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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: A Quiet Place Part II, Luca, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Wraith, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Mommie Dearest and more

This week looks a lot like the pre-COVID release weeks we used to get, with a bunch of titles including a nice mix of some genuine box office hits, some neat new catalog releases, and a handful of lesser known titles. Dig in!
A Quiet Place, Part II – Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, horror sequels used to be a dumping ground of cheaper and cheaper flicks until a franchise ran out of steam. Somewhere along the line, studios figured out that if you actually make good films, people will come back to them more readily and your box office receipts will go way up. And so today, we have movies like A Quiet Place, Part II, which, if not every bit as good as the first film, is pretty darn close. Picking up right where the first movie left off, the film goes in a new direction while also keeping the tension that made the first film so effective intact. We get a few flashbacks to the beginning of the alien invasion that give us some backstory and we also get a compelling new character in the form of Cillian Murphy’s grizzled survivor Emmett. If I have one minor complaint about the film, it’s that the ending needed just a few minutes of wrap-up. The abrupt ending for the first film worked very well, but here I felt like I needed just a scene or two as a sort of coda to give me some closure. Of course, I’m sure the inevitable third film will pick up where this one left off, so again, a minor issue. The film comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the A/V presentation in the premium format is superb, offering up deep colors, excellent shadow delineation, and a surround soundtrack that bounces between complete silence and surround activity with ease. An all around terrific experience! RECOMMENDED!

Luca – Disney/Pixar’s latest film has an Italian flavor as we meet Luca, a young sea monster who becomes human when on dry land. Dreaming of freedom from his underwater life, he and another young sea monster run off to an Italian fishing village, where they meet young Giulia, another free spirit who wants to break free from society’s preconceived notions. Speaking of which, I had very few preconceived notions going into Luca, as I think I had seen maybe one commercial for it before I got my review copy, but I found it to be an enjoyable if uncomplicated movie. The storyline borrows from some other Disney films here and there, and it never feels overly original or fresh, but the characters are endearing, the animation is terrific, and the film definitely has its charms. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but for family entertainment, it’s an easy way to kill a couple of hours.
Those Who Wish Me Dead – An oddly named film for an adventure/crime thriller set against the backdrop of a forest fire (it sounds much more like a horror film to my ears), Angelina Jolie’s latest  movie, Those Who Wish Me Dead, is the kind of movie I usually eat right up. As a massive fan of disaster movies, you give me a bunch of bad guys chasing a lone good guy (and an innocent kid) inside of a raging forest fire, and I’m right there. And TWWMD is a solidly okay film. It seems like the kind of flick Jolie would have made when she was about 20 years younger, and she often feels a little out of place (or maybe phoning it in) in the lead role. But the supporting cast (which includes Jon Bernthal, Nicholas Hoult, Aiden Gillen, and Medina Senghore) is terrific, as is young actor Finn Little. There are a few good action scenes, and the film as a whole is perfectly watchable, it just rarely got my pulse moving. It’s a perfect example of a movie that doesn’t really have anything wrong with it, it just never got me excited.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra & GI Joe: Retaliation (4K Ultra HD) – With the Snake Eyes film dropping in theater recently, Paramount has dipped into their catalogue to give us new 4K Ultra HD versions of the first two GI Joe movies, The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation. Now, I know these aren’t perfect movies, but I really enjoy them. As someone who grew up on the original cartoon, it’s a lot of fun to see the characters brought to the big screen, even if some of them are pretty different from the toys and cartoons. For my money, Retaliation is actually the better film, with the addition of Dwayne Johnson a big boost and the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow scenes a big highlight of the film. I don’t love how they dealt with the characters from the first film in it, but on its own, it’s still a fun movie. The first film is a little over the top in places, but it’s a big, dumb action film with some great action sequences, so it’s hard to complain about that. Both films benefit nicely from the upgrade to 4K Ultra HD, with superior color saturation that really works in these cartoon-inspired movies. Image clarity is top-notch and the improved shadow delineation makes the nighttime scenes easier to watch. The surround soundtracks are quite impressive, offering up active sound fields that utilize your rear speakers well. All in all, these are a great way to experience a couple of really fun movies.

Transformers: The Movie – 35th Anniversary Edition – If you’re of a certain age, this movie is a childhood treasure for you. Even though they pretty much killed off every character that kids of the ‘80s loved, it’s still an awesome movie that took the Transformers cartoon franchise to the big screen in a big way. With this new 35th Anniversary Edition, the film has gotten a new high definition transfer for the 4K Ultra HD format. It doesn’t necessarily do the film any favors as the age does show, but it definitely looks the best that I can remember seeing it, especially because it’s presented in widescreen as it should be (the previous Blu-ray, which is included in this set as well, is full frame, boo!). This new edition has been released in a beautiful new Steelbook case, and the the extra features are all there from the previous versions as well. There’s also a new storyboard extra feature plus four new art cards in the package, all of which is a nice bonus for fans. I love this movie and I’m excited to have the best version of it on home video yet! RECOMMENDED!

