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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: Babylon 5, The Mandalorian, The Hunger Games, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Love Actually, The Color Purple and more

It’s an interesting week this week, as the studios have already dropped most of their biggest product for the holiday season. However, there are some great catalog and TV releases this week as well as some foreign and arthouse offerings. Check it out!

Babylon 5: The Complete Series

The ShowBabylon 5 returns to home video for the first time in years and I could not be more excited about it! Back in the 1990s, we were lucky enough to get not one, but two of the best science fiction shows ever on TV at the same time. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 aired at the same time, and while a lot of fans chose one camp or another, I like to think that most of us eventually figured out that they were both simply amazing storytelling unlike anything else on TV at the time. After a five-year run, Babylon 5 came to an end, and while there have been a few follow-up TV movies in the years since, it wasn’t until this year that we got a new animated movie called Babylon 5: The Road Home. And I figured that was going to be it for another couple of years. But now, just in time for the holidays, we have Babylon 5: The Complete Series! It’s the first time all five seasons of this wonderful show have been collected on Blu-ray, and each episode has been remastered for high def. Now, this doesn’t mean we get all-new special effects like Star Trek: The Next Generation did back in the day, but the show does look better than we’ve ever seen it. Plus, it’s just so damn good! I do wish Warner had collected all of the TV movies and even the short-lived Crusade show into the set as well, as that would have made it truly complete, but I’m really not complaining.
The Special Features: Sadly, there are no extra features on the set. The original two-hour movie is included and listened as an extra, but since it’s really like the pilot episode, I don’t count that.
The Wrap-Up: I’d love a new Babylon 5 TV series as much as the next fan, but for now, I’m excited to be able to go back and watch the entire series all over again, now remastered and on Blu-ray for the first time. If you’re a Babylon 5 fan, trust me when I tell you that you will really enjoy this trip back to the B5 universe!

The Mandalorian: Seasons 1 and 2 

The Show: I don’t know if anything has had as large a cultural impact on the Star Wars landscape as The Mandalorian. Not only did it become the show everyone was talking about, but it also introduced the words “Baby Yoda” into the pop culture lexicon. (Sure, we all now know that he’s Grogu, but Baby Yoda as a term probably isn’t going away any time soon.) Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni’s excellent show follows Din Djarin, a Mandalorian mercenary who is just sort of going through life until he gets saddled with a bounty; the aforementioned Baby Yoda. Their relationship grows and Din finds himself going against his code and the rules of bounty hunting, leading to all kinds of adventures and some pretty neat Star Wars-y moments. The show has been exclusive to the Disney+ streaming service, but now the studio has released the firs two seasons on Blu-ray, and not only that, but they come in gorgeous Steelbook cases. If you’ve been wondering what all the hype was about, now is your chance to find out, and the timing is particularly excellent as we’re heading into a winter with very little new television thanks to the recent Hollywood strikes. 
The Special Features: Both sets come with three exclusive concept art cards. Season 1 includes two making-of featurettes that run about 15 minutes total, while Season 2 features a different pair of featurettes that run about the same. 
The Wrap-Up: Whether you’re watching The Mandalorian for the first time or re-watching them for the seventh, I really love these two home video releases. The Steelbook cases are a sight to behold, and I’m always a proponent of having a physical media copy of a program you love in your collection. This is the way!

