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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Wrong Turn, The Last Vermeer, Vanguard, Russian Raid, Horizon Line and more

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Wrong Turn

Wrong Turn – I’m actually a really big fan of the original Wrong Turn, an underrated 2003 horror film about a group of teenagers who get lost in mountainous backwoods and run afoul of a family of monstrous cannibals. Unfortunately, it led to a series of direct-to-video sequels that stripped the fun and tension out of things and relied on more and more gore. After four or five sequels, the franchise finally died in 2014. Now it’s been revived with a new Wrong Turn remake/reboot starring Charlotte Vega and Matthew Modine. Alan McElroy, who wrote the original film, returns to script this one, and he takes a bit of a left turn with the proceedings. Now, the film has a bit more of a social commentary bent to it (although it’s not a driving force, don’t worry) and it’s all about tension and dread, rather than blood and guts (although there is some of that, too.) It’s a slightly more atmospheric movie, so it’s darker and not as much fun as the slasherriffic original, but I think some people will say it’s a better film. I was just pleased to see that it’s a huge step up from all the schlocky DTV sequels.

The Last Vermeer – Guy Pearce and Claes Bang star in this intriguing drama based on a true story about an art dealer being brought to trial in post-WWII Europe for dealing stolen art to the Nazis. I don’t want to get too much into the details of the story, because as someone who was unfamiliar with the real events, I found the unfolding of the details to be quite engaging. Guy Pearce is in fine form (and slightly unrecognizable) as Han van Meegeren, the art dealer in question, who isn’t as simple as he might be perceived. From there, the film tries to get at the truth, which I will just say is more complicated than it appears at first. The film feels a tad long in places but by and large I was caught up in the events, made easier by the terrific performances from the two lead actors. This one is worth a look if you want something a little different from the usual popcorn fare but still enjoyable.

Vanguard – Jackie Chan’s films don’t really make it to the big screens anymore — at least in the US — but the aging action star is still thriving on home video. His latest effort, Vanguard, sees Chan as the head of a private security firm trying to protect a put-upon accountant from a terrorist group. Gone are the days of Chan attempting death defying stunts on his own, however, and the special effects work needed to pull off some of the fight scenes is much more apparent now. There are one or two good action sequences, but overall the film lacks the humor and energy of Chan’s earlier work. Not gonna lie, I was disappointed by this one.

Horizon Line – I like small, claustrophobic thrillers, so I was excited to dive into Horizon Line. The film features a couple on board a small plane whose pilot dies suddenly. With malfunctioning instruments and a massive storm approaching, it very quickly turns into a battle for survival for the duo who can just keep the plane flying. Now, it’s a simple enough premise for a film, and I’d love to say that it succeeds on all fronts, but ultimately, it’s a solidly okay film. There is a nice sense of tension to the proceedings, but it does rely on the trope of the couple having relationship troubles to keep the dialogue moving, which just feels a little overdone and tired by this point. Allison Williams (of Girls fame) and Alexander Dreymon are good in the lead roles and they do the most they can with an uninspired script. Overall, it’s worth a watch to kill 90 minutes but is nothing special in the end.

Russian Raid – Okay, I don’t follow MMA fighting, but if I did, I’m sure I might recognize names like Alexander Krasovsky, Elias Antonenko, Vladimir Mineev, Nikita Kologrivy, Sophya Ozerova, and Kirill Sarychev, all of whom are former Russian MMA champions or fighters who have made the move into film work with this movie. The lead role, though, is played by Ivan Kotik, who has built a successful career as a stuntman before taking the lead role here as a special-forces operative engaged in a heist — but who’s also out for revenge. The film is in Russian, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out if you are looking for two-hours of non-stop, adrenaline-fueled action. The film wears its action influences on its sleeve (most especially the 2011 hit The Raid) so it’s not particularly original, but it is a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

