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article imageReview: The stars shine in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 29, 2017 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include different sides of the same man; a gripping miniseries with formidable stars; a movie that marries wit and action; a couple of directors’ early and still cherished films; and a surprising disappointment.
Big Little Lies (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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HBO Home Entertainment
Doting moms, successful husbands, adorable children, beautiful homes: What lies will be told to keep their perfect worlds from unravelling? Told through the eyes of three mothers — Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Jane (Shailene Woodley) — the limited series paints a picture of a town fuelled by rumours and divided into the haves and have-nots, exposing the conflicts, secrets and betrayals that compromise relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbours.
In addition to being a captivating whodunit mystery, this is also a taut drama with a lot of twists. In this small, unidentified town, everyone knows everyone else’s business. Therefore, the witness testimonies sprinkled throughout each episode are generally based on hearsay and assumptions. The identity of the murder victim or any details about their death remains a mystery until the end — although the list of potential killers and victims continues to expand. Each of these women is admirably strong and although their worlds are connected, they have significantly different lifestyles. Issues of infidelity, abuse, rape, bullying, cliques and more all play a role in this fascinating yet concentrated narrative. And the entire cast is exceptional in their respective roles.
Special features include: “About Big Little Lies”; and “Inside the Episodes.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
The Circle (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Elevation Pictures
When Mae (Emma Watson) is hired to work for the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company, she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a ground-breaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy and ethics, eventually putting her friends, family and all of humanity in danger.
This movie is essentially about the cult of social media and the tech industry. Almost everyone at The Circle has drank the Kool-Aid and is totally invested in the company, which wants to be the most important thing in any employee’s life. They’re expected to share, socialize and produce at the expense of outside relationships and individuality. But they all do so happily because the benefits are great and everyone is really nice. Of course, filmmakers eventually hit audiences over the head with their message of the evils of Big Brother and “complete” transparency. John Boyega co-stars as the troubled tech inventor, struggling with the applications of his creation. And while everyone is adequate in their brainwashing roles, the narrative gets a little too preachy and loses its path.
There are no special features. (Elevation Pictures)
Cop and a Half: New Recruit (DVD)
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Universal Home Entertainment
Grizzled veteran detective Mark Simmons (Lou Diamond Phillips) can’t seem to catch the “Badge Bandit” — the city’s serial prankster who’s causing mischief and embarrassing the police. Karina Foley (Lulu Wilson) is a spunky 12-year-old who dreams of being a cop. She stumbles on Simmons’ stakeout where she proves she’s got serious detective skills and tech-savvy smarts. While Simmons wants to ignore Karina, the police captain does the unthinkable and teams them up. While on their mission to stop the “Badge Bandit,” the unlikely duo goes on an adventure.
It’s somewhat surprising to see Phillips show up in this role, but it’s simultaneously fitting that he portray this lighter version of a character he’s played multiple times in much edgier films. Similarly, Wilson is on her way to becoming a horror movie veteran, but this movie has a much different tone. This is a buddy cop, family comedy that is as ridiculous as it is sweet. Simmons still uses a flip-phone, so when it turns out the suspect is using technology to thwart the investigation he finds he’s way out of his depth. Conversely, the pre-teen wanna-be cop is well-versed in all things tech and positions herself as somewhat of a consultant for the ill-equipped Simmons. Even though his relationship with Karina is supposed to be somewhat antagonistic, it’s obvious by their on-screen chemistry and the bonus features that they got along very well on set.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and “Lou and Lulu: Partners in Crime Solving.” (Universal Home Entertainment)
Crashing: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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HBO Home Entertainment
The semi-autobiographical comedy that follows a stand-up comic (Pete Holmes) whose suburban life unravels, causing him to lose everything, but his sense of humour.
