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article imageReview: This week delivers on odd mix of horror and family-friendly fun Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 30, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include some wonderful stories of magic fantasy; performances that will knock your socks off; the final chapter in a messy corporate adventure; and an eye-catching new package for a fan favourite.
The BFG (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
A courageous little girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is introduced to the wonders and perils of Giant Country by a gentle and charming Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance).
Based on the 1982 children’s book about the Big Friendly Giant, director Steven Spielberg brings Roald Dahl’s fantastical story to the screen in a manner that is both spectacular and magical. The opening scenes in which the giant is revealed are exceptional as they demonstrate his ability to sneak around in the night and travel incredible distances from England to his home in Giant Country. In spite of being CGI, the BFG is a wonderful character made ever more so by casting Rylance. There is also a very amusing sequence in which they have breakfast with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, which demonstrates her staff’s impressive ingenuity. As well as being striking to look at, the film is incredibly sweet (save the larger giants that are absolute bullies).
Special features include: “Bringing The BFG to Life”; “The Big Friendly Giant and Me”; “Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG”; “Giants 101”; and “Melissa Mathison: A Tribute.” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
When mysterious deaths plague a Texas retirement home, it's up to its most sequined senior citizen (Bruce Campbell) to take on a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy with a penchant for cowboy boots, bathroom graffiti and sucking the souls from the barely living.
The Evil Dead series is clear evidence Campbell is not afraid of a few hours in a make-up chair or playing eccentric characters in unconventional movies. Similarly, writer/director Don Coscarelli also created ‘70s and ‘80s cult classics Phantasm and The Beastmaster, so one expects a unique sort of picture and it certainly delivers on that front. Watching a retired Elvis impersonator, and a black man (Ossie Davis) convinced he’s John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson is trying to kill him, team up to stop a resurrected mummy sucking the life out of nursing home residents is unsurprisingly amusing. The pair may move slowly against the fashionable monster, but their vast years of experience make them formidable foes for the soul-feeder. Of course with this sort of oddball horror comedy, there are just some narrative leaps you must accept in order to move forward and enjoy the movie, such as the speed with which they identify their supernatural intruder. Funny and sometimes crude, this picture is a nice change from the standard.
Special features include: commentary by author Joe R. Lansdale; commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell; commentary by "The King"; deleted scenes with optional commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell; “All Is Well,” an Interview with writer/director Don Coscarelli; “The King Lives!,” an interview with star Bruce Campbell; “Mummies And Make-up,” an interview with special effects artist Robert Kurtzman; making-of featurette; "To Make A Mummy"; "Fit For A King"; "Rock Like An Egyptian"; “Joe R. Lansdale reads from Bubba Ho-Tep”; archival Bruce Campbell interviews; music video; still gallery; TV spot; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Carnage Park (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
It's 1978 and a bank robbery gone wrong forces two criminals to take a hostage — the young-but-resilient Vivian (Ashley Bell) — as they go on the run. But things go from bad to off-the-rails berserk when Vivian and her captors wind up in the crosshairs of a deranged ex-military sniper (Pat Healy), who ensnares them in his deadly game of cat and mouse.
When it comes to horror movies, some people say, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” And in some cases, such as this, that’s true. There is nothing original about this picture as Vivian finds herself stuck in a deadly outdoor maze while a crazy person with a rifle tracks her every move. She comes across some of his other victims ensnared in traps, including horror icon Larry Fessenden, but their meetings are typically brief. Thus, most of the film is spent watching Vivian run around from one location to the next while the inept sheriff (Alan Ruck) delivers empty threats to the serial killer. Supposedly based on a true story, this movie doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before.
There are no special features. (Scream Factory)
Chicken People (DVD)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Chickens may be just food for most people, but raising the perfect chicken is an all-consuming passion for some. This documentary takes a look at the colorful and hugely competitive world of champion show chicken breeders. A real life “Best in Show” but about chickens, the film follows the struggles and triumphs of both humans and their chickens on the road to compete at the Ohio National Poultry Show, considered the Westminster of Chickens.
