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Review: The past is never far behind in this week’s releases (Includes first-hand account)

Adaptation (Blu-ray)


Shout Select

A comedy that seamlessly blends fictional characters and situations with the lives of real people: obsessive orchid hunter John Laroche (Chris Cooper), journalist and author Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), Hollywood screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage), and his twin brother, Donald (also Cage). As Charlie struggles to adapt Orlean’s best-selling book, “The Orchid Thief,” he writes himself into his own movie. The various stories crash into one another, exploding into a wildly imaginative film.

This was writer Charlie Kaufman’s second collaboration with director Spike Jonze, who previously worked together on Being John Malkovich. The similarly unique narrative’s title refers to both Darwin’s theory of evolution and the act of adapting a book for the screen. The story combines the real and imaginary in multiple ways — including the incorporation of a number of characters based on real-life people — which keeps viewers on their toes as they try to tell the difference. Cage’s portrayal of the identical twin men is exceptional. Subtle physical differences and contrasting personalities make it simpler for audiences to distinguish the two, but his performance is the defining factor as the pair often have conversations with each other. In addition, its depiction of writing and adapting a screenplay are exaggerated, but seem accurate nonetheless.

Special features include: featurette; still gallery; and trailer. (Shout Select)

Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital code)


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Join Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and a time travelling DeLorean for the adventure of a lifetime as they travel to the past, present and future, setting off a time-shattering chain reaction that disrupts the space-time continuum.

In 1985, writer/director Robert Zemeckis captured audience’s hearts and imaginations by time travelling to the 1950s and answering questions like, what would you do if you met younger versions of your parents, how to get away if your mom hits on you and how do you make sure you’re still born? Guiding Marty McFly on this crazy adventure was his eccentric, older scientist friend, Doc Brown. Consequently, Fox and Lloyd — and many of their castmates who also reprised their roles — would forever be affectionately associated with these characters. In the second movie, their trip to the future — October 21, 2015 — is actually contemporary viewers’ past now, making our technological “shortcomings” kind of amusing. This sequel plays with the idea of using the time machine to make one’s future self rich, which is certainly a tempting proposition. The final installment’s journey to the wild West isn’t quite as entertaining as the previous two, but the flying train more-or-less makes up for it.

Special features include: commentary by director Robert Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale; deleted scenes with optional commentary; making-of featurette; behind-the-scenes featurette; Michael J. Fox Q&A; Huey Lewis and the News “The Power of Love” music video; theatrical trailers; and more. (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Captains Collection (Blu-ray)


Shout Factory

The collection presents four acclaimed Star Trek documentaries directed by William Shatner, including William Shatner’s Get a Life! In The Captains, Shatner sits down for five insightful interviews with the franchise’s captains — Sir Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula and his own Kirk counterpart, Chris Pine. The interviews continue with The Captains Close Up, a docuseries formed from additional interview footage unable to be included in the original The Captains film. Chaos on the Bridge tells the delightful — and surprising — story of bringing Star Trek: The Next Generation to the screen. And finally, in Get A Life, Shatner presents his own love letter to the fans of Star Trek.

In spite of the many roles Shatner has played, one role has defined his career and he’s embraced the association wholeheartedly. In fact, he’s gone the extra mile and welcomed all those who sat in the captain’s chair after him. Each of these documentaries is a love letter to a particular character, the franchise, its creator and/or its fans. The sit-down interviews with subsequent captains are so enlightening as not only were their characters and shows different, but the casting process that led to their selection and their experiences on the set also vary. Switching gears, the last disc is an ode to the hardcore fans that have fallen in love with one of the series or the entire space adventure. Travelling the world, meeting their spouses and donning extravagant costumes, these enthusiasts live and breathe Star Trek — and those are exactly the people for whom this collection was made.

Special features include: making-of featurette; additional stories and extended interviews; “William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet,” feature-length documentary; “Ponder the Mystery” music video; and trailers. (Shout Factory)

The Gunfighter (Blu-ray)


Criterion Collection

Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) is an infamous gunslinger looking to hang up his holsters and start a new life, but whose reputation draws him inexorably into a cycle of violence and revenge from which he cannot escape.

