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article imageReview: Family is not an ‘F’-word in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 17, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include various versions of the undead; a new direction for a compelling franchise; a horror movie that may surpass the original; a good guy gone bad; and a mostly convincing romcom.
The Boy Downstairs (Blu-ray)
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MVD Visual
Diana (Zosia Mamet) moves back to New York City after a few years abroad and finds the perfect Brooklyn apartment for a fresh start. Yet on the first night in her new home, she discovers that her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Matthew Shear), lives in the apartment below hers. After an awkward reunion, Diana proclaims her intentions for a genuine friendship. But as old wounds are opened, both Diana and Ben are forced to confront the true nature of their feelings.
This is most people’s worst nightmare — not only running into an ex after a bad breakup, but being irrevocably trapped in the same building day-in-and-day-out. Unresolved feelings are a lot harder to ignore when you see each other every day. As impractical as the situation is, especially considering Ben’s current girlfriend, their interactions are surprisingly genuine even if the timeline is a bit compressed. With a little distance, it’s easy to see what they used to like about each other but even easier to see why they may not have worked out. Diana is a much better developed character than Ben, which really lets Mamet shine in this awkward romcom that’s more enjoyable than you’d expect.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes photo gallery; and theatrical trailer. (MVD Visual)
Bright Lights, Big City (Blu-ray)
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MVD Rewind Collection
Jamie Conway (http://www.digitaljournal.com/topic/Michael+J+Fox t=_blank]Michael J. Fox) is an aspiring writer who abandons the wheat fields of Kansas for the skyline of Manhattan — and the city's seductive party subculture. Hitting the clubs night after night, Jamie soon spins out of control, and he risks losing everything and everyone he loves.
Fox was the sweet, boy next door for so long, it’s weird to see him doing drugs and picking up women with ‘80s bad boy http://www.digitaljournal.com/topic/Kiefer+Sutherland t=_blank]Kiefer Sutherland. Jamie’s bad habits are attributed to both the women in his life leaving within a year: his ill mother and his model wife. However, when the small-town guy isn’t hitting the clubs, he’s working at the stuffiest magazine possible and barely keeping it together with the help of another mother figure. The bonus features reveal much of the script is based on writer Jay McInerney’s actual experiences in New York, which was the place to be at the time. There’s nothing decisive about the ending, which isn’t exactly satisfactory, but it doesn’t take anything away from the film either.
Special features include: commentary by author/screenwriter Jay McInerney; commentary with cinematographer Gordon Willis; “Jay McInerney's The Light Within”; “'Big City Lights”; photo gallery; and theatrical trailer. (MVD Rewind Collection)
Death House (DVD)
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MVD Visual
During an exclusive tour, a power breakdown inside a secret prison known as the Death House sends two agents fighting through a labyrinth of horrors while being pursued by a ruthless army of roaming inmates. As they fight to escape, the agents push toward the lowest depths of the facility where they learn a supernatural group of evil beings is their only chance for survival.
This is a movie that causes viewers to ask “WTF?!” over and over again from start to finish. The base concept of controlling or reconditioning prisoners with a combination of VR and medication is interesting — but then all hell breaks loose, literally, and all reason goes out the window. Even before the prisoners escape, the section about the “victims” is very confusing if only because of its uber-unethicalness, and the mix of real and supernatural evil is difficult to track or reconcile. The script apparently went through several hands before production, which may explain the disconnect. However, there are more than a handful of horror icons playing their part, including Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Kane Hodder, Bill Mosely, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Lloyd Kaufman, Tony Todd, Dee Wallace and the late Gunnar Hansen, whose project this was.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; photo gallery; and trailer. (MVD Visual)
The Family I Had (Blu-ray)
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A mother recalls how her brilliant teenage son came to shatter their idyllic family through one horribly violent and shocking act.
This is an intimate documentary that follows a mother and son over several years as she tries to deal with the violent murder of his younger sister. She doesn’t appear to hide anything from the camera, candidly talking about how she’s tried to forgive him, how she may have failed as a mother and the mental illness that could have contributed to the incident. Her own mother also plays a significant role in his life since his incarceration, and the two struggle over what’s best for him and the truth of the killing. Even as watching all of them talk so openly about what did and is happening, it’s impossible to imagine being in any of their shoes. Instead, filmmakers just try to accurately portray how they’ve handled it.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and theatrical trailer. (MVD Visual)
Halloween (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Forty years after the events of 1978’s Halloween, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) now lives in a heavily guarded home on the edge of Haddonfield, where she’s spent decades preparing for Michael’s potential return. After being locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when a bus transfer goes terribly wrong, leading to chaos in the same town he preyed on decades earlier. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the deranged killer returns for her and her family — but this time, she’s ready for him.
