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article imageReview: Improvisation & ingenuity gets them through this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 8, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a horror movie based in reality; a movie that could’ve been politically charged; a rare action anthology; a unique Western; and a comedy that stands up 70 years after its initial release.
Blood, Sweat and Terrors (DVD)
Untitled
RLJ Entertainment
There’s no running from this fight. A lethal dose of gangsters, hit men, crooked cops and guerilla fighters are headed for the ultimate showdown. The hardcore double crosses, desperate missions and cold-blooded revenge are loaded into every minute and won’t end until the last bullet is fired. It will take more than courage to survive, and even the best will fall.
Most genre fans are familiar with horror anthologies, which saw a resurgence in recent years — but this is a collection of action shorts, some of which have been on the festival circuit for a few years winning accolades. As each story is very different from the other, the narratives will likely appeal to a wide range of audiences. For straight-up action fans, there’s “Awesome Runaway,” about a guy who’s drugged during an interrogation, which exposes unexpected abilities and a twist; and “Express Delivery,” which has the most impressive fight sequences in the series. “Olga” and “Turncoat” are a bit slower with backstories that are slowly revealed to lead to present circumstances. “Jacob’s Wrath” and “Empire of Dirt” are more surreal as the former plays out a vengeance fantasy and the latter sees a hitman haunted by his sins. “Fetch”, “Get Some” and “Flow” round out the lighter side of things. The first is a classically narrated film noir in the sunny suburbs; the second is a mock reality TV show in which they document flesh-eating monsters, though it ends somewhat abruptly; and the last is Shelagh Rowan-Legg’s guerilla comedy about the complications of being a menstruating woman at war.
There are no special features. (RLJ Entertainment)
Charmed: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Protecting the innocent, vanquishing evil and evil doers, and generally righting wrongs are not exactly on the agenda of every twenty-something on the fast track to discovering what life's all about. But for the Halliwell sisters, this has become their destiny. Prue (Shannen Doherty), the oldest, is driven to succeed and dislikes the free-spirited antics of the youngest sister Phoebe (Alyssa Milano). Piper (Holly Marie Combs), the earthy middle sister, mediates between her siblings. Phoebe discovers The Book of Shadows in the attic and their witchly powers are activated, igniting a bond that reaches beyond petty, sisterly grudges. Prue has the power to move objects, Piper to freeze time and Phoebe to see the future. The sisters must band together to protect themselves, and the world, from the dark, demonic forces that seek to destroy them. It's an existence fraught with excitement and danger, but these three unique sisters wouldn't trade their "charmed" lives for anything.
The original CW series about sister witches starred a couple of former teen actresses and a relative unknown, all with opposing personalities — on- and off-screen. As is typical with these narratives, the women don’t know about their powers until a protective spell is unexpectedly broken and unexplainable things begin to happen when they make certain hand gestures. Phoebe is most excited as she begins to look into their family’s history and abilities to discover they come from several generations of witches. They’re also assigned a guardian angel of sorts, Leo (Brian Krause), who isn’t supposed to interfere but can help guide them through this new world. A lot of things are broken as they attempt to harness their individual powers — time, telekinesis and fortune teller — but it brings them closer together as well.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Dracula A.D. 1972 (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) battles Dracula to the finish after a thrilling fight atop a careening stagecoach in the England of 1872. One hundred years later, a jaded cult of Satanic hippies, led by one Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), perform a black ritual and resurrect the dread lord of the undead. Dracula (Christopher Lee) soon sets about draining the blood out of swinging seventies London in his quest for vengeance against the descendants of his nemesis.
This is Hammer’s penultimate Dracula movie featuring Lee, who’s as connected to the role as Bela Lugosi. It begins in one century and concludes in another, though the Van Helsing family’s legacy has endured in spite of his absence. Johnny is enjoying the ‘70s and the carefree lifestyle of his victims, while the revived Dark Prince remains in hiding. Thus, Lee’s role in the picture is quite limited as Neame goes freely into this new world where his weaker master cannot. In the meantime, hippies are shown to be disruptive hooligans, frightening the rich for kicks and agreeing to partake in rituals they couldn’t possibly understand. In spite of being out of practice, Van Helsing proves quite adept at tricking and defeating his foes, delivering the expected conclusion to the narrative.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
The Last Ride (DVD)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
After a pair of society swells meet their end thanks to a fatal combination of drunken joy-riding and counterfeit tires, the forces of justice swear to bring down the mob’s bootleg rubber racket once and for all. Thanks to war-time rationing, a sweet new set of rims is rarer than bacon, butter and sugar, and the rackets are ready with a “tire insurance” scheme, selling dangerous counterfeits as brand-new ‘Bluestones’. Up-and-coming cop’s cop Pat Harrigan (Richard Travis) is tasked with bringing the rubber rats to justice, but unfortunately there’s a brother rat in the mix — Pat’s fast-living sibling Mike Harrigan (Charles Lang). As the two brothers — one cop, one criminal — begin to warily circle one another, a sinister secret threatens them both. Complicating it all is Kitty Kelly (Eleanor Parker), the foster sister both men have grown to love.
