Review: This week’s releases challenge traditions — part 2 Special

Posted Feb 6, 2019 by Sarah Gopaul
This week’s releases include a pleasing remake; an empowering yet unconventional heist movie; a Western with a different objective; a first in one of the longest running series; the missing link; and a maternal fairy tale.
A scene from  Widows
A scene from 'Widows'
Twentieth Century Fox
No Date, No Signature (DVD)
Icarus Films
Forensic pathologist Dr. Nariman’s (Amir Aghaee) car accidentally injures a motorcyclist’s eight-year-old son. He offers to take the child to a clinic, but the father refuses his help and his money. A few days later, in the hospital where he works, Dr. Nariman learns the boy has died under suspicious circumstances. His existential dilemma: is he responsible for the death, or did the child die of another cause, as the autopsy suggests?
This is a movie about grief and guilt, though at least one of the mourners isn’t one the family is even expecting. Nariman is convinced he caused the boy’s death even though the examiner found another clear cause. His guilt-driven determination is both admirable and painful as he refuses to let the boy rest without even considering the repercussions his discovery could have on the parents’ lives. In the meantime, the boy’s parents are struggling with the possibility they contributed to his death. As everyone lays blame — primarily at themselves — finding the truth becomes a way of avoiding dealing with the loss. Everyone’s convincing yet understated performances create a compelling narrative that explores the ethics of several people from multiple angles.
There are no special features. (Icarus Films)
Room 304 (DVD)
Film Movement
Startling tales of sex, betrayal and corruption unravel in a Copenhagen hotel, where nine disparate lives intersect by chance or fate. A hotel manager peers into the abyss of his empty life, leading to devastating consequences for himself, his wife and his mistress. A Spanish stewardess reaches out for intimacy and finds it in a most unexpected way. A reserved concierge is forced out of his shell by a shocking event, and an Albanian refugee gets a chance to avenge his wife, but ends up discovering something surprising instead.
Hotels are fruitful settings for mystery narratives because of the many strangers who check in and out, and may not have otherwise crossed paths. However, most of this story revolves around the hotel’s employees. From a man covered in blood to an affair that’s about to go public to a woman feeling physically ill at the sight of a guest to an unexplained gun finding its way to a maid, there are many stories unfolding at once. Filmmakers choose to jumble the narrative order, starting each section from a different perspective and at a different point in the timeline. As a result, audiences are expected to slowly piece together the tale until they can make sense of it all. However, since there’s no real introduction to the characters, it’s difficult to engage with them or their predicaments.
There are no special features. (Film Movement)
Rugrats: Seasons 1-2 & 3-4 (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Join the hunt for Grandpa’s dentures, explore Stu’s mysterious workshop, cheer on contestant Tommy in the “Little Miss Lovely” pageant (don’t ask!), Chuckie’s first haircut, a trip to the moon, the reign of Princess Angelica, Phil and Chuckie discover the joys of dresses, Chuckie tries to potty-train Spike, and the babies work Angelica’s lemonade stand. So man your paddle stations, and prepare to laugh along on your trip down memory lane with Tommy, Angelica, Chuckie and the rest of the Rugrats.
This amusing animated series took the typical antics and adventures of typically pre-teen children and applied them to infants, which added its own unique view of situations. The babies can’t communicate with the adults, but they have no issues talking and scheming with each other. Tommy is the leader, Spike the dog is his trusty steed, Chuckie is the scaredy-cat, Phil and Lil are the enforcers and Angelica is the villain. The kids can usually find enough trouble on their own, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get help from their guardians sometimes, particularly Stu and Grandpa. This was one of Nickelodeon’s most fun shows as it radiated colour, featured adorable characters with distinct personalities, and put them in ridiculous situations that primarily stemmed from their uninhibited imaginations — see the “jailbreak” in season three.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
The Sisters Brothers (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Elevation Pictures
Based on Patrick deWitt’s acclaimed novel, the film is set during the 1850’s gold rush and follows two brothers earning a living as hired guns as they hunt down a chemist who has stolen a valuable formula from their employer. Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) is a violent drunkard with a penchant for the hard life he and his brother have grown into, while Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) is torn between the desire for a simpler, more peaceful life and the guilt-ridden responsivity to stick by his brother’s side, despite the trouble it brings. The two brothers pursue the chemist, Herman (Riz Ahmed), and his unlikely companion John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) across the Oregon Territory.
Although their gun-fighting skills are matched and superior to most, Eli wouldn’t make his living with a pistol if it wasn’t the path Charlie chose for them. Other than wanting to preserve his younger brother, Eli feels he owes Charlie a debt he can never repay — an unexpected source of emotion that runs through the entire film. In the parallel story, John and Herman are men of higher educations and seem better suited to a partnership. Everyone nails their parts, complementing each other’s performances in spite of the differences in their characters. The gunfights are exciting and pick-up as the story continues, while also finding room for some intrinsic comedy. Moreover, there are elements of the narrative that don’t seem pertinent to the overall plot, yet add to the film’s personality. Finally, the conclusion is pretty brutal as the definition of comeuppance is tested and the four men discover nothing can shield them from the horrors of their actions.
