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article imageReview: Widespread corruption permeates this week’s new releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 21, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include new seasons of a couple of standout HBO shows; new and classic horror movies; screen veterans reminding audiences of their talents; and a couple of despondent films from Russia.
Absolutely Anything (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) is a perfectly average human, trying to win the affection of his beautiful neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale). As a test to determine if the planet Earth is worth saving, powerful aliens in space (voiced by the Monty Python team) have granted him the ability to do anything he wants. As Neil struggles to deal with his newfound powers, he must rely on his loyal canine companion (voiced by Robin Williams) to help him along the way.
It’s sometimes fun to imagine what one would do if granted three fabled wishes or, even better, infinite wishes. There are the big requests that would address the world’s problems, but what about personal fulfillment? Neil has a bit of fun at first, wishing for silly things as he tests the boundaries of his powers; and then promptly un-wishing them as the literal interpretation of his request turns out to not be what he actually wanted. However, Neil’s bungling is made funnier by the crude observations of the Python cast that provides the voices of the oddly-shaped aliens conducting the experiment — their conception is described in detail in the bonus features. Even though the narrative flow is a little choppy at times, the film is generally funny and enjoyable overall.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “The Aliens”; Mojo interviews the cast; and “If You Could Do Absolutely Anything What Would It Be?” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
And Then There Were None (Blu-ray)
As the world teeters on the brink of World War II, 10 strangers are invited to isolated Soldier Island. Among them are young secretary Vera Claythorne (Maeve Dermody), soldier Philip Lombard (Aidan Turner), General John MacArthur (Sam Neill), spinster Emily Brent (Miranda Richardson), and Judge Lawrence Wargrave (Charles Dance). With seemingly nothing in common, the guests wonder who their mysterious host may be. But the ominous reason for their visit soon becomes clear and by the end of the night, the first of them is dead.
Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery has been adapted for the screen numerous times with varying degrees of loyalty to the original text. This miniseries is actually very faithful to the story, even going so far as to create a period drama rather than update the time in which it takes place. The result is far more engaging as the inherent limitations of the ‘30s and the residue of the previous war have significant effects on the narrative. Moreover, the acting is excellent. The cast is perfectly suited to their roles, conveying each of their fears and suspicions with great skill. Even if one is already familiar with the story, this adaptation is a treat to watch.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; featurette about Agatha Christie; an interview with writer Sarah Phelps; and photo gallery. (Acorn)
Cherry Falls (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
A serial killer is stalking the peaceful town of Cherry Falls. At first, it seems that he is just targeting teenagers, but after the third killing it becomes clear that all the victims have been virgins. When the town's students hear about this, they realize that there is only one way to protect themselves and begin planning a "Pop Your Cherry" party where they will all lose their virginities together. Meanwhile, Jodi (Brittany Murphy), the virtuous daughter of the town's sheriff (Michael Biehn), decides to take matters into her own hands and trap the killer herself.
Slasher movies are a dime a dozen with murdered teens at the hands of some vengeful lunatic remaining a steady staple of the horror genre. However where most victims are chosen for their promiscuity (as per the “rules”), this killer is targeting virgins; thus, the only logical solution is a giant orgy in an abandoned house monitored by the police for any strange occurrences. That’s absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds and is mostly just a gimmick since the awkwardly sensual event receives very little screen time; this is in line with the plot, which also has a number of holes. Nonetheless, it isn’t the worst foray into slasher territory as it borrows from some of its more successful predecessors (Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp).
Special features include: commentary by director Geoffrey Wright; “Lose It or Die: The Untold Story of Cherry Falls”; “Cherry Falls Deputy Mina”; vintage interviews with Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr and director Geoffrey Wright; behind-the-scenes footage; original script; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Crook (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Conflicted cop Bryce (Adam Beach) is masquerading as a drug dealer, working for crime boss Tony De Luca (Luigi Saracino) where he meets Tricky (Leah Gibson), a hooker plotting to kill a lawyer bent on taking down De Luca’s drug syndicate. When Bryce’s boss, Detective Miller (Bill Lake), gets the chance to finally nail De Luca all hell breaks loose. As the smoke settles, the nebulous line between cop and criminal is further blurred when Bryce learns he is not the only one walking a fine line. Can Bryce maintain the balance between honour and deceit, morality and corruption?
