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article imageReview: New on DVD for September 30 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 1, 2014 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include anniversary editions from two distinct genres; a director getting back to his roots; an insightful documentary; an appealing first season; and a franchise’s attempt to turn things around.
Chef (Blu-ray & DVD)
VVS Films
A chef (Jon Favreau) who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.
Writer/director Jon Favreau takes a break from the world of superheroes and CGI to get back to his roots of good storytelling and everyday characters. Chef Carl Casper leads a life typical of the industry he loves. He's passionate about cooking, but at the mercy of the restaurant's owner. His career comes first and everything else takes a backseat, including spending time with his son. The realism of Casper's character is actually quite impressive. The second reality crossover occurs when Casper unleashes a PR nightmare after joining Twitter. He repeatedly breaks protocol and makes a bad review even worse. Social media becomes his worst enemy before eventually becoming his friend. Once the drama passes, the movie turns into a happy cross-country road trip in a food truck. And to keep it amiable, Favreau appears to have called on his friends to fill the cast list, including John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.
Special features include: commentary by Jon Favreau; and deleted scenes. (VVS Films)
Delivery: The Beast Within (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Kyle and Rachel Massy are expecting their first child and agree to allow their first pregnancy to be recorded as part of a family-oriented reality show. The production takes a turn, however, when the camera captures bizarre events, leading Rachel to believe that their unborn child has been possessed by an evil spirit.
The evil pregnancy has been a popular horror premise of late. Expecting parents experience strange and disturbing phenomenon leading up to the birth of their child, which only intensifies the closer they get to the due date. This version combines the styles of documentary, found footage and reality television. The first act is the completed first episode for the proposed TV series. The rest is supposedly edited together from 275 hours of raw film. Interviews with the show's producer, friends and other characters that appear are woven throughout the story. Based on the format, the one concept filmmakers seem to cling to is the camera interference presumably caused by the sinister nature of the pregnancy. It's captured consistently almost to the point of overkill and is possibly the one aspect of the narrative that stands apart from similar pictures. Conversely, the rest of the movie sticks to the formula before delivering a shocking conclusion.
Special features include: commentary by cast and crew; “The Birth of Delivery”; and trailer. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
The Double (DVD)
D Films
Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is a timid man, scratching out an isolated existence in an indifferent world. He is overlooked at work, scorned by his mother, and ignored by the woman of his dreams (Mia Wasikowska). He feels powerless to change any of these things. The arrival of a new co-worker, James (also Eisenberg), serves to upset the balance. James is both Simon's exact physical double and his opposite – confident, charismatic and good with women. To Simon's horror, James slowly starts taking over his life.
The David Lynch, “1984” vibe that permeates writer/director Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella is one of the key elements that set it apart. While Simon eventually accepted the disappointment of being ignored, he cannot endure the frustration when James, who shares many of the same qualities, is able to become someone of significance. The peculiar narrative is made even stranger as no one acknowledges the physical resemblance between the two men without prompting. This response implies that the vast differences between their personalities and Simon’s coy demeanour are enough to set them apart. On that note, Eisenberg does an excellent job defining the two characters so the audience is able to differentiate between them on sight. The importance of style in film is indicative of an art house movie, but it’s broken free of the confines of such a label with the entrancing narrative and enchanting delivery. The final product is an exceptional and refreshingly unconventional picture.
Special features include: “Cast and Characters”; “Creating The Double: The Story and Design”; behind the scenes comparisons; Interview with director Richard Ayoade; AXS TV: A look at The Double; and trailer. (D Films)
Ghost in the Shell (Blu-ray)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
A female government cyber agent and the Internal Bureau of Investigations are hot on the trail of "The Puppet Master" – a computer virus capable of invading cybernetic brains and altering its victim’s memory. Created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and codenamed "Project 2501", this 'hacker' is actually a prototype virtual agent which has now defied its makers by seeking asylum within a new host body outside of the electronic net. Now the two agencies must maneuver against each another in a violent, high-tech race to capture the omnipresent entity.
It's the 30th anniversary of this ground-breaking anime film that poses questions about the soul, mechanization of the flesh and consciousness of artificial intelligence against the still striking backdrop of a futuristic world. The beautiful imagery is the result of one of the first effective fusions of traditional cel and CG animation. The cyborgs in the movie are the majority as people sign their bodies over to corporations in exchange for prolonged life and enhanced abilities. As their bodies become less human, they cling to the existence of their "ghost" or soul. Self-identity in a technologically advanced society is a prevalent theme throughout the movie. Writer/director/producer Mamoru Oshii’s sci-fi film’s popularity exceeds that of the manga from which it’s adapted and has inspired a number of filmmakers, including The Wachowskis.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Grave Halloween (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
It is called ‘The Suicide Forest’, the sea of trees near Japan’s Mount Fuji where more people take their own lives than any other place in the world. For American exchange student Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb), it’s where she’s come to search for the truth about her dead birth mother. But when Maiko and a college documentary crew become lost there on October 31st, they’ll disturb a sacred site seething with angry ghosts, tortured souls and supernatural vengeance that may destroy them all.
