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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: A Place In The Sun, Nashville, Harry Potter, Playing For Keeps, The Fatal Raid and more

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It’s another small week this week, without even a marquee new theatrical release to anchor the list. However, there are some good catalogue titles, along with a few true cult classics making their way to home video in a new ways. Check it out!
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Magical Movie Mode – To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter movie hitting the big screen, Warner has delivered us a new home video version of the first film, giving us their “Magical Movie Mode.” What is Magical Movie Mode, you ask? Well, the best way to explain it is to think of it as an enhanced commentary track. As you watch the film, there are trivia questions and mini-games that pop up, the film’s director Chris Columbus pops up in a picture-in-picture window on occasion and shares some behind-the-scenes secrets, and so forth. It’s neat-enough feature, but honestly, I don’t know how much repeat viewing value there is (the release also includes a non-magical version of the movie, luckily.) If you don’t already own the film, this is a fun way to watch it once or twice, but if you already have the movie, I doubt it’s really worth the additional cost.

A Place in the Sun & Nashville: Paramount Presents Editions – Paramount continues their Paramount Presents line of releases with two classic Hollywood films, A Place in the Sun and Nashville. Robert Altman’s magnum opus Nashville is an ensemble piece that has lived in the national consciousness since its release in the mid-70s. With a talented cast that includes Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black, and Ned Beatty, the film follows 24 characters in the nation’s music capital as they maneuver through life, love, music, and politics. The film is filled with Altman signatures, such as  a loose and rambling style, characters that talk over each other, social commentary, and even actors singing their own songs. A Place in the Sun is a much more traditional narrative, a melodrama starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. The film sees Clift as a young man who gets involved with young Shelly Winters before falling in love with a rich, young Elizabeth Taylor. Of course, Winters doesn’t want to let go of Clift, and things eventually come to a head. Both films get new Blu-ray releases under the Paramount Presents banner, which includes digital copies of the films (yay!), a new extra feature for each starring film critic Leonard Maltin, a few other extra features, and terrific new gatefold packaging. If you don’t own these films already, Paramount has done a very nice job with them both.

Playing For Keeps: Season 2 – I was super excited to get Playing For Keeps: Season Two for review, because my wife and I binged Season One and absolutely loved it! The show is akin to something like Desperate Housewives, where a central mystery or conflict drives the drama, yet it’s the characters and their various stories that really keep you watching. This show is set in the world of professional Australian football (which is actually rugby in this case) and focuses on the players’ wives, so we get a lot more high society and jet-setting than we usually see in shows like this. The cast is largely unknown to American audiences, but Madeleine West, Annie Maynard, Cecelia Peters, Olympia Valance, and Isabella Giovinazzo are all excellent, giving the show a vibrant energy that hooks you in almost instantly. I love this show, the new season is terrific, and I can’t wait for a third season.

The Fatal Raid – The titular fatal raid in this Asian action film takes place in the past, setting up the story (such as it is) for the rest of the film. What it’s really about is a group of cops looking to take down a vicious mob, with a small team of super-badass female fighters along for the ride. Part of the “girls with guns” genre, the film stars Jade Leung, Jeana Ho and Hidy Yu, and it offers up a decent action ride for a couple of hours, but it struggles to overcome its limitations. The story isn’t particularly strong, the budget is clearly not that high, and the action scenes — while certainly solidly-made — tend to become repetitive for a while. That all said, it’s not like the film has no entertainment value, it’s just nothing special.

