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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Ambulance, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Billions, Curb Your Enthusiasm, King Tweety, Ninja Badass and more

This week’s home video release slate includes a mix of genres. We’ve got action and adventure, family fare, some TV hits, and much more, so read on!

Ambulance

Before he became something of a cinematic punchline, Michael Bay used to regularly deliver some of the greatest action movies of the ‘90s. Movies like Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon are action masterpieces that defined a decade. Then he started making Transformers movies, and it seems like whatever it was that once made him special has disappeared. I was so excited to watch Ambulance, which had an amazing trailer that showcased a simple premise: a pair of brothers find themselves taking an ambulance — and its patient and paramedic — hostage and on the run after a botched bank robbery. The trailer promised classic Michael Bay action-y goodness, and I was psyched hoping for a return to form for the director. And ultimately the film is… solidly okay. I mean, it’s an enjoyable enough watch; Jake Gyllenhaal is delightfully unhinged as the career criminal, while Ya-Ya Abdul-Mateen is also terrific as the empathetic brother who was trying to raise money for his wife’s surgery. Meanwhile, Eliza Gonzales is much gutsier than most of Bay’s ingenues, while Garret Dillahunt brings some fun to the proceedings as the agent chasing them. And I’m not 100% sure why I was disappointed by the film; the action scenes are good and the film looks great. But it’s also way too long (running 2 hours and 16 minutes) and it’s just missing that magic something that made his early films so great. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you’ll notice it when you watch the film too, I bet. Ambulance comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and it’s an absolute marvel in 4K. With explosive colors, razor sharp image clarity, and inky blacks, the picture quality is stunning. The surround soundtrack will push your speakers to the breaking point, with a pounding low-end, and no end to the discrete sound effects spread throughout the various channels. It’s an excellent A/V presentation of an enjoyable but forgettable film.


Raiders of the Lost Ark: Limited-Edition Steelbook 4K Ultra HD

There’s no shortage of ways to own the Indiana Jones franchise on home video, and I’ll bet most people reading this already own the films in some format or another. Now, however, the greatest adventure movie of all time returns to 4K Ultra HD. Previously released as a trilogy only, this new stand-alone release sees Raiders of the Lost Ark get a solo release in a beautiful Steelbook case. Of course, the main question here is: is this disc worth the upgrade? After all, the film is now 40 years old, so how much improvement do we get in the new format? Well, I’m happy to report that Paramount knows what Indiana Jones means to fans, and they took their time to do this right, with the film’s final presentation approved by Steven Spielberg. So often with catalogue titles, you get minor upgrades in A/V quality when they come to 4K, but the Indy films look and sound practically brand new. The images look so crisp and clean, while the improved colors add new life and the enhanced shadow delineation lets you see more of the action in darker scenes than ever before. And then there’s the Dolby Atmos surround soundtrack, which is phenomenal. It’s like they took every sound effect and background noise and placed them by hand in all the different speakers. It’s the most immersive the movie has sounded since it theaters. Now, unfortunately, most of the extra features from the previously released versions are not included here, which is a major oversight in my opinion, although the included digital copy is a nice bonus. But if you value picture and sound quality, this one is a must have if you don’t already own the previous 4K box set.


Billions: Season Six

Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis return in the sixth season of the hit Showtime series Billions. The show, which has found quite an audience, is about drama and high stakes manipulation in the world of high finance. This is one of those shows that I can appreciate more than I actually like. The production values are terrific without a doubt and the actors are firing on all cylinders. So I can’t say it’s not a good show, it’s just that I personally can’t get into it. I don’t generally love stories set in the financial world, and while there are some good stories here, it’s just not quite my cup of tea. But with six seasons under their belt and — I believe — another one on the way, it clearly has found its audience. This four-disc set includes all 12 episodes of Season Six and a new making-of featurette.


Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eleventh Season

I know, I know… I’m supposed to love Curb Your Enthusiasm. It sure seems like everyone else on the planet does. But I just do not like this show. I find Larry David’s character completely unlikable, to the point where I can’t even enjoy watching him in a love-to-hate-him kind of way. That said, I will say that Season 11 does include some terrific guest stars, including Woody Harrelson, Julie Bowen, Vince Vaughn, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Josh Gad, Albert Brooks, and others. If you like the show, this latest two-disc collection includes the entire eleventh season, giving you ten episodes of Larry’s miserableness to… I dunno… enjoy? Is that what you do with this show?


Fortress: Sniper’s Eye

Apparently, Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray have become best friends, because this is their fourth or fifth direct-to-video movie together in the past three years. While most of the have been unrelated and unconnected, Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is actually the sequel to last year’s Fortress. In that film, Murray took on a bad guy role (maybe for the first time) and Willis played the estranged dad of Jesse Metcalfe, who’s trying to get some money out of him to save his company. A team of mercenaries trying to get to a hidden cache of money leads the family unit to retreat into a “fortress,” or a high-tech bunker in the woods. It was a mediocre action film that, honestly, I’m surprised was popular enough to warrant a sequel. This one sees Willis setting out to save Murray’s character’s wife, who Willis promised to help at the end of the first film. Things then return to the fortress — and new family members come along — and we’re treated pretty much to a rehash of the first film. I would suspect these films were made either back-to-back or concurrently, considering they were released just six months apart. Pretty typical low-budget action fare, but with enough recognizable faces to satisfy people who want something on in the background.

