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article imageReview: The bad guys get organized in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 29, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a Russian spy trying to regain control; a world in which a historical band never existed; a documentary about another famous performer; reboots of a couple of classic franchises; and the latest chapter in a search for power.
A Bucket of Blood (DVD)
Olive Signature
Influenced by the artists that circle his orbit at The Yellow Door Café, busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) ventures into the world of sculpting where he can nurture the Rodin that lives inside of him. The downside is that his subjects are dead — by his hand. His beginnings, both humble and accidental, start with a small statue called “Dead Cat.” Unfortunately, “Dead Cat” is followed by “Murdered Man.”
This has been a popular title over the years, but director Roger Corman’s picture is the gruesome original that includes very little blood but a lot of destructive ambition. The desire to fit in and be admired is overpowering for Walter, and he’d do anything to gain the acceptance of the beatniks that surround and belittle him day-in and day-out. In particular, he wants to impress Joan, who is otherwise kind but takes little notice of him. Miller captures Walter’s insecurity to a tee, as well as his quickly inflated ego when his work gains recognition. Similar to House of Wax, the truth behind the realism of his works of art cannot stay a secret for long, which leads to the stereotypical ending for these types of narratives.
There are no special features. (Olive Signature)
A Score to Settle (Blu-ray & DVD)
RLJ Entertainment
Diagnosed with a fatal condition, Frankie Carver (Nicolas Cage) is released from prison after serving 19 years of hard time. With only a short time left to live, Frankie must desperately try to make amends with the son he left behind while he plots a bloody course of revenge — tracking down his old gang to make them pay one by one.
This would be a fairly typical post-prison revenge story if it wasn’t for Frankie’s attempt to make up for lost time with his son. When he’s diagnosed with a fatal condition, he takes it as a free pass to live his final days to the fullest and tie up the loose ends that put him away for so long. His son has a bit of a hard time accepting his dad’s extended hand since his absence made life more difficult, but he’s willing to try. Unfortunately, Frankie’s obsession with getting even gets in the way of their happy reunion, resulting in gunfights, fistfights and betrayal. Cage relishes this duality of a father and vengeful killer, which also suits his usually frenetic energy, while Benjamin Bratt gets to be the cool and collected friend.
Special features include: “Story & Character”; “On set”; and “Sins of the Father.” (RLJ Entertainment)
Anna (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Beneath Anna Poliatova's (Sasha Luss) striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world's most feared government assassins.
This movie does what Red Sparrow couldn’t by casting a Russian model and molding her into the actress they needed rather than trying to make a famous actress fit the part. Anna has nothing to lose, which she makes abundantly clear when the KGB come to recruit her. She’d do anything for a better life and she does, killing dozens of people over only a few years and sleeping with the men tasked with handling her. Luss’ beauty is a key component of the movie, but her chameleon-like nature is an even bigger asset. For making her acting debut alongside the likes of Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy and Helen Mirren, Luss does incredibly well — though Mirren will always steal the scene when given the opportunity to play with her a role a bit.
Special features include: “Dressing a Doll: Costumes of Anna”; “Anatomy of a Scene: Restaurant Fight”; “Unnesting a Russian Doll: Making Anna”; and “Constructing the Car Chase.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Billions: Season Four (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When everyone is out for revenge, no one is safe. This is never more true than this season as former enemies Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), the chief counselor to each, have come together to form an uneasy but highly effective alliance, aimed at the eradication of all their rivals.
Ambition and betrayal have always been at the heart of this series, but those things come with a heavy price this season as their relationships are put to the test. Chuck and Wendy are once again on the same track, but it doesn’t take long for him to derail their marriage by overtly going against her wishes and exposing her to unwanted attention. In the meantime, Axe is relentless in his pursuit to destroy Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) and their company, though at what expense waits to be seen. His colleagues question the soundness of many of his decisions, while his new love interest seems able to match him blow for blow against their common enemies. The end of this season looks a lot like the end of another, but there are sure to be more surprises next season.