The Walking Dead: The Complete Tenth Season – I used to be one of the big die-hard Walking Dead fans. I read the comic books from issue 1, and I started watching the show the night the first episode aired and I stuck with it through thick and thin. Even through Season 7, when the show started shedding viewers, I stuck with it. I made it through Season 9, and then I finally gave up the ghost. So diving back in for review purposes, I feel like Season 10 is a hard one to judge the show by. While there were a number of “regular” episodes, there were also six “super-sized” episodes that focused on particular characters, and were made in the COVID world, leading to less creative freedom than desired. The result is yet another uneven season of the show, with a few standout episodes but many more that feel bloated or unnecessary (something the super-sized episodes didn’t help with). It’s not like I hate the show now, I just don’t care all that much anymore. I wish they had wrapped it up a couple of seasons ago, when it was still vibrant and exciting.

Mommie Dearest: Paramount Presents Edition – This 1981 cult classic (“No more wire hangers! Ever!!”) is one of those movies that I’ve always been familiar with (and could even quote) without having ever actually seen it. Now, thanks to the new Paramount Presents Edition of Mommie Dearest, I’ve corrected that oversight. The film is based on the life of Joan Crawford, and her struggle trying to balance her fading stardom with being a good mother (and the results were, obviously, mixed). Faye Dunaway is completely and utterly bonkers in the best possible way with a tour-de-force performance, and the film — while a touch long — is an incredibly fun ride. There are a few moments that veer almost into horror territory, which really surprised me; that haircutting scene was pretty brutal to watch, especially as a parent. This new Blu-ray edition includes a digital copy of the film, gorgeous gatefold packaging, and a nice collection of new and archival extra features, all in time for the film’s 40th anniversary. It’s a terrific new release, and if you’re like me and know the film but have never seen it, this is a great way to do so.

The Wraith: Collector’s Edition – I love this ‘80s cult classic! Starring Charlie Sheen and Sherilyn Fenn, the film sees a young man murdered by a road gang, only to have a mysterious vengeful spirit with a futuristic car showing up to seek revenge. It sounds like a horror film, but it’s actually more of an action thriller, and while it’s firmly rooted in the ‘80s, it’s also an obscene amount of fun. There’s a great ‘80s soundtrack, a lot of recognizable faces in the cast, and some great car chase/racing sequences. I know a lot of people love this movie, but if you’ve never seen it, you really should track it down. And now you can do so with a terrific new home video version on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video imprint, which gives us not only new cover art but a nice collection of extra features including multiple featurettes, two audio commentaries, and much more. This is the best home video version of this film yet, and it easily comes… RECOMMENDED!

Brotherhood of the Wolf: Collector’s Edition – Continuing the trend of great new editions of cult classic films out this week, Shout Factory’s excellent Scream Factory imprint brings us a new Blu-ray Collector’s Edition of Brotherhood of the Wolf this week. While not a household name, this 2001 French film is an adventure/horror/action/period mash-up, about a strange werewolf-like creature terrorizing 18th century France. Filled with incredible action scenes and cool special effects, the film has gained a strong fan base over the years, and I count myself as one of the biggest. I actually saw this movie in theaters back in 2001 and I’ve been a fan ever since, so I’m always happy when there’s a new version or a new reason to bring it to people’s attention. This new Collector’s Edition comes with a handful of extra features and some gorgeous new cover art, but it’s the film itself that is the star attraction here. If you haven’t seen it before, you definitely need to track this release down. RECOMMENDED!

American Gods: Season 3 – American Gods is Starz making a serious bid for a Game of Thrones-like hit for the network. And it has a similar mix of great production values, strong performances, and wildly varied characters. And I know people who really love the show. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Despite being a big fan of author Neil Gaiman (upon whose book the show is based), there’s something in this show that doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if it’s too dark or too strange or maybe both, but I don’t love it. It’s intriguing and it looks great, but I’ve never really been able to get engaged in the show. However, it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down (even though they’re now three seasons into a show based on a single novel), so fans will likely have much more American Gods to look forward to.

