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article imageReview: Filmmakers get resourceful in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jun 3, 2015 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a conventional underdog story told well; an innovative and striking sci-fi movie; a ground-breaking TV series; and a gender-bending love story.
Falling Skies: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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TNT
On the outskirts of Charleston, just steps away from perceived safety, the Mason clan and the remaining 2nd Mass suddenly find themselves under brutal attack by a new Espheni war machine — and a new, deadly creation unlike anything previously encountered. As they struggle to reunite the family after months apart, Tom (Noah Wyle) and the 2nd Mass must each forge new relationships in order to survive.
Within the first episode, the timeline jumps ahead four months once again revealing a new reality in which the survivors must contend. Tom finally uncovers the Espheni’s plans for the human race in this penultimate season, which further motivates the rebels to fight back and attempt to escape the ghettos. Orchestrating a plan to permanently debilitate the Espheni, Tom is forced to trust Lexi in order to complete the mission. Once again the 2nd Mass experience significant losses, but they also find new ways to heal with the help of certain allies. This season is 12 episodes instead of the typical 10, encompassing an action-packed storyline that paves a path of anticipation to the final chapter.
Special features include: “Tom Mason: A Man of Tomorrow”; character interviews; inside-the-episode clips; season four prequels; and a Comic-Con panel interview. (TNT)
Focus (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Home Video
Nicky (Will Smith) is a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). As he’s teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort, and he breaks it off. Three years later, Jess — now an accomplished femme fatale — shows up in Buenos Aires during the high-stakes race-car circuit, throwing Nicky off his game in the middle of his latest dangerous scheme.
There hasn’t been a heist movie with this many twists and laughs since 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven. Similarly the plot is pretty thin, putting most of the film’s energy into creating elaborate ploys that keep the audience guessing or mesmerized. There is an impressive scene in New Orleans’ French Quarter in which a team of pickpockets work the crowd, stealing thousands of dollars in mere moments. In addition to awing viewers with its intricate schemes, the personalities involved are quite appealing. Even though Adrian Martinez is a supporting character, he consistently grabs the audience’s attention. Smith and Robbie also carry their respective roles very well, even mastering the art of thievery. All-in-all, the charismatic cast and expert consultation make this an entertaining watch.
Special features include: deleted scenes; alternate opening; “Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con”; “Will Smith: Gentleman Thief”; and “Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts.” (Warner Home Video)
Jupiter Ascending (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Home Video
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under a night sky, with signs predicting she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter wakes to a cold reality and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, tracks her down on Earth does Jupiter glimpse her true fate. Her genetic signature marks her for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.
After viewing this film, it’s easy to see why there was so much derision following its theatrical release. It’s not mainstream and goes well-beyond the walls of fantasy that most audiences are willing to accept at the moment. That said, it’s still a magnificent film. The Wachowskis made their mark by being original and they’ve created an even more intricate, fantastical world for this picture. Tracing the rivalries and hierarchies of the ancient families is sometimes difficult to follow as the story includes little exposition; instead, it drops hints in characters’ conversations about their origins and power struggles. There are also breathtaking landscapes that look like detailed, painted images. This picture takes science fiction to unexplored territory that’s both stunning and enchanting.
Special features include: “Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us”; “Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior”; “The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter”; “Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds”; “Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced”; “Bullet Time Evolved”; and “From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere In Between).” (Warner Home Video)
The L Word: The Complete Series (DVD)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
The series revolves around a tight-knit group of women living in Los Angeles who are all trying to navigate where life and love takes them. The series introduced viewers to a world that had never been seen before on television, exploring the connections and relationships that expand the way we look at commitment, romance and love.
Premiering in 2004, this series focused on character types that had rarely been seen before on television, particularly not as main characters. Lesbian, bisexual, straight and transgender people and their friends were front and centre in the successful American-Canadian co-production. This show was basically the female version of Queer as Folk, which revolved around a group of gay men in Manchester’s gay village and was then modified for the Pittsburgh-area. Yet it made its own mark by portraying women in ways they’d never been seen on the small screen, providing people who’d been kept on the fringe personalities with which they could finally identify. Moreover, the cable show didn’t have to tiptoe around female sexuality, depicting raw desire and physicality between characters — even if they lived more glamorously than most of their viewers. It lost steam in the later seasons, but is still considered a ground-breaking program.
Special features include: “The L Word Documentary”; “L Word Girls on the Record”; “Playing with the Girls: L Word Shorts”; “L Word Generations”; photo galleries; music videos; and biographies. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
McFarland (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Disney Studios
This drama follows novice runners who strive to build a cross-country team under Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) in their predominantly Latino high school. Everyone has a lot to learn about each other, but when Coach realizes the boys’ exceptional running ability, things change. Beyond their talent, it’s the power of family, commitment to each other and work ethic that transform them into champions — helping them achieve their own American dream.