Apparently the way to make an English-speaking Asian horror film is to have American foreign exchange students at the centre. Of course at least one of them can speak Japanese, which allows her to communicate messages of warning. Even though they are attempting to make a student documentary of this intensely personal mission, this is not a found footage movie as much of the action is not captured by their camera. There are many angry ghosts that lash out at the living in a number of ways, several of which are somewhat unexpected. They use everything from the forest to the remains of unclaimed bodies. The teens receive multiple warnings, none of which they heed and all of which come back to bite them before the end. The results of Mika’s quest have surprising results and the conclusion is interesting though not entirely in line with the story's logic.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Ivory Tower (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Is college worth the cost? Filmmaker Andrew Rossi asks the critical question about the value of higher education, revealing how colleges have come to embrace a business model that often promotes expansion over quality learning. With escalating tuition rates and student-loan debt now over the $1 trillion mark, the once-great American institution is at a breaking point. The documentary explores the current education crisis from the halls of Harvard, to community colleges, to online learning, providing a surprising look at the university landscape.
The cost and value of post-secondary education are subjects of a never ending debate with no clear response. This documentary doesn't attempt to find the right answer, but rather provide facts and examples so viewers can compose informed responses. Some of the data is astounding regarding graduate percentages and inflation rates in United States, which is the country of focus. It's commendable that filmmakers don't limit the discussion to older voices primarily involved in the administration and governance of higher learning. It also includes younger voices with varying perspectives on college and university, some of who have launched initiatives geared towards students. Alternative learning environments, online courses, escalating administration fees, student debt, government support and much more are all examined to some degree through the voices of various experts and advocates.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and Q&As on opening weekend. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
McCanick (Blu-ray & DVD)
VVS Films
Set over the course of one day, a narcotics detective (David Morse) hunts for a seemingly harmless young criminal (Cory Monteith) who knows a truth about the cop's past.
Monteith did not have a very large role in this film, but it is now marked as the last movie in which he'd play. Ironically, his character is a juvenile delinquent and former addict who spends most of his screen time running or pleading for his life. But the focus of the story is Morse's character as he allows his personal demons to drag him ever deeper into a forest of regret and despair. The film begins just before McCanick's trigger is pulled so there's no frame of reference for his integrity as a cop, but most of what the audience does see is far from cause for commendation. His obsession with Monteith's reformed street kid persona is confusing and seemingly without cause until their connection is revealed in the final act. However, that then brings forward a lot of other questions that remain unanswered.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (VVS Films)
The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (DVD)
RLJ Entertainment
Based on true events, six investigators head to one of the world’s most haunted places to uncover the source of supernatural sightings and phenomena. Known for centuries as a notorious magnet for grave robbers, body snatchers, Satanists and cultists since the time of The Black Death, the ruined St. Mary’s Church at Clophill plays host to filmmaker Kevin Gates and his team of researchers. Obsessed with unraveling the secrets of this “unholy ground,” they venture into the murky darkness armed with cameras, curiosity and a need to expose the truth. However, some secrets were meant to stay buried – permanently. Over the course of three chilling nights, it becomes clear that they have unleashed something ancient and evil that has long been hungry to escape into this world.
There are television shows with the same premise as this movie in which ghost hunters interview local witnesses and attempt to record some sort of phenomenon on location. The results are typically blurry and non-definitive shadows, lights or sounds. This movie is essentially a dramatized, extended episode of one of these TV shows. They speak to a number of witnesses who claim to have encountered a spirit or seen an occult ritual. These experiences are then recreated for the audience. As a result, at least the first half of the horror narrative is hearsay and consequently not very scary. The team continues to document their nightly searches, which are generally uneventful until the last night. However their supernatural encounter boils down to a lot of running and screaming in the dark mingled with a few sightings. The last discovery may be the most intriguing, but it's basically positioned as the film's epilogue.
Special features include: commentary by co-directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates, and cast; and deleted scenes. (RLJ Entertainment)
Pumpkinhead (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
When a group of teenagers inadvertently kill his only son, Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) seeks the powers of a backwoods witch to bring the child back to life. But instead, she invokes “The Pumpkinhead” – a monstrously clawed demon which, once reborn, answers only to Ed’s bloodlust. But as the creature wreaks its slow, unspeakable tortures on the teens, Ed confronts a horrifying secret about his connection to the beast – and realizes that he must find a way to stop its deadly mission before he becomes one with the creature forever.
The legend of Pumpkinhead is widely known in the small town. It's used to torment young children and keep them in line, though it's the older folk who truly believe in his existence. The film opens with audience’s first glimpse of the vengeance monster and a demonstration of the rules that accompany his presence. The film then establishes Ed's adoration for his son so his actions following the boy's murder are in context. Meanwhile the varying personalities of the culpable city teens are also established. The creature is only summoned in the final third of the movie. Director Stan Winston's team did such an excellent job in constructing the monster, it is able to frequently step out of the shadows for horrific close-ups that eventually play a role in the narrative.
