Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 99 min.). In general, I really like Ryan Reynolds as an actor and I am usually drawn to Samuel L. Jackson’s performances as well, but their renewed pairing here left me somewhat wanting, as the action is much better than the comedy. I really only laughed two times and both involved the ongoing joke of subjecting Reynolds’ character to as much physical pain as possible, including getting hit by vehicles multiple times.

Reynolds returns as bodyguard Michael Bryce, only he has lost his license and is awaiting a hearing to see if he can be re-licensed. His therapist (Rebecca Frost) suggests he should take a vacation – she mostly wants to get rid of him – so he goes to the beach at Capri, Italy. While he is lounging with earphones on, a large-scale shootout commences behind him. The cause is Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek’s returning, very potty-mouthed character). Sonia pulls Bryce to safety, but a chase ensues, during which she tells Bryce that he needs to rescue her husband (Jackson as hitman Darius Kincaid) from the mafia.

Meanwhile, new chief bad guy Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas of “The Mask of Zorro,” “Law of Desire,” the upcoming “Indiana Jones 5”), angered over how the EU is treating Greece financially, is trying to destroy the EU by overloading data junctions, causing all electronics, including traffic signals, to go kaput. The procedure is first tried out on Zagreb, Croatia, where it blackens the city and causes chaos. In Greece, trying to stop Papadopolous, is Interpol Agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo of “The Purge: Anarchy”) from Boston.

While Bryce and Sonia manage to rescue Darius, O’Neill nabs all three and forces them to get involved in his scheme to thwart Papadopolous. Hayek’s character is a force of nature here and she has some good scenes with Banderas, with whom she starred in “Desperado” in 1995. Morgan Freeman (“Driving Miss Daisy”) pops up in an unexpected role, which has its own twists.

The chase scenes are well done, as is most of the action, although several of the scenes lack surprise. We have seen cars go down Italian stone outdoor staircases before and, of course, the bridge they cross is going to get destroyed. The film does benefit from its location work and the gorgeous cinematography of Terry Stacey. The director is Patrick Hughes, who also directed “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and “The Expendables 3.”

The extras are not very long, but generally are informative. They include a look at the three main characters with the actors and Hughes (9:09); a look at the “new” Michael Bryce, who uses pepper spray instead of guns (7:22); a look at the stunts and putting Reynolds “through the wringer” (7:47); a tour of some of the sets with production designer Russell De Rozario, including the bar and torture chamber (4:02); and a gag reel that ends with fart jokes (4:40). Grade: film 3; extras 2.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Those Who Wish Me Dead (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or DVD, R, 100 min.). Angeline Jolie (the “Lara Croft” films) returns to an action role here as Hannah Faber, a hard-drinking, one-of-the-boys smokejumper, the firefighters who parachute from helicopters into the midst of forest fires in order to control them. Right now, Hannah has failed her psychological evaluation after an incident in which three children died because she misjudged the direction a fire would take. She has been assigned solitary fire-lookout duty in a Montana fire tower.

Hannah’s ex is a local sheriff’s deputy (Jon Bernthal of “Baby Driver,” “The Accountant” as Ethan Sawyer), whose pregnant wife (Medina Senghore of TV’s “Happy!” as Allison) just happens to run a survival school, an important fact as the film gets more physical later. Meanwhile, a distant relative by marriage of Ethan’s (Jake Weber of TV’s “Medium,” “Homeland” as Owen) is a forensic accountant who realizes he is in trouble when the Florida home of the district attorney he had been working for is blown up. As he flees west with his teenage son Connor (Finn Little of TV’s “Reckoning,” “Tidelands”), he explains to Connor that governors and congressmen have been implicated in wrongdoing by his research.

The two men who blew up the DA’s house are sent after Owen and realize where he has probably gone from a photo in his house of the survival camp. The killers are Jack (Aidan Gillen of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” TV’s “Project Blue Book,” “Peaky Blinders”) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult of the “X-Men” films, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” TV’s “The Great”). I found it surprising to find Hoult is such a smaller role, but it does expand through time, although Jack is the nastier of the pair.

