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article imageReview: New on DVD for October 15 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 15, 2014 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include the first seasons of two horror TV series; a complex tale of espionage; a beautiful and surreal animated feature; a preposterous shark tale; and a Christmas classic.
Hemlock Grove: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
The brutal slaying of a teenage girl sends the townspeople of Hemlock Grove into a desperate search to find her killer. But this sleepy community soon finds itself living a nightmare as monstrous secrets and rumors threaten to drive them all down a dark path and leave them struggling to uncover the truth.
Horror enthusiast and filmmaker Eli Roth's Netflix series would have had a tough time finding an audience on cable because even though each episode is intriguing, the big picture is revealed ever so slowly. It's therefore perfect for a medium in which viewers can consecutively consume several episodes in one sitting. It requires the audience to be curious about the characters' origins and trajectories, and to be committed enough to reach the season's final two episodes where it all comes together and most questions are answered. The show's monsters are drawn from very old school legends and traditions that do not follow the same rules as many modern day creatures, which makes them that much more interesting. The personalities are well casted and the limited visual effects, particularly for the werewolf transformation, are impressive.
Special features include: commentary with director and executive producer Eli Roth with special guest Lorenza Izzo; making-of featurette; “Dysfunctional in Every Way”; “Anatomy of a Kill”; “Fairytales for Adults”; “The Rust Beneath the Surface”; “The Monster Within”; and “It Hurts So Good.” (Scream Factory)
The Hercules Collection (DVD)
Timeless Media Group
Mythology’s greatest hero and The Trojan War come to life in six classic movies from the ‘sword and sandal’ genre. First brought to the screen by bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the character of Hercules has enjoyed one of the most enduring careers in motion pictures, spanning over fifty years and counting. Exploring the rich variety the genre has to offer, this set packs in all the sword-slinging, monster-battling action you expect from the world’s strongest demigod, as well as two epics inspired by the ancient world’s most famous conflict.
The Loves of Hercules (1960)
The Trojan Horse (1961)
Medusa Against The Son of Hercules (1962)
The Conquest of Mycenae (1963)
The Triumph of Hercules (1964)
Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun (1964)
In the '60s, this particular genre of hero drawn from comics and pulp fiction was popular. Thus, a new picture starring the half-man, half-God was released almost annually. The character is so iconic, in spite of being played by different actors throughout the decade, each portrayal is fundamentally similar and nearly interchangeable. Treated as a feature-length series, Hercules (or his son) faces a new foe in each episode, which is often selected from one of the hero's “12 Labours” and includes the Queen of the Amazons and the multi-headed Hydra. The practical creation of these creatures is archaic when compared to today's standards of CGI, but are still a treat for fans of early effects styles — though they're no Ray Harryhausen creation.
Special features include: theatrical trailers. (Timeless Mediacenterp)
The Honorable Woman (DVD)
BBC Home Entertainment
As children, Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan) witnessed the assassination of their father, a well-known Israeli arms manufacturer. Now in her thirties, Nessa has taken control of the company and refocused its purpose on connecting Palestine and Israel to promote peace. Ennobled for her work, the newly-made Baroness must fight forces that are conspiring against her as she awards a highly lucrative contract to a Palestinian businessman who is subsequently found dead. The investigation turns into an international manhunt in which truth and trust continuously shift as the CIA, MI6 and Mossad all operate with their own agendas.
In some ways this spy thriller is also akin to an extended crime procedural show. The overall story is quite complex and must have the viewer's full attention to follow each new clue as it's discovered. And even these are revealed in stages with one character indicating something has been uncovered, the search for confirmation and then the actual presentation of the new puzzle piece. There are so many secrets being kept by each character, it's nearly impossible to know what will be unveiled next. The story is further complicated by the intricacies of Israeli politics and the constant threat of retaliation for the slightest infraction from either side of the border. Gyllenhaal portrays a woman who is almost always on edge and generally keeps her emotions in check for fear of displacing the mask she must usually present. Conversely, the few times she does express her needs she's punished in some way. Though the characters’ journeys are far from over at the end of this series, the story will not be continued for a second season.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (BBC Home Entertainment)
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (DVD)
Shout Factory
Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest day in the history of the world, little Jack is born with his heart frozen solid. Wasting no time, midwife Madeleine takes action and saves his life by inserting a cuckoo-clock in place of his icy heart. And now Jack will live — as long as he observes three golden rules:
He must never touch the hands of the clock.
