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article imageReview: New on DVD for March 8 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 9, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include the latest adventure of a group of woodland creatures; an over-the-top soap opera parody; the concluding season of a beloved TV comedy; a live event that reinvigorates a classic; and the true story behind a famous novel.
American Descent (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada
In 2014, Sergeant First Class Stephen Harris edited and uploaded this film; it was his message to the world. In it, a group of teenagers are sent an unlabeled DVD from a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan containing a video of a strange woman tied to a tree. It ends with a clue. The teens follow the clue to another and yet another, until what started out as a game becomes a terrifying chase into the psychopathic mind of Harris. At the end of the line, the teens’ world comes full circle as they discover they weren’t just playing a game — they were pawns in a revenge plot only a master of war could devise.
This is a found footage movie with too many cameras. Attempting to capitalize on the fact that everyone has a “camera” now, two of the teens document their entire lives on small camcorders while the other two regularly pull out their smartphones to record their perspectives. The result is a very jumpy film that alternates angles too often, creating confusing spaces and unnecessary irritation. In addition, there are a number of unrelated images edited into scenes by the deranged uploader. Of course, anyone able to put two and two together already knows the film’s outcome so there isn’t much of a payoff for enduring the poor filmmaking.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada)
The Bible Stories: Abraham (DVD)
The Bible Stories: Moses (DVD)
The Bible Stories: In the Beginning [4 Films] (DVD)
Shout Factory
Abraham: Shepherd Abraham (Richard Harris) and his wife Sarah (Barbara Hershey) follow the heavenly commands of God and embark on a journey that would impact generations of humankind. Abraham and Sarah overcome life's obstacles and trials through their steadfast trust in God — but that trust is tested when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac.
Moses: All the glory and spectacle are here: Moses' (Ben Kingsley) childhood in Pharaoh's (Frank Langella) court, God's voice from the burning bush, the dreadful plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the granting of the Ten Commandments and the long-awaited return to Canaan.
Jacob: Esau (Sean Bean), the older son, is the favorite of his father, while Jacob (Matthew Modine) is the favorite of his mother, Rebekah. Rebekah believes that Jacob, though younger, should be the rightful heir. She convinces Jacob to trick his dying father into giving him the blessing instead of his brother. Jacob then flees to the home of his uncle to escape the enraged Esau. There, Jacob falls in love with his uncle’s beautiful daughter, Rachel (Lara Flynn Boyle). His uncle promises Rachel’s hand in marriage, but deceives Jacob by substituting his other daughter the night of the wedding. Through hard work, Jacob is eventually allowed to marry Rachel. With his devotion to God and love for Rachel, Jacob is able to seek his brother’s forgiveness and becomes the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Joseph: Abandoned by his brothers, young Joseph (Paul Mercurio) finds himself sold into slavery. But his incredible talent to peer into the future brings Joseph into a position of power — and a choice between vengeance and mercy.
All of these films were produced under the same umbrella, so in spite of the varying narratives they are visually very similar. Nonetheless, they all feature respectable performances as well as some notable talent, including Kingsley and Langella. Though the essence of the stories would be familiar to most people acquainted with the Bible, these films portray the lives of these men from beginning to end. Nothing is glossed over as all but one of the four films is three hours in length, ensuring filmmakers had the opportunity to remain true to the source material. Even the special effects, especially those required in Moses’ tale, are well done; combined with the first-rate performances, these films are on par with higher quality TV movies and more basic theatrical releases.
There are no special features. (Shout Factory)
Community: The Final Season? (DVD)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Hacked e-mails, virtual reality, schlocky sci-fi filmmaking, grifting, forbidden paintball, a giant hand, a wedding and a stage adaptation of The Karate Kid… Welcome back for one crazy year at Greendale Community College! Though the Study Group-turned-“Committee to Save Greendale” has succeeded in their mission (well, almost), Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) has hired a by-the-books administrative consultant (Paget Brewster) to help improve the school’s day-to-day operations. This, of course, doesn’t exactly sit well with everyone in the group and, as a result, they’ll see changes good and bad at their beloved school.
This season almost never happened, except the series was granted one more year by Yahoo! Screen after its cancellation by NBC. As with any TV show ending its run, the quality of the episodes varies; though most of them are enjoyable, a couple only payoff at the very end. The annual paintball episode remains a pleasurable classic, while the rise of Ben Chang counters the increasingly doleful Jeff Winger. The additions of Brewster and Keith David to the group provide opportunity for some new stories. She’s got great delivery in even the most awkward situations and he’s so rarely seen outside of a voice recording studio it’s nice to see him in front of the camera. The finale is satisfactory, but doesn’t really aim for closure since there’s still rumours about a movie.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Community Trivia”; “Six Seasons and a Finale”; and gag reel. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Grease Live! (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Featuring a young ensemble cast, Grease Live! reintroduces and reimagines some of the show’s most memorable moments, great music and timeless love story to an entirely new generation. The production draws upon both the original 1971 musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and Paramount’s 1978 feature film adaptation to create a never-before-seen version with many modern surprises.
