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Review: The difficult path is the only course in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

99 Homes (Blu-ray)

VVS Film

Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father, is evicted from his home and his only chance to win it back is to work for Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), the ruthless businessman who evicted him in the first place. It’s a deal-with-the-devil that may save his family home but as Nash falls deeper into Carver’s web, he finds his situation grows more brutal and dangerous than he ever imagined.

Most people are aware of the housing crash in the United States incited by the recent recession; unemployed and underemployed homeowners faced eviction with entire neighbourhoods being affected in some areas. While some documentaries have addressed this issue, this is a compelling tale of fiction that occurs within this harsh economic climate. Dennis is a good man who finds himself in a serious moral quandary, forced to choose between the well-being of his own family and of those he is evicting. There is one particularly heartbreaking situation involving an elderly man that really hammers the severity of their positons home. Even though Garfield is the film’s protagonist, it is undoubtedly Shannon’s picture. His callous performance is frighteningly convincing as he delivers the often chilling dialogue.

Special features include: commentary; and deleted scenes. (VVS Film)

Burying the Ex (Blu-ray)

Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada

It seemed like a great idea when all-around nice guy Max (Anton Yelchin) and his beautiful girlfriend, Evelyn (Ashley Greene) moved in together. But when Evelyn turns out to be a controlling, manipulative nightmare, Max knows it’s time to call it quits. There’s just one problem: he’s terrified of breaking up with her. Fate steps in when Evelyn is the victim of a fatal, freak accident, leaving Max single and ready to mingle. Just as Max is thinking about moving on with what could be his dream girl, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), Evelyn returns from the grave and is determined to get her boyfriend back — even if that means transforming him into one of the undead.

The early ‘90s version of this story, My Boyfriend’s Back, is more romantic and playful than this contemporary version. Evelyn’s return is not a cause for happiness as Max believed he was given an easy though morbid way out of their relationship. However the film becomes far more entertaining once the living dead enters the picture. Before, Max and Evelyn were a comically doomed couple with her slowly driving him to the nearest exit; but after, her boundless commitment is an endless source of humour as she picks up where they left off and Max lives in fear of her love for him and the even scarier possibility that his new girlfriend may run into his old one. It’s not the greatest zombie-rom-com, but it certainly has its moments.

There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Freaks of Nature (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Three days ago everything was peaceful and business as usual in Dillford: the vampires were at the top of the social order, the zombies were at the bottom, and the humans were getting along in the middle. But this delicate balance was ripped apart when the alien apocalypse arrived in Dillford and put an end to all the harmony. Now it’s humans vs. vampires vs. zombies in all-out, blood-sucking, brain-eating, vamp-staking mortal combat — and all of them are on the run from the aliens. It is up to three teenagers — one human, one vampire, and one zombie — to team up, figure out how to get rid of the interplanetary visitors, and try to restore order to this “normal” little town.

The monster vs. monster plot has been a topic of discussion amongst fanboys and girls, as well as their intoxicated elders, for ages. Who would win? What advantages would each have over the other? Beginning in the midst of the chaos, the story then flashes back to a slightly more typical teen angst narrative in which boy likes girl who only sees him as a friend, other boy is bullied by everyone and girl considers going all the way with her clearly undeserving vampire boyfriend. There’s a lot of humour drawn from the pitfalls and cravings of being a teen and a monster, as well as the benefits. However, the eventual showdown with the aliens is probably the funniest with a few humorous turns from Denis Leary. This movie never takes itself too seriously, although sometimes it may be too goofy for its own good. Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining watch at least once.

Special features include: deleted scenes; alternate opening; and gag reel. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Grandma (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
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Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer) when her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) unexpectedly shows up needing $600 before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash, as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.

This type of dramedy (drama-comedy) is not especially common; but even less so is its subject matter. Sage wanting or needing an abortion is never a matter up for debate and although they encounter some opposition along the way, it’s kept to a minimum. To some extent it’s a short distance road trip down memory lane, revisiting Elle’s friends and lovers as they try to collect enough money to pay for the procedure. Tomlin is energetic and fiery, never hesitating to say what’s on her mind no matter which end of the spectrum of inspiring and insulting it might land. She is well-deserving of the accolades she’s received for this moving and amusing performance. Garner is mostly just along for the ride, though she’s likeable enough that their efforts don’t seem misemployed. In spite of only having small parts, both Sam Elliot and Marcia Gay Harden leave their mark on the film as well.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Paul Weitz and actors Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott, and Julia Garner; making-of featurette; and Q&A with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott and director Paul Weitz. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (DVD)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

This miniseries delivers an intense and fictionalized account of actual events and people surrounding Lizzie’s (Christina Ricci) life after her controversial acquittal of the horrific double murder of her parents in 1892, when the exonerated figure lives a life awash in newfound celebrity filled with scandalous love affairs. But when numerous people close to her start to mysteriously die under brutal and strange circumstances, legendary Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo (Cole Hauser) becomes determined to prove her involvement in their ultimate demise.

This is a dark and grisly imagining of Lizzie’s life after the trial. Having gotten away with her parents’ murder seems to have made her bolder and she carries on as if she is immune from penalty. Within the first episode she’s killed two more people and is the source of at least one person’s death in each of the remaining seven episodes in the miniseries. She has no qualms about being a violent serial killer as long as it suits her needs. Lizzie’s sister Emma (Clea DuVall), on the other hand, is finding it more difficult to ignore her sister’s connections to each of the newly deceased. Even with Siringo in town investigating the Bordens, Lizzie exhibits no more caution and consequently allows him to get very close to the truth. The story becomes quite fantastic in the last couple of episodes, but it still manages a fitting conclusion.

Special features include: deleted scenes; and gag reel. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Spectre (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

Fox Home Entertainment

A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE. Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE.

The goal of this picture is very obviously to wrap up Craig’s odyssey. It reaches back to Casino Royale and constantly reminds him of everything that has come before this moment. The narrative keeps taking Bond further back through his history until he uncovers the identity of the man and organization that have orchestrated most of the major upsets in his life. More disappointing is the one-step-forward-two-steps-back approach that seems to plague this script. After making remarkable strides in establishing Bond as a multifaceted character with emotions and a heart, this movie virtually erases all that progress by reverting his personality to a version with cheesy dialogue and illogical sexual encounters. Conversely, the scenes with M 2.0 and Q are quite interesting. Both characters are exploring newer territory compared to the protagonist and encountering interesting obstacles along the way. The cast was expanded to include those listed as well as new villains played by Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista. Waltz is a confident, clever criminal with big ambitions, while Bautista is a heavy appointed to provide a physical presence versus Bond.

Special features include: “SPECTRE: Bond’s Biggest Opening Sequence”; video blogs; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)

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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