Thousands of people watch the Westminster Dog Show every year to see which breed will be named best in show… but few are likely aware similar events are held to select the most perfect chicken annually. Although it doesn’t include a section to demonstrate the animal’s training and poise, there are many similarities when it comes to judging appearance. There are written guidelines defining must-have qualities and breeders spend ages perfecting their line of a specific breed — of which there are several. The frontrunners are preened and pampered leading up to their presentation where thousands of fowl compete for the coveted top spot. There is very little difference between this documentary about show chickens and another about show dogs, except that these tales are feathered. Unfortunately, the film is a relatively superficial look at the phenomenon and chooses fluff over an in-depth exploration of this strange pastime.
There are no special features. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Death of a Salesman (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
During the post-war boom period of the late '40s, Willy Loman (Dustin Hoffman) is an aging, traveling salesman, who despairs that his life has been lived in vain. Facing dispensability and insignificance in a heated, youthful economy, Willy is not ready to part with his cherished fantasies of an America that admires him for personable triumphs in the marketplace. But the reality is far more difficult than that, and the measure of Willy's self-delusion and contradictions is found in his two sons. One, Harold (Stephen Lang), is a ne'er-do-well gliding on inherited hot air and repressed feelings, and the other, Biff (John Malkovich), a mousy, retiring sort unable to reconcile the difference between his father's desperate impersonation of success and the truth.
Most often, the key to successfully bringing a stage play to the screen is the acting. In this case, they casted a couple of powerhouses in Hoffman and Malkovich to play the two feuding Lowmans. The sets are still relatively simplistic and easy to imagine on a stage with a few minor adjustments. The appeal is watching these skilled actors perform Arthur Miller’s incredible script with absolute authority. Hoffman’s portrayal is heart-wrenching as Willy slowly loses his grip on reality while holding steadfastly to ideals that are simply no longer applicable in a world that’s moving on and leaving him behind. Likewise, Malkovich’s frustration as Biff, the son who would always disappoint because expectations of him had been set so high, is fantastic; for both young men, it’s easier to lie than face anymore criticism. Charles Durning also appears as Willy’s neighbour and friend, leading to a very moving exchange between the two men.
Special features include: “Private Conversations,” behind-the-scenes featurette. (Shout Select)
Don’t Breathe (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Three young thieves (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto) fight for their lives after breaking into the home of a blind man (Stephen Lang) who has a dark side.
This is a reverse heist movie in which the robbers are pursued by their target. Trapped in the blind man’s house with his secrets makes escape far more difficult then they could’ve imagined. Though there is some introductory content at the start of the film, it doesn’t really find its stride until the burglary begins. From the moment they walk up the blind man’s driveway, the intensity begins to build and is more-or-less maintained throughout the rest of the picture. While writer/director Fede Alvarez demonstrates a clear understanding of the fundamentals of creating an effective thriller in his sophomore feature, there are also some serious issues with the movie. At the film’s start, there is a significant plot point that remains unaddressed for the rest of the picture even though it is a catalyst for the main narrative. Then the final act consists of a seemingly endless series of conclusions. Yet in spite of its faults, the film is a mostly respectable thriller with a talented cast and tangible atmosphere.
Special features include: commentary by director Fede Alvarez, co-writer Rodo Sayagues and actor Stephen Lang; deleted scenes with director’s commentary; “No Escape”; “Creating the Creepy House”; “Meet the Cast”; “Man in the Dark”; and “The Sounds of Horror.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Dr. Strange (DVD)
Shout Factory
A modern hospital may seem worlds apart from the days of ancient sorcerers. But for psychiatrist Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten) and his patient Clea Lake (Eddie Benton), this is where those worlds collide and the nightmare begins. Nothing Strange learned in medical school could prepare him for an attack by Morgan le Fay (Jessica Walter), an evil sorceress from the "fourth dimension” who plans an invasion of unimaginable evil on Earth. Chosen by an ancient guardian of the spirit world to learn the mystic arts to defeat Morgan and safeguard the Earth, Strange must take the place of the Earth's last sorcerer.
Though Dr. Strange is not one of the most popular comic book characters, his story has been attempted before the awesome Marvel Studios production released earlier this month. This version has a very ‘70s focus on the magical aspect of the narrative that transports Strange to a dark dimension in which his dreams can come true if he surrenders to his seductress enemy. His power, unsurprisingly, lies in a ring he inherited and it’s up to him to harness it. The film has a familiarity common with other fantasy pictures from the same period, which allows it to serve as a pleasant counter to the big screen, big budget version with which most audiences will now be acquainted.
