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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: West Side Story, Shooter, Redeeming Love, A Journal for Jordan, Vikings and more

We’ve got a mix of titles out this week, with a heavy focus on romance — including an Oscar nominee! But don’t worry, there’s also the usual mix of action, horror, sci-fi and more to round out your week.

West Side Story

I really enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story and honestly, I’m a little surprised that it didn’t do better at the box office. I thought people would have flocked to a remake of a beloved film helmed by such a reliable director, but for whatever reason it didn’t bring people out. That doesn’t take away from how good of a film it is. Aside from the problems with the story (that date all the way back to the source material, Romeo & Juliet) the film is absolutely gorgeous. Spielberg brings all the benefits of modern filmmaking to the proceedings while still making sure to deliver good performances and great musical numbers. When I saw the film in theaters, I told anyone within earshot that Ariana Debose completely stole the show, and I’m glad that she’s now being rewarded with award nominations and wins; she’s easily the best thing about an already good film. My biggest complaint with the movie is the large swaths of dialogue spoken in Spanish. I read an interview with Spielberg where he said he felt like it would be disrespectful to hispanics if he included subtitles, but I don’t get that logic. While I could pick up some of the undercurrent of what they were saying from context, there were chunks of the movie where I had no idea what anyone was talking about since I don’t speak Spanish. I doubt that change would have helped the box office receipts at all, but it would have turned a pretty great movie into an excellent one.


Shooter: 15th Anniversary Edition Steelbook Edition

If you’d asked me when Shooter came out, I’d have probably guessed like 5 or 6 years ago. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since mark Wahlberg’s excellent actioner came out, but here we are with this new 15th Anniversary Steelbook Edition. The film sees Wahlberg play Bob Lee Swagger, a retired army sniper, who is recruited by the government to help prevent the assassination of the president. Unfortunately, it’s a set-up, and Swagger is framed for a high-profile assassination instead. The film actually spawned a TV show spin-off starring Ryan Phillippe, but this original movie is fantastic. And while I don’t want to call it underrated, because it was a pretty big hit at the time, I feel like it’s one of those films people don’t talk about much anymore, even though it’s one of the better action films of the 2000s. It blends together some terrific action sequences with a ‘70s-era-style conspiracy storyline, and the end result is thrilling and engaging. And a terrific supporting cast including Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Elias Koteas, and Rhona Mitra just adds to the quality. This new Anniversary Edition doesn’t include any new material, but it is housed in a sharp-looking Steelbook case and comes with a digital copy of the film, which the original release didn’t. Definitely wort the pick-up if you’re looking for a great action movie.


Redeeming Love

Universal Studios put their money muscle behind this faith-based romance drama, which boasts probably the biggest budget and best production values of any of the faith-based movies I’ve seen to date. It’s also by far the steamiest. While it is PG-13, there are some scenes and some discussion of things that you don’t usually see in this genre of film. Heck, I can’t remember ever seeing a faith-based movie where the main character is a prostitute. The film, based on the novel by Francine Rivers, follows Angel, a young woman who has been forced into a life of prostitution in the 1800s, and is coveted by men everywhere. Enter Michael Hosea, a simple but faithful farmer who falls in love with her after praying to god for love. He tries to rescue her from her life, but she doesn’t trust anyone and constantly rebuffs his efforts to save her from the life she’s suffering. The film is directed by DJ Caruso, who’s best known for thrillers like Disturbia and Eagle Eye, and I have to imagine that’s why it feels like a real movie and not a TV movie as so many of these films do. And honestly, I actually liked the movie, which is pretty rare for this genre. While the religion is a little heavy handed when it pops up, most of the film focuses on the characters and their hardships and their romance (or lack thereof), and I admit I got sucked into it. It’s a touch long at two hours and 15 minutes, but if you’re in the market for a period drama that has religion at the heart of it, this is probably one of the best ones I’ve seen.


