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Review: Hiding the truth is the foundation of this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

The Cleansing Hour (DVD)


RLJE Films & Shudder

Friends Max (Ryan Guzman) and Drew (Kyle Gallner) run a popular webcast that streams “live exorcisms” watched by millions across the globe. In reality, the exorcisms are just elaborately staged hoaxes performed by paid actors. But their fortunes take a turn when one of the actors becomes possessed by an actual demon and takes the crew hostage. In front of a rapidly growing audience, the demon subjects the crew to a series of violent challenges, threatening to expose the dark secrets they’ve been hiding from each other unless they come clean and reveal they’re impostors before the show is over.

With all the attention on streaming and live events, the concept at the centre of this narrative is not that far-fetched. They also put a fair amount of effort into the production with a crew, set, hired actors and a real book of demons for reference. Everything goes south pretty quickly in their latest episode as most of the people on set are gruesomely murdered in the show’s opening minutes. They constantly hint at a greater purpose for the supernatural intrusion, though the logistics of this plan are still not clear by the end. The actors acutely capture the horror of the situation, between agonizing confessions and total helplessness. The flashbacks to the best friends’ childhood helps establish their relationship, but may have been more effective in a larger chunk at the start of the picture rather than small fragments throughout.

Special features include: commentary by director Damien LeVeck; “On the Set of The Cleansing Hour”; and “The Cleansing Hour” short film. (RLJE Films & Shudder)

Dreamland (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Paramount Home Entertainment

Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) dreams of escaping his small Texas town when he discovers a wounded, fugitive bank robber, Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), hiding closer than he could ever imagine. Torn between claiming the bounty for her capture and his growing attraction to the seductive criminal, nothing is as it seems, and Eugene must make a decision that will forever affect the lives of everyone he’s ever loved.

It’s 1947 and Eugene’s family has fallen on hard times due to a number of harsh storms that’s devastated crops and livestock in the region. His stepfather works for the sheriff’s department, but the pair have never seen eye-to-eye. The news of Allison’s proximity to the town sets everyone abuzz as they’re starved for entertainment… and the reward money. While Eugene’s desire to claim the prize is strong, it never stood a chance against the flirtatious temptations presented by Allison. Of course, with Allison being his main source of information, he’d never know the full truth of what brought her to his barn and he’s too young/inexperienced to understand the consequences of his choices… though that last one is unconfirmed due to the circumstances of the ending. Robbie portrays a woman willing to survive by any means necessary, throwing the dice on occasion but always stacking the odds in her favor. Meanwhile, Cole’s combination of desperate and awestruck create a character whose fate was sealed the moment he stumbled on the cool blonde.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Jungleland (DVD & Digital copy)


Paramount Home Entertainment

Stan (Charlie Hunnam) and Lion (Jack O’Connell) are two brothers struggling to stay relevant in the underground world of bare-knuckle boxing. When Stan fails to pay back a dangerous crime boss (Jonathon Majors), they’re forced to deliver an unexpected traveller as they journey across the country for a high-stakes fighting tournament. While Stan trains Lion for the fight of his life, a series of events threaten to tear the brothers apart, but their love for one another and belief in a better life keep them going.

This isn’t your typical road trip or boxing movie as both those things take a backseat to the brotherly conflict between Stanley and Lion. The dynamic is familiar: Lion feels like he owes Stanley because he cared for him when no one else was around. But that debt has come at a heavy price to Lion, both physically and emotionally. There’s only three fights in the film and there’s nothing spectacular about them. Instead, audiences are made to feel the brutality of Lion’s reality by watching grown men pummel each other. As they spit blood and Stanley shouts encouragement from the sidelines — unscathed — it’s clear viewers are expected to sympathize with the younger brother. There’s a good connection between O’Connell and Hunnam, which makes their love-hate relationship feel authentic and captures the audience’s attention. But the inclusion of the traveller in their narrative is too much of a device and actually weakens an otherwise solid story about two brothers acknowledging their co-dependency, confronting their animosity and searching for reasons to stay together.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Blu-ray)


Criterion Collection

In 1975, in an America defined by both the self-mythologizing pomp of the upcoming bicentennial and ongoing sociopolitical turmoil, Bob Dylan and a band of troubadours — including luminaries such as Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, and Joni Mitchell — embarked on a now-legendary tour known as the Rolling Thunder Revue, a freewheeling variety show that was part traveling counterculture carnival, part spiritual pilgrimage. Director Martin Scorsese blends behind-the-scenes archival footage, interviews, and narrative mischief, with a magician’s sleight of hand, into a zeitgeist-defining cultural record that is as much a concert “documentary” as it is a slippery, chimerical investigation into memory, time, truth, and illusion. At the center of it all is the magnetic Dylan, a sphinxlike philosopher-poet singing, with electrifying conviction, to the soul of an anxious nation.

