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article imageReview: Relationships are complicated in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 10, 2017 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a skillfully constructed horror movie; a definitive director’s cut; a sharp and witty look at separation; and a comedy classic from the "Sultan of Sleaze."
The Assassin (Blu-ray & DVD)
Arrow Academy
Dandyish thirtysomething antiques dealer Alfredo Martelli (Marcello Mastroianni), arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial.
The premise of this film is interesting as it appears the police have made up their minds and are specifically pursuing leads that point to Alfredo’s guilt. It’s hours before they even tell him why he’s being questioned, and then he’s dragged around to visit the crime scene and witnesses that place him at the location. But, more importantly, the police are clearly disapproving of his lifestyle which includes an affair with an older, married woman and an engagement with a young heiress. In addition to being repeatedly questioned by the police, Alfredo is badgered by a couple of crooks put into his cell; yet, to everyone, he maintains his innocence. Mastroianni is brilliant as the dashing, befuddled suspect, and his portrayal of the final scene is so ambiguous it leaves audiences to decide the truth.
Special features include: “Elio Petri and L’Assassino”; “Tonino Guerra: A Poet in the Movies”; theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw. (Arrow Academy)
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Blu-ray & DVD)
Scream Factory
It’s just another night at the morgue for a father (Brian Cox) and son (Emile Hirsch) team of coroners, until an unidentified, highly unusual corpse arrives. Discovered buried in the basement of the home of a brutally murdered family, the young Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly) — eerily well-preserved and with no visible signs of trauma — is shrouded in mystery. As they work into the night to piece together the cause of her death, the two men begin to uncover the disturbing secrets of her life. Soon, a series of terrifying events make it clear: this Jane Doe may not be dead.
The concept of dead bodies returning to life was inspired by real tales of people being incorrectly declared dead. While the incorporation of bells in morgues and cemeteries seems morbid and superstitious, it once served a purpose. Nonetheless, these are places that give many people the creeps and have therefore served as the perfect locations for horror movies. But this film takes it to a whole new level with a body that is literally shrouded in mystery. Each step of the very clinical autopsy leads to a new discovery and supernatural occurrence; the characters ignore the latter for as long as possible, but eventually the evidence becomes impossible to deny. The long hallways and underground office contribute to a very eerie atmosphere, which is enhanced by the surrounding dead bodies. This is a skillfully constructed horror movie that does a lot with very little.
There are no special features. (Scream Factory)
Divorce: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
After more than a decade of marriage and two children, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) has suddenly begun to reassess her life and her strained relationship with her husband Robert (Thomas Haden Church). The story of a very, very long divorce, the first season follows Frances and Robert as they grapple with the fallout from their failing union, not just for themselves, but also for their children and friends.
Marriage is hard and anyone who says otherwise is lying. It’s difficult to share everything with another person — unresolved issues fester or sometimes the fire goes out. In the case of Frances and Robert, there’s no one contributing factor though they each have an idea of what the other did wrong. But no matter how many times they say they want to handle the separation civilly, they do something to counter that process. Of course, mutual friendships lead to some awkward encounters and couples therapy is just another opportunity to spear one another in this pointedly humorous comedy. However, as Frances and Robert each try to look out for themselves, their kids are at the centre of their tug-of-war to declare a winner — a fact made most ineloquently apparent in the season finale.
Special features include: commentary on select episodes. (HBO Home Entertainment)
Fifty Shades Darker: Unrated Edition (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
When a wounded Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) tries to entice a cautious Anastasia Steele
(Dakota Johnson) back into his life, she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian’s past start to circle the couple.
It’s unsurprising that the same issues that existed in the first film (though slightly alleviated from those in the source) persist in the sequel. Christian is still a controlling jerk and Anastasia is a walking contradiction. Clearly rebuking him in the first picture had little effect as he goes back to stalking her until he wears down her will to say “no” anymore. The order of events could have been more annoying, but thankfully it occurs in a manner that doesn’t contribute to their poor decision making. The unrated version is definitely sexier than the theatrical cut with a number of extended scenes, while the soundtrack is still one of the film’s most attractive elements. The actors’ understanding of their roles remain an asset, even if the characters themselves are maddening. There’s also a post-credit sequence that previews the final film in the trilogy.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Writing Darker”; “A Darker Direction”; “New Threats”; “The Masquerade”; “Dark Reunion”; “Intimate With Darker”; and “A Tease to Fifty Shades Freed.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Free Man (DVD)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
“Freedom” is defined as the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity. To reach that level of liberty is a physical and mental endeavour that many will risk their life to obtain. Is life worth risking for the feeling of conquering fear and becoming free? Olympic Freestyle skier, Jossi Wells, meets extreme sports performing artists, The Flying Frenchies, to find out what it really means to be free and what drives individuals to chase such a powerful right.
Through Wells’ pursuit of a new extreme sport — highlining — director Toa Fraser is able to explore both the psyche of an adrenaline junkie as well as the skill involved in taking part in these activities. He asks a number of probing questions regarding the reason these people push the limits, which actually provides a relatively concrete response for those who can’t understand why they risk their lives. What’s also interesting, particularly in relation to The Flying Frenchies, are the safety precautions they take so they live to fly another day. Unfortunately, tragedy does strike during the filming of the documentary, which brings another perspective to the themes of risk and freedom.
