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article imageReview: This week’s releases show planning for the future isn’t easy Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 22, 2018 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a beautiful piece of cinema; a pertinent TV series; an amusing reboot; the final chapter in a musical journey; a Japanese sensation; and an animated lesson in appearances and friendship.
Black Eagle (Blu-ray & DVD)
MVD Rewind Collection
After an F-11 gets shot down over the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. government cannot afford to lose the top-secret laser tracking device that was on board. But unfortunately, the KGB team led by the infamous Andrei (Jean-Claude Van Damme) are beating the CIA in the race to find it. The CIA has no choice but to call in their best man, master martial-artist Ken Tani (Sho Kosugi), code name: “Black Eagle.” In response, the KGB resorts to an all-out war, with powerful Andrei matching Ken blow for blow.
Even though Van Damme is on the cover of this release, he wasn’t actually the star when the film was released; in fact, this was his first movie. Yet, it’s easy to see he was already developing his signature style and moves, displaying jaw-dropping flexibility and attention-grabbing charisma. Unfortunately, his character’s exit from the film is rather lacklustre and somewhat silly. Conversely, Kosugi was a martial arts champion making his name in cinemas. Even though his secret agent act is pretty rough, he is a competent action star and his fight with JCVD is impressive. This is by no means a great film, but it definitely displays the potential of its stars.
Special features include: theatrical and uncut extended versions of the film; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; “Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme”; “The Script and the Screenwriters”; theatrical trailer; and collectible poster. (MVD Rewind Collection)
The Church (Blu-ray)
Doppelgänger Releasing
The story is set in present-day Germany in an elaborate medieval cathedral that was once the site of a massacre of a village of supposed devil-worshippers by a band of crusading knights. When the church’s new librarian (Tomas Arana) breaks the seal of the building’s crypt, he releases a cabal of evil spirits that are contained beneath it. At the same time, the church's automated mechanisms are triggered, causing its doors to close and trapping everyone inside. The laws of reality soon collapse as a nightmare takes hold and claims the lives of those within one-by-one, threatening to unleash a supernatural pestilence upon the world.
In spite of only being presented by famed giallo director Dario Argento, the movie shares many of his signatures. Having deconsecrated a church in Budapest for the production, the film delivers an unconventional depiction of religion and the skeletons in the church’s closet. By confirming the existence of evil later in the picture, filmmakers to some extent justify the abhorrent massacre that opens the movie. Yet, it’s these same actions that lead to their current predicament. The interesting stuff doesn’t really begin until the church goes into medieval lockdown, which just happens to occur when a school tour and photo shoot were taking place — consequently giving the evil more prey. Even though it has some issues, this film is as enjoyable as the ‘70s horror pictures it is invoking.
Special features include: interviews with director Michele Soavi and actor Asia Argento; and theatrical trailers. (Doppelgänger Releasing)
Downsizing (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When scientists find a way to shrink humans to five inches tall, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to ditch their stressed out lives in order to get small and live large in a luxurious downsized community. Filled with life-changing adventures and endless possibilities, Leisureland offers more than riches, as Paul discovers a whole new world and realizes that we are meant for something bigger.
This movie has a fascinating start as this absurd solution to environmental drain is explored from the perspective of full-sized and shrunken people. It has a bit of a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids vibe, though with more adult issues to address… particularly when things don’t go as planned. The incentives for “going small” are pretty persuasive, though the logistics of the transition are a bit more complicated. However, the narrative then takes a turn to focus on the environment and the depletion of the world’s resources, leading the characters on somewhat of a sanctimonious journey to save humanity. The supporting characters played by Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau are a couple of the film’s highlights, but the switch in focus drags down the story.
Special features include: “Working with Alexander”; “The Cast”; “A Visual Journey”; “A Matter of Perspective”; “That Smile”; and “A Global Concern.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Ferdinand (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
Ferdinand (John Cena) is a giant bull with a big heart. After being mistaken for a dangerous beast and torn from his home, he rallies a misfit team of friends for the ultimate adventure to return to his family.
This is very much a “don’t judge a book by its cover” story wrapped in a cute, comedic package. As in so many animated movies before it, Ferdinand is quickly orphaned and left to create a family of his choosing. However, taking after his prize-winning father, people tend to notice his intimidating size before discovering he wears his heart on his sleeve. This leads to a number of misunderstandings, which cause Ferdinand to expand his circle of quirky animal friends to include various breeds of bulls and an odd goat with delusions of grandeur. There’s also an anti-bullfighting sentiment that may be a little devastating to young people as it connects the dots for a heavy realization.
