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Review: Monsters big and small plague this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

Archenemy (Blu-ray)

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RLJE Films

Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) is a local drunk who claims to be a superhero from the planet Chromium. He tells anyone who will listen he was pulled into a wormhole, fell through time and space, and was dropped to earth without any of his powers. No one pays any attention to Max except a teenager named Hamster (Skylan Brooks), who can’t get enough of Max’s stories. When Hamster and his sister (Zolee Griggs) get in trouble with a vicious drug syndicate led by The Manager (Glenn Howerton), Max takes to the streets as a brutal vigilante hell-bent on proving himself as the hero no one believes him to be.

This isn’t a conventional superhero — or even anti-hero — narrative because Max isn’t much of a champion. His drunken rants about another planet and superpowers sound like the ravings of a madman, and only attract Hamster’s interest because he’s actively seeking an attention-grabbing story. There’s nothing about Max to indicate there’s any truth to his story, but his hero complex does persuade him to save Hamster and his sister when they’re in trouble. The motion comic sequences add an attractive fantasy element to the picture, but, in contrast, Max’s despair isn’t very appealing. While his origins are in question until the end, his lack of personality is clear from the beginning. In the end, the final minutes are the most interesting of the entire movie.

Special features include: making-of featurette. (RLJE Films)

Breaking Surface (Blu-ray)

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Doppelganger Releasing

A few days after Christmas, half-sisters Ida (Moa Gammel) and Tuva (Madeleine Martin) set out on a winter dive in a remote part of the Norwegian coastline. Towards the end of the dive, a rockslide traps Tuva under water. As Ida surfaces to call for help, she discovers the rockslide has struck above water as well, burying their equipment, phones and car keys — they are completely cut off from any chance of outside rescue.

This underwater thriller raises viewers’ hair early on via a terrifying accident with near fatal consequences. The reveal of why there’s tense familial relations is almost superfluous to what happens later, though it’s meant to serve as the driving force behind Ida’s determination. Consequently, the foreshadowing isn’t really subtle so there’s no surprise when the rockslide results in disaster. The underwater set is just dark enough to be foreboding, but still ensure all the action is visible. The ticking clock element linked to Tuva’s oxygen supply keeps everyone on edge, making Ida’s senseless mistakes incredibly frustrating to watch as her sister grows closer to death. As a result, when she does act on a good idea, audiences experience a combination of shock and relief. Unfortunately, the muddy conclusion causes the tense atmosphere to just fizzle out.

Special features include: interviews with cast and crew; behind-the-scenes featurettes; time-lapse of underwater set construction; image gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Doppelganger Releasing)

Lovecraft Country: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, the series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his childhood friend Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip from Chicago across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father, Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams). Their search-and-rescue turns into a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and monstrous creatures that could be ripped from an H.P. Lovecraft paperback.

This genre-bending series explores themes of horror, science fiction, fantasy and racism. Unfolding in the ‘50s with a primarily Black cast, it’s practically impossible not to address segregation, bigoted police and prejudiced neighbours. The characters pen their own version of “The Green Book,” though even it proves to not be a 100% reliable. Yet, even when their facing giant monsters that emerge from the darkness, it’s not as scary as some of their confrontations with white supremacists. The episode dedicated to interdimensional time travel significantly changes gears, while also being incredibly empowering. Magic also plays a major role in the story as their version of the Necronomicon offers power and destruction to whoever wields it, but obtaining it is an incredibly difficult task. The series doesn’t pull back on any of its supernatural elements or homages to classic genre pictures, using its impressive special effects budget to go full-tilt and take audiences on a wild ride that closes one bizarre door and opens another for next season.

Special features include: “Compendium of Horrors”; “Orithyia Blue and the Imagination of Diana Freeman”; “Crafting Lovecraft Country”; “Exploring Lovecraft Country”; and “Lovecraft Country The Craft.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Monster Hunter (4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray)

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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Behind our world, there is another: a world of dangerous and powerful monsters that rule their domain with deadly ferocity. When an unexpected sandstorm transports Captain Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her unit (T.I. Harris, Meagan Good and Diego Boneta) to a new world, the soldiers are shocked to discover that this hostile and unknown environment is home to enormous and terrifying monsters immune to their firepower. In their desperate battle for survival, the unit encounters the mysterious Hunter (Tony Jaa), whose unique skills allow him to stay one step ahead of the powerful creatures. As Artemis and Hunter slowly build trust, she discovers he is part of a team led by the Admiral (Ron Perlman). Facing a danger so great it could threaten to destroy their world, the brave warriors combine their unique abilities to band together for the ultimate showdown.

