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article imageReview: This week’s releases are all about the ties that bind Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 21, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include families pulling together to get through tough times; an effectively updated Western; the whole story regarding a nationwide news item; and a slightly confused animated feature.
31 (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Lionsgate
On Halloween, five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an isolated compound known as “Murderworld.” At the mercy of their captors, they are forced to play a twisted game of life or death called 31. For the next 12 hours they must fight for their lives against an endless parade of homicidal maniacs.
This movie is reminiscent of writer/director Rob Zombie’s earlier pictures, particularly House of 1000 Corpses, in which a lot of people are murdered by bloodthirsty maniacs. It predictably has a terrific and eclectic soundtrack, including tracks from Lynard Skynard, Kitty Wells and Zombie himself. The film also features numerous Zombie veterans, such as Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster and Malcolm McDowell. However, it lacks any solid character development. The only one to come close to being fleshed out is one of the more notorious murderers, Doom-Head (Richard Barke), who opens the movie and reappears in the last act as he’s virtually the only one with much of a personality. The other killers include a Spanish dwarf impersonating Hitler and a platinum-haired couple — all of whom where clown makeup.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Rob Zombie; and making-of featurette. (Lionsgate)
Bridget Jones’s Baby (Blu-ray & DVD)
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Universal Home Entertainment
Forty-something and single again after breaking-up with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), Bridget (Renée Zellweger) decides to focus on her job and surround herself with old friends and new. But her love life takes a turn when she meets a dashing American named Jack (Patrick Dempsey), the suitor who is everything Mr. Darcy is not. In an unlikely twist, Bridget finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch — she can only be 50 per cent sure of her baby’s father’s identity.
In some ways, this is probably the silliest movie in the franchise as Bridget goes to great lengths to first hide her uncertainty from both potential fathers and then insist they go through the pregnancy together until the father can be identified. Unfortunately Dempsey is no Hugh Grant, so the macho rivalry between Jack and Darcy is never quite as entertaining nor do they go to the extreme measures previously seen to out-do each other and win Bridget’s approval. Essentially abandoning the diary format of previous narratives, Bridget’s inner monologue is delivered live from her head to audience’s ears. Her character has truly grown from the insecure, sad-to-be-single woman in the earlier pictures to one who is confident and capable of handling almost any situation without a total meltdown. It’s somewhat reassuring for the viewers to see even Bridget can more-or-less get it together.
Special features include: alternate ending; deleted and alternate scenes; making-of featurette; and gag reel. (Universal Home Entertainment)
Daredevil: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
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Marvel Studios
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is an attorney by day and vigilante by night. Blinded in an accident as a child, Murdock uses his heightened senses as Daredevil, fighting crime on the streets of New York after the sun goes down. His efforts are not welcomed by powerful businessman Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and others whose interests collide with those of the superhero. Though Murdock's day job portrays a man who believes in the criminal justice system, his alter ego suggests otherwise, as he takes the law into his own hands to protect Hell's Kitchen and the surrounding communities.
While the big screen adaptation of this Marvel comic hero was deemed a failure, the Netflix reimagining is dark and enthralling. It’s easy for Murdock to keep his secret identity hidden when he’s taking down low-level thugs who never stood a chance to start; but when he begins to take on Fisk and his crew, the risks and consequences grow graver. Rosario Dawson plays a convenient acquaintance who also happens to be a nurse, while Elden Henson portrays Murdock’s best friend and the one who stands to be hurt the most by his secret. D’Onofrio’s authenticity as the rising villain is both surprising and disturbing, and opens the door for a much more adversarial season two.
There are no special features. (Marvel Studios)
The Disappointments Room (DVD)
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Fox Home Entertainment
Looking for a fresh start, Dana (Kate Beckinsale), David (Mel Raido) and their five-year-old son move from the big city to a rural Southern mansion in need of restoration. But the young family’s dream home quickly becomes a chilling nightmare when Dana discovers a hidden room in the attic, unleashing unexplainable events that test her sanity and slowly reveal shocking secrets from the past.
