Review: They have their own way of doing things in this week’s releases Special

Posted Aug 29, 2017 by Sarah Gopaul
This week’s releases include a new take on the courtroom drama; the second film in sci-fi trilogy; a special anniversary release; a gripping mystery thriller; the second season of a manly competition; and some variations on young adult drama.
A scene from  Alien: Covenant
A scene from 'Alien: Covenant'
Twentieth Century Fox
Alien: Covenant (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an unchartered paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a terrifying threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.
Where Prometheus felt like a film treading on the outskirts of the franchise, its follow-up takes audiences closer to the lore with which they’re more familiar. It also circles back to the end of the previous picture to answer some of the questions it created. In this movie, the alien form is more familiar — though they still find an abundance of room to play with its appearance. Facehuggers return to the fold as do recognizable variations of H.R. Giger’s original creature designs. This connection to the earlier films and their captivating evolution are definitely one of the most intriguing aspects of this film, and one of its greatest assets. Moreover, the various dark scenes are still crisp and detailed in 4K. While the plot is somewhat less dense than its predecessor’s, the character development is uneven. This movie is unquestionably an improvement over Prometheus and it will be interesting to see how its events play into the final film in the trilogy of prequels.
Special features include: commentary by director Ridley Scott; delete and extended scenes; “Master Class: Ridley Scott”; “Meet Walter”; “Phobos”; “The Last Supper”; “The Crossing”; “Advent”; “David’s Illustrations – Image Gallery”; and production gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Billions: Season 2 (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
After being deftly outplayed, brilliant hedge fund king Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is upping his game and using his considerable resources to exact revenge on ruthless U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Axe’s aggressive move sends Chuck reeling as he finds himself under investigation, forced to scramble to hang on to his office and his family. But the embattled prosecutor still has some tricks up his sleeve and it’s not long before Axe learns that money can’t buy everything — or everyone.
The macho competition for superiority continues in the second season of this cutthroat series. The early advantage goes to Axe as Chuck is drowning beneath the investigation and a substantial number of civil lawsuits. However, the prosecutor isn’t going down without a fight and it’s not long before he’s back in a position to throw a potentially knockout punch. In the meantime, their wives are also taking up arms to keep what’s theirs… except that Wendy Rhoades’ (Maggie Siff) distrust of her husband and need to be proactive often causes more problems than solutions. While one couple enters marriage counselling, the other deals with their issues the old fashion way: loudly and apart. This is another gripping season documenting the never-ending tomcat-fight that is never any less entertaining than when it started.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Bluebeard (Blu-ray & DVD)
Well Go USA
When a doctor learns a murderous secret from a sedated patient, he finds himself in the middle of an unsolved serial murder case. As dismembered bodies start showing up close to home, the doctor realizes he must solve the riddle before the killer realizes what he may know.
This is a convoluted thriller in which it’s difficult to know who is a crazy murderer and who is a victim of their insanity. The doctor generally keeps to himself, but when he begins to notice strange, possibly criminal, things occurring around him, he tries to get to the bottom of it. Of course, living in the country’s murder capital isn’t a comfort either. However, as he gets closer to finding answers, it becomes less clear if he’s projecting his own guilt onto those around him. It’s designed so the audience’s opinion frequently goes back and forth regarding the doctor’s innocence… and sanity. The conclusion provides all the answers, though it turns out to be much more complicated and intriguing than imagined.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
Bull: Season One (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Innocent until proven guilty? Dr. Jean Bull (Michael Weatherly) knows it’s good a theory that’s rarely practiced. With so many human factors in every trial, his clients need help to rebalance the scales of justice. Unleashing psychology, neurolinguistics, high tech, and his own raw intuition, Bull calculates exactly what the jury, the lawyers and the witnesses are thinking. He’s backed by the highly skilled experts from TAC (Trail Analysis Corporation), led by former Department of Homeland Security data maven Marissa Morgan (Geneva Carr) and attorney Benny Colón (Freddy Rodriguez), whose quick wit anticipates every defense argument. With startling insights and stunning counterstrategies, Bull and his team foresee the verdict, then flip the script to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
After more than a decade on NCIS, Weatherly decided it was time for a change. Although he didn’t stray far, his new show is a fresh and engaging courtroom series that reveals to viewers an entirely different side of a legal case. Loosely based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s experiences as a jury consultant, the program marries high-tech, costly analysis with mystery. However, the fact that they never lose a case requires they only assist in defending the innocent; but this is typical of most courtroom dramas focused on lawyers and their ilk. Since they also attempt to discover the true culprit while proving their client’s innocence, there is some interesting crime-solving to be done. Bull’s motley crew of experts is also quite engaging so it’ll be interesting to see if they get more dedicated story time next season.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “The Verdict”; “See You in Court”; “Michael Weatherly: No Bull”; and launch promos. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Descendants 2 (DVD)
Disney Home Entertainment
When the pressure to be royally perfect becomes too much for Mal (Dove Cameron), she returns to her rotten roots on the Isle of the Lost where her archenemy Uma (China Anne McClain), the daughter of Ursula, has taken her spot as self-proclaimed queen of the run-down town. Uma, still resentful over not being selected by Ben (Mitchell Hope) to go to Auradon Prep with the other Villain Kids, stirs her pirate gang, including Captain Hook's son Harry (Thomas Doherty) and Gaston's son Gil (Dylan Playfair), to break the barrier between the Isle of the Lost and Auradon, and unleash all the villains imprisoned on the Isle once and for all.