There are no special features. (Shout Factory)
Hell or High Water (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
A story about the collision of the Old and New West, two brothers — Toby (Chris Pine), a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son, and Tanner (Ben Foster), a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger — come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the crosshairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the last honest law man and a pair of brothers with nothing to live for except family collide.
Although the premise may sound familiar, this is a highly original Western. The Howards are not hardened criminals or career thieves. Tanner has somewhat of a violent past, but the bank robberies are a matter of necessity — his little brother needs his help and he can’t say “no.” Similarly, Toby is the farthest thing from a delinquent. He lives a quiet, unglamorous life on the dilapidated ranch, but desperation can force a man to do things he never dreamed possible. Their personalities couldn’t be more different; however, the brotherly love they share, which has survived years of hardship and separation, is obvious throughout the entire picture. The dialogue in this movie is exceptional. It achieves a balance between the picture’s grit and a dark, unexpected humour. In between all the drama, audiences will find themselves smiling and even laughing far more often than the premise suggests. It’s amazing what filmmakers accomplish in a single diner scene with an exchange between the Rangers and a crotchety old waitress.
Special features include: “Enemies Forever: The Characters of Hell or High Water”; “Visualizing the Heart of America”; “Damaged Heroes: The Performances of Hell or High Water”; filmmaker Q&A; and red carpet premiere. (VVS Films)
House of Lies: The Final Season (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Now that Kaan & Associates is back on top, their biggest mission is staying there. The tight-knit, profit-seeking pod launches life-changing moves with some game-changing tactics. Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) and Jeannie Van Der Hooven (Kristen Bell) venture into new romances while they co-parent their baby daughter. Numbers analyst Doug Guggenheim (Josh Lawson) tackles an item on his bucket list by preparing and delivering a Ted Talk, while spin doctor Clyde Oberholt (Ben Schwartz) lends his skills to a mayoral candidate. Together, the team’s unconventional management style continues to make corporate waves. And an unexpected offer from the past could alter all of their futures.
After the drama of the previous season, this one gets off to a pretty good start for everyone. They’re in relationships, making money and all appear quite happy… until it all implodes again. But this is definitely one of those times it may be all for the better. Audiences are treated to a rap/dance sequence featuring Jeanie, more witticisms à la Marty’s freeze frames and some great guest appearances, including Keegan-Michael Key, Wanda Sykes, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Michael Cudlitz and Carlos Gómez. In spite of being the last season, very little changes in terms of narrative as they spend each episode pursuing a client and trying to repair their personal lives. The final two episodes begins with the expected glimpses of an unattractive future before backtracking to “earlier,” while also providing an interesting commentary on the impending Cuban invasion by American tourists.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
The Jungle Book 3D Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub raised in the jungle by a family of wolves, embarks on a journey of self-discovery when he’s forced to abandon the only home he’s ever known.
The casting for this film is impeccable. The entire picture rests on Sethi’s young shoulders, which is a lot to ask of an actor starring in his first feature; especially when most of his co-stars are digitally produced animals. Nonetheless he appears to fit right into his jungle habitat, running and jumping through trees like it’s second nature. Sethi is very likeable as Mowgli, combining charm, innocence and ingenuity as he tries to find his place in his adoptive home. Meanwhile, the voice cast perfectly represents their characters’ knowledge, cunning, charisma and cruelty respectively. With the original animated film as the only point of reference, the amount of action in this version is somewhat surprising. There are a number of chases, both friendly and otherwise, that immerse the audience in the environment and the story, keeping them on the edge of their seats — the 3D also contributes in this respect as depth and many layers of the jungle become more apparent in this format. Director Jon Favreau does an excellent job balancing the animals’ natural instincts and their human traits, including two seamless musical numbers.
