A Ballad Comes to Life from Criterion in Our Pick of the Week

Discs The Ballad

Plus 17 More New Releases to Watch This Week on Blu-ray/DVD!

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Pick of the Week

The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez [Criterion Collection]

The Ballad Of GregorioWhat is it? A historical tragedy comes to life highlighting the arrival of a Mexican folk hero.

Why see it? This early 80s feature is the first of its kind in some ways as it brings a Mexican-American hero to the big screen. Cortez was a real man hunted and convicted of killing a police officer, but from the chase through his trial we see the truth behind the event and in its reflection of our nation’s inherent biases and racism. Edward James Olmos takes the title role and is joined by a terrific mix of familiar faces in Bruce McGill, Brion James, William Sanderson, Barry Corbin, and Ned Beatty. Filmed in a naturalistic style that follows the action and the conversations surrounding it, viewers are made privy to an unfolding miscarriage of justice, and Criterion’s new Blu-ray gives it the treatment it deserves.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 2K restoration, interviews, panel, booklet]


The Best

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers Infinity WarWhat is it? Things take a turn for Earth’s mightiest heroes when Thanos crashes the party.

Why see it? Marvel has steadily changed the game when it comes to big-screen superhero films with quality films, a shared universe, and a singular purpose. The eighteen films preceding this one have led to an explosive face-off between the heroes and their main villain, and it doesn’t go remotely like you think it would. It’s an epic film filled with good action, powerful character beats, and unexpected emotion, and as an MCE entry is absolutely essential. I’m of the apparently minority opinion, though, that the knowledge that it’s part one of two *and* that most/all of what happens will almost certainly be reversed in some fashion lessens the film’s impact. It’s still pretty great, but it’s not as heavy as portrayed.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes, commentary]

Bad Samaritan

Bad SamaritanWhat is it? A petty thief finds a captive woman while searching for loot.

Why see it? This slick little thriller didn’t get much play during its limited release, but it deserves more eyeballs as it’s a good time for fans of smart killers and scrappy would-be victims. David Tennant gives a terrific turn as a mean psycho and is clearly having fun in the role, but the film doesn’t shortchange the others in his shadow and instead gives them memorable scenes and dialogue that are every bit as engaging as he is charismatic.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes]

Documentary Now! – Seasons 1 & 2

Documentary NowWhat is it? A collection of “documentaries” you can watch right now!

Why see it? The beauty of this series and of the fourteen episodes is that the comedy works on two levels. First, they’re just damn funny as Fred Armisen and Bill Hader headline some extremely funny riffs on pop culture and history through the lens of faux-documentaries. Their films are themselves spoofs on existing docs, and if you’ve seen the real ones the level of comedic genius here is magnified tenfold. The disc is free of extras, but there’s plenty of fun in the episodes themselves.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

The Last Warrior

The Last WarriorWhat is it? A soldier searches for his abducted wife and child

Why see it? Blood and testosterone spill in equal measure here, and neither is in vain as the resulting film feels like a big, brawny adventure from the 80s/90s — and that’s a not a bad thing. There’s a nod to history in its story of the Christian onslaught across the landscape and the fate of those who don’t get in line with the one god policy, but director/co-writer Rustam Mosafir is most interested in delivering an epic action film where muscle, steel, and princely power reign supreme. It’s a sweaty, bloody adventure.

[DVD extras: None?]

Return of the Living Dead [Scream Factory]

Return Of The Living DeadWhat is it? The living dead return!

Why see it? The first film in this franchise is a brilliant piece of horror/comedy that balances the two with smarts, wit, and gruesome violence. The second? Not so much. But while it’s a minor riff on the first it does so in some creative and fun ways including bringing back two actors in different roles. It’s a slight but entertaining mix of laughs, gore, and goofiness, and Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray gives it a brilliant Blu-ray release starting with a sharp transfer and extending to a ton of new extras including new commentaries, featurettes, and more.

[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, original soundtrack option, commentaries, featurettes


The Rest

Affairs of State

Affairs Of StateWhat is it? A young man tries climbing the political power ladder in DC, but it only makes his fall that much harder.

Why see it? Did I watch this whole movie thinking it was Hayden Christensen in the lead? Maybe, but that’s not important. What is relevant is that this is a pretty standard direct to DVD thriller that sees sex, power, and violence go hand in hand (in hand) as ambition leads to poor choices. It’s not a very lively affair, but it’s surprisingly bleak for a thriller not made in the 70s. The dude who looks like Christensen is joined by Adrian Grenier, Thora Birch, and Mimi Rogers for whatever they’re worth.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]

Arrow – The Complete Sixth Season

ArrowWhat is it? The Green Arrow dabbles in heroics, politics, and fatherhood, and villains are jealous of his multi-tasking abilities.

Why see it? The CW’s partnership with DC properties continues to mirror the popularity that Marvel’s found on the big screen, and Arrow continues to be one of their successes. It’s solid comic book entertainment offering a solid mix of fisticuffs and crossover action with characters both recognizable and new. I’m still of the opinion that seasons should cap off around ten episodes (as opposed to twenty-six), but fans won’t complain.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Four crossover episodes, featurettes]

The House of Tomorrow

The House Of TomorrowWhat is it? A teenager seeks his own path apart from his family and friends.

