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article imageReview: This week’s releases don’t like what they find behind the curtain Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 8, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a couple of Oscar winners; an unconventional story about addiction; a slow burning drama; a comedic look at parenthood; the best use of a stark location; and a disturbing road trip movie.
Ben is Back (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A mother (Julia Roberts) is swept into a race against time after her troubled 19-year-old son (Lucas Hedges) returns home for Christmas — and suddenly disappears. Over a turbulent 24 hours, new truths are revealed and a mother’s love is tested.
There were several movies about addiction released over the last several months, but this is one of the best of 2018. Ben is in recovery and surprises his family with an unannounced holiday visit from rehab. His mother and siblings welcome him with open arms, but everyone else is more skeptical. However, the mother is not blind to her son’s issues — she also immediately hides every prescription and concealable item of value… just in case. Instead, the unexpected but still distressing occurs. Mother and son are forced to relive some of his lowest moments in a dramatic, heart-wrenching narrative that captures the pain and shame of recovery and facing one’s past.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Peter Hedges; and photo gallery. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Burning (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
The film is an examination of an alienated young man, Jongsu (Ah-in Yoo), a frustrated introvert whose already difficult life is complicated by the appearance of two people into his orbit: first, Haemi (Jong-seo Jun), a spirited woman who offers romantic possibilities, and Ben (Steven Yeun), a wealthy and sophisticated young man who returns with her from a recent trip. When Jongsu learns of Ben’s mysterious hobby and Haemi suddenly disappears, his confusion and obsessions begin to mount.
Although the significance of the title is revealed late in the film, it also alludes to the fact that the narrative is a very slow burn. It’s difficult to understand why Jongsu would continue to endure the emotional torture of hanging out with his former (maybe) girlfriend and her new beau, but this awkward threesome is at the film’s core — as is Jongsu’s inability to take action in his life. Haemi also proves to be quite selfish as she keeps Jongsu on the hook even though she’s clearly not romantically interested in him. The drama eventually evolves into a thriller, but the pace remains slow and deliberate right up until the end. It’s a brilliant narrative that keeps audiences engrossed for the entire 186 minutes, though it’s hard to explain how such a slow film accomplishes that.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
The Clovehitch Killer (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer) is a Boy Scout, a volunteer at his local church, and the dutiful son of an upstanding, community-leader dad (Dylan McDermott). Only one thing troubles the quiet Kentucky town he lives in: the unsolved murders — in which 10 women were brutally tortured and killed by a psychopath known as Clovehitch — that rocked the community more than a decade ago. When Tyler discovers a cache of disturbing images in his father’s possession, he begins to suspect that the man he trusts most in the world may be Clovehitch … and that his deadly rampage may not be over.
This is the strange tale of a dormant killer who decides on the worst possible time to resume activity. The connection is made innocently enough, but Tyler’s father wasn’t really all that careful if anyone decided to look in the right places. However, the narrative is less about figuring out your relative is a serial killer vs. what to do when there’s enough evidence to prove they are a threat to the community. Maybe he’s a bit rusty or too comfortable, but it’s almost surprising he was never caught. Tyler’s reaction to the possibility and subsequent actions are surprisingly calm considering the circumstances… but audiences are again expected to believe a pretty girl will have that effect on a teenage boy in any situation.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
The Favourite (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
In early 18th-century England, a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne, and her closest friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), governs the country while tending to Anne’s ill health and volatile temper. When new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, Sarah takes Abigail under her wing as she cunningly schemes to return to her aristocratic roots, setting off an outrageous rivalry to become the Queen’s favourite.
This is a rare period film with three leading women, which simultaneously puts them all in supporting roles as one performance is nothing without the other. Sarah is the woman behind the woman in power, controlling her weaker mate for her gain and occasionally the country’s as well. Abigail also sees Anne’s weakness as an opportunity, but a puppet can’t have two masters so they battle each other for supremacy. Though audiences may root for or pity each woman at some point in the film, it’s impossible to like them as they are all conniving and manipulative. All three women were nominated for various awards, but Colman was the only one to walk away with any hardware.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and “The Favourite: Unstitching the Costume Drama.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
In Season 4, fans will see the world of Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her family through new eyes — the eyes of Morgan Jones (Lennie James), who is joining the story from the “The Walking Dead.” The characters’ immediate pasts mix with an uncertain present of struggle and discovery as they meet new friends, foes, and threats. They fight for each other, against each other, and against a legion of the dead, and work to build an existence strong enough to resist the crushing pressure of lives coming apart. There will be darkness and light; terror and grace; and the heroic, mercenary, and craven, all crashing together toward a new reality.
