Review: Everyone is trying to outsmart someone in this week’s releases Special

Posted Sep 30, 2017 by Sarah Gopaul
This week’s releases include a superhero for the ages; an extreme role reversal; a scathing commentary on the studio system; a family favourite that never loses its grip on audience’s heartstrings; and a very loose portrayal of incarceration.
Gal Gadot stars in  Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot stars in 'Wonder Woman'
Warner Bros. Pictures
The Big Knife (Blu-ray & DVD)
Arrow Academy
Charles Castle (Jack Palance), one of Hollywood's biggest stars, looks like he has it all. But his marriage is falling apart and his wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract. Studio boss Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger) isn't taking the news too well, and he'll do anything he can to get his man to sign on the dotted line — even if means exposing dark secrets.
While the studio system produced some of cinema’s most memorable films, it held a lot of disadvantages for the actors and filmmakers who were forced into multi-picture contracts for a set amount of money over any number of years. This often pigeon-holed them into a certain genre and prevented them from working on films elsewhere that may have been more challenging or interesting. Castle wants to try something new, but Hoff refuses to let his cash cow leave the studio that discovered him. The desperate actor does his best for his sake and his marriage’s, but he’s got a lot on his mind with other personal issues about to blow-up in his face and the boss doesn’t play fair. Palance is excellent in this emotional role, which meets an unexpected conclusion for 1955.
Special features include: commentary by film critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton; “Bass on Titles”; theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips. (Arrow Academy)
Conan the Barbarian (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan (Jason Momoa) realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.
Even though Conan originated in Robert E. Howard’s books then again in comics, the version most people know is the 1982 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This film attempts to return to the original imaginings of the Cimmerian and combines some of the many stories of his conquests into a single picture. The narrative differs greatly from the ‘80s films, as Conan must reluctantly protect a young woman desired by his nemesis. Advanced technology also allows for much more formidable and mythic enemies, as well as a thrilling swordfight on a spinning altar slowly falling through a seemingly bottomless cavern. There’s no doubt Momoa is physically fit for the role, but he also brings some of his wit so the character can do more than just grunt at people.
Special features include: commentary by director Marcus Nispel; commentary by actors Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan; “The Conan Legacy”; “Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would Be Conan”; “Battle Royal: Engineering the Action”; “Staging the Fights”; and theatrical trailer. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Dead Again in Tombstone (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The devil’s outlaw and reluctant servant, Guerrero (Danny Trejo) returns from the dead again. Guerrero is forced to protect a stolen relic from getting into the hands of Jackson Boomer (Jake Busey) and his gang of soldiers, but Jackson will stop at nothing to raise his comrades from the dead and bring the wrath of hell upon earth. Guerrero must use all his dark powers in order to defeat Jackson and find redemption…or die again trying.
Recently, Trejo’s participation in a film has become synonymous with absurdity and this film is no exception. When there isn’t gratuitous sex and nudity occupying the screen, the undead outlaw faces off against a ridiculous villain fittingly portrayed by Busey. Trejo exudes his typical bad hombre air, which works well in this narrative… it’s the narrative itself that requires work. This is one of those substandard horror pictures you would grab at the video store for a little entertainment — not because it’s good, but because you know it’ll make you snicker and groan.
Special features include: commentary by director Roel Reiné, editor Radu Ion, director of photography Rolf Dekens, co-writer Ethan Wiley and Grid VFX CEO Jan Goossen; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; and “Home in Tombstone: Danny Trejo as Guerrero.” (Universal Home Entertainment)
Erik the Conqueror (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video
In 786 AD, the invading Viking forces are repelled from the shores of England, leaving behind a young boy — Erik, son of the slain Viking king. Years later, Erik (George Ardisson), raised by the English queen as her own, becomes Duke of Helford, while across the sea, his brother Eron (Cameron Mitchell) assumes leadership of the Viking horde and sets his sights on conquering England once again, setting the two estranged brothers on a collision course that will determine the fates of their respective kingdoms.
This is a traditional narrative of two siblings separated in their childhood only to find in adulthood they’ve been raised to be enemies. It’s also filled with classic swordplay and scenes with dozens of extra as the warring nations battle each other in open fields and castle grounds — without the benefit of CGI crowds. There’s a lot of subterfuge in the English kingdom as one man’s ambitions continuously threaten the throne, including the queen and Erik. When the brothers battle each other, either victory would be marked with tragedy, but only the audience knows the truth. The closing scene is pretty dark and somewhat dismissed in the context of the film, which delivers a bittersweet conclusion.
