A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.
Distributor: Universal Studios
Tom Cruise stars in this spectacular version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: The Mummy. Thought safely entombed deep beneath the desert, an ancient princess (Sofia Boutella) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her is awakened in our current day. Her malevolence has grown over millennia and with it come terrors that defy human comprehension. From the sands of the Middle East through modern-day London, The Mummy balances wonder, thrills, and imagination.
Starring Tom Cruise as the mummy. (Just kidding, but can you imagine?)
Upon Universal Studios’ announcement that it would be re-exploring all the old classic horror properties they’d created more than eighty(!) years ago as an action-adventure shared universe, the Internet let out a collective, “wha?” And they were right to. In this post-Marvel world, everything is now being re-imagined as a shared universe. In theory, the idea is intriguing and creates a lot of opportunity for world building and creativity. Still, characters like Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s Monster), and the Mummy — they’re dead ghouls, brought back to life by a curse, or science, or sheer stubbornness, so the idea of centering a shared universe around them — and presenting them as the villains they ought to be — seemed like a really odd choice. But Uni were likely looking at their last firebrand of a rebooted monster property — the Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise, which had been designed as an Indiana Jones-ish tale of Egyptian paranormal, and which was still seeing new entries in the direct-to-video market as recently as 2015. (This would be The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, which, in case you lost count, was the sequel to the sequel to the prequel to the prequel to the sequel to the remake of The Mummy, and it starred Lou Ferrigno.)
The announcement of Alex Kurtman as director of this new Mummy, most famously known as formerly one half of the Kurtzman/Roberto Orci writing duo (who together had scored major gigs over the last decade in Hollywood all while not turning much in worth a damn) was the second sign that maybe Universal wasn’t quite thinking rationally about this idea. Not only was Kurtzman an untested director, the Dark Universe was one of Universal’s most audacious ideas since that one time they had a fast car drive furiously out one window and INTO another window. But with the announcement of Tom Cruise joining the film, who, craziness aside, has a good track record picking projects, the Internet’s hesitation went into remission. After all, even the worst of Cruise’s films were still marginally better than most other summer blockbusters. And who wouldn’t be excited about a classic horror property being resurrected with the likes of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe.
And then the leaks began. Something about behind-the-scenes drama on The Mummy’s production. Something about the studio realizing Kurtzman was in way over his head. Something about Cruise taking over more non-actorly roles on the shoot. Once the film was released to a critical drubbing and a poor domestic box office take, no one was surprised.
I know I’m not.
The Mummy is as every bit as bad as you could have assumed at every stop on the production train — from the very first words “reboot of The Mummy” to “shared universe” to “action/adventure” to “Tom Cruise” — and, I never thought I’d say this, it even lacks the charm and whimsy of Brendan Fraser’s first go-round with Imhotep. After a promising opening, which introduces Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll in what’s assumed to be a sort of curator of the entire Dark Universe, The Mummy seems almost eager to reveal its brainlessness, throwing together a quick backstory on this Mummy’s version of the mummy — a young girl cursed by black magic and who is “mummified alive,” which, according to the filmmakers, means being dressed as a wriggling mummy and locked in a coffin. (If you remember your history lessons, being “mummified” actually entailed having your brain and organs removed, your hollowed cavities stuffed with herbs and spices, your body dried in the sun, and then wrapped in bandages — but, we’re in PG-13 territory here, don’t forget.)
Though Tom Cruise brings his Tom Cruise game, and certain sequences are admittedly fun and enjoyable, The Mummy instead presents a series of real-life mysteries more intriguing than the mystique it’s desperate to establish: Like, why does such an expensive production have such horrid CGI? Or, why does it suffer from a severe identity crisis — ie, is this horror, or adventure; fun, or frightening? (The “nod” to American Werewolf in London, which sees Cruise talking to hallucinations of his dead and ghoulish looking friend, while appreciated, feels cheap and stupid, while also showcasing some Sims-level CGI.) The biggest mystery, perhaps, is this: what was everyone THINKING?
