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Review: New on DVD for January 13 (Includes first-hand account)

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an ex-NYPD cop turned unlicensed private investigator who reluctantly agrees to help a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who brutally murdered his wife. When the PI learns that this is not the first time that these men have committed this sort of twisted crime — nor will it be the last — he must blur the line between right and wrong as he races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again.

This is a cat-and-mouse narrative, in which the pursuer is an old school tough guy and the vermin are a plague on humanity. Scudder’s investigation is low-key and low-tech, asking questions and scanning old newspaper stories on microfiche. Unlike most of the other kidnapping movies Neeson has helmed, the bad guys in this picture aren’t just anonymous thugs in it for the money. They’re a team and they enjoy hurting their victims more than stealing the money they extort from their loved ones. This elevation in criminal makes Scudder’s pursuit a bit more interesting than just breaking down doors and busting heads. It requires finesse. But the anticipated phone conversation where Neeson lays down the law for the killers is still spine-tingling.

Special features include: “A Look Behind the Tombstones”; and “Matt Scudder: Private Eye.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

Bad Turn Worse (DVD)

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Anchor Bay Entertainment

With only three weeks left until his two best friends leave for college, Billy Joe (Logan Huffman) robs his cotton farmer boss, Giff (Mark Pellegrino), in order to pay for one last blow-out weekend in Corpus Christi, Texas. Arriving home from the weekend, the teens find the consequences of Billy Joe’s actions brutal. Now Billy Joe, Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis) will be taken on a ride that will test love, heartbreak, trust, and crossing that permanent line from adolescence into adulthood.

One bad egg can ruin it for everyone else. At the outset it’s surprising to discover Sue is even dating Billy Joe as she seems so much more compatible with Bobby. Of course that’s part of the problem — Billy Joe’s friends have out-grown him and he’s not taking being left behind very well. It infuses their relationships with a tension that everyone is attempting to keep at bay until it finally overcomes them in a wave of betrayal and violence. The amount of backstabbing at the end of the picture is vicious. Pellegrino is an excellent villain, demonstrating on Supernatural that his calm demeanour can seem very sinister and he exhibits a terrifying nonchalance when taking the lives of others.

There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)

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HBO Home Entertainment

In stark contrast with the Roaring ‘20s, the country is in the throes of the Great Depression, and with the end of Prohibition in sight, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is looking to legitimize himself by forging alliances with liquor producers.

The end of this series marks the end of an era for its main character. As Nucky attempts to forge new alliances with liquor dealers and other gangsters, the landscape becomes increasingly dangerous with numerous attempted and successful assassinations. He’s also approached by several former acquaintances for help, including Margaret, Chalky and Gillian, as they each find themselves in various binds. This season is once again fraught with flashbacks to Nucky’s past, from his childhood with the Commodore to his early adulthood as he fell in love with his first wife and became a low-level corrupt official, simultaneously revealing the shocking truth behind Gillian’s relationship with the Commodore. The final season of the HBO series doesn’t leave any holes, remaining true to its characters to the very bitter end.

Special features include: commentaries by cast and crew including creator/executive producer/writer Terence Winter, executive producer/director Tim Van Patten, Steve Buscemi, Vincent Piazza and more; and “Scouting the Boardwalk.” (HBO Home Entertainment)

Desecrated (DVD)

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Anchor Bay Entertainment

After finding his family murdered by vagrant squatters, an ex-military operative and survivalist is hired by the man who bought his land to watch over the acreage and protect it from invaders. When the new landowner’s daughter arrives for a weekend getaway with her friends, the trip turns deadly when they discover the caretaker’s dark secret — rather than driving off trespassers, he’s hunting them in cold blood.

Every horror movie fan knows what happens when a bunch of young people go to a cabin in the woods — they die. In this picture, the identity of the psycho killer isn’t a secret though his motivation isn’t entirely clear and remains so through most of the movie. One would think a guy alone in the woods would be a little more creative when killing people, but he’s quite fond of his gun and bow. The kids expectedly take a long time to point the finger in the right direction, but by the time they figure it out most of them are dead anyway.

