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article imageReview: They’re facing death head-on in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 29, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include an ensemble comedy; an exceptionally sharp drama; an animated underdog story; and a movie outside of J.Law’s comfort zone.
The 15:17 to Paris (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris — an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.
Clint Eastwood has a shown a great affinity for telling the stories of real-life heroes of late, previously taking on American Sniper and Sully. However, while those were excellent portrayals of two men and the aftermaths of their experiences, this film fails to capture the same sentiment. Watching three boys grow into men while maintaining their friendships over long distances is not that compelling, yet that story occupies the majority of the narrative. On the other hand, what is interesting about this film is the three Americans as well as some of the train’s passengers are portrayed by their real-life inspirations. This was an ambitious move on Eastwood’s part that plays well on screen, but perhaps also required a simpler script to accommodate the inexperienced actors.
Special features include: “Making Every Second Count”; and “Portrait of Courage.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Die Hard (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York City cop, flies to L.A. on Christmas Eve to visit his wife at a party in her company’s lavish high-rise. Plans change once a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), seize the building and take everyone hostage, McClane slips away and becomes the only chance anyone has in this beginning-to-end heart-stopping action thriller.
In spite of being an action movie with lots of gunfire and explosions, this is also undoubtedly a Christmas favourite that bears a minimum annual viewing. McClane’s rescue efforts are legendary and the dialogue is forever memorable: “Yippee Ki-yay!” Crawling through vents and elevator shafts, throwing bodies out windows and mocking the terrorists is just some of the fun he has on this unforgettable holiday. This is certainly Willis’ most recognized role, though Rickman’s criminal mastermind is equally notable. Even after countless viewings, this picture never fails to be fun and now fans can watch it with fresh eyes via this high-def transfer.
Special features include: commentary by director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia; scene-specific commentary by special effects supervisor Richard Edlund; subtitle commentary by various cast and crew; “The News Casts”; interactive style gallery; interactive articles from Cinefex and American cinematographer; full-length screenplay; and trailers & tv spots. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Early Man (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures roamed the Earth, the film tells the story of courageous caveman hero Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his best friend, Hognob, as they unite their tribe against a mighty enemy — Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) and his Bronze Age City — to save their home.
The opening act is an amusing look at Aardman’s version of primordial life, which includes spider web hammocks, beetle razors and dinosaur bulldozers. The rabbit they catch for their interrupted meal makes repeat appearances throughout the picture, representing the studio’s entertaining relationship with animals. But this is truly an ensemble picture with many characters contributing to the film’s humour. In addition, Dug’s best friend is a dog-like swine called Hognob (Nick Park), who is always there with an evocative expression or helpful nudge. The film follows the typical sports genre formula, which includes the underdogs doubting their abilities before a training montage demonstrates they may actually have a shot at winning. Spoofing some of the most comical aspects of professional football, fans of the sport will be in stitches; especially as they mock the dive, and incorporate commentators to deliver the typical clichés and observations.
Special features include: “Before the Beginning of Time: Creating Early Man”; “Nick Park: Massaging the Funny”; “The Valley Meets the Bronze”; and “Hanging at Aardman Studios: A Workshop Exploration.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Game Night (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie’s (Rachel McAdams) weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So, when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game…right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this “game” — nor Brooks — are what they seem to be.
These ensemble comedies can be hit or miss, but everyone gels so well in this picture it’s a definite hit. While the couples are trying to solve the mystery, they’re also working out some personal problems ranging from self-esteem issues to an undisclosed celebrity encounter. It’s completely crazy and over-the-top as these suburban novices take on armed criminals in order to rescue Brooks. But once they’re in the game zone, it doesn’t matter that the rules change — they’re in it to win it. On the other hand, the heartfelt moments are somewhat lost in the comedy, though it’s barely noticeable since its only purpose is to maintain the narrative continuity.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and gag reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
I Kill Giants (Blu-ray)
RLJ Entertainment
Teen Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) is the only thing that stands between terrible giants and the destruction of her small town. But as she boldy confronts her fears in increasingly dangerous ways, her new school counselor (Zoe Saldana) leads her to question everything she’s always believed to be true.
In spite of the incredible integration of the monsters into Barbara’s reality, it’s obvious this is a movie about a girl with an overactive imagination. However, as the film progresses, it also becomes clear that her obsession with fighting these threats is linked to an underlying fear of something she does her best to avoid. This narrative is somewhat reminiscent of a similar story told in A Monster Calls, but this movie is exponentially better as it roots Barbara’s anxiety in the real world. As she lets people she trusts in on her secret, they become increasingly worried; but Barbara can’t be dissuaded because she’s convinced herself this is the only way to save herself and the world.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Anatomy of a Scene”; I Kill Giants graphic novel: chapter 1; and a photo gallery. (RLJ Entertainment)
The Monkey King 3 (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
While continuing their epic journey to the West, the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok) and his companions are taken captive by the Queen of an all-female land, who believes them to be part of an ancient prophecy heralding the fall of her kingdom. With a lot of sorcery and a little bit of charm, the travelers devise a plan to escape. But, when their trickery angers the mighty River God, they realize they might just bring about the foretold destruction — unless they can find a way to quell her wrath.
