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article imageReview: Many bad choices unknowingly made in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 8, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a cross-water trip gone terribly wrong; an unexpected action team-up; a presidential assassination; a woman who takes time to rediscover herself; a marriage off to a rocky start; and a Christmas turned monstrous.
An American Werewolf in London [Limited Edition] (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video
Tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are savaged by an unidentified vicious animal whilst hiking on the Yorkshire Moors. David awakes in a London hospital to find his friend dead and his life in disarray. Retiring to the home of a beautiful nurse (Jenny Agutter) to recuperate, he soon experiences disturbing changes to his mind and body, undergoing a full-moon transformation that will unleash terror on the streets of the capital.
Director John Landis’ films have ranged in quality and peculiarity throughout his career, but this is unquestionably one of his greatest pictures. He takes a classic Universal monster and dives deeper into his transformation. After the attack, David finds he’s not really alone since Jack’s decomposing ghost keeps returning to warn him of his fate. David’s wolf transformation is not subtle and off-screen as it had been portrayed previously. Instead, it’s excruciating and graphic as his body changes in real-time in front of the camera. It’s this feat of practical special effects that largely defines the film. The sequel was a bit more comedic than this picture, but it still has that dark sense of humour for which Landis was known.
Special features include: commentary by Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis; commentary by actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne; making-of featurette; “Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf”; “An American Filmmaker in London”; “I Think He's a Jew: The Werewolf's Secret”; “The Werewolf’s Call”; “Wares of the Wolf”; “Beware the Moon”; “An Interview with John Landis”; “Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London”; “I Walked with a Werewolf”; “Casting of the Hand”; image galleries; outtakes; original trailers; and reversible sleeve featuring original poster art and artwork by Graham Humphreys. (Arrow Video)
Angel Has Fallen (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy) (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment and VVS Films
When there is an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), his trusted confidant, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), is wrongfully accused and taken into custody. After escaping from capture, he becomes a man on the run and must evade his own agency and outsmart the FBI in order to find the real threat to the president. Desperate to uncover the truth, Banning turns to unlikely allies to help clear his name, keep his family from harm, and save the country from imminent danger.
In the series’ third picture, Mike has to put aside his concern for the president and try to save himself from prosecution. The setup is fairly obvious as are the identities of those who planned it since the reason is clearly given in the first few scenes in the movie. Still, Mike goes through the motions of outwitting his pursuers and trying to find the evidence necessary to prove his innocence. With nowhere left to run, Mike seeks the help of his father (Nick Nolte) whose a recluse used to staying under the radar. In the end, of course, Mike is still needed to protect the president and save the day before a senseless disaster kills countless innocent bystanders.
Special features include: commentary by director Ric Roman Waugh; “Even Angels Fall: The Story”; “Someone to Watch Over Me: New Blood”; “Calling All Angels: Casting”; “True Faith: Authenticity”; “Fight for You: Stunts and Action”; and “Earth Angel: Recreating DC.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment and VVS Films)
Anna and the Apocalypse (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven — at Christmas — forcing Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.
Horror comedies are quite common, but horror musicals are far rarer. This film is both as well as a Christmas movie as Anna and her friends frequently break out into song to express their feelings and use holiday decorations to defend themselves. The musical numbers include choreography and choruses that get the rest of the anonymous student body involved, dancing and singing along. Like many who feel they’re big fish in a small pond, Anna is desperate to get away and see the world (or at least Australia). The zombie outbreak is shown very slowly as they unknowingly pass the undead in the streets, until a playground confrontation leads to a creative decapitation. There’s no questioning “what’s happening” as everyone quickly accepts they’re in the middle of a zombie outbreak and they should aim for the head. The character development is a little muddy, but it’s an enjoyable Christmas horror comedy musical.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; and trailer. (VVS FIlms)
Bells of St. Mary’s (Blu-ray)
Olive Films
Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is a priest on a mission to help revitalize the financially-strapped parochial school St. Mary’s. O’Malley’s assignment, to determine if St. Mary’s should be abandoned due to its decline, soon has him butting heads with the school’s headstrong manager, Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). But their squabbles are rendered inconsequential with the arrival of Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers), a skin-flint businessman set on seeing St. Mary’s condemned to make way for a parking lot.
Crosby made his name in musicals, so audiences can be sure he’ll sing a tune or two in just about anything in which he stars. While this movie is not a musical, song is an integral part of church and that provides a couple of opportunities for him to flex his vocal chords. This is actually a dramedy in which Sister Benedict is doing the best she can with what God has provided, which in the case of St. Mary’s is not a lot. However, she also has some unexpected quirks that cause Father O’Malley to constantly re-evaluate his opinion of her. Their characters are explored via their relationships with two children: a bullied boy and a neglected girl. Crosby and Bergman maintain a somewhat cool on-screen connection that fits their characters, though both also play to their own strengths. However, as the bonus features point out, the father would not have that much control over the sister in real life as he does in this picture.
