Not the biggest week, not the smallest, but no huge A-list tiles means you can explore some smaller fare and discover some new favorites.
Reminiscence – Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson star in this new science fiction film, which is really more of a film noir in a sci-fi setting than it is true science fiction. Jackman stars as a man who runs a memory regeneration service; his equipment lets people relive favorite or long lost memories in an immersive, 3D environment that seems real and lifelike. His uninvolved lifestyle comes into jeopardy when a mysterious woman enters his life, triggering a search of existing memories to get to the truth. While the sci-fi stuff is front and center (including a neat post-flooded world setting that showcases some great special effects shots), the film is really your classic disheveled-detective-meets-femme-fatale storyline that is so prevalent in all the best film noir movies. I actually really liked Reminiscence; Jackman and Ferguson are terrific, the story has an intriguing central mystery, and it’s not afraid to take some chances with the characters and their plotlines. It’s not a fast-paced film, and while there are one or two action sequences, it’s not really an action film, but it is engaging and I found it rather enjoyable. I can see how some people might not go for it, but I think it’s worth a watch.
Respect – Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin in this new biopic that follows the Queen of Soul from her modest upbringings to the beginnings of her status as a legit musical icon. And I won’t be surprised if Hudson receives another Oscar nomination when the time comes; she carries the entire movie on her back. The film’s story is pretty standard fare, showing us Franklin’s hard youth and the struggles she went through to become a success, but we also get to hear a lot of her music mixed in, often being “created” on screen. And Hudson wisely doesn’t try to imitate Franklin exactly; instead, she channels her spirit and her vibe, and that gives her performance an authenticity that never seems forced. Respect runs maybe just a little too long for my tastes (it’s almost two-and-a-half hours) and never dives too deep into Franklin’s inner workings, but it’s a good flick that I think people will enjoy, if for nothing else than Hudson’s terrific performance.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Sixth Season – Of all the DC Universe shows on the CW, I feel like Legends of Tomorrow is the one you hear about the least. But here we are, six seasons in, and the show is still going strong. I think it has a really die-hard fan base of viewers who like the show’s over-the-top storylines and wacky time traveling aesthetic. Season Six continues the show’s journey with a missing member of the team having been possibly abducted by aliens and the alien threat running through the season. There’s also plenty of time travel taking our various intrepid explorers (second-tier DC characters like Waverider, The Atom, John Constantine, Heat Wave, etc.) all over the timeline, which always leads to some fun outings. It’s hard to say you should jump into this show if you’ve never watched it before, but fans of the series will want to add this new Blu-ray collection (also available on DVD) to their collection.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Complete Series – One of the most popular and influential anime series of all time has a new home video version out this week that will blow its fans away. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Complete Series is a new 5-disc Blu-ray set that brings the beloved show to Blu-ray for the first time. And not only does it include all 26 episodes, but it also gives you two movies, Evangelion: Death and The End of Evangelion. But beyond that, this set also includes over five hours of bonus features, including animatics, music videos, and more. The show gained acclaim and fan fervor through its blend of hardcore sci-fi action (Attacking creatures! Mech suits! Human pilots!) and a human story that remains front and center and lets you get involved in the characters. I’d seen bits and pieces of it over the years, but being able to sit down and watch it from start to finish delivers a much more powerful experience, and I can see why people have taken to it so fervently. There is also a deluxe 11-disc set available, but the 5-disc version should be more than enough to satisfy most fans.
The Emperor’s Sword – The latest original film from the action network Hi-Yah is The Emperor’s Sword, a period action film set in Ancient China. The story follows a powerful sword that is split in two to prevent too much power falling into the wrong hands. Of course, the wrong hands want the sword, so much of the film sees a race to find the sword and keep it from ending up in the service of evil. The film has some real pluses and minuses for me. On the plus side, the 90-minute running time is a welcome change of pace from most of the period action epics that often bloat to well over two hours. Also, the action sequences are well choreographed and look terrific. On the minus side, the story is occasionally a bit hard to follow, especially with flashbacks peppered in that sometimes made me lose track of where we were in the story. Still, fans of Asian action films will find a lot to like here.
Chernobyl 1986 – This Russian disaster film documents harrowing events that happened in the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion that destroyed a nuclear reactor and almost caused a disaster of epic proportions. The film doesn’t focus so much on the reactor explosion itself; instead, we follow a firefighter who is trying to release the water under Chernobyl before it can cause an explosion that would infect most of Europe and Asia with radioactivity. What the film really focuses on, though, is a romance between the lead character, firefighter Alexey, and his lost love, Olga. Which is the film’s fatal flaw. We sit through half an hour of the romance plot before we even get the first hint of an explosion or any danger. Then there are some good action set pieces, including some harrowing fire-filled scenes, but the film slows down too often to really be as good as I wanted it to be. It’s not a bad film, but it could have easily been 40 minutes shorter.
Also Available This Week on Home Video:
- Edmond – MVD’s Marquee Collection continues to bring us Blu-ray releases of underseen and underrated films, and this week MVD adds the little-seen but star-studded film Edmond to the collection. Featuring William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna, Julia Stiles, Denise Richards, Mena Suvari, and Bokeem Woodbine, the film is even more interesting when you realize it was written by none other than David Mamet and directed by Stuart Gordon, best known for low-budget horror flicks and the cult classic Re-Animator. Macy plays a man who visits a fortune teller and finds out that he’s not where he’s supposed to be in life, which leads to a spiral effect filled with sex, violence, and general weirdness. Honestly, with a more traditional director, this might be a pretty boring film. With Gordon at the helm, though, the film blends drama with crime and horror and even some black comedy, and the end result is pretty… offbeat. It won’t be for everyone, but the strong cast and the unusual filmmaking style will win over some fans for sure.
