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Review: Only this animated release could overshadow 2 Studio Ghibli films (Includes first-hand account)

The Cat Returns (Blu-ray & DVD)


Disney Home Entertainment

Haru (Anne Hathaway), a schoolgirl bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat, and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she ever imagined. To change her fate, she’ll need to learn to believe in herself and, in the process, she will learn to appreciate her everyday life.

This film is a spin-off of another Ghibli picture, Whisper of the Heart, as it features a couple of the original story’s characters. The story is a bizarre but amusing little tale in which Haru learns cats have their own world that includes a hip king (Tim Curry) who enjoys calling people “babe.” When Haru saves a member of the royal family, the kingdom of cats goes out of its way to repay her, inadvertently disrupting her life. A mysterious voice tells her to seek assistance at the Cat Bureau, which turns out to be a wondrous realm of its own led by The Baron, a dapperly dressed cat voiced by Cary Elwes. The swiftly paced narrative takes a lot of fantastic turns, but it maintains audiences’ attention with its wondrous narrative à la Studio Ghibli.

Special features include: making-of featurette; “Behind the Microphone”; original Japanese storyboards; original Japanese trailers; and TV spots. (Disney Home Entertainment)

Chappie (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. But now, the people are fighting back. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind.

Separated into its individual parts, one can clearly identify the various ideas writer/director Neill Blomkamp was trying to merge in this film; and the special effects are spectacular with seamless CGI bringing the robot to life, as well as impressive action sequences. Unfortunately the end result is messier than many viewers will be willing to tolerate. Chappie enters the world essentially a newborn, having no knowledge of the world. Chappie refers to his surrogate parents, Yolandi and Ninja, as “mommy” and “daddy,” and Deon (Dev Patel) is his “maker.” However, the contrast in their lessons demonstrates the chief dilemma with Deon’s design: in the wrong hands, a robot with a blank slate could be disastrous. The weakest aspect of the picture is the injection of Hugh Jackman as the story’s villain who seems incredibly out of place and awkward. His character is key to instigating the final showdown — which is visually striking — but each time his character takes the screen, it virtually stops the narrative flow because his story is superfluous to the central one. Conversely, Chappie is the movie’s strongest asset as audiences are compelled to sympathize with the childlike robot.

Special features include: alternate ending; extended scene, “A Very Bad Man”; “Chappie: The Streetwise Professor”; “Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots”; “Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects”; “From Tetra Vaal to Chappie”; “Keep It Gangster”; “The Reality of Robotics”; “Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting”; “Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts & Special Effects”; “We Are Tetravaal”; and “The Art of Chappie” photo gallery. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The DUFF (Blu-ray & Digital copy)



Bianca’s (Mae Whitman) universe turns upside down when she learns that her high school refers to her as a “DUFF” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Hoping to erase that label, she enlists the help of Wesley (Robbie Amell), a charming jock, and her favorite teacher (Ken Jeong). Together they’ll face the school’s mean girl (Bella Thorne) and remind everyone that we are all someone’s DUFF and that’s totally fine.

This movie is the Mean Girls of the digital age, combined with She’s All That. One impulsive comment from Wesley turns Bianca’s entire world upside down, causing her to turn on her best friends and question every relationship she’s ever formed. She’s dressed for comfort rather than fashion, a trait her actual friends accepted. And although the story is about ignoring labels and being who you are, at the end of the movie she’s moderately altered her appearance to reflect the events of recent weeks. Bianca’s train of thought throughout the film is a cliché used very well in this context as nothing is few things are more irrational than a teenage girl. Overall it’s a very enjoyable narrative that will likely take its place amongst its predecessors as a fun film about adolescence.

Special features include: “The DUFF Hits the Red Carpet”; “Bringing the Book to Life”; “Teen Comedies and The DUFF”; “I Am the DUFF”; “The DUFF Files”; and extended gag reel. (Lionsgate)

House with 100 Eyes (DVD)


Artsploitation Films

A nice middle-class American couple (Jim Roof and Shannon Malone) spend their spare time making and selling snuff videos. When they plot their latest — featuring three kills in one night — everything goes terribly, bloodily wrong.

This film presents an unusual situation in which the movie and its premise are clearly bad, yet there’s some undeniable level of ingenuity at work throughout the narrative. Most of the picture’s redeeming qualities lie with its outrageous couple portrayed by competent performers; Roof is even somewhat reminiscent of a murderous Rob Corddry. His determination to produce the perfect snuff film that not only includes a triple-murder but opens with a ménage-a-trois takes the whole thing to a new level of absurd. It’s presented as a found-footage movie that resembles a reality show to some extent, as the couple captures all their exploits with hidden and handheld cameras. And the fact that the runtime is only 76 minutes ensures the silliness doesn’t go on for too long, which is another reason it’s difficult to discount this movie even though every ounce of good taste demands it.

