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Blu-ray Reviews for May 8, 2018

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: the 9/11 war drama 12 Strong; the brutal and bleak thriller In the Fade; the insane (but wonderful) Van Damme- and Mike Tyson-having sequel Kickboxer: Retaliation; and the latest entry in the never ending Graboid franchise Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Warner Bros.

“12 Strong” is set in the harrowing days following 9/11 when an elite U.S. Special Forces unit, led by their Captain, Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. soldiers sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission in response to the attacks. Leaving their families behind, the team is dropped into the remote, rugged landscape of northern Afghanistan, where they must convince General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies.



I don’t want to sound insensitive or dismissive, but can we please have a moratorium on 9/11? Can we all just agree that it happened, it was terrible, and our country’s been stuck in neutral ever since? As typical, following 9/11, Hollywood didn’t waste much time in finding ways to capitalize on the worst attack on our country in the history of ever, and soon a wide-ranging collection of genre-hopping films all came together and assembled the most depressing shared cinematic universe yet. Some of these actually managed to be pretty good, like Paul Greengrass’ harrowing United 93 and Kathryn Bigelow’s duo of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. And lest we not forget about Oliver Stone’s atypically maudlin and non-controversial World Trade Center, about which we actually all did forget. For every one title you remember, two or three are existing in the foggiest banks of your memory — probably where they belong.

At the risk of again sounding insensitive, we’re coming dangerously close to 9/11 becoming a cliche. 12 Strong proves that — an absolutely lifeless, generic, bland, and unimpassioned telling of military forces engaging against the Taliban months following the attack. We’re back in the desert, kids, populated by American soldiers with nicknames who are tough and stoic and who have wives and who love their wives and America. They are led by Captain Mitch Nelson, with a performance by Chris Hemsworth that is absolutely out-of-the-box soldier as purchased via Amazon Third Party, slightly used but in otherwise good shape (contains none of the original packaging). And he’s as boring to watch as he’s ever been, which is impressive, considering how boring he generally is. You see, Mitch Nelson said to the utterly miscast Rob Riggle, who plays commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Bowers, that 9/11 was an awful thing and he was the one who needed to lead his squad and make the Taliban pay. Then he he decided not to die while in Afghanistan because he promised his wife he wouldn’t die. A flag waves. He means it. America/freedom.

Even if we want to scrape away the tragic and sad circumstances that surround 12 Strong and look at it either as a wartime drama or an action film, sorry — still boring. The sequences that find the soldiers directly engaging with the enemy lack suspense. Whether our soldiers die or not feels like no consequence, because beyond their mini opening prologues where each of them says goodbye to their wives, little is done to promote them as actual people. If you know half their names by film’s end, I’d be both impressed and convinced you were lying. (Why are you in this, Michael Shannon?)

Critiquing films based on true stories, especially when those stories involve such massive tragedies experienced by real people, is a slippery slope. To pass judgment on a dramatization of such tragedy and the actors who brought those characters to life feels as if judgment is being passed on the tragedy itself, as well as those real people. The soldiers as depicted in 12 Strong really did those things. They were real, and brave, and selfless. And they deserved a far better film about their actions.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • 12 Strong: The Making of an Impossible Mission
  • Monumental Effort: Building America’s Response Monument


Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Out of nowhere, Katja’s (Diane Kruger) life falls apart when her husband Nuri (Numan Acar)) and little son Rocco are killed in a bomb attack. Her friends and family try to give her the support she needs, and Katja somehow manages to make it through the funeral. But the mind-numbing search for the perpetrators and reasons behind the senseless killing complicate Katja’s painful mourning, opening wounds and doubts. Danilo (Denis Moschitto), a lawyer and Nuri’s best friend, represents Katja in the eventual trial against the two suspects: a young couple from the neo-Nazi scene. The trial pushes Katja to the edge, but there’s simply no alternative for her: she wants justice.

If you’re that kind of person who avoids sad films because real life is sad enough, then run, screaming, from In the Fade — a genuinely well made, affecting, bleak, and difficult film looking to out-depress Babel as “most despair you could ever feel watching a movie.”

In the Fade offers you plenty of reasons to feel that despair. A reformed drug addict loses her husband and very young son in a terrorist bombing and slowly spirals out of control, slowly isolating herself from her parents and inlaws, and becoming disillusioned by the justice system.

If you’ve heard of In the Fade before now, it was likely on conjunction with Diane Kruger’s performance, which was every bit as good and and better than what you heard. In the Fade is the best she’s ever been. Having said that, it’s the direction by writer/director Faith Akin, and his keen ability to establish unbearable suspense and tension during key moments, along with moments of prolonged heartache, that really give In the Fade its power. The final twenty minutes are among the most suspense you could ever experience in a film, and between the end of the trial portion of the film, up and through the  film’s conclusion, you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen. And once that conclusion arrives, you will have no idea how to feel. The conflict within you that derives from that conclusion will have you feeling many different things, none of which that offer a side that feels easy and safe enough to come down on.

