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Review: People’s true selves are revealed in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

Alice, Sweet Alice (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

On the day of her first communion, young Karen (Brooke Shields) is savagely murdered by an unknown assailant in a yellow rain mac and creepy translucent mask. But the nightmare is far from over — as the knife-wielding maniac strikes again and again, Karen’s bereaved parents are forced to confront the possibility that Karen’s wayward sister, Alice (Paula E. Sheppard), might be the one behind the mask.

It’s not often one says this, but ambiguity is this film’s friend. As the film opens with Alice repeatedly tormenting her younger sister, she becomes the obvious no. 1 suspect when Karen is found murdered. No one wants to believe a child would kill her own sibling, but there’s enough evidence pointing in Alice’s direction to create doubt. In the meantime, the body count continues to rise and each victim has had a negative interaction with Alice, which definitely works against proving her innocence. In the meantime, there’s also the conflict between dual parenting approaches between the divorced couple. The trajectory of the film takes an interesting turn, though it doesn’t necessarily create a clear-cut conclusion, which is part of the movie’s appeal.

Special features include: alternate TV cut; alternate opening titles; commentary by Richard Harland Smith; commentary by co-writer/director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier; deleted scene; “First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice”; “In the Name of the Father”; “Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice”; “Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice”; original screenplay; image gallery; and trailer. (Arrow Video)

Booksmart (Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Fox Home Entertainment

Best friends and academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) realize they’ve missed out on pretty much all fun during high school. So, on the eve of graduation, they decide to make up for lost time with one wild adventure.

There have been countless movies set around commencement in which soon-to-be high school graduates have a wild night to close the door on their adolescence. This is a coming-of-age, buddy-comedy-adventure featuring two young women with an incredible bond that’s never really been tested up to now as it’s always been them against the slacker universe. But Molly’s worldview is obliterated when she learns even the party kids got into Ivy League colleges. So on the last night before the end of their high school careers, they hop from party to party, encountering odd characters and trying to find “the” party of the year. The ending is a mix of John Hughes and Richard Linklater, but the movie is made by the incredible chemistry between Dever and Feldstein, as well as the performances of the supporting cast of classmates, including Billie Lourde and Skyler Gisondo.

Special features include: commentary by Olivia Wilde; deleted scenes; “Booksmart: The Next Best High School Comedy”; “Pliés and Jazz Hands: The Dance Fantasy”; “Dressing Booksmart”; and gallery. (Fox Home Entertainment)

Brightburn (Blu-ray & DVD)


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Although it’s never said explicitly, the similarities between the storylines make this an unofficial, alternative Superman narrative. The Red Son comics demonstrated how things may have been different if Kal-el had landed in the USSR during the Cold War; this story assumes the boy was sent to Earth to rule it rather than help its more fragile inhabitants. The boy is unaware of his abilities until something is triggered on his 14th birthday. Tied into puberty, the change in his behaviour is almost instantaneous as he quickly realizes he’s physically superior to every human. Taking the nature side of the nature vs. nurture debate, it seems like his destiny to be a destructive presence overrides all the love and kindness with which he was raised. James Gunn produced the film, but the behind-the-scenes features suggest he was frequently on-set and influenced the film’s direction.

Special features include: commentary by director David Yarovesky, director of photography Michael Dallatorre and costume designer Autumn Steed; “Hero-Horror!”; “Nature vs. Nurture”; and three “Quick Burns.” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Bull: Season Three (DVD)


Paramount Home Media Distribution

After his heart attack, Bull (Michael Weatherly) wastes no time getting right back into the courtroom to fight for the rights of the underserved, misunderstood and wrongly accused. Using his finely honed skills of psychology, demographics and data analysis, Bull leads his elite team as they defend a priest suspected of a hit-and-run, aid a clinical sociopath accused of murder, and seek justice for the devastating loss of one of their own. Braving both professional challenges and unexpected personal twists, Bull makes some choices that promise to alter his path, and potentially his entire outlook.

Having ended the previous season with Bull’s heart attack and Cable’s disappearance, the first few episodes are left to deal with the aftermath of each. Bull’s agreement to represent the insurance company in a suit has everyone questioning his new outlook on life, but he always manages to do the right thing eventually. The cases they work are typically interesting, while several have a personal interest for at least one of the team members. In Bull’s absence, it seems as if the team has come to enjoy having the semblance of a work-life balance, so his return is something they all have to get used to. The season finale has an interesting theme as it’s not something that’s been high on any of their priority lists before: children. Both their case and personal lives will see lasting consequences

Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “Bull Session: A Look at Season 3”; “MacKenzie Meehan: Taylor Made”; and “Something About New York.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Cruising (Blu-ray)


Arrow Video

New York is caught in the grip of a sadistic serial killer who is preying on the patrons of the city’s underground bars. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) tasks young rookie Steve Burns (Al Pacino) with infiltrating the S&M subculture to try and lure the killer out of the shadows — but as he immerses himself deeper and deeper into the underworld, Steve risks losing his own identity in the process.

