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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Night of the Animated Dead, The Nevers, The Awakening, Guilt and more

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The Nevers

We have a small release slate this week, with no theatrical tentpoles, no major A-list releases, and a small amount of titles. Still, I bet there’s something interesting enough to watch for most people. Read on and find out!

Night of the Animated Dead

For those of you who don’t know the long and detailed history of Night of the Living Dead, let me boil it down to this: there were some legal and distribution issues when the film came out, resulting in it ending up in the public domain. Meaning pretty much anyone can release a home video version of it or use the name for the project or anything like that. Which leads us to projects like Night of the Animated Dead. This new animated film gives us an updated version of the classic George Romero film that started the whole zombie genre (effectively), this time in full color and, well, completely animated. With a strong cast (including Josh Duhamel, Nancy Travis, Will Sasso, and James Roday Rodriguez & Dule Hill from Psych), the film hews pretty closely to the original film’s storyline. And honestly, it’s a pretty easy watch. My biggest complaint is the animation style, which looks a lot like Saturday morning cartoons from the 80s. Now, that does give it a somewhat nostalgic feel, but I wish they had gone with a more robust and detailed animation style. As it is, it’s occasionally a little goofy as a result. Still, zombie fans looking for their next fix will find this one a curiosity, and I’m sure some will enjoy it quite a bit.

The Nevers: Season One, Part One

I’ll be honest, I had no idea that Joss Whedon was involved in this show until I got this new Blu-ray set for review. Turns out, Whedon created, wrote, and produced these first six episodes, and then left the show (or was asked to leave, it seems.) The rest of the first season was delayed due to COVID, so this first season collection represents just the first half of what will eventually become a full 10 or 12 episode season. The show is set at the dawn of the 20th century, where a group of women (and some men) have gained powers and are called The Turned. Of course, in Victorian England, that means there are various groups of other people who are out to harm them, while The Turned work as a de facto superhero group. There’s an easy comparison to make to Whedon’s own Buffy The Vampire Slayer, just set in 1899 London. However, instead of easing viewers into a bigger mythology, Whedon decided to go big from the start, meaning there is an overwhelming amount of characters, events, conspiracies, and the like right from the first episode. Honestly, it all feels a little bit busy. I’m not sure if the post-Whedon version of this show will be better or worse, but it’s at least an interesting start, if not without its flaws.

The Awakening

Originally released in 2011, The Awakening is an excellent and highly underseen horror film starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, and Imelda Staunton. The film got a limited release at the time and was quietly released to little fanfare on home video, so now Cohen Media Classics has given us a new Blu-ray release of the film, which I’m quite happy about. The film’s story won’t wow you when I boil it down to a sentence or two: In 1921 England, a boy at a boarding school is “scared to death.” Enter Rebecca Hall’s professional hoax debunker, who soon discovers that maybe there’s something real actually happening in this big, dusty building. So yeah, without saying more and ruining the story, it does sound like a movie we’ve seen a million times before. However, the film benefits from some neat twists and turns, an incredibly tense and chilling atmosphere, great cinematography, and a stellar central performance by Rebecca Hall. The film is creepy and intense, and if you’re watching it by yourself late at night, I can guarantee you you’re gonna end up sleeping with the lights on. While the film was never a big hit, I hope it finds a new audience with this new Blu-ray.