Special features include: “Pick a Side”; “Inside Fight Night”; “Script to Screen”; and “Billions’ References.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Black String (DVD)
Grindstone Entertainment
Jonathan (Frankie Muniz) is a lonely twenty-something, stuck in his home town working night shifts at the local convenience store. When an unexpected encounter with a mysterious woman turns his life upside down, Jonathan is stricken by illness and nightmarish visions. Paranoid and desperate, he launches on a quest across the suburbs to find the seductress who started it all. Friends and family believe he's losing his mind, but Jonathan is convinced he's the target of something far more sinister.
This is a movie in which viewers are kept uncertain of the validity of Jonathan’s claims for most of the picture. His one-night stand is incredible, but the rash he wakes up with isn’t any normal STD — especially since it’s just below his ribcage. But it’s gross, itchy and scaly, and doctors don’t seem to know how to treat it. The woman disappears, but a witch tells him he has to cut out the origin of the infection to be rid of it. In the meantime, horrible things keep happening to those around him, but he’s sure he’s not the culprit… or is he? This feels like a movie Elijah Wood might have done a few years earlier, but Muniz brings the same kind of weird, nervous energy to the character as he frantically searches for the truth and tries to maintain his sanity.
Special features include: commentary by director/cowriter Brian Hanson and producer Charles Bunce; deleted scenes; deleted scenes; and making-of featurette. (Grindstone Entertainment)
Child’s Play (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures
Realizing her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), is lonely, Karen (Aubrey Plaza) buys him a seemingly innocent, AI-enhanced Buddi doll that he names Chucky. But Chucky’s safety restrictions have been disabled, and soon, a gruesome series of events unfolds. Unable to convince his mom that the doll is responsible for the carnage, Andy becomes the target of the bloodthirsty Chucky.
This is a reboot of the horror classic, replacing the Good Guy doll with Buddi and Charles Lee Ray’s evil spirit with an AI gone bad… though it’s hard to decipher where he got the name “Chucky.” In any case, this movie takes up the classic dilemma in which an artificial intelligence without constraints could determine that harming (or killing) humans is the best solution to a problem. Chucky starts off small in protecting his new best friend, but it’s not long before there’s a string of gruesome murders — including dismemberment and a grisly gift — that can all be connected back to Andy. The ending is way over the top and more reminiscent of later films in the franchise, but it’s a decent reimagining of the iconic horror picture.
Special features include: “Meet the Cast”; “Interactive Buddi”; “Bringing Chucky to Life”; “Buddi Sing-a-Long”; and “Lee Hardcastle Claymation.” (Elevation Pictures)
Fear No Evil (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
God has appointed three archangels to fight against Lucifer, who has assumed human form. Archangel Raphael, in the guise of Father Damon, kills Lucifer and ends his life in jail. But his sister, Archangel Mikhail, knows that one day the Devil will reappear. Eighteen years later, Lucifer returns, now in the form of Andrew (Stefan Arngrim), a brilliant but shy schoolboy at Alexandria High who becomes conscious of his devilish nature on his birthday. Archangel Mikhail (Elizabeth Hoffman), allies with Gabrielle (Kathleen Rowe McAllen) to defeat Lucifer.
Much like Jesus was born to unsuspecting human parents, Lucifer arrives in the form of a seemingly innocent baby who wreaks havoc in the church on the day of his baptism. But it appears no amount of holy water could take the devil out of the child and only his father can see there’s something evil about the boy, while his mother dotes on him and bends to his wishes. Having technically reached adulthood, Lucifer’s powers come into full bloom and he decides it’s time to take his place as ruler. As he no longer feels the need to hide his abilities, everyone he knows is in danger. The film opens and closes with the ultimate confrontation, and includes some great special effects and make-up, but the tale of the evil boy is a little lacking.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Frank LaLoggia and cinematographer Frederic Goodich; interview with actor Stefan Arngrim; interview with special effects artist John Eggett; still gallery; TV spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
The First King (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
Romulus (Alessio Lapice) and Remus (Alessandro Borghi) are two shepherds and loyal brothers who are destined to found the greatest empire the world has ever seen — but only one can rule. The journey to greatness is paved with blood and the fate of the chosen one lies in the hands of their brother.
