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New to View: Feb. 20

by on February 16, 2018
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By Bob Bloom
The following titles are being released on Tuesday, Feb. 20, unless otherwise noted:

The Covered Wagon (Blu-ray)
Details: 1923, Kino Lorber
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: This silent feature is usually referenced as the first big-budget Western epic, though Westerns were — even by this juncture — a movie staple.
The serious Westerns of William S. Hart and the breezy action films of Tom Mix dominated the genre at the time, but “The Covered Wagon” was something different.
It’s scope was bigger than anything previously filmed as it tells its story of a group of pioneers who leave Westport Landing, now Kansas City, in 1848 for far-off Oregon.
The movie is panoramic — including Indian attacks, a buffalo stampede, prairie fire and wide rivers to cross — and intimate, as it recounts a love triangle between a young woman, Molly Wingate (Lois Wilson), a brutish Sam (Alan Hale) and the dashing Will (J. Warren Kerrigan).
The film chronicles the hardships and dangers faced by this hardy men and women who wanted to make new lives for themselves in an expanding nation.
Technical aspects: 1080p high definition, 1.33:1 full-screen picture; 2.0 DTS stereo musical score.
Don’t miss: Bonus offerings include a commentary track, a booklet with an essay about the movie, a Wurltizer organ score by Gaylord Carter and a 1932 one-reel spoof, “The Pie-Covered Wagon,” starring Shirley Temple.

Wonder (Blu-ray + DVD + digital)
Release date: Feb. 13
Details: 2017, Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Rated: PG, thematic elements, including bullying, mild language
The lowdown: A warmhearted and inspiring story about Augie Pullman, whose was born with facial differences.
Augie’s mom and dad, played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, decide to enroll Augie, played by “Room’s” Jacob Tremblay, into a mainstream elementary school, where the boy — and his family — face several challenges, including bullying by other students and resistance from the community.
But the family’s determination and spirit overcome all obstacles in this uplifting feature.
The film touched critics, who gave it an 85 percent fresh rating at
Technical aspects: Blu-ray: 2.40:1 (16×9 enhanced) widescreen picture; English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby digital, English 2.0 Dolby digital optimized for late-night listening and English descriptive audio; English SDH, English and Spanish subtitles; DVD: 2.40:1 (16×9 enhanced) widescreen picture; English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby digital and English descriptive audio; English SDH, English and Spanish subtitles.
Don’t miss: Extras include several featurettes on the making of the movie and behind-the-scenes looks at the production, a music video and a commentary track.

LBJ (Blu-ray)
Release date: Feb. 6
Details: 2017, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Rated: R, language
The lowdown: Woody Harrelson stars as Lyndon Baines Johnson, who became president after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In many ways, Johnson was a tragic figure. His progressive domestic agenda was later overshadowed by his escalation of the war in Vietnam, which ultimately cost more than 50,000 U.S. lives.
Director Rob Reiner’s “LBJ,” is more a character study than a typical biopic.
The performance of Harrelson as Johnson helps gloss over a multitude of cinematic sins that beset the movie.
Harrelson’s LBJ is crude, shrewd, profane, smart, needy, sensitive and insecure.
In public, he may be a lion, but in private, he’s a lamb riddled with fears, doubts and insecurities.
The film basically covers five years of Johnson’s career — from 1959 when he contemplates running for president to 1964, when — after JFK’s assassination — he decides to fulfill his predecessor’s agenda of passing civil-rights legislation.
And this is another of the film’s mishaps: The movie ends with Johnson telling his staff that he will push those measures through Congress because it’s the right and just action to take.
Then, instead of showing us what Johnson does best — wheel and deal, we see a prologue telling us how he was able to pass such groundbreaking legislation as Medicare, Medicaid, voting rights, etc.
Historically, “LBJ” is a glossed-over “Classics Illustrated” look at tumultuous time in the United States.
Technical aspects: 1080p high definition, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture; English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (DVD + digital)
Release date: Feb. 13
Details: 2017, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Rated: PG-13, language, violence
The lowdown: Denzel Washington stars in this legal drama about an idealistic defense attorney recruited to join a law firm headed by an ambitious lawyer, played by Colin Farrell.
Washington’s Roman J. Israel begins a friendship with an equal rights advocate, played by Carmen Ejogo, which begins a series of events that puts the activism that defined Israel’s career to the test.
While two-time Oscar-winner Washington received an Academy Award nomination for his performance, the film, overall, received lukewarm reviews by critics who gave it a 51 percent fresh rating at
Technical aspects: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture; English 5.1 Dolby digital and English audio description track; English SDH, English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Don’t miss: Supplemental options include a making of featurette, a “Denzel Washington Becoming Roman” featurette and a “Colin Farrell Discovering George” featurette as well as eight deleted scenes.

