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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Clerks 3, Amsterdam, Westworld, Black Christmas and more

Well, it’s a surprisingly small week for being as close to the holidays as it is, but that just means next week will probably be gigantic. Still, there are some really fun new titles out this week, so check out the full list below!

Clerks III

I’m as big a Kevin Smith fan as you’ll find; I’ve been watching his movies since I rented Clerks the day it came out on home video back in the ‘90s, and I’ve religiously watched every movie he’s made since. I was super excited to watch Clerks III, as the Quick Stop is the hub of the View Askewniverse and I was excited to see what was up with Dante, Randall, Jay, Silent Bob, and the rest of the New Jersey hangers-on. And here’s what I’ll say about Clerks III: I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it’s definitely one of the weaker entries in the series. It also has some really strong moments. In this outing, the film starts with Randall having a heart attack – shades of Kevin Smith’s real near-death experience are present throughout the movie – and then deciding he wants to make a movie about his life at the video store and the Quick Stop. So basically, it’s Randall and Dante making Clerks, the original film, which leads to some wonderfully meta moments. My main critique of the film is that the jokes just don’t always land as well as you’ve come to expect from a Smith movie. Occasionally it feels like the script is trying a little too hard. That said, there are some great emotional moments in the film; it’s easily the most sentimental of the trilogy and I think the deeper moments actually work quite well. And I loved the film’s ending, which wears its heart on its sleeve. Clerks III isn’t a perfect film, but for fans of the View Askewniverse, I think they’ll still really enjoy it.


Quick, go watch the Amsterdam TV commercials and then see if you can tell me what the film is about. I bet you can’t. David O. Russell’s latest film was a complete box office bomb, and I blame that in part on the advertising. The commercials I saw on TV were so obtuse that all I got from them was that it was a period piece with an amazing cast. But I couldn’t have told you what the movie was about to save my life. Turns out, it’s about two war veteran friends in the 1930s, one a doctor and one a lawyer, who get tasked with solving a murder that has much more far-reaching implications than the initial victims. To say more would spoil the story, but I will say that I liked the film more than I expected to. The mystery is interesting and kept me engaged, and the friendship between the three main characters (Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie) is the stuff of which great movies is made. Now, that said, the film runs over two hours and part of that is because Russell always insists on making his films unnecessarily quirky. There were an easy 20 minutes of quirkiness that could have been trimmed (including some surprisingly strong gory moments in the wartime scenes) and the film would have been much better. The cast is also uniformly terrific; the main trio I mentioned are all outstanding, and the supporting cast includes Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor Joy, Andrea Riseborough, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Matthias Schoenarts, and even Taylor Swift who are all quite good as well. Ultimately, although it has a number of flaws, I enjoyed Amsterdam and I think it’s worth at least checking out.

Westworld: The Complete Fourth Season (4K Ultra HD)

Well, it lasted four seasons, but HBO’s once-popular series Westworld has come to an end. This new Complete Fourth Season set marks the end of the show, which in my opinion had much promise but quickly became so convoluted and complex that it took a lot of the enjoyment out of watching the show. Honestly, it was just so dense that I always found it hard to follow. It’s a complex, layered show, and it requires some thought while watching, and generally, I applaud that. While I like some good, dumb fun, I also like a show that can challenge me. This one, though… well, maybe it challenged people a little too much. The new season four collection is available on DVD, Blu-ray, or 4K Ultra HD, and it looks absolutely stunning in the premium 4K format. This is an extremely high-budget show with a definite visual flair and crisp graphics, and the 4K graphics really shine. The surround soundtrack is also nicely nuanced, giving you an active sound field that will keep your speakers engaged. You’ll definitely want to start at the beginning with this show, but if you already own the first three seasons, you’ll probably want to continue watching this latest collection.

Black Christmas (4K Ultra HD)

Although Black Christmas predates the original Halloween by four years (it came out in 1974 whereas Halloween hit in 1978), it’s considered more of a proto-slasher film than the first true slasher movie. I don’t know if that’s because it’s not quite as good or as popular as John Carpenter’s film or the fact that you rarely even see the killer in the film, but Halloween still gets credit for launching the slasher craze. Personally, I enjoy Black Christmas just fine, although I’ve never found it particularly scary. Until the end at least; I will admit that the last 15 minutes of the film has a nice intensity that did give me butterflies in my stomach. I’ll also give the film credit for having a black sense of humor that ensures it doesn’t take itself too seriously. With a pre-Superman Margot Kidder as well as Olivia Hussey and John Saxon in the cast, Black Christmas isn’t bad at all for a 1970’s horror flick. Now it’s been released as a new Special Edition 4K Ultra HD release from Scream Factory, which is basically a port of the previous Blu-ray Collector’s Edition but with an audiovisual upgrade. Now, the film is a 50-year-old low-budget flick, so the 4K transfer only has so much to work with, but the film looks a little sharper, a little clearer, and features slightly brighter colors and deeper black levels. It’s not a complete transformation, but this is the best I’ve seen the film look on home video so far. You also get a bunch of great extra features and nice new packaging, so this one is worth a pick-up if you don’t already own the film.

