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article imageReview: The red and green in this week’s releases aren’t the jolly kind Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 25, 2015 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a little horror for the holidays; an animated Oscar contender; another witty season of female-driven comedy; and possibly the greatest bad movie ever made.
A Christmas Horror Story (Blu-ray)
RLJ Entertainment
It’s the season of joy, peace, and goodwill…unless you live in Bailey Downs. Last Christmas Eve, two teens came to a grisly end in a school basement. Now, one year later, a new set of horrors has come to town. As three friends explore the site of the massacre, a malevolent spirit is determined to keep them there forever. One of the first cops to the scene of the bloody murders has new complications as his seven-year-old son exhibits terrifying and violent behaviour. And when a local family seeks reconciliation with an estranged aunt for the wrong reasons, they suddenly find themselves running in terror from Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa Claus. Not even St. Nick is immune to the terror as he fights back against a horde of zombie elves. This is destined to be a holiday no one will ever forget.
This is essentially a horror anthology with a Christmas theme, though each of the stories develops simultaneously. Filmmakers cut from one tale to the next with each peaking around the same time and turning from a rather benign holiday adventure to a horrific tale of survival. Using a combination of styles and narratives keeps the viewer on their toes and is stitched together so well that it doesn’t feel the least bit disjointed. Each story also consists of a big reveal, which is unveiled at different points in the film. However, each is a game changer and generally informs the conclusion of the tale. Even though Santa’s predicament is the last to be solved, it’s also the only one that can be anticipated at the beginning of the movie — if you’re paying close attention and are able to connect the dots. But otherwise viewers can just sit back and enjoy the carnage that gradually unfolds in front of them at the hands of various supernatural creatures.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (RLJ Entertainment)
American Ultra (Blu-ray)
Elevation Pictures
Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), a small town stoner, shares a simple life with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). But Mike’s carefree world goes wild after he discovers that he’s actually a CIA sleeper agent with lethal fighting skills — and the target of government hitmen after being marked a liability. Mike, the ultimate slacker, transforms into an ultra-attacker as he and Phoebe fight to survive.
This film has a similar relationship to action hero movies that Scream had to the slasher genre. It uses many of the same ingredients, but not in a traditional manner. The concept of a super soldier waiting to be activated is not new, but it’s not often his secret identity is a ne’er-do-well stoner. This is a hilarious action adventure in which Eisenberg shines as the spacey, clueless nice guy with latent butt-kicking skills. Stewart’s Phoebe is literally Mike’s better half, grounding him and assuming responsibility for most of the adult parts of their lives. The supporting cast is also fantastic and has a lot of fun with their roles from Topher Grace’s narcissistic power trip to John Leguizamo’s paranoid drug dealer to Connie Britton’s maternal program head to Walton Goggins’ laughing assassin.
Special features include: commentary by director Nima Nourizadeh; “Activating American Ultra”; “Assassinating on a Budget”; and gag reel. (Elevation Pictures)
Bad Boys I & II: 20th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Bad Boys: One hundred million dollars-worth of confiscated drugs has just been jacked from police custody. Once the career bust of Detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), the missing drugs now threaten to shut down the Narcotics Division of the Miami Police Department. When the drug investigation turns deadly, the murderers kidnap the only witness, a beautiful police informant (Téa Leoni) and close friend of the boys.
Bad Boys II: Bullets fly, cars crash and laughs explode as they pursue a whacked-out drug lord from the streets of Miami to the barrios of Cuba. But the real fireworks result when Marcus discovers that playboy Lowrey is secretly romancing his sexy sister (Gabrielle Union).
There’s no better way to celebrate a franchise’s anniversary than with a 4k Blu-ray transfer. This was a buddy cop movie in the same vein as Lethal Weapon if Riggs had been rich (which is mostly a device used to allow them to drive fancy cars). Mike and Marcus’ friendship extends well beyond their cop career, which means they take every situation a little more seriously and personally. In these pictures, their nearly lifelong partnership encounters several roadblocks that affect how they handle their investigations. The sequel is bigger and (unnecessarily) longer as the success of the first film awarded the movie a bigger budget, which gave director Michael Bay the ability to do a massive highway chase and blow up more stuff. Smith and Lawrence have good chemistry and rumours of a Bad Boys III remain an interesting prospect.
Special features include: commentary by director Michael Bay; deleted scenes; “The Boom and the Bang of Bad Boys”; stunts and visual effects featurette; sequence breakdowns; production diaries; four music videos; and original theatrical trailers. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Black Christmas: Season’s Grievings Edition (Blu-ray)
Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada
The college town of Bedford is receiving an unwelcome guest this Christmas. As the residents of sorority house Pi Kappa Sig prepare for the festive season, a demonic stranger begins to stalk the house. A series of grisly obscene phone-calls start to plague the residents of the sorority and soon they will each meet their fate at the hands of the psychotic intruder. As the police try to trace the calls, they discover that nothing is as it seems.
