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article imageReview: Trying new things has mixed results in this week’s releases Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 4, 2016 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a look at a franchise’s past and future; a hilarious salute to women; a noteworthy miniseries that raises important questions; a bleak challenge for a former child actor; and a slew of new features for a beloved comedy.
50 Years of Star Trek (DVD)
America has been fascinated by Star Trek since it first aired in September 1966. This documentary celebrates the franchise’s 50th anniversary through interviews with cast and crew members from every television series and original films.
This documentary is suitable for both Trekkies and those still wondering what the fuss is about a half-century later. It contains wonderful tidbits about the show’s creation, cast and how they reacted to certain historical moments in the original series and in later spinoffs. A panel of former crew members and recognizable admirers, including Jeri Ryan, Kevin Pollack and special makeup effects artist Doug Drexler, interject occasionally to provide a personal fan account of their experiences regarding certain aspects of the show. While most of the focus is placed on the original series and The Next Generation, as well as their feature films, each of the subsequent shows are also explored in the context of the franchise’s longevity. One of the most interesting segments illustrates how the show both predicted and dictated advancements in real-world technology. And if you blink, you’ll miss the briefest appearance by Bruce Campbell.
There are no special features. (Lionsgate)
Bad Moms (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Amy (Mila Kunis) has a seemingly perfect life — a great marriage, over-achieving kids, beautiful home and a career. However, she's over-worked, over-committed and exhausted to the point that she's about to snap. Fed up, she joins forces with two other over-stressed moms (Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) on a quest to liberate themselves from conventional responsibilities — going on a wild, un-mom-like binge of long overdue freedom, fun and self-indulgence — putting them on a collision course with PTA Queen Bee Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her clique of devoted perfect moms (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo).
This is a movie for every woman who’s ever felt overwhelmed by the pressure to do it all and the perfectionists who insist that’s the only way it can ever be done right. Amy’s abrupt cessation of being a supermom and overworked employee is definitely a little jarring for those who’ve come to heavily rely on her, but quitting cold turkey became her only option. Gwendolyn is conveniently horrible, making all the effort Amy puts towards taking her down appear justified. Moreover splitting a little of her “me time” with a single dad played by Jay Hernandez doesn’t hurt her case either. Bell and Hahn are hilarious as Amy’s sidekicks: everything the former says sounds a little sad and a borderline cry for help, while the latter regularly raises the question of whether child services should be called. Yet in the end, regardless of their methods, they’re all striving to be the best possible moms. And the interviews that play through the credits with the cast’s moms are very sweet and amusing.
Special features include: deleted scenes; interviews with cast and their moms; and gag reel. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Shout Kids
Before he becomes the famed horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, young Howard Lovecraft is a curious and imaginative boy living with his mother. But after she unwittingly gives Howard the legendary Necronomicon, he is transported to a dangerous and frozen world populated by horrifying creatures. After saving and befriending one such creature — Spot — Howard and his new friend set off on a perilous quest to save the kingdom and get Howard home. But Howard soon finds out that not everything is as it seems and not everyone is to be trusted.
In the same vein as Tim Burton’s and Laika’s animated films, this film isn’t afraid to tell a dark children’s story. Fans of Lovecraft’s work will recognize some of his characters as young Howard explores this new world, which would later inspire his famous fiction. The twists are fun and interesting, though not entirely unpredictable for an adult viewer. The images are vibrant and the personalities captivating as Howard encounters friends and foes on his journey to end winter. In spite of the unusual residents, the snowy kingdom is not a frightening place; instead it’s a place where Howard doesn't feel like an outsider.
Special features include: commentary; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (Shout Kids)
Imperium (Blu-ray & DVD)
VVS Films
Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe), a young, idealistic FBI agent, goes undercover to take down a radical right-wing terrorist group. The bright up-and-coming analyst must confront the challenge of sticking to a new identity while maintaining his real principles as he navigates the dangerous underworld of white supremacy.
