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article imageReview: This week’s releases have a lot of passion Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 5, 2017 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include several documentaries chronicling various passions; the penultimate season of an acclaimed series; a horror reboot with new blood in front and behind the camera; and an amusing tale of PG rebellion.
50 Years with Peter Paul and Mary (DVD)
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MVD Entertainment Group
This documentary by four-time Emmy Award-winning producer/ director Jim Brown and features rare and previously unseen television footage including a BBC program from the early 1960s that embodies many of the trio's best performances and most popular songs. This is Peter, Paul and Mary at the peak of their artistry, a time when this popular and influential trio dominated the Billboard music charts. It traces the group's emergence in Greenwich Village, the hub of the Folk Music scene in New York, to the Civil Rights and Anti-War era of the 1960s, through the decades of their later advocacy and music, to Mary Travers' moving memorial, and finally to the present, where their legacy continues to inform and inspire successive generations.
Peter, Paul and Mary were at the core of the “popular” folk music movement with a large following and several hit songs. Via archival footage, the film describes how the trio came together with a focus on Mary and her contributions to the women’s rights movement, including an interview with Gloria Steinem who describes the musician’s influence on her own activism. For everyone that assumed “Puff the Magic Dragon” was about drugs, the film also reveals the true meaning of the song. While footage of their past performances is sprinkled throughout, the final third of the film consists of Peter and Paul playing a number of songs for friends and other icons of the folk scene. This is a solid documentary that reveals more about the music than the artists, save for its heartfelt tribute to Mary Travers.
There are no special features. (MVD Entertainment Group)
A Frozen Christmas (DVD)
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MVD Entertainment Group
Gather around and listen as Santa and his young elf pals narrate time honored Christmas story classics such as, “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” “Little Girls' Christmas,” “The Fir Tree,” “The Brave Tin Soldier” and more.
This sounds like a lovely idea that could serve as complementary viewing to other holiday classics, such as Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The idea is supported by the goofy, computer-generated Santa Claus that greets viewers and introduces the first story. However, all hope fails when audiences discover “narrate” is the equivalent of listening to a book on tape or a music album on YouTube set to screensaver-like visuals. Children read these tales while images of flickering candles or falling snowflakes occupy the screen rather than animated (or even still) representations of the words being spoken. There’s also a gratuitous scene of two gingerbread men dancing to music, which is clearly just an example of the animator wanting to share his neat little creation. If they won’t even make a rudimentary attempt to display corresponding imagery on the screen, then perhaps the release should be accompanied by a book by which everyone can read along.
There are no special features. (MVD Entertainment Group)
Being Evel (DVD)
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MVD Entertainment Group
A generation of Americans grew up worshipping self-styled hero Evel Knievel — watching him every Saturday on Wide World of Sports and buying his Ideal toys. For producer/subject Johnny Knoxville and so many others, he was the ultimate antidote to the disenchantment of the ‘70s. But few knew the incredible and often complex aspects of the epic life, which, like his jumps, was sometimes glorious and sometimes disastrous. With an entire genre of sports ascending from his daring inventiveness now is the time to look at this extreme man and his complicated legacy.
While many people are aware of Evel Knievel and his death-defying stunts, most would also suspect there was much more to the story than a guy who enjoys jumping over things on a motorcycle. Following his life from delinquent youth to top-notch salesman to world-renowned daredevil, the documentary looks at the man behind the stunts by interviewing his friends and family who knew the real Knievel, as well as admirers captivated by his mystique. There are lots of interesting details regarding his spending habits, jail time, feud with the Hell’s Angels, and gradual withdrawal from reality. His children talk about being frightened before each jump, while others recount his own anxieties before certain events. It’s a fascinating portrait of a man who inspired a sport and some of its most respected athletes.
There are no special features. (MVD Entertainment Group)
Blair Witch (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A group of college students venture into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to uncover the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of their friend’s sister, who many believe is connected to the legend of the Blair Witch. At first the group is hopeful, especially when a pair of locals offer to act as guides through the dark and winding woods, but as the endless night wears on, the group is visited by a menacing presence. Slowly, they begin to realize the legend is all too real and more sinister than they could have imagined.
