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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., Book Club: The Next Chapter, Invaders From Mars, McBain and more

Rachel McAdams as Barbara Dimon and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley

It’s an interesting slate this week, with no real blockbusters or major hits, but there is a beloved book adaptation, some classic Disney cartoons, classic sci-fi, 90s action, and more. There’s a wide range of selections this week!

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. 

The Movie: Based on the perennially popular book by Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret stars Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, and young Abby Ryder Fortson as a family who move from New York City to the heart of the suburbs in New Jersey. The titular young Margaret becomes the focus of the film as she deals with all of the stresses that come with being 11-years-old and having been uprooted to a new home, new school, and new life. Along the way, Margaret develops questions about religion, her body, and social norms, as most people do when they’re that age. Now, this is one of the most loved books of the last 50 years, and Judy Blume famously held onto the rights to it for many, many years. It took writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig (who made the terrific Edge of Seventeen with Hailee Steinfeld) for Blume to feel safe with an adaptation, and it’s clear to see why. While I read the book when I was young and I don’t really remember it, the film is still a delight and I have to imagine Blume is very pleased with it. Fortson is terrific as Margaret, and the film manages to be funny, heartfelt, dramatic, and just sheerly enjoyable from start to finish. I’m not surprised, because I loved Craig’s Edge of Seventeen as an exploration of teenage life, so it makes sense she could handle adolescent life just as well.
The Special Features: There’s a nice little collection of bonus features here. You get four making-of featurettes, a collection of deleted scenes, roundtable discussions with cast and crew, and a trailer.
The Wrap-Up: Whether you’re a fan of the book or not, I think you’ll enjoy Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s a delightful little film with great performances all around. And if you are a fan of the book, I think you’ll enjoy it all the more.

Book Club: The Next Chapter 

The Movie: Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Fonda, and Candice Bergen return for a second helping of comedy in Book Club: The Next Chapter. The first film was a relatively harmless comedy about four lifelong friends (all senior citizens) who read Fifty Shades of Grey in their book club, which leads to some new self-discoveries in their lives. The film did well enough to warrant a sequel, which is… well, also ultimately a relatively harmless comedy about four lifelong friends. This time around, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the four women decide to travel together to Italy on the group vacation they’ve never taken and from there… I guess things happen. I mean, sort of. Look, this is not a plot heavy movie. Instead, it’s watching four great actresses in beautiful Italy move from scene to scene with occasional things happening here and there. Which sounds like it could be awful, but thanks to a solid script and the vivacity of the actresses – I’ll watch anything with Mary Steenburgen in it! – the film works surprisingly well. I don’t know that it’s going to make a huge splash outside of its target demographic, but if you enjoyed the first film, you should enjoy this one as well, if not straight up like it better.
The Special Features: You get three short featurettes focus on the actresses in Italy, the making of the film, and the styles seen on screen.
The Wrap-Up: 80 For Brady 2 — I mean, Book Club: The Next Chapter is a solid comedy that benefits from a terrific cast. It won’t change your world, but it’s a fun way to kill a couple of hours.

Mickey & Friends: 10 Classic Shorts, Vol. 2 

The Movie: You may or may not know this but Disney is running a huge 100th Anniversary celebration in 2023 with all kinds of new releases and events. One of the first such releases was Mickey & Minnie: 10 Classic Shorts, a collection of ten of the famous couple’s most famous and well-loved cartoon shorts. That release has now been given a follow up with Mickey & Friends: 10 Classic Shorts, Vol. 2. (I guess Minnie didn’t have enough outings to warrant a direct sequel?) As with the previous disc, this is far from a comprehensive collection, rather more of a greatest hits release, collecting ten famous cartoons from yesteryear. They’ve all been remastered and restored, which is a huge bonus, and while I personally would have preferred a chronological release collecting ALL of the classic shorts in a box set format, this is still a fun release.  Here’s the full list of short cartoons featuring Mickey, Minnie (yes, she does appear!) Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and others: The Band Concert (1935), Lonesome Ghosts (1937), Boat Builders (1938), Mickey’s Trailer (1938), Tugboat Mickey (1940), Mr. Duck Steps Out (1940), Winter Storage (1949), Pluto’s Sweater (1949), Pluto and the Gopher (1950) — one of my personal favorites — and Pluto’s Party (1952).
The Special Features: Sadly, the lack of any extra features is a bummer. What, there’s a shortage of documentary material on Mickey Mouse that they couldn’t have found a few scraps to throw in here?
The Wrap-Up: The original Disney cartoon shorts are so great that all of my complaints about the disc’s lack of extra features are just nitpicks. Disney fans will still enjoy this release as a whole.

Invaders From Mars 

The Movie: Not to be confused with the wretched Tobe Hooper remake from 1986, this new Blu-ray release gives us a newly remastered version of the original 1953 alien invasion sci-fi semi-classic. I say “semi-classic” because, while there’s no denying that the film was an influential one, it is also very typical 1950s sci-fi, which means, well, it’s a little bit cheesy. In the film, a young boy named David sees an alien spaceship land near his small town, shortly after which all of the adults start acting strangely. Teaming up with a pair of doctors, the trio must try and thwart the martians’ plans. As part of the reaction to the “red scare” of the 1950s, in which communism was a very real and present terror for Americans, Invaders predates the not-dissimilar Invasion of the Body Snatchers by three years. However, the costumes, special effects, script, and plot are all so much more simplified that the film never really escapes its B-movie origins. It’s still a fun watch, but it’s more of a Saturday afternoon movie than a Friday night flick.
The Special Features: This newly restored and updated Blu-ray from Ignite comes loaded with extra features. There are Interviews with stars and crew from the film; a featurette with notable directors Joe Dante, John Landis, and other filmmakers; a before-and-after film restoration comparison; remastered trailers; a 20-page collector’s booklet, and more!
The Wrap-Up: While Invaders From Mars isn’t one of those films that is a true classic, it’s still a seminal sci-fi movie from the formative years of the genre that gets a proper special edition release here. A must-have for fans!