The first thing viewers will quickly notice is this movie is a sequel to the original film and ignores all the pictures that occurred between then and now. Laurie’s essentially become the Sarah Connor of horror, preparing for an imminent battle and raising her kid in expectation of the same. The film carries forward a lot of similarities with its predecessor, including the off-camera violence, slow but deliberate pursuits, unsettling head tilts and a John Carpenter soundtrack. There are also some great kills that rely on the lead-up even more than the murder to captivate viewers. David Gordon Green directs what is probably the best entry into the franchise since the original film as it builds on and draws from its predecessor to create a chilling, contemporary follow-up that feels like a natural extension that fans could approve continuing.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; making-of featurette; “The Original Scream Queen”; “The Sound of Fear”; “Journey of the Mask”; and “The Legacy of Halloween.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Howling III (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
Long ago, the now-extinct marsupial wolf, a.k.a. Tasmanian Tiger, roamed the Australian Outback. Today, a werewolf colony descended from these marsupials has taken over the land. This race of human-like creatures roams the outback, feeding its need. The race for survival is on as the humans struggle to contain these out of control creatures.
This is one of those strange franchises in which none of the films’ plots have anything to do with the others. Where the second picture unfolded in Russia, this one takes place in Australia. It creates a folklore, a new species of werewolf and a strange government decree that deems all members of the species a threat requiring elimination. The federal scientists are excited by the discovery, capturing the lycanthropes and using hypnosis to learn about their origins. However, this movie feels like it was pieced together from a group of people sitting around a table saying, “What if they…” then piecing their suggestions together in a script. They then skip large chunks of time at the end to get to their desired conclusion, even though it feels illogical and sloppy.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Philippe Mora, moderated by filmmaker Jamie Blanks; “A Conversation with Philippe Mora”; vintage interviews; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Learning to See: The World of Insects (Blu-ray)
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A vibrant journey of discovery for both father and son as director Jake Oelman documents the work of his father, nature photographer Robert Oelman. Struggling with a midlife crisis, Robert leaves his established psychology career in the early 1990s to pursue his real passion of photography. Moving from the U.S. to the rainforests of Colombia, he records and connects with more than 15,000 previously undiscovered species of bugs, magnifying the tiniest of creatures in the most spectacular fashion.
Even though there are some cool images of unusual, exotic insects, the documentary’s focus is unquestionably the director’s father. The story of a man who decided to switch careers at 50 from an office-bound psychiatrist to a nature photographer based in Columbia is intriguing… except that it turns out to be rather uneventful. His dodgiest experiences in the country revolved around theft, but it’s otherwise been a pretty positive change. Some of the more interesting aspects record how he goes about documenting the insects, from impossibly spying them in the wild to bringing them to a studio for a controlled shoot. In the end, Robert’s story is overshadowed by the splendour of his own tiny subjects.
Special features include: extra scenes; making-of featurette; panoramics; “All of It” music video; and theatrical trailer. (MVD Visual)
Obsession (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
A tenth wedding anniversary celebration ends tragically when Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) discovers that his wife (Geneviève Bujold) and nine-year-old daughter have been kidnapped. When an attempt to thwart the captors goes awry, Courtland's wife and daughter are never recovered. Several years later while vacationing in Florence, Courtland falls in love with a young woman who is an exact double of his dead wife. On the eve of their wedding, the woman disappears and Courtland finds a ransom note … a duplicate of the one found several years earlier.
It’s not long after Michael meets his wife’s doppelganger that viewers can start to find similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The kidnapping in the opening act is quite intense, though at least one part of the scheme is not difficult to guess. On the other hand, the decision at the crux of the second-half of the narrative doesn’t make much sense at all. Director Brian De Palma works with a lot of parallels in this picture to emphasize the resemblance between Michael’s wife and his new love interest. What seems like a tragedy followed by a second chance is revealed to have an underlying dark side. The bonus features discusses De Palma’s admiration of Hitchcock’s work, as well as the ingenuity of Bujold’s double acting duties.
Special features include: commentary by author Douglas Keesey, “Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film”; “Producing Obsession,” an interview with producer George Litto; “Editing Obsession,” an interview with editor Paul Hirsh; “Obsession Revised”; still gallery; radio spots; theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Once Upon a Deadpool (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Fox Home Entertainment
Everyone’s favorite disreputable superhero returns with a twist on Deadpool 2 that the whole gang can enjoy. Watch Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) as he teams up with Domino (Zazie Beet), Cable (Josh Brolin) and the rest of X-Force to prove that family is not an F-word.