This is the typical narrative about a novice agent sent undercover who struggles with adopting the personality necessary to fool his targets. However, in this case, there’s no risk of Foster sympathizing with those he’s infiltrating because their ideologies are so right wing and hateful; in actuality, his ability to assimilate and act in any situation that arises is impressive and somewhat disturbing. Though filmmakers attempt to do so in a short amount of time, one of the goals is to demonstrate the many types of white supremacist groups that exist and how they may interact with each other. In this case, Foster encounters the full spectrum from jackboot Nazi skinheads to intellectual, well-to-do racists. Radcliffe is a chameleon both as an actor and as his character, convincingly spouting skewed statistics and slurs while still maintaining just the slightest hint of humanity required by audiences and distrusted by the marks. Toni Collette is also a shining but muddied beacon as Foster’s handler.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Daniel Ragussis; making-of featurette; cast and crew interviews; and “Living Undercover.” (VVS Films)
Killbillies (DVD)
Artsploitation Films
A group of fashionistas from the city, including models Zina (Nina Ivanisin) and Mia (Nika Rozman), make-up artist Dragica (Manca Ogorevc) and photographer Blitcz (Sebastian Cavazza), begin to shoot on an idyllic countryside hilltop. But soon, two physically deformed psychopathic countrymen approach them and quickly attack. After the terrified group finds themselves chained in a basement and awaiting their gruesome fate, they decide they must fight no matter what the odds. A wild, bloody, taut clash ensues between urban and rural, women and men, between savages and civilized man.
Slovenia’s first horror movie is very similar to its ‘70s and ‘80s American counterparts, but with an Eastern European accent. The oblivious crew trespass into hillbilly territory for their photo shoot and they’re not coy about their intentions once they happen upon the city folk. There’s very little foreplay before everyone finds themselves waking up in a dark dungeon and the bloodthirsty mountain people returning for round two. At least one of the killers is sexually aroused by the models, but this is to their advantage and leads to the next key component in these films: a chase through the woods. At least one of them proves relatively adept, which creates even the slimmest chance of survival. Most amusing is that in America this story revolves around food, while here the motivation is alcohol.
There are no special features. (Artsploitation Films)
The Lost Bladesman (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
During the warring period of the three kingdoms, ancient China is in turmoil. To unify the country, General Cao Cao (Wen Jiang), the real power behind the emperor, enlists the aid of the greatest warrior in the land, Guan Yu (Donnie Yen). However Guan Yu is a loyal friend of Cao Cao's enemy, Liu Bei (Alex Fong). To persuade the peerless warrior to fight, Cao Cao takes his beloved Qi Lan (Betty Sun) hostage. After leading Cao Cao's forces to victory, Guan Yu sets out with Qi Lan to rejoin Liu Bei. But now Cao Cao has deemed him too great a threat to live and on the journey he must face all the forces at the emperor's command sent to destroy him.
There are a lot of complex politics at play in this narrative, and the relationships born out of these affiliations and oppositions weigh heavily on the characters’ actions. Guan Yu is constantly striving to do the right thing, even if it means foregoing his own happiness or sacrificing his life. Cao Cao is somewhat two-faced, expertly altering to fit any situation yet lacking the control he believes he has over his men. Yen is provided multiple opportunities to flex his muscles and demonstrate his prowess, but the fighting is very traditional and often in war or ambush situations; nonetheless, it’s captivating. Although the narrative requires audiences follow along closely, their attention is rewarded.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
The Night Of (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
HBO Home Entertainment
The miniseries centres around the police investigation of a murder on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The prime suspect in the case — Naz (Riz Ahmed), a college student and the son of immigrant parents — finds himself and his family thrown into the pit of NYC’s criminal, legal, penal and judicial system after his arrest and imprisonment.
This is a very powerful narrative that draws viewers into the struggles of the characters. While it does depict the incident, there is a crucial element missing from the story. Nonetheless, the show does portray everything that follows in captivating detail. While there appears to be a breakdown in the system that condemns Naz before his trial date is even set, that is not the only threat to his individuality; instead, the key danger he faces is being assimilated in prison. His family and legal team confront the racism, falsehoods and lazy police work that keep him behind bars. However, incarceration has its own rules and determined to survive Naz endeavours to live by them, gradually losing sight of the sweet young man who made a wrong turn in Manhattan. The acting is superb. Ahmed is particularly good, perfectly portraying Naz’s transformation. And John Turturro’s turn as the troubled lawyer seeking fame and redemption is equally notable.
There are no special features. (HBO Home Entertainment)
Reign of Assassins (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Set in ancient China, Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh), a skilled assassin, is on a mission to return the remains of a mystical Buddhist monk to their resting place. The remains are believed to hold a powerful secret. Along the way, she falls in love with a man named Jiang (Woo-sung Jung). Unaware that he also is a trained martial artist, their love blossoms but tensions arise as the truth of her past unravels. Soon, a lethal triangle surfaces between her, Jiang and the team of assassins that are after the monk’s remains.