A Journal for Jordan

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t my usual kind of movie. I mean, the trailer alone had tears in my eyes, so I knew this was going to be a tearjerker. Based on the memoir A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor by Dana Canedy, the film stars Michael B. Jordan and newcomer Chante Adams and is directed by Denzel Washington, and it’s based on the true story of a woman who gave her soldier husband a journal when he was shipped off to Iraq. He filled over 200 pages of it before he was killed in action, and in it he delivers life lessons and observations to his child, who he would meet only once as a baby. The film follows Dana and Charles through their romance and the birth of their son — the titular Jordan — and beyond, and it wears its heart on its sleeve. Jordan and Adams work well together on screen; they have good chemistry, even though their real life counterparts seemingly had little in common. Washington does a fine job with the direction, although it’s an interesting film for him to choose to helm. It’s not a terribly interesting film from a visual perspective, and while the drama is solid, it’s a film that is kind of in that middle realm: it’s emotional and moving at times, but it never really gets you totally wrapped up in the events of the film. It’s an okay watch, but it falls well short of being anything special.


Vikings: Season 6, Part 2

The first half of Season 6 of the hit History Channel show came out on home video in October of 2020, a full year and a half ago. That’s a long time to wait between the first half and the second half of a season, especially considering that the second half of Season 6 was the conclusion of the show. With COVID delays finally overcome, fans can finally rejoice and can see how the show ends! I know Vikings is insanely popular, and I can see why even if ultimately I’m not really a fan of the show. It’s dark and gritty and certainly doesn’t veer away from Game of Thrones territory and that usually equals a hit these days. And it’s not as if there’s anything in particular about the show that I can point to that I dislike. It just never got me excited. It’s a perfectly fine show, and fans will enjoy revisiting the show after such a long hiatus; I just wish I could get as excited about it as everyone else. This new set includes 10 episodes on 3 discs, and it’s available on both Blu-ray and DVD. Each episode is also the extended international cut, which means you get even more Vikings than you did on TV. Fans won’t want to miss this conclusion of the well-loved show.