This is a psychological horror movie in which the audience is meant to constantly question Dana’s sanity. The more interesting part of the narrative lies in the fact that at least part of the premise is true — at one time there was a tradition of families concealing their undesirables in a secret room where they’d live out their days. However the horror of the room is amplified by the possibility of it being haunted by the ghosts of the house’s former occupants. Beckinsale doesn’t quite capture the nuances of her character’s gradual demise, but she does adequately portray a woman losing her grip on reality… although the insertion of a handsome contractor feels out of place in the story.
Special features include: “Unwanted: Inside The Disappointments Room.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
Equity (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
A female investment banker (Anna Gunn), fighting to rise to the top of the corporate ladder at a competitive Wall Street firm, navigates a controversial tech IPO in the post-financial crisis world, where loyalties are suspect, regulations are tight, but pressure to bring in “big money” remains high.
This is a film made by women about women in the financial sector. Making many of the same unapologetic narrative choices as the recently released Miss Sloane, this movie portrays women in positions of power and the extra hoops they must continually jump through to stay there. Interestingly, the main conflict occurs between two female executives — the equivalent of a unicorn in the real world. They’re both very good at their jobs and work well together, while also seeing each other as rivals for the same smaller piece of the company pie. In some cases the story plays second fiddle to the movie’s objective of portraying realistic women in this sector, which is forgivable considering the scarcity of these portrayals to start. Gunn is a strong lead and most of her co-stars follow suit.
Special features include: “Girl Gang: The Equity of Empowerment”; “Grey Lines: The Making of Equity”; and “Los Angeles Film Festival Q&A.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Goat (DVD)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
Reeling from a terrifying assault over the summer, 19-year-old Brad Land (Ben Schnetzer) starts college determined to get his life back to normal. His brother, Brett (Nick Jonas), is already established on campus and in a fraternity that tempts Brad, who is desperate to belong. As he sets out to join, Brett exhibits reservations — a sentiment that threatens to divide them. The stakes violently increase with a series of torturous and humiliating events during “Hell week.” What occurs in the name of ‘brotherhood’ tests both boys and their relationship in brutal ways.
This film re-enacts many of the traumas and insecurities surrounding hazing and the desperation to join a frat at any cost. In addition to the sense of belonging to a group that promises camaraderie, there are also perks to membership — namely girls, flowing alcohol and countless parties. However, the privilege of joining comes at a price; the bulk of which is paid during Hell week, though hazing continues through the first semester. These so-called rituals are pretty disturbing and often sadistic as brothers are shown literally torturing their pledges. In case the inappropriateness of their behaviour isn’t obvious enough, they even make reference to Guantanamo in their shenanigans. Schnetzer and Jonas appear to understand their characters, as the former staggers between emotions and the latter becomes disenchanted with the brotherhood.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
The Hollars (DVD)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
A struggling NYC artist, John Hollar (John Krasinski), is forced to return to the small middle-American town he left behind after learning about his mother’s (Margo Martindale) illness. Back in the house he grew up in, John is immediately swept up in the problems of his dysfunctional family, high school rival, and an over-eager ex-girlfriend as he faces impending fatherhood with his NYC girlfriend (Anna Kendrick).
This is somewhat of a fragmented film as each of the characters — John, his brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) and their father Don (Richard Jenkins) — is dealing with personal crises alongside the mother’s illness. Nonetheless she is the common thread that holds them all together, narratively and emotionally. The cast is incredible and raises the otherwise conventional story to new levels as they deliver performances to which audiences can connect. Martindale is especially noteworthy as she is at the heart of the family drama, and portrays the matriarch beautifully with humour and love. Kendrick is the only other prominent female character and her performance is effectively low-key and supportive given the situation. Krasinski skillfully surrounds himself with fitting talent and appears to let them bring this touching story to life.
Special features include: commentary by director/actor John Krasinski and actress Margo Martindale; “The Family Trust: Inside The Hollars”; “Persistent Vision: Margo Martindale”; and L.A. Film Festival Q&A with Krasinski, Kendrick and Martindale. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Magnificent Seven (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The desperate townspeople of Rose Creek employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns after the town falls under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Vincent D'Onofrio and Martin Sensmeier) find themselves fighting for more than money.