There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Episodes: The Third Season (DVD)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

With his ailing show facing cancellation and his star fading fast, Matt’s (Matt LeBlanc) desperately looking for a way to renew his fortune. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also juggling a custody battle, a stalker and a badly timed DUI. As Pucks! creators Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) try to salvage their strained marriage, the fate of their show hangs in the balance.

Things are not going well for Pucks! First it’s scheduled against some tough ratings competition and then it’s moved to a night everyone considers a graveyard for sitcoms. While being cancelled would be good for most of the people involved, it may actually be the ticket out for which Matt, Sean and Beverly are looking. Matt’s uncomfortable with the second-rate status now afforded him by the show and there’s a new project waiting in the wings from an unexpected writer. Sean and Beverly have always been homesick, and if they no longer had to work on the show they could return home and repair their marriage. But a few missteps and broken promises puts everyone three steps back.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

The Facts of Life: The Complete Series (DVD)

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Shout Factory

With Mrs. Garrett’s (Charlotte Rae) help, Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Tootie (Kim Fields), Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and Jo (Nancy McKeon) experience the highs and lows on the road to adulthood. From Eastland School for Girls to Edna’s Edibles and from hilarious Cousin Geri (Geri Jewell) to hunky George Burnett (George Clooney), all 201 episodes of this 1980s sitcom are available for the first time in one package.

This was definitely one of the more popular shows from the ‘80s. Everyone had their favourite girl and no one could stop saying “Tootie.” It started as a spin-off from Diff’rent Strokes featuring Mrs. Garrett in a new role as house mother with the cast of her former show, particularly Arnold (Gary Coleman), making several appearances through the first season. One of the significant changes within the series was the focus from a large group of girls to just four. Jo was enrolled in Eastland in the second season and no one ever looked back, though some of the other girls would pop up here and there during the transition. It seems amazing that even after Mrs. Garrett left, the girls would continue living together but the show lasted nine seasons and each was equal to the last in entertainment. The series also had several standalone episodes in which one character would branch out to her own storyline, though nothing ever developed from them. The final season sees Blair return to Eastland where a young Juliette Lewis and Seth Green can now be found.

Special features include: “Remembering The Facts Of Life”; “After The Facts”; “The Girls School,” Diff’rent Strokes episode Introducing the Girls of “Eastlake” Academy; “The Facts Of Life Goes To Paris,” 1982 TV movie; “The Facts Of Life Down Under,” 1987 TV movie; 2014 Cast Reunion At The Paley Center; and “Know The Facts: Trivia Game.” (Shout Factory)

Fitzcarraldo (Blu-ray)

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Shout Factory

Iquitos is a town isolated in the middle of the jungle in Peru. At the turn of the century, one resident of the small town, “Fitzcarraldo” (Klaus Kinski) as the natives call him, has his dream of bringing together Enrico Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt for one great celebration of Grand Opera. To finance this fantastic dream, Fitzcarraldo decides to exploit a vast area of rubber trees growing beyond the impassable Ucayala Falls. To circumvent this barrier, he literally has his huge steamboat lifted over a mountain from one branch of the river to the other. With the aid of a tribe of Indians bewitched by the voice of the greatest singer of all time, Enrico Caruso, Fitzcarraldo fights fever, mosquitos and suffocating heat to achieve the impossible.

The entire scheme sounds insane. Firstly, an opera in the middle of the Amazon?! Secondly, carrying an enormous steamboat over land and a mountain?! But Fitzcarraldo’s passion for the art and commitment to do anything for it is proven early in the narrative when he’s shown rowing with bleeding hands to one of Caruso’s performances. The captain he hires is intrigued by the profits of an untouched forest, but the motives of the natives who choose to help them achieve the impossible feat are always in flux. Writer/director Werner Herzog takes this absurd tale and makes it seem less like the ravings of a madman and rather an exciting demonstration of determination off of which it’s difficult to take your eyes (though you should avert them from the houses that can be seen in the background of the river scenes, hindering the illusion of uninhabited lands).

Special features include: commentary by producer/director Werner Hezog, producer Lucki Stipetic and moderated by Norman Hill; commentary by Werner Herzog, moderated By Laurens Straub (in German with English subtitles); and theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)

House of Lies: The Third Season (DVD)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

When cutthroat management consultant Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) starts his own firm, Jeannie (Kristen Bell) gets a promotion at Galweather and Stearn. Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Monica (Dawn Olivieri) try out a new work situation, while Doug (Josh Lawson) and Sarah (Jenny Slate) consider their future together. But when things don’t go as smoothly as planned, relationships are tested and allegiances are questioned.