Most audiences are aware of the movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John even if they haven’t seen it before, as the picture has become ingrained in pop culture. Therefore it’s not difficult to acknowledge another take on the classic; however, the form it’s taken is rather surprising and somewhat impressive. This live TV event was the equivalent of watching a Broadway show in your living room, complete with notable cast members, such as Vanessa Hudgens and Aaron Tveit, and cameos by Boyz II Men and the original Frenchy and Doody. The main difference to watching on television is the incorporation of the camera in the choreography, which allows audiences to get much closer to the characters. There are a few updates to the script and music selection, but overall it’s an enjoyable reimagining of the original sources.
Special features include: “Without a Net: Performing Grease Live!”; “Becoming the “T-Birds” and Pink Ladies”; “Greasin’ up the Joint”; “Be-Bop, Swing and Jitterbug: The Choreography of Grease Live!”; “When Was Your First…?”; and “My Favorite Grease Moment.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Hogan’s Heroes: The Complete Series (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
The series follows the adventures of a ragtag team of POWs who turn a German prison camp into the secret headquarters for their outrageous espionage missions.
This is a sitcom classic that consistently played on the same dynamic, but never got old. Col. Hogan is the senior officer amongst the POWs, therefore he is the liaison between the prisoners and the German officers who he’s learned to play perfectly. Unlike modern TV shows, the first episode isn’t a formal introduction to the characters nor is the last episode a means of saying goodbye. Both simply centre on one of the series’ many schemes. Over six seasons, Hogan would sneak off to Paris to save a member of the underground; they would impersonate Hitler on more than one occasion; convince Col. Klink to allow them to escape (if only briefly); and ensure Sgt. Schultz “sees nothing” no matter what.
Special features include: commentary on select episodes; photo gallery; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
In the Heart of the Sea (Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Home Video
In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth proportions with an almost human sense of vengeance. This real-life Maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, but Melville’s book only told half the story. This film chronicles the harrowing aftermath as the pummelled crew (including Chris Hemsworth and Benjamin Walker) battles storms, starvation and despair, and the men are forced to do the unthinkable in order to survive.
An epic storm is the crew’s first test. The effects are mind-blowing as one can almost feel the wind and rain assaulting the ship. The tension between Hemsworth’s and Walker’s characters only enhances the violence of the scene as they all nearly parish due to their lack of respect for each other and the sea. Another action sequence involves the thrilling yet disturbing capture of a whale. The whole ordeal is gruesome, but executed as innocuously as possible as an obviously intrinsic part of the story. The second half of the film deals entirely with their perilous survival at sea; it definitely takes on a lowered pace, but the human element of a story is where director Ron Howard always shines in capturing the emotion of any situation.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “Ron Howard: Captain’s Log”; “Whale Tales: Melville's Untold Story”; “The Hard Life of a Whaler”; “Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and A Man of Courage”; “Lightning Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick”; and “Commanding the Heart of the Sea.” (Warner Home Video)
Open Season: Scared Silly (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
When a case of mistaken identity leads both humans and animals to believe there is a monstrous werewolf on the prowl in Timberline National Forest, former hunter Shaw seizes on the opportunity to re-open open season. With Shaw on the loose and all the animals at risk, it's now up to Boog, Elliot and Mr. Weenie to face their fears, track down the elusive werewolf and get open season closed permanently.
This is the fourth installment in the Open Season franchise, this time focusing on Boog’s cowardice and everyone’s gullibility. With no hunting allowed, Shaw leads tours through the forest he knows like the back of his hand. Obviously unfulfilled, he jumps at the opportunity to wrap his itchy trigger fingers around a gun again. In the meantime, Elliot’s insistence on “curing” Boog of his fearfulness makes him not a very good friend. However, this is totally Mr. Weenie’s movie. The pint-sized pooch is the centre of attention in every scene as he withers from hunger and eventually becomes convinced he is a monster. His cuteness overshadows all the other characters in this mediocre story.
