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article imageReview: This week’s releases challenge people’s comfort zones Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 6, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include true war stories; a magical animated adventure; a mind-bending thriller; a horror movie with real-life connections; and a classic family drama.
12 Strong (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
The film is set in the days following 9/11 when an elite U.S. Special Forces unit led by their Captain, Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. soldiers sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission in response to the attacks. Leaving their families behind, the team is dropped into the remote, rugged landscape of northern Afghanistan, where they must convince General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans — accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare — must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghan horse soldiers. Despite forming an uneasy bond and growing respect, the new allies face overwhelming odds: vastly outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners.
This is a traditional war movie with a unique perspective. For years, this mission was kept a secret even though it played a crucial role in the fight against the Taliban and creating allies in Afghanistan. A cynic says why wouldn’t Dostum join forces with the U.S. when they can provide airstrikes on their enemy; but this film demonstrates that even though the alliance gave them a distinct advantage, the general required more than just artillery support to allow the Americans into the fold. It’s one thing to see the tribute to the horse soldiers at the 9/11 memorial site, but it’s quite another to see them in action alongside Afghanis with a common enemy. Hemsworth, Negahban and Michael Shannon lead the charge in this well-acted war drama.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and “Monumental Effort: Building America’s Response Monument.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Kaleidoscope (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory
Recently released from prison, mild-mannered Carl (Toby Jones) quietly attempts to move on with his life. Just as he embarks on his first date in 15 years, Carl’s fresh start is shattered by the sudden reappearance of his domineering mother (Anne Reid), whose presence awakens within him a deep-seated trauma. What unfolds is a brain-warping puzzle as reality and illusion, past and present collide and explode in violence.
Reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, it becomes increasingly clear Carl’s perspective of things cannot be trusted. As he tries to remember the night before via flashbacks, the story hits a fence that only reveals fragments of the most important and contentious moment of the evening followed by very suspicious actions on his part. As the images of his mother and lover intertwine, it creates not only a confused timeline but also an unpredictable perception of reality. With no other witnesses to turn to, Carl is the only source of information, which becomes increasingly disordered and unreliable. Directed by Toby’s brother, Rupert Jones, the film is a gripping voyage into a constantly changing narrative.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Working in the Studio”; “Keeping Up With The Joneses”; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video
When Mike (Grant Cramer) and his girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) warn the local police that a gang of homicidal alien-clowns have landed in the nearby area (in a spaceship shaped like a circus big-top, no less), the cops are naturally sceptical. Before long however, reports are coming in from other anxious residents detailing similar run-ins with the large-shoed assailants. There can no longer be any doubt — the Killer Klowns from Outer Space are here, and they're out to turn the Earth's population into candy floss.
This movie is part horror part comedy, and the former relies a lot on the viewer’s feelings about clowns. The large, rubber-faced villains have all the props of their human counterparts, but with far more sinister intentions. The circus tent is their home base, the clown car gets them places and the goofy-looking guns actually shoot supernatural popcorn and cocooning cotton candy. Those interviewed in the bonus features, including writers/producers the Chiodo brothers, clearly still have a fondness for their over-the-top creation as it continues to delight genre fans and decorate their offices. Of course, nothing would’ve happened if those meddlesome kids hadn’t followed their curiosity, but then we also wouldn’t have this cult classic that’s still enjoyable for the silly, disturbing picture it is.
Special features include: commentary by the Chiodo Brothers; deleted scenes with filmmaker’s audio commentary; making-of featurette; “Let the Show Begin! Anatomy of a Killer Theme Song”; “The Chiodos Walk Among Us: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking”; “Tales of Tobacco,” an interview with star Grant Cramer; “Debbie’s Big Night,” an interview with star Suzanne Snyder; “Bringing Life to These Things,” a tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions; “Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr.”; “Kreating Klowns”; “omposing Klowns”; “Klown Auditions”; bloopers; image galleries; original theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck. (Arrow Video)
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Mary is an ordinary young girl stuck in the country with her Great-Aunt Charlotte when she discovers an old broomstick and the strange flower that blossoms only once every seven years. Suddenly, Mary finds herself whisked away to Endor College — a school of magic run by Madam Mumblechook and the brilliant Doctor Dee. But the school is not all that it seems, and when Mary tells a lie, she must risk her life to try to set things right.