Special features include: commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava — “All the Colors of the Dark Gli imitatori”; original ending; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys. (Arrow Video)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Elliott (Henry Thomas), Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) come together to help E.T. find his way home.
Twenty-five years after writer/director Steven Spielberg introduced audiences to a tiny, harmless alien and the three children who would help him find his way home, the film is still a moving, classic piece of cinema. By today’s standards the practical effects used to create E.T. appear hokey, but that’s part of its appeal. E.T. was really in the room with the kids and they reacted directly with his little polystyrene body rather than a tennis ball on a stick. He’s amusingly clumsy and pulls at everyone’s heartstrings on both sides of the screen. Many of the film’s most iconic moments have become a part the pop culture zeitgeist, having been duplicated and referenced countless times over the years. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film in a while, it’s definitely worth revisiting.
Special features include: deleted scenes; “Steven Spielberg’s E.T.”; “The E.T. Journals”; “A Look Back”; “The Evolution and Creation of E.T.”; “The E.T. Reunion”; “The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams”; the 20th anniversary premiere; designs, photography and marketing; and theatrical trailer. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Ghoul (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video
Chris (Tom Meeten) is a homicide detective called to London to investigate a strange double murder. Both victims appear to have continued moving towards their assailant despite multiple gunshots to the face and chest. On a hunch, and with the help of an old colleague — and former girlfriend — Chris decides to go undercover as a patient to investigate the suspect's psychotherapist, the mysterious Alexander Morland (Geoffrey McGivern), who has a taste for the occult.
This is a strange picture that begins and ends with similar scenes, but when viewed as a whole doesn’t entirely make sense. It begins with a homicide detective investigating an impossible case and transitions to the potential hallucinations of a man who is mentally ill. It’s difficult to determine what is and isn’t real, or even how the two stories are related since it doesn’t appear they can exist simultaneously. With so many questions, it’s difficult to really engage with the narrative and be invested in the character or his fate. It’s an interesting idea, but perhaps tries to be too clever in its many twists to be comprehensive.
Special features include: commentary by writer-director Gareth Tunley, actor-producer Tom Meeten and producer Jack Healy Guttmann; “In the Loop”; “The Baron” short film with optional commentary; and theatrical trailer (Arrow Video)
The Hatred (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
When recent college grad Regan (Sarah Davenport) goes to a family friend’s house to babysit their daughter for the weekend, she invites her three best gal pals along. What starts as a girls’ getaway becomes a journey into hell, as the young women discover the house is haunted by a dark and violent history involving a Nazi (Andrew Divoff), his daughter, and an ancient artifact that feeds on fear.
While this is a fairly standard movie in which the house or something within it is trying to kill its guests, it does have one of the creepiest scenes involving a babysitter and her ward. Regan’s name is undoubtedly a nod to The Exorcist, which indicates writer/director Michael G. Kehoe at least knows the genre. As a result, there are actually some attention-grabbing moments and a solid narrative… though it would’ve been nice to focus on the power of the artifact or the mystery of the missing girl rather than both at the same time, which detracts from each. Nonetheless, it’s a decent picture that shows promise for its filmmaker.
Special features include: commentary by writer/director Michael G. Kehoe and producer Malek Akkad; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
The Legend of Hercules (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Banished by his stepfather, the king, Hercules (Kellan Lutz) slowly becomes aware of his true origins as the son of Zeus. As he learns to harness his demigod powers, Hercules gathers an army to fight his way back to his kingdom.
Director Renny Harlin is not a stranger to big action movies, but this was his first venture into the realm of 3D. Using the swords and sandal genre to explore the feature, he focuses far more on the blades and battle aspects as Hercules uses his new-found strength to free people from the tyranny of his stepfather. Even though this version of the release does include the extra dimension, the enhanced picture quality still accentuates the same elements in scenes meant to take advantage of it. Lutz has the necessary size for the role, but he doesn’t bring a lot to the character who over the years has been charming, arrogant, noble, vengeful, mocking and cynical. In spite of its updated approach to the film and corresponding visuals, this movie is not the most memorable telling of the demigod’s adventures.
