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article imageReview: Survival comes at a heavy cost in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 23, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a fresh, new chapter in a seemingly dead franchise; another unique and gripping narrative from a talented director; an authentic depiction of post-war trauma; and an entertainingly genuine approach to the American dream.
10 Cloverfield Lane (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
After a catastrophic car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a survivalist’s (John Goodman) underground bunker. Howard claims to have saved her from an apocalyptic attack that has left the outside world uninhabitable. His theories are supported by a mysterious stranger who is in the bunker with them (John Gallagher, Jr.), but as his increasingly suspicious actions lead her to question his motives, she'll have to escape in order to discover the truth.
Michelle’s accident occurs shortly after the film’s opening. As her car violently rolls, the audience is trapped inside the crushing metal with her thanks to the first-person P.O.V. camera. This scene marks the start of the narrative’s rising tension; though there is the occasional humorous break. Taking the shape of a psychological thriller rather than a monster movie, Howard is both their saviour and central threat. Goodman is outstanding as the unbalanced conspiracy theorist. He can deliver even the most disturbing line with utter calmness, switching from cool and composed to angry and aggressive instantaneously and then back again. Gallagher Jr. plays Howard’s polar opposite, intent on keeping the peace as much as possible even if that means regularly bowing to the alpha male’s will. Winstead convincingly depicts Michelle’s fear and ingenuity, allowing the audience to become attached to her character and become invested in her journey. Instead of relying on jump scares, the filmmakers allow the terror to build until it reaches a boiling point — then they throw one more explosive into the mix.
Special features include: commentary by director Dan Trachtenberg and producer J.J. Abrams; “Cloverfield Too”; “Bunker Mentality”; “Duck and Cover”; “Spin-off”; “Kelvin Optical”; “Fine Tuned”; and “End of Story.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Chasing the Dragon (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
Infamous real-life drug kingpin Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen) came to Hong Kong an illegal immigrant in 1963 and ruthlessly carved an empire from the chaotic underworld of drug dealers and corrupt police that ruled the city under notorious detective Lee Rock (Andy Lau).
This is a fairly typical rise to power in the underworld, except that Ho’s key partner is a high-ranking police officer with even higher connections. Ho and his best friends start out as low-level thugs for hire, but street smarts, ambition and a new friendship with a cop who holds similar ideals means they won’t be at the bottom of the ladder for long. Taking out the competition, they create strategic alliances while Ho fends off constant threats for his position — an issue with which Rock has less trouble. The secondary story and title centre on Ho’s younger brother and his drug addiction, which has ironic implications for the narrative. Surprisingly, Lau somewhat outshines Yen in this gripping crime drama with several twists.
Special features include: trailer. (Well Go USA)
Cloverfield (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
A first-person video account of a horrifying attack on Manhattan by an unknown — and seemingly unstoppable — force.
Most people are familiar with the multitude of Japanese films featuring a giant monster, a.k.a. a Kaiju, attacking and destroying cities. Similar Western films have centred on mutated bugs or aliens that garner a massive military response. This film brings the Kaiju to America in a very appealing, and initially mysterious, way as it tells the story from the perspective of people on the ground trying to stay out of “something’s” devastating path. While found footage pictures have mostly lost their lustre, this film certainly remains an exception. Beginning at an average party in Manhattan, viewers are then plunged into chaos alongside the characters as they frantically search for shelter. The intensity level remains high throughout, in large part due to the incredible cast’s remarkably genuine performances. Moreover, the 4K version does more justice to the monsters lurking in the dark.
Special features include: commentary by director Matt Reeves; deleted scenes and alternate ending with optional commentary; making-of featurette; visual effects featurette; “I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge!”; and “Clover Fun.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Geostorm (Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & Digital copy) (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
After an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatened the planet, the world’s leaders came together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe. But now, something has gone wrong — the system built to protect the Earth is attacking it, and it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything...and everyone along with it. Jake (Gerard Butler) is the scientist who, along with his brother, Max (Jim Sturgess), is tasked with solving the satellite program’s malfunction.
Extreme weather and storm movies are basically a genre of their own as natural occurrences are kicked into overdrive with potentially cataclysmic results. However, the one key difference in this picture is the disasters are manmade and therefore able to span a variety of types in a brief period of time. As a result, the disasters depicted in this film are on another level as the air becomes so cold planes drop out of the sky and the ground so hot fire bursts up through cemented streets. While the special effects are spectacular and the circumstances riveting, the actual narrative holding it all together is mediocre. Potential terrorist and conspiracy theory plots play out rather clumsily, serving only as a backdrop for the catastrophic visuals that pop off the screen in 3D.
Special features include: “Wreaking Havoc”; “Search for Answers”; and “An International Event.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Hell Night [Collector's Edition] (Blu-ray & DVD)
Scream Factory
As an initiation rite into Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, four pledges must spend a night in Garth Manor, twelve years to the day after the previous resident murdered his entire family. Some of the pledges ignore the rumours that the now-deserted mansion is haunted by a crazed killer, until one by one members of their group mysteriously disappear.
This is a fairly standard horror movie in which the house’s history dictates its current menace. As potential suspects quickly fall victim to the killer, it’s not difficult to figure out the identity of the culprit. The four pledges hastily couple off while their designated tormentors also separate, dividing the narrative into several paths and making them easy prey for the murderer. However, when one of the would-be casualties escapes, audiences are treated to a more proactive side of the story away from the house, which is pretty unusual in these types of pictures. This uncommon development removes some of the predictability from the movie — though no one will be surprised when people don’t believe kids are being slaughtered at the local haunted house.
Special features include: commentary by Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans, and Bruce Cohn Curtis; interviews with actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy, and Jenny Neumann; interviews with director Tom DeSimone, producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and writer Randolph Feldman; “Anatomy of the Death Scenes”; “On Location At The Kimberly Crest House With Tom DeSimone”; “Gothic Design In Hell Night With Steven G. Legler”; original radio spot; photo gallery; original theatrical trailer & TV spots. (Scream Factory)
Jigsaw (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
In the latest installment of the SAW series, law enforcement finds itself chasing the ghost of a man dead for over a decade, embroiled in a diabolical new game that’s only just begun. Has John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the infamous Jigsaw Killer, returned from the dead to commit a series of murders and remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a different killer with designs of their own?
It’s satisfying to hear filmmakers interviewed in the bonus features acknowledge the fact that the franchise evolved into a creative but tired series of torture porn movies after the first picture. However, this film returns to the franchise’s roots and presents audiences with a gripping thriller that splits the screen time between a deadly game and the equally intriguing investigation. The multi-tiered game once again employs a series of creative contraptions and forces a group of strangers to confess their sins in the face of brutal deaths with the last admission of guilt being the most shocking. In the meantime, the investigation takes several unexpected turns as a fan of Jigsaw’s becomes entangled in the police search. And the 4K picture gives an extra layer of realism to the bloody games, particularly the epic final kill.
Special features include: commentary by producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules, and Peter Block; “I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Jigsaw” 7-part documentary; and “The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and their two exemplary children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Lurking at the margins of Steven’s idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen he has covertly taken under his wing. As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling displays, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family’s domestic bliss.
The above description describes just enough of the plot to intrigue potential viewers without giving away too much of the story. At the same time, it’s very difficult to talk about the film without revealing too much about the riveting narrative as it’s more effective if audiences go in cold. The Lobster writer/director, Yorgos Lanthimos, once again creates a movie that doesn’t adhere to conventions, but captivates viewers with its strangeness. He continues to leave certain questions unanswered, allowing people to draw their own conclusions and inspire discussion about various aspects of the film. The acting is superb with Farrell once again collaborating with Yves to create a stimulating, unusual, enthralling drama.
Special features include: “An Impossible Conundrum.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Shakedown (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory
A burned-out legal aid attorney (Peter Weller) reluctantly teams up with a renegade police detective (Sam Elliott) to find the truth behind the fatal shooting of an undercover cop by a notorious drug dealer. Targeted by a syndicate of corrupt cops and drug lords, the duo blast their way through the underbelly of New York in their unrelenting search for the shocking truth behind the crime.