He must master his anger.
He must never, ever fall in love.
But fall in love he does, to a bespectacled young street performer, Miss Acacia, with a soul-stirring voice. Now begins a journey of escape and pursuit, from Edinburgh to Paris to Miss Acacia’s home in Andalusia.
This is a mesmerizing story that transcends any conventional animated feature with bizarre and fantastic images paired with a captivating rock soundtrack. The surreal film is directed by Mathias Malzieu, lead singer of Dionysos. The French band provides all the music, which is based on a concept album written in conjunction with a children's book of the (almost) same name. The purposely composed songs are a huge part of the movie's appeal as they contribute to every aspect of the narrative. On the surface it appears to be a love story, but it's actually a very tragic tale about a boy who is given a second chance at life and told he is not allowed to truly live it. There are some fairly dark elements and some mature dialogue not appropriate for young children, but this isn't really an animation necessarily targeting a younger audience anyway.
Special features include: “From Book to Animation”; and “The Characters.” (Shout Factory)
Kingpin (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
A star bowler (Woody Harrelson) whose career was prematurely "cut off" hopes to ride a new prodigy (Randy Quaid) to success and riches, as well as finally defeat his nemesis (Bill Murray).
It’s safe to say the Farrelly Brothers have a certain brand of comedy that doesn’t appeal to everyone. Often a mix of slapstick and toilet humour, the crude jokes and typically unintelligent characters are meant for a less mature sense of humour. However, this is one of the few pictures the co-directors did not write, giving it a one-up on some of their other projects. It features a toned-down version of their humour, which is not only tolerable but occasionally funny. Though Murray was only on set for a few days and has a limited role in the film, his performance is a highlight featuring a terrible comb-over and mostly improvised dialogue. Harrelson is also amusing as the unscrupulous “bowling manager” and Lin Shaye is unsettling as the lustful landlady.
Special features include: theatrical and R-rated versions of the film; commentary by directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly; “Kingpins: Extra Frames with the Farrelly Brothers”; and theatrical trailer. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
The erotically charged saga completely reinvents literature’s most iconic and terrifying chracters. Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and timeless figures from Dracula, join a core of original characters in the dark and brutal quest to save a soul – even as they grapple with their own monstrous temptation.
Though many of the names are familiar, the stories are completely rewritten for Showtime’s horror series. Eva Green has been a fierce femme fatale in several action pictures, but in this role she combines the forceful, seductress persona with vulnerability and supernatural madness. Josh Hartnett is an American in London, recruited for his skill as a gunslinger and swept up in the unnatural hunt for monsters. Former James Bond Timothy Dalton is the narrative’s patriarch, who guides their searches but conceals a dreadful darkness within himself. There are several references to the lurid inspirations for the show’s title — a sensational quality that the series lives up to with endless debauchery, nudity and death. The explicit twist on gothic horror may not appeal to fans of the traditional narratives, but it is an attention-grabbing take on these well-known characters with an even more exciting plot development in the season finale.
Special features include: “What is a Penny Dreadful?”; “Literary Roots”; “Coming Together”; “The Artisans” parts one and two; “The Grand Guignol”; “Sex and Prostitution in the Victorian Age”; “British Exploration and the Search for the Nile; “The Science of Medicine” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Sharknado 2: The Second One (DVD)
Video Services Corp.
When a Category 7 hurricane pummels New York, the surging flood waters bring thousands of sharks. To make matters worse, tornadoes soon dot the horizon. As Sharknadoes tear through the city, no vehicle, building, or national monument is safe.
Shortly after the improbable catastrophe caused by airborne sharks in Los Angeles, Ian Ziering and Tara Reid’s characters travel to New York and bring the outlandish weather with them. This film is even more ridiculous than its predecessor as individuals battle the flying sharks with everything from a chainsaw to machine guns to flame-throwing water guns; Ziering’s character goes as far as to ride a shark rodeo-style. Mark McGrath and Vivica A. Fox have major supporting roles, but the movie’s cameos are especially absurd, including Kelly Osbourne, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kurt Angle, Subway spokesman Jared, Andy Dick, Perez Hilton and Judd Hirsch. Local talk show hosts and news anchors, such as Al Roker and Kelly Ripa, also portray themselves and report on the approaching sharknado. Fans of the first film will appreciate the continued and enhanced outrageousness, as well as the destruction of numerous recognizable landmarks and the knowing wink at a classic Twilight Zone episode.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; “VFX: Making of”; cameos featurette; “Shark Chum”; gag reel; and trailer. (Video Services Corp.)