TThis picture from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the creator of Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There, is equally captivating as another young girl discovers there’s more to her new surroundings than she thought. Mary is eager to stay busy and please her guardians until her parents arrive, but there’s only so much a girl can do to avoid boredom. The wizard school is somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts, though it’s accessible by broom and the composition is a little more eccentric. The visuals are enchanting until Mary uncovers the creepy elements of the college, which then allows for a little more creativity from the animators. There is also a lovely black cat that acts as her opinionated but silent familiar.
Special features include: interview with filmmakers; film completion press conference; NTV special: Creating Mary and the Witch’s Flower; “500 Days Up Close”; a special conversation, Sekai No Owari, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Maya the Bee 2: The Honey Games (Blu-ray & DVD)
Shout Kids
After a slow harvest season, the very survival of the hive is threatened. Maya (Coco Jack Gillies), and her sidekick, Willy (Benson Jack Anthony), go to Buzztropolis, where the Empress (Marney McQueen) invites them to participate in the Honey Games. But if they lose, the hive will have to give the Empress all of their summer honey. Needless to say, Maya and Willy's teammates are neither enthusiastic nor athletic, but Maya remains positive and exclaims that "every bug has a talent!"
Though the metaphor may be slightly misplaced, Maya is unquestionably an “eager beaver.” Unfortunately, her confidence and determination can also be misplaced, causing a small problem to grow into an even bigger one. The Empress is pretty unreasonable, which is something the Queen understood and Maya underestimated. “Invite” is a little misleading, but Maya is called upon to lead a team in the Honey Games. They’re more obstacle- and race-based than to-the-death matches of physical and mental skill, but losing does mean elimination and unspecified death for Maya’s hive. And of course, there’s an unprovoked rivalry between the leader of the favourite team and Maya, which will inevitably be resolved in a happy ending.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and originals teaser and trailers. (Shout Kids)
Mermaids (Blu-ray)
Olive Films
Rachel Flax (Cher) is the eccentric matriarch of the Flax family that includes daughters Charlotte (Winona Ryder), an awkward, quirky teen torn between her personal devotion to becoming a nun — despite being Jewish – and her longing for romance, and Kate (Christina Ricci), a nine-year-old whose interest in swimming may be a result of an inherited gene from Rachel’s one-night stand with an Olympic contender.
It’s not often single parents were portrayed in films and unfortunately single mothers were often shown as man-obsessed, but that doesn’t make this movie any less good. Cher and Ryder are outstanding, while Ricci is the sweet centre that holds them together. Rachel is quick-witted, charming and independent; but she’s also conflict-averse — even though she’s a great arguer — and prefers to run away from her problems than deal with them. Charlotte’s desire to be a nun is obviously a response to her mother’s lifestyle, but she’s also just a confused kid trying to navigate adolescence. Meanwhile, Kate is generally adorable and about the only thing the two can agree on most of the time. While men are present in their lives, they generally take a back seat to these compelling female characters.
There are no special features. (Olive Films)
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Life is good for Van (Ryan Reynolds): he’s got a co-ed in every closet and a party to go to every night. His slick reputation even catches the eye of sexy Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid), an on-campus reporter determined to expose the naked truth behind his wild exterior. When Gwen enters his life and his father stops paying for his tuition, after seven years Van’s days as the king of Coolidge College may be over.
In college comedy tradition, this R-rated picture has no limits to the lengths it will go for a hearty, and often cringe-worthy, laugh. Van is basically the king of spring break all school-year long. However, outside of some disgusting revenge pranks on a group of frat guys, Van is also the kindest guy on campus, using his charm and popularity to benefit everyone. There’s no way this movie works without Reynolds’ persuasive smile and magnetism — he’s likeable even when he’s being borderline obnoxious or plotting sickening payback. Kal Penn’s commitment to his intern character is also hilarious and irreplaceable. But be warned, no one that watches this movie can ever regard bulldogs, pastries, protein shakes, or tutors the same way again.
