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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Austin City Limits: Country, Earwig and the Witch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and more

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Kristen Wig as Star and Annie Mumolo as Barb in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Photo Credit: Cate Cameron

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar – Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo co-star and co-wrote this new comedy that seems like it would have found an audience if it had hit theaters in a normal year. The film follows Barb and Star, two quirky and naive best friends from Nebraska who decide to go on a sun-soaked vacation together. From there, it’s pretty much just a melange of awkward encounters, goofy comedy, and the occasional musical number. It’s part spoof film, part broad comedy, not nearly as pointed as Bridesmaids (which Wiig and Mumolo also co-wrote), but also a lot sillier, which is perfectly okay in my book. Barb and Star nicely tread that line where they’re almost super-annoying, but stop just short of actually becoming unbearable, and you end up liking them in the end. It’s not a comedy masterpiece, but it’s a fun and easy way to kill a couple of hours.

Austin City Limits: Country – Time Life continues to put out some of the best music-related DVDs on the market with their latest multi-disc box set, Austin City Limits: Country. By now, most of you are probably familiar with Austin City Limits, the venerable live music TV series that started in the 1970s and has been going strong ever since. This new 10-disc box set culls over 160 live performances from the show’s 35-year run and delivers them in one sweet box set. You get songs performed live by famous faces such as Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Chris Stapleton, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, Charley Pride, Sheryl Crow and Waylon Jennings, among others. In addition to the main bulk of the programming, the tenth disc actually contains the full pilot episode of the show (featuring Willie Nelson) and there’s a full-color collector’s booklet included in the box set as well. For now, this awesome set is available exclusively through Time Life at TimeLife.com/ACL. Honestly, I can’t imagine any country music fans who wouldn’t want to add this one to their collection.

Earwig and the Witch – I’m going to guess that most fans of Studio Ghibli, the famed Japanese animation studio, will probably find Earwig and the Witch to be one of the studio’s lesser offerings. For me, as someone who generally doesn’t care for Ghibli’s output, I think I liked this one better than most of their films. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, this new animated film goes the CGI route rather than the hand-drawn animation that Ghibli is so renowned for. It’s also a more down-to-earth story (although it still has magic and talking animals), in that it just isn’t as weird as so many Ghibli films are. It’s a lighthearted comedy with a precocious orphan as the central character, and for me, I found it an easy watch. So Ghibli die-hards may be disappointed, but casual animation watchers might find it a fun watch, like I did.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot – As a die-hard Sly Stallone fan, I’ve watched pretty much every movie he’s made since Rocky, and most all of them I watched as soon as they came out. And I remember seeing Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot back when it came out almost 30 years ago. I also remember thinking it was pretty bad, but of course, this was in the heyday of Stallone and I probably had heightened expectations for it. Revisiting it for the first time in nearly three decades, I was more than a little surprised to see that I think the film actually plays much better now than it did back in 1992. Maybe it’s because now I’m an adult with a mother rather than a young teenager with a mother, so I can relate to the humor a lot more. Or maybe it’s because my expectations were lowered. But watching Stallone’s macho cop get constantly emasculated by his nosy, embarrassing mother… well, I had a lot of fun with it. The film has been released on Blu-ray courtesy of Mill Creek so it’s a budget-priced affair, and I’ll say it’s definitely worth revisiting because it’s a much better film than you might remember.

