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article imageReview: This week’s releases begin by making a claim Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 28, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a tale of growing up; the second chapter of a divine TV series; the last season for an original cast member; a classic romcom based on a classic book; and the real story behind a woman’s claim to the throne.
American Gods: Season 2 (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
We were forged in God’s image, but the Gods are also made in ours — and this season the battle moves inexorably towards a crisis point as the destinies of gods and men collide. While Mr. World (Crispin Glover) plots revenge for the attack against him in season one, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) throws in his lot with Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) attempt to convince the Old Gods of the urgency for full-out war, with Laura (Emily Browning) and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) in tow. A council at the House on the Rock explodes into chaos, sending deities both Old and New on quests across America that will converge in Cairo, Illinois. Shadow is forced to carve out a place as a believer in this strange new world of living gods — a dark world where change demands commitment, and faith requires terrible sacrifice.
This is not a show you can watch casually. It requires the viewer’s full attention as brief glances, innocuous words and split-second decisions can have monumental consequences. Moreover, audiences won’t want to take their eyes off the screen as they may miss an awe-inspiring oddity or the creative scrawl of “somewhere in America” in a scene. Shadow is forced to recall aspects of his adolescence, which raises more questions about Wednesday’s interest in him. Laura’s quest to be alive again puts her in a strange partnership with her husband’s distrustful employer before pushing her towards a voodoo solution. Sweeney is ever restless, though a glimpse into his past provides a muddled truth of his madness. The Jinn (Mousa Kraish), Mama-ji (Sakina Jaffrey), Czernobog (Peter Stormare), Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) and others play a significant role this season, while World’s disciples have trouble getting along — especially his newest recruit, New Media (Kahyun Kim). The season finale is far from providing any resolutions, though it does raise a lot of questions, as usual.
Special features include: ““The House on the Rock: Setting the Stage”; “The Second Coming: Neil Gaiman on Season Two”; and “Gods and Ends: Random Musings from the Cast.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (DVD)
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Mill Creek Entertainment
In July of 1918, the Bolsheviks shot Russian Czar Nicholas II, his wife and their five children during the Russian Revolution. So begins the epic saga of Anna Anderson (Amy Irving), the woman who claimed until the day she died in 1984 that she was truly Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest child of Czar Nicholas II and sole survivor of the family's execution. Her story became one of the greatest romantic mysteries of the twentieth century. This adaptation of Anna's journey is also a depiction of a lost era, from her days of Russian royalty, her flight from execution and her years of struggle to reclaim her royal heritage.
This is a tragic yet intriguing true story that would no longer even be an issue thanks to modern-day DNA testing. Anna is found after a suicide attempt with amnesia. However, as she slowly regains her memories, her identity seems impossible. Police reports and eye witness accounts confirm her death several years earlier, yet she remembers things it would be impossible for her to know otherwise. Nevertheless, her heart is repeatedly broken each time a family member or former servant denies her authenticity — though they all have their motives for not acknowledging her claim. Supported by her smitten doctor and then by a childhood-friend-turned-reporter, she travels to New York in hopes of creating enough pressure to gain a meeting with her grandmother, the empress. The roadblocks to her acceptance are so subjective — and self-serving — it’s difficult to know the truth, though it would be very interesting if science was now permitted to evaluate her claim.
There are no special features. (Mill Creek Entertainment)
The Devil’s Playground (DVD)
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Artsploitation Films
Tom (Simon Burke) is a seminary student struggling with his nascent sexual yearnings and his divine calling. The seminary is lorded over by a group of Brothers who follow a harsh code of religious discipline, all the while repressing their own desires.
This is a behind the cloth look at life in what seems like somewhat of an unconventional seminary. On the one hand, some of the Brothers are incredibly strict about what is and is not allowed by everyone under their roof, including a ban on masturbation. On the other is a very old Brother who thinks their harsh limitations is actually a detriment to their cause and a couple of younger men who regularly test their devotion by going to a bar in the city. Tom is stuck in the middle of all this alongside his equally confused classmates who try to resist their urges to experiment, while also allowing temptation to lead them to live out a boarding school cliché.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Fred Schepisi; interview with Schepisi; featurette with Schepisi and key cast and crew; and theatrical trailer. (Artsploitation Films)
The Harder They Come (Blu-ray)
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Shout Select
Ivan Martin (Jimmy Cliff) is an aspiring singer who leaves his rural village for the big city of Kingston, hoping to make a name for himself. Robbed of his money and possessions on his first day in town, he finds work with a self-righteous preacher and an unscrupulous music mogul who exploits young hopefuls. In desperation, the simple country boy turns outlaw, at war with both the police and his rivals in the ganja trade. Ivan’s dream of stardom soon becomes a reality as he rises to the top of both the pop charts and the most-wanted lists.