The killers – thanks to a private jet – manage to catch up to Owen and Connor, with the result that a traumatized Connor is running alone in the forest from the pair. That is, he is alone until he meets up with Hannah. Meanwhile, though, evil Jack has started a forest fire to distract the authorities from the search for Connor. Soon, Hannah and Connor are not only threatened by the killers, but also by a huge forest fire.

The film is directed by Taylor Sheridan (writer-director for TV’s “Yellowstone,” writer of two “Sicario” films) and co-written by Sheridan, book author Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt (“Warcraft”). I find the film terrifically exciting at times, including the cabin scene with Allison versus the killers and the forest fire sequences, leading up to an intense, visceral finish.

The only extra is a good, albeit short making-of featurette (14:30) in which Sheridan says the film combines a survival story with a coming-of-age story and a redemption story. The film was actually shot in higher elevations in New Mexico and the filmmakers built a 300-acre forest in the desert so they could set portions of it on fire. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extra 2 stars

The Unthinkable (Sweden, 2018, Magnet/Magnolia, DVD, NR, 129 min.). This exciting film is a disaster movie of a different type. Apparently, Sweden is under attack and the implication is that the attacker is Russia due to Sweden’s closing down an energy conduit to Russia. For most of the film, though, both the characters and the audience are left in confusion, only really knowing that things have turned deadly.

The film starts in December 2005, with platonic friends Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot of “A Man Called Ove”) and Anna (Lisa Henni) playing piano in the village of Vanga’s church. It seems Alex has feelings for Anna, but is upset when she has to move to Stockholm and he never gives her the Christmas present he made, musical notation of the melody they were playing. This is the relationship story that threads throughout the disaster elements of the film. Alex’s home life is unhappy and his mother leaves after an argument with his father (Jesper Barkselius), who has destroyed Alex’s guitar Christmas present. When he can, Alex runs away from home as well.

Time shifts as Alex is next playing the piano and the older Alex is revealed to be performing a concert with a battery of keyboards. He is now a successful performer and recording artist. Following the concert, a series of explosions destroys a bridge and other sites in Stockholm. The mysterious attacks have begun.

Then Alex learns his mother has died in the attack on the bridge and he must arrange for and attend her funeral in Vanga. There, he learns Anna is in charge of the church’s music program and they reconnect, but she fails to tell Alex that she is married and has a child. Meanwhile, Bjorn, whom Alex has not notified of the funeral, works at the nearby power plant, where he is always suspicious of possible attacks and Russian infiltrators, until the plant is actually attacked.

Another central character is Anna’s mother, who has become a key figure in the government. She is trying to reach a secret secure headquarters when the parliamentary building, Rosenbad, is blown up. (See the DVD cover, very reminiscent of the “Independence Day” shot of the White House.). However, most of the film is a very human story about relationships that failed and might start up again, with most of the disaster stuff, including tense scenes at the power plant and a couple of helicopters falling from the sky, coming later in the film. There are a lot of car crashes in the film, particularly when Anna’s mother is trying to drive on a bridge near Rosenbad.

Extras include seven deleted scenes (18:06) and looks at the actors (2:59), the movie (1:35), the film-making journey from Kickstarter to completion (6:51), the stunts (3:38; Barkselius did all of his, including flying a plane) and the visual effects (5:45; 420 shots in the film). There also are looks at how they accomplished the rain of birds (4:50) and the truck-car collision (5:31). The direction is credited to the Crazy Pictures film collective. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars

A Discovery of Witches: Season 2 (Universal, 2 Blu-ray or 2 DVDs, NR, 444 min.). Season two of the series, shown on Sundance Now and AMC, brings the rule-breaking couple of witch Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) and vampire Matthew De Clermont (Matthew Goode) to 1590 in Elizabethan England, where the younger Matthew was friends with Walter Raleigh and Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Tom Hughes), with Marlowe very much in love with Matthew. They were hunted by The Congregation in the present, but have used Diana’s ability to “timewalk” to try and find the Book of Life, a book that Diana once was able to access at the Oxford College library and which may hold the key to cleaning the De Clermont bloodline of the “blood rage” that causes murderous sprees.