Special features include: commentary by director Jay Lee and Jim Roof; “Sizzle Reel”; and gag reel. (Artsploitation Films)

Justified: The Complete Final Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and criminal mastermind Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) are propelled ever closer to their ultimate confrontation. While Raylan is torn by just how far he will go to bring Boyd down — including using Boyd’s fiancée Ava (Joelle Carter) as his secret informant — both Raylan and Boyd must now contend with the new incendiary force in town (Sam Elliott), a drug lord intent on building his own pot empire in Harlan.

The final season of this compelling series would undoubtedly be the final leg in Raylan’s ever-extending journey to take down Boyd. However, this chapter is further complicated by the introduction of Elliot’s formidable villian. As if to make the point that no one is safe, the rather predictable murder of a main character occurs in the first episode. Although this doesn’t lead to a Game of Thrones-style free-for-all, there are some other noteworthy deaths. This last season further narrows its focus on the paths Boyd and Raylan have chosen and continue to choose: Boyd is seeking greater fortune for delusions of a quieter life, while Raylan continues to shirk his personal responsibilities for his professional ones. But they each may have finally pushed the limits of their resolve too far.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Hollywood to Harlan”; “Directing the Show: Adam Arkin”; and “Dutch Speaks.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Last Unicorn (Blu-ray & DVD)


Shout Factory

Upon hearing that she may be the very last of her kind on Earth, a Unicorn (Mia Farrow) goes in search of others like her. Her quest won’t be easy, as it leads her straight to the evil King Haggard (Christopher Lee) and his infamous Red Bull. The journey is made even more complicated when, to protect her from the envious wrath of Haggard, a spell is cast to turn the Unicorn into the Lady Amalthea, a beautiful, young, human woman. But with this new body comes new thoughts and feelings, such as love for Haggard’s son, Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges). Will Amalthea get lost inside this new body? Will she meet the fate of the other Unicorns? Or will she be able to defeat Haggard and his Red Bull with the aid of her friends, Schmendrick the bumbling magician (Alan Arkin) and Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes)?

For children of the ‘80s, this is an animated film that holds a special place in their hearts until this day. Even for a movie made more than 30 years ago, it continues to impress with its stunning images (which benefit from a beautiful transfer to high-definition) and a striking story. It gives the impression that cartoons were bolder then, unafraid to expose its young viewers to tangible love and loss, appropriate nudity and crippling vices. Although much of the tale is tragic, it’s also sprinkled with humour. And the soundtrack of specially composed lyrics and music only serves to enhance the already incredible experience.

Special features include: new commentary; “True Magic: The Story of The Last Unicorn”; highlights from worldwide screening tour with author Peter S. Beagle; animated storyboards; and original theatrical trailer. (Shout Factory)

The Newsroom: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


HBO Home Entertainment

Will (Jeff Daniels), Mac (Emily Mortimer) and the staff of “News Night” face two explosive situations: the possibility of a hostile takeover of the network, and leaked classified government documents that unleash a legal fire storm threatening to topple more than one professional career.

Going beyond the headlines, the six-part season turns its attention inward, focusing on a series of internal events at ACN that rock the very foundation of the network, and tackles such topics as privacy issues, the influence of social media on traditional news gathering and corporate takeover. The men and women of “News Night” are faced with personal and professional dilemmas that will forever determine their futures. Set against the backdrop of the Boston Marathon bombing, The Newsroom kicks off the season with a highly charged look at the core issue of maintaining journalistic integrity in the era of 24-hour news cycles, while crowd-sourcing and “citizen journalism” result in the dissemination of misinformation.

Special features include: commentary on the series finale; and “Inside the Episodes.” (HBO Home Entertainment)

Run All Night (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)


Warner Home Video

Brooklyn mobster and prolific hit man Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson), once known as “The Gravedigger,” has seen better days. Longtime best friend of mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), Jimmy, now 55, is haunted by the sins of his past — as well as a dogged police detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) who’s been one step behind Jimmy for 30 years.