Released in 1972, this was Jamaica’s first feature film and it was directed, produced and co-written by Perry Henzell, a white Jamaican. While this seemed unusual to many at the time, people were more surprised by the authenticity of the narrative. Henzell casted Cliff from an album cover and they’d go on to create one of the best-selling film soundtracks in spite of repeat tracks, using the music to propel the story forward. The movie’s title is the same as Ivan’s hit single, which climbs higher in the charts the more he’s wanted by the police. Ivan seems like a good guy to start, unfamiliar with the ways of the city. However, a desire to earn easy money and be a star puts him on the wrong path, and it’s not long before he’s careening down that road at breakneck speed. His transition from choir singer to cop killer seems extreme, but the narrative still works. This edition also include Henzell’s never released second feature, No Place Like Home.
Special features include: commentary by author David Katz (“Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography”); making-of featurette; "One And All: The Phenomenon Of The Harder They Come"; vintage interviews with actor Jimmy Cliff, producer Arthur Gorson and director Perry Henzell; interview with director of photography David MacDonald; interview with line producer Yvonne Brewster; feature film No Place Like Home; commentary with Sally Henzell, David Garonzik, Cookie Kinkaed, and Arthur Gorson; "Perry Henzell: A Filmmaker's Odyssey"; "Rise Up From The Cutting Room Floor"; P.J. Soles original vocal track and original acoustic guitar demo by Steven Soles for the song “World Full Of Beauty”; "Filmin' in the Gully – Anatomy of Three Scenes”; "Duppies In The Control Room"; "10A – Jamaica's Film Yard – The Story Of Perry Henzell's Kingston Home And Production Center”; “A Conversation with Sir Ridley Scott”; "Out of Many: One Filmmaker – The Disciples Of Perry Henzell”; “Everyone A Star: The Original Cast"; “Big Heap Of Help: The Original Supporting Team”; “Roots: The Family Henzell”; “How Perry Rocked The World”; “Live From The Reggae Awards”; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Select)
The New Kids (Blu-ray)
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Mill Creek Entertainment
Abby McWilliams' (Lori Loughlin) nightmare begins when she attracts the unwanted attention of teenage psychopath Eddie Dutra (James Spader). Turned down for a date, Eddie destroys Abby's home, vandalizes her uncle's car and nearly stomps her brother to death. But it's only when he kidnaps Abby from the school dance that Eddie shows his true feelings. Fueled by cocaine and armed with a shotgun, Eddie's lust turns to uncontrollable rage, as he takes Abby on a date from hell.
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, this movie has the same sort of slow build as Friday the 13th with Eddie and his friends gradually ramping up their terrorist antics. Abby is the pretty new girl in school and Eddie thinks he’s God’s gift to women, so he doesn’t take it well when she rejects him. The rest of his vulgar gang have similar reactions to her disinterest. While the movie was made well before the #metoo movement, it certainly speaks to the entitlement issue between men and women. Eddie and Abby were military kids, and their father made a point of ensuring they’d be ready for anything. While Eddie flexes his muscles a few times throughout the picture, the siblings work together to give the thugs their comeuppance at the end. It’s all a little over the top, but also firmly set in its era of bullies and horror.
There are no special features. (Mill Creek Entertainment)
Pan Am: The Complete Series (DVD)
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Mill Creek Entertainment
The Jet Age just hit full swing in 1963 and leading the way are Pan Am's elite stewardesses, who can navigate any culture and overcome any challenge. From New York City to the edge of the world, they will discover romance, natural dangers and exotic intrigue.
Set in the same era as the acclaimed series, Mad Men, it similarly captures the period’s stylish outfits and glossy lifestyles. However, this show is a bit more like a soap opera than its counterpart as the characters play out sensational storylines and have complicated relationships, including inconvenient pregnancy, affairs and secrets. There may have been an attempt to cater to a broader audience with a Cold War espionage narrative, but it feels somewhat shoehorned into the story. However, there are many ways in which it is grounded in the ‘60s, including a character who is a WWII survivor often confronted with difficult revelations. The show featured a familiar cast led by Christina Ricci, including Margot Robbie, Karine Vanasse, Kelli Garner, Mike Vogel and Michael Mosley. Unfortunately due to poor ratings, the series didn’t make it past its first season.
There are no special features. (Mill Creek Entertainment)
Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)
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GKids & Shout Factory
One stormy night, a girl is born inside a mountain fort, surrounded by her parents and a loving band of robbers. Now ten years old, Ronja has grown into a strong and active girl, who discovers the forest as both a beautiful and frightening place inhabited by unique creatures. She befriends the son of her father’s rival, which begins the drama of her friendship and family loyalties. As she struggles to balance this friendship with her family relationship, she comes to understand that differences can be overcome with the help of love and understanding.
This is a 26-part series of 25-minute episodes directed by Goro Miyazaki, who was a former creator at Studio Ghibli. He takes full advantage of this longer format, ending each episode on a note that compels the viewer to watch the next one to see what happens. While the robbers don’t have distinguishable national characteristics, there are a number of mystical creatures that make their world different from our own. The harpies are the most prominent and dangerous — giant birds with human-like female heads that taunt and feed on human flesh. Ronja and Birk’s friendship is very sweet, though there’s a constant reassurance their affections for each other are only those between siblings rather than anything romantic… for now, at least. They’re both practical and capable children, spending a lot of time away from adults and fending for themselves; though they’re not immune from childish mistakes or squabbles. Overall, it’s a well-rounded, self-contained story that ends when it’s ready.
