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article imageReview: Can’t save what’s already lost in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 18, 2017 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a couple of Bruce Lee classics; the end of an era; a furry uprising; a throwback horror movie; and an action return.
Ben (Blu-ray & DVD)
Scream Factory
When Detective sergeant Cliff Kirtland (Joseph Campanella) investigates the horrifying murder of Willard Stiles by a band of rats, he discovers that the rats are now an organized army and he must destroy the murderous rodents before it is too late. But the rats, led by Ben, the only survivor of the Willard attack, take to the challenge with full force and little fear.
This movie takes the concept first explored at the end of Willard to the extreme as Ben is able coordinate his fellow rodents for mass invasions that upset the whole town. However, he also seems to need human companionship to balance his life as rat king so when he happens upon a lonely little boy, they become fast friends. The boy doesn’t have any friends and is bullied because he is artistic, but Ben doesn’t judge and rather enjoys the boy’s creative tributes to him. Surprisingly, Ben is actually framed as a complex character performing good and bad acts so that he is both the story’s hero and its villain.
Special features include: commentary by actor Lee Montgomery; interview with actor Lee Montgomery; still gallery; radio & TV spots; Ben/Willard double feature trailer and TV spot; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Beyond the Gates (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
After their father's unexplained disappearance, two estranged brothers — responsible Gordon (Graham Skipper) and reckless John (Chase Williamson) — reunite to sift through the contents of his stubbornly anachronistic VHS rental store. Among the inventory, they find an old interactive VCR board game. Intrigued, the brothers pop in the tape and soon discover that this video is no ordinary game, but a portal to a nightmarish alternate reality — one with deadly consequences for anyone who dares to press "play."
This is a great throwback to both creature features of the ‘80s, such as The Gate, and ‘90s VHS board games, like “Nightmare.” However, it’s all been transported to a contemporary narrative in which cellphones exist in addition to creepy yet knowledgeable pawn shop owners. Conveniently, their father still shunned discs in favour of videotapes, so there’s no shortage of VCRs in which to play the game companion. Barbara Crampton is excellent as the omniscient black-and-white woman on the screen, guiding their actions and mocking their mistakes. Filmmakers also effectively build the tension via the game’s constant influence and the eerie occurrences surrounding it. This is a solid horror picture, which fans of its inspirations will undoubtedly enjoy.
Special features include: commentary by director/co-writer Jackson Stewart, actors Barbara Crampton and Jesse Merlin, director of photography Brian Sowell, and co-writer Stephen Scarlata; commentary by director/co-writer Jackson Stewart and actors Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, and Graham Skipper; commentary by Junk Food Dinner podcast hosts Kevin Moss, Parker Bowman, and Sean Byron; commentary by director/co-writer Jackson Stewart and production assistant Dan Fisk; deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes featurette; premiere Q&A moderated by famed horror director Stuart Gordon; retro Beyond The Gates commercial; “Sex Boss” short film; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Game of Death [Collector's Edition] (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
Billy Lo (Bruce Lee) is a young kung fu star with a promising career. As the leader of a syndicate known for its exploitation of entertainers, Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) jumps at the chance to capitalize on Billy's status and that of his singer girlfriend (Coleen Camp). Refusing to sign with Land, Billy's marital arts mastery is put to the test when he is brutally harassed by Land's men. In a stunning showdown, Billy must take on a group of martial arts masters in the final showdown.
Unfortunately Lee died during the film’s production, so this movie was created from what was shot prior to his passing and is essentially incomplete. Ironically, it was also one of his most popular pictures. With a very minimal narrative, Billy is simply challenged to fight wherever he goes — primarily by men in yellow and black tracksuits that Lee then dons, creating one of the actor’s signature looks. He moves much quicker than his opponents and is able to take on several of them at once. With the loose storyline, the film is essentially a showcase of Lee’s prowess; he even faces off against one of his celebrity students, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. The film was meant to spotlight Lee's beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts, but only three of the five final battles were shot.