Solo (DVD)
After 17-year-old Gillian (Annie Clark) takes a job at a remote summer camp, as part of her initiation she must spend two nights alone in the middle of the lake on the camp’s island, supposedly haunted by the ghost of a camper who disappeared suspiciously decades before. When Gillian’s “solo” is interrupted by a local man responding to a distress call, what was meant to be a peaceful time alone in nature devolves into something very different. As her paranoia mounts, a horrifying secrets is uprooted and Gillian finds herself in a desperate fight to survive.
This is a pretty typical horror-in-the-woods picture. Gillian’s journey into the forest is ill-conceived from the start. As a result, the buy-in is difficult — a young woman is instructed to enter and remain in the woods alone, even after encountering a suspicious man on a supposedly uninhabited island. Plain common sense tells anyone this is a bad idea. Nevertheless it contributes to building the film’s suspense (and disbelief). The common tale of a drowned child circulates the campsite prior to Gillian’s excursion, creating expectation for something bad to happen. When it does, Gillian alternates between scared, helpless girl and fearless woman determined to survive.
Special features include: commentary by director Isaac Cravit and star Annie Clark; short film, Good Boy, directed by Isaac Cravit; featurette; photo gallery; and trailer. (IndieCan)
To Be Takei (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
From outer space to Capitol Hill, from the silver screen to YouTube, the legendary George Takei has blazed his own trail while conquering new frontiers with a beaming trademark grin. The documentary is a hilarious, entertaining, and moving look at the many roles played by eclectic 77-year-old actor/activist George Takei. His wit, humor and grace have helped him to become an internationally beloved figure and internet phenomenon with 7-million Facebook fans and counting. The film offers unprecedented access to the daily life of George and his husband/business partner Brad, and chronicles George’s fascinating personal journey from Japanese American internment camp to his iconic and ground-breaking role as Sulu on Star Trek, and his rise as a pop culture icon. The film shows what it truly means to be Takei.
Other than William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to some extent, Takei was the only other original Star Trek actor to have a thriving career after the show's cancellation. The funny part is it didn't really take off until he was in his 60s. Takei is very open about most aspects of his life so it doesn't look like filmmakers were required to do much investigating or prodding. After initial introductions, it mostly relays the significant events of Takei's life chronologically from the American Japanese internment camp to his early acting career to his memorable role on Star Trek to his involvement in politics to his now infamous place in social media. His relationship with husband Brad is also traced from the beginning, but in less detail. Other interviewees include John Cho, who describes the power of seeing another Asian man on TV; Dan Savage, who describes his inspiration as a gay male; and Shatner, who is quite standoffish.
Special features include: bonus scenes. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
White Christmas: Diamond Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Two talented song-and-dance men (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) team up after the war to become one of the hottest acts in show business. One winter they join forces with a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) and trek to Vermont for a white Christmas. The result is stuff dreams are made of.
This film is one of those holiday staples that can be found on various networks throughout December. Though the days of the big Hollywood musicals have passed, their allure has endured. Crosby and Kaye are a wonderful team, using their age difference as a constant source of amusement. The musical numbers range from performances in clubs to rehearsals to romantic expressions to the big finale show. One of the highpoints is watching Crosby and Kaye reproduce Clooney and Vera-Ellen's number, "Sisters," in costume. Still, there's enough dialogue between songs to allow the characters to develop and engage in evolving relationships pertinent to the story. Though most people don’t break into song in a dining car on a train or while grabbing a late night snack, it seems perfectly natural when this group does it. And the delightful bonus features expand the magic beyond the credits.
Special features include: commentary by Rosemary Clooney; White Christmas Sing-Along ; “Classic Holiday Moments”; “Assignment Children with Introduction by Michael Bublé”; “Backstage Stories from White Christmas”; “Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner”; “Danny Kaye: Joy to the World”; “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”; “Rosemary’s Old Kentucky Home”; “White Christmas: From Page to Stage”; “White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney”; photo galleries; two theatrical trailers; and bonus 12-song Christmas CD. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
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