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article imageReview: Surviving is half the battle in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 2, 2020 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a true marriage from hell; the last chapter in an epic saga; an unintentional theft; an historical account of a family torn apart by war; a turtle adventure; a tale of unwavering loyalty.
American Dreamer (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A down-on-his-luck ride-share driver (Jim Gaffigan) makes extra cash chauffeuring a low-level drug dealer (Robbie Jones) around town. When he finds himself in a serious financial bind, he decides to kidnap the dealer's child.
This commentary and reflection of contemporary America is frighteningly cynical, while remaining horrifyingly realistic. The narrative is fairly straightforward, but it’s their lack of common sense rather than maliciousness that causes the greatest tragedies throughout the picture. Audiences are only given glimpses of the driver’s life before now, making it hard to determine how much of his situation was caused by external factors and how much was triggered by his choices. The domino effect is in full force in this picture, though it becomes rather senseless fairly quickly. Gaffigan and Jones are excellent as both are meant to be products of their environment, and even though they began in different places they’ve ended up on very similar paths.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Big Trouble in Little China [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a tough-talking truck driver who suddenly finds himself in a murky, danger-filled world beneath San Francisco's Chinatown, where Lo Pan (James Hong), a 2,000-year-old magician, mercilessly rules an empire of spirits. Facing down a host of unearthly terrors, Jack battles through Lo Pan's dark domain in a full-throttle ride to rescue the girl.
Russell’s Jack Burton is the classic “man’s man”: he’s a truck driver, womanizer, hard drinker and tough guy (mostly). So when his friend needs help rescuing his fiancé, he rolls up his sleeves and waits for his potential love interest to also be kidnapped before stepping up to the plate. Though standing between them and their ladies is a trio of large superhuman men who can control the weather. This is a fan favourite picture filled with memorable lines, unforgettable characters and great action scenes that range from an all-out street fight to high-speed wheelchairs in reverse. Meanwhile, Lo Pan is a bizarre villain that makes an impression with his strange voice and creepy long fingers.
Special features include: commentary with producer Larry Franco; commentary with special effects artist Steve Johnson, moderated by filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante; commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell; deleted and extended scenes; extended ending; multiple interviews with the cast and crew; isolated score; music video; electronic press kit; photo galleries; TV spots; and theatrical trailers. (Scream Factory)
Candy (Blu-ray)
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Shout Factory
Dan (Heath Ledger) is a charming but reckless young poet who falls in love with Candy (Abbie Cornish), a beautiful young student who is attracted to his bohemian lifestyle. In order to get closer to Dan, Candy follows in his wayward steps of drug addiction. Their passionate relationship then alternates between bursts of ecstatic oblivion and bouts of despair and self-destructive behavior. Hooked as much on heroin as they are on one another, they fall into an intense love triangle — a boy, a girl, and a drug.
Although Ledger had a number of starring roles before this, Dan required a much deeper exploration of himself. Acting as the narrator, his voice is infused with love and regret as he recounts his tragic relationship with Candy. The story follows them from their days of innocence when he was a casual user and she was sober to the inevitable rock bottom that smashes them both in the face. He was her door into this dark world, but they each made their choices until they were slaves to their addictions, doing anything for the next fix. The film is a raw portrayal of co-dependence and addiction, though it keeps much of the more lascivious details off-camera. Both Ledger and Cornish are excellent as they deliver authentic performances that draw in audiences and allow them to empathize with their characters.
Special features include: commentary by director Neil Armfield and writer Luke Davies; “Candy – The Path to Wild Abandon”; “Writing On The Wall – Candy’s Poem In Motion”; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)
City on a Hill: Season One (DVD)
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Paramount Home Entertainment
The series is set in the early 1990s, when Boston was rife with violent criminals emboldened by local law enforcement agencies in which corruption and racism was the norm, until it all suddenly changed in what was called the “Boston Miracle.” In this fictional account, driving change is Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), who comes from Brooklyn and forms an unlikely alliance with a corrupt, yet venerated FBI veteran, Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon). Together, they take on a family of armoured car robbers from Charlestown in a case that grows to involve, and ultimately subvert, the entire criminal justice system of Boston.