This was not a role audiences were used to seeing Peck in nor was it a typical Western narrative. This was one of the first in the genre’s darker era in which the hero doesn’t ride in to rid the town of bad guys, but may actually be a bad guy to some extent. Ringo’s reputation precedes him as he’s known to be the fastest draw and the killer of countless men. Some men challenge him just to have their try at the legend, while other townsfolk blame him for any disruption his mere presence stirs. But the older Ringo is starting to feel the guilt and regret of a life filled with death. He wants to escape to the quiet life, reform his family and put his past behind him… unfortunately, one’s past follows them wherever they go. Directed by Henry King and shot by cinematographer Arthur C. Miller, the picture trades the traditional gritty look for a rich, deep-focus style that would usher in a new narrative style for the genre.

Special features include: interview about director Henry King and The Gunfighter with filmmaker, writer, and archivist Gina Telaroli; video essay on editor Barbara McLean by film historian and author J. E. Smyth; audio excerpts of interviews with King and McLean from 1970 and ’71; and an essay by film critic K. Austin Collins. (Criterion Collection)

The Haunting (Blu-ray)


Paramount Home Entertainment

For over a century, the foreboding Hill House mansion has sat abandoned… or so it seemed. Intrigued by its past, Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson) lures three subjects to the site for an experiment. But, from the moment of their arrival, as night descends, the study goes horrifyingly awry, and Hill House unleashes its supernatural wrath on the unsuspecting subjects.

Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, the film’s protagonist is a woman who sees the study as an escape from her mundane life. The three subjects couldn’t be more different from each other: Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a sexy woman fascinated by the occult, Owen Wilson portrays a playful character that likes to try anything once, and Lili Taylor plays a woman who was imprisoned by her mother’s incapacity until recently. The house is a massive, gothic mansion filled with foreboding imagery and secret passages. However, it’s the special effects and CGI that truly bring it to life. The film adaptation stays fairly close to the book with an ending that puts its own twist on happiness.

Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; “Filmmaker Focus: Director Jan de Bont on The Haunting”; and trailers. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

The Owners (Blu-ray)


RLJE Films

A group of friends think they found the perfect, easy score — an empty house with a safe full of cash. But when the elderly couple that lives there comes home early, the tables are suddenly turned. As a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, the would-be thieves are left to fight to save themselves from a nightmare they could never have imagined.

This narrative is somewhat frustrating as the characters allow themselves to be led around by a ruthless criminal who doesn’t care what happens to the rest of them as long as he gets his loot. In addition, their information about the owners and contents of the safe are more than misleading. If the viewer can get past yelling at the thieves for their poor choices, they can begin to question the motives of the owners. The older woman’s dementia presents itself in menacing warnings and long, creepy stares, while the doctor’s calm and nurturing demeanour falls onto the opposite end of the spectrum of emotions inconsistent with the situation. Not a great choice of script by Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, even if hers and the rest of the cast’s performances perfectly fit their ill-thought-out characters.

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

The Plot Against America (DVD)


HBO Home Entertainment

Based on Philip Roth‘s acclaimed novel, the miniseries imagines an alternate American history during World War II. Told through the eyes of the Levins, a working-class Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey, the six-part limited series charts the political rise of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, a xenophobic populist who captures the presidency in 1940 and turns the nation toward fascism. Caught in the upheaval, the Levins learn that the violence threatening the lives of ordinary Americans is never more than a moment’s political provocation away.

Taking the “what if” approach to historical events, the series proposes that Lindbergh — a rebuked Nazi sympathiser — actually used his popularity to run for American president on a platform that would keep the U.S. out of WWII. Most of the Jews living stateside are very concerned about the xenophobia taking hold of the country, though there are some blindly siding with Lindbergh and his anti-war sentiment in spite of the genocide sweeping Europe. The Levins are an interesting dissection of the Jewish population: Herman (Morgan Spector) and his wife Bess (Zoe Kazan) are glued to their radios, feeling powerless against the growing intolerance around them; Herman’s brother, Alvin (Anthony Boyle), is less submissive, taking matters into his own hands; while Bess’ sister, Evelyn (Winona Ryder), takes the opposing side, partnering with Lindbergh’s Rabbi ally (John Turturro). It’s a disturbing fiction that will inspire discussions of what could be, particularly in today’s America.

