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article imageReview: New on DVD for January 20 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 20, 2015 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a few horror movies of varying quality; an Oscar-nominated animated movie; and the directorial debut of a veteran actor.
A Little Game (DVD)
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Arc Entertainment
Ostracized at her posh new uptown school and shaken by the death of her beloved grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), a 10 year-old downtown girl (Fatima Ptacek) finds an unlikely mentor in the form of an irascible chess-master (F. Murray Abraham), who uses the game to teach Max lessons in resilience, perseverance, and how to embrace inevitable change.
No doubt it can be difficult for children to adjust to a new school, deal with death or cope with change in general, but it still seems a little odd that a stranger in a nearby park is the one to help Max deal with these issues. There’s a lot said about Max’s intelligence and maturity, yet no one finds it suspect when she begins to spend after schools with a man they’ve never met. Moreover, his insight into her life is peculiar. Ralph Macchio is a blue collar dad that’s sweet and understanding, while Janeane Garofalo’s mom is rarely in the film as she’s apparently constantly at work. The older cast members have the more interesting roles with Dukakis playing the loving Greek grandmother — a role in which she feels quite natural — and Abraham as the crotchety old man with a crystal ball and chess skills.
There are no special features. (Arc Entertainment)
Alyce Kills (DVD)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
Life takes a downward spiral for Alyce (Jade Dornfeld) after a night of partying goes terribly wrong and she accidentally pushes her best friend off of a building. Panicked, Alyce lies to the police about her involvement. When she later learns that her friend miraculously survived, she begins to unravel — losing sleep, her job, and eventually her sanity. When she finally decides to take control, she unleashes enough horror and chaos to satisfy any gore-hound.
The narrative makes a point to call attention to Alyce’s mental instability early in the picture with mention of some strange behaviour outside of the narrative. The accident pushes her into a drug-induced haze lifted only after an evidently revelatory discussion with her drug dealer (Eddie Rouse). Then she’s on a bloody mission to remove all the negativity and wrongdoers from her circle. The laughable aspect is her attempts to dispose of the bodies, which are completely inept and overdone, and include the use of a small handsaw and blender. Once Alyce is over the edge, filmmakers do attempt to make the violence as off the wall as possible which does provide some improvement to the overall movie.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; cast interviews; and trailer. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Annabelle (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Home Video
John (Ward Horton) has found the perfect gift for his wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) — a rare vintage doll. But Mia’s delight with Annabelle doesn’t last long.
Though the doll only had brief appearances in The Conjuring, it was enough to haunt the nightmares of viewers. Inspired by a real case investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the tale of the possessed doll is expanded and exaggerated for the film. The narrative describes how the figure became spiritually linked to Annabelle and the terror its evil inflicted on the family that owned it. Parts of the story move slowly, but these sections do not hold the same appeal as the same type of scenes in The Conjuring. On the other hand, director James Wan’s execution of the parts in which something supernatural occurs are obviously created by someone who has knowledge of the genre and the techniques that work most effectively and subtly within it. Case in point, a scene in a basement storage area is possibly the most effective moment in the picture.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Curse of Annabelle”; “Bloody Years of Possession”; “Dolls of the Demon”; and “A Demonic Process.” (Warner Home Video)
The Atticus Institute (Blu-ray)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
Dr. Henry West (William Mapother) founded The Atticus Institute in the early 1970s to test individuals expressing supernatural abilities — E.S.P., clairvoyance, psychokinesis, etc. Despite witnessing several noteworthy cases, nothing could have prepared Dr. West and his colleagues for Judith Winstead (Rya Kihlstedt). She outperformed every subject they had ever studied — soon gaining the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense, who subsequently took control of the research facility. The more experiments they conducted on Judith, the clearer it became that her abilities were the manifestation of evil forces within her, prompting the government to take measures to weaponize this force. But they soon discovered there are powers that exist in this world that simply cannot be controlled. Now the details of the inexplicable events that occurred within The Atticus Institute are being made public after remaining classified for nearly forty years.
It takes a certain skill to construct a convincing mockumentary, particularly when it recounts a supernatural incident. But this film does quiet well fabricating a story about the military’s attempt to harness evil. The narrative poses and answers an interesting question about what the government would do if they encountered a true case of possession. The combination of “archival” footage and interviews with people connected with the Institute really gives the picture that sense of realism you’d expect from a chronicle of such an occurrence. The possession is lengthier than the norm for movies in this subgenre as it gradually becomes more menacing. The scientific approach to studying rather than exorcising the demon is a relatively novel notion that truly dictates the direction of the narrative — though near the end it does fall back into more traditional plotlines for this type of story.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and deleted scenes. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
The Boxtrolls (3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Quirky, mischievous and good-hearted, the Boxtrolls are unique creatures who have lovingly raised a human boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) in a fantastical charming cavern below the bustling streets of Cheesebridge. But when the evil Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley) schemes to capture Eggs’ family, it’s up to Eggs and his feisty new friend Winnie (Elle Fanning) to save the Boxtrolls.