The Hunger Games: 4-Movie Steelbook Collection 


The MoviesThe Hunger Games is one of the biggest franchises of the past decade, grossing over a billion dollars at the box office and making instant stars out of Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. For my money, while not quite as good as the books (is any movie adaptation ever, though?), The Hunger Games films are pretty cool movies. The first film had a lot to get through and a lot of set up, so while I enjoy it quite a bit, it isn’t until the sequel that things really kicked into high gear. And what a sequel it is! I absolutely LOVE Catching Fire. Somehow, it manages to improve on the first film in every way. The performances are better, the stakes are higher, the visuals are stronger, and the emotional impact is way more intense. The third and fourth films are both solid entries; I like them both, but neither of them quite hits the heights of the first two films. While the Hunger Games movies have already been available on multiple formats, now we have a new Ultra 4K HD Steelbook Collection, which includes all four movies on 4K Ultra HD in a gorgeous collector’s case. (It’s currently a Wal-Mart exclusive.)
The 4K Audio/Video: So, are the Hunger Games films worth the upgrade to 4K Ultra HD? Well, yes and no. There’s no denying that the picture quality is outstanding, as is the surround sound. Dynamic colors, razor sharp imagery, active surround effects, and a thumping low end bass are all present. But of course, the original Blu-rays looked pretty fantastic as well. I guess it really depends on just how much of a picture/sound quality purist you really are.
The Special Features: Unfortunately, some of the bonus materials from the original releases are not included here, but there is still a pretty good amount of extras to be found. Each movie includes a commentary track, and then each of the last three films also include a multi-part documentary (comprised of several featurettes) that each run well over two hours! The first film is the lightest in terms of supplements, with just a couple of featurettes included. There are also digital copies of each movie in the set. 
The Wrap-Up: While I think maybe The Hunger Games franchise would have worked better as a trilogy than a quadrilogy – I don’t really think the third book needed to be broken into two films – I do love these movies and they remain perennially popular. This fantastic and well-packaged collection is a great way to add the films to both your 4K Ultra HD and digital libraries with style. 

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

The Movie: I love Daniel Radcliffe. In the wake of the Harry Potter films he could have sat back on his laurels, or just chased blockbuster after blockbuster. Instead, he clearly takes on roles he has an interest in and thinks will be fun, and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a perfect example of that. Sure, the idea of Harry Potter playing Weird Al Yankovic in a film seems ridiculous on the surface, but when you watch the film, it’s like it’s the role that Radcliffe was born to play. The film is a “biopic” of Weird Al Yankovic, and the quotes around the word “biopic” are not just bad grammar. This is a biopic that is completely made up. There may be a few kernels of truth here and there, but unless you think Weird Al really took on a drug cartel in South America with Madonna by his side, you can’t take any of this stuff at face value. Which is what makes the movie so funny. It’s perfectly on brand for Weird Al; it’s ridiculous and over-the-top and incredibly funny, and as long as you know what you’re in for, you should have a ton of fun with it. Radcliffe and Evan Rachel Wood (impeccable as Madonna) are fantastic in the lead roles, and I’m glad the movie is now on home video for more people to enjoy.
The Special Features: This disc is loaded with extra features, starting with a commentary track featuring Weird Al himself and the movie’s director, Eric Appel. There is also a making-of feature, deleted/alternate scenes, a Late Night with Seth Meyers interview with Weird Al and Daniel Radcliffe, a Variety interview with Radcliff, Appel, and Evan Rachel Wood, a The Wrap Interview with Yankovic and Appel, and a few more fun bonuses. 
The Wrap-UpWeird: The Al Yankovic Story isn’t an easy movie to categorize, but ultimately it’s a parody/comedy that fires on all cylinders and is extremely enjoyable. What more do you need to know?

Love Actually (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: I’m not sure that anyone making Love Actually realized they were making a movie that would go on to become a beloved favorite year after year. The movie gets a lot of play at Christmastime (as it does have a Christmas theme throughout), but at its heart it’s an ensemble dramedy that’s equal parts drama and comedy. There are heartwarming moments and heartbreaking moments, and it’s all anchored by an amazing cast that turn in a series of excellent performances. Emma Thompson especially shines, as do Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Andrew Lincoln, and Martine McCutcheon. I’ve always really enjoyed Love Actually, and it’s become one of those movies that I end up watching every few years and then falling in love with all over again. It’s such a fun experience to watch the movie, forget all the small details, and then watch it again and pick up on everything all over again. Now, the film has been released on 4K Ultra HD for the first time. 
The 4K Audio/Video: 4K Ultra HD releases of older movie can often be a bit of a mixed bag. The format offers up improvements over Blu-ray, obviously, but it’s not like you can magically transform the source elements from a movie that’s 20 years old. However, Love Actually does look and sound quite nice in 4K. Image clarity is razor sharp, colors pop nicely, and the film looks warm and natural. The surround soundtrack is a little front-channel heavy, but since the driving force of the film is the dialogue and the music, that makes sense. That said, both the dialogue and music sound terrific, but don’t expect too much from the rear surround channels outside of some of the crowd scenes.
The Special Features: There’s a brand new feature that includes writer; director Richard Curtis and some of the cast talking about the film’s impact 20 years later, which is pretty cool. There are also two featurettes, two music videos, deleted scenes, and a commentary track. Very nice!
The Wrap-UpLove Actually is a delightful film that deserves its well-loved status. I’m happy to add the film to my 4K collection (and my digital library as well.) If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, now’s the perfect time to give it a re-watch and fall in love with it all over again. 

