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article imageReview: Problem-solving is key in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 4, 2015 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include one of the year’s best films; an bloody twist on the time-loop narrative; an entertaining new crime-solving TV series; and a new ‘Star Wars’ tale to whet your appetite.
Army of Frankensteins (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
After a failed attempt to propose to his girlfriend, Alan Jones (Jordan Farris) is beaten within an inch of his life by a street gang. Transported to the mysterious lab of Dr. Tanner Finski (John Ferguson) and his kid genius assistant Igor (Christian Bellgardt), Alan becomes the subject in a series of horrible experiments as part of the doctor's plan to reanimate the legendary Frankenstein monster. But all bets are off when these experiments lead to a hole being ripped in space and time, pulling an army's worth of the infamous creatures from hundreds of parallel universes and sending them all back to the 19th century – directly into the heart of a bloody battle between the North and South.
The premise of this movie is as ridiculous as it sounds. In the opening act, Alan is hassled by his landlady and led to believe that his girlfriend is cheating with the manager of the supermarket at which they work rather than being sexually harassed by him. Then the doctor and his assistant takeover, harvesting the last of the organs they need from Alan to complete their abomination. Once they all travel back in time, the expected hijinks of monsters and slackers follow.
There are no special features. (Scream Factory)
Blood Punch (DVD)
Midnight Releasing
Milton (Milo Cawthorne), a brilliant chemistry student, breaks out of court-mandated drug rehab with Skyler (Olivia Tennet), a mysterious bad girl. Looking to recruit a cook for a one-day drug score, she lures him to an isolated cabin with her psychotic and trigger-happy boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland). When Russell reveals he plans to murder Milton as soon as he is finished making the drugs, their simple love triangle quickly descends into a supernatural cycle of carnage and mayhem with no end.
This movie takes the premise of Groundhog Day and gives it a very bloody twist. Winding back time to Milton and Skyler’s introduction at rehab, it’s apparent Skyler is the brains of any operation in spite of her apparent compliance. It’s this same confidence and badassery that attracts Milo at the start. However, Russell presents a definite hitch in his plan to live happily ever after with his rescuer. Luckily the next 24 hours and the 24 hours after that offer plenty of opportunity to turn their triangle into a straight line over and over again. This is an intriguing take on the time-loop story that sticks to its guns and has fun with the infinite horror.
Special features include: deleted scenes; outtakes; and test footage. (Midnight Releasing)
Dark was the Night (DVD)
RLJ Entertainment
Maiden Woods is a remote and quiet town of decent hard-working people, but something stirs in the dark woods surrounding this isolated community. After a logging company decimates an area of the forest, a rash of increasingly violent and unexplainable events transpires. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his deputy (Lukas Haas) struggle to confront their own personal demons while facing down a new breed of raw terror that is possibly older than humanity itself and much hungrier.
There are a number of never-before-seen species being discovered regularly, but it’s not all good news. Some of these creatures are revealed by the destruction of their habitats and the necessity for them to come out of hiding for food and shelter. Though this case is a bit more extreme in its consequences, it’s not that much more different than bears and wolves hunting in people’s backyards. The intelligence of these beasts is somewhat higher than the average animal, making them more efficient hunters; although most of the carnage is left off screen. The man claiming it’s the monster his Native ancestors told stories about is pretty standard in this type of film, as is the rest of the narrative — though it does end on a fantastic closing scene.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; and Q&A with cast. (RLJ Entertainment)
Five Star (DVD)
XLrator Media
A member of the notorious Bloods since he was 12 years old — both in the film and in real life — Primo (James 'Primo' Grant) takes John (John Diaz), the son of his slain mentor, under his wing, versing him in the code of the streets.
The most compelling feature of this film is its realism. The stark camerawork and the movie’s honest and convincing portrayal of its character give the narrative a documentary feel, though it’s also apparent there is a script guiding the action. Primo is experiencing a minor mid-life crisis as he begins to question the longevity of his criminal career in light of his growing, young family. While teaching John about drug running, Primo also talks about the importance of his children in his life and his commitment to giving them a better life. However, unlike the typical Hollywood narrative, there’s no easy answers or a legit livelihood just waiting for him to make the “right” decision.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (XLrator Media)
Good Kill (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Veteran Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) yearns to get back into the cockpit of a plane, but now he launches drone strikes from an air-conditioned box in the Las Vegas desert. When he starts taking orders directly from the CIA, the stakes are raised and Egan's nerves — and his relationship with his wife (January Jones) — begin to unravel.