Special features include: US and Mandarin/Cantonese versions of the film; deleted scenes; alternate opening and ending; “Game of Death Revisited”; “Game of Death Locations”; still gallery; outtake montage; bloopers; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Select)
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Picking up where the previous film left off, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead. Now, she must return to where the nightmare began — The Hive in Raccoon City — where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse.
The final film in the franchise takes its hero back to where it all started, though Alice has been through a lot since initially waking up in Raccoon City. Having lost the abilities given to her by the T-virus, she now relies on her cunning and strength to evade Umbrella’s monsters and escape when captured. There are a number of familiar faces in this picture as all the remaining key players reunite for the ultimate showdown. Returning to the facility, audiences will recognize various locations that served as the backdrop for important moments in the first movie. The action sequences remain interesting and in some cases inventive as filmmakers wrap up the 15-year long journey, including an opening summary of events.
Special features include: “Stunts & Weaponry”; “Retaliation Mode”; and sneak peek of Resident Evil: Vendetta. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Return of the Dragon [Collector's Edition] (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
Tang Lung (Bruce Lee) flies to Rome to help a friend of the family, Chen Ching-hua (Nora Miao). She is being threatened by local gangsters to sell her restaurant and they will stop at nothing to get the property. When Tang proves to be a treat to the syndicate's plans, they hire the best martial artists to take out Tang Lung, including American martial arts expert Colt (Chuck Norris) in the ancient city's majestic Coliseum.
Directed by Lee, in addition to being a typical martial arts movie this one also dabbles in comedy, particularly at the beginning when Tang arrives at the Italian airport. The local gangsters are very audacious, literally chasing away the restaurant’s customers so Chen can’t make ends meet and will be forced to sell. Her dedicated staff is learning to defend the establishment, but there’s no comparison to the skills Tang eventually reveals to chase off the thugs. They try to attack in greater numbers and with weapons, but they’re still no match for him so they ultimately outsource their problem to Colt. This results in one of the most famous face-offs as Lee takes on Norris in an evenly matched kung fu battle… with brief sojourns of a stray kitten.
Special features include: commentary by Asian film expert Mike Leeder; interviews with Sammo Hung, Simon Yam and Wong Jing; “Kung Fu? Jon Benn Remembers Return of the Dragon”; alternate title sequence; alternate final fight music cue; Japanese opening and closing credits; still gallery; TV spot; and trailer gallery. (Shout Select)
The Space Between Us (Blu-ray & DVD)
VVS Films
Gardner (Asa Butterfield) is the first person who doesn’t call Earth “home.” Born and raised on Mars, he strikes up a relationship online with an Earthling (Britt Richardson). As Gardner searches for information on his mysterious past, he will cross the universe to uncover his true identity while attempting to find love in another world.
Rooted in young adult fiction, this PG love story is much like every one that preceded it — these two attractive teenagers go on these unbelievable adventures that bring them closer together until some sort of tragedy or misunderstanding threatens to tear them apart. One of the most intriguing aspects of the story is watching Gardner — essentially a Martian visiting Earth for the first time after having only gained knowledge of it from movies and books — interact with the world. For the most part, Butterfield is rather convincing as a young man experiencing most things for the first time. The movie lives up to everything one expects from a teen romance movie with a bit of a unique flavour. Butterfield and Marling’s friendship appears genuine, though their romantic scenes are a little awkward and lacking in passion; but at least it looks like they were having fun together.
Special features include: commentary by director Peter Chelsom; deleted scenes; alternate ending; “Love.” (VVS Films)
Streets of Fire (Blu-ray & DVD)
Shout Select
Amid a brooding rock & roll landscape, the Bombers motorcycle gang, led by the vicious Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), kidnap diva Ellen Aim (Diane Lane). Her hope for rescue lies with unlikely heroes: soldier of fortune Tom Cody (Michael Paré) and his sidekick, the two-fisted beer-guzzling McCoy (Amy Madigan). Joined by Ellen's manager, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), the trio plunges headfirst into a world of rain-splattered streets, hot cars, and deadly assassins.