Special features include: “Ferdinand’s Guide to Healthy Living” with John Cena; “A Goat’s Guide to Life”; “Ferdinand’s Team Supreme”; “Spain Through Ferdinand’s Eyes”; “Confessions of a Bull-loving Horse”; “Creating the Land of Ferdinand”; “Anatomy of a Scene: The Bull Run”; “Learn to Dance with Ferdinand”; “Ferdinand’s Do-It-Yourself Flower Garden”; “Creating a Remarka-Bull Song”; “Home” music video; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Handmaid’s Tale: Season One (DVD)
Fox Home Entertainment
Based on Margaret Atwood’s award-winning, best-selling novel, this is the story of life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly the United States. Facing environmental disasters and a plunging birthrate, Gilead is ruled by a twisted fundamentalist regime that treats women as property of the state. As one of the few remaining fertile women, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is a Handmaid in the Commander’s household, one of the castes of women forced into sexual servitude as a last desperate attempt to repopulate a devastated world. In this terrifying society where one wrong word could end her life, Offred must navigate between Commanders, their cruel wives, domestic Marthas, and her fellow Handmaids — where anyone could be a spy for Gilead — with one goal: to survive and find the daughter who was taken from her.
Even though Atwood’s book was required reading in some schools, its dystopian future and descriptive prose tell a story that is engaging and horrifying — particularly for women — especially now, even though it was written in 1985. The TV series is based on the novel with the first season encompassing its entirety; however, it reorders certain events and alters others in order to fit the new narrative it’s telling that’s grounded in a contemporary timeline that can continue on in subsequent seasons. Moss is exceptional in the role of Offred, but she is surrounded by an equally brilliant cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Samira Wiley and Alexis Bledel. Offred’s inner monologue, which reveals her true feelings even when the rest of her must appear like a stone, as well as her flashbacks to “before” are retained and key to understanding the current state of affairs. However, one of the key variations in the adaptation occurs in the season finale when they are given hope of change.
Special features include: “Script to Screen”; and “Hope in Gilead.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
Ichi the Killer (Blu-ray)
Well Go USA
Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) is a notoriously sadistic yakuza enforcer whose search for his boss’ killer brings him into the orbit of a demented costumed assassin known as Ichi (Nao Ohmori).
Takashi Miike is one of the most prolific filmmakers, turning out multiple films a year usually in different genres. However, this movie is the one that launched his following in the West. A toned-down version of some of his bloodier affairs, this picture mixes his affinity for unconventional yakuza characters with his taste for over-the-top blood splatter. Kakihara’s obsession with pain and body modification initiates some very interesting encounters that tend not to end well — or quickly — for the other person; and then there’s the incident of his own extreme penance that has everyone in the room squirming before it’s done. Similarly, Ichi isn’t what one would expect based on the brutality of the murders, but his involvement is gradually explained leading up to the appropriate but not necessarily satisfying ending.
Special features include: commentary by director Takashi Miike and manga artist/writer Hideo Yamamoto; still gallery; and trailer. (Well Go USA)
Images (Blu-ray)
Arrow Academy
A pregnant children's author’s (Susannah York) husband (Rene Auberjonois) may or may not be having an affair. While on vacation in Ireland, her mental state becomes increasingly unstable resulting in paranoia, hallucinations and visions of a doppelgänger.
This is a film that demands the audience’s attention; otherwise, they will be unable to follow the narrative and make sense of the author’s many delusions. It begins rather innocuously with a mysterious phone interruption while she’s already feeling vulnerable and alone. However, it becomes increasingly clearer to viewers that the harassment she’s experiencing may not actually be happening; moreover, it becomes gradually more difficult to determine what’s real and what’s not. It takes a little longer to get hooked by the story since the characters seem a bit drab at first, but writer/director Robert Altman knows how to draw in audiences so they hang on right up to the tragic conclusion. The interview with him is also revealing in what he hoped to achieve with this particular picture.
Special features include: scene-select commentary by writer-director Robert Altman; commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger; interview with Robert Altman; interview with actor Cathryn Harrison; “An appreciation by musician and author Stephen Thrower”; theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil. (Arrow Academy)
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
When four high-school kids discover an old video game console with a game they’ve never heard of —Jumanji — they are immediately drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the avatars they chose: gamer Spencer becomes a brawny adventurer (Dwayne Johnson); football jock Fridge loses (in his words) "the top two feet of his body" and becomes an Einstein (Kevin Hart); popular girl Bethany becomes a middle-aged male professor (Jack Black); and wallflower Martha becomes a badass warrior (Karen Gillan). What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji — you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves… or be stuck in the game forever.