Special features include: “The Story Behind The Free Man”; and “Who are The Flying Frenchies?” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Heat: Director’s Definitive Edition (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
In the wake of a precision heist of an armored van, the head of a fierce, professional crew (Robert De Niro) and an obsessively driven LAPD detective (Al Pacino) are locked in deadly opposition as they vector towards each other in Los Angeles. As the stakes escalate and their lives begin to unravel, the crew initiates its most dangerous and complex heist.
De Niro’s character is an expert thief with a cutthroat philosophy: don’t get attached to anything you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds if the cops get too close. In addition to the stellar performances put forward by Pacino and De Niro, Val Kilmer records one of the best portrayals of his career. In fact, there isn’t a single weak performer amongst the entire cast, which also includes Jon Voight, Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman. At just under three hours, writer/director Michael Mann ensures there is never a dull moment whether through daylight shootouts, struggling relationships or life-changing decisions. While at its heart the film is a crime drama, it is captivatingly heavy in the drama department, taking full advantage of the calibre of actors involved. Characters are constantly facing difficult decisions, often forcing them to choose one love or another. The breakdown of “the conversation” in the bonus features is a nice extra since it’s the first time the heavyweight actors ever shared the screen and essentially delivered a masterclass in tension.
Special features include: commentary by Michael Mann; deleted scenes; three-part making-of featurette; Academy panel reuniting Mann, Pacino and De Niro and moderated by Christopher Nolan; Toronto International Film Festival Q&A with Mann; “Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation”; “Return to the Scene of the Crime”; and theatrical trailers. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Mind Gamers (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
A group of brilliant young students create a wireless neural network, linking multiple minds via a quantum computer. Capable of transferring motor skills from one brain to another, they have brought into existence the first shareware for human motor skills. They freely spread this technology, believing it to be a first step towards a new equality and intellectual freedom. But they soon discover that they themselves are part of a much greater and more sinister experiment, as dark forces emerge that threaten to subvert this technology into a means of mass-control.
This is a futuristic movie that borrows from William Gibson and The Matrix by proposing the human brain is a flesh computer that can be hacked and reprogrammed. The description of the technology involved in the project doesn’t make a lot of sense, however its function becomes relatively clear: using an implanted chip, users can download each other’s skills and then flawlessly perform them without a learning curve. Obviously, this technology is very valuable. On the sidelines of their invention, there’s an incapacitated man monitoring their progress in hopes of regaining movement, as well as a mysterious woman who knows more than she lets on. In the end, outside of the mesmerizing choreography, there’s too much going on and too many nonsensical explanations to really enjoy the film.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Serial Mom [Collector's Edition] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Beverly (Kathleen Turner) is the perfect happy homemaker. Along with her doting husband Eugene (Sam Waterston) and two children, Misty (Ricki Lake) and Chip (Matthew Lillard), she lives a life straight out of Good Housekeeping. But this nuclear family just might explode when Beverly's fascination with serial killers collides with her ever-so-proper code of ethics — transforming her from middle class mom to mass murderer. Soon, the bodies begin to pile up and suburbia faces a horror even worse than wearing white after Labor Day.
In spite of John Waters’ moniker as the "King of Bad Taste," some of his most enjoyable pictures gradually found their way into the mainstream. While this film didn’t have a huge opening, it developed a dedicated cult following like many of the director’s other pictures. The movie (which is not actually based on a true story) depicts the final unravelling of a woman who enjoys murder and then her unbelievable, public recovery. Turner appears to be having a blast in the unconventional role as she makes obscene prank phone calls and defends her family by killing anyone who threatens them. In the meantime, as her loved ones become aware of her extracurricular activities, they wonder how best to handle the situation. The conversation in the bonus features between Waters, Turner and Mink Stole is amusing and insightful, providing all the fun behind-the-scenes tidbits one expects from a Waters movie.
Special features include: commentary by John Waters and Kathleen Turner; commentary by John Waters; making-of featurette; “The Kings Of Gore: Herschel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman”; “A Conversation with director John Waters, actress Kathleen Turner and actress Mink Stole”; “Serial Mom: Surreal Moments”; and original theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Three Brothers (Blu-ray & DVD)
Arrow Academy
Three siblings return to their native southern Italy to pay homage to their late mother. However, their various professions — a judge in Rome (Philippe Noiret), a spiritual counsellor in Naples (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), a factory worker in Turin (Michele Placido) — have a profound effect on their response to this reunion.
There are countless families who have drifted apart over time, moving for work or climate and only reuniting for significant events; it may be a sad course, but it’s not unusual. In the film, the brothers have not seen each other for several years and would have gone longer had it not been for their mother’s death. With nearly 20 years separating the youngest and oldest, they seem to have little in common — a truth that goes well beyond their chosen occupations. Yet, they confide in each other as if little time has passed, particularly the working-class sibling who is in the middle of a divorce and proposing job action in a hostile environment. Fittingly, the film only provides a snippet of their lives from an outsider’s perspective since there isn’t much time and they are as much strangers to each other as the audience.
Special features include: interview with Francesco Rosi; original theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin. (Arrow Academy)
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