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Review: Reaching back into the past for this week’s releases Special

Posted Sep 7, 2016 by Sarah Gopaul
This week’s releases include a well-acted historical drama; much delayed insight into the trial of a century; classic Peanuts movies; a new approach for a long-running series; and a box set any fan and/or collector would be proud to own.
A scene from  Money Monster
A scene from 'Money Monster'
Sony Pictures
All the Way (Blu-ray)
Untitled
HBO Home Entertainment
The series follows Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston) during his early administration, as he stakes his presidency on what would be a historic, unprecedented Civil Rights Act. Johnson finds himself caught between the moral imperative of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Anthony Mackie) and the expectations of the southern Democratic Party leaders who brought Johnson to power. As King battles to press Johnson while controlling more radical elements of the Civil Rights movement, Johnson navigates the bill through Congress, winning a landslide victory against Barry Goldwater, but causing the South to defect from the Democratic Party.
While much is said about John F. Kennedy’s work with the Civil Rights movement, after his death it was up to Johnson to take the lead on those efforts and push through the legislation that would give black Americans equal rights. His own experience with poverty made him sensitive to prejudice, but his connection to the South made navigating these waters very spiny. The film shows his constant struggle to do what’s right, but also try to massage the southern leaders into compliance in an attempt to retain their votes for the looming election. Cranston is barely recognizable under the prosthetics, but his transformation into the “accidental president” is noteworthy. Conversely Mackie’s MLK doesn’t exude quite the same presence and charisma as one would expect, though his representation is passable. The bonus features are relatively brief, but provide some insight into both the process of making the movie and the events that inspired it.
Special features include: “Bryan Cranston: Becoming LBJ”; “All the Way: A Walk Through History.” (HBO Home Entertainment)
Limitless: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Untitled
Paramount Home Media Distribution
After an old friend introduces him to a dangerous new pill called NZT-48, aimless twenty-something Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is able to use every part of his brain, making him the smartest person alive when he is on the drug. Utilizing his enhanced abilities, Brian helps FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) with her caseload, as well as attempting to track down the deadly drug’s manufacturer and figure out why Brian is the only person immune to its fatal side effects. Making matters more complicated is the involvement of mysterious U.S. Senator Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), who may have more at stake than expected.
The original feature narrative undoubtedly lends itself to a more serial style of storytelling about someone with unfathomable intelligence. The creators satisfactorily connect this tale with its source, even getting big-screen star Cooper to appear briefly in a couple of episodes, thus solidifying the link between stories; afterwards, his interests are represented by a proxy for most of the season. They also maintain the analytical, visual style of an NZT-user’s perception, though Brian works out many problems by talking to an imaginary version of himself. There is an interesting episode that relates part of the mysterious proxy character’s back story via animated vignette’s narrated by Brian. Unsurprisingly the conspiracy surrounding Morra and the manufacturing of NZT inflates into a worldwide manhunt; though most of them of course live to fight another day… and another season.
Special features include: commentary; four making-of featurettes; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Money Monster (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Financial TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and his producer, Patty (Julia Roberts), are put in an extreme situation when Kyle (Jack O’Connell), an irate investor who lost everything, forcefully takes over their studio. During a tense standoff broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must work furiously against the clock to unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy at the heart of today’s fast-paced, high-tech global markets.
This movie has the feel of Dog Day Afternoon, in which a disadvantaged underdog goes to extreme and very public measures to accomplish something. Kyle views himself as the voice of the people; he represents all the little guys who try and fail to get their piece of the pie because the widespread fat cats are too greedy to share. Lee is an absurd TV personality who relies on every possible gimmick to maintain the audience’s attention and ratings… essentially he’s the Howard Stern of financial news. And Patty is the glue that holds it all together. However the film also endeavours to demonstrate the ruthlessness of the world inside and outside of business, and seeks to demonstrate the borderless realm of globalization as this seemingly local story is tied to three other continents. Director Jodie Foster’s attempts to meet these various goals occasionally cause it to be abrasive, but it generally works.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “George Clooney, The Money Man”; “Inside the Pressure Cooker”; “Analysis of a Scene - The Showdown”; and Dan the Automator (feat. Del the Funky Homosapien) “What Makes the World Go ‘Round (MONEY!)” music video. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Peanuts: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Take a jazzy joyride through the streets of Manhattan, with delightfully trippy dream sequences and imagination-filled musical interludes as Charlie Brown takes on the national spelling bee. Sit for a spell and learn that if at first you don’t succeed, take a step back. Maybe a nap. Then grab the closest beagle… and dance.
