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Review: Decisions have haunting consequences in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

Antebellum (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Successful author and motivational speaker Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality that forces her to confront the past, present and future — before it’s too late.

The film begins with a stunning long shot through a cotton plantation that shows the lavish homestead, marching Civil War soldiers, servants hanging laundry, cotton-pickers, and finally… the ruthless treatment of a group of slaves who tried to escape. This world is expertly juxtapositioned with the modern world in which Veronica, a black woman, lives with her family in a large house, travels to inspire other women of colour to aspire to their goals, and eats in fancy restaurants with her friends… though not without encountering veiled racism. The performances are brave and bold, embodying the best and worst aspects of these characters. In addition, this film has one of the best and most horrifying twists of a reality-based thriller in recent memory. Viewers will find themselves returning to the plot and re-examining the circumstances that allowed it to manifest.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “The History in Front of Us: Deconstructing Antebellum”; “A Hint of Horror: The Clues of Antebellum”; “Opening Antebellum”; and theatrical trailers. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Catherine The Great (DVD)


HBO Home Entertainment

Catherine (Helen Mirren) was a tumultuous monarch and politician who ruled the Russian empire and transformed its place in the world in the 18th century. The four-part miniseries charts Catherine’s reign as the intelligent, resourceful, and utterly determined Empress who fights off threats to her crown, wages war with the Ottoman Empire, and expands Russia’s borders as far as the Black Sea and Crimea. It also depicts the love affair between Catherine and Russian military leader Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke), who formed a singular and powerful relationship, turned the nation into a great global power, and shaped the future of Russian politics.

This series shows Catherine’s relentless determination to maintain power. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of her relationships with her son and lovers because every man in her life eventually wants the power of the crown. She’s also surrounded by men conspiring against her, trying to put someone on the throne they can better control. The drama is split between her war room and the bedroom, as most decisions are made in one of those two places. Catherine’s affair with Potemkin is interesting as it mostly transcends a need for power and the two often seem like the least compatible pairing. Nonetheless, she proves highly intelligent even though most of her council secretly devalues her opinions. Mirren is perfect for this role as she is the epitome of sensuality, power and intellect.

There are no special features. (HBO Home Entertainment)

Cut Throat City (Blu-ray)


Well Go USA

This is the story of four boyhood friends from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward who, after Hurricane Katrina, return to decimated homes, no jobs, and no help from FEMA. Out of options, they reluctantly turn to a local gangster, who offers them one shot at turning their situations around — by pulling off a dangerous heist in the heart of the city. When the job goes bad, the friends find themselves on the run, hunted by two relentless detectives and a neighborhood warlord who thinks they stole the heist money.

The film’s premise suggests it could deliver a scathing commentary on the government’s response post-Katrina. However, the failed system is only the background for a mediocre heist movie featuring amateur thieves who make all the wrong decisions. It feels like filmmakers want audiences to root for the desperate childhood friends, but it’s difficult to get behind them… especially when they knowingly throw away a second chance. The inclusion of Ethan Hawke and Terrence Howard should give the picture more clout, but they only seem out of place in this scattered script. Moreover, filmmakers don’t appear to have been able to commit to an ending — so instead, they include both with no definitive explanation.

Special features include: deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes featurette; and trailers. (Well Go USA)

Fatima (DVD)


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In 1917, outside the parish of Fatima, Portugal, Lucia (Stephanie Gil), a 10-year-old girl, and her two younger cousins witness multiple visitations of the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro), who tells them that only prayer and suffering will bring an end to WWI. Word of the sighting spreads across the country, inspiring religious pilgrims to flock to the site in hopes of witnessing a miracle.

This is a movie about faith and doubt. Inspired by a true story about a certified miracle, the film tells the story of both the children’s vision and the reaction of those around them. Lucia’s mother is certain the kids are making the whole thing up, even though she can’t begin to understand why. As one of the few educated people in the town, she doesn’t like the type of attention it brings to their family. Those that believe flock to their home, ruining their crops and disrupting their quiet lives. Those that don’t believe accost her in the street, blaming her because God didn’t save their men from dying in the war. The story is being recalled by an adult Lucia, who joined the nunnery after her spiritual experience and is being interviewed/interrogated by a professor (Harvey Keitel).

Special features include: “The Vision of Director Marco Pontecorvo”; “Meet the Seers”; “Meet the Cast”; “The Making of a Miracle”; “Behind the Lens”; “Set Design and the Art of Cristina Onori”; “Costume Design and the art of Daniela Ciancio”; and “Andrea Bocelli: The Making of ‘Gratia Plena.’” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Invincible Dragon (Blu-ray)


Well Go USA

When a brilliant but trigger-happy detective (Max Zhang) is outsmarted by a serial killer, he pays a high price for his momentary lapse in judgment. Robbed of both his fiancée and his job, he soon spirals out of control and goes back to what he knows best: fighting. Unbeknownst to him, a serendipitous reunion with an old rival (Anderson Silva) may be the key to unlocking the truth about his fiancée’s disappearance — and to apprehending the killer.