Also Available on Home Video This Week:
  • Nightbeast – If you’re familiar with Troma Films, you know the studio specializes in low-budget (and often low-quality) genre movies that have nonetheless found a devoted audience over the years. Nightbeast, directed by Troma stalwart Don Dohler, is a pretty traditional Troma outing: big, nasty space alien crash lands on earth, goes on a killing spree, and only a small-town sheriff and his deputy can stop it. Insert blood and guts, nudity, and low-fi special effects, and you’ve got the Troma experience neatly wrapped up into an hour-and-20-minute running time. There’s a certain level of fun to Nightbeast if you like B-movies, but you really have to dive headfirst into the silliness of it all to get the full experience. The film has been re-released on Blu-ray by Troma (there was a previous special edition from another studio) and it includes a nice collection of extra features (including an audio commentary with Dohler and several featurettes), giving you a lot of bang for your buck. 
  • Honor Killing – Also from Troma this week, we have the Blu-ray release of Honor Killing, a 2018 exploitation thriller. The film was written and directed by the singularly-named Mercedes, who also stars in the lead role. She plays a middle eastern woman who is sexually assaulted, but her father decides he’s shamed the family and tries to kill her. When she survives his murder attempt, she sets out to gain revenge on him. The film is really only for fans of super-low budget fare, though; it runs just a few minutes over an hour and looks like it was shot on video with a budget of about twelve dollars. It’s pretty violent, but I’ll be honest, it’s hard not to watch it and feel like you’re watching something your friend in film school made for a final project. This one is definitely for a certain type of audience only. 
  • PBS Spotlight – We have two new PBS documentary programs this week that are being released on DVD, Voice of Freedom and Europe’s New WildAmerican Experience: Voice of Freedom is a feature length biography of singer Marian Anderson, who helped break down racial barriers throughout her career. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really familiar with Anderson at all, so this was an eye-opening look into her life and career, and how she came to the attention of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, leading to her performing for one of the biggest integrated audiences of all time (at the time of the performance.) A powerful and well-told story, worth a watch. Meanwhile, Europe’s New Wild is a two-disc, four-episode series that looks at the resurgence of wildlife and nature all across Europe, in a wide range of different locales from arctic climates to lush forests and featuring animals from lynxes to bears. With a total running time of over three hours, it’s an interesting look at both landscapes and wildlife, and it makes for quite engaging viewing. 
  • WB Archives Spotlight – Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service The Warner Archive has several new notable releases this week, all of which are films making their Blu-ray debut. The first few films are classic Hollywood affairs, while the last two are more genre cult movie fare. All titles are available at www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold. First up is Crossfire, a 1947 mystery starring “the three Roberts,” or Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, and Robert Ryan, as well as the great Gloria Grahame. The film sees a man beaten to death, apparently as a hate crime because he was Jewish. But as things go on, a group of suspects is uncovered and we watch as the mystery is peeled back layer by layer. I love a good film noir, and this is most definitely a good film noir! Next up is The Great Caruso, a 1951 biopic of famed opera singer Enrico Caruso. Starring Mario Lanza as Caruso, the film is your pretty typical biopic, although it is peppered with musical numbers. Lanza is charismatic and enjoyable in the lead role, although honestly I could’ve done without the songs. Following that we have Damn Yankees, the 1958 film adaptation of the famed Broadway play, starring Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, and Ray Walston. Interestingly, I had never seen Damn Yankees before this (on stage or on film), so I was excited to watch the film and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Even though I’m not usually a fan of musicals, this musical comedy about a man who sells his soul to the devil to get to play for his favorite team and win the championship (beating the titular damn Yankees along the way), the film features great musical numbers, a fun storyline, and a game cast. I can see why the show has been a mainstay of the stage for decades and decades, and I’m surprised there aren’t more big-screen adaptations, but maybe that’s because Hollywood figures you can’t top this one. Switching gears a bit, our next two films making their Blu-ray debuts are more in the thriller vein, although they’re quite different films. First up is Isle of the Dead, a 1945 horror outing starring Boris Karloff. The film follows a group of people quarantined on an island during a disease outbreak in 1912, which is bad enough, but then they start to suspect that there’s a vampire-like creature loose among the group. It’s a solid effort, nothing spectacular, but Karloff fans will be happy to have the film in high def for the first time. Finally, The Bermuda Depths is a 1978 TV movie starring Carl Weathers and Connie Sellecca. The movie sees a group of explorers trying to discover the secrets of the Bermuda Triangle, which takes them to some strange places (Immortal sea women! Giant death turtle!) The film is notable for many things, including being Sellecca’s debut film role and also being produced by Jules Rankin and Saul Bass, best known for creating the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer stop-motion animation classics and several other famed children’s programs. But the film is a bit ridiculous and more than a bit cheesy. I had a lot of fun watching it personally, but be aware that you’re getting into serious B-movie territory here. 

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