This feature-length animated picture puts the spotlight on Charlie Brown, who finds he can never quite accomplish what he wants no matter how hard he tries… until he unexpectedly volunteers for the spelling bee. Until then, there are mishaps on the pitcher’s mound, kite-flying and living life in general. But for a brief moment, Charlie is everyone’s hero — and it looks good on him. This animated movie is unique in that it has these very experimental sequences of psychedelic colours, kaleidoscope montages and generally nontraditional images. It’s actually captivating to see such freedom expressed in a mainstream cartoon, especially when compared to the mostly contemporary rigidity.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Peanuts: Snoopy, Come Home (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When America’s most beloved dog suddenly goes missing, the whole Peanuts gang bands together to find him. Snoopy and Woodstock (in his big-screen debut) head for the highway in search of their true place in the world and discover there really is no place like home.
This feature-length animated film is surprisingly filled with intrigue. Snoopy is living a life of leisure until he receives a letter from a mysterious little girl out of the blue. Without any hesitation he packs a bag and is off to visit her, even though Charlie Brown and the audience have no idea who she is or what’s their relationship. Charlie’s friends try to help him find out where Snoopy went, but even the truth may not be enough to bring him back. The somewhat depressing theme of the movie is “No dogs allowed,” leading to Snoopy being kicked out of everywhere from the beach to buses to trains. His lack of speech leads to some confusing situations, not even counting the main premise, but his typed letters are also very amusing. Woodstock’s debut is funny and he makes a great, equally silent companion for the lovable beagle.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (Blu-ray)
Untitled
Fox Home Entertainment
Told from the perspective of the lawyers, the miniseries explores the chaotic dealings behind closed doors and how prosecution overconfidence, defense shrewdness and shocking courtroom twists led to one of the most earth-shattering verdicts of all time.
While everyone old enough to remember what is still considered the “trial of a century” has an opinion about Simpson’s (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) guilt, they may not be as familiar with all the goings-on behind-the-scenes. With a diverse legal team consisting of high-profile civil rights lawyer Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), a Hollywood attorney known for settling cases, and Simpson’s best friend, Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), it’s a wonder they managed any defence strategy. On the opposite side of the room was prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), who was conditioned to be stubborn and dealing with a messy divorce, and Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), who was being positioned as a betrayer of his race. There was a lot going on and the exceptional actors cast to play these roles do an excellent job portraying their struggles and squabbles. The series doesn’t debate the verdict, but rather explores the legal drama and issues of racism in the LAPD raised by the evidence in this case. Unsurprisingly nominated for 22 Emmy Awards, this show is insightful and entertaining even though the events took place 20 years ago.
Special features include: “Past Imperfect: The Trial of the Century”; and “Facts of the Case: An Interactive Timeline.” (Fox Home Entertainment)
South Park: The Complete Nineteenth Season (Blu-ray)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
This season follows a serialized model for the first time in the show’s history. It’s built around an extended satire of political correctness beginning when a now socially conscious principal comes to town. In other episodes, Mr. Garrison makes a bid for the White House, Randy takes the lead in gentrifying the town, and everyone is looking for their safe space.
As mentioned, this is first time the show has maintained one storyline for the breadth of a season… and it creates mixed feelings. PC Principal and his PC crew are hilarious as they over-police everyone and insist on political correctness at the expense of simple debate or personal identity. Mixed in with this commentary is the prevalence of ads on the Internet and their effects on users, the gentrification of lower-income neighbourhoods and a need for gun control. Although the creators are still delivering social commentary, it’s not nearly as pointed or inventive as it’s been in the past when they’ve been able to structure entire episodes around a single issue. This is also probably one of the least offensive seasons, which audiences would have to weigh in about themselves. Hopefully next season returns to the traditional structure of explicit finger-pointing.