Special features include: commentary by Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; “Faith and Film”; “Human Nature”; “Sequel-itis"; Screen Guild Theater radio adaptations; and essay by cultural critic Abbey Bender. (Olive Films)
Dracula (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
The bloodthirsty Count Dracula (Frank Langella) goes in search of his ultimate bride. Meanwhile, the renowned and relentless vampire hunter, Professor Van Helsing (Sir Laurence Olivier), seeks to end the dark prince’s reign of terror over the citizens of Transylvania.
Like the version starring Gary Oldman, this is a romantic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. However, quenching his bloodlust is still somewhat of a gruesome affair. Dracula seems like a proper gentleman with a few European eccentricities, but there are many signs of his sinister inclinations. He selects his bride early on, while taking advantage of her friend’s weakness in a rather uncouth manner. Langella brings a sophistication to the role, reprising his award-winning stage role, but he lacks the allure of his counterpart. In the meantime, Olivier’s Van Helsing is matter of fact about what must be done, even as their emotional attachments — and dramatic pause — make it difficult.
Special features include: theatrical and director’s versions of the films; commentary with director John Badham; commentary by film historian/filmmaker Constantine Nasr; introduction by director John Badham; “King of My Kind”; “What Sad Music”; “Dracula’s Guest”; “The Revamping of Dracula”; interviews with editor John Bloom, make-up artist Peter Robb-King, hair stylist Colin Jamison, assistant director Anthony Waye and production manager Hugh Harlow; still gallery; radio spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
For years, hulking lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and lawless outcast Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have traded smack talk and body blows. But when cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba) gains control of an insidious bio-threat that could alter humanity forever, Hobbs and Shaw must partner up to bring down the only guy who might be badder than themselves.
The movie opens by paralleling Hobbs’ and Shaw’s routines, emphasizing the differences in their personalities and styles. One is rugged and robust, while the other is suave and subtle. Of course by the end, they’ve learned to complement each other and work together. But getting there is the entertaining part. They throw creative, lengthy insults at each other, have prolonged stare downs and low level betray each other repeatedly. Even though it’s not a Fast film, director David Leitch ensures it remains in line with the franchise. There are some luxury cars, high-speed chases and a multi-vehicle stunt that will shock audiences with its simultaneous implausibility and coolness. As Johnson and Statham are also known for their physicality, there’s a lot more hand-to-hand combat in the spinoff. There’s not much unpredictability in the plot, but it doesn’t matter when it’s this much fun.
Special features include: commentary with director David Leitch; alternate opening; deleted, extended and alternate scenes; “Progress of a Fight Scene with Director David Leitch”; “Practical Action”; “The Bad Guy”; “The Sister”; “Hobbs’ Family Tree”; “The Matriarch”; “New Friends”; “Elevator Action”; “Stunt Show and Tell”; “Keeping It in the Family: A Conversation with Roman and Dwayne”; “Blind Fury”; and “Dwayne and Hobbs: Love At First Bite.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Mary (Blu-ray)
RLJE Films
David (Gary Oldman) is a struggling blue-collar captain looking to make a better life for his family. Strangely drawn to an abandoned ship that is up for auction, David impulsively buys the boat, believing it will be his family’s ticket to happiness and prosperity. But soon after they embark on their maiden journey, strange and frightening events begin to terrorize David and his family, causing them to turn on one another and doubt their own sanity. With tensions high, the ship drifts off course, and it becomes horrifyingly clear that they are being lured to an even greater evil out at sea.
Director Michael Goi has worked on a number TV shows, but the ones relevant to this film are American Horror Story: Hotel and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Having already demonstrated an aptitude for unsettling narratives, this was his chance to apply his skills to a feature-length film. Not surprisingly, he proves to have a solid understanding of the horror genre and how to keep audiences in suspense. The one flaw is unnecessarily starting the film at a point near the end of the story and then flashing back to see how the characters got to this precarious position. Otherwise, it’s an enticing horror picture that maintains a good pace and builds an intense atmosphere driven by a fear of what could happen next. Unfortunately, the ending is a bit of a disappointment.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and “A Family At Sea: The Cast of Mary.” (RLJE Films)
Olivia (Blu-ray)
Icarus Films
A 19th century boarding school for young girls is divided into two camps where all the shots, even the most underhanded, are allowed. That’s because the two mistresses of the house, Miss Julie (Edwige Feuillère) and Miss Cara (Simone Simon) are engaged in a turf war as well as a war of the heart. Competing for the affections of their students, they route passion, hatred and unexpected reversals of loyalties.
Jacqueline Audry’s 1951 film about an all-girl’s school is actually quite risqué as it implies sexual relationships between several of the characters without ever being forthright about their affairs. Julie and Cara have different approaches to drawing the girls to them and each has their favourites. Julie uses her intellect, astute criticism and promises of fulfilling futures to raise the girls up; while Cara relies on a wounded lamb tactic that brings out their caring natures. However, there’s also hints that Julie and Cara are involved with each other, making their pursuits of the other girls adulterous. It’s a complex, emotional tale of misplaced feelings and multiple undertones. Olivia and many of the other girls at the school are just pawns in their contest for their and each other’s affections.
