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article imageReview: New on DVD for October 15 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 18, 2013 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a variety of original, skillful, well-crafted stories presented by novice and seasoned directors.
Bewitched: The Complete Series (DVD)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) is a beautiful young witch who falls in love and marries an ad exec, trying her best to fit into straight-laced suburbia. Dick York, and later Dick Sargent, star as her hapless husband Darrin Stephens, while Agnes Moorehead steals every scene as Samantha’s meddling mother Endora. Rounding out the ensemble is Darrin’s boss, Larry Tate (David White), and the Stephens’ precocious daughter Tabitha.
This is one of those classic TV shows you never get tired of catching on the retro channels. A twitch of Samantha's nose always leads to hilarious antics, or tries to put an end to those already in progress. When the Stephenses discover Tabitha has inherited Samantha's ability -- with a little help -- she gives the terrible twos a whole new meaning. Since it's impossible to explain the importance of secrecy to an infant, they spend a lot of time covering up after Tabitha's magical whims. Though convincing Mrs. Kravitz across the street it was just her imagination never gets easier. Samantha's family drop by regularly just to liven things up -- and annoy Darrin. And if you've never understood the two Darrins debate, now is the perfect excuse to catch up on old news.
There are special features. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Black Rock (DVD)
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Phase 4 Films
Three childhood friends, Sarah, Abbey and Lou (Kate Bosworth, Katie Aselton and Lake Bell), get together for a private campout at an iconic setting from their childhood – an empty island off the coast of Maine – to renew their bond of sisterhood. The trio, however, quickly find themselves in a fight for their lives. After meeting three men who have come to the island for a hunting trip, a night of drinking spirals into a tragic accident, and the ladies soon become the target. What first started as a simple play date to recall old times is now a race for survival.
It takes a certain talent to build an effective thriller and an understanding that the violence is secondary to the anticipation of it. Audiences can see a bad choice about to be made by characters a mile away, but it's about the consequences of that decision. As one of the characters says, "We came here to go hunting, so let's go hunting." As the three women run for their lives, holding their breath when the predators pass their hiding spots, the viewer is enveloped in their fear. The constant wondering if the crack of a branch or rustle of leaves will be followed by gunshots is thrilling. Drama writer Mark Duplass shows a flair for the thriller, though part of the film's appeal is the rapid but detailed character development that occupies the first act. And sophomore feature director Astleton does a good job transferring the story to the screen.
Special features include: commentary by director/actress Katie Aselton and actress Lake Bell; behind-the-scenes featurette; and interviews with Aselton, Bell and Kate Bosworth. (Phase 4 Films)
Detention of the Dead (DVD)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
It’s just after 3PM at Lincoln High and detention has begun. But when the school is suddenly attacked by flesh-eating zombies, six trapped students – a lovesick nerd (Jacob Zachar), the goth-chick (Alexa Nikolas), a stuck-up cheerleader (Christa B. Allen) and her bully boyfriend (Jayson Blair), a stoner (Justin Chon) and a dumb jock (Max Adler) – must battle hordes of the hungry undead.
With the popularity of horror crossovers in books (see Pride, Prejudice and Zombies), it was only a matter of time before zombies would infiltrate classic films. In this merging of a zombie movie with John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, the teens attempt to come to terms with their adolescence while holding off a horde of the undead. They change up the characters for comedic effect, turning "the criminal" made famous by Judd Nelson into a spaced out stoner married to his stash played by the formerly drunk Chon. Additional references include Shaun of the Dead and other Hughes pictures, such as Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. While the zombies themselves are pretty sterile, save for the gnawing on their victim's limbs and intestines, some effort is shown with the throbbing bite marks and signs of spreading infection.
Special features include: commentary by executive producer/writer/director Alex Craig Mann; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Embrace of the Vampire (1995) (Blu-ray)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
Charlotte (Alyssa Milano) is a beautiful but chaste college freshman who is nearing her 18th birthday. Charlotte's boyfriend would like to take their relationship to the next level, but Charlotte isn't sure if she's ready. Meanwhile, Charlotte finds herself aggressively pursued by a mysterious new suitor. What Charlotte doesn't know is that she's the reincarnation of a Transylvanian princess, and her new friend is a vampire who once loved her. The vampire will be able to retain his powers of eternal life only if he can seduce Charlotte before she turns 18 -- which only gives him three days.
In the '90s, Milano appeared desperate to shed the girl next door persona she'd portrayed for eight years on the TV series Who's the Boss. So she began to take a lot of "grown up" roles that were sexy and sexual. This one knocked most of the others out of the park. As an inexperienced college freshman newly arrived from the convent, her repressed carnal urges are awakened by characters of both genders -- apparently leading her to spend most of her school days half-naked. But the vampire myth is traditionally sensual, so the excessive nudity is not entirely inappropriate. The story is thin but just interesting enough as the vampire attempts to win Charlotte’s heart in less than a week (why didn't he try to swoon her sooner?), while she tries to sort out her feelings for her increasingly impatient boyfriend. The meshing dreams and reality is the most notable element of the narrative.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Embrace of the Vampire (2013) (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
Charlotte Hawthorn (Sharon Hinnendael) arrives at college a timid and repressed freshman. Scarred by a life of foster homes and violent girls’ schools, Charlotte is plagued by night terrors. A fencing scholarship got her into college, but she relies on prescription medication just to get through the day. With this fresh start, she’s hoping to leave her tormented past behind her – but Charlotte will learn that her future and her past are linked forever by a dark and bloody secret.