It takes a pretty special story to interest viewers in watching a bunch of people run cross country. While the picture is about a team of underprivileged kids going to the state finals, there is a more prevalent narrative developing: Coach White redefines what is most valuable to him and a group of young men realize they can have a future beyond farming the fields. It’s undeniably all very sentimental and cliché; but even a traditional narrative can be told well. A mixed cast of veterans and fresh faces is the perfect combination for the script. Costner is an excellent fit for this narrative because he can deliver the rousing speeches, make the humble statements and lose his temper with the best of intentions. The young men are spirited, charming and truly convincing of the dedication these boys had to being the best.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “McFarland Reflections”; “Inspiring McFarland”; and “Juntos” music video by Juanes. (Disney Studios)
New Worlds (Blu-ray)
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RLJ Entertainment
Set during the tumultuous time of North American colonization, this drama follows the lives of four young people — Abe Goffe (Jamie Dornan), Beth Fanshawe (Freya Mavor), Ned Hawkins (Joe Dempsie), and Hope Russell (Alice Englert) — as they fight for a better future in the wilderness of the New World and back home in England, caught in the 1680s clash between England’s autocratic King Charles II (Jeremy Northam) and rebels fighting for freedom and reform.
The four-part miniseries is a very broad overview of the unrest of this period. Using its key characters, it explores the various facets of rebellion and oppression at home and abroad. The stories are not limited to the poor as Beth and Ned come from well-to-do families who also suffer the tyranny of the king. People are beaten, hung and burned at the stake for their so-called treason, while others are exiled or take their own lives rather than suffer their crueller fate. Significant events such as King Charles’ dismissal of the senate and infecting aboriginals with small pox are included in this rather general account. Dornan is far more rugged here than in his role as Christian Grey, which is actually preferable.
Special features include: deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes featurette; and photo gallery. (RLJ Entertainment)
The Pope of Greenwich Village/Desperate Hours double feature (Blu-ray)
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Shout Factory
The Pope of Greenwich Village: In New York's Little Italy, smooth-talking hustler Charlie (Mickey Rourke) works in a restaurant and dreams of one day buying his own with his girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah). His wiry, wheeler-dealer cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) waits tables, skims money off checks and is always scheming to score big. But they're all about to pull a scam on the wrong guy: Eddie (Burt Young), the Mafia King of Greenwich Village. Now these small-time con men are in big-time trouble — trouble so big that even their mobster uncle might not be able to save them.
Desperate Hours: In dire need of a hideout, escaped convict Michael Bosworth (Mickey Rourke) uses his charming smile to gain entry into the posh home of Nora and Tim Cornell (Mimi Rogers and Anthony Hopkins) and their two children. While waiting for his beautiful lawyer-turned-accomplice (Kelly Lynch) to arrive, Bosworth's smile soon explodes into homicidal rage when the Cornells desperately try to fight back. Holding the family at gunpoint and ruthlessly pitting husband against wife, Bosworth's fury escalates into a shocking night of terror and cold-blooded murder. Finally, the family is forced to take a stand that will either destroy them or unite them as never before.
For a generation of filmgoers, Mickey Rourke came into being in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City as the director attempted to boost his career as Quentin Tarantino had done for John Travolta. But similarly, Rourke had a substantial career before Marv, even being considered one of the era’s more handsome actors. These movies are from this period in which he was considered an in-demand star. In the first picture, Charlie is a local boy trying to make good but having every door slammed in his face. Feeling as if he’s running out of time, he finally gives in to Paulie’s pestering. Rourke is still the good guy, but the real standout ends up being Roberts who exudes charisma in his supporting role. Conversely, in the second picture Michael is an intelligent psychopath who starts out relatively nice. As the narrative continues, he occasionally loses his patience yet somehow tries to maintain a grip on the audience’s sympathies. It’s a nuanced performance from Rourke, which is elevated by Hopkins and Rogers.
Special features include: theatrical trailers. (Shout Factory)
Scarecrows (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
After a band of ex-military criminals pulls off a multi-million dollar heist, they hop aboard a plane headed for Mexico. But when one of their own betrays them, they suddenly find themselves on the ground and on the run through a field of scarecrows near an abandoned farmhouse. As night sets in, the real nightmare begins. The men discover that there's a reason the farmhouse is empty — and now those who thought they were the hunters are being hunted by an unimaginable and malevolent force.