Night of the Living Dead: Special Edition (Blu-ray)
Release date: Feb. 13
Details: 1968, The Criterion Collection
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: George A. Romero’s film launched a cottage industry of movies featuring flesh-eating zombies, as well as such TV series as “The Walking Dead.”
But Romero’s film was the first, a shocking, cheap, black-and-white horror outing that became a midnight staple, with its gruesome depictions of the dead devouring the living.
The story is rather simple: A group of strangers take shelter in a farmhouse and find themselves battling a horde of ghouls who want to eat them.
The film was Romero’s late-1960s allegory of America tearing itself apart, as it combined gruesome images with social commentary.
It also broke ground by casting a black actor — Duane Jones — in the lead.
And while Romero topped himself with is sequel, “Dawn of the Dead,” “Night” remains a landmark feature in the annals of filmmaking.
Technical aspects: 1080p high definition, 1.37:1 full-screen picture; English LPCM monaural; English SDH subtitles.
Don’t miss: Bonus materials include “Night of Anubis,” a work-print version of the movie; a program with filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez; a featurette with screenwriter John A. Russo on the commercial and industrial film production company where Romero and others involved in the movie got their start; two commentary tracks; archival interviews with Romero, Jones and Judith Ridley; a look at the film’s style and score; a featurette about the direction of the ghouls featuring member of the cast and crew; interviews with Gary and Russell Streiner; newsreels from 1967; and an essay about the movie.

Blade of the Immortal (Blu-ray)
Release date: Feb. 13
Details: 2017, Magnolia Home Entertainment
Rated: R, bloody violence and carnage
The lowdown: A violent, Japanese historical feature about a skilled samurai who is cursed with immortality after a legendary battle.
He is haunted by the brutal murder of his sister and realizes that battling evil is the only way to regain his soul.
He vows to protect a young girl and help her avenge the death of her parents, killed by a gang of master swordsmen.
The movie, the 100th directorial effort by Takashi Miike, boasts a lot of violent swordplay, which will please fans of the genre.
Critics were impressed with the film, giving it an 85 percent fresh rating at
Technical aspects: 1080p high definition, 2:39:1 (16×9 enhanced) widescreen picture; Japanese and English (dubbed) 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English SDH, English and Spanish subtitles.
Don’t miss: Extras include an interview with star Takuya Kimura, cast interviews and a Manji vs. 300 featurette.

The Girl Without Hands (Blu-ray + DVD)
Details: 2016, Shout! Factory
Rated: Not rated, sexual content, nudity, violence
The lowdown: A hand-painted animated feature that is based on a dark tale by the Brothers Grimm.
A young girl is sold during hard times by her father, a miller, to the Devil. The girl, however, is protected by her purity and escapes.
In revenge, the Devil deprives her of her hands. The girl then sets out into the woods and begins and long and dangerous journey toward the light.
She seeks protection at the estate of a handsome prince, but the Devil devises a plan to get her back.
While this fairy tale-like story may be dark and cruel, director Sebastien Laudenbach brings a beauty to the screen that makes its touching and sublime.
Technical aspects: Blu-ray: 1080p high definition, 1.85:1 widescreen picture; French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English subtitles; DVD: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture; French 5.1 Dolby digital; English subtitles.
Don’t miss: Extras include a making of featurette, an interview with Laudenbach and short films by Laudenbach.

Rise of the Footsoldier Part II
Details: 2017, Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Rated: R, brutal violence, language, drug use, nudity, sexual content
The lowdown: Gunman Carlton Leach is still mourning the murders of three close friends.
He is using drug and sex to try and alleviate the pain.
Soon, he decides it’s time for revenge, and begins climbing the ranks of the criminal group he once abandoned.
His plan is to reach the top, then eliminate all those who killed his friends. He soon learns that power is a dangerous thing to have.
Technical aspects: 2.40:1 (16×9 enhanced) widescreen picture; English 5.1 Dolby digital; English and Spanish subtitles.
Don’t miss: A making of featurette and a commentary track comprise the major bonus offerings.

Charley Chase at Hal Roach: The Talkies Volume One: 1930-31
Release date: Jan. 24
Details: 1930-31, The Sprocket Vault
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: It’s a shame that the career and legacy of Charley Chase has not lasted as long as Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd.
Those who do remember Chase may be few in numbers, but they are loyal and vocal about his comedic gifts.
Chase worked at the Hal Roach Studios alongside Laurel and Hardy and the Little Rascals. Besides being a performer, Chase was a writer and director. He also was a fine singer and dancer.
This two-disc set offers 18 comedy shorts Chase made for Roach in 1930 and 1931.
The shorts have such titles as “The Pip from Pittsburg,” “The Hasty Marriage,” “All Teed Up,” “Fifty Million Husbands,” “Whispering Whoopee,” “Thundering Tenors” and “Skip the Maloo!”
Chase worked at Roach from 1924 to 1936. He usually played an average guy who somehow got himself into the most preposterous and bizarre situations, usually through no fault of his own.
He mostly was a victim of circumstance, easily flustered and embarrassed, but capable of worming his way out of whatever predicament he found himself.
His co-star in many of these shorts was Thelma Todd, a beautiful and talented comedian who complimented Chase’s actions.
These shorts were remastered from the original Roach print materials.
Technical aspects: 1.37:1 full-screen picture; English Dolby digital.
Don’t miss: Bonus offerings include commentaries by film historian and Roach expert Richard M. Roberts and “La Senorita de Chicago,” the Spanish-language version of “The Pip From Pittsburg.”