In the first episode, Pete’s life is turned upside down by his wife’s infidelity, which continues to play a role in almost every episode thereafter. Pete constantly finds himself engaging with her lover, he struggles with both hating her and wanting her back, and he tries to avoid making their separation public knowledge. In the meantime, he flounders between working for stage time at a comedy club and keeping a great job that utilizes his sense of humour. The most upsetting events can be made very funny in the right hands and they do a good job mixing tragedy and comedy in this series. There are also great cameos by other well-known comedians, including Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, Sarah Silverman and Hannibal Buress, who don’t just appear in a stand-up capacity but as people who help and advise Pete along the way.
Special features include: “Guest Star Fan Club”; “Comedy Extras”; “About Crashing”; and “The Art of Crashing.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
Devil’s Domain (Blu-ray)
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MVD Visual
Lisa Pomson (Madi Vodane), a troubled, social media obsessed teen, conflicted with her sexuality and her parents misunderstanding of her. When Lisa is secretly filmed in an intimate moment, the video goes viral and she suffers extreme cyber-bullying. Suicidal, and on the brink of insanity, a beautiful, mysterious stranger — the Devil — strikes up an online relationship with her. When they finally meet, the woman offers to deal with Lisa’s tormentors in exchange for a favour. But once her conscience kicks in, she regrets doing the deal.
This is a low-grade horror movie with a slapdash plot that is more interested in creating certain scenes for the camera than their meaning in the overall narrative. Part of the premise is very close to the one in The Rage: Carrie 2 with some devil’s dealing mixed in to make it even more absurd. While it’s conceivable the beast would disguise itself as a beautiful woman to attract (and distract) a lesbian teen, its physical efforts to covertly carry out Lisa’s revenge against her high school tormentors is less believable. The special effects may be passable, but the story is in need of a lot of work.
Special features include: extended and behind-the-scenes; and slideshow. (MVD Visual)
Female Fight Squad (DVD)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A former fighter (Amy Johnston) reluctantly returns to the life she abandoned in order to help her sister survive the sadistic world of illegal fighting and the maniac who runs it.
The title more or less describes the plot, which is nearly the same as those generally starring male martial artists. Casting Dolph Lundgren as Johnston’s father is perfect as he’s featured in many similar pictures yet he’s mostly on the sidelines of this story — except, of course, for one great scene in which he easily takes out a group of guys trying to gang up on him. Unfortunately, his is probably still the best fight in the movie, which isn’t necessarily reflective of the actress’ abilities but the coordinators’ choreography. It follows the usual path, until the end when Johnston’s character atypically uses her brains and muscle together to try to create an out for herself.
There are no special features. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Free Fire (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Elevation Pictures
Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered black-market weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between IRA arms buyer (Cillian Murphy) and gunrunners Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer). What starts as a polite exchange soon goes south when shots are fired, leading to a full battle royale where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves.
This is an edgy, entertaining thriller with a simple narrative and exceptional dialogue. Co-writer/director Ben Wheatley is a gritty filmmaker with a distinct style and fondness for risk-taking. The quirky collection of characters spell trouble from the start, but it’s difficult to predict the actual cause for the deal inevitably falling through. What follows is one of the most amusing gunfights ever committed to screen. With everyone injured and no means of calling for reinforcements, they keep each other pinned down while exchanging quips with their allies and enemies alike. The cast is exceptional and perfectly selected for their roles, making this is an incredibly enjoyable and unique picture.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and B-Roll. (Elevation Pictures)
The Glass Coffin (DVD)
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MVD Visual
Amanda (Paola Bontempi) steps into a limousine waiting to take her to a gala ceremony where she will receive a lifetime award for her acting career. Suddenly the windows go dark, doors lock and her phone is jammed. A strange, metallic voice tells her that she’s trapped, and begins to force her to do things that slowly eat away at her respect and integrity.
This is literally an exploitation film that centres on a sadist abusing another person physically, mentally and emotionally. Within the confines of a seemingly inescapable limo, the actress is dehumanized for some mysterious revenge. There’s no entertainment in watching her debasement as the electronically disguised voice demands she “perform” for the camera or be viciously attacked by the masked driver. Eventually the identity of her captor is revealed, but it provides little explanation of how they would be capable of executing such a plan — especially when combined with a later reveal. Torture porn camouflaged as horror movies aren’t as prevalent anymore, but occasionally they do creep up on you.
