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Review: These releases run the genre gamut

These releases include a musical biopic; another kung fu lesson; a strange romance; a couple of cult classics.

A scene from 'Kung Fu Panda 4'
A scene from 'Kung Fu Panda 4' courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
A scene from 'Kung Fu Panda 4' courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

These releases include a musical biopic; another kung fu lesson; a strange romance; a couple of cult classics; and an entertaining thinker.

The American Society of Magical Negroes on Blu-ray
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The American Society of Magical Negroes [Collector’s edition] (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
A young man, Aren (Justice Smith), is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to a cause of utmost importance: making white people’s lives easier.

This comedic narrative is designed to create discourse as audiences consider how the story relates to real life. Most people of colour are familiar with the notion of trying not to make white people uncomfortable, taught to be accommodating and behave courteously to avoid escalating even the most banal situation. The movie takes this idea to the extreme, fantasizing that this behaviour is actually a secret survival strategy by select Black people imbued with magical powers to help them placate anxious white people. Smith and David Alan Grier find an excellent balance in their characters, who cheerily concede to their clients while also carrying heavy weights on their shoulders, from generations of mistreatment to the responsibility of the safety of an entire race. In spite of being wrapped in an amusing, heartfelt package, the film’s message is clear and demands serious consideration.

Special features include: commentary with director/writer/producer Kobi Libii; “Secret Society Members”; “Crafting a Magical Society”; and “Speaking your Truth.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Beauty of Beauties on Blu-ray
88 Films

The Beauty of Beauties (Blu-ray)
The King of Yueh, Goujian (Lei Zhao), is defeated and imprisoned by the King of Wu, Fu Cha (Mu Chu). But when Goujian returns to his much-maligned homeland, he is determined to defeat Wu once and for all with a secret weapon: a local beauty named Hsi Shih (Ching Chiang), who is sent to serve Fu Cha and lure him to his doom.

This is truly a classic epic with massive sets and hundreds of extras. Where the Shaw Brothers primarily made their movies on a studio lot, this picture built everything from the ground up, capturing the ornate details of the period. It is a tale of revenge that takes years to execute as a group of attractive young women are trained in the arts of seduction and cunning, so they can lure Fu Cha into their trap and set him on a path of self-destruction. Hsi Shih proves very skilled in the latter, swaying him with compliments and turning him against his own advisors. There is a lot of other drama occurring outside the main story, but it’s definitely the most captivating.

Special features include: interview with Oriental cinema expert Tony Rayn; and original trailer restoration comparison. (88 Films)

Bob Marley: One Love on 4K
Paramount Home Entertainment

Bob Marley: One Love (4K Ultra HD & Digital code)
Discover Bob Marley’s (Kingsley Ben-Adir) powerful story of overcoming adversity and the journey behind his revolutionary music that changed the world.

The movie covers one of the most significant years in Marley’s life as he went from a near-death experience and almost losing those closest to him to releasing an album that Time magazine would later declare is the best album of the 20th century. But Marley was not without his faults and the film does not paint the portrait of a perfect man, but one that was deeply loved and passionate about his lyrical message. Marley remained neutral when it came to politics, but they had a significant influence on him. So, the narrative contains high-level political drama afflicting Jamaica in the 1970s without more detailed explanations of the conflict. Naturally, the music is like a character in the picture, expressing love, outrage and hope, reflecting the emotions of the characters and their environment. Ben-Adir is well casted, mimicking Marley’s appearance and mannerisms to a tee. More importantly, he captures his energy.

Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “Becoming Bob Marley”; “The Story: Bringing Bob Marley’s Story to Life”; “The Cast”; “On Location: Jamaica and England”; and “The Band.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

The Crow on 4K
Paramount Home Entertainment

The Crow (4K Ultra HD & Digital copy)
Young musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) is brutally murdered alongside his fiancée by members of a violent gang. On the anniversary of their death, Eric rises from the grave and assumes the gothic mantle of the Crow, a supernatural avenger. He then sets out on a macabre mission to mercilessly hunt down everyone responsible and make them answer for their crimes.

