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article imageReview: Taking risks is living in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 30, 2017 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a silly cartoon that’ll make everyone laugh; a rare look at China’s furry treasures; some of the best TV; real-life struggles for reparation; and a dark yet grounded thriller.
A Dark Song (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) despairs over the tragic loss of her murdered son. Desperate to somehow make contact with the boy she has lost, Sophia believes her prayers are answered when she crosses paths with the reclusive Joseph (Steve Oram). An expert in the occult, Joseph reluctantly agrees to aid Sophia through a series of dark and forbidden rituals in order to bring her child back to the world of the living. Pushed to their physical and psychological breaking points, Sophia and Joseph make a disturbing descent into the most depraved corners of black magic.
This is one of the oddest narratives about contacting and/or raising the dead. The majority of the film is spent depicting the extensive preparation for the ritual. Most of Joseph’s requests seem ridiculous and occasionally exploitative, designed to take advantage of people desperate and grief-stricken — and in at least one instance, this is true. Yet, strange things begin to happen as Sophia is seemingly brought closer to her goal. This is far from a conventional tale of the occult or supernatural, but it makes effective use of its singular, desolate location. Still, even with its many eccentricities, the merit of the payoff is questionable.
Special features include: deleted scenes; interviews with director Liam Gavin, actors Steve Oram and Catherine Walker, and director of photography Cathal Watters; storyboards; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
The Apology (DVD)
Icarus Films
After decades of living in silence and shame about their experiences of institutionalized rape, the three Grandmas are speaking up. Now facing their twilight years, they give first-hand accounts of the truth and demand an official apology from the Japanese government in hopes that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten.
There are three key women from each country that stand as the focus of the documentary: Grandma Adela from the Philippines, Grandma Cao from China and Grandma Gil from South Korea. In spite of her poor health, Grandma Gil is the main protagonist as she goes on tour to educate people about their history and gain support for their request for an apology. The film first introduces audiences to each of the women, allowing them to become familiar with them as people before revealing the horror they endured in their youth. There are many moments for tears as they recount the abuse, the shame and their hopes for the future, and anger as Japanese citizens and officials denounce them and condone the soldiers’ actions. The film is both heartbreaking and inspiring, but also an important step in shining a light on a group ignored by history.
There are no special features. (Icarus Films)
Born in China (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Disney Home Entertainment
The film transports audiences to some of the world’s most extreme environments of China where few people have ever ventured to witness wildly intimate and adorable moments in the lives of three animal families: a doting panda bear mother, a 2-year-old golden snub-nosed monkey, and a mother snow leopard.
While the adorable baby animals are undoubtedly the documentary’s greatest appeal, everything is not all cute and cuddly. As many well know, Mother Nature is full of harsh realities and cruel ends; and although the carnage is kept to a minimum in this family-friendly, educational picture, there is still death and brutality. John Krasinski narrates the film, giving the animals human characteristics and feelings while explaining the dynamics of their situations. The plight of the lonely, still young monkey is juxtaposed with the playful and naïve existence of the baby panda. Meanwhile, the stunning images of the reclusive snow leopard illustrate the difficulties of their terrain and food supply.
Special features include: “Panda Suits & Bamboo Shoots”; “Walking with Monkeys”; “Masters of Camouflage”; “Wading Through Wetlands”; “Disneynature: Get Inspired, Get Involved”; and “Everything Everything” music video by American Authors. (Disney Home Entertainment)
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
Two overly imaginative best friends, George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), hypnotize their principal (Ed Helms) into thinking he’s the hero from their comic books: Captain Underpants.
