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article imageReview: Mysteries and mistakes abound in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 14, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a tragic true story; an unsolved mystery in another world; a look at less famous collaborators; a documentary that gives an underappreciated show its dues; and an impressive debut performance.
Charlie Says (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory
Years after the shocking murders that made the name Charles Manson synonymous with pure evil, the three women who killed for him — Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) — remain under the spell of the infamous cult leader (Matt Smith). Confined to an isolated cellblock in a California penitentiary, the trio seems destined to live out the rest of their lives under the delusion that their crimes were part of a cosmic plan — until empathetic graduate student Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) is enlisted to rehabilitate them. Convinced that the prisoners are not the inhuman monsters the world believes them to be, Karlene begins the arduous process of breaking down the psychological barriers erected by Manson.
As the stories of notorious criminals have once again come into fashion, there have been a number of movies and television series exploring the lives and wrongdoings of various serial killers. While most of the best known have received the spotlight more than once, it’s not often an untold story actually reaches the screen. While everyone knows Manson orchestrated multiple murders, little is known about the people that actually carried them out. Yes, those three young women were brainwashed by their cult leader, but what was life like for them before and after the murders? In this picture, through Karlene’s eyes, audiences are able to more objectively view the girls – who are convincingly brought to life by the three generally fresh actors – and get a glimpse of how and/or why they did what they did.
Special features include: cast and crew interviews; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)
The Command (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
This is the unforgettable true story of the K-141 Kursk, a Russian flagship nuclear powered submarine that sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea in August 2000. As 23 sailors fought for survival aboard the disabled sub, their families desperately battled bureaucratic obstacles and impossible odds to find answers and save them.
Originally titled Kursk, the film honours the victims and their families with its sincere depiction of events, but more importantly of the people affected by this avoidable tragedy. Weddings at the start of a movie about the military is almost always a bad omen, which is ironic since they’re meant to be such joyous occasions. Based on the novel, A Time to Die, by Robert Moore, Robert Rodat’s script portrays the key decision-makers as a group of proud, stubborn, unconscionable old men who refuse the essential assistance offered by their allies in the name of so-called national security, even if that’s not the story being shared with the families. In addition to being incredibly suspenseful, the narrative is exceedingly frustrating since it highlights the many mistakes that prevented the successful rescue of the survivors. The editing maintains a thrilling pace that director Thomas Vinterberg skilfully uses to grip the audience as the film moves towards its inevitable conclusion. The practical water effects and sets, including a daring underwater swim for supplies, also go a long way to enhancing the realism of the picture.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
The Curse of La Llorona (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Set in 1973 Los Angeles, the film tells the story of Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a social worker and widowed single mom struggling to balance the two roles. As a skeptic serving a city of believers, Anna has navigated a multitude superstitions in her job, usually finding personal demons lurking beneath. So when she’s called to the home of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez) and finds her two young sons locked in a closet, she interprets their terrified mother’s desperate efforts to keep them locked away as a dangerous sign of abuse. When their bodies are later pulled from the river, their distraught mother lays the blame at Anna’s feet and leaves her with an eerie warning: La Llorona will come for Anna’s children next. With nowhere else to turn, Anna puts her faith in Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former priest-turned-curandero who has been preparing for this battle all his life.
The Conjuring franchise has generally prided itself on finding a thrilling balance between jump scares and pervasive creepiness. With a few exceptions, producers have developed one of the most consistently chilling film series in some time. This movie, set in the ‘70s, fits comfortably in the genre and style, though it’s not without its holes and curiosities. Though the film begins in a more distant past, La Llorona’s story isn’t revealed immediately. It takes some time to find out the details of her curse, though how to stop her is more a case of trial and error. Overall, director Michael Chaves’ feature debut is a haunting horror movie that embraces the build-up and doesn’t require jump scares at regular intervals. Borrowing some of the classic scare tactics of beloved films, such as Evil Dead, he demonstrates an understanding of the genre and its techniques.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Myth of La Llorona”; “Behind the Curse”; “The Making of a Movie Monster”; and storyboards. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
The Girl in the Fog (DVD)
Icarus Films
The film follows the sudden disappearance of Anna Lou, a 16-year-old girl from a small mountain village in the Italian Alps. Called to investigate the mystery is the enigmatic Detective Vogel (Toni Servillo), who soon realizes that this case is far from simple. Working against the clock and amidst an unprecedented media frenzy, Vogel must make use of his unconventional methods to uncover the truth, in a town where motives are obscure, facts are distorted — and everyone could be a suspect.