The Color Purple (4K Ultra HD)

The Movie: As part of Warner Bros.’ 100th anniversary celebration, the studio is releasing new 4K Ultra HD releases of some of their most popular and critically-acclaimed titles from the past 100 years. This week, just in time for the new theatrical version to hit theaters, we have a new version of The Color Purple, the original film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg. I’m a pretty big Spielberg fan, and this movie is from a period in his career when he was veering away from big-budget blockbusters and moving more towards character-driven dramas. The film follows the life of Celie Johnson, an African-American woman in the early 1900s who suffers abuse from her father — and eventually her husband — and faces numerous hardships throughout her life. It’s a moving drama, even if it’s occasionally a bit of a tough watch. However, the cast is incredible, with not a bad performance in the bunch, and it’s hard not to find yourself rooting for Celie and wrapped up in her life. It’s not the kind of movie I’m throwing on every Friday night, but it’s hard to deny what a powerful film The Color Purple is. 
The 4K Audio/VideoThe Color Purple gets a nice audiovisual boost on 4K Ultra HD, and it looks and sounds very good in the premium format. The color saturation is quite vibrant, image clarity is sharp, and shadow delineation is very strong, helpful in a film that feature some significant scenes that take place at night. The surround soundtrack seems like it could be a dialogue-and-music-only affair, but the soundfield is active, bringing the sounds of the town to life around your speaker channels. Clear dialogue rings true and the overall soundtrack result is a strong one. 
The Special Features: There are three making-of featurettes that total about an hour and 20 minutes, plus a short featurette about the musical, and then the fi;’s trailer is included as well. 
The Wrap-UpThe Color Purple came out in 1985, so it’s bene almost 40 years since we’ve had a new version of it. I’m not sure how the new theatrical movie will be, but if you want to experience a powerful drama by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, this new catalogue title upgrade will serve you well. 

Shaun the Sheep: The Complete Series

The Show: I’ve loved Shaun the Sheep since he first appeared in the classic third Wallace & Gromit short film, A Close Shave. My kids enjoyed his TV series when they were young, and now this home video release of Shaun the Sheep: The Complete Series reminds us of what a charming and funny show it is. With almost no dialogue at all, the show relies heavily on visual gags and the sort of mumbled emotive language that’s populated the TV show. It’s usually simple enough plots, but there are some really funny moments in every episode, and it manages to be great for the little ones while remaining equally charming for adults. This new set is the first time the entire series has been collected on Blu-ray, giving you six seasons – almost 20 hours’ worth – of episodes! It’s a ton of fun and a great gift for younger viewers.
The Special Features: There are two specials (or one-off episodes), The Farmer’s Llamas and The Flight Before Christmas, as well as two collections of shorts, Mossy Bottom Shorts and Championsheeps Shorts.
The Wrap-UpShaun the Sheep is just a great kids show and it’s fun for adults to watch as well. This terrific new box set allows you to own the entire collection in one convenient box set. 

