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article imageReview: Inner strength and determination permeate this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 24, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include the return of a cult movie legend; one of the year’s best comedies; the reimagining of an epic story; the feature debut of a rising director; and an unbelievable underdog tale.
Ash vs. Evil Dead (Blu-ray)
Anchor Bay Entertainment & Starz
Ash (Bruce Campbell), the stock boy, aging lothario and chainsaw-handed monster hunter, has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity and the terrors of the Evil Dead. When a Deadite plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons — personal and literal. Destiny, it turns out, has no plans to release the unlikely hero from its “Evil” grip.
Fans have awaited Ash’s return for decades, regardless of the size of the screen it would occupy. It turns out the war against evil is very well-suited for the small screen. Over 10 blood-soaked episodes, Campbell and company manage to recapture the goofy horror that made the films so popular. Ash is still a confident screw-up, only now he has amusing sidekicks, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago). Together they fight the monsters with whatever is at hand, while trying to find a way to close the once-again foolishly opened portal. Lucy Lawless is also a great addition to the cast, appearing a few episodes in as the still-kickass enemy with the grossest compass.
Special features include: commentaries on all episodes; “Inside the World of Ash”; “How to Kill a Deadite”; and “Best of Ash.” (Anchor Bay Entertainment & Starz)
Clown (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Anchor Bay Entertainment & The Weinstein Company
A loving father dons a clown outfit and makeup to perform at his son’s sixth birthday, only to later discover that the costume — red nose and wig included — will not come off and his own personality is changing in a horrific fashion. To break the curse of the evil outfit, the father must make grim choices with his own family facing danger.
Being produced by horror director and aficionado Eli Roth immediately creates expectations for a picture and Cop Car director Jon Watts didn’t disappoint in his feature debut. As the story begins, it seems like the film was expanded from a really great concept for a short film — the man is trapped in a costume and resorts to very dangerous instruments to extract himself, escalating from box cutters to a buzz saw. But once it becomes comically apparent the clown outfit is not coming off, the narrative takes a turn further into the horror realm. His body begins to transform and he uncovers myths about a demon clown that eats children. The tone is a little confused as it struggles to find the balance between funny and scary, but overall it’s a decent horror movie with some memorable moments.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Anchor Bay Entertainment & The Weinstein Company)
Dark Horse (DVD)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Set in Wales, this is the inspirational true story of a group of friends who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed themselves a racehorse. Raised on a slagheap allotment, their foal grows into an unlikely champion, beating the finest thoroughbreds in the land, before suffering a near fatal accident. Nursed back to health by the love of his owners, he makes a remarkable recovery, returning to the track for a heart-stopping comeback.
This is a classic “David and Goliath” story, in which Dream Alliance is the obvious underdog; however, he’s not alone as his blue-collar guardians face comparative scrutiny and discrimination in the owners’ boxes as they challenge the boundaries set by the UK’s social elite. Few believed either would make it in the big leagues, as exemplified by the announcer who barely seemed to know the horse’s name. The collective’s commitment to Dream in spite of facing such prejudices since the beginning is astounding and undoubtedly one of the elements that makes their story so powerful — they repeatedly encounter obstacles and choose to continue in spite of the odds being stacked against them.
Special features include: photo gallery. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Der Bunker (Blu-ray)
Artsploitation Films
It all begins when a student (Pit Bukowski) rents a room in a bunker home nestled deep within a forest. Here, instead of finding tranquility for his studies, the young man becomes increasingly involved in the dramas of his landlord’s family. They include the stern father, his wife (whose swollen leg almost takes a life of its own) and their precocious eight-year-old son Klaus (Daniel Fripan) who, despite being German and "learning-challenged," is being home groomed to become the President of the United States. Initially friendly and welcoming, the situation for the student becomes increasingly bizarre.
German comedies are often a strange category of film. In addition to being dark, their sense of humour can also be very bizarre, which is definitely the case in this movie. While the audience is aware of Klaus’ existence, it’s some time before they see his face, which belongs to an adult man portraying the ill-equipped child. From strange rewards for a job well-done to a gruesome and supposedly intelligent mutation à la Total Recall, this film is highly odd and unpredictable. Then it ends in an equally strange manner, involving a potential kidnapping, intoxication and a new beginning.
Special features include: commentary by director Nikias Chryssos; deleted scenes; and outtakes. (Artsploitation Films)
The Duel (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
A Texas Ranger (Liam Hemsworth) investigates a series of murders in a small town led by a charismatic preacher (Woody Harrelson). However, the routine undercover investigation soon turns personal for the Ranger who must solve the case before he loses everything to the mysterious town.
The duel referred to in the title is not the traditional kind in which offended gentlemen stand at 10 paces; this is a brutal stand-off involving two men bound together in a knife-fight until one of them is dead. It’s with these altercations the narrative begins and more-or-less ends, though the significance of the first clash is revealed later. Harrelson is a pro at portraying characters that appear charming, but are planning on how to stab you in the back before the conversation has even ended. Conversely, this is a grittier role than Hemsworth is accustomed; though since his character is imbued with goodness, he fills the Ranger’s boots just fine. There’s a bit of a disconnect in the story lines, but it mostly comes together at the end.