To say Vogel’s reputation precedes him would be somewhat of an understatement in this instance. Having previously worked on another high-profile murder investigation, everyone seems to be familiar with the unconventional tactics he uses to rattle suspects. These unscrupulous methods include “leaking” information to the media and orchestrating evidence required to get to the next step in the investigation. In a small town, no one wants to believe one of their own could be a killer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. However, that trust is a roadblock and Vogel will not let it get in his way. While the case itself seems somewhat open and shut, the more interesting aspect becomes the possible cat-and-mouse game unfolding and why Vogel is recounting the details for a doctor.
There are no special features. (Icarus Films)
The Jungle Bunch (DVD)
Shout Kids Factory
Maurice may look like a penguin – but he's a real tiger inside. Raised by a tigress, he's the clumsiest Kung-Fu master ever. Along with his friends, The Jungle Bunch, he intends to maintain order and justice in the jungle, as his mother did before him. But when Igor, an evil koala, decides to destroy the jungle once and for all with the help of his army of silly baboons, Maurice faces his biggest challenge yet!
This is unmistakably a take on the Disney spinoff series, The Lion Guard, which features Simba and his interspecies friends protecting the Pride lands from troublesome animals. Igor the koala is a version of Scar and his hyena minions have been replaced by equally wicked baboons. The amusing part of this is Maurice believes he’s a tiger like his adoptive mother, so he’s fierce and ready to take on anyone who threatens his territory, unaware he hasn’t actually inherited her prowess. Continuing the tradition of misguided creatures, Maurice adopts a tiger fish, which ironically ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting late in the narrative. The fun story will still play well for young audiences, but it’s not offering much beyond that market.
There are no special features. (Shout Kids Factory)
Knightfall: Season 2 (DVD)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
The march to war begins between King Philip (Ed Stoppard) of France and his sworn enemies, the Knights Templar. As the Templars prepare for the storm to come, Talus (Mark Hamill), a battle-hardened veteran of the Crusades, trains the next generation of men he calls, “God’s Executioners.” There will be a reckoning between long-standing rivals – Landry (Tom Cullen) and fallen-knight Gawain (Pádraic Delaney), De Nogaret (Julian Ovenden) and the Catholic Church — while Princess Isabella (Genevieve Gaunt) takes her first steps to becoming the “She-Wolf of France.” As King Philip works to destroy the reputation of the Templars to the public at large, Prince Louis (Tom Forbes), his sadistic young son, unleashes the dogs of war on the legendary Knights, reaching a brutal, final climax on Friday the 13th, 1307.
Though the season begins on the touching moments of a father and his daughter, bloodshed is not far behind. While Landry begs for his brothers’ forgiveness and tries to regain their respect, Philip and Louis terrorize the countryside and sully the Templars’ reputation so not even the once grateful people will lift a finger to help the knights. There is insurmountable subterfuge occurring everywhere with blood betraying blood and brothers signing the death warrants of their kin. A mean streak definitely runs through Philip’s family so that it’s difficult to even decide which may be worse than the other. On the other hand, there’s so much loss of life again this season, audiences may hesitate becoming attached to any of the characters. As with the previous season, this one ends on a bit of a precipice that will have interesting consequences next season.