Victor Crowley (Blu-ray)
Release date: Feb. 6
Details: 2017, Dark Sky Films
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: This latest edition to the slasher series finds the sole survivor of the 2007 incident in which 40 people were killed, returning to Louisiana’s Honey Island Swamp, where he must confront the ghost of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).
Writer-director Adam Green returns to the franchise for this outing into the blood-soaked bayou.
Fans of the genre will embrace this violent feature.
Technical aspects: 1080p high definition, 2.39:1 widescreen picture; English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English SDH subtitles.
Don’t miss: Extras include a behind-the-scenes look at the film, an interview with Green and two commentary tracks.

Captain Fury
Release date: Dec. 12, 2017
Details: 1939, VCI Entertainment
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: The Hal Roach Studio produced more than comedy shorts. It was the studio that gave audiences the classic dinosaur feature, “One Million B.C.” as well as the series of “Topper” movies.
The studio also produced historical adventures such as “Captain Fury.”
Basically, a Western set in colonial Australia, the movie stars Brian Aherne, a second-tier leading man of the period, who portrays Capt. Michael Fury, an Irish patriot sentenced to hard labor in the penal colony.
When he escapes, he gathers a band of fellow escapees and disgruntled settlers together to battle an evil land baron, played by the villainous George Zucco.
The movie features a strong supporting cast of familiar faces, including Victor McLaglen, Paul Lukas, John Carradine, Douglas Dumbrille and “Flash Gordon’s” Ming the Merciless, Charles Middleton.
Technical aspects: 1.37:1 (4×3) full-screen picture; English 2.0 Dolby digital; English SDH subtitles.
Don’t miss: Extras include a series of trailers from other Roach studio releases.

“The Topper Collection”
Release date: Oct. 31, 2017
Details: 1936-40, VCI Entertainment
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: “Topper” was a popular screwball comedy from 1936. It’s the story of a stuff banker, Cosmo Topper, played by character actor Roland Young, who is pestered by two fun-loving ghosts, George and Marian Kirby, played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, who decide to bring some adventure and humor into Topper’s life.
The movie was successful enough to spawn two sequels, “Topper Takes a Trip” in 1938 and “Topper Returns” in 1940.
Grant was gone, but Bennett and Young returned for the first sequel, with Joan Blondell replacing Bennett for “Topper Returns.”
The sequels were not as satisfying as the original, which is usually the case. Still, the films do have their followers, especially with fans of Bennett and Young.
Technical aspects: 1.37:1 (4×3) full-screen picture; English Dolby digital; English SDH subtitles.

“Hal Roach Forgotten Comedies”
Release date: Oct. 17, 2017
Details: 1939-41, VCI Home Entertainment
Rated: Not rated
The lowdown: A set featuring three movies from the Hal Roach Studio collection.
The titles are “The Housekeeper’s Daughter” (1939), starring Joan Bennett, Adolphe Menjou, John Hubbard, William Gargan and Victor Mature; “Turnabout” (1940) featuring Carol Landis, Menjou, Hubband and Gargan; and “Road Show” (1941) again featuring Menjou, Landis, Hubbard, also with Patsy Kelly and Charles Butterworth.
“The Housekeeper’s Daughter” is a spoof of murder mysteries, “Turnabout” is a fantasy about a husband and wife who are given the opportunity to switch personalities for a day and “Road Show” is a comedy about a rich playboy who fake insanity to get out of marrying a gold digger only to wind up in an asylum, where his adventures are just beginning.
These features are not classic, but they are solidly entertaining.
Technical aspects: 1.37:1 (4×3) full-screen picture; English Dolby digital; English SDH subtitles.

Other titles being released on Tuesday, unless otherwise indicated:
Black Code (DVD + digital download + VOD) (Music Box Films)
ExPatriot (Monarch Home Entertainment)
Inoperable (Zorya Films, Millman Productions, ITN Distribution, Feb. 6)

Lady and the Tramp (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
Murder on the Orient Express (Fox Home Entertainment)
Novitiate (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel Studios-Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
Survivors Guide to Prison (Gravitas Ventures, Feb. 23)
Ackley Bridge, Series 1 (Acorn TV, Feb. 26)
Doctor Finlay, Series 4 (Acorn TV, Feb. 26)
Girlfriends, Episode 5 (Acorn TV, Feb. 26)
The Heart Guy: Series 2, Episodes 7 & 8 (Acorn TV, Feb. 26)
Murdoch Mysteries: Series 11, Episode 10 (Acorn TV, Feb. 26)

Coming next week: Coco
Darkest Hour

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. I review movies, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (, The Film Yap and other print and online publications. I can be reached by email at You also can follow me on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook. My movie reviews also can be found at Rottentomatoes:




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