The story of dirty cops is pretty common in fiction, but this TV series looks at it from a slightly different perspective. Pairing a corrupt FBI agent with an at least initially well-meaning A.D.A. creates obvious tension. The former tries to school the new kid on the block on how things really work, while the latter hopes learning how the system is broken will help him fix it. Unfortunately, you can’t dip your toe into a swamp without getting wet as the young attorney quickly learns and for which he must face the consequences. In the meantime, there’s also side stories about Ward and his wife being black successful attorneys in a white, male-dominated corporate structure. There are some shocking moments and many spoiled plans, all of which will lead to an interesting second season.
Special features include: “Inside Episodes”; “Kyra Sedgwick Directs City on a Hill”; and “Capturing Boston.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)
The Fare (Blu-ray)
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Epic Pictures
When a charming woman named Penny (Brinna Kelly) climbs into his taxi, Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi) finds himself entranced. That is, right up until she disappears from the back seat without a trace. As he desperately tries to make sense of what happened, he resets his meter and is instantly brought back to the moment she first climbed into his cab. He and Penny find themselves trapped in an endlessly looping ride that changes their lives forever.
This is a science fiction romance that takes on a bit of a horror tone by the end. Harris and Penny have been going on the same ride for what seems like an eternity before it abruptly ends with her disappearance and he restarts the journey alone again. Audiences will likely have several theories about the causes of their time loop, but it’d take some out-of-the-box thinking to actually determine the reason. In the meantime, as each other’s only company, they grow closer and fall in love. Their budding relationship is portrayed via a montage of getting to know each other better until the truth is finally revealed. The ending feels like a departure for the film that fits, but doesn’t necessarily make as much sense as other sci-fi theories might have.
Special features include: commentary by director D.C. Hamilton; commentary by star/writer Brinna Kelly; alternate, deleted and extended scenes; making-of featurette; and gag reel. (Epic Pictures)
Freaks (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Well Go USA
Kept locked inside the house by her father, 7-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) lives in fear and fascination of the outside world, where Abnormals create a constant threat — or so she believes. When a mysterious stranger offers her a glimpse of what’s really happening outside, Chloe soon finds that while the truth isn’t so simple, the danger is very real.
This movie makes an impeccably seamless transition from a horror/thriller to an action sci-fi that’ll have viewers enthralled from start to finish. Since her father (Emile Hirsch) doesn’t let Chloe leave the house, audiences have no idea what lies on the other side of the bolted door. Then the tale takes a turn and a strange man in an ice cream truck (Bruce Dern) insists he can give Chloe a better life, as well as repair her broken family. The characters’ secrets are exposed and it becomes a cross between a Twilight Zone episode and a Marvel storyline. More than once viewers will think they’ve seen this type of movie before and then the film will find a way to surprise them. Kolker’s performance is outstanding as she conveys the complexities of Chloe’s circumstances, while also portraying everything through the eyes of an impetuous child unable to control her emotions. Genre fans will not be disappointed with this hybrid production.
Special features include: commentary by directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein; behind-the-scenes featurette; and trailers. (Well Go USA)
Funan (Blu-ray & DVD)
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GKids & Shout Factory
Cambodia, April 1975. Chou (Bérénice Bejo) is a young woman whose everyday world is suddenly upended by the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the chaos of the forced exile from their home, Chou and her husband are separated from their 4-year-old son, who has been sent to an unknown location. As she navigates her new reality, working in the fields day and night under the careful watch of soldiers, and surviving the small indignities and harrowing realities of the increasingly grim work camps, Chou remains steadfast in her determination to reunite her family — even if it means risking everything.
This is a horrific picture of war that is not diluted simply because it’s animated. The once-missing son is the film’s director and the events depicted are based on his mother’s real-life experiences. But even though the story unfolds in Cambodia less than 50 years ago, the war’s camps look like many that came before it. The prisoners are treated like they’re less than human, worked to death for little food. Audiences are privy to goings-on of the separated family, but one can only imagine the turmoil they felt not knowing each other’s fates for so long. The film is a powerful representation of not just Chou’s untold story, but also those she knew who did not survive to tell their own.
Special features include: interview with director Denis Do; storyboards; art gallery; and trailers. (GKids and Shout Factory)
Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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HBO Home Entertainment
The final season depicts the culmination of the series' two primary conflicts: the Great War against the Army of the Dead, and the Last War for control of the Iron Throne.
This season will go down in history as the most anticipated disappointment in TV history for many. Cramming the closing chapters into only six episodes allowed the showrunners to spend a significant portion of their budget on a full-episode battle, but the story progress suffered in return. Nonetheless, for the first time all the key players were in the same place at the same time to discuss alliances and strategy against their common enemy, the White Walkers. Yet, outside of facing off against the Night King, the most memorable and triumphant storyline involves Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). As secrets are revealed and they try to wrap up an incredibly diverse series, the final season can’t help but feel rushed and characters’ fates unceremonious. But in the end, everyone seems to end where they belong or, at least, where many hoped.
Special features include: 10 commentaries by cast and crew; deleted and extended scenes; “Game of Thrones: Reunion Special”; “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch”; “When Winter Falls”; “Duty is the Death of Love”; and “Histories and Lore.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
The Goldfinch (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
The last time 13-year-old Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) saw his mother, she was gliding away from him into another gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seconds later, a terrorist bomb exploded destroying priceless pieces of art…and shattering Theo’s life forever. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, friendship and even love. Throughout the turbulent years, as he grows into adulthood, Theo (Ansel Elgort) secretly clings to a single, precious object — his one tangible connection to the mother he lost on that terrible day — a priceless painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch: The Goldfinch.
Making an interesting movie about a stolen painting that remains hidden for most the film is not an easy task. Therefore, it requires interesting characters who can keep the audience’s attention and an unbelievable story. The picture tries to keep audiences in suspense by not revealing exactly how Theo gained possession of the artifact, while demonstrating the event affected the course of his entire life. Following Theo from his early teenage years to adulthood encapsulates a pretty full view of his life, but it’s one that isn’t entirely necessary. The movie is way too long, and could’ve been shortened and improved by cutting the Barbours out of the narrative entirely. Nicole Kidman is good, but Theo’s brief interactions with the family don’t add to the story.
Special features include: deleted scenes with commentary by director John Crowley; “The Goldfinch Unbound”; and “The Real Goldfinch.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Liyana (Blu-ray)
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Passion River
This documentary tells the story of five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini who turn past trauma into an original fable about a girl named Liyana who embarks on a perilous quest to save her young brother. The film weaves her animated journey together with poetic documentary scenes to create a tale of perseverance and hope.
This is a heavy subject matter as it balances the real-life experiences of the orphans with the fictional story they compose. Liyana’s story is influenced by their personal histories, which include abandonment, sickness, kidnapping and violence. Throughout the picture, they talk about their tragic experiences, which are then transferred to Liyana and, in some cases, overcome by her. Consequently, Liyana becomes an orphan, faces brutal robbers, and goes on a dangerous journey alone where she’s at the mercy of the elements and nature’s predators. While some of the children’s brainstorming and crafts are depicted, her tale is brought to life via narrated animated sequences. It’s a powerful, genre-defying film filled with hope for their futures.
There are no special features. (Passion River)
Low Tide (DVD)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Alan, Red, and Smitty (Keean Johnson, Alex Neustaedter and Daniel Zolghadri) spend high summer on the Jersey Shore roving the boardwalk and getting into trouble. But the discovery of good old-fashioned treasure sets the friends on an escalating course of suspicion and violence.
The movie begins as a typical townies vs. vacationers narrative as the kids resent the rich teens who invade their home and hangouts for the summer, and disappear again when the weather cools and they’ve had their fill. Therefore, they take their own retribution by robbing the summer houses and mocking the tourists. However, the brothers find the mother-load when doing a solo job and decide to hide their booty from the rest of the group. What follows is some bad judgement, blackmail and a violent confrontation. The young actors all seem very authentic in their varied roles, appearing to have strained friendships based on fear and a lack of choice. Shea Whigham also appears as a local cop just trying to ensure the town keeps its cash cow and no one gets hurt.