There have been films before that are similar to In the Fade. Essentially it’s a proud member of the vigilante sub-genre, but between that and its inclusion of Naizism, it’s never treated or presented with any less sincerity than what it deserves. (For instance, Diane Kruger also went up against Nazis in the far dumber and less sincere Inglorious Basterds.)

If you’re someone who can take a cinematic gut punch, don’t miss In the Fade.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Behind In The Fade: The Story – Diane Kruger and Fatih Akin (writer/director)
  • Inside In The Fade with Fatih Akin: Diane Kruger and Denis Moschitto
  • Interviews with Diane Kruger and Fatih Akin


Distributor: WellGo USA

One year after finding vengeance for his murdered brother, MMA champion Kurt Sloane finds himself back in Thailand kidnapped and imprisoned there by a powerful gangster (Christopher Lambert). His only shot at freedom is to win an underground deathmatch against a 400lb killer enhanced with state-of-the-art drugs (Game of Thrones’ Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). To make it out alive, he seeks training unlike anything he’s ever endured, with the help of the legendary Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and fellow prisoner Briggs (Mike Tyson).

The first entry in this rebooted action series, Kickboxer: Vengeance, was a slog, weighed down by a stifling sense of over-seriousness and maudlin drama. (That half of Van Damme’s dialogue had been over-dubbed by a voice actor doing his worst Pepé Le Pew didn’t help.) The only time it came to life were when Dave Bautista, a former WWE wrestler who transitioned successfully into an admirable acting career, was on screen. (And obviously Van Damme had his moments.) Directed by John Stockwell (Blue Crush, Turistas), Kickboxer: Vengeance basically embodied the kind of film you already assumed it to be: pedestrian, cheap looking, and very direct-to-video.

In my previous review for Kickboxer: Vengeance, I wrote this:

For some reason there seems to be a lot of confidence in this relaunched Kickboxer brand, as the next entry — Kickboxer: Retaliation — is currently in post-production, with a third entry, Kickboxer: Syndicate prepping for a February shoot. Director John Stockwell, whose first foray into Kickboxer territory resulted in the cinematic equivalent of a bunt, has been replaced with Vengeance writer Dimitri Logothetis, who’s never directed a single film you’ve heard of. Get ready for excitement.

Time for me to eat my words.

Kickboxer: Retaliation is an improvement over its predecessor in every possible way. With Logothetis at the helm (who also directed the loony ‘80s horror film Slaughterhouse Rock, of which I’m a fan), this new Kickboxer series finally embodies the by-now legendary stupidity of the original Van Damme film from 1989. Don’t get me wrong, even there’s enough threat and high-stakes drama so that it doesn’t feel like an outright parody, Kickboxer: Retaliation knows that it’s dumb. And it has fun with it, in the form of blues-set oner shots which see the new Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) laying waste to dozens of his fellow prisoners, or a returning Van Damme as Master Durand (conveniently locked up in the same prison) hamming it up as a pipe-smoking blind man, or — best for last — Mike Tyson as a meditating prisoner who starts off as an antagonist but quickly becomes a mentor. Oh, and Christopher Lambert plays the villain. That’s right, the one-time Raiden, Queen-loving Highlander himself.

Kickboxer: Retaliation also improves on its predecessor by upping the amount of action sequences. At best, only 3-4 minutes pass of non-action sequences before a fight scene randomly occurs. Sometimes a scene that threatens to go on too long will cease, cut to a fight scene that makes little sense, and then cut back to the non-fight scene, as if the film is saying, “We have to make this about something, but we’re more interested in the fighting, too.” It knows what the audience wants — fighting, not talking — and it bends over backwards to deliver that.

Another way to tell how Kickboxer: Retaliation knows what the audience wants: because it casts Van Damme, Tyson, and Christopher Lambert in the same movie and actually does with them what the audience’s ten-year-old boy souls want, desperately: for them to fight. Well meaning films with similar pedigree, such as The Expendables 2, tickle that fanboy itch by having all of our favorite ‘80s action stars together in one place…but then misses the boat by not having them interact. Example: how do you add Van Damme to a mix that already includes Dolph Lundgren but not have them fight, or exchange a line, or even a knowing look, which tips the hat to their storied past with the Universal Soldier series? Well, not to worry here: director Logothetis knows that, by casting Van Damme and Tyson together, the audience will want to see them throw down. And so they do, even if their fight is clearly shoehorned into the plot and makes absolutely no sense. And by casting Van Damme and Lambert, the audience will not only want to see them throw down, but throw down with swords (because Highlander). They do. It’s dumb, senseless, glorious, and fun. And that’s Kickboxer: Retaliation in a nutshell: concerned, only, with entertainment.