Before The Mummy was cruelly released to the wild like a lame animal, Universal was quick to distance their previous Dracula Untold from their Dark Universe, calling it unrelated from their long-term shared world-building. Ironically, Dracula Untold suddenly played a whole lot better after seeing The Mummy, as it was more surefooted at striking a horrific tone even if its main crux was action and escapism. (Uni’s previous reboot of The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro, too, suddenly played a whole lot better.) But no, The Mummy is to be the first — gods and monsters help us — of many nu-horror monster adventures to come.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Finally some good news: The Mummy presents phenomenally on high-def in both its video and audio. Much of The Mummy jumps from environment to environment, from sweltering suns to dark and dingy tombs, and it offers, if nothing else, an attractive and dynamic picture. Colors are very strong, especially in the opening Iraq-set desert, and the prologue featuring a somewhat 300-ish mummy origin story. As for the audio, well, it’s tremendous, offering a nonstop experience one way or the other — from the carnage to the pounding score to some truly atrocious dialogue.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Feature Commentary with director and producer Alex Kurtzman, and cast members Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis and Jake Johnson
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Cruise & Kurtzman: A Conversation Rooted in Reality
- Rooted in Reality
- Life in Zero-G: Creating the Plane Crash
- Meet Ahmanet
- Cruise in Action
- Becoming Jekyll and Hyde
- Choreographed Chaos
- Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul
- Ahmanet Reborn Animated Graphic Novel
Is it too late to make a “Show me the mummy!” joke?
The Mummy achieves almost award-worthy stupidity, which is bolstered by the presence of Tom Cruise shouting and punching CGI mummies directly in their mummy faces. If you’re a fan of this thing called The Mummy, you’ll be more than happy with its Blu-ray presentation, which boasts excellent video, flawless audio, and a bevy of features. If you were thinking of a blind buy, run, screaming, like Tom Cruise from a mummy.
Show me the mummy!
In the sixth season of VEEP, we find President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) now out of office for the first time in years after her loss in a Senate vote to resolve an Electoral College tie last season. Forging ahead to secure her legacy and find her place in the world, while much of her staff pursues endeavors of their own, Season 6 finds Selina and her band of fellow misfits hilariously attempting to make their mark while navigating the political landscape in Washington and beyond.
It’s likely that I’m not the first person to ponder this, but in the age of Trump, it’s tempting to look at shows like VEEP or House of Cards and wonder if they still have a place in escapism entertainment — if they can still maintain that satirical edge — now that we are no longer living in what even pro-Trumpers would consider a normal political landscape. As I write this, it’s been announced that VEEP’s seventh season will also be its last. Perhaps VEEP’s overall term was always imagined as such (although seven seems like kind of an odd lucky number, unless you’re a member of the Losers’ Club), or perhaps its because its firebrand penchant for lunacy, foul-mouthedness, and cast of egocentrics suddenly doesn’t seem like a novelty anymore. Basically, when your real president is 3 a.m. shit-tweeting antagonism at a deeply unhinged dictator with access to nuclear weapons, your TV president fucking your TV vice-president suddenly packs less of a punch.
Still, even after series creator Armando Iannucci left the show following its fourth season (which is always an “uh oh!” moment for television series), VEEP managed to continue on with the same profane, sarcastic, rapid-fire spirit, envisioning new controversies and conundrums for Vice-President/President Selina Meyer to fall ass-backwards into. Thankfully, in spite of current goings-on, VEEP, though perhaps a little less outlandish, is still just as funny, and filled with just as much mean-spirited heart (it’s a thing) as ever.