Also Available This Week on Home Video:

  • Summertime Dropouts – This harmless if unexciting teen-based dramedy about three friends who graduate high school and then decide to make their dream of playing on the Warped Tour as a pop-punk trio come true. They run up against the usual obstacles, have a romantic flirtation with an all-girl musical trio, and find their friendship tested on their way to trying to make it on the tour. The movie is the very definition of mediocre; it’s not a bad movie and it’s easy to watch. But there’s not a single original or interesting thing about it, either, unless you’re a huge fan of the band Simple Plan, who make a brief appearance to lend some authenticity to the music festival proceedings. The cast is mostly unknown and while they definitely won’t win any acting awards, they’re not bad either. Really, if you’re a fan of the type of bands that populate the Warped Tour, you might enjoy this movie, but everyone else will just find it just a so-so way to pass the time. 
  • Heartland of Darkness – Okay, so this one needs some explaining. First of all, some of you will know who Linnea Quigley is already, but if not, she’s one of the B-movie queens who made her name in the 1980s with cult horror fare like Return of the Living DeadNight of the Demons, and Silent Night, Deadly Night. She also almost always lost her clothes in those films, so there are a lot of people who were teenagers at the time who are devoted fans of the actress, and not just because of her acting skills. Well, Heartland of Darkness is considered the “lost” Linnea Quigley film. Shot in 1989 and then never finished nor released to mass audiences, the movie has remained almost entirely unseen for 30 years. After many false starts and stops, Visual Vengeance – who specializes in cult horror releases – has finally put the finishing touches on the movie and released it on Blu-ray. The film – originally known as Blood Church – focuses on a man who buys a newspaper in a small town and moves there with his two daughters, only to find out that the townspeople are Satanists. Chaos, naturally, follows. The film itself is a solid B-level horror movie; there’s nothing special about it but it’s an enjoyable enough watch, and fans of Quigley’s will be happy to see that her, umm, assets are on display as usual. As an added bonus, there is a nice collection of extra features, including a solid documentary feature, several featurettes, and much more. For hardcore horror and cult classic film fans, this is a neat little historical oddity. 
  • Alienoid – Sometimes, I completely struggle to figure out how to summarize a movie in one or two sentences, and this is one of those times. So I’ll let the retail description do that part for me: “For ages, aliens have kept their prisoners locked inside human bodies, but the guard in charge opens a gate through time in an attempt to prevent their escape. The portal links to 630 years in the past, where a master swordsman and others try to seize a legendary sword. Chaos and confusion ensue when travelers from the present cross paths with those from the past, and all are trying to find the mystical divine blade that holds the key to everything.” Now, that doesn’t sound all that confusing, I guess, but when you watch the film, believe me when I tell you that if you try to follow the plot extremely closely, you will get confused. I certainly was. Luckily, the film is so over-the-top crazy that you probably won’t care. It’s filled with sci-fi craziness, special effects, action sequences, shifting time periods, sword fights, and more. It’s honestly rather dizzying, but in a fun way. I would have liked a little more of a cohesive plot, but if you want to just throw on a visually interesting film that never gets boring, Alienoidwill do the trick. 
  • 5-25-77 – Writer/Director Patrick Read Johnson crafts his own love letter to Star Wars with 5-25-77, a date which Star Wars fans will recognize immediately; for everyone else, it marks the day that the original film was released in theaters and Star Wars was unleashed on the world. The always-terrific John Francis Daley plays a slightly fictionalized version of Johnson, a nerdy film-obsessed teen in midwestern America in the 1970s. He discovers Star Wars and in the lead up to the film’s release, he learns about himself, moviemaking, and love. It’s a coming-of-age movie firmly rooted in geekdom and cinema geekery, so I suspect it will find an audience on home video. The film does have some flaws, though, including uneven pacing and some moments where the low budget is painfully obvious. There is a lot to like here, but it’s not a polished film. It’s nice to see a few familiar faces in the cast beyond Daley: Colleen Camp and Scrubs & The Middle stalwart Neil Flynn are also present. Star Wars and indie film fans will enjoy this one, but I don’t know that it’s destined to become a  true cult classic. 
  • Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things – VCI Entertainment brings us a new 50th Anniversary Edition of the low-budget horror cult classic Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, one of the earliest films from director Bob Clark (credited as Benjamin Clark), best known for films like A Christmas Story and Porky’s, among many other well-loved favorites. This creepfest sees a group of actors on a desolate island performing a fake ritual to raise the dead… only to actually end up raising the dead instead. And of course, there’s plenty of blood and guts to follow. The film came out in 1972, and it’s not hard to see the influence that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead had on the film. It’s low-budget and not particularly scary, and it clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it’s an easy watch even if it’s nothing revolutionary. This new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray comes loaded with extra features including a feature length documentary, a commentary track, Q&A featurettes, and much more. Fans of the film will find hours of extra content to extend their enjoyment of this cult classic. 
  • Cohen Media Spotlight – Cohen Media Group specializes in critically acclaimed classic and new foreign films on home video, and this week they have several new releases. First up is the Blu-ray debut of A Knife in the Head, a 1978 German film featuring a stunning performance by acclaimed actor Bruno Ganz. He plays a man who works at a youth center and rushes in to help when the police raid it. He ends up getting shot in the head, and when he awakens from his coma, he ends up partially paralyzed, unable to talk, and with little memory of the night in question. The police paint him as a criminal while the youth center inhabitants call him a victim, and he has to try to piece together his memories of what really happened. It’s a serious film but Ganz is outstanding in the lead role and it’s worth a watch. Next up, we have Entre Nous making its first foray on Blu-ray. Starring Isabelle Huppert and directed by acclaimed director Diane Kurys, the film follows a French woman who leaves France for Italy to escape being sent to Nazi Germany, settling into a marriage of convenience. When she meets a kindred spirit, the two women form a friendship that the film explores in detail. It’s a moving film with some lighter, more comedic moments sprinkled throughout, and Huppert brings her usual level of skill to the lead role. Finally, we have The Ballad of the Sad Café, one of CMG’s American film offerings, also making its Blu-ray debut. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Carradine, and Rod Steiger, this 1991 drama sees Redgrave as a small-town café owner who also runs the moonshine business in town, and who finds her life upended when her estranged husband, fresh out of prison, shows up in town. It’s a southern fried period piece, and while I didn’t love it per se, the cast is strong and deliver excellent performances

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