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article imageReview: This week’s releases offer unflinching reality or great escapism Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 20, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include the best animated movie of the year; a nature doc that’s both harsh and heartwarming; a movie that’s thankfully a sequel and not a remake; the final season of a popular character; and an inappropriately hilarious comedy.
211 (Blu-ray)
VVS Films
Inspired by one of the longest and bloodiest real-life events in police history, Officer Mike Chandler (Nicolas Cage) and a young civilian passenger (Michael Rainey Jr.) find themselves under-prepared and outgunned when fate puts them squarely in the crosshairs of a daring bank heist in progress by a fearless team of highly trained and heavily armed men.
This feels like it should be a more violent Dog Day Afternoon, but it doesn’t choose a focus or follow through on its promises. The number one rule when trying to avoid detection by police is obey the law, so it seems small-time when this is all instigated by a traffic violation. Cops engaging with a civilian in tow also seems suspect. However, once they encounter the crime in progress, the film can’t seem to sit still long enough to let anything really sink in, except the potential deaths of a couple of cops. The acting by everyone is acceptable, but the ending discredits all of it by making the elite bank robbers look like amateurs.
Special features include: interviews with cast. (VVS Films)
Becoming Astrid (DVD)
Music Box Films Home Entertainment
Teenaged Astrid Lindren (Alba August) leads a carefree life with her family in the forests and fields of rural Sweden. Restless and eager to break free from the confines of her conservative upbringing, she accepts an internship at a local newspaper where she attracts the attention of its married editor, Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen). After Astrid becomes pregnant, she leaves her childhood home and goes to Copenhagen to secretly give birth to a son, Lasse, whom she reluctantly leaves in the care of a foster mother, Marie (Trine Dyrholm). In spite of her struggles, Astrid emerges with a newfound courage that will later form the foundation of a vast and beloved body of work, led by the landmark Pippi Longstocking series.
While Pippi Longstocking’s popularity may have been exported internationally, the author’s harrowing tale mostly remained within Swedish borders. Astrid is shown to have always been a free spirit, ignoring what people may think of her, including adopting a short hairstyle before they were popular. However, she also understands and accepts the consequences of her actions. Even when everything appears to be going horribly, she refuses to do anything she doesn’t choose herself. August captures Astrid’s heart, whether she’s feeling independent, resolute or despair. It’s not often one finds such strife in the biography of a children’s author, but she channeled her trials and triumphs into stories that were accessible and inspiring, as evidenced by the excerpts of fan mail sprinkled throughout the narrative.
Special features include: interviews with actress Alba August and director Pernille Fischer Christensen; Berlinale film premiere; and photo gallery. (Music Box Films)
Born in East L.A. [Collector’s Edition] (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
The story follows Rudy (Cheech Marin), an American of Hispanic descent, whose south-of-the-border looks show him no mercy during an immigration raid in a migrant worker factory. As his luck goes, he is caught with neither money nor his ID and is deported to Mexico — without speaking a word of Spanish. Unable to contact his vacationing family or his newly immigrated cousin (Paul Rodriguez), Rudy is in for a crazy ride as he tries every legal — and illegal — scheme he can think of to get back home. He finds himself in jail, in love, and practically insane in this case of mistaken, or rather, misplaced, identity.
This is a hilarious play on stereotypes as everyone expects things of Rudy based on his skin colour, though he’s as far from a Mexican as any white, red-blooded American thinks they are. The immigration officers can’t figure out how he learned English so well and absolutely no one believes he was born in Los Angeles. In the meantime, his cousin thinks their portrait of Jesus Christ is speaking to him. With the roles reversed, Rudy accepts every odd job possible — from hustling to teaching Indian immigrants how to blend in America — to make enough money to illegally cross the border and return home. It’s a movie that could never be made now, but is still incredibly enjoyable if you stowaway your PC hat.