This is a reboot of the original picture far more than it could be considered a remake or sequel — though they still pay tribute to their predecessor and maintain certain elements of the game. Updates include the cursed game taking video form (even though the console looks like it dates back to Atari from the ‘70s) and the kids being transported into the game rather than the jungle coming to them. The latter also allows the teens to be portrayed by some famous adults in the game world, who are even funnier as they portray still maturing adolescents. They are all perfectly casted, particularly as they discover their game characters’ strengths and weaknesses, which include a smouldering look and bread respectively. The journey itself feels somewhat rushed in the last act, but overall it’s an enjoyable movie.
Special features include: making-of featurette; “Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast”; “Attack of the Rhinos!”; “Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts!”; “Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating The Legacy of Jumanji”; “Jumanji, Jumanji” music video by Jack Black and Nick Jonas; gag reel. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Pitch Perfect 3 (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Now graduated from college, realizing it takes more than a cappella to get by, all the Bellas return in the final chapter in the series. After the highs of winning the World Championships, the Bellas find themselves split apart and discovering there are no job prospects for making music with only your mouth. But when they get the chance to reunite for a European USO tour, this group of awesome nerds will come together to make some music, and some questionable decisions, one last time.
For the Bellas last hurrah, they go all out on the over-the-top shenanigans… and who better to help them be wholly ridiculous then John Lithgow. From musical battles with bands that use instruments to destroying DJ Khaled’s suite to stopping an international terrorist Charlie’s Angels-style, the girls do it all in this picture. Though everyone has their parts to play, it’s no accident most of the script is dedicated to storylines revolving around Becca (Anna Kendrick) and Amy (Rebel Wilson) as the two rose to the top of lists of favourite characters. Of course, even though they’re on different paths now, the final sequence demonstrates they’ll always be together…. awe.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “A Cappella Action”; “The Women of Pitch Perfect 3”; “The Final Performance”; “Hollywood of the South”; “Competition Crescendo”; “Don’t Mess with Rebel”; “The Headliner: DJ Khaled”; “The Final Note: John and Gail”; “Just Because He’s a Bad Guy”; "Freedom! ’90 x Cups" official music video; and new and extended musical performances. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Shape of Water (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
In the hidden, high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.
When describing this film, it doesn’t fit into any single category. It’s a romance, a creature-feature, a fantasy, a spy movie and a thriller. The captive being is evocative of Creature from the Black Lagoon; the romantic aspect of the picture is both ever-present and somewhat surprising; the whimsical elements can be found in the movie’s structure and some of the more fanciful scenes; and the suspense is driven by Michael Shannon’s character who is also the film’s malevolent force, literally and figuratively rotting as the narrative progresses. The movie’s aesthetic is spectacularly stunning. Also, the camera tends to keep its distance more around the lab, where the frame in their homes is tighter and more intimate. This film is the embodiment of everything cinema is meant to be — on screen and for audiences — as well as a love letter to what it once was.
Special features include: “A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times”; “Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue”; “Anatomy of a Scene: The Dance”; “Shaping the Waves: A Conversation with James Jean”; “Guillermo del Toro’s Master Class”; and theatrical trailers. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Small Town Crime (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Mike Kendall (John Hawkes), a disgraced ex-cop, is fighting a losing battle with the bottle. When he finds a woman left for dead at the side of a road, Kendall turns private eye to track down her killers, taking one last shot at redemption.
It seems that small town’s almost always have the deepest, darkest secrets. Kendall lost his badge because of his drinking, but not being a cop has only caused him to further drown himself in alcohol. But this case, which he’s repeatedly warned to leave alone, is giving his life meaning again; even his coffee cup is filled with just coffee in the mornings most of the time now. However, the closer Kendall gets to the truth, the more danger he draws to his loved ones. Fortunately, he finds allies in the most unlikely places, leading to a brutal gunfight in order to protect those important to him… and the case, which has arguably become just as essential.
Special features include: commentary by directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms; actor, produce, and directors’ commentary; technical commentary; deleted and extended scenes; “Crime and Character”; and “Devising a Small-Town Crime.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
More about The Shape of Water, Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle, the handmaid's tale, Downsizing, Ichi the Killer
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