Outside of having a couple of recognizable names who can put on a good show, this movie doesn’t have much going for it. The serial killer taunts the police, but doesn’t provide any motives for his murderous defiance. The need for cross-jurisdictional cooperation between police agencies is repeatedly mentioned, but never really resolved. Yet, the detective’s power is given and taken away as people want him to help solve the case while they also want to keep him at a distance from it. The narrative isn’t very clear-cut, which takes the appeal out of following the investigation and solving the case alongside the cops. The fight sequences between Zhang and Silva are good, but not as knockout as some may have hoped.

There are no special features. (Well Go USA)

It’s A Wonderful Life steelbook (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Paramount Home Entertainment

George Bailey (James Stewart) has so many problems, he is thinking about ending it all — and it’s Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback. As George is about to jump from a bridge, he ends up rescuing his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers). Clarence then shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all of his good deeds over the years. Will Clarence be able to convince George to return to his family and forget suicide?

Closing in on a century, this Christmas classic remains an annual tradition in many households. George represents a lot of people who envision one life for themselves, but end up with another. Unfulfilled goals and dreams can weigh heavily on a person, especially when things aren’t currently going their way. But the moral of this story is to appreciate what one has and the people with who you are surrounded — a regular reminder of this lesson via yearly viewings is probably not a bad idea anyway. Stewart is perfectly casted as he can portray both George’s generous and irritable moods. The audience wants to root for his character as much as they jeer Mr. Potter’s Scrooge-like personality. The new high-def format delivers sharp, clear images, while those interested in the details of restoring a aged classic can watch the dedicated bonus feature.

Special features include: “Restoring a Beloved Classic”; “Secrets from the Vault: It’s a Wonderful Life”; and “It’s a Wonderful Wrap Party.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Kick-Ass steelbook (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The story of a teenage fanboy (Aaron Johnson) who takes his comic book obsession as inspiration to become a real-life superhero, eventually meeting his more experienced counterparts Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage).

Emerging in 2010, this was not your typical superhero movie. For one, it doesn’t feature anyone with superhuman abilities (unless nerve damage counts) or infinite financial resources. The other significant difference is the amount of blood and the death toll; rather than simply incapacitating their victims until the police arrive, these masked heroes permanently eliminate the threat, effectively cleaning up the streets. Though the main protagonist is Kick-Ass, he is repeatedly shown up by the sassy, potty-mouthed Hit-Girl. The pint-sized, ninja-like crime fighter consistently steals the spotlight, whether it is with her assassin level precision or edgy dialogue. The casting is dead on for each character. Johnson is geeky enough to fit the role of the ignored and victimized, but good-looking and masculine enough to become the impetuous, brave and popular hero. Moretz is scarily comfortable and convincing as Hit-Girl as she battles bad guys with her words and fists. And only Cage could shoot an 11-year-old girl in the chest and make it funny.

Special features include: commentary by director Matthew Vaughn; making-of featurette; “It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass”; marketing archive; and “The Art of Kick-Ass Gallery.” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

Mallrats (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

Simultaneously dumped by their girlfriends, comic book obsessive Brodie (Jason Lee) and best friend TS (Jeremy London) plan to ease the pain of their losses by taking a trip to the local mall. Amongst shoppers, they discover the mall is being used as the venue for a dating show, in which TS’s girlfriend Brandi (Joey Lauren Adams) is the star. Hatching a plan to win back their significant others, Brodie and TS enlist the help of professional delinquents Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) to hijack the gameshow in a bid to win back Brandi. Meanwhile, Brodie carries out his own mission to make good his relationship with Rene (Shannen Doherty), who has attracted the attentions of his nemesis, Shannon (Ben Affleck).

This was Kevin Smith’s second feature, following his indie breakout hit, Clerks. Once again, he takes a mundane part of life — going to the mall — and adds a few idiosyncrasies to make it an entertaining, off-the-wall picture about ne’er-do-wells having a unique day. TS is the good guy and Brodie is definitely the screw-up, while Shannon and the mall security guard are definitely the picture’s villains alongside Brandi’s father. But there are so many gags in this picture, it’s hard to choose a favourite: from the magic eye picture to the repeat dressing room intruder to the specially-gifted fortune teller to the chocolate pretzels and more, this movie is simply filled with too many memorable moments to list… though the first appearance of Stan Lee in a Smith movie does deserve honorable mention. This release is packed with hours of bonus features — new and archival — that will take fans behind-the-scenes of this beloved movie and also allows Smith to do what he does best: talk about himself and his movies.