Thanks to Althea’s attempt to document the apocalypse, many of the characters reveal their pasts for her camera though some are more reluctant than others. She and her SWAT vehicle also play an important role in their survival. Morgan finds new connections quickly, but must occasionally grapple with his new approach to life; he’s especially tested near the end of the season when a crazed woman terrorizes other survivors. There are several factions battling for supremacy and resources, but the lines in the sand shift regularly. As one safe haven falls and new alliances are formed, the desire for a new stronghold always rises as they hope maybe this will be the one to protect them for good.
Special features include: commentary by cast and crew on select episodes. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Green Book (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on The Green Book to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger as well as unexpected humanity and humor — they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.
Shirley is educated and refined, but he somewhat overcompensates by living in a lavish apartment with extravagant décor in which he closes himself off from the simple joys of life. Tony, on the other hand, is a prototypical Italian tough guy from New York who speaks with his hands, uses slang and could negotiate his way out of the hairiest situations. Tony isn’t really comfortable in the sophisticated settings of Shirley’s concerts, but he’s got better manners than some of their hosts. They smile in their formal wear and applaud Shirley’s exquisite performances, but deep-rooted racism is still lurking just beneath their pleasant veneer and it rears its ugly head on more than one occasion. In spite of the bigotry they encounter, this is still one of the best feel good movies of the year. The comedy woven through the entire script is surprising, but completely natural, and the friendship that develops between these two dissimilar men is heartwarming.
Special features include: “Virtuoso Performances”; “An Unforgettable Friendship”; and “Going Beyond the Green Book.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Instant Family (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl (Isabela Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family.
When white families adopt non-white children, there’s often a solemn focus on the troubled kids finding safety and security in a loving home. This film still includes the last part, but there’s nothing overly sombre about the narrative. In fact, it’s a very amusing take on the struggles of being a first-time foster parent. The support group Pete and Ellie attend is often hilarious, even though one can also imagine how horrific the situations they encounter would be in the moment. There’s a lot of fun and only sometimes helpful personalities too, played by Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro and Margo Martindale. Pete doesn’t always say the right thing, most aptly awkwardly bringing up the potential “white saviour issue,” and Ellie can try too hard, but their chemistry is great and their adventure is worth a watch.
Special features include: commentary by director/writer Sean Anders and writer John Morris; deleted and extended scenes with introduction by Sean Anders and John Morris; “Mr. and Mrs. Fix-It”; “Kid Power”; “I Need Some Support”; “Order in the Court”; “The Families Behind the Fair”; “Crew Inspiration”; “The Anders Family”; “On Set Proposal”; and Isabela Moner “I’ll Stay” music video. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Jupiter’s Moon (DVD)
Icarus Films
Aryan, a young Syrian refugee (Zsombor Jéger) is shot while trying to cross the Hungarian border. While treating his wounds, a doctor (Merab Ninidze) at the refugee camp discovers that Aryan has gained an extraordinary talent — he can levitate at will. The corrupt doctor sees an opportunity and offers to smuggle Aryan out of the camp if, in return, he helps him make some money by using his new miraculous gift.
There seems to be two concepts at play in the film, but only one is actually realized in the narrative. The movie opens with some brief text describing the potential for life on Jupiter, while the story is an exploration of religion and the existence of miracles. Aryan is caught in the middle of these two ideas as he could be an alien or an angel, though his own involvement in the debate is passive. The doctor is rather stubborn and has put himself in a difficult position because of it. Desperate to raise funds, the purpose for the small fortune is actually somewhat ridiculous when there’s a much simpler solution. Aryan seems rather innocent, but his character is very superficial and mostly a prop for the doctor’s awakening.
There are no special features. (Icarus Films)
Kalifornia (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
When urban intellectuals Brian (David Duchovny) and Carrie (Michelle Forbes) set out on a cross-country trip to research a book about serial killers, they share the ride with a couple they barely know — Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) and his girlfriend Adele (Juliette Lewis). Locked in a car hurtling westward, the four travelers struggle to find some common ground. But when they finally do connect, Early's violent nature abruptly emerges and the terrified Brian and Carrie realize that they don’t need to go very far to learn about ruthless killers... because they are already face-to-face with one.
Worried about being type-cast, Pitt took on this role that couldn’t be more different than the likeable pretty boys he’d played until then — and one of the most memorable characters he’d ever portray. Brian is the story’s narrator, but it gradually becomes clear that Early is the protagonist. His and Adele’s relationship is far more captivating than that of their car mates. The film takes the typical road trip narrative down a very dark path. It begins with the morbid stops where Brian tries to relive the crimes of horrific murderers and evolves into a journey of learning what it’s like to be at their mercy. The interview with Lewis in the bonus features provides interesting insight into how she created a personality for this lost, naïve woman. This is one of those movies that leaves a lasting impression and this new release is a great reminder of its effects.
