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article imageReview: Everyone’s trying new things in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 2, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a thriller that uses its confines to the fullest; the third feature from a still impressive director; a documentary that follows a genius on a surprising journey; and a slow burn misrepresented as an action movie.
A Woman of Affairs (DVD)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
After losing the man of her dreams, Neville Holderness (John Gilbert), due to the meddling of his disapproving father (Hobart Bosworth), Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo) reluctantly weds another admirer, David Furness (John Mack Brown), whom her brother (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) idolizes. David harbours a most dishonorable secret, which leads to his suicide on their wedding night. Sacrificing her reputation to save David’s honor, Diana’s free-spirited lifestyle is deemed the unofficial cause of his death and she is banished from “good society.” Thus chastised, Diana decides to live up to her reputation and ventures on a series of “foreign affairs,” amorously globe hopping with dignitaries from London to Cairo. Diana is at last reunited with her one true love — only to learn of his recent engagement.
This is the favoured tale of a ruined woman whose lack of a moral compass has led her down a path of ill-repute – except that there’s much more to this story and Diana than almost anyone knows. The silent picture is incredibly dramatic with several tragic deaths, long-lasting grudges, found and lost love, and devastating secrets. However, it also stars some of the day’s best actors, skilled in the fine art of telling a story without words, though the intertitles help a lot by conveying dialogue and filling in some of the blanks. Moreover, the narrative is so engaging, it’s easy to get caught up in the movie in spite of having almost no sound.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
Dragged Across Concrete (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy) (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment and VVS Films
Two police detectives (Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn) find themselves suspended after a video of their strong-arm tactics is leaked to the media. In another part of town, a felon (Tory Kittles) is released from prison and discovers that his family is about to be evicted. With little money and no options, all three men descend into the criminal underworld, where danger awaits them in the shadows.
Director S. Craig Zahler has certainly become a filmmaker to watch over the last few years. His debut, Bone Tomahawk, was a brilliant, hard-hitting surprise and the trend continued with the violent drama, Brawl in Cell Block 99. Reuniting with Vaughn, Zahler delivers another slow-burn that keeps audiences engaged for its entirety. The contemporary cop drama has the dark, gritty feel of the ‘70s, dividing its attention between the disenfranchised detectives and the desperate ex-con. However, the third element neither accounted for was the trigger-happy thieves who never remove their masks… or leave survivors. Like those that preceded it, this movie is visceral and unpredictable, never pulling its punches and intentionally causing occasional discomfort.
Special features include: “Elements of a Crime”; and “Moral Conflict: Creating Cinema that Challenges.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment and VVS Films)
Escape Room (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
An intriguing invitation brings six strangers together. Initially, they think they have gathered for a highly immersive escape room, but they soon make the sickening discovery that they are pawns in a sadistic game of life and death. Together, they move from one terrifying scenario to the next as they find clues and solve puzzles. But the players soon learn that exposing their darkest secrets may hold the key to survive.
This picture brings everything full circle, combining the new escape room phenomenon with the Saw-like need for survival that inspired it. Each room is an elaborate, timed trap designed to evoke a tragedy from one of the players’ pasts… though even that aspect of the game isn’t really consistent. The lethal elements of each room are well designed and incredibly elaborate, ranging from an over-sized oven to an upside-down pool hall to a psychedelic room of illusions. However, these same factors make the concluding revelation a little harder to swallow. Nonetheless, it’s suspenseful and the exceptional death traps are more than enough to keep audiences interested.
Special features include: alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; “Games, Set, Match”; “The Lone Survivors”; and “Would You Ever Part 1 & 2.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Finding Joy: Series 1 (DVD)
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Acorn
Routine-loving Joy (Amy Huberman) is having a tough time after a messy breakup with her live-in boyfriend, Aidan (Lochlann O'Mearáin). Then a promotion forces her to step out of her comfort zone as she replaces her network’s star vlogger, the Happy Hunter. The job sends Joy to unusual places where people find bliss: wrestling matches, wellness retreats, hot yoga, and more, all while filming her discomfort. But despite the new gig and help from her free-spirited roommate (Aisling Bea), Joy can’t seem to get over Aidan, or even stop running into him and his beautiful new girlfriend (Karen Hassan). Will Joy be able to accept the changes in her life and find happiness of her own?