Where VEEP falters only slightly this season is the same circumstance that led to Arrested Development‘s lackluster fourth season: the separation of the show’s ensemble, giving them all their own mini story arcs before everyone comes back together as the story demands it. Thankfully, this season doesn’t suffer nearly as much; their separation is very temporary, and everyone’s arcs all manage to be at least amusing time-filler. (Sufe Bradshaw’s Sue is deeply missed this season, however.)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus absolutely continues to excel as Selina Meyer, creating not just a fantastically flawed politician, but honestly, one of the greatest television characters of all time (along with Sam Richardson’s Richard “T.” Splett). Conniving and sly as equally as she is whip-stupid, Selina Meyer isn’t quite one of those villains you love to hate, but she’s definitely that narcissist you’d never admit to admiring. She’s tenacious and formidable, and though she slings more bullshit than all the rest, she won’t stand for it herself, and it’s through Louis-Dreyfus’ honest take on the character that her hypocrisy somehow makes her more endearing. She’s absolutely the kind of leader that Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes would have abhorred, and called a massive step backwards for women of power.
PICTURE & SOUND:
VEEP doesn’t offer much to look at, visually, as much of it takes place within the white and brown halls of Washington, DC, institutions. For a comedy, it does get decent mileage out of different locations from time to time, bouncing between different interior and exterior environments and always offering at least something of moderate interest to look at. Colors are pretty bright, while clarity is often very good. Audio is pretty utilitarian: dialogue is the most important thing and it always sounds just fine.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Seven audio commentaries featuring cast (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons, Sam Richardson, Sarah Sutherland, and Clea DuVall), David Mandel, and additional Writers, Directors, and Producers.
Though existing in a politically driven atmosphere, VEEP still manages to be a welcome respite from real newspaper headlines and real controversies. At this point it’s like comfort food, and as it approaches its swan song season, it’s going to be sad to say goodbye to what very well may have been therapy for a long of viewers, leaving us with the more visceral House of Cards…along with reality.
Also Available This Week:
Distributor: Arrow Video
In 1961, director Mario Bava (Rabid Dogs, Kill Baby Kill) turned his hand to the historical adventure genre, capitalising on the recent success of 1958’s Kirk Douglas vehicle The Vikings. The result was a colourful, swashbuckling epic of treachery, heroism and forbidden love: Erik the Conqueror.
In 786 AD, the invading Viking forces are repelled from the shores of England, leaving behind a young boy – Erik, son of the slain Viking king. Years later, Erik (George Ardisson, Juliet of the Spirits), raised by the English queen as her own, becomes Duke of Helford, while across the sea, his brother Eron (Cameron Mitchell, Blood and Black Lace) assumes leadership of the Viking horde and sets his sights on conquering England once again, setting the two estranged brothers on a collision course that will determine the fates of their respective kingdoms…
Featuring a bombastic score by frequent collaborator Roberto Nicolosi (Black Sunday) and memorably co-starring the stunning Kessler twins (Sodom and Gomorrah), Erik the Conqueror showcases Bava’s immense talent for creating awe-inspiring spectacle with limited resources. Now restored in high definition for the first time, Arrow Video is proud to present this cult classic in all its original splendour.
- Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
- New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava – All the Colors of the Dark
- Gli imitatori, a comparison between Erik the Conqueror and its unacknowledged source, The Vikings
- Original ending
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphrey
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Kat Ellinger
Sins from the past return to terrorize the present in this shocker from a producer of Halloween. When recent college grad Regan goes to a family’s house to babysit their daughter for the weekend, she invites her three best gal pals along. What starts as a girls’ getaway becomes a journey into hell, as the young women discover the house is haunted by a dark and violent history involving a Nazi (Wishmaster’s Andrew Divoff), his daughter, and an ancient artifact that feeds on fear.
Distributor: Arrow Video
Chris is a homicide detective called to London to investigate a strange double murder. Both victims appear to have continued moving towards their assailant despite multiple gunshots to the face and chest. On a hunch, and with the help of an old colleague – and former girlfriend – Chris decides to go undercover as a patient to investigate the suspect’s psychotherapist, the mysterious Alexander Morland, who has a taste for the occult…
- Filmmakers’ commentary
- Interviews with the cast and crew
- The Baron, a 2013 short film by Gareth Tunley, starring Tom Meeten and Steve Oram (Aaaaaaaah!, Sightseers)
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Adam Scovell, author of “Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange”