This week’s releases include the embodiment of nerd power; two cop films at opposite ends of the spectrum of greatness; a documentary about identity fraud and another about a parallel life; and the fifth movie in a sci-fi action series.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Abel’s Field (DVD)
Left motherless by tragedy and abandoned by his father, high school senior Seth McArdle (Samuel Davis) has been put under enormous pressure to support his little sisters. At school, he endures the daily bullying of the football team. When he fights back, he’s singled out for punishment and assigned to an after-school work detail under the supervision of a reserved groundskeeper, Abel (Kevin Sorbo). Much to his surprise, Seth discovers that Abel may be the only one who truly understands his struggles. As dark times lure Seth towards desperate measures, the reluctant Abel may be the one person who can point him back towards the light.
This is your typical small American town in which Friday night football and religion compete for top spot. Seth is a good kid trying to do the best he can by his little sisters while his older half-brother does nothing but make matters worse. His relationship with Abel is unconventional, but they help each other get back on the right path. The narrative is expectedly unoriginal as Seth buckles under peer pressure only to make the right choice in the end. Davis is adequate as the struggling teen and Sorbo is sincere in his interest for the boy’s welfare and future.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Chris Hardwick: Mandroid (DVD)
The Nerdist himself, Chris Hardwick, celebrates all things nerdy in his first Comedy Central special. Hipsters beware: there is no irony in Chris’s affinity for Captain Picard, Comic-Con and the Atari 2600. Mandroid features candid tales that cover virginity, chess club, shark vaginas, awkward childhood, awkward adulthood (which in his case is an extension of childhood) and a myriad of other topics which may or may not include Quidditch.
Hardwick is one of the guys who contributed to making nerds cool. He proclaims in his special, "The other N-word, I'm taking it back." But even though his comedy is directed at kindred spirits, it's accessible beyond the comic book, Star Trek or other geek simply because it's genuinely funny. He talks about nearly losing his virginity as a teen, using Harry Potter as a metaphor for the failed act. He also jokes about the increasing violence at Comic-Con, hipster's appropriation of nerd-wear, and the awesomeness of Atari and shark genitalia. Hardwick has excellent comedic intuition, making the hour-long special seem short and leaving the audience wanting more. As a treat, the bonus features include two musical numbers and, what are essentially, bloopers.
Special features include: Hard ‘n Phirm Live performing “Abraham Lincoln” and “El Corazón.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
VVS Films / Fox Home Entertainment
End of Watch (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
In their mission to abide by their oath to serve and protect, Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) have formed a powerful brotherhood to ensure they both go home at the end of watch. But nothing can prepare them for the violent backlash that happens after they pull over the members of a notorious drug cartel for a routine traffic stop. Seen from the point of view of the officers, gang members, surveillance cameras, dash cams and citizens caught in the line of fire, a 360° perspective creates a portrait of the city’s darkest streets, and the brave men and women patrolling them.
In a word, this movie is intense. Watching it is emotionally draining. It's a rollercoaster of powerful emotions evoked by graphic scenes that are then countered by the humor of everyday life. Using a documentary-style, the film seems more raw and real than the standard cop movie. The performances by Gyllenhaal and Peña are breathtakingly brilliant and hard-hitting. The audience becomes invested in their roles early and experience every moment as they do. Throughout the film, people are beaten, shot, stabbed, decapitated and corralled. It seems like they encounter a lot in a short period of time, but they explain this in the film by pointing out that these officers patrol a very active district. With an unofficial endorsement by some local police officers, this candid look into the world of law enforcement appears legit in its grit – and even if it isn’t, it feels like it is. Scenes will stick with viewers as they continue to process what they say long after the credits.
Special features include: commentary with writer/director David Ayer; deleted scenes; “Fate with a Badge”; “In the Streets”; “Women on Watch”; “Watch Your Six”; and “Honors.” (Canada: VVS Films; U.S.: Fox Home Entertainment)
The Imposter (DVD)
In 1994, a 13-year-old boy disappears without a trace from San Antonio, Texas. Three and a half years later he is found alive, thousands of miles away in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnap and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not quite as it seems. The boy bears many of the same distinguishing marks he always had, but why does he now have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? And why doesn't the family seem to notice these glaring inconsistencies? It's only when an investigator starts asking questions that this strange tale takes an even stranger turn.
This is the bizarre story of a compulsive identity thief. It's so outrageous that no one would think it was possible if it didn't already happen. The filmmakers' approach to the story works perfectly. They don't beat around the bush about the identity of the missing-boy-found; instead they have him describe the mechanics of his scheme from the moment it was launched. His cunning and the family's rationalization are the only explanations for why this even happened – and even then it's hard to believe. There are conspiracy theories presented by personalities involved in the case, but their accusations are never substantiated. With everyone willing to participate in the documentary, it could not have been a better film narrative.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Entertainment One)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Officer Down (Blu-ray)
The story of Officer Down begins a year ago, when dirty cop David ‘Cal’ Callahan (Stephen Dorff) was shot in a drug bust gone wrong and saved by a stranger, giving Callahan a second chance to clean up his life. But when the stranger finally comes forward, seeking revenge against the men responsible for a string of assaults on young women at a local strip club, Callahan must go rogue to find the attacker in an effort to hide how his own past played a part in these crimes. His desperation to find the attacker and cover his tracks takes him down a violent road of deception and fraud.
The epilogue implies this was based on a true story, but there’s no indication of this at any point in the film. It seems unnecessarily complex with too many players, making the story confusing at points particularly near the end. In addition, the density of the narrative makes it feel slow and long; they’re constantly uncovering new clues, but never seem to get anywhere. There are a lot of familiar faces in the film – from David Boreanaz to Tommy Flanagan to Laura Harris to Dominic Purcell – but they all fade into the background. No one makes a lasting impression in this movie; not even Dorff.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Searching for Sugar Man (DVD)
Rodriguez was the greatest ‘70s U.S. rock icon who never was. Momentarily hailed as the finest recording artist of his generation, he disappeared into oblivion only to rise again like Lazarus in a completely different context a continent away. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, he enjoyed a parallel life, full of acclaim and success in South Africa.
The music industry is fickle. That's why there are a long list of one-hit wonders, and an even longer list of never-weres. Emerging in the '70s with a Bob Dylan lyrical style and pop sound, producers were sure they had a hit with Rodriguez. Ironically, in spite of his failure in record sales, he became a legend as an artist crushed by the industry. It's amazing to follow two fans' journey from another continent to find some truth about one of the most famous artists in South Africa's history – only to discover he was completely unaware of his fame. Combining the mystery with the facts, using interviews, songs and photos, this documentary tells a fascinating story about an unappreciated artist who finds his audience.
Special features include: commentary by director Malik Bendjelloul and musician Rodriguez; making-of featurette; and “An Evening with Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Sick Boy (DVD)
Lucy (Skye McCole Bartusiak) is your average twenty-something woman. She has a fiancé, Chris (Marc Donato), who would like her to find a job and keep it. So she steps in for a friend to take a job babysitting a young boy. The boy is confined to his room due to what Lucy is told is a mysterious illness, but she begins to suspect the child’s mother (Debbie Rochon) is hiding something — but the truth turns out to be far worse than she could imagine.
This is a low budget, sophomore film from writer/director Tim T. Cunningham, who is an experienced visual effects artist. To that end, the monsters in the picture look brilliant. The red eyes, change in skin color and blood are all top-notch. The story and production, on the other hand, lack substance. The type of evil in the narrative is quite unsurprising. A couple of obvious, related theories emerge early on before being confirmed by the naivety of the protagonist. These characters do everything they shouldn't with predictable consequences. The script attempts the difficult task of building a mystery in a popular genre and unfortunately fails.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (DVD & Blu-ray combo pack)
John (Scott Adkins) wakes up from a coma to discover his wife and daughter were slaughtered in a brutal home invasion. Haunted by images of the attack, he vows to kill the man responsible: Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). While John tries to piece his reality back together, things get more complicated when he is pursued by a relentless UniSol (Andrei Arlovski). As John gets closer to Deveraux and the rouge army of genetically enhanced warriors led by back-from-the-dead by leader Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), John discovers more about himself and begins to call into question everything he believed to be true.
Continuing the Universal Soldier franchise, the UniSol's are now in charge, reclaiming the technology that created them and using the programming to their advantage. The fights are usually longer and more violent because their artificial construction is less vulnerable. The return of Van Damme and Lundgren guarantee the connection to the earlier films, though their roles have greatly changed. In spite of their age (the first film was released 1992), they hold their own against their opponents – though the need for a body double for the former actor results in an odd make-up selection for the final confrontation. Arlovski is an unbelievably tough opponent, akin to the Energizer bunny; hit him or maim him, he just keeps coming after John. The story is probably the most complicated in the series, though it does leave the door open for a spinoff or reboot with new characters.
Special features include: interviews with director John Hyams and actors. (Entertainment One)