This is a version of Bridget Jones’ Diary as a somewhat clumsy, slightly neurotic copy editor finds herself plucked out of anonymity to lead one of the network’s more popular segments. Each new attempt at meditation and serenity causes Joy to revisit some aspect of her failed relationship, whether happy or sad, as she tries to pinpoint what went wrong. In the meantime, her pregnant best friend encourages her to go through the motions, while her new roommate’s rotating bath buddies is a constant reminder of what single-life can hold. The narration provided by Joy’s terrier is an odd but enjoyable choice as he accurately evaluates his owner’s happiness, even though he can’t stop pooping on the furniture.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (Acorn)
The Hole in the Ground (DVD)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey) just moved to a new home in the Irish countryside. One night, Chris vanishes; when he reappears, he seems unharmed and unchanged. But as Chris’s behaviour grows increasingly disturbing, Sarah fears the boy who has returned may not be her son.
The title, in this instance, is very literal as Sarah finds a giant crater in the middle of a forest near her home. At first it seems very strange, but not as alarming as the wandering woman who keeps randomly accosting them. But she and her husband know more than they’re letting on and soon their secrets come back to haunt Sarah. The film’s setting and “the son who’s not really her son” indicates the type of supernatural threat they’re dealing with, though it takes a while for Sarah to finally admit to herself that the folklore may be true. The legend isn’t explored too deeply and it appears largely customized for this narrative. The lead up to Sarah confirming her fears about Chris turns out to be the movie’s climax as what follows is mostly weird and less engaging.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Man from Atlantis (Blu-ray)
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Warner Archive Collection
Storm-tossed and washed ashore, an amnesiac man (Patrick Duffy) is rescued from certain death thanks to the insights of Navy doc Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery), who realizes that her patient has a most amphibious nature. Dubbed Mark Harris, the man exhibits a host of extraordinary aquatic abilities — gills, strength, speed, webbed hands and feet, enhanced vision and more. While Dr. Merrill and Mark attempt to uncover the mystery of his origins, a new menace arises in the form of genial genius (and quite mad) scientist Dr. Shubert (Victor Buono), a marine eco-terrorist with world conquering aims.
Before Aquaman, there was Mark Harris. At first glance he appears human, but internal examinations prove he’s actually better built to live underwater and can only survive on land for limited periods of time. The first half of the movie deals with their new discovery as the scientists and doctors test and examine Mark, putting him through every possible exercise until they know everything save for what a dissection would reveal. Remarkably, Mark doesn’t resist any of this prodding and only breaks away to see the world beyond the lab. The second half of the picture deals with the inevitable military mission for which the brass has been most interested in Mark. This part of the story is even more bizarre than a man that lives in the ocean, though Buono is an excellent villain.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
Miss Bala (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Gloria (Gina Rodriguez), drives to Tijuana, Mexico to visit her best friend who is competing in the local “Miss Baja” beauty pageant. During a night out, her friend is abducted and Gloria finds herself a pawn in a dangerous game being played by the CIA, the DEA and a charismatic yet ruthless cartel kingpin, Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova). Finding power she never knew she had, Gloria plays one organization against the other as she seeks to rescue her friend. Surviving will require all of her cunning, inventiveness, and strength.
Gloria makes a lot of tough decisions over the course of her captivity. Whether it’s to run or aide her kidnappers, each choice is the result of a quick risk calculation. She never underestimates Lino, but his attempts to convince her the other side is worse than him starts to work and puts her in an even more dangerous position. There are a lot of factors at play and Rodriguez reacts to all of them authentically. Whether she’s pleading for her life, pulling herself together or lashing out, it feels like she’s in the moment. This is obviously a giant leap from her mild-mannered TV role, but she steps up to the challenge and embraces the opportunity to play a Latin-American protagonist on the big screen. Cordova is also very convincing, but it’s his icy blue eyes that draw audience’s attention during close-ups.
Special features include: commentary by director Catherine Hardwicke, executive producer Jamie Marshall, and associate producer Shayda Frost; deleted and extended scenes; making-of featurette; “Gina: The Unstoppable Strength of a Woman”; “The Bigger the Bang: Action on Set”; and “A Look into the Stunts and Costumes with Catherine Hardwicke.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Mission of Honor (Blu-ray)
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Cinedigm
This is the story of Squadron 303, a group of heroic pilots who fought in the skies over England in the Battle of Britain during World War II. These brave men were not just fighting to keep Great Britain free from the Nazis, but also to keep alive the memories of their own countries that had been caught in the crossfire as Germany tore across Eastern Europe. Equipped with nothing more than obsolete RAF planes and second-hand uniforms, they flew for all of those who had become casualties in one tyrant's quest for power.