In spite of the synopsis’ identification of Bryce’s secret identity, there is no indication of him being undercover for nearly half of the film; he’s simply another thug being betrayed by other members of his organization. In fact other than this suspected betrayal, there is little else that is clear about the narrative. People are hired, others are killed and several continue to plot to an end that isn’t revealed until the final minutes of the movie. There is no reason to care about any of these characters because the audience is permitted to know so little about them, which causes the entire picture to leave little-to-no impression at all.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Dominion Creek (DVD)
In 1897, the Connolly brothers — recent immigrants from Ireland — dream of striking it rich in the Wild West. When news reaches them of a fortune in the Yukon, impetuous brother Séamus (Dara Devaney) heads north to the town of Dominion, leaving Tom (Owen McDonnell) and Pádraig (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) no choice but to follow their wayward sibling. Newly arrived in the rough-and-tumble gold-rush town, the Connollys befriend Irish beauty Kate (Siobhán O’Kelly) and Native American Skookum Jim (Julian Black Antelope) but spark a deadly feud with town leader Jacob Hopkins (Robert O’Mahoney). After the brothers find gold in their claim, their newfound wealth begins to tear them apart.
An Irish Western with Gaelic dialogue is definitely a new one, though the story is more traditional. The four-episode miniseries focuses on the brothers who have trouble getting along with each other and their mostly adverse interactions with Jacob. The secondary stories deal with racism toward Jim, who has made a life for himself within the town, and the operation of a brothel that preys on young immigrant women. As most of the other storylines are more-or-less familiar, the latter is in some ways the most interesting even though it’s not a primary narrative. The role of the hospital and doctor in town also provide interesting and uncommon perspectives.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and interviews with cast and crew. (Acorn)
Fifty Shades of Black (DVD)
D Films
Christian Black (Marlon Wayans) has it all: power, success and an intense desire to get freaky. Into his life comes Hannah (Kali Hawk), a young, virginal girl who may not be as innocent as she first seems.
The Wayans’ brothers are best known for their horror parodies, though they’ve branched out to other genres on more than one occasion. It’s not especially surprising this movie would catch their attention as it basically has a giant target superimposed on the poster. They make the female character a little less naïve and accepting of Christian’s eccentricities, while making his character more creepy (as if that was possible). It takes what was supposed to be quite serious, and transforms it into something that’s just as silly as and probably more entertaining than the original in many respects. As equal opportunity jokers, rather than just take aim at the movie adaptation, there is also a sharp jab at the widely publicised poor writing of the book on which it’s based.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and “Meet Mr. Black.” (D Films)
The Fool (Blu-ray)
Olive Films
Dima (Artyom Bystrov) is a young man eking out a living in modern day Russia as a plumber’s assistant while working to finish college. Called out late one night to inspect a leak at a derelict housing community, he discovers a major structural problem and a building on the verge of collapse. In his attempt to save the lives of the eight hundred residents, Dima will find himself drawn into a world of dark secrets and cancerous corruption, where politicians and power players live by their own code and where tragic consequences are but a grim afterthought.
Although this sounds like a pretty standard ticking clock movie, it actually has a lot of unexpected twists and obstacles that only work in a Russian context. For one, doing the right thing puts Dima’s life at risk as revealing the crack also shines a light on widespread corruption and dereliction of duty. The majority of the resulting conversations don’t centre on the lives at risk, but rather the consequences of acting on or ignoring the issue. These literal backroom discussions are both fascinating and disconcerting, and provide the film’s true drama. The ambiguity of the ending is understandable but also the most disappointing part of the picture.
There are no special features. (Olive Films)
The Hallow (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
When a London-based conservationist is sent to Ireland with his wife and infant child to survey an area of forest believed to be hallowed ground by superstitious locals, his actions unwittingly disturb a horde of demonic creatures who prey upon the lost. Alone and deep within the darkness of the remote wilderness, he must now fight back to protect his family against the ancient forces' relentless attacks.
It’s not often a story about fabled creatures is told with such an effectively tense atmosphere. From their earliest moments in the house, there’s an eerie feeling to it… the isolation, encroaching woods, rundown infrastructure and grave warnings from their concerned neighbour. It’s not long before the torment escalates; though blaming their angry neighbour is the simplest explanation for the disturbances even when it’s not the most logical. However, once they acknowledge they are being plagued by monsters, the story takes a very dark turn — aesthetically and tonally. The couple’s instincts to finally flee are correct, but it ultimately turns into a cycle of running and taking a stand that becomes somewhat repetitive. In spite of some stumbles in the narrative’s development, it’s a solid horror picture that effectually makes a folktale real for audiences.
Special features include: commentary by director Corin Hardy; making-of featurette; behind-the-scenes featurettes; director's storyboards and sketchbook gallery; “The Book of Invasions – Original Illustrations Gallery”; creature concepts gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
The Lady in the Van (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins who “temporarily” parks her van in Alan Bennett’s (Alex Jennings) London driveway and proceeds to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favour becomes a relationship that will change both their lives.