Special features include: theatrical and unrated cuts of the film; interview with director Dominic Sena; original featurette; cast interviews; TV spots; and trailers. (Shout Select)
Liz and the Blue Bird (Blu-ray & DVD)
Shout Factory
Mizore Yoroizuka plays the oboe and Nozomi Kasaki plays the flute in Kita Uji High School’s concert band. Mizore is shy and soft-spoken, while her best friend, Nozomi, is outgoing. The two girls grow closer as they practice for their last duet before graduating, a piece called “Liz and the Blue Bird.” However, the impending separation may be more than their friendship can handle. Interspersed with their story is the fantasy tale of Liz, who like Mizore, seeks a friendship that may be too hard to hold onto in this coming-of-age story.
Telling this tale in an animated form allows it to draw very distinct comparisons with the characters in the storybook. Mizore’s devotion to Nozomi is somewhat puzzling since Nozomi seems so indifferent about their friendship. It’s actually somewhat shocking to discover how close the girls are and how much their decisions rely on each other. The parallel story is the metaphorical version of their friendship as Liz comes to the realization that her relationship with her new best friend is unsustainable in its current form because they have different needs and desires. It’s a very mature story, but it feels a bit too drawn out.
There are no special features. (Shout Factory)
Mystery Road: Series 1 (Blu-ray)
When two boys disappear from a remote cattle station, local police sergeant Emma James (Judy Davis) calls in Indigenous detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) to help find out what happened. As Emma and Jay butt heads over their conflicting methods, the unexpected arrival of Jay’s troubled daughter (Madeleine Madden) only inflames the tension. But when their investigation uncovers other crimes haunting the backwater town, the detectives must look to the past to get justice in the present.
In spite of only being six episodes, this series covers a lot of ground. There’s issues of racism related to the Indigenous population, drug dealers battling over territory, families struggling to do what’s best, and unforgivable crimes committed and covered up years earlier. Swan is very much a lone wolf and even though it’s not his district, he insists on doing a lot of the investigation alone. Emma, on the other hand, is sometimes blinded by her trust of the people in her community, but also knows it well enough to turn over the right rocks when necessary. There’s a lot happening, yet each narrative is given an appropriate amount of time so the show still feels balanced and not too complex.
There are no special features. (Acorn)
Rampant (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
A darkness looms over ancient Korea: murderous creatures known as Night Demons have overrun the country. Returning from a long imprisonment abroad, Prince Ganglim discovers that it will take the strength of his entire kingdom to stop the bloody rampage spreading across the nation.
In 2016, South Korea made its mark in the zombie horror genre with Train to Busan, which presented a unique undead narrative in a sea of conformity. The same studio brings another unconventional zombie story by travelling to the past. Spreading much like a plague from a foreign land as the infection arrives on a ship, it’s not long before an entire village is decimated and death threatens to sweep through the city. Planting zombies in ancient Korea allows the film’s heroes to engage and kill them in ways less common in the genre, which is an immediate bonus in such a saturated category. In the meantime, the prince is also contending with a political danger that may be trying to harness the power of the undead hoard.
Special features include: making-of featurette; behind-the-scenes; and trailers. (Well Go USA)
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (Blu-ray)
RLJ Entertainment
After a shooting at a police funeral, reclusive ex-cop Gannon (James Badge Dale) finds himself unwittingly forced out of retirement when he realizes that the killer belongs to the same militia he joined after quitting the force. Understanding that the shooting could set off a chain reaction of copycat violence across the country, Gannon quarantines his fellow militiamen in the remote lumber mill they call their headquarters. There, he sets about a series of grueling interrogations, intent on ferreting out the killer and turning him over to the authorities to prevent further bloodshed.
This is an intense thriller that unfolds entirely within the confines of a warehouse. One of the most interesting elements is the audience is kept as clueless about the identity of the shooter as the characters in the film. Gannon is in the precarious position as the group’s leader entrusts him to find the betrayer, while also distrusting his judgement. Gannon, however, is hiding something from everyone that’s revealed early on and adds another element of complexity to the investigation. Even though there isn’t a definitive timeline, almost every man there is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. Yet one of the most concentrated scenes comes from an unexpected conversation.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and photo gallery. (RLJ Entertainment)
More about Green Book, the favourite, Kalifornia, Ben is Back, Burning
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