 


King Tweety

Warner Brothers brings us a new Tweety and Sylvester direct-to-video feature-length movie this week, and it’s definitely not your parents’ Looney Tunes. The animation style is very current and is much more reminiscent of the kind of fare you see on Cartoon Network than classic Looney Tunes animation. But that’s not a bad thing; I can appreciate keeping things fresh. The story sees Tweety finding out he’s next in line for the crown of a tropical island. While Tweety is living up the royal life, Sylvester discovers that there’s a plot against Tweety’s life. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this film, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. I don’t know that every adult is going to want to track it down and watch it by themselves, but if you have kids or younger viewers around, it’s a fast-paced and funny adventure that’s appropriate for all ages. Fun!


Last Passenger

Dougray Scott stars in this underrated thriller from 2013, which comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Cohen Media Group. Scott plays a man who boards a commuter train with his young son, only to quickly discover that the train is out of control and hurtling towards its destruction thanks to a madman who has taken control. With only a handful of passengers aboard, they must come together to try and find a way to survive certain disaster; which of course, never goes smoothly. While the film never got a lot of attention, it’s actually a cracking good time. The tension is constant, the action is exciting, and you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat for much of the film’s running time. It doesn’t redefine the genre or anything, but it’s an exceptionally entertaining thriller that I found really enjoyable, and I hope this new release will gain it some new viewers.


Ninja Badass

Ryan Harrison has developed a cult following for his oeuvre of low-budget, gore-filled horror movies. I’ve yet to find one of his films to my tastes, but I was curious to check out Ninja Badass, which is an action-comedy instead. The story is… well, honestly, pretty unimportant, because this isn’t the kind of movie you watch for plot. But it involves a ninja VIP Club kidnapping a girl that our hero Rex (played by writer/director Ryan Harrison) is sweet on and him setting out to rescue her. What follows is, well, chaos. But it’s intentional chaos. It’s less a strong narrative and more a collection of sketch-type scenes and action sequences that were filmed with a budget of about twelve dollars. While there were some moments I found humorous, by and large the film didn’t really work for me. But I suspect that it’s the kind of movie that groups of college kids can all gather around the screen for on a Friday night and have a blast with. If you’re interested in the film, you can check out an exclusive clip below!

Also Available This Week on Home Video:
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys – 1989’s critically acclaimed drama The Fabulous Baker Boys is one of those movies that’s never had a mainstream Blu-ray release, instead only being available on home video on DVD. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer and real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges, the film sees a pair of musicians who find themselves in a rut, until they team up with singing chanteuse Pfeiffer. But romance and rivalry soon rear their heads, leading to some major dysfunction within the unit. I was a teenager the first time this film came out, and I remember thinking it was pretty boring; watching it again now for the first time since then, I can appreciate it much more as an adult. The film looks great, all three lead performances are excellent, and the musical numbers sizzle. It’s still not a masterpiece, but it’s definitely a film that I enjoyed revisiting.
  • Offseason – I’m always looking for a good horror movie offering, as the genre these days much more often offers up mediocre, bland horror fare. Unfortunately, Offseason falls into that mediocre category, which is a bummer because I thought it had a cool concept. When a couple returns to the island community where Marie’s mother lived and died, they find themselves trapped on the island when the bridge closes for the winter. Quickly separated, Marie finds that stranger and stranger things are happening among the townsfolk and herself. On the plus side, lead actress Jocelin Donahue is terrific, and horror filmmaker (and sometimes actor) Joe Swanberg has a supporting role. But the film is kind of slow, never all that scary, and the climax was underwhelming. It’s not a bad movie per se, just ultimately uninteresting and nothing we haven’t seen before.
  • Hostile Territory – Writer/Director Brian Presley does triple duty with Hostile Territory, where he also takes on the lead role of a Civil War soldier who sets off to reclaim his children who have been placed on a train full of orphans when he is mistakenly believed dead. A cross-country journey ensues which involves other soldiers, Native Americans, gunfights, and all of the usual western trappings. Now, I’m not an overly big fan of westerns and I can’t say I loved this film, but I did find it to actually be pretty solid. Presley isn’t quite a full-on auteur yet, but he clearly has talent and the film works pretty well on the whole. There’s a few script and pacing issues, but I suspect if you like westerns and are in need of a new one to get your fix, you’ll probably enjoy this one more than you won’t.
  • Vive L’Amour – Despite the French title, Vive L’Amour is actually a Taiwanese film. Directed by acclaimed Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, the film centers on a trio of people who end up crossing paths in an empty apartment; the realtor; her lover, and a man who is secretly living there. The resulting drama (with occasional moments of comedy) is charged with erotic tension as the movie dives into some sexual situations that arise. I can’t say I loved the film, as it’s a touch long at just about two hours, but it does have some interesting moments and some strong visuals. It might be worth checking out if you like foreign films and want something a little more adult themed.
  • Comedy Confessions – This interesting documentary was made in 2011 and chronicles the lives of three stand-up comedians who are struggling to succeed in Los Angeles; so much so that they were homeless at the time. What’s interesting is that while two of the comedians remain relatively unknown, one of them was Tiffany Haddish, who has of course gone on to become a huge comedy film success story. The film doesn’t venter solely on her per se (at the time, she was still unknown), but it is very interesting to see her at a very different time in her career. The film itself is low-budget but it tells an interesting story, and the idea of pursuing your comedy dreams while living out of your car is both emotional and fascinating.
  • Fear – This Bulgarian film hops between genres, with elements of romantic comedy, dark drama, and even a little bit of thriller mixed in, but it does so in a way that is not jarring and in fact works really well. In a small Bulgarian village, Svetla is hunting when she comes across Bamba, an African refugee trying to make his way to Germany. When she brings him back to her village, there is pushback from the other residents, but despite a language barrier, Svetla and Bamba form a bond. The film address racism and xenophobia, but also manages to work in some good comedy, which is kind of a surprising mix that works better than it should. Even though it’s subtitled in English, it’s worth a watch.

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