This is a music-fuelled adventure with catchy tunes and flashy outfits. Most of the Villain Kids are fitting in just fine at Auradon, making friends the old-fashioned way and enjoying their new lives. But Mal is the centre of attention all the time, so it’s not surprising she becomes overwhelmed by the stress of being perfect and having all the answers; moreover, she’s trying to be someone she isn’t to please everyone else. It’s entertaining to see how the kids of these classic villains could have turned out, as well as how some of their powers and personalities manifested in the next generation. With the interference of Ursula’s daughter being a main plot point, it’s not surprising parts of this narrative is similar to that of The Little Mermaid… but true love (even among teenagers) always wins. The animated shorts in the bonus features are also amusing yet silly.
Special features include: “Cast Secrets”; deleted and extended songs; “Descendants: Wicked World”; and bloopers. (Disney Home Entertainment)
Everything, Everything (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) is a smart, curious and imaginative 18-year-old who due to an illness cannot leave the protection of her home, and Olly (Nick Robinson), the cute boy next door who ignites her desire to escape safety and sacrifice everything for love.
Based on another young adult romance book, this movie relies on the charm of its young actors to keep audiences engaged. Outside of Maddy’s illness and the boy next door’s abusive father, the characters are fairly one-dimensional. During introductory conversations, they discuss their favourite colours and dream vacation spot, but it’s all very superficial. They’re certainly likeable and Maddy’s situation provides a unique element to the traditional boy-meets-girl narrative, but it’s otherwise conventional and repetitive. While the ending delivers a not-so-unexpected twist, its harshness seems underplayed in favour of a more favourable conclusion.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and “Trapped in Love: The Story of Everything, Everything.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Fargo [20th Anniversary Edition Steelbook] (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
Things go terribly awry when small-time Minnesota car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can collect the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Once people start dying, the very chipper and very pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) takes the case. Is she up for this challenge? You betcha.
In spite of not being anyone’s first film, this critically-acclaimed movie drew significant attention to the cast and filmmakers. The Coen brothers became a household name, as did McDormand who will forever be associated with that previously seldom heard Massachusetts accent. Yet when one looks back at the picture, you realize how compelling everyone else is too, particularly Macy, Buscemi and Stormare. Having spawned a TV series nearly 20 years after its initial release, it’s not an exaggeration to say this film had an impact on audiences that stayed with most who watched it. The controversial “true story” claim at the start of the film was disavowed long ago, but it still gives the movie a different feel from other crime stories. The steelbook is a lovely way to commemorate the picture’s anniversary and its longevity.
Special features include: commentary by director of photography Roger A. Deakins; "Minnesota Nice"; interview with the Coen Brothers and Frances McDormand; American Cinematographer article; still gallery; and original trailer and TV spot. (Shout Select)
The Lincoln Lawyer (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is L.A.’s top criminal defense lawyer — a fast-living, freewheeling pro who does business out of the back seat of his classic Lincoln Town Car. He knows all the ins and outs of the legal system and how to exploit them to his clients’ advantage. But after agreeing to defend a wealthy young man (Ryan Phillippe) accused of rape and murder, Mickey suddenly finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of violence, vengeance, and deception that threatens to not only end his career, but also his life.