Even in its third season, this series continues to push the envelope with its characters and storylines. At this point audiences have established a level of comfort with the characters and their many flaws (good and bad), yet they continue to surprise. Marty’s and Jeannie’s business practices remain questionable, but this season their conniving and hunger for success finally bites them in a way from which they may not be able to recover. Monica’s madness receives more screen time this year with unforeseen results, including a stabbing. The first year at Kaan and Associates is a stormy one professionally and personally for everyone with several betrayals, deliberately and unintentionally. Once again closing on a colossal cliff-hanger, there’s no telling where the next season will take audiences.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Housebound (Blu-ray)

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Anchor Bay Entertainment

Kylie Bucknall (Morgana O’Reilly) is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her blabbermouth mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) is convinced the house is haunted. When Kylie too becomes privy to strange happenings, she wonders if she’s inherited her mother’s overactive imagination, or if the house is indeed possessed by a hostile spirit who’s not particularly happy about her return.

The Kiwi horror comedy has a fantastic sense of humour that is complemented by appropriate moments of dread. The maniacal talking bear is quite frightening as is the always too dark basement. Conversely, Kylie’s methods of countering the invading force are hilarious. As someone informs her, “You can’t punch ectoplasm.” Nonetheless Kylie is a very strong young woman with a bit of a violent streak, which means she is always ready to confront anybody or anything head-on. Te Wiata is another key source of the film’s humour as she naturally rambles on in the most inappropriate situations. Writer/director Gerard Johnstone accomplishes quite a significant feat with his debut feature. Not only does the film deliver laughs and frights, but it also presents a surprisingly engaging storyline with captivating characters. As a result, viewers are absorbed in the narrative from beginning to end.

Special features include: commentary by the filmmakers; and deleted scenes. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Jimi: All is By My Side (Blu-ray)

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XLrator Media

The film covers a year in Jimi Hendrix’s (André Benjamin) life from 1966-1967. He was an unknown backup guitarist playing New York’s Cheetah Club. He made his mark in London’s music scene and eventually captured the respect of audiences during his Monterey Pop triumph. The film presents an intimate portrait of the sensitive young musician on the verge of becoming a rock legend.

Being released so close together, it’s impossible not to compare this movie to the James Brown biopic, Get On Up. Unfortunately this picture is a snooze fest in comparison. The sentiment that Hendrix’s music is bad because it doesn’t include lyrics is tediously repeated in the same way by reviewers, producers and newspapers. While the guitarist experienced a lot of change during this time, it’s clearly not the most cinematically interesting period of his life. The film is made worse by the fact that it includes none of the musician’s music since his estate did not approve of the picture. Not surprisingly, a movie about an artist doesn’t work if you cannot include any of the artist’s works.

There are no special features. (XLrator Media)

Love is Strange (DVD)

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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) take advantage of New York’s new marriage laws and tie the knot after being together for 39 years. Unfortunately, the Catholic school where George teaches does not approve and they reluctantly fire him, forcing the couple to split up while they sell their apartment and look for cheaper housing. George moves in with two friends (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), while Ben ends up across town with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son with whom Ben shares a bunk bed. While struggling with the pain of separation, Ben and George are further challenged by the intergenerational tensions and capricious family dynamics of their new living arrangements.

This is a very light-hearted comedy that addresses both discrimination and aging. It seems that a little piece of paper removed the school’s credible deniability regarding George’s relationship with Ben even though they knew they were partners throughout his employment. Neither of their temporary living situations is ideal for anyone involved. George’s friends are somewhat more accommodating, but their younger lifestyles aren’t exactly compatible with his quieter one. Across town, Ben is apparently a burden to his grand-nephew and his mother, though he manages to make friends with one of the boy’s acquaintances. The problems they have are amusing, but the foundation of the picture is Ben’s and George’s devotion to each other in spite of the circumstances or their age difference, drawing beautiful performances from Lithgow and Molina.