The protagonist's origin story is slightly varied from the original, creating a different reason for her properness that is not as restrictive as her predecessor's and a new connection to the vampire that stalks her. While there are fewer naked breasts in this version, the scenes of seduction are more erotic, particularly Charlotte's initiation by her fencing teammate. Unfortunately, Victor Webster may look brooding but he's not a very convincing tortured soul. His story is also glossed over in favour of focusing on Charlotte's destiny. She is more active in the narrative's outcome, but it's as thin -- if not thinner -- than the original.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
The Heat (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Fox Home Entertainment
Uptight FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and foul-mouthed Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) couldn't be more incompatible. But when they join forces to bring down a ruthless drug lord, they become the last thing anyone expected –buddies.
Even though it is entirely formulaic, the story is fresh because the protagonists are female. But it also makes another point about gender – these women aren't much different from the men who preceded them. One is brash and street smart, while the other is level-headed and logical. Director Paul Feig is making a name for himself by re-appropriating traditionally male genres, having previously helmed Bridesmaids. Nonetheless, even though it's genre bending, it's far from a perfect film. It's not selective enough about which of the conventional beats to hit, making the movie a bit too long. It also seems like they’re trying too hard to include a laugh at preset intervals rather than just allowing the story to play out naturally. It’s refreshing to see female characters who do not spend large portions of their conversations together talking about men and relationships.
Special features include: commentaries by Melissa McCarthy, director Paul Feig, the Original Mystery Science Theater 3000 Guys, and The Mullins Family; “All The Stuff We Had To Take Out But Still Think Is Funny – Deleted, Alternate & Extended Scenes”; “Mullins Family Fun”’ “How The Heat Was Made”; “Police Brutality”; “Let’s Get Physical”; “Acting Master Class”; “Supporting Cast Cavalcade”; “Over And Out”; and Easter eggs. (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (DVD)
Ichabod Crane is the new school teacher in the quiet, rural village of Sleepy Hollow. Determined to win the hand of the rich and beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, Ichabod must contend with local blacksmith Brom Bones, who is also vying for the lady’s hand. After Brom tries to scare off Ichabod by pretending to be The Headless Horseman, a local ghost and campfire legend, the town is sieged by the actual Headless Horseman.
There have been many adaptations of this story for TV and film, but most are generally bloodier or darker. This version focuses on the bumbling Crane and his interest in Katrina. Most mentions of the horseman are during campfire talk when people are trying to scare or impress each other. However, Crane is afraid of his own shadow and in no way looking to square things with the headless rider. He's so clumsy and unadjusted to his surroundings that most of his actions and interactions result in some humour for the audience. This is a nice, sanitized version of the story that is even less frightening then Disney's adaptation.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
The Look of Love (DVD)
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Mongrel Media
The symbol of Soho, sex and sophistication from the swinging 60s to the 80s, Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) almost single-handedly rewrote the cultural history of the UK with an empire of topless theatres and soft-core magazines that would eventually make him the richest man in the country.
It's easy to make men who deal in sex appear sleazy, but there was more than that to Raymond. He saw himself as a businessman; an entrepreneur. He was building a legacy of property investments and the means to that end was porn. Though he often joked about it, he was trying to distance himself as much as possible from his impoverished background. Of course he also loved women and cheated on his wife regularly; though his relationship with his daughter, one of the film's primary focuses, was founded in utter devotion. The narrative glimpses the present/future to define the end of a section of the story and remind viewers that eventually it turns sour. Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom once again join forces to produce a captivating biopic that attempts to look below the sticky surface.
Special features include: deleted scenes; cast and crew interviews; and theatrical trailer. (Mongrel Media)
Love, Marilyn (DVD)
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Mongrel Media
Two boxes of Marilyn Monroe's private writings were discovered in the home of her acting coach, 50 years after her death. Reading her letters onscreen are a star-studded cast including Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, Lindsay Lohan, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks, Uma Thurman, Viola Davis and Adrien Brody. In this fascinating and illuminating film, Academy Award-nominated director Liz Garbus takes an intimate look at the life, death and legacy of a pop icon and offers a glimpse of the human being inside the bombshell.
