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New DVD, Blu-ray and digital release highlights for the week of March 16 -22, 2020

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Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Karen Gillan (Photo: Sony Pictures)

While it feels a little strange to be sitting in a nearly-empty newsroom to be talking about this week's DVD, Blu-ray and digital releases, I'll be the first to admit that we all need something to distract us from the situation at hand.

2017's "Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle" relaunched the franchise in a way that no one could have predicted. A sequel was inevitable. "Jumanji: The Next Level" sees the return of stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan in a story that finds the group of friends transported into a video game. There are variations on the theme, but it mostly sticks to formula. However, the addition of Awkwafina, Danny DeVito and Danny Glover does shake things up just enough to keep things interesting. If you liked "Welcome to the Jungle," you enjoy "The Next Level."

"Superman: Red Son," the newest DC Universe animated movie, explores aspects of Mark Millar's three issue story from 2003 that puts forward the idea of what the world would have been like if Superman grew up in Russia, rather than America, during The Cold War. I haven't watched this adaptation, but apparently they've altered the story quite a bit.

Director/writer Sophia Takal's remake of the 1974 slasher "Black Christmas" sees a group of students stalked during spring break. Takal's version hits home on contemporary themes, but doesn't quite capture the atmosphere and dread of the original. It's better than the 2006 remake, but that's faint praise.

Terrence Malick's career has seen the director helm modern classics like "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line" and lesser works like "Knight of Cups" and "To the Wonder." "A Hidden Life," a film about a man who refuses to fight for the Nazis, is easily the director's best work since 2011's "The Tree of Life," but falls short of being a complete return to form. Definitely worth a look.

Ben Kingsley has an incredibly impressive resume that includes its share of bad movies. "Intrigo: Death of an Author," an adaptation of Håkan Nesser's novel directed by Daniel Alfredson ("The Girl Who Played with Fire"), is guilty of being a sprawling narrative that likely works on the page, but feels more contrived as it weaves together a series of related narratives that dance around the central tale of a writer who is asked to adapt the final text of a famed author who drown soon after the manuscript's completion.

Clint Eastwood's "Richard Jewel" was one of the most frustrating films of 2019. Based on real events, the movie tells the story of a security guard who saved numerous lives, but was nonetheless accused of planting a bomb at Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games. Journalists make mistakes. Information can be misinterpreted. Jewel never should have been asked to endure the wildfire of speculation that stripped him of his hero status and reduced him into being a man desperate for attention. Sadly, the film presents a version of Kathy Scruggs that is an exploitative and dishonest representation of Scruggs that purposefully manipulates the movie's message. Paul Walter Hauser is great as Jewel.

"Abigail" is a Russian production with a steampunk twist about a girl who lives in a town that has been cut off from the world due to a pandemic that took place years before. During the outbreak, the girl's father was taken away under questionable circumstances. Some believe it is because of his magical abilities.

Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" is joining the Criterion Collection. This satirical comedy from 2000 finds a struggling and frustrated television writer pitching a minstrel show starring black actors in black face. Much to his dismay, the show becomes a massive success. Stars Damon Wayans, Savion Glover and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Shout! Factory is releasing the fourth volume in its essential "Universal Horror Collection" series. The franchise features fairly obscure offering from Universal's early catalog. This set features "1937's "Night Key," 1942's "Night Monster," 1944's "The Climax," and 1946's "House of Horrors." Boris Karloff is featured in "Night Key" and "The Climax."

Mill Creek Entertainment continues its catalog releases of the classic Ultraman Japanese franchise continues with the 2016 release "Ultraman: Orb - The Movie" and 2018 release "Ultraman: Geed - The Movie." Those looking for a more complete experience will want to check out the complete "Ultraman: Orb" and "Ultraman: Geed" sets from February that also include the television series.

Elsewhere, Mill Creek Entertainment is also releasing another pair of Andy Sidaris action films "Fit to Kill" and "Hard Hunted." Both were released in 1993, but they feel bound to the 1980s with the Sidaris formula of beautiful women in skimpy clothing with guns in ridiculous situations. The cover art tells you everything you need to know. This week also sees the release of "The Nines," a 2007 effort starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa McCarthy in a strange science-fiction film told through three different, connected stories that feature the actors in different roles.

Digital

This week's digital releases include "Cats" and "Just Mercy." "Cats," was infamously greeted with horrible reviews and empty theaters. I cannot put the experience of watching "Cats" into words. Nothing would be adequate. It is a spectacular failure that is never as interesting as that description suggests. The idea of "Cats" and its weirdness is far better than actually watching "Cats." We will speak of "Cats" no more (or at least until the Blu-ray is released).

"Just Mercy" is a labor of love from Michael B. Jordan based on the true story of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) and defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Jordan). It's a familiar story, McMillian is convicted of a murder he did not commit and no one, outside of Stevenson, a young and idealistic lawyer, seems interested in finding justice. You'd think the film takes place in the 1960s, but it is from the 1980s. Highly recommended.