Special features include: commentary by co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, and creature and FX creators Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis; behind-the-scenes featurette; new “Tribute to Stan Winston”; Interviews with producers Richard Weinman and actor John Di’Aquino; “Evolution Of A Demon”; “The Cursed and The Damned”; “The Tortured Soul Of Ed Harley”; “Constructing Vengeance”; “Razorback Holler”; “Demonic Toys”; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella (DVD)
Shout Factory
Cinderella comes to life in this 50th anniversary edition, digitally restored from the original source material and featuring a sparkling fantasy of music, magic and romance. Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella’s all-star cast includes Academy Award® nominee Lesley Ann Warren as the raggedy waif turned belle of the ball with Broadway star Stuart Damon as the Prince. It also stars Academy Award® nominee Walter Pidgeon, Academy Award ® winners Ginger Rogers and Celeste Holm.
Fairy tales are ideal sources for musical adaptations because their inherent fantastical nature lends itself perfectly to spontaneous bursts of song. The spoken dialogue in this TV movie leaves something to be desired as the delivery is often a bit stiff or forced. Moreover, the stepsisters appear to have been cast based on something other than their physical appropriateness for the roles since both appear too old for the Prince. Nonetheless, the expectations for a Rodgers and Hammerstein production lay with the musical element of the performance. Warren has a lovely voice that conveys her character's innocence and dreamy outlook. Likewise, Damon’s voice sounds romantic; particularly during the song "Ten Minutes Ago". Overall, this is a modest and moderately entertaining version of the classic story.
Special features include: retrospective featurette. (Shout Factory)
Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Fox Home Entertainment
Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a British expatriate who dies in the American Revolution, is revived in upstate New York during the time of the cell phone – as is the evil Headless Horseman, who plans to annihilate mankind. Teaming with feisty police lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), Crane races to vanquish the newly unearthed dark forces – or face the impending apocalypse.
It's a daunting task to turn the classic tale and Halloween favourite into a television show. Using the legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman as a jumping off point, creators have expanded the story world into a fascinating collision of old world magic and superstition, and modern day cynicism and science. Crane is not the awkward male specimen described in Washington Irving’s short story, but rather a rousing man of significant intellect, charm and physicality. The Headless Horseman's back story is modified to make him one of the apocalyptic four horsemen, which adds a very dark and interesting element to an already ominous story. Though it’s quite a departure from the source material, the series still tips its hat to the originating author by naming the police captain after him. The season finale leaves audiences with a chilling cliff-hanger and an indisputable reason to tune in for the next chapter.
Special features include: commentary on two episodes; deleted scenes; “Welcome to Sleepy Hollow”; “Mysteries and Mythology”; “The Corbin Case Files”; “Welcome to the 21st Century, Mr. Crane”; “The Horseman”; “The Horseman’s Head”; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
With humanity facing extinction from a terrifying new threat, it’s up to Optimus Prime and the Autobots to save the world. But now that our government has turned against them, they’ll need a new team of allies, including inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and the fearsome Dinobots.
This is the fourth picture in the newly established franchise and this time they decided to change things up a bit by focusing on a family's entanglement with the Autobots. After the Battle of Chicago, it seems no Transformer is safe. They've been in hiding, but something is hunting them for reasons unknown. With Cade's help, Optimus Prime will once again go to war to defend his robotic friends and the humans who have proved deserving of his protection. This movie is quite a bit more entertaining than its predecessors. The script takes it all less seriously with a fair amount of jokes by both the humans and Autobots, including a running gag of Cade attempting to keep his daughter and her boyfriend physically separated. In addition to fresh human faces, more bots also make their debut, including another enemy named Lockdown and the Dinobots. The action is typical of a Michael Bay film packed with explosions, city-wide destruction and cool CGI everything.
Special features include: “Bay on Action”; “Evolution within Extinction,” eight featurettes examining new elements of this movie; “Just Another Giant Effin’ Movie”; “A Spark of Design”; “T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie”; “Kre-O Transformers”; “The Angry Birds Transformers: Origin Story”; and trailers. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Words and Pictures (Blu-ray)
D Films
A writer (Clive Owen) whose talent has dried up and an artist (Juliette Binoche) struggling to paint as her body betrays her clash at the school where they teach, sparking both a flamboyant courtship and a school-wide war in which the students decide which is more powerful: the word or the picture?
It's not often these two forms of expression are pitted against one another rather than be used to complement each other. The basis of the narrative is inconsequential. The teachers' war is just a prelude to an unconventional romantic relationship between them. On the other hand, the same battle provides thought-provoking arguments and examples from both sides about the power of either medium. Owen and Binoche don't exhibit a lot of romantic chemistry, but their characters are so antagonistic that it isn't much of an issue. Their verbal sparring matches are convincing enough in its place. There are also some student conflicts interwoven with their narrative, which simply add a little variety to the story.
Special features include: commentary by director Fred Schepisi; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (D Films)
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