Special features include: featurettes. (Elevation Pictures)
Spongebob Squarepants: Seasons 1-2 & 3-4 (DVD)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Meet Bikini Bottom’s denizens of the deep, learn the technique to blow the perfect bubble, sing “The F.U.N. Song,” ride the hooks, turn a gum wrapper into a gold mine of entertainment. Hitch a hook underwater to relive some of the most shell-cracking sea tales in Bikini Bottom history, like when Plankton trades lives with Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob patrols the beach, and Squilliam returns. Enjoy some of the most iconic episodes ever to make land, like when SpongeBob attends a party with Mr. Krabs’ Navy buddies as Mr. Krabs, Patrick becomes Patricia, and the gang plays Dunces and Dragons.
Everything about this show is absurd, but that’s what makes it so entertaining. Spongebob is typically nice to a fault, but his kindness is matched by his naiveté and that makes for a lot of silly situations. Patrick’s spitefulness is similarly linked to his stupidity because even though he usually doesn’t mean it, he doesn’t always grasp the consequences of his actions. Squidward is often a contradiction as he does all he can to repel Spongebob, only to beg to join him when he believes Spongebob has something he wants. Mr. Krabs is possibly the greediest creature in the sea, but his rivalry with Plankton never disappoints. Sandy the squirrel is probably the most out of place character in the series, which is what makes her presence so bizarrely appealing. The only thing that could make it better is actually joining Patchy the Pirate’s fan club.
There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
TKO Collection - 3 Films by Takeshi Kitano (Blu-ray)
Film Movement
Violent Cop: In his explosive directorial debut, Japanese renaissance man-cum-comedian-extraordinaire Takeshi Beat Kitano plays vicious rogue Homicide Detective Azuma who takes on a sadistic crime syndicate only to discover widespread internal corruption in the police force. Facing criminal charges for his unorthodox Dirty Harry type methods, Azuma finds himself caught in a web of betrayal and intrigue that sends him on a bloody trail of vengeance. But when his sister is kidnapped by a sadistic drug lord, Azuma's tactics escalate towards an apocalyptic climax.
Boiling Point: Ono Masahiko is an unlucky gas station attendant who belongs to a losing junior baseball team. When the local yakuza threaten and capture his coach, he and a friend get more than they bargained for when they travel to Okinawa seeking revenge. This is the second feature film from action auteur Takeshi Beat Kitano.
Hana-Bi (Fireworks): Former police officer Nishi feels responsible for the shattered lives of his loved ones. His partner Horibe has been crippled in a disastrous stakeout, a colleague is shot dead by the same villain, and his own wife has a terminal illness. In debt to a yakuza loanshark, Nishi conceives a bank robbery to provide for his partner, help the dead cop's widow, and take one last holiday throughout Japan with his wife and share a final taste of happiness. A crime drama written, directed and starring Takeshi Kitano.
Kitano likes to wear many hats in his pictures, enjoying being in front and behind the camera. His films have many commonalities, from minimal dialogue in large sections — particularly by the protagonist — to men who prefer to settle their own scores rather than rely on the justice system, even though they’re part of it. They are all bloody and violent, though there are no blockbuster action sequences consisting of massive shootouts and explosions. The narratives are very personal to the protagonist as the camera follows them through their journey. There isn’t exactly a formula Kitano follows, but he does have a specific style of storytelling that is deliberate but unconventional.
Special features include: “That Man is Dangerous: The Birth of Takeshi Kitano”; “Okinawa Days: Takeshi's Second Debut”; Hana-bi commentary by film writer for Rolling Stone magazine David Fear; making-of Hana-bi featurette; trailers; and collector's booklets, featuring film essays by Tom Vick, Asian film curator for the Freer and Sackler Galleries, and Jasper Sharp. (Film Movement)
Widows (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Fox Home Entertainment
Four women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo) — with nothing in common except a debt left by their dead husbands’ criminal acts — conspire to take fate into their own hands.
This is a dark drama that shows ordinary, genuine women in an extraordinary situation. They’ve been underestimated their entire lives and they’re finally going to use that to their advantage. Davis’ character exudes confidence, but inside she’s scared and insecure — feelings she only reveals when she’s alone for fear of losing face in front of the other women or her newfound enemies. Consequently, Davis’ performance is raw, drawing viewers in with her fierce authenticity. Still, each woman is strong and resourceful, gradually gaining confidence as the big day draws near. Co-writer/director Steve McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn create a thrilling picture that offsets its one element of predictability with a compelling narrative that keeps everyone on their toes. Moreover, audiences will find themselves fully invested in the heroines at its centre and hoping for their criminal success.
Special features include: “Widows Unmasked: A Chicago Story”; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)
Check out the first round of this week's releases.