Special features include: commentary by director Ira Sachs, and actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina; making-of featurette; and LA Film Fest Q&A with John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Cheyenne Jackson & Ira Sachs. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Men, Women & Children (DVD)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

Writer/director Jason Reitman looks at our world through the lens of five interconnected families in a small town and examines the question of whether the technology intended to connect us is actually drawing us further apart.

Some of the extremes represented in this narrative make it difficult to do anything but wield anger at the screen. It’s undeniable that technology has completely changed the adolescent landscape from even 10 years ago and this film demonstrates some of the ways it’s had a more significant impact. Even more traditional issues such as eating disorders are altered as you can now find support and techniques on the internet. As a result, parents are also being forced to navigate this new world and this movie demonstrates some are really ill-equipped on both ends of the spectrum. While the kids are making mistakes, it’s the parents played by Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer that are the most frustrating to watch as one’s over-protection and the other’s negligent behaviour cause the most damage. It’s definitely a departure from Reitman’s typical fair, but it’s supported by his storytelling ability.

There are no special features. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

SpongeBob: Triple Feature: 10 Happiest Moments, Heroes of Bikini Bottom, Legends of Bikini Bottom (DVD)

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Paramount Home Media Distribution

This boatload of SpongeBob Squarepants includes the day he got his job at the Krusty Krab, the elderly adventures of Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy, and a mystic closed sign.

While the inclusion of some episodes seems like a bit of stretch, each disc contains stories related to one of the three categories in the collection’s title. One of the happiest moments is the day SpongeBob met Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel that moves to Bikini Bottom; however, their second meeting nearly kills the yellow square as it takes place in her water-free home. A hero’s episode shows the elderly super duo, Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy, reviving their TV show though the evil their fighting has altered greatly. The legends section has some of the most fun tales, including one in which the Krusty Krab is cursed by a witch to which Mr. Krabs refused service.

Special features include: animated shorts; bonus episode of T.U.F.F. Puppy; “Help Wanted” pilot episode; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Supernova (Blu-ray)

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Scream Factory

In the farthest reaches of deep space, the medical vessel Nightingale keeps a lonely vigil for those in trouble. When a frantic cry for help pierces the void, the crew responds with a near fatal, hyperspace dimension jump into the gravitational pull of a dying star. The disabled ship rescues a shuttlecraft containing a mysterious survivor and a strange alien artifact. Now the crew must unravel a chilling secret and escape the nearby imploding star before the rapidly forming supernova blasts them and the entire galaxy into oblivion!

Watching the making-of featurette reveals the endless production issues that most interviewees summarize as “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Based on the anecdotes shared, it sounds like an accurate description — and unfortunately also identifies the issue with what could have been an interesting psychological thriller. Though Walter Hill had a script and vision, the studio had a different one as did the many editors that would intervene after his exit, including Francis Ford Coppola. As a result, viewers can sense there’s more to the narrative but it’s just not there. Conversely, the special effects look tremendous much in thanks to the expert cinematography that creates the illusion of continuous floating. James Spader is surprisingly suited as the semi-action hero, having achieved top physical form for the picture as well. And Peter Facinelli is an unnerving villain in spite of his good looks, though his character never seems able to achieve its full potential.

Special features include: deleted scenes; alternate ending; making-of featurette; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)

Zarra’s Law (DVD)

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Arc Entertainment

Retired cop Tony (Tony Sirico) finds he is unable to forget the murder of his younger brother, who was in the mob. He’s outraged when he finds out the man he holds responsible is getting out of prison after only two years. He needs to find answers fast and if necessary, seek revenge, Italian-style. Joined by his attorney nephew, Gaetano (Brendan Fehr), he infiltrates the seamy world of organized crime and gets lost in a labyrinth of greed, dead ends, and lies. It’s only at the violent conclusion that he discovers the shocking truth that threatens to kill him.

These films truly give the impression that everyone knows everyone’s business in small New York neighbourhoods, particularly those run by the mob. Though he insists he’s retired, Tony is the one the community turns to for help when it appears the local family is losing control over a couple of its more vicious up-and-comers. Gaetano is the son of a dead gangster, though he chose the same side of the law as his uncle when he became a lawyer. As they both try to clean up the neighbourhood without starting a war, lines are unavoidably crossed and tough decisions are made. This film is pretty standard fair for the basic mob-revenge picture.

There are no special features. (Arc 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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