While the ‘70s was a period of peace, love and underground sex clubs, there was also a seedy underbelly of violence and murder as predators took advantage of the clandestine meeting grounds and unguarded partyers. Pacino certainly took a risk with this role since even though he was still a tough, undercover cop, he was posing as a gay man looking for a hookup in a highly sexualized environment — a role counter-intuitive to the likes of Michael Corleone, Tony Montana and Travis Bickle. Yet, there’s no fallacy in his performance as he’s still fully committed to playing the part to the best of his ability, which is proven to set a pretty high bar. The bonus features allow director William Friedkin and others to reflect on the picture and share some interesting facts, such as their efforts to factually portray the gay lifestyle at the time, the backlash they received for doing so, and the source for informing the narrative and visuals.

Special features include: commentary with director William Friedkin and critic and broadcaster Mark Kermode; commentary by Friedkin; “The History of Cruising”; “Exorcising Cruising”; and theatrical trailer. (Arrow Video)

Ghosts of Attica (DVD)


Icarus Films

Attica. Like Watergate and Vietnam, it is an icon of recent history. Gov. Rockefeller’s brutal re-taking of the prison — a nine-minute, 1600-bullet assault that took the lives of 29 inmates and 10 guards held hostage — put an end to the four-day rebellion. But the struggles for justice, by both prisoners and guards, endured for three decades. Eventually inmates wrested a historic $12-million settlement from the state, and that bittersweet victory spurred a new round of agitation by guards and their survivors.

As “Attica” is mentioned in various other narratives, this is an excellent, informative documentary for anyone wishing to know more about the incident. This was one of the worst kept prisons in America and in an atmosphere of protests and empowerment of the people, the inmates rose up to demand basic improvements to their living conditions. The move was drastic, but mostly well-organized and they tried to keep the violence to a minimum — though some overzealous inmates did kill one of the guards. While the state seemed willing to negotiate at first, they quickly did a 180 and waged bloody war against the unarmed men. The events are recounted via interviews with survivors and archival footage, painting a picture of unnecessary carnage for which no one was compensated — in fact, most of the inmates received additional punishment and the injured guards were written off. This isn’t a movie about justice, but rather spreading the truth of the incident.

Special features include: rare archival footage from the NY State Archives; and audio recording of Liz Fink, the lawyer for the Attica inmates. (Icarus Films)

Men in Black: International (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest, most global threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

While the film is firmly set in the same story world as its predecessors, there are no signs of Agents J or K outside of the bonus features — though Agent O (Emma Thompson) does return. While Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) could probably get by on his looks on most days, he’s actually a very capable agent credited with saving the world once. Molly (Tessa Thompson), on the other hand, has spent her life trying to get into the MIB and is not going to waste her chance to prove her worth. Hemsworth and Thompson had great chemistry in the Marvel movies and it’s enhanced in this film as the pair has a lot of freedom to play around with the characters’ opposing personalities. The comedy in this movie is on par with, if not better than, the first picture in the franchise, not relying on the presence of aliens to deliver the laughs.

Special features include: deleted scenes; “”; “Neuralyzer: Like It Never Even Happened”; “New Recruits, Classic Suits”; “Let’s Do This! Inside the Action & Stunts”; “Look Right Here: Gadgets, Weapons, & Rides”; “Expanding the Universe of MIB”; “Frank & Pawny’s Peanut Gallery”; “Les Twins Leave It on the Floor”; “In Case You’ve Been Neuralyzed: MIB Recap”; “The MIB Meet the NBA”; and gag reel. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Rambo (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

After spending several years in northern Thailand operating a longboat on the Salween River, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) reluctantly agrees to carry a group of Christian missionaries into war-torn Burma. But when the aid workers are captured by ruthless Nationalist Army soldiers, Rambo leads a group of battle-scarred, combat-hardened mercenaries on an epic, last-ditch mission to rescue the prisoners — at all costs.

Rambo is such a troubled character, but no one can deny he’s good at killing people and always gets the job done. The female missionary touches one of the last remnants of his humanity, but it’s not long before he has to once again bury it deep down in order to rescue the do-gooders — by any means necessary. Stallone was still in excellent shape when this movie was made in 2007 and the production diaries in the bonus features exemplify how much he grew as a director over the years. Rambo works best alone, so even when operating as part of a team, he usually leaves everyone with orders before wandering off to do things his way. In addition to attempting to capture the indiscriminate brutality of the real-life soldiers, there’s also efforts to make the punishment fit the crime — i.e. when the soldiers are killed, they’re often torn to shreds by the artillery. Like the films before it, this movie is making a statement about the time and place in which it unfolds.

Special features include: commentary by Sylvester Stallone; deleted scenes; “It’s a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon”; “A Score to Settle: The Music of Rambo”; “The Art of War: Completing Rambo”; “The Weaponry of Rambo”; “A Hero’s Welcome: Release and Reaction”; “Legacy of Despair: The Real Struggle In Burma”; director’s production diary; and theatrical trailer. (Lionsgate 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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