The Originals attend The Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted, where vampires, werewolves, and witches mix, mingle, and get into LOTS of trouble. Now, I didn’t get to review Season 1, so I came into this with just a few recaps under my belt. It takes a little while to get up to speed, but if you’re looking for a sleek, edgy, filled-with-beautiful-people version of Harry Potter, you’ve come to the right place. Okay, that’s a broad comparison, as this show has a totally different feel than Harry Potter, but it’s hard to deny there are some similarities as well. Still, it’s a fun show that requires no real knowledge of The Vampire Diaries, so it’s worth checking out. This second season set is available on Blu-ray via Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive.

Dreamland – Margot Robbie and Peaky Blinders’ Finn Cole star in this Depression-era drama that serves almost as a fictional sequel to Bonnie & Clyde, if Bonnie had lived. In the film, Cole’s character Eugene comes across an injured female bank robber, Allison (played by Robbie). Torn between his desire to do the right thing and his desire to get out of the small-town life he’s in (as well as his desire for Allison), Cole finds himself at odds with himself. What follows is a decent film that is largely unspectacular, save for one thing: Margot Robbie. As usual, Ms. Robbie is luminescent, and sh’e easily the best thing about this movie. The rest of the film sort of meanders along around her, and it’s not quite good enough to merit watching without her.

Wander – Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham, and Aaron Eckhart starring in a small town thriller? Sign me up! I was all in on checking out this new film that offered up a new twist on the mystery genre. Jones and Eckhart play podcast hosts who investigate conspiracies, who are then asked to investigate a murder outside of the small midwestern town of Wander. From there, the pieces of the mystery unravel slowly as we watch these two not-quite-investigators try to farm out the truth. It’s an interesting film; at times it really draws you in to the proceedings, and at times it feels like it’s padding things out, which is surprising since the movie only runs 90 minutes. Overall, I’m glad I watched it, but it’s not a slam dunk, more of a watchable curiosity.