It was several years between courtroom dramas for McConaughey, but this film demonstrated that even though he was having fun in rom-coms he still had what it took to play a serious role. Mickey is a captivating character, defending repeat criminals on an on-going basis. He knows his clients are generally guilty, but he requires the truth of their crimes in order to effectively defend them. When he takes the case of a rich kid apparently caught up with a bad crowd, it seems pretty straightforward — until the evidence and his story stop aligning. In order to protect his family, Mickey has to put aside his already softened principles and pull-out every underhanded trick he knows to win.
Special features include: deleted scenes; making-of featurette; “At Home on the Road”; and “One On One with Matthew McConaughey and Michael Connelly.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Once Upon a Time in Venice (Blu-ray & DVD)
VVS Films
Venice Beach P.I. Steve Ford (Bruce Willis) is a detective who’s good with the ladies, bad with the punches, and wild about his dog, Buddy. But when his beloved pet is stolen by local thugs, Steve makes a questionable alliance with their devious leader, Spyder (Jason Mamoa). Teaming up with his best friend (John Goodman), Steve pulls out the big guns in search of Spyder’s stolen cocaine and cash in order to set things straight and get Buddy back where he belongs.
This is a great buddy comedy, oddly narrated by Thomas Middleditch who plays Ford’s novice assistant and P.I. in training. Willis and Goodman are a perfect team with the former generally playing the nice guy in their good cop/bad cop routine. It’s obvious Ford has generally gotten by on his charm since he knows almost everyone around Venice and they mostly seem to like him… which doesn’t mean they won’t break his legs if he doesn’t pay on time, but that they may feel bad doing it. Goodman is the straight man with hilarious deadpan line deliveries who also acts as Ford’s confidante. The film ends on a cliff-hanger so it would seem they’d like to turn the partnership into a serial, which has the potential to be quite entertaining.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette. (RLJ Entertainment)
Teen Wolf (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Like all teenagers, Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) is going through… some changes. But unlike the rest of the students at Beacontown High School, Scott's changes include long hair that covers his entire body, claw-like fingernails, fangs, a heightened sense of smell, superhuman strength and the extraordinary ability to… play basketball? And that's just the beginning. Naturally, these uncanny new features turn this lovable loser into the most popular kid in school. But by embracing his newly minted popularity, has the Teen Wolf lost sight of what it truly means to be Scott Howard?
The cast of this film had to have very specific qualities in order for the story to work, particularly Stiles (Jerry Levine) and Scott’s dad (James Hampton) who are sort of the devil and angel on the new wolf’s shoulders whispering into his ear. Scott was never really a loser since he had friends and a social life, but he wasn’t popular either. But suddenly the initially frightening sign of puberty gives him confidence and a face people remember. It’s the classic tale of power and responsibility with Scott’s dad even uttering the famous line from Spider-Man on the subject. But in addition to an obvious morality tale, it’s also an amusing fantasy in which the little guy gets to have some fun before the moral dilemmas creep in. It’s also entertaining to listen to the cast and crew reflect on the beloved picture in the bonus features.
Special features include: “Never. Say. Die. The Story Of Teen Wolf,” a comprehensive documentary about the making and legacy of the film; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
Teen Wolf Too (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Todd Howard (Jason Bateman) is a Hamilton University freshman with a full athletic scholarship — only Todd has no idea why, since he's far more interested in veterinary medicine than sports. But his boxing coach, Bobby Finstock (Paul Sand), is very familiar with the Howard family secret and he's hoping he can use it to his advantage. When the whole school — including Todd — finds out that he's a werewolf with superhuman abilities, Todd's popularity skyrockets and he becomes the big wolf on campus. But is his fame a gift or a curse? And can he keep it from getting in the way of the relationships he has with his best friends and girlfriend? Perhaps a little guidance from his professor (Kim Darby), who has a secret of her own, may help Todd learn the biggest lesson of all.