Special features include: commentary by director Jon Favreau; “’The Bare Necessities’: From the Jungle to the Bayou”; “The Return of a Legend”; “The Jungle Effect”; “Developing Kaa”; “The Jungle Book Around the World”; “The Jungle Book Reimagined”; “I am Mowgli”; and “King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer.” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
Late Night Double Feature (Blu-ray)
Parade Deck Films
During a late night taping of Dr. Nasty's (Brian Scott Carleton) Cavalcade of Horror, bloody chaos takes place while screening two features (Dinner for Monsters and Slit). Samantha/Nurse Nasty (Jamie Elizabeth Sampson) becomes frustrated with how the show is being run by its womanizing director and its drunk and crazy host, Dr. Nasty and plots revenge.
Anthologies are a popular structure in horror as it allows several filmmakers to work together in telling briefer stories while maintaining a full-length format. The first film in the double bill is relatively competent in its inexplicable depiction of a morbid gathering. The scenes in the kitchen are vague and frenetic, and probably the weakest visual in the story. Conversely, the ghoulish portrayal of the dinner guests is exceptionally well done and makes them cartoonish and unmistakably evil. The second “feature” is bloody and morally ambiguous as it focuses on facilitating a specific aspect of mental illness; though it does later condemn the provider’s actions via a horrific confrontation. The pace of this movie, however, doesn’t match the higher energy of its predecessors, which does disrupt the overall flow to some extent. Finally the framing story embraces the spirit of grindhouse, but possibly too heartily as Nurse Nasty is somewhat of a punching bag for the male personalities
Special features include: commentary by directors; commentary by actors; commentary by producers; making-of featurette; storyboard comparison; video from the New York City and Toronto premiere; photo and art galleries; and trailers. (Parade Deck Films)
Pete’s Dragon (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
When a mysterious 10-year-old boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) turns up, claiming to live in the woods with a giant green dragon, it’s up to a forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), and her daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), to learn where the boy came from, where he belongs and the truth about the magical dragon.
While the general premise and much of the dialogue remains the same, this movie has little in common with its predecessor. The cheery musical elements have been replaced with gloomy commentary about deforestation, and the hokey narrative is now a more serious, reality-based story about a lost boy. Elliott also has an entirely new look that is furrier and reminiscent of The Neverending Story’s Falcor. Even though it’s sometimes cute, the CGI is impeccable and the concept of a friendly, caring dragon that can become invisible is still attractive, the tale is no longer as much fun as it should be and was previously. All the actors are wonderful, including Robert Redford in the role of the charming grandfather and Karl Urban as the movie’s environmental villain, but it’s a pretty heavy script that may make your heart hurt more than expected and in unwelcome ways for this particular story (fighting the urge to yell, “Stop hurting Elliott,” at the screen/filmmakers was not a one-time occurrence).
Special features include: commentary by director David Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks, and actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence; “Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary”; “Making Magic” ; “Disappearing Moments”; music videos; and bloopers. (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
Rabid (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
After undergoing radical emergency surgery, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) develops an insatiable desire for blood. She searches out victims to satisfy her incurable craving, infecting them with an unknown disease which in turn swiftly drives them insane and makes them equally bloodthirsty. Follow the lovely but deadly Rose through her terrifying ordeal as victim by victim, the spreading circle of casualties grows until no one can escape their grisly fate of becoming “rabid.”
This was writer/director David Cronenberg’s follow-up to his feature debut, Shivers. The premise is somewhat similar to his first film as a virus/parasite infects the population; however they remove the walls and allow it to spread across Montreal rather than restrict it to a single location. It also serves as somewhat of a commentary on medical ethics since the debacle starts when a doctor uses an experimental beautification process to treat an accident wound without permission. It’s interesting to note the lead role was given to a former porn star, though not that far-fetched considering she spends a lot of time hugging people and is only called upon to really act in a few scenes spread throughout the picture. The video essay is an interesting companion piece found in the bonus features, along with interviews with Cronenberg about his early career.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director David Cronenberg; commentary by William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg; interview with author Jill C. Nelson (Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women Of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985) And Marilyn Chambers' personal appearances manager Ken Leicht; “Young And Rabid,” an interview with actress Susan Roman; interview with David Cronenberg; interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman; interview with co-producer Don Carmody; “From Stereo To Video,” a video essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came From Within: A History Of Canadian Horror Cinema; still gallery; radio and TV spots; and original theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Snowtime! (Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Shout Kids
To amuse themselves during the winter school break, the kids in a small village decide to have a massive snowball fight. Luke (Angela Galuppo) and Sophie (Mariloup Wolfe), both 11 years old, become the leaders of the opposing sides. Sophie and her cohort defend an elaborate snow fort against the assault of Luke's horde. Whichever side occupies the fort at the end of the winter break, wins. But what starts out as pure youthful fun and enthusiasm deteriorates into a more serious conflict. Joy is restored when all the children decide to attack the fort rather than each other and happily destroy every last bit of the snow fort.
