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article imageReview: One person can have such an impact in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 20, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a moving story of love and music; a new chapter in a seedy industry; a great, cross-genre horror movie; a tale of deception; an eventful evening on the town; and a nearly unnoticed loss.
A Star is Born (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers — and falls in love with — struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer… until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
This was a monumental task for both performers. Gaga’s American Horror Story was eccentric, but a close extension of her stage persona. Ally, on the other hand, is small-town, down-to-earth and in many ways shy. Yet, she radiates in Ally’s skin and connects with audiences so they are sharing in her trials and successes. Cooper took on the greater responsibility of wearing multiple hats on the production. He trained for three years to be able to do his own singing and it pays off. Though even his best Sam Elliott impression still pales in comparison to the real thing. Consequently, the soundtrack is wonderful with Ally and Jackson’s duet, “Shallow,” earning an Oscar nomination. But the picture’s last section seems to move too quickly to its conclusion. Suddenly, time is more noticeably jumping and choices that may have stemmed from longer-term incidents are made with substantial, immediate consequences and it feels… wrong
Special features include: making of featurette; “Jam Sessions and Rarities”; and four music videos. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
BackBeat (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
The pre-fame Beatles head to Hamburg in search of success. As they gain popularity, the “fifth Beatle,” bass guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff), falls in love and ultimately must choose between his best friend John Lennon (Ian Hart), his new love Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), and the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world.
The fifth Beatle was almost a rumour as so little was ever really known about him. Granted, he was only part of the band before they really became famous, but those were also the years they decided to seriously pursue a music career. Stuart, however, was an artist and viewed the group as an adventure. The film depicts a very close friendship between Stuart and John, though the rest of the band, particularly Paul McCartney, felt a bit more antagonistic about his presence since his talents were limited. Dorff and Hart have excellent chemistry as theirs is the prime relationship in the film, which serves the dual purpose of telling Stuart’s tragic story and describing the early days of the soon-to-be Fab Four.
Special features include: commentary with director Iain Softley, and actors Ian Hart and Stephen Dorff; deleted scenes; “A Conversation with Astrid Kirchherr”; interviews with Iain Softley and actor Ian Hart; Iain Softley interview for the Sundance Channel; TV featurette; and casting session. (Shout Select)
Band vs. Brand (DVD)
MVD Visual
Documentary film focusing on the current state of the music business and on how 'the brand' of a rock group, in many cases, has more power than the band members themselves. Featuring interviews from David Ellefson of the Grammy Award-winning band Megadeth, Jack Russell from Jack Russell's Great White, Nik Turner from Hawkwind, Dave Lombardo from Slayer, and Marc Ferrari from Keel.
Though most viewers won’t recognize the majority of the people interviewed, they do contribute to a stimulating conversation about the importance of branding in the contemporary market. The discussion ranges from logos to cover bands to internal disputes over ownership to replacing band members to the new use of holograms. They talk about the importance of copyright and which bands mastered the power of merchandising, namely KISS. While some of speakers’ input is somewhat superficial, others are very thoughtful and provide interesting insight into the challenges of the current landscape.
There are no special features. (MVD Visual)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (DVD)
Fox Home Entertainment
Based on the true story of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a best-selling celebrity biographer in the 1970s and ’80s. When Lee comes to the realization that she’s no longer en vogue, she spins her art form into a perilous web of lies, deceit and outright crime to get back on top.
Lee is a cantankerous woman who prefers the company of her cat over any person she knows… though that gradually changes over the course of this narrative. In addition to finding a friend and drinking companion in fellow outcast, Jack (Richard E. Grant), Lee also begins to court a book shop owner named Anna (Dolly Wells), who shares her love for Katherine Hepburn. These relationships end up being the real victims of Lee’s deception. Like many other comedic actors, McCarthy demonstrates she also has a talent for the dramatic. She fits quite comfortably in the skin of a homely cat lady with a knack for unsolicited ghostwriting, spewing sarcasm and radiating belligerence. Grant’s lively, shallow character is Lee’s polar opposite, which is perhaps why they get along so well. He’s equally excellent as both of their personalities jump from the screen and points to potential awards recognition.
