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Review: Truth and justice reign supreme in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

Beverly Hills Cop (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a street-smart cop from Detroit. Tracking down his best friend’s killer in Beverly Hills, Axel smashes through the local barriers in a high-speed pursuit of justice.

Released in 1984, this was Murphy’s fourth feature film, but his first starring role. It’s hard to believe they almost cast Sylvester Stallone and let him turn it into a version of Cobra (which has its respectable place in the cop movie genre). It’s clear there was a lot of ad-libbing throughout the picture as Murphy’s stand-up personality shines through multiple scenes, and particularly the one at the country club where he must find a way past the maître-de. But the pairing of Judge Reinhold and John Ashton is pure comedy genius as they do a very entertaining Odd Couple routine for most of the picture. Although some of the comedy may be a little dated, it still works as an enjoyable fish-out-of-water cop comedy.

Special features include: commentary by director Martin Brest; deleted scenes; “Beverly Hills Cop — The Phenomenon Begins”; “A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process”; “The Music of Beverly Hills Cop”; vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; isolated audio track of the original score by Harold Faltermeyer; “BHC Mixtape ‘84”, which allows viewers to go directly to the scenes featuring the hit songs; location map; and theatrical trailer. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray)

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Warner Bros. Animation

Bugs Bunny, one of animation’s most recognizable characters, first hopped onto the screen in 1940 and he’s been a pop-culture icon ever since. Cartoons, movies, TV, comics, music, sports and more — this wascally wabbit has done it all. Clever pranks and one-liners are here, along with interviews with today’s most renowned animators, historians and superstars.

This collector’s set features Looney Tunes’ most popular and recognizable character, even if he wasn’t the studio’s first. The silly, smart-alecky rabbit has been a troublemaker since the beginning, though it took a few episodes for cartoonists to settle on his familiar look. This anniversary edition collects all of the bunny’s most memorable cartoons, from “Rabbit of Seville” to “Rabbit Fire” to “Hair-Raising Hare.” And even though the focus is on Bugs, he’s joined by many of his memorable co-stars, including Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Gossamer and more. The bonus features provide great insight into the characters’ histories and includes the very amusing 50th anniversary tribute to the wascally wabbit, featuring celebrity guests and Bugs’ personal friends, such as Chevy Chase, Cher, Jeff Goldblum and many more. Finally, the lovely diamond edition Bugs Bunny Funko Pop! included in the boxset is the perfect tribute to the beloved personality.

Special features include: “Bugs Bunny’s 80th What’s Up Doc-umentary!”; and “10 Looney Tunes Cartoons” episodes. (Warner Bros. Animation)

Chernobyl (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)

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HBO Home Entertainment

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, Soviet Union suffered a massive explosion resulting in one of the worst human-made catastrophes in history. This miniseries tells the story of the brave men and women who made incredible sacrifices to save Europe from unimaginable disaster, all the while battling a culture of disinformation. Jared Harris portrays Valery Legasov, a leading Soviet nuclear physicist. As part of the response team, he was one of the first to grasp the scope of the unparalleled disaster that occurred. Stellan Skarsgård plays Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, who is assigned by the Kremlin to lead the government commission on Chernobyl in the hours immediately following the accident. Emily Watson portrays Ulana Khomyuk, a Soviet nuclear physicist committed to solving the mystery of what led to the Chernobyl disaster.

This is a fascinating examination of all the errors and arrogance that led to this horrific disaster. There’s no attempt to sugar coat the truth or excuse those most responsible; instead, a bright, penetrating light is shone upon every detail in a manner easily understood by laymen. Beginning in the control room during an ill-timed and inappropriate test, the series follows each misstep and decision from not flipping a switch that could have prevented the explosion to not calling for an evacuation to people making choices that did more to cover their own butts than mitigate damages. It’s a textbook example of everything that could go wrong and be done wrong. But there are also acts of heroism as men risked their lives to try to manage whatever they could of the fallout. The performances are impeccable from the briefest act to the show stars as the ensemble conveys this heavy subject matter with authenticity.