Special features include: extended television cut; commentary by director/writer/star Cheech Marin; interview with Cheech Marin; interview with actress Kamala Lopez; interview with actor Paul Rodriguez; photo gallery; production notes; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Select)
The Deadly Mantis (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
What’s worse than a horde of locusts? A gigantic man-eating praying mantis, released from a million years of deep, frozen sleep and ready to claw its way to world domination. This menacing insect kills everything in its path while scientists and military men work feverishly to stop it. With the help of a paleontologist (William Hopper), his assistant and a photo journalist, a commander (Craig Stevens) must put an end to the beastly insect.
It seems unlikely that a massive insect would be hibernating in sub-zero temperatures, but, nonetheless, that is the premise of this film. It takes some time before anyone lives to tell the tale of the humungous carnivore and by then there’s just sheer panic. The ragtag group of people brought together to investigate the phenomenon seem like possibly the least effective combination of professionals, yet they figure it out. Moreover, going on television with a big bug part and warning people of a potential, magnified threat seems like a joke. Still, the special effects are fairly decent and attack of any giant creature is always worth a watch.
Special features include: commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter; Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory¬)
Doctor Who: Tom Baker Complete Season Seven (Blu-ray)
BBC Home Entertainment
In these twenty-nine episodes, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companions encounter the Foamasi, Meglos, the Marshmen, vampires and Tharils, building to a final deadly showdown between the Doctor and his arch nemesis the Master.
After seven years, Baker was the longest serving Doctor and the most liked, so his departure was a significant event in the series. As noted in one of the bonus features, he was both tired of playing the character but didn’t want to leave, which is somewhat evident in this final season. Nonetheless, the Fourth Doctor is still a beloved one remembered for his signature scarf and love of Jelly Babies. The season is comprised of several multi-episode arcs and Baker’s farewell is plotted in the four-part narrative titled “Logopolis” that also introduces a new companion, airline stewardess Tegan. With the Master about, there’s always surprises — but this turn of events is actually more unexpected than usual.
Special features include: commentaries moderated by Matthew Sweet featuring Tom Baker on “The Leisure Hive” and Lalla Ward and Rachel Davies on ”State Of Decay”; making-of featurette; “Behind the Sofa” for each episode; special effects for “Logopolis” including footage filmed at Jodrell Bank; “The Writers’ Room”; “Weekend With Waterhouse”; behind-the-scenes footage from “The Leisure Hive”, “Full Circle”, and “Logopolis”; interview with K9 & Company’s Ian Sears; Panopticon convention archives with Tom Baker; and photo galleries. (BBC Home Entertainment)
Dynasties (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)
BBC Home Entertainment
The film takes you deeper into the lives of five of the world’s most celebrated and endangered animals than ever before: Chimpanzee, Emperor Penguin, Lion, Painted Wolf and Tiger. Travel from the plains of Africa to the jungles of India, from the edge of the Sahara to the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Watch leaders battling rivals for their crown, feuds tearing families apart, and parents risking their lives to protect offspring from the coldest and cruelest winter on Earth. The series also tackles nature’s lack of space, which can jeopardize these animals’ survival. With Sir David Attenborough’s powerful storytelling, viewers will witness how human civilization affects the very animals with whom they empathize.
Attenborough’s narration has become synonymous with quality nature documentaries and this one is no different. There are five episodes, each nearly an hour long, dedicated to showing wildlife unfiltered. Shot over more than 2,000 days in extreme conditions, the footage they’ve captured is incredible. They don’t apply human characteristics to the animals, opting instead to describe the dynamics of the groups and what certain things mean in the context of their species. The episodes follow one family, focusing on its leader. However, as they are only observers, they cannot interfere when the animals are injured and more than once some of the animals they’re following are killed. But that’s the nature of things. On the other hand, the “On Location” featurette emphasizes the threat humans are to their survival.