Special features include: a rare 1957 interview with Jacqueline Audry; and trailers. (Icarus Films)
Prophecy (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
A doctor (Robert Foxworth) and his wife (Talia Shire) travel to Maine to research the impact of the lumber industry on the local environment. They begin to investigate a succession of mysterious and terrifying events: ecological freaks of nature, and a series of bizarre and grisly human deaths. Something unimaginably horrible waits in the woods … something unwittingly created by man, that will become an uncontrollable, merciless machine of destruction.
This is a movie about humans’ harmful impact on the environment from back when people were only starting to grasp the magnitude of the effects on our futures. In spite of its green messaging, it’s also primarily a monster movie in which ghastly creatures mutated by a toxic chemical dumped nearby are taking their revenge on the humans… or a hideous mama bear is just trying to protect her cubs as the narrative works both ways. As they try to stay alive in spite of a seemingly simple solution, they also spell out the causes of this ecological disaster and include a human consequence of their carelessness to really drive the point home. .However, their message may have been better delivered if the characters were a bit smarter.
Special features include: “All of Our Sins”; “Bearing Up”; “Bear and Grin It”; “Hard to Bear”; “Prophecy Prodigy”; “Beneath the Bear”; still gallery; radio spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Ready or Not (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
The sanctity of marriage goes straight to hell when a young bride (Samara Weaving) competes in a time-honored tradition with her new husband (Mark O’Brien) and his insanely rich and eccentric Le Domas family (Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell). The bride’s wedding night takes a turn for the worst when she realizes she is at the center of a lethal game of ‘Hide and Seek’ and must fight her not-so-loveable in-laws for her own survival.
The story’s dark elements consume it from every perspective, but there’s an unexpected humour woven throughout the narrative that’s both genuine and funny. Their commitment to upholding this archaic and lethal tradition is steeped in superstition that is supposedly supported by the consequences of other households failing to complete the task by dawn. No one will say what the fates of the other families were exactly, but it’s apparently too terrible to even think about it… which is part of the reason why it sounds so phoney. Obviously, this isn’t the best functioning family as falling in love means having to potentially kill that person should the ritual demand it. Therefore, there are plenty of cold shoulders, several addictions and a general us-against-them sentiment that courses through everyone’s veins. To that point, the ensemble cast is excellent. They each fit their roles perfectly, both before and after the fateful decision is made. They draw audiences into the picture and keep from alienating them for the length of the film.
Special features include: commentary by Radio Silence and Samara Weaving; making-of featurette; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Ringu Collection [Limited Edition] (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video
A group of teenage friends are found dead, their bodies grotesquely contorted, their faces twisted in terror. Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), a journalist and the aunt of one of the victims, sets out to investigate the shocking phenomenon, and in the process uncovers a creepy urban legend about a supposedly cursed videotape, the contents of which causes anyone who views it to die within a week — unless they can persuade someone else to watch it, and, in so doing, pass on the curse.
In 1998, director Hideo Nakata introduced audiences to Sadako, a character that continues to frighten viewers with her unsettling movements and horrifying entrance into our world. Before content became so accessible, passing VHS copies to other people for viewing was a regular occurrence, but this film made that tradition monstrous. The video itself grows more menacing the closer the victim gets to the end of their seven days, while real-life becomes increasingly unpleasant as well. The film launched J-horror in the West and spawned the two sequels included here, which dive deeper into Sadako’s history. There’s also an amusing versus picture in which she faces off against Ju-On: The Grudge’s Kayako. This franchise inspired a lot of similar pictures, often dealing with contemporary anxieties around technology, but none ever measure up to the original.
Special features include: commentary on Ringu by film historian David Kalat; commentary on Ringu 0 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes featurette; “The Ringu Legacy”; “A Vicious Circle”; “Circumnavigating Ringu”; “Spooks, Sighs and Videotape”; “The Psychology of Fear”; trailers; and limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing from Violet Lucca, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Jasper Sharp, Kieran Fisher and Kat Ellinger. (Arrow Video)
Where'd You Go Bernadette? (Blu-ray)
Fox Home Entertainment
Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is a loving wife and mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Bernadette’s leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.
It’s undeniable that Blanchett is the star of this film in every meaning of the word. Her portrayal of Bernadette’s terse personality is on point as it’s clearly just the way she is rather than an active attempt to be mean (most of the time). Consequently, the audience can still relate to her — especially her distaste for the overachieving moms — and enjoy her peculiarities. Viewers may question their loyalty when Bernadette seemingly abandons her family, but she’ll draw them back over to her side as they watch her come back to life. Director Richard Linklater excels with quirky pictures that focus on distinct people and all of the actors do an exceptional job in bringing life to their unusual personalities.
Special features include: “Bringing Bernadette to Life”; “Who Is Bernadette?”; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
More about Fast and Furious Presents Hobbs and Shaw, Ready or Not, Whered You Go, Bernadette, Anna and the Apocalypse, Angel Has Fallen
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