Special features include: behind-the-scenes featurette; and “Why Plot Now?” (HBO Home Entertainment)

Quiz (Blu-ray)


AMC Networks

The incredible true story of the biggest game show scandal in UK history. When a simplistic, ‘question and answer’ quiz show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, goes on the air in 2001, the nation is gripped. Major Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen), his wife Diana (Sian Clifford) and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson), who was sitting in the audience, were accused of cheating their way to a million pounds. The couple stood trial for conspiring by coughing during the recording to signify the correct answers to the multiple-choice questions posed to the Major by host, Chris Tarrant (Michael Sheen).

This is a fascinating story of how fanaticism can lead to suspicion. Before the quiz show’s debut, Diana’s family was already very passionate about trivia. Paired with a need for quick cash, training to be a contestant on the game show seemed like a no-brainer for Diana’s brother and, later, other members of their family. However, the subsequent appearances of their clan on the stage draws the attention of the showrunners, who begin to suspect something duplicitous is occurring in an attempt to win the game’s grand prize. The events unfold against a trial in which three players are accused of cheating their way to the final question. However, filmmakers make an excellent case in favour of their innocence. Since the saga is based in reality, the end result is no secret; but the story is still quite riveting.

Special features include: “A Look at the Series”; “Constructing the Set”; “Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant”; and “Introducing Charles and Diana Ingram.” (AMC Networks)

Scare Package (Blu-ray)


RLJE Films & Shudder

Chad Buckley (Jeremy King) is a lonely horror aficionado, spending his days overseeing a struggling video store and arguing with his only customer, Sam. When an unsuspecting job applicant arrives, Chad sets out to teach him the rules of horror; weaving in and out of hilarious segments geared toward the ropes and tropes of terror.

This horror anthology starts out strong, but kind of fizzles out as it progresses. The framing story’s employment of a movie geek to launch the stories is rather fitting, though it is sometimes a stretch. The first short about a clumsy guy whose attempt to setup a horror scene goes horribly awry is probably the best of the bunch, so it’s unfortunately all downhill from there. Next up is another dark comedy about a group of campers plagued by both a serial killer and a transformative virus, which is slightly less amusing than its predecessor. Then there’s an angry werewolf support group, cursed candy, the truly immortal murderer and a very unconventional possession. The framing story takes an unexpected turn before borrowing from a variety of iconic horror pictures to wrap things up.

Special features include: creator commentary; “Original Not-as-Good Ending”; bonus segment, “Locker Room Z”; “Rad Chad’s Rad Ad”; and blooper reel. (RLJE Films & Shudder)

Spree (Blu-ray)


RLJE Films

Kurt (Joe Keery) is a 23-year-old rideshare driver for Spree, who is so desperate for social media attention that he’ll stop at nothing to go viral. He comes up with a plan to livestream a rampage as a shortcut to infamy. Coining his evil scheme “#thelesson”, he installs a set of cameras in his car and begins streaming his rides. Wildly miscalculating the popularity that would come from his lethal scheme, Kurt’s desperation grows as he tries to find a way to overcome the plan’s flaws. In the middle of all this madness, a stand-up comedian (Sasheer Zamata) with her own viral agenda crosses Kurt’s path and becomes the only hope to put a stop to his misguided carnage.

The concept of being measured by one’s social media status has been thoughtfully explored in a number of other narratives. However, this story pairs the desire for fame with a proclivity for murder. Kurt’s scheme is as well-planned and indiscriminate as a lone shooter who goes on a killing spree. Unsurprisingly, his viewers think the whole thing is an elaborate hoax for attention and he fails to achieve his goal of going viral. Paralleling Kurt’s misguided attempts to gain a following with the comedian’s legitimate popularity feels like it’s supposed to be a lesson in “doing it right,” while simultaneously downplaying the fatal consequences of Kurt’s actions. The latter is compounded by the fact that Kurt blunders through the final act, turning it into a sad joke and putting the final nail in the movie’s coffin.

Special features include: commentary by director Eugene Kotlyarenko; and “KurtsWorld96 Social Videos.” (RLJE Films)

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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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