The opening of the film introduces the characters as happy-go-lucky college kids just supporting a friend’s probably hopeless journey to find his sister after a bizarre video hints at the possibility of her survival. When paired with the strange, legend-obsessed locals, the tension rises but the narrative remains rather banal. It doesn’t start to get interesting until some point near the middle when eerie things actually begin to occur. Then there’s the expected separations and dark, first-person camera footage followed by a lot of stupid mistakes that are severely punished by the thing that haunts the woods. Nonetheless, it all converges in a relatively decent ending suitable to the story.
Special features include: commentary by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett; making-of six-part documentary; and “House of Horrors: Exploring the Set.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Creepshow 2 (Blu-ray)
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Arrow Video
In “Old Chief Wood'nhead”, a group of young hoodlums face retribution from an unlikely source after looting a local hardware store. Meanwhile, “The Raft” sees a group of horny teens wishing they’d read the warning signs before taking a dip in a remote lake. Finally, an uptight businesswoman finds herself with some unwanted company following a hit-and-run incident in “The Hitch-hiker”.
While the sequel didn’t quite live up to its predecessor largely due to budget constraints, it still offers a few disturbing tales. The first is a bit more touching than would be expected in a horror anthology as a man is avenged by his long-time, inanimate friend. The lake story includes one of the worst overall special effects, though the individual attacks provide some compensation and haunting imagery. The most disturbing is kept for last as a bloody corpse insists on stalking its murderer. The framing story is an amusing animation about a boy who stands up to his bullies with a little help from the funny pages. The accompanying interviews in the bonus features provide a lot of insight into the production, including how George A. Romero really feels about the picture.
Special features include: commentary by director Michael Gornick; “Poncho's Last Ride,” interview with actor Daniel Beer; “Screenplay for a Sequel,” interview with screenwriter George A. Romero; “Tales from the Creep,” interview with actor and make-up artist Tom Savini; “Nightmares in Foam Rubber,” interviews with FX artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero; “My Friend Rick”; behind-the-scenes footage; image gallery; TV spots and trailers; collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Mike Saputo. (Arrow Video)
Driller Killer (Blu-ray)
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Arrow Video
Struggling artist Reno (Abel Ferrara) is a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of New York living in the late seventies and the No Wave band practising in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey.
Writer/director/star Abel Ferrara has gained somewhat of a cult following over his career. This was his first feature-length film, which was followed by the more popular Ms. 45, a rape-revenge picture. Inspired by the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Ferrara plunged into the slasher world with this offbeat movie about a serial killer. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a hook and the story attempts to be more cerebral than necessary or feasible in the context. Reno’s mental health gradually declines throughout the narrative until he’s embarking on a killing spree across the city. The special effects are generally restricted to blood splatter and shots are reused several times during the narrative. While it’s by no means a great film (even the 4K restoration is plagued with poor picture quality), it does demonstrate the beginnings of Ferrara’s style and the visual essay in the bonus features shows how it would evolve over the years.
Special features include: commentary by director and star Abel Ferrara, moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision); “Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer”; “Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101”; visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45; Mulberry St. (2010), Ferrara’s feature-length documentary; trailer; and collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens. (Arrow Video)
Girls: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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HBO Home Entertainment
Hannah (Lena Dunham) has put her writing ambitions aside and is teaching alongside Fran (Jake Lacy), her new boyfriend. Marnie (Allison Williams) realizes that she needs more space after her honeymoon with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). While working towards becoming a therapist, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) also manages a budding relationship. And Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is thriving at her new job in Japan, flirting with her boss despite her long-distance relationship with Scott (Jason Ritter).
Once again the girls’ seemingly happy relationships hit serious rough patches as new truths are discovered, conflicting beliefs are revealed and hardships create insurmountable tensions. Hannah’s latest career choice is a major departure from her recent creative path and puts a strain on her relationship with Fran as they learn they have different approaches to the job. Jessa once again chooses the wrong guy, although not for the usual reasons. Marnie’s wedding, which holds its own drama, is followed by the realization that things don’t get any easier after walking down the aisle. And Shoshanna takes a few more stabs at life, but she may have finally found her calling. With next season being the last, one can only hope they all finally get it together.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; and “Inside the Episode.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
Man of the World: The Peter Green Story (DVD)
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MVD Entertainment Group
After replacing the legendary Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Peter went on to form Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, one of the most successful bands to come out of Britain in the 60's. Peter's genius on the guitar was matched by the songs he wrote including “Black Magic Woman,” later a huge debut hit for Santana, and the supernatural and sublime instrumental “Albatross,” as well as the classic “Oh Well.” The film traces that early success, explores Peter’s drug use and his eternal spiral into schizophrenia. The film also examines how the treatment he received (electroconvulsive therapy) prolonged his illness and extended absence from the music scene.