This film combines elements of a martial arts film with an epic romance. It begins with a brief explanation of the corpse’s value before placing audiences at the centre of its attempted abduction. The opening scenes are brutal, but effectively establish the remains’ importance as well as Zeng’s commitment to protecting them from her former colleagues. The middle section of the movie is relatively calm as Zeng establishes a quiet life as a fabric merchant and marries a courier. However, her skills are as sharp as ever as she anticipates the day her enemies discover her location and come for the monk’s body. This revelation leads to the next action-oriented section of the movie, seemingly concluding the romance portion of the tale. But the need to survive comes with a few surprises and a very satisfying ending.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas (DVD)
’Tis the season to be woolly with Shaun the Sheep and his farmyard friends. Frolic with the flock as they decorate the farmhouse for the Farmer, watch Bitzer and Pidsley battle for a spot by the fire, join a massive snowball fight and much more.
The seven episodes collected in this release are predictably hilarious as Shaun and his friends get in a variety of trouble, often while trying to do something good. In the first story, the Farmer longs for the Christmases of his childhood so the animals go about recreating some of his photos and receive a special reward for their efforts. In another, the sheep turn the windmill into an amusement park ride, which wreaks havoc with the Farmer’s cable channel. When poor Bitzer becomes sick, it’s up to Shaun to make sure he gets the rest and warmth he requires next to the fire by keeping Pidsley from disturbing him. And when Bitzer’s hat is misplaced, the sheep are on the job to try to replace then retrieve it. These are all great episodes the whole family can enjoy.
Special features include: Sheep-Shearing Game; and “Timmy’s Tune #1” song. (Lionsgate)
Star Trek Beyond (3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Dispatched on a rescue mission to the farthest reaches of space, the USS Enterprise is ambushed by Krall (Idris Elba), a ruthless enemy sworn against the Federation. Crash-landing on an uncharted hostile world, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the crew are separated with no means of escape. Only Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a rebellious alien warrior, can help them reunite and find a way off the planet in a race against time to stop Krall’s deadly army from triggering all-out galactic war.
This feature turns the series on its head as it tears apart and destroys everything fans hold dear in striking 3D. It undoubtedly has one of the most brutal and jarring opening sequences in a franchise picture, which also introduces a fascinating and formidable enemy. The technology they employ is unlike any ever seen before, though it does hold similarities to nanobots projections. In any case, unlikely pairings are created in the devastation that lead to opportunities for amusement in some instances and simple unseen camaraderie in others. Elba is an excellent villain, although he’s wholly unrecognizable under all the prosthetics, and Smith equally concealed is interesting as their new alien ally. The returning actors remain engaging and all have lovely things to say in the tribute to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov and passed away before this release. The bonus features also contain some fascinating insights into some of the distinct choices made for this chapter.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Beyond the Darkness”; “Enterprise Takedown”; “Divided and Conquered”; “A Warped Sense of Revenge”; “Trekking in the Desert”; “Exploring Strange New Worlds”; “New Life, New Civilizations”; “To Live Long and Prosper”; “For Leonard and Anton”; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The fastest man on four wheels, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. A big, hairy American winning machine, Ricky has everything a dimwitted daredevil could want, a luxurious mansion, a smokin’ hot wife (Leslie Bibb) and all the fast food he can eat. But Ricky’s turbo-charged lifestyle hits an unexpected speed bump when he’s bested by flamboyant Euro-idiot Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) and reduced to a fear-ridden wreck. Losing his wife and job to best bud and fellow fool, Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), Ricky must kick some serious asphalt if he’s to get his career back on the track, beat Girard and reclaim his fame and fortune. ‘Cause as Ricky Bobby always says, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”
There was a brief period in which Ferrell and Reilly were making a lot of movies together and this was probably one of the best products of that partnership. Ricky Bobby is such an absurd character, yet Ferrell finds the perfect balance between how ridiculous he is and how serious he takes race car driving. Cal is his ideal partner, matching him in both intelligence and outrageousness. In spite of starring these two powerhouse comedians, the kids playing Ricky’s two sons regularly steal the spotlight – and they were destined to do so based on their audition tapes. Cohen is a fantastic character actor and he definitely stretches boundaries with this role, but still not as much as can be seen in the deleted scenes. Jane Lynch and Gary Cole also make great contributions as Ricky’s parents. Nonetheless, one of the best bonus features is a deleted montage of Cal calling Ricky after their falling out and asking if he wants to hang out and play with things he formerly owned.
Special features include: commentary by director Adam McKay; “25 Years Later” commentary; deleted and extended scenes; “Line-O-Rama” and “Line-O-Rama 2”; interviews with Ricky & Jean; “Raw Takes”; “Adam McKay’s Video Diaries”; “Will Ferrell Returns to Talladega”; “Walker & Texas Ranger”; interviews; auditions; bonus race footage; Ricky and Cal’s commercials and public service announcements; gag reel; and theatrical trailer. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
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