There are no special features. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Penguin Highway (Blu-ray & DVD)
Shout Factory
Budding genius Aoyama is only in the 4th grade, but already lives his life like a scientist. When penguins start appearing in his sleepy suburb, hundreds of miles from the sea, Aoyama vows to solve the mystery. When he discovers that the arrival of the penguins is somehow related to a mysterious young woman from his dentist’s office, they team up for an unforgettable summer adventure.
This is an interesting STEM story from a child’s perspective. Aoyama and his classmate, Hamamoto, are budding young scientists practicing their approaches and perfecting their methods. Both are very serious students who don’t view the project as a waste of their summer, but rather a fun activity to occupy their time before school restarts. However, the mystery surrounding the penguins turns out to be more magical than scientific and produces more to contend with than just the cute, out of place birds. In addition to their studies, Aoyama and Hamamoto are also navigating the new feelings they’re experiencing towards the opposite sex. Unsurprisingly, it’s more difficult for them to analyze this problem objectively and it does cause some strife between them.
Special features include: interviews with director Hiroyasu Ishida and author Tomihiko Morimi; and director Ishida past works promo video. (Shout Factory)
Plus One (Blu-ray)
RLJ Entertainment
Long-time friends Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) find themselves in that inevitable year that all late 20-somethings experience, in which seemingly every person they know gets married and agree to be one another’s plus ones as they power through an endless parade of insufferable weddings.
This is a pretty cliché movie in which best friends facing multiple drunken, romantic weekends together eventually discover they’re actually in love. Recently broken up with her boyfriend, Alice persuades Ben to get through the wedding season together by agreeing to be his “wingman.” All is going to plan, save for Alice frequently overdoing it at the bar and Ben finding something wrong with every woman he meets because his dream woman is unavailable. Their realization isn’t at all romantic or a story they’d willingly share with others, but it works within their already imperfect friendship. But it mostly just feels like audiences are being dragged along as they stumble through growing up and deciding what they want in life.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes. (RLJ Entertainment)
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
When detective Harry Goodman goes missing, his son Tim (Justice Smith) and Harry’s former Pokémon partner Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) join forces to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together on an epic adventure through Ryme City, they uncover a shocking plot that could destroy the whole Pokémon universe.
This movie is basically a cuter, more kid-friendly version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? There are elements of film noir, though they’re often modified to suit the contemporary narrative, including the lone wolf detective, femme fatale and obvious conspiracy with less obvious motives. However, more noticeably, the human actors perform alongside CGI animated characters and the entire experience is flawless. Those familiar with the game will know Pokémon battles are a big part of it. While it would seem unconscionable to risk injury to what is essentially your pet, these battles are the equivalent of underground dogfights — except the creatures only sustain superficial injuries and are unlikely to die. Thus, there’s a build-up to getting to see the Pokémon use their special abilities. The cast is well-chosen as they both suit their characters’ personalities and are appealing to the audience. If the only reason someone wants to see this picture is to ogle at the absolutely adorable creatures sprinkled throughout it, they won’t be disappointed. But the good news is, this is actually a fun movie whether you know what a Squirtle, Mewtwo or Psyduck are or not.
Special features include: detective mode; commentary by Mr. Mime; alternative opening; “My Pokémon Adventure”; “Creating the World of Detective Pikachu”; “Ryan Reynolds - Outside the Actor’s Studio”; and "Carry On" music video by Rita Ora and Kygo. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Project Ithaca (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A malevolent alien species has been abducting humans for decades…possibly centuries. Their endgame: to harvest enough human emotional energy to open a wormhole through which their spacecrafts can pass and conquer our world. To end this threat, the U.S. military initiates Project Ithaca, a top-secret plan to teleport a human-alien hybrid, SERA, aboard the “mother ship” to destroy it. SERA awakes inside the alien craft along with five others. Divided, they will die; only together, can they defeat the aliens and find a way home.