Even now, more than half a century after WWII’s end, unknown tales of heroics are still being told. This movie tells the intentionally neglected tale of Polish fighter pilots who accounted for 20 per cent of all of Britain’s air kills during the war. Focusing on a particular squadron and featuring Game of ThronesIwan Rheon, the picture tells of the disenfranchised men who want nothing more than to fight the enemy who killed their families and stole their homes. The narrative is very well constructed and the air fights are exhilarating, though occasionally hard to follow. Most impressive is the historical footage included from the original gun cameras to authenticate the battles in the skies. The film does a good job of engaging the audience and attaching them just enough to the pilots so as they continue to give their lives for the war, the viewer is affected by their loss but appreciative of the skills and contributions.
Special features include: Q&A with director David Blair; on set with Iwan Rheon “Zumbach”, Milo Gibson “Kent”, Rosie Gray “Georgia”, Stefanie Martini “Phyllis” and Emily Wyatt “Kate.” (Cinedigm)
Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki (Blu-ray & DVD)
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GKids
In 2013, Academy Award-winning film director and animator Hayao Miyazaki suddenly announced his retirement at the age of 72. But he can’t shake his burning desire to create. After an encounter with young CGI animators, Miyazaki embarks on a new project to utilize CGI for the first time ever. But the artist, who has been adamant about hand-drawn animation, confronts many challenges that threaten to cancel the film. Can an old master who thinks he’s past his prime shine once again? This program goes behind the scenes over two years as Miyazaki overcomes struggles to create his short film Boro the Caterpillar using CGI.
Although it took some time for Miyazaki’s work to travel overseas, his brilliance as a storyteller and animator was evident early on. Bonus features on recent home releases have demonstrated he is quite open about the filmmaking process, but the director remains somewhat of an enigma — perhaps because no one will ever be able to really comprehend his genius. Therefore, even though it seems silly, fans are happy to watch him make and eat ramen in between working on even more masterful art. Miyazaki’s vigour and inability to stop working is remarkable, as is his desire to still try new technology after decades of commitment to hand-drawn images. However, the obstacles he encounters are not entirely surprising as he tries to both transfer his vision to a new medium while also relinquishing some control because he can’t use CGI. Seeing his vision and watching his frustration can be somewhat difficult at times, though one still gets a glimpse of how his mind works. The original Japanese version feels more like a standalone documentary film, while the one with the English narration feels like a bonus feature.
Special features include: alternate 48-minute version with English narration and new footage; and theatrical trailers. (GKIDS)
The Star Witness (DVD)
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Warner Archive Collection
The Leeds family — mother Abby, father George, and their four children — have just sat down for dinner with Abby’s father, Civil War veteran Grandpa Summerhill (Chic Sale) when shots are fired outside down the street. Gangster Maxey Campo has gunned down two men in cold blood and he makes his getaway through the Leeds family house, assaulting feisty Grandpa along the way. Crusading District Attorney Whitlock (Walter Huston) is elated at first, with an entire family of witnesses ready to do their civic duty and testify against the racketeers running rampant in the city. Maxey, however, isn’t finished with the Leeds and unleashes his forces of fear and intimidation against them, leaving Grandpa as the one patriot to stand against crime.
These types of big crime pictures were popular in the ‘30s. The basic plot often involved illegal gangs making the streets unsafe and law-abiding citizens or cops with the power to stop them. It’s somewhat surprising when Maxey goes barreling through the Leeds home, but it also demonstrates his confidence in the fear he believes he wields over the neighbourhood. The police generally seem to have their hands tied, but feel this is their big break so they’re willing to risk the family’s life and limbs to get the conviction. The Leeds, on the other hand, have mixed feelings about their testimony, particularly after the threats turn into an assault and then a kidnapping.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
Tarantula! (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
Biochemist Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) has a plan to feed the world by using a special growth formula on plants and animals. Instead, he creates terror beyond imagining when his work spawns a spider of mammoth proportions. Feeding on cattle and humans, this towering tarantula has the people of Desert Rock, Arizona running for their lives. Can this horrifying creature be stopped, or will the world succumb to this oversized arachnid?
There was a period in science fiction when giant insects were very popular. Many people already have an aversion to bugs, so these movies capitalized on that fear by literally magnifying it. The spider is not revealed until later in the picture, but its trail of corpses and destruction become a mystery the locals can’t solve. Of course, Deemer kept his accident a secret so no one is prepared when the massive arachnid begins wreaking havoc and growing into an exponential threat. There’s nothing that really stands out about this narrative, which means it fits into this subgenre of movies quite easily, providing special effects thrills via classic tricks of the camera.
Special features include: commentary with film historians Tom Weaver, Dr. Robert J. Kiss and David Schecter; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
More about Miss Bala, Dragged Across Concrete, escape room, Finding Joy, Mission of Honor
 
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