The Movie: If this 1991 action cult-classic had starred Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would probably be a household name (with several sequels!) Instead, McBain stars Christopher Walken as a former Vietnam War soldier who is enlisted by the sister of the man who saved his life during the war to get revenge for her brother’s murder. So McBain rounds up the soldier’s former unit and they head down to Colombia to take on… seemingly everyone, but mostly drug cartels and a corrupt dictator’s forces. What follows is jungle mayhem, gunfights galore, and a truly impressive body count. What you don’t get is any sense of subtlety or style, as director James Glickenhaus is best known for low-budget, high octane action movies that kept video store shelves stocked well in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Still, with Walken in the lead role alongside welcome supporting players Maria Conchita Alonso and Michael Ironside, this feels like more of a movie than the endless no-name junk that we suffered through in the ‘90s. At least, it’s a little bit better.
The Special Features: While not quite a true bonus feature, there is a new 5.1 surround sound mix created especially for this release, but the original theatrical soundtrack is included as well. You also get a new audio commentary track with director James Glickenhaus and film historian Chris Poggiali, plus the original trailer.
The Wrap-Up: McBain isn’t an action masterpiece, but honestly, if you’re like me and you’re always looking for an ‘80s or ‘90s action film you haven’t already seen, this is a fun enough way to kill a couple of hours.

Day Zero 

The Movie: Most zombie movies these days feature a rag-tag band of survivors, typically relatively average people, trying to survive against hordes of the undead. The Filipino zombie flick Day Zero does something a little bit different by giving us a glimpse of what happens when an absolute bad-ass (think John Rambo) goes up against the undead. Former MMA fighter Brandon Vera plays Emon, a man who’s spent the past eight years in prison and is just set free to return to his wife and daughter when all hell breaks loose. Fighting his way through the devastation, Emon knows how to fight and kill, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re living or dead, he won’t let you get in his way. Now, on the good side of things I really liked this approach. As an action-movie fan, it was nice to see constant action sequences that just happen to be set in a zombie-filled setting instead of the usual cops and bad guys, etc. On the less good side of things, the film doesn’t 100% work. It’s pretty solid overall, but there are some pacing issues and some weak story areas that keep it from really achieving the status of something special. Still, at the end of the day, it’s a fun and action-packed watch.
The Special Features: There are no extra features on this disc, unfortunately.
The Wrap-UpDay Zero takes a slightly different approach than usual to the zombie genre. It’s not a complete slam dunk, but it’s a solid viewing experience for fans of the genre.

The Draughstman’s Contract and A Zed & Two Naughts & The Falls: Two Films by Peter Greenaway 

The Movie(s): I’ll be honest, I was not overly familiar with British director Peter Greenaway before these two releases (comprising three separate films) crossed my desk. But they sounded like intriguing films, so I dove in. It turns out, Greenaway is best known for his 1989 hit, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover. Before that, though, he made a number of films that drifted between genres and styles and levels of experimentation. 1982’s The Draughtsman’s Contract comes as a standalone release from Kino Lorber, and it’s clearly one of Greenaways more mainstream efforts. Ostensibly a murder mystery/comedy but with deep sexual undertones, the film is quite enjoyable and quirky enough to stand out but linear enough to feel cohesive and narratively strong. Meanwhile, Kino Lorber also has a separate release, a double feature, of 1985’s A Zed & Two Naughts and 1980’s The Falls, which was Greenaway’s feature-length debut film.  The Falls is an odd bird, focusing on the 92 victims of something called VUE, or Violent Unknown Event, through surreal means. It’s not a particularly narratively structured movie, though, and it feels more like an art project than a proper film. There’s a lot of decay in the film. Like, a lot a lot. A Zed & Two Naughts, on the other hand, is more narratively structured – I mean, sort of – but man, is it weird. I can’t even do the plot justice, but it feels like a cross between David Cronenberg’s Crash and Dead Ringers, yet also nothing like either of those films because it’s so out there. These two movies were not quite my cup of tea.
The Special Features: The Draughstman’s Contract includes an audio commentary with Peter Greenaway along with a 10-minute video introduction; four deleted scenes, about 10 minutes of archival b-roll footage and cast interviews; four short films by Greenaway that run about 40 minutes total, an interview with the film’s composer, and the trailer. Meanwhile, A Zed & Two Naughts and The Falls provides an audio commentary with Peter Greenaway along with a 6-minute video introduction; two short films by Greenaway; Vertical Features Remake (44 minutes); and more.
The Wrap-Up: When I first got these discs, I couldn’t figure out why Kino Lorber didn’t just make a triple-feature release, but after watching them it became quite clear that The Draughtsman’s Contract is a completely different kind of film than A Zed & Two Naughts and The Falls, so the separate releases make a lot more sense.

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