The book is believed to be with Edward Kelley, now a favorite of Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia. Before they journey there, Diana takes spell creation lessons from Goody Alsop (Sheila Hancock); there are 10 “knots” she must learned before they can return to their own time. Also, in this period, the younger Matthew serves as a witch hunter and torture/interrogator for Queen Elizabeth (an excellent Barbara Marten).

En route to Bohemia, Matthew must visit his father Philippe (a good, surprisingly emotional performance by James Purefoy of TV’s “The Following”). While Matthew and Philippe have a sword fight, dad also engineers a celebratory event. There is lots of action in Bohemia and some good magical events.

Back in modern London, an unknown vampire is killing humans (aka “warmbloods”), putting pressure on Marcus Whitmore (Edward Bluemel), whom Matthew has sired and named the leader of the Knights of Lazarus. Marcus is helping a forbidden couple, that of a witch and a daemon – witches, vampires and daemons are the three races living secretly among humans, but the vampires are dying out – who are about to have a baby. Marcus encounters Phoebe Taylor, a worker at the auction house where he needs to buy two 16th century miniatures with portraits of Matthew and Diana to kept their whereabouts from The Congregation, which tries to keep the species separate. Marcus and Phoebe become closer as he likes her a lot.

The show, based on the “All Souls” book trilogy by Deborah Harkness, has an unusually high amount of effective emotional scenes, even one with Queen Elizabeth. The Elizabethan sets and the castle and outdoors scenes are a delight. Bonus features include a summary of the first two seasons (6:30); a look at the love problems between Matthew and Diana as secrets are revealed (5:23); and production designer James North discusses the sets and costumes of Elizabethan England (5:45). Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 1.5 stars

The Gangs of London: Season One (AMC Studios, 3 Blu-ray or 3 DVDs, NR, 9 hours 14 min.). This is one of the most brutally violent shows I have ever seen, but it also is very gripping. The series opens with a man lighting a young person in a cage on fire and then the cage falling off the roof of the building.

Colm Meany stars as Finn Wallace, but if you blink, you might miss him because he is killed off in the next scene, although he does show up in some flashbacks. For 20 years, Wallace was the most powerful criminal in London, funneling billions of dollars from various ethnic groups involved in heroin smuggling, money laundering and other schemes, including building high-rise office and apartment buildings, with his son Sean (Joe Cole of TV’s “Peaky Blinders,” “Skins”) in charge of the latter. His second son, Billy (Brian Vernel), has become a heroin addict. A daughter is estranged from the family, apparently especially from mother Marian (Michelle Fairley of TV’s “Game of Thrones”).

Throughout his criminal career, Wallace was aided by the Dumani family, headed by Ed (Lucian Msamati of TV’s “His Dark Materials”) and his son Alex (Paapa Essiedu). After Wallace’s death, Ed and Alex try to keep the empire together, but Sean, a bit of a hot-head, orders all operations shut down until he finds his father’s killer and who ordered the hit. Two kid Travelers (the British name for gypsies) were involved, with Ioan (Darren Evans) borrowing the car and Darren (Aled ap Steffan) doing the actual shooting. Ultimately, two groups of Travelers, some 40 people in all, will be wiped out by either Sean or a mysterious other actor’s agents.

If Finn’s death has not exactly caused a power vacuum, it has created uncertainty among the criminal alliance, some of whom, like Albanian Lale (Narges Rashidi) and Turk Asif (Asif Raza Mir) already are mortal enemies. Asif, who smuggles in heroin, has a son, Nasir (Parth Thakerar), who is running for mayor of London. Another faction leader is Luan (Orli Shuka).