If Internet is to be believed, the third and final chapter of this new trilogy, Kickboxer: Armageddon, is already in production, with Logothetis returning (so far only as a screenwriter) and promising it’s going to be the biggest entry yet, with action sequences that will put any of those found in Retaliation to shame. I make grabby hands toward this Armageddon and I say, “gimme gimme.”

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Meet the Fighters
  • Trailer


Distributor: Universal Studios

Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his son Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy) find themselves up to their ears in Graboids and Ass-Blasters when they head to Canada to investigate a series of deadly giant worm attacks. Arriving at a remote research facility in the arctic tundra, Burt begins to suspect that Graboids are secretly being weaponized, but before he can prove his theory, he is sidelined by Graboid venom. With just 48 hours to live, the only hope is to create an antidote from fresh venom — but to do that, someone will have to figure out how to milk a Graboid!   

Ever since the screenwriters of the original Tremors, S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, left the series following the direct-to-video Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, the Tremors series hasn’t felt remotely like it used to. It’s still surprising to me that a modestly successful film from 1990 about a series of prehistoric, blind, and carnivorous worms living in the desert of Arizona was a concept ripe enough for exploration in FIVE more films, but, if a horror franchise has legs, it will never go away. And if you think Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell will be the last word on the subject — even if it’s the worst entry so far —  think again.

Despite the series going direct to video immediately with its first sequel, Tremors II: Aftershocks, it managed to maintain at least the spirit of the original along with its sense of fun, if not its magic. It goes without saying that every sequel to follow isn’t a patch on the original, but Tremors 2-4 at least felt like they belonged to each other, even with the fourth film being a prequel that had Michael Gross playing an old West descendent of Burt Gummer. Tremors 6, basically Tremors 5: Bloodlines – Part 2, continues the wrongheadedness of the series by maintaining Burt’s clearly Ash-inspired irascibility and pomposity and, regrettably, keeping Jamie Kennedy’s generic son character in tow. In fact, Gross has taken Burt’s sheer unlikability to new heights — no longer just a gun-toting but lovably conservative cartoon, he’s actually downright unpleasant, barking orders and hurling insults with such forcefulness that first-time viewers to this series would wrongly assume this is what made the character so popular: being an asshole.

To its credit, Tremors 6 stretches its budget as much as it possibly can, keeping the Graboids and Assblasters off screen for most of the running time, instead relying on air pistons firing cascading dirt into the air or feigning shaking sets as a John Williams Jaws theme-like sign of their unseen presence. And when the prehistorics do make their appearance, the CGI is very okay — somewhere between ILM and Sharknado. Storywise, it also tries out a couple new twists in an effort to keep things feeling fresh, even if removes a major character from the finale, rendering it a little toothless. (And finding a way to shoehorn in a character who is supposed to be the daughter of Kevin Bacon’s Val from the original film not only reeks of fan service but it’s utterly unrealistic. The script also finds ways to make jokes about how Val is/was a terrible father, which doesn’t seem particularly amusing to me.)

Director Don Michael Paul has made a career of helming direct-to-video sequels, including Kindergarten Cop 2, Jarhead 2, Death Race 4, and yes, Tremors 5. His style doesn’t entirely mesh with the aesthetic that the Tremors series has established up to this point, too often relying on handheld camera to up the “tension” — you know, tension in this movie that has monsters in it called Ass Blasters. And the tricks used to skirt the budget often show through. (I’m fairly certain the opening sequence that’s set on an icy, snow-covered tundra was actually just filmed in a desert and color-timed to all hell, making the sand look white and the actors look blue.)

Whether you asked for it or not, there’s now a Tremors 6 — aka the prequel to Tremors 7: Shaky Ground, and probably Tremors 8 Everyone. It offers a modicum of mindless entertainment, depending on your patience for insufferable characterization, and I’m actually impressed that a PG-13 movie has this many heads and other body parts strewn all over the ground. Besides, we all know if you bothered to watch every Tremors entry up to this point, you’ll watch this one, too.  But, maybe wait for streaming, which should be any day now.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell: Filmmakers, cast, and crew discuss why Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is the most bone-blasting Tremors movie yet.
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Watch as we break down the various elements that need to come together to film the first underwater Graboid attack.
  • Inside Chang’s Market: Chang’s Market is an iconic location in Tremors history. See how it was recreated and updated for this installment of the franchise.


