Review: New on DVD for July 22 Special

Posted Jul 22, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
This week’s releases include a witty horror picture; a renowned miniseries from the ‘80s; a movie based on a New York Time’s bestseller; and a missed opportunity.
A scene from All Cheerleaders Die
A scene from All Cheerleaders Die
All Cheerleaders Die (DVD)
RLJ Entertainment and Video Services Corp.
When tragedy rocks Blackfoot High, rebellious outsider Mäddy Killian (Caitlin Stasey) shocks the student body by joining the cheerleading squad. This decision drives a rift between Mäddy and her ex-girlfriend Leena Miller (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) – a loner who claims to practice the dark arts. After a confrontation with the football team, Mäddy and her new cheerleader friends are sent on a supernatural roller coaster ride that leaves a path of destruction none of them may be able to escape.
The title is an exaggerated play on the statistics regarding cheerleading injuries, but it adopts a significantly different meaning when the battle between the squad and football players heats up. Though this movie isn’t about rival teams vying for attention on the field or pulling harmless pranks on their so-called teammates. The script has a Heathers sense of humour about adolescence. Everything happening is crucial from the intense two-month relationship to the first football rally of the year. One character even exclaims, "But that was last week!" when confronted with a change of heart. This mindset also allows the core narrative to take place over just a few days since the teens would push through so much in that limited time.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; “The Sound of All Cheerleaders Die”; and “The Crew Behind All Cheerleaders Die”. (RLJ Entertainment and Video Services Corp.)
Heaven is for Real (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is a real-life father whose son Colton (Connor Corum) claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. Colton shares the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth – things he couldn't possibly know.
The film begins with a fair amount of exposition meant to bring the characters closer to the audience. Todd is well-liked and steadfast in his faith, but he's also human so when his son becomes gravely ill, he angrily questions the Almighty's plan. Kinnear is perfectly adequate in his portrayal, exuding a natural likability, and Corum is genuinely innocent throughout. What perhaps makes this picture slightly different from some other religious films is the universal hesitation to accept Colton's story, which is a recognizable attempt to cloak the movie's higher meaning in a more mainstream narrative. On the other hand, the hokey and cliché representation of heaven throws all rhyme or reason out the window. Nonetheless the film's strongest and most resounding message is not a religious one, but its subtle commentary on the American health care system.
Special features include: deleted scenes; making-of featurette; “Colton Goes to Heaven”; and “Creating Heaven.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Human Race (DVD)
XLrator Media
Eighty strangers from all walks of life are ripped out of their daily lives and forced to participate in a brutal race to the death. The rules are simple; follow the arrows or you will die, step on the grass and you will die, get lapped twice and you will die. Only one participant will survive. Race or die. There can only be one winner, but who will survive and for what purpose?
It's survival of the fittest, but not exactly the best. These people are randomly selected because of their location and nothing else. The variety of people transported is convenient and it's unbelievable how quickly these strangers turn on each other. The ruthlessness displayed in the film by select characters is quite disturbing, though it grows tired in a couple of scenarios. The exploding heads, on the other hand, are rather convincing instead of ridiculous. Even though there are several characters of focus, the deaf couple are at the centre of the narrative. Their relationship eventually takes a surprising but not entirely unexpected turn. Still, there's no one to really cheer for, though one character emerges as the lesser evil. The conclusion feels like it's lifted from an episode of The Twilight Zone, but it still doesn't achieve the desired impact.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Paul Hough; deleted scenes; and trailer. (XLrator Media)
Made in America (Blu-ray)
Phase 4 Films
A celebration of both the unifying power of music and pursuit of the American dream, the documentary directed by Ron Howard is an all-access backstage pass to the one-of-a-kind festival created by rap superstar Jay Z. It features performances and backstage interviews with many of today’s biggest music stars, including Pearl Jam, Gary Clark Jr., D’Angelo, Dirty Projectors, The Hives, Miike Snow, Janelle Monae, Odd Future, Rita Ora, Passion Pit, Run-D.M.C., Santigold, Jill Scott, Skrillex, and Kanye West.
The concert or festival film is appealing for several reasons. The obvious one is the visual recording of noteworthy performances in a live environment, giving audiences the sense of what it's like to be there. Next is the behind-the-scenes access to all the spaces and people that are generally off-limits to the public. Finally, one of the most entertaining elements are the unfettered interviews with the musicians while they're in their element. Unfortunately, while making his documentary Howard appears to have ignored these aspects. For a movie at the centre of a massive music festival, it simply lacks energy. Discussions with the musicians are calmly conducted away from the festivities, where they talk about how they got started and the role music plays in everyday life. Intercut with brief segments of concert footage, the overall power the event is meant to represent is completely lost. The bigger surprise is the absence of any bonus footage.
There are no special features. (Phase 4 Films)
Shōgun (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
The sweeping story of love and war follows John Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain), an English navigator shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. Rescued, he becomes an eyewitness to a deadly struggle involving Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune), a feuding warlord intent on becoming Shogun – the supreme military dictator. At the same time, Blackthorne is irresistibly drawn into the turmoil and finds himself vying to become the first-ever Gai-Jin (foreigner) to be a made a Samurai Warrior.
This is one of the most watched miniseries in the history of television. Originally broadcast over five nights, the movie is now presented on three discs, in three-hour segments. The epic tale covers several years and phases of Blackthorne's life, during which his feelings about the Japanese and their culture evolves. Constantly at odds with the Europeans he's supposed to identify with, he eventually agrees to assimilate. With a new Japanese name, Blackthorne goes from being a rebellious prisoner to the obedient guest of a warlord. The production value of the 1980 television series is excellent. Still the only U.S. TV show to be entirely shot on location in Japan, the authentic sets give the story a greater sense of authenticity. In addition to Chamberlain, the miniseries also features the voice of Orson Welles as the narrator and John Rhys-Davies in one of his first major roles.
Special features include: commentary by director Jerry London on select scenes; a 13-segment making-of documentary; and historical perspective featurettes: “The Samurai”, “The Tea Ceremony” and “The Geisha.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)