Special features include: “Inside the Episodes”; “Meet the Key Players”; “Behind the Curtain – Director Johan Renck”; “Script to Screen – The Divers”; and “Pivotal Moment: The Trial.” (HBO Home Entertainment)

Coming to America steelbook (4K Ultra HD & Digital)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

Pampered African prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) rebels against an arranged marriage and heads to America to find a new bride. Murphy’s regal father (James Earl Jones) agrees to allow the prince 40 days to roam the U.S., sending the prince’s faithful retainer Semmi (Arsenio Hall) along to make sure nothing untoward happens. To avoid fortune hunters, Prince Akeem conceals his true identity and gets a “Joe job” at a fast-food restaurant.

Apparently Murphy had this idea for a prince out-of-water story, which he then handed off to a couple of Saturday Night Live writers to flesh out before taking it apart and putting it back together with Hall and director John Landis. The result is a still-hilarious comedy featuring a number of well-known actors, as well as several characters played by a nearly unrecognizable Murphy and Hall — Rick Baker deserves infinite credit for the incredible make-up transformations he created, which are further detailed in the related featurette. The comedy is intrinsic to the narrative and delivered flawlessly so no one ever appears to be trying too hard, even though the jokes are spot-on in every scene. The bonus features provide some interesting tidbits about the making of the film, though they are unfortunately missing a few key voices.

Special features include: “Prince-ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America”; “Fit for Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America”; “Character Building: The Many Faces of Rick Baker” “Composing America: The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers”; a vintage sit-down with Murphy and Hall; and photo gallery. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Death of Me (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
rightnter,small)}Vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand, Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil Oliver (Luke Hemsworth) awake hungover and with no memory of the previous night. They find footage on Neil’s camera, and watch, horrified, as Neil appears to murder Christine. With 24 hours until the next ferry and a typhoon threatening the island, Christine and Neil attempt to reconstruct the night’s events — and are snared in a web of mystery, black magic, and murder.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman‘s latest horror picture takes legends of human sacrifice and transfers them to today’s technically savvy society. Christine and Neil can’t remember anything that happened the previous night, but they’re lucky enough to have captured most of it on video to relive and share every horrifying minute of her death over and over again. This complicates things for the couple, as well as the islanders unused to such aware targets. It’s probably clearer to audiences what’s happening before the on-screen characters figure it out, yet it’s still interesting enough to keep viewers engaged as they try to find allies and a way off the island. The ending isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it works for the narrative.

Special features include: “Island Magic: Conjuring Death of Me.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

The Golden Child (Blu-ray)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) is “the Chosen One,” a social worker on a madcap mission to find “the Golden Child,” a young boy possessing mystical powers. Joined by Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), they’ll battle the countless henchmen of Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance), the mysterious and evil cult leader holding the boy captive. It’s a dangerous quest, complete with obstacle courses and a mythical amulet.

Just as Kurt Russell was rescuing green-eyed women from an ancient sorcerer in Big Trouble in Little China, Murphy was on his own mystical adventure. Sardo is not only surrounded by a bunch of loyal muscle, but he wields his own supernatural powers. In spite of the boy’s significant abilities, he was raised by Buddhist monks to be a pacifist and doesn’t use them to smite his captors. Meanwhile, although Chandler is an unlikely choice to spearhead the mission, the dreams don’t lie and he proves to be the right man for the job. The film presents a classic balance of humour and magically-driven action, complete with top-notch ‘80s level special effects.

Special features include: making-of featurette. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Mission: Impossible: The Original TV Series (Blu-ray)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

An elite covert operations unit carries out highly sensitive missions subject to official denial in the event of failure, death or capture.

Before Tom Cruise became the go-to agent for unfeasible assignments in the ongoing film franchise, there was a television series that ran for seven seasons in which a man accepted any task regardless of its difficulty. Each episode followed the same basic format. It began with a montage of scenes from the episode as the classic fuse burned on screen. This was followed by the self-destructing tape with his instructions, inspection of a dossier containing all the necessary information to complete the mission, a team meeting to go over the plan and each person’s assignment that aligned with their specialty, and finally the plot’s execution. The target was generally a crime lord, though they also faced dictators and other evil organizations. While the films would be far more action-based, this series is recognizably the building blocks for at least the early pictures.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Perry Mason: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

The series follows the origins of American fiction’s most legendary criminal defense lawyer, Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys). When the case of the decade breaks down his door, Mason’s relentless pursuit of the truth reveals a fractured city and just maybe, a pathway to redemption for himself.