Whether you’re a fan of Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac or music in general, this is a “behind the music” documentary that attempts to find the truth in the artist’s success and failures — all of which is set to a great soundtrack. The rare archival footage combined with live performances and studio recordings reminds audiences of the greatness the band achieved. Meanwhile, extensive interviews with Green, former bandmates and producers, his biographer, and admirers such as Carlos Santana and Noel Gallagher provide great and seemingly candid accounts of all that occurred over the last 50 years or so. In just over two hours, the documentary traces most of Green’s history from forming the legendary band to experimenting with LSD to alienating everyone who was close to him before finally finding his way back.
There are no special features. (MVD Entertainment Group)
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Rafe (Griffin Gluck) has an epic imagination and a slight problem with authority. Both collide when he transfers to a rule-crazy middle school. Drowning in do’s and don’ts, Rafe and his best friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca) hatch a plan to expose the principal (Andrew Daly) by breaking every rule in the school’s Code of Conduct. As the principal strikes back, Rafe’s world, at home and at school, explodes into hilarious chaos (both real and imagined).
These zany kid adventures have always been a staple of family-friendly fare and the basic formula hasn’t changed much over the years. A young person is positioned against an unreasonable adult and proceeds to try to prank him or her as retaliation for some irreversible wrong. In this case, Rafe pulls numerous, relatively large scale stunts at school after the principal confiscates one of his most cherished possessions. The result is a lot of amusing vandalism that inspires his classmates and irks the principal as well as his mom’s horrible boyfriend (Rob Riggle). There is an interesting twist at the end of the film, which is only vaguely hinted at throughout the narrative but adds a little extra heart to the story. Adam Pally plays a rule bending teacher who, along with Rafe’s mom played by Lauren Graham, show not all adults are awful.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “That Middle School Life”; “Middle School = The Worst / Making Movies = The Best”; “The Wedgie Wheel”; “Yolo: Behind Operation Rafe”; and gag reel. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Sleepy Hollow: The Complete Third Season (DVD)
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Fox Home Entertainment
Nine months after Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) parted ways, they reunite when Abbie, now an FBI agent, returns to Sleepy Hollow to release an imprisoned Crane. The two Witnesses face all-new dangers, including a demon that kills anyone with a dark secret, an undead army, and a horrifying beast with ties to Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood). But the arrival of a mysterious woman named Pandora (Shannyn Sossamon) brings the most terrifying threat of all. After she uses Abbie and Crane to resurrect “The Hidden One,” a seemingly invincible god, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
The problem with 18 or more episode seasons is it’s difficult to stretch one storyline over that length of time and remain coherent. However, since this series deals with history and the supernatural, writers feel permitted to take a lot of liberties with the storyline. Unfortunately, this season makes very little sense as a result. Abbie and Crane repeatedly rescue each other while various new and deadly creatures are conjured to destroy Sleepy Hollow. They travel between dimensions and through time gathering pieces of the puzzle that’ll hopefully save the world, while Abbie’s sister manages a parallel operation to stop the evil. The overall mission is clear, but the road to the finish line is disorderly.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Sneakerheadz (DVD)
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MVD Entertainment Group
Sneakerheads will do almost anything to get their hands on a unique pair of kicks, going to such extreme lengths as hiding in trash cans to score a pair of Retro Jordan 11s to camping for days in sub-zero temperatures for the latest Nike Foamposites. From the shores of Cali to the congested streets of Tokyo, the documentary examines the cultural influence of sneaker collecting around the world and delves into a subculture whose proud members don't just want to admire art, they want to wear it.
There is a fine line between being a collector and an addict. Anyone who’s ever found themselves obsessed with completing a set, getting the latest release or tracking down a rare piece will identify with the film’s subjects. Their collections take over their homes and they are passionate about each pair of sneakers for specific reasons that perhaps only they understand. The documentary is divided into several parts exploring the various sides of collecting, including the darker aspects that result in hundreds of deaths each year. DJs, artists, actors and others describe their fascination as the film traces the young history of sneaker obsession and its collectors.
There are no special features. (MVD Entertainment Group)
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