As the popularity of drones increases, so does its portrayal in the media. The movie begins with a team member burning out, which is described as a regular occurrence amongst these specialty units. However, that’s followed by a room full of new recruits that illustrates there’s no shortage of people to fill the spot. Tom’s superior understands the chain of command and while he may question some of their orders, he will follow them if instructed. Similarly Egan carries out the attacks, but has issues killing people from thousands of miles away. The CIA’s directions are harsher than their normal missions, which pushes Egan over the edge. Hawke’s performance is supported by Zoe Kravitz’s portrayal of his co-pilot who experiences comparable bouts of conscience during their assignments. The same emotional trauma of this particular job is depicted in the documentary Drone, which explores the effects of this new form of combat on soldiers.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Harry (DVD)
Still grieving his wife’s suicide, Detective Harry Anglesea (Oscar Kightley) returns to Auckland’s Major Crime Unit after bereavement leave in his native Samoa. Although he’s eager to jump back into the job, his self-destructive behavior hints that he may not be ready. His 13-year-old daughter, Mele (Hunter Kamuhemu), is even less ready for life as usual and desperately needs her father’s attention. But Harry and his boss, DSS Jim “Stocks” Stockton (Sam Neill), soon become engrossed in a high-profile case. After a series of violent robberies turns fatal, the city clamors for the police to catch the killer. Harry traces the crime from a drug-crazed gunman to the street gangs that peddle methamphetamine, though there may be larger forces at play.
This miniseries’ plot could have been boiled down to feature film length, or conversely extended and delivered over 10 or more episodes of a television crime drama in which Harry would investigate more cases. However, as a six-part series it feels imperfect. Though Harry’s emotional state and relationship with his daughter forms one-half of the narrative, the more dominant half is definitely the one following the investigation. The number of connections they uncover is a little contrived, though it does maintain a steady stream of new developments to inspect. It would have actually been nice to see more of Mele’s life as her intense emotions are often more interesting than her father’s.
Special features include: photo gallery. (Acorn)
I Am Dale Earnhardt (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Following his tragic death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt was immortalized as the greatest star NASCAR has ever known. Through in-depth interviews with some of the biggest names in the sport, highlights from Earnhardt's greatest moments on the racetrack, and rare footage of Earnhardt's life off the track, the film looks at the man behind the iconic mustache.
There was a time that when people thought of NASCAR, they thought of Dale Earnhardt. He had a tremendous influence on stock car racing, earning the nickname “The Intimidator.” And he backed up his confident swagger with numerous wins before dying in a race accident. Created posthumously, the few words heard from the race car legend are provided by archival interviews; however, most of the film is constructed of interviews with his friends, colleagues and family, including his son who followed in his racing tire tracks.
Special features include: “1980 Rookie of the Year” feature; “1986 Richmond Crash Footage”; “1998 Daytona 500 Victory”; “2000 Talladega Comeback Win”; and extended interviews. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Mad Max: Fury Road (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Home Video
Haunted by his turbulent past, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) wanders alone until he’s swept up with a group, led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), fleeing across the Wasteland. In hot pursuit: a warlord who gathers his gangs and pursues the rebels ruthlessly.
This movie maintained a near perfect approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with good reason. Franchise creator George Miller returned to the helm to bring audiences one of the most impressive action movies to ever grace the screen. Essentially one long chase sequence, the plot is fairly simple and absolutely acceptable in its minimalism. Still set in a barren post-apocalyptic world in which gas and water are the world’s most valued commodities, Max has resigned to just surviving until he meets Furiosa. She is the true hero of this tale, leading a feminist charge against a misogynistic dictator. The action sequences in this picture are unbelievable, composed of primarily practical stunts. The limited use of CGI gives the picture an exhilarating quality not otherwise possible. Moreover, the bonus features provides fascinating in-depth explorations of the stunts, character development and props designed for the film.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Maximum Fury: Filming Fury Road”; “Fury on Four Wheels”; “The Road Warriors: Max and Furiosa”; “The Tools of the Wasteland”; “The Five Wives: So Shiny, So Chrome”; and “Crash & Smash.” (Warner Home Video)
Madam Secretary: Season One (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Meet Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni): wife, mother, Ph.D., former CIA ananlyst and now America’s newest Secretary of State. She left the world of covert intelligence behind for ethical reasons to lead an academic lifestyle with her supportive husband Henry (Tim Daly) and her teenage children. Now the President needs her and he knows from experience that Elizabeth has the knowledge and tenacity to advise on and steer the nation’s foreign policy. Facing international crises — from embassy bombings to treaty negotiations — Elizabeth maverick style puts her at odds with the President’s Machiavellian Chief of Staff, Russell Jackson (Zeljko Ivanek). Earning the grudging respect of State Department insider Nadine Tolliver (Bebe Neuwirth), Elizabeth adapts to political maneuvering while uncovering dark secrets that threaten to unravel the administration.
This series begins in conflict as Elizabeth is only offered the position after her predecessor is killed in an accident. Thus, her investigation into his death occupies a significant portion of the show’s plot. This latest program set in Washington has more in common with The West Wing than House of Cards, though is still a fair amount of deception and manipulation. Elizabeth makes very difficult decisions by being informed and pragmatic, though she also weighs the emotional costs of her actions even if they cannot influence the final outcome. Dealing with hostage negotiations with terrorists, a leak of highly classified information and maintaining delicate international relations are just some of the issues she must manage.
