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article imageReview: New on DVD for January 15 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 15, 2013 in Entertainment
This week's releases include a new backdrop for a seasoned director; two stories about hope with very different outcomes; and a lesson for bargain hunters.
Entertainment One
Farewell, My Queen (Blu-ray)
This film captures the passions, debauchery, occasional glimpses of nobility and ultimately the chaos that engulfed the court of Marie Antoinette in the final days before the full-scale outbreak of the Revolution. Based on the best-selling novel by Chantal Thomas, a seemingly an innocent lady-in-waiting quietly works her way into her mistress's special favors, until history tosses her fate onto a decidedly different path. The action moves effortlessly from the gilded drawing rooms of the nobles to the back quarters of those who serve them.
Special features not available. (Entertainment One)
Entertainment One
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (DVD)
Set three years after the infamous Dragon Inn was left in ruins, a new gang has taken over the wayward place, using it as their base for uncovering a nearby treasure. But secrets lie within its walls, as a pregnant palace concubine and a swordswoman take refuge from a determined royal eunuch tracking their every move. As an explosive mix of warriors, fugitives and assassins converge in the desert for a deadly showdown, only one man can protect the women, the mysterious Zhao (Jet Li).
Special features not available. (Entertainment One)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Lightning Bug (Blu-ray)
Green Graves (Bret Harrison) is a frustrated teen with a gift for creating grisly monsters and dreams of escaping his miserable life in a small Alabama town for a special effects make-up job in Hollywood. His dream may even be in reach when he’s hired to design the community’s annual Halloween spook house and falls in love with a local girl (Laura Prepon). But there are real monsters in his way, including an abusive stepfather who terrorizes his mother, a fanatical religious group who attack his work, and his girlfriend’s own shocking secret that may destroy their happiness together.
This is a dark tale of hope and dysfunction. Green has big dreams and the talent to back it up, but the small mindedness of his little town result in constant setbacks that threaten to hold him back. Harrison is superbly melancholy, vulnerable and ambitious as the young special effects prodigy. Though the monsters he creates are cuddly compared to the human villains that haunt his existence. From the religious fanatic to the psychotic stepfather (played flawlessly by Shannon Eubanks and Kevin Gage respectively), the film shows there are far scarier things to fear than made-up creatures. As writer/director Robert Hall spent most of his movie career thus far as a special make-up designer, it’s possible he drew on personal experiences when conceiving the film.
Special features not available. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Alliance Films
The Possession [a.k.a. Dibbux Box] (DVD)
Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Kyra Sedgwick) see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em (Natasha Calis) becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a Dibbuk – a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host.
The story begins subtly by introducing audiences to the family and exploring their situation. Em is the picture of innocence – apparently the ideal host for the demon. The intensity of her outbursts increase gradually as she slowly becomes obsessed with the box, making it stronger and more dangerous. But as the end nears the threat becomes more corporeal, actually losing some of its impact. There is some very clever camera work when a possessed Em torments her mother in the kitchen, twisting her image through glass jars. Her reflection is also distorted in mirrors throughout the film. Morgan seems unable to escape the supernatural, but the genre truly suits him. Calis is impressive for a young actress portraying the many personalities of her character. Though the deep, demonic voice is sometimes ineffective, her overt rage and creepiness work well. Bringing a different perspective to the narrative and the genre, a rabbi is consulted to defeat the demon.
Special features include: commentary by director Ole Bornedal; commentary by writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White; “The Real History of the Dibbuk Box”; and theatrical trailer. (Alliance Films)
Entertainment One
Samsara (DVD)
Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means "the ever turning wheel of life" and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives. Filmed over a period of almost five years and in twenty-five countries, the movie transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, the film subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern.
Special features not available. (Entertainment One)
Fox Home Entertainment
Taken 2 (Blu-ray)
When the father of one of the villains Bryan (Liam Neeson) killed while saving his daughter swears revenge, taking him and his wife (Famke Janssen) hostage in Istanbul, Bryan must enlist the help of Kim (Maggie Grace) to escape. He then employs his unique tactics to get his family to safety and systematically take out the kidnappers, one by one.
Apparently the Albanian mob holds a grudge, valuing the lives of their few men over the hundreds of girls whose lives and families they've destroyed. But tying up the action hero for much of the film and relying on his teenage daughter for a lot of the rescuing and evading makes for a less interesting movie. It's mostly a chase film that involves quite a bit of running and driving through Istanbul's narrow streets; but it fails to be very exciting. Neeson is still pretty badass, but with fewer opportunities to really demonstrate his skills even he can't punch life into the movie. Overall this picture simply lacks the intensity of its predecessor.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; alternate ending; “Black Ops Field Manual and Kill Counter”; “Tools of the Trade”; and FX piece. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
To Rome with Love (Blu-ray)
The film is told in four independent vignettes about four characters whose adventures change their lives forever: an average Roman wakes up one day to find himself a well-known celebrity; an American architect revisits the streets on which he used to live as a student; a young couple on their honeymoon are pulled into separate romantic encounters; and an American opera director tries to turn a singing mortician into a star.
Having moved on from New York and Spain, writer/director Woody Allen has touched down in Italy. Though they are conveyed in a different language, the filmmaker's preoccupation with relationships and infidelity translates well. The story featuring Jesse Eisenberg is possibly the most entertaining and definitely the most typical of Allen, as the elder Alec Baldwin travels back in time to comment on his younger self's foolish choices, mirroring the Greek chorus that once populated Allen's pictures. The international cast does well with the dialogue-heavy script, being both expressive and animated. The absurdities injected into the various narratives, such as the first opera singer to perform publicly from a shower, only engage the viewer further. And Allen is sure not to ignore the beauty of his surroundings, including many scenic shots throughout the film.
Special features include: “Con Amore: A Passion for Rome.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Fox Home Entertainment
Won’t Back Down (Blu-ray)
Hard-working single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is concerned that John Adams Elementary is letting her daughter down. Teaming with a caring teacher (Viola Davis) who wants the best future for her own son, she sets out to improve attitudes and elevate the school’s academic standards. Despite the odds, with courage, hope and persistence, the women just might prevail.
This film is a cross between Erin Brockovich and Dangerous Minds. The latter influence is evident in the dire portrayal of the classroom, in which students fight, sleep and play video games. The similarity to the first title is in the protagonists' need to lobby for support and signatures, going door-to-door pleading their case. Unfortunately it lacks a key element of both these movies: passion. Their cause is just, but the story fails to capture the spirit of the movement. In addition to looking at the public school system, it's also an exploration of the pros and cons of unions, dividing arguments between the children’s well-being and the union’s duties. Gyllenhaal and Davis make a good team. The former is impulsive and enthusiastic, displaying an undefeatable determination. Davis is cautious and reserved, providing a balance and check to her partner in change.
Special features include: commentary by director Daniel Barnz; deleted scenes with optional commentary; “A Tribute to Teachers”; “The Importance of Education”; and theatrical trailer. (Fox Home Entertainment)
More about Farewell my Queen, Lightning Bug, Taken 2, to rome with love, The Possession
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