Special features include: “A Sense of Place: Chasing Low Tide.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Ready or Not (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Fox Home Entertainment
The sanctity of marriage goes straight to hell when a young bride, Grace (Samara Weaving), competes in a time-honored tradition with her new husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), and his insanely rich and eccentric Le Domas family (Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell). The bride’s wedding night takes a turn for the worst when she realizes she is at the center of a lethal game of ‘Hide and Seek’ and must fight her not-so-loveable in-laws for her own survival.
The story’s dark elements consume it from every perspective, but there’s an unexpected humour woven throughout the narrative that’s both genuine and funny. From Alex’s aunt constantly giving Grace the dirtiest looks to his coke-addled cousin (Melanie Scrofano) pouncing on Grace to declare they will be best friends to repeated mishaps with antique weaponry. Their commitment to upholding this archaic and lethal tradition is steeped in superstition, though no one will say what the fates of the other families were exactly… which is part of the reason why it sounds so phoney. Obviously, this isn’t the best functioning family as falling in love means having to potentially kill that person should the ritual demand it. Therefore, there are plenty of cold shoulders, several addictions and a general us-against-them sentiment that courses through everyone’s veins. To that point, the ensemble cast is excellent. They each fit their roles perfectly, both before and after the fateful decision is made. They draw audiences into the picture and keep from alienating them for the length of the film.
Special features include: commentary by Radio Silence and Samara Weaving; making-of featurette; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Semper Fi (Blu-ray)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Cal (Jai Courtney) is a by-the-book police officer who, along with his close-knit group of childhood friends, makes ends meet as a Marine Corps reservist. When Cal’s reckless younger half-brother, Oyster (Nat Wolff), is arrested after a bar fight and given an unfair prison sentence, Cal — driven by his loyalty to family and fierce code of honor — fights for Oyster in this tale of brotherhood and sacrifice.
In spite of the film’s title, this movie isn’t really about the corp. Instead, it’s about loyalty and friendship between men who’ve been friends longer than they can remember. Cal is the group’s leader in and out of the field as everyone follows him, no matter the possible consequences. Even though they’re reservists, they still get deployed and must carry out dangerous missions on foreign soil. Therefore, when Cal proposes his plan to save his brother, the group is sure they have the skills to pull it off. Unfortunately, it’s not a plot in which everyone rides into the sunset together, though it’s difficult to find flaws in the design. The testosterone typically in these films is somewhat toned down, creating a picture that doesn’t really commit to any singular emotion.
Special features include: commentary with writer/director Henry-Alex Rubin; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; and “A Battle of Honor: Where Devotion Lies.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Turtle Odyssey (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)
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Shout Factory
Sea Turtles are some of the most majestic and ancient creatures on Earth. For over 100 million years, they have traversed the seas, surviving multiple mass extinctions and playing critical roles in maintaining a healthy, marine food chain. Not only do these friendly animals captivate us as they peacefully glide through the ocean, but their personal journeys of survival are equally fascinating. The film explores the unique lifecycle of an Australian Sea Turtle named Bunji and her incredible journey across the ocean. The film follows Bunji from a hatchling into adulthood as she swims thousands of miles, meeting incredible creatures and having some truly wild encounters.
Narrated by Russell Crowe, the nature documentary squeezes Bunji’s 25-year life cycle into a 49-minute picture. Yet, audiences will still learn the basics about turtles, see them come face-to-face with several of their enemies and outlive many of their siblings. The narration is humorous and informative as Crowe describes Bunji’s activities from narrowly avoiding being eaten while still an infant to hanging out around the ocean’s floor to returning to her birthplace to find a mate and bury a clutch of her own. It’s all a bit truncated, recording only the most eventful moments in a long life of swimming and surviving, but it still communicates the amazing lifecycle of an Australian Sea Turtle.
Special features include: interview with Dr. Ian Bell, Senior Conservation Officer. (Shout Factory)
More about Game Of Thrones, The Goldfinch, Ready or Not, Freaks, American Dreamer
 
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