Special features include: commentary on select episodes; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; “Madam Secretary at the Political Playbook Luncheon”; and photo gallery. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Scorpion: Season One (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When Scorpion is on the case, saving the world is a no-brainer. Walter (Elyes Gabel) is the eccentric leader of a team of brilliant misfits — Finch, a psychiatrist with a gambling addiction, Happy, a mechanical prodigy with anger issues and Jerry, a “human calculator” with social anxiety — who save the world from problems only a genius could solve.
This is a crime investigation series made less serious than its counterparts by the team’s unique personalities. Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is continuously monitoring people’s body language and relaying what it means as well stepping in as doctor when necessary; Happy (Jadyn Wong) is impulsive and can be relied on for apt commentary; Sylvester’s (Ari Stidham) fascination with statistics means he was always has a probability update, good or bad; and Walter’s emotional issues make him the coolest of the group. Their government handler (Robert Patrick) believes in them wholly, while a former waitress (Katharine McPhee) navigates the world for the socially inept crime fighters and they help her connect to prodigy son.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Living on the Edge”; “Meet Team Scorpion”; “Inside the Brain with Eddie Kaye Thomas”; stunt featurette; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Star Wars Rebels: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Disney Home Entertainment
Ezra Bridger joins the clever but motley crew of the starship Ghost in their resistance against the Empire. As the series begins, Imperial forces have occupied a remote planet, ruling with an iron fist and ruining the lives of its people. Ezra and his new rebel friends — Hera, Kanan, Sabine, Zeb and Chopper — embark on daring adventures in their fight against oppression across the galaxy, receiving help from familiar heroes such as Lando Calrissian, Ahsoka Tano, and Jedi Master Yoda. Pursued relentlessly by the Imperials and a Jedi hunter called the Inquisitor, this ragtag band of rebels will find itself in the crosshairs of none other than Darth Vader.
This is an animated action series of the highest quality, introducing new characters to the franchise and revisiting some old ones. Kanan’s Jedi abilities often come in handy as does Ezra’s eventually, who begins training under his tutelage and the approval of Yoda. The storyline is developed to unfold over the course of the season with each episode leading into the next. Halfway through, the Ghost crew discovers a major conspiracy that changes the course of their rebellion but makes them a stronger team. However, it also makes them a larger target for the Empire who can’t afford to have these rebels upsetting any more of their plans.
Special features include: “Rebels infiltrates Star Wars Celebration”; “Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide”; “Rebels Season 2: A Look Ahead”; “Rebels Recon”; “The Machine in the Ghost — Art Attack”; and “Entanglement — Property of Ezra Bridger.” (Disney Home Entertainment)
The Summer House (DVD)
Artsploitation Films
The architect and head of the family Markus Larsen secretly lives out his bisexual tendencies while his wife Christine and their 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth drown in unbearable loneliness. When Markus gets to know the 12-year-old son of a colleague, he feels an immediate affection for the boy. Slowly, Markus begins to approach Johannes and creates an intimacy of which he increasingly loses control. While his wife and daughter are damagingly affected by their symbiotic relationship, Johannes is playing his own secret game which, in the end, leads to disaster for every family member.
Europeans deal with pedophilia in a way that is much more frank than North Americans, often choosing blunt depictions of the crime rather than the outrage that follows its discovery. In this movie, audiences are made uncomfortable as they watch Markus seduce the boy with promises of money and understanding. His intentions are clearly reprehensible and what, if anything, occurs off-screen is unclear. The children in the film seem more aware of the adults’ circumstances than they admit or than their elders realize, which is somewhat evident in kids’ behaviour. Instead, it’s the so-called grown-ups typically acting irresponsibly. Following the narrative’s timelines can be somewhat difficult as it jumps from hours and days without notice, but in the grand scheme of the story it’s unimportant.
Special features include: deleted scenes; cast and crew interviews; and trailer. (Artsploitation Films)
The Surface (DVD
entertainment one
When a plane crashes in the unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan, the pilot (Chris Mulkey) is pulled from the wreckage by Mitch (Sean Astin) who has been stranded on his boat. Immediately suspicious of each other, these two strangers must overcome their differences to find a way back to shore. Together, they must fight against the harsh elements if they have any hope of making it back alive.
The entirety of this picture is carried by Mulkey and Astin on a boat in the middle of nowhere. There have been many of these narratives in recent years (particularly since the Life of Pi) as planes and ships crash, leaving the survivors to brave the elements and pray for rescue. This version of the shipwreck story is supposedly made more interesting by the pilot’s mysterious and most definitely illegal mission. At the same time, Mitch’s purpose for being on the water that day is not wholly unprompted either. Unfortunately neither the characters nor their situations are especially riveting.
Special features include: commentary; deleted scenes; “Inland Seas – Understanding and Protecting the Waters of the Great Lakes; composer’s session featurette; “Anytime you Like” music video by Familiar Look Strangers; and photo gallery. (entertainment one)
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