Though it's no longer a popular form of storytelling, stop-motion animation remains one of the most attractive styles to observe. Similar to Laika's previous outings, this picture is darker than the average children's movie. The Boxtrolls don't meet the traditional definition of cute, though they do prove incredibly sweet and likeable. The story world is intricately designed so the 3D imaging is not just a worthless gimmick. Moreover, the underground domain of the Boxtrolls is spectacular. It's uniquely decorated with an array of scraps and cluttered with various inventions they've made with their findings. Eggs and his father figure, Fish (as per the image on his box), collect items that produce music, which they play for the others. In spite of the morbid nature of the narrative, it's still incredibly entertaining. The correlation between power and cheese is quite amusing, particularly in light of its effects on Snatcher. The perfect combination of a smart script and captivating imagery makes this a must-see movie for all ages.
Special features include: commentary by directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi; “Dare to be Square,” behind-the-scenes featurette; five featurettes; and preliminary animatic sequences. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Honeymoon (DVD)
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Video Services Corp.
Young newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) travel to a remote lake cottage for their honeymoon, where the promise of private romance awaits them. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night. As she becomes more distant and her behaviour increasingly peculiar, Paul begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place in the woods.
This film is similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers as one half of a couple is taken over by an alien force. When Paul yells, “Where is Bea?!” at a woman that looks like her, the answer couldn’t be clearer; but fittingly, that’s not his first explanation for her strange behaviour. In addition, filmmakers do make the tale their own with a different conclusion to their third encounter that one wouldn’t necessarily expect. The opening wedding video is cute and sets up the chemistry the two are to have with one another, though it is tainted fairly early in the narrative. The low-budget picture takes place primarily in the confines of the cabin and the neighbouring lake, correctly and effectively relying on the sci-fi script to do most of the work.
Special features include: interview with director Leigh Janiak; interview with actors Treadaway and Leslie; “The Worm” behind the scenes; “Canoe” behind the scenes; AXS TV: A Look at Honeymoon; festival and theatrical trailers. (Video Services Corp.)
Lucy (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
A woman (Scarlett Johansson) altered by a dangerous drug that allows her to use 100% of her brain, transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.
There is no absolute science surrounding the brain because its capacity remains unknown, but the prevailing and most recognized theory is that humans only use ten per cent of it. The probable capabilities of the other 90 per cent are infinite. This film suggests what could happen if all that unused potential was unlocked. A neuroscientist played by Morgan Freeman walks the audience through the possibilities so they can understand what is happening to Lucy without having to disrupt the narrative flow. As an advanced human Lucy trades her emotions for analysis, resulting in a purposefully flat performance from Johansson that is appropriate but prevents the viewers from connecting with the lead character. The script design by Luc Besson is excellent, allowing her abilities to steadily progress to fascinating and frightening heights while remaining in the realm of the real world.
Special features include: “The Evolution of Lucy”; and “Cerebral Capacity: The True Science of Lucy.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Mule (Blu-ray)
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XLrator Media
In 1983, a naive man named Ray (Angus Sampson) with lethal narcotics hidden in his stomach is detained by Australian Federal Police. Alone and afraid, ‘the Mule’ makes a desperate choice: to defy his bodily functions and withhold the evidence...literally. And by doing so becomes a “human time-bomb,” dragging cops, criminals, lawyers and his mother into his impossible escapade.
This remarkable act of sheer will motivated by tremendous fear is surprisingly engaging in spite of the fact that a large part of it takes place in the confines of a hotel room. Ray’s determination to withhold the evidence is astonishing and somewhat pitiful, particularly when his body eventually refuses to stick to the plan. Hugo Weaving plays the detective committed to breaking Ray by attempting to extend the length of his observation and physically rousing his bowels with some police brutality. Though Ray seems like a gullible boob, he proves more capable than expected — an accomplishment owed in large part to Sampson’s performance.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and four behind-the-scenes featurettes. (XLrator Media)
Rudderless (DVD)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
Sam (Billy Crudup), a former high-profile ad executive, is devastated by the sudden death of his musician son. When Sam discovers a box filled with his son's demo tapes, the grieving father’s downward spiral comes to a standstill as he explores this unexpected gift. After mustering the will to perform one of the songs at a local bar, Sam meets and forms a friendship with Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a young musician. The unlikely duo forms a rock band that becomes a local sensation, and they set out on an emotional musical journey that ultimately revitalizes both of their lives.
This is William H. Macy’s feature directorial debut for which he chose a rather complex script about grieving. The death of Sam’s son occurs rather suddenly; conversely, his downward spiral is swift and fuelled by alcohol. The details of the teen’s death are obscured until a single shot near the end of the film, which Macy allows to speak for itself. Fast-forwarding to two years after the incident gives Sam enough distance to make the rest of the narrative work. While he’s still suffering, it’s not the visceral pain experienced at the beginning. The second act is filled with great music — including a ditty by Kate Micucci — and the forming of a perceptively humorous friendship between Sam and Quentin with the support of a music store owner played by Laurence Fishburne. There’s nothing ground-breaking about the picture other than it is solid from top to bottom and worth a watch.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Hear this Song”; and “Hold On” music video with Selena Gomez and Ben Kweller. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
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