Special features include: commentary by director Kieran Darcy-Smith and production designer Toby Corbett. (Lionsgate)
Elementary: The Fourth Season (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) re-ignite their unique chemistry — a relationship that allows them to solve an increasingly complex series of crimes in the Big Apple. But the worm in the Apple makes itself known when Sherlock’s father, Morland Holmes (John Noble), arrives in NYC to live full-time. His apparent concern with his son’s increasingly intense behaviour and addiction relapse does nothing to temper Sherlock’s suspicions and mistrust regarding his arrival.
Sherlock is more committed than ever to sobriety this season, determined to shed old routines and repair relationships — he even partners with Morland on several occasions in spite of his distaste for his father. It’s obvious the senior Holmes has ulterior motives for remaining in New York, but they are not revealed until the end of the season. Joan also keeps a close eye on Morland, refusing to allow him to harm Sherlock now that he’s determined to get his life back together. In the meantime, Sherlock and Joan solve a multitude of cases including murders being covered other murders, bad doctors and several assassinations.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Mina, Cassie & A…”; “Wag the Dog: How…”; “The Sign of Fourth…”; “Villainyl”; “Father Holmes”; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) betrays her good sister Freya (Emily Blunt) with an unforgivable act, freezing Freya’s heart to love and unleashing in her an icy power she never knew she possessed. Retreating to a kingdom far to the north, Freya raises an army of Huntsmen as her protectors, with the only rule that no two of them should ever fall in love. As a war for domination escalates between the two queens, the hero standing between good and evil is Freya’s most elite Huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth). Alongside fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) — the only woman who has ever captured his heart — Eric must help Freya vanquish her sister or Ravenna’s wickedness will rule for eternity.
In spite of some highlights, this movie is exceptionally dull. Hemsworth’s Eric is unavoidably charming and the source of most of the audience’s smiles and laughter. Chastain matches and in some instances exceeds his physical abilities, but the emotional chemistry between them is noticeably forced and thus less captivating. The story itself is a journey narrative à la The Lord of the Rings that sees Eric and the companions he picks up along the way heading to a specific destination mostly without incident. They eventually run into goblins that are a strange cross of ram and ape, and lead to blurry CGI action as the beasts attack from all angles. More obviously, the movie brings Frozen’s Elsa into a live-action world in which she chooses not to limit the possibilities of her icy powers.
Special features include: commentary by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan; deleted scenes with commentary; “Two Queens and Two Warriors”; “Meet the Dwarfs”; “Magic All Around”; “Dressed To Kill”; and “Love Conquers All.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Maggie’s Plan (DVD)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a vibrant New Yorker who, without success in finding love, decides to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and struggling novelist, she falls in love for the first time. Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette (Julianne Moore), an ambitious academic who is driven by her work. With some help from Maggie’s eccentric best friends, married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie sets in motion a new plan that intertwines their lives and connects them in surprising and humorous ways.
This is very similar to a Woody Allen picture, but the lead protagonist is a woman. Writer/director Rebecca Miller blends reality with dramedy in this story that inherits a lot from its surroundings. Maggie’s choice to go it alone is predictably thwarted when she meets John. But rather than follow the typical romantic comedy formula, their relationship results in chaos and unhappily-ever-afters. Maggie and John’s relationship is struggling, while his and Georgette’s seems better than ever. These revelations lead to unlikely allies and a fairly significant, emotional mess. Meanwhile, Tony and Felicia are the hilarious, not-so-model couple who are perfect for each other. Everyone is well-casted with Gerwig reprising the role of a woman who finds her own path and Hader playing a more serious character than audiences will be accustomed.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Rebecca Miller; making-of featurette; Sundance Film Festival Q&A; and outtakes. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Nice Guys (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Set in 1970s Los Angeles, down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a porn star. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power.
Part film noir, part slapstick comedy, this fusion of classic genres is the far-out consequence of Philip Marlowe meeting Abbott and Costello. The former is represented by the increasingly complex case that puts them in the crosshairs of hitmen, at the mercy of the government and at the centre of the porn industry. The latter can be seen in their goofy interactions with criminals as they literally stumble onto new clues, exchange amusing banter and emit an engaging buddy vibe. The visual style is a glossy version of the ‘70s as the pair manoeuvre the seedier side of Los Angeles. The costume and set designers do an outstanding job recreating the time period and producing a visual style that’s simultaneously believable and somewhat surreal. Co-writer and director Shane Black has been associated with the funny action/crime/drama/thriller for most of his career, but he also has a knack for casting unlikely duos that are perfect on screen together. Gosling and Crowe are not actors anyone would immediately imagine starring alongside one another, but in this instance they seamlessly complement each other.
Special features include: “Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making The Nice Guys”; and “Always Bet On Black.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Psycho IV: The Beginning (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
A seemingly rehabilitated Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is drawn to a late night radio show where the host (CCH Pounder) encourages him to share his views on the topic of matricide. Reliving his childhood, Norman recounts his trials of a young boy (Henry Thomas) living with his widowed schizophrenic mother (Olivia Hussey). These haunting memories are more than just disturbing visions of the past; they threaten to rekindle his killing urge.
