It’s a huge release week this week, with no less than four recent theatrical releases, some massive hit TV shows, kids’ movies, and one beautiful high end collector’s set. Read on!
Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – The first Hitman’s Bodyguard film was a fun action comedy with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson that was enjoyable but completely forgettable, and in NO way needed a sequel. But we got one anyway, and now Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard exists (and has one of the worst movie titles ever.) This time, Salma Hayek is added to the mix as a third lead actor (as Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, natch), a lethal firebrand of her own. The film is fast-paced and action packed, and that’s good. It’s also pretty much two hours straight of people yelling at each other, and adding Salma Hayek’s shrill scream to the mix makes for a severe case of sensory overload. It’s not a bad movie per se, but man, it is exhausting. I felt physically tired after watching it. The second half is definitely better than the first half, so it does get better as it goes, but it’s… well, it’s a lot.
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It – I’ve never really been able to get fully on board with the Conjuring movies. The first film had such an incredible trailer and then I found the film itself didn’t live up to the quality of that preview, while the second film was… just okay. Now, we have The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It, which got me interested thanks to another stellar trailer. But once again, the film came up wanting. I didn’t dislike it; it kept me watching until the end, but it just never found its way into really engrossing territory. It kind of ambles along, with an occasional scare here or there, but at no point did I feel my pulse ever get above normal. The performances by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (as well as the lesser known supporting cast) are quite good, but the film ends up, once again, falling squarely into that “just okay” territory for me.
Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season – For most of its run, I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with Fear the Walking Dead. I’ll watch a season and think, “meh,” and then I’ll watch the next season and be blown away by it. So then I get excited for the next season and it falls back into “meh” territory, and so on and so on. But, I keep coming back to it, and I’m happy to report that Season Six, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, is one of the good ones. The show’s cast has really hit a sweet spot, with a couple of original Fear characters surviving, but the combination of Morgan and Dwight from the original TWD show mixing things up. This season sees our group deal with a big bad called The Pioneers, an underground settlement, and even flashes into the future, and I definitely dug what the creators were doing. The Walking Dead universe is clearly past its prime, but it still manages to give us some entertaining television more often than not.
Dune: Arrow Video Collector’s Edition – I’ve been singing the praises of Arrow Video’s Collector’s Edition releases for the past couple of years, and while they’re all top-quality releases, there are few things in the home video world as beautiful as an Arrow Video Box Set. And this week we get none other than Dune, the 1984 David Lynch sci-fi cult classic. Now, I know some people aren’t fans of this film, and while I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, I do love the ambition of David Lynch trying to create the world of Arrakis in the 1980s with the comparatively limited technology of the time. But if you’re a fan of the film, I promise you you’re going to want this new Collector’s Edition box set. Available on Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD, the set includes the film itself remastered in 4K, so that right there is huge. Then you get archival special features, including almost a dozen featurettes (mostly made in the early 2000s) and 11 deleted scenes. You also get two new audio commentaries and three new featurettes (including a very cool one on the film’s merchandise!). But then there are the physical goodies in the box, which includes a mini-poster, six postcards, and a beautiful 60-page full-color booklet. It’s all wrapped up in a sturdy box with super cool sandworm art, which is the cherry on top. Once again, Arrow Video proves that no one is doing collector’s edition home video releases better than they are! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
In The Heights – Co-written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Jon M. Chu (who directed the first couple Step Up films, as well as many others), this musical is actually based on Miranda’s first play, the one that made his name before he exploded with the success of Hamilton. It’s hefty, weighing in at almost two-and-a-half hours, but I will say that as someone who doesn’t usually love musicals, I found it largely enjoyable. It’s a little too long, but the story (about a bodega owner in New York hoping and dreaming about his future) is endearing, the cast of characters is colorful, and the music is quite good. The song and dance numbers are big in scale and expertly choreographed, and it’s hard not to eventually get sucked into the joy of it. I don’t know if it’s the kind of movie that I personally will gravitate back to for repeat viewings, but it was enjoyable to watch it once.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – The first Peter Rabbit movie was an enjoyable family film about the famed rabbit from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s books. While the film obviously expanded on Potter’s relatively short narrative, it was fun and funny, especially for younger viewers. Now we have Peter Rabbit 2, which was one of the early casualties of the pandemic as it was scheduled to be released for Easter 2020, which is of course right when everything shut down. But it’s now available on home video, and this time around Peter heads into the big city and, predictably, gets into trouble right away. Once again, James Corden plays Peter, and I know there are people out there who find him irksome, but I really like him and I think he’s fun in these movies. This sequel is nothing special, but it’s once again an enjoyable enough romp, and younger viewers will get a kick out of it. Peter Rabbit 2 comes to home video on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD), and it looks and sounds quite good in the premium format. The colors are the real star of the show, popping off the screen and pairing with sharp image clarity. The surround soundtrack, meanwhile, offers up a nice soundscape, giving your rear speakers constant activity, even if it’s not the most nuanced mix I’ve ever heard. Overall, a good presentation of a family friendly film.