It seems director Paul W.S. Anderson has not exhausted his appetite for big, special effects monster movies, though he has changed locales and creature threats. Once again, Jovovich faces impossible odds against enormous, more powerful beasts. Artemis is a leader, trusted by her team to keep them alive even when they’re transported to this unknown world. This, along with her partnership with the Hunter, infuses her character with emotion that doesn’t hinder her ability to fight and make tough decisions when necessary. Perlman’s appearance pushes the film closer to camp territory, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in an already over-the-top monster movie. The creatures aren’t especially unique, but their sheer size makes for some eye-catching battle scenes. The film’s multiple endings are somewhat irritating, though the cliff-hanger conclusion may leave the door open too widely for a sequel.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Monster Hunters: Cast and Characters”; “Monstrous Arsenal: Weaponry in the Film”; and “For the Players: From Game to Screen.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Random Acts of Violence (Blu-ray)

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RLJE Films

Comic book creator Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams), his wife (Jordana Brewster), assistant (Niamh Wilson) and best friend (Jay Baruchel), are heading to NYC Comic Con when bad things start to happen — people start getting killed. It soon becomes clear that a crazed fan is using his “SLASHERMAN” comic as inspiration for the killings. As the bodies pile up and Todd’s companions become victims themselves, he is forced to face the killer, and put an end to his notorious comic once and for all.

Actor/writer/director Baruchel is primarily known for his dramatic and comedic work, but there’s not much to laugh about in this picture. Though audiences are only offered a glimpse of Todd’s comics, the art is especially grisly, which is even more disturbing since the murders are based on and inspire real-life crimes. Stopping at an isolated gas station in the desert, run by an unusual character, successfully hearkens back to classic horror cinema, while also establishing the location’s narrative significance. Though the murders unfold in atypical fashion, the end result is incredibly gruesome. As the picture goes on, its attempt to give the killing spree deeper meaning is somewhat lost in the blood and red lights.

Special features include: “Interview with Director Jay Baruchel”; “More Than Just a Scary Movie”; and “Inside the Making Of an Action Scene.” (RLJE Films)

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)

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Paramount Home Entertainment

When SpongeBob’s beloved pet snail Gary goes missing, a path of clues leads SpongeBob and Patrick to the powerful King Poseidon, who has Gary held captive in the Lost City of Atlantic City. On their mission to save Gary, SpongeBob and his pals team up for a heroic and hilarious journey where they discover nothing is stronger than the power of friendship.

In this 3D adventure, Plankton finally goes too far in his pursuit of Mr. Krab’s patty formula, bringing nothing about disappointment to everyone including himself. For those used to the TV series, there is a bit of an adjustment to Bikini Bottom’s new look. But nothing else has changed, so viewers will quickly find themselves caught up in SpongeBob’s latest adventure. His road trip with Patrick and their robot chauffeur, Otto (Awkwafina), takes them to some unexpected places, including an old West saloon ruled by El Diablo (Danny Trejo). On this leg of the journey, they meet Sage (Keanu Reeve’s head in a tumbleweed) who advises them on how to succeed and warns them of the pitfalls of Atlantic City. The narrative actually feels like a movie rather than a very long episode, which can also be attributed to the many guest actors that also include Matt Berry, Tiffany Haddish and Snoop Dogg.

Special features include: mini-movie, “I’m Urchin You To Leave”; “Campfire Songs”; “Campfire Stories”; “Camp Coral Buddies”; “Camp Arts and Crafts”; and “But Wait…There’s S’mores!” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

The Swordsman (Blu-ray)

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Well Go USA

After being blinded in a coup against the king, Joseon’s greatest swordsman (Jang Hyuk) goes into hiding, far removed from his city’s anguish. But when traffickers kidnap his daughter, he has no choice but to unsheathe his sword once more.

This is a typical narrative about a great warrior who hangs up his sword in favour of a quiet life away from conflict. Unfortunately, conflict always seems to find them. The father-daughter pair live a secluded life in the mountains, but she is coming to an age in which she yearns for some of the comforts of civilization. This desire makes her vulnerable to nearby threats and forces the swordsman to pick back up his weapon. The battles are very well choreographed with the former king’s guard relying on his instincts to defeat his opponents. Hyuk is very capable in the role of the mostly silent but deadly warrior, demonstrating physical skill and delivering a convincing performance. Though one man’s misplaced loyalty seems questionable, the very capable tea house owner is a welcome surprise.

Special features include: trailers. (Well Go USA)

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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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