Special features include: making-of documentary. (BBC Home Entertainment)
Lord of War (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Chance leads Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) to discover his one talent —illegal arms dealing. With his brother’s (Jared Leto) help, he reaches the top of his trade, supplying anyone whose check clears. His skills and quick wits bring him everything he’s ever wanted — and help him elude a persistent Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke). But at the peak of his prowess, he discovers his customers might demand more than he can give… and those he’s trying to protect could become deadly liabilities.
This is the story of a man with no conscience. He compartmentalizes his business so he can rationalize that his own hands are clean – free of any of the blood spilled by the weapons he sold to anyone that could pay the price. Yuri is a talented businessman, but he somehow decided the only thing he was good at moving was instruments of death. Most interestingly, there is a significant focus on his relationship with Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker), who is thought to be based on a Liberian warlord that led a horrific war for which Yuri supplied all the firepower. Leto’s and Hawke’s characters are there to remind Yuri and the audience of the ethical laws he’s violating by aiding these conflicts. Cage is great as Yuri, who has balls of steel and the wherewithal to complete a deal even after being shot by the buyer.
Special features include: commentary by writer-director Andrew Niccol; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; and “Making a Killing: Inside the International Arms Trade.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Mary Poppins Returns (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Disney Home Entertainment
Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) — just a child when Mary Poppins first visited 17 Cherry Tree Lane — is now a grown man raising his children Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) with help from his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer). Times are tough in Depression-era London, but the winds begin to change when the enigmatic governess (Emily Blunt), whose unique magical skills can turn any ordinary task into a fantastic adventure, enters the lives of the Banks family once again, having not aged a single day. Teaming up with an old friend, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), they take the Banks children on a series of whimsical adventures, encountering colorful characters like Mary’s eccentric Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), Jack’s lovable band of leeries and bank executives William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) and Mr. Dawes Jr. (Dick Van Dyke) — bringing life, love and laughter back into the home.
The fact that the film is still set in the past, before the immediacy of current technology, contributes to its whimsy. The fantasy is also enhanced by the stunning, vibrant images and warm colours that envelop viewers. The picture hits many of the same beats as its predecessor, including an enchanted trip under the sea, a dreamlike adventure into an animated world and more than one song-and-dance sequence. It’s fitting this should be a sequel rather than a remake as Mary Poppins — the character and the film — is eternal. Blunt does a wonderful job filling Julie Andrews’ shoes, perfectly capturing her firm but gentle approach to everything, as well as her motherly yet playful charisma. It’s not often one can recapture the hope of their youth via a charming follow-up to a family favourite, but this is unquestionably one of those rare occasions that should be lovingly embraced.
Special features include: deleted scenes and song; “The Practically Perfect Making of Mary Poppins Returns”; “Seeing Things From a Different Point of View: The Musical Numbers of Mary Poppins Returns”; “Back to Cherry Tree Lane: Dick Van Dyke Returns”; “Practically Perfect Bloopers”; and sing-along mode. (Disney Home Entertainment)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The film introduces Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and the limitless possibilities of the Spider-Verse, where more than one can wear the mask.
This movie was almost unanimously deemed the best animated feature of 2018. It earned that designation with a unique storytelling style, exceptional imagery and a narrative that manages to differentiate itself from the numerous versions of the tale told before. Miles has two loving parents who’ve chosen careers in helping people, so when he’s unexpectedly injected with the responsibilities of a superhero he knows he has a duty to the greater good without ever having to be told. Bringing together multiple versions of the same character from other dimensions is a brilliant plot device that also serves as a reminder that there’s no one way to do anything and sometimes things don’t go your way — but you always have to get back up. And in spite of not being released by Marvel Studios, this property does still incorporate a post-credit sequence.
Special features include: “We Are Spider-Man:”; “Spider-Verse: A New Dimension”; “The Ultimate Comics Cast”; “A Tribute to Stan Lee & Steve Ditko”; “Designing Cinematic Comics Characters”; “Alternate Universe Mode”; “The Spider-Verse Super-Fan Easter Egg Challenge”; “Spider-Ham: Caught In a Ham” original short; and two lyric videos. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
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