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Examining this week's Blu-rays

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A big week this week, with loads of box office hits and under-the-radar gems. Here's the full breakdown:

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The Monuments Men - George Clooney co-wrote and directed this movie based on real-life events about a group of American soldiers trying to locate and return thousands of works of artwork from the nazis. I've heard some complaints about the film not knowing what tone it was trying to have, but I appreciated its blend of humor and more serious scenes. The film is a bit of a slow mover; it never gets too exciting or too funny, but it's one of those movies that's just... enjoyable. Of course, the top-notch cast (which includes Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Bob Balaban) goes a long way towards making it fun to watch. Just don't expect too much, and you'll be just fine.

Pompeii - There's a lot of bad movie in "Pompeii." But for disaster movie junkies like me, there's a lot of good, too. Well, not good, really, but fun. The movie starts off pretty awful, full of wooden dialogue and Kiefer Sutherland doing some sort of campy-British/Roman accent. But about halfway through, there's a pretty kick-ass gladiator combat scene that I really enjoyed, and then the volcano erupts and all hell breaks loose. For pure spectacle and special effects, I've seen much, much worse. But give me an exploding volcano and I'm there, so I had enough fun with "Pompeii" to justify the 90 minutes of my life it occupied.

Three Days to Kill - Although Kevin Costner's movies have all done poorly at the box office this year, creatively he's hitting some high notes. Take "Three Days to Kill," for instance. The film went nowhere at the box office and critics hated it. Me? I absolutely loved it. It's one of my favorite films of the year so far. A spy/action thriller with a heavy emphasis on humor and a dad trying to repair his relationships after a career in the CIA, the film balances action and laughs impeccably well. Costner is in fine form, there are great recurring jokes, and the supporting cast is good as well. Sure, Amber Heard's character seems a bit out of place, but I've never yet complained about Amber Heard being in a movie. Check this one out; it flew under the radar, but I really liked it.

About Last Night - In order to enjoy the remake of "About Last Night," you have to completely erase any trace of the original film from your memory. While that first film was a 1986 Brat Pack flick, the new iteration is a hard R-rated rom com starring Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, and Joy Bryant. The biggest difference between the two films is time. What was considered risqué in the '80s is passé nowadays, and the new iteration ups the ante by filling the film with as many sex jokes as humanly possible. This isn't a movie to watch when the kids are awake... or even in the house. That all said, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it at least a little bit. Christopher McDonald, Jo Lo Truglio, and Paula Patton are all enjoyable in supporting roles, and the film is easy to watch even if it doesn't seem to be trying very hard. I chuckled a lot, laughed a couple of times, and was generally engaged, in part because I find Michael Ealy (who takes the lead role over Kevin Hart) such an appealing actor to watch. "About Last Night" won't replace the original or win any awards, but it's an easy way to kill 90 minutes.

Vampire Academy - I really enjoyed this latest YA-book-based movie, and it's a shame it didn't do better at the box office. Way more "Heathers" than "Twilight" (not surprising since it's from the writer of Heathers and the director of "Mean Girls"), the film focuses on an elite school where vampires and their half-human protectors train for the dangers they face and the enemies that re out to get them. And while that all sounds super-serious, it's also about teen crushes, jealousy, relationships, rumors, romance, and more. It's a very fun film with lots of humor, and Zoey Deutch is a true revelation in the lead role. This is a great film to pop in for a night of light entertainment.

Nosferatu The Vampyre - On the other side of the vampire spectra, we have Werner Herzog's 1970s classic "Nosferatu the Vampyre," inspired by F.W. Murnau's classic vampire silent film, "Nosferatu." This movie is as classic vampire as you can get, with transylvania, Dracula, Harker, Van Helsing, and Mina all playing a part. It's moody and atmospheric, and Klaus Kinski is truly creepy as the titular vampire. Now on Blu-ray for the first time, this creepy retelling of the legend might be the best Dracula movie of them all.

Grand Piano - Elijah Wood and John Cusack star in this "Phone Booth"-like thriller about a concert pianist giving his first show in five years whose sheet music delivers a message to him in the middle of his performance: play one wrong note and you die! It's an extremely taut thriller, heavily influenced by Hitchcock (and even more so De Palma, who was himself heavily influenced by Hitchcock), and it will have you completely engrossed in it from beginning to end. Elijah Wood is terrific, and the film really gets the tension and mystery just right I really enjoyed this under-the-radar gem.

Also available this week on Blu-ray:

  • John Wayne's classic western/comedy "McLintock!" makes its Blu-ray debut. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew and co-starring Maureen O'Hara, this under appreciated gem sits in the middle of The Duke's catalog. It's not one of his household name films, but it's not completely forgotten, either. Now it's on Blu-ray, and I'm pretty happy about that.
  • Christian Slater and Vinnie Jones star in the by-the-numbers supernatural thriller "Way of the Wicked." Slater plays a priest (if you can buy that) as the film follows his attempts to thwart a supernatural demonic influence that's causing murders in a small town. The film isn't great, but it's not terrible, either. It's pretty much along the lines of what you normally get with these types of direct-to-video flicks.
  • A show that was always hanging on without becoming a bona fide hit, "Nikita: Season 4" has cult classic written all over it. I always enjoyed this show and it's crazy action and unrelenting twists and turns, and now you can get the whole series with this final season collection.
  • I don't know much about Sophia Grace and Rosie except that they appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and became public darlings, but now they have their own movie: "Sophia Grace & Rosie's Royal Adventure." It checks all the right boxes for young girls, incorporating princesses, adventure, and music, so parents will probably enjoy their little girls having something new but familiar to watch.
  • When I was bowled over by "Downton Abbey" a couple of years ago, it became clear to me that the BBC also offers up some amazing storytelling in a mold different from the usual genre fare I'm used to watching. And while "Call the Midwife: Season Three" isn't quite "Downton Abbey," it's still some solid storytelling coupled with fine acting in that terrific BBC tradition.
  • David Morse and Cory Moteith star in action thriller "McCanick," which sees the late Monteith playing against typer as bad guy, and David Morse... well, being awesome, like he always is.
  • Italian crime thriller "Gang War in Milan" makes its blu-ray debut, starring the original Antoio Sabato, not the Junior version. These 70s foreign crime flicks are a lot of fun, with a grittiness you don't see much today.
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