Special features include: commentary by director Marielle Heller and actress Melissa McCarthy; deleted scenes with optional director commentary; “Elevator Pitch”; “Becoming Lee Israel”; “Likely Friends”; “A Literary World”; and galleries. (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Deuce: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
The second season continues to trace the evolution and power dynamics of the porn industry in New York’s Times Square neighborhood in the 1970s. Picking up in late 1977, five years after season one, The Deuce's backroom massage parlors and hotels have exploded into sprawling emporiums, while the New York Mafia's grip on the porn business is beginning to slip as talent migrates to the West Coast — but for now, the city is flush with movies, music and art.
In spite of taking place five years later, it feels like everyone is just in a slightly more advanced position than they were in when the first season ended. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is evolving as a director, introducing more experimental imagery and editing techniques into her films, while still acting in them as needed. Frankie (James Franco) is doing his best to keep everything running smoothly, but Vincent (Franco) is stealing from the business, cops are raiding the massage parlour, a mafia rivalry is turning violent and people are being murdered. In the meantime, the relationship between the pimps and their girls are being strained as the sexual revolution provides them with more opportunities. The only one embracing the change is Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe) as he and Candy create the first skin flick with a black star. Even though things hit the fan in the last couple of episodes, there’s something to look forward to: VHS.
Special features include: season one recap; “Candy's Back”; and “Height of Porn.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
Double Dragon (Blu-ray & DVD)
MVD Rewind Collection
It's the year 2007 and what remains of LA is now ''New Angeles'', a city ravaged by earthquakes, tidal waves and vicious gangs. The evil tycoon Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick) is obsessed with finding the two halves of a talisman known as the ''Double Dragon'', which will give him awesome mystical powers. Two teenaged brothers, Jimmy (Mark Dacascos) and Billy Lee (Scott Wolf) find themselves in possession of the amulet's missing half, thrusting them into the adventure of their lives.
In the mid-90s, arcade game film adaptations were hot. They each took a different approach to the film, though only one would endure — and it wasn’t this one. This movie makes the mistake of trying to please everyone and the result is an incoherent, goofy mess. Alyssa Milano joined the cast as the leader of a gang trying to restore justice to the city. But between screaming into the camera and uttering ridiculous lines, the potentially more entertaining action sequences are lost in the shuffle. Though the film passed through so many hands, its issues are not surprising. This is confirmed in the new hour-long making-of documentary, which consists of interviews with Dacascos, Wolf, and writers Paul Dini and Neal Shusterman. However, it would have been better if the actors’ and writers’ interviews were separated since the former’s on-set anecdotes are tarnished by the lasting bitterness of at least one of the creators. But the poster is neat.
Special features include: new making-of featurette; archival making-of featurette; "Don Murphy: Portrait of a Producer"; behind-the-scenes featurette; 1993 “Double Dragon” animated series pilot; galleries; TV spots; trailers; and mini poster. (MVD Rewind Collection)
Iceman: The Time Traveller (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
During the Ming Dynasty, a palace guard, Ying (Donnie Yen), is buried and frozen in time by an avalanche during a fierce battle. Brought back to life in present day, Ying embarks on a quest for the only thing that can correct the wrongs of history — The Golden Wheel of Time. Ying sets out on his dangerous journey, never knowing every step he takes is leading him closer to a deadly trap.
An ancient warrior wakes up in an unfamiliar future and with the help of an attractive young woman, attempts to complete the mission he started all those years ago. There’s been many versions of this basic concept, but this one never quite brings it all together. Somehow, Ying’s enemies survived too and they managed to adapt more easily than him. Returning to his time proves futile as all his efforts to fix the past are thwarted. The aggression between him and his former brothers in arms is also curious since it seems to emerge out of nowhere, but is very fervent. Though the narrative tries to explain everything away with a simple lesson, there’s still just too much that doesn’t make sense.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
My Dinner with Hervé (DVD)
HBO Home Entertainment
The film explores the unlikely friendship between struggling journalist Danny Tate (Jamie Dornan) and Hervé Villechaize (Peter Dinklage), the world’s most famous French dwarf actor. It unfolds over one wild night in Los Angeles — an encounter that has life-changing consequences for both men.
This film begins with every journalist’s worst nightmare: a fluff interview that runs long and jeopardizes the one that could make your career. Danny and Hervé discover they have a lot in common, as much as the former hates to admit it. The evening is a bizarre road trip that leads Danny through Hervé’s world, then and now. He promises to tell Danny things he never told anyone… and eventually he does reveal a tale of ambition and success that turned him into monster. In the meantime, Danny gradually comes to terms with how he imploded his own life, while struggling to maintain his short-lived sobriety. Dornan and Dinklage are both excellent, but the latter turns in a poignant performance as a man facing the mistakes of his past and indulging in the present.