Guilt: Season 1

This four-episode Scottish series follows two brothers who accidentally hit a man with their car after a drunken night out, and then try to cover it up when they realize they might be able to completely get away with it. Of course, when you have two disparate personalities, nosy friends and neighbors, and the titular guilt eating at the characters, things aren’t going to go smoothly. Guilt is an interesting show. It has some darkly comic moments and some really tense moments, even if it occasionally veers slightly into silly territory. I think what makes it work is the fact that it’s only four episodes (although I believe there’s a second season either in production or already airing, but not included in this DVD release.) The fact that events aren’t dragged out over an entire full-length season makes the show much more gripping and gives hope that plot threads will resolve quickly and not be dragged out unnecessarily. Worth a watch for something a little different in the crime-thriller genre.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • Frankie Drake Mysteries: The Complete Fourth Season – Lauren Lee Smith and Chantel Riley star in this enjoyable series from PBS about Toronto’s only all-female detective agency in the 1920s. I’m pretty sure this show is from the same people who make the Uber-popular Murdoch Mysteries, and while I don’t know if it’s going to eventually become as well-loved as that show (although it’s already four seasons in), but it’s pretty enjoyable overall. For the most part, you get your typical sort of mystery show, but the 1920s Toronto setting and the two female detectives gives the show a different feel from some of the others of its ilk. It also has more of a sense of fun than some mystery shows, which I like. This fourth season collection from PBS includes all 10 episodes on three discs. It’s definitely worth a watch if you are looking for a new mystery show.
  • C.I. Ape – Okay, look, when you give me a movie about a CGI-animated monkey (in a live action film) who’s a super spy a la James Bond, you have to expect that it’s probably not going to make my top 10 for the year. But I’m not the target audience for the movie, and I don’t want to tear it apart for being silly when it’s aimed at kids. I wish the ape CGI was a little better; you definitely have to suspend your disbelief while watching it. And the story occasionally meanders a bit, but there are some action scenes, there is some humor, and younger audiences will probably get a kick out of it. Will it be their new favorite film? Probably not, but it’ll kill 80 minutes pretty easily on a rainy day.
  • Independent Spotlight – We have a few indie films this week, and they’re all documentaries this week. First up is is Witkin and Witkin, an art-themed documentary, that really focuses on the people behind the art. Identical twin brothers Jerome and Joel-Peter Witkin are a photographer and a painter, both of whom are quite renowned in their respective fields. They live across the country from each other and have drifted apart, but in recent years have started exhibiting their works together. The film explores their lives as artists and twins, and how their work mirrors each other’s even when they weren’t in contact with each other. Interesting stuff. Next up is The Universality Of It All, a film that’s a little hard to describe. It’s a documentary that focuses on human migration, friendship, travel, climate change, and more, but told through the lens of one man, director Andres Bronniman. Bronniman created the film completely by himself, filming and editing everything as a one-man show. He frames much of the film through his friendship with his college roommate, who was a refugee from Yemen. It’s a broad film with a lot of ideas, and while that’s not always my cup of tea, it’s an impressive finished product considering that it was created completely independently with a crew of one. Then there’s Aalto, a biography of one of Europe’s most famed architects, Alvar Aalto. The film puts a lot of focus on Aalto’s relationship with his wife and the partnership they formed in bringing modern buildings and fixtures to Europe. I like the human element of the film rather than just being a “greatest hits” of the man’s designs, so people interested in architecture or European history especially will probably enjoy this.
  • WB Archives Spotlight – Finally, this week, we have several new releases from Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive (www.warnerarchive.com). Each of these films is making its Blu-ray debut here and can be ordered directly from the Archive or through online retailers such as Amazon. First up is One Crazy Summer, a really fun ‘80s comedy starring John Cusack, Demi Moore and Curtis Armstrong (who also co-starred with Cusack in the classic Better Off Dead). The film was written and directed by Steve Holland, who also gave us the aforementioned Better Off Dead, and while it’s not as good as that one, it’s still a lot of fun and has much of that Steve Holland signature humor to it. This is a great throwback release and I’m happy to see it on Blu-ray finally. Next up we have Shadow of the Thin Man, the fourth film in the six-entry series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. This time around, a murdered jockey leads to Nick and Nora Charles tangling with a gambling ring. As always, it’s filled with lightning-fast dialogue and plenty of hard-boiled characters, and it’s a lot of fun. Donna Reed and Stella Adler star in this entry as well. Then we have Prince of the City, a 1981 crime drama directed by the great Sidney Lumet. Starring Treat Williams and Jerry Orbach, the film sees a cop get roped into investigating corruption on the force, only to quickly realize it’s more widespread than he realized and leaving him without a clue as to who he can trust. It’s a pretty intense film, and Treat Williams (who has often veered towards more comedic/less serious roles later in his career) is absolutely terrific here, smoldering with a burning intensity that permeates every scene. This is one of those films I was unaware of, and I’m glad the Warner Archive brought it to my attention. Finally, we have In the Good Old Summertime, a 1949 classic Hollywood flick starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson that was basically another take on The Shop Around the Corner (which was also the inspiration for You’ve Got Mail.) The film has some songs in it but isn’t a full-on musical, but it’s a fun and energetic romp. It also has a small role in it by Buster Keaton, who apparently also co-directed part of the film, so that’s kind of cool.

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