Spacewalker – This based-on-a-true-story movie details the Russian efforts to be the first country to have men walk in space — a feat at which they succeeded. What this dramatic retelling of the events reveals is just how fraught with danger that accomplishment was. The film is Russian-made, so it does require subtitles, but it’s worth the effort. With echoes of Gravity and Apollo 13, it’s a gripping tale of the two cosmonauts who performed the world’s first spacewalk. Can you imagine how scary that must have been? I can’t, but I don’t have to, because Spacewalker does a good job of carrying that tension, fear, and courage throughout. A terrific film that any fan of the space program — even if it isn’t ours — should track down.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Max Cloud – B-Movie king Scott Adkins stars in this low-budget tribute to ‘90s 16-bit side scroller video games. The movie has a fun concept, a girl in 1990 gets sucked into her favorite side-scrolling game, only to have to help the game’s hero complete his quest so she can escape the game, but it flounders in the execution. Part of it is the budget, which is clearly quite low and never lets the film achieve the video game world it wants to. Adkins is actually pretty good as Max Cloud, only surprising because while he’s great at action, his acting chops aren’t all that great. However, playing a puffed-up video game character plays to his strengths. The movie is fun overall, but you can’t help but think of what could have been with a bigger budget and more ambitious hands behind the camera.
  • Spell – Omari Hardwick and a delightfully over-the-top Loretta Devine star in this new horror thriller that sees a mountain-voodoo take on the classic Stephen King story Misery. In the film, Hardwicke’s Marquis is flying his family in a small plane to his father’s funeral, but the plane crashes in the rural Appalachian backwoods. Marquis awakens to find himself at the mercy of voodoo priestess/mountain woman Ms. Eloise, who claims she nursed him back to health with some sort of voodoo power. Of course, Marquis can’t leave, and from there, it becomes a race to escape and save his family. Now, I wish I could say the film was better than it is, but honestly, it isn’t terribly scary (although there are some suitably tense moments), and the script is particularly weak. The dialogue is often cringeworthy, taking away what little enjoyment there was otherwise. Loretta Devine is fun to watch, but that’s not enough to carry a movie like this.
  • American Dream – Academy Award-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (trust me, you have definitely seen his work on film before) makes his directorial debut with this crime thriller starring Luke Bracey, Michiel Huisman, and Nick Stahl. The film sees two young entrepreneurs turn to a Russian mobster for funding, only to find him trying to wrest control from them and take over their project and basically make their lives a living hell. Enter Agnieszka Grochowska as Stahl’s girlfriend, who helps our duo get their lives back. Stahl makes an excellent bad guy, and Grochowska is quite good as well. The film itself needs a little work; it occasionally gets muddled story-wise and could move a little faster at times, but it’s an average B-movie thriller that will easily kill 90 minutes.
  • The Cleansing Hour – This new Shudder Original stars Ryan Guzman and the always-terrific Kyle Gallner as web hosts who stream a show to millions of viewers that feature live exorcisms. Of course, these exorcisms are cleverly planned out hoaxes, but what happens when one of their subjects gets possessed by a demon for real? Well, then you get The Cleansing Hour. And if at first it seems like the set-up for a comedy, the film quickly delves into real horror territory, with the characters forced to confront the sins of their past in order to exorcise a twisted demon. It’s not a perfect film, but I have to say it kept me engaged all the way through, and it had a couple of twists and turns that are kind of fun. The horror genre is littered with so many bad films these days, that one that feels even halfway different seems like a big win.
  • The Alan Rudolph Double Feature: Afterglow / Ray Meets Helen – This new Blu-ray double feature pairs up two films by director Alan Rudolph. Far from a household name, Rudolph is probably best known for the 1988 film The Moderns, but that’s not much of a calling card. This collection offers us 1997’s Afterglow, which sees bored househusband Nick Nolte engage in a relationship with desperate housewife Lara Flynn Boyle, with predictable results. The film is a drama that very occasionally veers into thriller territory, and it;’s a solid if forgettable film. The other movie included is 2017’s Ray Meets Helen, a more cheerful drama starring Keith Carradine and Sandra Locke as two people who suddenly find themselves coming into large sums of money, and aim to change their lives in new ways because of it. It’s a bit of sentimental film, but it’s not bad. Worth a watch on a night when you want something easygoing to sink into.
  • Indie Spotlight – We have a large number of new indie releases on DVD this week, so buckle up! First up is Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack, a documentary about the artist Audrey Flack who isn’t quite a household name, but whose career reaches back to the 1950s and has no small account of acclaim. In this film, Flack herself discusses her work and how its changed, as well as delving into her personal life, with special focus on her life raising a son with autism. It’s an interesting look at Flack as both an artist and a person, and the 75-minute running time feels perfect: long enough to get a full picture, short enough to not get boring. Switching gears, we have Once Upon a River, a moving drama that has won numerous film festival awards. The film follows a Native American teenager setting out on the road to track down her estranged mother. Based on the novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell, the film takes its time and it never turns into a thriller or an action film, but it does present protagonist Margo with some definite challenges. It’s not a happy film, but the lead performance by Kenadi DelaCerna is quite good. It’s not really my kind of film, but I can appreciate that it’s well-made and well-acted. Next up is Road to Mandalay, another sort of road trip drama. This one is set in Thailand, and follows two Burmese people who have made the escape from the authoritarian regime there. The film is by acclaimed director Midi Z, who has spent a lot of time documenting the plight of Burmese refugees and emigrants. This a stark, somewhat bleak film, but it is also quite eye opening. It can be a tough watch, though, so go in knowing that this isn’t a film that’s going to necessarily cheer you up. Finally, we have Open Up to Me, a deep drama from Finland about a transgendered woman who has been living a somewhat hermetic life since her gender reassignment surgery. But when she meets a man (who has a teenage daughter, further complicating things), she has to decide when and how to reveal the truth about her gender. It’s a timely film, and it’s good to see stories about people who don’t fit into non-traditional gender roles. Also, the lead performance by Leea Klemola is quite impressive and won Best Actress at the Finnish equivalent of the Oscars. Worth seeking out if the subject matter interests you.

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