There are no special features. (MVD Visual)
The Hunter’s Prayer (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A solitary assassin (Sam Worthington) is hired to murder a teenaged girl (Odeya Rush). When he can’t bring himself to do it, both are marked for death. The pair form an uneasy alliance and flee across Europe, hunted by powerful forces who will stop at nothing to kill them both.
This is a garden variety assassin movie in which the killer unexpectedly gains a conscience, aligning him with his young target and pitting them against an enemy with significantly more resources. The girl is suspicious of her new protector, but clings to him desperately in spite of his many faults. And the hit man is definitely flawed, hoping to redeem himself with this good deed. However, his commitment to helping her is extraordinary considering he’s been committed to his other habit much longer. The whole thing is rather mediocre with Worthington being quiet and moody, and the girl naïve yet feisty.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “The World of The Hunter”; and “Creating the Driving Force.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
John Wayne double feature: Rio Lobo and Big Jake (Blu-ray)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
Rio Lobo: John Wayne headlines a star-studded cast (including Jorge Rivero, Jack Elam, and Victor French) as a Civil War colonel on the hunt for the men who betrayed his unit.
Big Jake: “The Duke” teams up with his real-life son Patrick Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in a film about an aging gunfighter who must rescue his grandson from the ruthless outlaw John Fain (Richard Boone).
Wayne is synonymous with the American Western, spending most of his career starring in the dusty sagas. These films are generally quite serious and revolve heavily around the ethics of the main cowboy character, who is somehow attempting to right a wrong or save an innocent — all those considered to be not entirely on his side can burn with the rest of them as far as he’s concerned. The first film unusually incorporates a little humour, though most of it is delivered by actors other than Wayne. There, he actually partners with the supposed villains in order to sniff out the rat. The latter is a less savoury tale about estranged families, particularly an absent father, who reunite out of necessity, then butt heads at every turn.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not.
This is by no means a traditional medieval period movie. Directed by Guy Ritchie, it carries many of his signatures such as fast-talking, misfit characters and hard-hitting action. Hunnam is raised in a brothel, where he’s grown to protect his surrogate family by training with a local martial arts teacher. The use of magic means there are supernatural creatures threatening and occasionally helping Arthur and his friends, ranging from large killer knights to mystical water women. The slowed down action sequences aren’t a favourite, but they at least have a purpose in this movie. Viewed as an adaptation of the King Arthur legend, this isn’t a wild success; but as a Ritchie film with added special effects, it’s highly entertaining.
Special features include: “Arthur with Swagger”; “Sword from the Stone”; “Parry and Bleed”; “Building on the Past”; “Inside the Cut: The Action of King Arthur”; “Camelot in 93 Days”; “Legend of Excalibur”; and “Scenic Scotland.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
The Lost City of Z (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Elevation Pictures
British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown advanced civilization. Ridiculed by the elites who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett — supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and partner (Robert Pattinson) — embarks on a dangerous and unprecedented journey into the heart of the darkness in an attempt to prove his case once and for all.
This is a slow-paced film that feels a bit too long in spite of fast-forwarding through much of the 30-year period it portrays. Percy was once a map surveyor, thus combined with his military experience the society thinks he’s an ideal candidate for this moderately dangerous assignment. In spite of some hostile encounters with the locals, Percy returns without incident. Most interestingly, the greatest devastations he experiences over this time are at the hands of his fellow countrymen and in combat during WWI. Told in a chapter format, each one revolves around one of Percy’s expeditions and generally encompasses an unknown number of years. Beginning with Percy’s year and location, he often travels for an indeterminate number of months and/or years to reach his destination and return. However, only the “main events” are depicted, such as encounters with local tribes, finding clues regarding the lost city and defending the quest at home.