Labyrinth (4K Ultra HD Steelbook) – If you remember Labyrinth fondly from your childhood, I’m about to make you feel old: this new edition is the 35th Anniversary(!) Edition of the film. To celebrate, Sony has given us the movie on the 4K Ultra HD format in a gorgeous Steelbook collector’s case. I probably don’t have to tell you much about Labyrinth at this point; it’s got David Bowie and a young Jennifer Connelly and lots of Jim Henson creations, and it’s a much loved film from the 80s. What I can tell you is that the new 4K version of the film looks and sounds quite good, even if it’s not an audiovisual rebirth of the movie. When films are this old, the 4K transfers tend to act as more of a clean up than a full transformation. The film looks bright and clean, colors pop more, and image clarity is the sharpest I’ve seen for the film on home video, but there’s no mistaking that it was made three decades ago. The surround soundtrack sends action to the various speakers in your arsenal, but there’s not a lot of subtlety to the mix, giving you an immersive sound field but not one that places every sound in its own discrete location. Still, I would say this is the best Labyrinth has looked and sounded in the past 35 years, and the Steelbook case and included digital copy make this a worthy pick-up for fans.
Beasts of No Nation – Cary Fukunaga has had quite a varied career in a short time, having been on the Hollywood scene for less than 20 years, but already racking up credits as a writer, producer, and director on some notable projects (such as screenwriting Stephen King’s It and the upcoming James Bond outing No Time to Die). But his biggest creative impact to date would have to be Beasts of No Nation, the critically acclaimed 2015 film which he wrote, produced, and directed. The film stars Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, and tells the story of a child in Ghana who is conscripted into a rebel army and forced to become a trained killer against his will. The film may be classified as a drama, but it veers almost into horror territory, as Fukunaga doesn’t pull any punches and shows us the extreme violence and horrible circumstances these children are subjected to. It’s a film that will leave you disturbed and drained, but there’s no denying the talent at work both being the scenes and on screen. The Criterion Collection has given us a new version of the film, offering restored and remastered picture and sound as well as new extra features that dive into the creation of the film. Beasts of No Nation is not an easy watch, but if you can tough it out, it’s a rewarding experience, even if it makes you a little sadder about the world.
Finding You – Sometimes a film doesn’t need big stars or a high concept to be extremely enjoyable, and Finding You is one of those films. Written and directed by Brian Baugh (based on the Jenny B. Jones book, ‘There You’ll Find Me’), the film offers no well-known stars and a simple story, yet somehow it manages to be quite charming. The story is familiar: an American college student goes abroad to rural Ireland for a semester, only to find a charming young movie star is staying in the same bed & breakfast in an effort to avoid fans and paparazzi while filming his newest movie. Of course, there’s a reluctance to begin any kind of relationship, but I think we all know that eventually, something’s gonna happen. But while the story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the film has a terrific lighthearted tone, strong performances, endearing supporting characters, and a sweetness to it that makes it a really enjoyable watch. Definitely check this one out if you want a fun romantic film that is familiar but still manages to feel fresh.
Are You Afraid of the Dark: Curse of the Shadows – Are You Afraid of the Dark was an incredibly popular show for younger audiences that aired on Nickelodeon for seven seasons in the 1990s and hooked into the same vein that made the Goosebumps books so popular. After a nearly 20 year hiatus, the show returned to Nickelodeon in 2019 as a three-episode miniseries that featured new characters and stories. Now it’s returned once again, with a new six-episode series called Curse of the Shadows. In this new series, we are introduced to a new Midnight Society in a new town, and when one of the members goes missing, it kicks off the events of the show. As usual, AYAOTD manages to really nail the tone of the show; it’s perfect for kids in that it’s scary enough to feel dangerous and subversive but not scary enough to really freak kids out too much.It’s perfect viewing for tweens and slightly younger kids who like a good thrill or chill. And both kids and adults will once again dig this new series and I won’t be surprised if nostalgic parents enjoy watching this new version with their own kids!
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- NCIS Los Angeles: The Twelfth Season – While I’ve never been an overly big fan of the entire NCIS franchise, it’s been a constant presence on the television landscape for almost two decades now. I’ve lost count but I think there are, like 14 spin-off series now. This week, we get the latest home video release one of the most popular entries, NCIS Los Angeles. With series stalwarts LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell in tow, this season sees a whole Russian spy subplot that carries through several episodes, and it makes for a pretty good story that I dug. LL and O’Donnell (and the rest of the cast) have good chemistry as always, and the show remains an enjoyable enough distraction in its twelfth season. Even though I don’t watch this show on the regular, I can appreciate a few episodes here and there when the DVD sets come around.
- The Spanish Princess: Part 2 – A very pregnant Spanish Princess graces the cover of The Spanish Princess: Part 2, which gives you some idea of what Season 2 focuses on. The first season told us the story of Catherine of Aragorn coming to England to marry the Prince (in a strategic union more than a romantic one), and dealing with multiple potential husbands after some convoluted events. Now, in the second season, Catherine and Henry are a couple, but he goes off to battle and then begins to suffer from debilitating mental illness, which puts their entire future at risk. The show is a high-budget period drama along the lines of Outlander or Game of Thrones (minus all the, you know, dragons and incest), and over the course of eight episodes, there’s no shortage of drama, intrigue, betrayal, battle, and romance. It’s not a show I go out of my way to watch, but catching up with it on DVD and binge watching is a solid viewing experience.
- Spirit: Untamed – The original Spirit animated film was never a big hit, but I always thought it was a highly underrated movie. Created by Dreamworks, the film followed a spirited (pun intended) horse who went through a number of trials and tribulations, and I’m not ashamed to say it brought me to tears more than once. It was an adventure-drama movie that just happened to be animated. Now, almost 20 years after the original film (and with an animated series a few years back), we have Spirit: Untamed, a CGI-animated film that completely ignores everything hat made the first film so great. Longtime readers of this column know I will refer to the “Girl With A Horse” genre at least once a month, and that’s exactly what Spirit: Untamed is. It’s the story of a girl who moves out of the big city and befriends Spirit, only to have to try and foil a horse wrangling thief who wants to steal Spirit and his friends. Like I haven’t seen that movie a million times before. Despite a terrific A-list cast, which includes Julianne Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Walton Goggins, and Andre Braugher, the film just lacks any trace of originality or creativity. Skip this one (unless you have young girls in your house, as they will likely enjoy it) and go rewatch the original instead.
- Coraline & The Boxtrolls: Laika Studios Editions – Laika Studios hasn’t become quite the household name as, say Pixar, but they consistently put out creative and beautiful stop-motion animation movies. They have four films coming to home video in new editions, and the first two have dropped: Coraline and The Boxtrolls. I’ll be honest, as much as I like Laika’s films, I’m not a fan of The Boxtrolls at all. Coraline, however, based on a story by Neil Gaiman, is delightful, and it’s a clear precursor to the quality Laika brought to their magnum opus, Kubo and the Two Strings. Both films are out in new special editions that include the movies on both Blu-ray and DVD, and each one includes several new extra features, including making-of featurettes, test footage, storyboards, concept art, and more, as well as a few archival features. If you’re a fan of these films and don’t already have them, these new versions are top notch.
- Occupation: Rainfall – Occupation was an Australian sci-fi/action flick that came out in 2018 and featured your typical “aliens invade Earth, humans try to fight them off” kind of story. There were parts of it I actually enjoyed quite a bit, and despite its low budget it was a solid little flick, even if it kind of lost its way toward the end. I guess it garnered enough of a fan following to give us a sequel, the new film Occupation: Rainfall. With a few cast members returning (including Temeura Morrison), the new entry picks up two years later, as the surviving humans try to mount a new resistance against the invading aliens who have wiped out much of the earth. The films seems to have a little bigger budget this time around and there is no shortage of action, which is nice. I don’t know that Occupation really needed a sequel, but at least the one we got is on the same level of enjoyment as the first film.
- Murdoch Mysteries: Season 14 – The popular British/Canadian mystery show returns! If you’re not already a fan of the show, Murdoch Mysteries is a forensic procedural, but it’s set in turn of the century Toronto, right on the cusp of the age of scientific discovery. This fourteenth setting gives it a feel that’s different from your typical NCIS or CSI show, plus the fact that it’s set in Canada gives it a unique charm of its own. This season gives us 11 episodes (shorter than usual, maybe a result of COVID?) and sees the Inspector dealing with the usual issues from the time period: murder, murder, and more murder (plus a kidnapping). The season premiere features a young comedian visiting the city named Charlie Chaplin, which was a lot of fun. The show is enjoyable and endearing, filled with good mysteries, excellent acting, and amazing period-era production values. Mystery fans, if you STILL haven’t checked out Murdoch Mysteries, what are you waiting for?
- Total Control: Season 1 – While sometimes it seems like the US has the trademark on political strife, lots of other countries in the world deal with it as well. In the new Australian series Total Control, we get a glimpse into that world. In the show, Alex Irving (a fierce Debrah Mailman) is hand selected by the Australian Prime Minister (Rachel Griffiths) to replace a Senator who’s died. Her rookie experience coupled with her willingness to say and do whatever needs to be said and done makes for some engaging viewing. This first season is six episodes long, and I will say that the show takes an episode or tow to get really going, but once it does, it’s hard to turn it off. Mailman and Griffiths are both superb, and the main character has that political maverick approach that is quite entrancing. Definitely worth a watch!
- Balthazar: Season 3 – Acorn Media also brings us the third season of another hit crime show with Balthazar: Series 3, a French crime-drama procedural set in Paris. The show focuses on forensic pathologist Raphael Balthazar, a gifted scientist who can decipher deadly events like no one else. This season picks up six months after the end of Season 2, with a devastated and depressed Balthazar effectively hiding from the world. Of course, it isn’t long before he’s swept back up into solving cases. Of course, we get the usual procedural episode-by-episode mysteries but there is also a tantalizing overarching mystery involving the murder of Balthazar’s wife over a decade earlier. Yes, this show is in French with English subtitles, but if you’re looking for a new crime procedural to binge, this one offers up a different flavor than the rest.
- Bloodlands – James Nesbitt has been an actor for a long time, and you may or may not recognize him, but for me, he’ll always be the guy who starred in Murphy’s Law, an Irish TV series that ran for five seasons in the early 2000s. I absolutely loved this show and Nesbitt was amazing in it, so anytime I have the chance to watch him in something new, I’m going to. Which leads us to Bloodlands, a four-episode series starring Nesbitt as a hard-nosed cop out to solve a kidnapping case that may lead back to his wife’s disappearance many years before. The show is steeped in Irish history and politics, largely including 1998’s Good Friday Agreement, which admittedly I know little about. While I’d love to say this show is another slam dunk for Nesbitt, I found the story a bit confusing (probably due to my lack of knowledge of the background events) and not as exciting as I wanted it to be. Irish viewers might very well get more out of it than I did, but I was a little disappointed.
- Jurassic Hunt – I guess if you’re going to hunt genetically engineered dinosaurs, using rifles, arrows, and grenades instead of machine guns and bazookas is just sporting of you. That’s the basic premise of Jurassic Hunt… at least until things — predictably, of course — go wrong. I was ready to write this film off as pure junk, but it turns out it’s from Hank Braxton, who gave us the giant snake/gangsta mash-up Snake Outta Compton a few years ago. And it turns out that Jurassic Hunt is kinda fun, just like Snake was. I mean, it’s a B-movie through and through, and dinosaur special effects on a budget are always kind of painful to watch, but the movie has some real gusto and it aims for the sky, and the lead cast can actually act halfway worth a hoot. So is it a great film? No. Is it a fun movie to throw on with some movie-loving friends and a pizza? Absolutely.
- Englebert Humperdinck: Totally Amazing – Englebert Humperdinck is before my time, but I’ve always had a sort of odd fascination with him. I remember discovering he existed as a kid and my parents explaining to me that he CHOSE that name, largely to set himself apart from other singers. And I’ve always kind of respected that brio. And he became incredibly popular in his day, so you’ve gotta give him his due. This new Blu-ray release is an upgraded version of a 2008 release. Originally only put out on DVD, this concert film gives us “The Hump” singing 22 songs, now on Blu-ray for the first time. And as a special bonus, this edition includes a CD soundtrack of the concert, for the first time which is pretty cool. He may not be your cup of tea, but if you are an Englebert Humperdinck fan, this is the real deal.