At first glance, one wouldn’t think Romulus and Remus would be leaders of anything. They are strong and determined, but they have no clan or status. However, they are excellent fighters and that alone can generate a following. When the brothers instigate an escape, the men who are also freed are at first indebted but eventually bend the knee to their new leader who they follow into fire. The brothers have different approaches to life though as Romulus respects the gods and Remus thinks he is a god, which creates significant conflict between them. But a near-fatal injury to his sibling lets Remus rise to power unchecked — it’s impossible to know if things may have turned out differently if they weren’t more-or-less separated for so long. This is a brutal tale that does well to capture the ferocity of the elements and nature before civilization, as well as the brutality of men.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Well Go USA)
John Carpenter’s Vampires [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
“Forget everything you’ve ever heard about vampires,” warns Jack Crow (James Woods), the leader of Team Crow, a relentless group of mercenary vampire slayers. When Master Vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) decimates Jack’s entire team, Crow and the sole team survivor, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), set out in pursuit. Breaking all the rules, Crow and Montoya take one of Valek’s victims hostage — a beautiful but unlucky prostitute (Sheryl Lee). She is the sole psychic link to Valek and they use her to track down the leader of the undead. As Valek nears the climax of his 600-year search for the Berziers Cross, Jack and the new Team Crow do everything possible to prevent him from possessing the only thing that can grant him and all the vampires the omnipotent power to walk the world in daylight.
This is undoubtedly a vampire story, but director John Carpenter also takes the opportunity to make his version of a Western. The locations from the old churches to the small towns in the desert, their attire comprised of button-down shirts and jeans, and their trusty steed a.k.a. a reliable pickup truck all have their parallels in Wild West films. The damsel in distress cannot actually be saved by them, but they can use her to try to save others. There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about this movie and everyone involved approaches it with the same level of seriousness, which ensures the film maintains a grave atmosphere and the importance of their mission is unmistakable. The interviews in the bonus features provide some great behind-the-scenes anecdotes, as well as confirms their satisfaction with the film.
Special features include: commentary by composer/director John Carpenter; making-of featurette; “Time to Kill Some Vampires,” interview with composer/director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter and cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe; “Jack the Slayer,” interview with actor James Woods; “The First Vampire,” interview with actor Thomas Ian Griffith; “Raising the Stakes,” interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero; “Padre,” interview with actor Tim Guinee; isolated score; still gallery; TV spots; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Madam Secretary: Season Five (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Deals are her department. Terrorist attacks. Natural disasters. Military action. No crisis is out of control for Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni). Thinking outside the box and acting outside political protocol makes McCord a force to be reckoned with both stateside and overseas, along with support from her CIA operative husband Henry (Tim Daly), Chief of Staff Jay (Sebastian Arcelus), policy advisor Kat (Sara Ramirez), and of course, President Dalton (Keith Carradine). As McCord prepares to transition from her office to a presidential campaign, she’s going to need all the help she can get — including historic appearances from former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell as themselves.
This has been a relatively solid series, but it seems like this season the showrunners had some trouble keeping things fresh before the show’s entire focus shifts next season. The season opens with a bang that has repercussions to manage for a little longer and opens the door for a new dynamic between Elizabeth and Henry. However, although the crises change, the approach is repeated more than once throughout the 20-episode season: something terrible happens, an aggressive counter is devised, Elizabeth buys time to negotiate and in some manner or another the US generally wins. Watching Elizabeth try to balance a potential presidential run with her current duties is interesting, but after a while audiences just want to fast-forward to get to the good stuff.
Special features include: deleted scenes. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Pavarotti (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
An intimate portrait of Luciano Pavarotti, the most beloved opera singer of all time, interweaving Pavarotti’s genre-defining performances with revealing, never-before-seen footage.