Like many legendary performers, Lee was taken from the world just as he was on the brink of greatness. This movie would have catapulted him to stardom, if it wasn’t for the tragic accident that ended his life. Lee captures the perfect balance of revenge and solemnity as Eric returns from his grave to slay his killers and inadvertently bring peace to those left behind. The dialogue is almost poetic with great actors adding their own character quirks and attitudes, creating a cult classic and goth inspiration. The Crow is an angel of vengeance, showing more mercy than Eric and Shelley were given and leaving an artistic trademark alongside each of his victims. Even after 30 years, it has not lost any of its power to impact audiences.

Special features include: commentary with director Alex Proyas; commentary by producer Jeff Most and screenwriter John Shirley; extended scenes; deleted footage montage; “Shadows & Pain: Designing The Crow”; “Sideshow Collectibles: An Interview with Edward R. Pressman”; behind-the-scenes featurette; a profile on James O’Barr; and trailer. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Cry-Baby on 4K
Kino Lorber

Cry-Baby (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)
Eisenhower is President. Rock ’n’ Roll is king. And Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp) is the baddest hood in his high school. Cry-Baby is the irresistible bad boy whose amazing ability to shed one single tear drives all the girls wild — especially Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane), a rich, beautiful “square” who finds herself uncontrollably drawn to the dreamy juvenile delinquent and his forbidden world of rockabilly music, fast cars and faster women.

Writer-director John Waters had gained a reputation for producing “filth” as his movies explored the lives of society’s deplorable. And although this movie is made in the same vein, it’s one of his more accessible and widely accepted pictures, behind Hairspray and Serial Mom. The characters are over the top and eccentric, exaggerated versions of S. E. Hinton’s “socs” and “greasers.” Cry-Baby’s leather-clad crew are considered the town’s lowest of the low, immediately blamed for any local wrongdoings. Meanwhile, its upstanding citizens spread ridiculous notions of civility and embrace dull pastimes to avoid any temptation. Part musical, the songs don’t immediately seem that impressive, yet they’re catchy and completely complement the narrative.

Special features include: commentary by writer-director John Waters, moderated by Black Mansion Films producer Heather Buckley; commentary by writer-director John Waters; deleted scenes; “Bringing Up Baby”; “Pop Icons: interview with actress Amy Locane”; “Part of a Collection: interview with actress Traci Lords”; “A Few Yucks: interview with actor and rock legend Iggy Pop”; “All These Misfits: interview with actress Ricki Lake”; “So Tired of Being Good: interview with actress Patricia Hearst”; “In the Sandbox: interview with actor Darren E. Burrows”; “Hip to Be Square: interview with actor Stephen Mailer”; “Talking Hair: interview with barber Howard “Hep” Preston”; “It Came from… Baltimore!,” 2005 documentary; and theatrical trailer. (Kino Lorber)

Kung Fu Panda 4 on 4K

Kung Fu Panda 4 (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)
After learning he must find a new hero to take over as Dragon Warrior so that he may fulfill his destiny as the next spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, Po (Jack Black) decides to take one last adventurous mission. He teams up with a quick-witted thief named Zhen (Awkwafina), a corsac fox, to discover the truth about recent sightings of villains he’s defeated in the past. In a journey that puts both to the test, it will take a wicked, powerful sorceress, Chameleon (Viola Davis), to bring them together and perhaps remind Po that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

Having previously limited the presence of the Furious Five, they are all but absent from this picture with just brief mentions of their exploits elsewhere in the world. Instead, the focus is on Po’s ill-advised partnership with Zhen, which takes them to dangerous dens of ill repute, and his fathers’ concern for his safety, which leads to their own comic-laden quest to protect their son. The Chameleon is a formidable opponent, extending the traditionally small lizard’s abilities to also include transmogrification. Consequently, her ability to stir up trouble is greater than the other villains Po faced and her ultimate ambition will change the game entirely. Yet, even though some of the key characters are new, this is still very much a Kung Fu Panda movie, meaning it’s sweet and amusing.

