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article imageReview: This week’s releases make some unlikely combinations Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 4, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include the second season of a formidable series; a holiday horror anthology; a racy comedy; an unfeasible operation; and a sci-fi terror tale.
All the Creatures Were Stirring (DVD)
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RLJ Entertainment
The joyful spirit of the holidays is about to take one dark turn after another. From sadistic office parties and last-minute shopping nightmares, to vengeful stalkers and immortal demons, there’s plenty out there to keep you from getting out of bed to see what’s under the tree this holiday season.
This is the latest Christmas horror anthology with a strange framing story that involves stage portrayals of each of the tales, which become full screen productions for viewers. Unfortunately, as is often the case with compilations, the quality is not spread evenly between the chapters. The office White Elephant game gone terribly wrong is probably the best vignette, but could have used more time to flesh out the characters so their transgressions and their captor’s motives were clearer. A new reason to hate having a Christmas birthday is also good and has the potential for something longer too. However, as these are the first two stories, it’s mostly downhill from there. Sadly, the alien holiday dinner, vengeful hit-and-run victim and harshly punished Scrooge are much weaker in comparison.
Special features include: filmmaker commentary. (RLJ Entertainment)
Elizabeth Harvest (Blu-ray)
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Scream Factory
Elizabeth (Abbey Lee) is a beautiful young newlywed, arrives at the palatial estate of her brilliant scientist husband Henry (Ciarán Hinds). Ensconced in modernist luxury with an obedient — if slightly unsettling — house staff (Carla Gugino and Matthew Beard), she has seemingly everything she could want. But one mystery tantalizes her: what is behind the locked door to Henry’s laboratory that he has forbidden her to enter? When an inquisitive Elizabeth dares to find out, everything she thought she knew about her husband — and about herself — will change.
This is a science fiction narrative that demonstrates the horrific abuse that could await realistic A.I. and clones in the future. It’s not difficult to figure out what Henry is up to, though the story does eventually take an unexpected turn with seemingly inescapable repercussions based on Elizabeth’s very existence. The role of the staff is also intriguing as they’ve apparently been involuntarily roped into Henry’s experiment. As the story reveals itself further, everyone’s roles become clearer and deliver more surprising connections to Elizabeth’s past than anyone realized. The performances are also good, particularly as the two men show themselves to have more in common than they appeared.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
The Handmaid’s Tale: Season Two (Blu-ray)
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Fox Home Entertainment
The second season is shaped by Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss) pregnancy and her ongoing fight to free her future child from the dystopian horrors of Gilead. “Gilead is within you” is a favorite saying of Aunt Lydia. Offred and all the characters will fight against — or succumb to — this dark truth.
The consequences of the first season’s disobedience comes to roost early in this one. However, Offred is as determined as ever to ensure her unborn child doesn’t grow up in Gilead. Her relationships with Serena Joy and the Commander fluctuate more than ever, particularly following an attack that disrupts their routines. Janine expectedly struggles with being apart from her child, while Emily faces life in the colonies with a recognizable will to survive. Luke’s reward for his loyalty threatens to drive a wedge between him and Offred, though the end result is a sign not everyone can be so easily broken. Most importantly this season, the views of countries outside of Gilead are brought into the fold, providing viewers with a broader understanding of the world-at-large. The conclusion is shocking and upsetting, but in line with Offred’s choices thus far.
Special features include: “Season Two: Off Book”; and “Dressing Dystopia.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Happytime Murders (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment & VVS Films
Set in the underbelly of Los Angeles where puppets and humans coexist, two clashing detectives with a shared secret, one human (Melissa McCarthy) and one puppet, are forced to work together again to solve the brutal murders of the former cast of a beloved classic puppet television show.
Adult-oriented puppet comedies have a proven capacity for big laughs, but not all pictures live up to their potential. This movie certainly has potential as it’s set in a human-puppet society in which the latter are second class citizens and are being targeted by a serial killer. However, it never quite gets there and is good for one not-so-memorable watch. McCarthy seems to enjoy these off-colour comedies and she’s generally great in them, but the end product doesn’t always live up to the higher standard to which she should hold herself. Still, her antagonistic relationship with her ex-puppet partner is probably the best part of the movie as they have some pretty funny NSFW exchanges.
Special features include: commentary with director Brian Henson and voice actor Bill Barretta; deleted scenes; “Virtual Environments”; “Avatars Demo”; “VFX Breakdown”; “Line-O-Rama”; gag reel; and theatrical trailers. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment & VVS Films)
The House That Never Dies: Reawakening (DVD)
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Well Go USA
A hundred years after the mysterious murders of the entire Zhisheng household, a cultural relic restorer Song Teng (Julian Cheung) experiences strange events at the ancient mansion. After discovering baby skeletons and weird spells, the intricate weaving of the past and present begin to emerge and reveals a haunting tale of the wrongly deceased still seeking justice from the living world.
This is a haunted house story whose ghosts are more interested in forcing the new occupants to relive their tragic past than delivering more traditional scares. Song Teng’s wife is a doctor who works at a hospital where she is currently caring for an ailing boy as a surrogate for being unable to take care of the child she lost. However, finding the Zhisheng family doctor’s diaries takes her back to witness the calamities that plagued the family and the extremes they went to for love. Consequently, the flashbacks are far more compelling than the present tale of two workaholics drifting apart, as well as less confusing since their motives are clearer.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
Mission: Impossible — Fallout (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
On a dangerous assignment to recover stolen plutonium, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) chooses to save his friends over the mission, allowing it to fall into the hands of a deadly network of highly skilled operatives intent on destroying civilization. Now, with the world at risk, Ethan and his IMF team (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Rebecca Ferguson) are forced to work with a hard-hitting CIA agent (Henry Cavill) as they race against time to stop the nuclear threat.
A franchise that recognizes the great characters it’s created over the years is not afraid to bring them back alongside some memorable new personalities. Ethan has faced some difficult situations, but his belief in the job and his team keep him from ever truly walking away. However, in spite of being ruled by his intellect and instincts, he repeatedly proves he’s still human by putting more value on the lives of those he cares about. As expected, there are several impressive stunts in this picture, which can be seen in striking detail in high definition. It’s also easy to see Cruise is still doing as many of them as possible himself. Yet, the team is the main focus of this narrative as it takes all of them working together to uncover a mole, prevent a terrorist’s escape and stop the destruction of several countries. The blast from the past at the end is a nice (foreshadowed) surprise, allowing the series to come full circle should it choose to end.
Special features include: commentary by director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise; commentary by director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton; commentary by composer Lorne Balfe; deleted scenes montage with optional commentary by director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton; “Behind the Fallout”; “Foot Chase Musical Breakdown”; “The Ultimate Mission”; storyboards; isolated score track; theatrical trailer. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
More about Mission Impossible Fallout, The Happytime Murders, All the Creatures Were Stirring, Elizabeth Harvest, the handmaid's tale
 
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