Even those who are not avid opera enthusiasts know the name Pavarotti as he became a global sensation — mostly due to his voice, but also to some degree because of his late diva-esque demands. Director Ron Howard attempts to get to know the performer via archival interviews with the late singer, as well as by speaking with his friends and family. Howard traces Pavarotti’s life linearly, beginning with his childhood and naturally talented voice through his early career and first love to his connections with other celebrities such as Bono and Princess Diana to the end of his life when he was surrounded by the family he saw so little of as he toured. Anecdotes about his eating habits are most amusing, especially as his friend recounts receiving an enormous shopping list before leaving Italy to visit Pavarotti in America. There’s nothing especially revelatory in the documentary, but it is an adequate biopic of a famed performer.
Special features include: “Friends of Pavarotti”; “The Entertainer”; and “Ron Howard on Pavarotti.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Shaft (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather duster, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.
This movie is funnier than any of the Shaft movies that came before it, but it hasn’t forgotten its roots. However, pairing complete opposites and including Regina Hall as JJ’s mom can only result in laughter. John is clearly modelled after the classic character, sporting a leather duster, a big gun and an even bigger attitude. His reputation in the neighbourhood precedes him, but he also enjoys women and drink. JJ, on the other hand, is clean-cut, doesn’t like guns and looks like he just walked off an ad for GAP. He knows he needs his father’s help to get to the bottom of his friend’s death, but it takes time for him to get on board with his aggressive tactics. Rather than a reimagining of the franchise, this movie is a continuation that makes sure Richard Roundtree still has his place in film.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Can Ya Dig It? The Making of Shaft”; “A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy”; and gag reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Stephen King's The Stand (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
The world abruptly ends when a deadly virus accidentally escapes from a government-sponsored biological warfare laboratory. Soon people are dropping like flies from the plague, but a few survive and find themselves strangely compelled to head West. Good-hearted people follow the voice of an ancient black woman and head for Boulder, Colorado. Bad people follow the enigmatic Walkin' Dude to Las Vegas. It is only a matter of time before the two sides are forced into a climactic battle over the final fate of humanity.
This film is based on Stephen King’s epic story about the end of the world, and the battle for supremacy between good and evil. While some of the characters are religious, it’s not exactly Revelations. The good folk have their faults and even kill when necessary, but the bad people have dark hearts and do terrible things because they enjoy them. Interestingly, even those with mental illness end up on both sides of the war — though everyone must join of their own free will. They do a good job tracing the course of the virus over one month, in which time anyone not immune is dead. The first episode focuses on introducing audiences to most of the key players before the apocalypse begins, though the book goes into much more detail about them overall. It’s a good adaptation, but certainly not a perfect one.
Special features include: commentary; and making-of featurette. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Yesterday (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) was just another struggling songwriter...but that was yesterday. After a mysterious blackout, Jack discovers he is the only person on earth who remembers The Beatles. As he rockets to fame by passing off the Fab Four’s songs as his own, Jack risks losing Ellie (Lily James) — the one person who has loved him and believed in him from the start.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which certain influences — good or bad — never existed. The Beatles had such an impact on not just pop culture and the music industry, but people in general… a world without their music would just be less. Therefore, as much as Jack is benefitting from reproducing their catalogue — or bastardizing it in the case of “Hey Dude” — it’s also a solid for everyone who didn’t realize they were always fans. Ed Sheeran plays himself in the movie, but his inclusion leads to some of the most memorable scenes, including his total annihilation at the hands of Jack and “The Long and Winding Road.” The unexpected amusement is The Beatles were not the only phenomenon claimed by the blackout as Jack repeatedly finds himself heading to Google and finding zero results.
Special features include: commentary by director Danny Boyle and writer/producer Richard Curtis; alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; “Live at Abbey Road Studios”; “Ed Sheeran: From Stadium to Screen”; “Agent of Comedy: Kate McKinnon”; “A Talented Duo”; “Playing for Real”; “Soul Mates”; “A Conversation with Richard & Ed”; and gag reel. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
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