This is a wonderful adaptation of the book and stage production that takes advantage of the benefits of filming while also remaining true to the general simplicity of the story. It’s amazing to discover in the bonus features that they shot the movie in Bennett’s actual home, in front of which Miss Shepherd lived, for absolute authenticity. Smith is exceptional in the role of a woman who often speaks few words with cantankerous contempt, but also has the odd moment of total congeniality and vulnerability as she ages alone. Jennings, likewise, turns in a magnificent performance as two sides of the same man, seamlessly playing against himself.
Special features include: commentary by director Nicholas Hytner; making-of featurette; deleted scenes; “The Visual Effects”; and “Playing The Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Lamb (DVD)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The film traces the self-discovery of David Lamb (Ross Partridge) in the weeks following the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. Hoping to regain some faith in his own goodness, he turns his attention to Tommie (Oona Laurence), an awkward and unpopular 11-year-old girl. David is convinced that he can help her avoid a destiny of apathy and emptiness, and takes Tommie for a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies, planning to initiate her into the beauty of the mountain wilderness. These two lost and lonely individuals set out on a journey that will change them in unexpected ways.
This narrative is incredibly captivating because the audience doesn’t know what exactly is happening. In spite of David’s seemingly good intentions, the situation still appears very predatory. A man who is virtually a stranger to a young girl kidnaps her, takes her across state lines and repeatedly convinces her she shouldn’t call home. The whole thing is beyond sketchy. As a result, the audience is forced to sit helplessly and hope for the best. Partridge also wrote and directed the picture, creating a dark portrait of two people desperately clinging to each other regardless of the inappropriateness of their relationship and their awareness that what’s happening is improper. Most scenes involve only Partridge and Laurence, and their exceptional chemistry and talent are key to the movie’s influence.
Special features include: commentary by Ross Partridge and Oona Laurence; deleted scenes; landscapes video; and photo gallery. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Major (Blu-ray)
Olive Films
Set against Russia’s bleak, bitter winter landscape, Sergey Sobolev (Denis Shvedov), a police major driving recklessly across an icy stretch of highway, hits and kills a young boy. The boy’s mother Irina (Irina Nizina) finds her already unbearable pain and anguish compounded when a cover-up is set in motion to protect Sergey. Events soon spin out of control with double-crosses, betrayals and duplicity at every turn.
The level of corruption in this movie is quite ridiculous as the police beat and kill several innocent people in order to protect one man who is admittedly guilty. The film opens with the accident and spirals out of control from there. Proving this isn’t their first cover-up, the so-called officers systematically create and disregard evidence to legitimize their false report of the incident. Soon Sergey also becomes a victim of the conspiracy meant to save him, as even he is coerced into falling back in line. The narrative is brimming with despair that is only compounded until there is nowhere left to go.
There are no special features. (Olive Films)
Misconduct (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
An ambitious lawyer (Josh Duhamel) finds himself caught in a power struggle between a corrupt pharmaceutical executive (Anthony Hopkins) and his firm’s senior partner (Al Pacino). When the case takes a deadly turn, he must race to uncover the truth before he loses everything.
Assuming the worst in people and seeing corruption at every turn makes writing a thriller easy, though not necessarily plausible. It’s unfortunate Hopkins and Pacino don’t share the screen more often, but they are Hollywood heavyweights nonetheless, bringing their vast experience and talent to these supporting roles. Duhamel is at the centre of the story, moving from power-hungry attorney with a bone to skulking fugitive trying to figure out when his life turned upside-down. Julia Stiles is also a major player in this corporate mystery, although her part could have been better developed. Overall, the story is intriguing enough, even if a little far-stretched, with a pretty hefty turn-of-events in the final moments.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and deleted scenes. (VVS Films)
Norm of the North (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Life can be a real bear — just ask Norm (Rob Schneider), a polar bear with unusual talents and a heart as big as the great outdoors. When he hears that human homes are going to be built in his Arctic backyard, Norm comes to the rescue. With a team of ragtag lemmings at his side, Norm heads to the concrete jungle of New York City on a freewheeling, fun-filled mission to stop the madness and save the Arctic.
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, Norm is dancing up a storm with the “Arctic shake” and using gimmicks to gain the audience’s favour. Consequently, it becomes quite clear early on that this isn’t going to be one of those clever cartoons that appeal to viewers of all ages as Norm does a lot of goofy stuff throughout the narrative. Unfortunately for Norm, he is consistently outshined by his lemming buddies. The supposedly indestructible little furballs are by far the most entertaining aspect of the movie. They’re industrious and willing to do anything to help. The idea of a real talking polar bear is a good one, but it’s never really a central factor in this narrative since Norm spends most of the time pretending to be human.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Do the Arctic Shake!” sing-along; “That’s Funny! The Movie’s Best Jokes & One-liners”; and “Arctic Challenge Trivia Game.” (Lionsgate)
Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
After taking the tech world by storm last season at TechCrunch Disrupt, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and rest of the Pied Piper team — Erlich (T.J. Miller), Jared (Zach Woods), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) — look ahead to a bright and profitable future. But, their success may be in jeopardy, thanks to big changes at Raviga, the company created by Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), and Nucleus, the competing compression platform launched by Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross).