In spite of never working in this particular genre before, director Antoine Fuqua has built his career around filming great, often underestimated, men facing insurmountable obstacles. The gist of the story remains the same as does some of the memorable dialogue; however, the attitudes of some of the characters — particularly the townspeople — have been updated. Likewise, the heroes are a multi-racial group of warriors whose union still makes sense in the context of the narrative. For better or worse, updating a Western for a contemporary audience involves developing it into more of an action movie. Thus once all the entertaining introductions are completed in the first hour of the picture, it’s time for the defenders to get their hands dirty. Unsurprisingly, the cast is perfectly suited to their roles with Fuqua recruiting a few performers he’s worked with previously and expanding the list with other more-than-capable actors to bring this iconic band of protagonists to life in what is probably an unnecessary remake, but still wholly enjoyable film.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Vengeance Mode”; “Gunslingers”; “The Taking of Rose Creek”; “Directing the Seven”; “Rogue Bogue”; “The Seven”; and “Magnificent Music.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Maximum Ride (DVD)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
Six DNA-enhanced young orphans with the ability to fly go on an extraordinary journey to rescue the youngest of their flock, while discovering diabolical secrets about how they came to exist. Their leader is Max, wise beyond her years, who must summon all her courage and acumen to outmaneuver the brutal half-human/half-wolf creations known as “Erasers,” confront her own inner demons and ultimately face a stunning betrayal.
A new take on the mutant narrative, these kids don’t have the luxury of adults guiding them through the complexity of their abilities. Therefore teenage Max takes the reins and keeps them safe the only way she knows how — by hiding. Her sense of morality is strong and often directs her actions, for better or worse. Flashbacks provide glimpses of the institution that supposedly created them, as well as their Eraser enemies. The design of their mutations is appealing and filmmakers sufficiently squeeze a multi-faceted yet relatively complete story into 100 minutes — though this is obviously meant to be the first movie in a series, which wouldn’t necessarily be an unwelcome prospect.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Fox Home Entertainment
When 16-year-old Jake (Asa Butterfield) unravels a mystery that spans alternate realities and times, he discovers a secret world for children with unusual powers, including levitating Emma (Ella Purnell), pyrokinetic Olive (Lauren McCrostie) and invisible Millard (Cameron King). But danger soon arises and the children must band together to protect a world as extraordinary as they are.
Based on a young adult book, this is a fascinating story that spans time in a relatively unique manner. Jake begins in 2016, but travels back to WWII in an attempt to connect with Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and his grandfather’s past. While no one else believes the old man’s tales of special children, even as a teen Jake is still convinced it was all true. This film’s style is reminiscent of director Tim Burton’s previous fantasy movies, Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish. The story is somewhat dark as its monstrous villains (led by Samuel L. Jackson) prey on other peculiars, but it’s also filled with a contrasting vibrancy characteristic of Burton’s pictures. The costumes and sets are exquisite, encouraging viewers to become absorbed by the narrative. Moreover the special effects are used in service of telling the story and doesn’t draw attention to itself, which in turn allows the focus to remain on the enchanting characters.
Special features include: “The Peculiar Story”; “The Peculiars”; “Hollows and Ex-hollows”; “Map of Days: Miss Peregrine’s Home/Blackpool Tower”; “Wish That You Were Here” music video by Florence + the Machine; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Morgan (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Fox Home Entertainment
Inside a remote, top-secret lab, a group of scientists are working on an experiment that is leading the way for the next steps in human evolution. But when the experiment’s subject — a genetically designed “human” (Anya Taylor-Joy) — triggers a terrifying event, those involved must decide if the promise of infinite potential outweighs the incalculable danger.