The other major character is an outsider, a “washed-up squaddie” named Elliot Finch (Sope Dirisu of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” TV’s “Humans”), who works for pub owner Jim, who in turn works for the Wallaces. Elliot sees Finn’s death as a chance to work his way up the organization by getting close to Sean, eventually becoming his driver. Elliot has a rather rough go of it in the series, as he fights eight gangsters in Jim’s bar to learn where Finn’s injured driver Jack is being held, then later has two grueling battles, one against a man armed with a butcher’s knife and another with a man armed with an axe. He even takes a bullet for Sean.

Plenty of secrets are revealed as the series progresses, including those of Finn, and many a character shows up on screen only to be killed within minutes. Many heads bursts from gun shots and some characters even burn to death. There also appears to be outside forces at work, as one group of deadly actors speak Dutch.

The show earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Stunt Performance and was nominated for a BAFTA as Best Drama Series. It was created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery. Extras include an inside look at the series and an anatomy of an action scene covering the pub fight and Elliot vs. Len, with commentary by Evans. Grade: season 4 stars; extras 2 stars

Walking Dead: World Beyond: Season One (AMC Studios, 3 Blu-ray or 3 DVDs, NR, 7 hours 46 min.). This second spinoff in the “Walking Dead” universe is only planned as a two-season limited series. It is the story of four teenagers, who leave their protected enclave, a university campus, 10 years after “the day the sky fell,” aka when the dead started walking and caused a plane to fall down on their town. Instead of Walkers, they are called Empties here.

Two of the four are sisters – Alexa Mansur as rebellious Hope Bennett and Aliyah Royale as friendly Iris Bennett – who are setting out on a 1,100-mile trek to find their scientist father. The other two are nerd Elton Ortiz (Nicolas Cantu), who is seeking his missing mother, and outcast Silas Plaskett (Hal Cumpston), thought to be dangerous and a possible killer. Joining them on their journey are Felix Carlucci (Nico Tortorelli of “Scream 4”), who promised the girls’ father that he would take care of them, and Huck (Annet Mahendru), a former soldier. Along the way, they encounter Percy (Ted Sutherland of TV’s “Doom Patrol,” “Rise”), half of a conman duo.

The overall governing body is the Civic Republic, which took dad Bennett to work on a project, but he has sent the girls a fax message that things did not work out and they should trust no one. The CR is very restrictive about communication and secrecy; thus, the old-fashioned communication method. Scenes of the CR that involve administrator Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond) clearly project suspicion as to the group’s aims and means of control. Somewhat obviously, one of the six travelers is a CR spy and it is obvious that Elton will learn his mother was killed by one of his traveling companions. By the way, the Civic Republic is the group that “rescued” Rick Grimes in the parent series. The fresh take on the “Walking Dead” world is welcome.

There are three extras: a look at the series (4:01); a look at the characters (6:13); and a longer making-of (22:35). The latter has some behind-the-scenes footage of the tire fire scene. Grade: season 2.75 stars; extras 2 stars

Mommie Dearest (1981, Paramount Presents, Blu-ray, PG, 128 min.). Faye Dunaway is Joan Crawford in this film based on Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina’s memoir. The sets and costumes are as wonderful as Crawford’s behavior is revolting. For more than an hour of the film her relationship with Christina is outright child abuse. This is highlighted by the famous, ugly wire hanger sequence in which a hysterical Crawford repeatedly hits her child with a hanger. In another scene, she forces Christina to clean an already clean bathroom floor, and later she nearly chokes her to death. The other famous over-the-top scene has Crawford destroying her rose garden after the MGM studio head (Howard Da Silva as Louis B. Mayer) tears up her contract.