The idea that a drug dealer facing charges for murdering a cop would be able to even consider pleading a case of self-defence is an interesting one. Unfortunately, there are too many facets to the story and it feels disjointed as the pieces are all forced together to reveal massive corruption. Weller’s character is going above and beyond to prove his client’s case, risking his life and career for the win. Conversely, the picture could use more Elliott — at the very least, to provide a better understanding of his character’s involvement in the illegal activities of his colleagues.
Special features include: introduction by writer and director James Glickenhaus; commentary by Glickenhaus; “Shakedown Breakdown,” an interview with Glickenhaus; “Miles Over the Limit,” James Glickenhaus discusses Miles Davis; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)
The Sword and the Claw (Blu-ray)
MVD Visual
They took his money. They took his family. And now, they've taken his hands. But they can never take his revenge!
This is a version of a swords and sandals picture featuring the forgotten son of King Solomon, who is murdered by traitors attempting to wipeout his entire line. Fast-forwarding several decades after the coup, the now-adult heir to the throne is identified by a distinctive birthmark belonging only to the men of Solomon’s family. After several predictable plot developments and at least one incredible turn of events that explains the film’s title, the movie’s protagonist exacts his revenge. The film transfer is poor in some places, but these imperfections preserve some of the picture’s authenticity. There’s also an old-school kung fu movie in the bonus features, which may appeal more to certain audiences.
Special features include: bonus movie Brawl Busters; trailers; and reversible cover art with illustration by Alexis Ziritt. (MVD Visual)
Thank You for Your Service (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
For Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) and many soldiers like him — the process of leaving combat back in Iraq was as seemingly simple as getting on that plane. But standing on the tarmac again in the arms of loved ones would turn out to be merely a first stop in the long and exacting journey of actually returning home.
The heroics of soldiers in the field are regularly chronicled in explosive, harrowing movies that do their best to authentically present these actual events. However, the struggles these men and women face upon returning home are rarely discussed. This film does an excellent job portraying the real-life issues veterans face as they try to adapt to domestic life again. Schumann is just one of four soldiers depicted in the movie, each dealing with varying levels of PTSD or physical injury. In addition, the picture also attempts to capture the effect these issues have on their families, as well as the difficulties they encounter when trying to seek help. Teller, Joe Cole, Beulah Koale and Scott Haze, alongside Haley Bennett and Amy Schumer, deliver praiseworthy performances and truly do these stories justice. The footage and interviews in the bonus features with the real-life inspirations for these roles is also definitely worth a watch.
Special features include: “Staging a War”; and “The Battle at Home.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Tiger Hunter (Blu-ray & DVD)
Shout Select
Sami Malik (Danny Pudi) is a young Indian man who travels to 1970s America to become an engineer in order to impress his childhood crush (Karen David) and live up to the legacy of his father — a legendary tiger hunter back home. When Sami's job falls through, he takes a low-end job and joins with a gang of oddball friends in hopes of convincing his childhood sweetheart that he's far more successful than he truly is … or perhaps ever could be.
This is a genuine and entertaining depiction of immigrants arriving in America with a dream of building successful careers, only to find themselves working low-level jobs that have nothing to do with their educations. Setting the film in the ‘70s allows for more colourful wardrobes, varying hairstyles and cool cars… and for some reason, their pitiful situations are less depressing. Sami is rescued by another Indian immigrant who offers him a place to stay until he finds his dream job — however, he’s a little disheartened to learn how many men have made the same journey and are still waiting in the tiny apartment for their break. Supported by his new friends, Babu (Rizwan Manji) and Alex (Jon Heder), Sami takes on a nearly impossible deadline to create a more effective microwave that doesn’t cause food explosions and impress his future father-in-law with a small ruse. Though it’s obvious Sami will have a happy ending, the road there is an amusing one.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and original theatrical trailer. (Shout Select)
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