Also Available This Week:

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension [Limited Edition Steelbook] + Exclusive Poster

Distributor: Shout! Factory (releases May 15)

Expect the unexpected … he does. Neurosurgeon. Physicist. Rock Star. Hero. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller, RoboCop) is a true 80s renaissance man. With the help of his uniquely qualified team, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo is ready to save the world on a moment’s notice. But after his successful test of the Oscillation Overthruster – a device that allows him to travel through solid matter – he unleashes the threat of “evil, pure and simple from the 8th Dimension” … the alien Red Lectroids.

Led by the deranged dictator Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow), the Lectroids steal the Overthruster with the intent of using it to return to their home of Planet 10 “real soon!” But no matter where you go, there Buckaroo Banzai is … ready to battle an interdimensional menace that could spell doom for the human race.

Featuring Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, and Clancy Brown, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai is a cleverly crazed cult classic as only the 80s could deliver.

Special Features:

  • DISC ONE: BLU-RAY:
    • “Into The 8th Dimension” – A Multi-Part Documentary Including Interviews
    • Audio Commentaries
  • DISC TWO: DVD (Standard Definition):
    • “Buckaroo Banzai Declassified” Featurette
    • Alternate Opening Sequence
    • Deleted Scenes
    • Jet Car Trailer
    • … And More!

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure [Limited Edition 30th Anniversary Edition Steelbook]

Distributor: Shout! Factory (releases May 15)

Wyld Stallyns couldn’t drag you away from this EXCELLENT ADVENTURE! Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure finds our non-heinous heroes (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) in danger of flunking history – a most odious proposition! But when the righteous Rufus (George Carlin) arrives in a time-traveling phone booth, the dense dudes discover their destiny … and call on the past’s biggest names for help!

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentaries With Actor Alex Winter, Producer Scott Kroopf And Screenwriters Chris Matheson And Ed Solomon
  • Time Flies When You Are Having Fun! – A Look Back At A Most “Excellent Adventure,” Featuring Interviews With Actors Alex Winter And Keanu Reeves, Producer Scott Kroopf,  Composer David Newman, Supporting Actors Dan Shor, Rod Loomis, Clifford David, Al Leong, Terry Camilleri And Jane Wiedlin, Special Make-Up Effects Designer Kevin Yagher And More
  • Theatrical Trailer

Distributor: Shout! Factory

A Scotland Yard inspector’s search for a missing film star leads him to a haunted house. The house sets the framework for four separate tales of terror written by the author of Psycho, Robert Bloch, and starring horror icons Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. All four stories center on the mysterious fates of tenants who have leased the mansion over the years.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary By Film Historian/Author Troy Howarth
  • NEW Interview With Second Assistant Director Mike Higgins
  • Audio Commentary With Director Peter Duffell And Author Jonathan Rigby
  • Vintage Featurette – A-Rated Horror Film – Featuring Interviews With Director Peter Duffell, Actors Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt, And Chloe Franks
  • Theatrical Trailers (English And Spanish)
  • Radio Spots
  • The Amicus Radio Spots Collection
  • Still Gallery

Distributor: Shout! Factory & IFC

This intense, twisty thriller unfolds in the darkest corners of a man’s mind. Recently released from prison, mild-mannered Carl (Toby Jones, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) quietly attempts to move on with his life. Just as he embarks on his first date in 15 years, Carl’s fresh start is shattered by the sudden reappearance of his domineering mother (Anne Reid), whose presence awakens within him a deep-seated trauma. What unfolds is a brain-warping puzzle as reality, illusion, past and present collide and explode in violence. The debut feature from Rupert Jones is a provocative psychological mystery that asks: is it possible to escape our past?

Special Features:

  • The Making Of Kaleidoscope
  • Working In The Studio
  • Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Theatrical Trailer

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

The world is a confusing place for Wendy (Dakota Fanning). As a fiercely independent and brilliant young woman with autism, Wendy longs to leave the regimen of her group home and return to life with her sister’s family and their new baby, but she must first prove herself. As a lover of all-things-Star Trek, Wendy writes fantasy stories in her free time. To her, people are an indecipherable code, so she uses her Star Trek filter to understand them. When a screenplay competition presents itself, Wendy decides to finish her 500-page Star Trek script and enter. Now, the problem is getting it there. In order to meet the deadline, Wendy must travel hundreds of miles outside her protected boundaries to submit her script in person.

With her little dog Pete in her purse and a few dollars in her pocket, Wendy boldly goes where she has never gone before. And with her no-nonsense therapist (Toni Collette) and big sister Audrey (Alice Eve) following close behind, Wendy, with the help of some colorful friends she meets along the way, must learn how to follow her dream and find her place in a world she hopes will accept her …. Just like everyone else.

Special Features:

  • Making of Please Stand By
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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