These two kids have a couple of the greatest imaginations. George comes up with the stories and Harold draws the comics. But in addition to channelling their creativity into the arts, they also pull a variety of pranks at school, which is one of the main reasons Principal Krupp has it in for them. However, even though having a goofy superhero is fun in their comics, in the real world he’s a liability. Captain Underpants’ enthusiasm (“TRA-LA-LAAAA!”) is only matched by his epic dimwittedness. What started as an entertaining idea soon turns into a huge burden as they find it nearly impossible to reign him in from whatever impractical mission he’s set his mind to. And the arrival of the clearly evil Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), their new science teacher, is just one more thing the boys must combat.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Really Cool Adventures of Captain Underpants Motion Comic”; “The Captain Underpants Guide to Being a Hero”; “The Professor Poopypants (Totally Original and Supercool) Guide to Being a Villain”; “Kevin Hart and Ed Helms Surprise Fans”; “Lunch Lady PSA with Kristen Schaal”; “Sock Puppets Real Stars”; “Tighty-Whitey Q&A with the Stars,” parts one and two; lyrics video; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
The film chronicles Deborah Lacks’ (Oprah Winfrey) search, along with journalist Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne), to learn about the mother she never knew and understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Henrietta Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever.
Although the film sheds light on Henrietta’s essentially anonymous contribution to the advancement of medicine, it is primarily about Deborah and her own struggles with mental health. Henrietta’s children have long been resentful that their mother was so integral to these breakthroughs, yet neither she nor they received compensation or recognition. The situation is exasperated by the fact that they’re black and her tissue was taken without consent. Rebecca is unbelievably good at navigating the very delicate and sometimes volatile relationship with Deborah and her family. Consequently, both Winfrey and Byrne turn in excellent performances alongside a quality ensemble cast.
Special features include: cast, crew and members of the Lacks family discuss Henrietta Lacks’ legacy. (HBO Home Entertainment)
It Comes at Night (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Seventeen-year-old Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), secure within a desolate home with his protective and heavily armed parents (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo), watches his world abruptly change with the arrival of a desperate couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) and their young child. Panic and mistrust grow as the dangers of the outside world creep ever closer, but they may be nothing compared to the dangers within.
This movie is a very slow burn, in which the tension gradually builds to a fever pitch. Yet it’s not as if the audience sits waiting for something to jump out of the dark because it’s clearly not that kind of movie; but it’s also obvious something terrible is going to happen. While the narrative is unhurried, it is engaging. Although Travis’ parents appear to have a mutual partnership, when it comes down to the nitty gritty he takes charge as the patriarch. When the other family arrive, Travis’ dad becomes an even more dominant presence to reinforce his position as the alpha male. The camera rarely leaves Travis’ family, which keeps audiences at a similar distance from the new family even though they’re living in the same house. As a result, viewers aren’t provided omnipotence and must judge the characters’ actions with the same limited knowledge. It’s an interesting but effective approach to the narrative.
Special features include: “Human Nature: Creating It Comes at Night.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
The Last Face (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Set against the backdrop of war-torn Liberia, the film follows a love affair between Dr. Wren Petersen (Charlize Theron), the director of an international aid organization, and Dr. Miguel Leon (Javier Bardem), a relief-aid doctor. As the violence around them escalates, Wren and Miguel battle their own internal conflicts as they try to keep their relationship alive.
This is far from a traditional love story as Wren and Miguel are more often shown in professional, life or death situations than romantic ones. While she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty in a makeshift hospital, it’s a position she inherited from her esteemed father and she’s more than able to see the near futility of their efforts since it wasn’t passion that called her. Conversely, Miguel joined the organization because he needed to help these people regardless of the risk or senseless violence that keeps the clinic busy. Interestingly, Theron and Bardem’s chemistry is not explosive — it’s adoring yet reserved, stemming from respect in spite of their fundamental differences. It’s this dynamic that makes their relationship so captivating.
Special features include: “Picturing The Last Face.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
The Mummy (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Thought safely entombed deep beneath the desert, an ancient princess (Sofia Boutella) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her is awakened in our current day. Her malevolence has grown over millennia and with it come terrors that defy human comprehension.
This film introduces an entirely new Egyptian creature with more stylish bandages and tattoos. There is at least one nod to its Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weisz predecessor, but other than a sandstorm and a need for pest control they have little in common. As the first film in what is expected to be a revival and reimagining of the Universal monster franchise, this movie is trying to find its place in the greater universe. Unfortunately, it makes the mistake of other pictures with similar ambitions by focusing too much on the future and not on making a good film now. The first act, which recounts the princess’ backstory and the uncovering of her burial site, is unequivocally the best part of the movie. Her character is the most intriguing in the film, exuding power and hate. On the other hand, Tom Cruise seems mismatched and relies on the arcs of other action heroes he’s played to inform this one.