Though less popular than Woodstock, this travelling show featured some of the most popular folk singers of the era. The footage compiled by Scorsese doesn’t so much try to capture the tour, but rather the people on the tour. In between a few extended performances, most of the film is comprised of archival interviews that highlight people’s experiences on tour, as well as more recent chats in which they provide candid memories of what it was like in hindsight. It’s great to see some of these celebrated musicians and poets casually hanging out together, let alone performing each other’s work. Most notable are the scenes about Ginsberg, who was an avid dancer and father figure to some… but not all. The film acts as a snapshot of this period, but is a bit more factual than sentimental.

Special features include: interviews with Scorsese, editor David Tedeschi, and writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman; restored footage of never-before-seen Rolling Thunder Revue performances of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” and “Romance in Durango,” and of a new, extended cut of “Tangled Up in Blue”; restoration demonstration; trailer; essay by novelist Dana Spiotta; and writing from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour by author Sam Shepard and poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. (Criterion Collection)

Toys of Terror (DVD)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

David (Dayo Ade) and Hannah (Kyana Teresa) Cashman promised their family a fun Christmas getaway, but when they arrive at a grand, old house in the snowy woods of Washington and are greeted by a familiar construction foreman, the kids realize their parent’s plan to make it a working vacation: renovating the place in the hopes of flipping it. Alicia (Verity Marks), the eldest, is annoyed, but the younger kids are soon distracted when, wandering through the creepy mansion, they find a stash of old toys in an abandoned playroom and take to them instantly. Before long, they seem to be inseparable from their new playthings, much to the consternation of their nanny Rose (Georgia Waters) who, along with Alicia, senses that something in the house is not quite right. As stranger and stranger things start to happen, Rose and Alicia have a hunch that there may be more to the history of the old house than the Cashman’s are letting on. Can the family escape with their lives — or will they stay forever in the crumbling house, never to celebrate another Christmas again?

Living toys seem like a great idea as long as they have good intentions, but there’s just as many stories about menacing play things ready to kill their owners. Finding these toys in the dilapidated house already makes them a bit creepy and the film wastes no time demonstrating there’s something eerie about them. The younger kids are oblivious to the threat until it’s too late, while Alicia and Rose are in denial in spite of all the clues in plain sight. The truth of why they’re in that particular house doesn’t paint one of the parents in a very good light, though it’s mostly the help that pays the price for their decisions. Still, the most remarkable element of the movie is they opted for puppets and stop-motion animation over CGI to bring the toys to life. The video in the bonus features provides some interesting insight into the shooting process and the challenges of acting with a doll on a stick.

Special features include: making-of featurette; and “Toys of Terror Come to Life.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Wander (DVD & Digital copy)


Paramount Home Entertainment

Retired detective Arthur Bretnik’s (Aaron Eckhart) traumatic past has driven him into a state of paranoia and isolation. With the help of a close friend, Jimmy Cleats (Tommy Lee Jones), Bretnik is pulled into investigating the seemingly accidental death of a local young woman in the town of Wander. The expert detective must decipher whether he’s a victim of his own psychological delusions or a witness to horrifying cruelty and corruption.

This is a convoluted story that rivals the best conspiracy theories. The movie begins with a suspicious death of unknown cause that is quickly revealed to be part of a bigger picture. Bretnik is a good detective, but his mental health issues interfere with his ability to effectively investigate the case. Between his obsession with past cases and the complexity of the current case, it’s difficult for him — and audiences — to keep the facts straight. The middle gets very muddy before completely unravelling the mystery and removing all the veils of a cover-up. Though the so-called twist ending isn’t actually that surprising, as hints of collusion are dropped throughout the narrative.

There are no special features. (Paramount 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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