Also Available on Home Video This Week:
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 7 – Nobody brings mystery television to home video like Acorn Media, and Brokenwood Mysteries is a prime example of what they do well. This New Zealand-produced (and set) procedural continues to be popular after seven seasons, and now those of you who have been waiting for the latest season can enjoy it at home on DVD or Blu-ray. Even if it is a little bit formulaic in its approach (big city detective relocates to small town, small town is plagued by murders and mysteries), the show still works because the mysteries are engaging, the cast is terrific, and the characters are interesting enough to draw you in. This release features six episodes instead of the usual four feature-length episodes, so that’s a plus. You’ll definitely find yourself sucked in to the events of the show, the lives of the characters, and the interesting crimes being solved. Another strong season of an enjoyable show!
  • The Dark – William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel, and, yes, Casey Kasem, star in this cult classic sci-fi mystery from 1979. The film is very typical B-movie shlock from the ‘70s; apparently Tobe Hooper was directing it for the first few days before he was fired and replaced by John “Bud” Cardos. The film sees a serial killer stalking the city streets and killing new victims every night. Of course, the fact that the killer is an alien creature of some sort makes it that much harder fort he cops to catch him. There’s a certain sense of fun to the low-budget proceedings, but the movie is not really all that good. Luckily, MVD recognizes cult classic audiences and has made this Blu-ray release a part of their terrific MVD Rewind Collection, meaning it’s been remastered in high def and it comes packed with some nice extra features and a collectible mini-poster. The Dark is far from a masterpiece, but fans of the film or the genre will enjoy this release.
  • Keeping Faith: Series 3 – Eve Myles of Torchwood fame stars in the third season of this dramatic series that is part relationship drama part crime thriller, and part legal procedural. Myles stars as Faith Howells, a lawyer who’s been through some ordeals over the last few years, including her husband going missing in Season One, a new romance in Season Two, and now an all-new set of challenges in Season Three. This time around, those challenges include her overbearing mother, a custody battle, an impending divorce, a new business, and a major legal case. This two-disc set gives you all six episodes from the second season. It’s an intense and engaging watch, and it’s worth checking out, but you might want to start at the beginning to get caught up.
  • One Dark Night – Meg Tilly and Adam West star in this somewhat cheesy 1982 horror flick, which might be considered a cult classic by some people, but honestly I’d never even heard of it before this new home video version crossed my desk. The film sees a teenage girl trying to become part of a gang of cool girls known as The Sisters by spending the night in a crypt, which just so happens to be where a recently-deceased psychic is buried. You can probably imagine where things go from there, and in theory that should make for a fun film, but the problem is that the filmmakers save all the good stuff for the last few minutes of the film. Up until then, it’s pretty boring stuff. Then you get 10-15 minutes of actual good horror fun, but getting there is a slog. Still, if this is maybe one of those films you caught on HBO as a kid and have fond memories of, I’m glad that it’s available on home video for you.
  • Dreambuilders – This new animated film from Denmark directly mentions Pixar’s Inside Out on the back cover, and it’s not hard to see the connective tissue between the two films. In Dreambuilders, we follow young Minna, whose stepmother and stepsister have just moved in with her and her father. When Minna discovers that her dreams are being manufactured and that she can change her stepsister’s dreams, the two get trapped in a sort of dream limbo and must make their way back to consciousness. The film isn’t really going to impress parents who are watching it with their kids, but the story has a good message and the animation is fine, and I can see how little kids will enjoy it.
  • Don’t Go Gentle: A Film About Idles – I had never heard of Idles before this film, which always makes me wonder how a group warrants their own feature film if they aren’t that famous. But apparently they have a pretty huge fan following in the UK, because a feature film there is, and this is it. The film follows this British punk band from their forming in 2009 to a huge performance in 2019. The film takes advantage of huge amounts of behind-the-scenes footage of the film, and therein lies the value; you really get a chance to see who the band is and what they’re about, and see them as people as well as musicians. I don’t know that the film will do much for non-fans, but if you’re an Idles die-hard, the film is well worth tracking down.
  • PBS Spotlight – Wrapping up the week, we have a number of new documentary releases from PBS, and this week’s batch focuses more on historical and social topics. First up is the excellent Hindenburg: The New Evidence, an engrossing hour-long documentary that uses new footage and evidence to explore why the Hindenburg was destroyed in one of the most famous aviation accidents of all time. It’s really neat to get a look at some new theories and see some images we’ve never seen before, and I found this Nova episode utterly fascinating. Next up is the somber and moving Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten, a feature-length documentary looking at the 1921 attack on Tulsa by white supremacists and the long term effects of those events. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it’s incredibly important, and I think it will go a long way to helping people who might not know about the Tulsa Massacre why Juneteenth is such an important new holiday. Following that, we have Inside The Met, a three-episode look at the famed Metropolitan Art Museum getting ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary when it was shut down by COVID. The show also explores how the racially-motivated events of 2020 impacted The Met. It’s a great look at an iconic place that also explores deeper issues. Switching gears a bit, we have American Experience: Billy Graham, a two-hour biography of the late religious leader who inspired the masses and sold-out stadiums. Graham had fans who followed him for entire lifetimes, and this film explores his life, his work, and his mission. Finally this week, we have Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, a feature-length documentary narrated by Broadway legend Joel Grey. The film dives into some of Broadways’ most well-known shows and songs and the history behind them (with an emphasis, obviously, on ones with Jewish origins), and we get clips featuring some noted performers such as Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Barbra Streisand, Idina Menzel, and Kristin Chenoweth, among others. A great watch for live theater fans.

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