Also Available on Home Video This Week:
  • Initiation – I love slasher movies, but unfortunately the horror genre seems to have largely moved away from them. Which, to be fair, isn’t the end of the world, because there are so many bad ones out there. Luckily, Initiation isn’t one of the bad ones, even if it’s not a masterpiece. The film sees a college athlete get murdered, which leads to a string of social media-related killings. What I like is that the film adopts a classic slasher formula but also updates it to give it a modern flair by making social media a major part of the plot, ensuring that it feels fresh at the same time. There are some flaws with the film, including a few plot threads that don’t really get resolved to a satisfactory conclusion. But by and large, Initiation is a fun slasher flick that will keep you guessing through most of its running time. Worth a look.
  • No Man’s Land – Frank Grillo and And MacDowell bring star power to this new action/drama film, but it’s a family affair that drives it, with star and co-writer Jake Allyn and director Connor Allyn (Jake’s brother) the main thrust behind the film. The film follow’s Allyn’s Jackson Greer, a young man who lives on a ranch on the Texas-Mexico border who has a potential baseball career ahead of him. When he accidentally shoots an immigrant crossing the border, Jackson flees into Mexico. Now, this is where the film falters a bit. What could have been a tense suspense thriller veers too often into soul-searching territory, slowing things down. I appreciate the attempt to make the main character more than a one-note guy, but it takes away from the energy of the film. Overall, it’s a solid movie and I think some people will like it, but it could have been a much better film with a little more focus.
  • The Night – This new horror film is noteworthy for being the first American-made film ever allowed to screen in Iran, largely due to the fact that it was made almost entirely by Iranian American filmmakers and actors. But what makes it more noteworthy is that it’s actually a good film. A dreamy, unnerving film, this isn’t one of those stories that lays everything out for you and gives you easy answers, and generally, I’m not a huge fan of that approach. But first-time director Kourosh Ahari has a sure hand and knows how to squeeze tension out of the most seemingly mundane of set-ups. It’s an impressive feat, and it makes the film feel different from others of its ilk. There are some flaws, and the inherent nebulousness of the events goes against what I personally tend to enjoy, but it’s hard to deny what a striking debut film this is.
  • V.C. Andrews’ Landry Family – The late author V.C. Andrews will always be best known for her Flowers in the Attic series, and in fact, at this point more novels have been written under the V.C. Andrews name (by author Andrew Neiderman, hand-picked by Andrews’ estate to succeed her) than she ever wrote herself. One of those series follows the Landry family, and that family is the subject f this new release from Lionsgate. V.C. Andrews’ Landry Family is a new DVD set that includes four movies based on the novel series: RubyPearl in the MistAll That Glitters, and Hidden Jewel. These Lifetime channel movies feature mostly lesser known actors such as starring Raechelle Banno, Karina Banno, Lauralee Bell, and Ty Wood, although Naomi Judd and Gil Bellows add a little star power. The films focus on a family in the Louisiana bayou whose past is filled with secrets, and the young scion Ruby who starts to dig into them. It’s right up Andrews’ alley, and fans of her brand of southern gothic drama will enjoy these films. Plus, the fact that you get all four for the price of a single DVD is hard to argue with.
  • Fire – This new forest fire disaster film comes from Russia, meaning you get a Russian cast and subtitles, but that doesn’t make it less worth watching. Now, to be fair, Fire (originally titled No Escapes in Russia), isn’t a great film. It’s too long by a good 20 minutes, it’s a little bit over the top, and there are some moments that seem to defy logic and/or physics. But, with all those issues, it’s also a pretty good time. The fire effects and action scenes are really intense, and you’ll definitely find your pulse racing more than a few times. It’s not good to overthink what you’re seeing on screen, but if you want a good adrenaline rush and don’t mind subtitles, Fire is worth a watch.
  • Unforgotten: The Complete Fourth Season – The hit British mystery show from PBS returns. The central mystery this season is a particularly interesting one. When a decades-old corpse is uncovered that leads to four suspects who have ties to the police, Cassie and Sunny have to navigate tricky waters to find the killer. As usual, the show is quite intense but it’s also extremely effective. Starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, the show is always good, even if it feels a bit like the type of mystery procedural that BBC TV can do in its sleep. Still, it makes for a good binge watch, and I found this season’s mystery particularly compelling.
  • Professor T.: The Complete First Season – While I’m usually all-in on British crime dramas, their new effort Professor T (based on a German show of the same name) is a miss for me. Ben Miller plays Professor Tempest, a finicky, OCD-laden professor who gets called into help solve crimes, and while his performance is great (I’m sure he’s not like that in real life), I found his character way too unlikable to enjoy the show. Imagine Dr. House crossed with Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory but with all redeeming qualities stripped from him, and you get Professor T. Over the course of six episodes, you get a handful of interesting mysteries, but this just isn’t a show that I could get into.