The first episode is bursting with excited energy as Pied Piper is still riding the wave of euphoria from TechCrunch and entertaining numerous offers for their compression software. Erlich’s absurdity goes farther than ever, while Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s friendly feud continues with no end in sight. However, as is generally the case in the industry and this series, it’s not long before reality crashes the party and brings it way down. Lawsuits, collaborations with devious and annoying businessmen, underhanded tactics and death are all wrenches in their plan to simply be a good company with a solid product to offer. And each little success is sadly accompanied by an even bigger letdown, leaving next season and the fate of Pied Piper in limbo.
Special features include: commentary by Mike Judge, Alec Berg, T.J. Miller and many more; deleted scenes; “Reality Bytes: The Art & Science Behind Silicon Valley.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [Collector's Edition] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
For a decade, Texas Ranger Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) has sought to avenge the brutal murder of his kin by the cannibalistic Sawyer family — Leatherface (Bill Johnson), Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), The Cook (Jim Siedow) and Grandpa (Ken Evert). With the help of a radio DJ (Caroline Williams), who's also bent on putting an end to the terror, Lefty finds his way to the Sawyers' underground slaughter shop, where a battle of epic proportions will soon rage and the line between good and evil gets chopped to bits.
It was 12 years before writer/director Tobe Hooper would revisit the Sawyer clan, but this movie has little in common with its predecessor. Where the first film was a dark, social commentary explained via a group of dead teens, this picture is over-the-top and filled with a humour not everyone may grasp or appreciate. Moreover, the sexual innuendo in this narrative is much more prevalent as Leatherface thrusts his chainsaw at the frightened DJ doing her least convincing come-hither stare. Moseley is totally memorable as the outrageous Chop-Top, while The Cook is a deranged father figure who has a peculiar way of giving orders. And Hopper’s clearly imbalanced cop is just another of the actor’s bizarre roles to set next to Blue Velvet.
Special features include: commentary by director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris and property master Michael Sullivan; commentary by director Tobe Hooper; commentary by actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special effects makeup creator Tom Savini; deleted scenes; alternate opening credit sequence; “It Runs In The Family,” a six part feature-length documentary and extended outtakes; behind-the-scenes footage; “House Of Pain”; “Yuppie Meat”; “Cutting Moments”; “Behind the Mask”; “Horror's Hallowed Grounds”; still galleries; TV spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Try and Get Me (Blu-ray)
Olive Films
Howard’s (Frank Lovejoy) life begins to spiral out of control when he’s sucked into a kidnapping plot by the deranged and cold-as-ice Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges) that turns tragic. And Gil Stanton (Richard Carlson) is a gung-ho journalist who may have crossed ethical boundaries when his series of newspaper articles leads to even further tragedy.
This movie is structured similarly to the old gangster and noir films, reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s thrillers. Jerry leads Howard through a life of crime that seems to pay easy money in a time of mass unemployment and economic hardships. Howard is finally able to not only support his family, but indulge their desires as well as their needs. Lovejoy is excellent in role of the unwitting accomplice; he’s glad to be Jerry’s sidekick until their greed takes them too far. The social commentary and ethical issues of everyone involved are not at all subtle, which makes for a powerful statement but also a slightly preachy narrative.
There are no special features. (Olive Films)
Veep: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
Having become president after her predecessor stepped down, it remains to be seen whether her term will outlast that of America’s shortest-serving president, William Henry Harrison. With the stakes for Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team higher than ever before, she must still run for election, and over the course of the season they will grapple with how to make her seem “presidential.”
Selina is in an interesting position in which she must serve as president while simultaneously campaigning for the title almost immediately after being sworn in. A few new team members keep everyone on their toes and/or at each other’s throats, while long-time staff becomes collateral damage in the no-holds-barred path to victory. The first daughter is also saddled with more responsibility, which results in predictably awkward moments on- and off-camera. Foreign relations is a big part of the legacy Selina is trying to build along with her “Families First” policy, but both present frustrating hurdles that border on the ridiculous. On the other hand, this season’s conclusion is entirely surprising and once again creates a lot of anticipation for the upcoming chapter.
There are no special features. (HBO Home Entertainment)
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