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article imageReview: Not everyone’s dreams can become reality in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jul 28, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a lighthearted superhero movie; a miniseries about a man who can’t escape himself; a standard coming-of-age escalated by its soundtrack; a special release of a classic adaptation; and an unexpectedly hilarious animation.
1984 (Blu-ray)
Criterion Collection
In a rubble-strewn surveillance state where an endless overseas war props up the repressive regime of the all-seeing Big Brother, and all dissent is promptly squashed, a profoundly alienated citizen, Winston Smith (John Hurt), risks everything for an illicit affair with the rebellious Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), defiantly asserting his humanity in the face of soul-crushing conformity.
Based on George Orwell’s book of the same name, this movie had the distinction of actually being released in 1984. His dystopian future is masterfully adapted for the big screen, maintaining its grim atmosphere, and capturing the intrusion of the many two-way screens through which people are directly addressed and chastised. Hurt is exactly as those familiar with the book would have imagined Winston. He is simultaneously strong but worn down by the weight of being constantly watched by Big Brother. He understands his thoughts and writing are crimes, but he can no longer resist the compulsion for release. He thinks a lot about how INGSOC controls the population with false information and rations, compelling him to rebel in increasingly dangerous ways. Julia, on the other hand, is more of a free spirit who can’t be caged in spite of their best efforts. Her revolution is about personal freedom rather than a direct challenge to the system. The bonus feature interviews with director Michael Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins are a fascinating description of how they achieved everything practically, including a thousand extras and the perfect locations to complement the impeccable cast. It’s especially interesting to hear how Deakins achieved the silver effect of the film, as well as which score Radford prefers.
Special features include: interviews with director Michael Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins; interview with David Ryan, author of “George Orwell on Screen”; behind-the-scenes footage; two scores: one by Eurythmics and one by composer Dominic Muldowney; trailer; and essay by writer and performer A. L. Kennedy. (Criterion Collection)
The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (Blu-ray & DVD)
GKids & Shout Factory
The countryside isn't always as calm and peaceful as it’s made out to be, and the animals on this farm are particularly agitated: a fox who mothers a family of chicks, a rabbit who plays the stork, and a duck who wants to be Santa Claus. If you think life in the country is a walk in the park, think again.
This is a hilarious animated collection of shorts that uses humour in the same vein as Monty Python or Looney Tunes. It’s often dry and played straight, but the dialogue or situation is so funny you can’t help but laugh. The initial tale about the pig trying to keep his barnyard friends from getting a baby killed before she can be delivered to her parents is full of slapstick comedy that tends to target the legitimately worried pig. This is followed by another strong showing via the fox who becomes mother to a group of chicks in an attempt to make meal planning easier. His new desire to protect the younglings from his wolf friend ironically mirrors parents’ needs to protect their kids from various predators. The last story about the misguided Santa is also pretty funny as he comments that he’s simply smaller to fit in chimneys better. The shorts are adapted from Benjamin Renner’s acclaimed graphic novel and doesn’t appear to lose a beat.
Special features include: making of featurette; interview with directors; Q&A at New York International Children's Film Festival; and trailers. (GKIDS & Shout Factory)
Criminal Minds: The Fourteenth Season (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit takes on their strangest cases and deadliest adversaries yet, including a murderous cult leader who takes Dr. Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) hostage in the series’ landmark 300th episode. From missing children and mysterious overdoses to sadistic serial killers and world-class assassins, each member of the team must get closer to the darkness than ever before.
Beginning the season with a celebration of the years they (and we) have spent together, it’s not long before the team is shown back in action to save loved ones from a formidable threat. As per usual, some of the cases connect to older ones they put to bed some time ago, including the continuation of last season’s cliff-hanger that left Penelope’s and Reid’s lives in the balance. Luke (Adam Rodriguez) gets somewhat of a dedicated episode as a ghost from his past re-emerges and goes on a killing spree. Tara (Aisha Tyler) also has to face a painful part of her past while trying to solve a case involving recovering addicts. The care they have for each other always shines through, though they more frequently tap into personal experiences in order to talk down unsubs this season. The last episode is not as devastating as past ones, but there is still a pretty important loose thread that feels like it could have a major impact next season.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “300: A Celebration”; “4th Time’s a Charm”; “Season 14: The Truth of the Matter”; “Ready to Roll: The Actors on Directing”; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
High Life (DVD & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures
A father (Robert Pattinson) and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.
There is a lot happening in this post-apocalyptic science fiction movie, not the least of which is a lone-surviving man trying to raise a baby on a ship forever coasting through space. Before its population was decreased, the vessel held prisoners taking part in a reproduction experiment led by another convict with a medical degree (Juliette Binoche). However, with no form of authority on the ship, its occupants govern and sustain themselves, which leaves a lot of room for various transgressions. There is a clear narrative unfolding, but the story itself can feel abrupt and bizarre as per director Claire Denis’ style. Binoche’s doctor displays a calm demeanour, but she’s possibly the most dangerous with the most control. Pattinson seems like one of the least threatening, which makes any moment of violence all the more startling. Similarly, Andre Benjamin’s character has a very peaceful demeanour, making his decision regrettably fitting.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and “Visualizing the Abyss: The Look of High Life. (Elevation Pictures)
The Hummingbird Project (DVD & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures
A pair of high-frequency traders (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård) go up against their old boss (Salma Hayek) in an effort to make millions in a fiber-optic cable deal.