There’s a lot of delinquency in the first act of this picture as they learn the hard way that drinking and speeding don’t mix. The fact that the bootleg tires are of poor quality is almost secondary to their recklessness, though it becomes the focus of the story. After the accident, it turns into a typical cops vs. gangsters movie that happens to be trying to shutdown an illegal tire racket rather than alcohol or gambling. The criminals are easily infiltrated, but the brother situation does create some additional challenges. In the end, it finishes just as one expects for this period with bad guys getting their just desserts, even though it unfolds a little haphazardly.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
Law Abiding Citizen (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is an upstanding family man whose wife and daughter were brutally murdered during a home invasion. When the killers are caught, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), a hotshot, young Philadelphia prosecutor, is assigned to the case. Concerned about this conviction record, Nick offers one of the suspects a light sentence in exchange for testifying against his accomplice. Fast forward 10 years. The man who got away with murder is found dead and Clyde Shelton coolly admits his guilt. Then he issues a warning to Nick: either fix the flawed justice system, or key players in the trial will die. Soon Shelton follows through on his threats, orchestrating a string of diabolical assassinations that can be neither predicted nor prevented. Nick finds himself in a desperate race against time facing a deadly adversary who always seems to be one step ahead.
These compelling crime thrillers have become few and far between. It’s a mystery that doesn’t present the audience with any obvious answers. Clyde’s background is unknown, but it’s easy to sympathize with his position and anger. It’s especially interesting to see someone taking the justice system to task on its inability to convict murderers — a result that’s been too prevalent when police officers have been charged of late. Clyde has a personal vendetta, but it could’ve been told with more societal context. The cat-and-mouse game between Nick and Clyde is pretty thrilling as the latter always appears to be one step ahead of his opponent. The volatile schemes that unfold successively are diabolical in their design and execution. The ending is also pretty playful in a Wile E. Coyote sort of way.
Special features include: commentary by producers Lucas Foster and Alan Siegel; “The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen”; “Law in Black and White: Behind the Scenes”; “Preliminary Arguments: The Visual Effects of Law Abiding Citizen”; “The Verdict: Winning Trailer Mash-Up”; and theatrical trailer. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
MacGyver: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Paramount Home Media Distribution
MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) is a modern-day "knight-errant," a person people turn to in a crisis. He has a penchant for arriving on the scene in the eleventh hour, when the clock is ticking ominously and innocent lives are at stake. MacGyver is a packrat, collecting ordinary items of seemingly little value and stashing them in his knapsack "for a rainy day." And it is these same items that he uses to improvise his way out of trouble. MacGyver's ingenious solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems may seem like "gee-whiz" science fiction but they are not — it's all based on scientific fact.
Debuting in 1985, this series would go on for seven seasons, but the first really reeled in audiences with its mix of action and ingenuity. With little more than a Swiss army knife, duct tape, occasionally matches and a lot of luck, the former Special Forces soldier could fashion almost anything required to escape a dangerous situation — prompting the popular belief that anything can be mended with duct tape. Most impressively, even though it required the stars to align, all of his inventions were based on real engineering and physics, which also spurred an increased interest in the sciences. The fact that Anderson was a handsome man didn’t hurt viewership either.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Mara (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
After a man is seemingly strangled in his bed, criminal psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko) interviews the sole witness, the victim’s eight-year-old daughter, Sophie. When asked to identify the killer, Sophie says, “Mara.” As Kate digs into the case, she unearths a community of people who claim to be tormented by a shadowy menace — a centuries-old demon who kills her victims as they sleep.