The ‘80s rock ‘n roll action movie is a long-lost art. Complete with concert performances, a corresponding soundtrack, glamorous costumes and recognizable faces, this film has it all. Cody is a man of principle, but he’s also an injured ex-lover so the rescue is complicated — especially when Fish finds out about their former affair since he’s Ellen Aim’s current beau. The fact that his relationship with Ellen seems like a matter of convenience doesn’t escape anyone’s attention, but Cody needs to get her back alive in order to confront her. McCoy is similarly an ex-soldier and the only feminine quality she exhibits is a possible crush on Cody, which brings out her protective instincts. Dafoe’s leather-clad gang leader definitely stands out, particularly when he’s asserting his authority wearing only black hip waiters. The mix of characters that join the rescue and the overt bravado found throughout makes this a fun trip to the past.
Special features include: “Shotguns & Six Strings: The Making of a Rock N Roll Fable”; “Rumble on the Lot: Walter Hill's Streets Of Fire Revisited”; “Rock And Roll Fable”; “Exaggerated Realism”; “Choreographing the Crowd”; “Creating the Costumes”; “From the Ground Up”; music videos; still gallery; on-air promos; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Select)
Willard (Blu-ray & DVD)
Scream Factory
Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) is a young man with a big problem. He lives alone in a crumbling house with his ailing mother (Elsa Lanchester). His boss, Al Martin (Ernest Borgnine) is a vulgar, cruel man who stole his business from Willard’s father and is now working Willard to death. Lonely, depressed and isolated, Willard is on the verge of a breakdown when he makes a new friend: Ben, one of the many rats who inhabit his dilapidated home. Not only can Willard communicate with the rodent, but he can actually command him to do his bidding. Using Ben and his furry friends as instruments of retaliation, Willard commands his pets to carry out his vengeance.
In spite of the remake’s gloom, this film isn’t especially dark. In fact, Willard’s initial friendship with the rats is quite sweet. Unable to comply with his mother’s request to kill them, he instead feeds them while connecting with them and teaching them tricks. For a lonely young man, they made terrific listeners and friends. Since the film was made before the advancement of CGI, all the rodents in the film are real, trained critters… and according to the bonus feature interview, getting them to cooperate involved a lot of peanut butter. Willard is surrounded by terrible people except for a temp helping him with his abundance of work, so it’s not surprising he would take comfort in the company of non-judgemental animals. However, it’s difficult to account for Willard’s behaviour at the end of the film; though it allows Ben to demonstrate his keen intelligence.
Special features include: commentary by actor Bruce Davison; interview with actor Bruce Davison; still gallery; radio & TV spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
XXX: Return of Xander Cage (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When a group of lethal mercenaries steal a hi-tech weapon that poses a global threat, the world needs superspy Xander Cage (Vin Diesel). Recruited back into action, Xander leads a team of death-defying adrenaline junkies on a mission to kick some ass, save the day, and look dope while doing it.
Everyone — Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson and others – is back for this sequel. However, in comparison to the first (and even second) film, this one is somewhat lacking. The stunts are less radical and the story seems slapdash à la a Fast and the Furious movie, but with the lack of exciting action it becomes more noticeable and less forgivable. They also try to use the energetic soundtrack to increase the film’s pace, but it’s not a replacement for extreme stunts… though the inclusion of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa at least amp up the fight sequences. Still, each of the actors resuming their roles make a notable entrance and the stunts their characters do perform are relatively impressive. The most significant benefit of the 4K picture comes from the movie’s exotic locales, which are magnificent in ultra-HD.
Special features include: “Third Time’s The Charm: Xander Returns”; “Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast”; “Opening Pandora’s Box: On Location”; “I Live for This Sh*t!: Stunts”; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
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