Emotionally, the movie is a rough go. As for telling Crawford’s story, it is very one-sided and one-dimensional. During the film, Crawford is involved with three relationships. We see more of the one with Greg Savitt (Steve Forrest of “The Longest Day”), also her lawyer, while there is a very brief view of Ted Gelber (Michael Edwards), seemingly just to show Christina was used to making drinks for mom’s boyfriends. Later, there is an out-of-the-blue relationship with Alfred Steele (Harry Goz) of Pepsi-Cola, whom she eventually marries. The presentation of the relationships is somewhat superficial. Even worse is the almost total silence about the actual films Crawford made.

After Christina is sent off to Chadwick County Boarding School, there is a quick time jump of 10 or so years. By this point, Christopher has become an after-thought and is not seen again until the final few minutes, after Mommie Dearest has died. Both actresses who play Christina are very good, with Mara Hobel as young Christina handling several difficult scenes well and Diane Scarwid as the older Christina. One good character that lasts the whole film is Crawford’s servant Carol Ann, played by Rutanya Alda (reportedly a composite of three actual persons).

The film, which has a score by Harry Mancini and has been newly restored for this release, has become a cult classic, especially with the drag community. This edition features a new audio commentary by drag queen Hedda Lettuce (love the name!) and a previous audio commentary by filmmaker John Waters. Waters also discusses Crawford and her gay audience in the “Joan Lives On” featurette (16:05), which also includes John Epperson as Lypsinka as Crawford. Also new is a “Filmmaker Focus” with director Frank Perry biographer Justin Bozung (7 min.). The 2006 featurette “The Revival of Joan Crawford” (14:15) features producer/co-writer Frank Yablans, who originally wanted Anne Bancroft for Crawford, as well as Alda and Scarwid, plus several clips of Crawford in “Johnny Guitar” for some strange reason. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Flight to Mars (1951, The Film Detective, Blu-ray, NR, 72 min.). Also newly restored, this time from the original 35mm Cinecolor separation negatives, is this flight of fancy from the dawn of the 1950s science fiction boom. Walter Mirisch (“Some Like It Hot”) is the producer and Lesley Selander (“Traffic in Crime”) is the director. The script is by Arthur Strawn (“The Black Room,” “Lady from Nowhere”) from the novel “Aelita” by Aleksei Tolstoy. Tolstoy also wrote the play the 1924 film “Aelita: Queen of Mars” is based on.

Cameron Mitchell (TV’s “The High Chaparral”) plays newspaper reporter Steve Abbott, who accompanies four scientists on a nine-day journey to Mars, where they discover an English-speaking, underground civilization, whose stunning women, including Marguerite Chapman as Alita, all wear what would later come to be known as mini-skirts. While the Martians appear friendly, their leaders, led by Ikron (Morris Ankrum), actually are planning to hijack the Earthlings’ space rocket so they can conquer Earth, as the Martians have nearly depleted the rare mineral that powers their life-support systems.

The rest of the Earth contingent are engineer Jim Barker (Arthur Franz), a rational, scientific type; Barker’s assistant Carol Stafford (Virginia Huston), who dates Barker but tries to come on to Abbott; leader Dr. Lane (John Litel); and Professor William Jackson (Richard Gaines, who later played the judge in the “Perry Mason” TV series), a geologist.

Some of the details seem laughable today. Instead of wearing spacesuits, the astronauts wear everyday clothing and their masks are only for breathing and do not even cover their eyes. The Earth, meteorites and even the moon look very unrealistic compared to the reality we are used to seeing. The meteorite bombardment lacks any suspense and it is laughable how the spaceship crashes horizontally into a mountain, but everyone is OK and the ship is reusable with just a few repairs. The film’s ending is a bit abrupt too.

The extras are solid though, including audio commentary by Justin Humphreys and two documentaries, “Walter Mirisch: From Bomba to Body Snatchers” with C. Courtney Joyner (14:08) and “Interstellar Travelogues: Cinema’s First Space Race,” narrated by Vincent De Fate. The film reportedly was shot in either five or 11 days. There also is a 10-page booklet with an overview essay, “Mars at the Movies” by Don Stradley. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 3 stars

filed under: