Let’s take a look at new and recent DVD and blu-ray releases for kids and grownups! Note that review copies were sent to me for the films and TV titles listed below. Click through the titles to buy or watch on Amazon.
FEATURE FILMS & DOCUMENTARIES:
’71. This feature from director Yann Demange and Roadside Attractions takes place over a single night in the life of a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell – loved him in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” – stunning performance) accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, and increasingly wary of his own comrades, he must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorientating, alien and deadly landscape. Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and language throughout, don’t miss this mesmerizing film.
Ex Machina. I love this stylish and brainy thriller from director Alex Garland, writer of “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine.” It stars Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb Smith, a programmer at an internet-search giant who wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, who delivers a brilliantly creepy performance). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test—charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking and very human-like robot whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated – and more deceptive – than the two men could have imagined. Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence, fans of compelling sci-fi films will love this one.
While We’re Young. Director Noah Baumbach is a master at sharp, funny films about relationships, and this one is a magnificent exploration of aging, ambition and success. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as a middle-aged couple whose career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives. Also stars Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver. Rated R for language. It’s funny and heartfelt, and it’ll make you think about your own relationships.
Last Knights. If Morgan Freeman was your dishonored master, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to avenge him? I think we all would, and that’s just what Clive Owen does in this movie as a fallen warrior who rises against a corrupt and sadistic ruler. It’s an epic, sword-clashing adventure of loyalty, honor, and vengeance directed by Kazuaki Kiriya. Rated R for some violence.
The Wrecking Crew. One of the best music documentaries ever made, in my humble opinion, “The Wrecking Crew” tells the story of a group of musicians who defined the West Coast sound in the 1960s and 70s. Think the bands and singers from that era all created their own sound? Not so, my friends. Produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, son of legendary Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, this documentary chronicles the unsung musicians who provided the backbeat, the bottom and the swinging melody that drove many of the number one hits of Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, The Monkees, The Byrds, The Beach Boys and hundreds of others. The film is a fun and moving tribute from Denny to his father and to the music, the times and the secret star-making machine known only as “The Wrecking Crew.” Rated PG for language, thematic elements and smoking images.
Absolution. Steven Seagal and Vinnie Jones make great foes in this action thriller about a contract killer (Seagal) who encounters a girl on the run from a dangerous mob boss (Jones) with powerful political ties, running a human trafficking operation. He’s torn between protecting the girl, and remaining loyal to the government agency that hired him. Gritty and edgy, this film illustrates that Steven Seagal is still in the game after all these years. Rated R for strong violence, language and some drug use. Released by Lionsgate.
Tooken. It’s inevitable that Liam Neeson’s “Taken” franchise would spawn a spoof or two, right? In this one released by Cinedigm and directed by John Asher, Bryan Mills (Lee Tergesen) plays an ex-CIA agent now working as a mall security guard. But his things are being taken from him—his wife, his dog, even his daughter’s virginity. With the help of his ex-CIA elderly mother, Bryan battles his nemesis BrownFinger (Margaret Cho) to free his family and a pound of dogs in danger of exploding. Rated R for crude sexual content throughout including graphic nudity, language, violence, and some drug use, this movie is a fun ride for anyone who loves spoofs like the “Scary Movie” franchises.
If You Build It. From Patrick Creadon, director of “Wordplay” and “I.O.U.S.A.” comes this captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education. The documentary follows designer-activist Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, where they work with local high school students to help transform both their community and their lives. Living on credit and grant money and fighting a change-resistant school board, Pilloton and Miller lead their students through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that not only teaches basic construction skills, but also shows ten teenagers the power of design-thinking to re-invent their town and their own sense of what’s possible. It’s a compelling and hopeful vision for a new kind of classroom in which students learn the tools to design their own futures. Not Rated, from Cinedigm Entertainment.
Danny Collins: Al Pacino delivers a knock-out performance as Danny Collins, an aging 1970s rocker who can’t give up his hard-living ways. But when his manager (Christopher Plummer) uncovers a 40-year-old undelivered letter written to him by John Lennon, he decides to change course and embarks on a heartfelt journey to rediscover his family, find true love and begin a second act. Rated R for language, drug use and some nudity. Released by Universal and Bleecker Street. Also stars Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Michael Caine, Melissa Benoist, Josh Peck, Bobby Cannavale and Anne McDaniels.
Slow West. I highly recommend this compelling western directed by John Maclean. The story takes place at the end of the nineteenth century, as 16-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. Along the way, he’s joined by Silas (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw. Rated R for violence and brief language. Released by A24 Films.
Maggie. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie? It’s not what you think. This one is a heartfelt father-daughter story of love and compassion. As the world narrowly recovers from a near apocalyptic virus, an infected teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) with only a precious few weeks to live must find the strength and bravery to face her fleeting mortality as her father (Schwarzenegger) struggles helplessly to protect her from the frightened town and keep the family together. Maybe “The Walking Dead” paved the way for this heartbreaking take on the zombie genre that twists expectations and puts a human face on an inexplicable horror. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including bloody images, and some language. Released by Roadside Attractions.
Kill Me Three Times. In a sun-drenched Australian surfing town, a young singer (Alice Braga) is the thread that binds three tales of murder, blackmail and revenge. Simon Pegg plays an assassin who is hired by her wealthy husband (Callan Mulvey), but there’s more than one person gunning for her. Sullivan Stapleton plays a gambling addict who attempts to pay off his debts through a risky life insurance scam, with Teresa Palmer as a small town Lady Macbeth who masterminds the scheme. Bryan Brown, a corrupt cop, also tries to get his cut, and Luke Hemsworth portrays Braga’s love interest, a local surfer who hopes to rescue the young woman from Pegg’s telescopic sights. Rated R for bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Ghost Town. This interesting fusion of the horror and Western genres involves a modern-day sheriff (Franc Luz) whose search for a missing heiress leads him into the title locale, a frontier-age Arizona township whose residents are cursed with immortality. He eventually discovers that the abductee (Catherine Hickland) has been spirited off to the lair of an evil black-clad gunslinger (Jimmie F. Skaggs), who sees her as the reincarnation of the dance-hall girl he murdered a hundred years before. Rated R, this film is a sure bet for anyone who loves gritty films with an edge.
Borderline. Screen fave Charles Bronson stars as Jeb Maynard, a tough as nails US Border Patrol officer stationed between San Diego and Tijuana. When his best friend and partner (Wilford Brimley) is murdered by a notorious smuggler of illegal immigrants known as “The Marine,” Maynard begins a relentless manhunt to bring stability to the border and justice for his fallen comrade. Co-starring Ed Harris as the brainy, ruthless smuggler who is seemingly always one step ahead of Maynard, and Bruno Kirby as a rookie officer drawn to Maynard’s crusade, this taut thriller is a must-see for Bronson fans. Plus, it’s rated PG.
The Dovekeepers. From executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, this miniseries is based on the true events at Masada in 70 C.E. After being forced out of their home in Jerusalem by the Romans, 900 Jews were ensconced in a fortress at Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. The besieged Jews held out for months against the vast Roman armies, and this story recounts the events from the perspective of a few extraordinary women who arrive at Masada with unique backstories, but a common bond for survival. Additionally, these women, who work together daily as dovekeepers, are all concealing substantial secrets. Not Rated. Released by Paramount. Downey and Burnett continue to set the bar high for spiritual titles, and this one is no exception.
Touched By An Angel: Amazing Grace, Vol. 3 (WalMart). A young man arrives in an inner-city town in Colorado, setting off a chain of events that change lives forever in this two-part television movie event. Having lost her sight, Monica asks young Josh Greene (Austin O’Brien) to be her eyes, challenging him to see with his heart. They get an eyeful when they arrive in a small Denver town with Michael Burns (George Newbern), disaffected, disillusioned and determined to leave – and fast. But Monica’s boss has other plans for him and the small tight-knit urban community he encounters.
Seeds of Yesterday (Final Chapter in the “Flowers in the Attic” Series). The saga of the tormented Dollanganger family comes to an end in this film based on the fourth and final book in the V.C. Andrews series of novels that began with “Flowers in the Attic.” The Dollangangers continue to coexist miserably, as their deeply troubled relationships, dark secrets, and tragedies come to a head in a way that will haunt the family and its progeny forever. Jason Lewis and Rachael Carpani reprise their roles from “If There Be Thorns” as Christopher and Cathy Dollanganger, while James Maslow portrays Bart Dollanganger, and Sammi Hanratty plays Cindy Sheffield, the rebellious adopted daughter of Christopher and Cathy. Not Rated. Released by Lionsgate.
Gangland Undercover: Season One. The only man brave enough to sneak into three outlaw biker gangs and live to tell the tale, Charles Falco, author of “Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws,” goes from convict to infiltrator as he secretly documents the Vagos’ illegal activities and ultimately brings them to justice. The History Channel brings Falco’s story to life in this fact-based series that sees him work as an informant for the Feds on a covert mission inside the dangerous Vagos world of violence, murder, and drug trafficking. Having climbed the gang’s ranks while facilitating 62 arrests, he exposes how he crippled the criminal enterprise from the core of the biker underworld in this mind-blowing true story. Not Rated. Released by Lionsgate.
Bitten Season 2. Season two of the popular SyFy series introduces a coven of witches who turn to the Pack for support. Tammy Isbell (“Saving Hope”) stars as the calm and level-headed Coven leader, Ruth Winterbourne; Tommie-Amber Pirie plays Ruth’s outspoken spitfire daughter, Paige Winterbourne; and Kiara Glasco stars as the young and impressionable, Savannah Levine. Not Rated. Released by eOne Entertainment. You don’t have to love the creatures of the underworld to love this well-done series. Check it out if you haven’t yet.
Cedar Cove: Season 2. Andie MacDowell is back as Judge Olivia Lockhart, who finds herself in the middle of her small seaside town’s drama, relationships and excitement. Now happily back together with Jack, Olivia becomes the stable force who holds him together when his troubled son Eric returns. As Olivia reaches new milestones in her relationship with Jack, she remains a reliable best friend to Grace and a supportive mom to Justine, proving this judge continues to capture the spirit of the small town in her big heart. Hallmark hits it out of the park with another wonderful, heartfelt series that’s actually ok for everyone in the family to watch together – imagine that!
Teen Beach 2. Disney does it again with this fun surf movie – a sequel to the popular 2013 “Teen Beach.” Now that summer is over and school has begun, Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack’s (Maia Mitchell) relationship seems headed for a wipeout – until Lela, Tanner and the “Wet Side Story” kids show up. Dazzled by the novelty and variety of the modern world, Lela wants to stay, but the real world and the “reel” world just don’t mix. Can Mack and Brady find the magic to get the kids home and get their own romance back on track before it’s too late? Packed with amazing song and dance numbers and hilarious fish-out-of-water wackiness, “Teen Beach 2” truly is fun for everyone. Not Rated.
Scooby-Doo and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery. You just never know who’s going to be hanging out with the Scooby gang. In this cute original movie – an all-new adventure – Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. Gang team up with the one and only rock band KISS (yes, that one!). At KISS World – the all-things-Kiss theme park – the gang investigates a series of strange hauntings. With help from KISS, they discover that the Crimson Witch has returned to summon The Destroyer from the alternate dimension of Kissteria. The evil duo’s ghastly plan? To destroy the earth! Can the Gang and KISS save the day?! It’s a Rock and Roll Mystery that’s just good fun. Voices include Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey Griffin, Matthew Lillard, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. Not Rated. Released by Hanna Barbera.
Spirited Away. Just released in a blu-ray/DVD pack, this beautiful film from Hayao Miyazaki – one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the history of animated cinema – is filled with astonishing beauty and epic adventure, a dazzling masterpiece for the ages. The fantastical story follows a young girl, Chihiro, trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call on the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world. Now on Disney Blu-ray & DVD, kids everywhere are drawn to Miyazaki’s gorgeous films, and this one is a favorite in our household.
I Want My Hat Back and More Happy Stories. This super cute DVD from the good people at Scholastic features four titles based on the books: 1) “I Want My Hat Back”: Bear’s hat is gone, and none of the animals have seen it, but Bear’s memory is sparked by a deer who asks just the right question. 2) “The Lucky Ducklings”: A true story about a mama duck and her five ducklings that had to be rescued from a town storm drain during an early morning walk. 3) “The Happy Lion”: A lion in a Paris zoo tries to return his friends’ visits by venturing into town to see them. 4) “The Happy Owls”: Two owls discover the secret of peace and happiness and share their secret with all their barnyard friends. Sweet and fun, this DVD is a winner for little ones.