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article imageReview: New on DVD for November 8 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 13, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include some very different martial arts films; a drama that never stops surprising; the anniversary edition of a classic; and one of the best cartoons not made for children.
Billions: Season One (Blu-ray)
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Showtime Entertainment
Shrewd, savvy U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and the brilliant, ambitious hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) are on an explosive collision course with each using all his considerable smarts, power and influence to outmaneuver the other.
This show is a slow burn, but the revelations made in each episode keep audiences coming back. The opening scene is one of the most unexpected in TV history, though its content would continue to play a role throughout the season. At the crux of the series is the fact that neither character is a bad man, but they are willing to do heinous things to further their own agendas – and the terribleness of their actions increases the more desperate they become. They each have subordinates with their own ambitions and codes of ethics, though they’ve both been lucky enough to surround themselves with people who more-or-less share their perspectives. Their wives, played by Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman, also have a significant role in the narrative that grows increasingly important over time. Giamatti and Lewis are excellent actors and worthy adversaries, portraying their characters at their best and worst without faltering.
Special features include: “Street Slang”; “Shadows and Light”; character profiles; character development; and “Location: New York.” (Showtime Entertainment)
Ip Man Trilogy (Blu-ray)
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Well Go USA
Ip Man: Wing Chun grandmaster Ip (Donnie Yen) cements his reputation after defeating a roving band of kung fu masters who have come to his village to challenge him and the other martial arts masters. But his devotion to the martial arts results in tension and discontent with his wife. When the Japanese occupy his hometown of Foshan during the Sino-Japan war (1937), Ip is forced to work as a coolie in a factory and participate in brutal sparring matches for the enemy’s amusement. He demonstrates his superior fighting skills by defeating his opponents despite being heavily outnumbered and wins the admiration of the Japanese Colonel, Mr. Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), who challenges Ip to a championship fight. The outcome of the match inspires the Chinese villagers to rise up and defeat their oppressors.
Ip Man 2: Master Ip (Donnie Yen), a new arrival in British-occupied Hong Kong, wants to open a martial arts academy to teach his unique Wing Chun style. A corrupt group of martial arts masters, led by Master Hung (Sammo Hung), refuses to allow him to teach in peace until he proves himself as a kung fu master. Ip’s trouble continues when he is forced to enter a brutal “King of the Ring” boxing match against Twister (Darren Shahlavi), a Western-style boxer who insults the Chinese locals in an East versus West knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish.
Ip Man 3: When a band of brutal gangsters led by a crooked property developer (Mike Tyson) make a play to take over the city, Master Ip (Donnie Yen) is forced to take a stand.
Master Ip’s style of martial arts is distinctive and graceful, and Yen is flawless in his portrayal of the legendary practitioner who would eventually train Bruce Lee. The first film has the strongest story as it depicts real-life events that informed Ip’s future, particularly in the context of the war and his complete lack of ego when it concerned caring for his family. The second film is primarily about politics as the area’s already established masters reject any change to the profitable status quo. It also includes some visually impressive street fights. Though the third picture doesn’t have the same Rocky IV elements as depicted in the previous boxing match, the inevitable contest between Tyson and Yen is still outstanding (although brief). In addition to the conventional narrative of Ip Man standing for what’s right, there’s a secondary story about another master of Wing Chun who is attempting to challenge him. The pair’s relationship is in constant flux as their desire to care for their families and their competitiveness is often in contention. In spite of the time between movies, Yen never misses a beat.
Special features include: deleted scenes; making-of featurettes; behind-the-scenes featurette; interviews with Yen and Tyson; trailers; and bonus DVD with two hours of exclusive interviews. (Well Go USA)
Kickboxer: Vengeance (Blu-ray)
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RLJ Entertainment
Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) has always been there for his brother, Eric (Darren Shahlavi), who’s known in the martial arts world as a modern-day warrior. But when the ruthless and undefeated fighter Tong Po (Dave Bautista) brutally ends Eric’s life in a no-holds-barred match in Thailand, Kurt devotes himself to training with a master (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in a quest for redemption and revenge.