Special features include: making-of featurette; interview with Goro Miyazaki; and press conference. (GKids & Shout Factory)
Roxanne (Blu-ray)
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Mill Creek Entertainment
In the little resort town of Nelson, Washington, well-loved Fire Chief C.D. Bales (Steve Martin) is sensitive about his remarkably long nose. Beautiful, intelligent astronomer Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) arrives in town to study a comet, but finds herself attracted to another newcomer: C.D.'s imported professional firefighter, Chris (Rick Rossovich). Roxanne confides her interest to the secretly-smitten C.D., who reluctantly passes it on to Chris. But Chris is dumbstruck and convinces C.D. to ghost-write a letter to Roxanne — one that, unbeknownst to Chris, is an outpouring of C.D.'s own feelings for her. Since it seems to both men that Roxanne wants, as Chris tells C.D., “a man that looks like me and talks like you,” the deception continues until Roxanne has fallen in love with the author of the passionate letters… even though C.D. remains certain she could never love a remarkable face like his.
A twist on the literary classic, Cyrano de Bergerac, the comedy has a lot of fun with its big-nosed poet and muscle-head suitor. Based on what viewers are shown, C.D. excels at everything from house gymnastics to kitten rescue, which makes him quite the catch — if anyone could look past his elongated sniffer. Consequently, his station’s firefighters are a group of incompetent buffoons, more likely to start a fire than put one out — though they do consist of a number of familiar faces. Thus, they’ve called up Chris as a ringer to hopefully turn things around and get everyone in line. The secret triangle with Roxanne puts a wrench in all of C.D.’s plans. Of course, it’s what’s inside that counts and Chris knows he could never live up to Roxanne’s expectations of him, while C.D. is convinced they could be happy together if she gave him a chance.
There are no special features. (Mill Creek Entertainment)
The Ugly American (Blu-ray)
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Mill Creek Entertainment
As a compassionate American ambassador to the strife-torn Southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan, Harrison Carter MacWhite (Marlon Brando) tries to keep the Communists in the north from overrunning the weakened democracy in the south by making sure a vital road into the country's inaccessible interior goes through. But, from his very arrival, MacWhite is met with suspicion and hate even by an influential freedom fighter now suspected of being a Communist agent.
At the start of the film, MacWhite sits in front of a congressional committee to convince them he is the best man for the job because he understands the people — not just linguistically, but he’s become close with some of the locals. However, when he returns, he discovers he doesn’t understand as much as he thought and no matter how many friends he makes he’s always going to be an outsider. Yet, he believes his solution is the best possible available and continues to try to sway those inclined to go to war. Another ex-pat encourages MacWhite to compromise by providing a more persuasive reasoning for the road, but he’s also a stubborn man that sees Sarkhan’s rejection of his proposal as a personal sleight. So the political thriller becomes an all or nothing battle MacWhite can’t win.
There are no special features. (Mill Creek Entertainment)
The Walking Dead: Season 9 (Blu-ray)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Last season brought the culmination of “All Out War,” which pitted Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group of survivors against the Saviors and their leader, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). With Negan’s life in his hands, Rick had a character-defining choice in front of him, and he spared Negan to uphold the values his late son, Carl, championed — values that created conflict within his group. Now, with our survivors rebuilding civilization under Rick’s leadership a year and a half after the end of the war, it’s a time of relative peace among the communities. However, the world they knew is rapidly changing, nature is literally taking over, and, as time passes, the communities confront unexpected obstacles and danger. But nothing can prepare them for the formidable force they’re about to encounter, threatening the very idea of civilization our survivors have worked so hard to build.
As has always been the case, even though Walkers are a never-ending threat, other living humans are eternally more dangerous. This season, they encounter a new, more ruthless group of survivors who’ve found a different way of adapting to the new world and mark their territory with the blood of their enemies. In the meantime, Negan has a lot of time to think in his cell, where Rick keeps him up-to-date and hopes to perhaps rehabilitate him. There’s a fair amount of time-jumping this season with it starting 18 months after the last and fast-forwarding another six years during, while also using flashbacks in a number of episodes. No character has ever been safe from death on the show and this season is no different. However, there is an unexpectedly devastating loss at the end that has immediate repercussions and will likely reverberate into next season.
Special features include: deleted scenes; bonus scene; making-of featurette; “Inside the Episode”; “Seasons Change”; “In Memoriam”; “The Whisperers: Behind the Mask”; “Rick Farewell”; and “Time Jump.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
More about American Gods, The Walking Dead, Ronja The Robbers Daughter, Anastasia The Mystery of Anna, The Devil's Playground
 
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