This is a movie with a grand idea on a presumably small budget, but it seems like more than just monetary restraints holding the narrative back. It’s obvious the group has been abducted by aliens, but nothing else is very clear. The SERA connection is mostly confusing as the introduction to the project is very vague and her connection to those trapped on the ship isn’t made significant until too late in the story. The gangly manacles and translucent hood that consumes the prisoners’ face while sucking out their energy are both grotesque and half-baked. The alien fear-mongering tactics are relatively straightforward and similar to other narratives, involving psychological nightmares they cannot escape. But the whole thing is a bit muddy and problematic.
There are no special features. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Scary Stories (DVD)
Red Eye Releasing
Cody Meirick’s film features more than 40 interviews, from family members of author Alvin Schwartz, to fellow children's book horror authors like R.L Stine and Q.L. Pearce, to folklorists, artists and fans discussing the impact that the book series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, have had on both themselves as well as the culture at large. The documentary also explores the various times in which the books were banned or targeted by parent and religious groups as ‘satanic’ or otherwise too macabre for its targeted teen scholastic audience.
Although the timing of this release coincides with the theatrical release of the film adaptation, there is no connection between the two movies. This documentary is concerned solely with the original book and the impact it had on everyone from young readers to educators to concerned adults. To some extent, it seemed the illustrations commissioned by Schwartz caused more of a stir than his actual words, though many took issue with the grotesque descriptions in several of the stories. Meirick does well to present a well-rounded look at the overall book, but the main focus is on the author and the parent-led protests his work instigated. One of the main interviews is with a mother who made headlines by opposing it’s place in school libraries. With Schwartz having passed, his son is used as a surrogate to respond to the objections, though his indifference to the work makes the eventual meeting less impactful.
Special features include: commentary by director Cody Meirick; bonus footage; and trailers. (Red Eye)
The Souvenir (DVD)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a shy but ambitious film student begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man named Anthony (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
This film takes a unique view of addiction by not making it the centre of the narrative, even though it effects every aspect of Julie and Anthony’s relationship. For some time, it just looks like they’re trapped in a dysfunctional romance marked by his erratic behaviour — until a mutual friend questions Julie’s tolerance for Anthony’s drug addiction. Suddenly, the mood swings, money lending and late-night excursions all make sense and the audience begins to view the narrative from a whole other perspective. Julie appears to be a trust fund kid, who seems to believe Anthony will eventually change or that she’s in some way helping him. In the meantime, her classmates notice she’s less focused on her project and her aspiring film career is slowly withering away. In her leading debut, Byrne is thoughtful and sympathetic so that audiences can empathize with her decisions regarding Anthony.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Joanna Hogg; and making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory
From directors Ira Steven Behr (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine showrunner) and David Zappone (producer of For the Love of Spock, The Captains), this is an in-depth look at the past, present and future of a series whose dark, edgy take on Gene Roddenberry’s vision was often misunderstood when it premiered but has grown into a beloved mainstay in the Star Trek franchise.
Trekkies generally have their favourite version of the show, as well as their favourite captain. However, Deep Space Nine didn’t top a lot of lists when it was first introduced. Rather than going on space adventures, the show took place on a station and was much more steeped in alien politics. The characters and relationships were still as, if not more, engaging, but its brilliance was overlooked for some time. The documentary focuses largely on the difficulties faced by the creators and cast as they continued to make the show they wanted in spite of the negativity. Everyone is very candid, which reveals some interesting dynamics and sore spots, but also long-lasting friendships and memorable experiences. This is a show that needed to be revisited to give everyone involved their overdue credit.
Special features include: an intro from Ira Steven Behr; deleted scenes; “A Brief History of Deep Space Nine”; “Behind the Scenes at the Variety photo shoot”; discussion with the filmmakers; “More from the Fans”; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)
More about Pokemon Detective Pikachu, The Curse of La Llorona, The Command, Charlie Says, The Girl in the Fog
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