This classic Canadian horror movie was a precursor to the modern day slasher genre and the inspiration for holiday-themed murder sprees, including John Carpenter’s Halloween. Director Bob Clark carefully constructed a frightening picture, combining every element from the lighting to first-person camera point-of-view to sound effects to the creepy voice on the telephone to create an experience audiences would remember and, as time has shown, return to regularly. There’s a little bit of comedy sprinkled throughout to occasionally lighten the mood, but it’s definitely aiming to scare without grossing them out as most of the kills are performed off-screen and left to the viewers’ imaginations. This high-def release also features an insightful new documentary with interviews with some of the cast, crew, and film critics and admirers who reflect on the picture’s making, and it’s nearly half-century of success and influence.
Special features include: “Black Christmas Legacy,” new documentary; 40th anniversary panel at FanExpo 2014 featuring John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso; commentary by Bob Clark, and John Saxon with Keir Dullea; “Billy Is Watching,” new commentary with Billy himself (Nick Mancuso as Billy); "12 Days of Black Christmas" documentary; "Black Christmas Revisited" documentary; interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark, & John Saxon; Midnight Screening Q&A w/ John Saxon, Bob Clark, Carl Zittrer; two original scenes with a new vocal soundtrack; original and alternate trailers (check for difference, may be the same); original English and French trailers; original TV and radio spots; alternative title sequences; and Rue Morgue magazine retrospective 16-page booklet featuring interviews with cast and crew. (Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada)
Blood and Lace (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
After her mother's brutal murder at the hands of a hammer-wielding maniac, teenaged Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) is suddenly orphaned. She is sent to a home for children run by the enigmatic Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame), in spite of the concern that Ellie will be the newest target of her mother's killer. But as terror strikes again and again, it becomes unclear who might be the bigger threat to Ellie's life: the mysterious murderer with a hammer or her sadistic new caretaker.
Even though the ‘70s was the launching pad for modern-day slashers, there remains a number of dreadful attempts to capitalize on the wave of success that are generally more laughable than notable. There are essentially two stories unfolding concurrently; one relates to the murder of Ellie’s mother and the still-at-large suspect who may be targeting the surviving daughter, while the other involves Mrs. Deere’s unseemly business practices and mounting runaways. The truth of the latter turns out to be more silly than scary, and the conclusion of the former is surprisingly even more outrageous and almost worth the ridiculousness that preceded it. This terrible picture is also packed with uncomfortable sexual innuendo that centres on a lot of inappropriate behaviour regarding the underage girls at the orphanage.
Special features include: commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith; alternate opening title; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Ghost Story (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
In a peaceful New England town, the four lifelong friends who make up the Chowder Society (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Houseman) come together each week to regale each other with tales of terror. But when one of the elderly gentlemen experiences a family tragedy, it becomes apparent that a buried secret from their youth has arisen to remind them of the sins of their past. Soon, they will learn they have never been forgiven and a supernatural vengeance awaits them all.
The pieces of this story are gradually revealed over the course of the entire film with very little being disclosed at the start of the picture in spite of two mysterious deaths. The dramatizations of the tales the Chowder Society share occupy a negligible portion of the narrative as more of it is dedicated to their nightmares and recounting the real events that led them to their current predicament. There are additional factors included not typical of hauntings, such as living co-conspirators and comprehensive after-lives. This is an expertly constructed ghost story that keeps viewers engaged until the very end. The prestigious cast is infallible and their characters’ personalities are entirely different from each other. A significant role is also played by Craig Wasson as his character discovers his place in their little club
Special features include: commentary by director John Irvin; interviews with author Peter Straub, actress Alice Krige, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, producer Burt Weissbourd and matte photographer Bill Taylor; vintage theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots; and photo gallery. (Scream Factory)
Inside Amy Schumer: Season 3 (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
The Emmy-nominated show explores sex, relationships, and the general clusterf**k that is life with sketches, stand-up comedy and woman-on-the-street interviews by Amy Schumer.
Schumer’s sketch comedy/variety show is still incredibly witty when discussing social concerns and trends, and particularly when addressing women’s issues. The first sketch of the first episode sets a high bar for the remainder of the season as she comments on the number of people who believe they should be able to comment on a woman’s reproductive choices. This episode also includes a subtly spearing interview with the head of Ashley Madison. The 12 Angry Men sketch featuring prominent actors, such as Paul Giamatti, Jeff Goldblum, Vincent Kartheiser and John Hawkes, playing a jury debating whether Schumer is hot enough to have a TV show is absolutely brilliant. The sections in which Schumer is being herself, on stage or interviewing people, are excellent padding between sketches as they are generally relevant to the show and/or society and cover interesting topics from child beauty pageants to what it’s like to be transgender to the experience of growing up as Magic Johnson’s son.
Special features include: unaired photographer sketch; unaired “Amy Goes Deep” interviews; and outtakes. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
No Escape (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
When an American businessman (Owen Wilson) and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia, they suddenly find themselves caught in the middle of a violent uprising that will push them to their limits to find a safe escape.