Special features include: commentary by director Renny Harlin and actor Kellan Lutz; and a making-of featurette. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Madam Secretary: Season 3 (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When it comes to prisoner negotiations, international aid, and thwarting the next world war, look no further than US Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni). Since joining the White House staff, she’s seen her fair share of global threats, but her greatest challenges lie ahead. While she and her husband Henry (Tim Daly) must outsmart their own personal stalker, new enemies emerge both overseas and in the states. Working alongside President Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine), Elizabeth proves not even the commander-in-chief can save the world alone. As Chief of Staff Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek) ramps up his efforts at home to get Dalton re-elected, a personal crisis brings him to face his own mortality. Thankfully, Elizabeth’s unwavering team, led by Nadine Tolliver (Bebe Neuwirth), helps keep the cabinet on their feet and the nation under control. In times like these, only one thing is certain — we need a woman like Elizabeth McCord.
Although this series continues to tell new stories each season, it always seems to begin and end business as usual. Negotiating with foreign countries, managing terrorist threats, strategizing for the election and handling media coverage of any related events. However, it’s their personal lives that seem to alter the most each year. This season is especially eventful as the family is stalked by a tech-savvy assailant whose motives and target are unclear. The necessary protection and invasion of privacy that accompanies it causes a fair amount of friction around the house, which Elizabeth and Henry seem to manage with more ease than seems realistic.
Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “A Day in the Life.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Mamaboy (DVD)
MVD Visual
Kelly Hankins (Sean O'Donnell) is the heartthrob of Butterhill High and he is having a secret love affair with Lisa Weld (Alexandria DeBerry), which is strictly forbidden by her father, Reverend Weld (Stephen Tobolowsky). Their secret becomes a growing problem when Lisa becomes pregnant and looks to Kelly to rescue her. While visiting his eccentric uncle, Kelly discovers a solution to their dilemma when he sees his uncle's latest experiment: Adam — a male monkey who has received an embryo transfer and is carrying a baby. Kelly decides to become the first human experiment. High School life becomes increasingly tough over the course of the next several months as Kelly attempts to hide his metamorphosis.
The premise for this story is absolutely ridiculous and suggests a low-rent, over-the-top comedy – and even though it’s all of those things, it’s also relatively entertaining following androgynous named character through the trials of pregnancy. Kelly is a likeable character thanks to O’Donnell’s charming performance, so it’s not entirely annoying to watch him go through the process. In fact, this is a pretty standard teen pregnancy comedy, except that the roles are literally and completely reversed. Kelly is experiencing the literal growing pains of his condition, from weight gain to hallway gossip to not being able to find an outfit for the school dance, while Lisa grows increasingly aloof and unsympathetic to his carrying the life they both created.
Special features include: “Hollywood Red Carpet”; and teaser trailer. (MVD Visual)
The Moderns (Blu-ray)
Shout Select
Paris, 1926. A time when anything could happen … and usually did. At the center of this world is Nick Hart (Keith Carradine), a struggling painter who makes a meagre living drawing caricatures at his favorite café. Nick longs for success and even agrees to forge masterpieces for a wealthy divorcée (Geraldine Chaplin). But what he truly desires is Rachel (Linda Fiorentino), the alluring wife of an obsessively jealous and lethally dangerous businessman (John Lone).
This film is set in a time when being an ex-pat in a city of burgeoning artists was one’s way of demonstrating commitment to your craft. Hence, Nick is good friends with Ernest Hemingway, who is soaking in foreign experiences for future works. They were essentially the hipsters of their time, arguing about politics, hypocritically discussing their principles and waxing poetic about their financial struggles while spending most days in cafes with a bottle of wine. Nick is an interesting character, but his pursuit of and interactions with Rachel feel a little shoehorned into the narrative. Moreover, this film is likely only to appeal to viewers with an interest in this era or lifestyle.
Special features include: new Interviews with director Alan Rudolph, producer Carolyn Pfeiffer and star Keith Carradine. (Shout Select)
The Prison (Blu-ray)
Well Go USA
After a fatal accident, Yu-gon (Rae-won Kim), a former police inspector, is sentenced to hard time in a prison he once helped fill. Once inside, he discovers the entire penitentiary is no longer controlled by the guards, but by a vicious crime syndicate that breaks out at night, using their prison sentences as the perfect alibi to commit intricate heists. Looking for revenge against the system that placed him inside, Yu-gon joins the syndicate... but with every man out for himself, how long can the perfect crime last?
