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article imageReview: New on DVD for April 7 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 7, 2015 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a historical saga that exemplifies resilience; an understated narrative about integrity; a young and irresponsible Richard Gere; and a friendship built on violence.
A Most Violent Year (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures & Lionsgate
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has a lucrative oil-delivery service. But on the eve of a huge business deal, he is snared in a web of danger and deceit. Beset by rivals who want his business and a D.A. who wants to take him down, Abel is driven to desperate measures to save his company and protect his family.
This film feels a lot like an old school gangster movie — particularly because the boys club that operates in the area act like the mob — but it remains on the periphery of a traditional mafia narrative. The development of Abel’s character within the picture is quite masterful. He is proud, but not to his detriment; and he’s very intelligent and tenacious in all his endeavours. When faced with possible failure, he refuses to give in until every last option is exhausted. His relationship with his wife (Jessica Chastain) fluctuates as they consistently butt heads on ethical issues. Accordingly, Isaac and Chastain are outstanding in the character-driven narrative. While Abel almost always maintains a cool exterior, Isaac ensures audiences see the rollercoaster of emotions he is constantly battling. Conversely, Chastain is very expressive regardless of which sentiment she’s feeling.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director J.C. Chandor, and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb; deleted scenes; and three in-depth behind-the-scenes featurettes. (Elevation Pictures & Lionsgate)
The Book of Negroes (DVD)
eOne Films
Kidnapped in Africa and subsequently enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata (Aunjanue Ellis) must navigate a revolution in New York, isolation in Nova Scotia and treacherous jungles of Sierra Leone, in an attempt to secure her freedom in the 18th century.
The CBC miniseries is based Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s book of the same name. Spanning approximately four-and-a-half hours, the film chronicles Aminata’s life from her childhood in Africa to her political contributions in London. Her intelligence was key to her survival, as well as the kindness of people she met along the way who were drawn to her powerful life force; it’s said more than once and proven several times that she’s “un-killable.” Aminata was lucky in many ways, but she also faced many hardships that included losing two children and being separated for long periods from her husband. The narrative never drags, focusing on significant events and moving between them at a steady pace. Though the speed is constant, there is no sense of the story being incomplete or rushed. Ellis is excellent in the leading role and the contributions of the numerous supporting actors are equal and complementary to her performance. The release also includes a booklet discussing the project written by Hill, who also co-wrote the script with director Clement Virgo.
Special features include: deleted scenes; interviews with cast & author Lawrence Hill; and “History of The Black Loyalist Society.” (eOne Films)
Breathless (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory
When Las Vegas lowlife Jesse Lujack (Richard Gere) becomes a wanted fugitive, he hightails it from Sin City to the City of Angels in order to track down Monica (Valérie Kaprisky), a beautiful French woman studying at UCLA. His plan is to convince her to escape to Mexico with him. Finding herself drawn in by the sheer magnetism of Jesse and his dark world, Monica can't help but fall for him and she soon finds herself swept up in his run from the law. But as the noose around the two begins to tighten, Monica must decide whether to stand by her ne'er-do-well lover or save herself.
Though Gere has many fans, it may be difficult for some of them to remember that he was a heartthrob and leading man long before playing the white knight in Pretty Woman. In this picture, the young actor plays a slacker who is loud, reckless, overconfident and very good looking. He spends much of the film flaunting his athletic build, including a few surprising scenes in which he does full frontal. Nonetheless, he delivers a standout and memorable performance. Inspired by the French New Wave, the movie actually shares its name with one of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. As a result, Jesse seems somewhat surreal as if plucked from some other, crazier world. This is a fun movie, but definitely not a standard love story.
There are no special features. (Shout Factory)
Invaders from Mars (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Little David Gardner's starry-eyed dreams turn into an out-of-this-world nightmare when invaders from the red planet land in his backyard and unleash their hostilities on unsuspecting earthlings. Paralyzed with fear as the aliens take over the minds of his mom, dad and even his schoolmates, David must somehow find a way to stop them before they turn the whole human race into brain-dead zombies.
This movie is Invasion of the Body Snatchers from a child’s perspective. Not only does no one want to believe such a thing is possible, they’re also less likely to take a kid’s word for it. Luckily David is able to convince one adult — the school nurse — about the alien attack, which gives him an ally with additional hiding spots and a driver’s licence. The practical creatures from outer space were created by the same team who would go on to make the Xenomorph in Alien, though these are much less frightening. Eventually David delivers his warning to the conveniently-located nearby military base, which leads to further discoveries about the deliberate targeting of the assault and a somewhat absurd stand-off. Director Tobe Hooper is widely known for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but this is an entertaining departure for him.
Special features include: commentary by director Tobe Hooper; “The Martians Are Coming! - The Making of Invaders From Mars”; original production illustration gallery from artist William Stout with commentary by Stout; original storyboards; still gallery; TV spot; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Killers (Blu-ray)
Well Go USA
A series of horrific murders just went viral, posted anonymously by the handsome and seductive Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura), a predator with a taste for torture. Thousands of miles away, disgraced journalist Bayu (Oka Antarra) can’t stop watching – and in a reckless moment discovers he, too, can kill. One man in Tokyo. One in Jakarta. A serial killer and a vigilante. As the posts multiply and the body count rises, a bizarre and psychotic rivalry begins – and the face-to-face showdown that’s coming will paint the city in blood.
This is a very interesting concept that relies on the widespread connectivity of the Internet and its ability to forge relationships over long distances. Nomura is a sadistic psychopath who enjoys inflicting violence in others, but he is tired of the solitude it demands. In Bayu and a young a woman he encounters at an awkward moment in her life, Nomura feels he’s found kindred spirits who can relieve his loneliness. However, Bayu is not a natural born killer; his first crime is self-defence, followed by an act of vigilantism. He discovers it’s easy to kill the bad guys, but does not like the person evolving from his aggression. The film is composed of three stories: Nomura’s in Tokyo, Bayu’s in Jakarta and the intersecting of their lives. As a result it does feel a bit long, but remains compelling to the end.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
The Rewrite (DVD)
Elevation Pictures
Once upon a time, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) was an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter, but divorce and a string of unsuccessful films have left him with nothing but bad debts and blank pages. So when his agent arranges a job as guest screenwriting professor at a remote university in upstate New York, a desperate Keith can’t say no. Initially hoping to give minimal effort to actual teaching so he can focus on his next script, Keith unexpectedly finds himself becoming invested in his students’ lives, including Holly (Marisa Tomei), a single mom looking to start her own new chapter.
It’s been a while since Grant has made a romantic comedy, but selecting Tomei as his latest on-screen love interest is a good way to get back in the saddle. The story of a selfish Hollywood-type finding new meaning in his life is well-worn so no one is attempting to recreate the wheel with this one. Nonetheless, the veteran actors in the film are adequate. Grant lays on his signature charm, Tomei is still gorgeous and engaging, J.K. Simmons is sweet as a man domineered by the women in his home, and Allison Janney is entertaining as the strict head of the faculty. The cast of students each fit their stereotypical roles, but the classroom scenes continue to fall flat. In the end this is a middling picture that could satisfy fans of Grant or Tomei.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and making-of featurette. (Elevation Pictures)
More about A Most Violent Year, The Book of Negroes, Breathless, Killers, Invaders from Mars
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