The most striking aspect of this film is its authenticity. From the moment the revolutionaries take to the streets, it all feels very real. As Jack becomes more afraid of the chaos swelling around him, the audience experiences the increasing fear with him. Jack’s strategy is simple but effective: just stay 10 steps ahead. Writer/director John Erick Dowdle’s comprehension of horror conventions is a great asset. He transfers techniques relating to atmosphere, tension and fear to produce a compelling film that exhibits a powerful grip on audiences. Unfortunately it cannot maintain the momentum through the last act. Wilson isn’t typically thought of as an action hero, but he is well-casted in the role of courageous father. His likeable personality and natural humour lend themselves to the character; however, he’s also convincing as a man who finds hidden strength in the face of danger. Lake Bell also takes a break from comedy in this role. Her reactions to various circumstances are absolutely genuine, saying exactly what anyone would under similar conditions.
Special features include: commentaries; deleted scenes; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (VVS Films)
Ricki and the Flash (DVD & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) is a guitar heroine who made a world of mistakes as she followed her dreams of rock-and-roll stardom. Returning home, Ricki gets a shot at redemption and a chance to make things right as she faces the music with her family.
This is a major departure for Streep. The Steven Tyler look complete with leather pants and jacket, asymmetrical braids and an abundance of jewellery surprisingly work for her. And her appearance definitely informs her performance. She also has a wonderful stage presence and the band sounds amazing covering songs from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen and U2. Ricki’s relationship with lead guitarist, Greg (Rick Springfield), is shaky but there’s definitely chemistry between them, which makes theirs the most genuine connection in the picture. Unfortunately the family drama half of the story doesn’t work. As Ricki puts it, she made the same choice as countless men but with much harsher results. Having practically abandoned her family decades ago, the antagonistic relationship with her now grown children is expected but not believable. Watching them interact is the most excruciating aspect of the film; though Streep’s collaboration with her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer, provides some relief.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures & Lionsgate Home Entertainment
When Shaun decided to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for. A mix up with the Farmer, a caravan and a very steep hill lead them all to the Big City and it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return everyone safely home.
The art of stop-motion filmmaking is a rarity amongst the high-tech CGI that occupies most contemporary movies. Yet it’s impossible to resist the exceptional narratives brought to life in this distinctive style of visual storytelling. Perhaps the labour involved in creating these pictures means it only moves forward after the script is deemed its best possible — if only all motion pictures were held to the same standard. The plot is relatively simple, yet wholly entertaining from start to finish with a variety of hijinks to keep up the film’s pace. It’s often silly but never stupid, delivering comedy that audiences of all ages can enjoy. And it does so without uttering a word for the entire picture. It’s one thing to make a great looking movie that is practically flawless and totally enjoyable, but it’s doubly impressive to accomplish this feat in silence. As a result, the entire story is conveyed through the dynamic faces and actions of the characters and not a thing is missed in the process.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Meet the Characters”; “Join Shaun Behind the Scenes”; “Meet the Crew”; and parody poster gallery. (Elevation Pictures & Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Troll / Troll 2 [with Best Worst Movie on DVD] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Troll: One family is about to find out there's no place like home when a troublesome troll starts taking over their building, transforming each apartment into an overgrown garden of ancient evil and turning tenants into a horde of hairy trolls.
Troll 2: Disguised as friendly country folk, a pugnacious posse of people-eating goblins lure visitors to their town. But a family of four is about to discover this place is a real tourist trap. Now the no-good gnomes must be destroyed before the family gets flambéed and the world becomes a buffet in this feeding frenzy of fear.
Best Worst Movie: An affectionate tribute to the greatest bad movie ever made and the people responsible for unleashing it upon the world. In 1989, a group of unknown Utah actors starred in what would be crowned the worst movie of all time: Troll 2.
These cult classic films have carved themselves a niche in horror fans’ hearts and movie shelves for very different reasons. The first movie is a fantastical and fun horror adventure in which a boy is terrorized by his sister who seems possessed or something, though his parents will not acknowledge that she’s different. The final act in which the trolls amusingly overtake the building and the boy is left to rescue his sister alone is absurdly delightful. This is a picture made for fans of ‘80s creature features. The so-called sequel has become infamous for a very different reason: it’s absolutely awful. The script doesn’t make sense, the acting is abysmal and, most importantly, there isn’t a single troll in the film — they’re called goblins and they live in Nilbog (get it?). This movie is screened regularly for the midnight crowd who enjoy shouting at the screen and having fun with laughably terrible directing — much to the chagrin of Italian director Claudio Fragasso as seen in the documentary. Although seeing the film is a rite of passage, the doc is just as interesting even if you haven’t seen its subject. The actors are characters unto themselves and Fragasso’s reactions to his “adoring fans” are priceless.
Special features include: making-of Troll featurette; Troll 2 commentary by actors George Hardy and Deborah Reed; Best Worst Movie deleted scenes; theatrical trailers; and still gallery. (Scream Factory)
More about Inside Amy Schumer, Shaun the Sheep Movie, American Ultra, No Escape, A Christmas Horror Story
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