Special features include: commentary by director and producer Alex Kurtzman, and cast members Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis and Jake Johnson; deleted and extended scenes; “Cruise & Kurtzman: A Conversation Rooted in Reality”; “Rooted in Reality”; “Life in Zero-G: Creating the Plane Crash”; “Meet Ahmanet”; “Cruise in Action”; “Becoming Jekyll and Hyde”; “Choreographed Chaos”; “Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul”; and “Ahmanet Reborn Animated Graphic Novel.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Silicon Valley: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
Change is in the air in season four as the Pied Piper guys pursue their video-chat app, PiperChat, but Richard (Thomas Middleditch) has a hard time letting go of his dream to put his algorithm to better use. As Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) flirts with notoriety while Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) looks on in amusement, Erlich (T.J. Miller) searches for his next big break, Jared (Zach Woods) attempts to pivot with the company, and Big Head (Josh Brener) enters the world of academia. Over at Hooli, Gavin (Matt Ross) finds himself threatened by Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), while Monica (Amanda Crew) struggles to bounce back at Raviga after her fallout with Laurie (Suzanne Cryer).
If someone were to describe the Pied Piper group, the simplest explanation would be “nothing ever works out for them.” Every time it appears they’ve finally gotten ahead, they tumble back to the start line… or catch an unbelievably lucky break that unexpectedly saves them from total ruin — there’s a lot of both scenarios this season. Gilfoyle’s obsession with Jian’s new high-tech fridge is comical as is Dinesh’s hazardous relationship with a notorious hacker; yet their rivalry never gets old. Jared struggles intensely with many of Richard’s decisions this season, mostly because they’re generally bad and, more importantly, unscrupulous. Haley Joel Osment has a reappearing guest role as a VR programmer that mesmerizes the guy’s with his new game, but may torpedo Monica’s career.
Special features include: deleted scenes. (HBO Home Entertainment)
This is Us: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Fox Home Entertainment
The series chronicles the Pearson family across the decades: from Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as young parents in the 1980s and 1990s to their now adult kids Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) searching for love, fulfillment and healing in the present day. This dramedy reveals how the events in our lives — both big and small — impact who we become, and how the connections we share with each other can transcend time, distance and even death.
One of the most popular new series of the year, this show earns its praise in just the first few episodes. The pilot is a gripping portrayal of love and loss and more love, which is one of the show’s most attractive qualities — in spite of all the issues they may encounter (and be bowled over by), there’s always a way out whether it be a family member or pure inner strength or occasionally a temporary crutch. Moreover, the problems they must deal with are so ordinary and relatable, it’s incredibly easy to connect with the characters and experience their pain and joy throughout — credit for this must also be given to the amazing (Emmy-winning) cast. In the end, they’re all flawed but audiences will want to see them succeed.
Special features include: “The Aftershow” on all episodes. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Veep: The Complete Sixth Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
In the sixth season, we find President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) now out of office for the first time in years after her loss in a Senate vote to resolve an Electoral College tie last season. Forging ahead to secure her legacy and find her place in the world, while much of her staff pursues endeavors of their own, season six finds Selina and her band of fellow misfits attempting to make their mark while navigating the political landscape in Washington and beyond.
Unsurprisingly, Selina has a tough time recovering from the historic loss that concluded last season. She’s closer to Katherine (and her money) now that she’s out of office, but still can’t stand Marjorie who remains on staff. Her team is scattered across the political arena, from TV anchor to the unthinkable — working for Jonah. Yet, in spite of her colossal let down, everyone is willing to help her get back in the saddle should she choose to run again. Selina’s relationship with her ex-husband continues to be complicated, while Amy drops a bombshell at the end of the season. However, Mike’s significant screw-up amazingly turns things around for them and opens doors for Selina no one thought possible.
Special features include: commentary by cast and crew on select episodes. (HBO Home Entertainment)
More about Captain Underpants The First Epic Movie, It Comes at Night, The mummy, A Dark Song, The Apology
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