  • Equal Standard – Ice T is the only name actor in this new drama, even though he’s hardly in it. The film deals with the racial divide between cops and African-American people in the US, but it does so with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. We basically get characters that include white cops and black cops as well as a bunch of gang members, and we see racism in all its glory. And while I’m always a fan of shining a light on issues that crop up in today’s society, there’s just nothing here that offers up any real insight or a new approach to the issue. Instead it just gives us one cliched character after another and expects us to learn a lesson while watching nothing deep or meaningful. A largely wasted effort, in my opinion.
  • Tailgate – This new Dutch horror film (called Bumperkleef in its native language) treads familiar ground, drawing inspiration heavily from films like DuelThe Hitcher, and Joy Ride, but adding in a family element. In the film, Hans is driving with his wife and daughters when he encounters Ed, a steely driver who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When Hans angers Ed, it becomes a game of hunter/prey on the road. Like I said, there’s nothing terribly original here, but the film works regardless, giving us a chase that grows more and more tense with every passing scene. What helps it work is that while the killer is clearly a bad guy, Hans the family man doesn’t get a pass for his abhorrent behavior. Maybe there’s a lesson there that people could learn from.
  • The New Deal For Artists (Remastered) – It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the US government actually paid artists to create art that captured American life, but as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Work Progress Administration did exactly that. Of course, as some of that art was not entirely uncritical of society, there came along people who sought to dismantle the effort and the artists. This 1976 film tells the story of the WPA and the artists involved, with interviews with a number of luminaries, including John Houseman, Studs Turkel, Howard Da Silva and Norman Lloyd, among others. It’s now been remastered for a new DVD release, and it’s a pretty interesting documentary about a part of American history I had no idea ever even existed.
  • Mill Creek Spotlight – Mill Creek specializes in catalogue rereleases made available at a budget price, and this week they have three new Blu-ray releases, all comedies. First up is Two if By Sea, a mid-90s comedy starring Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock, with the actors playing a pair of thieves trying to sell a stolen painting. Of course, they bicker and things go wrong, and the results are largely predictable but not unenjoyable. I love Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock both, and while this film isn’t a masterpiece, it’s a fun-enough comedy that’s worth watching, especially at a low price. Falling into the same category (fun-enough but not great), we have Saving Silverman, a 2001 comedy (clearly made in the aftermath of American Pie’s success) starring Jason Biggs, Amanda Peet, Jack Black and Steve Zahn. The film sees Biggs’ pals Black and Zahn trying to stop him from marrying the wrong woman, and it’s not a particularly deep film. It’s directed by Dennis Dugan, who has made a career out of low-brow comedies (many starring Adam Sandler) and this one is nothing special, but it is an easy way to kill 90 minutes. Finally, we have Skin Deep, the notorious ‘80s comedy directed by Blake Edwards (the Pink Panther films) and starring the late John Ritter. The film is more known for it’s infamous glow-in-the-dark condom/lightsaber duel than anything else, and honestly, it’s not that great of a movie beyond that scene. Ritter is missed as a screen presence, but this film never did all that much for me, and revisiting it now hasn’t changed that opinion much.
  • PBS Spotlight – Wrapping up the week, we have several new PBS documentary releases out this week, all of which have a scene and/or nature theme to them. First up is an incredibly powerful work, The Virus That Shook the World. This 90-minute feature-length episode of Frontline obviously looks at COVID-19, and while I know a lot of people are tired of dealing with it by now, this film paints a picture of the disease’s path through the world, starting with its early days and going up through it being a full-blown pandemic that kept most of us home for a year or more. It mixes in real footage from people all over the world, giving it a personal angle that is extremely powerful. It’s intense, moving, fact-based, and ultimately, extremely important viewing. High school and college science teachers, take note. Next up is Picture a Scientist, a feature-length Nova episode about the fight for gender-equality in science, a traditionally male-dominated field. This is another important viewing experience, especially as more and more female scientists are making breakthroughs that are changing our world. It will anger you at times, but it should leave you with a sense of hope for the future, too. Next up is Fighting for Fertility, a Nova episode focusing on the barriers people face when trying to conceive, and the science that helps people have babies when nature puts obstacles in their way. This is a pretty science-heavy doc, but it does have some interesting information in it. Shifting gears a bit, our last two PBS releases this week are more nature-based. First up is the excellent Sharks of Hawaii, an hour-long Nature episode. You don’t usually think of Hawaii when you think of sharks, but there are a number of species there, and through the use of remote cameras, we get to see some fascinating footage of sharks acting in ways we’ve never seen before. It’s very cool stuff and I enjoyed it immensely. Finally, we have Reef Rescue, another hour-long Nature episode about scientists’ plight to preserve the ever-important coral reefs of the world using techniques such as cross-breeding of coral species and transplanting different kinds of coral. I had no idea people were doing so much to preserve our reefs and I found it quite interesting to see what they are doing and how it’s (hopefully) helping our world.

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