Special features include: commentary by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone; deleted scene; “South Park: The Fractured but Whole,” E3 2016 game trailer; and “#SocialCommentary.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Star Trek 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection (Blu-ray)
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Paramount Home Media Distribution
Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Starship Enterprise explore the Galaxy and defend the United Federation of Planets in 79 live-action TV episodes, 22 animated episodes with the original cast and six feature-length movies.
It’s impossible to have foretold that this sci-fi series would have the impact it has had on the cultural zeitgeist. In addition to still being a revered TV show, it spawned a number of spin-offs, movies and documentaries that have emerged over the last 50 years, repeatedly paying tribute (directly and indirectly) to the original series that started it all. The crew was uniquely diverse and the aliens they encountered were well-constructed. Each episode presented a new story and Kirk could often be found seducing a female species (though no one ever questioned their biological compatibility). The planet of Tribbles is still a favourite and one-liners from many of the characters are still uttered in conversations today.
The filmmakers tasked with making the movies understood the world in which the series was set (though they still had their creative differences with Gene Roddenberry and others as revealed in the special features), and were committed to creating pictures the fans would appreciate and love, giving their beloved characters the chance to display more depth via longer narratives. This exceptional collector’s box houses all the stories already mentioned, as well as the fascinating and insightful documentary, Star Trek: The Journey to the Silver Screen, which recounts how the series ever made it off the small screen. The more than 20 hours of bonus features take fans behind the curtain with vintage video, as well as glimpses of how being on the show affected the careers of its forever recognizable actors. And to top-off all these amazing video features that are available on 30 newly designed discs, the box also includes stunningly vibrant mini-posters for all six movies by artist Juan Ortiz and a collectible Starfleet insignia pin. Live long and prosper.
Special features include: more than 20 hours of previously released bonus features; and director’s cut of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Tab Hunter Confidential (Blu-ray)
Untitled
FilmRise
In the 1950s, Tab Hunter is number one at the box office and number one on the music charts. He is Hollywood’s most sought-after star and America’s boy next door. Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds and Sophia Loren are just a few of the actresses to whom he’s romantically linked. Nothing, it seems, can damage Tab Hunter’s career. Nothing, that is, except for the fact that he is secretly gay.
The suppression of homosexuality in Hollywood is becoming well documented and familiar, but many of these stories were publicized after the actors’ deaths. In this documentary Tab has the opportunity to tell his story of being a forcibly-closeted gay man in Hollywood, and the pressures him and his friends faced to stay that way. In addition to talking about his childhood, breaking into show business and reviving his career via a John Waters picture, Tab seemingly reluctantly talks about his secret relationships with other high-profile men, including Anthony Perkins. The “Young Love” singer was on top of the world, a teen heartthrob and in-demand actor topping music charts — but he couldn’t be himself. Interviews with friends and admirers reveal the fandom and sadness that dominated his existence, and how his horses kept him away from the ledge.
Special features include: bonus interviews; and trailer. (FilmRise)
Urge (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Untitled
Lionsgate & VVS Films
A weekend getaway takes a dangerous turn when a mysterious nightclub owner (Pierce Brosnan) introduces a group of friends (Justin Chatwin, Ashley Greene, Alexis Knapp, Bar Paly, Chris Geere, Nick Thune, and Danny Masterson) to a new designer drug. Stripped of their inhibitions, they start living out their wildest fantasies — but what starts out as a fun night of partying quickly turns deadly, as the island paradise deteriorates into a tropical madhouse.
This is a narrative about hedonistic indulgence by a group of privileged, white, twenty- or thirty-somethings who are just looking for a new, edgier way to have fun. Beginning with a hostile boardroom discussion, a helicopter then transports its spoiled personalities to an immaculate beachfront house. Probably the most interesting part — their first Urge high — is boiled down to a montage of inappropriate make-out sessions and erotic dancing. Their second experience cuts in halfway through the night to reveal weird desires, extreme guilt and no reservations. While very flashy and stylistic, the film like its characters completely lacks substance.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes with cast and crew. (Lionsgate & VVS Films)