Special features include: deleted scenes; Drunken Idiot “Kommentary”; “Party Legends, Pledges, and ‘Bull’-ies”; “Ultimate College Party Guide”; “Gwen-ezuma’s Revenge”; “Testicles of the Animal Kingdom” interactive quizzicle; “Write That Down” quotes from and inspired by the film; Sugarcult “Bouncing Off the Walls” music video; burly TV specials, “Half Baked,” “Imposter,” “Movie Junky”; Comedy Central’s “Reel Comedy: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder”; Van Wilder Blu-Book Exam: Exclusive Blu-ray Interactive Game; and outtakes. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Once Upon A Time (Blu-ray)
Well Go USA
Bai Qian (Yifei Liu), a goddess and monarch from the Heavenly Realms, is sent to the mortal world to undergo a trial to become a High Goddess. There, she meets Ye Hua (Yang Yang), with whom she falls in love and marries. When an old enemy reappears in her life, everything she holds dear is threatened.
This is a complex fantasy that the audience doesn’t seem to be expected to completely understand until the narrative (and narrator) decide to explain it. The sets are very whimsical with a lot of light colours and flowing materials. Bai Qian is a character in conflict as she appears beautiful and pure, yet she’s also an alcoholic and often hostile to anyone who is not her drinking buddy — except to Ye Hua’s son, to whom she’s always kind and protective. Since the mystery isn’t disclosed until the latter third of the picture, it’s difficult to become engaged in the storyline because the viewer always feels somewhat excluded from the narrative. The reveal followed by another even greater reveal changes the feel of the movie significantly, as well as the viewers’ attachment to the characters.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
Sleeping Dogs (Blu-ray)
Arrow Academy
Smith (Sam Neill), a man escaping the break-up of his marriage by finding isolation on an island off the Coromandel Peninsula. As he settles into his new life, the country is experiencing its own turmoil: an oil embargo has led to martial law and civil war, into which Smith reluctantly finds himself increasingly involved.
This is the absorbing tale of a man who becomes a suspect in a revolutionary movement even though he’s attempted to distance himself as much as possible from it. Forced to go underground, Smith grows comfortable in his surroundings — until the war once again lands at his doorstep and he’s commanded to play his part in what could be a significant ambush tactic. Watching people die for a cause he’s not entirely supportive of is a challenge for Smith that becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. However, his rejection is not due to a lack of bravery or conviction… it’s more like apathy due to a series of other life-altering events that cause him to be numb. When he’s reawakened is when the other side needs to be weary.
Special features include: commentary by writer-director Roger Donaldson, actor Sam Neill and actor-writer Ian Mune; making-of featurettes, 1977 and 2004; theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips. (Arrow Academy)
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his son Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy) find themselves up to their ears in Graboids and Ass-Blasters when they head to Canada to investigate a series of deadly giant worm attacks. Arriving at a remote research facility in the arctic tundra, Burt begins to suspect that Graboids are secretly being weaponized, but before he can prove his theory, he is sidelined by Graboid venom. With just 48 hours to live, the only hope is to create an antidote from fresh venom — but to do that, someone will have to figure out how to milk a Graboid.
This is the sixth film in a series that only really had one good movie. Having introduced different versions of the creatures and found various methods of killing them, this latest instalment needed to find a way to refresh the threat. Thus, the location changes from the desert to the arctic and Burt faces what may be the end of the road for his fight against the monsters. What audiences get is a rehash of a lot of the best moments from the original film transported to a new location and delivered by new characters playing similar roles in the picture.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Anatomy of a Scene”; and “Inside Chang’s Market.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Winchester (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Inspired by true events, the film is set on an isolated stretch of land outside of San Francisco where there sits the world’s most haunted house. Seven stories tall with hundreds of rooms, the house has been under non-stop construction for decades. But heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook), or for the troubled doctor (Jason Clarke) she has summoned; she is building it as an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts.
This is a compelling ghost story tied to a complex reality that lays the blame of gun deaths at the feet of the weapons’ creators. To those on the outside, Sarah appears to be mad as she insists on constantly remodelling her home no matter the expense — one of the chief reasons the board of directors hopes to have her medically removed from the company. However, the creepy things that occur around her house are even undeniable by the doctor… once he’s sobered. On the other hand, her niece acts oblivious to all the oddities and the servants choose to ignore it. It’s a bit of a surprise to see Mirren in a ghost story, but she is unsurprisingly exceptional. The link to the real-life events gives this narrative a little more edge and the tale it unravels is fascinating, if not always scary.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
More about 12 Strong, Winchester, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Kaleidoscope, Mary and the Witchs Flower
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