Special features include: theatrical and extended cuts of the film; commentary with director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, archivist Vincent Pereira, and actors Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, and Jason Mewes; deleted scenes; new introduction to the film by Kevin Smith; “My Mallrat Memories”; a newly filmed tribute to producer Jim Jacks by Kevin Smith; new interview with actor Jason Mewes; new interview with Cinematographer David Klein; “Hollywood of the North”; interviews from original set; “Erection of an Epic”; “Q&A with Kevin Smith”; “Build Me Up Buttercup” music video; outtakes; still galleries; and theatrical trailer. (Arrow Video)

Misbehaviour (Blu-ray)


Shout Factory

In 1970, the Miss World competition took place in London, hosted by US comedy legend, Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear). At the time, Miss World was the most-watched TV show on the planet with more than 100 million viewers. Claiming that beauty competitions demeaned women, the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast of the competition. Not only that, when the show resumed, the result caused uproar: the winner was not the Swedish favourite but Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the first black woman to be crowned Miss World. In a matter of hours, a global audience had witnessed the patriarchy driven from the stage and the Western ideal of beauty turned on its head.

This picture expertly highlights the two sides of the pageant debate. On the one hand, judging women solely based on their looks is the basis of sexism and the root of many of the issues women still face today. On the other hand, the pageants gave many women opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise had and, in the case of the 1970 competition, broke down a barrier for coloured people. Both sides are given a fair share of screen time, though it is somewhat skewed towards also illustrating the different types of women involved in the women’s movement — in this instance, a free love, law-breaking women’s libber (Jessie Buckley), and an academic and mother (Keira Knightley) who wants to fight the system from within it. It gets a little choppy at times as it tries to tell all these women’s stories, as well as Bob Hope’s (and his wife’s), but overall it’s a good discussion-starter that doesn’t necessarily provide any answers. The interviews with the real-life inspirations for these characters in the bonus features is just as stimulating as the movie they inspired.

Special features include: “How Women’s Liberation Took on Miss World”; “The Women Who Changed Miss World”; interview with Gugu Mbatha-Raw; interview with Greg Kinnear; and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Complete Collection (DVD)



Seasons 1-3 follow the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis), a glamorous “lady detective” with a flair for fashion and a knack for solving crime. Armed with her pearl-handled revolver and vivacious charm, Phryne tackles the toughest cases 1920s Melbourne has to offer, to the bemused exasperation of handsome Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page). Aided by her maid, “Dot” Williams (Ashleigh Cummings), and Constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), Phryne sashays through back-alley jazz clubs and Melbourne high society, fighting injustice and leaving a trail of admirers in her wake. In the feature, Fisher frees a Bedouin girl, Shirin Abbas (Izabella Yena) from unjust imprisonment and unravels a wartime mystery concerning priceless emeralds, ancient curses and the truth behind the suspicious disappearance of Shirin’s forgotten tribe.

Though Miss Fisher definitely has an Agatha Christie vibe, she’s much less stuffy and far more glamorous. This series embodies the roaring ‘20s with a wonderful soundtrack, exquisite period costumes and a wide mix of social attitudes. Not surprisingly, all the archetypal personalities are represented in Phryne’s circle. The cases — usually murders — she takes on are generally interesting whodunits that follow the typical procedural formula of investigation and personal growth for at least one character. There’s plenty of romance to counter all the death, but viewers will have to watch the movie to see how everyone really winds up in the end. Although the series finale would have been satisfactory enough, the feature really ties up all the loose ends and acts as an enjoyable reunion/farewell for everyone involved. This release also comes with an exclusive Miss Fisher magnetic doll set with varied facial expressions and outfits.

Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurettes; interviews; character clips; and more. (Acorn)

Rambo: The Complete Steelbook Collection (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Since its debut nearly four decades ago, the Rambo series starring Sylvester Stallone has become one of the most iconic action-movie franchises of all time. An ex-Green Beret haunted by memories of Vietnam, Rambo has battled small-town prejudice, freed POWs, rescued his commanding officer from the Soviets, and liberated missionaries in Myanmar. In his final mission, Rambo’s vengeance is unleashed after an old friend’s granddaughter is kidnapped in Mexico.

The first film emerged as part of a wave of pictures that delivered a scathing commentary on the Vietnam War and the treatment of its veterans. Rambo finds himself alone in an unknown town, where the police force disrespects him at every turn for simply existing in their midst. Unaware and uncaring of his skills, they begin a battle they have no chance of winning just to settle what’s become a personal score. This would become the basis on which the rest of the franchise was built as Rambo is repeatedly called upon to do a job he despises, even if it’s the only one for which he was ever really trained. The fight sequences demonstrate Rambo is a wrecking ball, while his expertise in guerilla warfare makes most confrontations thrilling. Still, he is an incredibly troubled character who struggles with maintaining his humanity, and is regularly forced to bury it to match the callousness of his enemies and accomplish his missions — by any means necessary. Whether rescuing people or avenging a loved one, the films use real-life wars as their backdrops and become progressively more violent as they reflect their increasingly bloodier societies. The stunning collector’s edition comes with five uniquely designed steelbooks by artists Justin Erickson, Ken Taylor, Grzegorz Domaradzki, Vance Kelly, and John Guydo, all housed in a custom tin case also featuring original art.

Special features include: commentaries; deleted scenes; exclusive featurettes; and theatrical trailers. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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