For everyone who grew up in a cold climate or snow-belt, this story will ring true – because when you’re a kid, snow has very different connotations than it does for adults as it represents fun rather than work. Moreover, playful opposition can instantaneously take on more serious meaning when one is young and everything seems crucial as it’s happening. The ingenuity of one of the children leads to the (off-screen) creation of an epic, multi-level fort, complete with secret passages and turrets. The battles match the greatness of the structure as they all disarm themselves of snowballs via their homemade weapons. But as the saying goes, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” It’s never intentional, but sometimes the overzealousness of youth is accompanied by carelessness and these kids must deal with the consequences. In this sense, it deals with some pretty heavy issues and may have taken on too many of them to really dedicate an appropriate amount of time to each.
Special features include: interviews with starts Sandra Oh and Ross Lynch, producer Marie Claude and musicians Celine Dion, Simple Plan and Walk off the Earth; and teaser and theatrical trailers. (Lionsgate)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lucasfilm & Walt Disney Studios
As Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the sinister First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing when the galaxy needs him most. It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a desert scavenger, and Finn (John Boyega), a defecting Stormtrooper, to join forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in a desperate search for the one hope of restoring peace to the galaxy.
Scrupulous fans can finally take home the 3D version of Episode VII and examine it frame-by-frame for any missed details. The mix of old and new characters mesh seamlessly, interacting naturally, drawing on the past and combining their efforts for good or evil. The return of Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) provides a surge of nostalgia and it’s equally satisfying to see the Millennium Falcon is still a formidable piece of machinery. Rey and Finn have an entertaining and sustainable chemistry, while Poe is the new smart-aleck of the group. On the opposite side of The Force, Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums rival even Anakin Skywalker’s as the dark side nurtures his anger and petulance. J.J. Abrams’ efforts to create a visually captivating experience are well worth the trouble, as using real sets and practical effects give the film a tangible feel that cannot be accomplished with CGI. Moreover, the appearance of the light saber battles and air fights in 3D are definitely something to behold. There are even more bonus features included than on the previous release. It contains a 68-minute making-of featurette, and all of which contains info fans will enjoy as well as demonstrate the cast and crew are as big admirers as anyone. There are also six deleted scenes, all of which could have added something to the story but are ultimately not missed in the final cut. And the new packaging for the 3D release is very attractive, inside and out.
Special features include: commentary by director J.J. Abrams; deleted scenes; “Foley: A Sonic Tale”; “Sounds of the Resistance”; “Dressing the Galaxy”; “Inside the Armoury”; “The Scavenger and the Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega”; “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey”; “The Story Awakens: The Table Read”; “Building BB-8”; “Crafting Creatures”; “Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight”; “John Williams: The Seventh Symphony”; “ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force”; and “Force For Change.” (Lucasfilm & Walt Disney Studios)
The Wild Life (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Embark on a tropical misadventure with a group of quirky animals and their human castaway, Robinson Crusoe (Matthias Schweighöfer). When savage cats invade their paradise, Robinson and the island’s animals team up to defend themselves and their home.
This animated feature takes Daniel Defoe’s famous protagonist and puts him at the mercy of a group of wild animals in an uncultivated jungle on an unknown island. Narrated by a parrot who wants nothing more than to travel, the story takes on amusing plot twists such as snarly feral cats insisting on causing trouble and protective animals banning together to defend their home against the invader. However it’s a rather light-hearted tale as the native creatures choose to cooperate with the marooned human, while also benefiting from the goods he recovers from the shipwreck. The parrot chimes in quite often, which can be somewhat distracting but is also typical of movies geared towards younger audiences such as this cute and colourful picture.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Meet the Characters”; “Tips for Your Trip”; and “The Wild Life Musical Adventure.” (Lionsgate)
More about The BFG, Pete's Dragon, the jungle book, House of Lies, Hell or High Water
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