The trailer gives the impression the sci-fi movie is this generation’s Species. However that’s not really this film’s premise at all. The other characters have strong opinions regarding Morgan’s rights and likeness to humans, making strong arguments for either side of the debate. Kate Mara’s character, Lee Weather, is immediately positioned as a straight-laced, formidable opponent in any situation. She’s there to do a job and nothing or no one will sway her from completing it. However, it’s also clear early on that the facility’s staff will be her greatest obstacle as they’ve become emotionally attached to their experiment. Morgan often appears to be a normal teenage girl; but like the flip of a switch, she can turn deadly. The ethics of the picture’s personalities are left for the audience to debate and they’ll likely find it difficult to make a clear determination between right and wrong. But as the narrative progresses, the viewer’s attention is shifted to its action elements and all the thoughtful prodding is left at the wayside.
Special features include: commentary by Luke Scott; deleted scenes; “Modified Organism: The Science Behind Morgan”; “Loom,” Luke Scott’s short film with commentary; and still gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Scream Queens: The Complete First Season (DVD)
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Fox Home Entertainment
A mysterious “Red Devil” killer wreaks havoc at Wallace University’s Kappa Kappa Tau sorority, putting every pledge on edge. Tension mounts as it becomes clear that anyone could be the murderer — or the next victim. Meanwhile, Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) forces Kappa’s tyrannical fashionista president, Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), to accept anyone who wants to join the sorority.
This series is totally over-the-top — but everyone involved seems to be aware of the ridiculousness of the show, which permits audiences to laugh with it most of the time rather than watch cringing from a safe distance. Chanel is undoubtedly one of the most outrageous and demanding sorority girls to hit screens, renaming her minions after herself and treating the dean like a subordinate because her father’s rich. The new pledges are less tyrannical, but fall victim to other acts of stupidity as the show progresses. Curtis’ participation in the series sometimes seems brilliant and other times confusing as she is both the perfect person to parody the genre while it simultaneously seems unworthy of her to do so. Regardless, the one thing they must all be given credit for is never holding back.
Special features include: “Rush Kappa”; “Between Two Queens”; and “Style Queens.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
Storks (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Storks deliver babies… or at least they used to. Now they deliver packages for global Internet retail giant Cornerstore.com. Junior (Andy Samberg), the company’s top delivery stork, is about to be promoted when the Baby Factory is accidentally activated on his watch, producing an adorable — and wholly unauthorized — baby girl. Desperate to deliver this bundle of trouble before the boss gets wise, Junior and his friend Tulip (Katie Crown), the only human on Stork Mountain, race to make their first-ever baby drop, in a journey that could make more than one family whole and restore the storks’ true mission in the world.
This cartoon is based on a children’s story meant to delay the “where do babies come from” conversation, though its use may not be as prominent anymore. While this version removes the babies’ creation from a deity and gives it to a machine, the gist is the same. Having been raised by storks, Tulip is a predictably eccentric character, which in turn makes her the perfect half of an odd couple with Junior, who is very straight-laced. There is a lot going on for an animated movie as Junior and Tulip deal with the pink-haired baby, his co-workers conspire against him and the expectant family build a landing pad for their incoming bundle of joy. As a result, it’s a pretty messy narrative that doesn’t feel very cohesive.
Special features include: commentary by director Nicholas Stoller; deleted scenes with optional commentary; " Storks: Guide to Your New Baby”; “The Master: A LEGO Ninjago Short”; “Kiss the Sky” music video by Jason Derulo. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Sully (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
On Thursday, January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.
Director Clint Eastwood does an excellent job relating the many sides of this story simultaneously. The re-enactment of the emergency landing is played out in fragments throughout the picture, while the investigators pick apart all of Sully’s split-second decisions. In between, audiences are shown the turmoil he and his co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart) experienced as they are persecuted in the media while awaiting the results that will define their careers. Without having seen the actual hearings, it’s difficult to know if the investigators’ claims of misrepresented villainy are legitimate… but if the movie’s portrayal of their methods is truthful, one has to question their procedures. In any case, combining the talents of Eastwood and Hanks produces a perfectly watchable depiction of this noteworthy event.
Special features include: “Sully Sullenberger: The Man Behind the Miracle”; “Moment by Moment: Averting Disaster on the Hudson”; and “Neck Deep in the Hudson: Shooting Sully.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
More about the magnificent seven, Sully, Morgan, Bridget Jones's Baby, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
 
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