Sleep paralysis has been getting a fair amount of attention of late, serving as the subject of a documentary, being a prominent aspect of Netflix’s chilling series, The Haunting of Hill House, and causing people’s untimely demise in this film. The scientific causes are explained, but the supernatural elements are less tangible. “Mara” apparently exists in most cultures under different names, though the end result of her presence remains the same. Even though the script isn’t great, the film captures the horror of waking up and being unable to move, as well as features a creepy-looking, murderous ghoul. Kurylenko is quite convincing, though it becomes more difficult to stay immersed in the real terror as the menacing ghost gains prominence.
Special features include: “Mara: A Legacy of Evil.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (DVD)
Untitled
Icarus Films
In the deserted hills of an Indonesian island, Marlina (Marsha Timothy), a young widow is attacked and robbed of all her livestock by a gang of seven bandits. She then defends herself, setting out on a journey to find justice, empowerment, retribution and redemption. But the road is long, especially when she begins to be haunted by the ghost of one of her victims.
This is a feminist Western set in the dry season of Indonesia. Even though Marlina appears to be passively accepting her dire circumstances, she in fact doesn’t wait to be rescued; instead, she devises and executes her own plan for survival. However, in a country where women’s rights are precarious, her actions may not be seen as strictly courageous. In the meantime, her very pregnant friend/neighbour is trying to retrieve her husband, who seems more devoted to his mother than their marriage. The camera is often static and at a distance, allowing scenes to unfold in its presence, which contributes to the minimal aesthetics seen throughout the narrative.
Special features include: interview with director Mouly Surya; and behind-the-scenes footage. (Icarus Films)
Sleepwalkers [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Scream Factory
Modern-day vampires move from small town to small town to prey on virtuous young women. Imperceptibly inhuman to everyone except for felines, these vicious shape-shifters have their eyes on a new victim: Tanya (Mädchen Amick), the sexually curious virgin who falls for Charles (Brian Krause), the new boy in school. Mutating at will from golden boy to savage monster, Charles stalks Tanya to feed his seductive mother (Alice Krige). As the tension mounts — and the casualties pile up — the town's tabbies gather for a final showdown with the monsters in their midst.
The fact that Charles and his mother are cat people is almost less disturbing than their incestuous relationship as he must constantly reassure her of her beauty and his devotion. They feed on people’s life forces, but the process of extracting it is far from subtle. Charles is charming and easily attracts Tanya to his web, though he’s not fooling the local deputy and his trusty cat. Felines being their only weakness adds an interesting aspect to the narrative, though their role in the concluding standoff is somewhat limited. Stephen King’s unsurprising cameo in the picture is characteristically obnoxious, but brief. The special effects work in the film is notable, while the last act has a touch of the macabre.
Special features include: commentary with director Mick Garris and actors Mädchen Amick and Brian Krause; behind-the-scenes footage; “Feline Trouble,” an interview with director Mick Garris; “When Charles Met Tanya,” a conversation with actors Mädchen Amick and Brian Krause; “Family Values,” an interview with actress Alice Krige; “Feline Trouble: The FX of Stephen King's Sleepwalkers”; still gallery; TV spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Wallflower (DVD)
Untitled
Warner Archive Collection
All is status quo at the Linnet household, the boys come calling on Joy (Janis Paige), while Jackie (Joyce Reynolds) tends to her studies, and each parent (Barbara Brown and Edward Arnold) frets about their respective child. The sand in the oil arrives in the form of old acquaintance Warren James (Robert Hutton), who has matured somewhat since last seen by the stepsisters. Jackie is overjoyed when Warren first falls for her and asks her to the country club dance, but all her romantic dreams fly out the window once Warren gets gob-smocked by the sight of Joy in a swimsuit. Sick of being beaten-out, Jackie decides to join Joy (and how!) on the flirty side when she undergoes a makeover with surprising results.
This is an amusing romantic comedy in which no one seems sure of what they want, and two of the men get drunk and confuse matters even more. Jackie may be bookish, but she’s just as attractive as her step-sister — though less outgoing. As she’s quick to point out, she opts not to spend her energy batting her eyelashes at young bachelors and most of the time she’s unruffled by the comparative lack of attention. The comedy that ensues when Jackie doesn’t have a date for the dance is hilarious as it nearly tears the family apart — and then continues to do so even after she does attend. Short and funny, this is a prime example of old school entertainment.
There are no special features. (Warner Archive Collection)
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