Bates Motel likely does a better job of exploring Norman’s youth, but this was cinema’s first attempt at answering the question, “Why is Norman the way he is?” In spite of being out of her depth, the radio host is determined to prevent Norman from relapsing… or at least discovering the identity of his next victim before it’s too late. In the meantime, the supposedly-recovered serial killer is repeatedly lost in the memories of his mother’s mistreatment that extended long after her murder. Perkins still embodies the character flawlessly, allowing him to age and reflect. However Hussey provides the film’s standout performance as the erratic and doting mother with impossibly conflicting expectations of her only child.
Special features include: commentary by director Mick Garris, actors Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey; “The Making of Mother – An Interview with Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner”; rare behind-the-scenes footage from director Mick Garris; and photo gallery. (Scream Factory)
Ratchet & Clank (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Ratchet is a “lombax” with big dreams of joining the elite fighting team, the Galactic Rangers. Clank is a spunky robot who discovers that the evil alien Chairman Drek has a weapon that can destroy whole planets in a moment’s notice. The two misfits must use their wits to help the Rangers save the day.
This is the relatively familiar story of an underdog who has the key to saving the world fall into his lap. Ratchet is a talented mechanic with a lot of heart, but those same attributes have gotten him in a fair amount of trouble over the years. Thus when he goes to the Galactic Rangers audition, they’re not especially impressed by his rap sheet. Clank, on the other hand, was meant for big things but turned out smaller than planned. Escaping his creators with a mysteriously principled personality, he’s determined to help save the planet. The heroes and villains are equally amusing as both consist of inept figureheads supported by more competent subordinates.
Special features include: “A Hero’s Journey”; and “Leveling Up.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Roots (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
The story is told through four generations, from the capture of Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) in Africa to his transport to Colonial America in brutal conditions through successive generations fighting to win their freedom in the Civil War.
Consisting of four 90-minute episodes, the History channel reimagines the saga of Kunta Kinte’s lineage. His tale occupies the first two parts before the baton is passed onto this daughter (Anika Noni Rose) and then her son (Regé-Jean Page) followed by his many offspring. The efforts to make the stories authentic based on historical evidence are apparent throughout the entire narrative. The purpose of this miniseries is not necessarily to add anything new to the conversation, but rather engage a new generation by featuring contemporary actors and an updated account of events. The creators are not concerned with portraying the brutality endured, but the spirit that helped them keep going in the face of such suffering; it’s not a procession of cruelty, but instead an illustration of strength and determination to one day be free. The acting by everyone involved is superb with Laurence Fishburne, Matthew Goode, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, James Purefoy and Forest Whitaker all in key roles.
Special features include: “Roots: A History Revealed” documentary. (Lionsgate)
Scandal: The Complete Fifth Season (DVD)
ABC Studios
The Oval Office is up for grabs, and none of the players are playing nice, including Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who now realizes she can never be content as a wifely First Lady. Domestic bliss pales in comparison with holding the reins of the highest office in the land, so when faced with a chance to wield unrivaled influence at any cost, will she continue to wear the white hat... or prove that she is, indeed, her father’s daughter?
The only thing that has changed this season is the general setting of their subterfuge. Olivia and Fitz are putting out fires they created in and around the White House, while everyone else is selecting a horse to back in the next presidential race. Of course, their support is anything but moral as they wheel-and-deal and betray to get their candidate to the top of the polls. Olivia and Jake’s on-again-off-again relationship is rekindled this season as circumstances permit… until they don’t. However, the lengths everyone is willing to go to conceal past transgressions and betray each other never fails to surprise, which is probably the show’s main appeal.
Special features include: extended episodes; and bloopers. (ABC Studios)
The Strain: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)
Fox Home Entertainment
The mysterious epidemic transforming the citizens of New York into horrifying creatures continues to rage. While doctors Ephraim Goodweather, (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) race to create a biological weapon to destroy the creatures, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) relentlessly searches for an ancient book that may hold the key to defeating the sinister “Master.” Aware that he is now hunted by this handful of unlikely allies, the Master creates even more unstoppable bloodthirsty monsters.
Although it retains key plotlines from the source material, this season’s events have very little to do with those in the book that inspired the series. The addition of new characters and missions creates a very different trajectory for the key personalities, including the discovery of dark secrets and extraordinary dedication to the cause. In spite of introducing a second primary female character to side-step a love triangle, Fet’s plans for romance are interrupted by the return of another player. Meanwhile, Gus’ vampire hunting training is suspended after his supernatural mentors find themselves in a jam at Palmer’s headquarters. This season also introduces the “feelers,” which add an interesting and more threatening element to the human-vampire confrontations.
Special features include: commentary on "Night Train" featuring Carlton Cuse; deleted scenes; “Meet the Crew of The Strain”; “The White Room”; “Beyond the Page”; “Sentient Strigoi”; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)
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