The summary for this picture makes it sound very technical and boring — and sometimes it is. However, Eisenberg’s character is almost always in a state of freneticism, which makes working with him difficult. He expects the best and fastest at all times, and doesn’t take no for an answer, which doesn’t leave him many friends or happy employees. Skarsgård plays the technical genius, which makes him moody and socially awkward. Consequently, he spends a lot of time alone staring at his computer, yet he’s still fascinating to watch. Hayek is a cutthroat CEO who prides herself on recruiting and controlling the brightest minds, and crushing the competition — a feat she feels more inclined to achieve after learning of her employees’ betrayal. It’s a bit longer than necessary, but the performances escalate the film to a more than watchable level.
Special features include: deleted scenes. (Elevation Pictures)
Luther: The Complete Series (DVD)
BBC America
As brilliant as he is impulsive, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) wrestles with the darker side of humanity and with his own grim ghosts. Will his arch enemy — a beautiful and equally brilliant mass murderer (Ruth Wilson) — win their lethal battle of wits? Or will Luther's visceral sense of moral order finally free him from his personal and professional demons?
Luther is essentially a more badass version of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, probably with more baggage too. He’s good at finding and following clues, but his methods stray far from the rulebooks and he can’t seem to help but become encased in the darkness he’s agreed to fight. However, it’s this combination of aggression and analysis that makes him such a formidable investigator… and an attractive adversary for intelligent criminals, like Alice who becomes very close to Luther over the course of the series’ five seasons. Chasing killers is his specialty, but his obsession endangers those around him — still, being a lone wolf is as much a character trait as it is a necessity to keep people he cares about safe. Of course, living a high-intensity life eventually comes to a head in the potentially destructive series conclusion.
Special features include: “Luther: The World of a True Maverick”; cast and crew interviews; “Luther: Close to Edge”; “Lust for Luther”; and “Luther Land.” (BBC Americal)
Patrick Melrose (Blu-ray)
The five-part series tracks Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) from a privileged but deeply traumatic childhood at the hands of his father (Hugo Weaving) in the South of France, through severe substance abuse in his twenties in New York and, ultimately, toward recovery back home in Britain.
This is a troubling portrait of a man who struggles every day with the scars left by childhood traumas by trying to dull the pain with a constant supply of drugs and alcohol. Opening with the death of his father, Patrick’s way of dealing with his passing is far from conventional. Burdened once again with the physical presence of his father, only now in a large box, he’s also haunted by hallucinations of him criticising his every move. Over the course of the miniseries, audiences travel back in time to see the oppressive and abusive periods at their summer house, while also moving to a much later phase in Patrick’s life in which he too is a father still unable to fully control his addictions. Cumberbatch accepts the challenge of the character and delivers an excellent performance of a man repeatedly taking two steps forward and three steps back.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; and 36-page booklet with cast and crew interviews. (Acorn)
Shazam! (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital coopy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word — SHAZAM! — this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard. Still a kid at heart — inside a ripped, godlike body — Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
This movie blends the superhero origin story with Tom Hanks’ Big and the result is a very entertaining action movie aimed at kids, but still enjoyable for adults. The storyline is fairly straightforward, while also delivering a significant amount of character development so audiences can connect with the individuals at the tale’s centre. Family is a major theme throughout the film as Thaddeus was never accepted by his and Billy is still looking for the right one. But this focus also lends itself to possibly one of the most heartfelt (not sad) climaxes in a superhero movie… and then it gets a little sappy. It’s surprising how many adult-oriented jokes can be incorporated into a film while still keeping it entirely clean and PG; particularly as they manage to include more than one trip to a strip club. Audiences shouldn’t expect the explosive action that generally defines other movies in the genre — but it finds other ways to appeal to audiences.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Who is Shazam?”; “The Magical World of Shazam”; “Super Fun Zac”; “Carnival Scene Study, Shazamily Values”; “Shazamily Values”; exclusive motion comic; and gag reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Teen Spirit (DVD & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures
Violet (Elle Fanning) is a shy teenager who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor (Zlatko Buric), she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition.
Violet is a small-town Polish girl keeping her dreams of stardom alive by singing in local bars and the choir. But when the opportunity arises to sing in a televised competition, she clings to it with everything she has. A former opera singer who discovered her at a gig becomes her manager and coach, and the sky’s the limit… except that she doesn’t really fit the star visage. While most of Violet’s journey is typical of a Cinderella story, the soundtrack and Fanning’s unexpected singing talent are the film’s highlights. Pop-inspired original songs mix with club anthems from the ‘90s to pull audiences into the story via its music. Accordingly, there are also three music videos included in the bonus features. Violet’s path to stardom is only shown in its concentrated form, so there isn’t as much opportunity to get to know her – but viewers are there for the moment she finally comes out of her shell.
Special features include: commentary by director Max Minghella, producer Fred Berger and executive producer Jamie Bell; “The Story Behind Teen Spirit”; “Creating Music for the Film”; and music videos. (Elevation Pictures)
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