DIE HARD (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Never mind It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or any version of A Christmas Carol, Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie. The award-winning action classic, released in the summer of 1988, launched Bruce Willis to super-stardom and established his screen signature character, New York cop John McClane.

Having flown to Los Angeles for an attempted reconciliation with estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) during a Christmas gathering in the posh business high-rise Nakatomi Plaza (actually Fox Plaza on Pico Boulevard), the party is crashed by a gang of gun-toting terrorists who aren’t terrorists at all, but hi-tech thieves bent on looting the corporate offers.

All by his lonesome, the indefatigable and incorrigible McClane parries with the baddies, led by the wickedly witty Hans Gruber (a knockout screen debut by the much-missed Alan Rickman), engaging in an ongoing,  increasingly more explosive, game of cat-and-mouse.

Breathlessly directed by John McTiernan (who hasn’t made film in 15 years) and engagingly scored by Michael Kamen – who’d have thought Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” would become an action-movie staple? – this is high-concept filmmaking at its dazzling, dizzying best, with endlessly quotable dialogue, unforgettable set-pieces, and a delightful cast that includes Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Alexander Godunov, Hart Bochner, Reginald Veljohnson, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush, James Shigeta, and De’voreaux White.

The film earned Oscar nominations for Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects, spawned four sequels (so far), and last year was selected for the United States National Film Registry as one of the annual 25 deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant films.”

The “30th-anniversary” special-edition ($14.99 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($39.99 retail) both include audio commentaries, featurettes, trailers, TV spots, and more. Rated R. ****


“THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY” (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Inspired by the success of Hammer Studios’ Gothic horror films (particularly Chistopher Lee’s Dracula series), Japan’s Toho Studios (home of Godzilla) jumped on the bloodletting bandwagon with a trio of vampire shockers, all directed by Michio Yamamoto: 1970’s The Vampire Doll (originally titled Yurei yashiki no kyofu: Chi wo su ningyo and released in the US as The Night of the Vampire), 1971’s Lake of Dracula (originally titled Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me and also released as Dracula’s Lust for Blood), and 1974’s Evil of Dracula (originally titled Chi o suu bara), which marked Yamamoto’s final feature. In Japanese with English subtitles, the two-disc Blu-ray special edition retails for $49.95.

DAPHNE & VELMA (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): This live-action, G-rated prequel to Hanna/Barbera’s Scooby-Doo franchise stars Sarah Jeffery and Sarah Gilman in the title roles of best friends who tackle their first mystery when they investigate strange doings at their high school, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.98 retail).

“DETECTORISTS”: SEASON 3 (Acorn TV): Metal detectors at the ready, Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook continue their ongoing, increasingly obsessive quest for treasure through the English countryside while their personal lives crumble, in all six episodes from the 2017 (and final) season of the award-winning BBC comedy series, available on DVD ($39.99 retail) with bonus features.

“EAST WEST 101”: SERIES 2 (Acorn TV): Don Hany stars as a Muslim detective navigating the treacherous waters of crime and cultural bias in modern-day Sydney, in all six feature-length episodes from the inaugural 2007-’08 season of the award-winning Australian crime series created by Steve Knapman and Kris Wyld, available in a two-DVD collection ($39.99 retail) that includes all seven feature-length episodes from the 2009 season and featurette.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Sebastian Lelio’s much-acclaimed, R-rated drama (originally titled Una mujer fantastica) stars Daniela Vega as a transgender singer dealing with the loss of her lover and the malevolent reaction of his family. This was the first Chilean film to win the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, and Vega – who was originally hired as a technical adviser before being cast in the lead – was the first transgender presenter at the last Oscar ceremony. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on Blu-ray ($30.99 retail).

THE FINAL YEAR (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Producer/director Greg Barker’s polished, well-made documentary feature (originally made for HBO) offers an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the last 15 months of Barack Obama’s presidential administration, available on DVD ($26.98 retail) – replete with bonus features. ***

“GUNSMOKE”: THE THIRTEENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount): James Arness saddles up again as Dodge City’s fearless, incorruptible marshal Matt Dillon, in all 25 episodes from the 1967-’68 season of the long-running, award-winning CBS Western series created by Charles Marquis Warren. “Volume One” ($45.98 retail) contains the first 15 episodes on DVD and “Volume Two” ($45.98 retail) the remaining 10.