The movie starts with a fantastic throwback to 1987’s The Princess Bride. Now, Deadpool occupies the bedside chair and an adult Fred Savage has been kidnapped to recreate the beloved movie moment. As promised, there are no F-bombs in the movie — though there is a lot of (sometimes unnecessary) bleeping. But that’s not to say all the cursing has been removed as subjectively less egregious language remains. Moreover, the blood quotient is way down as various scenes have been cut (including most of the opening worldly assassin montage) and many others have been shrewdly edited or cleaned up to minimize the splatter. That said, this isn’t just a sanitized version of the rated-R film. There are countless scenes in which the original jokes have been replaced with new ones, and the mid- and post-credits sequences have been updated to align with the new storytelling structure.
There are no special features. (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Plague of the Zombies (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
In a remote 19th-century Cornish village, an evil presence lurks within the darkness of the witching hour. A mysterious plague relentlessly consumes lives at an unstoppable rate. Unable to find the cause, Dr. Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) enlists the help of his mentor, Sir James Forbes (André Morell). Desperate to find an antidote, they instead find inexplicable horror: empty coffins with the diseased corpses missing. Following a series of strange and frightening clues, they discover a deserted mine with a world of black magic and a doomed legion of flesh-eating slaves ... the walking dead.
Parts of this film have the feeling of a Scooby Doo mystery — especially since one of the cartoon’s monsters appears to have been fashioned after the main zombie. Hammer films were a staple of the horror genre, presenting its own take on the classic movie monsters. This film uses the original voodoo explanation as its basis, transferring the black art to the Americas and making believers out of skeptics as they witness a woman who was surely dead rise from her grave… and promptly cut off her head. The zombies look pretty ghoulish with their leader delivering chilling messages to the living. In the end, research and intellect prevail over the supernatural.
Special features include: commentary with filmmaker Constantine Nasr and author/film historian Steve Haberman; commentary with author/film historian Troy Howarth; making-of featurette; “World of Hammer – Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead”; restoration comparison; still gallery; and theatrical trailers. (Scream Factory)
The Purge: Season One (Blu-ray)
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USA Networks
During a 12-hour period when all crime — including murder — is legal, a group of seemingly unrelated characters cross paths in a city in an altered America. While the clock winds down, some will fight, some will hide, others will embrace what it means to Purge to its fullest extent — whether for revenge, personal gain, protection, or unadulterated glee. As each character is forced to reckon with their past and plot how to better their futures, they soon discover how far they will go on Purge Night.
This is a compelling franchise that keeps finding effective ways to tell its story. First the subsequent movies, then the prequel and now a TV series that demonstrates an even better understanding of the narrative. Told over 10 episodes, the show follows the experiences of a handful of characters on Purge Night from 90 minutes before Commencement to just after it ends. It’s gratifyingly unpredictable as character arcs take unexpected turns, new threats appear even when everyone is already a threat, and different perspectives of morality and justice are revealed. In some ways, the series shifts focus from the recently dominant theme of lower-income targets, but the politics still play a role. Fans will certainly welcome another season with hopefully a new cast of potential victims.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “A Conversation with Cast & Crew”; “Anatomy of Scene”; “Costumes & Props”; and table read. (USA Networks)
Zombie [3-disc Limited Edition] (Blu-ray)
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Blue Underground
Strangers searching for a young woman's missing father arrive at a tropical island where a doctor desperately seeks the cause and cure of a recent epidemic of the undead.
Director Lucio Fulci’s film was positioned as a sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but he really makes this version of the classic monster his own. There are several memorable scenes as he aims to show the decay and grotesqueness of the undead. Unlike their American counterparts, not all of these corpses are fresh and many are crawling with maggots. It’s difficult to choose a favourite scene, but the top two are undoubtedly the slow depiction of someone’s eye being impaled and the underwater zombie vs. shark fight. Both scenes are expertly executed, cementing itself in viewers’ memories and securing the film a respected spot in the zombie category.
Special features include: commentary by Troy Howarth, Author of “Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films”; commentary by star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik magazine editor Jason J. Slater; intro by Guillermo del Toro; “When The Earth Spits Out The Dead”; “Zombie Wasteland”; “Flesh Eaters on Film”; “Deadtime Stories”; “World of the Dead”; “Zombi Italiano”; “Notes on a Headstone”; “All in the Family”; “Zombie Lover”; poster and still gallery; TV and radio spots; soundtrack; and collectable booklet. (Blue Underground)
More about Halloween, Once Upon a Deadpool, The Purge, Obsession, The Boy Downstairs
 
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