Special features include: commentary by filmmakers; deleted scenes; “Kung Fu Talking”; “Meet the Cast”; “Kung Fu Panda 4 All!”; “Mastering the Dumpling”; “How to Draw” and “Shadow Puppet Theatre.” (DreamWorks)

Lisa Frankenstein on Blu-ray
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Lisa Frankenstein [Collector’s edition] (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
A coming of rage love story about Lisa (Kathryn Newton), a misunderstood teenager, and her high school crush (Cole Sprouse), who happens to be a handsome corpse. After a set of playfully horrific circumstances bring him back to life, the two embark on a murderous journey to find love, happiness … and a few missing body parts along the way.

Writer Diablo Cody has a particular way of scripting that relies on a lot of dialogue and frequent cultural references that may fly over some viewers’ heads. However, the best parts of the narrative is when Cody is trying the least to be witty and allowing the tale to unfold naturally. That said, Newton does an excellent job delivering her meticulously crafted lines, even though she occasionally fails to persuade audiences of its authenticity. It’s actually a rather romantic story as Frankenstein comes back to life to be with Lisa, who he mistakenly believes loves him. Conversely, Lisa is flattered by his dedication and committed to helping him regain his humanity by any means necessary (including murder, maiming and embroidery). Consequently, she learns to come out of her shell and embrace her true self, creating an unusual coming-of-age tale with a few more corpses than is typically involved.

Special features include: commentary with director Zelda Williams; deleted scenes; “Resurrecting the 1980’s”; “An Electric Connection”; “A Dark Comedy Duo”; and gag reel. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Sabotage on Blu-ray
MVD Rewind Collection

Sabotage [Collector’s edition] (Blu-ray)
Colonel Michael Bishop’s (Mark Dacascos) last mission went horribly wrong. Destroyed from within… sabotaged. His was the only body dragged from the ashes of a black operation that never happened. After years of recovery, Bishop thought he escaped the Black Ops and began a successful new life as a bodyguard to the rich and famous. He is the best with skills most men died learning. But his past catches up with him. His clients begin to die violently, at the same shadowy hand that conspired against his Black Op unit. Now he must go on one last mission to destroy the faceless men that run an army that doesn’t exist.

This is a cat-and-mouse chase very typical of ‘90s action movies. Bishop cannot conduct an official investigation into the murders of his clients, yet he’s better at tracking down the clues than the detectives assigned to the case. Thus, he enters an informal partnership with the lead investigator (Carrie-Anne Moss) and they eventually work together to track down the killer. Tony Todd’s clever assassin is highly skilled, but also enjoys making dark quips in lethal situations. He’s by far the most interesting character in the movie as his personality stands out amongst the more lacklustre pursuers.

Special features include: interviews with actors Mark Dacascos and Tony Todd; trailer; and collectible mini poster. (MVD Rewind Collection)

Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series on DVD
Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment

Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series (DVD)
Kotter (Gabriel Kaplan) is the graduate of a tough Brooklyn high school who returns to teach a classroom of underachieving “sweathogs” — Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), a nasal-voiced nerd with a childlike disposition; Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), a tall, super-cool charmer; Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), a “Puerto Rican Jew” and street-savvy hustler; and Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), a dimwitted ladies’ man and leader of the pack.

This show is the classic story of a teacher who chooses to instruct a group of underachievers, believing he can prepare them for life and show them the value of a good education. He must also battle the sweathog-hating principal, who often goes out of his way to find reasons to reprimand the students. Of course, the class gets up to their typical hijinks, far outdating the pranks of Saved by the Bell. Kotter’s wife also plays an important role, supporting his purpose and listening to his endless tales of eccentric uncles. This was Travolta’s first big role, rising above a cast of newcomers to eventually become a movie star. But together, this group delivered countless laughs and the rare, sincere growth moment. The last of the series’ four seasons is unquestionably its weakest as both Kaplan’s and Travolta’s popularity outside the show prevents them from appearing in every episode. Luckily, the series doesn’t try to push on, letting the show’s reputation be mostly based on the positive first three seasons.

There are no special features. (Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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