There have been countless prison films produced in which the inmates are calling the shots, but this is possibly the furthest anyone has ever taken the situation. Not only do the prisoners run the place, they also regularly openly leave it to commit more crimes before returning — it’s the perfect alibi. The guards and warden are obviously compensated for turning a blind eye – or more accurately, collaborating with the prisoners — but it still seems like a step too far. In any case, they exist in a complex system of favours and deception which Yu-gon must try to navigate while not getting himself into more trouble with the police or the prisoners. The conclusion is fittingly wild as it all falls apart around them.
There are no special features. (Well Go USA)
The Resurrected (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Since the beginning of time, man has struggled with death. Now Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon), a wealthy scientist, may have found a way to beat it. Using an ancient diary and human remains, Ward begins a terrifying and bloody pursuit for immortality. By the time his wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) hires private investigator John March (John Terry) to halt the horrible experiments, it's too late… the dead have been resurrected.
This story is a more grotesque mix of Lovecraft and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Charles’ experiments result in bone-chilling screams, leaving audiences to imagine what he could possibly be doing behind the closed doors of his lab. The truth is quite unexpected. In the meantime, March slowly begins to realize this is the strangest case he’ll likely ever work; though he proves good enough at his job to solve the unthinkable mystery. Opening with a gruesome scene in a padded cell, the narrative eventually comes full circle to the same scene and then a little farther. Sarandon starred in a number of horror and sci-fi pictures in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and even though this is one of the most bizarre it’s not one of the best.
Special features include: commentary by producers Mark Borde and Kenneth Raich, screenwriter Brent V. Friedman, actor Richard Romanus and make-up effects artist Todd Masters; deleted and extended scenes; “The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward”; “Claire’s Conundrum,”an interview with actress Jane Sibbett; “The Resurrected Man,” an interview with Chris Sarandon; “Abominations & Adaptations,” an interview with screenwriter Brent Friedman; “Grotesque Melodies,” an interview with composer Richard Band; “Lovecraftian Landscapes,” an interview with production designer Brent Thomas; “Human Experiments,” an interview with special effects artist Todd Masters; photo gallery; and home video and Japanese trailers. (Scream Factory)
Scorpion: Season Three (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel) is the leader of a team of misfit geniuses who solve the world’s deadliest problems.
Team Scorpion has experienced a lot of emotional growth over that last couple of years, but all that work is tested this season with some major confessions and proposals. Walter, in particular, demonstrates he’s made great strides in some areas, but he’s far from being done. Toby’s matter-of-fact analysis of any human interaction remains a highlight of the show, while Happy’s blunt approach to everything is made a little softer by a new relationship. It’s also pretty amusing to see Sly impersonate a Russian gangster and lose his fear of everything on a deserted island. This season’s life-and-death circumstances are as thrilling as any before and their solutions are equally mind-boggling.
Special features include: “Unlikely Heroes”; “You’re Invited”; “Scorp Beats”; “Mock Me Up”; and gag reel. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Wonder Woman (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana (Gal Gadot), princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers… and her true destiny.
Beginning with her childhood desire to learn to fight like her fellow Amazons and concluding with her realizing her full potential as a hero of the world, this narrative is riveting and complete. The film sticks to her comic book roots of inspiration and independence, giving audiences a confident hero that stands for what’s right. While Gadot/Wonder Woman’s beauty is occasionally a topic of discussion, it doesn’t dominate the conversation — yes, she comes from an island of beautiful women; but that pales in comparison to their physical prowess as shown time and again. Diana leaves her mark via her passion, beliefs and bravery in the face of seemingly impossible odds, whether in a boardroom or on the battlefield. As a result, audiences will be in constant awe of her power and resilience. Director Patty Jenkins clearly had a vision for this picture and it appears to unfold almost flawlessly. Foregoing any dull exposition or pointless side stories, the movie stands with its hero for every thrilling action sequence and emotional realization.
Special features include: extended scenes; “Epilogue: Etta’s Mission”; “Crafting the Wonder”; “A Director’s Vision,” five-part featurette; “Warriors of Wonder Woman”; “The Trinity”; “The Wonder Behind the Camera”; “Finding the Wonder Woman”; and blooper reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)