Why see it? Asa Butterfield is a consistently engaging — and low key — actor who’s just as consistently typecast as oddball teens maybe a bit wiser than their years. Here he shares the screen with additional talents including Ellen Burstyn and Alex Wolff as opposing viewpoints on life and our journey through it. Burstyn is great, as usual, but the highlight of the film is watching Butterfield and Wolff build a friendship despite their differences. You can never go wrong with a little Nick Offerman either.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interview, Q&A]

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

How To Talk To GirlsWhat is it? British teens enjoying a night out meet alien “teens” having fun of their own.

Why see it? Neil Gaiman’s short story gets the feature film treatment from John Cameron Mitchell, and the end result is something of a mixed bag. The style and atmosphere capture the pop/punk experience of the 70s, but the story and characters never quite overcome the wonky tone. It feels like something better-suited to the stage which shouldn’t surprise as Mitchell brought his own Hedwig and the Angry Inch from stage to screen.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]

Lady Street Fighter [AGFA]

Lady Street FighterWhat is it? A woman seeking justice for her murdered sister finds sex, car chases, and karate along the way.

Why see it? The American Genre Film Archive continues their (hopefully) never-ending celebration of forgotten indie cinema with this ridiculous tale of revenge. There’s more to the plot, but I’ll be damned if I can follow it, so instead just take it as the story of a woman who gets mixed up with bad dudes on her journey of revenge. Fights (kind of), car chases (sort of), and nudity run rampant through this late 70s romp. The disc includes the little-seen sequel as a bonus, but that descriptor’s hardly accurate as Revenge of Lady Street Fighter features nearly an hour of scenes from the first one. It’s pretty special.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 2K scan, commentary, bonus movie]

NCIS: New Orleans – Season Four

Ncis New OrleansWhat is it? Sam’s leap into Special Agent Dwayne Cassius Pride continues.

Why see it? I’ll follow Scott Bakula anywhere, and for the past four years that’s meant following him down to New Orleans for the NCIS spinoff that sees him battling killers, terrorists, and bureaucracy on a regular basis. As with most network TV procedurals/crime shows most cases are solved in predictable fashion, but the show’s worth a watch for the character work that Bakula and others bring to the drama, action, and mild humor.

[DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]

SEAL Team – Season One

Seal TeamWhat is it? The Navy SEALs protect America one day at a time.

Why see it? David Boreanaz (Angel, Bones) headlines CBS’ latest action/drama series, and it should come as no surprise that it blends military action, patriotism, and emotional beats with the family in an effort to appeal to middle America. It works well enough too as it’s a solid albeit familiar show across the board. Shooter plays up the God and country angle far more, and their presence here is a bit more subdued making room for more and deeper character work at times.

[DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]

Smashing Time [KL Studio Classics]

Smashing TimeWhat is it? Two friends head to the big city in search of fame, fortune, and a good time.

Why see it? This is one goofy movie that very much feels a part of London’s swinging 60s. Austin Powers himself would be quite at home with the style and even some of the broad comedy bits, and both Lynn Redgrave and Rita Tushingham are clearly having a blast. Michael York joins in for the fun, but it’s the ladies who take the lead as friends who see fame rip them apart before a revolving restaurant brings them back together. It’s goofy fun.

[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan, commentary]

Suffering of Ninko

Suffering Of NinkoWhat is it? A monk is challenged by unwanted sexual advances.

Why see it? Part erotica, part art film, this is an engaging fable of sorts about will power and desire butting heads in Edo period Japan. The film blends live action with woodblock art and mandala-style animation and creates something both whimsical and dramatic in the process. It’s an fresh character study that also happens to be more than a little sexy, and while Ninko’s journey ends differently than expected it’s still a happy one.

[DVD extras: None]

The Unborn [Scream Factory]

The UnbornWhat is it? A woman’s attempt at conception through science has nightmarish consequences.

Why see it? Fans of It’s Alive will enjoy this slice of baby horror even if most of the action takes place with the monster still inside the womb. It’s a solid cautionary tale about meddling in nature’s domain and is equally critical of wackos wanting access to your vagina. Brooke Adams does good work in the lead bringing drama to the terror, and the always reliable James Karen delights as the scientist who should not be trusted. Definitely worth checking out for fans of 90s horror.

[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]

Van Wilder – 4K UltraHD

Van Wilder KWhat is it? A successful slacker decides seven years into college that it’s about time he graduates.

Why see it? Ryan Reynolds is all the rage these days for his ridiculously fun turn as Deadpool, but his early career saw him focused on dumb comedies. Few are dumber than this one, but National Lampoon fans will continue to find some laughs all the same. It screams early 2000s both in its writing and casting, but if nothing else it does feature one of the most disgusting scenes ever captured for the screen as frat boys “unknowingly” guzzle eclairs filled with warm dog jizz. Yeah. It’s a bit of an odd duck for a 4K upgrade, though, as comedies don’t typically benefit from the added visual clarity, but it does make that eclair scene grosser.

[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, music video, deleted scenes, outtakes]

The Yellow Birds

The Yellow BirdsWhat is it? A bleak story about the repercussions of war on three young men.

Why see it? This Iraq War-set drama feels a little late in coming, and as such it felt to some to be somewhat redundant, but taken on its own merits its a terrifically acted, well produced drama that succeeds it delivering its familiar but still true message about war being hell. Alden Ehrenreich, Tye Sheridan, and Jack Huston deliver painfully compelling performances, and while the story’s payoff feels a bit less dramatic than intended the performances sell its weight.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]


Also out this week:

The Escape, The Gore Gore Girls [Arrow Video], Mr. Mercedes – Season One, Pickings, Shock and Awe, Sid Caesar, Tideland [Arrow Video], What Have They Done to Your Daughters? [Arrow Video]

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