Special features include: “Locating the Lost City.” (Elevation Pictures)
Slither (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
Intent on devouring all life on Earth, this dark and slimy entity is infecting anyone in its path. Now it's up to the local sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), and his team to stop the spread of rampant devastation — and shocking mutilation — before it's too late.
There are a number of prestigious directors who began their careers in the horror industry, having created cult classics that genre fans lauded long before anyone in the mainstream knew their names. These early pictures demonstrate their potential for the bigger things they would eventually move on to, but they also just stand up as enjoyable movies. James Gunn’s debut feature is somewhat of a dark comedy that would cement his friendship with Michael Rooker due to their bond over the difficult role he played in this movie. Fillion is the sarcastic charmer fans have come to expect as he calmly tries to keep his town from being taken over by giant worms. It’s silly, bizarre and wholly entertaining — and it comes with some equally amusing bonus features as they reflect on the production.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director James Gunn and actors Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker; commentary by James Gunn and Nathan Fillion (From 2006) “The Genesis of Slither,” an interview with writer/director James Gunn; “The Other MacReady,” an interview with actor Gregg Henry; deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by James Gunn; “Visual Effects: Step By Step”; “Slithery Set Tour With Actor Nathan Fillion”; “The Sick Minds And Slimy Days Of Slither”; “Brewing The Blood – How To Make Blood”; “Bringing Slither's Creatures To Life”; “Lloyd Kaufman's Video Diary”; “Who Is Bill Pardy?”; gag reel; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Stormy Monday (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Arrow Video
Brendan (Sean Bean) is a young loafer taken under the wing of jazz club owner Finney (Sting), who’s under pressure from American mobster Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) to sell up in exchange for a cut of a local land development deal. Brendan just wants to earn an honest crust, but his burgeoning relationship with Cosmo’s ex-lover Kate (Melanie Griffith) threatens to drag him into the middle of the impending showdown.
Acclaimed director Mike Figgis made his feature directorial debut with this noir-influenced gangster movie. It’s gritty and convoluted as it appears everyone has a plan to stick it to someone else, but almost none of them want to share the duties to takedown their mutual enemies. Brendan’s backstory is mostly unknown, though he’s clearly not inexperienced when it comes to dealing with criminal-types. Kate doesn’t exactly need his help, but they seem to have a solid understanding of each other so why break their young partnership. Jones and Sting make captivating adversaries, though they only truly share the screen during one scene; nonetheless, their working against each other’s characters is something to behold. On the other hand, Figgis’ new wave jazz compositions require a little more patience.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Mike Figgis, moderated by critic Damon Wise; new video appreciation by critic Neil Young, and a “then and now” tour of the film’s Newcastle locations; theatrical trailer; booklet featuring new writing by critic Mark Cunliffe; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey. (Arrow Video)
The Zookeeper’s Wife (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Elevation Pictures
In 1939 Poland, Antonia Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) successfully run the Warsaw Zoo and raise their family in an idyllic existence. Their world is overturned, however, when the country is invaded by the Nazis and they are forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, the Zabinskis risk everything by covertly working with the Resistance and using the zoo’s hidden tunnels and cages to save families from Nazi brutality.
The majority of the narrative takes place within the zoo, so not much is seen of life within the ghetto; though what is shown is degrading and horrific. At the zoo, the casualties of war are shown to range from its former animal residents to men, women and children disenfranchised by the Nazi occupation. The war is always in the background, but the film centres on the personal struggles of the Zabinski family and those they’ve helped. Jan is committed to helping as many people as possible, while Antonina is forced to conceal her disgust for Lutz in order to contribute to the same cause — who is making the greater sacrifice is subjective, but the focus is clearly on the woman’s perspective. However the picture never really becomes too intimate with any of them, keeping the audience on the periphery of the danger and their pain.
Special features include: making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and “The Zabinski Family.” (Elevation Pictures)
More about King Arthur Legend of the Sword, Free Fire, Big Little Lies, The Zookeeper's Wife, The Lost City of Z
 
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