Once again Neeson wades into action movie waters, this time attempting to protect his grown son and his family from the far-reaching revenge sought by Maguire. Jimmy is haunted by his past, having retired to drinking away most days only and trying to avoid the terrible memories that frequents his nightmares. The resolution with which Maguire pursues his best friend is surprising and difficult to understand; especially considering the history they share, and how quickly and fervently he discards it. Joel Kinnaman has portrayed the tough guy in other roles but although he’s emotionally strong in this part, most of the roughing up of people is left to Neeson. However, the narrative acknowledges both Neeson’s and Harris’ ages, using that as a device in some cases to drive the story.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “Shoot all Night”; and “Liam Neeson: Action all Night.” (Warner Home Video)

Spirited Away (Blu-ray & DVD)


Disney Home Entertainment

A young girl, Chihiro (Daveigh Chase), is trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call on the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

This movie delivered Studio Ghibli and the brilliant Hiyao Miyazaki their first Oscar for best animated feature and it was more than deserving of the honour. It’s one of the director’s most visually captivating pictures — which is saying a lot considering his résumé — with an array of fantastic characters and creatures. The tiny balls of soot that work in the boiler room are completely enchanting, while the many spirits and supernatural beings capture viewers’ imaginations. From the giant baby to the river spirit to “no face,” these unique creations demand your complete attention. Chihiro often finds herself in some sort of trouble, but there are a number of kind and unusual characters willing to help her adjust; and once she does, she becomes the driving force of her own fate.

Special features include: Introduction by John Lasseter; “The Art of Spirited Away”; “Behind the Microphone”; original Japanese storyboards; Nippon television special; original Japanese trailers; and TV spots. (Disney Home Entertainment)

Tentacles / Reptilicus double feature (Blu-ray)


Scream Factory

Tentacles: It’s angry. It’s hungry. It’s extremely well-armed and it’s descending on a small seaside town to sample the local cuisine.
Reptilicus: Reptilicus is a cold-blooded 90-foot killer serpent whose time has come… again.

Creature features have always been a hit with genre audiences, but over the years they have varied greatly in quality and style. Unfortunately these two movies are examples of the less accomplished pictures in the category. The story of the giant squid attracted to radio waves and snatching babies from their carriages on the shore is unquestionably the ideal premise for one of these films, and an aspect of the narrative executed rather competently. However there are these terrible montages without dialogue and grating scores that serve little purpose and repeatedly interrupt the narrative flow. The appearance of the giant serpent in the complementing movie is poor, looking like a papier-mâché snake more often than not, which is not a reflection of the times since better looking monsters were captured decades earlier. Some scenes fair better than others, but it’s nothing remarkable.

Special features include: theatrical trailers; photo galleries; and TV spot. (Scream Factory)

Time Lapse (Blu-ray)


XLrator Media

When three friends, Jasper (George Finn), Finn (Matt O’Leary) and his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker), discover a mysterious machine that takes pictures 24 hours into the future, they conspire to use it for personal gain — until disturbing and dangerous images begin to develop and tear their relationships apart.

This is a bit of an uncommon time travel narrative as the characters are restricted to pursuing the events depicted in the photographs rather than attempt to alter it in any way. Analysis of the situation becomes complicated once you begin to question whether their actions are naturally occurring, or if they’re now acting purely in reaction to the photo produced — and if there’s a difference. The flipside of this sci-fi story is a horror tale of greed and consequences. While Finn is the voice of reason and caution, Jasper immediately sees dollar signs and Callie is easily swayed by a more leisurely lifestyle. Each consumed by personal gains, their behaviour grows more erratic as they become increasingly reliant on the pseudo crystal ball. The final act is a flurry of impulses meant to protect their possession of the future telling instrument, but shows they are all unraveling. For his debut feature, writer/director Bradley King constructs an intricate tale that views human nature through a science fiction lens.

Special features include: two filmmaker commentaries including a “nuts and bolts” guide to making an indie film; deleted scenes with commentary; and behind-the-scenes featurette. (XLrator Media)

Wild Tales (Blu-ray)


Sony Pictures Classics

Made up of six stories, it shows people crossing the line into madness when faced with perceived injustice. A lover’s betrayal, a return to the repressed past, and the violence woven into everyday encounters drive the characters to lose control and cross the line that divides civilization and barbarism.

Acclaimed director Pedro Almodóvar likely felt very drawn to the madness portrayed in this picture, encouraging him to attach his name to the project. Damián Szifrón’s picture has a lot in common with the veteran director’s work, which speaks to its quality storytelling. Each vignette is self-contained, yet draws audiences into its short tale of wrongdoing. They range from funny to shocking, and are often a combination of the two. The opening sequence is the shortest, taking a classic horror/mystery premise and adding its own twist. The stories of extreme road rage and an ill-fated wedding are two of the best. In the first, two men exchange verbal and physical insults on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, ensuring neither reaches their destination. The latter features a couple who become determined to ruin each other’s special day. Even though it’s two hours long, it’s entertaining from beginning to end.

Special features include: “Wild Shooting: Creating the Film”; and “An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Damián Szifron.” (Sony Pictures Classics)

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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