Also Available on Home Video This Week:
  • Head of the Class: The Complete Fourth Season – One of the classic ‘80s sitcoms returns to home video, courtesy of the Warner Archive. (WAC offerings can be found via warnerarchive.com and your favorite online retailer.) Howard Hesseman, best known at the time as Johnny Thunder on WKRP in Cincinnati, stars as a put-upon high school teacher in charge of a class of gifted students. Of course, with ten students you have ten different personalities, and the interchange between Hesseman and his charges was comedy gold. Sure, there are some echoes of Welcome Back Kotter, but in this case, instead of the Sweathogs, we get the brains, the nerds, the geeks and the drama kids. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this show would hold up after three decades, but while the hairstyles and fashions are wildly ‘80s, the characters and the jokes still work, and I enjoyed the heck out of revisiting it on DVD. Warner Archive has been putting these seasons out every couple of months, and there’s only one to go to complete the series, which is very cool.
  • The Boy Behind the Door – I don’t get excited about horror movies these days, as so many of them are so bad, but The Boy Behind the Door is more of a thriller than a horror movie per se, and I have to say it’s actually pretty good, which is always a nice surprise. The film is a taut, tense, claustrophobic thriller about two 12-year-old friends who are kidnapped and taken to a remote house. When one of them escapes, he finds that he can’t leave his friend behind, so he sneaks his way back into danger in an attempt to rescue him. The film takes place almost entirely in the house, which adds to the tension, and I was surprised that there were way fewer “Oh come on, why would you do that?!?” moments than a lot of these films offer. Young Lonnie Chavis (best known as young Randall on This is Us) and Ezra Dewey carry the film well and offer up good performances, which is essential for a film like this. Worth a watch!
  • Project Gemini – This Russian film is pretty heavily influenced by the Alien franchise, which you would hope would be a good thing, but unfortunately the film is not one I can recommend. It follows the crew of a spaceship on their way to a planet that might be used as a new Earth, as our current Earth has been ravaged by plague. However, the ship ends up way off course, with a new planet available to them which might be even better. However, something or someone would much rather see the crew of the ship dead. What’s most frustrating about Project Gemini is that it looks really good, with terrific set design and really strong special effects. But the script is terrible and the film never really tries to do anything original with the genre, and the end result is dull and messy. I’ve seen good science fiction films out of Russia before, but Project Gemini sadly isn’t one of them.
  • Invincible – I’m not gonna lie, when I see a film with a title that’s already been used a half dozen times, it turns me off considerably. Seriously, can we have a moratorium on calling movies Invincible? There’s already a lot of them, and that was before Amazon Prime’s animated series of the same name (based on a comic book of the same name) last year became a massive hit. This Universal Soldier-esque actioner sees a nanotechnology-enhanced test subject escapes the facility he was developed in, and the site’s security director tasked with tracking him down. Starring B-movie stalwarts Johnny Strong and Marko Zaror (as well as Sally Kirkland and Michael Pare), the film suffers from B-movie syndrome, wherein it can’t afford more than a few action sequences and therefore fails to be an action movie. While the few action sequences we get are pretty solid, most of the film is much less interesting, filled with dull writing and boring performances. This one is an easy pass.
  • Signal: The Movie – Cold Case Investigation Unit – Following on the heels of the hit Japanese television series Signal, we get Signal: the Movie – Cold Case Investigation Unit. The concept for the movie is pretty cool, with two police detectives who are in contact through a pair of walkie talkies but are actually about five years apart in time from each other, trying to stop a series of high profile assassinations. While I haven’t seen the TV show (and I suspect it would be helpful), I was able to watch the film and understand what was happening, even if I wasn’t all that dialed in on the characters. However, the film’s neat sci-fi premise plus the well-choreographed action scenes make for an enjoyable viewing experience overall. The film looks great, and it makes me curious to see how it worked as a TV show.
  • Hester Street – Cohen Media Group brings us a new Blu-ray edition of Hester Street, a 1975 drama starring Carol Kane as a turn of the century Russian Jewish woman who immigrates to New York but has difficulty fitting in, despite being there with her husband. Written and directed by Joan Silver Micklin and filmed in black-and-white, the film is a lower-budgeted affair, but it evokes the time period well enough and is mostly effective, largely due to the strong presentation by Carol Kane. I’m used to seeing Kane in comedic roles, so it was nice to see her tackle a dramatic role here. This new Blu-ray edition sees the film restored and remastered, and it also includes a nice collection of extra features, including two new interviews with Micklin, plus an audio commentary, making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and more. It’s a great new presentation of a film that probably has some fans out there.
  • Breaking Bread – Also from Cohen Media Group this week is Breaking Bread, a new feature-length documentary about food and social change. The film focuses on Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel — the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s MasterChef, and her mission to use food to bring about societal change. As part of her mission, she founded the A-sham Arabic Food Festival, where Arab and Jewish chefs collaborate on exotic dishes together. That’s quite a feat considering the state of affairs in the middle east for the past 100 years or so. I didn’t even know Israel had a MasterChef show, so this whole film was eye opening for me. And while documentaries aren’t necessarily my thing, I did find this one quite interesting. Plus, some of the food (including many of the dishes I had never even heard of before) looks absolutely incredible!
  • The Whaler Boy – Usually when I get these kinds of foreign films to review, they tend to be period dramas. So I was more than a little surprised when The Whaler Boy sees a Russian teenage boy in a whale hunting village set off on a journey to meet a webcam girl! When the internet comes to the village of 15-year-old Leshka, a Russian Inuit, he becomes obsessed with a webcam model and eventually decides he has to meet her in real life. The film actually takes a few twists and turns along the way, and it’s an interesting viewing experience. It was definitely a better film than I expected but the third act has some issues with plausibility and a satisfactory ending. Still, fans of foreign cinema will enjoy the meshing of modern story and old world sensibilities as well as its occasional moments of offbeat humor.

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