‘John Wick,’ ‘Dracula Untold’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman


This week’s major home video releases cover a wide range, including romance, horror and action.


John Wick

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


Keanu Reeves has always had a limited range, but he’s solid when tapped for the right role, and he’s particularly good with action. “John Wick” plays to the actor’s strengths, giving him a part that requires both impressive athleticism and old-fashioned movie star charisma.


The film focuses on its title character (Reeves), a former assassin who retired to a more peaceful existence after finding the love of his life. Alas, happiness was shortlived, as John’s wife died of an undisclosed illness. Despite this, he is determined to avoid the violence that used to be part of his daily routine. That changes when a group of thugs break into his home, beat him up, kill his dog and steal his car.


Because the dog was the last present he received from his wife, John takes the attack personally and vows revenge. As the plot chugs forward, John learns that his attackers weren’t ordinary crooks. They have ties to organized crime, and he is eventually forced to battle a host of nasty characters, including a mob boss (Michael Nyqvist) whom he used to work for.


Ultimately, “John Wick” is a color-by-numbers thriller that is conventional and predictable. Under most circumstances this would be problematic, but directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch do such a fine job with presentation that the shortcomings are forgotten.


The movie’s many action sequences are marked by remarkable choreography, and the resulting imagery is reminiscent of ballet. That does not, however, mean that the film is soft. “John Wick” earns its R rating with numerous depictions of intense brutality. Since John is so clearly wronged at the beginning of the movie, it is great fun to watch him take revenge on enemies, and the excellent visuals more than make up for the subpar plotting.


The DVD release has no extras. The Blu-ray contains several behind-the-scenes features and an audio commentary by the filmmakers.  



Dracula Untold

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images and some sensuality
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand


Over the years, moviegoers have seen many incarnations of Dracula, but few portrayals are as sympathetic as that presented in “Dracula Untold.” In the film, director Gary Shore offers an origin story, taking viewers back to the character’s days as Vlad the Impaler, the human prince of Transylvania.


Vlad (Luke Evans) is depicted as a brutal warrior who tires of violence and returns home in hopes of ruling his people peacefully. Alas, the powerful Turkish Empire makes this impossible. After Turkish scouts go missing in Vlad’s land, the empire demands that he send 1,000 Transylvanian boys – including his son – as tribute. Unwilling to submit, Vlad knows war is imminent, but he also realizes that Transylvania cannot defeat the superior Turkish forces. So, he strikes a deal with an ancient vampire, hoping to gain the strength to vanquish Transylvania’s antagonists.


This is an interesting take on the Dracula myth, and vampire fans should enjoy the setup. Unfortunately, the film is marred by inconsistencies that lead to a maddening overall experience.


One moment the sun is shining bright and posing a threat to Dracula’s existence, the next it is inexplicably obscured so he can wreak havoc on his foes. Likewise, the rules that apply to most characters only rarely apply to Dracula, and the contradictions are obviously allowed to cover flawed plotting.


Also frustrating is the fact that Dracula is depicted not just as a supernatural monster but a creature with the power to singlehandedly decimate armies. While Shore is welcome to reinvent the character however he likes, this over-the-top reading is a detriment. Once a character becomes too powerful, his struggles are uninteresting.


Most of the problems in “Dracula Unborn” seem like quick fixes to storytelling issues that could have been solved creatively. Instead, viewers get sloppy filmmaking that undermines the actors’ performances and turns a generally good idea into a bloody mess. 


Blu-ray and DVD extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a filmmakers’ audio commentary.



The Best of Me

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and on demand


Movies based on the novels of Nicholas Sparks have become staples of the romance genre, and – with only a few exceptions – cinema is poorer because of it. In an industry dominated by bombastic action films and lowbrow comedies, romantic pictures are important, as they offer much-needed variety. Unfortunately, Sparks has settled into such a predictable storytelling routine that his pictures aren’t so much counterprogramming as annoyances.


Even at their best, Sparks’ stories are cloying and conventional, but that’s somewhat forgivable in a genre that all but celebrates these traits. In the earliest movies based on his work – most importantly “The Notebook” – the sentimental narratives were at least credible, allowing viewers to invest in the characters and perhaps even have a good cry. Since those first few films, the quality has dropped, and we may have hit bottom with “The Best of Me.”


The focus is on Dawson Cole a kind-hearted, intelligent youngster born into a no-good criminal family. After one too many fights with his father, young Dawson (Luke Bracey) runs away from home and is taken in by a widower named Tuck (Gerald McRaney). In this more nurturing environment, Dawson grows into a solid young man and begins a passionate relationship with Amanda Collier (Liana Liberato), a spirited teen from a wealthy, local family. Of course, a variety of forces drive the lovers apart, and they don’t reunite until two decades later.


Director Michael Hoffman (“The Last Station,” “The Emperor’s Club”) tells the story in flashback, cutting between Dawson’s (James Marsden) and Amanda’s (Michelle Monaghan) present-day reunion and the story of their teenage love affair. This structure is likable, but the execution is awkward, mostly because Bracey looks nothing like Marsden. Both actors are handsome, but they have such different facial features, that one expects the transformation to be explained in the plotting. The fact that Liberato could easily be mistaken for a younger Monaghan makes the appearance disparity between male leads even worse. 


Of course, “The Best of Me” is a movie, so viewers who work hard enough will get past the fact that Dawson grows a new face. They might even learn to like the lad, as Marsden and Bracey offer charismatic readings of the character. Monaghan and Liberato are also good. Amanda is depicted as a strong woman, and it’s interesting for viewers to see her as both a hopeful teen and a world-weary adult.


Because of the likable stars and Hoffman’s workmanlike direction, the first two-thirds of “The Best of Me” are breezy and enjoyable, albeit simplistic. The finale, on the other hand, is a disaster. 


“The Best of Me” wants viewers to believe there is no such thing as coincidence and that many important life events are preordained. Hoffman bangs this theme home with dialogue and dramatic sequences, presumably thinking this will prime audiences for the contrived plot twist in the final act. It doesn’t.  


Regardless of how much viewers agree with the movie’s thematic sentiment, the ending is trite and sappy. Perhaps that’s appropriate because the same two words describe most of Sparks’ recent work.    


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a music video by Lady Antebellum, an alternate ending and an audio commentary by Hoffman.





“Ouija”: Horror thriller about friends who awaken dark forces while playing with a spirit board. The like-titled Hasbro product inspired the film. Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff and Bianca A. Santos star. Co-written and directed by Stiles White.


“Dear White People”: Satirical film by writer-director Justin Simien. The plotting focuses on the experiences of several black students attending a prestigious Ivy League university. Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner and Teyonah Parris star.


“Anzac Girls”: Miniseries about nurses from New Zealand and Australia serving in Egypt during World War I. Peter Rees’ “Anzac

Girls” book inspired the production. Georgia Flood, Antonia Prebble, Laura Brent, Anna McGahan and Caroline Craig star. 


“Every Man for Himself”: Criterion Collection restoration of writer-director Jean-Luc Godard’s 1980 picture about the work and interrelated sexual lives of three people. Jacques Dutronc, Isabelle Huppert and Nathalie Baye star. Presented in French with English subtitles.


“Starry Eyes”: Horror film about a young actress (Alexandra Essoe) whose quest for fame takes a terrifying turn. Written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer.  


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com

not popular
Bottom Slider: 
Out Slider