I KILL GIANTS (RLJE Films): Adapted from Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s graphic novel (and scripted by Kelly), director Anders Walter’s award-winning feature debut stars Madison Wolfe as a precocious, purposeful teenager who deals with domestic discord by preparing for an inevitable battle with destructive giants. Imogen Poots, Zoe Saldana, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, and Winston-Salem’s own Jennifer Ehle (as Wolfe’s ailing mother) lend their talents to this sincere, ambitious fantasy/drama that never finds a consistent rhythm but has many incidental pleasures, particularly Wolfe’s heartfelt performance, available on DVD ($29.96 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.97 retail), both with bonus features. **½

IT’S NOT YET DARK (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Colin Farrell narrates director Frankie Fenton’s thoughtful, compassionate, award-winning feature documentary debut, based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Simon Fitzmaurice, an aspiring and award-winning young filmmaker stricken with ALS (motor-neuron disease) – more commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” – as he and his family struggle with his condition and he courageously embarks on the production of his first feature film, My Name is Emily. ***

THE LODGERS (Epic Pictures): Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner headline this award-winning Gothic chiller set in 1920s’ Ireland, as orphaned fraternal twins beholden to an unseen supernatural force lurking beneath their crumbling mansion. Sumptuous cinematography and period detail dominate an alternately suggestive, somber, and vague narrative that never quite satisfies – but is definitely worth a look. The DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $19.99. Rated R. **½

“THE LOUD HOUSE: IT GETS LOUDER” – SEASON 1, VOLUME 2 (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A two-DVD collection ($13.99 retail) of the remaining 13 episodes from the inaugural 2016 season of the award-winning, animated Nickelodeon comedy series inspired by creator Chris Savino’s childhood, detailing the misadventures of Lincoln (voiced by Collin Dean), the middle child – and only boy – of 11 children.

A PLACE TO BE (TLA Releasing): Writer/executive producer/director Tadeo Garcia’s comedy/drama (originally titled El Algun Lugar) focuses on a gay couple (Nelson A. Rodriguez, in his screen debut, and Andrew L. Saenz) whose relationship is threatened when the latter’s immigration status is called into question, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).

RED SPARROW (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Jennifer Lawrence and Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence (no relation) reunite for this R-rated adaptation of Jason Matthews’ best-seller, a political thriller in which Jennifer plays a Russian ballerina recruited by Soviet intelligence to train as a skilled assassin, with Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ciaran Hands and Joely Richardson swept up in the spy-jinks. The DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.99 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($39.99 retail) each boast bonus features.

THE SECRET LIFE OF LANCE LETSCHER (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Editor/producer (and long-time Richard Linklater collaborator) Sandra Adair makes her feature directorial debut with this documentary that offers an up-close-and-personal look at the life and work of Austin-based collage artist Lance Letscher, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).

SWUNG (Omnibus Entertainment): Elena Anaya (also a co-producer) and Owen McDonnell play a couple who try to spice up their love life by swinging in this adaptation of Ewan Morrison’s best-selling novel, scripted by the author. Credible characters and likable performances (including that of ageless Elizabeth McGovern as an older swinger) are  undermined by first-time director Colin Kennedy’s inability to integrate the comedic and dramatic aspects of the story, but not for lack of trying. **

VAZANTE (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Writer/director Daniela Thomas’s feature debut is set in 1820s colonial Brazil, as widowed farmer Adriana Carvalho struggles to make a success of himself against all odds, unaware that further tragedy awaits him. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) – each replete with special features.

VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): Lest anyone think this is a serious, in-depth examination of the penal system, this 1982 schlock cult classic (originally titled Violenza in un carcere femminile and also released as Emanuelle in Hell, Emanuelle Escapes from Hell and Caged Women) from cult director Bruno Mattei (under his usual pseudonym “Vincent Dawn”) sees Laura Gemser reprising her role as the lusty, crusading photo-journalist Emanuelle, who jeopardizes her career, sanity, and life when she goes undercover – on behalf of Amnesty International, no less! – as an inmate to blow the lid off prison corruption, with Gemser’s real-life husband Gabriele Tinti on hand as the prison physician. Both the DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail) boast special features.

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)

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