Perry Mason began his life in books, followed by a TV series and then a number of television series and TV movies. The lawyer generally represented people accused of murder, who he would then exonerate by identifying the real killer mid-trial. However, this new series begins before the defender of truth was practicing law in a courtroom. At the start of the first season, Perry is a private detective hired to investigate a horrific infant kidnapping. However, this case is far more involved than anyone would’ve expected, uncovering other plots that have significant consequences for many of the show’s characters. In between piecing this puzzle together, Perry also struggles with memories of serving in WWI, which both torture his mind and make him a hands-on detective.

Special features include: “Robert Downey Jr. & Matthew Rhys Conversation”; “Robert Downey Jr. & Susan Downey Conversation”; “The Characters of Perry Mason”; and “Under the Fedora.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Popeye 40th Anniversary (Blu-ray)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

The adventures of the famous sailor man (Robin Williams), his devoted sweetie, Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), and his friends in the seaside town of Sweethaven.

This musical comedy was based on the popular comic strip of the same name, and went to great lengths to capture its spirit and sense of humour. This was William’s first starring role and he couldn’t have been better suited for the part, likely having practiced his Popeye impression for years — and amused fans with it for decades after. The picture is reminiscent of early slapstick comedies as the characters’ exaggerated actions and personas play for classic laughs. The music is a bit odd, but befitting of the characters, as they express their emotions through song. This picture may not hold up as well as some others of the time, but it achieves its goal of bringing these unique personalities to life in spite of the many problems that plagued the production.

Special features include: “Return to Sweethaven: A Look Back with Robin and the Altmans”; “The Popeye Company Players”; “Popeye’s Premiere”; “The Sailor Man Medleys”; and theatrical trailer. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Top Gun steelbook (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a young, in-your-face U.S. fighter pilot with a need for speed, a lot to prove, and even more to learn. As a student in the Navy’s elite flying school, he completes to be the best of the best. But a civilian instructor (Kelly McGillis) teaches him a few things that cannot be learned in the classroom.

In 1986, Cruise was quickly climbing the ranks of Hollywood sex symbols and this picture cemented his position at the top of the heap. It raised him above his formerly boyish roles, letting him finally play a character with some edge. “I feel the need — the need for speed!” His partnership with Anthony Edwards is a memorable pairing that drives the film, while the exciting air combat scenes constantly inject the film with bursts of adrenaline. Moreover, these fast-paced scenes are far more captivating in high definition. The film has aged well and continues to be a source of entertainment even after repeat viewings — not to mention a pop culture staple.

Special features include: commentary by director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-screenwriter Jack Epps Jr. and naval experts; a six-part making-of documentary; “On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun”; multi-angle storyboards with optional commentary by Scott; “Best of the Best: Inside the real Top Gun”; behind-the-scenes featurette; survival training featurette; Tom Cruise interviews; four music videos; and TV spots. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Trading Places (Blu-ray)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

The very rich and extremely greedy Duke Brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) wager over whether “born-loser” Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) could become as successful as the priggish Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Akroyd) if circumstances were reversed. Alongside the street-smarts of Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), Winthorpe and Valentine are a trio ready for a riotous revenge that culminates on the commodities trading floor in New York City.

This was only Murphy’s second feature film, but his star power was more than evident. It has the feel of a screwball comedy as the wealthy brothers manipulate their pawns into opposite lives of luxury and poverty. Valentine’s ride to the top is certainly smoother and more enjoyable than Winthorpe’s spiral to the bottom. The former is draped in unfamiliar luxury, while the latter is stripped of everything. However, both men would be nowhere without the customer service people in their lives whose sympathy for their situation persuade them to assist in their revenge plot. It’s darkly humorous, particularly as it depicts Winthorpe’s time in jail, on the streets and as a drunken homeless Santa. Neither men really change after their experience, but audiences will root for them nonetheless.

Special features include: deleted scenes; making-of featurette; “Dressing the Part”; “The Trade in Trading Places”; “Trading Stories”; “Industry Promotional Piece”; and theatrical trailer. (Paramount 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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