This installment of the fantasy series focuses on love and sacrifice, even though the monk never expected to have to deal with the former. Consequently, this chapter is not as action-packed as its predecessors. Instead, they spend much of their time trying to navigate this foreign kingdom, and withstand the magic of the place and its people. In the meantime, the Monkey King is not being taken in by any of this, leaving him alone to maintain a level head (surprisingly) and make the difficult decisions. The recurring actors have their characters down packed, though the woes of their hosts often overshadows mission.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
Of Unknown Origin (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
When not mired in the corporate rat race, Wall Street executive Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) is king of his sleek Manhattan brownstone … until he finds his castle under siege by the most determined of home intruders. Forced to enter a rat race of an entirely different sort, Bart takes a stand, with his survival and sanity at stake.
There are countless horror movies and thrillers featuring rat foes, but the most notable ones are generally more different than they are the same. In this picture, the rodent is an invader in Bart’s picture-perfect home and he’d rather destroy it then let the mangy beast take dominion. Conveniently, his wife and son are on vacation so they don’t have to watch his slow descent into the madness. His obsession grows frightening, but not more so than the rat’s apparent boldness in taunting its adversary. Bart’s deterioration is mirrored in the house’s, while the seemingly healthy rodent remains largely unseen and unscathed. Fortunately, the ending is a cathartic release of all the tension that built up over the course of the film.
Special features include: commentary by director George P. Cosmatos and actor Peter Weller; “The Origins of Unknown Origin,” an interview with executive producer Pierre David; “That Rat Movie,” an interview with writer Brian Taggert; “Hey, Weren’t You in Scanners?,” an interview with actor Louis Del Grande; still gallery; and theatrical trailers. (Scream Factory)
The Party (DVD)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
An intimate gathering of friends goes haywire when an unexpected announcement sets off a chain reaction exposing secrets, sex, and betrayal within the room…ending with a bang.
Shot in luminous black-and-white, the group’s emotions feel starker as they contend with various disloyalties, unwanted confessions and unforgettable (unforgivable?) arguments. The 71-minute film only really utilizes four locations around the house: the kitchen, bathroom, living room and backyard. The camera’s focus moves flawlessly from one conversation (or solitude moment) to the next, maintaining the mood via its monotonous colour and disregard for the start of an exchange. The picture is tight and deftly acted as the seven-person cast never falters in conveying this utter emotional chaos, which is only being held in check by the stoniness of certain personalities. Audiences will be riveted as they watch these characters implode while dinner burns in the oven.
Special features include: “A Real House – Making of a Film Set”; photo gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Peter Rabbit (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Peter Rabbit’s (James Corden) feud with Mr. McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) escalates to greater heights than ever before as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door (Rose Byrne).
Even though this movie stars characters featured in Beatrix Potter’s stories, it’s certainly not one of her narratives. Peter is essentially a rebellious teen trying to thwart his “mother’s” budding relationship, while also pulling childish pranks on her suitor. His sisters are amusing as their conflicting personalities and debates over who was born first (by seconds) make for some humorous conversations. However, the once sweet and playful rabbit’s antics seem too extreme and often mean-spirited — even if he is combatting someone who may want to harm him. On the other hand, the romance between McGregor and Peter’s human guardian is somehow even more fantastical than a bunch of talking animals.
Special features include: “Shake Your Cotton-Tail Dance Along”; “Mischief in the Making”; and “Flopsy Turvy” mini movie. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Red Sparrow (4K UHD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a former ballerina forced to enter Sparrow School, a secret government program that thrusts her into a treacherous espionage game between Russia and the CIA. She emerges trained as a lethal agent, but is trapped in a world she desperately wants to escape.
The core of this story is a gripping spy thriller as Dominika is ostensibly forced to go to “whore school” and essentially prostitute herself for her country — or face the fatal consequences of refusal. But in addition to being unbelievably clever, she’s a survivor so she finds a volatile balance between conscription and autonomy in which she attempts to maintain some control over her fate. At more than two hours in length, it’s difficult to hide the cracks — the most obvious being it’s too long. In spite of being comprised of numerous interesting scenes, there are also a number of moments that feel unnecessarily prolonged. This film clearly draws Lawrence out of her comfort zone. The actress has described her nakedness as a chance for her to take back ownership of her body after nude cellphone photos were stolen and leaked in 2014. Lawrence’s accent, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Russian accents are admittedly difficult to master since they can easily sound campy or just wrong. Unfortunately, in spite of Lawrence’s obvious efforts, it never sounds quite right.
Special features include: commentary by director Francis Lawrence; deleted scenes with optional commentary by Lawrence; “A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation”; “Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast”; “Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity”; “Heart of the Tempest: On Location”; “Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts”; and “A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
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