On-Gaku: Our Sound – This week’s requisite anime film has a different sort of feel than most of the anime films that come through. On-Gaku: Our Sound focuses on three high school friends who form a band, The Delinquents. It’s not a very good band (they feature two bass guitars and drums), but that’s not the point, really. It’s the trio’s… dispassionate enthusiasm that drives the film, because they kind of become all in while also being indifferent slackers. It’s a hard dynamic to properly capture in words, to be honest. But the film was almost entirely hand-drawn over the course of seven years, released as an independent animated feature in Japan, and the simplistic-yet-charming animation style reflects that. With a 71-minute running time, it’s a quirky little film that’s just endearing enough to be worth checking out.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Victor and Valentino: Season 1, Volume 1 – Cartoon Network’s latest animated series is Victor and Valentine, which is now collected into a Season 1, Volume DVD release featuring the first __ episodes. The show follows two young brothers who live in a small, mysterious town in what appears to be Mexico. While they’re busy being regular kids (falling in love, getting trouble, etc.),  they also encounter numerous Aztec and Mayan myths and Mexican supernatural creatures, such as the Chupacabra. It’s kind of like Gravity Falls but with a Latin flair, which should attract some viewers. Now, I’ll admit, I don’t really go for a lot of what Cartoon Network these days; I just think they’re aiming for a demographic that is very different from mine. But the show is bright and colorful and has some good humor and the characters are likable, so I think there’s a lot to like here for both kids and adults who dig the Cartoon Network vibe. 
  • Indie Spotlight – We have a number of new indie releases this week, staring with 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story, an inspiring documentary. You might remember seeing a viral video of Norton in 2015, when he walked across the graduation stage five years after becoming paralyzed during a college football game. Or maybe you saw the viral video of him walking with his wife during his wedding. Well, this film explores Chris’s drive to walk again despite doctors assuring him he wouldn’t, and how his fiancee/wife helped him through it all. It’s a moving and powerful story and worth watching. Next up is the newest entry in VCI’s Classic Cliffhanger Collection: Wild West Days. This series sees classic Hollywood serials remastered and collected in one shot on Blu-ray. This one features a trio of Wild West pioneers fighting off outlaws and Indians, all while on the hunt for potential gold strikes. As with most of these releases, you get all 13 episodes, but with each one running about 20 minutes, the whole film takes a whopping four hours to play out. If you love these old serials, it’s a lot of bang for your buck, but narratively it drags on a bit. Next up is The Treasure of Dracula: The Sexy Vampire Version, which is an awesome title for a Blu-ray release if I’ve ever heard one! Sometimes, you just have to let the logline for a film do all the talking, so here goes: “After inventing a time machine, Mexican wrestler El Santo, uses it to go back in time to track down the location of Dracula’s hidden treasure. This is with the noble intention of using the treasure to help fund a children’s hospital. In his quest to obtain the treasure, he is forced to face down and battle Dracula and his bevy of beautiful, vampire vixens.” I mean, come on! How can you not want to watch that? It was originally released in black & white in 1969 with no nudity, but it was apparently shot simultaneously in color and released in Mexico some 45 years later with full-frontal nudity, and that’s the version you get on this new Blu-ray from VCI. It’s a cheesy film to be sure, but honestly, that’s part of the fun, and now it’s cheesy AND sexy! B-movie connoisseurs will want to track this one down. Finally this week, we have Watching TV With the Red Chinese, a weirdly uneven film based on a YA novel by Luke Whisnant. The film follows a trio of Chinese exchange students in New York in 1980 who are befriended by an English teacher and his ex-girlfriend (Ryan O’Nan and Gillian Jacobs, respectively.) But after a mugging, things get tense, and the film seems to determined to make the proceedings murkier than they need to be. I can’t say I loved the movie, although I was happy to see Ryan O’Nan in a lead role, as he’s a largely unknown actor who I really like.
  • PBS Documentary Spotlight – Wrapping up the week, we have a new batch of DVD releases from PBS, and this week’s collection focuses on nature, science and animals. First up is Nature’s Fear Factor, a Nova special about African Wild Dogs. More specifically, it’s about the effort to bring them back to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique because it turns out they’re more important than many people thought when it comes to keeping the ecosystem balanced and under control. It’s also narrated by Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall, and it’s a surprisingly interesting special. Next up is Primates, a three hour Nature documentary about the world of primates. Which is mostly your usual brand of monkeys, but it also includes a number of more obscure species that you’re probably not familiar with. This documentary looks at them but not just from a natural perspective; it also looks at their societal rules, their use of tools and medication, and more. I’m not a huge monkey fan, so this wasn’t my favorite of the week, but it’s still pretty interesting. Next up is Santa’s Wild Home, another Nature episode. This episode has less to do with Santa Claus than the title implies, instead exploring Lapland, the northernmost point of Europe, and the arctic wildlife that lives there. We get to meet reindeer, great gray owls, wolverines, bears, and many other forms of wildlife that thrive in this harsh environment. Pretty cool stuff! Everyone loves pandas, and so now we have Pandas: Born to Be Wild, a fascinating one-hour episode of Nature. In it, two Chinese filmmakers spent three years in the woodlands to capture never-before-seen panda behaviors, and the footage is pretty darn amazing. These creatures are so interesting; I could watch them all day! Moving on to more contemporary issues, we have Australian Bushfire Rescue, which focuses on the massive Australian brushfires that devastated the continent in early 2020. This Nature episode focuses less on the fire itself and more on the animals whose homes were devastated by the destruction. We follow several humans trying to help and the ways in which they rescued, rehabilitated and released various animals back into the wild. It’s a great episode that has some touching moments. Finally, we have Touching the Asteroid, a Nova special about a NASA satellite trying something that’s never been done before: successfully landing on an asteroid and taking a sample. Do they succeed? Well, I’m certainly not going to spoil it for you, but anyone interested in space exploration should find this one quite enjoyable. I know I did! 

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