Ancient Aliens: Season 18 

The Show: I kind of can’t believe this show has been on for 18 seasons now. I don’t even know what to say about it anymore. Honestly, I find Ancient Aliens mildly interesting but that’s about the extent of it. It explores everything surrounding the possibility of aliens visiting earth in the past, and while some of it comes off as the theories of crazy people, most of it is approached from an academic point of view. I’ve made this complaint before, but while Ancient Aliens is easily watchable, the lack of any concrete answers or hard evidence can get frustrating, and it keeps the show from being something I can get all that into. This newest season collection includes 10 episodes and comprises the whole season (whereas the past several seasons have been split into two volumes.) Subject matter this season includes Edgar Cayce, alien petroglyphs, the pyramids, UFO hunters, mysterious islands, and – of course – the Greek gods. It’s the usual mix of interesting topics, slightly goofy theories, and aliens of all kinds. 
The Special Features: As usual with this series, there are no extra features. 
The Wrap-Up: If you’re a die-hard fan of Ancient Aliens, this latest season will round out your collection. Some of the past few seasons have featured less episodes, so it’s nice to see the show getting back to full and robust seasons. 

Mercy Road

The Movie: Luke Bracey and Toby Jones star in this new thriller that mixes crime story with a possibly supernatural vibe. The film starts with Bracey having committed a sudden and violent crime, and now on the search for his missing young daughter. When a mysterious caller rings in, he begins giving Bracey instructions he must follow to get his daughter back. Unfortunately, these instructions get Bracey into hotter and hotter water. Like the similarly-constructed film Locke (which featured nothing but Tom Hardy in a car for its entire running time), this film is also set almost entirely inside Bracey’s cab. It’s an intriguing premise that starts off strong, but the film loses steam as it goes, and the ending is the weakest spot, failing to give viewers the answers that I suspect most people will want. Bracey does the best he can in the circumstances, and Toby Jones adds a lot of extra value as the caller, but the film never quite gels the way I wanted it to. 
The Special Features: There are no extra features, sadly. 
The Wrap-UpMercy Road is an intriguing effort that makes the most out of its limited budget, but the end result just never quite pulls off a successful story. A better ending could have made the difference, but as it is, the film is just an interesting experiment. 

Before, Now & Then 

The Movie: This Indonesian drama is a tough watch for those looking for lighter fare; although, if you’re looking for lighter fare, this movie probably won’t attract you to it. However, if you’re in search of a moving drama and you like foreign films, Before, Now & Then has a lot to offer you. The film focuses on a Muslim woman and follows her through two decades of her life, starting during World War II and continuing through the 1960s. She lost her husband during the war and even much later in life, continues to dream of him. These dreams drive a lot of the film, as does her friendship with another woman later in life. It’s not the most narratively-driven film in the world, it’s more of a character study and a look at relationships, dreams, and freedom. There are also some excellent performances by the two lead actresses. That said, the film is slow going at times, and I can’t say I was ever fully invested in it. To be fair, foreign dramas aren’t exactly my go-to genre so if you lean in that direction more, you might have a different experience with the film.   
The Special Features: I wasn’t expecting any extras, but you do get Following Diana, an Indonesian short film.
The Wrap-Up: I can appreciate a film like Before, Now & Then more than I can say that I enjoyed it, but it does feature strong lead performances and is a well-made film. If you’re looking for a serious film with some ephemeral qualities to it, this one will fit the bill. 

The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra

The Movie: With a title that sound like a textbook for chiropractors, I really had no idea what to expect from The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, a new film from South Korea, but I can tell you it wasn’t what I got. This is one of those movies where the official synopsis can do a better job of describing it than I can, so here goes: “A creature born in an abandoned mattress travels around the country feasting on its victims’ vertebrae, struggling to break free from the bed, the mold, and its past.” Um, sure. Okay. While the film is often categorized as a horror movie, it’s really more of an atmospheric drama, albeit one with a fungus at its core. This isn’t some gory creature flick, but rather a movie about a sort of consciousness that strives for connection of a sort with the people it comes into contact with. I’ll be honest, this movie wasn’t really for me, although at least at just over an hour long, it wasn’t something I had to sit through for too long. 
The Special Features: There are no extra feature on this disc. 
The Wrap-Up: I know there’s an audience out there who will proclaim that The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra is brilliant, and it may very well be, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. Still, if you like more offbeat movies that have a supernatural vibe to them, you will probably enjoy this one. 

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