This is a remake of the 1989 film starring Van Damme. They have very similar storylines and keep the characters’ names. However, in spite of maintaining key plot points, this version incorporates more fight scenes and makes much less sense. Kurt is constantly being knocked down, but demonstrates his heart is greater than his skill as he repeatedly gets up to accept another beating. Bringing Van Damme in a different capacity retains some of the nostalgia from the first picture, while also allowing him to have some fun with the role. Fans should also keep an eye out for a cameo by the original Tong Po. Bautista is a strange choice for this part and the film likely could’ve benefitted from different casting. Nonetheless, it’s fun where it should be and hits all the expected marks.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and photo gallery. (RLJ Entertainment)
Nine Lives (Blu-ray)
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VVS Films
Tom Brand’s (Kevin Spacey) company is nearing completion on the tallest skyscraper in the northern hemisphere. But his workaholic lifestyle has disconnected him from his wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) and daughter Rebecca (Malina Weisman). Rebecca wants a cat for her birthday and Tom’s GPS directs him to a mystical pet store where the eccentric owner — Felix Perkins (Christopher Walken) — presents him with a majestic tomcat named Mr. Fuzzypants. But en route to his daughter’s party, Tom has a terrible accident and wakes up in the body of the cat. Adopted by his own family, he begins to see them and his life through a new and unexpected perspective. Meanwhile, his son, David (Robbie Amell), steps up for the company in ways Tom never expected. If any hope exists of returning to his family, Tom will have to learn why he has been placed in this peculiar situation and the great lengths he must go to earn back his human existence.
This type of comedy has been done many times before, but it’s been repeated frequently over the decades because it has such potential for comedy. Spacey is great as the distracted yet loving father and even better as the frustrated reassigned voice of his former self. His/the cat’s early attempts to do human things and alert his family to his presence are so silly yet very funny (and often impressive for a feline). Using trained cats for most of the scenes and then enhancing them with CGI gives the film just the touch of realism it requires to draw audiences into the comedic drama. Walken is also amusing as the bizarre cat whisperer who acts as Tom’s ambiguous guide through his ordeal.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and “Russian for Herding Cats.” (VVS Films)
Sausage Party (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
One sausage (Seth Rogen) leads a group of supermarket products on a quest to discover the truth about their existence and what really happens when they become chosen to leave the grocery store.
The first five minutes of the film makes it very clear this is an animated movie in no way suitable for children. Besides all the swearing and sexual innuendo, there is a lot of recreational drug use, barely veiled racism and darkly humorous deaths. Part of what makes the film so entertaining is how messed up it is to anthropomorphize everything, making people cruel and uncaring monsters that devour and destroy other living creatures for their own benefit — that’s just one of many metaphors and messages the movie entwines in its otherwise frivolous narrative. Thankfully the best parts were not in the trailer because most of the humour is inappropriate for mass consumption and must be heard in context. Put simply: it’s dirty in the best possible way. Of course with any comedy that’s almost literally trying to achieve a laugh-a-minute, it’s not always going to work — but it’s definitely funny enough and brings a whole new meaning to “food fight.”
Special features include: “The Booth”; “The Great Beyond”; “The Pitch”; “Shock and Awe: How Did This Get Made?”; “Animation Imaginatorium”; “Good Food Gag Reel”; and line-o-rama. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Taxi Driver: 40th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.
Forty years later, Travis Bickle is still a pop culture icon. The line, “Are you talking to me?” immediately conjures the image of a young tough pointing a gun at his reflection in the mirror. Or you may be more inclined to remember the militant-looking guy with a mohawk. In any case, this is one of De Niro’s most memorable roles; it was career-defining, and inspired actors and filmmakers alike to get into business. Director Martin Scorsese forged a bond with the young actor that would last several pictures. The gradual transition of the character from a disenfranchised veteran to a mobilized vigilante is the most compelling aspect of the narrative and De Niro is particularly convincing throughout. Jodie Foster would also make waves as she realistically portrayed a teenage prostitute that Travis tries to save in one of his futile endeavours to clean up the streets. Though possibly deserving of more, the film received four Oscar nominations: best picture, leading actor, supporting actress and score.
Special features include: original 1986 commentary by director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader recorded by The Criterion Collection; commentary by writer Paul Schrader; commentary by Professor Robert Kolker; new 40-minute Q&A featuring Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster and more recorded live at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival; “Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver”; “Producing Taxi Driver”; “God’s Lonely Man”; “Taxi Driver Stories”; “Travis’ New York”; “Travis’ New York Locations”; interactive script to screen; making-of documentary; storyboard to film comparisons with Martin Scorsese introduction; animated photo galleries; and theatrical trailer. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
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