Released when slasher movies reigned supreme in the horror genre, this movie is a bit of a departure that actually works fairly well. A young director and crew made a notable entry into the canon, creating unexplained but rather inventive monsters to hunt their characters in the marshy darkness. In this case, the coherence of the story isn’t as important as its ability to draw viewers into the unimportant narrative so the murderous figures can capture their imaginations — a feat it accomplishes. It’s not a matter of caring for the thieves who are a bunch of criminals, but rather relishing the various ways they’re dispatched by the sinister scarecrows. It was one of special effects artist Norman Cabrera`s first features and he put a lot of effort into sculpting the villainous masks as well as the rest of the effects, adding to the film’s attraction.
Special features include: commentary by co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies, director of photography Peter Deming and composer Terry Plumeri; commentary by director William Wesley and producer Cami Winikoff; “The Last Straw – An Interview With Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera”; “Cornfield Commando – An Interview With Actor Ted Vernon”; original storyboards; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
On a mission to save his world, SpongeBob SquarePants is headed to ours. When pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) steals the secret recipe for the beloved Krabby Patties, SpongeBob and friends come ashore to bring back the missing formula. To succeed, they must team up with former rival, Plankton, but soon realize that to defeat a super-villain, they must unleash their inner superheroes.
There is something about this well-dressed, yellow sponge and his eccentric group of friends that is very appealing. This big screen adaptation is divided between an underwater caper and a topside adventure. It feels like an extended episode of the show, which isn’t actually a detriment since it remains true to the characters and their typical antics. Thankfully, there’s no attempt to use the movie as a platform to change anything that already makes the show so enjoyable; instead, it simply extends these elements to 90 minutes. Banderas is perfect in the role of the ambitious pirate who speaks to seagulls. He’s unbelievably goofy and nearly unrecognizable under his pirate garb. And the “real-life” version of Sandy the Squirrel is a hilarious but not wholly unexpected surprise.
Special features include: deleted, extended, alternate and test scenes; “On the Surface”; “Underwater Awesomeness”; “Bikini Bottom Boogie”; and “Squeeze Me” music video by N.E.R.D. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Spring (Blu-ray)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a young American fleeing to Europe to escape his past. While back-packing along the Italian coast, everything changes during a stop at an idyllic Italian village, where he meets and instantly connects with the enchanting and mysterious Louise (Nadia Hilker). A flirtatious romance begins to bloom between the two — however, Evan soon realizes that Louise has been harbouring a monstrous, primordial secret that puts both their relationship and their lives in jeopardy.
Monsters and romance are not a new pairing. Yet the inverse, in which the female is the more ghastly of the two, has not been explored as frequently. This is definitely a role reversal in which the woman remains aloof, while the man bears his soul begging to be given a chance. The first half of the film is composed as a typical boy meets girl romance. However what follows is somewhat less traditional as Louise flees in the middle of the night, trying desperately to maintain her human form. Once her condition is out in the open, the monster romance goes into full bloom. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead first gained attention with their co-directorial feature debut, Resolution, in 2012. Like their first film, this movie interweaves two relatively distinct concepts into a single picture. On the one hand, it’s a whirlwind European romance; on the other, it’s a mysterious creature feature. Once these two concepts meet, watching becomes a pretty enjoyable experience.
Special features include: commentary by writer/producer/editor/director Justin Benson and producer/editor/cinematographer/director Aaron Moorhead; deleted scenes; alternate ending; making-of featurette; “The Talented Mr. Evan”; “Angelo: The Worst Farmer”; “Wankster Girlfriend Monologue”; “Evan Ti Odio”; SFX case studies; proof of concept short”; and promo videos. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
The Taking of Tiger Mountain (Blu-ray)
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Well Go USA
A ruthless bandit (Tony Leung Ka Fai) rules the lands of Northeast China from his fortress on Tiger Mountain. A captain of the Liberation Army (Lin Gengxin) launches a counter-insurgency against the dictator with a skilled investigator (Zhang Hanyu) sent to destroy the gang from the inside.
This film is Tsui Hark’s adaptation of Qu Bo’s adventure novel, Tracks in the Snowy Forest. Though there is often mention of another callous outlaw, the film mostly alternates between goings on at the mountain stronghold and the location of the heroes working to overthrow the gang leader. There are only a couple of action sequences that occur and they’re in the latter half of the picture. The rest of the movie establishes some interesting characters and builds the rivalry. The framing story about a young man watching a movie of the incident seems unnecessary, as well as the extended length of the film — but these are the worst complaints to arise from the film.
Special features include: interviews with director and cast; and trailer. (Well Go USA)
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