- Dirty Laundry – Also from MVD this week (this one as part of their Rewind Collection), we have the Blu-ray debut of the 1987 comedy Dirty Laundry. Starring Leigh McCloskey and Jeanne O’Brien, the film is basically a chase movie about a guy and his girlfriend who accidentally end up with a bag containing a million dollars of mob money in it. Honestly the most interesting thing about the film is a few of the supporting cast members/cameos, which include Sonny Bono, Frankie Valli (possibly the high point of the movie, surprisingly) and olympians Greg Louganis and Carl Lewis. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is pretty uninteresting, with a paper-thin plot that effectively is just one chase scene after another and moments of comedy that just aren’t very funny. I suspect this is one of those movies that was on constant replay on late night HBO in the late ‘80s, so nostalgic viewers may want to revisit it, but others will probably be better off skipping it.
- Land Girls: The Complete Collection – Out from PBS this week, we have the new six-disc collection Land Girls: The Complete Collection, which collects the entire 15-episode series from 2009-2011. This period drama follows four women and various supporting characters who are working on a farm during World War II; apparently, while the men were away at war, the women of the country helped run the farms that fed the nation. So we follow spoiled Nancy, everywoman Joyce, teenaged Bea, and unhappy Annie as they get entangled in their own lives and drama as well as the lives of the people who staff and run the main house. There are tinges of something like Downton Abbey here, although Land Girls never reaches the level of quality that Downton did. That’s not to say it’s a bad show; I actually found it rather enjoyable, although it stops well shy of being must-see TV. Still, for fans looking for a quick show to binge that you can easily get wrapped up in but not invest too much time with, Land Girls might do the trick.
- The Early Films of Lee Isaac Chung: Lucky Life, Abigail Harm, Munyuranga – Lee Isaac Chung gained some attention last year when his film Minari was nominated for a number of Academy Awards, taking home the statue for Best Supporting Actress for Youn Yuh-Jung. Now, Film Movement has put together a three-disc box set called The Early Films of Lee Isaac Chung, which lets viewers catch up on the director’s lesser seen works from before he gained attention with Minari. First up is 2007’s Munyurangabo, a non-romantic Romeo and Juliet tale about two teenagers in Rwanda who become friends, despite the fact that one of them is a Hutu and one is a Tutsi, two warring tribes. Then there’s 2010’s Lucky Life, a more traditional drama about a group of friends who travel to the beach to lift up one member of the clique who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the aftermath of his passing. Finally, the set includes 2012’s Abigail Harm, a film based on a Korean folk tale called The Woodcutter and the Nymph, and starring Amanda Plummer and Will Patton. All three films feature Chung’s sure hand behind the camera and his ability to elicit excellent performances from actors whether they be experienced veterans like Plummer and Patton or complete unknowns like, well, the entire cast of Munyurangabo. I think Munyurangabo might have been my favorite of the three, as I love a good story of real friendship. I wanted to enjoy Abigail Harm more than I did, as I like Will Patton a lot and had high hopes for it, but it’s a little bit out there for my tastes. Ultimately, though, viewers who were impressed with Minari will definitely want to track down this solid box set.
- Indie Spotlight – We have four new indie releases this week, spanning a number of genres including horror, drama, and romance. First up is Mania Killer, a new Blu-ray release from Full Moon that’s part of their Eurocine Collection line. This is an of-its-time horror flick, made and released in France in the 1970s but directed by Andrea Bianchi, an Italian giallo director. The film stars Chuck Connors and Bo Svenson, and it gives us a devil worshipping cult that’s killing prostitutes, a man trying to rescue his girlfriend, and even a mob of pimps. Yep. It’s over the top and bloody (and occasionally exploitative), and while I can’t say it was quite my cup of tea, there’s a huge audience out there looking for cult classic horror flicks just like this, and those fans will enjoy this remastered Blu-ray release quite a bit. Next up, we have a drama called Broken Diamonds. Starring Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) and Lola Kirk, this film blends drama and comedy as a young man takes in his schizophrenic sister in the wake of his father’s death. Platt is terrific as usual and Kirk delivers a strong performance as his sister, and the film surprised me a bit. The cover art is rather bland so I didn’t know what to expect, but I ended up finding it an enjoyable film overall. Staying in the genre drama but adding an erotic component, we have Curiosa, a French film from 2019. Apparently the film is loosely based on the real-life romance between 19th-century authors Pierre Louÿs and Marie de Régnier, but I’ll be honest and say that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me because I have no idea who they are. The actual plot is relatively familiar in the period drama realm: a woman is required to marry a man she doesn’t love instead of her lover who she is passionate about, but of course, marriage doesn’t mean the end of everything. Featuring a copious amount of nudity (oftentimes used in conjunction with erotic photography) the film is sensual without feeling cheap or merely titillating. It’s a little slow in places, but good performances and the romance factor keep will likely keep most viewers engaged. Finally, we have The Resonator, a Lovecraft-inspired horror/sci-fi flick that, near as I can tell, started off as two short films on the Full Moon website, which would explain its short one-hour-and-nine-minute running time. The movie follows a group of students at Miskatonic University (a name that should ring familiar for any fans of Lovecraft-inspired works) who create a machine that allows rifts to open between dimensions, and — surprise, surprise — things don’t go as smoothly as they expect. The cast is largely unknown, although B-movie stalwart Michael Pare is on board, as is Amanda Wyss, who I love from Better Off Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s kind of a fun flick, and the brief running time makes it easy to blow through in one sitting. Definitely recommended for fans of Lovecraft and movies like Re-Animator.