Special features include: commentary by director David Feiss and writer Carlos Kotkin; “Super Speedy Re-Cap”; “Stepping into the Spotlight - Mr. Weenie’s Process”; “Scaredy Pants: The Fears of Open Season: Scared Silly”; “Director Profile”; and blooper and outtakes. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Species II (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Having just returned from a mission to Mars, Commander Ross (Justin Lazard) isn't exactly himself. He's slowly becoming a terrifying alien entity with a one-track mind — to procreate with human women. When countless women suffer gruesome deaths while bearing half-alien offspring, scientist Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger) and hired assassin Press Lennox (Michael Madsen) use Eve (Natasha Henstridge), a more tempered alien clone, to find Ross and his virulent brood. But they underestimate Eve's maternal drive, and before long she escapes to mate with Ross in order to create a pure, unstoppable race that could spell doom for mankind.
With half of the cast returning for the sequel, the link between this film and the first is relatively strong as Eve is also a direct descendent of Sil. However, the origin of the threat is less a case of arrogance and more to do with ignorance. The possession occurs as organically as is possible given the situation. On the other hand, lack of common sense leads to the danger being doubled and a monster confrontation in the last act. The simple solution — and most common in action movies — would be to simply blow up their location; however, this is a science fiction movie so bearing witness to all the alien stuff is the only acceptable course of action. Some of the more interesting tidbits in the bonus features discuss how the special effects team were able to incorporate H.R. Giger’s vision for the aliens into the film.
Special features include: commentary by director Peter Medak; “Species II: Eve Of Destruction”; “From Sil To Eve”; “Creature Creations”; “Alien Evolutions”; special effects outtakes & behind-the-scenes footage; scenes from the film featuring uncut footage not shown in theatres; still galleries; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Species III / Species: The Awakening [Double Feature] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Species III: In the ongoing fight for supremacy between mankind and human-alien hybrids, a fatal weakness among the hybrids has given humans the advantage… until now. When Sara (Sunny Mabrey), the daughter of Eve (Natasha Henstridge), is born, she develops into the most genetically perfect alien form yet. Seeking to repopulate Earth with her kind, this dangerously beautiful femme fatale heeds an overwhelming drive to mate while a crack military team trails her in an attempt to end the war between the two species forever.
Species — The Awakening: When brilliant college professor Miranda Hollander (Helena Mattsson) suffers a mysterious blackout and awakens amid the bloody aftermath of a mass slaughter, she turns to her uncle for answers. But when he reveals the shocking truth — that she's only half human, a clone from a hybrid of human and alien DNA — they must flee to Mexico to locate the scientist who created her. Soon they find themselves locked in battle with a horde of rampaging, unstoppable hybrids and time is running out before Miranda will inevitably surrender to the killer instinct that lurks inside her own body.
The first sequel left the door open for another, however Henstridge would only appear briefly to pass the torch to a new fertile alien. The third picture follows a slightly different path as a couple of scientists once again cannot resist the opportunity to study such a unique specimen, though they’re incapable of imprisoning her. In the meantime, Sara is desperately trying to procreate but cannot find a genetically compatible mate as the remainder of her species dies out. The final chapter is initially the most atypical of the franchise as the alien’s instincts were dormant and once they’re roused, Miranda refuses to lose control. The alien imaginings in this movie are also more varied as further experimentation has occurred, but in the end it comes down to the same needs and showdown — just south of the border.
Special features include: commentary by director Brad Turner, writer Ben Ripley and actress Robin Dunne; Species III: Genesis; “Alien Odyssey: Evolution”; “Alien Odyssey: Species DNA”; “Alien Odyssey: Alien Technology”; “Alien Odyssey: Intelligent Lifeforms”; “Alien Awakenings”; and “Miranda's Memories.” (Scream Factory)
The Spoils of Babylon (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Legendary author Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell), the undisputed master of dramatic fiction, introduces audiences to the brilliant adaptation of his best-selling novel: a sweeping chronicle of the provocative and captivating exploits of the Morehouse family. Patriarch Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins) shepherds his daughter Cynthia (Kristen Wiig) and adopted son Devon (Tobey Maguire) from meagre beginnings in the oil fields of Texas to powerful boardrooms in New York City.
Ferrell is notorious for his love of disguises and this miniseries allows him the opportunity to don a drunk, pompous personality that opens and closes each episode. The narrative is an exaggerated primetime soap opera akin to Dallas and the like, but way more over-the-top. The performances are equally overdramatic and absolutely hilarious. Devon’s drug-fuelled absence is one of the most bizarre inclusions — until he builds his underwater lab. In addition to the actors mentioned, there are a number of other notable guest stars including Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Haley Joel Osment, Molly Shannon, Michael Sheen and David Spade, as well as Carey Mulligan’s best mannequin impersonation. It’s only six 30-minute episodes, but they deliver high-quality, original entertainment.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
More about In the Heart of the Sea, Community, The Spoils of Babylon, Hogan's Heroes, American Descent
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