With Michael J. Fox too busy (or possibly uninterested) in a sequel, they cast another likeable ‘80s star who wasn’t part of any cliques but did fit the bill for unsuspecting new wolf. Todd is Scott’s cousin and Mr. Howard (James Hampton reprising his role) has agreed to look out for him as he starts school nearby. Trouble is inevitable when they discover he’s rooming with Stiles (recast with Stuart Fratkin), but they could only hope the wolf gene truly did skip a generation in this instance. Of course it didn’t or there’d be no story to tell. Much like his cousin, the late-blooming Todd is taken by his new abilities and the popularity that accompanies it. But with the same angel and devil on his shoulders, he soon realizes he has to make the right decisions for him — not the coach or the school. It’s unfortunate they didn’t try to do something a little different with this film, instead of just rehashing the same storyline in a new setting.
Special features include: “Working With The Wolf,” an interview with director Christopher Leitch; “Otherworldly,” an interview with co-star Kim Darby; “A Man of Great ‘Stiles’,” an interview with co-star Stuart Fratkin; “Nerdy Girl Saves the Day,” an interview with co-star Estee Chandler; “A Wolf In ‘80s Clothing,” a look at the wardrobe with costume designer Heidi Kaczenski; and still gallery. (Scream Factory)
Terror in a Texas Town (Blu-ray)
MVD Entertainment
McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) is a greedy hotel owner who wants to take control of Prairie City, the Texas town of the title. Keen to drive the local farmers off their land, McNeil hires a gunman, Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young), resulting in the death of a former whaler. The dead man's son, George Hansen (Sterling Hayden), arrives in town to inherit the farm and set the stage for revenge — armed with only his father's old harpoon.
This is a classic Western about taking vengeance on evil men, but it focuses on outsiders. The men like McNeil and Crale who have longer roots in the country are corrupt and wicked, doing anything for money and killing innocent people in the process. Hansen and his father’s Mexican neighbours are hard workers only looking to keep what is rightfully theirs and risking their lives in the process. Hansen has been taught to believe in the legal system, so he first attempts to gain justice through legitimate means; but when left with no alternatives, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of a woman who seeks redemption for years of wrongdoing. It’s interesting to see this traditional narrative playout with a foreign character taking the reins and not wielding a gun.
Special features include: Introduction by Peter Stanfield, author of Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s: The Lost Trail and Horse Opera: The Strange History of the Singing Cowboy; scene-select commentaries by Stanfield; theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov. (MVD Entertainment)
Union Furnace (Blu-ray)
Metropol Pictures
Small-town crook Cody (Mike Dwyer) was at the end of his rope when a mysterious stranger offered him the chance of his life. There was just one catch — in this game he would have to wager everything, including his life. Cody finds himself trapped amongst a band of outsiders and misfits, all fighting for their lives and a slice of the American dream. Fueled by a horde of masked sadists, Cody and the others will win a fortune or die a brutal death.
There have been a number of films to follow this plot: people are offered a lot of money to participate in humiliating and/or fatal acts for the entertainment of others. In this case, at least the earliest of the multiple games they play seem mundane; but the audience bets with fervour and the players are motivated by the gradually increasing payday. After each round, the winners are escorted from the room and the loser… well, they can only speculate what happens to them. Cody’s one-on-one conversations with the recruiter adds a strangeness to the situation, as does his sporadic dancing. Filmmakers skim over the second to last competition, leaving audiences to imagine the worst based on glimpses and the end result. But, if even possible, it comes to a satisfying though somewhat unresolved conclusion.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Metropol Pictures)
The Wall (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Two soldiers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena) are pinned down by an Iraqi sniper (Laith Nakli), with nothing but a crumbling wall between them. Their fight becomes as much a battle of will and wits as it is of lethally accurate marksmanship.
Restricted to two men and a voice in the desert, this film relies heavily on the tension created by their potential deaths. Cena’s role in the film is negligible, which is likely related to the fact he was eliminated earlier on in the book on which the film is based. In the meantime, Taylor-Johnson struggles to figure out how he may survive being pinned down in the middle of nowhere with no means of escape and barely any cover. Although it doesn’t try to extend this thin story beyond 90 minutes, it still could’ve benefitted from a little tightening. Nonetheless, the payoff at the end and its related reveals are mostly worth the wait.
Special features include: commentary by director Doug Liman and actor Aaron-Taylor Johnson; “Facts from the Front Lines: A Visual Journey Thorough The Wall”; and behind-the-scenes vignettes. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)