If it’s possible to use a person’s own words to write a love letter to them, then that is the product of this film. The film is a captivating visual biography of one of Hollywood’s most mesmerizing icons. From a combination of letters, poems and journal entries, Monroe’s words are given a voice by various actresses and other people’s thoughts, such as Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, Sir Laurence Olivier and Greg Cukor, are shared via archival interviews and similar readings. Starting at the beginning with her desire to be an actress, the film follows the ups and downs of her career until her death in 1962. While this is an untraditional method of conveying and examining a person’s life, it is incredibly effective. The one significant gap appears to be her affair with President Kennedy, though her marriages are explored thoroughly. Photos from professional shoots, candid shots by friends, newspaper images and film clips paint a picture of the vivacious but troubled young woman. Filled with personal anecdotes and Monroe's unguarded thoughts, the narrative builds on the legend expanding it further and revealing the many chasms created by her insecurities. The bonus book is the perfect companion to this beautiful documentary.
Special features include: 10-page collectible booklet. (Mongrel Media)
Maniac (DVD)
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M.O. Pictures
Just when the streets seemed safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back and on the hunt. Frank (Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna (Nora Arnezeder) appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank's obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill.
One often wonders why a certain film is remade, particularly when the original is well-known and praised. In this case, it makes some interesting technical choices that cause the familiar story to appear almost fresh. The first-person point-of-view is the most noticeable difference and it brings a new perspective to the story, both literally and figuratively. The viewer is not only "in his shoes" for the murders, but they also experience his severe anxiety and delusions first-hand. Though Wood is not on screen for most of the film, he is very present and delivers an excellent performance from both sides of the camera. The music also plays a key role in establishing the mood of the film and particular scenes or actions. The hour-long bonus featurette includes an in-depth discussion of the soundtrack's development.
Special features include: commentary by director Franck Khalfoun, Elijah Wood and producer Alix Taylor; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; and theatrical trailer. (M.O. Pictures)
Morning (DVD)
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Anchor Bay Entertainment
Follow married couple Mark (Leland Orser) and Alice (Jeanne Tripplehorn) on the journey through the darkest days of their lives after an unimaginable loss, to reveal a powerful story of acceptance, hope and renewal.
Losing a child is an unimaginable pain. Fortunately Orser's feature directorial debut does not attempt to explain or analyze the grief of the parents. Instead, it simply follows them as they deal with their loss individually over five days. Neither displays the typical portrayals of grief and they are as dissimilar from each other as they are other people. The mother receives more screen time as she deals with her feelings more publicly, while he becomes a regressive recluse. Both Tripplehorn and Orser give excellent performances, though his is a more silent delivery. The most familiar part of the narrative is when Alice is pestered by a friend who just wants to "help," but does more harm than good. This is a unique portrait of loss that doesn't try to conceal its ugliness.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Pacific Rim (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
When legions of monstrous alien creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a deadly war began that took millions of lives and consumed humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers prove nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. Now on the verge of defeat, mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes – a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi) – who are teamed to drive a legendary but obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse.
It takes less than 10 minutes to learn the history of the war and get to the first clash of monster vs. robot. And it is breathtaking. Each of the bouts vary enough that they're never dull or repetitive. In addition, the appearance of each of the fighters is different. The Kaijus are influenced by a combination of various species of dinosaurs. The Jaegers each have a unique look and weapons design. Most importantly, every fight feels epic and is absolutely captivating. A pleasant surprise is the capable story line that holds the audience's attention between action sequences. These actors understand their roles and the type of movie they're making. They and del Toro guide the audience into a fully immersive experience. The initial scene in which the pilots are shown to suit up is exciting. When a Kaiju tears into a Jaeger, their fear and determination fills the room. Hunnam, Kikuchi, Elba and the rest of the cast fully embody their characters so the audience doesn't have to try to be there with them – they simply are. With Del Toro’s attention to detail, the bonus features are a fascinating, insightful peek into the mind of a master.
Special features include: commentary by director Guillermo Del Toro; deleted scenes; “The Director’s Notebook”; 14 featurettes providing in-depth looks at Kaijus, Jaegers, sets, stunts, sounds, effects, the mythology and making the film; “Drift Space”; “The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim”; “The Shatterdome”; “Focus Points”; and blooper reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Vikings - Season 1 (DVD)
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Phase 4 Films
Introducing the extraordinarily complex and violent history of the Norsemen. The History channel’s first scripted series races the gripping sagas of historical hero Ragner Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel). As claimed direct descendent of Odin, god or war and warriors, Lothbrok’s mystical nature and devotion to the gods feeds his stealthy maneuvers and determination to become King of the Vikings.
Not much is known about the men from the North, except they were tall warriors with strong women that raided and pillaged their neighbouring countries. This series is a captivating expansion on their lifestyle mixed with a healthy dose of drama. Ragner leads a party West for the first time in their history, coming ashore in England and devastating the locals and then the kingdom. They have no respect for foreigners, meaning they show no remorse when taking anything from someone's life to their gold; though Ragner does take a liking to a Catholic priest who knows their language. Meanwhile, Ragner's competition with their Earl results in several of the narrative complications. In only nine episodes, a lot occurs to maintain audience interest in this season and the next.
Special features include: character profiles, promo reels; and photo galleries. (Phase 4 Films)
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