There are no special features. (HBO Home Entertainment)
Overlord (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
A team of American paratroopers come face-to-face with Nazi super-soldiers unlike the world has ever seen.
The first 20 minutes of this movie are terrifying and half of it takes place on the plane. To say crossing enemy lines is a dangerous business is an understatement, which is compounded by the numerous dead and mangled bodies encountered during this brief time. The majority of the movie focuses on the horrors of war, which includes being in constant fear of an enemy attack, and the sudden and repeated loss of life. The violence is brutal and realistic, causing each act to pack a punch. The supernatural aspect of the narrative isn’t revealed until much later, at which point the tone of the film shifts. But as Nazi experimentation is already documented, it’s not out of place. This is one of the best genre-blending pictures of the last year.
Special features include: “The Horrors of War.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Purgatory Road (Blu-ray)
MVD Visual
On the highways of Americas's Deep South, a priest and his brother bring bloody salvation to unrepentant sinners.
There isn’t a lot about this movie that makes sense and at the top of the list is the younger brother’s devotion to his murderous older sibling. Instead of turning him in to get the help he so desperately needs, he helps him cover up the violent homicides. The “priest” is riddled with unwarranted guilt, which he attempts to cure by punishing sinners and repaying his father’s debt to an unknown lender. When a self-serving young woman turns their partnership into a trio, it really goes off the rails.
Special features include: commentary by director Mark Savage; “The Grisly Art of Marcus Koch and Cat Bernier Sowell”; “Tom Parnell: Beyond the Day Job”; “The Actors Speak”; and Q&A. (MVD Visual)
The Return of the Vampire (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
In 1918, Armand Tesla (Bela Lugosi), a 200-year-old Hungarian Vampire, prowls the English countryside, feeding from the jugulars of the villagers. But Tesla's reign of terror is interrupted when a pair of scientists, Lady Jane and Sir John Ainsley, drive a railroad spike through his heart. The "un-dead" Tesla remains safely entombed for two decades until the impact from a stray Nazi bomb accidentally releases him. Along with his werewolf servant Andreas Obry, the resurrected vampire now plots vengeance on the family that put a halt to his nocturnal feasting.
In spite of being in the film’s title, the vampire is secondary to most of the other characters as he lurks in the shadows or hides from the sun while the humans plan his subsequent demise. On the other hand, he is the instigator for the entire narrative, so in that sense he is at the centre of it all. A woman leads the charge this time around as she’s the sole survivor of the team that last stopped Tesla. Oddly, evidence of their success is being used to indict her for murder by non-believers, which complicates her ability to stop him again. This isn’t exactly a typical vampire tale as the protagonist tries to avoid conviction while also proving the monster’s existence, though he still uses his thrall to draw a pretty young woman to him.
Special features include: commentary with film historian Troy Howarth; commentary with author/film historian Gary Don Rhodes; commentary with film historian Lee Gambin; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Robin Hood (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Returning home from the Crusades, Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) finds his country oppressed by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn). With the help of Moorish warrior Little John (Jamie Foxx), Robin transforms into the heroic outlaw Robin Hood, taking up arms to fight the sheriff and win the heart of his love, Maid Marian (Eve Hewson).
In spite of unfolding in a traditional setting, the film is given a contemporary update that doesn’t really suit it. Robin is “drafted” to fight a war in the Middle East, where he essentially becomes a sniper and turns the first act into a conventional Desert Storm movie. After letting his compassion overwhelm his obedience, he returns home where he finds everyone has moved on without him. Little John goes to great lengths to become Robin’s mentor and together they embark on explosive missions to steal from the sheriff. With modern music driving the chases and a love triangle motivating Robin, it doesn’t ever really come together. Guy Ritchie did something similar with King Arthur but, in that case, the results were a bit more fun. The seven-part documentary in the bonus features provides a detailed examination of their approach to the film, which shows their good – if misplaced – intentions.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Outlaws and Auteurs: Reshaping Robin Hood”; and outtakes. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
More about A Star is Born, Can You Ever Forgive Me, The Deuce, Robin hood, My Dinner with Herve
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